Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas 2014 in photos

Amanda time!

VCB, red wine, and Amanda. It's tradition.

JW gets magical on Christmas Eve

Caleb and I were SO happy to have our annual awkward Christmas photo get photobombed on two sides.

Luminaries

Woods shenanigans with my bro, as usual

My mom always supports me

Michael is the largest member of our family. 

Christmas 2014

Best. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

For Christmas Eve - Il Signore ti ristora

Il Signore ti ristora, Dios non allontana, il Signore viene ad incontrarti. Viene ad incontrarti.

The Lord restores you, God does not push you away. The Lord comes to meet you. The Lord comes to meet you.

I love mantras. They are simple phrases you repeat over and over again as meditation or prayer. Christians have a tradition of mantras too. Above is one of my favorites. It's in Italian and comes from a place called Taizé ("tih-ssay"), in France. If you also love mantras or contemplative prayer and Jesus, you will love Taizé.  

The chapel at Taizé
I don't think I need to explain why this one is relevant for Christmas Eve. But what might take some explanation is why Christmas makes me think of migrant workers, Ferguson and brick makers in India.

Here is part of a traditional Christmas hymn. If you go to a Christmas Eve service, you might sing this:

"And you, beneath life's crushing load, whose forms are bending low, who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow."

Christmas-y, right? Jingle bells. Let me tell you, while sometimes I feel like I have a mentally "crushing load", my daily life is about as far away from that as you can get. I haven't weighed in on here about Ferguson, but I have had some good conversations about it. To me, the actual facts of that evening are important, but regardless of what you think happened, look how it resonated with communities all over the country. It's pretty clear we have a problem. People feel crushed and hurt and rightly angered by discrimination. When President Obama was elected, people said, "Look! We're not a racist country anymore! We have a black president!" And it was a huge step. But it's clear we have a long way to go - because everyone pointed out that the president was black. After we've had two or three or seven black presidents, skin color will not even be worth commenting on.

Il Signore ti ristora.

And let's talk about the men and women who are making our Christmas decorations or picking our crops or packing our meat. They work long hours away from their loved ones and come home sweaty, exhausted, and probably not smelling great. Sounds a lot like a shepherd to me.

"And in the same region, there were migrant workers, from another country, out in a field, picking crops by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear." - Luke 2:8-9 (adapted)

Dios non allontana.

"And you, beneath life's crushing load, whose forms are bending low, who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow. Look now for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing. Oh rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing." Do you know what song it is? It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.

There are more slaves in the world now than ever before in history - 29.8 million. That's more people than live in Australia. One organization, International Justice Mission, is working to free enslaved people. In June, they rescued 179 people from a brick-making factory in India. After being rescued, one man said, "Today I believe God is alive, in different shapes and in different people." "Look now for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing."

Il Signore viene ad incontrarti.  

I truly hope you have a joyful Christmas with your family, friends, loved ones. It should be full of laughter, fun, and celebration. And, at some point, may your understanding of Christmas collide with the news to transform both things.

Viene ad incontrarti.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The rules

Do you ever realize that there are certain unwritten, assumed rules you have in your mind for navigating certain situations?

When Caleb and I got married, he joined me on my frequent dog/ house sitting adventures.

(Sidebar: if you need a dog or house sitter, let us know. We can get you some references.)

It's important to take pictures like this with your friends' dogs.
I realized that I have these "rules" I follow when dog sitting, which actually date back to my rules for babysitting. These rules don't have much to do with the actual care of children or pets, but rather are rules governing my behavior as a guest in someone's house while they are not there. I am sure that we all have rules like this, to an extent. Most people don't behave in someone else's house they way they might behave in their own house. (Or maybe I am the only one who sometimes feels the need to put my pajamas on IMMEDIATELY when I walk in the front door... surely not though, right??)

This is Goliath, one of my parents' dogs. When he was alive, I loved watching him. Yes, that is my foot clad in a black Christmas sock in a brown shoe. Don't hate. Just look at the dog. Snuggle bug. 
Given Caleb's surprise when I immediately listed off all the things we must and mustn't do while living in someone else's home, I thought it would be interesting to share them here as well. Note: these rules are the rules I would follow if I didn't know the person well. The more you get to know someone, the more you learn their "rules" and can adjust accordingly.

Group 1: The Food Rules:
1. An initial pantry and refrigerator surveillance is both allowed and important. If they have invited you to eat their food, it's best (for me) to know what there is before I get very hungry and dramatic.
2. If it's not open, don't open it. Mostly applicable for things like wine, bottles of soda, special looking food. Really, alcohol is off limits all the time, unless they otherwise instructed.
3. If it's the last one, don't eat it. Don't finish things.
4. Someone else's restaurant left-overs are not allowed.
5. Cooking is usually fun at someone else's house. Do it!

Group 2: The General Rules:
6. Don't adjust the thermostat.
7. If you or the kids/animals make a mess, clean it up.
8. Leave it better than you found it. Run and unload the dishwasher. Pick up toys.
9. If staying overnight, pay attention to how your bed is made when you arrive. When you leave, make it the same way. If you had permissions to adjust the thermostat, put it back to what it was.

And there you have it! There may be one or two that I missed, but it's more challenging to remember when I'm sitting at my house, where I can do whatever I want!

Do you have rules like this? Are they similar or pretty different? 

Friday, December 5, 2014

My trick for remembering the foreign language you took in high school.

As most of you know, I speak Spanish. Every day.

Windmills of La Mancha, representing Spanish
When people* find this out, and find out that I learned Spanish mostly in school, they are surprised. And a little jealous. A lot of people share regrets about not learning Spanish when they had the opportunity. I empathize, but to be honest, I have never really understood this problem. I did not forget the Spanish I learned in 7th grade. Or in high school. Or in college.

That all changed on Wednesday. You see, in addition to Spanish, I took a year of French in high school. And another year in college. I wanted to keep going, but it just didn't work with my schedule.

I decided to take up French class after hearing a story on the radio (while baking Thanksgiving pies) about some of the benefits of learning other languages. I found out on Tuesday that the placement test I needed to take was on Wednesday. I had to test into the intermediate level in order for it to work with my schedule, but I really had no time to study, other than reviewing my French book. I thought, "THIS IS HOW ALL THOSE PEOPLE FEEL ABOUT FORGETTING SPANISH AND IT'S HORRIBLE. I AM SORRY TO EVERYONE."

I barely spoke French the first time I visited France, but boy, oh boy did I want to learn.
I was nervous, driving to my French test. Then I remembered another story I had heard on Thanksgiving - about studying and remembering. Reading your notes? Not effective for long term memory. You know what is effective? Forcing your brain to retrieve the information over and over again. This helps you create a pathway to the info, rather than storing it in an unretrievable way.

Okay everyone. It's going to make you sound a little crazy, but here is my number one trick for learning/ remembering another language:

Talk to yourself in that language.

Honestly, it doesn't really matter what you say. Count. Introduce yourself. Ask yourself how you are. Think of things you still know, and say them to yourself. Or look up basic phrases and say them to yourself. Laugh if you don't know it and say excuse me!

I talked to myself out loud in French all the way to my test. Here is what I said. "Good evening. My name is Ellen. I like French. I want to study (couldn't remember "learn" so I worked around it) French. I have studied French in "high school" (couldn't remember that) and at the university. I have studied French two years. I am at 71st street. I like 60 (I really like the number sixty in French "soixante"). I work with Madagascar. I do not know, how do you say Madagascar in French? Is it the same? There are are two or three people who speak English. I speak Spanish. I'd like to study French because I'd like to speak to the people in Madagascar. Turn right. Turn left. Go straight. I have told my husband that I need to study French on Wednesday or Thursday because I can't on Monday or Tuesday...."

Suddenly, the pathway started to clear. I was remembering words that I hadn't thought of in years. I was speaking French. About five years ago, I traveled to France from Spain and realized I needed to remember French. I did this as a writing exercise and it was very helpful as well. You realize there are lots of words you want to look up, and that's okay. Don't look them up though. Make a note and keep going.
What language did you study in high school or college? I've never studied Italian, but I think I'd like it.
This is a way to re-link the pathways in your brain. To reconnect. You really do have that high school   Spanish/French/Latin/   stored in your head, you just need to recreate the path to find it.

I recognize that I am somewhat of a linguist. I love this stuff. I have dug out my French memories about once every 3-5 years or so and played with them. Nevertheless, I really do think that this is the secret to learning how to think in another language.... make yourself have an internal conversation in that language. This was true for me when I crossed the line from translating everything to just speaking in Spanish. Try this out. Let me know how it works. Pair it with some language CDs or games like Duolingo and I bet you will be surprised.

*No one is more surprised than native Spanish speakers. "Really???" they say.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

the weekend in a stream of consciousness

Madagascar, empanadas, baseball, Venezuela, churros, Malagasy, buck in the front yard, clean laundry swaying in the breeze, homemade pizza, homemade lemon meringue pie with perfect meringue, perfect crust, and perfect tasting filling with, spanglish, marmota is "woodchuck" in Spanish, Mexico, toddlers, love, full house, full heart, flour EVERYWHERE, cleaning and cleaning again, dirtying every single kitchen towel and washcloth, root beer floats, kids' yoga, parents, resting, dishes with joy, ikea, sweeping, meatballs, lingonberry is the swedish cranberry, facebook, face to face time, sunshine, plants, fresh dirt, ice cream sodas, homemade ginger beer, phone calls, text messaging, reconnecting, walking, watering, talking, snuggling.






Wednesday, October 8, 2014

In the spirit of just beginning...

Today I want to write because I have something I want to tell you about. I haven't written for a while. We've been doing just a few things around the house, you know, like moving and stuff. Nothing big. Two questions for you.
  1. Have you ever been really touched by someone you barely knew? 
  2. Have you ever met someone you were 99% sure was a prophet? (You can never really be sure of these things until afterwards.)
Confession - when other people post videos on their blogs, I usually don't watch them. This video is beautiful my friends. I think you will appreciate it. In it, appears someone who is my answer to both of the above questions. 

Today, we celebrated the life of this man, Bob Hentzen, who passed away one year ago today. We walked to a park, carrying flags of countries where we work. We ate together, and had discussions about something he used to say, all the time - "The spirit of just beginning".



On the day of his sixtieth birthday, Bob started walking. He walked from Kansas City to Guatemala. Years later, at age 74, he walked from Guatemala to Chile. Why? To tell families living in poverty that they are not alone. That they are valuable, that we need them, that they are quite capable of changing the world. When he arrived in Chile, he said to the crowd, "People ask me, 'Now what? You've finished the walk.' And I say to them, 'This adventure is just beginning!'"

What would it mean to stay open each day, to live in a spirit of just beginning? This is my reflection. This is what I want to share with you, to ask you. What do you think?  For me, I think it means starting each day without carrying yesterday's baggage. To stay open to people and experiences and the way they might shape us. To not go through the motions.

Your turn... 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Words for a Saturday II

Part I here.

Today was a day full of the ordinary. Dishes, laundry, de-cluttering and minimizing. Short-term. What was your day filled with?

Here is a poem for perspective:

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years. 
- Wendell Berry


Sunday, August 31, 2014

One

Today, we turn one.


We are remembering this beautiful day one year ago, and how (almost) all the people we love were gathered in one place. I JUST WANTED TO KEEP YOU ALL THERE, for at least one week month. I remember during our first dance I asked Caleb if he was going to cry. "I sort of want to, but I'm just too smiley," he said. That described our whole day. It was so significant that I wanted to weep, but the joy was overpowering, so I laughed instead. It was perfect.   


This has been a whirlwind year, filled with learning about each other, and many life changes. Together we have had four job changes. We became coworkers less than one month after becoming husband and wife. We've traveled to Nebraska four times (plus I went twice by myself), eastern Missouri (twice for Caleb) and Arkansas once. We Caleb trapped about a dozen mice and we've been to three weddings (unrelated). We purchased a car and a scooter. We laughed at least 100 hours and shared more delicious meals than can be counted. We have seen my brother eight times. We lost a very special little dog. We have each had one haircut and we did a cleanse together. We got really good at washing dishes by hand and having spontaneous dance parties in our kitchen. This year, we read a lot of fiction, because story is so good.

Happy first birthday to our marriage!
To celebrate, we made a special meal, dressed up in our wedding clothes, and took loads of photos.


We are so happy to be one! 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A spark of divinity

"It is through your body that you realize you are a spark of divinity."
-BKS Iyengar
Photo by The Shalom Imaginative
Sometimes, it seems like all the input in a day is visual and head centered. You know what I mean? We read cookbooks and scan screens and traffic. We have intelligent conversations about things we believe or don't believe. We watch the news, movies and videos of cats. (?)

Have you ever tried to sit still and pray after too much input? 

I knooow - it feels like a hamster is running on a wheel and churning out thoughts in my head too! 

Then, maybe something happens that wakes us up.  Maybe someone gets sick or married or dies. Maybe a song comes on the radio or a friend says they are having a really hard time and suddenly, you don't feel like your mind is racing. You've dropped down somehow, to someplace deeper. A shift from the head to the heart or to the stomach. Suddenly, you can sit still all day. Contemplating. You notice things. The sweetness of the after work ritual. The feeling of a long exhale. The taste of a fresh peach. 

Welcome. You have arrived back in your body and soul after being in what I'm calling "floaty head land". It's a technical term. I think doctors probably are going to start using it soon. 

Have you noticed this before? Being connected with your body leads to a connection with your heart and your soul. One of my friends referred to this connection when she said, "I open up to God on my yoga mat." Another friend just needs to go on a walk after a long day. People talk about runners' high and endorphins. 

For me, a place where I can stop the hamster wheel up in floaty head land is doing yoga. It brings me back to center, back to a place of openness, back into my body. One of the reasons yoga even made it to places like the US is because of a man named B.K.S. Iyengar, who passed away today. He was born in 1918 and lived in India. The quote at the beginning of this post is from him. We can thank him for encouraging women to do yoga. For prenatal yoga. For blocks and straps and other things that make yoga much easier. For teaching yoga in groups instead of just one on one. For training yoga teachers to prevent student injury. This was an influential man. 

In honor of him, I challenge you to move your body. Find your spark of divinity. Get off the hamster wheel. 

I'll see you there... 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Refugee

Last night, I dreamt I was a refugee. Fleeing war, carrying children and elderly on my back, selling my most valuable possessions - my toothbrush and my deodorant. Sharing a toothbrush with someone I barely even knew, only tasting the salt and grit of tears.

This morning, I dreamt of a world filled with peace and light. A world where Iraq - and every other country - embrace the diversity, where we learn from our differences. Where no one has to worry about if they can afford to pay for water and there is enough food for all the children. And no ebola.

Jesus was trying to explain this vision once and said this: "What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.”

This evening, I heard the story of real life refugees. Their community is deep. They've been here a while. But she just wishes she could see her mom again, you know? It's been a long time - more than a decade - but it's too dangerous. But she's being strong for the kids. Because life's been really hard lately.

Her voice breaks during the interview and for a second, you get a grasp of how deeply she is feeling all of this. Then she blinks and looks away. I whisper, wanting to reach out to her, "You are so strong."

"He told them still another parable: 'The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.'"

I want a world full of freedom, peace, kindness. But sometimes, the only way towards that is to be the little amount of yeast that you can be, hold your strength, and work your way deeply into the world. Sometimes, a mama holding space for her kids to just be kids is the most radical act in the world. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Mouse tales and reincarnation

Last fall, I read the C.S. Lewis space trilogy. It was awesome. In the last book, the main character is discussing mice.

[Paraphrasing what I remember the quote to be.] "The relationship between man and mouse was not meant to be strained. In fact, it is quite natural. Humans make crumbs, mice clean up crumbs. At this, he sounded a bell, and several mice came out of the walls and cleaned up the crumbs from his biscuit. He sounded the bell again and they all went back into the wall."

Shortly after this, we had a mice invasion in our house. I, who like to live peaceably with all beings, was very conflicted. Could I train our mice to just come out and clean up crumbs? That would be AWESOME. No more vacuuming! But no. We set the normal traps that go "whack" and I put peppermint oil everywhere. And we filled up hole after hole with steel wool and expanding foam. Eventually we went a week with no mice. Then two. Then two months. Then they were gone.

Almost. Cue story time:

Scene: 4:30 a.m. Our bed. Last week.

Mouse (Intonation: this is the best night of my life.): SQUEAK, SQUEEEEEAAK! SQUEAKITY SQUEAK SQUEEEEEAK! WOO!
Caleb: *sits straight up and leaps out of bed*
Ellen: *puts fingers in ears* (to self) this is not happening. LA LA LA LA that was not a mouse. we don't have mice. they are all living happy mouse lives outside. not in here. I am sleeping. (repeat.)
Caleb: *frantic trap setting*

Scene: Kitchen. A few days later. E & C are washing dishes and cleaning.

Ellen: Hey Caleb, is this mouse poop?
Caleb:  Hm.
Ellen: Actually, whatever you think it is, please tell me that it's not. Okay?
Caleb: No, I think this is just crumbs. But hey! Let's wash this really well because it's dirty.

Scene: Kitchen. This weekend

Caleb: Hey, our peanut butter is really runny for baiting mouse traps.
Ellen: The mice don't need organic peanut butter. They have the pasteurized cheese product I bought them last fall.

I heard a rumor recently about the Dalai Lama. I don't know if it's true, but it's a good story. And as our traps continue to send mice to another place, it's comforting to me.

The Dalai Lama was visiting Minneapolis in the summer. You know about the mosquitos there right? HUGE. As he gave his talk outdoors, he suddenly stopped and slapped his arm. "Happy reincarnation," he said.

So to you mice, happy re-incarnation. Maybe next round, you can be a cat. They have nine lives. Winning. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The "Get out of Dodge" button

- This post was somewhat inspired by this post. I promise Kelsey isn't paying me to advertise her blog. -

Somewhere in Kansas...
When I was a kid, my parents made sure that I knew ANYTIME I was at a friends' house and felt unsafe, I could call them and they would come get me. No matter what time. No matter where I was.

In recent years, I've started to imagine this concept as the "get out of Dodge" button. Why? Who knows... I think its a good life boundary though. If you start to feel unsafe or start getting that sixth sense about something, there is almost always a way out. A reset. People will help you.

When I lived in Spain, I experienced life very strongly. There were times I giggled with glee just to be walking down the street and see palm trees. And I had my first anxiety attack. I always knew though, that if things got to be too much for me to handle, I could press the "Get out of Dodge" button and come home. Right then and there.

Another time, I wanted to press the button, to call home and ask for help. It was the closest I've ever been to being kidnapped and living the movie Taken. (Hm. Wanna hear that story? It has a happy ending, obviously...) But I was in France. There was no "Get out of Dodge" button. There were no people, just me and the man I was trying to avoid. It was one in the morning. I was at a Metro stop in Paris with no directions to my hotel and no taxis. And no phone. It worked out.

Today, I pressed a sort of "Get out of Dodge" button in one area of my life. I was immediately relieved. And excited. And filled with anticipation...


Monday, July 21, 2014

I don't even know her name.

"I like your outfit! Those greens look really cute together."

Not the first words I was expecting to hear out of the cashier at McDonald's. After much deliberation about how counter-intuitive it seemed to stop for a McDonald's milkshake after doing yoga for two straight days, I did it. I pulled off I-29 and parked, so I could stretch my legs while ordering my McShake.

"Thank you!" I said, surprised and touched. "I wasn't expecting it to go well together, but then I was surprised."

"Yeah, it looks really good!" she said with the sweetest smile. "Well, I can take your order. I mean, whenever you're ready."

"Thank you, but I'm not ready yet. I'm trying to decide which ice cream I want." Dipped cones? I didn't know McDonald's had dipped cones!

"I really like to get the sundae, then put the apple pie in it. Hot and cold in every bite!" This girl was genius! Too bad the pie wasn't gluten free...

I finally decided on the milkshake. She mentioned, "Sometimes, I wonder how our prices compare to other McDonald's around the country. You know, like are we cheaper?" The way she said it made me wonder if she'd been out of her small town. I suddenly felt self-conscious. I didn't want to say anything to make me sound like some crazy world traveler. Instead I mentioned Chicago, and how the McDonald's I went to there didn't have a dollar menu, so I was pretty sure she was right on target.

There was just something about her ease, her honest friendliness. I wanted to stay and talk to her for hours, she reminded me of a little sister. It was so genuine and refreshing. I searched for a name on her shirt, but saw none.

As I climbed back in my car, I felt different somehow, more full. What a great interaction, I thought. The milkshake was a small price to pay for a few minutes of rare connection with a stranger. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Yo-maha

This Sunday morning finds me in the guest bedroom of my awesome friend and former roommate's home in Nebraska. I happen to love Nebraska. And I also love Steph.

Oh, college. Oh late night study sessions
I really love all my yoga teacher training classmates here. On training weekends, we get immersed in so many different aspects of yoga. One of our teachers is the best storyteller. I think we could all spend the whole weekend sitting around a campfire, singing and listening to her tell stories.

Yesterday, we practiced leading different sections of a yoga class - but we didn't know what section we were going to lead until it happened. As I walked to the teaching mat, I walked verrrry slowly and mindfully so that I could remember what happened in my section. (Phew, I remembered - high lunge > warrior 3 > standing splits)

We also played fun games cueing poses - I think the one we played yesterday was called "Dave's blind cueing" or something. If Caleb were here, I would probably have a hard time going back home tonight. I just want these weekends to go on forever!

Off to take in a full day of learning....

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

the truth about graduation

This afternoon, I hung out with some five year olds. And not just any five year olds.

These were five year olds who were graduating from preschool. Tonight. Actually, they are probably graduates now.

Since I am not around large groups of five year olds nearly often enough, I decided to really dive in. I answered questions about why I cannot see without my glasses on, why I have red bumps on my arm (eczema), and why I wasn't wear high heels (I only wear comfy shoes - this is wisdom, little sisters).

I also decided to ask my own questions. Can you spell your name? (Yes, except one little boy who said he forgot.) Can you put a straw in the Capri Sun packet by yourself? (Yes.) And finally, what does it mean to graduate?

Jackpot.

Preschool+ graduates up in here 
Turns out, graduation is a very confusing concept for five year olds. Or maybe, just maybe they are the only ones who know what it means to be a graduate. Think about this while reading their answers. I wish I remembered more of them...

"It means we sing a song." "What song?" "We're graaaaduates, we're graaaduates." After THREE graduations in my life, HOW is it possible that I didn't learn this song??

"It means my mom buys me a new dress." Fact.

"It means we get dressed up." Also true.

"Um, I don't really know." From my same little buddy who couldn't remember how to spell his name. Hear that? Honesty.

Graduation: it's about singing, new dresses, and dressing up in general. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Messy, schmessy.

This is a moment to savor.

It's Saturday morning. Trevor Hall is singing on our stereo. Caleb is playing the guitar along with him. Breakfast is in the oven. We are both in our pajamas.

It's sweet summer. Our house is a mess, but it doesn't matter. Messy houses happen sometimes. As my wise friend Faby always said:

"Las casas son para las personas; las personas no son para las casas."

Houses are for people. People are not for houses.
Our kitchen during a typical week. Also a selfie.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The time my brother broke a window with a dolphin

Yes, you read that correctly.

Do you have siblings? I have one. My brother's name is Michael. I call him Ralph. Try not to think about it too much. (Now I also have two sisters-in-law, whoop whoop!) I am three years, five months, and eighteen days older than Ralph. (Michael. Don't worry about it.) When my mom told me she was pregnant, I said, "Good. I want a baby sister named Michael." When my dad came home from the hospital to tell me it was a boy, I said, "Welp, at least we can name him Michael." And so it was. My parents claim that they didn't let me name him, but I think we all know the truth.

My mother was determined that Ralph and I would be close, so she forced us to play together. We had limited screen time, so she would frequently kick us outside. Honestly, I don't know if we would have been as close as we were (and are), if it were not for Emily.

Emily was our next door neighbor. She was one year older than me and the only one who could keep us playing together longer. We would sneak over to Emily's house when we weren't allowed to watch any more TV at our house. There we would play with the peak of toy technology: the original Nintendo. We also climbed trees, played football, built pillow forts, jumped on the trampoline, and played many imaginative games together with action figures, Legos, and Playmobil.

Playmobil, if you've never played with them, are little plastic people, animals, and accessories. We loved playing with them.
Playmobil world
Our games with them often became animated. Sometimes, my brother would claim that Emily or I had "stolen" something that he was using. Usually we had found these treasured pieces under the bed or in the common pile. One day, rather than our typical elaborate story games, we took up a new kind of game. WAR.

Emily and I, as usual, were on the same side. You might think this unfair, but in fact, it was quite fair. My brother was, and is, very scrappy. Emily and I played against him in football and almost any time we could. I am more of a peacekeeper, so I could have never been on the same side as him. In our game of war, we each had a shelter. Emily and I were sandwiched between the wall and the bed. I don't remember where Michael was. Emily and I were laughing. In my memory, Michael was ticked, but he might have been laughing too. We flung various small toys back and forth at each other, ducking after we launched the toy. 

Suddenly, Michael threw with great intensity a bigger object than any of us had been throwing. He threw it hard and the window behind Emily and me shattered. He had pitched a Playmobil dolphin through the window. Many times, the games we played lasted for days. This time, our playing ended hastily, as Emily and I scurried carefully to get away from broken glass, but were able to rescue the plastic dolphin that shattered it. 

Fortunately, my mom has a good sense of humor. 
Real dolphins in the Straight of Gilbraltar


Friday, July 11, 2014

Stories: The Drive to North Platte

Sometime in the mid 1990s...
This picture has almost nothing to do with this post, but is from the mid 1990's...
"Are we there yet?" asked my little brother, Michael.

I sighed. My parents laughed. We had just pulled out of our driveway, two hours later than scheduled, after a lot of last minute running around. Typical. Our destination? North Platte, Nebraska, home of William "Buffalo Bill" Cody and our grandparents. Time to arrive? Approximately 8 hours.

We had to drive through the city to get to the main interstate, which in itself took about 25 minutes. I inevitably wanted to read during those first 25 minutes and would be carsick by the time we got to the road that took us straight north. If you've ever driven north on I-29 out of Kansas City, you know that it takes a long time to feel like you're getting somewhere. You have to pass through the northland, then St. Joseph, before you get out onto open highway.

Several cassette tapes or book chapters into the drive, we cross the border from Iowa into Nebraska. Every time our family makes this crossing, we sing the Nebraska state song. I carry this tradition on today. If you ever want to hear "Beautiful Nebraska", let me know. We'll take a road trip.  Once in Nebraska, we make a pit stop at two restaurants, minimum, because I don't like pizza or hamburgers. I like KFC macaroni and cheese.

Even though our car smells like greasy fast food, there is something magical about turning west. I can feel in my bones what it must have been like to be a pioneer. The wind is wild on I-80. The summers are hot, the winters are cold. We watch for windmills, horses, cattle. The sky is huge.

I'm reading Laura Ingalls Wilder and dreaming of what it was like to move to the prairie back when it was prairie. I wonder if coyotes or wolves still roam the plains. Later, I imagine myself as a Native American, knowing every hill in our area from quiet walks in my moccasins.

As the sun goes down in brilliant color, we pass and are passed by several trucks. My brother and I ask the timeless question, "How much longer?"

When we were young, our parents answered in numbers of cassette tapes or in hours and minutes. As we got older, they started telling us the miles we had left and let us figure it out. If we were lucky, we had stopped at the toy store when we stopped to get food. This would tide us over longer than usual, as did the times we stopped to pick up our cousins two hours away from our grandparents.

As night fell, we tried to fall asleep to pass the time. I watched the stars come out and curled up against the cold window with my pillow and teddy bear. The pillow slides down. I pull it back up and fluff it. Finally I find a compromise good enough to allow me to drift into sleep...

We're getting off the highway now, I can feel it. I keep my eyes shut and listen to my parents' hushed voices comment on what's changed since the last time. We turn left off I-80 and begin our slow drive through town. I don't know for sure, but I assume my brother is actually sleeping, not just faking it like me. Finally, we begin the slow downhill drive. The gravel crunches under our tires and then, silence. I am always struck by the silence that comes after turning off a car that's been running for hours.

Inside, I know a light will be on and Grandma will be up to greet us. I always feel a little shy, but by the time morning comes, I know I'll be ready for cinnamon rolls, outside exploring, playing cards, and lots of vacation.

Grandma and Grandpa's house

Sunday, June 29, 2014

I don't know what day it is, I'm just grateful.

"The more grateful you are, the more you get to be grateful about. It's that simple." - Louise Hay
Peaceful weekend photo
"Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day." - Henri Nouwen

I got to see more thistles this weekend. You know how much I love them!!
Beautiful weekend. I have been gone the past two weekends in a row. When my coworker, Stacy, said that she was taking a staycation weekend, a weekend to just stay home with her husband and not make plans, I was jealous. That wasn't in the cards for me this weekend, but the things I chose to do were very good. I spent a few hours of Saturday with my mom and aunt, which was so lovely. I got a massage. (Mmmmm) I ate some delicious chocolate. I passed a few hours with my dear friend Karen. She is so cool and so real. I like hanging out with her. 

Caleb and I went to this magical place on Friday
Today, I got to spend the whole day with my sweet husband. We did yoga in the park, had a lunch date and took a nap. Everyone - go take a nap. Well, actually, go to bed cause it's night, but next weekend - NAP. Then we just dwelled in our home. He cooked, I - ... Well, I don't really know what I did, but it was great. Sometimes, being home is the best thing.  
It's good to be home. Even when your bedroom looks like this.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Gratitude Day 17: THISTLES: just do it.

A thistle I picked the first year Caleb and I were dating
 Have you ever wanted to do something, but then you put it off, and then when you wanted to do it later, it was too late?

Oops. I should have rephrased that. Ahem. You know those times when you want to do something, but then you put it off, and when you go to do it later, it's too late?

Maybe it's buying tickets, or needing to tell a friend something, or giving a gift. For me, one of those things that happens every year is picking thistles.

Caleb, picking me a thistle year two of dating
Thistles are my favorite flower. They are like little tufts where I would like to sleep. And they are prickly on the stems and leaves, so be careful. And they only grow in ditches or along the highway, or in unwanted places. I actually potted some from my parents' yard this year - to GUARANTEE that I would have some. 

It's interesting - something about their wildness makes me want them more. Trying to contain them in pots somehow felt a little wrong. 

On Tuesday, I went for a walk during my afternoon break with my friend Anne. She's getting ready to leave us at work and bike from Vancouver to L.A. Yeah. She's that cool. We saw some thistles and I thought, "I will come back and pick these." Guess what? They were gone today.

Thistles Caleb picked for me last year. See the theme of who puts it off?
BUT. I have good news. Last night, I was driving home from a farewell party for Anne. And I decided to pull my car over and DO SOMETHING. I picked thistles and it gave me so much joy. I could have stayed there all night, up to my knees in itchy grass, picking wild beauty and letting it prick my fingers, burying my nose in the fluffy firework blooms. Pure joy.
One of my thistles this year. 


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Gratitude Days 13, 14, 15, 16: Downward Dog, Kids, & Omaha

... I know I'm a leeetle behind on this.

BUT.

Sometimes the fullness of life means that I don't have time to be online. Also, I had a MARVELOUS weekend in Omaha learning from many wise women (and two men). I learned that sometimes after a powerful experience, our minds are racing and processing everything we've learned and it takes our bodies a while to catch up. This may result in forgetting your words or accidentally walking into things. This has been happening to me - which made it hard to imagine writing a blog.
Without further ado, here are some things I am very grateful for from the past few days...

13 (Saturday) - SO MANY THINGS. I got to see my cousin Amelia and her sweet baby Graham. I did some serious (playful) yoga. I got to be alone for several hours (introverts unite! separately. in your own rooms) in the evening thanks to my dear friends Steph and Eric who lent me their house.



14 (Sunday) - I am in the midst of a yoga teacher training program. Sunday, I was so grateful for my teachers, both in Omaha and at home, and for new-found strength. I actually have gotten less flexible (in the legs) since I started regularly practicing yoga, but it's been worth it for the strength. I've also learned to listen to my body and know when I am overstretching. I did lots and lots of yoga on Sunday and am not taking this for granted, thanks to one of my teachers.

15 (Monday) - I was so happy to be reunited with Caleb on Sunday night. He's so great. I was grateful for him all day Monday, especially when he and Jen recommended a small but revolutionary change to the way I do downward dog in yoga.

16 (Tuesday) - Today I got to tutor my two favorite kiddos after work. They are so cool. I hadn't seen them in several weeks. due to schedules and car problems. We went to the library and had a blast. I gave them nicknames - Isa and Forfe. (Use your best Spanish pronunciation!) I spent a long time chatting with their momma and holding their one year old sister. I love them.

I am endlessly grateful for the time and inspiration to write on this blog. See you all tomorrow lovelies! 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Gratitude Day 12: Road trip!

Today, I am grateful for long drives on open highways, friends with the gift of hospitality, time spent learning from wise teachers, and rain falling as I drift off to sleep... which may be happening now...
I am also grateful that there are no tornadoes. During the final part of yoga (savasana) tonight, the teacher's phone started going off with the weather alarm. She let us all know that we were under a flash flood warning, which I will gratefully take ANY day over a tornado...


With the summer sounds of rain and thunder, I bid you all goodnight (or good morning).

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Gratitude Day 11: my job

For some reason, I thought this was day 12. And I was all ready to tell you, "On the twelfth day of gratitude, my true love gave to me: new windshield wipers and a cookie. (cha, cha, cha)"

He didn't actually give me a cookie, but it had to rhyme...

Today, I am deeply grateful for my job.

Here's a reason my job is awesome. This is my cubicle on my birthday. I worked in there for almost two days.
I got up early today and hopped on my computer at 7 am for a webinar - an online conference with our colleagues all over the African continent. At work, I learned some new skills and got to attend a beautiful Mass. We prayed for some of the things that matter greatly to me - comprehensive immigration reform, that we around the world who have plenty would walk with those who have nothing, creative ways for women to be more involved in the (Catholic) church.** To finish, I got to make calls to our sponsors, which I love.

The homily at our Mass was about prayer and the myriad of ways we can pray without speaking. I have become more convicted that expressing gratitude is essential to life. We heard the story of Don Jairo* in Guatemala who thanks God for life by standing in his doorway and spreading his arms toward the mountains each morning. As he lights the fire, he expresses gratitude to the earth. As he shares a breakfast of tortillas, sometimes with eggs, sometimes with only salt, with his family, his eyes move around the circle, person by person. "I am grateful for you," he says. "You make my life more complete."

This story humbles me. It compels me. It gives me goosebumps.

This is why I am writing these blog posts. This is why I humbly try to reframe each day in gratitude, rather than let arbitrary memories color my unconscious reflections. I posed this question to you yesterday, but today is a new day. What are you grateful for?

All my love,

ellen

* I can't remember his name. He was certainly "Don", a title more respectful than "Señor", but we'll go with Jairo for right now.
** I want to say that every day I become more aware of how diverse my friends and blog readers are. I feel pretty passionately about being able to have conversations without judging. It's really hard, but I've been working on it little by little. So it's okay if you don't agree with me.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Gratitude Days 9-10: Amanda, Amelia, Carolyn

I had a bit of a struggle initially to think of something to be grateful for initially. But only for a split second, because even though some not great things happened, they do not outweigh the good. This is what I am noticing the more days I do this gratitude thing. 

You may not know this about me, but I do not like driving 90% of the time. (I am grateful I work with my husband and we can carpool most days.) Yesterday, I was driving Caleb's car and it died on the center lane on the highway during rush hour. Today, I was driving my car and got rear-ended. I am fine, the rear-ending was at a very slow speed and my car has no damages (to my untrained eye). I have never been in a car accident before, so I am thankful that this one was not terrible, but it still made me want to give up driving. 

I am grateful for these women:
Carolyn, Amelia, Amanda

Amanda and Carolyn are two of the awesomest friends anyone could ever wish for. 

Amanda is a storyteller and spends a lot of time weaving words together to tell about beauty and hard things. You want to visit that link and read her blog. She also asks really good questions. I have experienced this with her in person and on the phone for many years. We actually used to celebrate our friendiversary (that's like how couples celebrate how long they've been together, except we celebrate our platonic relationship). Our friendiversary is sometime in January 2008. 

Carolyn was my roommate until Caleb became my roommate and I cannot sum up how awesome she is. She is a great listener and problem solver. Also, she helps me be stylish and not look like a hippie all the time. She is fluent in español, and she loves to teach middle schoolers. [Caro, eres la leche.] Also, she is adorable and looks like a model. 

Amanda picked me up after my car mishap yesterday and took me to Carolyn's house, where we ate, swapped clothes, and went for a walk. They made my day so much better, it was hard not to feel anything but grateful for an evening with them. 

Amelia is my cousin and therefore holds the title of my oldest friendship. We played and imagined together for many years and now we're all grown up and she has two beautiful babies. (AND I GET TO MEET THE NEWEST ONE ON SATURDAY!!... not that I'm excited or anything.) 

I remember when I was growing up, if Amelia was not going to be at a family gathering, I was certain I would be bored out of my mind. Did you have relatives like this? She loved all the coolest things: dolls, Barbies, catching frogs, turtles and baby mice, swimming, reading, cooking, dressing up, and convincing our parents to walk out to the pond and protect us from... well, I'm not quite sure what they were protecting us from, but we were not allowed to climb over the fence by ourselves. Also, we were the only two people who didn't like softball or baseball, which gave us an extra special bond. 

So, as you can see, I have a lot to be thankful for today and yesterday. What are you thankful for?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Gratitude Day 8: The little things

Today, I am grateful for some simple things.

1. A free evening at home after being away
2. My bed and the weight of my blankets
3. Living in a country where I can assume that the law and my social circle will protect me. I have been reading this book and realizing what a small percentage of the world has both of these protections. Definitely food for thought at work and hopefully a catalyst for change in the world.
4. Realizing that we live in one of the only integrated neighborhoods in our city. Profound gratitude for our neighbors, even if they can be a little on the noisy side. :)