Friday, August 30, 2013

This All Makes Perfect Sense if You Know Us

It was a legendary week.
Two dates in six days. BOOOOM.

I don't know why, but I always want to blog about our dates. It feels important. Significant, even.
Life-changing? Paradigm-shifting? Perhaps.

They return me to my soul and my sanity, that's all. No big deal.

I have noticed some patterns emerging in recent years.
It's normal for dates to involve food, but do most dates involve naps? The good ones do.

Date Day: Saturday

Though I'm inclined to gloss over the details, I'll go ahead and spill it because secrets make me twitchy. We had 6 hours together and hardly any cash. So, we did what any reasonable people would do: Lunch at Chipotle with a gift card courtesy of Memorial Hospital. (Thanks for all the bravery, Calv!)

Then we weren't miserably full, so we grabbed kiddie scoops of Ritters Custard (Red Raspberry and Heath, split down their middles).

We talked about seeing a movie, ended up at our favorite divey park (the one where you found out I'm secretly all ripped and shredded), read a few pages in our books...and promptly fell asleep under a shade tree. Just like last time.

We roused ourselves in time for a splurgey dinner at Olive Garden.

So basically, eat, eat, sleep, eat.
AKA, Heaven.

Date Night: Thursday

We've already clarified that I have no interest in trying to appear cool, yes?
Well, I love Phillips Craig and Dean.
Or, as I like to call them: Bill Murray, Rick Warren, and Cory's Former Boss.

I promise you know some of their songs. This is my favorite. No, thisThis. Whatever. They're all good. They're the Christian REO Speedwagon, and don't tell me that doesn't entice you.

Calvin tried to come with us, but we escaped kidless, clutch in hand.

I'll cut to the chase: I've never felt younger or cooler, and that's saying something. We were in the very back row, which was perfect, because here's something else you need to know about me: I will not stand, clap, or repeat things back on command. Won't do it. That's the hill I've chosen to die on.

So while all our elders stood and clapped around, we parked it and watched the big screen. It was so good and I'm not just saying that because they had chimes.

After 14 years together, I just still really like my guy, beard and all. (Though if I had my druthers...) I like hanging out with him. I like that I can be opinionated and quiet with him. I'm glad that I can wake him up just as he's falling asleep to re-hash something that's already been hashed to death. I like it that he lets me sleep in some Saturdays. I like it that he encourages my salsa habit.

Next concert on our list? Avett Brothers. Or Mumford. It must happen. I don't know. Cory won't shut up about it until it happens. He may have to sell a limb, but Chaplains don't really need two arms, do they?

What's your date routine? Are you weirdos or normal people?
What's the best concert you've ever been to?

I'm full of questions and it's a 3-day weekend.
Lay it on me. Thick.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Distract Me

Here's something I've learned about myself: When life gets wonky, I default to certain things, mainly food. But also flowers.

When I have the most on my plate, the most emotional turmoil or baggage, when I'm at heart or head capacity, I run straight into the arms of Susan, Black-Eyed.

Call it a distraction. Compartmentalization.

All I know is, a wild-flower has never broken my heart, spilled cat-food down the stairs, talked on the land-line for 10 hours in one day, mooned his brother, complained about dinner, or given me a deadline.

These little beauties were on Sarah's windowsill when I was there last week for dinner.

I was immediately transfixed.
I experienced instantaneous Nutmeg coveting.

Aren't you more peaceful than you were 5 minutes ago?

You're welcome.

In a stunning twist, 2 days ago Silas was scrolling through Facebook (naturally) and came to a similar picture on Sarah's wall. "Aw! These are so new! I wish we could get some!"

So, duh, we did.

Sidenote: I'm not a photographer. At least 50% of the times I try to spot-meter, this sort of thing happens.

The bigger problem? I love it.

I'm the Charlie Daniels of the Canon.
The Andy Warhol of the spice rack.

The copy-cat of the windowsill psychotropics.

For what it's worth, see that blur of fabric over to the left of Sarah's flowers?

It's a napkin curtain. So we're even.

Lest anyone worry, things are going really well here under our roof. We're happy and adjusting and it just so happens that I inherited one very chatty 19 year old who spends his days with me and one very chatty 4 year old.

I could not possibly be luckier.

But still, with all the talking.

I'll have more to say about all of this, but for now, I shall leave you with this conversation, one I share with  Robert's permission:

R: Mom, have you heard about all this Miley Cyrus stuff?
Me: Yes, but I haven't watched it.
R: (shaking his head) She just needs people to stop judging her. (getting wound up) she had all those people tell her what to do her whole life! If she wanna be twerking, she should be twerking!
Me: But she's lost all her self-respect...
R: Well. She has changed a lot since her Hannah Montana days...
Me: She needs Jesus.
Me: She needs Jesus!
R: Well, I wrote her. On facebook and twitter. I told her I love all her songs, all her movies, and all her shows and -
Me: (DYING laughing) Are you serious right now?
R: Yeah!!? I wanted to throw her some support. She don't be deserving all this judgment. She's grown!

Someone, quick! Pass me a flower!
I'll be your zinnia if you'll be my primrose.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Today's Faves

Kid Fave:


One year ago, Calvin resorted to telling any and all Hispanic persons about his love for "huevos con chorizo" because it was the only bit of Spanish that he was confident in. Now, the littles are all soaking up the language wherever they can get it. This dvd is perfect for them. (There are 11 language programs, total.)

I'm hoping they learn quickly, so they can teach me.

Pretty Fave:

My fashionABLE leather clutch.

Full disclosure: I've never been a clutch sort of girl. I'm more the "cavernous monstrosity" variety. Cory refuses to look for anything in my bags.They are ancient, untidy and unforgivable.

So I was skeptical.

But listen, see how my clutch looks a little bulky up top? It is holding a large zip-up wallet, my phone, a lip gloss, and a paper back book. These are my essentials and I had to see if it worked. (I may admittedly be missing the point behind a clutch...)

It did work, and I'm feeling sleek as a cat with my perfectly distressed leather. It's just the sort of thing to elevate my jeans, old T, and damp hair.

All of the leather products are handmade in Ethiopia by women earning a fair wage. I can't stress enough how impressed I am by this company. And what a bonus that we can support this business and look all stylish.

Today only (August 27th), fashionABLE is offering free shipping on all leather. Think early Christmas shopping!

Food Fave:

Grilled pork chops with grilled peaches, balsamic, and blue cheese. Please make this as soon as possible. Do it exactly as they say to do it, because they're the experts, after all.

Send salsa in lieu of gifts and cards of thanks.

Book Fave:

All I can say is this: I'm stealing away to read half a page. I'm staying up way too late. I'm all-in.

What are you hooked on right now?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

State of the Hood - Year in Review (Vol. 2)

A little over one year ago, we were obsessively driving from our old digs to our new town to check the progress on our home. I cringe now to think of the money we spent on gas, but what can we say? It was exciting.

It all seemed so abstract back then. We'd traipse around on particle-board flooring and I would try to imagine the future. I'll be sleeping in this in this kitchen... It was surreal, close enough to reach out and touch but so far away that it felt like a story I was reading, not a life I would soon be living.

Finally, we moved. The house was new but we stayed mostly the same. It was comforting. It was also a bit of a let-down.

Slowly, though, we were moved. Without much warning, feeling finally home but still shifting in our seats, our hearts steadied to the tune of mariachi music and freight trains.

We began to learn the routes, to memorize them, daydream them. We found ourselves saying that one day we'd see the faces behind the walls.

Maybe that's when we knew we'd found home.

I've talked about the bad news. That was easier than this. It's tricky to pin down the upshots. There's too much room for error. I don't trust my memory enough to do it all justice.

So lets just say these are neighborhood highlights. Inconclusive. Abridged by way of a flighty girl who pines for good but no doubt misses plenty.

* It turns out, there's plenty of pretty in the city. I used to worry about this and it feels pretty silly now. Flowers still bloom here and the light still catches the air in a way that makes me want to kiss it. There is beauty to be found everywhere, every single day, and it waits for me. So the girl who used to swoon at hay bales and picket fences now hits the brakes for a graffiti-covered retaining wall. She cocks her head and feels the underlying loveliness of a crumbling bungalow. And yeah, she still stops for flowers and all-things-farmy, because some things just weren't meant to be re-wired.

* We took part in neighborhood clean-up day, neighborhood Help-A-House, and the legendary funky-junk neighborhood pride parade. All of these moments and hundreds of tinier ones made us laugh at the way God flings us about without warning, changing parts of us at His whims, making us, at turns, unrecognizable to ourselves (in the very best ways). We always missed this sort of thing when we lived on our farm. We just didn't know it.

* We got to know our smallish and mid-sized neighbors. Teenagers started knocking on our doors mostly around the dinner-hour. We shared fried chicken, baked Christmas cookies and strawberry cakes. Most recently, Harmonica (as Ruby still sometimes calls her on accident) burst into our front door on a Saturday morning without knocking bellowing a much-too-loud, Boo! (We're working on boundaries. It often feels like an uphill ride.) Belinda rushed in announcing straight A's on her report card (this is highly suspicious and we didn't ask for proof - we just doled out high fives and applauded her enthusiasm.) Smaller people circled around our kids and on days like today, they roller-skate, mix potions, construct elaborate schemes and generally play together outside like a pack of little bosses, dripping in sweat, running in for quick drinks of water, too busy for lunch. Let's just say I love it.

 * We got to know our us-sized neighbors. Some of them. Not enough of them. But we've made friends for life,  we've forged connections that feel like miracles. We all take them at face value, knowing it was just what we needed. When April screams at me from half a block away, "Hey! I quit smoking cigarettes!" I feel honored to be the one on the receiving end. When Nancy with the owl-hat walks by every day at noon, I'm thankful. I feel better knowing she's here. (I'm slow in bravery when it comes to traversing a substantial language barrier that exists between myself and many of my neighbors. I'm dying to resurrect my latent EspaƱol.) 

* Chamberlain Elementary is the bomb, okay? We cannot be swayed in this opinion. Every morning I drop my biggers off at the door, where the Principal stands, greeting each child by name. Every afternoon, same routine. Because our school is overwhelmingly populated by families living in poverty, lunch is free for everyone, along with school supplies and even breakfast, if you want it. I'm not gonna lie, it's a perk. They serve "Fresh Snack" three times per week. When you walk into the office you're greeted by friendly faces and a gigantic poster, "A Child is Not a Test Score". These teachers fight for these kids, many of whom enter school without being fluent in English. They are tough and kind. Before year's end I helped with countless PTO Popcorn Days and we had 2 Chamberlain Champs under our roof. Ruby pronounces "Saul" like "Sow-Ool" and they classify the Jose's by last initial. This school is beautifully diverse and my kids don't even notice. That, my friends, is perfection to me. It's what I always hoped for.

* Our block is making a come-back. I mean, they planted some trees! That was a great day. Said trees are barely taller than us, but it doesn't stop us from parking our plastic lawn chairs curb-side in their wee patches of shade to read our books or watch the kids play.

*The two neighboring abandoned homes I had grown to love? Gone. Replaced by a vast stretch of grass and two apple trees with the branches almost touching the ground. (Totally asking if we can pick. Produce is a terrible thing to waste!)

* We found a church we love, one that shares our heart and soul, if not our age-bracket. (Age is so overrated.) We found people who embrace us like family. They bake us casseroles when I jet off to Ethiopia and offer to watch the Silanator. They are our people.

* Cory started working full-time at the County jail as the Chaplain. To say we never saw this one coming is the understatement of the millennium. It is a perfect fit. It turns out money is also overrated when sized up against having all we need. This was a no-brainer and we're thankful every day for the opportunity. (Check this article out. And this one for a little back-story.)

I'm sure I'm missing lots of Goodness, but you see what I mean, right? It has been a great year.

{At the airport, kids + Mommy.}

 {At the airport. Kids + The Beard.}

Our family has grown closer as we've learned to share more. This love, it is always multiplied, never divided. There's enough for us and there is no them.

Oh, one more good thing that's happened this year?

This guy is home.

He's been here for over a week.
I'll have plenty more to say about it, but for now? Just know that it's so good.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Hear Me Out.

It's just that it's getting late and I've got food on the brain.

I know I said I'd be back with State of the 'Hood - Vol II, but I'm feeling all Friday-ish. I'm hopped up and breathing easy.

In short: I don't have the necessary attention span to do that post justice.

Can we still be friends?

Speaking of friends (like how I did that?) - Sarah cooked for me and Holly a few nights ago. It doesn't happen often enough. Makes me mad. She acts like she has a husband and a life and a step-son and a full-time job commanding her attention. She acts like I'm not her problem.

But every now and then....I weasel in.

I'm such a flipping sucker for food.

And before anyone thinks I'm getting too big for my britches with all this fancy food, let me assure you: I'm getting too big for my britches with all this fancy food. As in, bring on the elastic waistband.

But before anyone thinks I'm some sort of a food snob, or acts like it's too much pressure to cook for me, let me tell you the simple truth: I could eat Taco Bell 5 days out of 7. Not even playing. I love Eggo waffles and too many dear varieties of cold cereal to name. My heart cries for hot 'n sour soup from the dive Chinese place. I have been known to enjoy cheese "food" from a can.

I love good food.

The end.

Okay, no. Not done.

{cocktail hours}

{fancy cheese - basil something or other cheese! who woulda??}

 {burst tomatoes for...}

I died.


Whatever. I don't have time to parse the transcendence of this meal right now. There's more food to dish on.

Does this crop make my plate look fat?
Be honest, I come in too close.

I like to be up in the biz.

This shot is dangerously far away. I can't even smell the basil.

Hi, pickles!

Note: If you invite me over for a fancy, all-tomato meal, this is what I'll bring: all-tomato salad and a jar of pickles.

I can't be bothered. I prefer being catered to in situations such as these.

{Blackberry pie with vanilla bean ice cream}
{And someone was genius enough to think of digging the drunken peaches out of the pitcher}
{But I won't name names.}

This night was so much of what I needed. I'm so thankful for my people. They love me so well.

And speaking of my people, I just stole these pics off Sarah's FB. She won't mind.

We're all very happy to be together! Sarah is all chill. And I'm normal for the split-second moment!

Don't talk, Shannan! You know you're not good at multi-tasking! Shut UP!

Holly always looks so pretty when she's laughing. Hate her.

Sarah's losing her pretty, ever-so-slightly...
Holly's still putting us to shame...
And I'm a total creeper.

The truth is out. I'm the opposite of photo-ready.

So there. Sue me. I don't have IG, okay? I get my food fix in the unabridged version.

And I'll just warn you, I feel like there's more where this came from.

Movie night is calling my name.

Happy Friday night, Homies!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

State of the Hood - Year in Review (vol 1)

{Ruby is officially taller than Calvin. We'd rather not talk about it.}

{Nervous feet.}

My biggish little people have been in school for over two weeks now. It is insane to me.

Exactly one year ago we were sending them off to a new school, unsure of almost everything except for the fact that it would all be fine. We were right about that, and there’s more.

It's been a fantastic year.

A hard year, in many ways. A stretching year. A humbling year.

A really fun year.

Our family has had front-row seats to life at its fullest, the wrenching and the magnificent and the beautiful  mundane. From where I sit right now, I can tell you for sure that none of my 35 years up to this one has come close in terms of complexity or drama.

{We like our porch furniture sturdy and blue.}

We stepped into a life that often feels much too big for us. Some nights the lights go out and we wonder what we’ve done, we doubt we can do it. But the sun always rises and for every hard night there’s a fistful of goodness.

So we’ve changed the way we frame success. All we hope for at the end of another long week is that we’re all still here, preferably upright and, with any measure of grace, wearing a smile. We hope for a slight tilt of the scales, in our favor. That’s all. And when we’re no better than even, when the bad days win, we believe in full that this is still where we’re meant to be.

So let’s start with the bad news. (To soften the blow, I'll keep throwing in photos from our neighborhood, because they make me really happy.)

* There was a homicide/suicide mid-way down our street. It happened at 8 a.m. on the sidewalk, just a block down from Silas’s pre-school. A month or so later, a drive-by shooting at a house that border’s the property of the elementary school. We heard the shots at 10 pm from our couch and wondered why people were shooting fireworks in the dead of winter.

* The day after the drive-by, fewer than half of the students showed up to school because some idiot had scrawled a threat on a bathroom stall somewhere and most parents across the county chose to react in fear. We opted to never breathe a word about it to Calvin and Ruby, then read them the David and Goliath story and sent them off to school, confident that the same God who made them was sovereign over all their days, school and otherwise. (They thought they won the school lottery that day and it was so endearing to hear their explanations.)

* There was a rash of nasty graffiti vandalism, culminating in the destruction of this amazing mural, which is directly across the street from the school. It made me sick to my stomach when we rolled in and saw it. I drove by mid-day and saw a city worker trying to scrub was covered. At 2:45, I pulled in to pick up the kids -- and it was perfect again! So holla! for protective coatings. Whew. A sad story with a happy ending.

 {One of our neighbors hand-wires every limb of every tree with these silk flowers. Just - dear.}

* I attended my first public city hearing because two properties belonging to our infamous local slum lord had burn to the ground and he refused to remove the rubble for, oh, 3 or 4 months. I spoke into the microphone with shaking knees (I don’t know) and he looked like a sad old man, not at all the villain I had imagined. Still, dude. Clean your mess up. And stop being so jerky.

 {Any takers? We could be neighbors!}

* Cory had a few hundred dollars of power tools stolen from his wonky Pontiac Sunfire while we slept. Ironically, we would have been better off if they had placed the tools on our drive-way and taken the car instead. For two kids born and raised in the country without locks on the front doors, accustomed to leaving the keys in the ignition overnight, it was bound to happen. But the theft serves as a good reminder, and we keep trying to learn.

{May every house in Heaven have an awning.}

* Finally, perhaps the lowest moment of all: the day my super-rad neighbor finally accepted a ride from me into town for the first time ever, after multiple offers:

Super-rad neighbor: They didn’t accept our offer on the house. (Editor’s note: house is in our neighborhood and was listed at $22k.) My uncle is making his last offer today but that’ll be it. He can’t go any higher.

Me: I’ve been praying all weekend and I’m not going to stop now.

SRN: I’m just so nervous. I don’t want to get my hopes up. Josh (her son) said maybe good things just weren’t meant to happen to us… We’ve had so much disappointment.

Me: (Engaging turn signal, turning into CVS parking lot) Trust me, I have a very good feeling. Today’s going to be a good day.


And she screamed. And then she cried a little and pulled up pictures of her kids’ 4-H bunnies while I apologized profusely and Silas yelled from the back of the van, “We need to take that bunny to the doctor so they can fix him!”

I couldn’t, I wouldn’t make this stuff up.

In case you wondered, she did forgive me and if anything, the tragedy bonded us for life.

My point is, we’ve met our share of heartburns and heartaches this year. It hasn’t been simple, not at all. We’ve faced the tragic death of loved ones. Our oldest son was sent to prison. Our middlest son was very sick. We’ve pressed into the lives around us, the ones that need us, the ones that have loved us for a long time, the ones with the sad eyes rimmed extra-dark. We’ve shared their pain to the point that it threatened to wreck us.

In the process, we became family; a griping, arguing, worn-out, crazy-loud, complicated, messy, laugh-til-you-pee, hungry-all-the-flipping-time kinship of brokenness and gratitude. There’s nothing Hallmark or Walton about us, and I wouldn’t dare try to gild this scruff. 

But every day is a new one, each carting around the possibility that it may be just the one to tip the scales in our favor and send us to bed with a song.

Speaking of bed, it’s not even 9 and I’m flat done. I'm sorry this was so long-winded and even sorrier that I don't have it in me to continue. This world-traveler gig isn’t for the faint of heart and it turns out I’m eight shades past faint.

But come back tomorrow and I’ll share the good news from the year. I'll warn you now, the post will be even longer.