Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Santa Barbara Coast

Since J just returned from Africa last Sunday we thought a family adventure was in order. We decided to take a little day trip up to Santa Barbara. It is still pretty ironic to us that hoping to serve the poor in Africa brought us to sunny Southern California. Nevertheless, we are trying to fully soak up this blessing of a season in life. I found an article with some highlights of things to do in the area with the kids, we wrote down a couple of addresses for the GPS, packed a lunch, and headed out around 8 a.m. this morning.

Our first stop was Chase Palm Park which sits nicely across the street from the Pacific Ocean. It had a really fun pirate ship themed play structure, and the kids easily spent an hour climbing, sliding, running, and exploring. The weather was perfect, our kids were giggling, and the ocean was in sight. Pretty blissful. After we dragged the children away, we took them across the street to West Beach which was also gorgeous. The water was really chilly so we only stuck our feet in but the sand and views were beautiful. We weren't able to stay long because T was not a big fan of the large dog that was off of its leash or the fact that the waves seemed to be crashing unusually loudly. He was attached to us as though his life depended on it. We tried to stretch out our visit until we felt like we had to leave so as to not cause him any emotional damage.

Our next stop was supposed to be the tide pools at Carpinteria State Beach but after hearing the area was pretty tight on parking and a bit of a hike, we instead ended up at the beach's Seal Preserve. There we were able to take a different little hike (more like a walk on a dirt path) to the edge of the bluffs where we could see seals sunbathing on the sand. We also saw dolphins from a distance and a little black and white snake which was WAY too close! The view was gorgeous. In situations like that I can never seem to get over the expansiveness of the ocean. Our kids couldn't get over the fun of running in the dirt.

Filthily and tired we packed into the car for our ride home certain our children would fall asleep instantly. But nope. Not our kids. They held strong and halfway home on our two hour drive we stopped for some ice cream cones from good old McDonald's. If you can't beat them, you might as well join them. T snoozed the last 15 minutes in the car. B pretended to put sunscreen on her stuffed animal and had us watch the great tricks she can do, loving having a captive audience. The day was great. We loved seeing the beautiful coast from a different angle, and even more than that we loved seeing our kids have so much fun.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Twenty-Five Dollars

I have been looking for some parks and rec classes to do with the kids. I have checked all of the surrounding areas hoping to pay about $25 for an eight week art, gym, or music class. Much to my surprise many of the classes cost around $95 per kid! Seriously?! I just wanted to give my kids some more time in a structured environment with some fun new experiences not have them earn a credit for college. Geez. So, I am still looking and waiting for a few more catalogs to come out. My kids love fun new adventures and they are so happy when we are out and about. Hopefully, we can find something that will work.

Then, later, I was reading the new LIA newsletter, which chronicles the story of a 5 year old Ethiopian girl who fainted at kindergarten because her family has to alternate which half of the family eats each day, and the day before wasn't her turn. LIA has some pretty amazing programs going on to empower local churches to support these families and get them to a point of being able to take care of their children and bring other children who are without families in to join theirs. If I wasn't able to care for my children and someone helped me to be able to do that, they would be my hero. The best part is that you can provide this for only $25/month.

For a Vulnerable Child, $25/month will:
Provide Healthcare for a child and her family
Give monthly food stipends for a family in need
Pay for a child's school fees
Provide micro-enterprise training and loans for parents of a vulnerable child
Provide life skills training
Be an answer to a family's prayer

For a Street Child, $25/month will:
Provide a month's worth of basic food
Pay for school fees and tutoring
Housing in a peer group home
Basic household necessities like kitchen supplies, lighting, beds
A social worker for counseling and substance rehab
Vocational training and a micro-loan to start a sustainable business
Discipleship training in partnership with a local church
Be an advocate for a child who has no one else
Offer a future to a child who would otherwise be without

I can't even pay for 2 - 45 minute sections of a gym class in a random room in a community center, but I can do all of this? It all just makes me think... Obviously, there is nothing wrong with parks and rec classes, they are a really good thing for sure. This has just made me think about how there are lots of other really good things I can do as well, and maybe I should spend a little more time looking into those, too. My kids would probably enjoy being a part of this process, as well.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pony Rides!

In honor of our love of fun new adventures, I took my mom (who is in town this week) and the toddlers to Griffith Park for Pony and Train rides. What a blast! The kids loved the idea of petting, riding on, and seeing ponies up close. B had the time of her life. T would have been happier if he could have just done the petting and seeing portion. He promptly teared up and said all done! He preferred to be held by mom, and watch sister go around. He did thoroughly enjoy when one of the horses spit at him, and subsequently, had even more reason to spit the remainder of the afternoon. He did love the train ride though, yelling, "Choo-choo!"

B LOVED riding the horse and looked like a little natural. She wasn't nervous at all and would have nothing to do with us having our hand on her back as she went around. She pet the mane, named the horse, Sugar, and grinned the whole time. She enjoyed the train ride, too, and thought the lemonade and cotton candy that grandma treated her to were perfect, as well. After running around the area, checking the horses out a couple more times, and running through many planters, the kids were pretty tired and so were we. In the car, grandma asked B to draw her a picture before she leaves, and B declined, saying, "You're not leaving. Your just staying right here." So, based on that comment and T's constant sporadic hugging of her, I guess the kids are loving time with grandma as much as I am!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Color of Water

I just finished this interesting memoir, The Color of Water, which chronicles the life of a white Jewish woman and one of her 12 black children. It compares and contrasts their experiences growing up and eventually living in the projects of Harlem, as they both experienced predjudice and multiple challenges (due to having an inter-racial family and simply living in the era in which they did), yet both ultimately overcame. In asking his mother as a child about what color God's skin is, the author tells that his mother said His skin isn't white or black it is the color of water. What a great description!

Anyhow, the book started off a little slowly for my taste, but in my love of memoirs I continued on and truly enjoyed getting to hear about experiences which have been so very different from my own. At the same time, I am very invested in the area of inter-racial families and some of their stories definitely hit home.

I couldn't help but think about them, as T was falling asleep on my chest the other night. He really likes to talk as he falls asleep, and he will often sing, or chat to himself, or lift his head up and give me a kiss. This night as he snuggled in, he kept sporadically saying, "I You, Mama" (that's how he says "I love you"). In that moment I just wanted to freeze his innocence. I just want to cherish these moments and pray that he never feels displaced because our skin colors are different or the way he joined our family was different than other kids. He is a very amazing little man, and I don't know if I will ever be able to show him how much I adore him or how very thankful I am for him. I know I won't always be able to protect him, but I am glad right now I can express to him that our differences don't matter to me...he is just my sweet baby boy and that I most certainly love him, too.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?

“Biblical prayer is impertinent, persistent, shameless, indecorous. It is more like haggling in an outdoor bazaar than the polite monolougues of the church.”
Walter Wink

I recently read the quote about some serious food for thought! Prayer is such a mysterious thing to me. I know that it is beautiful in that it is a way for God to intertwine intimately with our lives, but how it does that I do not at all understand. I was just invited to join a book club by a friend from church. Our first book since I joined was a Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey. I have read Yancey’s books before and enjoyed them, though this one hadn’t made it to my to-read list yet. It is pretty lengthy and written mostly in the style of a researched magazine article, as Yancey was a journalist before he was an author. He writes from the very humble position of having written other books on suffering and understanding where God is in the painful parts of life. Since writing those books he has heard from multitudes of people thanking him for his thoughts and lamenting the tragedies of life.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, though I am not sure it was the book’s extraordinariness, or more it being just the right book at the right time for me. Nevertheless, it caused me to think and process through ideas I have struggled with for years. Yancey addresses the really tough questions like why God answers some prayer and not others, if prayer really affects the outcomes of things, and why should we even bother praying. He doesn’t give pat answers, but draws great attention to the different perspectives and the mystery of it all. He addresses Biblical prayer and how it is by no means formulaic, but it is always passionate and even sometimes irreverent. It is above all a conversation between a loving parent and a child bumbling through life.

Overall, I feel like reading the book acted as an informal month-long prayer, or rather communication session, for God and me. While I now see more of the mystery of prayer, I see that need not discourage me from it, because with that mystery also comes freedom. So, that being said, here are a couple of favorite quotes...

“I understand prayer as partnership, a subtle interplay of human and divine that accomplishes God’s work on earth” P. 113.

“I used to spend a lot of energy asking God questions. Why must poverty persist in a rich country like the U.S.A? Why does one continent, Africa, absorb like a sponge so many of the world’s disasters? When will peace on earth ever arrive? Ultimately, I came to see these questions as God’s interrogations of us. Jesus made clear God’s will for the planet. What part am I playing to fulfill that will?” P. 274.

“When I betray the love and grace God has shown me, I fall back on the promise that Jesus prays for me -- as he did for Peter -- not that I would never face testing, nor ever fail, but that in the end I will allow God to use the testing and failure to mold me into someone more useful to the Kingdom, someone more like Jesus” P. 88.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on prayer, too...

Friday, March 6, 2009

Odds and Ends...

Here are just some odds and ends from our past week. None were really worthy of an entire blog post, and we had a pretty normal week, but there were a few notables :)

Sleep-training - We have been sleep training B for about three weeks now (something that we should have done - oh say - two years ago) and she is doing really well! I am so proud of what a big girl she is. She can now fall asleep on her own in her crib and sleeps there from 7:45 p.m. - 5:20 a.m. (on the DOT!) A couple of nights a week she'll wake up and say she needs a hug from mom, but then she settles back in. This doesn't sound all that amazing, but it really is. This girl was in and out of our bed all night from 11 p.m. on before this. Now, I will say that I think the whole process of sleep-training was significantly more pain-free (read: tear-free on both ends) because we used this method and mostly because she is older and understands what is going on. So, we are getting a bit more sleep here - and T has more room in our bed. :) He's next to be trained....

Griffith Park - We went and played on the playground with the kids today and had a blast! They were giggling and loving the playgrounds and of course the swings. Then, before we left, we thought it would be fun to take them on the Carousel. What we didn't realize was the carousel was the oldest one we had ever seen and also the fastest. B loved it, exclaiming, "This is so fun, mom!" while T was horrified, and started wailing, "I don't Ike it!" When we got off, B said, "Thanks so much for taking us on it, Dad!" (making J forget that it had cost him $8 for the four of us) and T said, "All Done!" while I wiped away his tears. When I asked him if he liked it, T said, "Yeah! I didn't ike it." We just adore these kids.

Urgent Care - On Thursday morning, we were dancing to the Cars soundtrack, when B started spinning around (she just discovered this) and she got a bit too dizzy, fell, and hit her face on her little wooden chair. This time there were no stitches but there was the fastest growing, huge, bruised lump on her head I had ever seen. It just kept getting bigger and J and I decided to be safe rather than sorry so I rushed her to urgent care. After a juice box, some chocolate cookies, and the car ride to urgent care she had stopped crying enough to tell me that T needed to put shoes on. At that point I knew she was probably okay, but we still went in and got professional assurance. And, now I have a handy reference sheet for the next time this happens. Thank God she is just fine!

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? - This book is a favorite in our house right now. In fact, B has now memorized it and loves to read it to herself and us. She prefers "independent reading" and will read hers out loud and hand us a different book to look at so we don't try to read it to her. She can also recite the book's sequels, "Polar Bear, Polar Bear" and "Baby Bear, Baby Bear." It is one of the cutest things I have ever heard to hear her read the story! I will try to post a video of it later.

Eggs - This week T picked up a plastic egg while the toddlers and I were making a fake salad in their play kitchen. He look at me and said "MA-MALLOW?" It was very cute and a little sad to realize that our son's first reaction when he sees an egg is to think it is a marshmallow. We really do feed them healthy food ... we just happened to have made rice krispie treats last weekend... And then J and I happen to have been snacking on marshmallows a lot lately. But they are half air, right!?

Sleeping In - J let me sleep in 2 hours this morning!! Amazing. All I have to say is: Amazing. Thanks, Sweetheart!

Huntington Gardens - We went to a farewell play date, for one of B and T's friends who is moving to NY, at Huntington Gardens this week. It was so fun! The gardens are beautiful, and the kids adored the splash play area in the children's garden. T spent most of the time dunking his head, while B pretended to wash her hands in the water. That is so my kids.

Parks - We went to the park 3 times this week. The weather has been beautiful, the kids love running, and I love playing with them and watching them explore. We have been able to meet some friends there, too, which makes it all the better.

Prayer Book - I just finished a great book on Prayer by Philip Yancey. I'll post on it later, but let's just say it has challenged me in a lot of ways. I love reading. I am trying to decide which book on my list will be my next one.

LIA store - This week J started a store for LIA, which is pretty exciting. You can check it out here.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Toddlerhood Squared

This last week has been a bit - oh say - frustrating. My now 2 year old, and her brother who is following closely behind, have been giving me a full initiation into what people fondly refer to as the "terrible twos." As I first started writing this, I didn't want to use the term "terrible" to describe anything related to my kids, but after this past week I am feeling more and more accurate in describing some of their behavior as such. This week was definitely challenging between the incessant whining, the fighting over things, and choosing not follow directions. It isn't just whining when they don't get what they want. It is whining when they are just asking for something that I am more than happy to get a sippy cup of milk or a snack. I don't understand this premature whine-fest. When we were at the library, the librarians thought it was funny when I asked them to recommend books on whining to me, and then they looked at my exhausted face and realized I was very serious. Unfortunately, their searches didn't return much.

Even more frustrating than the whining is the fighting over "things." These things are not special things by any stretch of the imagination. It just so happens that T desperately needs whatever object his sister has picked up. Yes, he has an identical one, but he NEEDS hers. This sends her into a tailspin around the room running away from him yelling "My T's going to get me!" and crying. When I thwart T's efforts to take the item he starts stomping and crying, and the entire circle of chaos has now taken place over the old baby rattle that they found which should only be of interest to a 6 month old or the juice box of which they both have identical ones. Then, one of them decides that they no longer have interest in said object and it is time to jump on the couch. In this situation they are happy to join forces until Mommy removes one and then the other to "time out" after asking them to each stop (which apparently translates to giggle and do it again in their language). Usually at this point I check the clock to see what time Daddy will be home. Sometimes I luck out and it is 4:55 and other times it's only 9 a.m. ... and I take a deep breath.

I think that the most difficult part about all of this is that I am disappointed that I can't be more patient - more of the mom I want my kids to have. J and I have researched and are really trying to be thoughtful about our discipline, knowing that it will pay off with our relationship with our kids and their relationships with God and others in the future. In the meantime, I think I just need to some extra grace for toddlerhood. My great friend, Tara, sent me the link to this blog on Gentle Shepherding. I loved reading it. It was a good reminder about what I am seeking to do.

They really are good kids, but boy are they exercising their own wills. And, they really like to climb and run, and we live in an apartment leaving them only couches to climb on and over - something which is unacceptable to me and frankly not safe. Anyway, I am trying to remain consistent with time outs and logical consequences looking forward to a few months from now when their older ages and our consistency pay dividends. In the meantime, I am thankful for friends and family who are willing to talk with me. I got to go to coffee with a friend this weekend for a couple of hours and it was so good for my soul!

Now all of this to say, we really do have a blast together, too. This last week we went to the park, a kids museum, had friends over to play, visited a friend and went to the park and beach in Long Beach, did countless loads of laundry, baked cupcakes, grocery shopped, went to the library, painted, colored, stickered, and laughed hysterically, just to name a few activities. But we still managed to get in a bunch of those frustrating moments as well. I guess after reflecting on this venting session - maybe they get whining from their mom, too. And now that I have admitted it, I will whine that my lap top crashed with all of my pictures last week, too. Wah! But at least I don't jump on couches.