I’m setting a timer and participating with the Five Minute Friday crowd. This week’s theme is POSSIBLE. In the story below, you’ll see that achieving your wildest dreams just might be possible…
You want to shout: “Title and Picture do not match!” Bear with me…
My son snapped this shot of an albino baby Rosy Boa taking a giant nibble of his finger on his first day of full-time employment at one of his all-time favorite places: The East Bay Vivarium.
We discovered the Vivarium, the nation’s oldest and largest reptile store, just months after we moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. At only seven years old, our son was already a reptile enthusiast. For the 1st grade talent show, he delivered an oral report with a handout to teach his peers about the lizards they were likely to meet in their backyards.
Other kids told jokes like: “What’s a banana?” “Yellow.”
For his eighth and ninth birthdays, he invited a friend for pizza and a visit to the Vivarium to check out their incredible inventory of cool critters. When he was twelve years old, I caved and let him choose his own snake, a Red Tail Boa, now measuring a whopping eight feet. Over several years, he has added seven Ball Pythons to his collection. He’s begun breeding them as well.
This year has been a long and winding road. Like so many of us, my son struggled in various ways and had to put a lot of his life on hold. But ultimately the road led him to this job. While this might be the stuff of my nightmares, he is living his dream. STOP
On my daily dog walks, I’ve been keeping an eye on a budding and blooming bush in a neighbor’s front yard. It first caught my attention when I stepped past it to get a closer look at a small garden angel. Perched on a low rock wall on a grey winter day, this lonely sentinel appeared to watch for small eruptions of God’s beauty. Its blank statue-stare aimed directly at the bush.
As days and weeks have passed, I wondered if a white capsule enclosed the flower buds before they exploded red. Now in full bloom, this bush has branches of red flowers and more branches of white. The red flowers opened first. The white flowers face the street. Captivating.
This bush makes me think of my two sons. Born of the same root stalk, if you will, they displayed different colors from birth. One exudes vibrant energy while the other whispers witticisms. One moves incessantly; the other sits still. One makes his presence known in every space; the other quietly observes. One follows his fascination into the natural world while the other explores the world within.
This bush reminds me that each son embodies different characteristics inherited, or learned, from his mama. One has my drama and my wonder in the presence of beauty. The other has my cozy-comfortable content-at-home-ness and my compassionate desire to serve others well. Of course they are each uniquely their own person, created in God’s good image, shining forth facets of God’s beauty flashing off their directional mirrors.
This bush causes me to consider that we all contain colors we bloom naturally, colors that explain and express who we are, colors we most easily manifest to the world. We likely also hold other colors, hues that for one reason or another we stifle. I am drawn to shades of blue and green, a calming ocean palette, and occasionally I want to sashay forth in wildly hot pink – not just in my wardrobe but in my laughter. In the things I do that cause me to bubble with laughter.
We are not all one thing or another. We grow. We graft in new experiences, people, thoughts and feelings. We change, in time, with love. As humans, we have freedom – in love, God gives us freedom – to bloom in a full spectrum of colors. Honor the color palette with which you began, but don’t let it define you – or confine you – for all time. If you feel like waving a branch of flowers in a different color, wave wildly. I can’t wait to see. I promise to wave back.
The first time I personally encountered a rattlesnake we were hiking the trail to the top of Yosemite Falls in Yosemite Valley. Not the gentle walk to the bottom of Lower Yosemite Falls, but the Serious Hike to the top. If I’d read in advance descriptions of the hours of strenuous switchbacks, I would have opted for a different hike. None of us made it to the top. Not a big water year, we got great views of the Valley but not the Falls, since that view rewards hard-core hikers who make it further than we did.
Disappointed, we eventually called it and began the return trudge. I quickly fell to the back of the pack (again) with my Guy and young son, the youngest in our group and the least likely to enjoy a grueling hike. I must have stopped to take a picture because I walked a few paces behind them.
Switchbacks mean everything slopes every which way. The trail sloped downward ahead of me while the mountain also sloped from above me on my right to below me on the left. Plodding along, I heard the leaves rustling to my right; just then a snake stretched long and slithered straight at my feet.
I know that protocol dictates an immediate halt: stay statue-still and let the snake go on its way. My head holds that information, but my fear-of-snakes instinct took over. I screeched, leaping into the air and landing several feet down trail.
I crashed headlong into my startled guys, and I should have anticipated what happened next: after a quick reminder/chastisement that I had not followed procedure, my Guy moved in to get a closer look at the imminent danger I’d narrowly escaped: a four-foot-long rattlesnake.
Still shaking, I had no interest in a closer look. That thing almost slithered across my toes! I clamped down hard on my son in case he ran after Daddy. Meanwhile, Guy found a stick and gently prodded the snake off-trail to keep both it and other hikers safe. And then he took pictures, though the snake was well camouflaged in leaf-litter.
Our older son felt especially devastated to have missed the excitement. At the time, he imagined his future as a herpetologist, a reptile expert. Most animals fascinate him, but snakes especially have his heart wrapped in their coils.
When we spent a summer in Costa Rica, he regularly held his own with seasoned field guides and experts discussing all the native reptiles, how to distinguish between the venomous and nonvenomous species, where they could be found, and what to do if you got bit. It was riveting to watch adult reactions to a kid, then fifteen years old, who already knew what they had spent years studying in college and post-grad programs.
I am not a snake enthusiast, but my son has taught me to appreciate their necessity to ecosystems (not a rodent fan, either) and their beauty. Yes, I said it: snakes can be beautiful. I doubt I would have come to that realization on my own volition, but he’s been putting snakes in my hands since he first held one at a pet store when he was three. I love him more than I fear snakes.
We now have seven snakes in our house, all nonvenomous, all in enclosures in his room. He’s also incubating the six eggs one of his snakes laid; he plans to sell the babies once they hatch. You don’t have to see them when you come over, but in pre-pandemic days some people came over specifically to see them. Our home feels akin to a family-run petting zoo.
So I wasn’t all that surprised this weekend when Guy and C21 hurried out the door with snake hooks and a large plastic tub with a lid. By word of mouth, a neighbor had known who to call when she found a snake in their yard. In fact, dangerous as it could be, I wasn’t even all that nervous nor did I suggest that they call the proper authorities instead. My guys have proven that they respect the animal and its power, and they know their stuff. They could have their own Animal Planet show.
Without incident, they got the snake into the tub and the lid firmly on. They put it in the car and drove it to a remote, unpopulated area nearby where they released it. They described the ride between sites as incredibly loud as the snake communicated its incredible displeasure; the neighbors, on the other hand, were ecstatic.
I’m proud of my guys for honoring both the humans’ need to have the snake removed and the snake’s place in the ecosystem. The snake is not a bad creature for doing what it was created to do. Like the spiders who eat the flies and so we relocate them out of our house, the snake will go on to do its thing keeping down the rodent population.
A friend asked if I could ever in my wildest dreams have imagined I’d be related to people who could do this. Nope, I replied, and some days it’s still a wild dream.
Have you ever surprised yourself with a family tradition you didn’t recognize as such until you discovered yourself in the middle of it for the bazillionth time?
Last weekend we got away for a few days in Tahoe. We like to stay in places that have a kitchen so we can prepare at least a few meals, and often the kitchen fills up with foods we wouldn’t typically stock at home: sugar cereals? Chocolate bars? Ice cream? Go for it!
Since most of our getaways are within driving distance we also travel with a small cooler, perfect for beach outings or picnics and also to transport food home at the trip’s end. But not ice cream. That has to be consumed before we leave. (Don’t even try suggesting we throw it out. Tossing perfectly good ice cream? Sacrilege!)
So, ice cream for breakfast on our last morning has become a thing. A family tradition, apparently. I laughed as I scooped the rest of the ice cream into a bowl for Q16, topped it with a few remaining sliced strawberries and a handful of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Breakfast of champions right there!
But the smile on the kid’s face…the one he wouldn’t let me photograph, sassy teen that he has become…priceless. A big bowl of ice cream for breakfast on a memory-making trip makes for a memory in itself.
I didn’t intend to create a family tradition, but I love it. I hope it’s something my kids will do with their kids someday as they reminisce about some of our family trips when they were kids.
How about you? Have you happened upon any unintentional family traditions this summer? For that matter, have you celebrated summer with any intentional traditions? Maybe more than most, this summer demands celebration.
If you’re curious to see more trip pictures, follow me on Instagram.
Four years ago on Leap Day, I put out a box of colored cards and envelopes and a mix of markers. I asked my family to write a letter to themselves four years hence describing what they hoped their life would be like. They did it willingly, writing themselves short missives, and the whole process only took about five minutes.
They expressed doubt that I would remember where I’d put the letters. Oh, they of little faith! I knew exactly where they were. I’d seen them often during the years in their tucked away but obvious-to-me spot. I’d never so looked forward to Leap Day.
The guys, however, were confused, having completely forgotten the whole exercise.
I felt just a little disappointed at the generic note I sent myself. My hopes had to do with creativity, energy (health and wellness), and relationships—all good, and all things I work on regularly. One line stood out: that I would feel slightly uncomfortable taking on creative challenges. Nailed it.
The guys’ cards read true to their personalities: Guy’s cheered him on for a job well done; C21’s card was light, funny, relationally-focused; Q15 encouraged himself to be wise, faithful, and truthful—my sweet, old soul.
On the back of my card I’d written… Wise words: “Insist on yourself.” No idea where those words originated or why I thought that was what I’d need to hear now, but again, spot on. I haven’t been good about it, and I am done with that nonsense. I am again insisting on myself: getting strong and healthy, growing, taking risks, looking for opportunities. Not forcing things that aren’t meant to be, but trying to live authentically, with open eyes and hands to receive the present moment and its gifts.
This week I will again pass out cards, envelopes, and markers. It will be interesting to see who we become four years from now and what wisdom we will share with ourselves.
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: 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.
Up late has never been my problem. Up early is always a problem.
A night owl by nature, I could easily do midnight feedings since I was still awake at midnight. Middle of the night wake-ups were hard, but the 6 am feedings were brutal; I sleep best in the early morning hours.
Obviously we’re all older now and my kids rarely, if ever, wake me in the night. And I have learned to go to bed earlier since I have to be awake and alert with the sun.
Last weekend, though. I was in pj’s, in bed, watching a few minutes of a late night TV show monologue before lights out. I’d worked two long days in a row and had another even longer day coming up. I was ready for rest.
So of course my kids decided we needed to watch a movie. “Mom, won’t you please come watch Aladdin with us? Come on, Mom, spend some time with your children…”
What mama says no to that? So what if they started the movie at almost 11 pm? How many more chances will I get to snuggle on the couch and watch movies with my kids, considering they are now 15 and 20 years old?
I paid for it the next day. So tired, I still chuckled when the younger one asked which movie we watched; he fell asleep on the couch. And yet: I spent time with my kids and, though they may not remember the movie, they will remember that I spent time with them. That’s worth a little fatigue around the edges.
“A world of reading brings a bounty far beyond us, and we find it creates a legacy to stretch far past us into every next generation.” Kaitlin B. Curtice, Glory Happening
Yesterday I made a library pit stop to return two books and pick up another five waiting on hold. I left at home several more books I’m reading or will soon, but I couldn’t wait to get my hands on these new adventures. I also scanned the “Lucky Day” shelves, the ones that hold high-demand books, and found another contender.
The summer heat blistered our little town and the library felt blissfully cool, so I took my new stack to a corner chair to peruse my new finds. I chuckled as a little one holding his mama’s hand loud-whispered, “Hi, Library! Hi, Library!” When I checked out, I was surprised to discover that I’d whiled away an hour in cool bookish delight.
The Library is one of my favorite places on earth. It doesn’t matter which library, so long as it has stacks upon stacks of books and quiet nooks in which to cozy up between the pages.
My children rejuvenated my library love. Before they arrived, I had come to associate libraries not with the joy of my own childhood reading but with academic research, starting with my third grade research paper about mice. I felt particularly proud of my illustration of two little grey mice nibbling on a juicy red berry.
With my kids, we regularly visited the library. At only two years old, my first child knew his way around: where he’d find his favorite books, where he’d discover new animal documentaries, and where he’d locate Mom or Dad looking for books of their own. And all the librarians knew him (whether they wanted to or not).
One of the best things I did as a parent, I believe, was to teach my children the joy of reading. We read all the time. We read at bedtime, of course, but also throughout the day. We carried books everywhere. We read at the park and the beach, in the doctor’s waiting room, in the car between appointments, and at the dining table. When the big kid had to keep his own reading log for school, he regularly read perched in a tree.
At 20 and 15, these days my kids read mostly for school. I get that: when reading becomes a requirement it may lose its luster. Like PE class takes the fun out of playing games. My hope for them is based on both investment and experience, that someday they won’t “have to” read but will choose it for pleasure; and that someday they will read with their own children, letting little hands drag them down library aisles in anticipation of new discoveries to share together.
Once a month I teach the preschool Sunday school class. Yesterday’s lesson was about being fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image, which means we are smart, and helpful, and creative (among other things).
We focused on the “creative” part and gave the kids lots of time to paint with watercolors, or color, or make paper airplanes. Some kids chose to create with play dough, while others created tree houses from blocks or created scenarios to act out with toy cars. We let the kids have a lot of free play while we noticed aloud their various creative efforts and how great it is that God made us all creative and unique.
I came home floating on cute kids’ creativity and decided I needed to express some creativity of my own. One of my favorite forms of creativity? Making delicious food for the people I love. Just the evening previous, I had come across a recipe for berry muffins that I knew I could vegan-ize, and I had some over-ripe bananas practically begging to become banana bread.
Muffins are a family fav because they make a quick breakfast, an easy lunch bag option, or a tasty after school snack. I’d wrongly anticipated this batch of 18 muffins would last most of the week, but today was a no-school day and the kids plowed through them with only a few leftover. Good thing they haven’t yet discovered the banana bread!
1 1/2 c white whole wheat flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1/4 c organic sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 flax egg (1 Tbsp flaxmeal + 3 Tbsp water, set aside 5 min)
1 c non-dairy milk
2 Tbsp agave
1/2 c unsweetened applesauce
1 c fresh or frozen berries
cinnamon sugar, optional
Preheat over to 350. Grease or line with paper 18 muffins cups. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Combine flax egg, milk, agave, and applesauce in a small bowl. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until just combined. Gently stir in berries. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. If desired, lightly sprinkle cinnamon sugar on each muffin before baking (the recipe itself isn’t very sweet). Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Cool on wire rack.
My sons have temperaments on opposite ends of the spectrum. One wears his heart on his sleeve. He’ll tell me anything (sometimes more than I want to know). The other holds his cards close, and I have to pay special attention for the times when he might feel more talkative.
Still, over their lifetimes we’ve cultivated an openness as a family. We talk about what’s going on in each of our lives–our joys and hurts, our successes and failures–so that no topic will be off the table. Our kids know that nothing they do or say will ever change our love for them, though some actions may result in consequences. They know they–and their friends–will always be welcome and safe with us, warts and all.
Recently I watched a sitcom in which two parents lamented that their teenage children had started to pull away from them. The idea arose to “date” their kids, to intentionally spend time with their kids doing things their kids liked (good idea), and to treat their children like “friends” rather than their children (bad idea).
Mom went on a shopping/lunch date with her teen daughter; Dad went with his son to hear his favorite motivational speaker. Misfires and mishaps were meant to be funny, but they made me sad.
I get it. Families are funny, and the teen years are hard on everyone. It can be terrifying to realize that the tiny you birthed and held and fed and doted on every minute is now independently in charge of their own sleep and feeding and transportation.
Teenagers change. It’s in their job description, but it’s in the parental job description to be available to help them through the changes.
I paused the TV and went to the kitchen for a cup of tea, where Q14 was reheating leftovers. I asked if he thought parents and kids truly had that much trouble communicating. He rattled off a bunch of his friends and their parents and how easily they engage, which makes me grateful that my kid knows a bunch of well-adjusted families.
Parents, please don’t wait until your kids have become teenagers to try to have important conversations! Talk to them all the time. Listen to them, hear their fears and insecurities, help them deal with their smallness in a big and broken world. Ask them questions every chance you get. Listen without an agenda, and don’t freak out if they confide in you something you didn’t want to know. They will face situations you wish they didn’t have to (think back to when you were a teenager). Thank them for sharing. Help them find appropriate and healthy boundaries and escape routes when necessary.
Some questions to get you going:
What are you looking forward to today (tomorrow, this week or month)?
Who did you sit with at lunch? How did you choose that person/group?
What one piece of information stood out to you today?
What is going on with your friends?
What do you like about your friends?
What made you laugh today?
Which class/teacher/lesson was your favorite (or least favorite) today?
What are you grateful for?
Did anything make you sad or uncomfortable today, and if so, what and why?
What makes you glad to be you?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would you change and why?
What scares you?
If anyone ever put you in a situation that made you feel uncomfortable, how might you handle it?
What do you imagine your life might be like in five years? Ten years? 20?
How can I help you take another step toward fulfilling your dreams?
Is there anything you’d like to tell me?
Google “questions to ask kids” and you’ll find so many more options. You probably already have a quiver filled with your own favorites. Just get talking. Those conversations might be life-changing for both of you.