Meatless Monday – Getting Saucy

The best part of a veggie Thanksgiving meal? Not spending All Day Long cooking a turkey! We keep the menu fairly simple and mostly traditional – mashed potatoes, stuffing, salad, veggies, biscuits – and add some baked salmon with oranges, cranberries and rosemary for the fish-eaters and a small turkey breast for the carnivores. We divvy up the dishes and nothing takes too long.

Which leaves time for this:beach boys

We took kids and dogs, some more excited than others, to the beach. Too cold for swimming, the people bundled up and the dogs jumped in the frigid water anyway, barking and chasing and playing until they flopped in exhaustion. Our dog met her younger blonde twin, also a rescue, and we couldn’t get them to stay still long enough to take any really good pictures.
dog twins

Beach time was the perfect way to spend Thanksgiving morning, and even our once-reluctant kid-companions agreed. We put out some while-the-grown ups-cook nibbles, sauteed and mashed and baked the afternoon away, and ate dinner at a comfortable 6pm.

My always-favorite bite of the Thanksgiving meal? Cranberry sauce. Adapted from a recipe I found on Epicurious many moons ago, this one = YUM! And my new discovery this year? The easiest ever, scrumptious vegan gravy adapted from Tablespoon, just as much a hit with the carnivores as the vegetarians. It may seem a little late now, but the holiday season has only just arrived and more of us will be making celebratory meals for family and friends. Get saucy, friends!cranberry sauce

Cranberry and Orange Relish
Makes 3 1/2-4 cups (recipe can be cut in half)

2  Tbsp plant-based spread (Earth Balance)
2  Tbsp grated fresh ginger
1/2  c dark brown sugar
1  c orange juice
16  oz cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 c orange marmalade

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the Earth Balance. Add ginger and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add sugar, orange juice, and cranberries. Cook until the cranberries burst and the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Stir in the marmalade to taste (depending on desired sweetness). Turn off heat. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Note: Can be prepared up to 5 days in advance. Also good w/ cranberry juice and raspberry jam in place of orange juice and orange marmalade.

Easy Vegan Gravy

1 Tbsp plant-based spread (Earth Balance)
1/4 c all-purpose flour
3 c vegetable broth
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

In a sauce pan melt Earth Balance, then add flour and stir. When smooth slowly add vegetable broth. Add remaining ingredients. Whisk until desired thickness is achieved. Serve warm.
Note: This recipe looks like it will make a lot of gravy, but the broth reduces and thickens on the stove top. I didn’t measure the results, but it made just enough for our table of seven with no leftovers. I’ll double it next time.

Advent 1 – Expecting Peace

Stating the obvious: we do not live in a peaceful world. War and rumors of war. School shootings. Crime in all its variety. Job stress. Illness. Divorce. Even in my everyday mundane suburban life, peace seems elusive.

So today’s title made me wonder: do I expect peace?

Maybe my faith is too small. Maybe my focus is off. Jesus is the Prince of Peace and I’m a tightly-wound stress ball.

Maybe I’m operating with the wrong definition. The peace promised in Scripture is shalom, wholeness. It has less to do with lack of conflict or strife and more to do with God’s presence. Emmanuel, God with us.peace

Filled as it is with gatherings of family and friends, candlelight, holiday food, gift-giving and receiving, Christmastime may be the busiest – and least peaceful – time of year. Celebrating Advent helps us to refocus on the Prince of Peace, to be intentional about Christ in Christmas. During Advent (Latin for “coming”) we celebrate God coming to dwell among us in Jesus. We open our hearts to how God wants to come into our lives now. And we look forward in hopeful anticipation of everlasting life with God.

The Advent wreath candle lighting tradition is one meaningful way to celebrate God’s coming. The wreath (a circle) signifies eternity – God is, was and always will be. Three purple candles represent royalty and repentance; one pink candle (for week three) represents joy. The white center candle represents the divine nature of the baby Jesus. Evergreens represent everlasting life in Jesus and His everlasting love for us. The candlelight itself symbolizes Jesus, the Light of the World. Each week we light one more candle, lighting the center candle on Christmas to signify that the light of Jesus Christ has come into the world.advent wreath

 

My prayer for this season? To expect peace as I set aside time to worship the Prince of Peace. As The Message puts it in Philippians 4:6-7, “Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness [peace, shalom], everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” I want Christ to displace worry, for me and for you, and so I offer these Advent readings. May Peace be with you!

Advent Week 1 – Expecting Peace

Read and light the first candle (middle purple candle)The first candle represents the expectation of the One who will bring Peace.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Ezekiel 37:26-27 and Isaiah 9:6-7

Read: The prophets spoke God’s words of promised peace to distressed people. Walking in darkness, living in deep darkness, the people had lost their joy. Hold on, declares the Lord, I’m coming. I will shine my light in your darkness. I will establish my peaceful kingdom in your midst. I will send the Prince of Peace to rule over you with justice and righteousness. I will do this because I am your God and you are my people. I am zealous for you. Expect my peace. It will come.

Pray: Dear God, we look forward to your arrival and we eagerly expect your peace. In the name of Jesus we wait and pray, Amen.

 

Monday Psalm 40:1-3 How do you actively wait for the Lord?
Tuesday Isaiah 9:2 How have you seen God’s light during a dark time in your life?
Wednesday  Isaiah 9:6 What does it mean in your everyday life that Jesus is the Prince of Peace?
Thursday Ezekiel 37:26-27 How can you remain aware of God with you?
Friday Micah 7:7 How has God responded to your hopeful watching?
Saturday Luke 12:40 How do you prepare for the Son of Man’s return?

Garage

“Mom, I’m okay, I wasn’t involved, but the police want you to come pick me up.”

My heart races at this rush of words through the telephone.

Teen and two other boys had permission to spend a summer night at another friend’s house. He has a game room and they wanted to play late into the night.

Teen neglected to tell us parents would not be home; we goofed and didn’t check.

Someone invited someone who invited someone else who did something stupid to attract police attention before arriving at the now-party. Police ran a license plate, called parents, and eventually discovered unsupervised minors, some of whom were still obliviously playing games.

Guy went to get him while I stayed home and prayed. Obviously the car ride home involved a conversation about trust and a now-depleted, in fact negatively balanced, Trust Account.

Teen has never been a big gamer. He is a health-conscious athlete and mostly a likable, good kid. He gets in trouble because he acts impulsively, the tell-tale symptom of his ADHD which inclines him to risk-taking. Honest to God, I’m grateful his risk in this situation was relatively low.

Teen barely knew the kid for whom the cops arrived and he easily recognized the stupidity of the kid’s actions. He never argued about being grounded. He understood that the situation could quickly have become So Much Worse. He learned something.

A summer week without friends might be a rough kid-consequence, but his parents enjoyed hanging out with our Teen. He won’t say it, but he might have had some fun with his family, too.

This is the reason we spent our not-truly-a-staycation cleaning out and reorganizing our garage (aka storage-unit) into a hang-out space. Not in response, as we’d already begun the process before the incident, but because we want our house to be a place Teen wants to bring friends.

Teen’s tendency has been to go out rather than invite friends in. Understandably, as our smallish house lacked a space with sufficient separation from Family Life. Almost simultaneously, Teen bought a PS3 + games from a friend who had moved on to a newer system, and friends offered us their sectional couch and rug. We saw an opportunity.

garage

Purging in process

garage 2

Prepping for sanding/painting

Parents did most of the purging; Teen put on his work clothes to move furniture, to sand and paint. He offered input on where things should go (he pushed us to purge even more) and what else might be needed (mini fridge, space warmer for cold nights). He even reorganized games into attractive storage boxes.

It’s still a garage – bikes and sports equipment, tools and laundry, no cars (we live in California) – but thankfully, the renovation worked. Over the last three months, Teen has stayed home more than he might have AND he has invited friends in. Goal! It has also given Guy a new opportunity to bond and play with his boys and provided another comfortable hang out space.

Our garage-pantry makes for easy snack access; cat = happy, too!

Our garage-pantry makes for easy snack access; cat = happy, too!

No perfect solution, the Man Cave has also created new problems. Teen hears the siren call of video games so much louder than our reminders to get homework done first. It has become a too-frequent escape when he’d prefer not to engage with family. And the three guys enjoying the space so much sometimes leaves Mama out. As families do, we negotiate as we go.

We listened with ears, eyes, heart, and our love for Teen led us to a Labor of Love: a garage hang-out space. He receives love best through Time and Gifts, and I’ve seen it in his eyes – he understands that we spent significant Time to create a Gift of space for him.

I asked him again today: “Are you grateful we worked so hard to create this space for you?”

He responded, “No, Mom. Seriously, are you really asking me that? Yes, I’m grateful.”

Sarcasm aside, he is grateful. He received the love. I’ll take it.

Thankful Thursday – Life is More than Worry

As Church Communication Director, this week before Thanksgiving is always one of the busiest work weeks of the year as we rush to get Christmas PR printed, in the mail, up around town, in the newspaper, you name it. The creative work, writing and designing, is mostly done, so this week is all about details – proofing and making sure each design in all its necessary formats gets to the right place and people at the right time. The devil is in the details and I am no devil.

I can’t get stressed, though. The irony? This year’s theme is PEACE. No sense at all worrying about peace.

Today I got a kick in the tail in the best way. One of my favorite weekly activities, I have the privilege of leading a small group of delightful women in our moms’ group at church. I love these women. They are light and bright and smart and deep. Our speakers today talked about change and taking intentional steps toward positive change in our lives. Several of my gals are engaged in total life upheaval, not entirely by choice. And yet even in difficult situations, our response is our responsibility. We can still choose to make changes that make us better.moms 15

The gal seated next to me almost died from a fluke illness this fall. I kept rubbing her back, teary eyed, so grateful for her life. And to hear her talk about the peace that sustained her during her illness, the overwhelming sense of angels watching over her, the comfort that whatever happened God held her in His hands… Me, choking back tears because she couldn’t have said those words when we met a couple years ago. I am grateful for her life and for the joy of watching her grow in faith.

Listening to my gals encourage one another in situations I haven’t had to endure encouraged my heart. As I looked on, the words of Matthew 6 rolled around in my head:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

A few of the staff studied this passage earlier this week. We noticed that most people we see daily aren’t worried about food; even when kids complain that “There is NO FOOD in this house!” there truly is, and no one will starve this week, or month, even if we stopped grocery shopping altogether. So I replaced “food” with “worry” in v. 25:

Is not life more than worry…?

Life is so much more than worry!

I am thankful for my friendships with these precious women who encourage one another and me. They add so much joy and love to my life.

I am thankful for a day off with my love after a season of working too hard and missing one another along the way. We walked the beach with our happy dog on a perfect San Francisco day, followed by a spontaneous splurge lunch at a marina-view restaurant.SF dog

I am thankful for an opportunity to serve with one of our church’s mission partners, Harbor House Ministries. All three of my guys have been there more than once, but today was my first time. Our middle school group plus a few parent chaperones served a Thanksgiving meal prepared by church folks; we also built relationships, did a craft, packed up leftovers for people to take home, and cleaned up. I talked with a mom of two darling girls; I don’t easily talk with people I don’t know, but we so easily connected over kids and this blessed place where her older daughter is safely cared for. Tween enthused about the “amazing” place called Harbor House and can’t wait to go back. I got to tag along while my kid’s heart changed. So good!

HH Thanksgiving

Life is so much more than worry. Life is love, encouragement, connection, work and rest in balance, service, and community. Life is our creative response to life’s own twists. Life is our responsibility to create, and life is our creative God’s good gift. He already said, “It is good.” Now it’s our turn.

C’mon Over

My fiesty fun friend burst through the front door with cheers and hugs and an armful of flowers. She turned the corner and stopped short: “WHAT happened to your house?? It’s, it’s so clean!”

Less than 48 hours earlier, we’d had friends over – in preparation I had cleaned for two days. Family entropy hadn’t yet reclaimed its usual stake of mess on every available surface.

The last time Friend visited, I’d heard myself apologizing for the mess. It wasn’t all that bad, but it wasn’t good.

The conundrum: I am no domestic goddess, nor do I want to live in a sty. I’m Adult Enough to notice that my interior state often affects my exterior reality – if my life feels chaotic, guaranteed my home does, too. It works the other way as well – if I can get myself to clean the house, I might feel more peaceful.

I have plenty of things I’d rather do than clean, including welcoming you into my home. Which means you are always welcome. If I know you’re coming, I might clean myself into a tizzy. And I might not.

When Teen was just a tot, a woman I knew admitted that she hadn’t had friends over in years, for the simple reason that her lack of housekeeping skills embarrassed her. She didn’t want people to think less of her, so she kept them out.

Which meant she also didn’t let them in. There is something very personal about letting others into our space. They see our style, our art and kid art collected over years, our family vacation knick-knacks, our books which reveal our tastes. People know us differently after seeing how we live.

I guess for some people that feels too vulnerable. But if you can ignore the dust bunnies collecting in corners, you are welcome to C’mon Over to my house. If you can’t deal with dust bunnies, we’re probably not friends.

For Christmas last year, Guy bought me a Roomba. I’d asked for a Roomba more than once as we walked through Costco; I had not asked for a Roomba for Christmas – a spectacularly unsexy gift. But Guy was so happy with his gift I let him set it up and, once charged, I let him Push the Button, at which point we quickly discovered that we needed to Prepare the House for Roomba – picking up cat toys and sweatshirts and kids’ shoes and socks, moving counter stools and pulling chairs back from the table, shutting bedroom chaos behind bedroom doors.2989123259_aece327fb5_m

The first time I tried to use the Roomba by myself – husband out, kids asleep, me reading in bed – I decided Roomba just might be Chucky, a Good Guy robot-vacuum possessed of an evil spirit; it kept getting stuck and beeping at me that it was stuck, making me leave my warm cocoon to set it straight each time. Eventually I sent it “home” and decided reading in peace trumped waking to clean floors.

Glennon Melton also received a vacuum gift. I Laughed So Hard when I read this:

“I find my vacuum to be very heavy and ugly and inconducive to relaxing. There is nothing that leads me into a cursing tirade faster than trying to lug my vacuum up two flights of stairs. And Jesus said: if your vacuum causes you to curse, gouge it out . . . or something like that. So actually becoming a real- life vacuumer wasn’t an option, since I love Jesus. (If you do vacuum, I’m not trying to suggest that you don’t love Jesus. I assume it’s possible to do both. I’m just saying it’s not likely. Not likely at all.)”

Roomba and I have mostly made peace, which is a good thing because I love Jesus and do not anticipate becoming a real-life vacuumer anytime soon. Which also means Roomba doesn’t run as often as it could, because that whole Preparing the House thing may just be Too Much, depending on the amount of time my family has spent recently living in said house.

So if you can deal with dust bunnies, C’mon Over. I’ll even try not to apologize. After all, you’re coming for the company and not to grade my housekeeping, right?

Good Enough

When I was in high school, Good Enough was good enough. We did our best – and sometimes not – and we did well. Most kids in my middle-class high school were on the College Prep track; we knew a few in the “non-College Prep” classes, and we understood they struggled; we knew a few who took Honors/AP classes, and we understood they might just be Too Smart.

College Prep classes fit the majority, and College Prep classes prepared the Super Motivated to take AP tests as available. Those who took and passed AP tests could get a GPA boost, but AP-specific classes were not the norm, as there was no reason to offer college credit to high school students. 3.0-4.0 was A-OK! And most of us went to good colleges.

Fast Forward a generation…6352769082_2fe37679b6_b

It was too late to drop by the time we realized Teen – now a junior with Pressure ON! – was struggling. He could have taken an easier class. Had he wanted to, he also could have taken this class at the local community college. Kids who fail classes at our High School receive A’s at our local Community College. I recently asked Why?, and was told that the High School has to keep up its standards of being in the Top 1% of schools in the country, while the Community College has to pass the Average Student.

Anyone see a problem there?

We signed him up for professional tutoring, and it has helped. On his own – and without our knowledge – he has attended twice-a-week on-campus tutoring. He studied HARD for the last test, and he felt confident.

He failed the test.

Dismayed, he went at lunch to talk to the teacher. She wouldn’t show him the test, wouldn’t talk with him about how he’d gone wrong. She said, “You do work for other classes in my class.” Once, early on. She said, “You come in late.” Last week, his car broke down; this morning, the alarms failed us. He has apologized; she hasn’t accepted.

What to do about a teacher who won’t meet a student part-way with compassion?

Teen has learned that first impressions, and subsequent impressions, matter. Studying matters. Working his tail off in a subject that stumps him matters, and one might expect that taking the initiative to approach a teacher – teenager to adult, no easy match – should matter. He did his best, and he got shot down.

Head hung low he said, “It’s only my future. I guess I won’t go to A Good College.”

His college counselor said that, without a 4.2 GPA, admission to a University of California or California State school will be a long shot4.2 is now what it takes to be noticed and accepted for in-state California colleges? How many students take how many AP classes to average an above average GPA?

The norm is no longer The Norm. Good Enough has died.

Last spring the four schools in our high school district took the Stanford Survey of Adolescent School Experiences, the “stress test.” The goal is to work with schools to create a less stressful and more engaging school environment for students. [Read more here].

The results highlighted the dire reality that our students feel stressed, exhausted, and stuck in a rat wheel. Surprisingly, it’s not that they are so caught up in their daily school work. Rather, students see the hyper-competitive culture in which they are growing up, and they’re grasping at straws trying to differentiate themselves. And yet the college counselor made it clear: the colleges no longer care about differentiation, just that 4.+ GPA.

I’m confident Teen will go to college. He’s a smart kid, inaccurately assessed in the wrong circus arena. Now, if his class took place outside – up a hill, in a tree – somewhere he could touch the subject and explore it for himself; if assignments weren’t one-size-fits-poorly; if high schools had majors and he could focus his interests like he will be able to in college; well, then he’d have that stellar GPA. He will, someday. He’s going to surprise himself.

People move to our town for the schools, and rightfully so. We are fortunate to have access to an impressive educational system. But just as in people, strengths can also be weaknesses. The lessons they intend to teach might, for now, have less to do with English and algebra and history and way more to do with perseverance, conflict resolution, and staying true to self when others apply ill-fitting labels. These lessons are hard-won with plenty of bruises and at least a few scrapes. They hurt. And in the end, they’ll prove to be more valuable than a GPA, more than good enough.

 

Birthday

The year I turned seven my mom made a beautiful Doll Cake for my birthday party. She stuck a Barbie-type doll torso into a dome cake which she decorated with frosting rosettes.

Something like this...

Something like this…

I ran and laughed together with my friends in my Backyard Birthday Party. Later we sat around the dining table, all eyes admiring the cake in its center, until someone (probably my mom) starting singing, “Happy Birthday.”

“Stop,” I whispered, then again with more force.

The girls kept right on singing while I crawled under the table and cried.

I’m sure I had a piece of cake, but I don’t remember it. The overriding memory from that party is feeling awkward as the center of attention.

That was long before “introvert” entered my vocabulary and became part of my self-understanding. One of my many introvert dilemmas continues to be how to receive love, which requires being seen, when focused attention sometimes feels uncomfortable.

Some who know me could read this and scoff. They’ve seen me speak publicly, and I look so comfortable.

Yes, and no.

You don’t see the hours and hours I put into crafting Every Single Word. You don’t see me reading my manuscript under my breath time and again until I have it just about memorized. You don’t see me visualizing all going well, and the prayer that undergirds each step. You don’t see the hours of solitude that precede and follow the speaking event.

And then, when I speak publicly I have Something to Share, and guaranteed I’m not there if I don’t. I will never volunteer for improv night or karaoke. “Extemporaneous” will never describe me.

After returning from our honeymoon, some of my co-workers who had been unable to attend the wedding joined me to watch our wedding video. One boldly asked, “What is that look on your face? I’ve never seen it.”

She was right: I smiled, overjoyed to be walking down the aisle to my Love. But the pressure of All Eyes on Me while I walked down the Longest Aisle Ever, well, it warped my smile. Apparently I have my own unique “everyone is looking at me” smile. Great…

Some who know me could read this and scoff. They’ve seen me at parties, and I look so comfortable.

Yes, and no.

I love a good party! I love the decorations, food and drink, the company. At least, I love talking To You, yes, You, Standing Right Here. If/when we run out of things to talk about, I will choke down panic. Small talk, and even worse, maneuvering from person to person remain skills I haven’t mastered, and my constant prayer is that I don’t look as awkward as I feel. Safely at home later, I will crash. I will then wake in the Wee Hours to mull over Every Word of Every Conversation until daylight creeps under the window shades. It will take me at least a day to recover.

A Party is one thing; My Party is altogether different. Some days, though, being loved really is about receiving it whether or not people plan with your quirks in mind. This birthday I had a morning meeting. One friend stood to hug me as another friend set out cake and people began to sing. I whispered under my breath, “As a little girl I crawled under the table when people sang to me.” She held her arm around me and whispered, “So did my daughter,” and squeezed a little tighter.

Safe in her embrace, I smiled. If anyone took a picture, I’m sure I could show you my “everyone is looking at me” smile. And I enjoyed the cake.