Monochromatic in Minnesota

Since we moved to Minnesota ten years ago, every winter has been different. Some we remember for the snow until May, or bitter cold at Halloween; some were so snow-light that we couldn’t ski. This one will be remembered for the unending snow. I was thinking “I’d love to curl up by the fire, drink cocoa and read The Long Winter… but I’m too busy shoveling.”

Fortunately I love snow. I love how it resets the world like a blank page. I love the different kinds of snow, the light dry fine snow, the dense blizzard snow, the crystalline sugar snow. It reminds me of my grandmother-in-law who loved to watch it snow. Now that she’s in heaven, I think of her fondly whenever I look out and see it falling.

This winter faked us out. One day we were playing on the playground:

And then it started snowing and never stopped. Every 2-3 days, a little snow, or a lot, or a blizzard.

So yes, Minnesota has been more monochromatic than many years. White snow, dark trees, gray sky.

Gray like the ashes of Ash Wednesday. This blog began as a Lenten exercise many years ago. If Lent were a color don’t you think it would be gray? The somber music, the recognition of our sinfulness.

I once thought gray was boring but I have warmed up. Gray and silver are the color of experience, of something precious. They gray clouds cover the blue sky but for a time. Gray clouds yield rainbows.

Here are a couple gray scarves I acquired from friends who were purging their wardrobes. This was prerfecf for a chic Chik fil a drive through date (drive through because small kids and Minnesota weather!)

I mentioned that some scarves are soft, some rub you the wrong way… this one below is beautiful but abrasive. I love it anyway 🙂

So as we approach the season of Lent, preparing for the joy of Easter, I am reveling in all things gray. I am ready to give up Facebook for 40 days (I think). I am ready to focus.

I often don’t wear scarves because it bothers me when things don’t match. The scarf below went with a hat that matched and has now been lost forever. It is the softest snuggliest scarf so I thought I would pair it with this fantastic sweater that my parents brought me from Peru. If you look closely you can see the llamas!

It’s OK when things don’t match exactly. It’s OK to enjoy these shades of gray. It’s OK not to enjoy them… this too will pass.

Before we know it the buds will be on the trees, and the green grass will be poking through the snow. I pray that you enjoy this solemn season of Lent in anticipation of the joy of Easter.

Shoveling! (A Guide for Warmth) (With bonus cocoa recipe)

Can it stop snowing now? Please?! I haven’t written because since we got back from Hawaii I have been shoveling about every other day. And we are going to get a lot more in the next week. And nobody at a snow-removal company is returning my inquiries (probably because they’re too busy removing the last bunch of snow).

Here’s a Hawaii picture to make us all feel warmer:

Ahhh that’s better. No scarves needed in Paradise!

So back to shoveling. I enjoy it in moderation: exercise, fresh air, occasional chance to see long-lost neighbors, and excuse to take a bath and eat carbs. This is my sixth winter of shoveling (we lived in a rental condo for four years) and I have become quite handy with our electric snowblower and shovel.

And the most important tip is – there is no bad weather for shoveling, just bad clothes. To stay warm, you need a full length coat, zipped all the way up to avoid flying snow, snow pants, waterproof mittens or gloves, full length boots, warm hat, and a scarf or neck sleeve for the face. Mittens are said to be warmer than gloves but for fine motor control of a snowblower I prefer some heavy duty gloves.

In this first picture, you can see the benefit of the furry hat. Very warm and comfortable! Also it is fun to dress up your utilitarian coat with a fun scarf.

Here is me when it’s really brrrr. You can see the snowblower in the background and I am completely matching (hat, buff, coat and snowblower!)

(Not that it matters because soon I will be covered with blown snow and look more like a snow-woman!)

If you feel your energy flagging, it’s time to warm up with a cup of cocoa.

Recipe for Amazing Hot Cocoa:

Microwave water for 1 minute 30 seconds on regular power (2 minutes works too. 1 minute is not enough.)

Stir in desired flavor of Swiss Miss

If it is before 4 PM, add small scoop instant coffee for extra zing.

If available add extra marshmallows.

Happy shoveling!

Scarves are Love

I fell in love with the yarn the moment I saw my mom holding it: a mixture of blue-green colors like the play of tropical waters, the soft texture, I watched in awe as my mom turned it into beautiful leaf-shapes. How did she do that?!

My mom’s mastery of textiles has always mystifies me. I saw her cross-stitch and sew home-made clothes and costumes as a child. As an adult, I marveled as she taught herself to knit.

My mom says the yarn is called “cyan malabrigo caracol” and she found the pattern on Ravelry.

Every time I wear the scarf, I think of the thought she poured into selecting that fabric and planning her pattern, the time she took to make it, and the love she put into each stitch.

I have beautiful hand-made baby blankets, quilts, hats a prayer shawl, and a baby sweater. In this day and age when you can buy anything, making something seems particularly precious.

This scarf feels like a hug around my neck. A hug from my amazing mom. Sometimes, scarves are love.

Scarfs and Scarves for All Occasions

I don’t dress up everyday. In fact, I try to avoid it as much as possible. With small children, nice clothes inevitably attract food, saliva, marker, boogers, etcetera. Since I feel like scarves go with nice clothes, this is another imagined barrier to wearing them.
But I was determined to start the year of scarves off right, so as I ran an errand in my husband’s college sweater, I decided to find a matching scarf…
Alumni pride from head to toe!
(If only Noah’s carseat were in the picture… then you would see how deep our alumni pride really goes. O Davidson, you are the best!)
I have always loved the black/white/crimson color combination and was delighted during the college search to find that my favorite college also had my favorite colors.

But I digress. Just as there are scarves for all outfits and activities, there are a plethora of meanings to “scarf.”

It can also mean to join metal or timber, to cut whale blubber, or to eat quickly. I doubt I will ever use the first two meanings, but as a parent I do tend to scarf my food down speedily.
Also, in case you were curious, both “scarfs” and “scarves” are appropriate plural forms of the noun fscarf, but only “scarfs” can also be used as a verb! 

So I encourage you – do not be afraid to pair a scarf and pajamas. Put on your long coat and boots and walk in like you own the place!

Wear All the Scarves

I can’t believe it’s 2019! 2018 was a busy year for us – new baby, many travels, and a new house. Moving at Christmas isn’t usually recommended, but we loved spending the holidays enjoying our new place. Someday soon I will write the long and winding story of how we found our new house.

And speaking of long and winding, my husband told me as he unpacked and organized our previously hidden possessions – “You have a lot of scarves!”

I had to agree; I’m a scarf hoarder! I love scarves; I love the different fabrics and textures, soft and fluffy, shimmery and gauzy, woven, knitted, and knotted. Yet I never wear them.

Why not? Well, I usually forget… I’m lucky if I wear hat and gloves on my way out the door. After all, those are what you need to face the Minnesota winter wind. Neck coverage is optional.

Also, I grew up in Texas so I was never immersed in a scarf-wearing culture. When we did experience winter by skiing in Colorado, we wore BUFFs (versatile fabric tubes made famous on Survivor) or these things called “neck gaiters.” These are to scarves what a jumper is to a ball gown.

The third reason I rarely wear scarves is that I still feel great trepidation about my selection – am I wearing the right scarf? Does it match? Do I look affected? How do you tie it, anyway?

Finally, I always associated scarves with turtlenecks, a form of clothing I found uncomfortable and unflattering for me. However, I have discovered that scarves are loose and breathable!

So forget weight loss and self-improvement. I will not hide my scarves under a bushel (or in a deacon bench) any longer! My goal for 2019 is to wear all the scarves!

My Lifelong Struggle with “Quiet Times”

When I was growing up, I knew that we were supposed to have a “quiet time.” In the conservative Christian church and school circle I matured in, this meant a dedicated time of scripture study, meditation and prayer. Usually the idea was presented at a retreat, from whence I would enthusiastically return to real life and have quiet times for a few days until I got tired of trying to wake up early or find time to do something I found, frankly, boring.

To my profound disappointment, the recommendation to make time for quiet times did not go away when I went off to college. Through my involvement at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, I had waves of guilt about my lack of quiet times. I just couldn’t seem to make time. With a few exceptions: when I did sit down to journal with God, as I did on our retreats, amazing things happened. Every year, our chapter went to a retreat at beautiful Montreat in the North Carolina mountains. I remember sitting on a rock in the middle of a mountain stream and feeling God’s presence, his reality. My “forced” quiet times at chapter camp, our annual gathering with other InterVarsity chapters, led to the surrender of sins, of my struggle with depression, of my fears about the future. My quiet times at my CityLights experience in St. Louis transformed my perspective as I realized God’s passion for immigrants, for widows and orphans, and for social justice. In all these cases, I was in situations that dictated a quiet time – and when I listened, it was transformative.

Then “adulting” happened; nobody makes you have a quiet time when you’re in nursing school, when you’re working, when you fall into Default Christian mode of church-Bible study-ministry involvement. Recently, as I discussed in my last blog post, I realized that I needed to focus more on the spiritual side of things, that I was drawing water from a well that I was not caring for.

Yet so strong was my distaste for quiet times that I wondered aloud to myself “Do I need them? Can I just skip them?”

God spoke through my grandmother, who shared about her quiet times. If my grandma is doing quiet times at 80+, I clearly need to be doing them at 30+. God spoke to me through my readings and Bible study passages. Jesus was always going off by himself to talk to God. Finally, God reminded me I need quiet time, that these are not for him but for me. When I skip quiet times, or whatever you want to call them, I am doing myself a disservice. He also reminded me I don’t need to have 30 minutes – I can do 5-10 minted at a time, and I can read the Bible and write notes on my phone, which is a lot easier in Mom-life than finding 30 minutes to sit in a carefully appointed quiet time retreat.

(If you have a nicely decorated quiet time space, and 30 minutes to sit there, no offense meant, I am just a bit jealous).

Finally, the Holy Spirit reminded me that studying this word doesn’t have to be drudgery. I don’t have to plow through one book at a time. I can listen to what he’s calling me to. Right now, my study is a bit eclectic – but it is keeping my interest, I am learning a ton, and the Holy Spirit is certainly speaking to me through the word.

Have you had a rough time with “quiet times?”

The Write Life

At the end of 2017, I planned to share flash fiction and nonfiction on my blog this year. I still intend to do that – eventually. Those ambitions were superseded by other great opportunities. I decided to write a novella; I also took some Coursera creative writing classes. In the last year, I’ve been trying to make time for my writing and prioritize my writing, and these two opportunities allowed me to try some new things.

After I submitted my novella, I began paying attention to the things I’d been putting on the back burner. I began to realize that in trying to live the “write” life, I may have been missing out on the “right” life. I kept hearing the Holy Spirit whisper “Seek ye First the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” I think the joy of having a “room or my own,” the space and stability to write, distracted me from a better focus.

Life consists of more than writing. While I will always write – I can’t help writing – the right life for me means following God’s leading. It means the “rite life,” following the patterns and rituals, personal and public, that I do in pursuit of God. It means the “wright life,” pursuing my vocations as a nurse, a mother, and a Bible study participant and sometimes leader.

Our lives are full of activities both mundane and sublime. Sometimes we are wiping out toddler potties; sometimes we are reading or writing poetry. “So whether you eat or drink” or work or stay home or write or nurse or potty train “do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:3). That is my goal for this year, as our lives change forever, as we go from a family of 3 to family of 4. Whatever challenges or joys lie ahead, I am thankful to walk with God through all of them.

The Holy Spirit continues to remind me that God is in control. Two weeks ago, we went to a Newsboys concert. The Newsboys were my favorite group in middle school and their songs were formational in my faith, and their current lead singer, Michael Tait, was in my other favorite group, DC Talk. During the concert, Michael Tait said, “We’re not called because we’re talented. We’re talented because we’re called!” The true value of our gifts and talents becomes apparent when we surrender them to God.

Writing Goals 2018

My favorite find many years ago at Half Price Books was The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon. Written by a Japanese noblewoman hundreds of years ago, it consists of a variety of very short pieces: poetic lists, descriptions of obscure anecdotes, descriptions of ceremonies and events. There is something elegant and beautiful in its brevity and eccentricity.

That combination of qualities is something I am interesting in interpreting and creating. I have spent a lot of time this year re-investing in my passion for writing – reading The Artist’s Way, making time to prioritize reading and writing, taking some online courses, joining a local writing group, and putting myself out there by making submissions. I have made the huge step of admitting that despite my fear of critique, writing community is something I need.

During this time, I have become intrigued by a couple genres – flash fiction and flash nonfiction. Both are very short pieces; while word counts vary, many sources suggest less than 1000 words. This length requires a radical paring, a distillation to the very essence of the story and the experience.

While I continue writing in other formats – journals, a novella contest, submissions to magazines or contests, and whatever I can scribble while deliriously nursing a new baby – my goal for my blog this year is to practice my flash fiction and nonfiction skills. I hope it will be fun for everyone!

My theme will be Genesis – beginning, origin, creation, and the source of those first incredible stories in the Bible. Here’s to a wonderful 2018!

We’re having a…

A few weekends ago, we celebrated my husband’s 30th birthday. He is an incredible guy and has been through a lot in 30 years – academic success, medical school, marriage, cancer, house ownership, residency, fatherhood, and getting a real job. So when he said he wanted to go to a Brazilian steakhouse for his birthday, I said, “You betcha!” And I planned a few surprises for his un-surprise birthday party .

First, I had invited my dad. We knew he was coming, but I hadn’t read his flight information very carefully and was sure he was coming on Friday. So when he texted me on Thursday and said he was at the airport I said “what?! Awesome!” He walked in to surprise Chris at handbells, and we got to spend all day Friday together!

Second, Chris’s dad and partner had secretly planned to come as well. We walked into the party room on Saturday evening and – there they were, all the way from Virginia!!!

Another surprise for the guests – the beautiful chemistry-themed birthday cake was also a gender reveal cake. We figured it was a great time, with so many friends and family already assembled.

After a delicious dinner of meat on sticks – so tasty for this iron-craving mama – we cut into the cake and found pink frosting! “It’s a girl!”

As we drove home, I was thrilled but surprised. This time I had been sure it was a boy. Of course I love our daughter and baby girls. I began to look forward to our girls being best friends, sharing a room, not having to buy new clothes…

We got home and I double-checked the genetics report hidden in my bedside drawer.

Y chromosome material present?!!! Male fetus?!!!

I walked out of there, stunned, waving the paper at my family. “The cake decorator got it wrong!”

A glance at the report revealed the problem… it’s very confusing to read. I had just printed it from my record and handed it to her – NOT the best idea. I should have had a friend look and tell her!

So then we had to call all the guests and family we had already notified and let them know….


The Deer on our Road

I almost hit a deer this week. I was driving down our neighborhood road after an Oktoberfest celebration at church when the deer plunged in front of the car. When it first ran out, I thought it was a jogger, then a really big dog. Then I caught a glimpse of antlers – a young buck. I slammed on the brakes, swerved a little, and watched the silent animal disappear over the hill into the drainage pond that he was no doubt seeking. 
I felt as though I’d just seen a falling star. This is only the second deer I’ve ever seen in my neighborhood. It had come from a dense plot of houses. Was he eating someone’s flowers? Taking a stroll on the sidewalk?
“You okay, mommy?” my toddler called.

“Yes!” I told her. “We almost hit a deer.”

“Where?” She twisted, wanting only to see this rare animal.

“It’s gone,” I told her.

Almost everyone in rural areas has a story about a deer-strike or a near-miss. How many times have I white-knuckled my way on curving country roads at night, freezing internally at the glint of eyes? 

Yet even our city lifestyle does not guarantee that we will not meet a deer. Freak things happen. People hit deer even in urban areas. Mountain lions attack people in parks. Recent disasters remind us that no one is immune from natural disasters like floods or fires. 

 Yet we forget that these are possibilities, instead worrying about schools or work stress or the many other mundane mosquitoes that suck our life blood. In our bubble of computers and Facebook, we distance the possibility of these tragedies. 

I say this not to inspire a life of constant fear and vigilance, but to encourage us to minimize those vampiric details. Life is a precious gift best held gently; we must treasure our days and loved ones because there are no guarantees. Why do we let little issues steal our joy? We are alive! 

Mixed with the gratitude at having missed death (at least for the deer) was delight with the serendipity of the experience, this brief moment of magic, a glimpse of something extraordinary.