Happy Thanksgiving 2018

What are you facing this week? Traveling or family coming in? Stay-cation with lots of local activities? Business/work as usual? Cooking, eating at another’s table, dining out?

Little about this week has been our family’s version of usual. Q14 got an unexpected day off school, closed due to unhealthy air quality from the Camp Fire in Butte County, CA, hours from here but close enough to make our air quality the worst in the world. A good call on the district’s part, but an anticlimactic way to begin ten days of vacation. Often we travel or have family travel to us, but this year we’re staying put. Guy’s brother will join us, the only one who doesn’t eat at our table at least once a week. And I’m still working, albeit remotely. The gross air outside keeps us all indoors, so we’re not even enjoying local day-trips. Cleaning out closets may be productive, but less fun.

Still, we’re looking forward to a day of cooking (we all like to cook) and lots and lots of veggie goodness. Plus lots of family time and thanks-giving. To that end, I turned to Ted for ideas…

10 Questions to Ask Around the Dinner Table

What are you grateful for?
What are you proudest of?
What has been the happiest moment of your life so far?
What has been the hardest moment of your life, and how did you get through it?
What important life lessons have you learned so far?
How would you describe yourself as a child? Were you happy?
Who has been kindest to you?
How do you want to be remembered?
If you could share any wisdom with your great-great-grandchildren years from now, what would you want them to know?
If you could honor one person in your life, living or dead, by listening to their story, who would that be? What would you ask them, and why?

And here’s a super-short Ted talk on the importance of giving and receiving thanks.

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Favorite Things

Sing along…

Raindrops on roses And whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

While I’m a big fan of dew-dropped roses and kittens, my favorites list includes different items:

My family, my marriage (coming right up on 25 years!), our home
Our menagerie of pets, and animals in all their wild and wonderful weirdness
The beach

Well-told stories, and a library system with access to more books than I will ever read
Sharing a crisp sauvignon blanc with girlfriends on a warm summer evening
A fire in the fireplace on a cold winter’s night, and candlelight all around
Cooking healthy and delicious food to share with people I love
Walking our neighborhood and hiking trails, especially with family, friends, and dogs
Meaningful work
Adventures in exploring the world near and far
Beautiful home-grown flowers
Farmers’ Markets overflowing with fresh produce
Laughing so hard I cry
Heartfelt conversation
Quiet moments of awe, wonder, peace
Cheering on my people as they do what they love
Art and creativity in oh-so-many forms

I recognize all these things (and so much more) as gifts from God, examples of the riches of His grace which He lavishes on us.

But sometimes I don’t. Sometimes, I get tired and cranky, disillusioned, caught up in my own frenzied spirals or the harshness of others and the world’s brokenness.

All the more reason to keep reminding myself of the good gifts God pours into my life…

When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad

Abundant Life
Week 1: Lavish Generosity
John 10:10-11 & Ephesians 1:3-8a

Connect
Reflect on a generous gift you have given.

Study
Read aloud John 10:10-11.
Contrast the thief and the good shepherd. What happens to those who are near them?
Read aloud Ephesians 1:3-8a.
What has God done for us, and why?
How would you explain “every spiritual blessing” with which God has blessed us to someone who doesn’t feel blessed (v3)?
What does it mean that we are “in him” (vv4, 6-7)?
How does this passage describe our relationship with God? What difference does that make?
Which of God’s blessings depend on us? Which change or affect us, and how?

Live
Why do people choose to follow the thief instead of the good shepherd?
Name some of your favorites of God’s lavish riches. How do you respond? How can you share them with others?
“…worship and praise are so crucial [because] they give opportunity for us to tell the truth about ourselves and God” (Klyne Snodgrass). How are worship and praise appropriate responses to reflecting on what God has done for us?
How can you hold on to the truth of the abundant life God has designed for us in light of the daily realities of a messy, pain-filled world?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Read aloud from Psalm 145 as a hymn of thanksgiving to our lavishly generous God.

Thankful Thursday – My Awesome Doghouse

No matter what you do, how hard you work, how much you invest, how great your love or commitment, you will disappoint people. The junior high and high school popular kids. Certain teachers or college professors. Friends and neighbors. Bosses and authority figures of all stripes and spots. Family members, community members, and church members. Strangers on Facebook. Whoever they may be, critics can crawl through walls like ants.

I said: “I feel like I’m in the doghouse.”
He said: “So make it one awesome doghouse.”

Great advice! I can only do my best and I can’t change the critics. Theirs is not the love I need most (read that with an Obi Wan Kenobi voice: “This is not the droid you’re looking for…” This is NOT the love I’m looking for).

I’m setting myself free to make my doghouse awesome!doghouse

I recently read Shauna Niequist’s new book, Present Over Perfect, in which she wrote:

“This is what I know for sure: along the way you will disappoint someone. You will not meet someone’s needs or expectations. You will not be able to fulfill their request. You will leave something undone or poorly done. Possibly, this person will be angry with you, or sad.

“What you need along the way: a sense of God’s deep, unconditional love, and a strong sense of your own purpose. Without those two, you’ll need from people what is only God’s to give, and you’ll give up on your larger purpose in order to fulfill smaller purposes or other people’s purposes.”

So what am I up to?
* Spending less time on social media and TV, and more time in books. I wandered the library shelves today and found a few to add to my stack.
* Reaching out to friends
* Counting my blessings in my gratitude journal
* Getting outside to walk daily with my sweet Guy or friends, always with dogs
* Drowning out the noise with silence
* Soaking in God’s love through the Bible, prayer, and greater attention to His presence
* Cooking simple, healthy food and drinking lots of water and herbal tea
* Enjoying my work and my play
* Saying yes and taking risks, and learning to say no
* I’ve hit refresh on my wind down ritual and my sleep has improved.

Last night after homework Tween and I played best-out-of-five games of Uno. Despite my strong start, he won. Along the way we laughed and talked. We might do it again tonight, or soon. We’re making what seems frivolous, important. Because it is.

I’m shaking off the dirt and falling in love all over again with my doghouse. Because it’s mine, I’m decorating it with people, activities, and things that fill me up with joy. And I’m grateful!

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Thankful Thursday – Forced Detox

I’m back!

For the last few weeks my computer has either struggled to function or has been in the shop (don’t even get me started on the several internet technicians who spent hours at my house replacing brand-new modems with other brand-new modems or moving brand-new modems to different locations in my not-big-enough-for-this house; or the multiple techs sent by the manufacturer as my machine is still under warranty; or the fact that, once the company had the machine in their possession, their first pass was to repair the wrong part…).

As Communication Director, it becomes extremely difficult to get the job done when I’m traveling between computers with files on server, in the cloud, and on a thumb drive. Needless to say, and frustrating to deal with, a few balls dropped.

As a writer, I felt like a good portion of my brain had exited the building. I couldn’t think straight. And I didn’t want to write on another computer–almost like cheating–because I have enough files I need to retrieve and back-up again now that my machine has returned to me. I guess I could write on paper, but I didn’t.

Definitely not a vacation, no way a sabbatical, but in the “off work” hours, I had, for the most part, to be off work. I couldn’t check work email at home or do “a few quick tasks.” When I left the office, I had to be done.

Considering I work part-time, this shouldn’t have been so hard. Still, it was.

Being gentle to myself, it is hard to not have the equipment necessary to do your job efficiently. It is hard when your major creative outlet gets stunted. And as I’m trying my darnedest to also (mostly) stay off Facebook during this maddening political season, I had unanticipated time.

What did I do? I read. A lot. I walked or ran. I cooked. I helped Tween study for a test. I took pictures. I also watched more TV than normal, but TV that I recorded because I want to watch it, not just whatever’s on TV.

I made conscious choices throughout the moments and the days to be grateful. To remember that this is absolutely a first-world problem.

Meanwhile one of my work projects has been to compile and edit gift-in-kind donation items for local and global ministries to be available through our church Mission Market. For example, you can donate $7 to buy school books for kids in the Dominican Republic and then give your sister a card with a description of the group to which you donated in her name. Win-win, especially when most of us don’t need another Christmas sweater. Or anything, for that matter.

For example, Amor Ministries, the home building ministry we work with in Mexico, for which hundreds of high school students and adults through our church have built hundreds of homes over 25+ years, finally has the opportunity to purchase land for their camp that hosts all the volunteers… Amor can finally have a home! If we donate…

Thanks to another group (nameless at their request and for their protection), Syrian refugees can machine wash their laundry, rather than hand wash. While the clothes tumble, women can make a pretty craft to take to their temporary “home.” Their children can do crafts or receive help with handwriting and spelling. There’s also a corner with second-hand clothes free to the right fit.

Keeping things in perspective: I had a few weeks of significant inconvenience. Others told me they would be banging on doors and demanding a better, faster solution. That’s not my style. I complained a bit and did my best while also trying to make the best of the situation.

On the other hand, some people have not just inconveniences but hardships. Frankly, I am abashed to have complained at all when I think of their life situations.

I am grateful to have my computer back. I am grateful for easier and quicker access to the work given me to do. I am grateful for this blog, this creative outlet that connects me to others in (I hope!) meaningful ways. I am thankful for technology that organizes my life in oh-so-necessary ways. I am grateful for perspective. I am thankful.

Thankful Thursday – Hufflepuff & Blooms

So uncharacteristic, I began running about six weeks ago.

Once-twice a week became two-three times a week became daily. Huh, I’m running! Not a runner, but running no less.

About four weeks in I felt a funny coldness in my throat. Then a cough developed, non-productive, just annoying. Then I couldn’t breath deeply – butterflies fluttered in my chest. Then my sweet Guy felt hesitant to hike with me because: what would he do if I can’t breath?

I did some internet research. The three main triggers for asthma:
* change in exercise
* change of weather
* air quality (pollution/allergies)

And the two big questions: any family history of asthma or allergies? Why, yes. Both in my own body: asthma as a baby, allergies currently.

And so, my attempt to get healthier than I’ve been in a long time kicked me in the rear. I now have asthma, and just picked up my first-ever inhaler. It may not be forever, but it is for now.

Bummer. And yet…

I am grateful for advances in science and health, scientists and doctors who know how to diagnose and treat various health issues.

I am grateful for hope that the inhaler will help.inhaler

I am grateful for all the crazy-beautiful blooms that release pollens that cause allergies, because Beauty.white rose white roses

I hope to always be on the receiving end of the rainbows God throws out, whether or not they appear vibrant, colorful, and delicious.rainbows

Meatless Monday – Getting Saucy

The best part of a veggie Thanksgiving meal? Not spending All Day Long cooking a turkey! We keep the menu fairly simple and mostly traditional – mashed potatoes, stuffing, salad, veggies, biscuits – and add some baked salmon with oranges, cranberries and rosemary for the fish-eaters and a small turkey breast for the carnivores. We divvy up the dishes and nothing takes too long.

Which leaves time for this:beach boys

We took kids and dogs, some more excited than others, to the beach. Too cold for swimming, the people bundled up and the dogs jumped in the frigid water anyway, barking and chasing and playing until they flopped in exhaustion. Our dog met her younger blonde twin, also a rescue, and we couldn’t get them to stay still long enough to take any really good pictures.
dog twins

Beach time was the perfect way to spend Thanksgiving morning, and even our once-reluctant kid-companions agreed. We put out some while-the-grown ups-cook nibbles, sauteed and mashed and baked the afternoon away, and ate dinner at a comfortable 6pm.

My always-favorite bite of the Thanksgiving meal? Cranberry sauce. Adapted from a recipe I found on Epicurious many moons ago, this one = YUM! And my new discovery this year? The easiest ever, scrumptious vegan gravy adapted from Tablespoon, just as much a hit with the carnivores as the vegetarians. It may seem a little late now, but the holiday season has only just arrived and more of us will be making celebratory meals for family and friends. Get saucy, friends!cranberry sauce

Cranberry and Orange Relish
Makes 3 1/2-4 cups (recipe can be cut in half)

2  Tbsp plant-based spread (Earth Balance)
2  Tbsp grated fresh ginger
1/2  c dark brown sugar
1  c orange juice
16  oz cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 c orange marmalade

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the Earth Balance. Add ginger and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add sugar, orange juice, and cranberries. Cook until the cranberries burst and the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Stir in the marmalade to taste (depending on desired sweetness). Turn off heat. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Note: Can be prepared up to 5 days in advance. Also good w/ cranberry juice and raspberry jam in place of orange juice and orange marmalade.

Easy Vegan Gravy

1 Tbsp plant-based spread (Earth Balance)
1/4 c all-purpose flour
3 c vegetable broth
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

In a sauce pan melt Earth Balance, then add flour and stir. When smooth slowly add vegetable broth. Add remaining ingredients. Whisk until desired thickness is achieved. Serve warm.
Note: This recipe looks like it will make a lot of gravy, but the broth reduces and thickens on the stove top. I didn’t measure the results, but it made just enough for our table of seven with no leftovers. I’ll double it next time.

Thankful Thursday – Life is More than Worry

As Church Communication Director, this week before Thanksgiving is always one of the busiest work weeks of the year as we rush to get Christmas PR printed, in the mail, up around town, in the newspaper, you name it. The creative work, writing and designing, is mostly done, so this week is all about details – proofing and making sure each design in all its necessary formats gets to the right place and people at the right time. The devil is in the details and I am no devil.

I can’t get stressed, though. The irony? This year’s theme is PEACE. No sense at all worrying about peace.

Today I got a kick in the tail in the best way. One of my favorite weekly activities, I have the privilege of leading a small group of delightful women in our moms’ group at church. I love these women. They are light and bright and smart and deep. Our speakers today talked about change and taking intentional steps toward positive change in our lives. Several of my gals are engaged in total life upheaval, not entirely by choice. And yet even in difficult situations, our response is our responsibility. We can still choose to make changes that make us better.moms 15

The gal seated next to me almost died from a fluke illness this fall. I kept rubbing her back, teary eyed, so grateful for her life. And to hear her talk about the peace that sustained her during her illness, the overwhelming sense of angels watching over her, the comfort that whatever happened God held her in His hands… Me, choking back tears because she couldn’t have said those words when we met a couple years ago. I am grateful for her life and for the joy of watching her grow in faith.

Listening to my gals encourage one another in situations I haven’t had to endure encouraged my heart. As I looked on, the words of Matthew 6 rolled around in my head:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

A few of the staff studied this passage earlier this week. We noticed that most people we see daily aren’t worried about food; even when kids complain that “There is NO FOOD in this house!” there truly is, and no one will starve this week, or month, even if we stopped grocery shopping altogether. So I replaced “food” with “worry” in v. 25:

Is not life more than worry…?

Life is so much more than worry!

I am thankful for my friendships with these precious women who encourage one another and me. They add so much joy and love to my life.

I am thankful for a day off with my love after a season of working too hard and missing one another along the way. We walked the beach with our happy dog on a perfect San Francisco day, followed by a spontaneous splurge lunch at a marina-view restaurant.SF dog

I am thankful for an opportunity to serve with one of our church’s mission partners, Harbor House Ministries. All three of my guys have been there more than once, but today was my first time. Our middle school group plus a few parent chaperones served a Thanksgiving meal prepared by church folks; we also built relationships, did a craft, packed up leftovers for people to take home, and cleaned up. I talked with a mom of two darling girls; I don’t easily talk with people I don’t know, but we so easily connected over kids and this blessed place where her older daughter is safely cared for. Tween enthused about the “amazing” place called Harbor House and can’t wait to go back. I got to tag along while my kid’s heart changed. So good!

HH Thanksgiving

Life is so much more than worry. Life is love, encouragement, connection, work and rest in balance, service, and community. Life is our creative response to life’s own twists. Life is our responsibility to create, and life is our creative God’s good gift. He already said, “It is good.” Now it’s our turn.