Thankful Thursday – Celebrate

Oh, friends, what a week!

Thursday to Thursday, I’m not sure there is any adequate way to sum it up, but let’s try this: joy, and grief, and joy… In all, celebrate.

One week ago we were in the final hours of the school year, during which both kids managed to drag out the drama and just about drive their mama over the edge. All is well, thank God, but all became well in those final hours. Sheesh!

Celebration commenced. Baccalaureate services and parties led to graduation and graduation parties. Teen graduated–hooray and hallelujah, amen! WOO HOO!

Honestly, I cried on and off (with greater and lesser degrees of humiliation) Wednesday-Thursday. Maybe I was cried out by Friday, but I made it through graduation tear-free. Perhaps it was the ear-to-ear smile Teen wore beginning to end. Or his willingness to at least quickly allow a hug or give me a quick peck on the cheek. I saw his happiness, his pride, his joy. It overflowed.

Imagine my surprise when, on the first day of “summer,” this late-sleeper woke up early and ready for yoga. When asked to choose my intention, the first word that popped to mind was “release,” which I immediately rejected: “release” held way too much possibility for full-on sob-fest! So I very carefully selected, “Celebrate.”

Yes. I can celebrate. Let’s celebrate: graduation, growth, summer, new adventures on the horizon, life lived and life ongoing.

This week we have joyfully celebrated graduations, and we have–with tremendous sadness and loss–celebrated lives well lived. Tucked between graduation parties, we attended a memorial service for an amazing man, a Navy Admiral, a gentleman who poured his life into his country, his family, his church, his business, and the Boy Scout troop in which each of his sons earned the rank of Eagle Scout.

The Troop in which my boys also participate: one has Eagled; another is on track. My boys attended the memorial service in Class A uniform, and each reported feeling impressed by the military salute (what American doesn’t bow low for a military gun salute?), the pastor’s heartfelt message, and their Scoutmaster Emeritus’s tribute to one of his best buddies, a friend of 30+ years. This man’s son and family have been our longtime dear friends. It was our honor to honor his life with them.

Monday we celebrated the first “school day” of summer, and the Bay Area whooped it up for the NBA win of our team, the Golden State Warriors. If you knew me in my SoCal life, this surprises you; but go on, be surprised at what raising two boys in the Bay Area can do for a mama’s respect for basketball!

Yesterday was the five-year anniversary of my beloved Mor-Mor’s (mother’s mother) heaven-home-going. I miss her like crazy; anyone who ever met her feels the same. When my dad was flying Pan Am jets and my dear mom was working, little Mor was it: on duty, making cookies, wooden-spooning naughty bottoms, keeping all of us–and friends–in line.

Yesterday, I read these verses in Proverbs (14:10, 13):
“Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can fully share its joy.
Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains.”

Grief and joy. They coexist in the heart. Sometimes we lean more fully to one or the other, while on occasion, they lean heavily together. Brene Brown wrote (coincidentally, of her own daughter’s recent high school graduation): “There’s a combination of joy and grief that can take your breath away. The sum of those two parts wells up inside you and holds your breath hostage until you let go of the notion that you can control the paradox and choose between joy and grief. Your breath returns only when you submit to the reality that you are caught in the grips of both delight and sorrow. Both are strong. Both are true.”

We celebrated Teen and his peers who have achieved a milestone in their yet-young lives. We celebrated the well-lived long lives of my friend’s dad and my grandma.

We celebrated the Warriors’ win. And last night we (belatedly) celebrated Tween’s 13th birthday and (early) celebrated Father’s Day with dinner and a movie [Wonder Woman, highly recommend!].

Life goes on. In each day, in daily life, we embrace emotional fullness: breath, movement, work, rest, feelings, enjoyment, mourning. Yesterday I felt like my sweet Mor-Mor moved through the day with me: through waking kids, work stuff, kid and family stuff, and family night out. I felt like she smiled down us, like she would have approved, if she could have been here to do so, that we ‘celebrated’ her departure by celebrating the lives we live in the moment.

Here’s to life, and to fully living in the moment all of this beautiful life that deserves celebrating!

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Recreate, Re-Create, Create

Ah, family vacations…! Since my dad traveled for work, our family didn’t take a lot of vacations. At the other extreme, my husband’s family shared annual adventures, each year a new version of the Great American Road Trip. A few years ago we took our kids on a two-week camping road trip–nine states, five national parks and many more state parks, 5,000+ miles–in which we shared experiences much like today’s guest blogger. The power of the family vacation, family recreation, to re-create and re-energize the individual and the family cannot be underestimated. I’m looking forward to our own summer adventures, just days from now.

re:create recess #9: Donna Schweitzer

When this year’s guest blog series topic was announced, I felt a little stumped but jumped on board anyway, knowing I would somehow figure something out. I put Create/Recreate in the back of my mind and kept playing with the words, figuring out how it applied to my life and how I could write about it.

Our family is the typical busy family. With three teenagers, two of whom are in high school and involved in multiple sports and activities, we are continually on the run. Summer doesn’t provide much of a break, either. It seems we are constantly in and out of the house, rarely getting time to sit down together as a family.

We’ve had a rough go of it this year–I had no idea raising teens would be more difficult than parenting toddlers, but that’s the simple truth. The first few months of 2017 were particularly challenging to me as a mother. I had to figure out myself and my children all over again. I felt lost, adrift, untethered. For awhile, I thought I needed to change, become a different mom altogether, but I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. I muddled along, withdrew, stumbled through days and weeks. I talked to friends who have been through this process already. I read books on parenting, something I haven’t done in years. I cried. I yelled. I gave up. I fought on.

Spring Break blessedly arrived in early April. We’d been planning a trip to Utah since fall, so early on a Saturday morning, we loaded the kids into the RV and headed towards Moab–our first stop on this week-long vacation. Originally, other families were going to come along, but it ended up just being the five of us: a blessing, I would realize.

We spent three days at Arches National Park in Moab, then moved on to Bryce Canyon, and finished our week at Zion National Park. Our days were full of hiking and biking. The beauty of Utah exceeded all expectations. We challenged ourselves with scary activities, like climbing up a steep rock and scooting back down (I have a huge fear of heights, particularly of falling off heights). We talked, played board games, cooked together, watched movies every night, made s’mores over fire pits, laughed, and shared experiences.

Yes, we ran out of patience with each other at times. We argued some. We got frustrated, and not everything was perfect, but we had an amazing time. My teens–who, even when they are home, usually are in their rooms or have their faces in screens–hung out with us, and (gasp!) seemed to enjoy it. We added to the fabric that is our family story/history.

It was a healing week for all of us. We reconnected, re-engaged. I discovered I didn’t need to become a new type of mom just because my kids are entering a new phase. I rediscovered myself. I learned a lot about them. We re-created our family through that week of recreation. We created memories we will carry with us always.

We took a LOT of photos during the week, over 500. But I didn’t take all of them myself. Typically behind the lens, on multiple occasions I gave up control of the camera so I’m actually in many of the pictures. I love the perspective gained from seeing what each child chose to photograph; I learned about them just by seeing what they chose to document.

Next month, I will take those pictures on a scrapbooking retreat and will memorialize our trip. I am frequently asked why I don’t just do digital books anymore–so many sites make it so easy to create photo books. I love the process of putting glue to paper, deciding on layouts that best show the selected photos. I relive each day, each memory of each trip, as I scrapbook. I love holding the photos in my hands, the feel of the paper, the texture added by ribbon, tape, stickers, letters, and embellishments. I love holding the finished book, and bringing it home to share with my husband and children. I love watching their faces as they turn the pages, and remember those moments from our trips. I love being able to re-create memories through creating those scrapbooks.

Recreate, Re-Create, and then Create.. It’s been a year of learning, a continual process.

Donna Schweitzer has been married to her husband, Michael, for eighteen years. They reside in San Diego, CA. They have three children, ages 16, 15, and 12, who, along with three dogs and two cats, are affectionately known as The Herd. They travel, watch more sports than is probably healthy, laugh frequently, love much. You can find her blog at threesaherd.com.

Meatless Monday – Potato Enchilada Pie

Hello from my kitchen!

In the end-of-school-year craziness, I haven’t been cooking as much. Way more take-out than usual, which is fine and tasty and fun but not as budget- or waistline-friendly, though, as always, lots and lots and lots of grace for whatever season we (you!) are in.

Last week, however, I found a few pockets of time to make special food to make that last school week, well, special. I made fruit tarts, one with apples and another with nectarines, both topped with peach jam infused with lemon zest and juice and fresh chopped ginger… Oh my! I made banana muffins. I made pancakes with berry sauce. Hmm, it sure looks like my go-to treats are breakfast-snacky, and carb-y, huh? They’re also all long gone.

Yesterday, I got back to dinner. To make a big pot of enchilada sauce (find the recipe here) I first mixed up a batch of chili powder from the spices in my drawer! I’ve regularly had a store-bought blend but had run out. So I googled it, and as it turns out, chili powder consists of more than just ground chilis: cumin, garlic and onion powder, paprika, oregano. Honestly, I’d rather use the spices I already buy to create blends than buy pre-made versions. That way I’ll use up my spices within their best-taste window and have fresher, tastier blends. Another time I might try a recipe that starts with dried chilis, but for now this was easy.

Once the enchilada sauce was simmering, I got to work on Potato Enchilada Pie. The origin for this recipe came from Forks Over Knives. Living in California, we eat a lot of Mexican food. Before I leaned plant-based, I regularly made enchiladas, but even when I loaded them up with veggies they still contained cheese. Without resorting to soy-cheese I despaired of finding a recipe as satisfying. This one does the trick!

I’ve modified the recipe to make it easier and to add black beans. You could also add other veggies, like corn or bell peppers, but in this case I think simple might be best.

Easy Chili Powder Blend

4 Tbsp paprika
4 tsp oregano
2 1/2 tsp cumin
2 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper

Add all spices to a small bowl and mix them. Store in a clean and dried spice bottle for up to six months.

Potato Enchilada Pie
Serves 6

3-4 large potatoes, cut into 1″ chunks
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely diced
1 tsp chili powder
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 c fresh spinach, chopped
1 recipe Enchilada Sauce
3 whole wheat tortillas
garnish: cilantro, green onions, diced avocado (optional)

Boil the potatoes for 5-7 minutes until almost fork-tender.

In a large pan, saute onions for three minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and saute for two more minutes. Add jalapenos and cook for one minute. Add chili powder, beans, and cooked potatoes and mix well. Add spinach and cook for one minute.

Preheat oven to 350. Add sauce to bottom of a pie pan to cover. Top with one tortilla; cover with half the filling. Drizzle with more sauce. Repeat layers: tortilla, filling, sauce, tortilla, and sauce to cover. Bake for 25 minutes. Dress with desired garnishes and slice into wedges.

One of the reasons I love making this recipe is that I have multiple dinners built in: I will use the extra enchilada sauce later in the week to make another of our favorites: Tofu Chilaquiles.

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High School Graduation

Tonight I feel seventeen.

Tomorrow is graduation day. One more project to go: for English, a self-expression slide show of my life—my people, my friends and classmates—set to U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

We’ve been together a long time, but high school isn’t it. We still haven’t found what we’re looking for. It’s here, and it’s out there, our next step.

If I searched high and low in my mom’s house, my old house, I might still find the old slide projector reel filled with images of me and my peers growing from elementary school through junior high and then high school. We took different paths through adolescence, so I had to work harder toward the end to gather pictures of the people with whom we began. Still, I found them. For a time, at least, I had them.

On my final day of high school, I blared my U2 cassette tape through the boom box speakers in synch with my slides, blasting the darkened theater with familiar sound. Even the classmates who knew us only for a stretch of that time appreciated what came before and after. We were. We were little, we were middles, we were grown. We made an impact.

My presentation ended the class period. Lights up, and we were free until we reassembled in graduation gear. For a few hours, we felt oddly untethered to anything and anyone. We knew it wasn’t entirely true, but we felt FREE.

We went home. We weren’t the same. We might even have been a little crazy. Girls did hair and make-up. Boys did…what? I’m not sure.

When we came back together we were uncomfortably not the same, dressed as we’d never been before. We had worn jeans and shorts and T-shirts and skirts and blouses and dresses and collared shirts–even ball gowns and tuxedos–but we had never before worn caps and gowns.

Here we are, about to be, graduates.

Halt.

Tonight, my son is the soon-to-be-graduate. He is eighteen. He has one last final to go, sadly not the feel-good presentation of my last day of high school, but a hard-core final with a graceless teacher who least likes him.

Still, this is his night, his weekend, his now and not yet.

Time is funny. So slow, so fast. How can my little Christmas elf baby be the six-foot-something rugby-tough-guy almost-graduate? The years have been long, and not long enough.

Tonight friends threw a graduation party for their son and his buddies, including our guy. We swapped stories with parents with whom we’ve walked short- and long-lengths of this journey. Oh, how these kids have extended the high school drama! Nothing like giving your parents heart attacks in the last few hours…

I drove home alone, the long way, on purpose. I rolled down the windows, cranked the stereo, punched the gas pedal. I let the wind rush through my hair, felt my skin energized by its chilling flow. I’m no longer seventeen, but I remember. My adult (responsible) Honda Civic is no match for my once-upon-a-time ’67 Mustang, my ultimate cool car. That long-ago night, I knew I had great friends and I also knew, poignantly, that those friendships could not last forever.

I see it. He feels the same, and everything in me aches: for what was, and what is, and what has been lost. And for this boy: for what is, and what will be, and what will be lost.

This is the beginning, and this is the end. And it will come around again.

Overwhelmed

I received a rejection slip! Of course I’m disappointed, but here’s the catch: all creative ventures involve risk. I took a risk. It didn’t pan out the way I’d hoped, but I took it nonetheless. I am creating, and putting my work out there, and it’s a step in the right direction. This post just didn’t meet their needs at this time, which also means I get to post it here instead. Create, and recreate, and all good. What are you creating, and how’s it going?

Bristling like an electrical storm, Teen blustered into the house—door slamming behind him—and tossed his gangly body onto the couch beside his dad. “Hey, did you know the wage gap is a myth? That women get paid less than men for the same work is just not a thing!
 
We stared in response, so he kept spouting facts he’d heard in a video on social media. He thrust his phone in his dad’s face, insisting he watch it, too.
 
Parents want their kids to think critically. At eighteen years old and soon off to college, it is good for him to take account of the world and wrestle with his place in it. But a two-minute video by some guy not much older than he is cannot be his only information source.
 
I left the room, returning armed with a book—Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, by Brigid Schulte (2014: Sarah Crichton Books, Farrar Straus and Giroux, New York). Earlier that afternoon I had finished the section on Work.
 
Schulte offers solid reporting and not by any definition a feminist manifesto. Yet as I read one story after another, I felt affirmed and discouraged that sexism—in the workplace as one societal microcosm—still runs rampant. My kid may be right, that women and men with comparable education, experience and skills receive comparable pay for comparable work. But nothing is ever that simple.
 
For example, researchers at Cornell University put together four nearly identical resumes: half with male names and half with female; half signaling parenthood through PTA involvement and half indicating childlessness through charitable volunteerism. Nearly 200 college students ranked fathers as “best worker,” more employable and promotable and better management training candidates than men without children, while mothers ranked at bottom, considered significantly less competent, intelligent and committed than women without children (79). To test this “motherhood penalty” and “fatherhood bonus,” they confirmed their research by submitting resumes to entry and mid-level positions and found that fathers were called back at a higher rate than nonfathers, while mothers received half the offers of nonmothers (80).
 
As I tried to explain ‘my side’ to my ever-argumentative child (oh, the responsibility of speaking on behalf of the women he will encounter in life, begging him to trade grace for an arrogant hard line), he asked, “But Mom, when have women had it better?”
 
To which I replied, “Maybe they haven’t. But, Son, look at me. I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.”
 
Over a post-yoga iced tea with a girlfriend, I relayed this story. She gave up her hard-earned career to be a full-time stay-at-home mom who employs her work skills as PTA president. I have cobbled together full-time motherhood with part-time employment plus freelance writing. We each have made choices that feel sacrificial. Even at our best, we both feel we will never be able to do it all well.
 
Schulte defines overwhelm as “a product of lack of control and unpredictability and the anxiety that both produce” (280). Who can calculate how many factors in a women’s life fall into “lack of control and unpredictability”? On any given day, I can only control so much: what time I get out of bed; how I fuel and move my body; the ways in which I interact with others; the work or home projects I tackle before the interruptions come. Because the interruptions come, hard and fast, predictably unpredictable: sick kids; forgotten lunches, forms, homework; overlooked deadlines, and immediately-required answers; bad news, local and global, or worse, from loved ones.
 
No wonder we feel overwhelmed! So how to squelch the rampant anxiety? Schulte includes pages of suggestions in the “Do One Thing” appendix—working smarter, not harder; time chunking; practicing gratitude; remembering that play, too, can be useful. For those too overwhelmed to read a book on feeling overwhelmed, this appendix alone is worth perusing.
 
Thankfully, my friend and I have found our way to a straight path. Exercise and togetherness. Swapping stories and encouragement. Expressing gratitude that, though we may not do it all as well as if we only did some, we have opportunities that others have not. Cherishing the truly precious moments in the mess of parenting (that an eighteen-year-old wants to spend an evening discussing real-life issues with his parents is not to be taken lightly!).
 
And taking time to read good books.

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Thankful Thursday – Reading April-May 2017

Reading has always been one of my favorite recreational activities. I read to lose and find myself in stories of people like me in situations unlike any I’ve ever–or will ever–encounter. I read to explore the world, different cultures far and near. I read to find our common humanity, our shared emotion in vastly different experiences. I read to learn new intricacies and ways of being in the world. Here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

Lily and the OctopusLily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A highly original man-and-dog love story. This book is funny and crazy and adventurous and oh so sad while also hopeful. I look forward to another book from this author.

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to ForgetBlackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Searingly honest, in parts painfully so. And therein lies the point: alcoholism is painful, a pain-inducing response to a painful set of inclinations based in biology, experience, and one’s personal psychological and physical response to it. This could have been fiction, and the tragedy is that it was not. And yet, thankfully, there is hope. There has to be hope. Always.

Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong PeopleAccidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I ❤ this book! I am not Lutheran nor high-church liturgical. I do not swear like a sailor and I do not have tattoos. Nor am I brave or vulnerable enough to write as she does in this gorgeous book about God’s grace showing up in very ordinary people (though I aspire to vulnerably write of grace in the ordinary).

Nadia is simultaneously irreverent and reverent. She is refreshingly honest, mostly about her own faults and mistakes and sins and how those are the very cracks through which God shows up with His soldering iron to repair and redeem and make something new and better. Again and again and again, she points to grace.

We don’t agree on every point. Her theology may be more progressive than mine. But she loves Jesus and she loves His church. And, without force, with grace, she continually directs people–and herself–to Jesus, who loves without bounds and forgives without reservation.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I heard about this book when I heard Oprah was involved in a movie version for HBO. The movie is out this week so I rushed to finish it (sadly, while I love Oprah, I didn’t love the movie). Although I am not a scientist (or even a scientist at heart), this book contains threads from so many genres: epic multi-generational family drama, sci fi, ethics, philosophy, biology, tragedy, quest, even coming-of-age. Skloot first heard about HeLa cells–and that they came from a black woman–when she was a 16yo non-traditional high school student taking a community college biology class. She devoted much of the next ten years to seeking out the whole story: of the cells and the woman from whom they came, their significance to scientific progress, and of her family over generations. The story kept me turning pages and the science, explained in a very readable way, didn’t sink me. For so many reasons, this is an important story. Read this book, and then read more about the Lacks family.

The MothersThe Mothers by Brit Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This might be putting it on a little strong, but here it is: if Shakespeare had been a contemporary young black woman from SoCal, he might have written this book. The Mothers, the old church women who gossip and pray in turn, function as Macbeth’s witches. They narrate the interweaving story of three young people, and see into their future and past with little to say about the present. Bennett portrays with aching accuracy love’s power to create, destroy, and significantly alter the course of life.

Dreams of Joy (Shanghai Girls #2)Dreams of Joy by Lisa See
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It’s been a long time since I read Shanghai Girls and this book didn’t adequately reacquaint me with the story fast enough. I spent too many early chapters guessing at Joy’s motivation for drastic actions. It picked up after awhile and then offered a storied picture of China under Mao Tse Tung that frankly terrified me for the world in which we currently live. It holds together as a mother-daughter story, the end satisfies, but I still didn’t love the book.

The Best of Adam SharpThe Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A radical departure from the Rosie books, this one is a long, melancholy song to lost love, chances, and youth. “Lost love belongs in a three-minute song [or, in this case, a book], pulling back feelings from a time when they came unbidden, recalling the infatuation, the walking on sunshine that cannot last and the pain of its loss, whether through parting or the passage of time, remind us that we are emotional beings” (287).

I didn’t love it. Too much IT-talk, and too many references to songs I don’t know. Yes, I could have looked them up but then I’d be reading this book for another month. And the week in France seemed to me like a big, crazy stretch though it did lead to some–at that point in the story–surprising psychological revelations.

Maybe my favorite detail came in learning that Adam’s dad referred to him as A sharp, the less-common musical name for B flat. And perhaps that uncommonness led to Adam’s willingness to take a leap that made me uncomfortable from its first suggestion.

SiracusaSiracusa by Delia Ephron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Four adults and a 10-year-old girl vacation together in Italy. Bound by marriage and parenthood and the past, they don’t share much love for one another. Told by each adult in turn, the story reveals deep rifts, dysfunction, pain, evil.

Ephron gives full-bodied life to her characters and uses their different voices to subtly nuance each conversation, each situation. I think I know these people, but I don’t like any of them. I can imagine them in my social circles, even imagine shared vacations, and I never want to see them again. Siracusa itself–foreign, beautiful, run-down, winding-lose-your-way streets–works as a metaphor for the twisted and twisting relationships. The story feels like the careful steps of a woman in heels walking on ancient cobblestone: slow, unbalanced, tense, lovely, painful.

“Marriage. With whom do you want to take the journey?…Do you want to take it with someone who knows you, even intuits your secrets, or from whom you can remain hidden By that last standard, which choice did I make? I’m still unsure. And why do most of us want marriage? Crave it for status or for stability that is an illusion. Marriage can’t protect you from heartbreak or the random cruelties and unfairnesses life deals out. It’s as if we’re chicks pecking our way out of our shells, growing into big birds splendid with feathers, and then piece by piece, we put the shells back together, reencasing ourselves, leaving perhaps an eyehold, minimal exposure. Having pecked our way out to live, we work our way back to survive. Deluded, of course. Shells crack easily.” (81)

“…suppose you see the corner of a building at sunset and one side is beige and the other flamingo pink when both are in fact the same drab red brick? And a second later the vision is gone because the earth has moved infinitesimally. Was what you saw reality? Is there always more than one?” (189)

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