About Milagro Mama

A Bay Area 40-something, married 20-something years to the love of my life, with two sons (Teen and Tween); Jesus-follower, artistic-type, passionate about time with my guys and with friends, Bible study, stories of most types, cooking, and other creative endeavors.

Reading: November 2019

Let’s all Read More Books!

I’m always reading, and I always have more to read. We have so many bookshelves people have joked that we live in a library (sounds good to me). My library basket also overflows, and I regularly have to return unread books because I can’t finish them fast enough.

Books star at the top of my gift lists, both to give and receive, like the star at the top of the Christmas tree. We’re all thinking about gift lists right about now, aren’t we? Below are thoughts on what I’ve read this month; for more suggestions, you can see my reviews through the link to Goodreads at the bottom of this post, or search “reading” and “books” on my blog.

Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

The Year of the Flood (MaddAddam, #2)The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Given the madness of the world in recent years, I’ve tended to stay away from dystopian fiction. However, Oryx & Crake was a favorite when it came out, I was between library runs, and I had The Year of the Flood on my bookshelf. It does seem interestingly prophetic… I may have to go back and reread Oryx & Crake before moving on to MaddAdam, though.

Dear Evan HansenDear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Trigger alert: in case you’ve been under a rock & didn’t know (I didn’t…) this is about suicide attempts, both successful and not.

I read this cover to cover in one day as we traveled from the West to East Coast. It’s beautifully written, believingly charactered, and simultaneously tragic and life affirming. Now I need to see it on the stage…

Update: I’ve been listening to the soundtrack on repeat whenever I’m in the car, and I have to say, I like the book better than the music.

You Think It, I'll Say ItYou Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sittenfeld just may not be speaking my language. I gave up on Prep a few pages in. I made it through Sisterland, but it felt forced. I loved Eligible, but it’s a modern day Pride & Prejudice. I had high hopes for You Think It, I’ll Say It that didn’t pan out. An exploration of romantic love via short stories, some characters felt repetitive, only a few stood out as well-developed, and mostly I felt sad for the personal and relational brokenness depicted throughout.

The Last RomanticsThe Last Romantics by Tara Conklin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a family saga different from any I’ve ever read. The storms the four Skinner children weather together knit them together, and also form them as unique individuals. They are wild and strong and expressive in different ways. The book doesn’t move fast but I was so intrigued as to what was happening with each character that it pulled me along, especially with an intriguing twist near the end.

“What I wanted to say to this man was that the greatest works of poetry, what makes each of us a poet, are the stories we tell about ourselves. We create them out of family and blood and friends and love and hate and what we’ve read and watched and witnessed. Longing and regret, illness, broken bones, broken hearts, achievements, money won and lost, palm readings and visions. We tell these stories until we believe them, we believe in ourselves, and that is the most powerful thing of all” (195).

The Power of When: Discover Your Chronotype--and the Best Time to Eat Lunch, Ask for a Raise, Have Sex, Write a Novel, Take Your Meds, and MoreThe Power of When: Discover Your Chronotype–and the Best Time to Eat Lunch, Ask for a Raise, Have Sex, Write a Novel, Take Your Meds, and More by Michael Breus
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Skimmed for relevant information. A fascinating look at how people can best honor their individual body clock.

Since I quit my day job six months ago, I have had the opportunity to notice how and when my body/brain work best. For example, when I need to sleep/wake. When I’m hungry without the call of “lunchtime!” When the internet distracts me and how to harness it. When I feel most/least productive and creative. Skimming this book helped me to understand both why and what to do to take advantage of how my body wants to operate. Not always practical when you have standing obligations, but still helpful as a guideline.

View all my reviews

What are you reading? Any books you’re giving or hoping to receive for the holidays?

Advent 1: Follow Me (2019)

Come, follow me…and I will send you out to fish for people. Mark 1:17

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the church season in which we remember our longing for the arrival of the Messiah. My friend The Creative Resource and I have created a set of devotional cards you can use in any order all year long, or you can use them in order during Advent as an Advent calendar. This set of cards all feature two words spoken by Jesus as found in Mark’s gospel; you’ll find Nancy’s artwork on one side, and the corresponding Scripture and a prayer written by me on the reverse.

FREE download, available here.

Also during Advent, I will post a longer meditation on Sundays using the words on that day’s card. We’re not following the traditional themes—love, joy, peace, and hope, or the characters of Jesus’ birth narrative—but the way the two word themes of Jesus play out chronologically in Mark’s Gospel.

The First Sunday of Advent: Follow Me

Jesus met people where they were: the seashore, the tax collector’s booth, in a tree, caught in sin. He went to them, gracefully interrupting their lives in progress. He didn’t expect them to clean themselves up before they came to Him, holy and ready. Truly, He loved but didn’t much like those who considered themselves holy; those were the ones who thought their own goodness could save them; they didn’t need a Savior.

Sinners who recognized their need for a Savior, that’s who Jesus looked for. And Scripture shows us so many beautiful scenes of sinners recognizing their Savior Jesus when He arrived.

Simon and Andrew, James and John, fisherman at work casting and preparing their nets, Jesus called them first. Was it a crisis? Did they wonder at this stranger who walked up with an unlikely invitation to follow Him? Though they did, at once and without delay. Maybe they had heard of Him, this One who had strolled their town, Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God: God’s kingdom has come near. Repent and believe!

Maybe they were intrigued by His words: I will sent you out to fish for people. Fishing for fish, they knew; what could it mean to fish for people?

We still think we have to get cleaned up for God. We gussy up for church, out of respect, perhaps, but also to fit in. We wouldn’t want anyone to look askance. Would they, would we, look askance if we knew the truth of one another’s lives?

The first disciples must have reeked of fish. They didn’t shower and change before following Jesus, before He put them to work fishing for people. He accepted and loved them just as they were, and began immediately to show them what God’s kingdom looks like: healing, teaching, praying, loving: restoration.

That’s the journey Jesus still invites us on. Wherever we are today, this moment, Jesus appears to us if we have eyes to see Him. He wants us, just as we are, to follow Him. To learn from Him what His kingdom looks like. What love looks like.

Jesus, thank you for inviting me on the adventure of loving others. Amen.

Creative Collaboration

One of the great joys of my professional life over the last many years has been my ongoing partnership with my friend Nancy, aka The Creative Resource. I write/edit words and she makes them pretty. I hatch ideas and she makes them real and, in most cases, even better than I imagined. She is a fabulous photographer, graphic designer, artist, hand lettering extraordinaire; she is also a woman of deep faith with a kind heart of gold. And she loves dogs and coffee, which makes her an all-around terrific friend.

We have both moved on from our side-by-side week-in-and-out roles; in fact, she moved more than an hour away. But that didn’t stop us from continuing our collaboration.

Last year we created a set of devotional cards—her hand lettering art on one side with a Bible verse and a prayer written by me on the reverse. We sold them at our church craft fair and book shop to great response. People appreciated them as attractive countertop reminders to pause in each day and remember what’s important. They also make great stocking stuffers.

So we decided to produce another set: To Do Cards take two.

This set is so fun (if I do say so myself)… Each card features two words spoken by Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. Nancy did a beautiful job hand lettering them in on-trend black and white, an classy fit with any decor. Though they are currently arranged in the order they appear in Mark’s Gospel, you can use them in any order as they strike a note in your heart. They are numbered but not dated, though if you start with Day 1 on December 1 (this Sunday! How in the world did we get to December already?), you’ll begin the month—and Advent—by making preparations and end on Christmas Day by asking Jesus to stay with you, an Advent calendar of sorts designed to fill your heart with love rather than your mouth with chocolate.

To Do Cards take two are available to you as a FREE download. All you have to do is give us your email. We promise not to spam you; we’ll email you just a few times a year about other inspirational creative projects we’ve cooked up. Please feel free to share this post so others can get in on the fun as well.

Merry Christmas already!

What Thumper’s Father Said

In the classic Disney movie, Bambi, Thumper comments on Bambi’s clumsy first steps, “He doesn’t walk very good, does he?”

Thumper’s mother jumps in: “Thumper, what did your father tell you?”

A chastened Thumper—and a chastened me, when my mom reminded me of this scene throughout my childhood—quotes:

If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.

Good advice, wisdom I passed down to my own kids.

Except sometimes life isn’t all that nice, and on those occasions you may have an obligation to call it as you see it: messy, ugly, unjust. Which might mean saying some not nice things. Important things, on important issues, things that need to be said.

Still, for the most part, I try to be mindful of the words bouncing around in my brain before they fall tripping off my tongue. When I practice speaking compassionate words to myself, I feel better. When I give others the benefit of the doubt, when I hold them in my mind with compassion rather than smacking them down with all the words I might feel like saying, I’m happier still.

I recently read about a study where two groups of college students were sent out individually to wander around campus. One group received instructions to notice physical traits of people they passed; the other group was told to silently offer people a blessing, something like, “May you be happy and well.” At the end of 20 minutes, the group that offered blessings felt noticeably happier than they had at the beginning and happier than their counterparts who focused on appearances.

As Jesus reminds us, our words originate in the heart. The words I speak reflect whatever I’m mulling over, the thoughts and feelings I allow, or better yet cultivate, internally. So choosing to meditate on nice words, kindness and compassion for myself and others, should result in nice words.

Our Thanksgiving week will be a quiet one. We’re staying put since we just returned from NYC and the guys have another big trip coming up in January. I am conscious, however, of those who will be traveling and interacting with others—from harried staff and travelers in airports, railway stations, and interstates, to extended family and neighbors, some of whom you’re overjoyed to see and others you’d prefer to have seated out of reach. And I hope it may help to think of Thumper’s father’s advice: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.

May you be happy and well this Thanksgiving, and all through the holidays!

 

Cover image: Simona Robová from Pixabay

More NYC

We crammed so much fun into just a few days that my heart and head are full of NYC…

Since we returned, I’ve been posting pictures and reflections (art, architecture, history, public spaces, etc) over on Instagram. Follow me there for more: @sivricketts.

And meanwhile, settle into fall with a delicious, healthy, and oh-so-easy Cauliflower Soup.

NYC, There’s Something About Ya’

The Best Weekend! I told my family that, for my BIG birthday, I wanted to wake up with my loves in a place we’d never adventured together before. We discussed the pros and cons of various locations and landed on: New York City.

How does a nature-loving, bookish homebody—easily overwhelmed and edgy in crowded cities and cold weather—choose November in the Big Apple as a celebration destination?

Because: art, architecture, design, history, science, technology, culture, music, food.

Because: The Met. The Guggenheim. Central Park. The Empire State Building. The Statue of Liberty. The 9/11 Memorial. Broadway. Times Square. Rockefeller Center. The Brooklyn Bridge. Grand Central Terminal.

Because: a life well lived is all about trying new things and making memories.

Any travel adventure comes with its own set of misadventures. Ours included: an unheated and less than clean AirBnB; an Uber ride with a non-English speaking driver and the app insisting that, instead of the Statue of Liberty ferry terminal, we really must visit a dentist (tip: choose Lyft); and a reservations mix-up that meant finding a day-of one-night hotel room in Manhattan—on a budget—for five people (grateful for The Stewart Hotel across from Madison Square Gardens for making it work!).

Still, we laughed and played and explored, walking on average ten miles daily. The City may never sleep, but from personal experience, people must: we collapsed from exhaustion at the end of each long day.

On my actual birthday, we started with The Met (The Temple of Dendur—an actual Egyptian temple order by Caesar Augustus; Greek and Roman antiquities; Tiffany glass; Rodin sculptures; 19th and 20th century European paintings; something breathtaking in every direction), then strolled through Central Park (fall colors and crunchy leaves underfoot, a perfectly sunny/crisp fall day).

Next up was The Guggenheim (surprisingly different Kandinsky’s), after which Guy made reservations at Candle 79, an upscale vegan restaurant where I had the best cauliflower of my life, za’atar roasted and topped with pesto. From there we took the subway to The Empire State Building, and ended my just about perfect day with artisanal ice cream at Kaylee’s Creamery (another surprise: black sesame seed vegan ice cream—tastes like slightly salty-unusual nut butter).

I won’t bore you with site-by-site blows, but a few highlights:

Looking for a show to appeal to all of us, we saw Wicked. Making her Broadway debut, Hannah Corneau kills it as Elphaba. And we have a list of shows we’ll see when they come to the West Coast.

Carlo’s Bakery, made increasingly famous by Buddy the Cake Boss from TLC, is an easy walk from Times Square and has truly delicious (though not cheap) pastries. We had a cannoli in Little Italy that couldn’t compare.

The American Museum of Natural History does not look like the set from A Night at the Museum. And if you’ve visited some world class zoos, the stuffed animals will disappoint (I cringed as one mom, taking a picture of the White Rhinoceroses, said to her daughters: “Look, girls, White Rhinosaurs!”). But they do have a one-page movie-based guide to seeing the exhibits you expect, including the Easter Island statue. I expected this museum to be our kids’ favorite; it wasn’t.

The Met won hands down for all of us. So much so that we went back for a second visit; so glad, because we’d missed a whole section of 19th century European masters (my favorites), including Monet and Van Gogh.

For tourist sites, City Pass is the way to go. Save your money and skip the lines.

I wanted all good memories of my 50th birthday trip: mission accomplished! I’m still not a converted big city gal and, admittedly, we experienced perfect fall weather, not NYC’s  muggy-heat or frigid-cold extremes. But now that I’ve been, I get it: the Big Apple tastes sweet. NYC cast its enchantments over all of us, and I expect we’ll be back sooner than later.

Note: I unplug when I travel, so the next few days my IG feed will be filled with trip highlights. Follow me to see more: @sivricketts.

Celebrate Good Times, Come On!

It’s my birthday month, and I’m celebrating a milestone: a half-century of my life.

Years ago, I roller skated to Kool and the Gang’s song, Celebrate:

There’s a party goin’ on right here
A celebration to last throughout the years
So bring your good times, and your laughter too
We gonna celebrate your party with you

Current mood: bring your laughter and celebrate with me!

The year C20 turned 1, Guy and I turned 30 a few weeks before and after. From November through January, we enjoyed a tiny treat every day for seven weeks. In advance, we made a list of daily celebrations, like a post-dinner walk, a candy cane in our hot chocolate, an afternoon at the park or the zoo. Simple celebrations gave us something to look forward to each day and added so much joy.

I haven’t celebrated my birthday in three years. In 2016, when my birthday fell on the day after the presidential election, I gave myself the gift of stillness; I turned off WiFi, tuned out the world, and spent the day in solitude.

On a whim, I also deleted my birthday from Facebook. A year later I learned not to underestimate the power of social media as most people forgot my birthday.

To be clear, I’m not having an actual party. I’m not a center-of-attention kinda gal. As a child, I cried when my friends sang Happy Birthday to me. Instead, my family is preparing for an adventure together (more on that afterwards). But I’m ready to receive all the love and to celebrate for the next seven weeks: 50, 21, 50!

Let’s go for a walk or grab coffee. Send me a birthday card telling me how I’ve made your life a little brighter. I will happily enjoy gifts: flowers, bubbly, jewelry (wink, wink). Or make a donation to your favorite charity and tell me why you support their cause.

One of the best gifts you can give me: follow my blog! And please share freely and widely anything I write that strikes a chord with you.

As I celebrate this milestone birthday, I’ve also made a significant turn in my career path. And in order to catch the notice of those who matter in these regards (agents/publishers), I need followers on my blog and social media accounts. Your quick clicks to follow/share could make a big difference, and hopefully what I write adds something meaningful to your life.

I recently reread Madeleine L’Engle’s book, A Circle of Quiet. What I first read at 21yo held different nuances as I approach the age at which Madeleine wrote it. For obvious reasons, this passage stood out:

So my hope, each day as I grow older, is that this will never be simply chronological aging–which is a nuisance and frequently a bore…but that I will also grow into maturity, where the experience which can be acquired only through chronology will teach me how to be more aware, open, unafraid to be vulnerable, involved, committed…to understand that I cannot take myself seriously until I stop taking myself seriously–to be, in fact, a true adult.

My mom says that I first laughed at seven weeks old. Most babies don’t laugh until four months old, but there I was, belly laughing on the floor as I gazed at my mom’s New Year’s Eve beehive hairdo, which of course made my parents laugh in response. As I grow into what Madeleine calls, “a true adult,” I’m hoping to take myself less seriously. To be, to laugh, and to celebrate life.

[As I wrote this post, a package arrived on my doorstep containing this candle, a beautiful gift from a thoughtful friend living too far away. This one is called Begin Again, perfect for where I am in life. I’m positively tickled at the serendipitous timing…]