Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Community Journal Challenge: I love Summer Vacation

I am linking up again today with the Folk Magazine Community Journal Challenge.  Today's prompt asks me about my favorite vacation ever....

I love summer vacations. This is a family tradition that was instilled in me as a small child. At that time we would pack up the family van, attach the pop up camper, and take off for a trip often for three weeks at a time. We explored the Country in this way. Long days on the road with my three sisters (without a Nintendo DS or in car video system!) and evenings around the campfire. These vacations could also be weekends spent at campgrounds in our home state of Michigan or at the cottage my grandparents owned when we were small. The cottage was in Pentwater, Michigan a sleepy town on the shore of Lake Michigan. This humble home with its screen door that slammed shut and colorful tin cups that made the water taste better than anywhere else on earth holds many of my very best memories. On vacations to the cottage we spent days at the beach and playing in the woods surrounding the home. We attended band concerts on the village green sharing boxes of ‘Good and Plenty’. We savored ice cream at the local parlor. The moments spent on summer vacations either around the Country or in our home state proved to be the sweetest of my childhood.

Naturally when I became a parent I wanted to pass on the tradition of summer vacations to my children. We return each August to Pentwater, though the cottage has been long sold, we gather at a campground in town and soak in as much of the atmosphere as we can. Granted, this tradition started out slowly and a bit painfully as we tried to tent camp with young triplets. Let’s just say there were several years that involved tearful drives home (only about an hour away) in the middle of the night. Triplets with colds sleeping on the ground or raging 2am thunderstorms do not create a good camping experience for toddlers. Lesson learned. However, we persevered and continue to this day to savor that weekend in Pentwater each summer. We have since been given the very pop up camper I used as a child. We love the smell of the canvas, the way the light streams in the windows. I love waking up seeing my kids sleeping where I slept with my sisters when I was nearly their age. We love getting ice cream, playing at the beach, and sharing ‘Good and Plenty’ at the town green.

Last summer we took the kids on their first official road trip. We drove from Michigan to South Dakota where we stayed for a week at Custer State Park. The drive was different, kids on their DS and watching DVD’s. But, it was also the same. The kids read, did mad-libs, and asked “how much longer?” We stopped at as many cheesy roadside attractions as we could find: The Spam Museum, The Jolly Green Giant, Wall Drug, Corn Palace to name a few. We spent days hiking and wildlife watching. We visited Mt. Rushmore and Crazyhorse. We slowed down, we laughed, we connected.

Isn’t that what is important? We travel with our children to create memories. We travel with our children to slow down, to have the time and space (12 hours in a car) to really listen. We travel with our children to show them the world outside of our home. In her new book Bread and Wine Shauna Niequist says, “We travel because I want my kids to learn, as I learned, that there are a million ways to live, a million ways to eat, a million ways to dress and speak and view the world. I want them to know that “our way” isn’t the right way, but just one way, that children all over the world, no matter how different they seem, are just like the children in our neighborhood-they love to play, to discover, to learn.”

I love summer vacations. I am looking forward to the memories that will be made in the summer of 2013.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Wonder-full week

In the midst of National sadness this week (my thoughts and prayers are with those in Boston and Texas) and the loss of a colleague at Hope (my thoughts and prayers are with his wife and four children) there was wonder to be found in my days. 

The first of the two new Frozen Yogurt places that opened this week in Holland!


Sophie's smile to start the day!

Abby carved an owl in to a mug I had thrown earlier in the day.  Love.

Looks like spring, but it doesn't feel like it!  Burrrr!

Grandpa love.

After another rainy (and snowy) week, this sky was a gift.

Abby reading her novel in Spanish during reading groups at school.
The second of two new "Fro yo" places in Holland!
I am blessed.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A 'Wonder-full' week!

Some of the wonder I found this past week (in the midst of the rainy cold 'spring' weather we had!)....

Grandpa and Noah 'having a catch'

I took a group from Hope to tour the Hudsonville Ice Cream Facility!

The girls and their buddy enjoying a basketball game!

A pottery mug I made.

Reading in the rainy car while the girls had soccer practice!

Sophie reading 'Charlotte's Web' in Spainsh during school.  I love volunteering each Friday noon.
After  a week of rain, blue sky was such a sight!
 I am blessed.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Feast for the Senses: Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist

I had the honor of reviewing an advanced copy of 'Bread and Wine' by Shauna Niequist.  One word:  Love.  Here are my thoughts....

Shauna Niequist’s newest book, ‘Bread and Wine’ is my favorite of her three books. It is a collection of essays about gathering around the table, breaking bread, sharing moments. Before you start to imagine stories about perfectly set tables and intricately planned meals (and panic), read on. This book explores the beauty of the imperfect. The blessing of being present over a meal, around a table. Of starting where you are and growing from there. Often my family dinner table is loud with triplet 9 year olds sharing stories from their day and laughing at things I often don’t understand! Sometimes someone is standing up, sometimes, for some reason someone is even standing up on their chair! Occasionally I have tried to reign it in, quiet everyone down, force them to be seated (yes, there is a time and a place for this) but what I find is that those aren’t the real moments. “You never know while it’s happening what will burn in your memory, sacred and profound. It seems like most of the things we try to make profound never are, lost in our insistence and fretting and posing. When we want something to be momentous, it rarely is. Life is disobedient in that way, insisting on surprising us with its magic, stubbornly unwilling to be glittery on command.” (p. 221-222) This book inspired me to embrace the chaos at our table, it is where we are right now. It’s happy chaos. I believe it will be burned in to my memory as beautiful.

Beyond my own dinner table, this book inspired me to want to share meals with my friends and family. To gather around the table with others as well. My friend Kate, entertainer extraordinaire, and I decided to plan a ‘Bread and Wine’ dinner party using a menu from the book. We began planning with menu selection and invitations. We cooked and baked several of the recipes separately to test them out, excitedly sharing photos and texts as they came out of the oven. The day before the party we gathered at Kate’s home to make the dessert and set the table. The day of the dinner we worked at our own homes on our parts of the meal, again sending photos back and forth as things came together. As the night arrived we were ecstatic to share this food with our friends. The evening was beautiful start to finish. A thought that kept reoccurring as the evening progressed was how all of my senses were being fed in beautiful and fulfilling ways. The quote we used on the invitation mirrored this thought, “I love the sounds and smells and textures of life at the table, hands passing bowls and forks clinking against plates and bread being torn and the rhythm and energy of feeding and being fed.” (p. 13)

See: Before the dinner began, we had so much fun preparing the table. We covered the table with butcher paper and wrote words in crayon that encouraged people to create an acrostic poem. With Kate’s darling daughter on our laps we tied tiny stems of flowers on to beautiful silverware with twine. We set the table with my grandmother’s dishes and Kate’s grandmother’s silver. We wanted a simple but meaningful place to share our meal.

Smell: Before the dinner began, I baked the bread at my home. There are not many smells in the world I love more than that of baking bread. It is the smell that brings my children to the kitchen asking, “What is that wonderful smell?” It is a smell that alone fills my heart with happiness. Arriving at Kate’s the night of our party the smell that greeted us was that of the cassoulet. It gives off the most amazing aroma. Perhaps it’s the garlic in the breadcrumbs, perhaps more than that. The smells of the dinner began the conversations with questions about what will be shared.

Hear: The sounds of our evening ranged from perfectly paired music to the voices of our friends. Conversations flowed and crossed the table. We talked as an entire table of 8 and in smaller pairs. We talked about food, recipes, children, books, and water parks. We laughed and we pondered. We shared quotes that were my favorites from the book typed out and placed on the table. We heard forks clinking and wine bottles lightly touching the tops of glasses.

Taste: We opted for the ‘Cozy Fall Party’ menu found in the book (p. 278) Even though the party was to be held on a cold March night, it was the cozy vibe we wanted to embrace. Keeping in mind the quote, “I believe every person should be able to make the simple foods that nourish them, that feel familiar and comforting, that tell the story of who they are.” (p. 40) We would serve Sullivan Street Bread with cheddar and mustard, Green Well Salad, Real Simple Cassoulet, and with a slight switch from another recipe in the book blueberry crisp with vanilla ice cream for dessert. The food was amazing. The bread (that even non bakers can make) was crispy on the outside and airy on the inside. The Green Well (one of my favorite restaurants in Grand Rapids) salad is phenomenal topped with cherries, pears, and goat cheese with the unexpected coming from the caramelized onions and maple vinaigrette. The cassoulet is thick and creamy without any cream. The vegetarian version (minus sausage) is rich and flavorful. Because many at the table were sugar free we opted for the blueberry (and cherry) crisp. We used blueberries and cherries picked by us and frozen. The sweetness comes from maple syrup and is perfect.

Touch: One of the things I loved most about this book was the concept of imperfection. Everything does not have to be perfect to be shared, to make a memory, to be meaningful. This lesson of embracing imperfection has been growing with me this year as I began taking pottery classes. As our guests left the dinner party, I gave each couple an imperfect pottery bowl I had made. These were the first items I had given away. I gave each of them a parting quote from the book and hoped they would remember it as they held the imperfect pot. “My prayer is that we’ll find ourselves drawn closer and closer to the hear of the story, the beautiful, beating heart of it all, that the chaos around us and within us will recede, and the most important things will be clear and lovely at every turn. I pray that we’ll understand the transforming power that lies in saying no, because it’s an act of faith, a tangible demonstration of the belief that you are so much more than what you do. I pray that we’ll live with intention, hope, and love in this wild season and in every season, and that the God who loves us will bring new life to our worn-out hearts this year and every year, that we’ll live, truly and deeply, in the present, instead of waiting, waiting, waiting for perfect.” (p. 170)

Photography by the lovely and talented Kate Bolt.  Leave a comment for more information. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Searching for Wonder

Today I am participating again in the Folk Magazine Community Journal Challenge.  The topic for this week is "Take a nature walk and connect with the sights, scents and sounds that surround you. Reflect on these senses and how they affect your mood."
As I mentioned in a post last week, my word for 2013 is 'Wonder'.  As in, searching for the wonder in each day, each moment.  This word struck me for several reasons one of them involves a favorite parenting moment that occurred during a drive to school on a beautiful fall morning a year or two ago. My daughter Sophie shouted out, “WOW”, right in the middle of our prayer. She was struck by the immense beauty of a yellow tree, she couldn’t do anything but exclaim her wonder. My first response was to be discouraged because of the interruption, but that was immediately changed to awe as I realized that the exclamation was probably the most beautiful prayer we could offer at that moment. Her eyes were open, in wonder.  
With my word of the year in mind, I try to observe, even seek out as much wonder daily as I can.  This past Sunday was no exception.  The day here in Michigan started out rainy and cool.  The girls and I spent some time snuggled up on the couch.  By mid afternoon the sun came out and we knew we needed to get outside.  We started our walk around the neighborhood, heading towards the lake.  It is remarkable how a breath of fresh air can provide instant energy.  We stopped at a spot my kids call, "the rocks" because it is a rocky area leading down to the water.  The girls explored down by the water while I sat in the grass soaking in the sunshine.  Listening to the gulls call and my girls exclaim joyfully at the things they could see I felt my 'cloudy' mood from earlier in the day clear.  As we stood to continue the walk I noticed how much easier it was to laugh and to be silly after just a few moments outside smelling the lake, feeling the sun, listening to the birds and my laughing children.  We were nearing home again when I could smell someone burning leaves or perhaps starting a grill.  I stopped the kids and told them to close their eyes and " smells like summer."  They dutifully did this and when they opened them again one of my girls said, "What is that mom?  What does summer smell like?"  I loved this thought.  Right then, summer smelled like a campfire or cook out but we spent a few moments after that talking about what else summer smells like.  Fresh cut grass, dirt in the garden, flowers, even sunscreen.  All of those smells made us smile.  By the time we got home our cheeks were rosy from fresh air and laughter.  Our spirits soared with the wonder we had seen, smelled, and heard on our walk. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

A 'Wonder-Full' week

My word for 2013 is 'Wonder'.  Below I will share my thoughts on that word and share some of the pictures of 'wonder' from this past week. 

I was drawn to this word for 2013 because of a short quote I read. This quote challenged me to imagine going through life looking for the treasures as I would in an antique shop. When I ‘treasure hunt’ with my girls (like I did for hours on New Years Day 2013) we look high and low for small things that amaze us. These things might be buried on a bottom shelf or covered by other items. They may be covered in dust or cluttered in a corner. At first glance, these items might not even seem like the treasures we are looking for. We seek them out and take them home. Our eyes are constantly open, in wonder.

One of my favorite parenting moments of all times involved an interruption during a drive to school on a beautiful fall morning a few years ago. Sophie shouted out, “WOW”, right in the middle of our prayer. She was struck by the immense beauty of a yellow tree, she couldn’t do anything but exclaim her wonder. My first response was to be discouraged because of the interruption, but that was immediately changed to awe as I realized that the exclamation was probably the most beautiful prayer we could offer at that moment. Her eyes were open, in wonder.

I want to live my life in 2013 in wonder. I want to seek out not only the obvious moments of beauty in my life, but also the ones buried on a bottom shelf or covered by other items. I want to shout out in wonder at the joyful noise my kids make, even when at first glance it seems to be adding chaos to the moment. I want to look closely at each moment and search for the wonder that it holds. I want to rid myself of the stress and anxiety that creep in when it seems like there aren’t any treasures to behold. Stress and anxiety make it even more difficult to find the treasures, and waste energy I could be using to find and enjoy them. I want to shout out “WOW” 1000 more times this year as I record these moments of wonder. I want to keep my eyes constantly open, in wonder.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Community Journal Challenge: Against the Grain

This Monday I am participating in the Folk Magazine Community Journal Challenge.  The prompt for this week asks about a time that I went against the grain of the general population.  The time that comes to mind for me is last summer, which we called, "The summer of no."  As a mom of then 8-year-old triplets the popular summer plan for kids these days is filling every single hour with camps, activities, and more camps.  The past few summers even when I intentionally tried to be smart about the summer schedule, I would still need a spreadsheet to plan out the swimming lessons, basketball camps, and art classes.  While I do believe in helping my children to be well rounded, and love to encourage their interests, the spreadsheet summer was just too much.  I also think that at their young age, there should be more to summer than moving from one activity to the other.  Last summer I tried a radical and counter-cultural plan:  The summer of NO.  No organized activities.  No camps.  No classes.  No.  This caused a small ripple to run through our peer group.  I received calls and texts daily for several weeks asking if I had signed my kids up for this camp or this new sports clinic.  As the school year wound to a close parents asked me daily what sessions of this or that we had signed up for.  My answer was always simple, non judgemental, and the same, "This is the summer of no, we are not signing up for any organized activities."  I was certainly going against the grain.  As the first week of summer began I even paused to question whether or not this would work.  Would we run out of things to do?  Would we be bored?  Would we regret this decision? 

As the days grew in to weeks we fell in to what would be the very best summer any of us can remember.  We were not rushed.  We did not spend our days shuttling from one camp to another, cramming food in our mouths in the car.  We did not look longingly at parks as we sped past.  We did the opposite.  We slowed down.  We savored moments.  We stopped, got outside, and played.  We spent a day 'hopping' to 16 different parks.  We biked to the market, stopping on the way home to read in the grass of our community garden plot.  We stayed for longer than we had ever been able at the cottage, splashing, swimming, and laughing.  We Laughed.  We played.  We made an amazing list of summer activities we wanted to accomplish, and we slowly checked off each and every one.  To me, and to my family, we found that this slow summer full of play was what summer should be.  We loved each and every moment. 

At the end of the summer, I asked my kids what they thought.  Did they miss the classes and camps?  Did they feel short changed?  All three of them said no.  The summer of no opened up a world of moments to us, and we savored each and every one. 
This was not the popular summer plan, but in this instance going against the grain gave me moments with my children I would not have missed for the world.