Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Grace Upon Goodness



I'm prone to only telling 2/3 of the story.

When I get excited about something or feel any kind of urgency, I start spitting information out at rapid speed, realizing later that I left out key details.

I'm sorry I was so vague about our newest house guest.

When I started getting texts and emails from friends saying things like, "Why do you only have one of the twins?" and "Is Robert taking care of the baby, or are you?" I knew I'd left some critical information out of the equation.

Her name is Avery, and she does not belong to Robert, but it's complicated, because one of his twins is also named Avery. Life is hilarious and strange. Remember?

The family under our roof is cobbled together without a stitch of shared DNA, seven of us making our way through the day with the high hopes that we'll still be singing when the evening comes.

So far, so good.

The change happened swift but sure, her blending seamlessly into the rest of us. Cory and I get hit now and then with waves of PTSD from the last time we parented a 2 year old, because this is nothing like that. This is one million times easier. She's easy-going, funny, compliant, happy, and chill. You'll find us with a look on our faces that says, "Oh, yes. I remember this..."

That's the thing about parenting, though. The hard kids and the easy ones still occupy the same space in our hearts. Our hard baby keeps getting easier, and he's loving his new role as Big Brother, as you might imagine. Just last night he made a potty chart for her from an old Scrabble score-pad, one check for pee and two checks for poop. Naturally.

Which brings me to this observation: Parenting a toddler is SO DIFFERENT when you have smallish, able-bodied citizens ready and willing to help. Ruby has basically earned allowance for life through her eagerness to help out. The two girls share a room, and after they all pile in after school, Avery likes to cuddle with "her Wooby" on the couch.

Gah.

This is hard, folks. It's just louder and wilder with extra clothes and dirty dishes and food and drop-offs and DIAPERS. There are toys (a toddler who plays with actual toys!!) but no toy room. There's sleep-related angst and so many things. Evenings usually find us hiding out in our bedroom, too exhausted to even speak actual words to each other.

But this is the good stuff.
This is the unplanned-for stuff that rocks life into an ever-sweeter spot.

We're committed to Avery and to her Mama, because we love them both dearly. We have no hopes that she'll be with us forever. Our focus is on loving her well while we have her, just as I imagine Calvin and Silas's foster families did.

For the millionth time, we beat our heads against "this is not about us". It never is, no matter how hard why try to believe otherwise.

But God wastes nothing, so regardless of how wonky life and the future may be, we've been handed a blessing today, so we hold it.


** We've dug out our very favorite kids bedtime book and Miss Avery is loving it just as Calvin and Ruby did. The cover is warped and torn, but the words inside are magic. AND the pictures! So much to look at. I take decorating cues from the homes Eloise Wilkin brings to life inside the pages. It's really the best book ever.

***That ^ was an Amazon affiliate link. :)

Photo credit :: Cory

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Weekend Cheer-Ups



:: The winner of the Artful Blogging giveaway - Amanda McB. Email me, lady. (shannandmartin at gmail) (I LOVED reading all your "good thing" comments! I tell Cory all the time how awesome you guys are. True story.)

:: I keep making this basic marinara, only I sometimes use all diced/petite diced tomatoes and omit the puree because I like my sauce to be toothsome. THEN, I throw in a handful of capers when I eat it for lunch (yes, carbs for lunch, please and thank you) and MY WORLD IS CHANGED FOREVER.

:: In light of the world and the post I wrote yesterday, I read anything I can get my hands on about parenting kids of different races. Black Moms Tell White Moms About the Race Talk was a compelling read.

:: Shouting From the Front: Reflections of a Disorderly Woman Pastor by Rev Tiffany Thomas. I devoured this read. Fascinating, truthful take. (Pssst...our church is currently pastored by a woman. Uncharted territory for me!)

:: Anything Helps by Megan at Sweet Pea and Beans. A thoughtful post on the way we complicate generosity.

:: You will faint dead away at the Before/Afters of this adorable cottage Layla featured over at The Lettered Cottage. Makes me want to go all, "3 Little Bears" and sneak in to see it for myself...

:: I don't have it in me to be a minimalist, but I've had some deep thoughts recently on the life of clutter in my home. Paige gets my wheels turning in The Transformation of a Clutter Chameleon.

:: To that end, Erin blows my dang mind with Closet Minimalism - Wardrobe 25.

:: Yesterday was Robert's birthday and he hates his birthday. But he watched Ruby Sparks with me last night and it cheered us both up. Quirky for the win!

:: I keep buying whole milk to make Martha's Lemon Souffle Pudding, then using up all the milk before I can get it made because my life is a bit wonky right now.

:: I've been on a mail-sending bender lately and holy guac, I really DO love tacos...

:: My friend Becca, preggers and feeling miserable, talks about what life looks like when God orders all her days, even the ones where she can't make it off the couch. "I learn again and again the discipline of surrendering parts of myself for something greater. To give up ministry to meet Jesus in my weakness."

:: Humans of New York is kicking my butt this week. Just read everything on the home page right now. (This is what happens when we believe ALL children (not just our own) deserve a quality education and a future.)

:: Need a spark of creativity? Hayley rounded up a passel of "leading women" to get their take on how to capture and nourish creativity. (Related: I'm a "leading woman"! What??!)


Happy Weekending, Friends and Neighbors!


Friday, January 23, 2015

Listen to the Sound



Robert was up and out of the house by 5:30 this morning.
He got a J.O.B.

(The quiet is delicious.)

Days after he reached the highest level at the work release center (almost impossible to do,) just one day prior to moving back home, he was laid off from his factory job. He had shown up every day, on time, for nine months. The dude is a hard worker, and in his words, "My supervisor hates me...because it's impossible to hate me!" (I will vouch for this truth.)

Still, as many of you know, stuff happens.

The department of corrections is obviously known for its zany humor, but perhaps the "funniest" part of all is that Work Release, the place they send you when THEY EXPECT YOU TO BE EMPLOYED, made it next to impossible for him to find a new job.

For two weeks, he was ready. But for two weeks, they weren't. He heard every excuse and stupid reason, and sometimes, all he got was the ever-popular, "Because I said so."

On Monday he was finally allowed to leave the house and fill out applications. By Tuesday morning he had an interview with a successful company. And fifteen minutes after arriving for his interview (twenty minutes early - a reminder that we do not share DNA,) he was employed.

Will you ever get tired of me saying how proud I am of him?

We've been talking in the midnight hours about race and racism and whether or not reaching a place of understanding will ever be possible. Robert's take is fascinating. He maintains he's never been mistreated because he's black, and though this attitude might serve him well, I know it isn't true. In the very next breath, he tells me stories that prove the opposite.

Robert is a convicted felon. He grew up in a shattered family mired in urban, American poverty and all of its associated ills. In and out of foster care, suspended and expelled, becoming the "mistake" everyone said he was, he quit school as soon as he was able. Thrown into the juvenile justice system for offenses that would garner other boys a firm talking-to, he was corralled into a system that would eventually funnel him into a state prison. At the age of barely-nineteen.

"African American youth are 4.5 times more likely (and Latino younth 2.3 times more likely) than white youth to be detained for identical offenses." - Burning Down the House 

He got his GED in prison, mostly because his parents forced him. It was the first time I ever got super bossy with him, telling him over the phone something to the effect of, "I'm your mom now, and I don't care if you don't want to or you're nervous. YOU ARE TAKING THAT TEST."

A few months later, we forced him to get his driver's license.

We've seen first-hand the way a sure-of-himself, sometimes-cocky Big Kid can shy away from important things because he's been told, for as long as he can remember, that he shouldn't even bother. Or he's not worth it. Or he wasn't built to succeed.

Both successes have been instrumental in his "moving on" momentum.

We forced the issue, but he did all the work.
He did it, proving his intelligence and courage to himself along the way.
And though he's always been a boot-straps kind of guy, he's more willing to take positive chances now.

The person who hired him just two days ago tacked these words to the offer, "You're so much more soft-spoken and respectful than I thought you'd be when I first saw you."

He told me this with his chest puffed out a bit, as proud of himself as he deserved to be.
But I heard what wasn't said, and honestly, so did he.

"When charges are filed, white teenagers are more likely to be placed on probation, while black youth are more likely to be placed behind bars.

The differential treatment young people of color face from an early age contributes to a particularly insidious cycle. The general public sees only the statistics and the faces on the evening news. The differential treatment that drives the statistics, however, is rarely reported. Without this context, the racism that leads black youth to be so grossly overrepresented in the juvenile justice system serves to fuel the racism they face on the street - the assumption that all of them have their eye on the white lady's purse."Burning Down the House

If I fault his employer, I indict myself. Maybe I haven't voiced the same words, but I have felt their echo in the quiet of my heart, back when race was just another conversational landmine and everything I "knew" had been learned from my TV.

It's not okay. It's not enough. We're all out of excuses, now.

The next time I'm tempted to think I know things about people, I'll assume there's a good chance I'm wrong. I'll take the time to shake that hand before I piece together an entire back-story or stitch up a future I can't possibly see.

The next time I find myself judging the poor or underemployed, the person with no wheels, the high school drop-out, the inmate, the welfare mom, I'll consider the ways my life never came close to mirroring theirs.

My house is quiet but my heart is loud.
It's celebratory.
It's heartsick and mad.

We've got work to do, guys. Our teachers are everywhere, and I happen to have the chattiest, most loveable one living in my basement.

I'm just going to keep passing my lessons along, praying we all have the guts to use them.


*Amazon affiliate links used  
** Photo credit - Cory

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Pipe Dreams and Morning Tea

Oh, nothing.

I'm just sitting here with my boyfriend, Earl Grey, perusing my article in the current issue of Artful Blogging magazine.

Life, you never stop cracking me up.

I discovered Artful Blogging in my first year of blogging and it scratched all my twitchiest itches. It seemed like a pipe dream back then to imagine I've ever be among it's thick, decadent pages. It was one of those thoughts I only whispered to myself because I didn't want myself to feel embarrassed by or disappointed in myself or by myself when it never happened. To myself. (It was complicated.)

Back on the farm, I'd spend my pocket cash on an issue, now and then. I'd devour every article and the photography was so compelling, Cory usually flipped it when I was done. My stack of back-issues moved with me from house to house because they're bonafide works of art (along with Anthro and J Crew catalogs.) I'll never part with them.

When the editor contacted me a few months ago about writing a piece for the magazine, I was thrilled. It was one of those private victories, a surprise remnant from my past life that showed up unannounced and made me grin my cheeks off.

If you're interested, you can find a copy at places like B&N, Hobby Lobby, or Michaels. You can also subscribe.

Just for the hay of it, I'm buying two extra copies with the discount Stampington & Co. armed me with, and I'm giving one away right here and one on my FPFG Facebook page. Because you guys are my homies, that's why. You tell me what face wash to use and where to find yoga pants to fit my wiry bod and what to read/watch/listen to. You cheer me on and up and jeez-Louise, I honestly don't know what I'd do without you.

To enter, just tell me something good in the comments. Anything, as long as it's happy or wonderful or "fantastich" as Ruby wrote in a letter last night.

I'll pick winners on Saturday (promise! swear!) so check back.

Happy Thursday, Lovelies.
FPFG

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Seven Coats



Days like this, I wish I was more clever or witty, or maybe that I was enjoying a more poetic vibe. None of those are true today, because I'm just tired. It's not a bad thing. It happens. You know.

But I have news.

Remember how, Robert came home a week and a half ago?
The very next day, we got a call saying we'd soon have another temporary house guest. A tiny one with little teeth like Tic Tac mints and a raspy voice that makes me feel like I'm living in reverse.

It blew our dang minds. 

After the "when", we addressed the "where", diving headlong into the most frazzled, cluttered version of musical rooms ever.

We occupy the now-defunct toy room, and here's where things get strange: I cried about moving our room. I mean, my eyes leaked a little. It wasn't a full-blown crying jag. It was the kind where the feelings want to EXIT THE BUILDING but the Super won't let them. The doors are locked. The windows barred. So, you know, they pull the fire alarms. They do what they gotta do. Eventually, they get noticed, and they run.

I never once felt sad or disappointed or inconvenienced about our new, littlest house-guest.
We're not sure how long she'll be here, but she's already making our days brighter.

Still, in the days leading up to her arrival, I was blue for 28-odd hours over a dumb bedroom. I liked the old bedroom. It was so much bigger. We'd lived there for 2 and a half years. It was home. I was comfortable there. It was quieter. Prettier. And what would become of the refugee toys??

The whole experience reminded me of leaving the farm. Only, I could swear this bedroom switch-out was sadder.

It's so silly, so inconsequential and embarrassing to admit. Or maybe change never gets easier when it isn't our idea. Maybe this is the yank and shove of being human, this long-strung tension between what we think we deserve and the wild grace we're actually given.

We're out of practice on toddlers over here, but I'm surprised at how much sense it makes.
We're still playing catch-up when it comes to parenting an adult, but we talk long into the darkest hours of night and I find myself wanting to stare again, just like I used to. He spits out stories of heartbreak and chaos without a flinch. He spins a yarn and stacks truth upon truth. From across the room, I believe I'm staring at the answer to the future.

I know he could change the world, if he tried.
(I'm not sure if he will.)

We take a step back and our circle widens.
We take a step back and our arms are filled with muffins and soup and buckets of KFC.
This is the life we were given.
This is our family.

Today, we are seven strong, and counting.
I'm more sure than ever - there's no easy way to say who belongs to me and who doesn't.
It's not up to me. It never was.
The years I believed it was my choice were an illusion, and I'm better off without it.

We're settling in and snuggling up to uncertainty.


His voice reverberates through the floorboards, smooth and kind.
At some point, she cries, and we climb the stairs in the dark.


My life is unrecognizable to me, once again.
I'm well past trying to memorize its angles and planes.

Somehow, it still feels like home.


Friday, January 16, 2015

Keeping It Weird in 2015



Something in me has resisted the idea of making big plans for 2015, or setting major goals. I haven't even picked a word. (If memory serves me, I didn't pick one last year, either.)

I'm a big picture person by nature. A list-maker. My favorite thing to do with Cory is sit alone and talk about the future, or our dreams for certain areas of our life. (He might say I do 85% of the talking. I say: Prove it, Jail Chap.)

Dreaming makes my soul feel free, like good things are still possible, or like maybe there's still a shred of control resting in my hot little (giant) hands (claws).

Over the past few years, our dreams keep changing shape. They shift when we're standing still. They lose their edges while we sleep. The things I used to dream about are, for the most part, off my radar now.

Back in the day, when we stole a quiet hour together, we had to swear off talking about our kids. You know that thing, right? Now, when we sneak off for lunch, we have to intentionally kick our neighbors under the table for a while so we can sit and intentionally talk about our kids.

There are days it all seems right and there are others when the world seems desperately off-balance. I mourn those daydreams about adding on to our already-huge-farmhouse. (Who was that girl???) I know every life is complicated in its own way, but I look around sometime and wonder what it's like to just worry about ourselves, our own little unit. I used to live that, and now I can't even remember the feeling. Not even a little bit.

The point of this isn't that I'm some kind of martyr or the Best Jesus Girl Ever. (Don't make me prove that's not the point, holy cow, don't. do. it.)

The point is, I worry every single day that we're losing ourselves. 

The other point is, I'm reminded just as often that in order for the Universe to be truly right, God has to increase. And the only way that can happen is for me to decrease.

I'm over here decreasing, guys. That's what I'm doing, and it feels like trying to climb out of my own body.  It feels like spinning and rocketing then stopping on a dime. It feels lonely, sometimes. Painful, sometimes.

But.

My God loves me. He wants to own my identity and boss my schedule around. Yep. He wants to keep cramming bodies into this smallish house. He wants my days to feel so unmanageable that I impulsively turn my back to the room while I'm stirring marinara and say, out loud, "Jesus, take the wheel." (That was an honest prayer I prayed yesterday and I wasn't even trying to be funny, which probably cracked God up even more than the times I do joke around with Him. There were other prayers, but that was the most urgent. And probably the longest.)

God wants me at the end of myself so He can build me back up in ways that reflect more goodness, more Him. He wants my self-pity and ego to be sacrificed on the alter of Much Better Things.

But He's kind of crazy about Shannan Martin and her wonky ways.
Just like Austin TX, He wants to keep me weird.

Weirdness is the essence of who He created me to be, so we guard it like the Hope diamond.
Weirdness is the source of my creativity, and the thing that keeps me from fleeing life when it feels too scratchy and hard.

Women talk a lot about self-care. I honestly have trouble getting on board with the idea that I come first, but only because it's not true. It sounds so good, in theory, but it's really a lie. I was never meant to be first. Neither were you.

Still, I do factor in somewhere. Dying by living is the goal, but in order for the living part to happen, we have to be, well, alive. It'd be nice if we could be alive with clean socks, delicious dinner, and a few idle hours.

These days, I'm paying attention to what I need and when and where I can find it. I'm doing more listening, less talking. I'm giving myself permission to regroup in necessary ways, and discovering the path to regrouping is to simply Be.

It turns out, God's economy of Always Enough applies even to me.
I can spend and keep spending my life for the sake of God, but at some point the best service I can offer is to lock my door and read a magazine.

So, here's what I know right now. I know my house is quiet for the next hour, after which it will be Game Freaking On for the rest of the day/weekend/oh-my-gosh-Monday-is-a-holiday.

So I will spend this hour well.
I will wear it out.
My worship and obedience will be soup.

That's honestly the extent of what I know.

God has a plan for my day, which has already included some angst/drama/inconvenience/stress. It's already packed with everything I need to keep running to Him. The bad news is, I would have chosen differently. The good news is, I'm learning to trust His ideas more.

I'll let you know in December what my word for 2015 was.
Right now, I have no dang clue.

(Hashtag Adventure. Hashtag I like surprises. Hashtag I hope some of them are fun-good and not just hard-good.)


~

PS - There must be something in the water, because my pretend sisters Emily and Myquillyn both wrote posts this week that resonated so deeply within me, I almost cry-talked.

I also love the way Hayley talks about Mothering herself.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Wildflowers in January

Here was my yesterday:

Work
Work
Work
Reach for tissue box while working
Throw out lower back
Work
Work
Shower

Robert: "Mommmmm!"
Me: "What do you need?" (i.e. This is the busiest day ever....WHAT DO YOU NEED?")
Robert: "Nothing. Just hugs."

:)

Work
Lunch
Pick up kids
Work
Read email with the Best News in the Land
Work through dinner
Report card ice cream
Work
Sleep

Repeat.

I don't think I've mentioned, but I officially signed with an agent a couple months ago and he's already got my nose to the grindstone.

The good news is, when I'm a little MIA over here, I'm still at least half-alive on my Facebook page, so if you can't bear a day without me (< THAT IS A RIDICULOUS JOKE) you can find me here and we'll gab.

Hey, in other news, who watched the Golden Globes Sunday night? We made it through half because we're fair-weathered. But I shared tweets, emails and voxes about all of the important details, including but not limited to:

* Patricia Arquette's hair is my hair's spirit animal. I felt bad that she had that one strand of limp bangs flopping around, but then I stopped feeling bad and instead felt a rush of warm solidarity. If Patty can rock flat hair WHILST WINNING A TROPHY then I don't feel so bad tooling around town that way.

* Salma Hayek went dressed for her Junior Prom, to fetching "Toddlers In Tiaras" effect.

* Lily Tomlin has the most compelling face on God's green earth, and only partly because it's synthetic. (Proof that sometimes, plastic surgery works to the advantage of the actress?)

* I've cast Kate Beckinsale in the role of Shannan Martin in the as-yet-untitled biopic featuring a set made entirely of gingham thrift-store cast-offs. "Something, something, Wonky, Swoony, Something." That's all I've got so far, but my instincts tell me it's going to be BIG.

If you're wondering about these pictures, it's just that when I look out my window, all I see is white and gray and thin, depressing plumes of smoke that eerily resemble my/Patty's bangs.

Also, that kid on the right? He's busy trying to dismantle my sanity again. It comes in waves.


So when I stumbled on these pictures I'd never gotten around to sharing, it seemed like just the thing I needed to stare at for a while. Maybe it'll help you, too. And if you have your doubts, notice both of Ruby's front teeth are missing and watch those doubts drift off to sea.

It's impossible to look at a child without front teeth and believe the universe is anything other than exactly right. Proven fact.


This is exactly how I want my soul to feel right now.

If God was Don Draper and I was Peggy and I had to show him the optimal positioning of my heart and psyche, I would haul this in and put it up on that big easel in his office. And I would smoke a cigarette while I did it.

In reality, I'm usually somewhere closer to this, which has its perks.

Gah. I love these small, youth-shaped people.
Stare with me a while at the above kid. He's purely awesome.  When he's smiling. When he's smiling but not talking about poop or butts.

See what a field of wildflowers will get you in the middle of January?
Your sanity. Peace on earth.

Last thing: my Becoming: The Unfolding of You video went up yesterday! I watched it again and I have to say, MY HANDS ARE LIKE THE GIANT, FLAPPING WINGS OF A CONDOR. But beside that, I talked a lot about my journey to realizing who God made me to be, and the video ends with the best example of God's impeccable timing EVER. I don't want to spoil the surprise. Just watch all the way to the end and I dare you not to smile until your cheeks cramp.

My creative video is all about thrifting. What. Yes, that's correct. I was told to talk about something creative, and it totally counts. See me live and in action at my local Goodwill store. 

Click here to register. It's not too late and it's free! There are three sets of videos each week and I have loved all I've seen so far. It's so much fun to sit and "chat" with women who tell the truth, you know?

Happy Tuesday!

ps - The rad T's on the kiddos came from one of my favorite shops, The House of Belonging. I want to own every single thing they create. In multiple. You will faint dead away at their wall art. Dead away!

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