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.





{the} Breathing Room

14 08 2013

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We have recently weathered a transition from California to Oregon.  With the right mindset, moving can be seen as an adventure.  Some aspects of the process just plain stink, though, no matter your attitude.  Taping up boxes.  Playing “Tetras” with packed boxes while trying to fit your belongings in the ever-shrinking truck.  Eating out more, missing naps, tearful goodbyes, losing sleep (see “naps”) while the mind churns endlessly through the unknowns, sleeping in the same room with children in hotels on unfamiliar beds, and driving mile after mile with the same overly tired (see “naps”) children…HOUR.  AFTER.  HOUR.  Arriving, unpacking, downing Advil, slurping double shots to counteract the lack of sleep and sore muscles, breaking down boxes, locating the grocery store, finally finding doctors, dentists and hair stylists.

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The list goes on and on.  It can feel impossible to make time to breathe—to set aside a moment in the midst of the moving treadmill.  I have found, though, that it is a must for spiritual and emotional health.  As parents, we are called to model these rhythms for our children.  If we are so worried about the to do’sour kids get lost in the shuffle and witness a coping mechanism that is unhealthy.

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During our week of “transitional housing”, we were in a beautiful farm for two nights, stayed with family for two other nights and also in a hotel in our new community. But at our Corvallis hotel there was a sign on the desk…

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It was a sign for our “no smoking room”, but a reminder to me.

{I’m blogging once a month at Practicing Families.  Please check out the rest of this post there!}





Summer Bucket List

1 07 2013

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Meg Duerksen’s Amazing Summer Bucket List

I have wondered about the possibility of having a Summer Bucket List for a few years now.  In my mind, it seemed like a perfect way to give some structure to the months the boys are out of school.  During Advent each year, we do a similar concept (search “Advent” on the side for posts about what we have done or click here for a list).  A list for summer seemed to stress me out rather than provide structure, fun and purpose.  Something changed for me, though, recently.  I have been watching my eldest rather closely, trying to gauge how he is fighting or accepting parts of our upcoming move.  Many folks shared suggestions for helping him through this time, allowing opportunities for closure on the experiences and relationships of the last three years.  I know that even as I flounder myself in this goodbye process, that my kids are watching.  I don’t want to put on a show for them, to brush over sadness or anger.  By creating some structure, fun and events to anticipate, I am hoping it just might help this murky “in between” time.

I didn’t get as fancy as Meg did in the example above, but I created a list, beginning with my calendar and events that were already on the books. There are many resources online as well and I additionally took recommendations from folks who live in our new community.  Who doesn’t want to sample the best donut at our new Farmer’s Market?!  It is our hope that the items we get to on our list will provide some fun memories and give purpose to each of our stages ahead:  saying goodbye, travelling & settling into the next chapter.  I’m listing them below, edited to be a bit more general than our actual list, in case you have a desire to try something similar.

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Summer Bucket List!

  1. Go and see Monsters University
  2. Go to the beach
  3. Spend a week at the beach house
  4. Go out for Ice Cream (Fentons?)
  5. Go to Toys R Us and use gift card from the Walk-a-Thon
  6. Go to In & Out
  7. Do a Lemonade Stand
  8. Pick berries and make jam
  9. Have swim lessons
  10. Make Ice Cream
  11. Have playdates with friends
  12. Spend the night on a farm on the way to Oregon
  13. Overnight/Slumber Party at Grandma’s
  14. LEGO Camp!
  15. See Fireworks and Celebrate Fourth of July
  16. Camp in our backyard
  17. Make S’mores over a fire
  18. Plant a Garden
  19. Go and see new Pixar Movie, Planes
  20. Go to Church Picnic at New Church
  21. Play on the Cool, new Playground (Wildcat Park) at new elementary school
  22. Go to Target and shop for School Supplies for 1st Grade with Mommy
  23. Choose a New Lunchbox for 1st Grade
  24. Road Trip to Oregon
  25. Go geocaching (treasure hunt)
  26. Go to the Park and Have a Picnic
  27. Go to a SF Giants Game
  28. Make Homemade Waffle Cones
  29. Watch a Sunset at the Beach
  30. Get Carded (send cards to 7 people in 7 days)
  31. Go on a Photo Walk with Mom
  32. Go to The Sunnyvale Farmer’s Market
  33. Go to the Corvallis Farmer’s Market (get fresh donuts from Gathering Together Farms)
  34. Play Monopoly
  35. Take Lunch to Daddy once he starts his new job
  36. Outdoor Movie Night
  37. Make Popsicles
  38. Go to the new library in Oregon & get a library card
  39. Check out Cloverland Park
  40. Make a Huge Box village after mom & dad unpack boxes at the new house
  41. {new addition I’d forgotten…even though it was already on the calendar!}  Free Slurpee Day at 7-Eleven (on 7-11 of course!)

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Any traditions you commit to every summer?  Things to add to our list!?

Here’s hoping MOST of the items on our agendas actually end up serving the greater purpose of bonding with our kids and making memories.

For me, enjoying In-n-Out and homemade ice cream is a bonus benefit!

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Nourishment

10 05 2013

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Any parent tends to think about nourishment now and again—-or maybe every meal, snack and bite that we prepare for our kids.  Are we cobbling together enough to keep them satisfied?  The right balance to ensure healthy growth?  And even more important, do we manage to eek out a **FEW** meals that provide nourishment  for something deeper—connection with family over the table through conversation, however disjointed it might be.

I love this quote from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea.  In case your reader or blog feed won’t let you read the words in the picture above, here’s the quote again:

A good relationship has a pattern like a dance and is built on some of the same rules. The partners do not need to hold on tightly, because they move confidently in the same pattern, intricate but gay and swift and free, like a country dance of Mozart’s. To touch heavily would be to arrest the pattern and freeze the movement, to check the endlessly changing beauty of its unfolding. There is no place here for the possessive clutch, the clinging arm, the heavy hand; only the barest touch in passing. Now arm in arm, now face to face, now back to back — it does not matter which. Because they know they are partners moving to the same rhythm, creating a pattern together, and being invisibly nourished by it.

Often the nourishment we need and seek can not be found through the means we employ—-holding on tightly, possessively clutching, touching heavily.  In fear, left to our own ways, we too often think we can nourish relationships through control.  Lindbergh reminds us that the pattern that can be created, the dance to be experienced is so much richer, moving, beautiful and **nourishing** when we let go and move to the same rhythm, not necessarily the same steps.

I am finding myself in a season that can often feel parched, dry and endless.  Like childbirth, I think I blocked out the emotional and mental stamina needed to parent a 2 year old.  They are relentless.  Today, I savored 2 hours of alone time by deep cleaning our bathrooms with Clorox.  What does that tell you?!?  I’m **nourished** because I can clean in peace without interruption?!?  What is this world coming too??  Night after night, we are suffering through sleep issues with the boys—one is suffering from night terrors and the other from bad dreams.  I often feel like they are tag-teaming, planning out a new and devious scheme to keep me from shut eye and the nourishment of consistent sleep.

I write this here to remember, to remind myself that one day they will sleep through the night.  One day they will both be capable of entertaining themselves so I can get some other chores done.  One day I might have enough stamina to do more that survive each day til I can plop on the couch at 8pm, exhausted.  Maybe, one day….

How do we find nourishment in these moments—-moments when I don’t even register what would BE nourishing.  How do we provide nourishment for our children?  True rest when fears and dreams fill their heads?  Meals that satisfy when their picky likes and dislikes prevail?  Time of connection and conversation and bonding when our own eyelids are heavy and our hearts are tired?

Lately, I have tried to remind myself that all of the “screaming” voices of culture (aka Pinterest & Facebook), are not the end all, be all.  Sometimes, turning on the sprinkler as the temperature soars into the 90s is necessary.  Maybe embracing the school’s spirit week—wearing mustaches, Hawaiian gear, baseball garb or super hero outfits makes all the difference.  Could nourishment surprisingly be found walking in the walk-a-thon in 90 degree heat?!?  Yes, maybe even there.

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I wondered what this stage would look like in my life—parenting two boys, being a “stay-at-home-mom”, keeper of the calendar, diaper changer, dishwasher unloader, dinner maker.  Sometimes those moments, as much as I’d like to hope, don’t feel life giving.  In the midst of the exhaustion, I seek out hope.  Hope in something much stronger and firmer than food, experiences and memories.

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I keep seeing images before me…reminders that even when I want to cry and pitch a temper tantrum….

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….that it really makes more sense to call on friends.  To enjoy some time away from the bunnies.  There is no guilt in that.  Pure nourishment.

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How do the kids find nourishment?  Alex wears his winged shoes.  Drew dances out in the rain. (or wears a Davy Crockett hat….obviously)

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And some moments, under and through and in between the chaos, there are glimpses at these PEOPLE we are raising.  Encouraging our boys to love with abandon.  To shower others with flowers and love.  To write their stories.  To look out into the world and see “outside” themselves.  To be men of adventure.

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At Open House, we got to see Alex’s work from Kindergarten.  It was surreal to attend Open House as a parent, and not a teacher.  To see his self-portraits from August and May and observe the growth that has unfolded.

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These moments, if we pay attention, nourish.  It’s like that “goo energy gel” that you suck down on a long run.  You slurp down some reality and it energizes.  A chance to gain perspective and see we are raising PEOPLE.  No huge surprise, but a truth often lost in the day-to-day survival of parenting.

I’m not sure if mine will end up a politician, a pizza delivery boy, a mattress salesman, a smoothie maker or comedian…..

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….but in the moments where I cling hard in control, desperately seeking nourishment, running on empty—-it’s time to look them in the eye.  See them for who they are and enter the dance and help them create the unique pattern that they are weaving with their lives.

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And then pray to GOD that they sleep through the night just ONCE this week!

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Vision from the Frontlines: Piggy Bank Learning

19 02 2013

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This post is the tenth installment of a series on children’s faith development called Vision from the Frontlines:  Voices, Experiences & Practices of Faith Development.  For more information about this series, click here.  I am to welcome my dear friend, Krista today.  Krista and I met about twenty years ago and enjoyed many years of friendship and ministry together while on staff at Westminster Woods Presbyterian Camp.  I have relied heavily on Krista’s wisdom, humor, groundedness  & parenting advice.  Thank you, Krista, for sharing here today.  I know it is a message that will give us a lot to think about and some new practices to try as we navigate parenting young ones growing into new independence. 

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This is the year.  I have decided to allow my two girls, ages 5 and almost 7, to finally have their own allowances.  I’ve hemmed and hawed over this decision for some time now, but as my 5 year old seems to have a love for shopping that comes neither from her father nor from me, it is becoming clear that money is a topic that I need to address with her sooner rather than later.

I grew up with a sense of stress about finances.  After losing my mother to cancer at the age of 11, my newly single father, a music teacher in Oakland’s inner-city schools, was rightfully concerned about providing for my older brother and myself.  It may have been his upbringing during the depression, his fears about impending college tuitions for the two of us, or any number of other factors that led him to respond to finances with a sense of anxiety.  Regardless, I learned to fear money, or the lack thereof, and have spent years living frugally, not because it is wise to do so, but because I was afraid of not having what I might need.

What I was not taught is that I have a Heavenly Father who is intimately aware of my every need.  Truly, all that I have is His and He has every intention of taking good care of me.  (Phil. 4:19)  So, although there are mountains of things that I learned from my parents that I intend to pass on to my children, their understanding of money and God’s promise to provide is not one of them.

For so many reasons, my husband has proven himself to be the perfect match for me, not the least of which is the way he views money.  He has always been faithful in tithing (which I never even did previous to being married to him), and is completely secure in his belief that God will provide what we need, when we need it.  (He has been right every time!)  I am so thankful for the many ways he has brought me into a closer faith walk in the years we have been married.  Every day, I see in my husband more and more godly character traits that I hope to develop and I am thankful for his example to me.  Over our almost 14 years of marriage, money has become less of a source of anxiety for me and more of a marker of God’s faithfulness to us.

So, I’ve decided that now is the time to begin teaching my sweet girls that God is truly the provider (and owner) of all that we have.  For Christmas, each of my girls received a piggy bank of sorts.  It is shaped like a little town, showing a store, a church and a bank.  Each building façade has a little slot in the top where you can insert money, some for saving, some for giving and some for spending.  Each girl is given a dollar bill and 4 quarters every Monday.  The dollar bill goes into the store, two quarters go into the bank and two quarters go into the church.  OK, I realize that tithing means giving 10%, but the truth is, my girls don’t understand percents yet and somehow 2 quarters in each slot just feels nice and simple to me.  So, for now, they will tithe and save 25% of what they are given.  They are really excited about having a little bit of money to spend, too, and are already talking about what they will buy each other for their birthdays (score one for our understanding of being generous!).  The other day, at Safeway, Miss 5 year old wanted me to buy her a fruit roll-up.  That was not in my grocery plan so I told her that I would buy it for her and she could give me 50 cents when we got home.  She was just fine with this arrangement and I was so happy to put this money decision in her court.  They are both excited to have something to contribute to the offering basket each week at church, too.  We’ve discussed how that money is used by the church and they are beginning to understand how God’s provisions for us can become our gifts back to Him.

My prayer for my girls in this new piece of parenting is that they will learn that God is, indeed, more than able to provide all that they need and that money is not to be feared, but to be used wisely and given generously.  As I gave them their allowances today, each girl was thrilled to be getting closer to their goals in the spending portion of their banks.  The surprise in the conversation was that neither is saving for herself, but to buy for the other their desired gift.  I pray that I will find such joy in using God’s finances entrusted to me to bless others and to honor Him!

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470940_10150960717365572_1188722786_oKrista is a Bay Area native and stay-at-home mom, who finds it rare to ever have a full day of staying at home.  After a career as a symphony musician, she enjoys teaching music from her home, affording her a short commute down the hall from the kitchen to the music room.  After 20 years of friendship, she married her best friend at the ripe old age of 27.  She and her husband, Bill, are having a blast raising their two daughters. 





Of Sheep and Camels and a Child’s Questions

13 11 2012

This post is the first installment of a series on children’s faith development called Vision from the Frontlines:  Voices, Experiences & Practices of Faith Development.  For more information about this series, click here.  Jessica & I met long ago while I was living in the East Bay and she was an intern at our church, First Presbyterian in Berkeley.  We spent many years sharing life’s daily highs and lows while part of a small group together. Now, despite the miles {she currently lives in Alexandria, Egypt}, I count on Jessica’s wisdom, humor & stability almost daily.  I can’t wait to share her thoughts & amazing writing with you today.

The final week of October was the most stressful yet in my driving life in Alexandria, Egypt.  Usually, my daily round of school and preschool transportation for our two kids takes between two and three hours, to go a total distance of about five miles.  In the days of frenzied preparation leading up to the Muslim religious holiday of Eid al-Adha, the already congested and narrow streets introduced a whole new element of craziness to my route: sheep, goats, cows, and the occasional camel, all jockeying for space in makeshift pens set up at intersections and on sidewalks.  While I had become accustomed to slaloming around cars to squeeze through tight spaces, this pushed my driving expertise to another level as I tried to inch by a bewildering number of animals without running into or over them.

One afternoon, as I navigated a particularly tricky turn, Emma piped up from the backseat with a whole series of questions. What was this holiday about? Was this holiday like Christmas? Why did they kill so many animals? Did people get presents? Would Muslims get to celebrate Christmas as well?  And on and on and on. While the questions were simple enough to answer, the larger issue behind them of different ideas and views of God was much more complicated. As I charged around cars, leaned on my horn, slammed on my brakes, and gestured frantically to the policeman to let me turn left in front of oncoming traffic, I struggled to provide answers to a kid who has only the vaguest understanding of Someone or Something bigger than her out there.  Living overseas, our children have not benefitted from a solid Sunday School experience, and I can’t say we have made up for it much at home.

As I fumbled my way through my answers, I encountered yet again my ongoing ambivalence over my role in the spiritual development of my children and the absolute poverty of my vocabulary in matters of faith.  I don’t question the importance of my role, but I am very unsure how I am to go about fulfilling it. I am a missionary kid who was raised in an environment that combined Baptist missionary zeal and Middle Eastern evangelical conservatism, set against the backdrop of Islam as the majority religion.  Given that potent brew, I was pretty clear on what it meant to be a Christian very early on, and I was fluent in the language of sin, repentance, and obedience. I eventually learned the language of grace post-college, and then after that, the language of doubt and disappointment as my sharply defined black and white faith got steadily shaken to a blurry gray during some formidable challenges in our life as a Foreign Service family.

My husband and I have had many, many conversations on how to set the spiritual tone in our family.  I cannot simply pass on the spiritual language of my childhood because I have since lost much of that spiritual certainty that was so definitive of my faith for many years. My husband did not grow up in a Christian household, so he doesn’t have a reference point for this, other than a strong desire NOT to create a Christian subculture in our home, which he fears would produce finger-pointing, Bible verse- spouting, judgmental children who say all the right things but whose hearts do not know grace, humility, or kindness. But I also don’t want to just meander through soft-edged, spiritual nonsense, leaving my children unmoored and with absolutely no way of grappling with the profound mysteries of faith. The stakes are all that much higher when they will likely spend the majority of their childhood in a Muslim context and we identify ourselves as Christians.   My husband believes that our behavior is our key educational tool in faith matters; I happen to think we need to put more meat on those bones. So how do we do both?

A recent conversation with a friend changed my thinking about this in a profoundly helpful way.  She mused that God already has His own relationship with our children. For whatever reason, THIS NEVER OCCURRED TO ME. I think I have simply assumed that my children could only access God through me. That it was completely incumbent upon me to guide their minds and thoughts to God. That if I wasn’t engaging in Regular Spiritual Instruction at home, they would never think about God, never understand sin or grace, and never want to invest in a faith community.  But those big spiritual questions that come up spontaneously in conversation with our kids? Every kid asks them, everywhere! What greater affirmation is there for us to know that God is already speaking to their hearts, prompting their questions, and touching their souls?  With that as my starting point, my role becomes much clearer and much simpler.

I am here as a participant and partner in God’s conversation that has already begun with my children.   As a contributor to this ongoing dialogue, I get to share my opinion, express my doubts, tell stories that have helped me understand God better, struggle to exhibit grace, forgiveness, and humility, talk openly to God about what is going on in my life, take my family to spend time with other friends who know and love God, and do my absolute best to gently direct my children’s hearts and minds to their Creator. Best of all, I get to throw the conversational thread back to God on a regular basis and trust that He will respond in just the right ways to the profound questions and longings of my children’s hearts.  His love runs deep, His grace abounds, and HE created my children. What greater Teacher could there be?

Jessica Robertson Wright lives with her husband and two children in Alexandria, Egypt.  She posts sporadically and only-when-inspired to her blog at robertsonwright.wordpress.com.





“LOVE ME!”

3 11 2012

Ramona Quimby, as I mentioned yesterday, is our current character of interest these days. At my insistence, we are taking a little break from the intensity of The Chronicles of Narnia. Following a child of a similar age to my own child, in circumstances which ring startlingly familiar, seems more up my alley than the battles of CS Lewis’ creation. {Although I will interject  that I came into the bathroom to get Alex out of the tub last night and the entire bath toy collection was waging a battle and our squeezy, bathtub toy lion–Aslan–was running the show.}

We finished up Ramona the Brave tonight and Alex enjoyed projecting himself into the world of first grade, along with Ramona. Bigger expectations, more social dramatics & sibling challenges. One of the most heart-wrenching scenes in the story occurs during an art lesson in Ramona’s class. They are making owls to have on display for Back-to-School night and Ramona is ecstatic to let her creativity and individualism shine through her creation. Sadly, this chance to bask in the glow of her work of art was cut short as a classmate, Susan, eyed Ramona’s owl and began to mimic the same elements on her own piece. As you can imagine, or might remember, Ramona loses it. She throws her own owl away. Stamps out of the classroom and later ruins Susan’s work, after it is held up in high esteem by her teacher, shown as a model to the whole class.

These events get back to Ramona’s parents during Back-to-School night and again on her progress report. Ramona collapses in anger, frustration and sadness and feels “less than” for the umpteenth time when compared against her “perfect” sister, Beezus.

She is broken in this moment. When pressed by her parents, who wonder what to do about Ramona, she cries, “LOVE ME!” Ramona’s own words surprise and shock her self. So much so that she buries her face in the pillow. But the truth has seeped out. The cry to be loved. The realization that in the midst of all the mistakes and bad reports and comments about her character, Ramona just wants to be loved.

I see so much of this in my eldest….and I know it is happening and will continue with my youngest. We all and crying out this same response, in fact, whether audibly or more subtlety. As I see teenage-like responses from my 5 1/2 year old, I wonder how best to love him. When we put boundaries on behavior, we often hear, “YOU DON’T LOVE ME!!!” in response. Despite the fact that kids unconsciously crave and need boundaries, in the moment of fences being erected and lines being drawn in the sand, it is NO FUN.

Some moments are filled with deep joy and thrill…

Others are times of experimentation—dressing up in Dad’s boots. Choosing to quiet oneself with art to “take a break”. Measuring spider webs.

Sometimes life just forces times of patience, waiting, observing & watching—and in spite of best efforts and intentions, that lollipop & sticker at the end of the rainbow doesn’t materialize.

And I am remembering for myself and also for my parenting, for my relationships and with those I encounter, really it boils down to this….we all are like Ramona. We hit the end of the line, the frayed rope, and deep down, everyone just wants to be loved. In different ways, the cry for love is the one foundational desire and motivation that fills every heart.

The storm that has hit the East Coast this week has brought deep devastation to so many. Hurricane Sandy packed a big punch and the region will be reeling, no doubt, for a long time to come. As I watch various reports, news pieces and interviews, this same desire, maybe with slightly altered words, is shouted, “LOVE ME!” “See us.” “Don’t forget our devastation.” “Don’t leave us here to fight this battle alone.”

Lord, show us how to do that day-to-day. Moment-by-moment. Show us the path of love when every other emotion and need competes for our attention. Help us love when things feel too big, too hopeless or too dark. Give us grace to see the need that lies below the surface, threatening to seep up—this cry for love.





You Hold Your Truth So Purely

25 10 2012

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)





It’s a Season

10 08 2012

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I have often heard it said, or read that produce should be enjoyed in season and locally. I think the first place this truth was communicated the most clearly and effectively for me personally was through Barbara Kingsolver’s tender, informative and thought-provoking memoir, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I loved snooping in on the way their family lived off of their own garden and those within a close radius for a year, recording the pitfalls and successes, challenges and memories of the experience. As I brought home cherry tomatoes and strawberries from the Carpinteria Farmer’s Market yesterday…and later bit into those treats, the juicy sweetness and full flavor was truly startling. A marked difference from what you grab off the shelves of the local Von’s or our Trader Joes store at home.

Over this trip to Southern California, the same concept, “It’s a Season”, has been on my mind. Like last year, I created a loose plan for naps and our schedule. Really loose. Last year, this plan worked so well, and I figured we should try it again.

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As I mentioned during our trip last year to the Central Coast, I love {read between the lines….AM OBSESSED} with planning and preparing for our summer trips. I love to research the archives of Sunset Magazine and email friends, polling them for the best kid-friendly spots and restaurants NOT to be missed. We look for playgrounds to explore, beaches that are safe for kids and eateries that withstand loud, messy children.

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This trip has benefitted from some of those same strategies as previous years, but we truly are “in a season.” And this season, the season of a 22 month old and 5 year old, is different from last summer’s season of a 10 month old and 4 year old. Not only is the youngest much more “conversational” {that term is used VERY loosely!}, but he also is exerting his desires much more strongly. On the flip side, the two boys can play together, without constant vigilance, even at the beach.

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When updating last year’s packing list, I was surprised at the things I could take off the list: formula, baby food, night diapers for Alex!, binkies, and the Moby Wrap. There were things to add, but indeed….last year was a season, different and unique from this one. Since last year, the eldest has been indoctrinated into the world of Star Wars. Toys and quiet time activities have needed to be segmented so youngest doesn’t get “into” creations.

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But….the season, the “tradeoff” is that the youngest can entertain himself too—-hours of cars, trains, Richard Scarry “Cars, Trucks and Things That Go” reading & watching out the window for the latest sighting of Amtrak whizzing by. Even household tasks like dusting! Ha ha.

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Certain things have sustained me on this trip. One simple, silly one has been preparing the coffee each night before bed and setting the timer to start percolating at 6am. Hearing the boys start to giggle and rustle at 5:50am or 6:14am has been much easier to stomach when accompanied by the smell of Peet’s brewing from the kitchen.

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Our nap supervision “schedule” was a life saver last year, but this season has meant only one nap per day for Drew, and a LONG one at that, usually averaging between 3 and 4 hours. We have chosen to all be home in the afternoon for the most part, relaxing and catching up on the Olympics or cable tv channels we don’t get at home. I’m sure that sounds sacrilegious to some, but it’s pure indulgence for us! Project Runway marathon!

As I comb the teaching websites and Craigslist postings each day, completing job applications and interviews over the last few weeks, I am coming to terms with it “being a season” in my life too. In some ways, the schedule we enter into this fall is even trickier than past years. Lots of drop offs, pick ups and little “windows” to be covered with the boys. Working, for me, is an even bigger maze and puzzle. Money aside, working, exercising my professional muscles, is life-giving. I’m coming to terms with the reality, though, that until the right fit comes along, it’s time to embrace this season. Not kick and scream and whine. But rather “be in the river” and get swept up in the season that God is accompanying us on. Micha of Mama Monk, expressed this concept of abiding so eloquently.

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So, the seasons turn and change and shift. The boys grow from this…

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…..to this….

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Our menus rotate. Our routines slowly morph and change. The needs of our schedule and lives evolve. Maybe this seasonal living really is a call to being cognizant of our current season, clinging to flexibility while holding onto the raft of a loosely held schedule.

For you parenting veterans out there, friends in the “fray” of this state right now, and faithful observers and supporters, what do you cling to? What do you consistently let go of? What season are you swimming in?

Today’s moment, our last day at the beach, will involve sand time paired with cleaning up and wrapping up our time. Enjoying this season for what it is.

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Three On Two Defense

7 08 2012

With Grandpa, AKA Macho Pop, in tow, we decided to attack Santa Barbara’s animal world today. We call that Three on Two Defense for understandable reasons. Coffee was prepared the night before, Peets brewing by our 6am wake up call. We walked down to Esau’s Cafe for a classic Carpinteria greasy spoon breakfast. Yum. Yum. Yum. I had the best french toast…corn flake crusted. Sounds weird, but let me tell you, it was delicious! And post breakfast? A little chance to burn off those extra “ya ya’s” at the Tomol Interpretive Center which combines a play structure and Chumash Indian education. This fourth grade teacher was pretty geeked out.

The boys packed up and headed for the Amtrak station to take the train to Santa Barbara to appease Drew’s “CHOOOO CHOOOO! CHOOOO CHOOOOOO!” obsession. He can hear it from cities away and has been so excited to watch it pass by. I drove the car so that we’d have transportation options once we arrived. Matt reported that Drew became very worried when the train arrived at the depot and started crying upon boarding. Luckily he quickly recovered once the train got moving and seemed to love the ride.

We spent an hour at the Ty Warner Sea Center on Sterns Wharf. It was the perfect small and simple size for our kids, age 22 months and 5 years. A little pricey, but with a two for one coupon and Drew still free, not too bad overall.

Next we drove across town to La Super Rica Taqueria on North Milpas. Worth the wait…if alone for the amazing homemade tortillas. YUM!. Julia Child was a fan, so seriously….why not trust that, and the regular mentions in Sunset Magazine over the years?!? :)

Due to our membership at Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose, we had reciprocity at the Santa Barbara Zoo and saved ourselves $36 in admission fees! We got in FREE. The Zoo was so well done! The perfect size, great exhibits, and strollers for rent. We brought a stroller on the trip—-but realized today that we’d left it at the bookstore in Ojai 2 days ago. Oops. Who knew Ojai would play such a regular role in our trip?! The kids did great considering the amount of activities we were trying to squeeze in. The adults were ready for a nap, but…that was not to be.

After pulling in at our home away from home, Matt took over, and Kerry and I departed on our next adventure—back to Ojai we went in pursuit of the lost stroller. Not in the original plan, but a wonderful time in the car, a chance meeting with a gracious and kind state patrolman {that story can be saved for later!} and the stroller was recovered.

Kerry watched the boys while Drew napped and Alex caught up on Cartoon Network so Matt and I could dine out child free. We had a wonderful happy hour wine tasting and cheese & charcuterie sampling at Corktree Cellars. We also picked up dinner for all three adults at Siam Elephant—because clearly we needed MORE food. Drew slept from 2:30-6:45pm, so obviously 1.) we tuckered him out today and 2.) we are on our knees praying he actually sleeps tonight!

Tomorrow evening promises some fun former summer Westminster Woods summer staffer visitors which will ease the sadness of sending Grandpa Kerry off after a waffle breakfast. After today’s non-stop fun, we are looking forward to a day close to home at our local beach.

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