The Garden and the Weeds

On Saturday the women of our parish gathered for a retreat considering our interior gardens, a play on St. Teresa of Avila’s famous interior castles. I was asked to give a short reflection, and I chose Ecclesiastes 3: 1-14 as my Scripture. It’s one we all know–the one that reminds us that there is a time and a season for everything. I was very nervous, but it went so beautifully, and I loved hearing the other reflections and spending a day in the company of such wonderfully wise women. Here’s my reflection.

When I was invited to reflect on the state of my garden, the first word that came to mind was “loud.” No, I don’t mean in color. I mean in volume. I am the mother of two small children, aged five and 20 months, and loud is the name of the game. As I was typing this in the kitchen, they were racing in circles around the house with a Costco box they were pretending was a boat, apparently one in some distress, given the captain’s shouting. Also, they are both boys, so sometimes the plants get watered in rather…unconventional ways.

In all honesty, I have spent quite a lot of time and emotional and spiritual energy rebelling against the state of my garden as a mother. I want neat rows and lines! Order! Perfectly calibrated rainbows of blooms! Anyone in this room who has spent time with small children can go ahead and have a hearty laugh at my ambitions. In my spiritual fantasies, I greet the day with a steaming cup of coffee, the morning mass readings, and ample time to pour my heart out to God in my journal. In this fantasy life, I pray all of the hours of the Divine Office, conduct a thorough Examen daily, and squeeze in a rosary or two for good measure. I spend hours with Scripture in Lectio Divina, and pepper the day with spiritual reading and corporal works of mercy.

In reality, my prayer life is…rather more haphazard. I spend my mornings wiping little faces and mediating cereal disputes. Sometimes I don’t get to the mass readings until my third cup of microwaved coffee at 4pm. And, frankly, I am far too exhausted after getting them to bed to examine much of anything in depth. Honestly, it feels very often like my garden is full of weeds: interruptions, chaos, plants I didn’t sow ruining the order of my ideal little spiritual oasis.

But this passage from Ecclesiastes gives me comfort: there is a time for everything. A day will come when I will have a more orderly garden and more time for meditative prayer. But because there is a time for *everything,* I can rest assured that this isn’t a season to be rushed through. It is right and it is good, and there is much for me to learn here in this weedy season.

Still more comforting is the reminder of the mysterious nature of the divine: no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. And everything God does will endure forever—nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it—and that includes my weeds. In my best moments, the ones in which I feel closest to God, He grants me the understanding that right now it isn’t really about the garden that I’m trying to plant for Him, but rather the garden that He has planted for me. My duty as a gardener right now is to water everything—that is, to respond with love to everything—whether I planted it or not. After all, we find God in ALL things, not just the orderly ones. It does my soul good to remember that our God is wild and full of mystery. He cannot be tamed. He is not afraid of my weeds.

I wish that I could tell you that I’ve perfectly internalized this lesson, that I’ve come to look upon my unruly garden with complete acceptance and affection. Instead, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been trying to read a spiritual book during some domestic cacophony and internally shouted, “Everybody be quiet! I’m trying to learn how to be more holy!” In my better days, I can chuckle at my rigidity and see that the pathway to holiness is right there in front of me all the time: it’s the choice to love, to give selflessly, to embrace the noise and the wiggly bodies of these two little people I adore.

As for the garden, sometimes I do get a chance to visit it alone in the early morning light. As dewdrops shimmer on every leaf and petal, I can see its beauty clearly. I can see that those weeds that keep popping up, are not actually weeds after all. They are wildflowers.

 

Bath-tism and Hospitality

I’ve never felt so unqualified to be a godparent as I did…in the last 30 minutes before I became a godparent. We’d flown down to LA for the weekend for the baptism of our godson, John. His parents, our dear friends Jack and Juliette, are Micah’s godparents and have known us since way back in our Berkeley days. We were so thrilled to be there.

But, as every parent reading this will know, traveling with small kids is sometimes…challenging. One of our kids was having a very hard time the day of the baptism, and, ahem, so were we. We pulled up to the the church about 30 minutes before the baptism and carried our screaming child into the sanctuary, where his cries echoed through marble columns and mortified us as innocent parishioners knelt to pray. I was so worried that our child was going to ruin the baptism (or bath-tism, as Micah called it: both adorable and theologically sound!). Usually when one of our children is having a hard time, Eric and I split up, and one of us takes the upset child somewhere calm and quiet. But we were the godparents! We both had to be there. And we didn’t know what to do.

As our child’s cries and screams ricocheted off of every hard surface, we went in search of the baptismal font and desperately tried to calm him. We were, um, not feeling like model parents. Not because our child was crying. But because we were so frustrated by it (we had blown right past the “ignore it,” “try to reason with child,” “employ all means of comfort,” “bribe with the promise of cake,” and “laugh to keep from crying” stages of tantrum management in the car as we darted through the LA freeways.)

Our friends weren’t there yet, so after we made a lap around the church, a priest approached us and introduced himself. I told him we were there for the baptism and that we were the godparents…for better or for worse. I was feeling so awful. And that’s why what happened next took me completely by surprise.

Father JT welcomed us, gently assured us not to worry about our child’s cries at all, and told us that we could hold our boys during the baptism. As he was explaining how he could tweak the ceremony to fit our child’s needs, I felt my eyes filling with tears. This was the voice of God straight to my heart, and it was full of mercy. It’s not just that the church was welcoming to our child (as all places of worship should be—where else does a child belong but in the arms of God?)—it’s that it was welcoming to me, personally, just as I was feeling at my lowest as a mother. I can’t remember everything Father JT said, but I can remember exactly what God said to me: “Cameron, you ran out of patience with your child. It’s okay. I will never run out of patience with you.” As Father was speaking, our child stopped crying. What a mercy. His spirit was calmed and soothed just as mine was. What a profound gift.

The ceremony was the most beautiful baptism I have ever been to, and I’ve been to a decent few. We started in the very back of the church, and as Jack and Juliette carried John up to the altar, Father prayed that throughout his life John would likewise be brought deeper and deeper into the mystery of God. I was totally crying by then. And I was carrying Micah, who had fallen asleep, in his Lightning McQueen sweatshirt and tennis shoes (I had decided earlier that church attire was not a hill worth dying on.)

At the front of the Church, Father read the gospel passage in which Jesus welcomes the children to him. “Even my child? My child who screamed and cried his way to the baptism?” I thought. But I already knew the answer, and felt it, so deeply. When we reached the altar, Father had us all lay our hands on it and say aloud all the prayers we held dear for his life, just as we will continue to bring our prayers for him to the altar of God. When it was time for the baptism, Eric held John over the font, and Juliette held Francis, while I still held Micah. “This,” I thought, “is the family of God.”

The liturgy was gorgeous, but I missed a lot of it because Micah woke up every five minutes and yelled, “I want to go home! I want to go home! I want to go home!” Yes, you read that right. Every five minutes. For the whole baptism! I did my best to calm him, and he fell back asleep every time. In a situation like this, I’d ordinarily be the first to totally check out from the spiritual experience and be consumed with worry, but, thank goodness, God was there, gently prying open the locked doors of my heart. As I was holding Micah, I felt held myself, by the community, and by God.

After the ceremony, we had cake and coffee outside near the parish school playground, and Micah was thrilled to get both a sugar rush and chance to run and slide. In spite of the chaos, I was able to catch up with dear friends and talk to Father JT about some of the things I hold dearest in my heart: Oscar Romero, Colombia, Walter Ciszek, and the Jesuit charism. During this time of my life, I never really count on being able to have an adult conversation. It felt like a supreme gift.

After the reception we all headed to Antonio’s, a classic Mexican restaurant on Sunset where we’d taken Micah as a toddler with Jack and Juliette. We were late, and our other child screamed all the way there, but there were margaritas and guitar players and dancing babies and so much joy. One does not cancel out the other. “This is the life of the Church,” I thought, “This is the body of Christ.” All of us loud and unruly and joyful and imperfect people, all welcome at the table. St. Ignatius of Loyola teaches us that we find God in all things: in beautiful baptisms and in screaming children, in playgrounds and in dinner parties, in our highest highs and in our lowest lows. Wherever we are, there He is, with arms open wide to His children.

But what does hospitality have to do with any of this? I came away from this experience with such a profound sense of this sacred practice. Jack and Juliette welcomed us and did not mind in the slightest that our child periodically yelled during their child’s holy sacrament. The extended family assured me that they were glad we were there and were charmed by Micah’s outbursts. The church opened its arms to us. And God opened His arms to us, worried and exasperated as we were.

It struck me that this is where the heart of hospitality is. It’s not about just opening our (often messy) homes. It’s about opening our messy lives too. My natural inclination is to hide it when I’m struggling, to avoid asking for help, to keep people from seeing the side of myself I’d prefer to keep hidden. But on this blessed day, there I was, in all my weakness. And I was welcomed. Glory be to God for that.

Relics and Everyday Miracles

Oh, hello, blog! It’s been a while. To recap the last year and a half-ish: we moved to Seattle! We had a baby! He’s the best! He’s four months now, so I’m just starting to edge my way out of survival mode and listen to the inner nudge to write. I do really miss it. So, here goes!

A few weeks ago I went with my wonderful friend Tess to venerate the relics of St. Padre Pio. He was a very cool dude. One of my favorite quotes of his is this perfectly practical one: “Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.” I could only stand to benefit from that, oh, seventeen times a day.

There was a mass at the cathedral before the veneration, celebrated by our archbishop and auxiliary bishop. It was going to be fancy and holy, no doubt. I had never seen relics before, never been to the cathedral before. I didn’t really know what to expect. But I’m pretty sure I expected transcendence.

The morning of the mass I was scrambling to get our rosaries together to touch to the relics (this makes them third class relics). I couldn’t find my little rosary case, so I…put them all in a little hair tie bucket and scrambled out the door with Francis. Eric was staying home with Micah because he is, er, perhaps not at a great age for appreciating transcendence or long masses. But I wanted to have sweet Francis with me.

I drove downtown, got a spot in the garage, and trekked over to the cathedral, where Tess had saved us a seat. The mass was lovely, but Francis did not sleep through it, like he usually does, so I missed some of the hymns because his little foot was kicking the order of service.

After mass some instructions were given for how to form a line to approach the relics. But it quickly became clear that these instructions were being disregarded. Tess and I asked around and joined the line, which was very confusing (God bless those poor ushers). Several times we were told to move to a different line, and people clutching rosaries frequently asked other people clutching rosaries if they were in the right line. It was holy chaos. I bet God was chuckling.

After 30 minutes or so in line, during which time we had moved perhaps 5 feet, an usher approached us and asked if we would like a shortcut since we had a baby. I was prepared to stand in line for an hour more, but this was too nice of an offer to refuse.

Another family with a small child was led with us up to the front of the line. I was wearing Francis and the diaper bag, so I had to ask Tess to pull out my rosary hair tie bucket for me. I quickly fumbled the beads into my hands as we approached the reliquaries. Padre Pio’s mantle. His handkerchief. His glove. I touched the rosaries and my medals to the glass in what felt like a holy conveyor belt. And then it was over. Tess and I hugged and parted ways, and Francis and I headed back to the car.

Just as I was wrangling Francis into his carseat and pondering the unexpectedly ordinary nature of the whole experience…I dropped the little bucket on the floor of the garage. Third class relic rosary beads clinked their way under a neighboring car. Oh my goodness. They continued their peregrinations when I got home and a curious Micah dumped them out on the floor. Transcendence? I didn’t think so.

The rest of the day was a bit tough. I was sick with this cold that made my chest feel tight and constricted, I was having a flare-up of a recurring eye condition, and I was just tired from the week before. It was all of those things and the fact that parenting just asks a lot of you. By dinnertime I told Eric that I was going to try to hide in the kitchen and read a book, as soon as I delivered Micah his milk.

But something funny happened. I sat down at the table. Some force drew me there. I looked at my beautiful child and was overwhelmed by how much I love him. Instead of retreating, I read books to him and enjoyed his lively discussion of them for a good 45 minutes. And then we played cars. (That’s the natural progression of things around here.) It was amazing to be able to have such love to give when I felt so exhausted.

When I went to the cathedral, I carried a handful of prayer requests with me. At least one of them, if granted, would be a genuine miracle. But here was the miracle, right here in my own home.

I haven’t been the same since that evening. I’m not naive enough to think that this isn’t a lesson I’m going to need to learn 30 more times. But it’s a miracle nonetheless.

I have been reading several books by Father Greg Boyle, who runs Homeboy Industries, a gang intervention and rehabilitation program in Los Angeles. These books have also utterly reshaped my life and my view of God. There was one quote from his second book that I loved so much, I immediately wrote it on the chalkboard that hangs above our table: “Nothing is outside the realm of sanctity, for the world in infused with God’s presence.”

It touched me especially deeply because this is such a busy time in our lives, with two little ones to tend. It reminded me of my first meeting with my spiritual director, in which I was bouncing Francis on my hip and laughing about all the books I wanted to read and all the studies I wanted to do, but that I didn’t have an awful lot of time for that right now. “Or,” she said, with her characteristic wisdom, “Maybe it’s about listening to what God wants to say to you right here in this crazy busy time.”

I’ve been trying to see through that lens. And then, several days ago, it finally clicked into focus. I almost always sit with my back to the chalkboard, but that night Micah had asked me to sit on the other side. I looked across the table and saw Eric and Micah playing underneath those beautiful words from Father Greg. And suddenly, for just a moment, I got it. My family, the presence of God. A mess of cars and books and dishes, the presence of God. Endless supply of dried play-doh shards under the table, the presence of God. Tantrums, the presence of God. Baby smiles and baby cries, the presence of God. Joy and exhaustion, the presence of God. I went to the cathedral seeking transcendence. And here it was, right at my kitchen table.

Farewell, Green Car!

IMG_2351As we were finalizing the steps of our move (five days away, eek!), Eric and I realized that we wouldn’t really have any more need or space for our second car. It was costing us a pretty penny to insure it, and we’d have to pay another chunk of change to have it moved (or impose so terribly on one of our parents to drive it up to Seattle for us. Four days of driving with no cruise control, whee!) As we thought it through, we reached a bittersweet decision: it was time to bid our green chariot farewell.

IMG_3073Why was it such a big deal? I bought this little green Honda when I was 16, brand new, from the dealership, mostly because I couldn’t find a decent and reliable used car and was likely traumatized by the woes my brother suffered in dealing with the used Jeep he had bought the year before. I went in with my dad and haggled the good haggle. I paid my $268.40 every month for four years, first out of my Wild Oats paycheck, then from my Oberlin library/tutoring/assistant teaching paychecks. I paid her off just at the start of my senior year. And after that, I worried much less about spilling my coffee.

IMG_3074She’s a 1999 Honda Civic. It’s now 2017. And I am 34. This car has carried me through over half my life. Every single one of her 85,000 miles was put on her by me, or some member of my traveling circus. When we were expecting Micah in 2014, we knew a two-door wasn’t going to be the best option for heavy carseats, so we bought our 2011 Accord. We just didn’t drive the green car very much at all after that–to airports, maybe, or on the rare occasion when we both needed to be somewhere at the same time. Seattle has much better public transit, and we now live in the age of Uber and Lyft for those situations. So it was time to say goodbye.

I might not have thought about writing a post like this, except that my dad just wrote one on the 20th anniversary of his white Miata. I loved reading about all the places that sweet little car had taken him. And I wanted to do the same for my little green car. I am not a person who cares too much about things (I suspect that is true for most of us), except in that they are perfect little repositories of memory. This car holds so very many.

DSCN0006She doesn’t have many miles for her seventeen years because I didn’t drive her much on a daily basis, except during her first year, when I drove her to White Station High School every morning, music blaring, protein smoothie in my cupholder (main ingredient: ice cream. Lolololol.) She stayed home during my first year at Oberlin, but I drove her up my sophomore year, the first of many sojourns across the 678 miles from my driveway in Memphis to campus. By the time I graduated, I had this trip whittled down to 10.5 hours, with only one stop. I know, I’m a savage. I came home every summer, most spring and fall breaks, and several Thanksgivings, including one in which I came home two days early, hid my car on a side street, and then hid in the closet to surprise my mom (my dad and I were good co-conspirators).

DSCN0980After I graduated Oberlin and came back from a summer in Russia, I loaded up the car and drove out to Berkeley for grad school, stopping along the way to pick up my brother in Oklahoma City (where he had arrived from Austin after a harrowing Greyhound bus ride. Thanks, brother!) We had almost zero dollars, but lots and lots of fun. In Berkeley I took the little green car across the bridge to San Francisco and up to Point Reyes, and on the weekends we explored all the little neighborhoods of the East Bay.

DSCN0241During my first summer in Berkeley, my brother came to stay with me while he worked at an architecture firm in the city. My brother is a very good person to have around if you like adventures. We went to visit a friend in Monterey. Then he suggested that we drive up the coast to see the pygmy cypresses near Fort Bragg, stopping along the way in Mendocino, where, to my great chagrin, my brother made me listen to the Sir Douglas Quartet’s “Mendocino,” which is, objectively, the worst song in the world (sorry, brother.) He soon redeemed himself. One day I came home from my French class, and he said, “Hey! Let’s drive up to Vancouver!” And we did! Straight up the 5 through California, Oregon, and Washington, stopping on the way home in Bend and Crater Lake, which is one the most beautiful places I have ever seen, and where we had a summer snowball fight. Good times!

Summer 2007 011The little green car ferried me all around the Bay area for seven years, during which time I finally got her California plates. Did you know that it is illegal to have a car in the state of California for more than 30 days without getting California plates? Did you know that it’s kind of complicated to change a car title (in my dad’s name, since I was only 16 when I bought it) across states? Whew, I was glad to get that resolved. After two years. Ha!

Thanksgiving 2009 016-001The green car drove me down to LA to visit my friend Steve, but most of her trips were local. My brother moved first to Oakland, then to San Francisco, and I’d pop over to see him. And then, happiest of happies, I met Eric. I drove over to see him as often as I could, and we took all manner of local trips: Napa, Sonoma, Half Moon Bay. We also made the HARROWING drive up to Sea Ranch to spend Thanksgiving with my family several times.

Summer 2011 259-001After we got married, we drove our little green car down to Pasadena, and then to Idyllwild, Santa Barbara, Ventura, and the beach. And then…our family of two grew to three, and green car’s driving days were mostly over. I hope she has many more with her new owner.

IMG_2353I didn’t cry when we sold her to Carmax (even though maybe I should have, given the low offer!), except at this one little moment. My whole family had been so sweet about it, including Eric, who was asking me, as we waited to sign some papers, how I was feeling. I turned to him and said, “You know, I was just thinking about who I was when I bought that car–what I imagined my life would be like, where I imagined my life would take me. And I realized that I have everything I could ever have hoped for.” It’s so true. And I’m so grateful. Farewell, green car!

My One Little Word for 2017: New

IMG_8150 (1)My word for 2017 came to me several months ago, and, truthfully, I am not sure there could be any other word for this year. Because…

We are moving! To Seattle! (In a week: aaahhh!) Most of 2016 was spent waiting to hear about a job for Eric, so we knew that this was a possibility. We are excited for many new adventures and for this great job, but also, of course, heartbroken to be leaving our dear friends here. (We’re planning those quarterly visits already!)

New means so many things for us this year: new city, new job, new house, new friends (we hope!), new school, new parish, new rhythms and routines, new places to explore. We are buying a house (!! I don’t think I can say we bought it until we close!), so we will be new homeowners. We are thrilled to have our own space, but maybe most thrilled to have a yard for Micah to run and play in.

I think “new” stretches its branches in lots of different directions–while we are excited to get settled in our new home, I am sure there are many things that will be difficult, and we’ll need to remind ourselves, “Hey, it’s ok. This is all new.” And, of course, it’s similar to my word for last year, “grow,” in that I am (always) hoping to learn and experience new things. I’m hoping to create some new (good!) habits. Including blogging more! (But, realistically, probably not until February or so, when some of the moving dust has settled). It’s a spiritual word for me too, reminding me of two comforting statements that I love very much, that His mercies are new every morning, and that He makes all things new. I hope this word will be a reminder of that comfort to me, and a reminder that I can make a new start every morning, or even every minute.

I always like to look up the definitions of my word, to hold in my mind as the year goes by. I especially like “never existing before, appearing for the first time,” “known or discovered for the first time,” “recently grown or made; fresh,” “beginning again, making a fresh start,” and “refreshed in spirits.” What better word for the new year and for new beginnings?

So, we’ll see where this word takes me! Do you have a word or phrase for 2017? Do tell!

In Praise of Intuition

IMG_5410Hello from Peet’s, my little caffeinated hideaway, blessedly only two blocks away from our apartment. The babysitter is with Micah, and I fought the urge to just fall asleep in the car (lolz) and came here instead for an Earl Grey fortification. Every time I try to log in to my blog, I have forgotten my password. Ha! Probably as good an indication as any of how frequently I get to it.

This is one of my favorite times of year–not just for the family and festivity and beautiful liturgies, but for the opportunity to look back and look forward, doing old Janus proud. This year I saw Susannah Conway’s free workbook Unravel Your Year mentioned somewhere, and I am working through it little by little. It has really been an amazing exercise, and definitely one I think I’ll want to do every year. So far I am still on the 2016 part, but it has been encouraging and comforting and surprising all at once.

To wit: I sat down to answer the question about my word for the past year and was all geared up to reflect on how my word was “savor,” and that it was a good word for living in the moment instead of having a big goal or plan, and then…I looked it up and realized that “savor” was my word for 2015! Ha! My word for 2016 was actually “grow,” which has a similar gradual sort of feel and was very good for this toddler-mom year.

In looking back through the year and actually trying to remember it (more lolz here), I was proud to see that in some ways I really have grown. Not in all ways, and I will have more growing to do for the rest of my life (I most sincerely hope), but I had a happy sense of accomplishment in an area that is sometimes challenging, but not impossible, to measure.

I scrolled through my blog posts from 2016 (not many!), and I found this post about my plans and goals for 2016. I had completely and utterly forgotten that I had written it. And yet…I actually did do those things I hoped to do. It was definitely one of those chills-down-your-spine moments, as I realized that even though I have given those goals (and my word, apparently) exactly zero attention this past year, I still somehow managed to live them out. Not perfectly, no. I did not read a book in Russian! (Maybe I should start with some comforting stories? Pushkin Book Club, anyone? I have an odd urge to reread Povesti Belkina!) But I did so much. And I am so entirely grateful for whatever intuition it was that led me to and through the things I did and learned this past year. It reminded me just a tiny bit of the feeling you have when you do something you did not think you could do, and then when you actually do it, you realize that that ability was actually in you all along. It is a powerful and humbling feeling.

So here I am again at the beginning of a new year, which will be very new indeed. I feel about as unprepared for it as I did not remember feeling last year (but my blog post reminded me!) And so I am not shaken by that unprepared feeling. I will come around to it, I am sure, sometime in February or so. As we journey through these first few weeks of the year, some ideas and goals will find me, and I’ll jot them down here. If nothing else, this whole experience has been such an encouragement to do that, to get words on paper, or on a screen, in this case.

I am excited for this year. I want to write (and am planning to write) about my word for 2017, what I hope it will hold, and millions of other little things too. The best thing I can do, I think, is to try to establish a habit. So here I am getting started, reminding myself of the pleasure of the staccato of computer keys. It’s good to be back. But my tea is gone, and it’s time to head to dinner with my Orhan Pamuk novel (the height of luxury!) Happy, happy new year to you all! I’ll be back soon.

June Interlude

IMG_6679Thank you for the warm welcome back! I am still working my way through our summer photos (mostly on Olympic commercial breaks…how ’bout that Michael Phelps?!) And here we are in June! We had two big trips this summer with about three weeks in between. This is the story of the June interlude. Up above is some gorgeous Romanesco broccoli, which I am always so happy to see at the farmer’s market. The world is so very full of wonders.

IMG_6670Let’s just start off with someone cute, yeah? He loves this book, which he calls “Honk, Honk!”

IMG_6683At dinner on a sweaty day. Do you see the family behind us? It was totally Danny Pudi (of Community fame as Abed) with his wife and adorable twins. I could have gotten them in this shot, but the poor guy was just trying to eat dinner, and I didn’t want to bug him. So I just took pictures of Micah, who was hitting a bit of a cup and straw milestone. Ah, LA!

IMG_6692Mmm, summer drinks! I don’t remember what this is exactly, but Eric says it is some kind of swizzle, maybe a Queen’s Park. Every stage has its own pluses and minuses, but it is so very sweet to be able to spend time with Eric in the evenings now without keeling over (well, I do keel over at 10:30, but it’s a far cry from those crazy newborn days!) He makes us a drink, we watch a show, we talk over the day behind and the day ahead. Also, if it is not evident from the picture, I married up, y’all.

IMG_6701One night when I was cooking, I realized that my dinner was smiling at me. We are running through a ton of corn and zucchini around here, and it is fantastic.

IMG_6706Sometimes summer is tiring!

IMG_6708One of Micah’s favorite books. Pretty cute. E is for Einstein, and he can totally say it.

IMG_6721We spend a LOT of time at the library in general, but especially in the summer, when it’s too hot to play outside. I love our library (and our librarians!) and am so grateful for this happy haven of books (and toys!)

IMG_6725Eric was out of town for a few days in June, and I had our babysitter come so I could go and have a quiet dinner by myself one night. This bookstand has been such a game changer in my life. My mom gave it to me for Christmas sometime when I was in grad school, and it quickly became one of my most prized possessions. No more neck pain when reading! It conveniently folds down, too, and serves as a bookmark. Huzzah! I was finally finishing All the Light We Cannot See, which is just as beautiful as everyone says it is. It has been such a good summer for reading!

IMG_6726My view from the kitchen, over the ledge.

IMG_6734June 18th was our fifth wedding anniversary. Five years! And eight years together. We went out for dinner and dessert, and I totally did not make a card for Eric due to the out-of-town craziness, but I did definitely cry copious tears at the table while telling him all the things that I would have written in that card. I can’t even begin to say how much I love him. He is the source of so much pure goodness and joy in my life. He is an incredible father, a fantastic partner, and the best friend I have ever had. Also, he’s hilarious and brilliant and kind. And hot. I do not know how I got him to marry me…but I am so glad I did. And yes, he did get me a card! And chocolates! I rest my case.

IMG_6736This is one of my favorite pictures of all time. It’s blurry, and there’s laundry on the couch and a train under the table, but here we are: this is my family. I wish I remembered to take more pictures like this one, capturing the everyday things we don’t think of as photo-worthy, but which in fact make up the texture of our lives. I am so grateful for all these evenings when we sit around the table, passing napkins and wiping mouths and cutting grapes. We won’t always live in this apartment, my baby won’t always wear this red bib, and when those things come to pass, this picture will be a treasure.

IMG_6747A really rare instance when somebody let me rock him after his nap. He is wearing his daddy’s baby shirt.

IMG_6785And the last little bit of June before our trip: Hillary helped me make a silhouette of Micah! And she even got his sweet little eyelashes! This is the story of the June interlude. Treasures abounding: sweet friend, sweet baby, sweet husband. A silhouette of my heart would show all three.

Memphis in May

IMG_6176Oh, heyyyy, blog. I missed you. Here’s what we’ve been up to. (Besides ending sentences with prepositions, ahhhhh!) An addendum: this post was originally going to be about the whole summer, but then I went a little crazy with the pictures, soooo…a bunch of separate posts there shall be. We happened to be in Memphis in May, but it’s also the name of one of the biggest events of the year, a cultural festival featuring a barbecue cooking contest and a music festival on the river (which was, of course, the highlight of my teenage existence). It’s a good time to visit!

IMG_6225I spent two and a half weeks at home in Memphis with Micah while Eric ping-ponged his way across the eastern seaboard for work, ending with a big family reunion (Eric included!) for my dad’s 60th birthday. Since I flew by myself with Micah, I totally got him a backpack with a little leash (lifesaver!) and baby headphones so he could watch Thomas the Tank Engine on the plane. Eh, he wasn’t really into it, but mommy tried!

IMG_6234My sweet dad picked us up and whisked us away to see…

IMG_6276Mimi and Miss Lily! Look at those precious babies. Micah and Lily are exactly six months apart, and they remind me so much of my brother and I–we are thirteen months apart, and our hair was (respectively) the same baby shades of blonde and golden. This picture could almost have been taken thirty-some years ago.

1983-30Here we are, my brother and I, for reference. I am not sure there has ever been a more natural mother than my mom. She is so endlessly loving and patient with little ones (and grown ones!), and she makes it look like so much fun. My deepest memory of this trip is this one: being completely bowled over by the hurricane of kindness and love that is my mother, hoping that someday I may turn out to be even half the mother that she is and has always been.

IMG_6270Sweet Mimi with Micah at the children’s museum.

IMG_6303-001I already fear the number of pictures this post will heft, but…look how sweet! My parents are just about the most fun people I know to hang out with, and I always love going home to see them. Also, they know how to party. In the summer, that equals a lot of delicious microbrew beer. Ahh, the taste of summer! (No beer for babies, ha, only for mommy and her compatriots).

IMG_6322I love my mom! I do not love it, however, when I buy red lipstick, and it turns out pink like this. Can somebody tell me where to get REAL red lipstick?!

IMG_6346Lunch with my Besfrinn and her baby (sob, big girl).

IMG_6400My loves at Hog & Hominy. So many new places to try! It’s a singular pleasure to see the city where you grew up experience such a beautiful renaissance. I am deeply grateful to every person who has worked so hard to bring new life and new opportunities to our community.

IMG_6433Uh, yes, I *did* just dump out this huge bag of goldfish. Is that a problem, mom?

IMG_6445Pecan pie for daddy’s 60th! A sweeter man has never lived. It was so special to be there for his birthday.

IMG_6458We call this Micah’s grandaddy outfit, so, of course, we had to get a picture of them twinning!

IMG_6470We met Emily and her family for Family Day at the Dixon Gardens, and I had completely forgotten how gorgeous it is there. Look at my baby in all that green.

IMG_6487Hard at work in the backyard! It appears that there has been a small vehicular mishap.

IMG_6505Memphis Made! I would go there every day if I could.

IMG_6566The cutest.

IMG_6587The world’s most optimal dump truck conditions!

IMG_6606Ahhhhhhhh, what is this oasis?! My parent’s condo, where Eric and I spent a night away from our little tiger. My parents are the bessssssst.

IMG_6617It was so good to catch up after Eric had been away for a week. And it was good to sleep in too! We got caught in a crazy downpour on the way to dinner and then struck out at about four restaurants before landing somewhere a bit lackluster, but at least there was beer! Hammer & Ale saved the day. I do forget this sometimes, since there is not a ton of opportunity for deep conversation in a toddler-parenting life, but talking to Eric is one of my favorite things in the world. Always such a treat.

IMG_6621This is my kind of place! City and State on Broad. The bike trail runs right past it, and it was fun to watch people trek in for breakfast in their helmets. If I had biked all the way down there, I would have eaten everything in the pastry case, but these people mysteriously showed some restraint.

IMG_6662The weekend brought more family and fun. And adorable babies in swimsuits. Trucks can go in the pool, right?

IMG_6664And then this happened on the way home. Ha! Still well worth it, even with a three-hour flight delay!

 

No Time Like the Present

IMG_5220Ahahaha, all my good blog intentions! There are only so many hours in a day, so I don’t feel badly about it, just grateful for the times when the stars align and I can tap out a little dispatch. I usually have a running list of things I want to share, but I’m just going to do a smattering of thoughts and happenings instead, since those posts are the ones I tend to treasure the most. (Annd I should add that this post has been delayed by about a week by the relentless stomach virus that struck our tiny angel…and then me…and then Eric. Being sick all at the same time was very, very rough. We kept having relapses after we thought we were better, and we had one very scary night when we almost took Micah to the ER, fearing that he was dehydrated. We are beyond grateful that he is ok, and that we are getting better. Right now Micah is sitting right next to me driving his cars on the kitchen table, and I am just so happy that we are all together, all upright, all in one piece.)

So! How are things? Very good! And very tiring! It is so funny how different all these parenting stages are. In the newborn days you are just longing for sleep like a thirsty person crawling across the desert, but you can totally watch Property Brothers (why are all the houses in Toronto semi-detached? why do they use the same bizarre chandelier in every house?) and sip coffee while tending to your cooing (and hopefully not crying) little sweetheart. The toddler days are so different. We are (hallelujah!) sleeping through the night, but this leaves us ill-trained for nights taken victim by teething, growth spurts, random sleeplessness, or 5am (or before, aaahh!) wake-up calls. The stakes seem a bit higher now because the awake time is all time of engagement. And it is really, really cute and fun engagement. Oh no, there is no time to contemplate the mysteries of Property Brothers these days. There is coloring and car racing, book reading and insistent requests to “pway!”, walks and trips to the library, and exuberant games of chase and hide and seek. There is very little time for snuggling (someone has important work to do!), but there are sporadic exclamations of “I love Mommy!” It is such a sweet time. I don’t know that I have ever really accomplished much in those post-bedtime hours, but now there are many, many nights when I just crawl into bed for some 30 Rock and chocolate. It feels like the right thing to do.

IMG_5766We were very lucky to have Eric’s parents here for Holy Week and Easter, and especially so because Eric was out of town for a few of those days. I so appreciated the help and the company. The best kind of company is the kind who wants to adore your child with you, and this company did not disappoint! We had so much fun, made so many joyful memories, had lots of wonderful conversations and collectively marveled as my father-in-law fixed every broken thing in the house. You’d be very hard pressed to find any sweeter people on earth. Yes, that is our sweet baby in his Easter outfit, breaking his Mommy’s heart with cuteness.

IMG_5773We walked him over to Caltech to have a little Easter egg hunt in the grass, and he loved it. It was so sweet to have Eric’s parents here for this special week, and, thanks to grandpa’s magnificent babysitting services, grandma and I were able to attend all of the Holy Week services. It was a beautiful thing to share, just the two of us. We are so looking forward to seeing them this summer, and to Micah’s happy reunion with the farm, and, more importantly, its many tractors and combines! (Yes, he totally knows the difference, mommy!)

IMG_5877We took him to the art museum a few weeks later, and he was rather in awe of this enormous car track. I was too! I was expecting him to race right past the guard wire, but he just stood there clutching it. And my heart broke a little. He looks like such a big boy.

IMG_5916I went on a retreat a few weekends ago to a beautiful place in the foothills of the San Gabriels. It was a wonderfully refreshing time (I have been wanting to go on a retreat since before I was pregnant with Micah!), and I was a BIG FAN of the 24-7 fresh Douwe Egberts coffee and the silence, but you better believe that I was also a big fan of FaceTiming my baby.

IMG_5970The next week my mom came to visit! It was seven days of laughter, joy, and desperately needed home organization. My mom is the best, as I am sure I have previously indicated. Every time she comes, I ask her to help me make the house more efficient, and every time she finds ways to solve problems I thought were unsolvable. We had so much fun playing with the baby, running errands, and doing all the everyday things with the added boost of delightful company. And she bought me shampoo! Like, nice shampoo! I haven’t used conditioner since 2012! Okay, TMI, sorry about that.

IMG_6044My mom, who I have already canonized, also kept the baby for us for two nights while we went on a little getaway to the Central Coast..while she had a lingering sinus infection, the baby woke up at heinous times in the morning and also wasn’t much of a napper. When we came home, she had rearranged our living room, done our laundry, and left fresh flowers on the kitchen table and bathroom counter. How does she do it?! I do not know, but I am so very grateful.

IMG_5825I think those are all the big happenings of late. Our tiny angel is 21 months now, and he is talking up a storm! He’s been speaking in complete sentences for a while, and he surprises us sometimes with words we don’t remember teaching him. He repeats everything we say, which is hilarious and adorable (“responsible” on the lips of a toddler is very, very funny indeed). The other day we were reading a book with a picture of a night sky, and I was talking about how Daddy studies the stars. “Daddy is an astronomer,” I said. Micah looked at me for a second and then said, “Daddy innuh tronomer!” It was astoundingly precious. Yesterday we were driving past Eric’s building on our way to Kindermusik (pronounced “Kinnamunik” in toddler-ese, in case you were wondering) when he started gleefully yelling something. I couldn’t understand him at first, but then I realized what he was saying. “Daddy innuh tronomer! Daddy innuh tronomer! Daddy innuh tronomer!” And he was so proud of himself for remembering. My mind is blown pretty much on a daily basis. In further cuteness, the other day he got down a framed photo of himself on the day of his baptism and proceeded to read Goodnight, Moon to baby Micah. Eric and I could hardly scramble for our phones fast enough. I remember when he was tiny, before he could even smile at us, I used to wonder so much about what he was thinking and who he was in there. It has been the greatest delight to begin to find out.

IMG_5833In local news, the star of jasmine opened last week, and the jacaranda trees are just starting to bloom. It is a fragrant and beautiful time here, one that I’m so grateful for every year. I don’t think too often about the seasons or the cyclical nature of the weather, but wow, what a gift. A year is just long enough to completely and fully miss something, so much that you begin to despair of ever seeing it again, and then, pop! There it is, once again. Happy, happy spring to you!

Joshua Tree!

IMG_5493Oh heyyyyy, blog. I missed you. And I am so happy that the two-week span of sickness that kept me from my computer has passed, and indeed that it passed *just* in time for our trip to Joshua Tree! A few months ago, Eric showed me this cool map thing that would tell you where your closest National Park was. And it’s Joshua Tree! I guess I sort of already knew that since we had passed it on our way to Vegas during the gigantic road trip of 2015. I pretty much fixated on getting to see those majestic trees, and I had read that the rock formations and history were pretty cool too. Also, Joshua Tree is home of the tiny World Famous Crochet Museum! And just a short drive away is the old Western film set known as Pioneertown, complete with the ever delicious Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace. So, basically, resistance was futile. I was a moth to a desert flame. AND I talked Hillary and her family into coming, thus quadrupling the awesome and making this the Second Annual Cartibellm Desert Extravaganza! (Last year we went to Julian and Anza Borrego. I appear to have not written a blog post about this, which is quite a shame!)

IMG_5442Although we hit some major traffic on our way (and both swore never again to leave LA on a Friday after noon), the house we rented made up for all that with its great gorgeousness (I mean, seriously, check it out!). When we went to Julian last year, our little tiger cried most of the night. This time he did much better! However, my traitorous iPhone randomly started playing a podcast REALLY LOUD at 4:53am on Saturday, and I, in my asleep state, kept turning it back on when I was trying to turn it off, so the little tiger can hardly be blamed for his rooster-like morning appearance, can he? Here he is enjoying his breakfast. Tiny angel.

IMG_5447And here he is strapping his bear in for breakfast. Heart. Broken. Plus two bonus adorable girls in the background reading Roald Dahl. Micah was IN LOVE with them. I can hardly blame him!

IMG_5457After much coffee, we were ready to head to the park. We really must get a National Parks pass because Danny and Hillary zipped right past us in the fast lane! I will try to limit myself to just a few pictures of the trees and landscape because I have millions of them.

IMG_5487The Joshua trees were in bloom! So exciting for this desert nerd.

IMG_5461This is a baby Joshua Tree. I always thought that the green shoots looked soft, but they are actually hard and spiky. Apparently they belong to the also spiky yucca family. Cool.

IMG_5465Jumping cholla! I love it so much. I just don’t want to be super close to it. For reasons of stabbiness.

IMG_5480When cholla dies, it leaves these amazing sticks behind. I gathered up 2(00) of them from the back yard of our rental house. Ones with no spikes still attached, of course.

IMG_5479Before too long, we came across this rusted old car, which was a very big hit with the kids.

IMG_5466How did our little tiger do? Great! I think his life motto is, “Have graham cracker, will travel.” He likes being up high in the backpack so he can see. It helped that the weather was just about perfect–not too hot, not too windy. And we got there pretty early in the day (thank you, rooster), so it wasn’t too crowded for a while.

IMG_5484A nice Joshua Tree family portrait. Micah is looking at the car, of course.

IMG_5494An atmospheric ruin of a desert home.

IMG_5499After this first foray we took a climb through the rocks down to Barker Dam. Such cool rocks.

IMG_5509This is the view from the southern tip of the park. We could see the Salton Sea and Mount Signal, almost to Mexico. Wow.

IMG_5512We were all pretty beat after that, and we headed back to the house for a flurry of naps, followed by Danny grilling burgers for us for dinner. How did I get these amazing friends?! And someone very sweet read his books in the evening.

IMG_5521Saturday night we switched to daylight savings time, and we, like all other parents, thought that maybe our child would sleep late? Hahaha, another 5am wakeup. But this gave us lots of time to savor breakfast, pack up, and swing on the hammock outside. Our little rooster is so thoughtful! Hillary drew this quail in the guestbook, in case you needed any further proof that she is awesome.

IMG_5528You know how people say they are dating up? I am friending up. Way up!

IMG_5534Although, sadly, the line was way too long at Joshua Tree Coffee Company (siphon brew?!), we did get to explore the art community, anchored by The World Famous Crochet Museum. It is tiny! And full to the brim with cuteness.

IMG_5538For human scale.

IMG_5542Look!

IMG_5546Tiny pastries!

IMG_5548Pretty cakes!

IMG_5556Tacos! That is the outdoor movie theatre in the background.

IMG_5562Inside a barn next door was the studio of Shari Elf (the artist behind the museum), full to the brim with bright and interesting things. Shari makes good and sturdy art from trash, including lots of screen-printing on discarded garments. That’s the fitting room in the corner. Love!

IMG_5569Micah slept through this part of the trip, and I am sorry that he missed this pillowcase.

IMG_5572Aaaahhhh, my friends are so cool! Album cover. Soliciting titles.

IMG_5585After this we had lunch at Pappy and Harriet’s, where the wait for food was very long, but someone sat very happily in his high chair driving his trucks and eating graham crackers for an hour and a half!! Joshua Tree must hold some baby magic.

IMG_5589Even though this post is already about four times too long, I can’t leave out our last stop, Pioneertown. Our little cowboy took right to it.

IMG_5608Thus ended the Second Annual Cartibellm Desert Extravaganza, and thus ends this post!

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