Thursday, July 28, 2011

Gifts of Grace

A real life moment, a gift.

       I woke up this morning and welcomed a new year; today I turn 36. I've been thinking a lot about grace and desiring to live a more grace filled life. Grace is a word that is thrown around a lot and seems to mean different things to different people. The dictionary has several definitions, the first being "elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action" and another being "favor or goodwill". I like that grace can be both a noun and a verb; it's a gift we're given and something that becomes an action. My favorite definition of grace though, is the one in my Orthodox Study Bible. It simply says that grace is "the gift of God's own presence and action in His creation".

    If I believe that God is "everywhere present and filling all things", then grace is everywhere. It is within me, it is in my children, it encompasses our very lives. It is not an impersonal force, but a loving presence, one who changes everything. So if I believe that life is infused with this marvelous grace, why do I so easily forget what's important, get irritated with my family, frustrated over dirt tracked across the floor again or a myriad of other trivial things? I desire to be a channel of grace to those around me, to be filled to overflowing with love and joy and peace. But the reality falls far short, and I sigh in frustration, or snap irritably at a precious child, or speak critically to my husband. Instead of speaking peace to squabbling siblings, my anger escalates with theirs, and we end up splintered instead of healed. 
    So many times, every day, I apologize for my impatience. And without fail, my children are quick to forgive, ready to move on. I receive this humbly, and in that moment, I remember the presence of God with us, of grace. I have only to open my eyes to see the Everywhere Present one filling, always filling us. We may slosh and spill anger and yet He pours grace; grace in every situation if only I will open my heart to receive it. In the muddy tracks on the floor I can choose to see and breathe thanks for the healthy strong legs of my sturdy little ones. In moments where brothers and sisters are fighting I can remember that there have been times we didn't know if we would be able to have any more babies, that each one is a precious, longed for gift. 

    In the giving of thanks, eyes and heart open to the grace all around, freely given. In the presence of God life is infused with beauty, favor is bestowed freely. My hope, my prayer, for this new year of my life is that I will see grace. Not just in the lovely moments, but in the times of chaos and hardship too. And as it's given, I want to give it to others, particularly to my children. St. Paul exhorted Timothy to "be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus". As I give thanks today for the life God has given me, I desire to co-operate with Him in making beauty out of ugly things and to see the world through the eyes of grace.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Book Review: The Eve Tree

  The Eve Tree, by Rachel Devenish Ford, is a book I’ve been waiting a long time to read. I’ve been privileged to know Rae for many years, from our first meeting in San Francisco, to the months spent together in Thailand, India, and Nepal in 2000. I’ve enjoyed her blog,, since she started it.  She writes candidly about living a semi-nomadic life with her Superstar Husband and four children. Rachel is an artist at heart, and pours herself into creating, whether that is her family, their community, a painting, her blog or a book.  

    The Eve Tree is a novel that is more than the sum of its words, a story finely crafted and lovingly shaped by its author. On the surface, it’s a simple plot about a family, the land that is their heritage, and how they come together to prepare for a forest fire that is encroaching upon the ranch. At its center are Jack and Molly Boscelli, parents of three grown children and caretakers of their Northern California ranch home. As the threat of fire grows they’re joined by Catherine, Molly’s mother and previous owner of the ranch, as well as their children. While the family gathers to defend their land, they also share concerns over Molly, who had suffered a mental breakdown many years before.

    What struck me most about The Eve Tree was how real the characters seem, and the way Rachel Devenish Ford has carefully crafted their relationships with one another. We see Molly as both a mother and a daughter, a wife, a friend; she is both fragile and strong. Jack is a faithful and loving husband, fighting as hard to protect his wife as to defend their ranch. Through vignettes into the history of the characters, the reader begins to understand how each has been shaped by their collective experiences. 

  While this is a fictional story, its players are completely believable.They are people who are broken, but not beyond healing. They have faith, but it is interwoven with doubt. While they have been shaped by their past, they can choose to move forward. They live with regret and shame and hurt, but they also hold onto hope and forgiveness. They are complicated, just like me and you, and yet simple in their basic desire for love and understanding and wholeness. 

    The Eve Tree is about more than just a forest fire and land and trees and a house; it’s about the things in our own lives that threaten to ravage and destroy. It’s about hope and healing and beauty rising from ashes. Rachel Devenish Ford shows a deep and hopeful understanding of humanity and a sensitivity to what she calls “the dark slippery places of the mind”. Days after finishing it, I find myself thinking about Jack and Molly and their family. The Eve Tree is an excellent first novel, and I look forward to reading more from this author. 

    The Kindle Edition of The Eve Tree is available for only $2.99 for a limited time only. It's also available in hard copy. 

From her Amazon author page:
"Rachel Devenish Ford was born in Ontario, Canada, and grew up reading like a fiend in various small towns of British Columbia, Canada. In high school she realized she loved to write. Shortly after, she discovered that she loved to travel, and ever since, she's been writing and traveling the world.
Rachel spent six years working with homeless youth in San Francisco and Arcata, before embarking on the journey of her life with her husband and four children. She is still traveling now. You may bump into her in India, Nepal, or Thailand. Next, she'd like to try Venezuala.
She is hard at work on her second novel."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cherries, and Something Yummy

On a perfect summer's day in mid-July, my sister Gloria and I met at a local farm to pick cherries.
A lovely time was had by all!
(Cherry Honey Frozen Yogurt recipe below!)

Luscious fruit hung heavy on the branches.

Some of the best picking was to be found in Auntie Gloria's
basket. At least that's what a couple kids seemed to think! 

There were some strange characters lurking about the farm!

Poppy surprised me by picking more cherries than I did!
She said she didn't eat any because she wanted to save
hers to make Something Yummy. Talk about self-control!

"I will pick mine jerries ever in mine life!" 

Cousin Diego took his cherry eating pretty seriously.

Of course Gloria had to bring a cute basket to pick into!
No ugly plastic buckets for her. 

All picked out!

My beautiful sister. (Well, one of my beautiful sisters!)

Happy mama, happy baby.

In Poppy's words:
"Pearl is astonished by how many cherries are up there!"

Pearl, of course, had to wear the appropriate shoes for the occasion.

Something Yummy #1:
A cherry cream pie, mostly raw.
(Pecan-coconut crust, cashew cream filling, and cherry topping.)

Something Yummy #2:
 Poppy's Cherry Honey Frozen Yogurt

And here's Something Yummy for you!

 Poppy's Cherry Honey Frozen Yogurt
2 C Pitted Fresh Cherries
1/2 C Cream
2 C Yogurt or Kefir
1/4-1/3 C Honey
1 T Vanilla or Almond Extract

Blend all ingredients. You can leave some of the fruit chunky if you like, or puree until smooth. Make sure mixture is cold, and then follow instructions for your ice cream maker.

If you don't have an ice cream maker, don't despair! There are several ways 
you can make this recipe without it. Click here for ideas.

This post is part of The Nourishing Gourmet's Pennywise Platter
and Food Renegade's Fight Back Friday

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Monkeous Boy

    Oh my sweet Raphi,

    When did you get so big, my boy? You turned three a couple of months ago, and I'm just now getting to your birthday letter. I'll tell you this; you are the busiest boy around! You're so sure of yourself, so independent. You know what you want and you just go for it, no asking for permission, or help, or anything of that sort. When you were just a little floor baby, you were quite a climber. I can see now that it's part of who you are. You're not phased by obstacles. If you've seen someone else do it, you see no reason why you can't do it too. You're also incredibly persistent. If I say no, I'd better have a good reason and be prepared to defend it! I can't wait to see where this takes you in life!

    For all your "I can do it myself" attitude, you still love to be right by my side, involved and helping. If Daddy's home, it's him that you shadow. You're usually the first one up in the morning, and love to help daddy make his coffee, or go out and "zoast" coffee with him. Your help isn't always as, uh, helpful, as we might wish, but that's okay. We like that you like to be with us, right in the middle of the action. You love to stand on a chair while I'm cooking, and stir things and chop, and sprinkle spices in. I just have to keep an eye on you, because in your zeal (and knowledge) you'll start pulling spices off the shelf and cracking eggs before I'm really ready for that. (Pepper in the pancake batter? Been there. Egg on the floor? Done that.) Yep, you keep us on our toes!

    Daddy asked you one day if you were a good helper, and I loved your answer: "Nope, I'm just a kid and a monkey." That sums it up pretty well, actually. You remind me a lot of Curious George, and of the monkeys that I used to see in India - daring and inquisitive and a wee bit mischievous at times. You like Curious George stories, and when I pause to let you say "curious" you say "monkeous" instead. I think that's the perfect word for you, my little Man Cub! Busy and into everything, you are!


    You're about the most contrary boy I've ever known, too. But honestly, that really doesn't bother me too much. You like to say no, and contradict, but someday I'll be glad that you know your own mind and won't be easily pushed around. I'm glad though, that you weren't my first kid because I think I wouldn't have let it go like I do now. I still expect you to obey, but I'm a lot more careful to not give you an instruction that I'm not prepared to help you follow through with.

    Even though you're three years younger than Poppy, you have no idea you're not one of "the big kids". If ever we don't let you take part in something, you're quick to remind us that you're "big for that". One of your latest phrases that I love is "ever in mine life". You like to throw these out randomly, and often tell us that "I'm big for that" and "I will do that ever in my life!" Or, when you don't want to do something, it's an emphatic "never in mine life!"

    For as big and independent as you are, you're still a little mama's boy, and I'm glad of that, too. You're rough and wild one minute, and sweet and charming and gentle the next. You're (mostly) a sweet and gentle big brother to Pearl, crooning over her and stroking her softly. One day recently when you thought she wanted to me to nurse her, you informed me that you would share some of your mommy milk with her. I asked how you were going to do that, and you indicated that since it was down in your tummy, she could just drink it... through your belly button!

    Oh, mine Raphael, you're loving and fierce and wild and sweet all rolled into one charming boy. You have an amazing smile and eyes "like the sea after a storm". I love you so much. You're a wonderful gift from God, one that still brings healing, joy, and great blessing to your mama's heart.

    I love you, my monkeous boy-boy!

                  Love, Mama

Monday, July 11, 2011

Dreaming My Dreams With You

    It's in so much of the marriage advice out there: cultivate common interests. At the beginning of our relationship ten years ago, I frankly didn't give it too much thought. After all, it was our common interests that brought us together. Check that one off the list. Of course we heard about the empty nesters who one day looked at each other and realized that with no kids in the house, they had nothing in common. Well, when you're starry eyed and just being in the same room is practically enough to sustain you, it's hard to imagine that would ever happen!

    A few years down the road, and a couple kids later, and we still loved each other. A lot. But I can see how we settled a bit, or rather, a lot. Life took on a pretty normal routine; Erik going to work, I staying busy caring for our family and home. While I enjoy sewing and crafting and cooking, Erik is interested in photography and audio and roasting coffee. Sure, there were still plenty of things we enjoyed doing together, but somehow we lost sight of the dreams we once had togetherWe got so busy with life, with four kids and houses and jobs and homeschooling and chickens and health issues and paying bills and just making it through the day, that we sort of let our dreams slip away. Evening would come, and by the time the kids were in bed, we would often sit in the same room, together in a sense, but pursuing our own interests. We forgot that there was a big world out there, and that we still wanted to explore it, and that we still could, that this "American Dream" life we were living didn't seem to fit quite right. 

    Our love of travel and adventure and our desire to pursue a different sort of life is part of what brought us together in the first place. (Well, that and the amazing Sri Lankan curry Erik used to make.) We'd known each other for years, and even gone out a few times when we were on the same continent, but it was through the letters I wrote from Asia that he really became interested in me. (You can read our love story here.) Through the years, life here became pretty consuming and our old dreams were either buried in the past or way too far in the future. Somehow we forgot to keep dreaming together, to keep moving, however slowly, toward the things that were deep within both of our hearts. 
    Over the last year or so we've both felt a renewed energy and interest in moving on from here. After returning from three weeks in Mexico last February, something changed, and we found ourselves happily dreaming and planning and making small steps toward pulling up roots and going where the wind blows us. (We're still not entirely sure where that is!) One of the bonuses I hadn't anticipated is that it's been like a breath of fresh air for our relationship. I'd realized, and been bothered, that our interests seemed so divergent from one another, but I didn't know how to remedy it. (I really tried to get into the world of coffee roasting... I did. And I enjoy taking pictures, but start talking about shutter speeds and f-stops and depth of field and my eyes glaze over.) 

    Now I realize that we didn't need to give up our own interests, or dive into the other persons'. We just needed to "Go back to the beginning"! (I can't write that without hearing Vezzini say it in The Princess Bride.) It's been such a blessing to once again be dreaming our dreams together. And in that, we can still maintain our own unique interests. Erik is looking forward to visiting some coffee cultures and taking great pictures. I'm afraid his speakers and amplifier are going to have to stay at home though. (Sorry, my love!) One of my favorite things, true to my interests, is visiting local produce markets and learning to cook ethnic cuisine. We can do all of that, together. 

      So it turns out "they" were right; cultivating common interests is crucial to a relationship. I feel like we're closer and enjoying being together more. As a result of that, I can genuinely engage Erik about his interests, even the ones I don't really "get". Somehow they matter more to me now, not for my sake, but because they matter to him. (And I think he must feel the same way, given that he initiated a word game with me the other day. Not his favorite thing, but I love them.) I feel like there is more laughter, more smiles, more joy around our home these days, and for that, we're all grateful. I'm glad it only took ten years for us to remember the dream we had in the first place, and that we can begin to live it now, with our family. (Our years here, by the way, have been good and fruitful and full. I don't regret them a bit.) 

     If your relationship is feeling a bit dull these days, I highly recommend that you "Go back to the beginning!" I'm all for living in the moment, but you might need to go back a few years and dust off some old dreams. If your life looks nothing like what you were hoping for, then start dreaming together again. It's one time where living in the future a bit just might make the present a whole lot brighter. 

    I'd love to hear from others what things you've found to be helpful in keeping your relationships strong and healthy.

 I've found that many people now comment on my posts via facebook, so I added a facebook box directly to the post to make it easier to converse. The regular comment box is there too. 

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Now We are Six

    My dear Poppy,

    Here we are again, you growing so fast, and me hardly keeping up. You turned six three months ago, and I'm just now sitting down to write your birthday letter. That's kind of how life is these days, with you and your brothers and sister racing along, and me trying to catch up. You're part of a wild little pack, my girl!

    Six! You're not a little girl anymore; sometimes I look across a room at you and am surprised by how big you are. Not just taller, but more you somehow, like the little girl of a few years ago was a bud, swelling with life, and you're slowly unfurling your petals to become a lovely flower. One of my favorite things about you is how thoughtful you are of others. You're always drawing pictures and making little gifts for the people you care about. You love to pick me flowers and I often have a bouquet of them, chosen with love by my girl. When you get something special, you want to make sure your brothers aren't left out. I love that about you, and hope your generosity continues to bloom!

    It's been so fun to see how much you love and care for Pearl. I will always remember how, when I was in labor with her, you kept bringing me little cards and pictures and flowers. You were like a butterfly, flitting in and out of the room, bringing joy and love. You were right there to welcome your baby sister, to smile down upon her, to whisper to her how pleased you were to finally meet her. And you've been such a sweet little mama-sister to her, helping, holding, singing, loving, and teaching her all about being a girl. Lately, you seem to have forgotten that she's still little and have gotten a bit rough with her at times. I guess she'll learn not only about fairies and dancing and sparkly things, but about getting along in the big rough world, too. I'm glad she has you for a big sister. 

    You've taken dance lessons for two years now, and it's been fun to watch you grow more confident and graceful. Your creativity is really growing lately, and you've joined the ranks of the crafty, churning out all kinds of pictures and paper crafts. You're waiting patiently to learn how to sew, and love to sit on my lap when I'm sewing, holding pins, and helping however else you can. I learned like that from Grandma, many years ago, and I'm glad to pass that on to you. You like to cook too, and have a few things that are your own creations, and you're pleased to make them for us. Yesterday was the Fourth of July, and you made us parfaits for breakfast, vanilla yogurt layered with strawberries, blueberries, and granola. This was your idea and you pulled it off with lots of love and great pleasure.

    You're awfully quiet sometimes, and I have to work hard to figure out what's going on inside you. There are others around, who are a lot louder and talk enough for several people, but your voice is important too, and I hope that you know we can always talk. I need to work harder to carve out special time with only you; we both seem to need that.

    I love that when you come out in the morning, you still want to curl up in my lap for a good long while, happy to just sit quietly and snuggle up. I enjoy those moments, and hope that you feel surrounded by love always. I know I often get impatient, and when I apologize you're so quick to forgive me. Thank you. You humble me with so much grace, and I want to be more like that.

    You have a very silly side, and it's hard to get a picture of you looking "normal". You like to ham it up for the camera, and can be pretty wild and crazy sometimes! You're pretty wild, and fearless about most things. I'm excited for all the adventures we'll have together.

    I love you, my Poppy Joy flower! I'm so glad I get to be your mama, get to grow and experience this life with you. Here's to another year, to a girl who's well on her way to seven!



Monday, July 04, 2011

The First and the Fourth

    It's been a lovely holiday weekend. We kicked it off with Canada Day on the 1st. I grew up there, and we just finalized our kids' Canadian citizenship, so we had a special dessert on Friday to celebrate. Erik had a four day weekend, and in spite of being on call, didn't have to go in at all. Today we had some good friends over, and enjoyed a day of sunshine, good food, great conversation, fun, and a healthy dose of craziness. (What do you expect with nine kids?) Here are a few pictures from our fun weekend. 

The kids staged their own parade in our cul-de-sac. That's Peregrine leading the way,
Poppy in the middle, and Raphael in the lower left- marching to the beat of his own drum.
Which is very much his style.

I was just going to serve the kids some vanilla pudding with berries on top.
Peregrine went all Martha Stewart on me and decided to decorate it.
Where on earth does he get
that from? (Along with his flag drawing and "tricorn" hat.)

Is it just me, or did sparklers get way more lame this year?
In spite of that, Poppy was mesmerized. 

We stood out in our cul-de-sac for about a half hour, enjoying the neighborhood fireworks all around. The kids were thrilled, and pretty certain the police would be arresting people left and right, since these are all illegal in our (free) state. Peregrine was whooping and hollering and generally in a state
of ecstasy. Some of my favorite quotes from him:

“I don’t know where to look!” 
"It's as bright as day in our cul-de-sac!"
“I love fireworks so much I’m beating my chest!” (He’s obviously not a nursing mother.)
“This proves that I love fireworks: I have sparks in my eyes!” 
Peregrine is an intense kid, who, on a scale of 1-10, lives life between 8 and 11. He 
experiences everything intensely, and life with him is a bit 

of a roller coaster. This was a night of intense joy. I could use more of these.

Canada Day dessert - almond flour cookies with maple cashew
cream and strawberry maple leaves. Happy little canucks!
(And I like how Raphael looks like he's about to smash his cookie
into something. Typical Raphi.)
Little Canadian!
    To all my friends, American, Canadian, and everyone else, I hope you had a great weekend with much to be thankful for! 

Friday, July 01, 2011

There Was a Woman Who Lived in a Purse

I couldn't find a picture of our current home; this was our last one.
Evidently I had time to do yard work back then.

    Have you ever noticed that no matter how big a woman’s purse is, it seems to be full? And that she usually has to dig around a fair bit to find what she's looking for? (She probably just needs to buy a purse organizer. Of course there's a product for that. ) I’ve always been happy with a very small purse. When I have a baby I carry a small diaper bag instead, and then graduate to my Sherpani bag, which is still big enough to carry a diaper and more.  I personally have no desire to carry a bag the size of a small suitcase! But I digress; this isn’t actually a post about the size of a woman’s purse. 

    Ten years ago, I'd just gotten back from nine months traveling around Thailand, India, and Nepal. I loved the freedom of traveling with nothing but what fit in my backpack, knowing  I had whatever I needed. I would sometimes think about the boxes of things I had at home, and realized there were only a few things in them that were truly important to me. Upon returning to the US I settled in with my parents, and within a few months was engaged. When Erik and I married the following winter, we moved into a small duplex. At that time, pretty much everything I owned could fit into my Toyota Corolla. After a year and a half, we’d added a little Peregrine baby to the mix, as well some more stuff. We soon found ourselves buying our first home, which was still relatively small, just under 1200 square feet.  Fast forward two years, add a Poppy baby (and some more stuff), and we were on the move again. This time we filled up a decent sized moving truck and made several smaller trips  before settling into our current home, which is just over 1400 square feet. We’ve now been here for six years, and have filled it up nicely, adding two more babies and a whole lot more stuff. This is where I'm reminded of the purse: no matter how big our home is, we seem to fill it up. 

    I've been thinking a lot lately about how much of this stuff is actually important to me, and the answer would be very little. Sure, a lot of it is useful, and makes our life more comfortable, but beyond that, it's been easy to collect a lot of it because it was a good deal, or I really liked it, or because I thought  it might come in handy someday. In the last year I've been routinely going through rooms, shelves, and boxes, and getting rid of a lot of things that don't contribute to our family's purpose. It's a fantastic feeling to see boxes leaving the house, knowing that I'm freeing up not only space, but also the time it takes to organize, clean, and otherwise care for things I don't really need.

    A while back Erik and I sat down and made a to-do list of sorts. One of my goals simply says "Reduce by Half". I don't actually have a way to quantify at what point I'll have gotten rid of half our stuff, but I'm beginning to start to feel a difference. Amazingly, the kids have hardly noticed that a lot of books have disappeared off the shelves, or that there are fewer toys in their rooms. Peregrine has really embraced this; he jumped right in and helped get rid of many things he's been holding on to in his room. I was so proud of him, not only being willing to part with pictures he'd drawn, junky toys, clothing, and crafts he'd made, but to watch him discover the joy of having less. I've been getting rid of homeschool curriculum that I might use some day, and clothes I haven't fit in for years. (Insert sigh of resignation here.) There are open spaces on bookshelves that used to be stuffed. There are empty hangers, and plenty of them, in closets where space used to be at a premium.

    Is the end goal of all this purging simply to have a cleaner, simpler home? No, although I certainly think that's a good thing to work towards. But we have something different in mind, a new way of life altogether. It's really not about the size of my purse or my home,  but of embracing a new way of looking at life outside the confines of these spaces, of living in harmony with our purpose, of pursuing the dreams that are in our hearts. We're excited about what the future holds, and slowly taking steps toward making it a reality. Living with less is just one step in the journey.