Happy Leap Day!

For most of us, today probably feels like an ordinary Monday. I’m doing my normal Monday routine – working from home, an extra load of laundry spinning as I type. But this Monday is a once-every-four-years event and for some reason this year I feel a particular urge to celebrate.

Probably because Leap Day only arrives every four years, it doesn’t have as many time-honored traditions, no special foods or colors or parties. At one time, culture encouraged women to turn the tables on gender roles and propose to their man on Leap Day, but times have changed and now women can take the relational lead any day of the year. As the New York Times declared on February 28, 1976, “In these liberated times, every day is Leap Day.”

When Teen was in kindergarten, he asked for Froggy Cupcakes to share with his class for his December birthday. If I still had littles, I might feel motivated to make dessert. Maybe we’d even play Leap Frog. But as I have adolescents, probably not on both counts.frog cupcakes

Instead, we’re trying something else. Like New Year’s but better, Leap Day give us an opportunity to consider: Who am I becoming? Who do I want to be in four years? More than What do I want to be doing?, be(coming) is the operative verb. Tonight after dinner I’ll pass out blank cards and envelopes and each of us will write a letter to our 2020 self.

Yes, this trick has been done so many times before. But in less than four years, Teen will be in college and Tween in high school. As a family we are in a highly transitional lifestage and it seems timely to think about who we want to be and how best to achieve those goals. Not this or that college, or straight A’s, or even Man of the Match, although some of that will surely happen along the way. Instead, thinking ahead to what we will be doing in four years, who do I want to be as I engage in those activities? Kind, brave, creative, thoughtful, a good friend… And what can I do to become those attributes, starting now?

The real trick for this disorganized mama will be: where will I put the letters so I can easily find them again in four years? Hmm…maybe one of my becoming goals should have to do with organization?

How about you? How will you celebrate the gift of an extra 24 hours, and more importantly, how will that contribute to who you are becoming?

En Plein Site

I am so in awe of people who paint (and sing and sculpt and create!) and people who invest in developing their creative gifts. Like my friend Laurie. The very thought of volunteering to paint school play backdrops makes me shudder but it led her to a passionate pursuit. Please welcome Laurie!

Create Challenge Guest Post #4 – Laurie Heath

Though I have long admired the artistic world of painters and artists, I took a circuitous path to painting. My first degree was in Special Education, my second in Interior Design and, although these are creative fields, something was always missing. I first realized my love for painting when I volunteered to paint three 10’ x 30’ canvas backdrops for our son’s fifth grade class play.

Since then I have painted off and on…sometimes off more than on. When I left the field of interior design, I took a painting class with Pam Glover, a Plein Air painter in Orinda, California. I learned the basics from her and have continued to take workshops from other painters. I stopped painting for about five years with the down turn of the economy and started painting again in just the last year.

Painting is a spiritual endeavor for me, an expression of my love of the outdoors and an attempt to capture through my eyes the light and beauty of God’s creation. I find the outdoors to be invigorating and capturing nature with its colors and light quality challenging. Some days are better than others, and some days I leave feeling like, “Why am I painting?” It seems to be part of the process for me.

Like many painters, my moods, the weather, time constraints and my dog can and do distract me from the creative process. The blank white canvas can be daunting as well – but I continue because I love it. There is something about seeing the colors, mixing them together, which excites me. I seem to cycle through favorite colors and painters which provide inspiration.LHeath boat

This painting I did In October 2008 after hearing a sermon by Rev. Jim Rueb. The sermon message was regarding the down turn of the economy. Jim said something to the effect, “We are all in this boat together.”

The following Wednesday, I went Plein Air painting to Port Costa, and I spotted an old row boat under a tree with yellow leaves about the hull. I painted it very quickly, and thought, Yes, we are all in this boat together… The name of the painting is Le Bateau of Faith.

LHeath bio

Laurie Heath lives and paints in Orinda, California. Her inspirations come from nature, color, and master painters, specifically the French Impressionists and California Landscape Painters. Having spent her childhood on a Nevada cattle ranch, she continues to enjoy the outdoors as a skier and hiker. She has shown her work with the Glover Group and Preserve Lamorinda Open Space. See more of her paintings on her Tumblr site.

Meatless Monday – Tofu Chilaquiles

I first heard about chilaquiles when Teen took a middle school Foods class. His motivation to eat good food drives him into the kitchen to make it himself, which is where I found him one afternoon, frying chips and scrambling eggs. He topped oily-soggy chips with eggs and dumped green salsa over the whole thing – tasty if wet, and needed improvement.

My sister and Tween have a breakfast date now and again, and one time she brought home some leftover chilaquiles. Tween refuses eggs unless he’s with Sister and even then he won’t eat much. These tasted much better, and included enchilada sauce along with green salsa.

Enchilada sauce makes food yummy, but I’m not eating eggs these days so I decided to try a different take: tofu chilaquiles. You could use prepared enchilada sauce, but this sauce is easy and delish. It used to drive me nuts that I always had sauce leftover but not enough to make more enchiladas – now I have a perfect use for leftover sauce. You could use prepared tortilla chips, but if you have tortillas in the fridge, it takes very little effort to bake your own (true confession: I ate prepared chips with the leftovers). And I love to make salsa, but I have not mastered the art of making green salsa. Besides, Trader Joe’s green salsa makes me happy!

Enchilada Sauce

3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp flour
2 heaping Tbsp chili powder
2 c veggie stock
10 oz tomato sauce
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt

In a medium saucepan heat oil, add flour, smoothing and stirring with a wooden spoon. Cook for 1 minute. Add chili powder and cook for 30 seconds. Add stock, tomato sauce, oregano, and cumin. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cook for 15 minutes. Adjust seasonings.

chipsTortilla Chips

Stack 6-8 tortillas (I prefer corn but use what you’ve got) and cut in half; stack halves and cut in half again. Arrange on a baking tray and sprinkle with lime juice and salt or no-salt herb mix (optional, and I skip if chips are going in a recipe). Bake at 400 for 10-12 minutes until lightly browned and crispy.

Tofu Chilaquiles
Serves 4-6
[the inspiration for the tofu portion of this recipe came from Happy Herbivore]

1 pound extra-firm tofu
1 white or yellow onion, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
12 oz salsa verde
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 c fresh or frozen corn, cooked
To serve: enchilada sauce and chips

Press tofu: drain package water, wrap tofu block in several layers of paper towels, place on a plate with another weighted plate on top. Let drain while you dice onion and drain beans.

Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add onion, garlic and spices and cook until onions are translucent, about 4 minutes. Add tofu and salsa verde and break the tofu into pieces (I used a potato masher). Continue to cook, stirring every so often, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add beans and corn, reduce to medium heat, and simmer until warmed through.

To serve, put corn chips in individual bowls and top with warm enchilada sauce. Spoon chilaquiles on top of chips. Serve with extra chips and hot sauce on the table.chilaquiles cookingchips-saucechilaquiles

Good Gifts

As a high school senior, my favorite teacher taught Child Development, the most fun elective a baby-loving kid could take. Also our Senior Class Advisor, Teacher was wild and crazy in all the ways teens love: funny, with a huge laugh; refreshingly honest, telling us truths about which our parents only blushed; smart and engaging, she made school fun. She had a big heart and made it clear that she cared about her students even more than her subject, though she obviously loved teaching, too.

My desk sat near the front of the room and my view allowed me to often admire Teacher’s bracelet: a chunky ivory bangle with silver clasps and the most enormous topaz I’d ever seen. It came from India and I no longer remember whether she’d bought it on vacation or perhaps it had been a gift? Either way, I thought it was fantastic.

Lucky me, my dad was an airline pilot with Pan American Airlines and regularly traveled to India. India wasn’t his favorite destination and, though he complained of the oppressive heat and impassable crowds, I suspect the extreme poverty broke his heart in ways his pride couldn’t admit.bracelet

When he presented me with my own version of Teacher’s bracelet – Hooray, Hooray! – he told me that he had hired a cab driver for an entire day to shuttle him all over New Delhi as he talked with one vendor after another, examining their wares and explaining exactly what he wanted until he found just the right gift for his oldest daughter about to graduate high school.

At the time, I understood that Dad had worked hard to find the bracelet I desired. Now, however, I recognize that the bracelet came at considerable cost. I have no idea truly what dent the bracelet put in his wallet. Rather, Dad paid a personal cost: his time, effort, discomfort, his breaking heart… As an adult who shies from heat and crowds, who feels easily overwhelmed and gives up quickly on strenuous shopping requirements, I am also overwhelmed by the gift of love my dad invested into the gift of this bracelet. More than any tangible item he gave me, this bracelet represents my dad’s love for me.

We didn’t have an easy relationship. As far as I know, my dad had no easy relationships in his entire life. The only child of a dysfunctional family, he never received the love he needed that might have flowed over into others. He only learned to say, “I love you” during the last year of his life, once he knew life had grown short.

Luke 11 says that, as broken parents give good gifts, our Heavenly Father wants to do so even more. This encourages me:

That my dad loved me, and worked harder than I could know to express it in his way; and
That my Father in heaven loves me more than I’ll ever know, and He also wants to give me good gifts.

Which makes me wonder: Have I told God what I want? I described the bracelet specifically to my dad, and I think God wants us to be specific with Him, too (maybe not about bracelets, but certainly about wisdom, justice, love, peace…).

I can’t remember the last time I wore the bracelet my dad gave me. As a vegetarian-environmentalist-animal lover, wearing ivory now seems wrong. On the other wrist, so to speak, not wearing the bracelet my dad gave me, especially now that I recognize the tremendous gift of love it represents, also seems wrong. So if you see me wearing ivory and that seems incongruous, you might get an earful about my revived prayer life and the gifts of love for which I’m asking my Daddy.

Who taught you to pray? What are your earliest memories of praying?

Read aloud Luke 11:1-13.
What do you learn from Jesus’ prayer in vv. 2-4 about how we should pray?
What is the main take-away from Jesus’ parable in vv. 5-8?
Verses 9-10 are often taken out of context to promote praying for an easy life. How would you explain Jesus’ meaning to someone inclined to believe in a health and wealth gospel? Does the context of vv. 11-12 shed any light on this? How?
What does Jesus mean in v. 13 – is the Holy Spirit the only good gift we can ask for or…?

How is the content of Jesus’ prayer (vv. 2-4) like or unlike your current prayers? In what ways have you found praying the Lord’s Prayer helpful or unhelpful?
What might change if you asked Jesus to teach you to pray?
What do you think Jesus means by encouraging us to pray with “shameless audacity” (v. 8 NIV)?
For what are you Asking, Seeking, and Knocking in prayer? Let others join you in prayer.
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage, and how will you respond?

Pray that Jesus will teach you to pray and fill you with His Holy Spirit.

O Creativity, Where Art Thou? The Myth That Keeps on Giving

As I invited people to submit a blog post during 2016 around the word, “Create,” I can’t even recall how often I heard the words: “But I’m not creative!”

Oh, friends, Yes, You Are! As my friend Jonathan explains today, being human means being creative. Every one of us taps into our creative potential every day. Listen up as Jonathan gives us freedom to think differently and unlock our creative potential.

Create Challenge Guest Post #3 – Jonathan Metcalf

creative potential

You’re either creative or you’re not. End of story.

At least, that’s what the majority of adults across several countries believe.

My friend Rob shared a study on creativity commissioned by Adobe few years ago.

Adobe got input from thousands of people in the US and Europe, and only 25% of respondents felt they were “living up to their creative potential.” I felt sad because I interpreted that to mean only 25% of people felt they were creative. I wondered why they couldn’t see creativity in everything they do?

Creativity is an intangible quality that is hard to quantify, but many believe is easy to recognize. If I were to ask you where one could go to see creativity, you might suggest a museum or art gallery. Others might point to a dance studio, concert, advertisement or photograph as examples of creativity.

Wikipedia describes creativity as a “phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed.”

Describing creativity as a phenomenon makes it seem rare. However, creativity is not rare at all. It is almost a cliché to see an artist performing the ritual that precedes getting down to business. They create the perfect environment in anticipation of summoning their muse.

Even though both the commonly accepted and authoritative definitions make creativity seem elusive and fickle, we are surrounded with unrecognized creativity all the time. Creativity is often confused with talent, and often most associated with artistic talent in its countless forms. Creativity is not selectively reserved for artistic pursuits.

Creativity is solving problems using your knowledge, skills and life experience. An artist may have an idea, but the problem they solve is how to bring it to life using their skills. It is exactly the same as any other person figuring out how to use their knowledge and skills to complete a task.

We look right past the artful ways we deal with the obstacles and challenges that face us each day. We label grocery shopping as mundane, so we miss the creativity of organizing the list aisle by aisle, then arriving at the freezer aisle last. Inventing the week’s menu doesn’t register on the “creatometer,” nor does the way you schedule your day to make it to the supermarket in addition to working, running errands and driving carpools.

Creativity is a two-stage process. First, there is the inspiration, idea, need or suggestion. Next is formulating a plan to make it happen. Many adults feel pressure to produce, creating a disconnect between productivity and creativity. In getting things done, we are actually being creative. We start with a concept of what we want to do or make, then we find a way to do it. That’s real magic. There is no productivity without creativity.

I marveled at a Moraga mom who created a Google Sheet for organizing the soccer carpool. I commented to my wife, Melinda, that it was a creative way to keep everybody on the same page. She said that it was applying something in a different way, what teachers consider evidence of learning.

Dictionary.com defines creativity as “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.”

Melinda, a teacher, links creativity with learning. Creativity is applying life learning to solve the problems of everyday life. If you don’t know how to solve the problem, you go in search of the answer. You learn, and then transfer that new knowledge to solve the problem.

If you do or make something, you are a creator. The definition of creation is “to bring into existence.” God, our Creator, brought us into existence with the full measure of His creativity already installed. Our creativity is such a natural part of us that we are unaware of how often we draw upon it as we go through our day.

Creativity doesn’t strike when you least expect it, but strikes so often that we don’t recognize it. All those people in the Adobe study who feel they aren’t “living up to their creative potential” could be overlooking a huge part of their God-given abilities by falsely believing they are not tapping into their creativity.

If you have an idea, solve a problem, formulate a plan, or find an answer, you are creative. If you bring it to life, you are a creator. Being human means being creative.

JMetcalfJonathan is a husband, father, and fifth generation California native. Working in audio/visual production, Jonathan splits his time between dark studios and the outdoors. He does his best thinking while roaming the East Bay hills with a dog named Annie. His fondness for tiki culture fuels his love of surf tunes, Hawaiian shirts and Mai Tais. Contact Jonathan at Jonathan@MetMediaVIdeo.com.