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Susan Wanderer has worked with families in kids ministry for 20 years, with the last ten years serving as Kids Minister at Mount Ararat Church in Stafford. Susan and her husband Ed reside in Fredericksburg and have three amazing kids who joined their family in 2011 and who fill their days with adventure. Come join the conversation over at 

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My Stomping Grounds

7 Ways To Help A Family In Crisis

Our family has been in crisis-management-mode for the last many weeks.  My mom is currently on her fourth hospital stay (three at UVA and one at UVA-Health South) since August 11. In this time, I have learned a lot about being a family in crisis and trying to juggle the health situation, family, work and daily life. Crisis happens. Life happens. It stinks, but it’s real. You probably know someone right now who is in the midst of a crisis-management situation.

Here are a few things I have learned in our encounter with crisis-management as a family:

Allow Disappointment. It’s such a real emotion and crying about that disappointment is okay.  The tears serve as a release valve to the stress and sadness that is building up within one’s soul. When your friend or loved one is sitting in distress, hold them close and allow them to be disappointed.

Embrace Community. People’s physical presence is important. As much as I adore modern technology, there is something better about a physical body standing beside you saying “I’m with you and we can do this together.” Hand-holding, tear-wiping, remember-when-stories, hair-brushing, laughing-til-you-hurt are as important as prescribed medication.

You Are Not Forgotten. The texts and phone calls of “let me pick up your kids”, “I’m in this with you” are life-giving. It makes you feel like you have not been forgotten. When my mom receives these, she knows she is loved and she has a cheering section.

Don’t Ask, Just Do. If you are on the outside looking in on a family in crisis-management-mode, offer ways to help instead of a “Let us know if we can help..." Sometimes that means just going by Hallmark and buying a card. The cards Mom received this week brought rays of sunshine into a gloomy situation.

Take Care of My Kids. Offer to pick up kids and show them warmth and love because they are scared and unable to process exactly what is happening. They seem fine, but under the surface, their little minds have so many questions. Buy them a milkshake, take them to the playground. Loving my kids is an extension of loving me and their grandmother.

High Five The Husbands.  The load the husbands carry is real. I’ve seen that. God designed them to be fixers and in crisis situation, they can’t always fix. This leaves them feeling helpless. I’ve observed this with my own eyes this week. Remind them: you are doing a good job loving your wife. Sometimes that affirmation is enough to carry them until the next medical decision that needs to be made.

Get A Village.  Mom has come a long way. Her medical team is sensational. Her family is awesome. Her friends in both Fredericksburg, Charlottesville, at Mount Ararat (our church) and other parts of the country have shown up big time. They have written cards, sent flowers, sat by her bedside and cheered her on. But the main reason I love this village – their knees are worn out from prayer. They genuinely are asking God for provision and care for my mom. And as an only-child-daughter this means the absolute world to me. His plans for her are better than our plans ever could be.

If you are a family in crisis. I am genuinely so very sorry you are walking this journey. I know the ups and downs of it all too well. I pray you have people around you lifting you up and cheering you on.

If you know a family in crisis… circle up and love them well. You have an opportunity today to be better medication than anything purchased at the pharmacy.


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Tweezers Are A Girl's Best Friend

On Sunday night my mom had emergency surgery.  Four weeks ago she had back surgery and we thought she was well on her way to healing.  Yet on Sunday morning her incision decided to open and display on the innards of her back. Or as my farmer-father described it to the Emergency Room resident on call over the phone “Her back looks like a split watermelon." (Hope you weren’t just drinking coffee or enjoying lunch. Because: Gross.)

Mom and Dad jumped in the car (well, Dad jumped, Mom hobbled slowly) and made their way back to UVA Hospital to meet with the surgeon and his team. By that evening Mom was being rolled back into surgery.

I got the call from my dad to meet them there. I hurried home, threw randomness of clothes, shoes, pj’s, etc… in a bag and headed to Charlottesville.

I arrived to the lobby to meet my dad and my cousin and we waited by ourselves in the very large atrium of The University of Virginia Hospital.  I think sleep deprivation took over our souls because the three of us howled with laughter at the slightest bit of story-telling and people-watching.

Mom returned to her room about 10:00PM and I stayed the night in her hospital room on 6 West. The two of us slept 3 hours and 2 minutes that night (my FitBit told me so) and by 8AM, I high-fived my cousin (who took over Mom-watch duties), drove to her house in Charlottesville and took a shower and a nap.

When I woke from my slumber, THAT is when I discovered my horrible moment of forgetfulness.

I am 42 years old.  There are certain toiletries you need every single day and can’t go without. I had forgotten ALL OF THEM.

In case you are ever in a family crisis and must pack quickly, I am your friendly blogger, here to help you gain wisdom. 

Here is my list of items I now know must be kept in a pre-prepared bag to take with me in case the call comes to come right-this-second.

The most important of these items: Tweezers. Bless all the 42-year-old bearded women. Raise your hand if that is you. Go ahead, don’t be ashamed. My arm is waving way above my head as well.

I have learned though, in my Poly-Cystic-Ovarian-Menopausal-State-Of-Living that all unwanted whiskers facial hair can be exterminated with a good pair of tweezers. Not the 99 cent kind… you MUST spend north of $7 in order to get the optimal tweeze-experience. Bless the estrogen-gone-wild-way-of-life.

On Monday morning I discovered I did not have my beloved plucking utensil and therefore I grasped my chin most of the day as medical staff, friends and family came in and out.

I looked like I was a great ponder-er. I clearly belonged with the great Academics here at the University of Virginia, AKA: The Harvard of the South. Little did they know I was hiding my menopausal chin.

The next most important item I forgot: deodorant.  I need not say more. After an evening of sleeping on a window sill, I had an aroma I was able to blame on hospital smells. Yet it needed to be remedied immediately by Secret, Dove, Degree, or even Suave before walking beyond the hospital doors. Any product that would not put me in a Seinfeld episode about body odor would have been useful at that particular moment.

Haircare Items: I looked like cotton was laying on top of my scalp. I had no shampoo. No conditioner. No product. No hairspray. Bless all the natural-curly-headed-women. I’m not one of you. I'm sure my hair greeted the surgical team of residents, interns and doctors in beauty-pageant-style.

Last night I went by Harris Teeter to their travel size section and loaded up on these items and my toiletry life returned to normal. My tip for you today, grab some travel size items, place them in a cutesy cosmetic bag and you will be set on your next last minute grab-and-go experience.

Or at the very least you will own a fabulous pair of good working tweezers.

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Ten Things I Love About Back-To-School Season

Some of you Summer-Hard. And you love every inch of the season. The non-routine, the kids being home, the heat, the chlorine, the sand, the salt, the coppertone, the slurpees, the neighborhood kids choosing your yard as the cool spot.  While others of you went and celebrated the start of the school year with a two hour massage and a mani/pedi while singing a modern edgy version of the Hallelujah Chorus.

wanderer kids

If you are a summer person or a SEND-THOSE-KIDS-BACK-TO-SCHOOL-NOW person, here are some of my favorite things about Back-To-School:

  1. School Supplies – seriously, I adore the scent of new crayons, pencils, glue sticks, spiral notebooks, backpacks.  It’s like a new car smell, only a a few thousand dollars cheaper.

  2. Back To School Night – yep, I’m THAT mom.  It took me forever to become a Mom so I seriously ADORE the BTS Nights and all the excitement. I want to sign up for everything. But by the time week two arrives, WHAT-WAS-I-THINKING hits me in the face. I un-sign myself up and apologize. My child’s current excitement will be gone by Thursday, and the teacher is clearly not surprised. Go Team Wanderer. Bless our hearts.

  3. Bedtime – the first week of school is a bit brutal. I feel like an 80 year old woman and my kids absolutely have no understanding of rational thinking past a certain hour in the evening. “It’s 6:00pm, let’s start getting ready for bed.”

  4. Routine – it is no longer the land of never-ending randomness. Routine has returned.  Routine, you are my soulmate. You complete me.

  5. Pumpkin Spice – sure our country has gone a weeeeeeeeeee bit overboard in its addiction and love of ALL THINGS Pumpkin Spice (seriously, who needs Pumpkin Spice Deodorant), but the first week of school announces its grand arrival. My spice candles are lit and I eagerly anticipate the first sip of the Starbucks Goodness.

  6. Field Trips – I love field trips. And fall means a Pumpkin Patch adventure with my second grader. My first rookie-mom field trip when my oldest daughter went on her kindergarten Pumpkin Patch trip I was reminded that September/October in Virginia means heat. But I wore fall-ish attire in order to snap a good few photos. And I looked like a wet-rat by the end of the trip. My head was soaked from sweat. Such a first world dilemma. Now I realize the name of the game is layers… bless my rookie-mom-wanted-a-good-photo-heart.

  7. Kick Off Sunday – our church, Mount Ararat in Stafford, has Back-To School Sunday this week and we are reminded why Sundays are our favorite days! My kids ADORE going to meet their new small group leaders for the new school year. Seeing other adults investing in my child is a gift.

  8. Quiet House – my house has not been quiet in eleven weeks. I forgot what quiet sounds like. While I did adore having my kiddos home and hearing their sounds of laughter, squeals, arguing and singing, I was reminded I also like quiet.  Quiet has a lovely little lullaby to it. Quiet and I were reunited this week.

  9. Stories – we play high/low in the evenings. Each person shares one high experience and one low experience from their day. It’s my favorite. I love listening to their stories. Celebrating their highs and consoling the lows. This part of our day makes us a team.  It makes us realize that family is something bigger than sharing a home. It makes us each others' cheerleaders and support.

  10. Uniforms – my kids go to a school that has a uniform dress code. I adore it. No more “you can’t wear that, you wore it when you were four, its too tight.” A set uniform means a little less grumbling. Which makes my ears celebrate. Bless all the Mary Janes and knee socks!

Like it or love it, the Back-To-School season is here! Lets embrace it with a pumpkin spice in one hand and a pom-pom in the other as we cheer our kids on in each of their fall endeavors.

Happy Schooling, my friends!

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5 Questions Not To Ask An Adoptive Family

It's back to school time with opportunities to meet new families and new faces! Now is the perfect time of year to have teachable moments with your kiddos on how to interact with people and families that possibly look different than your family looks. 

As a multi-racial, adoptive family, we receive lots of questions. Some appropriate, some not appropriate.

So, in an effort to help create a teachable moment for your child, here is my list of five re-phrased questions and curiosities we hear as a family as we move about our daily life.

Here’s the 411 on most of these questions: Pause for a moment and think: would you want such a personal question asked from a total stranger to your own children?


1. Actual Question: What happened to their real parents?

We receive this question all the time. In grocery store check out lines, in the park, back to school nights, church, etc… it’s a common curiosity.

If you are curious if my kids have been adopted, that’s fine. Asking a personal question of why a child had to be adopted means my child will relive a trauma/heartache right there in the check-out line of Target.

Better Question: Are you an adoptive family?

Our family understands adoption completely and our kids are able to answer that question on their own without feeling the need to relive their entire past experiences.


2. Actual Question: How much did your children cost?

My kids did not cost a dime… to pay for a child is considered child trafficking. And we are against that.

Adoption requires agencies, social workers, lawyers, plane tickets, lodging, etc… The PROCESS of adoption is expensive.

Better Question: How expensive is the process of adoption?

The Adoption Process is long and intense… this re-phrased question gives us the ability to help a family understand the agencies and resources that are available to help walk them through the adoption process.


3. Actual Question: Did you decide to adopt because you couldn’t have your own real children?

This question makes my kids feel like they were a Plan B. Also, my fertility is not a subject I would like to discuss while my cage-free-eggs are being scanned by the cashier. My kids are my real kids. I cheer them on like a real mom, I wipe their tears like a real mom, I carry Mom-Guilt like a real mom. In all real-ness, I am their real mom and they are my real kids.

Better Question: What made you decide to adopt?

We love talking adoption and this question gives us a great jumping off point to open a discussion.


4. Actual Statement: You are so awesome to give these children a better life.

This statement is so awkward I had a hard time even forcing my computer to type the words. This statement creates a Savior-Mentality in the parents and disregards the awesomeness of my kids. If there is one thing I have lived and learned in these last five years: My kids have given me joy in places I didn’t know were sad. They have brought life to areas I didn’t understand were on life-support. My three kids have given ME a better life.

Better Statement: How awesome that you guys are a family.

We are a typical family and we love talking about our kids. This statement opens the door wide for me to brag on my kids and the unique way our family was created.


5. Actual Question: How on earth did you learn to do their hair?

This question is asked normally by white people. So to my fellow white person: Don’t ask that question. It makes my child think something is wrong with their hair.  After years of studying, talking and learning, I have discovered how culturally important it is for me to take proper care of my kids' hair. And I strive to do this. Some days I do well and some days I fail miserably.

See, typical-real-mom-life.

Better Statement: Your kids are beautiful.

I agree! Thank you!


Our family is grateful for adoption. We desire to have lovely meaningful conversations with people who might be curious about adoption.

I hope these five questions/statements help arm you with information to guide your child towards a greater understanding of interacting with families that might look different than your family.  

Communication is key. Learning appropriate approaches to create dialogue is where the best education is born for our children.

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Moms, Let's Linger Longer With Our Kids

On Monday morning my kids will begin their sixth year of school in America.

Each year I tenderly recall taking my Amharic-speaking children into school on their first day of American school life.  The lump in my throat was so thick I absolutely Could. Not. Swallow.

I was so hopeful and scared and proud. Their smiles were so wide. They whispered Amharic hope in my ear every time they saw a potential new friend or teacher. I winked, kissed their foreheads, and tried to swallow that lump.

Here we are almost to the eve of another school year. This coming Monday night I will be hearing first-day-of-school stories from a newly crowned second grader, fifth grader and junior. And I simply can’t wait. Even on the hard days, Mama-hood is such a gift to my soul. They bring joy to parts of my life I never knew were empty.

This summer has been an intense season for us as a family.  And as I sat this week with my kids I decided my theme for this coming school year needs to be: Linger Longer.

My junior will be gone before I type this next word, my second grader will ask for the car keys tomorrow and my fifth grader will be off on her first job interview in the morning. Time is flying. And while there is a bit of heartache, there is also excitement in the new discoveries, adventures and independence that are ahead.

So this year, I want to Linger Longer.

Linger longer in their stories…

in their giggles…

in video games with my son…

in family walks…

in holding hands with my husband and smooching him in front of my kids…

in gathering on the couch as a family watching our favorite shows…

in encouraging at the homework table…

in relaxing on the back porch reading books…

I even want to linger a bit longer in the heartache moments and the words and experiences that provide healing because that’s where the growth really happens as individuals and families.

Six years ago I was not a Mama. Today, I am. And I never want to take that for granted. My kids gave me one of the greatest joys I’ve ever known. They made us family.

And on Monday, I will Linger Longer in the lunch making, the prayers prayed, the goodbye kisses and the hopes of a great first day.

My hope for you this school year, parents: many lovely, busy-free moments to Linger Longer with your kiddos. 

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Pouches' Community Corner

Smart Beginnings Rappahannock Area Splash EventMassadYMCA

For the past seven years, Smart Beginnings has thrown the Splash Pool Party fundraiser. This summer, the event will be held on June 24, 2018 from 6:30-9:30 pm at the Steve & Cheri Thurston Water Park at the Massad Family YMCA. Tickets range in price from $12 for a single ticket, $20 for couples and $35 for a family/group of four and each ticket also covers a hot dog, bag of chips and a drink.