Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Free 30 Minute Fall Adventure

On Tuesday evenings, Jeff helps teach a theater class and the girls and I are on our own. I usually try to get out of the house, so this week I found a local farm that has a few free activities. It was 30 minutes away, so there was the added bonus of the girls being strapped into car seats for an hour of our evening. 

We arrived at Peltzer Farms at 4:55 and rushed over to find a good place to watch the pig races. The competitors that evening were Bacon Shelton, Miranda Hambert, Kim Kardasha-ham, and Swine-ye West. I have no idea which one won, but that's not really the point here, is it? 

We headed over to the corn maze next. I let Eiley lead, and for once in her life she walked at the rate of a human instead of a confused tortoise. Margot and I struggled to keep up, which added to the intensity of the journey since at any moment Eiley could feel lost and start panic-screaming. Unfortunately we mostly stayed together and made it out without any such drama. We went through twice because Eiley loved it so much.
Next we visited the petting zoo. I was not going to pay $4 for my girls to pet some chickens, goats, and a sad sheep, so we stood just outside the gate and looked at them. We waved to them. We shouted greetings at them. They ignored us. It felt shockingly similar to being right next to them, but with less risk of contracting a weird farm animal disease.

Then we looked at some pumpkins. We had already purchased pumpkins elsewhere a couple weeks ago, so we just looked at these. They were unimpressive, but I've never been particularly impressed by gourds.
That's all the free we could find and by this point keeping it free was like a weird little game at which I was winning. I could see a dangerous glimmer of desire in Eiley's eye as she watched the mini railroad train load up, so it was time to head out. We paused at a rusty old truck to take one last picture and headed home.

We will definitely be returning next year. Maybe we'll even spend some money and stay for 45 minutes.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

An Odd Getaway

I saw on social media that some girls I used to work with went on a trip together to Belize. They are both married with children, and I was inspired by their idea to go on a vacation without their kids. So I immediately informed Mikkele, one of my best friends, that we should obviously plan a trip specifically to Belize. She agreed, but we decided to start smaller with a trip to a local Temecula Airbnb

Highlights from the weekend:
1. We ate at Public House on Friday night and I had the one of the best hamburgers of my life there. I didn't take a picture of it because I don't want you drooling on your computer and pictures of food generally bore.
2. We stayed in an RV next to a petting zoo filled with miniature animals. 
A pygmy goat that was my favorite until we caught him
picking fights with the other, smaller goats.
Pegasus, the albino mini horse.
A mini goat that reminded Mikkele of her cat.
A mini toucan - a creature we didn't previously know existed.
3. Our hostess was a chocolatier who gave us incredible chocolate. We learned that she taught herself her craft and initially made a batch of 14 chocolates which she dropped off at a five-star hotel in Los Angeles to sell as an amenity. About a week later, they called her back with an order for 2,000. Now she regularly supplies three five-star hotels, and she's working on getting a fourth. Inspiring and delicious. We talked to her for an hour and would have continued the conversation except it was nearly dinnertime and we got hungry.
4. We went for a long walk on Saturday morning around the hills of Temecula. The sun fell beautifully on the hills and vineyards, and we even stumbled upon a rare wild chair. We feared it at first, but it did us no harm.
The horror.
5. We watched a terrible early 00s teen film called How to Deal. It was the worst and I loved it. I think Mikkele just thought it was the worst. 
6. We assembled a puzzle I'd purchased at a thrift store just for the occasion. The bad news is that it was missing a piece. The good news is that it was a picture of a giant sandwich and had an epic poem about midnight snacks on the back. 
I knew I was hungry for dinner on Saturday evening when this disgusting thing started to look appetizing.
7. On Sunday morning, I heard the distinct sound of hot air balloon burners. At first I saw just one balloon and was mesmerized. Soon there were seven in sight, and we felt like we'd hopped into a postcard for Southern California wine country.
8. I read Harry Potter in bed for an hour on Sunday morning. This is something I don't get to do often and it was glorious (even though I'm currently in Order of the Phoenix which is mildly depressing).
9. We went wine tasting at Lorimar Winery because we were in Temecula and that's what you do there. It was only okay.

In conclusion, I highly recommend finding a weird place to stay via Airbnb. It was relaxing, memorable, and there were miniature animals.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Conversations with Eiley: Worry

"Take a picture, Mama! Booyaaaaaah!"
Eiley and I walked home from the park in our neighborhood one evening last week. The sun dipped just below the horizon, and a light breeze finally cut through the intense heat of the day. We had run around, played tag, slid down slides, raced horses on giant springs that I'm much too heavy to ride. There had been no issue with leaving when the time came to depart. Spirits were high, and life was beautiful.

We passed a boy on the street. He looked like a young Wilmer Valderrama, and he smelled like an entire bottle of Axe Body Spray. Eiley glanced up at him, and he gave us a little smile of greeting as he passed.

We continued toward home, and Eiley's walk transitioned from a bouncy gait to your basic trudge. She looked down and started crossing her arms, a foreboding gesture in our world. I prepared myself for her to whine about leaving the park even though she'd been fine with it minutes earlier. I braced myself for her complaints about what we were having for dinner even though I hadn't even decided what that would be yet. I paused, then asked what was wrong.

"I'm just worried, Mama," she said, with the most matter-of-fact tone a four-year-old can muster.

"About what, Goose?"

"I'm worried I won't find a husband."

I want to tell you about the eloquent speech I gave that instantly stopped her concerns. I won't pretend that happened though. I've recently read a lot of blogs written by apparently super human moms who consistently dispense astoundingly articulate and thoughtful wisdom to their children. I, on the other hand, tend toward the bumbling. My genuine response went approximately thus:

"You'll find a husband, sweetheart!" Long pause. "Or maybe you won't, but you don't need to have a husband. Some people are single, and that's cool too! I mean, look at Paul, he...wait, too complicated, never mind. But if you want to be married, God will probably lead you to a nice man at the right time. Or maybe He won't, if that's not what's best for you."

Her inquisitive eyes bore into me, so I gave up and said, "You don't need to worry about that for a long time, baby. I love you! Ooh, look at the Halloween decorations over there!" I really should have started with the distraction technique.

I give myself three points for not laughing at her serious face. I give myself no points for delivery of comfort. What would you have said? 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Church Hunting Commiseration

Dear Pyg,

I don't know why you gotta be so racist against Oompa Loompas.

But in all seriousness, I feel your pain in the church hunt. This is one of the most trying aspects of a move - cuts deepest in the heart. I feel like our most recent church hunt worked out better than ever for us.

There are plenty of criteria one can use to choose a church: the preaching, the programs, the population size, the praise music, the other things that start with "P." (hmmm . . . you could also include permissiveness, predestined status, political agendas . . . what else you got?) Once upon a time, I was a big bad high schooler and I was pretty much the world's leading expert on judging churches by all of these rubrics. I was so good at judging them, that in fact, not a single church in my hometown could earn my allegiance. I grew up in a city that holds 4 of the 10 largest churches in the country, all in one city folks. The yellow pages has over 3,100 churches listed. Pretty superior, was I not? ;) Since no one church could earn my loyalty, I went to 15 christian events each week across different faith communities to piece together a spiritual experience that could satisfy my grand spiritual appetite.

Please tell me my sarcasm is coming through clearly enough here. I was ridiculous. God convicted me hardcore of my ridiculosity [word? word!] in college, and it still took me years to repent, heal, course correct.

When we moved to Berkeley, my conviction was put under pressure as there was a lot of nonsense calling itself church that I could judge. But God put Bart and Katie Garrett in our path and we got swept up in the Christ Church East Bay church plant and kind of didn't have a choice but to dig in whole hog. When we moved to Maine, we found ourselves in one of the nation's [I feel like depending on the stats you use, different pastors boast this claim] most un-churched regions. There just were not many options to choose from. After church hunting for awhile, I was feeling discouraged and starting to give up hope, until Manny did one more search online and suggested we visit North Harbor.

After our first visit, I was underwhelmed. I was underwhelmed by the preaching, the praise music, and welcome we received was about as warm as I was warned to expect in the frigid north (an extra hard hit for a Texan). BUT, something in my gut, I call Him the Holy Spirit, told me, "these are people you could do life and grow with." And so after a few more attempts, we decided we could stand to settle on the preaching/music/hospitality fronts and commit ourselves to the people. And it instantly paid off.

Except it didn't. It took months, maybe a year, before I started to feel like I was connecting with the people of the church. The church had organized dinners for 6, random mix ups of dinner parties that allowed people to get to know each other better. And over the dinner tables of John Schanck, and Ray and Hannah Whitney, while there wasn't anything profound or dramatic that transpired, there was that subtle, simple sense that we were welcome and there was something special about these people. And that simple sense has continued to grow in truth the more I get to know those folks and the rest of the crew at our church. I believe Church is about humans growing together towards Christ. That growth requires commitment on the front end, which is super hard when you've got your critical thinking hat on trying to decide where to commit. But instead of anything you see upfront, my advice is to look around you. Embrace the Awkward, as I always tell folks at our church. Find out if the people who attend are growing in Christ, bearing fruit.

May you find a great place for your family to grow!

Love Your Roommate for Life,
zoe faith  

Pangs of Nostalgia: Camp Cherith

I just found most of this in my drafts. I wrote it almost five years ago, but since it's a collection of memories it holds up. Woo!

I went to Camp Cherith for at least one week every summer from age 7 to 19. I calculated it once, and I lived in that place for about three months total. You may have noticed that Zoe calls me Pyg once in a while - that's because at camp I had to pick a bird name to go by, so I picked Pygmy Owl and shortened it to Pyg. Sometimes I can't think too much about my time at Camp Cherith because the camp I knew and loved is gone now. Sometimes it hurts to remember all the joyful memories I had in that place, but here are a few, all jumbled together: 

  • the quiet of the archery range and the dull thump of a bulls-eye (I'll try to forget the flies and mosquitoes that tried their best to distract me)
    Photo courtesy of Rebecca Thelin
  • the squeals of little girls calling me "Pyg! Pyg! Pyg!"
  • the giggles of little boys calling me by clever variations of Pyg
  • the excitement of my first trip to Big Bear on a weekend with a boy I liked
  • the raucous laughter during a vicious late night game of rat slap - and by vicious I mean I still have a tiny scar on one of my fingers
  • the thrill of a good soap bubble fight in the kitchen
  • the chill of the morning
  • the heat of an afternoon hike
  • the silliness of skits and camp songs
    Photo courtesy of Rebecca Thelin
  • the beauty of a wooden cross behind a camp fire with the mountains looming in the background
  • the irresponsibility of engaging in a squirt gun war when we were supposed to be working
  • the deliciousness of trying my first cheese raviolis
  • the delight of telling campers about a fake smiley face constellation named Bob
  • the relaxation of watching Newsies or Princess Bride for the hundredth time
  • the amusement from startling the entire camp during meals by shouting a CILT cheer 
    Photo courtesy of Rebecca Thelin
  • the adrenaline from seeing the occasional bear or raccoon
  • the mindless satisfaction of weaving a colorful lanyard
  • the stickiness of a good marshmallow fight
  • the savoring of dough baked on a stick over an open fire and smothered in butter, cinnamon and sugar
  • the sweetness of a hundred voices and one guitar singing for Jesus
  • the cheesiness of holding hands with new friends and hearing our director say "Y'all come back now, hear?"

I learned so much from that place - how to get along with people who were very different from me, how to lead, how to put Jesus first by centering my day around Him. I first heard about Westmont College from one of my camp counselors and from my camp director - I may not have attended without knowing they'd gone there. Which means I might not have met Zoe. Which means this blog is here because of my camp experience. Mind. blown.

I hope Eiley and Margot get a similar experience some day. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Suggestion Box: The Bachelor*

The Bachelor should be considered my guilty pleasure, but when I discover other fans of the show I unabashedly discuss it like the people on the show are chimpanzees and I am Jane Goodall. Not because I've lived among them - I would certainly die of alcohol poisoning if I did that - but because I become an expert on the matter. I could write a dissertation on the damaging effect of a woman bringing a single rose into a room full of grown men on an otherwise pleasant evening. I could write a truly terrible love poem comprised entirely of hyperbolic statements overused on the show. But I won't.
Have you ever noticed Chris Harrison's tiny, tiny hands? My friend Patty pointed it out to me, and now I can't unsee how comically small they are.

Each season of The Bachelor promises it's the most. dramatic. season. ever. Usually that's accurate. Of course, the drama is manipulated through sleep deprivation, editing, flowing alcohol, a select few inherently ridiculous people, and interviews and ADR that are done well after the season is complete (Sean Lowe verified this in his book For the Right Reasons, which I am properly embarrassed to admit that I read). Because of all that manipulation, I think of the people on the show more as characters and less as humans, but I still love the drama. I love yelling "WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?!" at the TV when the first person of the season finally breaks and says they didn't think it would be this hard. I enjoy sighing in disgusted exasperation when the villain gets a rose. I even secretly like peeking through my fingers at painfully awkward moments when signals are missed or break-ups are more intense than the short half-relationship should warrant.

So my suggestion is not to remove the drama, but to add more of the lighter moments. By my (completely made up on the spot but probably close to accurate) calculations, they spend 5% of each episode showing the same handful of clips all season that include people crying, fighting, or generally making poor decisions. 23% of each episode is spent previewing what will happen after the next commercial break. I suggest removing these repeated scenes and adding in the more genuine moments. They currently pin these at the end of a handful of episodes and call them "bloopers" or something, but the franchise would improve vastly if there was more focus on this. 

They could show more of the large group of men or women doing very little while waiting for their dates. I'd guess some pretty entertaining stuff goes down, though it might end up feeling like Big Brother mixed with Bachelor if they did too much with the house life. They could show scenes from their travels. I would love to watch those big guys crammed into airplane seats, leaning on each other to nap or drooling on their tray tables. Or the girls without all their makeup, lugging their bags through the airport. Genuine interaction on the dates would be interesting too. They currently air mostly canned conversations with topics that have clearly been fed to them. 

As I write this, I wonder if it wouldn't work. If we humanize these people too much, will it take away from the guilt-free entertainment aspect of the show? Are they better left as overly serious, gossipy characters who act more like jealous schoolchildren than like functioning adults? Let me know what you think (or mercilessly mock me for writing this) in the comments!

*I'm referring to both The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. I just didn't want to type both out every time. Give me a break.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Church Hunting Lament

We moved to Murrieta in September and have enjoyed it so far, but to find more community - and, you know, because the Bible recommends it to grow in knowledge of Christ and spur each other on and all that good stuff - we need to find a church here. I loathe this process*. It makes me hypercritical, and that makes me feel like a judgmental jerk. We've visited four churches and countless church websites, and my complaints have spanned from mere preferences (too big or too small or too far from home or too dark inside) to valid concerns (the songs are more about me and how God makes me feel than they are about God and worshiping who He is). We didn't visit one church because the pastor was too spray tanned in his website picture, and I didn't see how I could trust an Oompa Loompa's Biblical teaching.

It hasn't been all bad though. We've found churches that excel at welcoming visitors, churches with beautiful music that glorifies God, churches with sound Biblical teaching from pastors who are not orange. We have several solid options, and we're leaning strongly toward one, but it's not as easy a decision as it was in Orange County. The first time Jeff and I attended there, we looked at each other afterward and one of us said this is it and the other said yup with zero hesitation.
Our church in Orange County has a sweet mix of professional musicians who consistently choose songs that point to God, a pastor who speaks to us in a regular voice and goes the exegetical route with his teaching so we always are in the Bible, a nice community, and a sanctuary with tons of natural light. And it's called Grace Fellowship Church, not something like Cemented in Hiz Luv (I should note that I made up two additional ridiculous, trendy-sounding names, but then I Googled it and discovered they were in fact real church names so I omitted them). 

They say you don't get to choose your family, but that's not totally true. You get to choose your church family. I think that's the pressure here. What do you look for in a church? How did you choose your church? 

*Yo. I understand and appreciate that we live in a country where we are free to worship God and some people do not have that luxury and I should just be grateful and not overthink this decision. But I live here and I'm an imperfect human, so deal.  

Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Tale of Intense Coincidence

On a Wednesday afternoon earlier this year, the sunshine and light breeze begged me and the girls to eat outside. I didn't usually like to do that on a weekday because of the extra time it took to pack the picnic which would keep me away from work, but I could not refuse that weather. Off we went to our park in Irvine, but it didn't have any shade so we continued on to the next park. There's one every few hundred yards in Woodbridge; it's both excessive and magical. We had never been to park number two before, but it had a lovely covered picnic area so it worked out.

We had the picnic area to ourselves for a minute, but then a woman came along with her two kids who seemed to each be just a smidge younger than Margot and Eiley. I asked about her kids, even though I rarely talk to strangers in depth, and the conversation continued for over half an hour. She told me she lived nearby right now, but she was in the middle of a separation and might either move up to Davis where she had a job opportunity or down the street where they owned a townhome - but they'd need to kick out the current renters for that option. She told me about her marriage ending and about her baby boy's upcoming cleft palate operation and about her sister who lives in Texas and about the dog that her husband gave her as a gift that she never wanted and loathed. We spoke easily and I started to hope that she'd end up with the townhome option because maybe we could be friends.

I needed to get back to work, so I told her it was so nice to meet her and we started to leave.
"Bye, Jess!" I said.
"Ah, remind me of your name," she replied.
Eiley quickly responded, "My name is Eiley. This is my sister Margot; my mama's name is Emily, my dog is Buster, and my daddy's name is Jeff."
Because Eiley said all that, Jess came back with "I'm Jess, this is Jo-Jo and baby James, our dog's name is Fido*, and their daddy's name is Jimmie."

My mind sped over to the piles of mail we'd delivered to our landlords via our property manager over the past year, addressed to Jess and Jimmie. I considered that she had gestured in the general direction of our place when she mentioned the townhome she might move to if she stayed in the area. I blurted out "I LIVE IN YOUR TOWNHOME." If I had paused to think more before I spoke, I'd have kept that revelation to myself.

Her face transitioned from casual ease into mortification. Her thought was nearly legible: I just told her I might kick her out of her home soon. 

I quickly decided that this woman clearly had enough going on in her life, and she didn't need worrying about my family to enter her decision about her next step. I told her that Jeff and I were thinking about moving anyway (lie), we were even considering out of state (lie), and she should of course do whatever was best for her family (truth). She kept saying "awww," like she was looking at a particularly adorable puppy. I think she meant "I feel exceedingly awkward, but I don't know what to say." I tend to make terribly obvious jokes when I feel that way, but nothing was coming to me.

We said goodbye one last time, and I left feeling like there must be some reason we met this way. I believe that some things are coincidences, but this was too intense. I saw God in all of it. I wish I could tell you specifically how He used the situation, but I still don't know why it happened. Jeff and I ended up moving anyway, even though we really weren't thinking about it until much later. Jess didn't end up moving in. I saw them at Baskin Robbins a few weeks later. I asked about baby's cleft palate surgery, and she said "awww" a lot. And I've never seen them again.

*Dog name changed because I can't remember it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

don't read this if birth stories give you the jeebies (part two)

On the morning of May 9 last year, I talked to a student about the wonders of online learning and paused mid-sentence because of a contraction. I didn't acknowledge to myself that it was a contraction at the time. I thought it was just you kicking me extra hard or your giant body snuggling up to your favorite pillow (my bladder) or maybe a little gas. It was your due date, and I never imagined having you on your due date because we are not that punctual in our family.

By about 3 pm, it was clear that these were contractions, but my water hadn't broken so I couldn't be sure if this was the real thing.

By 4 pm, I asked Daddy to come home because your sister was almost up from her nap, and someone was going to need to take care of her. And also someone needed to take care of me.

By 6:30 pm, we called Baba and Roby to come pick Eiley up. This was happening.

After Eiley left, we timed contractions. This was not very interesting. By 10:30 pm, the contractions were not consistent in strength, and they were generally six or seven minutes apart so we decided to go lay down in bed to rest. I felt terrified of going to the hospital, having a stranger stick his or her hand in me, and getting told to go home, so we were going to waitwaitwait to leave.

By 11:30, the contractions were five minutes apart and it was time to leave. Really a wasted walk up the stairs.

In the ten minute drive to the hospital I had three contractions, and I had two on the walk into the hospital. I then had two at the admitting desk and they let me skip the intake room and go straight to the labor room. This is probably how it feels to skip a grade. It was a relief.

I immediately asked for an epidural. The anesthesiologist came quickly, but he sounded nervous as soon as he saw my awesomely-shaped back. "You have scoliosis!" he declared. I think I nodded at him. I won't tell you what I thought in response because there's a cuss in it.

He numbed the area with a couple of shots, but the memory of the anesthesiologist missing once when I had Eiley filled me with such terror that I sat there shaking and whimpering, Chihuahua-style. He was freaking me out, I was freaking him out. Pretty soon the fear overcame me and I felt like I might faint. Thoughts that quickly passed through my brain: If I pass out, will something horrible happen here? Should I lie down? Or should I risk it for the sake of trying to hold still for the epidural? My vision began to tunnel, so I squeaked, "Is it okay for me to pass out?" and the nurse quickly began to help me onto my side on the bed. Daddy likes to tell everyone that I had you without any drugs. I like to tell everyone that it was not by choice.

Once on my side, I immediately felt certain I was peeing my pants. Somehow mortified (even though there are about a hundred equally embarrassing things that had already happened by that point that hadn't fazed me a bit), I announced my leakiness to the room. And then I made an elegant follow up speech about how I needed to poop. A more together person might have recognized that her water had broken and she needed to push the baby out.

In came the midwife, and about 20 minutes later at around 1 am, out came you! Before the midwife left the delivery room, she asked if she could pray with us. She prayed for you and your little life and I cried like a baby, pardon the analogy.
For a long while after you were born, I looked at you, wondering how on earth such a huge thing had fit inside me. I fretted about your super weird toes that looked like lobster claws. I marveled at the distinct dimple in your chin. And I've basically been staring at you ever since. You continue to surprise me with how easily you smile, your passion for shoes and Buster, and your ability to make Daddy and me laugh. I love you, Margot Mikkele!