Be Thankful On a Black Friday

It’s 6am on Black Friday.  Usually stores would be cracking open right about now, but this year something different happened.  As most of you no doubt know, or experienced, many took to a new routine—-Thursday night blow out sales, frenzies, lines to get deals & hooplah.  A way to break out of the tryptophan hangover.

I am sure Black Friday got its name for good reason.  I wonder if it has anything to do with that same hooplah hangover.  The after effects of the Thanksgiving build up—the cooking, the planning, the managing & the organizing.  Isn’t that a common complaint after birthdays and holidays?  You are waiting in such expectation that once things play out and the party’s over, you feel a bit deflated and sad?

Yesterday, while talking with Alex after his fifth time out of the morning, I asked him what color he’d use to describe his inner feeling and emotions.  He quickly replied “black” and drew a picture of me in his notebook and crossed it out with a thick black marker.  Clearly, he was feeling…..THANKFUL.

He later remarked that he thinks we love him more when he’s sick.  Last Saturday, while Matt and I were in NYC, he had the “throw ups” and he reflected with a few of us last night that it is in those moments that he feels most loved.  Makes sense—all the pomp and circumstance, the nurture and love we lavish on our bunnies when they are feeling yucky.  Extra movie time, special food, attentive “service” for your every need.

In the midst of Alex’s reflections, something hit me, yesterday.  Let me set the scene a bit.  My dear husband goes a bit cray-cray on holidays when it comes to meal planning and executing.   It is almost as if he saves all his cooking creativity and bandwidth for a few days a year, and BAM!!!!!!—unleashes it all in the kitchen over a 24 hour period of planning, shopping, chopping, dicing, sauteing, roasting, basting and painstakingly preparing a buffet of goodness.  (This year, it was Pioneer Woman inspired!  You. Must. Make. Whiskey. Glazed. Carrots.  NOW.)  I love it.  I become dish washer, sous chef woman and try to just stay out of the fray.

In the midst of the morning, though, I saw his cheese tray (which I easily consumed 1/2 of…..oh, LORD, Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam cheese—slay me now).  Pictured above, you can see Matt chalked out the command, “BE THANKFUL!”  Be thankful!  It truly is a mandate.  Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances,” reminds Thessalonians 5:16-18.  Sometimes, I just don’t WANT to be thankful.  I don’t FEEL like being thankful.  I am done with bickering children.  I am over times outs.  I am depleted.  I am selfishly saying….let me just be sick on the couch, every need attended to.  ME ME ME.

So self focused, I forget to see how much surrounds me to be thankful for.  I just crave more.  It’s like the sales that fill today’s to do lists.  More more more.  I love a good deal and the rush of riding the escalator up into Target, Cinnamon Gingerbread Latte from Peets in hand.  Those sales remind me, though, of our never ending need for more.  How hard it can be to be present.  To count our blessings.  To BE THANKFUL, gosh dang-it.

Thanks to amazing grandparents, we were able to attend two weddings over the last week and enjoy five days away on the East Coast.  Those five days were packed with LOTS of walking, exploring, eating, laughter with friends, adventures on subways, trains, planes & automobiles—and TIME WITH MY HUSBAND!  It is not to be lost that “breaks” from our children are actually healthy and beneficial.  This theory and practice is decidedly a “first world” option, I realize, but I am grateful.   We enjoyed leisurely meals with dear friends, without having conversations interrupted.  Other times, we waited on delayed subway trains, not having to ply screaming youngsters with goldfish crackers to keep them quiet.   We could take our time in MOMA or get cookies at Momofuku Milk Bar for breakfast.  Or….obnoxiously insert ourselves into the Today Show—moment of fame!  My mind swirls with so many memories from those five days—and if you know me at all,  you can bet I have WAY too many pictures to document everything.  I hope to share some highlights here soon, but for now, I will say it with worlds.  I am thankful.

So…happy Black Friday.  Hopefully we can pull ourselves out of the head places that make today feel dark and challenging.  To see that Eucharesteo, or thanksgiving,  as Ann Voskamp reminds, always precedes the miracle.  Blessings to each of you as we head into the season of Advent.  I am reminding myself that less is best.  Less crazy busy plans.  Fewer advent traditions that become advent to do’s that lead to losing sight of the whole point.  May we live in a place of thanksgiving, finding ways to be thankful no matter the circumstances.

Frenchtown, New Jersey

“In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give,

and life cannot be rich without such gratitude.

It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements

compared with what we owe to the help of others.” 
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

You Hold Your Truth So Purely

Everyday life has seemed charged.  Maybe it’s the excitement of the Giants and their World Series dreams.  Perhaps the coming of Halloween in a week, cookies to bake & decorate.  Potentially it’s the first rain of the season & connections to Ramona Quimbey’s frustrations with rainboots.  The newness of the school year has worn off.  The routines are in place, and thus excuses to not abide by the routines are happening—making lunches each night CAN be seen as spiritual practice, but that’s HARD, people!!.

I see my life through the camera lens.  I just can’t help myself.  I feel naked and unprepared if I leave the house without some device to document life.  Having just finished Drew’s One-Two Year scrapbook, it became apparent how much this “addiction” is the case.  Too many pictures to sift through.  It may sound weird or unorthodox, but I think God uses my camera and its effect to help me see God’s gifts and handiwork more clearly.  And most of the time, I just can’t help but share it.  Some, (many, no doubt?!?) call it OVERSHARING.  Be it as it may, here I find myself.

The past few weeks have seen our schedule normalizing a bit without tons of travel or big events and day-to-day life is unfolding.  Garbage trucks loudly doing their thing.  Chances to makes trains come to life with chairs.  The impossible excitement of UPS AND Fed Ex trucks crossing paths, AT THE SAME MOMENT, in front of our house. Learning how to operate light switches, “ON!” and “OFF!”.   Still pictures don’t convey the non-stop movement, volume & loud emotions that overflowed during Halloween cookie making (Drew’s first induction to this world).  After the whole “brew ha ha”, Alex looked at me and reflected, “Mom, I think we learned something today.  Doing cookies with a two year old is a bad idea.”  I’m thinking there’s some wisdom in that 5 year old observation.  As Mumford & Sons professes on the song “Whispers in the Dark”, “You hold your truth so purely….”.  I can’t help but see that truth in my kids.  Maybe you can see it too in children around you or others that just manage to cling to simplicity.  So, here’s a little visual of the truth of life around here—pure and complicated as it may be.  Here’s to hoping we can conquer the pumpkin patch with a little less drama than the cookies!  (these two posts made me worry….here & here)

My Brothers & Sisters Obsession Guided the Day….to Ojai!

I love, love, love the show Brothers & Sisters. Or should I say LOVED the show as I think it’s come to the end of its run. Matt used to always comment that it was so overly done. Each plot line was fairly over the top and sensationalized. I, however, loved the sibling relationships and the connection to the food industry in their fictionalized business, Ojai Foods.

So, for our first full day of vacation, we drove southwest, up into the mountains, along Hwy 154 to Ojai. We left the fog rolling through Carpinteria and landed, 40 minutes later, in the roasting valley. We spent the bulk of our time at Bart’s Books, an amazing outdoor bookstore and mom (me!) scored….found a used Star Wars sticker book…Alex has been glued to it every since, even forgoing playing at Libbey Park in Ojai for looking at the new treasured book. Drew spent the whole time at Bart’s Books getting book after book from the law section. I’m thinking Matt’s dad and mom, both lawyers, would have been so proud. At the park, Drew spent almost 1/2 an hour playing ball with a one year old black lab. I think he found his soulmate.

We enjoyed lunch at the east end of town at Boccali’s Italian Restaurant. The outside patio dining is perfect for kids and the food is unbelievable. Tomatoes, in season, can’t be beat. Caprese salad and bruschetta were amazing! Even their basic marinara sauce for Drew’s meatballs?!?! HEAVEN. Then we pulled into an amazing gem on our way out of town, Hip Vegan Cafe for my long waited Date Milkshake. Simply raw cashew milk, frozen bananas, vanilla and dates. Vegan, yummy goodness slurped down!

I am tired from chasing Drew around and trying to get him to sit still and not be screaming/giggling at the TOP OF HIS LUNGS, but am so grateful for a patient husband who trades off and keeps his cool. And I keep looking at Alex, amazed at the corner we’ve turned. It is SO much easier with him this trip. It helps me see the light at the end of the toddler travel tunnel. This time with the boys is so special and yet, not the vacation we would have had 6 years ago. No matter, we see things with different eyes, skip “must see spots” because they would be a nightmare with the boys, and become experts on all the playgrounds and parks, no matter the towns we are in. Praying that chatty Drew, who has been talking away for over an hour in his crib will finally crash for his afternoon nap.

Here’s some pictures of the adventures of today, including time spent coloring this morning and blurry pics of bed shenanigans. I love the blur because folks, that’s what it truly is….too much fast movement to capture a single, clear moment!

And if you are at home, yearning for a little Southern California slow life, summer goodness, whip up a date milkshake and turn on an old episode of Brothers & Sisters. I’m already planning an encore in a few months when vacation seems all too distant!

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Basil Lessons

I miss having my helper in the kitchen these days.  It seemed a bit easier with only one child to cook and bake together earlier on.  Yesterday I was assembling my favorite kind of summer dinner—-tons of veggies and fruit and some yummy chilled wine.  Alex came in and asked if he could help with the Caprese, sans mozzarella, salad.  I had excitedly sampled and purchased basil at the Farmer’s Market earlier in the morning, planning to pair it with heirloom tomatoes.  As he carefully placed the leaves, a very distinctive LIME scent filled the room.  One of the three types of basil she’d let me sample was “lime basil”.  I was thinking it would be really great in a mixed drink…not exactly the best choice for an Italian salad.

Well.  She ended up giving me the lime basil on accident.  And let me clarify.  Lime basil on tomatoes IS NOT A GOOD COMBINATION.

Luckily, Matt & Alex remembered we had just purchased a basil plant for the garden.  Crisis averted.  Maybe we have ended up with a new basil plant with no leaves, but oh, well.  We had yummy Caprese salad last night….and corn.  Drew was pretty happy.

This whole scenario was a chance—-yet again—-for me to be confronted with my own rigidity and quick-to-flare temper.  From early on, my Mom learned that I needed “lead time” and required understanding of what was going to unfold that day.  When things changed or plans altered, I often responded in anger, no doubt stemming from my unmet expectations.  My need to control and plan, to set the scene is very high functioning….a gift.  And a curse.  Children and life’s ever-changing nature press in on me and sometimes, like yesterday, God seems to have a lesson to teach me.  I’m guessing God’s not above using basil to teach it either.

Summertime….and the livin’ is…

….the livin’ is….busy.  Tiring.  Full.  Memorable.  Raw.  Almost anything but “easy” as the song goes.  Life is currently wrapped around the Surfin’ Safari of Vacation Bible School and learning about the journey of Joseph.  (Clearly we’re talking about Joseph of the technicolor dreamcoat fame…thus the reason our family is all decked out in rainbow tie dye goodness.)

We finished school last week and quickly moved into a trip for the US Open for Matt, hosting a baby shower for my dear friend, Martha (what’s not to love??  reveling in an entire morning of kid-free relaxation, connecting with long term friends over amazing food!), Father’s Day mayhem (due to over-extended/over tired children—they just don’t “make up” for lost sleep by sleeping in do they?!?), Vacation Bible School kicking off, a visit from Matt’s childhood best bud, J, and all the other fun tidbits that creep into our days.

{Strawberry Summer Cake from Smitten Kitchen….YUM…recipe here}

{what a difference a year makes….2012 on top, 2011 on the bottom!}

Summer means lots of opportunities to maintain boundaries {i.e.  ice cream truck LOUDLY goes by SLOWLY, MULTIPLE times each day….and EACH TIME, I get to say no….}.

And sometimes we get to say yes.  Ice cream in the back yard in your jammies.  Summer fruit coming out our ears.  The March of the Zucchini continues.  And continues.

So, is the living easy?!?  Not really.  But, in light of Joseph’s Journey we’ve been immersed in this week, and the current state state of so many, yes, the living IS easy.  So far Alex hasn’t thrown Drew into a well, faking his death or sold him to slave traders on their way to Egypt.  None of us have been thrown in jail by Pharaoh.  Instead, we have laughed our way through the insanity of our commitments, schedules and the boys’ antics.  This post isn’t profound, but more of a “holding place” for the gifts this week has held.  Gifts of summer fruit and veggies.  Gifts of hilarious “conversations” and questions from kids.  Gifts of husband’s theatrical antics as Professor Matt.  Gifts of time with friends and family and celebrating the amazing dads in our lives.

It’s been full.  It’s been tiring.  But so good.  Luckily, all of this is tempered with a Friday Night Lights Marathon.  That show….it is addicting.  Watch out, folks.  It leads to many dishes left unwashed and to do lists unattended to.  I am figuring that FNL will be my comfort as I survive Matt’s week away in Mexico with the high schoolers starting on Sunday.  I stocked up at Trader Joes and am anticipating time with my parents too.  Hard to have him gone, but parentals visiting?  Friday Night Lights?  We’ll soak it all up and enjoy!  Hope the end of your June is….EASY!

“Spring” Cleaning….What do you plan to do?

I love a clean and organized house.  Sometimes, however, GETTING to the clean and organized house is just more than I can handle.  I know, deep down, that I will feel better when things are put away and the excess is purged and dealt with.  Arriving to that place takes my head to a dark place, though, and I put it off.  When I think of this quote (and OH, how I love this one by Mary Oliver!), I am overwhelmed by the list of what I want to do with this wild and precious life.  And then when my chiropractor suggests not lifting heavy things (she knowingly laughs, having met my two boys…..)—

—well, that’s just impossible.  And sitting on my back, with ice on my bulging discs….when report cards call?  Dinner needs to be made?  So, spring cleaning?  It’s on the back burner.  Drew’s attempting to clean and organize our oranges, but that’s about it.

Amazingly, in between the rush to get Alex off to school the other morning and get over to my school for the End of the Year Olympics, Matt and I each got our bedroom surfaces sorted, cleaned and cleared off.  And just that ONE area attended to has created a   little spot of calm.  Whenever I pass the spot, I can breath a little easier and not feel quite so much anxiety….for a moment.  Even though this little area of “spring cleaning” came in June, I’m ok with that.

Drew has hit the twenty month mark and it is a sweet combination of a few recognizable words, and many UNRECOGNIZABLE ones!  He is mimicking and attempting to make us laugh.  Exploring every nook and cranny not closed off to his inquisitiveness.  Large mood swings pervade, especially on Friday afternoons when he’s been at school and slept minimally and comes home to a tired mom after teaching mayhem.  And many attempts at “helping” mom with the dishes, laundry and especially, as of late, vigorously sweeping, fill our days at home.

We had the gift of celebrating Father’s Day at the preschool last week, and today, will be the End-of-the-Year “bubble ceremony” in Alex’s class. My last teaching day with students is tomorrow and then after some final checklist completion, I will be done as of Friday.

With all these endings comes, summer.  The time of fun-filled, carefree days to commence.  Outdoor lunches with friends (and LEGO Star Wars sticker art GALORE….we love you Auntie Doris and Uncle Todd!).  Opportunities to jet off to parks with visiting friends (had a fun-filled day at Ardenwood with the Wrights, in from EGYPT!, today).  Picnics, face painting, balloon hats, cotton candy, sno cones, jumpy houses and water fun (last week’s All Church Picnic was a hoot).  A million and one things to try in the new VitaMix.  Too many Pinterest projects to even begin attempting, although I knocked out a silhouette project last week that’s been entertaining Drew!

Summer is going to be busy.  We are only planning one week away, but with work continuing on and the boys in summer school, I’m already feeling the crunch.  Not enough time to squeeze in the things that sound fun.  Too tight to have lazy, unplanned days, let alone finish some “spring” cleaning, now SUMMER cleaning, projects.  And then that pesky Mary Oliver quote creeps in….what ARE you going to do with that one precious and wild life?!?  Stress?  Clean?  Make to do lists?  Work feverishly?  Or squeeze in as many days of memory-making laziness and spontaneity as possible?  Putting friends and family first?  Prioritizing watermelon and s’mores over perfectly sharp 7pm bedtimes?  I say a hearty, “YES!”

This one precious and wild life is not meant to be spent worrying, fretting and regretting.  My spring cleaning has to include finding a new foundation not built on the things that I have turned to for stability….the false things that don’t hold up.  Time to look towards the new routines, commitments and season and embrace it for what it is.  To keep my head up and looking outwards at those around me, watching for the wild and precious life unfolding.  Not to fear the past, or be anxious about the future, but to be in the middle, in the “in between time” and live into the wildness and preciousness of it.  A challenge for sure, but one which I am trying more and more to step into.

Happy Summer and Happy Spring Cleaning!

Please take some moments to listen to this week’s sermon by our head pastor, Steve….it’s all about the middle….the “before and after” I was just alluding to….GOOD STUFF!

THE PREPOSITIONS OF OUR FAITH – Before and After: Hemmed in by Grace by Rev. Dr. Steve Harrington on May 13, 2012 from Sunnyvale Presbyterian Church on Vimeo.

A Weekend Unplanned

Happy Memorial Day Weekend!  We had blessed nothingness on our calendar (except for a chiropractor appointment and church commitments).  That meant lots of room for angst in my mind over days with nothing planned.  Matt and I slogged our way through Friday with low grade fevers, **impossible to swallow, insanely painful sore throat** yuckiness, busy work days and collapsed on the couch after getting the boys to bed.  I was so grateful that nothing was planned.  For once, this type a, need to have everything scheduled girl appreciated the lack of planning and open-endedness of three days off with all of our family home!

We did the basics….laundry, farmer’s market veggie shopping, LEGO building, room sorting/purging {the one MUST do was to locate a lost library book of Alex’s–happy to report, Fred and Ted Go Camping was FOUND!!!!}, painting, cooking, back care, swinging on the swingset, lots of alfresco dining, CAMPING!!! & classic movie watching, Sunday School teaching….and amazingly feel rested, healthier and didn’t have to deal with lots of traffic.  Can’t beat that!

Time and space and maybe…{SCARY!}….GROWING UP!?!?…..has helped me let go of my grasp on the perfectly planned, chalk-full schedule.  To see the value of time spent together, letting go of the need to program and craft a perfect get away.  This week I plan on posting some thoughts from Lauren Winner’s new book Still.  There is so much to unpack from this book–my poor husband had to suffer from me continuously reading quotes to him over the last two days as I devoured it.  It truly is THAT good.  Despite working in the classroom, battling a nasty bug that has left me only wanting to sleep, and with two boys needing our attention, I couldn’t put it down.  It even won out over mindless TV!  Miracles of miracles.  This quote from Saul Bellow that she shared hit me as I was thinking about our schedule, or lack thereof, this weekend.

Look how cute he is….gotta love Nobel Prize Winners!

Isn’t he WISE, though?!?!  “They labor because rest terrifies them.”  Did you catch that?  “They labor because rest terrifies them.”  I’m trying to sit with that truth.  That rest terrifies.  That sloth isn’t about lying around doing NOTHING, necessarily, but rather it truly is a “busy condition”.

I don’t have the answers.  I will always struggle with a deep need for control.  But, I’m choosing to keep it “simple” this weekend.  A first step at “resting”–stepping into the “terror” of rest, if you will.  To allow for time in the sun, sprinklers being directed at me by our 19 month old, no-cook meals {this girl attempting vegan, gluten free eating had baguette, brie and dry salami–and pears!!–for dinner}.  More to follow about Lauren Winner and her new book.  For today, though, lots to chew on thanks to Saul Bellow.  Tough truth, but a good one.

Hope you had a great Memorial Day weekend…

off to find flags to photograph for my step-mother-in-law!

Campout

{I know…two posts in one day….and the second on a Sunday night of a three day weekend….bad blogger protocol.  Oh, well.  Can’t win ’em all.}

Cush Camping!  My wonderful husband acquiesced to our eldest’s non-stop requests to sleep out in the tent that we’d used for decoration for his 5th Birthday Party last weekend (pictures HERE).  We had a wonderful time celebrating with tents, binoculars, s’mores, trail mix, bug juice and family & friends.  It was so great.  But, the outdoors overnight had to be done.  Not the night PRIOR to the party (fearing no sleep), not the night OF the party (Matt was preaching the next day, on Alex’s actual birthday) and then the week unfolded.  So tonight, no work or school in sight, Matt’s and my sore throats subsiding a bit, became camping out night.

And the perfect opportunity to FINALLY test out our outdoor movie screen {thanks, IKEA!…bought this to shade our deck at camp and Matt repurposed it as a screen at our house here} and introduce Alex to Star Wars!

No outdoor, camping movie night is complete without popcorn and if you haven’t heard me rave about or directly experience due to my prodding, the mighty WHIRYPOP, then you just haven’t truly LIVED.  {if you are going to buy it, be prepared that it will come with “real theater” kernels….don’t be taken in by that…go for real, white kernals…you won’t regret it}.

A little beverage accompaniment….and you’re SET!

Sally made sure to get in the middle of the action, but has yet to enter the tent {and surprisingly, Drew won’t either….he and Sally are thick as thieves}.

I’m going to graciously bow out and let this be “BOY’S NIGHT”….so gracious of me….to sleep in my own bed with a warm cup of tea and be the pancake flipper in the morning!  So grateful for a techie husband who can engineer this night on a practical level and also on the bonding dad level.

We’ll see if they last all night….

And some popcorn updates, Circa January 2009 & May 2012!

Sushi

Lots of thoughts are swirling around in my head these days, cramming for my attention.  But yesterday, the funniest moment happened and luckily, my camera was close enough that I captured a few pictures.  I had scored my bi-weekly indulgence at Trader Joes:  Brown Rice Veggie Sushi.  Drew had poured himself a bowl of crackers.  Then he spotted MY treat, grabbed the plastic container with a vengeance.  Took the nearest roll of sushi and after generously **dipping**  smashing it in the soy sauce, shoved it in his mouth.  This process repeated a few times.  His face at the end shows his confusion and potential disdain for the taste, but man alive it cracked me up.

I read this quote the other day, “We are systematically creating races out of things that ought to be a journey.”  Maybe this little sushi venture was my “journey”.  My life feels rather race-like lately.  Sometimes it’s a relay race with my husband where we pass the baton off and then back out of the driveway without the children in the car, racing off to a meeting, commitment, errand or other urgent matter.  Races seem much more validating.  They are quick, surrounded with hooplah and a t-shirt.  Maybe loud music and a goody bag.  Journeys are long-suffering, requiring observation, pacing and patience.  Sometimes the race is just to make it until after bed time so we can crash and soak in our own “rejuvenation” (Bachelorette anyone?!?).  Hoping I can still soak in and savor this journey that undergirds each day.  To see that something which looks **surfacey** and silly (SUSHI) is really bigger.  A reminder that those on the road with us are developing, forming opinions, challenging expectations and experimenting before our very eyes.

And watch out for those open glasses, folks.  Drew made quick work of both and allowed me the {OPPORTUNITY} to try out my new “green” cleaner.

p.s.  PLEASE take a moment to read this hilarious commentary on getting children to bed at Momastery.  So funny, albeit, a little off color.