Notes from a Blue Bike

7 02 2014

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Two months to the day from the last storm, we have Snowmageddon, the Reprise.  This was our view out the front window about 6 inches into a 12 hour, constant-flow snow storm yesterday.  We have a little reprieve this morning and then reports say it plans to start again in earnest this afternoon.

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A quick dusting at 5:45am became a steady dumping…..

and the boys were “striking”, begging their mean mom (notice the sign, “Mom’s Mine!”) to let them outside at 6:30am after school was cancelled.

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Finally let them out after breakfast and morning cartoons.

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….which lasted for all of 10 minutes when they barreled inside and stripped off all the layers.

Snow days are all about peace, calm, slowness and coziness, right?!??!

It became the perfect day to set aside my grading, lesson planning, schedule stressing and school concerns.

And pick up Tsh Oxenreider’s new book, Notes from a Blue Bike:  The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World.

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I have followed Tsh’s website The Art of Simple (formerly Simple Mom) for a long time, often referring back to her wisdom or ideas here on the blog.

When she began to share about her current book project, now in finished form, Notes from a Blue Bike, the theme resonated with me before I read a word of the text.

Living intentionally in the midst of chaos.

Making intentional choices.

Leaving margin for doing nothing.

Making choices, even hard ones, to live the life we truly seek.

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Back in 2008, we made a very difficult decision to leave our current jobs, house and close proximity to family.  A smaller town beckoned and a job that promised (in our minds) a slower, more intentional framework for our lives.  It was a sweet season for our family.  Our first born was nine months old.  We had a chance to work together in ministry.  Our house was surrounded by Redwoods, we had a creek mere feet from our back deck and the ocean only 20 minutes away.  Within 1/2 an hour we had more wineries than you could ever visit in a life time.  It was a perfect recipe for a slower life.

But…..despite our remote location and ingredients for a calmer pace, it didn’t end up looking that different that our days in the Bay Area.  The pull to work hard while balancing life with a toddler and later, another baby, took its toll.  It wasn’t a BAD life, it was just busier than we had expected and more hectic than we imagined possible “out in the boondocks”.   As Tsh reminds in the opening pages,

Life is chaotic. But we can choose to live it differently. 

It doesn’t always feel like it, but we do have the freedom to creatively change the everyday little things in our lives so that our path better aligns with our values and passions.

Notes from a Blue Bike hits on six main areas of intentional living—food, work, education, travel, entertainment, and revival, with an added appendix on finances and budgeting.  Her style is part travel memoir, with a heavy dose of inspiration and application.  Through her example, I found myself reflecting on our family, the choices we have made, the moves we have endured.

Just as yesterday’s “BIGGER THAN PREDICTED” snow storm halted plans and schedules, we can do the same.  Living intentionally and slowly in our fast-paced world doesn’t just happen.  It requires staying true to our selves and to choices our family has made even when other expectations and voices and internal pressures feel VERY hard to ignore.

In the food vignettes, Tsh emphasizes the importance of slow food, time around the table, menu planning, being intentional with what we buy and valuing the community & connection that can be formed over a meal.

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As I have recently re-entered the working world, her words about work and education rang so true.  As parents and educators, today’s push for each child to learn in the same type of fast-driven environment may not be best.  As adults, deep down, we want more freedom to learn, to be creative and grow.  She writes,

“We are hardwired to learn, and creativity is in our DNA; we’re made in the likeness of an ultimate Creator.”

So often, creativity, time and space to experiment and explore is squelched.  As a teacher, I have a lesson plan book with detailed, daily plans.  I have larger range goals for each subject area, tied to the core standards, to ensure the students are getting a well rounded education.  Despite so much controversy over Common Core Standards and the various “swings” we are taking on the education pedagogy pendulum, I find their intention to be sound.  Deep down, it is about depth of knowledge, critique, analyzing, explaining thinking and sharing learning.  Every theory and educational approach has its “issues”, but truly, if we are encouraging our students, children and ourselves to be lifelong, intentional learners, we are on the right track.  Tsh shared CS Lewis’ thoughts,

“The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.”

My heart sung when I heard these words.  As my friend commented, it is about being proactive and not destructive.  To offer refreshment, challenge, tools for growth and learning.  As parents, we can provide a wide range of books, out in our living spaces, ready to be cracked open, read and enjoyed.  WE can read more too, modelling an inclination to learn.  Ironically, Tsh’s book was electronic for me as it was an advance reader copy, but typically, I am very intentional about reading paper style, from the library.  I want the boys to see me reading and know that I’m not engrossed in work email, texting with a friend or researching this or that.  Encouraging creativity can mean having toys out that lead to free, self-directed, unrestricted play—LEGOs, trains, art supplies, cars.  And even in the midst of a snow storm (gulp!), pushing the kids, and myself, to be outside, exploring, getting messy and having free time to explore.

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After too much time on the tv yesterday, we said “no” this morning.  Of course, the boys kissed our feet and thanked us profusely for setting this boundary for this {uh, no…..}.  After getting over the initial, painful hurdle, they have settled into playing and creating huge train villages and LEGO communities.  In Notes from a Blue Bike, Tsh shared about the general malaise she noticed in her kids, the lack of productivity and propensity to snap at one another that began when they started their mornings out with tv.  It seems so much EASIER in the moment, but in the long run, it bites us in the rear.

Boredom is a new concept for many of us.  “Lack of stimulation and the accompanying feelings” are almost painful.  My eldest’s grandiose ideas and plans often leave me crying for a trip to the spa for some peace and quiet….  Fostering his creativity has dividends I even can’t imagine, though.  So, within reason, I am working to see his cardboard box creations, never-ending self-authored & illustrated books, hand-drawn game boards and Taj Mahal forts with a different eye.  Intentionally seeing this creativity as learning blocks for who he is becoming.

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As the snow continues to blanket our little neck of the woods, I have turned to dreams of travel and sun to cope.  Tsh’s chapters on travel inspired me to step out into the fears of the unknown and plan some adventure.  To “love the world and drink it in deeply.”  To remember that road trips {despite hours in a small vehicle with young, cranky children} can lead to memories formed and family bonds strengthened.  As we plan for summer ourselves, I am trying to hold true to the stage our family is in.  To lower expectations a bit, think about places that allow for space to explore and room to breathe vs. a fast paced, jam-packed schedule.

Tsh has written a book that leaves me excited to make some tough choices and decisions.  It is not “simple” to make these changes.  It is “easy”.  But it is “good”.

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I would love to hear how you are choosing to live with intention.  What is one change that you are making or would like to impliment?  Leave a comment below, and head to http://notesfromabluebike.com/ to find Tsh’s book.

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Notes From a Blue Bike is written by Tsh Oxenreider, founder and main voice of The Art of Simple. It doesn’t always feel like it, but we DO have the freedom to creatively change the everyday little things in our lives so that our path better aligns with our values and passions. Grab your copy here.





Dpp 2013 :: December 26th :: a “twist”

26 12 2013

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Started the morning out right with a veggie scramble and tangerine juice with a “twist”, aka Prosecco. Between the 8 of us we took in 3 movies—Frozen, the Hobbit and Saving Mr Banks. And ended the day with a bang with a feast of crab.

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It has been a wonderful, full week with family. Said goodbye tonight as they leave very early tomorrow. Eldest shed tears as, despite normal squabbles and “moments”, cousin love runs deep and Grandmas, aunts and uncles are the best. We agree!! As I mentioned on Facebook this morning, “It is 7:49 am and Drew is still sleeping….mind you Alex is up and learning about geometry and the engineering behind bridges with Grandma at the hotel.” God Bless, Family and yummy food!





Crock-tober! Salsa Verde Chicken

8 10 2013

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One of my favorite blogs, The Larson Lingo, landing spot for my internet friend, Mel Larson, is a store house of fun.  Mel posted here at These Stones this past February.  Mel’s blog is the perfect mix of food, organizing, creative party planning and honest vulnerability about parenting, teaching and faith.  Love this girl!  Each fall Mel hosts a crockpot recipe link-up called “Crock-tober“.  It is the best storehouse of recipes and ideas as you menu plan for the fall and winter, allowing for yummy, homecooked meals with little “witching hour” trauma.  {if you have younger children you know the insanity of the 4-6pm hours…thus the “witching hours”}.

This recipe is an easy one, shared with me by my dear friend Krista (who also guest posted here at These Stones).  It is a simple concept and allows for lots of flexibility.  Salsa Verde Chicken Tacos are yummy, easy and should be added to your menu this week.

So….here we go!  Start out with the building blocks—-chicken & salsa verde!

  • 1 bag of frozen chicken breasts chicken tenders
  • 3 jars of Trader Joes salsa verde (or similar salsa—Target has a great one that is roasted)

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Place chicken in the crockpot and cover with the salsa.  Cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 7-8 hours.  Prior to serving, shred chicken with two forks and place in a bowl.

Before calling the troops for dinner, make a recipe of Lime Rice (made famous by Chipotle!).  Melt 1 Tbsp of butter in a pot, along with 1 tbsp of lime juice, 1 tsp of salt and one cup of dry rice.  Stir one minute.  Add 1 1/2 cups of water.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and let the rice cook for 25 minutes or until tender.  Add in a handful of chopped cilantro (about 3 t.) and dish up.

Prepare any combination of additional toppings to enjoy.  Since I always freeze and forget the “quintisential” list, here are some suggestions:

  • Black Beans
  • Grilled Corn (Trader Joes has a great roasted corn option in their freezer section)
  • Diced Avocado or Guacamole (just mash it up, add some salt & pepper and a squeeze of lemon)
  • Sour Cream (or Greek Plain Yogurt)
  • Shredded Cheese
  • Lime Wedges
  • Cilantro
  • Chopped Green Onions
  • Regular Salsa
  • Tortilla Chips and/or Tortillas

This meal can be served taco style or as burritos or burrito bowls.   Preferably with a margarita as well.  Enjoy!

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Crocktober 2013




Berry Goodness

7 07 2013

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We enjoyed a wonderful day out on the coast picking ollalieberries and boysenberries yesterday at Gizdich Ranch in Watsonville.  Our new house in Oregon has a blackberry bush blockade in the front {conveniently keeps the youngins out of the road!}, so we will get to do more berry picking next month.  Despite all of that, I have been wanting to check out Gizdich Ranch and jumped on the chance to go with the whole family yesterday.  My friend over the internet (and Matt’s friend from college and camp), Tracey Morris, raves about Gizdich (and here’s her photo proof of its amazingness….click here).  And Tracey knows here stuff.  It was amazing!!! Even better, my dear friend Sarah, her munchkins and mom joined us too.  Love last minute meet-ups!  And really….an adventure that includes pie ala mode?  CAN’T.  GO.  WRONG.

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With over 10 pounds of berries filling our fridge and freezer, I didn’t waste a moment and made Smitten Kitchen’s Strawberry Summer Cake, except I substituted ollalieberries.

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****It made the perfect dessert treat last night and then warm up coffee cake for breakfast.****

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Today, I worked on rinsing and freezing all of the berries, but couldn’t resist turning the boysenberries into a crisp.  My favorite topping recipe is a tie between Shauna Niequist’s Blueberry Crisp and the recipe my friend Susannah posted to go with her Dreary Day Apple Crisp.  Went with Susannah’s today….more butter and sugar.  A win-win.

Ready for putting together and enjoying later tonight!

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Any berry “MUST MAKE” recipes for us?  Figure there is no time like the present to make and bake treats….all in the noble name of cleaning out the fridge, freezer and pantry!





Bread & Wine

15 04 2013

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A few months back, during California’s infamous “ski week”, I was glued to my bed.  Matt & I were gripped with a horrendous illness that kept us bed-ridden, energy-zapped, for over 10 days.  It was a doozy.  Two of the most glorious packages arrived, though.  One was delivered by FedEx and the other, to my inbox.  A “hard copy” and a “digital” copy of Shauna Niequist’s newest book, “Bread and Wine“.  I first read Shauna’s second book, “Bittersweet“, two years ago when it caught my eye at the Library and quickly became a devotee to her writing and message.  Eventually, it came time for Shauna to share some writing from her new book to come out in Spring of 2013.  She began looking for recipe testers and later, folks to read and review advanced copies of the book.  I jumped on both opportunities and have felt such blessing from the chance to be a small, teeny part of the process—watching alongside, anticipating the arrival of the finished product, a published book.  It’s almost like waiting for a friend to have a baby.  You know the induction date/due date/publication date, but you watch as announcements come out, glimpses via ultrasound or in this case, Shauna’s blog and instagram feed and think about holding that finished product—baby or book—in your hands.

It is hard to “find time” to read, let alone cook & bake these days.  Yet, both are endeavors which fill me with great pleasure and joy.  There is something so magical about tangible chances to create finished products.  Parenting, teaching and ministry are ongoing.  One never really “finishes”.   Cooking, food, life around the table, family & friendship are all topics that ignite me.  So when the final subtitle was determined for Bread and Wine, I realized why my anticipation for this book was so great.  Shauna titled it Bread and Wine:  A Love Letter to Life Around the Table.  As she began writing the book, she realized that it was a book that included recipes, yes.  But more importantly, it became vignettes about love, intimacy, shame, isolation, rest, nourishment and at times, fear.

We often can think of food, recipes, meals and eating as a chore and a to-do to be checked off our list.  On the other extreme, we can assume that we need a spread worthy of Martha Stewart or Williams & Sonoma to actually enjoy a meal with friends and extend an invitation.  Bread & Wine focuses on the joy, community and growth that can come from practicing authenticity and hospitality around the table.  The table provides a space  to let go of our need for perfection and show up as we are. Shauna sums this up so eloquently in the last chapter of the book, “Come to the Table”:

“Most of the time, I eat like someone’s about to steal my plate, like I can’t be bothered to chew or taste or feel, but I’m coming to see that the table is about food, and it’s also about time. It’s about showing up in person, a whole and present person, instead of a fragmented, frantic person, phone in one hand and to-do list in the other. Put them down, both of them, twin symbols of the modern age, and pick up a knife and a fork. The table is where time stops. It’s where we look people in the eye, where we tell the truth about how hard it is, where we make space to listen to the whole story, not the textable sound bite.

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We don’t come to the table to fight or to defend. We don’t come to prove or to conquer, to draw lines in the sand or to stir up trouble. We come to the table because our hunger brings us there. We come with a need, with fragility, with an admission of our humanity. The table is the great equalizer, the level playing field many of us have been looking everywhere for. The table is the place where the doing stops, the trying stops, the masks are removed, and we allow ourselves to be nourished, like children. We allow someone else to meet our need. In a world that prides people on not having needs, on going longer and faster, on going without, on powering through, the table is a place of safety and rest and humanity, where we are allowed to be as fragile as we feel. If the home is a body, the table is the heart, the beating center, the sustainer of life and health. Come to the table.”

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I have made many recipes from the book already—-Blueberry Crisp, Nigella’s Flourless Chocolate Brownies, Green Well Salad, Mango Chicken Curry, Breakfast Cookies, Annette’s Enchiladas, Dark Chocolate Sea Salted Toffee, Gaia Cookies & Sullivan Street Bread.  I can tell you about the amazing flavors and sighs of yumminess I blabbered on and on about as I dug in.  I could describe the small scraps of toffee leftover, despite my incorrect cooking attempt.  Or the glorious first bite of Gaia Cookie I bit into while sick with fever.  I SHOULD have been sleeping while Drew was napping and Alex was absorbed in LEGO building, but nope…that recipe was literally calling me.

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But more than all of those bites of goodness, meals shared over the table and with the company of others are what hold the most true.  I am a perfectionist and I HATE feeling “undone”.  I want my house picked up, dishes and laundry done, kids behaving and quiet (better yet napping or sleeping!) when friends and family show up.  And then I am reminded of the true gift of communion over the table.  Not about perfection but being present as Shauna reiterated:

“Hospitality is about love, not about performance.  Above all else, people want to feel welcomed by someone who wants them in their home.  No matter how unimpressive the food is or how messy the house is, if you greet your guests at the door with happiness and warmth, they’ll feel glad they came.”

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In preparation for this book review, I had the gift of getting to hear Shauna speak last Friday.  I was a giddy groupie, unashamed of my geeky, cult following mentality.  The chance to spend some time with friends, though, over drinks after the event, was as much as a highlight as hearing & meeting Shauna again (first time here).  It felt like a small victory to raise our glasses that night.  It was a “late night crowd” at the restaurant, almost 10pm.  We were surrounded by Silicon Valley folks that in many ways seemed to lead a much more glamorous and exciting life.  But it wasn’t really about that.  It was about practicing presence and showing up with and for one another.

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shauna1Shauna Niequist is the author of Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet, and Bread & Wine. Shauna grew up in Barrington, Illinois, and then studied English and French Literature at Westmont College in Santa Barbara. She is married to Aaron, who is a pianist and songwriter. Aaron is a worship leader at Willow Creek and is recording a project called A New Liturgy. Aaron & Shauna live outside Chicago with their sons, Henry and Mac. Shauna writes about the beautiful and broken moments of everyday life–friendship, family, faith, food, marriage, love, babies, books, celebration, heartache, and all the other things that shape us, delight us, and reveal to us the heart of God.  Shauna regularly blogs at http://www.shaunaniequist.com/.





Soup’s On: Easy “Open Lots of Cans” Vegetarian Chili

27 02 2013

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Today I’m linking up with Mel Larson at the Larson Lingo for her Soup’s On event.  One of my favorite things to make each week is a simple chili that can be consumed over a few meals and in a variety of ways.  This chili is amped up a bit with two “secret” additions that my friend suggested after devouring her chili on a girl’s weekend.  So without further ado, here’s the recipe:

Easy “Open Lots of Cans” Vegetarian Chili

1 jar of chunky red salsa

1 jar of salsa verde

1 can of corn or a cup (give or take) of corn

(lately I have been using the Roasted Corn from the Trader Joes’ frozen section)

1 can of black beans

1 can of refried beans

(one of the secret ingredients….helps to thicken the chili)

1 can of diced tomatoes, no-salt

and the other secret ingredient?  1 can of vegetarian chili

variation:  add frozen roasted onion and pepper mix from Trader Joes for a vegetarian tortilla soup

To make the chili, get your can opener warmed up and elbows greased and start opening.  After adding all of the ingredients to a big pot (I love to use a cast iron pot for soups as it really heats evenly and thoroughly), let the chili simmer for as long as you can wait and then dish up.

We usually have lots of toppings (the best part of chili!) on hand….green onions, plain Greek yogurt, and shredded cheese are favorites.

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Usually the next day, I’ll heat up a big pot of pasta and make chili mac (a favorite from camp days), adding a scoop of chili on top of the pasta with shredded cheese on top.  Corn bread is a required accompaniment.

Another perfect day two dinner is baked potatoes with leftover chili on top and toppings, especially some steamed broccoli.

And finally, if you want to go old school, try to recreate the Original Woolworth’s Frito Pie from Santa Fe, New Mexico….which Matt and I heartily ingested on our last trip.  For the original version, you open up a bag of Fritos and insert chili and cheese and eat it out of the bag.  At home, I usually buy Trader Joes’ corn chips and put chips on TOP of the chili and add some cheese.

None of these versions are exactly healthy with toppings piled on, but on a cold, busy day, you can’t beat an easy chili with only cans to open!

Enjoy!!

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dpp 2012 :: december 10th :: there’s room for everyone on the nice list

10 12 2012

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I love Trader Joes.

And not just “Trader Joes” in general….

but MY Trader Joes.

{see how attached I am to it….it’s like part of the family}

I remember going into this Trader Joes for the first time.  I was 9 months pregnant.  Matt and I were in Sunnyvale for his interview weekend.  And I needed ICE CREAM.

I remember thinking this was such a scrawny and scrappy Trader Joes.  I judged it.

And now it is my second home.  I know most of the regular workers by name.  They ask about my kids if I come in alone.  Or if I have brought the boys along, they allow them to help ring up the items.  They give them hints as to where the hidden stuffed parrot is (if you find it, you get a lollipop).  Once they gave Alex a huge bouquet of Easter balloons they were disposing of.  One man in particular has a child at the school I taught at last year.  I dearly love him.  He mocks me everytime I’m there, saying I’m stalking him.  But Moses is a gift.  His sweet spirit is the type you’d WANT to stalk.  Today there was an elderly couple in the store.  They walk over 2 miles, each way, EVERY DAY, to come to Trader Joes.  For the exercise and the samples, they say, but I think it’s the company and the camaraderie.  Last week, Drew and I had a cart full of groceries.  The woman ringing us up let Drew slowly take out each item, made him name what it was, & patiently corrected and praised him. She and the gentleman who bagged our groceries {who had just days before been sharing about his battle with gout…ha ha} gushed about how wonderful Drew was.  Their words came on a tough day.  They were truly “emotional” medicine.

And as I watched Elf the other night {which is quickly becoming one of my holiday favorites}, Buddy’s side comment stuck in my mind—-

There’s room for everyone on the nice list.

That’s how I feel at Trader Joes.  Even when my day is rough.  Even when my kids are fussy.  Even when youngest is pulling items off shelves or out of the cart.  No matter what, I ALWAYS feel like there is “room for me” at Trader Joes.  And even more touching, room for my boys too.

And….Rainbow Pears.

December Photo Project 2012








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