Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Eulogy

There has been somewhat of a reason for my silence here.  It's true that there is a lot going on making life busy with Steve presenting his thesis project in less than two weeks.  But really, that's not the main reason.  I haven't had many words because a week ago Wednesday, my last grandparent, my beloved Yia Yia, died.  And every time I sat to write, I didn't really have much to say.  I also wasn't ready to post about it on the world wide web.  Now that a bit of time has passed and we've laid her to rest, I feel more ready.  She had lived a long life.  She had alzheimer's and had pretty much lost much of her memory a few years ago now.

But I still loved her, very, very much.

It was difficult for me to visit.  Part of it was logistical due to distance, lots of kids and a busy husband.  But a big part of it was because I could hardly bear to see her. When she was well she had such a vibrant personality.  Yet when the disease really began to take over four-five years ago now, it was so hard to see her slip into a veil of confusion without her spark lighting up her eyes.  I was no longer her little Nik.  I was a stranger.  I could hardly bear it.

All of us grandkids were asked to write some words about her.  My brothers and cousins wrote beautiful eulogies to her.  She was that special.  Truthfully, I was really blessed with such special grandparents on both sides.  All of them loved me so much and contributed to my life in many ways.

There was something about her being the last one though.  And her death was somewhat sudden.  These two things coupled together made it all rather difficult for me to bear.  Since I hadn't been to see her since the summer, I had the opportunity to drive up and see her one last time before she was taken away to be prepared for her funeral.  At first I wasn't sure if I should go or not.  I obviously hadn't made it before she died since it was unexpected.  Yet in the end I decided to do it.  And I was so blessed I did.

My older brother and his wife were there too (along with my parents, my uncle and one of my cousins).  But in the room when I got to see her, it was just my brother, his wife and me for some time.  We cried together, told stories about her, honored her and looked at her as she lay there so beautiful.  All the traces of the disease that had wracked her body and mind for so long, had passed away.  She was at peace, in the arms of God.

So this is for my Yia Yia-a eulogy.

My Yia Yia was one of the best women I've ever known.  She taught me so much about life through her stories about the old country (Greece) and World War 2, her experiences having immigrated to America, her heartaches and triumphs while making a life for her family here in the states, and her determination to laugh regardless of what came in her path.  To me, she had perfected the balance of determination and joy, which is a balance much sought after but not easily attained.  But she had it down and it flowed out of her into her life, infusing her family and friends with an abundance of love and her own dose of spunk.  That spunk is what helped her to endure well the many curveballs thrown at her during her life.  She believed in laughter and loyalty.  And even more that that, she had faith that God was with her no matter what.  To her it was that simple-laughter, loyalty, love and faith.  These are the things she taught me from a very young age.
I have so many memories of her and so many things to be thankful that she showed me.  Much of my early years were spent in her loving care.  I can still picture her making my brother and me Spaghetti O's in the back kitchen at the liquor store she and my Pa Pou owned for many years.  Many happy weekends were spent there with her making cardboard boxes come alive into trains and her training us to work the cash register like big boys and big girls.  She always rewarded us with an Its It and a trip "shopping" around the store (as long as we asked Pa Pou first if it was okay).  At night we lay snuggled up close against her back in bed while she told us stories of Greece, her family that she left behind, the earthquake they had barely survived and various Bible stories that were her own "special versions."  I can hear her voice lulling me to sleep and even in my thirties, those memories bring such a warmth to my heart.
My Yia Yia was someone I was very proud of.  Growing up, due to her living in a small village and because of the war, she didn't have the opportunity to have much of an education yet, when she moved to the US, she taught herself English and how to read and write.  She worked hard to become a US citizen.  And whatever work she was given, whether it was cleaning houses or ironing other peoples' clothes, she did it with pride.  I can still hear her voice when I make a bed, "Spread the sheet, just like this Nikki..." or when I make a meal, "Now you take a little jar and mix the milk with the flour...".  She was an incredibly hard worker.  And even though her work was laborious for most of her life, she flourished because she had joy.  She had learned the secret to joy-life is hard, but God is with us.  What more did she need?  What more do any of us need?
One thing my Yia Yia was an absolute expert at was people.  She was a people magnet.  Everywhere she went, she made friends.  My Pa Pou was a good businessman, but she was the lifeblood of their store because her personality and friendliness brought costumers coming back from all over the east bay for years.  Everyone knew her and loved her, and she was giving to everyone she came in contact with.  I knew she was special to others.  But I also knew she was mine.  And her being my Yia Yia was something I will be proud of my whole life. 
I can still hear her infectious laugh ringing through the halls of her house.  I will never forget that sound.  And I will never forget her because much of who she is has been emblazoned on my heart, much of what she has taught me lives on in my daily life, and I'm thankful that I can pass her wisdom, her spunk, her determination and her joy onto my own children.  Her faith and her faithfulness will endure for many generations.  That is the greatest gift she could've given to me-faithfulness.  Well done, Yia Yia and thank you.  You've run your race well.  We will miss you but are thankful you are free.  I'll love you forever...pandote kai pandote.   

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Catching Up and Pi Day

Well my friends, in the midst of me blogging so much about my husband's impending graduation, I have neglected many of the other things going on around here.  
First of all, my second born son turned six.  This kid has really come into his own over the last year.  It's like he flipped a switch and has become a real, expressive, and pleasant little boy.  He was always wonderful before but he has really grown this past year.  He's a different kid.  Steve and I marvel over him every single day.  He's still a bit quirky (just like his Dad-ha!) but to us, he's perfect.  
Here are the highlights from his birthday.  He wanted to have a knight party because he loves a certain game that involves a knight.  His birthday is always difficult to pull of because it's in the middle of winter, short days and  unpredictable weather.  So we have to opt for something chaotic yet homegrown.  This year was no exception.
We decided to have everyone bring their knight costumes and princess dresses, as well as their swords to be ready to fight the dragons they might face in the wilderness of the backyard.  
Once the kids had their fill of pizza, they got their costumes on, donned their swords and listened to the knight tale which detailed how the scary monster/dragon (i.e. Daddy) had stolen the princess (Elliana).  
Don't ask me why he decided to dress-up as a cowboy when it came down to it.  But it was his party, so he could do whatever he wanted.  But his sister's purple hat?  Come on buddy!!  Ha ha!
The knights rallied and the other reigning princesses of the land went out to beat up the dragon.
And beat him up they did.  
After that, it was cake time.  He really wanted a knight cake but I quickly put the kabosh on that!  I am not a professional people.  I repeat, I am not a professional.  And I have five kids, one who is an infant, and a husband who is MIA most of the time right now.  I am not insane.  So I opted to do a shield cake.  
Thankfully I did most of the work the night before because I happened to find out very last minute that Isaac had baseball practice the whole morning on the day of the party and Steve had to study!  Near disaster.  
The Grandpas with the babies.  This picture just makes me so happy.  Love these men!!  They've worked hard and have been faithful to their families!!
I was pretty happy with how it turned out.  One of my buddies gave me the idea to put the Dauphin Crest on it so I was able to do that by piping melted chocolate onto wax paper that overlaid the print out.  It was pretty fun.
So that was the six-year-old's birthday party.

This was first thing in the morning...don't kill me Steph.  Love you!  For the little sleep both of us got, we look darn good.  Ha ha!
What else?  Hmmm.....We had some fun visitors.  Both of my best friends from Cal Poly came to visit me within 48 hours of each other (however not at the same time).  I live for these visits.  

So many miles walked with this girl-literally.  Love you girl!
These are women that know my heart.  They know my soul.  And no matter how far apart we are, they are so dear to me.  I love them so much.  So to spend time with them and their precious kids revives me.
We found out last week that Steve had been invited to join a prestigious Honor Society called Phi Kappa Phi for his academic record during his graduate work at Texas A & M.  We were so blessed by this news.  He has worked so hard.  He has worked full-time, carried our family on his shoulders, and still done excellently in school.  God has been faithful to him and has carried him.  It's been wonderful to see the fruit of his labor over the last three years.  To God be the glory!!
Elliana's new favorite past time is "doing my hair."  She loves to brush it and put clips in it.  Is it silly of me to say that I absolutely love it.  The look on her face when she is deciding where to put all of the clips is just so precious I cannot handle it.  So much fun!
This little cutie has been hamming it up as much as he can.  He is the bright spot in my day.  He doesn't ever talk back.  He doesn't get in trouble or need correction.  He just loves me and smiles at me all day long.  And at times, he falls asleep in my arms.  I am in love people.  So in love.  We finally started a bit of oatmeal (at 7 months) because I couldn't put it off any longer.  He's not really sure what he thinks of it.  I'm sure he'll get it in time.
Isaac has been doing little league and loving it.  It's really interesting to have him on a team with a bunch of little boys that we don't know.  It's been good.  There are lots of opportunities to learn about life, other people and how to sift through the gray areas in life.  This has probably been one of his first opportunities with this sort of thing because we are in a pretty tight community most of the time.  It's good for all of us and has sparked good conversations.  He's getting so big.  And every day I'm thankful for him.  
Joshua playing hard with his next-door buddy Beniam every day.  I don't have any current pics of them but they are born a day apart and despite their brother-like fighting at times, they are hilarious and inseparable.  I feel like Joshua is starting to turn a bit of a corner and is beginning to understand a little more about self-control.  He's also been mastering some new puzzles and the magnet game we have.  I feel like he's right on the cusp of a learning burst where all sorts of things are going to start making a lot of sense to him.  He's right there.  I'm excited to see him blossom and come into his own more of the next year.
And of course, we're a math family.  So we must celebrate Pi Day in some way (March 14...3.14).  So tonight we had Spaghetti Pie (inspired by my much missed next-door neighbor and dear friend) and individual chocolate pies (pots de creme-so easy by the way).  Unfortunately for Daddy though, he missed the celebration because dinner was late.  He had to take his dinner with him to Starbucks.  I simply made up my spaghetti pie recipe and so as a result, it took longer than expected.  But anyhoo, it was pretty darn yummy, filling and very good for you!  I'll have to post it once I've tweaked it a bit more.
That's about it.  A huge summary of the events of the last month.  We're nearly three weeks from thesis defense.  Then we have another three weeks or so until the end of the semester.

It hardly seems possible.  

God has been so faithful to us.  We are so thankful.  So thankful!

Until next time my friends.  Much love!  

Friday, March 8, 2013

O My Soul

I've grown up in the church.  I have been a Christian ever since I can remember.  I haven't always done the right things but, my heart has been Christ's since I was a little girl-that I know.  As I've gotten older, I have come to understand just how wicked my heart is, even with Christ.  It's wretched and it often whispers its lies to me-greed, selfishness, idolatry, envy, covetousness.  Everyone is steered by their hearts but, women are especially.  Yet, we're always told to "follow our hearts" because our heart won't lead us astray.  

This is so false.   

My heart leads me into places I should not be, on a regular basis.  The Bible says that the "Heart is deceitful above all things."  Jeremiah 17:9

Over the years, I have learned to be suspect of what is in my heart holding my desires up against the scriptures.  Not that I cannot have emotions, desires or excitement but, I must always know that I am in charge of what comes out of that vital vessel and I must discipline myself to hold it up to the Light.  For often what germinates inside is very sneaky, masked in light but really cloaked in darkness.  The longer I walk this earth, the more clear this becomes to me.  

Wisdom and discernment keep a heart in check.  I don't have much of these virtues so I must rest in Christ.  He is the judge of every heart.  Any good that comes out of my heart is Him.  Not me.

I'm a fan of Audrey Assad and I've posted about her and her song, Restless, before.  I discovered this little gem while listening to Spotify last night.  It was perfect timing.  For once again, I was in a mental battle to gain ground with my heart-my deceiful, wretched heart.  

I listened to it over and over again.  It was strangely comforting to hear the words, "Don't lie to yourself, o my soul-love your God."  It sounds strange yet those words make perfect sense to me.  As I've grown in understanding and maturity, I feel like I am constantly having to remind myself that I must die.  My desires, my heart, my ambitions, everything must die for Christ to reign.  And the way I die, is by loving God.  O my soul, love your God.  Don't your God.

Hope this song blesses you.  

O My Soul 

Rivers and stones and the trees of the field, they sing in the night 
And a thousand tongues lay deep in your lungs to raise to the sky 
Don't lie to yourself, o my soul—love your God. 

Deep in your heart you feather and tar your folly and fear: 
Expose them for the fools they are, and the world comes clear. 
Don't lie to yourself, o my soul—love your God. 

Your worries will never love you 
They'll leave you all alone 
But your God will not forsake you 
O my soul.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Organized Chaos

Ever since Nathan was born I have been in a bit of a fog.  I definitely noticed this after Elliana too.  However, I still felt like I was able to hold it together, just barely.  This time, I've totally given up.  Often you can hear me saying to someone, "If I don't get back to you, please remind me.  I won't be offended.  It's just that I can only hold so much information in my brain."

Often the most pertinent information revolves around who needs to be dressed, taken to school, when the baby needs to eat, or what needs to be done with the wrestling, fighting brothers in the other room.  As an aside, I swear, the spirits of Jacob and Esau have arisen in Caleb and Joshua.  Those two fight/wrestle constantly...often Caleb is serious and intent on beating Joshua for bugging him or something like that and Joshua is laughing his head off the whole time, simply pleased his big brother is paying attention to him.  Isaac and Caleb don't do that to each other.  Caleb idolizes Isaac and Isaac sees Caleb as his equal.  Enough said.   Somebody help me, I don't know what to do with my middle boys.  Will it ever end?

Anyhow, back to my fog.  Due to my aimless lifestyle, I am really coming under the conviction that I need to be more organized.  I'm not the most organized person but I'm not totally unorganized either.  I'm kinda a weird mix.  I am a free spirit.  I like being my own boss.  For instance, I hate meal planning because I really like seeing what I feel like making that day rather than having my calendar tell me what to do.  So much of cooking for me is about being excited about what I'm doing.  How am I supposed to know what will be exciting to me in three days' time or what I'll feel inspired to create?  This is my dilemma with meal planning. You'd think nearly eight years into my job as a stay-at-home mom I'd have some of these things ironed out, but I don't.  It's hard to reconcile my personal tastes with these aspects of life.  However, I'm also pretty methodical too.  In order to move all of these little people through the day, I have to be somewhat structured.  My free spirit always runs into my logical side at some point and then straightens up.
Just one of many problem areas in my house!  
That's where the organization comes in.  I'm really realizing that if I expect to keep my head above water, I must get more organized no matter what my fighting free spirit says.  It's about survival here.  Things like laying all of the kids' clothes out the night before, having everyone get everything ready for the next morning (lunches, snacks, etc...) and assigning seats in the car, make my life so much easier.  I don't know why I fight it.  I think it's some sort of sick independence that wells up in my heart and wanting to get it together just fine at the last minute!  I blame my attitude on being American.  That individualism pervades even the deepest recesses of my heart!!  Ha!

But Nathan's addition to our family has been my tipping point in so many ways.  I can't manage well flying by the seat of my pants.  I can't do it.  The only reason I've been able to muster a semblance of organization is because I have a fairly good memory.  But, like I mentioned before, my brain is too full at this point and it cannot take much more information in.  Therefore, the crutch I used to rely so heavily on is faltering under the weight, which causes the regular trip-up.
Everything...including shoes!
I shudder to think of how many times Steve's gone to look for undershirts/undergarments in the morning and his drawer is empty.  Or how baskets of clothes can sit on the couch for the days because I simply cannot get to them.  Some things I need to let go of-like perfection.  But I also have to be more organized and much more creative.  Part of that creativity is continuing to train the kids to do more things.  They're awesome at it and feel very useful.  It builds their confidence.  The older boys are at the point now too, where their help is really helpful.  Cleaning the house once a week takes half the time now because of all they can do.  And I don't have to go fix it all now like I used to have to.  Often, their work is sufficient.  Josh and Elle need more training though and that takes time.  Time is something I lack often so I have to remind myself that it's worth it in the end.  It really is.

One of the many blessings that comes with managing a home is the ability to set the tone for yourself.  My husband trusts me completely and gives me a lot of room to make decisions, set schedules, etc...and I really flourish in this environment.  So it's a really delicate balance-I want to be who I am but I also want to do a good job.  Part of learning and stretching is knowing when you need to change and grow.  I need to achieve somewhat of an organized chaos.  Yes, that's it.  Organized chaos.

Nightly ice cream-don't judge!  Cathartic medicine that helps me organize for the next day!
That's where I am at...I'm taking the few brain cells I have left and aiming them at trying to get my act together more.  I need to plan ahead.  I don't always have to like it but I need to do it.  Anybody else feel this way??  I'm sure, the more I stretch myself to do better, God will meet me there, and help me get better one step at a time.

One step at a time.