Monday, June 23, 2014

Wagon Train

This past week we escaped to Hume Lake in the Sequoia National Forest. My entire tribe went to Wagon Train. My kids were campers and my husband and I served as counselors. The week was devoted to growing the kids in their faith through a number of extremely fun activities. 

The kids rappelled and focused on trusting the ropes - trusting in Jesus to get them through even the most daunting tasks. They shot arrows as they focused on the bulls-eye - learning to focus on God before aiming for anything.

It was an incredible week of growth for my kids and my husband and me. We slept in covered wagons that were not the most comfortable or the warmest of conditions but it was a fun experience nevertheless. Each wagon bunked nine children and one counselor. I was thankful mine only had seven girls. We had two extra beds for the volumes of luggage little girls bring. One of my campers had a complete set of gear from rolling suitcase to toiletry bag and everything in between!

All camp attendees had chapel twice a day and two hours of recreation with our trail guide. This is where the campers rappelled and shot BB guns and played an awesome game of David and Goliath...campers verses counselors. Recreation was followed by three hours of free time in which campers scoured the camp and did any number of fun activities. They canoed, swam, played Gau Gau ball, did crafts, zip-lined, conquered the big swing, explored the Hermit's Cave and reached the very tops of an amazing forest tree was endless amounts of fun!

The coolest thing was that Wagon Train is a private camp. Kids can't get out and people can't get in. The kids have this amazing ability to run and have all this fun without being helicoptered by a parent. We counselors were always around and often took groups to different activities but it wasn't required. My kids enjoyed freedom like they have never experienced.

I learned so much too. I learned that my kids can do far more than I believed they could. When I saw my daughter pop on down the rock rappelling with no fear I realized she is SO capable of so much. I learned that fun can be a ball and an open space. Not all fun needs to be planned into a formal activity. Fun can be anything! I also learned to be present. A week without technology was blissful. I learned that technology can kids are what is important and I want to give them the best bits of me. They deserve more than the remnants of mom.
Each evening after dinner the counselors and campers would head to the field for a camp-wide game. This was a ridiculous amount of fun. I ran like a kid and cheered and whooped! The game was different every night but just as fun as the night before. The camp is divided into Wildcats and Blackbears and I am happy to say the Wildcats were recognized as camp champs by the end of the week. 

It wasn't an easy week and I desperately longed for my shower and bed by mid-week but it was fun. It was a gift to be treasured. My kids can't wait to go again next year...and maybe I will too. We'll see what the God Lord has planned. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Summer is here!

Summer is in full swing at Smokey Acres. The outside thermometer is pulsating in the heat and the air conditioner is whirling non-stop even though the house is closed and the shades are drawn. We tapped out at 109 degrees the very day we left the cool of the Pacific Ocean and return to our drought-stricken valley.

After the kids ended their school year we emptied out backpacks and lunch bags and then promptly retreated to Pismo Beach. The coolness of the air and the crash of the waves was enough to let our spirits recharge. Well, recharge until it was time to climb into a tent with two steamy kids and no ventilation. It smelled like feet laced with halitosis. But, smell, uneven landscape, and condensation was a great trip.

We were able to rent the kids some wetsuits from an interesting old codger who looked like a salty old pirate. With wetsuits keeping them warm, the kids were able to enjoy their boogie boards ALL day. And I mean, short break for lunch, then back to the waves...ALL day! They had sand in every nook, cranny, and crevice but that didn't stop the smiles. My kids are inexplicably drawn to water so to spend the day in the crashing waves was pure joy!

I am so glad we kicked off summer with a trip west. The beach is not far from us but it still takes planning to get the tribe gathered and gone. We joined friends at the campground whose kids are classmates with mine. They were ready to welcome summer with s'mores and hot dogs on a skewer like us. 

Now we are baking back home in the valley and preparing for Wagon Train! We will actually sleep in covered wagons at 5,200 feet elevation. I am excited but also nervous. I will have 10 giggly girls in my charge. I have not been to camp before and I have never be a counselor of any sort so this will definitely be an adventure. I am praying it will be a great experience! I am excited for my kids too. This is their first adventure at summer camp. My dear friend says she can't wait to hear the stories when we come back. She said were we go, the stories follow. I hope I don't disappoint and I hope the stories are all something to laugh about!

Monday, June 2, 2014


One more week and the kids are off for summer. I am quite excited about this. I know there will be days when I will want to bang my head against my desk and weep when I have to work and the kids are circling me like sharks. They will know my question before I ask it. "Uh, Mom? No one is bleeding but..."

While the hubs and I must continue to earn paychecks this summer we do have adventures planned. Some short and some longish. It will be a good opportunity to spend time together as a family and remember why we like each other. The kids are excited to sleep in. They are happy at the prospect of not hearing me sing my way down the hall to wake them up at 6:30 each morning. Somehow, Zippity Doo Dah, is not music to their ears.They are looking forward to play dates occasions to hang out with friends. They minds are set to swimming and s'mores and sand. 

I am hopeful that the weeks of summer will not travel by too quickly. I need to recharge and I hope the weeks dawdle a bit. I don't want to speed through summer and enter the school year at full throttle prepared for burn-out by October. We have to at least make it to November before the morning battles begin!

We'll see what the summer brings! Four days and counting!


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Time to regroup, refocus, recharge, reconsider!

I have been working in college publishing for nearly 14 years. I was thinking back to my previous jobs and it is so odd that these positions that were once a large part of my life are fading memories. Names I used to know are gone. Tasks I used to do daily are little blips in my memory I can barely recall. Company events that I helped plan are on the very fringes of my memory stores.

I remember clearly what I disliked about my jobs and the people that made my life miserable. But, I don’t recall as many fun times or moments of intense learning. I had bosses I liked and bosses I loathed. I had really wonderful people that I worked with that I can’t even recall enough of their names to find them on Facebook. Was is Suzie or Lucy?

I don’t even remember if I was excited about those jobs. Did I wake up eager to get to the office? I don’t think so. I just got up and did my thing. I got out the door and clocked in right on time. I do recall being excited about Thursday. Thursday was the day before Friday and Friday at 5pm I was free. I sort of miss detaching from work on Friday at 5pm. Now, much of my work is from my home office and it is harder to check out. With cell phones I can be contacted at any time of day, weekend or not. That is a bit maddening.

After 14 years with the company I now work for so much of what I do is just ingrained in me. It is often exceedingly boring but every so often I get to scout out new info or wrangle a new challenge. I keep hoping to move up the ladder a bit but the rungs are full of folks that really need to retire. When I am of retirement age I will retire. I won’t hang onto a position that some new blood is thirsty for.

I have seen so many people come and go from this organization. I am always curious where they went and why. I have checked out a few opportunities over the years and I have been offered a few different positions. I wonder if there are any I should have accepted. If I hadn’t followed the path I am currently on I would never have met my husband. But, perhaps it is time to branch out into other things and seek new opportunities? If I do, will this place become a foggy memory in a few years’ time? Will the excitement of something new quickly fade to some boring reality?

My son wrote about his life 20 years from now for an Open House project at school. His last line is: Most importantly, I will have fun doing what I like. Where did he get so wise and did I miss that boat already? I know I don’t do what I love for living. I enjoy bits of it but I don’t wake up and dance around that I get to work today. I want that. I want to have fun doing what I like. I want to dance around full of joy for the work day ahead. Why must work be labor? Why can’t it be fun?

I think something is amiss if I can’t look back on my career and say, “Yes. That was quite awesome work I did. I really enjoyed my years there.” If my memories are strained then they aren’t shrouded in awesomeness. Clearly I am eking out a living instead of joyfully providing for my family. I really need to have fun doing what I like. I need an overhaul!

I am tired. I am stressed. I am underpaid. And…I don’t even get bubblies in my tummy over my work? Oy vie! Time to reconsider and reprioritize.

Open House

We attended Open House last night for my kids' school. One of the projects my son completed was a poem using the letters of his name. Our daughter was the first to spot his poem on the wall. I knew something was wrong when the steam started to eek from her ears. 

"Look at what Mitchell wrote for 'E'," she seethed.

I squinted my eyes and read out loud, "Ellie is my sis and she likes to hiss!" I did a snort before composing myself.

"It isn't funny, Mom!" Ellie....hissed.

"Well, it kind of is," I told her.

She gave me the stink-eye and replied, "I better get Mrs. B when I am in fourth grade so I can write about him! Hmph!"


Aside from Ellie's ire over the poem we did have a lot of fun checking out what the kids have been working on this year. They have been busy! 

In merely second grade, Ellie completed a lengthy report on sharks filled with interesting facts about these "killing machines." Her favorite was the Hammerhead which she sculpted with the help of Dad out of foam and paper mache. In fact, all of the parents...I mean, kids... projects turned out great!

I was blown away by the level of the work the students completed this year. When I was in second grade I think we were still reading about Seeing Spot Run. Ellie had written haiku's and learned about butterflies and their proboscis'. Amazing!

Mitchell completed an amazing level of work also in addition to his clever poem. He did a touch and feel report on the Miwok Indians that rivaled any high school report I ever completed. He had written amazingly descriptive imagery paragraphs and put together a very detailed diorama. I also learned that in 20 years he will be living at the beach while making a living being a pro-skateboarder. You know...I hope he makes it happen. There is no rule that says he has to be a white collar worker. I truly want both of my kids to find their passion and work at that. Now, If I could just get him to smile in photos instead of giving me that "I wish I was anywhere but here look" we would be set!


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Best Buddies

My kids are 7 and 9 and they each have an amazing best friend. They are social kids and have a lot of friends at school but they also have that one, amazing go-to person that they would spend every waking minute with if they could.

My son is small and wily and his best buddy is a full head taller and more precise in his movements. He and my son complement one another. They enjoy much of the same things and are both very grounded. They are in that transition phase from child to I-am-young-but-not-a-child. Neither one makes fun of the other for having Nemo sheets on the bed or a nightlight. They accept one another and have each other's back. 

My son encouraged his buddy to join the triathlon team with him and his buddy is surprising himself by running and even enjoying it! They talk about everything from Legos to Disneyland to God in Heaven. I enjoy listening to them talk about crazy things and crazy plans they have. My hope is that they will always be best buddies.

My daughter is also blessed with an amazing best friend. Her bestie told me that my daughter is the candy-coating to her M&M's! They are seven! The girls are not as mellow as the boys. They squeal and giggle. They have little toy squirrels that they tend to and coo over. They often put their heads together and whisper light-hearted secrets. They are in sync like no other children I have met. They link arms and dance around and they accept new friends to their group. They have a seemingly easy friendship but I believe it is iron-clad. Theirs will be a friendship that withstands the years.

In looking back at my childhood I remember one friend that lived next-door to my grandmother. We were locked at the hip from about six to 16. She ended up getting pregnant in high school and moving to Texas with her new baby and new husband. I lost touch with her as she began her new life.

I missed out on those rock solid friendships built in childhood but God instead blessed me with the most amazing friends later in life. My girlfriends now are as close as family if not closer. They have my back and my heart. They are the kind of friends that will show up with shovels - no questions asked. They accept my dorkiness and are there will the rope seems to be rapidly fraying. I can't imagine a world without my friends and I am so thankful my kids are already off to a good start.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Being Spent

One of my biggest flaws as a parent is giving my family the leftovers. Not leftovers from past meals - those leftovers are gems - but the leftovers of myself. The bits of me that are left over after a stressful day. The dribs and drabs of mom that didn't get taken by colleagues or customers or even the bank teller.

As I progress through my day I often find my joy dwindling. It is almost like I only have a certain amount to give and then I become weary. Of course I want to be kind and courteous to those I work with and work for. They don't need to see the weary Jen I tuck away. And, most assuredly, I want to lift up my friends who are struggling and share in the joy of their victories. I am kind to the bank tellers and grocery clerks. I am friendly with the people I pass on my run or at the gym. I wave to moms on the way to school. I chat with teachers and girlfriends. I respond to emails in exclamation points and happy faces. I smile, I laugh, I delight, I grow weary. 

I sing and dance in the kitchen while I make dinner and I go through the motions to clean up the dishes. I ask my children to get their showers. They resist. I say, "Please." They ask, "Why? Can't we just have five more minutes?" And, then I am done. I start my count, "One! I'm at two!" I never get to three and I am ever so thankful. I have no idea what happens at three? Do they lose electronic for a day? Do they have to clean the bathrooms? I really need to develop a plan for "three!" 

I thought it was just that my kids knew how to push my buttons - and they do! But, mostly I see that I am frustrated because I am spent. I have given so much of myself away during the day that I have very little good bits left to offer the people that mean the most to me as the day closes. My patience is thin for sibling wars and procrastination. My kids are being kids but I sometimes forget what it is like to be 7 and 9 years old. 

Kids doddle because they see the joy. They know it is fun to sing in the mirror even if Mom has asked them to shower four times. They know it is crazy delightful to jump on the bed even if they are supposed to be getting their pajamas on. They love to irritate siblings even if they have been told to brush their teeth. Kids are kids. Attention spans are short. Shining objects are distracting. And, mud truly beckons their attention.

I catch myself every time my fuse is short. And I get angry at myself. Why was I so nice to the lady at the pizza parlor and am so frustrated with my children? Why do I spare so little joy for these little people that are my biggest gifts?

I try hard to pick my battles. I don't want to wig out over mud tracked into the house - but I also wonder why these beautiful little beings can't wipe their feet? I will count to 10 before I asked them - again - to pick up their shoes and sweaty socks from the living room. I will smile and say, "I love you! Now, I really need you to hop in the shower." 

My goal is to open a reserve in my heart for extra joy. I need to store it away during the day so I can release it to my family as the day closes. I need to say, "Yes. You can have five more minutes." And, I need to embrace their childhood. I need to cherish the chaos instead of weeping over my stumbles as an overwrought parent. I need to realize that in the scope of world, mud on my floors is minuscule. I will save good portions of Mom for my kids each day. I won't promise to be perfect because I know I can't walk on water. But, I will try my hardest to save the top-of-the-line Mom qualities for my kids each day. And, my poor husband! I need to remember that I am not just a mom but a wife as well.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Mother of All Hoods

Motherhood. The mother of all hoods. Truly.

Motherhood outweighs adulthood which doesn't even compare to childhood. Motherhood encompasses both of those hoods. You get to be an adult but you also remember what it is like to be a kid. You get to act silly and eat fun cereal all while having the ability to drive and set the rules. But, adulthood also comes with major responsibility which is why I think childhood edges it out. My children never worry that the fridge will be empty or the toilet paper supply will be low. They just eat and go and know that mom has them covered. 

There is parenthood and fatherhood. Those are great, but still, motherhood wins. Mothers have magic kisses that make wounds feel better and magic hugs that make everything seem right. We know how to dry tears and calm nerves. We can test a child on spelling words while making dinner. We balance an amazing number of responsibilities but know that our greatest accomplishment is our children. Parents and fathers are amazing...but there is just something extra special about moms.

Servanthood is a hood that bites! And, falsehoods should be avoided. Brotherhoods are fine but somewhat ominous sounding. Sisterhoods remind me of sororities. I never had a good impression of sororities. Truth be told, I am sure the sorority girls I met where not shining examples of the sisterhood. But, all the same, they never left me wanting to join their ranks.

Now, knighthood is pretty cool. To be declared a knight would be a pretty slick feat. There is a lot of status that comes with knighthood. But, as a woman, I think knighthood would just not be my thing. I am not the sturdiest or most graceful gal. If I did mange to walk upright in a suit of armor, it would not be for long. Knights are dashing and bold, not cute and clumsy. And, I think the magic kisses still give motherhood priority over knighthood.

Puppyhood is delightful, but just a phase. Motherhood is a lifetime achievement. Sainthood is awesome, but comes with controversy. I guess motherhood can come with controversy as well, but it seems the sight of the newborn baby makes a lot of difficult stuff melt away.

Livelihood is an important hood - probably neck and neck with motherhood. As the ability to survive and provide a life for a family, livelihood is important. But, if push came to shove, I could set up a sweet shack for my tribe. No, it would not be awesome. As moms, we want to provide the best for our children. I don't work full-time so I can buy myself new clothes and fancy frills. I work so I can buy clothes that fit my growing children and enough food to fill their seemingly bottomless stomachs. I work for the betterment of my family. And, I work so I can buy Lucky Charms.

There is also the hood... the flat out "hood." In my neck of the woods the hood is bad and scary. It comes with images of gangs and drive-by shootings. The hood is where you don't want to be when darkness falls. Bob and weave is the way to play it in the hood. And the hood definitely is no match for motherhood.

Motherhood. The hood that represents many woman and what we do. We try our best and get it done. We roll out of bed each day ready (or bracing!) for another adventure. We wear hundreds of different hats for our hundreds of different roles. At the end of the day there is no paycheck, no benefits package, and no paid time off. There is however work yet to be done. Laundry to wash, laundry to fold, laundry to put away. We don't get paid with cash but we do get rewarded with grimy faces and shining eyes. We get the gentlest hugs and the briefest of kisses on the cheek. We get details of the day from an innocent perspective. And, we get wiggly bodies to tuck into bed. We get more joy than one could possibly expect from even the faintest smile of a child. Motherhood. Probably the toughest hood around but definitely the best!

Happy Mother's Day!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Celebrating the Small Stuff

Here at Smokey Acres we celebrate the smallest of victories. Getting to school on time - in clean clothes no less - is high-five worthy! It is a double-high five if neither child utters, "Something is poking my bottom" as they fish for a random foxtail that transferred from socks to underpants in the laundry.

We cheer for dinners without spills and bike ride with no skinned knees. We like when jumping on the bed doesn't lead to broken crowns and when tree climbing is scrape-free. It is awesome - though rare - when roller skating finishes without the need for a Band-Aid. 

We also get completely giddy over kind words. I will pause whatever I am doing to celebrate a "please" or "thank you" given from child to child. It is an amazing sound after years of "give me that!" and "I said it's MINE!" 

I know that children need to learn about failure and that it is not good to build them up constantly. I agree. But, celebrating the small stuff is not wrongly teaching them that life is is teaching them that life is good, even when it is hard.

My big thing is being thankful. Thankful for the clothes on my back and the crop of wimpy hair on my head. Thankful for my big nose and my big feet. I want my kids to be thankful in all circumstances. That is why we celebrate everything from bee stings that actually didn't hurt that bad to a trip to Disneyland.

Our house is chaos. I bow to mothers that have more that two children. I don't know how they do it. I have two and I am exhausted. I work full-time and juggle mom duties and feel completely spent at the end of the day. If we don't have little victory dances here and there I might miss some of the wonderfulness of motherhood. Which, is of course, the mother of all hoods.

Take time to celebrate this day! Your child got a "B" but did their best - Hooray! Enjoy as many fleeting moments as possible. Time goes by too fast! Celebrate and savor the small stuff and much as the big stuff.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Clock Keeps Ticking But The Phone's Not Ringing

Waiting is so hard! Patience has never been a gift of mine. I know good things come to those who wait but I feel I will positively shrivel up before that happens.

I am waiting on news. It is news that could be amazingly awesome or a total bummer. The news has weight to it. Either way it shakes out it has some heft. It is going to be life-bolstering or life-affirming. 

Though I know God has His awesome hand on this, my stomach is in knots. I have prayed for His will to be done; it is still nail biting to actually see what His will is. Jeremiah 29:11 - I am holding onto this scripture!

I am beyond ready to burst forth with some aspects of my life so this news is particularly timely. I am on the starting blocks, ready to run...I just hope I don't lose this race before I even start it.

Why can't time move this slow when I am at Disneyland?

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

July 15, day ever!

I was thinking about the day I first met my husband. It was a hot July morning in 2000. I had been invited by a co-worker to go jet skiing and, unlike the previous two times, I was actually going this time. I was only going because my coworker promised that if I didn't go, he would never invite me to anything ever again. I thought that was rather harsh but I didn't want to be scratched off the future party list so I hauled myself out of bed and drove 40 minutes to the home he shared with his wife.

Although I was going, I was running late. The location of my friend's home was in a new housing development where homes were still being built. I remember screeching around the corner - as much as my little Saturn could screech - and kicking up a massive about of dust that had settled in the road. I opened my door and enter the brown cloud of debris. I grumbled as I grabbed my bag of gear and slammed my car door shut. As I stepped away from my car I paused because the most handsome man caught my eye. 

My future husband was barefoot and bronzed. He was adjusting tie-downs on a trailer that was loaded with three jet skis. He looked up and smiled and I did a little "hello" wave. I pried my eyes off of Todd to see my friend, Steve, emerge from the garage. He said, "Hey, Jen! You made it this time! This is my friend Todd. We are going to ride in his truck." 

Steve's wife and I climbed into the backseat of Todd's Ford Bronco and thus began the beginning of the best years of my life. I had NO idea that Todd was single. In fact, I doubted that he was the more we talked. I assumed there was no way this catch was not on a baited hook. 

Anyone who has jet skied knows it is not an attractive sport. There is lake hair; water boogers; a face devoid of all make-up. So, imagine my sheer horror when, after hours out flopping around in the water, my friend's wife leans in and says, "So?"

"Sooooo?" I replied.

"So! What do you think of Todd?" she asked.

"I think he seems like a nice guy," I said.

"Don't tell me that Steve didn't tell you?" 

"Tell me what?" I asked.

"That this is a set-up! We are hooking you and Todd up!" She screeched with delight.

"What?" I questioned as sheer panic took over. I grabbed my beach towel and blew my nose. I re-adjusted my ball cap and smoothed out my swimsuit. I sat up straighter and brushed potato chips crumbs off my chair. This was a code red - date formation in progress!

Later, Todd and I laughed about my animated day of mastering the jet ski. I was so grateful that I didn't know it was a set-up. Without that background information I was able to enjoy the day and be myself. The minute I knew the day was created with a plan my nerves ignited and my words jumbled.

While I remember the day down to the most minute detail my husband remembers it in broader terms. He said he remembers me pulling up in a cloud of dust and seeing my legs pop out of my car door. At that moment, he says he was hooked. He knew it was a set-up and apparently he was excited I had legs. He also said he enjoyed watching me take on his favorite activity of those days. He loved watching me crash and thrash around on the jet skiis and get back on a do it again. The man that never intended to marry said that was the day something changed. 

It seems we both met our match that day. We busted out of the gate and have never looked back. Lake hair...water boogers...and I still found my guy. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Breakfast of Champions

Today I started my day with Wheaties! That's right! Whole wheat goodness. I polished off the Lucky Charms yesterday so when I opened the pantry and saw the orange box staring me down this morning my happy little heart did a sad sigh. I love Lucky Charms. I bought Lucky Charms for myself the moment I started doing my own grocery shopping. I don't have them everyday but when I find them on sale, I stock up. 
The Wheaties were new to me. They were on sale and I had additional savings on my club card. I sort of had to buy them. Not buying them would be wasting a saving opportunity. To be honest, I hoped my kids would eat them before me. Once they spied their deep brown color though they politely asked for toast.

I have had cereal disappointments before. Take Grape Nuts for instance. Good old wheat and barley baked to the consistency of gravel. The small box means small servings because your teeth can only chew on so many walnut hulls. A Captain Crunch! How I love your tasty squares that positively shred my mouth. I value the roof of my mouth far more than your intriguing flavor. 

I was prepared for disappointment this morning. I run, but I am no athlete. I didn't know if I wanted "The Breakfast of Champions." I wanted rainbows and red balloons! Wheaties, as it turns out, doesn't have even one stray purple horseshoe. So, I poured my Wheaties in a bowl and added a few healthy pinches of sugar before covering it in milk. I dug my spoon in and took a mouthful of dirt brown wheat...and...could it be? Goodness? They were good! They were grown-up cereal good! They tasted yummy. My sad little heart brightened right up and I declared, "Oh yes! I am a champion! Today, I will channel my inner Mary-Lou!" OK, so not so much channeling of Olympic gymnasts but still, a really good day! Tomorrow I will greet that bright orange box with a smile!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Seperating Lives

My heart is wretched for a dear friend whose husband announced that while he loves her dearly, he is no longer in love with her. This is my second friend in the course of a year that has heard these words. It truly breaks my heart that my friend woke up expecting a typical Sunday morning and ended the day with a plan for divorce.

I am not a fan of divorce but I do recognize that sometimes it is the best solution. I think what shocks me most is that the two husbands that devastated their wives with this news clearly expect that something better or more exciting is theirs to be had. Seriously? Both of my friends are beyond amazing mothers. You know those moms that see something on Pinterest and re-create it in perfect detail? Those women are my friends! They are the room moms that pull together the most amazing class parties and then head home to make fabulous family meals...from scratch! And, they are stunningly beautiful - both of them. One is all legs with olive skin and black hair and the other is a petite blond with a smile that lights up rooms.

I told my husband that the news of them separating is like the news of he and I separating (which we are not - thankfully!). Both couples seemed so happy and solid. And, my friends thought things were good also. My most recently single friend said she had no idea. They just returned from an amazing family vacation the week before. They had a wonderful date night on Saturday. And, then came Sunday morning when her whole world crumbled.

Both of my friends have young children and telling them the news was by far the hardest part. My daughter is extremely close to these children so even her reaction was difficult. She is aching for her friends. My daughter is seven and comprehends the pain. I can't even imagine what the children are going through. My friend told me that her daughter screamed with her and her husband to put their wedding rings back on. She didn't want it to be true. She said that, "Mommy has enough love to make it work!" It absolutely hurts my very core.

I have no idea what to do for my friends other than be there through this process of separating lives. I cannot even begin to understand how difficult this must be. It has made me truly thankful for my husband who promised he is still in love with me after 13 years of craziness and chaos. It is my hope that both of my amazing friends find someone that will treasure them for the rest of their days. When the dust settles and the tears are dry I pray that someone will walk in their lives prepared to love them as they deserve to be loved.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Mommy Silverback

I enjoy yard work purely for the end result. I don't relish getting covered in grime and itchy grass but I know when I am finished I will be able to see improvements immediately.

Smokey Acres is a bit over two acres. Our house and main yards sit on less that half of that. The majority of our land is a field with well worn paths made by children and dogs. There are a couple horse corrals - void of horses - and my husband's shop which is larger than our first house. 

Every year about this time we get a notice from the "weed witch." The weed witch reminds us that every year by May 1st we must have our weeds and grass trimmed to one inch in height or less. This is to discourage rampant wild fires in our dry valley made worse by the current drought. 

So, about this time every year my tribe bans together and we tackle the acreage. This year, our son was old enough for the first time to operate the riding lawn mower solo. His foot reaches the brake and he comprehends the gears so we let him loose in the back field. My husband specifically pointed out the obstacles to avoid - but he is nine. One busted water main later and he was a pro! 

My daughter and I tackled the trees and shrubs while my husband assaulted the dry foliage with a weed whacker. I think one of the sounds my husband dreads hearing is the whine of the chainsaw when he is not operating it. I am not gifted with grace so he grits his teeth every time my eyes light up when he gases it up.

This year, the chainsaw broke before I did so my daughter and I had to prune the old fashioned way - with sheers. We made great progress until we came upon The Tree. The Tree was dead. It was an old kumquat tree that never really took root. I needed the chainsaw but I had already broken that. Chains on a saw should really be more resilient. I pushed the tree to see how sturdy it was. It was somewhat weak. I began to push it from side to side. I used my feet to push on it. I pushed on it with my arms. I used all my might to loosen it from the soil. I grunted as sweat poured off me. I was in the zone. Zoning until my daughter asked, "Mommy? Why are you acting like a gorilla with that tree?"

I started to laugh as I realized I truly was channeling my inner Silverback. 

"I just want this tree out Ellie so we won't waste any water on it. It is all dried up."

"Well," she said, "Just give it one more push. I think you almost got it. Do that gorilla thing one more time."

I did as she advised and the tree toppled over! We danced around our sad, uprooted dead tree at the accomplishment. 

My husband rounded the corner and said, "How did you get that out without the saw?"

"She pulled it out like a gorilla, Daddy!" Ellie told him proudly. Not really sure if I should feel complimented or not?




Friday, April 4, 2014

Smells of Easters Past

I attended a conference today and all of the tables in the room were decorated with an Easter theme. I paused a moment to take it all in and I smelled it. I smelled a past memory of childhood. Have you ever had a scent propel you back to another place and time?

The room smelled of chocolate Easter Bunnies and plastic strands of green and purple "grass." The wicker from the baskets wafted up and mixed with the sweeter scents and I smelled Easter. I instantly found myself in a white dress with bright yellow daisies on the pockets. I had a bonnet atop my head and my skinny legs could not hold up my knee socks that were slipping down to my shiny white sandals. 

I was running with childhood delight finding Easter eggs that crazy bunny had hidden the night before. I am keeping an eye on my brother making sure he does not find a stash of eggs I have missed. I am laughing and the sun feels warm on my face. My parents are laughing and my grandpa is following us with a camera taking pictures he will turn into slides to show in the projector in days to come.

And, then, in an instant the memory fades and I am again at a conference with a job to do. The images of Easter stayed with me all day. And, those simple smells made my day bright.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

People Labels

Today, I was thinking about labels people place on other people. Little tags that classify that person's place in their life. For whatever reason, I thought of this, and it made me realize how immensely blessed I am. 

I don't put people in categories. People are people and my friends are my friends. As I pondered labels today I consciously realized I have an eclectic bunch of people in my life. I have friends from all walks of life and they all bring something extraordinary to the table. How much I would miss out on if I tagged people and filed them away!

I have friends of all races, religions, and lifestyles. Who am I to judge them? Why would I disregard someone because they are not a clone of me? Thank goodness they are not! What a terribly boring place this world would be. I would miss out on the goodness of human nature that encapsulates me when I am with my friends. 

My road in life has been rocky and I have completely fallen off the cliff at times. But, I get back on the path and try to do it a bit better each time. I love that I have friends on different parts of that path. I have friends that are single, newly married, divorced, parents of infants, parents of teenagers, and even grandparents. I learn (and laugh!) so much from the people in my life. I cannot fathom casting any one aside because I have tagged them with an unappealing label.

Compassion and tolerance. This world needs a lot more of both. We need to embrace all the people that have been placed in our lives. Granted some are abrasive to the touch but we need to tolerate them. We need to learn from them - even if it is learning how not to behave.

Today I am thankful for my motley crew of friends! I am thankful for the quirky and the straight-laced; the Catholic and the agnostic; those that are gay and those that are arrow straight; the humorous and the stoic. I am thankful! Thankful for friendship in its many shapes and colors!

Friday, March 21, 2014

My Gnomies

One reason why my daughter wanted to be in girl scouts was because she wanted to have friends like the ones she saw on Girl Scout recruiting posters. And, wanting her to have those friends is why I was game to start a troop. Well, I was apprehensively game. I knew it was going to be a lot of work!

Through our awesome little troop my daughter has been blessed with more than she could have hoped. She not only has the strong friendships she wanted but she also gets to do so many fun things with her sister scouts. She and her friends already have deep bonds and I know in my heart than many of these friendships will last a lifetime. That is so exciting!

My daughter was my focus for getting involved in Girl Scouts. I never imagined that I would also find myself building strong friendships with other moms. That is exactly what has happened. There are five of us moms that have grown quite close. In fact, all the moms in the troop are becoming thick as thieves but there is the core of five that seems to hold everything together.

Of the five "gnomies" - as in "Hanging with my Gnomies" - it is El who I would classify as our leader. She has three older children in addition to her scout so she has been there and done that...and done it again...and again. She is that friend that will tell you straight up how it is whether you want to know or not. I love that about her. With El there is no doubt where you stand. She is also that person you look at and start to laugh at the most inopportune times. It is with her that an uber girl scout will give you the "shame, shame" finger for trying to stifle giggles during the somber reading of financial accounting.

Aye is our lean, mean eating machine! Aye can pack away more food than the rest of us four combined. She is built like a reed! She is tall and so thin I imagine she sways in the wind. Aye has an amazing gift of hospitality. Whether she is planning a class party for 30 or a sleep over for four she does not hold back. She pays attention to each detail and makes every event extra special. Aye could make you feel completely welcome in the most hostile territory. She would have cupcakes and lemonade ready to comfort your weather
beaten soul. I have heard she sings a mean - really terrible - karaoke. I have not experienced it myself yet. It is just a matter of time I am sure. Aye's oldest daughter and my daughter have become peas in the pod...or rather..."the candy coating to each other's M&M's."

Em is also reed thin. If gale force winds swept through the valley Aye and Em would land in Oz. They would be long gone. Em has three children and is finishing up her teaching degree. She is busy yet she is always willing to help whether it be some Girl Scout function or helping a friend move. She will even toss your full-blown trampoline over the roof of her van and drive it to its new home. Em is a mighty force packed into a tiny body. 

Ess is like me. We like to watch the action unfold but not necessarily be a part of it. We wouldn't thrown down punches anymore than we would throw down white sheets in the mud. Ess has a huge heart and thinks of everyone more than herself. She is mom to two blonde haired cuties. Ess works hard as a single mom. She juggles many balls and always with a smile on her face. Actually Ess has a stunning smile that is traffic stopping.

Me? I am just one of the group feeling lucky to have such good friends. I don't think a person can have too many friends. Some may be closer than others but good friends are like a gift. They are wonderful to discover and a blessing to keep.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Where have all the nice people gone?

Where have all the nice people gone? The people that hold the door open for the person walking behind them? The people that wait for children to pass through the crosswalk before speeding through? The people that don't rage on the road when they are two cars back at a stoplight?

There is a serious lack of courtesy in our world. People are not nice anymore. They are tired, overwhelmed, overwrought, and nearly over the edge. The smallest misstep can cause havoc in their day and they will unleash their fury on those nearest them.

I try to spread as much joy as I can but, I have to say, sometimes it is exhausting. The world is full of joy vampires! They suck out your joy and leave you empty and tired. And, sadly, they leave no more joyful for all that suckage!

What is the rush? What is the purpose of meanness? What is the point of being snarky? I can't believe that rude people find happiness in being crotchety. Maybe they don't know the despair they spread? Maybe they are not conscious to the fact that people stare at them in disbelief of their comments or run when they see them coming. I actually shocked myself by doing this! I saw a constant complainer out and about and I momentarily froze in my steps before bolting up a flight of stairs. I zigged and zagged my way past people to exit the building through another door. As I pushed open the door out of breath and bewildered I scolded myself for being so rude. But, it had been a tough day and I could not take on another person's woes.

When I drive I see people flipping people off, laying on their horns, and rolling down their windows to screech at other drivers. Seriously? I see sales clerks accosted by customers and customers accosted by sales clerks. Why? What is it about this world that makes people think they can blow steam at anyone and everyone? What happened to kindness? What happened to simple humanity? There is snarkiness in the air and it brings with it melancholy. 

I wish some people could shake off entitlement and embrace kindness. Quit expecting things for nothing and stop getting bent when those things don't come. Don't bust a vein when you have to drive .2 miles further and make a u-turn because you missed your exit. Don't take it out on the clerk who has nothing to do with pricing when the sign you thought you saw said your grapes where 2 cents less than she charged. I wish people could handle situations with kindness. Spread joy not bitterness. Make someone's day, don't ruin it. Lift a person up, don't tear them down. 

I believe the world is loaded with good people who are just overshadowed by the bad. It is time to infuse the world with happiness and let the miserable seek company of a few rather than many.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Pyramids, and dinosaurs, and strangle lights...oh my!

There are many phenomenons we can't explain as humans. There are aspects of this world we can't wrap our minds around. Crop circles, dinosaurs, the great pyramids, mysterious lights in the sky. As Christians many of us struggle to determine how these wondrous things fit into creation.

In my limited, unscientifically trained mind, I have pondered this. I think the answer is that they don't fit. Our minds are limited. The earth, in my opinion is millions of years old.That doesn't jive with Genesis and the six days it took to create the world...or does it? We know that God has always existed. There was never a time He was not here. That is a difficult concept to fathom. That very notion shows that God works on a very different plane of existence. Six days to the very Creator of the universe may translate to thousands or millions of years. Perhaps some of the first animals He created were dinosaurs. Man was the last thing God created on this earth before He rested. We don't know how long it took in human time to complete both tasks.

As Christians we believe the unseen. I have never seen the face of God. Despite this I believe mightily in Him and His promises and word. Sometimes I wonder if things like crop circles are here to mystify us. We believe in the unseen so maybe from time to time we need to disbelieve the seen. Maybe there are unexplainable things about this world that are here to challenge us and cause us to doubt. Or, maybe they will be easily explained by the mind of an astrophysicist who is not yet born.

As quick as some are to believe in aliens I am not so quick to cast aside my faith. I am sure that some are boggled by the person who believes in a supernatural creator of all. I wonder how one cannot? When I view the intense beauty of Yosemite or the depth and vastness of the ocean my heart floods with a sureness that God does exist. So, no, I don't know how dinosaurs fit into the grand scheme of things. I can't even come up with a theory on how the pyramids were built. And, crop circles blow my mind! But my God blows my mind even more. Every day we face the unbelievable and we accept it...I think it is time to truly believe in our believable God.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Cookie Season is Here!

Cookie season has begun. Yesterday, we picked up 216 cases of Girl Scout cookies. That amounts to 2,592 boxes of Girl Scout madness!

We have our Thin Mints and Peanut Butter Patties and Carmel deLites. We have classics like Shortbread and Peanut Butter Sandwiches. And, now we have branched out to gluten-free with our new Chocolate Chip! We also have the mandatory "yucky" cookie. This year the honor goes to the Cranberry Citrus Crisps which, thankfully, replace last year's Mango Cremes which tasted a lot like the way tropical candles smell.

With the help of some stellar moms we sorted and stacked and crammed the cases into my humble abode. Then we sorted the cookies by scout and started loading them into cars for distribution. Cookie sales is intense. People that pre-ordered cookies are frothing to sink their teeth into their favorite Girl Scout delicacy. They want to know when their orders will be delivered? And, can they just swing by instead of waiting? I say, "Yes, indeed! Snap to it!"

I need a multi-million dollar idea that I can work for two months out of the year and laze the days away the other ten months. If I had some little worker bees with the work ethic of these Girl Scouts I would have it made.

Some scouts sell literally thousands of boxes of cookies. While our troop might hit 2,700 or 2,800 no single girl will sell over 600 or 700. Most of our girls sell about 250 boxes...and to me, that is awesome. Awesome because the girls are thrilled and I know their parents are helping to make that happen. I refuse to be the crazy cookie lady that sets incredibly wild goals for her troop. I have seen it...and it is not pretty.

My ultimate goal during cookies season is to help the girls achieve their personal goals and maintain some threads of sanity while I do it! And, OK, I admit to getting my cookie nerd on when I am with my team! My sanity may already be slipping!


Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Unacceptance of Forgiveness

According to social norms, when one offers forgiveness for a wrongdoing, the wrongdoer typically accepts the forgiveness and the process moves both parties closer to a place of peace. Maybe the relationship will never completely heal, but forgiveness usually is a step in that direction.

Unless you are me apparently.

A few months back I blogged about a betrayal I experienced. After holding on to this festering sore of ugliness I decided I truly needed to forgive. Not flowery hearts on a card, but a true act of forgiveness. I felt to truly forgive the person, I needed to tell them. I did just that in a brief e-mail, proof-read by my husband. While the person I was forgiving did not contact me her spouse did. It seems they are if the mind-set that I actually don't need to be doling out forgiveness...I need to apologize. 

Apologize? For what exactly I have no idea. Though, I would like to know. If there is a wrong that I have done that I am not aware of...I really want to be the first to know. But, I am sure if I found out this very moment that I did indeed do something I would not be the first receive this knowledge. I am sure it has been gossiped about and grumbled about. And, here is me, not having a clue offering out forgiveness for betrayal. Silly me.

As I read and re-read the cryptic e-mail of "Self Honesty" - that was its title when it was sent back to me - the thing that sparked my anger was that the spouse said really terrible things about the name of Christianity. I am sorry. Christianity does not give a person the right to be aggressive and ghastly to another person. It also does not give one authority to question another person's faith and tell them you hope they find God's path. Um...let's see...judging, condemning, passive-aggressive bullying...yep, pretty sure that is not the Christian way.

Even though the spouse's opinion means little to me, his words stung. I had wished my betrayer a life of joy with her spouse. I asked if she could do the same with my spouse. Apparently not. But, it is OK. Believe it or not, I am not going to let the words of utter foolishness hurt me. I did cry. I also pondered. I wondered why my extended olive branch was snapped in half. However, I still forgive. As I wrote in my letter of forgiveness, "I don't have to understand why you did what you did in order to forgive you."

Though it will not be submitted for acceptance in written form to the person, my forgiveness still stands. I am forgiving so I can keep my joy. I am not going to let words of ignorance take my joy. I am not dredging up past hurts to experience yet again. I am forgiving. I don't get it. I don't understand. But I forgive...and I have joy!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

My Fat Lip

I am currently sporting one half of an Angelia Jolie lip. The half is not even close to the magnificent full. Upon my fat lip I have a bandage. This bandage matches the one on my neck and the one on my back. I have learned that biopsy does not mean a small, needle tip size of tissue. Biopsy means, "We are going to take the suspicious item off of your body - and all surrounding tissue - and analyze it." 

My husband and I are both products of a time when very few cared about sun protection and likely did not have a clue what SPF stands for. As a child I sunburned. The sunburn would fade and peel and then the skin would burn again. We had aloe to soothe the burn but nothing in the beach bag to protect us from it in the first place.

As I have grown older my sunspots have become more evident. My shoulders are freckled with sun damage. There is little I can do now except prevent more sun damage. Yes, we have aloe, but we also have SPF 45 in drawers, cabinets, and our cars. We slather our children with sunblock and they still become the most beautiful golden brown I have ever seen. Their Japanese genes are a gift.

Because of our spots my husband I and I decided we should visit a dermatologist. It had been over a decade since we last were checked from head to toe. I never dreamed when I sat in my paper robe that I would be the doctor's best patient of the day. Best as in, "Woo-hoo! This here is a live one. Let me see that light!"

The doctor scrutinized my face, my back, my arms, and even my feet. He murmured his findings to the nurse and then said he needed to biopsy three spots. He first biopsied my back and I knew at that point that the little rough patch above my lip was going to be a zinger! I felt nothing but the hot flow of the numbing agent that seemed to set fire to my nose hairs. I knew it was bad when my lip entered my field of vision.

The doctor poked and scraped and moved onto my neck. After he took choice bits of my body he froze at least ten other suspicious spots on my face and arms. It was an icy cold blast followed by searing heat.

When the exam table was lifted upright I looked at my husband who did a double take and said, "Oh, wow! But, really, no. It isn't too bad." 

"I am not a monster!" I replied. And, then I got the giggles which I always do after I survive something that is unpleasant.

My husband was next on the exam table and after a five minute scan he received a bill of good health. While I am so thankful that he is healthy I couldn't believe he didn't have at least one creepy thing to remove. Not a blemish, not a mole, nothing.

So I have worked this week with a fat lip and the temptation to tell people I cut myself shaving. I find out next week if my biopsies are clear. I feel like they will be...and if not...these things were caught early so I will be fine after a bit more scraping.

This experience has hammer home the importance of SPF 45 on my children and myself. And, it is clear that my husband and I must add a yearly visit to the dermatologist to our health routine. Hopefully next year won't be such a windfall for the doctor!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Wanting to be in Your Space!

The greatest compliment I have ever received was in a recent Thank You card from a friend I greatly admire. She wrote, "I truly want to be in your space MORE!" That single line with those simple words has meant so much to me.

As we log the miles on our journey through life I think most of us try to be a blessing to others. We don't always achieve this but we continue to try. I personally hope that I am a bright spot in people's day. That I can provide them with laughter or a happy thought to make the part of their journey passing me a little easier. 

I am not immune to the trials of life. Anyone who knows me personally knows I have had a healthy share of snafus to deal with. I have my moments when my patience is thin and my mind is weary. Moments when I want to hide under the covers of my warm bed and escape the realities of the day that awaits me. But everyday, I set foot into the world waiting for me determined to make it the best day I can.

When my friend said she wanted to be in my space that meant the world to me. For all of the struggles and stumbles I have endured especially in the past couple of years, those words signify to me that I am coming out of the darkness and into my own. I am finding my place and have found my true friends. No matter what peril I have dealt with personally, I have tried to keep my outward reflection a positive one. It is not that I have deceived people but rather not burdened them with the weight of my personal worries. My husband and my God stand by my side in times of struggle and with their support I am able to set my troubles free and remain focused and positive. This has allowed me the blessing of discovering things I love in each and every day. Without the weight of worry we can be people whose space others want to occupy. 

I believe that God provides us with opportunities to step up and step out of our comfort zone. And, when we accept the challenge the rewards are beyond what we can imagine. My friend was thanking for helping with a task that God set before me. By grasping that opportunity I was able to grow and learn a great deal about myself. While my friend was thankful for my help I was thankful to her for choosing me to be of assistance. She said God placed my name on her heart. Wow! Truly, I want to be in God's space MORE!

It is sometimes the smallest things that mean the most to us. But don't be surprised if a seemingly small thing alters your entire perspective. Don't be afraid to widen your circle of experiences. If you do your journey will definitely be a lively one and you will find people wanting to join you in your space!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Disney Magic

We spent this past Friday at the Happiest Place on Earth. We are those parents that pull their kids away from the education system for a day so we can avoid the long lines of the weekend. It was a much need break for the entire tribe.

We entered the Magical Kingdom and had an amazing adventure at the park. We spent 13 hours and walked over 10 miles as we raced from one ride to the next. It was a time of complete joy. The phones were stuck in the backpack; there were no e-mails to read or calls to follow-up with. It was time set aside to be a kid with our kids. 

We went with our like-minded friends who also pulled their children out of school. Sometimes families just click and ours certainly do. I am not sure who was planning our next duel family gathering first - us or the children! 

Our friends have a deep love of Disneyland just as we do. I have memories of e-ticket rides and "America Sings." I even remember believing I was being shrunk to the size of an atom on the Adventure Thru Inner Space attraction. Disney is magical to me. And, I love that I see the magic lighting up my children's eyes.

The kids were bouncing with anticipation when we arrived at the park and wept with tears of sorrow when we left. The trick, I told them, is to keep the magic alive between visits. If we spent everyday at Disneyland it wouldn't be such a special place. This logic did little to reduce the tears. Only the promise of another visit mildly cheered their tender hearts.

It is kids that make Disneyland come alive. The wonder in their eyes and the awe on their faces. Everything is better at Disneyland in the wake of happy children. The rides are more fun, the magic is magnified, and the joy is contagious. They spot Hidden Mickeys like master detectives and relay the back-stories of each attraction with incredible detail. I wonder if Walt had any idea of the inspiration and happiness he was creating. I am sure he had an inkling but could he have known the magnitude?

It is the sheer abundance of joy on my kids faces that reminds me what it is like to be a kid at Disneyland. Yes, we will go back sooner rather than later. And, in between our visits we will live with the magic of Disney in our hearts. And, I hope as they grow my kids maintain that love of believing the unbelievable and dreaming the impossible. Because, truly, the unbelievable keeps us reaching for the stars and achieving what we thought was impossible.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Where have you been?

Well, happy 2014 a mere 29 days late! I made it through 2013 by the skin of my teeth - what does that even mean? Really. Teeth don't have skin. I should say I made it through by the enamel of my teeth but that doesn't have the same ring to it.

At any rate, I am positively DELIGHTED that 2013 has closed. It was a rough year. I am so excited about this fresh new year and the promises it holds. It is full of hope and clean slates. It is off on the right foot and I am hoping we can keep step and keep the momentum going.

The close of 2013 found me overwhelmed with job prospects. Should I stay or should I go? Is it moving from the frying pan into the fire? I prayed. I wept. I pondered. I stalled. I decided I would leap. With determination in my gut I prepared for my first major career shift in 13 years. Literally just hours before I threw in the towel I heard a passing comment that changed everything. I backed down. I bowed out. I disappointed a great crew of people. I decided to stay where I was rooted and pursue every avenue of advancement open to me within the security of my current employer. I believe God had my back with either option but He knew one aspect of the new job would grieve me and He used a messenger to make it known.

So, career-wise, it is much of the same beginning this new year but there is a freshness to my role and a whole crop of opportunities I am gearing up for. And, thanks to an amazing God I exceeded my sales goal by $191K so I will enjoy a bonus check that will pay off our well and, finally, free up my paycheck! I think I may weep when that beast is paid in full!

Yes, 2014 is going to be a year of awesomeness. Truly. I love the promise this year holds and the crispness of the blank squares on the calendar pages. Yes, we will fill them up with appointments and events but something about this year just feels extra amazing. Yes, we are in the worst drought in recorded history and times are still challenging, but, God is bigger than all that and this year, we are going places!