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It’s the most common thing people say to me about foster parenting. That it would be hard to give them back. That saying goodbye, letting them go, would be too hard.

I don’t know about too hard, but I know it’s not easy. If that makes sense.

I also know that if we didn’t do things because they might be hard, we’d never get married or be parents or let our kids get driver’s licenses.

I don’t know if there’s a good way to say goodbye. But I know there are bad ways.

I know that when a kid has lived in your home for almost a year, you shouldn’t have to say goodbye in a parking lot.

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I’ve been teaching this Women and Story workshop for the past couple of years. Me and a couple of super talented friends have travelled to be with a bunch of different women’s groups, and we’ve talked about our stories and how important it is to share them. The workshop has changed over the years, and we don’t do this introduction exercise any more. But I kind of loved it when we did.

We’d ask each woman to stand and introduce herself by sharing her name and then the names of her grandmothers. It always touched my heart when it was my turn to offer my introduction, and it was interesting to see the reactions of the workshop women as they did the same.

I usually got a little choked up. Bad workshop leader.

The women had a variety of responses. Some couldn’t remember the names of grandmothers. Some were conflicted in who to name as mother, depending on their circumstances. Some offered mini histories with the names they spoke.

It’s important, I think, to stop from time to time and remember who we come from. To remember the women we come from.

My mom was the oldest girl in a large farming family in southern Saskatchewan, which translated into lots of work and very little money. I’ve seen the house she grew up in. Very small, very crowded, very few luxuries, but extended family coming out her ears. Aunties and uncles and cousins galore, and a little Lutheran church in which to gather for Sunday sermons and summer weddings and funerals. You couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a Norwegian in those parts. Uff da.

I knew her mom, Gladys, as Grandma, and by the time I was aware of her, her face was lined with her years. She was widowed young, and moved off the farm when I was a baby. Her tiny house was the gathering place for family dinners of KFC and goulash, and lefse-making each winter. She was a constant in my young life. When I moved back to my home town, when my own boys were babies, Grandma and I spent many hours in her little nursing home room, looking through photo albums and talking about the good old days.

My dad’s mom, Pearl, was something else. I remember marvelling at her long, white hair and her little flirtations with my grandpa. They were old, it seemed, but they still had fun together and I knew there was something special there even when I was a little girl. She gave me a white bible with a zippered case when I turned eight, and she taught me how to tat, and I thought she was amazing. I grew up surrounded by Norwegians, and her American background and accent made her seem exotic.

Each of these women had a harder life than I have had. They had fewer opportunities, less education, tougher financial situations. They struggled in ways I’ve not had to. I hope I’ve learned the important things from them. That God loves me. That family matters. That even when life is hard there is joy.

I’m grateful to be the daughter of Shirley, and the granddaughter of Gladys and Pearl.

Yesterday I sat on my tiny front deck, in my yellow chair, and watched the goats. I sat there for a good hour in the heat of the summer afternoon while a bee buzzed in the geranium blooms beside me and the cat rubbed his head on my toes.

It was a sweet and peaceful and simple hour.

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Then I resumed my day, with its meeting of needs and the laundry and the what’s-for-supper questions, and checking Facebook every five minutes to see if there were any updates from my travelling boy, and that was simple, too.

And in the evening, when the dog started barking his fool head off and the kids ran to the window to see if someone had driven into the yard and saw that fox chasing those chickens and the husband jumped out of his end-of-a-long-day bath and grabbed the gun and shot that varmint from the upstairs bathroom window, well, that was simple, too.

Simple isn’t where I live or what I do or don’t do. Simple isn’t the farm eggs or the turkey-butchering in the fall or the bread-baking on Monday afternoons. A life isn’t simple just because you choose to live on an acreage or you make your spaghetti sauce from scratch. There isn’t a simple life formula that fits everyone.

Simple is how you think about your life, not what you do with your life. And you can think simple anywhere.

I’m not advocating for an irresponsible life, mind. Not an it’s-all-about-me-and-what-makes-me-happy life. I’m not talking about selfishness or thoughtlessness. Thinking simple, according to Janelle’s dictionary, means evaluating choices and letting go of the ones that only increase the burden, while joyfully embracing the ones that enrich and give your life meaning and purpose.

There are so many places in the world where people’s choices are limited and the whole idea of simple living is totally and completely non-existent.

If you are actually part of the world’s population with choices, please don’t squander them. Decide what matters and make that the focus of your life, and your life will simplify itself.

There’s something about turning fifty-one that makes a girl want to unobtrusively slip through the day. Fifty was kind of like sitting on the fence, not really committing to one half-century or the other. But fifty-one, well, that’s like risking a broken hip by jumping off the fence into the downhill side of the pasture.

Tuck and roll, that’s about all you can do.

I had my fifty-first birthday yesterday. Although when I asked my foster son how old he thought I was he said thirty-nine, so I love him the most right now.

Honestly, it was a bit of a snore as far as birthdays go. The husband and children were all away, working or travelling overseas(!) or whatever, and I was home with the fostered ones. And we ran out of milk so there was a grocery trip to town for that, plus my prescription for high cholesterol to refill, so that was glamorous and didn’t make me feel old at all.

And on the day went. Some lovely Facebook messages, a couple of homemade cards from the sweeties here, a few minutes in my yellow chair on the deck (until the sweeties here found me there) and leftovers pulled out of the fridge for supper. A tired man and two tired sons home from their hard-working days, and bless his heart, my husband wants to take me out for my birthday. Except our town is really small and there’s nothing to do if you aren’t into the local bar thing, and even the Snack Shack was closed so we settled for ice cream from the cooler at the gas station and a drive down the back roads.

I love country drives.

Smoke from forest fires way up north made for a hazy day.

Smoke from forest fires way up north made for a hazy day.

Our smokey farm.

Our smokey farm.

Until my fifty-one year old bladder couldn’t take it anymore and we had to come home so I could pee, which also didn’t make me feel old.

And then my sweet baby comes over with this made-with-his-own-hands treasure, and my heart does that little hop skip jump thing, and I think maybe fifty-one won’t be so bad after all. Because Janelle is loved.

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The problem is, he’s the most like me. The one who forgets things and gets lost in books and is easily sidetracked.

He’s the boy who loses stuff. Every time he participates in something, say camp or a youth rally or whatever, I place a little check in the box on the registration form that says, would you like to order a t-shirt for your child. And every time he comes home without said shirt. I’ve bought at least a dozen shirts which I assume are now in other boys’ closets.

He’s the boy who, when he changed bedrooms this spring, found a total of four hundred dollars squirreled away in drawers and forgotten coat pockets. Four hundred dollars he didn’t know he had!

He’s the boy who’ll eat an entire jumbo box of frozen waffles when he’s left alone for the weekend because it’s easier than cooking eggs or making a sandwich.

He’s the boy who goes upstairs to collect his laundry and comes down two hours later with a comment about the book he found under his dirty socks.

He’s the boy who shows up for work three hours early because he couldn’t remember what time he was supposed to start.

He’s the boy who, when he found his weeks-lost wallet, found inside it a crumpled months-old pay cheque.

This is my boy who, tomorrow, will be flying thousands of kilometres to a place I’ve never been. There are things to keep track of when a person travels. Luggage, tickets, passport, money. And because he’s so much like me, his questionable organizational abilities frighten me just a little.

So if you are reading this in Toronto or Amsterdam or Estonia sometime in the next couple of weeks and you see a tall, blonde, sweet-looking boy wandering the streets looking lost, please stop and offer some assistance.

His absent-minded mother will be forever thankful.

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I’ve been the victim of some embarrassing autocorrects, that’s for sure. List has been changed to lust more than once, and How To lust is a lot different from a How To list.

The one that happens most, though, is the adjusting of love to live. And that change actually makes some sense.

Love is meant to be lived, you know. Love needs to breathe and to touch and to do things.

Lived out love is like exercise. Lived out love develops muscles and a good set of lungs, if you know what I mean. Coach potato love doesn’t do anyone any good.

Love is living when it stops and runs into a ditch by the railroad tracks to bring home the sweetest smelling flowers that grow on the prairie.

Love is living when it takes a whole day to bake cinnamon buns for the grandchildren, and a special batch with pecans for the son-in-law.

Love is living when it buys a set of tools for the one beginning his carpentry career.

Love is living when it takes the time to order euros from the bank for the grandson heading to Estonia in a few weeks.

Love is living when it sits and listens to the stories it’s already heard.

Love is living when it lets a kid do a job instead of stepping in and taking over.

Love is living when it insists on holding the crying baby so the mom can eat her lunch.

Love is living when it steps up, holds on, stays late, shares a load.

It’s nice to say I love you. It’s even nicer to live it.

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He was filling out an application yesterday, to help with our church’s Vacation Bible School this summer, and when he was done he magneted it to the fridge and as I was walking by, a statement caught my eye.

One of the points he was to address on the application read: Describe your current relationship with God, and I noticed he’d crossed out the word relationship and above it he’d written the word fellowship.

I asked him why he’d changed the word, and he answered, because I’m not dating God.

Relationship is just a weird word in today’s modern English language, he said. It’s a Facebook status implying romance… you are in a relationship with someone. That’s not God and me. We are a team, you know. I’d never say I’m in a relationship with my dad, or I’m in a relationship with my friend Jesse. That would be awkward. But we enjoy doing stuff together, which is fellowship, and that’s what it’s like with me and God.

Interesting.

It made me think about the things we say, and what we really mean by them. All my life, I’ve heard people talk about having a relationship with God, or wanting to be in relationship with Jesus, or that Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. Now, I’m kind of wondering what that means?

I’m thinking relationship is about status. I am a daughter. This is my relationship with my parents. I am a mother. This is my relationship with my children. These relationships will never change. A relationship is about blood or commitment.

Fellowship, maybe, is the living out of the relationship. It’s what makes a relationship good or bad, strong or weak, happy or troubled. How well I fellowship with those around me (or those with whom I have a relationship) is a function of time spent together, enjoyment of that time, and activities or experiences shared with each other.

Maybe this is just semantics, but I found it interesting that my son chose to make a distinction between the two. If nothing else, good for him for diving deeper into the language I typically accept without question.

I love it when my kids make me think about stuff.

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