Diary of a Confused Kid, Day 1

It felt like we had become stick figures living out a chapter from Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

wimpy kid

Tween rode his bike home from his first day of 6th grade – his first day ever of middle school. He beat me home from work by just a few minutes, long enough to dump his bike on the front lawn and hit the bathroom. When he’d put away his bike, we flopped on the couch together to chat through the day: how were his teachers, classes, friends, new friends? Anything exciting or interesting?

He wanted to show me my homework, the first day of school papers parents have to sign, so he needed his backpack, the brand-spanking-new backpack with the brand new binder, notebooks, and school supplies. He couldn’t find his backpack.

Commence extensive search. We searched the living room. We searched the garage. We searched the front and side and back yards. He called the friends most likely to have seen his backpack at the end of the school day. We drove to school, where we checked the bike rack. We checked his last period class, where his very kind teacher said it had not been left behind. We talked with the custodian who promised to keep an eye out for it. We searched the bushes. We checked with the front office, where someone made a note in case it turned up. We checked the lost and found in the gym; the gym was locked as there was no lost and found on Day 1 of the school year.

We returned home and double-checked yard, garage, bedroom, and bathroom. Baffled and about to droop into the couch, we gasped: there on the other side of the coffee table, a mere few feet from where we began our search, sat the backpack.bkpk

Think someone feels overwhelmed at this transition? That’s right, and he does, too. Yes, I’m joking, but truthfully the kiddo hasn’t slept well in at least three nights. Last night we had tears. My normally cool-as-a-cucumber kid is showing me his soft seeds.

Fortunately, I kept my cool throughout the Great Backpack Search. I couldn’t imagine where it had gone, nor what we might have to do to replace it by tomorrow, yet I also knew that any sign of stress on my part would only amplify his frustration.

All’s well that ends well, and I think we’re going to be laughing about this one for a while. In fact, I suspect it might become a metaphor for the belly flops we’ll endure over the next few years:

But, Mom, I tried…! (whine, shuffle, sniff)
Yes, and keep trying. Remember the backpack? I’m sure the answer is right in front of your feet.

It always helps to keep a sense of humor. Thank God for the Wimpy Kid forging a path for this Confused Kid (and his mom).

Moms’ and Kids’ End-of-Summer Camp Out

A queue of 40 email responses filled my inbox before I saw Email #1 inviting me to participate in an end-of-summer overnight camp out with moms and kids, and by then the sites had been booked. Besides, I expected (hoped!) to be just returning from a sixteen-day family camping trip, so the timing wouldn’t work for us.

However, the family trip never materialized, the gals had space for two more, and I come with a 10-person tent. So Tween and I went camping, part of my continuing resolution this year to “put myself in the way of beauty.”

Gatherings of women + kids always carry potential for drama. Between five moms and nine children, some of us…
…have more and less experience.
…were more and less prepared.
…felt more and less anxiety (and for different reasons).
…are more and less high maintenance.
…tend to be more and less accident prone.
…have more and less energy.
…are more and less organized.
…feel more and less easily overwhelmed.
…enjoy more and less spontaneity.

Most of us had never traveled together, although collectively we’ve known each other well and socialized regularly for a number of years. To boot, I’ve never been camping as an adult without Guy who does all the heavy lifting.

This trip was worth any risk! We packed a lot of fun and laughter into two short days.

We caravaned to Drakes Beach where we picnicked and played. Kids found shells, sand dollars, and crabs.shell crabThey also learned that crabs, even small ones, bite hard.crab 1 crab 2Kids ran and danced and played chicken with waves and of course got soaked. It never takes long at the beach before children who swore they wouldn’t get wet and had been warned by moms not to get wet in fact get wet and by necessity start stripping off various layers of clothing. Kids also dug in sand and in sandstone cliffs. Best yet, we encountered a sea lion taking a siesta on the shore.sea lionWe camped at Samuel P. Taylor State Park. Sans Dad-assistance, we learned to set up tents. I am particularly proud that, despite a temporary break in my Drama Dam, I coordinated kids and set up a new-to-me 10-person tent. It might not have been perfect, but it stayed up.tent 1tent 2

Kids rode bikes and scooters and, when they got tired, worked together to create lanyards while moms brought out excessive amounts of food and drink – chips and dips, salad, perfectly grilled veggies, and quesadillas and burritos made to order. One mom taught us to make a new camping dessert: s’mores in a cone! Fill a sugar cone with mini marshmallows and chocolate chips, wrap completely in aluminum foil, then set on a grill rack, turning occasionally, until ooey-gooey. Yum!

After a warmer-than-anticipated night’s sleep, wherein some of us slept more and less well, we feasted yet again on beer pancakes, melon, and a goulash of scrambled eggs and veggies. In the absence of a coffee maker, one mom improvised by using a hair elastic to secure a napkin-turned-filter to the mouth of a coffee cup before filling it with Peet’s Coffee grounds and adding boiling water. Creativity + Determination = Voila!

We packed up the cars, then biked/scootered/walked to a watering hole where kids skipped rocks.moms walkrock skippingthistleHalf of us set off for home, while the rest went to Point Reyes Station to stroll through cute shops (including a fun art exhibit, The Box Show) and get lunch and soft serve ice cream made from buffalo milk.ice cream

Last night while dinner cooked, the Moms gathered around the table for a glass of wine. Feeling grateful, I raised my glass and said, “Cheers, Moms! Parenting is hard. We are all different with different kids and we may do this parenting thing differently, but I am so glad to be parenting in such good company.”

And today as we packed up, Tween gave me a quick side-grab hug and thanked me for taking him camping. We made happy memories together, my kid and I, and my friends and I, and my heart is full.

camping cheers

Meatless Monday – Salad Days

It’s hot, hot, hot this NorCal August and no one wants to cook – oven, stovetop, or BBQ, all Too Much Heat.

Good thing we love salad!

Last week we took a picnic to our small town’s Thursday night summer concert series. A gorgeous salad, a chilled bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, a fun and quirky 80’s band, and good friends – what’s not to love?southwest salad

The salad tasted even better than it looked. I ate next-day leftovers for brunch, and then again for a late lunch, until it was all gone. I kept the dressing separate and still had a little leftover. This week I’m doubling the recipe and making it again for an end-of-summer Moms-and-Kids overnight camp out.

Southwestern Chopped Salad (from the Change Your Health for Life Facebook page)
Large head of Romaine
1 can of black beans, rinsed and drained
1 large orange bell pepper
1 pint cherry tomatoes
2 cups corn (fresh or frozen, thawed)
5 green onions
Optional: avocado

1 cup loosely packed cilantro, stems removed and roughly chopped
1/2 avocado (in a pinch, sub 1/2 cup plain vegan yogurt or Greek yogurt)
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice (about 1/2 lime), more to taste
1-2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. white wine vinegar
1/8 tsp. salt

Make the dressing in a food processor or blender. Toss to combine or serve dressing on the side (unless serving a large group, I generally leave dressing on the side).

And a bonus recipe: Asian-inspired Salad Dressing

2 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp garlic-chili paste
1 tsp sesame oil
Note: you can add heat by using more garlic-chili paste or subbing sriracha, and you can decrease by using pressed garlic and a dash of dried red pepper flakes (or omit).

Double or triple ingredients as needed. Combine in a jar and shake.

I started with a bag of prepared super food salad (brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, kale). I added some Napa cabbage, shredded carrots, and cucumber, and topped with a sprinkle of sesame seeds and dressing.

So good, so fresh, so quick, no need to cook. Yay for summer!

One Year Later

alien flowerA year ago today, in our last few hours in Costa Rica, I wrote this post:

How was your summer?

Oh, how to answer that question…? In many ways this summer has been like others:

  • We’ve shopped, cooked, and cleaned
  • We’ve done laundry
  • We’ve paid bills
  • We’ve played with the dog
  • We’ve read, relaxed, and rested
  • We’ve taken day trips and road trips
  • We’ve been to the beach and the mountains
  • We’ve had good days and bad days, boring days and exciting days
  • We’ve laughed together and gotten on each other’s last nerve
  • We have lived out our particular personalities – needs and wants, insecurities and strengths – as well as our particular pattern of family dynamics.

The difference? We’ve done all these things while living in a foreign country, facing the challenges of an unfamiliar language and culture.

toucanTsh Oxenreider writes: “[Travel] strengthens our family bond. Together, we smell smells and see sights collectively that no one else will at that exact moment… When we travel, no matter how near or far, we share moments that shape our family culture. Each exploration, to the next town over or the next flight out of the country, is one more chisel notch in our family’s sculpture.”

Almost three years ago our family participated in an MVPC mission trip to the Dominican Republic. That trip changed us, and we believe it set the precedent for this trip. We saw God at work in the world, in our family, in our lives.

We came to Costa Rica for two months of Dave’s pastoral sabbatical. It has been amazing, long and short, hot and wet, frustrating, lonely, beautiful, intense, interesting, educational, challenging, restful… And we almost can’t believe this adventure is coming to an end. We fly home this evening.CR beach

Culture shock hit us harder than we expected, but we’ve been here long enough to adjust, to learn, to grow, to become comfortable. Embarking on this “God Treasure Hunt” we knew we’d find God in the beauty of His creation, and we have. We knew we would go places and meet people and see God at work – in people caring for creation, in ministries caring for God’s children. We expected to see God at work “in the world” but forgot to expect that God would also desire to work in us. Travel has given us an opportunity as a family to limit distractions and share experiences and conversations about important matters: how we live and how we want to live as people faithful to God and making a difference in the world in His name.

Pura Vida (“pure life”) is CR’s unofficial motto. It’s similar to Aloha – “welcome,” and “until we meet again,” and “all is well and all will be well.” Last night we read in Jesus Calling:

I came to give life – life in all its fullness. John 10:10

“Life is my gift to you – enjoy it! I want every day to be a delight as you live in My Presence and discover My blessings. Choose to enjoy life, and let the world see Me through your Joy!”

slothWe expect to face more culture shock as we return home and see our lives with fresh eyes. It would be all too easy to simply worm ourselves back into the familiar, but we also know that this trip has changed us even though we don’t fully recognize how. We look forward to unwrapping the gifts God has tucked away in our minds and hearts along the journey.

By the way, here’s a short list of what we didn’t do this summer: we didn’t ride horses on the beach or to waterfalls; we didn’t go sport fishing; we didn’t learn to surf; we did not get fabulously tan; we didn’t spend hours (or days or weeks) swinging in beach-side hammocks. And though our Spanish skills have improved, we’ve acquired a nice vocabulary of animal names not likely to come up in everyday conversation (unless you’re anxious to discuss monkeys, snakes, or birds!). We had to leave a few things for the next adventure, right?


So how was this summer? In so many ways, just the same. In one essential way, completely different: we didn’t travel, and my heart aches for missing it. However, the garage is really coming along…

passion flower


My kids don’t do transitions well. I know this, and sometimes it still surprises me.

During a still-early fall hallway conversation with Tween’s then-2nd grade teacher, she commented that Tween didn’t seem to be taking school seriously. Without missing a beat I responded, “Give him until Thanksgiving and he’ll be great!” She looked at me cross-eyed, as if I had given the most ridiculous answer. Maybe I had, but time proved me right.

What should surprise me is how little I recognize that I don’t do transitions well. Summer is more than half flown, we’re only weeks from the start of a new school year, and I haven’t yet settled into the rhythm of this season. And it’s about to change, another transition.

I can’t help comparing this summer to last. Apples to oranges but, as I want to continue to learn the lessons packed into our two-month Costa Rica sabbatical, I keep checking our blog to see what we were experiencing and learning last year.

The Costa Rica sun rises around 6am and sets around 6pm and I have never felt so physically in tune with the Earth’s rotation. Not an easy morning person, the sun beckoned me to new adventures each day, at least after a cup of coffee enjoyed facing this view:view

Leisurely mornings, adventure-filled days, and extended togetherness… Costa Rica sunset meant Family Time to eat, talk, play games or watch movies or read aloud. Of course Teen prefers friend-time to family-time, I get it. But a year ago we were making the beach safe for sea turtles and swimming in secluded waterfalls and mugging for the camera with toucans on our shoulders, making memories.

Guy and I took two weeks off for a camping vacation. And then every itinerary we discussed had some strike against it. We researched, Google-mapped, discussed, contacted friends, prayed, and persisted for hours over weeks before coming up for air with the same befuddling conclusion: we need to stay home this summer.

First world problems, I know. But I’m still disappointed.

So instead of adventuring out, we have ventured in to the crazy jumble of our garage to create a hang-out space for our kids and their friends.

We have vision, and still I’m overwhelmed. Cleaning the garage means face-planting in All The Projects I never got around to. I shafted some straight into the trash, donated others, and shuffled some back into the house. Projects covered every surface, and a few miraculously got done. And the panic-stricken late-night realization that the cleaners were coming in the morning meant that a whole bunch of projects went, yup, back into the garage. Oy!

Thank God Guy is an Energizer Bunny! Day 1 we began sorting and donating. Day 2 he pulled Too Much Stuff into the driveway and added storage areas to the rafters, then moved our extensive collection of camping gear up and out of sight. (Inside I’m screaming: “Don’t put it away, I want to use it!” Ugh.)garage

Day 3 we went to work, because that’s what happens when you work at a church and don’t leave town. To be honest, I’ve worked every day of what was supposed to be our vacation, because we are not on vacation, and I mostly work from home anyway. Sigh.

The garage is jumbled but better. I am jumbled, and a discipline of gratitude will make me better.

I’ve just finished reading The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. The surprise ending? A laser-beam focus on gratitude in two steps:

Step 1. For one week try to be aware of your tendency to criticize, to see what is missing, to focus on what is not there and comment on it. Try instead to focus on what is right. Notice what you have and others contribute. Search for things to praise. Begin with simple things. Praise the world. Appreciate your own breathing, the sunrise, the beauty of a rainstorm, the wonder in your child’s eyes. Utter some silent words of thanksgiving for these small wonders in your day. This will begin to change your focus on the negative.

Step 2. Give at least one genuine, heartfelt praise to your spouse [or child, neighbor, whoever] each day for an entire week… extend the exercise one more day. Then add another day…. When you meet someone new, look for what is special about this person. Appreciate these qualities. Remember, this all has to be genuine and heartfelt. Don’t be phony… Tell people what you notice and genuinely appreciate about them.

So I will refuse to criticize this summer, to see what is missing. I will be grateful for the progress we’ve made, the project we’ve undertaken. I will search for bright moments (Teen offered to help me do his laundry – progress!) and offer generous praise.

And eventually the garage will be clean, and I will be grateful.