Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mixed Reflections from a Mama at the Beach

Funny how getting away changes one’s perspective, whether it’s a family reunion or visit, a mission trip, a true vacation alone or with one’s spouse or immediate family, or simple day trip away.  Not to demean “Staycations” – sometimes those are wonderful, especially when the budget demands it. For me, the key to a modified outlook is getting away of my house, detached from daily reminders of responsibilities, projects and other unfinished business. Wresting control from the temptation to do, do, do is usually accomplished not (sadly) from personal discipline in my space, but removing myself from it.

Nothing like a beach trip to do that. The hustle-bustle of urban/suburban life where we city folk live is an illusion of control, one we work hard to nurture. Technology, plastic money, and instant everything has provided us with that ability to enable that fantasy. We can tap into world news, converse with friends, purchase items, manage investments, monitor accounts, and a myriad of other tasks all from our little smart phones. And that’s just the technology. We can also build a house complete with full landscape including trees in a matter of weeks and tear another one down a house in one hour.  Yet the crashing waves of an ocean, as my brother insightfully noted, looks the same now as it did 5,000 years ago. Ain’t nothin’ we can do to move the ocean. It’s easy to absorb either the party atmosphere or the relaxation aspects of the beach culture, but either way each is a big change from daily life at home. For us moms of younger kids, life at a beach house isn’t always a total vacation as meals still need to be made, dishes washed, general clean-up, parenting. It’s always on the radar.

As I sat at the kitchen table making a shopping list for meals looking up to see the view of the sea through the glass doors on this lovely beachfront property, I fantasized about a vacation away in which I could actually lie on the sofa and read for three hours – or just daydream -- and not be on the clock.

One of the greatest joys is seeing the cousins connect on different levels. One cousin teaching another a new game, then the favor is returned with teaching a different game. New jokes and humorous narratives created to be laughed at for years to come. Memories built and shared that helps weave the tapestry of our heritage and communal lives. Wish we lived closer.

As the week came to a close, Matthew returned home a day early to prepare for a mission trip with our church to Honduras. His first time out of the country. To go to a remote village – I f you could even call it a village; it’s basically a bunch of houses on a hill – and connect with the people. This mission team has gone each year since Hurricane Mitch’s devastation in 1998, built substantial housing, installed a system of clean water, and provided some spiritual direction especially for the kids with Vacation Bible School. This is a place where the kids don’t have $150 sneakers and the latest iPhones.

But back to my baby far away. As he prepared to leave the beach, excited about his impending adventure, I found I couldn’t conjure up the same excitement – and I’m a big fan of international travel. Despite my oldest boy being a reasonably responsible 15-year old who was surely ready to handle such a trip, all I could feel was the heartrending emotion of having one’s child plucked from her arms. So many things I’d not said or done, too many criticisms and not enough affirmations. Would this be the year of the tragic plane crash that would make the papers? Could he contract some horrible illness and go down before they could medevac him home? Oh the insane places my brain can go.

As I hugged him goodbye, feebly telling him to take good care of himself, restraining myself from clinging to him, he flashed his big smile at me that said “Love ya Mom, I’m good,” and shut the car door. After they drove off, I couldn’t keep the tears from falling and proceeded to sob in my room for 30 minutes. As I’m not much of a crier, I felt washed out the rest of the day. Whether it was primal Mother Bear instincts or my anxiety, tendency-to-catastrophize brain hardwiring or a goulash of premenstrual hormones, I was just a mess that day.

However, thankfully my trip home with one of my other sons was restful and positive as he is such a joy to be with. And the blog entries from the mission trip displayed wonderful photos and narrative about the week’s activities which helped me feel encouraged and free from most anxiety. Matthew looked happy and engaged in the pictures. And not only did he come home safely, he enjoyed it so much he didn't want to come back!

Matthew, Yosimar, Emma, Anna, and Cecelia


Friday, June 8, 2012

I'll Take An Enormous Order of Kudzu Please

Today, my three boys and I went over to Chastain Park to take part in a most unusual event for a city of 6 million people: Breakfast With The Sheep. Co-sponsored by Trees Atlanta and the Chastain Park Conservancy, this event is part of a larger initiative to help rid the land of the notorious and invasive plant Kudzu, a ubiquitous climbing, coiling, trailing vine that was introduced to the U.S. as far back as 1876.

A herd of sheep have basically been parachuted down (okay transported) into the park to accomplish this goal in a sustainable way. And funny too. This plant, as you can see at below, is a monster that grows all over the highways and into people’s space. More on its history later.

This was the kick-off of Trees Atlanta’s Have You Herd summer program of invasive-plant-eating around Atlanta. A local land management firm named Ewe-niversally Green hired over 100 hungry, four-foot ovines to be a “low-impact solution for controlling invasive plants on sites that do not contain sensitive or endangered plants, as well as on steeply sloped properties.”

And this is the amazing part: “Each sheep can eat up to 150 square feet of kudzu per day, so we expect the sheep to clear this site in fourteen days or less.” Evidently, kudzu is highly palatable to livestock so the buffet is always open and the customers are happy. They only need a shepherd, an electric fence and guard dogs for their short-term contract work.

So, in a brilliant move, these two nonprofit organizations collaborated with the Ritz Carlton who provided tasty treats and coffee, and other local vendors who prepared arts and crafts and environmental education tables, and made a free event out of it for the public! Pretty savvy cross-promotional marketing. Television news stations and newspaper photographers were on hand to capture the story, which will, for once, be a positive news piece that should lift people’s moral. Beats the near-daily bludgeoning of journalistic fare consisting of apartment fires, shootings and education scandals.

I was so jazzed by the community response; the line of cars just went on and on. People came in droves and of course the little kids were practically hanging over the fence roping to feed the woolies kudzu and branches of some green shrub which of course the sheep were happy to eat. Full-grown sheep, mostly closely shorn, as well as little lambs and a few goats and kids moved around the pen in their typical style of leaderless herd behavior. Occasionally you could hear one of them “baaaa”. Photographers and videographers were in the pen shooting up close and filming in-your-face footage with the cameras literally on the ground. Can’t wait to see the news this evening.
For the nonAtlantans, Chastain Park is a wonderful green space and the largest city park in Atlanta, totaling 268 acres. The local community is very involved in the management of different aspects of the park which include a golf course, tennis courts, a very large pool, playground, amphitheatre that hosts a summer concert series, sports fields, a basketball court, grill and picnic area, hilltop field, walking/biking trails, and a creek running bisecting it.
Now for kudzu. This plant, like cockroaches, may have its place… but it ain’t here. Unfortunately in the
19th century it was viewed as an ornamental plant. By the 1930’s, agricultural experts encouraged farmers to grow it as a forage plant since it could grow in poor soil. It was shipped out all over the South and planted, and by 1945, about half million acres had kudzu was growing on farmlands. It apparently hadn’t yet had time to show how damaging it can be. Finally in the 1950’s people started to figure out kudzu’s true nature, noticing how it grew upward or outward. That bad boy can grow nearly a foot a day and 60 to 100 feet a season! It will crawl over almost any fixed object including cars and will kill other vegetation by smothering them and blocking sunlight. This has become the stuff of Southern folklore and humor (i.e. “the plant that ate the South”).
With present environmental awareness, folks don’t want toxic chemicals sprayed on the vegetation killing the very plants they hope to save, not to mention poisoning the soil, and are wisely are looking back to their agrarian ancestors’ way of life, employing God’s sweet and simple ruminants to do the job cleanly.
            Unfortunately, though the boys and I arrived only 25 minutes into the event, there were no pastries left on the 18-foot table, just juice and coffee. However, there was a cute sculpture of Shaun the Sheep (a character from the hugely popular children’s videos and feature films “Wallace and Gromit”). Here's my new friend, sustainability writer Pattie Baker, creator of Foodshed Planet, and author of Food for My Daughters. Visit her blog!

My guys were incredibly disappointed to miss the gourmet food. So I bought them some gelato that was being sold at the scene.

Once the sheepies munch their way through the Buckhead terrain, they will mow down more kudzu in other green spaces, helping improve Atlanta’s collective urban forest. Despite missing out on the gourmet food, we had a good time and it was an uplifting event. We look forward to spotting the sheep in the next two weeks while they make one of city parks their home for a fortnight.  
Editors: email me at if you think I would be a good fit for your publication. For public relations and writing services, see my website at and LinkedIn profile at

Friday, April 20, 2012

Spring Break and Holy Week

We spent a relatively quiet and au naturel spring break as a family at a comfortable lake house. With a lakefront view, canoes, fishing poles, books, board games, books, (homework), and the smell of wildflowers, we were set to enjoy the beauty of spring. The only downer was the intensive tree pollen for Matthew, who’s terribly allergic, and this year’s pollen counts were off the charts. Perhaps it was due to Mother Nature deleting the “winter program” this year and fast-forwarding to spring. For the rest of us, the air was just perfect: cool and low humidity. Since my oven is in bad shape, thanks to a grease fire that now leaves the kitchen smelling awful any time it’s used, I haven’t baked anything and only cooked on the stovetop. So having a functioning oven at this house in which I could roast a pork loin was wonderful!

It was Holy Week and we began the vacation on Saturday before Palm Sunday. I can’t remember a time when I’ve missed a Palm Sunday service; even Nicholas said he missed folding the branches into the shape of a cross. But though we weren’t at church, it was possible to feel God’s presence all around us in nature. Hard to look at a natural setting with blooming plants and not be conscious of a Creator. And Wesley and I finished reading a pictorial of Pilgrim’s Progress that we’d been working through during the Lenten season.

As much as I love my home, it was good to be away from that environment and all the reminders of unfinished projects and our tiresome routines (“Boys, clean up this hurricane zone that is your room” and “Get back to the piano and finish your practice”)  Instead we spent a lot of time in nature.
 Hiking on a woodland trail, we found an animal skull

learned how to spot poison ivy, and found possible animal caves under exposed tree roots. Good stuff.

The weather couldn’t have been better. It’s been a while since I’ve lain in the grass and just looked up at the sky. Being still is hard for me, even when I purposely sit down to meditate; within 5 minutes, I’m moving around again to either stretch or do something that seems pressing before I make myself get still again.

We built good memories as a family too –

it wasn’t an expensive and glamorous trip to Disney World

or Italy, like some of the boys’ other friends

but it was simple, fun and enjoyable.

And though we weren't in church much, I think we were aware of God's presence in His creation.

On Good Friday, I attended a service that was mostly chanted in a monastic style, another wonderful way to break free of the fast-paced, high-tech world in which we rush around and get overstimulated. Walking through Jesus' trial and crucifixion made the Paschal Triduum (the last three days of Lent meant for prayer) gave a more contemplative sense to the weekend, leading to Easter Sunday's rejoicing in the gift of salvation and grace.

Upon returning we found the eggs in a bird's nest, built in one of the shelves of our garage, had tiny chicks that had poked their way out while we were away. Little beaks straining upward, opening wide at any sound, hoping it was food.

And just this week, a mere 10 days later, they've opened their eyes and grown big enough to fly the coop. I found this little guy hanging out in the garage -- check out the eyebrows.

I'm already missing our little family. But life moves on and the juveniles are now flitting about in the yard, encouraged by their parents who fly around them, behind to nudge them forward and ahead for them to follow.

Onward and upward

Friday, March 23, 2012

Review (and Spoiler Alert) for “The Hunger Games”

For those of you who haven’t read the numerous reviews of the new blockbuster movie “The Hunger Games” by professional film critics -- and even for those of you who have – here’s the word from the street.

My kids and I are big fans of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy and had been itching for this movie to be made since reading the book three years ago. Let’s just say after following the entire production process from financing to hiring the director to casting to filming, I was quite excited to obtain passes to a screening from my friend Marci, founder of the movie club and website Cinemoms. So my two older sons (and a friend) and I headed off to stand in line for an hour with a few hundred other rabid fans, anxious we’d be turned away due to possible overbooking by the promoters. Thankfully, it was a large theatre and much of the press didn’t show up for their reserved seats.

So, how was the movie? Was it true to the book? Did the actors live up to the strength of their characters? Was it too Hollywood? Did it leave all the good parts on the cutting room floor? Was Jennifer Lawrence able to carry the entire film and truly embody Katniss Everdeen? Could the producers and director effectively make the leap from page to screen?

My simple answer, from only one viewing – and I plan to see it again – is, it was good…good enough to see a second time in the theatre. Not without flaws but at least they didn’t bring the story down. I was surprised at how well the actors fit their roles – the only real disappointments for me were 1) how short Josh Hutcherson (Peeta Mellark) was, and 2) the cast from the poor districts looked too well-fed and not miserable enough. Oh well, it’s a long shot to starve the actors for real.
For the two or three of you left in this country who still aren’t familiar with the plot, here’s a quick summary: North America is now a post-apocalyptic nation called Panem with a ruling, prosperous Capitol surrounded by 12 impoverished districts that serve it. In their past, rebels tried to overthrow the government and were subdued. In order to quell any future rebellions, the leaders have created a brutal annual tradition as a grim reminder of who's in charge. The Hunger Games is a competitive, televised event, a gladiator-style fight-to-the-death between teenagers, or “tributes”, who are randomly chosen in a Reaping. There is only one winner. It’s basically a combination of ancient Rome’s throwing Christians to the lions and “Survivor”. And an incredible commentary on totalitarianism and Reality TV.

The film opens with a brief scene introducing the heroine Katniss and her fragile little sister Prim, showing the audience their tender relationship. Jennifer Lawrence “takes the stage” from the start, showing her spunky, gritty personality (much like her rough-around-the-edges character in “Winter’s Bone”). For a 20-year old actress, Lawrence believably played a youthful yet vigilant 16-year old. When she goes to hunt outside the electric fence boundary in the open woods of the Appalachians, we get a glimpse of District 12, shot in the mountains of western North Carolina. It looked like a Walker Evans photograph from the Depression. Snappy shots of world-weary people on porches of their dilapidated homes in drab-colored clothing, quickly and wordlessly illustrate the backdrop of Katniss’ dingy coal-mining village.

Gale, her hunting buddy, played by hunky Australian actor Liam Hemsworth, playfully interrupts her (to muffled squeals of young female audience members) and we immediately see their bond as fellow food providers living on the edge. Hemsworth totally looks the part though his character isn’t well developed in this movie. Gale’s growing rebelliousness and desire to escape soon become apparent. By the Reaping scene, the energy drawn from his long-suppressed anger emerges as he channels it into advising Katniss.

We meet Peeta (even more screeches), the baker’s son, at the Reaping and straight away we see his innocence and sweetness. Josh Hutcherson has the perfect personality for Peeta – though a little short, he’s good-natured, likeable, earnest, tough yet tender.

Effie Trinket (Katniss' "handler" from the Capitol) is fabulously and irritatingly played by Elizabeth Banks. Her giddy but intense character, outrageously dressed, gives the first real insight into the shocking disparity between the lifestyles of the Capitol and that of the districts. It’s basically Tim Burton-esque, garish, surreal decadence vs. 1930’s-like browbeaten masses. Retro and futuristic all in one weird world.

Woody Harrelson, whom I couldn’t have imagined playing Haymitch Abernathy, the only District 12 winner and mentor of all tributes from his area, was surprisingly engaging. The book portrayed him as a raving drunk, perpetually soaked not only with liquor but with winner guilt, grief, and cynicism. The film highlights only the latter but also shows both his frustration with and mounting investment in Katniss and her unexpected success despite her defiance toward the Game Makers. He develops as an ally, though not a warm and cuddly one.

Donald Sutherland was not who I imagined in the role of the insidious President Snow (I pictured the bent, scrawny, oily Mr. Burns from “the Simpsons” rather than the bearded, filled-out Sutherland). The film doesn’t explain what the book does about Snow being sickly from drinking small amounts of poison to divert suspicion from his method of eliminating his enemies. Anyhow, over the course of the movie, Sutherland’s face reveals his menacing, evil persona, making him increasingly scarier.

As the tributes prepare, we all too quickly catch sight of who Katniss is up against, some more gentle (Rue) and other “Careers”, those who’ve trained all their lives for the Games, more vicious (Cato, Clove and Glimmer). Rue, played by Amandla Stenberg, is just adorable and just right.

The Head Gamemaker Seneca Crane is built up in the film (barely mentioned in the book) but played brilliantly by Wes Bentley with a wickedly shaped beard. He nails the character’s twisted ambition to create the coolest chess game, despite human collateral damage. He appears without much explanation in the very beginning, interviewed by Caesar Flickerman (the wonderful Stanley Tucci), host of the Games.

Lenny Kravitz was a perfect Cinna, Katniss’ Games stylist. Everything about him felt right – cool and soothing, handsomely stylish but not gaudy. Though a Capitol resident who works for the games, one senses early on that he’s an ally and not entirely “one of them”. Katniss clearly feels safe with him. And no, it’s not clear what his sexual orientation is though fans have concluded from the book that he’s gay – it’s not even relevant.

The fight scenes in the wooded arena? Unfortunately, between our close-up seats and the super fast, uneven handheld camera techniques, many of the action scenes became a blur. One film critic on, called it “frustratingly claustrophobic”. That cinematic method however contributed to the nightmarish sense of chaos and felt less like typical Hollywood stylized fight scenes and more like primal survivalism.

I suppose due to the time limitations, some scenes had to be raced through, like the total body makeovers to prep for the pre-Games presentation.

I didn’t totally feel a chemistry between Katniss and Peeta though I’m hopeful for a better one in the sequel “Catching Fire”.  They work well together strategizing to stay alive.
To whet your appetite --
Cool scenes:
  • The Reaping – very reminiscent of Nazi Germany when people were rounded up for concentration camps
  • Tribute training
  • Images of the Capitol – terribly futuristic, grotesque costume
  • The wall of fire – very effective
  • Katniss blowing up the supply pile
  • The Tracker Jacker swarm --  genetically engineered bees in the arena
  • Awesome scenes of the Gamemakers at work with their virtual roundtable, creating digitized realities (reminded me of “Minority Report”)

For the purist, here is a spoiler alert to emotionally prepare you for --
Significant deletions or alterations:
  • Not enough time spent in District 12
  • No drunken entry for Haymitch during the Reaping
  • Mockingjay pin wasn’t given by the Mayor’s daughter; it ended up being found in the Hob
  • No explanation of the Avox servants (the mutes whose tongues were cut out as punishment)
  • Underplayed poverty and suffering even in the arena
  • The wolf-like mutts didn’t’ have the eyes of the dead tributes
  • Didn’t see the hover craft retrieving the dead tributes
  • Peeta’s leg injury and resulting prosthetic leg was left out
  • No post-games makeover or body enhancements

Overall, I think Director Gary Ross did a good job with this film especially since they apparently didn’t have an enormous budget. Screenwriters and directors will always take creative license to make alterations and not only to truncate storylines to fit show time limitations but to make their mark. This however was a reasonably made film, changes and all. The screenplay was infinitely truer to the book, thanks to having Suzanne Collins co-write it, than “Twilight” screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg who butchered Stephenie Myers’ work.

I think the book’s themes of power, totalitarianism, perseverance, suffering, excess, and good trumping evil were illustrated nicely. It’s definitely and edge-of-your-seat kind of flick. And of course, the final scene with President Snow’s angry, vengeful face and turning to walk away as the screen blacks out lets us know… it ain’t over. Stay tuned for the sequel in November 2013. But go see "The Hunger Games" now!


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Attention Fans of "The Hunger Games"!

Had a fun experience as a member of the press doing red carpet interviews of some of the cast members of "The Hunger Games" here in Atlanta at a fan event to promote the upcoming film. Matthew joined me as my photographer and even asked interview questions too.

Read the article and see lots more photos over here on my friend Marci Miller's fun movie website Cinemoms which supports her movie club. And join up if you like.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

"Follow Your Passion!" (and Other Ridiculous, Overrated, Unrealistic Cliches About Life)

Yeah, I’ve heard so many of them and I roll my eyes at most.

“Everything happens for a reason”
“Your grandmother was right”
“You can’t see the forest for the trees”
“If it works for you”
“Make the rich pay their fair share”
 (Any insult followed by) “…bless her heart”

Why is it that our culture comes up with (sort-of catchy) phrases that oversimplify issues or reek of schmaltz? Unfortunately, the conservative Christian subculture doesn’t do much better in the platitude, cliché area.

“Isn’t it good to be a Christian today?”
“The Lord is in control”
(When approached on the street):“If you died tonight, do you know where you’d go tomorrow?”
“Christian aren’t perfect, just forgiven”

Just recently went to a seminar for a professional organization of which I’m a member and heard a wonderful speaker who addressed issues and problems of freelance work. I appreciated his realistic approach to the struggles we face, not pretending to be some motivational speaker/life coach Tony Robbins/Joel Osteen-esque type of guru who communicates idealistic and impractical messages like “Unlimited power”, “Your Best Life Now” and “Every Day a Friday”. Makes me nauseous.

Prosperity Gospel messages of wealth, power and success being the rewards for good Christians or for just being hard-working Americans with frontier work ethic pervade our society it seems. The PG is not just a Christian thing either. There’s a certain entitlement attitude that pervades our culture – certainly is rife with the motivational speakers – and celebrity speakers and preachers love to capitalize on this concept to their very vulnerable, personally needy audiences. But Christians, of all people, owe it to the world to be authentic, at least try to be Biblical, and extend love and grace (wouldn’t Jesus want us to do that?) vs. judgment. In the end, God will be our judge.

What about those who work hard and try to be faithful but don’t end up with worry-free, victorious-living, wealthy lives? There are amazing parallels between secular culture and charismatic Christians in some life concepts.

Some times life is just plain tough. Much of our tasks are tedious toil or just mundane and not stimulating.  

Is that a reason to be perpetually dissatisfied and ceaseless seeking that elusive thrill or intrinsic happiness we think we deserve?

·         Follow your passion”?? – What if you like many things and aren’t passionate about anything? What if what you’re passionate about you can’t make a living at?
·         “Everything happens for a reason” – maybe, but are we going to know what that reason is? We’re not God. Do we want to know that reason? Hhhmm, not sure we’d be able to handle it if we did.
·         “Your grandmother was right” – about which thing? Her generation said A LOT of things, some were spot on and some were dead-freakin’ wrong with science to prove it
·         “Soulmate” – I think this is concept created by creative screenwriters and novelists. Therapists have a very different story. Just ask.
·         “I can’t see the forest for the trees” – story of my life when I’m too busy.
·         “If it works for you” – relativism, relativism.
·         “Make the rich pay their fair share” – they ARE
·         “It’s a free country” – to do anything we want?
·         (Any insult followed by:) “…bless her heart” – with a smile of course. Classic Southern passive-aggressive way to not deal directly with conflict.

Now the Christian ones:

  • “Isn’t it good to be a Christian today?" - translation: I’m in a good mood and feeling like God is smiling on me (but I probably won’t say this when hard times hit).

  • “The Lord is in control” - what is "control"? Easy to say to others until life impodes for us and suddenly all concepts of control go out the window and life feels unfair

  • (When approached on the street):“If you died tonight, do you know where you’d go tomorrow?" -- overused, not effective.

  • “Christian aren’t perfect, just forgiven” -- a popular bumper sticker in the 1980's. Christians may understand it but nonbelievers/seekers often find it judgmental and superior sounding.
Anyhow, I’m working on a platitude-free, cliché-free vocabulary. Looking for words to live by. Looking for grace and beauty in the mundane and even the painful as Ann Voskamp talks about in One Thousand Gifts.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Basic Goodness...Chocolate

And on a lighter note…

Yes, I’ve been a little heavy lately so today’s post will be devoted to the beauties of one of life’s most wonderful gifts: chocolate. I think chocolate is part of basic goodness. A term oft used in Tibetan Buddhism, “basic goodness” describes the natural Buddha nature of people. While I have my own theology regarding human nature, original sin, etc, I do think chocolate is one of those good things in life that rises above morality.

As I stood in my kitchen the other day eating some home-made chocolate mousse that one of my sons made for me for Valentine’s Day, I had to force myself to eat it slowly and calmly – as opposed to wolfing it down with perpetually rotating wrist, dipping into the glorious goo and swiveling back up to my mouth. The popular book French Women Don’t Get Fat came to mind and I pretended to be French, savoring each bite, appreciating the pleasure of the chocolate flavor. Eating slowly is, I understand it, part of the French way of eating unlike the American way of inhaling food. Why is it that sometimes rich chocolate can sometimes be like crack – just can’t get it in fast enough. I’m happy to say I only had half a ramekin and stopped thereafter. Okay, that was all there was left so I didn’t have a choice, but I did feel satisfied and wasn’t craving more. After all, mousse is rich and this particular recipe has just two ingredients fabuleuse: dark chocolates and heavy cream. Does it get any better than that?

Chocolate gives me endorphins; I’ll take that over the Stairmaster any day, even if I don’t have a smokin’ bod. Studies have shown that chocolate can release certain neurotransmitters, the happy ones like endorphins and other opiates that reduce stress and lead to feelings of euphoria. And all the wonderful news about dark chocolate actually having antioxidants and being healthy is so very welcome to chocoholics, I mean Lovers of the Cocoa Bean. And yes, I know it's supposed to be 70% cold-pressed cocoa made with unprocessed, unalkalized (whatever that is) cacao, and natural unprocessed sweeteners to be truly beneficial.
We want the antioxidants not the fat and calories.Yadayadayada..

Mousse is loaded with all of the above, the good and the evil (fat, calories). But the great thing about mousse is it’s so very rich that you can’t have too much or you’ll live to regret it.

So, thanks be to God for His gift of chocolat and we can be like those femmes Française and indulge in little bits sans guilt.

Pourquois pas?

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

How to Have Faith?

Have you ever been around someone going through an excruciatingly difficult time and observed how they seemed so peaceful and trusting of God (or something) to deliver or at least sustain them? They seem to have so much faith…or for some, denial. At some point we all face extraordinarily challenging times and then often find to our dismay how unfaithful we feel, right?

This title sounds as though I think I possess some magic answers, as if I see myself as a self-help expert who has mastered the art of faith. Couldn’t be further from the truth (note the question mark in the title). There are certain types of hard times that I respond to by absolutely crumbling internally. I can’t count how many days (probably totaling months) that I have lost any possible productivity or joy due to being consumed with anxiety, fear, sadness, anger, and what-if wondering. Maybe with the raised blood pressure, release of stress hormones, and psychological strain, I’ve even lost days of my life. I’d try to pray, read, journal, rest, exercise, call a friend. All of those means of dealing with adversity are good, but few of them work for me if I’m stuck in the obsession vice. Running on the treadmill of worry or resentment.

Recently, I read a wonderful line from one of my devotionals that said simply this (speaking from the point of view of Jesus): “Lift up empty hands of faith…to receive my precious Presence.” That first part struck me. Empty hands. How refreshing – I don’t have to be the "strong person" to have faith. Ever heard someone say, “You gotta be strong”? I think that’s b.s., to put it bluntly. In fact, I don’t have to have any skill or even determination to try to summon faith at all. Trying to force faith, at least with me, proves unequivocally futile. I simply can
offer my emptiness. Buddhists are big on emptiness in their meditation as a relieving and freeing place to be once worldly cares and burdens are shed. Those in twelve step programs are familiar with Step One: “I am powerless over (fill in the blank with whatever plagues them or someone in their life)”. It’s surrender, not mastery, thank God.

Isn’t that encouraging? We don’t have to fight, when we’re already down for the count, to conjure up some ounce of strength to be faithful. It’s not about us anyway. Admittedly sometimes He gives me what I need way later than I wish, after I’m exhausted from days of suffering. But it's relieving to finally get to a place when I’ve turned the corner and can rest in his Presence free of the weight. Don’t think I’m taking the credit for that corner either. Perhaps in my weakness (and I believe genetics/biochemistry plays a part in this too), I’ve somehow subconsciously fought the process.

Just sharing an insight that mitigated that tight feeling in my gut and made my smile, inside.

(Friends who prayed for my biopsy -- it all turned out benign :)  Thank you for your support)

Linking with Ann at A Holy Experience:

Check out my guest post on meditation appearing last week on my friend Cheryl's blog "Live Fit Daily":


Monday, February 6, 2012


Despite having to endure a few days wait for path results of a biopsy, I am looking at the good things in my life. Still keeping my gratitude journal with the women who follow Ann Voskamp’s blog (she’s the author of One Thousand Gifts).  I’m now in the seventies:

65. The beauty of the birds that visit our feeder, especially in winter without leaves. Red cardinals, bright bluebirds
66. The pristine, stunning eastern morning sunlight through the work room windows
67. That Matthew actually wants to go to a high school FCA retreat though he barely know anyone going
68. Warm sheets after Wesley gets out of his bed this morning
69. A little naked dude curled up on my bed
70. Discovering Wesley’s Big Nate book stashed under the table for sneak reading
71. Hugs from a sweet student needing love; round shaved head
72. The French doors are finally fixed! Shiny new brass lock
73. Beautiful wood and shape of the new breakfast room table
74. That neither I nor any of the children have a serious mental illness
75. The glossy sheen of Wesley’s blond hair in the sunlight

I’m still compressing my wound from the procedure. It is akin to liposuction of the breast! And being a redhead (this was new information for me), the doc says I’m apparently prone to bleeding more. So I spent over an hour compressing myself to help stop the oozing from the wound. Have another hour to go.

I look forward to walking again after the 24 hour waiting period. A person needs to move to work out tension. For now – peace, lighter burden (Matthew 11:28 – 30), being present.

Linking with Ann at A Holy Experience 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Aging Gracefully?

In the last eight weeks, my baby turned eight, my middle child became a teenager and my oldest (whom I still remember as a wee babe on my shoulder) turned 15 and is talking about getting his learner’s permit. What is happening!?? My babies are growing up.

I’m realizing I’m older yet I can’t seem to make my body, mind and spirit all fit together. I’m supposedly part of the older generation who doesn’t understand a thing about the younger one. I certainly can’t keep up with the band names or video game characters, but I do remember what it felt like to be a pimply-faced, insecure adolescent. However, along with that ability to instantly flash back decades and still feel poignant sentiments, I’m also a member of the “establishment” (yeah, that group the hippies rebelled against when I was a child in the ‘60’s and are now running themselves). I’m in that undefined collection of mid-lifers: the tired and highly responsible, mostly underpaid women who are intent on “getting stuff done”. Admittedly I have little energy left for having a creative and vibrant life. Working on that one.

These three boys are the result of about $35,000 + worth of fertility and high-risk pregnancy measures. And the grace of God. Thankfully those were the days of a beautiful corporate benefit package in which insurance covered most of those high costs. Small business entrepreneurship, while part of the definition of the American dream, doesn’t afford such luxuries. Glad I had my babies earlier. I’m honored to have been the incubator to bring my darlings into the world. I think it’s now time to spend that same money to upgrade this thermoregulator’s exterior.

I can identify at least five areas of my body I’d love to have tightened, stitched, nipped, tucked, injected or just plain vaporized. Am I willing to actually invest cold hard cash and face the risk of possibly looking like Joan Rivers or a Dragon*Con mask? Not yet. I’ve had a few minor touch-ups just shy of going under the full anesthesia though and haven’t regretted it.

A recent doctor’s appointment revealed my weight to be the highest yet in a nonpregnant state. Hhhmm. Staying fit and healthy and also being comfortable in one’s own skin – with the body God gave us – that’s a challenge. I don't usually put less-than-flattering photos of myself up but today I'm doing it. This is who I am. God made me in His image.

I will say though, if it came down to beauty vs. wisdom, I’d go for the latter.


Monday, January 9, 2012

Taking a Dare

I took a new dare this year that has the potential to change my mindset. I only know this from seeing many people do the same thing and having found they felt better.

This New Year, I didn’t make resolutions knowing I wouldn’t be disciplined enough to keep them. However, I’m chewing on some ideas, turning them around in my head. They’re safe there, untested. Trying to implement them in practical reality has often proved to be a challenge requiring a commitment to discipline that I don’t possess. I used to try to make my resolutions “official”, almost ceremonious - as if that would make them more legitimate and increase the odds for success. Doesn’t work.

I’ve been reading Ann Voskamp’s bestselling book One Thousand Gifts – a semi-autobiography, poetically written, about finding joy in the mundane, learning the art of gratitude. She was dared by a friend to write down 1,000 blessings, gifts, or anything she appreciated in life no matter how small -- the ultimate goal being to change the perspective from one of ingratitude and other negative states of mind (i.e. resentment, apathy, discontent, anxiety, anger, etc.) to that of thankfulness and appreciation for the life before us. On a greater scale, she came to believe it could actually heal some deep wounds in her life. She chose the cool Greek word Eucharisteo – thanksgiving.  How many of us go through the motions of our days, sometimes lifelessly, gradually losing our capacity to feel?

Since the book’s publishing, she’s dared readers of her blog to do the same. So I’m taking the dare…with some trepidation. It’s hard to imagine finding 1,000 things to appreciate. Then again, I’m the queen of lists; I can do this. Looking at some of the things on Ann’s list, they’re pretty darn mundane – but if they bring her joy and alter her mindset, maybe they can do the same for me? I’d sure be a nicer person if that were to happen.

Another concept the author discusses at length is being present – being “all there”. This is amusingly so Zen Buddhist. We in the West of Judeo-Christian persuasion can really learn from Eastern practices. We’re so not geared for being mindful and living in the present. Instead, we languish about the past and plan, worry and try to rent time in the future. I’m the guiltiest of that habit. Do we actually gain time or fix anything doing that?

So far, I’ve been list-keeping for about a week while also reading the book, and I’m encountering a surprisingly more positive mentality. I am so not the “happy” type. I’m a Type A, semi-obsessive, control-oriented, sometimes anxious, easily irritated introvert. Okay, that’s the worst of me. I’ve been writing about 3-4 blessings per day and I think I can even improve on that. The reminder to continue to shift my thinking is helping me see the glass half-full rather than my usual half-empty. Will it really net positive dividends??

Here are a few on my list:
13. When Wesley (my eight-year old) leans up against me, all warm
14. Looking at Wesley’s soft facial features – eyelashes, peach skin, sea blue eyes, glossy golden hair
15. Lying on my large, full-back, massage-grade heating pad at night
16. Pouring my cup of coffee with cream first thing in the morning
17. Breaking off a hunk of 70% cacao dark chocolate and mixing it with salted almonds, savoring flavors

Okay, those are pretty boring but they make me happy. Somehow making my arm and hand move to name it on paper and then reading them is slowly -- just a little bit – lifting my burdens.

Linking up with Ann at