Monday, March 30, 2015

300 and Counting

I made it to 300 this week. Three hundred reasons to be thankful, three hundred moments I almost missed, three hundred blessings I got to stop and see

And this time around, in the past few weeks, I noticed that so many of the things I find myself most grateful for are related to food - sharing meals with friends, baking with my children, feeding myself well, discovering true nourishment.
161) Air poppers and a child's awe  
162) Tiny, tender green shoots
163) Bread and wine for dinner

I have learned this practice of counting the ways from the breathtaking prose of Ann Voskamp's book, One Thousand Gifts. But my growing appreciation for food, and the people with whom I share it, was first birthed from author Shauna Niequist's book, Bread and Wine. In it, she shares about a loyal circle of friends who meet monthly to exchange nourishment - both physical, emotion and spiritual. She talks of hours around a table, feeding one another's bodies and souls, building community and support and life through an evening a month. 

Inspired by her tales, I invited my own loyal circle of friends into a "Cooking Club," that has now been meeting for an entire year. Every gathering is the nourishment I had hoped I would find, and then some. Last week we met and nourished each other with food that carried a story - a beloved grandmother that taught a recipe, a new way of eating and living after illness, a life-changing adventure halfway around the world and back. 
239) Cooking Club (aka Consumption Club) 
240) Leftover Thai soup 
241) Crunchy shells and soft insides

This past month, I had the privilege of being a part of an incredible movement of people through a magazine called, The Phoenix Soul. My article, God is in Darkness, spoke about the tender journey of learning to find God despite all that we suffer, all that we wonder, all that we are left without knowing. And learning to let ourselves be surprised by where the Divine may show up. 

Then, just weeks later, I stumbled upon Rare Bird, a story so breathtaking, so heart-wrenching, so soul-lifting, that I literally could not make myself stop turning the pages. Author, Anna Whiston-Donaldson, writes in her introduction, "Because my God of rules and committee meetings and sermon notes and praise music wasn't going to be enough for pain this big." - and I knew exactly the suffering and suffocation she was describing, I knew she was speaking my soul's language.

Anna blogs regularly at An Inch of Gray, and has welcomed me as a monthly contributor. I got to share my first piece with her readers today, and am so grateful for this opportunity and the beautiful community of readers she has. 
292) Time for the tap, tap, tapping 
293) Signs of Spring and early blooms 
294) Deep breathes in the stillness before dawn
If you haven't yet, will you join me in counting the ways? There's no better time to be thankful, to stand in awe, to notice all the beautiful right nows, than right now.  

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Bacon Avocado Wraps

As promised, I'm sharing a couple of the recipes I tried out  for my daughter's Tutu Cute Ballerina Birthday a few weeks ago. Historically, I have not been very adventurous in the kitchen, but I am finally learning to spread my wings and fly a bit, and am always glad when I do! 

A friend helped me make these delicious Bacon Avocado Wraps for our birthday brunch and they were quickly devoured! These are a great breakfast or brunch addition, or a hearty, healthy afternoon snack. And, they are so easy!!

1 avocado (not too ripe)
1/2 package of lean turkey bacon (12 strips)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1+ tsp chili powder
Yields a dozen

1) These are really so simple! Start by preheating your oven to 450.

2) Cut a large avocado into 12 slices. You'll want your avocado to be slightly firm so that it doesn't turn to mush when you bake.

3) On a plate or in a large rim bowl, mix together the brown sugar & chili powder. 

4) Wrap each slice of avocado with a strip of bacon, as pictured. Dip the bacon wrap into your sugar/chili mixture so that both sides are lightly coated. 

5) Back for 8-12 minutes on an ungreased baking tray at 450 (I baked mine for 10 minutes). 

 6) Remove from baking tray and serve immediately! 

Hope you enjoy! 

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

When We're Too Busy To See

This past weekend we celebrated my son, Kyler's, fourth birthday. Four-years-old - unbelievable! I had, like always, over-extended myself in what I hoped to accomplish for his birthday celebration. Months ahead of time, Kyler had asked for a glow-in-the-dark theme, and in my effort to fully capture that effect, I bought just about every gimmicky glow-in-the-dark product I could find on Amazon. Glow spray paint, glow sticks, glow bouncy balls, glow bracelets, glow you-name-it. Since most of these items either didn't work, or needed to be activated within a couple hours of the party, I had to save a ton of the decorating for the very last minute. 

Kyler's other request was to have my Mama's Cheesy Potato Soup for dinner, which meant that during those last hours of setting everything up for the party, I also needed to be preparing, and then continuously stirring, two enormous pots of soup. Fortunately I had a few helpers on hand, but I was still frazzled and regretting having bitten off so much by the time the first guests started to arrive. 

Because of all this prep-work, Kyler and Havyn had spent much of the afternoon running around our feet, then being sent away to play with their toys. Typically an hour or so of such shooing wouldn't have mattered much, but since it was followed up with almost forty people filling our home, bringing with them an immense amount of noise and activity, my daughter, Havyn, quickly started to break. 

By age two we could tell she was a true introvert, thriving on quietness and solitude. And so this behavioral display was no surprise. And yet, despite the fact that I adore her, despite the fact that I know she is an introvert and is easily stressed by crowds and noise, despite the fact that I value her above any party detail, I found myself rolling my eyes and minimizing her needs. At one point, after Havyn threw herself on the floor and then stomped out of the room, I made this comment to a guest, "You want her? She's driving me crazy!"
It's hard for me to even write those words now. I am embarrassed, a bit ashamed, amazed that I became frazzled enough to lose myself in the activity and in doing so, lost my awareness of what matters most to me. 
The next morning - party packed up, floors swept, kids rested - my husband generously sent me out for coffee with a friend. Almost as soon as I relaxed with a deep breath and a warm cup of chai, the "You want her?" comment from the night before came roaring back into my consciousness. I felt sick with the reality of having spoken such words within hearing distance of my daughter. Up until that point, I hadn't even been aware of having said those words. 

This started a conversation with my coffee-date and dear friend, who is newly married and has had similar experiences in her relationship with her husband. She told me a story about a day when she and fellow co-workers found themselves chatting during a quick break, sharing the usual gossip of married life and painting it all in a very stereotypically negative light. The essence was: Men are dumb, men are messy, men are lazy. 

This friend, who adores and esteems her husband perhaps more than any wife I have ever met, fell in line with the conversation and added a negative comment about her husband to the mix. She described how, like me, not until hours later did she fully realize what she had said. 
And like me, frazzled from a busy workday, consumed with an endless list of things to do, overtaken with a desire to fit in, she had spluttered out words in the moment that were, in fact, exactly opposite of what she truly feels and believes. 
She told the story to her husband that evening and apologized for having spoken the negative comment. The next day, she also apologized to her co-workers, admitting that she had lost herself in the moment and actually felt opposite of what her comments suggested. Inspired by her self-forgiveness and courage, I left our coffee date and went home to a conversation with my baby girl. 

She was just waking up from a nap, so we settled into our usual cuddle-time and book-reading post-nap moments on the couch. With her soft, warm body against mine, I leaned in and said, "Havyn, Mama has something I need to talk to you about." She looked up with those rosy naptime cheeks and her beautiful, wide-eyes, "Ok." 
"Last night, when you were having such a hard time at the party and feeling really frustrated, Mama got too distracted and missed what you were trying to say. I should have stopped and sat with you, listened to your words and your actions, and made space for you to just be you. Instead, I got frustrated and said, "She's driving me crazy!" I am so sorry I said those words, Havy. I don't mean them at all. I love you and I like you and I think you are beautiful just the way you are. Will you please forgive me?"
She smiled and gave me a huge hug, whispering in my ear, "I love you and I like you, too, Mama!" 

I'm thankful for the privilege of getting to say, "I'm sorry" and so thankful for tender hearts that readily receive those words. I also appreciate the opportunity to model to my children imperfection, self-forgiveness and taking responsibility for our actions. 

And yet, I long too for days when I don't so easily get caught up in the to do's, days when I can remain more connected to my heart, despite the chaos and constant demands. I reach toward days when such apologies are required less and less often. I am inspired by these words from Eckhart Tolle, "Don't let a mad world tell you that success is anything other than a successful present moment. And what is that? There is a sense of quality in what you do, even the most simple action. Quality implies care and attention, which come with awareness. Quality requires your Presence." 
In counting the ways I am thankful, in stopping and sharing my stories, in creating space with one deep breathe at a time, I am learning to be more present. 
Present to the beautiful right nows, present to the beating heart within, present to the aching and laughing souls all around. Present to you, too. Not always, not perfectly, not without the need for regular apologies, but slowly I am learning. 

Will you join me in slowing down, stopping to see and sharing your story?

The next 30 Day Writing Challenge starts April 5...need a reason to tell your story? How about six.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Finding that One Slender Thread

When I ask myself, Why write?, the very real, personal answer is simply that it keeps me sane and healthy. I’m a much more whole, happy, focused person when I am consistently writing - expressing my raveled, real self with words and images. Even if I’m writing about a silly childhood memory of a family vacation, my time that day or week with my children is more relaxed and centered, because I’m giving my soul a necessary, creative outlet in writing. 

Beyond that, I write to find myself, and to find meaning. 
In writing my stories, I have learned the most about myself. I have seen disparate pieces of my life come together like a million-piece jigsaw puzzle, astounded at the clear scene I stand gazing at in the end. It is as author and doctor Charles L. Whitfield wrote, "While it is useful for others to hear our stories, the most useful and healing thing about telling our own story is that we, the story teller, get to hear our story. When we tell our story from our hearts, bones and guts, from our Real Self, we discover the truth about ourselves. Doing so is healing.” I have seen this exact thing played out time and time again in my life.

But if I stopped with the question, Why write?, the picture would be very incomplete. It would speak to the calming and healing of my own soul, but say nothing of your soul? 
Nothing of the hearts I encounter every day, in both intimate and passing ways. What if we could meet in that deep, creative, open space, and find our stories intersecting? What if we could experience what author Anne Lammot describes when she wrote, "If a writer or artist creates from a place of truth and spirit and generosity, then I may be able to enter and ride this person’s train back to my own station. 

The inevitable question becomes, Why share? 
I have spent a lot of time working through that question. Working through my need to be affirmed, my desire to be respected and known. Wrestling down the demons of people-pleasing and perfectionism in me. I have had to come back to, Why share?, many times, until I was finally able to see the beauty of owning and sharing something so personal, so very me, is that it gives others permission to do the same for themselves. 
Sharing my raveled, real self gives others permission to express their own selves freely, to question “all the right answers”, to search behind facades and to find that slender thread of meaning woven throughout their own lives. 
The goal for me is freedom and connection. 
Above all, I long for my writing to create a space for others to become familiar with their own stories, to get messy searching and to get comfortable not knowing. 
As author Anne Lammot put it, "I try to write the books I would love to come upon, that are honest, concerned with real lives, human hearts, spiritual transformation, families, secrets, wonder, craziness—and that can make me laugh. When I am reading a book like this, I feel rich and profoundly relieved to be in the presence of someone who will share the truth with me, and throw the lights on a little..." I am alive and well today because of writers like this. And I long, above all, to be a space like that for you. 

I believe with all my being what author Sue Monk Kidd articulated in her book Firstlight, "Discovering our personal stories is a spiritual quest. Without such stories we cannot be fully human, for without them we are unable to articulate or even understand our deepest experiences. I have been on this quest for myself - writing and uncovering and owning what is me - and have experienced incredible healing and clarity and hope. 
Through writing, I have discovered the beauty and inherent goodness of every soul, endowed with divine light by the Divine. 
I have learned to love mystery and to stand in awe of the unknown. I have watched my heart open up to love and to dream and to go forth bravely, where before I sat numb and afraid. 

Why write? To find your story. To find your True Self, stifled by years of shoulds and don'ts and musts. To find that one slender thread - of hope, of Divine love, of truth - woven throughout all your days. And so to find meaning. And joy. And life. 

Ready to find & tell your story? Join me in our next 30 Day Writing Challenge!
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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Tutu Cute: Pink and Gold Ballerina Birthday Party

Unbelievably, my baby girl turned 3 a couple weeks ago, and since she has been talking about having a Ballerina Birthday Party since well before Christmas, that is exactly what she got! We filled our little home with over thirty adults and their kiddos for a Pink & Gold Ballerina celebration. I'm excited to get to share the end result with you today!

My favorite time of day to host a party is brunch - I love all the food options and the fact that guests & host alike still have most of their day left after the celebration ends. We served some incredibly yummy food this year (recipes coming soon!). 

On the Menu: 
Raspberry vanilla yogurt parfaits 
Homemade granola 
Spinach sausage egg muffins 
Asparagus mozzarella crescent rolls 
Pink lemonade with raspberry ice 
Strawberry-lemon infused water 
One of my earliest inspirations for this event came from these adorable free printables from Reflections Out Loud. I love the simple silhouette of the little ballerina and added my own flair by embellishing her tutu with gold glitter! I used these graphics to also create my own cupcake toppers, favor tags and food labels.

Ready for a closer look?! 
Cute gift wrapping can double as party decor! 
Little pink & gold circles strung by thread added the perfect touch to the tissue paper pom-poms. 

One of my favorite new party ideas is to embellish a styrafoam cup with a matching circle printable and ribbon!

These fabulous, reusable gold mason jar lids came from The Swiss Miss Closet
Our home was sprinkled with lots of glitter, lots of squeals and even a custom Ballet Studio in our basement. My husband created a moveable ballet barre out of PVC pipe and I fancied the "stage" with lots of pink & gold polka dots and a "Havyn's Ballet Studio" banner. Every guest got a ribbon wand and favor box with jewels to add to their ballerina outfits!
This little printable came from Design Dazzle's Retro Vintage Alphabet Cards. 
Thanks to everyone who helped make this such a special celebration for our sweet Havyn Brielle!

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