Friendship

12 Days of Christmas: Day 8? Day 9? // Are you still counting?

Tonight, I want to begin discussing a particular topic I've started writing on more times than I can remember. It's a topic that has too many facets to count, can easily become convoluted, and is so big that I usually end up calling it quits after a couple of hours because I can't wrap my mind around the vastness and simplicity of this philosophy.

Jesus said, "love your neighbor as yourself." When asked which neighbors he's referring too, he goes on to tell the story of the good Samaritan, pointing out that even those we perceive as our enemies are the ones he's telling us to love as ourselves.

I'm going to begin small here by saying that every purchase we make is an opportunity to love our neighbors both near and afar. There are companies out to make a buck, and there are others out to change the game, both in business and in the lives of those they employ. The question of course is why do we feel the need to buy from big, greedy companies? Well, for one--we're greedy and we buy into advertising that tells us that we need to make every purchase our heart desires. That's probably a whole other subcategory for another day (case in point on trying to write on this topic).

I'm going to the roots of These Sacred Grounds tonight by sharing my first coffee shop in the 12 Days of Christmas series. This is a business whose mission is to support those coming out of foster care, and whose instrument is coffee. I want to encourage you to check out their website, but more importantly support their work and the work of those like them.

If you don't know much about the foster care system, I'm not going to bog you down with statistics, but I will encourage you to do some research. I will also paint a simple picture for you: a human child is taken from their home due to some form of abuse or neglect. Child is sent into a foster home where they may or may not experience love and care. Child goes back home. Child is taken from their home again, but because there is no room in their original foster home, they get put in another one. Child goes back home. This cycle could easily go on for well over a decade, never giving this child a chance to know love, security, or deep and safe family bonds. Child turns 18, and is on his/her own. Child may or may not have experienced a plethora of abuses, substance abuse, or homelessness growing up, not including the aforementioned lack of love and care that all humans need. This creates a lot of problems for this child--now grownup. Where do they turn? Do they have any opportunity to go to college? Have they had any professional counseling? Did they graduate high school? Do they have any job prospects? The issues for these "state kids" is overwhelming to say the least.

Every corner of the internet these days is preaching the #village, the #tribe, the #squad, and yet what does it look like to have deep community where even the foster children know they have a safe place? By supporting coffee shops The Monkey & The Elephant, we can truly live out the gospel of loving our neighbors as ourselves in community. Can we all take in a foster child or orphan? Can we all go into prisons and show love to those living inside cell walls? Can we all support to needs of the widows, the abandoned, the abused, the sex trafficked? In the most perfect of worlds with the most perfect of communities, yes we can. In fact, I encourage you to take a moment to consider if your family should be doing any one of these things.

The truth is, for one reason or another--or at least a million and one excuses, we are not doing these things. I can't get into all the reasons we (weeee all) need to surrender and do the dirty work of the gospel because that's not the purpose of this post. The purpose of this post is to say that through creative thinking, intentional buying decisions, and by not giving into big companies telling us how we should live, we CAN do all of those things by supporting businesses and non-profits like The Monkey & The Elephant. There are many out there, and with the internet they're easy to find.

This may just be one tiny step in the direction of living our neighbors as ourselves, but we can't have a revolution without taking a step.

The Monkey & The Elephant
1218 South Alder Street
Philadelphia PA, 19147
IG | FB

12 Days of Christmas: A Sharing Sesh // Day 6!

I started this 12 Days of Christmas series for two reasons: 1. I wanted to share parts of my life that I love with the world, and 2. Since deciding to step more fully into my desire to write, this was a little challenge I gave myself—write 12 days in a row.

So, here I am: Day 6. It's 11:25pm and I honestly don't know if I'll have this finished my midnight, but since I've already chosen what I'm sharing with you, I should be able to bang this puppy out.

I told you once before, in my first recipe post, that sharing recipes--sharing many things in life is not easy for me. It doesn't come naturally for me to say, "Here's something I know that you don't, so let me share it with you,"

Why wouldn't I want to share the things I know with others, any sane and healthy human might ask? Because then you might not need me. And if you don't need me, you may not want me.

There are a few aspects of being in community with others that I believe to be fundamental. In order to stay in a community (of any kind) a person must feel wanted, needed, appreciated, and have an overall sense of belonging.

Now, mind you, by me withholding parts of myself in order to manipulate others into needing or wanting me IS NOT the heart behind true community, and therefore not a part of myself I want to embrace. It's a part of my life that I've gradually surrendered over the years, but every time I share something I love with the world, it's still a difficult step forward for me.

Tonight, I'm sharing not one, but two recipes involving chai. I don't think tea comes naturally to Americans. Many cultures around the world have created and sustained customs around tea: customs that involve special cups and spices, some that involve special straws and others that use the drink as their cultural cue to leave soon.

The two recipes I have for you are two that I can safely say have no right to a special custom. In fact, I'm pretty sure they were both personal experiments in the kitchen at some point. That's why I don't bake, by the way (except for chocolate chip cookies); baking is too precise for me; there’s no wiggle room in baking, so the two of us don't create great results. Experiments though, that’s where the kitchen and I mesh—up until I want to make something a second time. Dilemma of dilemmas.

Both of these beverages are on the sweeter side, but can have a little kick with the chai depending on the type you use. You can play with the ratios too, in order to get them to your tasting preferences. Experiment away!

Recipe 1 // Chai Hot Chocolate

  • Make hot chocolate as you usually would. That is assuming you would absolutely and always make it with milk on the stove or else, go without. If you're response to that is, "no, I make it with water then we may need to talk."
  • Allow one chai teabag to steep in the hot chocolate pot.
  • Pour into your favorite mug and enjoy!

Recipe II // Chai Apple Cider

  • For this one, I usually use those boxes of chai you can get at TJ's or Starbucks or where ever, but it will also work with a lightly sweetened cup of steeped chai as well.
  • So, get whichever chai you choose
  • Get your bottle of apple cider
  • Cut them 1 to 1 in a pot on the stove
  • Repeat the last step from the first recipe.

I know, I know…both of these are essentially rocket science :). Enjoy, my friends!

12 Days of a Wanderers Christmas: A Sharing Sesh // Day 5

Do you remember your senior thesis in high school? Learning to research, find good sources, and build up enough information that could somehow fit together in the form of your biggest paper up until that point, and eventually needing to present it to the class? It was kind of a big deal at the time. I wrote mine on the one experience that was, and still is, the single most influential part of my life.

I wrote about traveling.

My parents were the ones who taught me the value of traveling. Even by my senior year in high school, I knew that nothing in life compared to traveling; there was nothing greater than diversifying my experiential assets, if you will. I’ve since come to believe that reading is a close second, and perhaps film a further behind third, but in my book nothing can replace travel.

Traveling expands everything. It broadens every part of life—even the part that wants nothing more than to be a homebody, ironically enough.

In regard to traveling, I have this soapbox about how vacationing is not the same as traveling. You might do some traveling while vacationing, but vacationing, in and of itself, brings no increase to the human experience. Vacationing doesn't expand the imagination, doesn't make you a more empathetic person. Traveling involves exploration and discovery. Traveling is stepping into an insider situation as an outsider. Traveling takes time.

Traveling also has a reputation of belonging to the free spirits of the world and of costing a lot of money. I’m here to tell you that those two assumptions are not true. Traveling is for everyone who is willing to prioritize it.

When I was in college, I studied abroad a couple times, and I specifically remember being told by a few people that I was “always meeting people.” Back then I wasn’t interested in sticking with the group. Groups had this way of keeping to themselves in an isolating fashion, of getting bogged down in being choosy and taking forever to split a bill. ((Can I just say that if I ever have the kind of job that allows me to do so, I will always just pick up the bill? I know this about myself because I loathe splitting checks and I love giving people gifts. I give you permission to hold me to it.)) Because of the simple fact that I felt large groups brought me down, I did in fact meet a lot of people---a lot of local people, wherever I went.

Traveling gives life so much...more than not traveling does. We are in this amazing time in history when besides having cars, trains, and planes, we also have the Internet. We have Google and other sites that connect us to the rest of the world like never before. We have this resource that helps us figure out how to get places--and how to get to them cheap. There’s no reason not to embrace traveling—even if just a little; even if just on occasion. Traveling is rarely an issue of not having enough money and often an issue of life's priorities.

I guess there’s no way for me to know this for certain, but in my opinion nothing will develop a person’s perspectives in life like traveling. There is nothing that can give you an inside look at the lives of others like going to them and spending time listening, talking, and sharing ideas about the world and everything involved in it while being in their space.

It doesn't take long for traveling to make it evident just how small our perspectives are on the most important aspects of our lives: everything from how we date, how we celebrate and mourn, how we parent, how we worship—even specifically how we worship within the Christian faith.

Have I convinced you yet with this roundabout rant that you should take time to travel?

It really is a must, but it also really needs to be a priority if it’s something you’re ever actually going to do. I read a quote by Tina Fey earlier today and it’s been sitting on me, reminding me of how my mom raised me, and it’s this: “Say yes, and you'll figure it out afterwards.” This is how you travel—you say, “YES!” Yes to buses or trains, to sleeping in tents or in the house of a friend of a friend of a friend. It's saying yes to putting every spare cent in the proverbial piggy bank and yes to the hospitality of others. You buy an Ergo, strap that baby on, and go for it! Even if all it does for you is give you greater level of gratitude for your own community, it will change you. All you have to do is give it the chance and the time that it deserves.

12 Days of Christmas: A Sharing Sesh // Day 2

Community is not everything. Community is not everything, but it is necessary for a full life. Community is not easy, but is hard work. Nay nay, it is extremely hard work. It is hard work to fall short, to be humbled before others, to live so closely in the presence of others that we cannot hide our deepest, darkest selves. It’s easy to give up and walk away instead of face our inner selves with others.

Community is something that is formed, it is molded, and it changes over time. Community welcomes joy and celebration over jealousy. Community welcomes suffering and empathy over self-centered thinking. Community prioritizes the choosing of love. It calls us out and tears us down, while also lifting us up.

Community is made. It is made with those whom we chose to make it. Community is a two-way street. It is not always gentle and sometimes it is a downright pain in the ass that you kind of want to punch in the face; it is seemingly unworthy of the suffering it may cause.

Community is created in our homes and on the streets. It establishes itself in parks and on city streets, in public and in private. Community is a recipe made for a slow cooker. Community is read about in books, but seldom lived out. It’s too hard; people don’t want it. Not truly. We are selfish. We get caught up in the things of this world; we get by just fine living our lives, never embracing our deepest selves.

Community is shaped around the table, in conversation, in getting to know one another, in living alongside one another, in choosing one another. Community is doing one another's dishes before we go back to our own dwelling. And not to force this horribly obvious transition, but what a joyous occasion when those dishes can be kept to a minimum.

I love this meal I’m going to share because it does just that. This meal is like community. It’s simple, yet profound.  It is a dish full of grace, which let’s be honest—all communities need to be. This dish looks at it’s own imperfections instead of pointing out the imperfections of other dishes. To top it off, it has all the necessary pieces of a well-balanced meal while sticking to one casserole dish and maybe a bowl or two. It has the veggies, the meat, the potatoes, and the bread. In my eyes, it is truly the perfect community dish. And now, I share it with you to share with your community as it was once shared with me.

Chicken Pot Pie:

1. Set the oven to 375 degrees.

  • Sauté 1/2 cup of chopped onion.
  • Add 1 cup of butter—Usually two sticks.

2. Once melted, add dry ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • ½ tsp-1 tsp. pepper

3. Stir in wet ingredients:

  • 3 cups chicken broth (or veggie!!)
  • 1.5 cups of milk (or non-dairy sub)

4. Stir until thickens

5. Add:

  • 1 bag of frozen veggies. I usually do Trader Joe’s Organic Foursome
  • Shredded chicken (leftovers are GREAT for this!!)

6. As those ingredients are combining, I place those little frozen, garlic potato pods (also from Trader Joe’s) along the bottom of a large casserole dish with a splash of milk).

7. Pour the blend from the pan over the potatoes.

8. The Topper: in a medium sized bowl, whisk the following:

  • 2 cups of your favorite biscuit mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk.

The consistency should be a little thick, but not too thick. This part may take a little practice. You should be in love with the topper. If you’re not, try the recipe with halved, uncooked biscuits instead.

9. Put in oven for 30 minutes:

10-15 minutes in, put slits in the topper. I don’t know if this does anything to the meal itself, but it sure does look pretty!!

Enjoy this meal. Love one another deeply. Pray for and with one another.

For dessert, I recommend a round of Ticket to Ride :)

Overall shopping list:

  • 1 onion
  • butter
  • flour
  • milk (or non dairy sub)
  • chicken broth (or equivalent)
  • salt, pepper, and thyme
  • 1 bag frozen veggies
  • chicken
  • frozen potato pods
  • biscuit mix
  • eggs

OH YEAH! One more thing: This is a great recipe to take to people's homes if they are sick, just had a baby, lost a loved one, etc. I suggest doing so in a throw away tin dish so as to not burden them with cleaning and keeping track of dishes afterwards.

 

 

12 Days of Christmas: A Sharing Sesh // Day One

ahh, my people! It's been too long. I've been thinking about my blog and all of you every day since I last wrote you. I've been thinking about what to write, what to possibly share in this chaotic time.

This year's presidential outcome, racism, devastation, terrorist attacks, and war seem to be overtaking our world. It's all been on my heart and mind, and in my prayers, but what could I say? Every direction I turned, people were talking, people were hating, judging, and pointing fingers, so I stepped back, breathed deeply, and searched for my direction.

I've had an amazing few months with my two daughters and husband: laughing and delighting in one another, stretching and growing as a family of four. I've been tired and at a loss. I've had margin, but in all honestly that margin has been used to make up for sleep-deprived nights. Over this past year, my heart drew deeper and deeper into my desires of researching, writing, and sharing, and for this reason, I am thoroughly excited to see what awaits in 2017.

But! In the meantime, I have so many things and people and passions I want to share with you! When I found out last week that the traditional "12 Days of Christmas" begins on Christmas day, I was excited to bring a writing idea to life. Only now, that idea looks slightly different than it did initially. At first, I was going to share with you 12 coffee shops, no—books, no—coffee blends, no—coffee shops in the East Bay...Uhh, do you see my dilemma? There are SO many things I love and want to share with all of you for the 12 Days of Christmas. So now, I'm just going to share 12 anythings I love: some coffee, some people, some books, some organizations. I have a few passions swelling up in my heart; and now--they are my gifts to you.

I want to start today by sharing a person: a writer and fellow saint of the Christian faith who passed into eternity 20 years ago this past September. As I laid (lain? lyed? l...?) awake at 4:45 this morning, I picked up one of his books where I last left off some time last week…in the introduction. After reading through a couple chapters, I began to think that this man might be the single most influential writer for me in 2016. Over this past year, this man's words brought healing and restoration for both my husband and for me. His words have been an arrow pointed towards, and shooting us full force into the direction of, grace and redemption.

I have had a bumpy relationship with Henri Nouwen over the years. Craziness--I know. I first picked up one of his books, Return of the Prodigal Son in 2009, and I couldn't even finish it. I remember something about his voice bothering me, and I put the book down. I picked it up and put it down again. Though it screamed redemption, art, beauty, and story telling, I couldn't hear him. I was distracted, and I never finished it.

A couple years later, my girlfriend lent me a copy of Reaching Out. Ugh, this guy again. His voice. I couldn't read it. I couldn't read it, but I also couldn't let it go. Three years—maybe four years later, when the cross-county move and therefore, the Great Book Purge came upon our family, it was one of the few I held on to. I didn't know why; I didn’t even like this guy's style. Maybe because I wasn't the book's true owner or because the original owner was now living in New Zealand and the friend who lent it was up in New York, and yadda yadda. It was small enough in size, wasn’t mine to give away, and so I brought it over 3,000 miles with me.

This past spring, I decided to read it. No, I needed to read it. It stared at me like a portrait in hush hush art museum. Shh, don't speak. Listen. What is the art saying? I don't know because it keeps following me around the room. Haha, I'm somewhat joking—I love museums. But really, the book had this you-must-read-me-now sense about it. It had a voice that whispered, "I will bring you healing. I will help you rest in the love of your Heavenly Dad." It said, "I know you couldn't hear me in the past, but the time for healing is now, right here, in the midst of my very few pages."

And it was right. It brought to light, it convicted, it healed, it encouraged, and it spurred me on to the deeper life. It was JUST what I needed right when I was ready to hear it.

After I closed the last page of the book, I hoped my husband could hear it too. I hoped that he too could hear that we were arrogant and self-centered, that we were living out of a place of loneliness. And again, it did.

A few months later, he (Kris) says that he found another Henri Nouwen book that is slaying him. "I have your next book," he says to me.

"Ugh, I don't want to be slain again. We're going through all of this wonderful Emotionally Healthy Spirituality material with the church, and that is already doing a great work in me. Do I really have to?"

Enter: Christmas Morning 2016. 4:45am. The children all tucked under their blankets with care. "What the heck, man? Why am I awake???!!!" Usually. Ok—sometimes, and really only on my best, most devoted, deep, and obedient days, these early-morning moments beckon me to prayer. But this morning, at the early hour of 5am, I was beckoned into the world of Henri Nouwen once again. I was called into the world of Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World and oh. em. gee.

Like, the literal Gee. Does he ever slay me with His love? I am a beloved of the great I AM--the God who is with us, which we are reminded of every year on this very day. Many of us will sit in church buildings and hear the message of the good news of Jesus, our ultimate beloved One, but will we hear? Will we understand? Will it change us?

I know, I know, shouldn’t I be talking about baby Jesus and the manger and all things Advent and Christmas for these next 12 days? The truth is, these are the things that point me to Jesus. The everyday moments and people, books, coffee shops, and conversations that point me to my Beloved.

Merry Christmas, dear friends, family, and strangers alike.

Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply. It is like discovering a well in the desert. Once you have touched wet ground, you want to dig deeper. -Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World

If you're in a place of hearing him too, here are some of my personalized links to a few of Nouwen's works:

Getting Out // Four Barrel Coffee, S.F., CA

// An Update for You Lovelies: While generally adapting to being a family of 4, we had a special anniversary event, a large family camping trip, oh—and a move; we also moved. This all took place in a couple week span.

Anyhow, the point is that I’m here; I haven’t gone anywhere. With the exception of the move, that is. I now have a two-month old daughter along with my almost two-year-old daughter, and I’m back. So, Hello! and Happy Fall! \\

So...Do you ever have those mornings? The ones that have you saying, “Whelp! There’s always tomorrow” before it even hits 10 o’clock?

What do you do on those days? Do you try to get out of your funk and start over? Maybe you take a shower or make a fresh cup of coffee? Do you accept that the day is not going to change, hit up Netflix for the remainder of the day, binging on cereal and a decade’s worth of television?

For me, it’s some of both. When I wait to get up at the same time as my daughter, I automatically feel like my whole day is gone before she’s even finished breakfast. There’s something about beating her to the punch when it comes to starting off my day. I don’t need to shower to feel ready for the day, but getting dressed—like, actually dressed, having coffee, and spending some time in prayer are three things that can set my morning off to a start like no other. But if I’m honest, it’s easy for me to give in, stay in my sweats, and call the day a wash. On those days I probably get on the verge of crying at least once, watch more New Girl than I care to admit, and accept a general disliking towards myself for the day.

This morning, I decided to do the other thing. I got off the couch, washed my face, got dressed, and got out! It can be so hard to get out of the house. I have a friend Becky who I so admire. Sometimes it seems like nothing gets her down, and she’s always ready to get her boys (and now girl) out for another adventure. I know this isn’t true, and it’s not always as easy as it appears to stay motivated. I know it takes effort for her to pull off this mom strength magic. But isn’t that reality all the more inspiring? To know that it isn’t easy for this woman to get her three children out to play and learn and grow, and yet she finds a way? Even if they’re all still in their PJs and one child is super grumpy, she finds a way to make the day worthwhile. For me, that’s some serious inspiration right there, to know that I can get out too. And even if just for a walk—it is possible and it is worth it.

All this to say, there is no such thing as a wasted day. Some days do require us to stay in, stay chill, and give ourselves some grace. But other days do require us to get up, get dressed, and get out—get anywhere!, though it may take every ounce of motivation we can muster. For me, not much can change a day, and really—an attitude, like a little bit of prayer, a lotta’ bit of surrender, and some sunshine, cityscapes, and conversations around the neighborhood.

Not much inspires me to have a beautiful day quite like a beautiful space.  I went to meet a friend recently at this lovely and inspiring space in San Francisco. It also seems worth mentioning that Four Barrel is the first S.F. coffee shop I've decided to feature. If you're in the area, check out one of their three locations.

Four Barrel // 375 Valencia St, S.F., CA

I'm a Sucker for a Good Referral. Am I alone?

A year ago this month, I discovered my first online customer referral program, and guys...I'm hooked. Any site I go to now that has a referral program and an item I want to buy, I'm instantly sending out those semi-obnoxious, but well worth it, emails, texts, and social media plugs with my personalized referral link (i.e. albeit to a lesser extent: this post). Recently, a friend and I even worked together so she could get a free 15 bucks to spend and I could get 15% off my purchase to try out a new American-made company. Win win win.

1. ThredUP. So...it was this time last year. I don't remember how it happened, but I discovered ThredUp. I'm obsessed with buying used clothes. You know...typical millennial wanting to lessen my load on the landfills. ThredUp and I became besties pretty fast. Originally, if a friend signed up through my link, I'd get $20 to spend and they'd get $20 to spend. How cool is that? I built an entirely new wardrobe just from friends signing up to get their $20. I literally got to spend hundreds of free dollars because of my link. Since becoming more established, they now offer $10 for referral signups, but hey--you won't see me complaining. ThredUp is still my first source for any clothes I need. Designer, but not new and overpriced? I'm in! Here's my link if you want to get your free $10 to spend.

2. E-Bates. Other sites have come along over this past year, which I'll share below, but my latest main squeeze in the online shopping world is E-Bates. This is a site that really and truly gives you money back just for shopping through their links. They are basically the ultimate friend referral for loads of sites where you already buy stuff and things. It's also the site I'm kicking myself for not using when friends told me about it two (gosh...maybe three?) years ago. To think...all the baby items I've ordered these last two years and how I could have gotten cash back on all of them. I've been a committed user for two weeks, and already have $20 in my account. I would have more if I ordered more from Target's website instead of going to the brick and mortar for things like my newly acquired Nutra Ninja. Se La Vie on that one, but here's my link for that site as well. This one won't have a popup; simply click my link then hit the Sign Up button in the top right corner. They currently have a welcome bonus of $10 when you spend your first $25 AND if you refer 3 friends, you'll get $60!! The more friends you have sign up on E-bates, the greater your bonuses become--so their incentives are well worth creating a free account.

3. Notice how the links on these things are never pretty? Well, mine are currently hyperlinked, but when you click and sign up for your various accounts, you'll see what I mean. There's nothing personal about them; they are long and random. I'm just a number in a system, and I'm totally OK with that since I've tested these sites and they've each paid their dues.

This is true, with one exception. When you partner personally with other blogs and small businesses, you just may have a personalized link or code. For instance, if you visit my friend Lindsay's shop over at Chalk Full Of Design any time this month, and put in the code SACREDGROUNDS, you can enjoy 15% off you order!! AND since she's on Etsy, you'd get 1% cash back with your E-Bates account. If you've read this blog with any regularity, you know how much I love, and prefer, to support small businesses. Lindsay has always had an incredible talent for calligraphy. It used to come in the form of notes during our years of working at summer camp, and now she's turned it into a her own business. She's both creative and an inspiration!! The thing that impresses me most about Lindsay's model is that each item is HAND-DRAWN!! This is a rarity these days with so many options to print a piece of artwork.

4. Traveling somewhere? Try Airbnb and Turo. If you haven't tried Airbnb, let me tell you--it's awesome! People renting from people--how ingenius is that? Furthermore, a GREAT referral program. Here's $35 of spending money if you want to get out of town or enjoy a little staycation. You can also get money by offering to rent your own place (a room, the whole house, whatever you're feeling adventurous enough to try). For this, you'd get an even bigger referral bonus. I haven't gone that far nor do I have the space to, but it could be fun!! Our last trip was to Groveland, CA for a visit to Yosemite National Park. We rented a 3-bedroom for 5 of us, and we saved tons of money avoiding a hotel and having to eat out.

If you need a car during your travels, check out Turo. I've used Turo for out-of-town trips and when I needed a truck for moving into a new apartment. Renting cars from other people in your area or at airports around the country can save you TONS. Here's $25 to give that a go.

Here are a few more services I use that also have referral links. Because, as with all of these referral programs, it's a no brainer--with the exception of small businesses, these companies are MAKING OUT with these business strategies, so why shouldn't we? Whatever online services or sites you use, I definitely suggest checking to see if they have a referral program and then SHARE IT...share it far and wide because it's only benefiting you AND those who sign up through you. Have fun everyone and go make that extra dough!!

5. Grove Collaborative. Another site I've tried out this year is Grove Collaborative--where I now buy all of my cleaning supplies. Grove is SO good. Almost out of tin foil and tooth paste even though I was JUST at the grocery store!? No biggy; I'll hop on Grove. They are fast, convenient, and the prices are fantastic. They're customer service is on point too. They forgot to ship one of my items recently; their response team was so kind and helpful, and they even offered me a $5 credit for my trouble...which was really no trouble at all. If you try them out, you'll also get free and discounted goodies to try quite often, which is just an extra bonus (chap stick, a toothbrush, things like that). If you want to give Grove a try, here's a free $10. **Something to Note: Unlike other membership sites, Grove does not have mandatory monthly purchases, but they will send you emails each month with suggested items they've already put in a cart, You'll want to login and remove the items if you don't want them sent to you automatically. Smart cookies.

6. Love trying new coffees? Obviously, I do. Here's $5 to try a Bean Box. Coffee delivery tasting service? Uh, yes please. If you review the coffees they send you to try, you'll also get a $1 credit per review.

7. Thanks to my friend Jeana's recent $10 referral code share, here's 10 Bucks for Backcountry.com. Remember that Ebates link above? Go there first for an additional 4% back on this site. Say What!??

8. Here's $5 for Amazon Prime. I'm sure Amazon Prime has way more advantages than I've ever explored, but I use it for the free 2-day shipping.

9. 15% off American Giant. Have you heard of them? The ultimate American-made sweatpants? I watched their video and immediately knew I'd be purchasing a pair this season. Click the link. Watch the video. I'm sure you'll understand. **Side note: A friend and I ordered together to get free shipping.

10. Want to try HULU? Here's a free two weeks!

What do you think? Have you found any referral programs on sites you already love? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below. Feel free to share your referral links as well!!

Because both of my ladies mentioned in this post are back in NJ,
here's to a coffee shop I used to frequent for Philly > NJ meetups in Haddonfield.
This is also the FIRST NJ Coffee Shop or Roaster I've featured.
Is that weird? It is my home state after all..I'll have to get on this.


Jersey Java + Tea Co. // 140 N Haddon Ave, Haddonfield, NJ, 08078
IG // FB // Tw

B.G. Cook: Mom of Girls

As I peruse through various social media profiles, I often notice an assortment of titles that women place in their bios. I’ve seen labels such as, “mom of boys,” “mother of…fill in the blank number of children,” or maybe “mom to multiples.” By no means do I believe mothers of daughters love their children any less when they don't put "mom of girls," I just don’t remember seeing this same title claimed by those who only have daughters.

Before my husband and I had children, I had an idealized view of a boy being the firstborn and girls arriving second or later. With no scientific tracking, I noticed that this was the birth order in many families I admired—specifically because sibling bonds seemed closer. In these families, whose Christmases I imaged to look like some combination of The Family Stone and The Sound of Music, a boy was usually the oldest with girls or boys following after that. Long before I even met my husband, I also had the not-so-secret dream of marrying into a family of brothers. While I hadn't yet processed all of the subliminal thinking that went along with my view of males, when it came down to it I eventually realized how many lies I believed about what it means to be a woman.

As time went on, I married an only child--so there’s that. But when I found out I was pregnant—literally the moment after seeing those two red (blue?) lines, something else changed. Within those first, take-my-breath-away moments, I prayed and I also knew my firstborn was a girl. You know how the saying goes—I just knew she had to be a girl. I wasn’t as confident with our second, though I had both a desire for another daughter as well as a sense that she too was a girl.

As my first pregnancy went on and I eventually learned that she was most definitely a female, I was filled with so much awe and gratitude that I had the honor of mothering a daughter. I thought about some of my husband’s former students from different parts of Asia and how they felt unloved in their families compared to their brothers or male cousins. I thought about all the unwanted baby girls around the world and the epidemics that some countries will eventually face of having a drastically uneven amount of men and women within their populations because of abortions and abandonment. I thought of the suffragists and women’s rights. I considered all the little girls around the world who are trafficked and those who aren’t allowed to get an education because of their sex. Overall, I thought about how women are the most violated, abused, and vulnerable “people group?” in the world.

On the contrary, I also thought about all the amazing, world-changing women I know--either first hand or through the media and realized, “wow, what a privilege it is to raise a daughter in this world.” What a privilege it is to know that I have the opportunity to teach my girls about their self worth and identity, their strength and how to be brave. What an honor it is to shape these two into women who will know that they can pursue their dreams and callings like any man, only with the added reality of being that much braver and stronger on the other side. Not only that, but that they too may have the opportunity to fight for their own rights and the rights of others as they grow up. They too may have the chance to stand up against injustices, to persevere and to strengthen their characters over the years simply because they too may need to work harder than the men around them in order to follow their dreams. I am overwhelmed and humbled by the simple thought of having the opportunity to shape the future image of women both in the U.S. and elsewhere by being a mother of daughters.

Choosing names for these girls was a long process. We wanted to take into account both namesakes and name meanings. Both girls are named after incredible women who fight (fought) hard to show the love of Jesus, to live lives that are (were) sacrificial and outward focused. None of these women are or were perfect, but that’s part of the beauty of this whole conversation. The beauty is that in the midst of life's already existing struggles, being a woman in this world can mean that much more hardship, making these women that much more bad ass, strong, and brave to lead the lives that they do and that they have. At different points, I was sure that both girls would have a middle name that meant warrior. It turned out that we named the first to mean, “a noble light” and the second—“beauty, love, and freedom.”

Through each of these attributes as well as looking to their namesakes, I want my daughters to know that wherever they go and whatever hardships they overcome, they are capable of stepping into the legacy of women who leave the world better off than when they arrived.

This feature is long overdue, but for the most beautiful English Garden-esc setting, check out Julie's Coffee and Tea Garden // 1223 Park Street, Alameda, CA 94501

For a glimpse of their space, check out their IG here.

How To Find Your Community Using Hashtags

About this time last year, my husband and I hit an unexpected turn on our path that led to a 3,000-mile move across the country. Going from Philadelphia to Oakland, I knew nothing of the city I would soon call home, but three weeks after deciding to make the move, we hit the road with our then 9-month old daughter. In that decision, we left behind family, lifelong friends, and the rich community we had in our church and neighbors. It wasn’t long after our arrival in Oakland that we began to see how our community life here would look exponentially different than it did in Philly.

I’ve written several posts about community on this blog, about how it requires commitment, sacrifice, and time. I've also written a couple posts on motherhood and how I think it's hugely important for moms to have a diversified group of friends, so as to not lose sight of their identity. The question that may still linger in your mind is, “how do I find my community?”

During our time in Oakland so far, I have come to love this city. I love the neighborhoods, the art, the local businesses. I love the people I’ve met in various settings, and the cool, laid back culture everywhere I go (well...let's be real, Jersey girl still adjusting to that one). I love that this city is a hodgepodge of Oakland lifers, artists, transplants, young and old. I love that Oakland melds together the beauty of ancient Redwoods, vast rolling hills and the salty bay breeze with the downtown feel of any quickly changing, vibrant, yet forgotten city that up until recently was more likely to be known as the dangerous city across the San Francisco Bay. The city of Oakland is a beautiful place with beautiful people who make up its unique identity.

These are all characteristics I know to be true of Oakland now. But when we moved here 11 months ago, all I knew of was the reputation that preceded it of being violent and undesirable. As I set out to start this blog, I did so in large part to meet people in my new city—to find local hangout spots and feature them within my writing.

And now enter: The Hashtag (for me, mostly on Instagram):

As I set out on this project, there were a few basics I started with: #oakland, #eastbay, #oaklandcoffee, #eastbaycoffee, and #norcal. These five helped in my initial search to find local coffee shop favorites in the East Bay area.

Eventually, I discovered more specific hashtags and their associated IG profiles for locals in the city, like #weloveoakland and #Oaklandish. With these two, I began to find people online who also lived in Oakland as well as beloved local businesses, shops, coffee roasters, and events. As time went on, I had the opportunity to begin building both an online community with fellow Oaklanders as well as meet people in the community based on common interests through hashtags like #cmOak. "Cm" stands for the international organization called Creative Mornings while "Oak" stands for the Oakland branch of that organization. Creative Mornings is where creative minds get together monthly for talks on various topics.

This is where the real meat of the hashtag takes place—when it leads you out into your community, meeting others face to face. There are loads of organizations, shops, and events I discovered through hashtags and want to attend, but have yet to begin even scratching the surface on visiting them all.

As you get more specific (but not too specific) in your use of hashtags, you can begin to seek to diversify your community. By using various online forums, it would be much easier for me to attend advertised playgroups with my daughter and thereby only connect with other moms. Don’t get me wrong, there is certainly a need for playgroups and for moms to connect, but I also believe there is potential for more. Instead of stopping there, I've been able to connect with others who have a broader range of commonalities--some with children, some without, some with similar faith backgrounds, but by and large--not, some who are also transplants from the NE, but others with completely different cultural backgrounds and upbringings. The hashtag is incredibly helpful for meeting others with the added bonus of living an intentionally diverse lifestyle.

One final aspect to using these hashtags is discovering important local events; there are things happening in Oakland that I would not know about without the use of hashtags. Not even two weeks ago, a local man, Twon Shavers was shot and killed. It was horribly sad to read about this young man’s life, his love for his daughter, and his commitment to Oakland. By discovering #pray4Oakland, I was inspired by this beautiful legacy left by a man committed to seeing change in his city. Discovering a person's story, being inspired by their life, and having important conversations all based on a hashtag is an incredible resource for our current place in human history, so why not take full advantage of that?

Each of these examples led me to finding and following others who love the city of Oakland. These individuals may also be raising small children here; they may also be artists or love the outdoors. By starting broad, then honing in on local love, and eventually focusing in until I found others with more specific commonalities as myself, I've been able to find gems of places and people in a relatively short time. Everywhere I turn on Instagram and Twitter, by way of using various local hashtags, I’ve been amazed by this city, it’s people, and how quickly I’ve taken pride in calling my home.

A couple of real-life friends I’ve made by way of hashtags are from Slojoy Coffee.

They are currently sharing their roasts by way of events and pop-up shops throughout Oakland. These guys love this community. They are committed to spreading joy, to providing local roasts from small batches of coffee to their subscribers, and did I mention--they love SPREADING JOY in the city of Oakland. I love them a lot and hope you’ll check them out and SUBSCRIBE to have their coffee delivered to your doorstep.

Visitors, Community + Writing // Bicycle Coffee Co.

My husband and I are big on visiting. We enjoy long car rides together, and usually choose them over date nights. Historically, going back about eight years, we take at least one road trip a year for visiting—sometimes two…other times, three. We’ve been known to take many weekend drives to see people or spend several hours in a car just to hang for a few hours. We once drove from New Jersey to Michigan for a “long” weekend of…well disk golf, but I went along to visit friends.

As a visitor, I often forgot that even though we could take time off to go gallivanting around the eastern side of the country, our various hosts didn’t necessarily have that same time to set aside all that life entails. Having recently moved across the country, I’ve been facing this sad reality a lot. Over these past seven months, we’ve had eight separate out-of-state visits happen. These visits, while I obviously love them, are proving it difficult to prioritize the areas of my everyday life that I value—namely community and writing.

When we transferred coasts, I didn't expect that having visitors would require so much adjusting. So far, I'm finding that there are plenty of aspects of everyday life I can sacrifice during visits (showering, laundry…all-around basic hygiene). In this adjusting however, I’m reminded that community can’t be put on hold. Thriving community, unlike sleeping schedules and showering, can’t be set to the side while I soak up every waking moment with those I share a history.

Having visitors is challenging me to live out what I talk about endlessly in regard to community. I can't expect to have community sitting around waiting for me. Community requires sacrificing the areas of life that may be more convenient or comfortable for me. In this case, it may mean trimming down on out-of-state guests for awhile (insert extreme sad face and plots of doing whatever I can to merge all my worlds).

As I mentioned in my community posts awhile back, it was really difficult for me to accept that my faraway friends aren’t my community. As they come to visit, there are some things I can do in advance to prepare. Like, I can do a good deal of my job and some extra grocery shopping. But, maintaining the communal priorities in my life becomes a little trickier. Of course, there are set, weekly gatherings that are easy to tow friends along to, but the spontaneous time of community gets difficult to maintain. All of a sudden, days pass and I haven’t checked in on my local tribe, shared meals, or lived everyday life alongside those who are becoming my village.

Along with more or less abandoning my community for 10 days during this most recent visit, I abandoned the online community I’ve been building this year. Instead of writing, I chose my visitors. I realized during this time with my parents, that writing is not a definitively scheduled area of my life. Things were going really smooth—2-3 posts a week with some article submissions over the last few months, and all of a sudden-BAM! No writing. I even kept up with some daily tidying, but didn’t write a single word. With only 10 days together, and 20 hours of work per week to maintain, I didn’t want to think about doing my normal life things. Instead, I wanted to spend as much time as possible with those who set their lives aside to come see us.

And now, ten days later, I’m making lists of all the writing I want to catch up on. I thought about it everyday, forming sentences and pulling ideas together. But, instead of actually taking a little time every night, I chose board games and a trip to Yosemite; I chose hanging around the house together and a drive to a Spanish Mission.

As a ridiculous extrovert, I still wonder what it looks like to carve out this time in my life. Since spending time with people trumps just about any solo activity, I’m still learning where to say no and where to take breaks for silence. I’ve come a long way the past three years, but with building a new community and frequent visitors, I don’t yet know what this space looks like in our new life.
If you've lived far from your people and have any insight, I'd love to hear it!! Thanks, as always, for reading along, and apologies for the hiatus.

For today’s post, here’s a local Oakland spot that also takes to the road--on bicycles!! Check out Bicycle Coffee if you're in the Oakland, LA, or Tokyo areas. Also, fun fact, I've only been to Bicycle with out-of-state friends.

Bicycle Coffee // 364 2ND ST. @ WEBSTER // OAKLAND
And, check out their IG here.
 

Books and Reading // Influence

For 20 years of my life, I didn’t read. Like, ever. Before this last decade, my life was confusing, chaotic, and in need of some serious changes. But, as the years have gone on and as I have seen spiritual, emotional, and mental growth, I’m really grateful that I made reading a priority. I'm specifically grateful to certain authors and books and articles that helped redefine my character and being.

A decade ago, when I only started to see glimpses of myself as a whole person, reading was a big part of my personal healing. Sometime in that first year of cultivating a relationship with reading, a friend gave me a book written by Shauna Niequist. I still remember the day we spent at the art museum and the conversation that led to her giving me a copy of Cold Tangerines.

 This post includes affiliate links. This means, when using the links to purchase books, I will receive tiny bits of moneys from Amazon at no extra cost to you.

This post includes affiliate links. This means, when using the links to purchase books, I will receive tiny bits of moneys from Amazon at no extra cost to you.

This book is full of stories that have been encouraging and challenging over these years. It is a book I’ve brought along on my travels, given to friends, and read chapters from over the phone. As I think back on my first read through of Cold Tangerines, I’m reminded of cafes and greens around Cambridge where I read from its pages; I’m reminded of the situations I was in when the words struck me, and how they made me feel a little less like a crazy person. I’m reminded of the songs I listened to that year and the places I visited. It’s funny how a book can do so much for a person, isn’t it? Like a song or smell might bring a distinct moment to our minds, I have books that do the same for me.

I think in many ways, Shauna Niequist was the first one to show me the importance of cherishing time spent around a table, gathering with friends, and embracing sacred moments. The vulnerability in her stories have always made me wish I could sit and share a meal with her—or even be a passive spectator as she communes with friends. Over these past ten years, as I’ve grown and changed, I'm so grateful she’s continued to share her life and her heart with her readers; along with the book that initially captivated me, she's also written:

I’m writing about these books this week for two main reasons. One being that they were a source of nurturing for my soul during many years of growing pains, so I mean—why wouldn’t I want to share them with you? The other is that Niequist is scheduled to publish another book in August of this year. What this means, is if you haven’t been formally introduced to her writings yet, I'm doing so now. You officially have about four months to catch up and prepare for her next publication:

The title itself reflects who Shauna Niequist is as a writer, and why I’ve come to feel like she’s been my friend and mentor over the years. The title alone reflects what that These Sacred Grounds is all about—cultivating moments that come to define our lives and being present in them; about community and friendship and struggle, and about finding beauty in everyday life. In many ways, this blog involves so many lessons Shauna Niequist taught me about living as a human—both in my brokenness and my wholeness.

Because her books have been so influential in my life, I want to continue sharing them. Since I’m only just beginning to find my online community as a writer, I want to provide two opportunities to get some of these books into the hands of this little Internet community of mine. The first way is on Instagram and the second is on the blog:

On Instagram: follow me, like the Cold Tangerines photo from today, and tag a friend who you think would like the opportunity to win a copy (you may tag more than one friend in separate comments for more entries).

On the blog: Come August, when Present Over Perfect releases, all of my faithful subscribers (either via Bloglovin’ or my email subscription) will have the opportunity to win a copy of her new book as well as, in true These Sacred Grounds fashion, a lb. of coffee from a local Oakland roaster. And who know, maybe some other goodies when the time comes...

I’m grateful to all of you for joining me on my writing journey so far, and I'm excited to continue cultivating relationships in this space as time goes on. Thank you for being here with me. I would also really love to hear about some of the books that have changed your life in the comments below.

BGC

My Favorites // Baby Edition

When my husband and I were preparing for the arrival of our daughter, there were so many items that friends and family graciously sent our way (we had three baby showers!!). Our people are seriously incredible. Some items we received and bought were incredibly helpful and I'd choose the same brands all over again. While other items, I probably returned or eventually gave away.

As we get ready for child number two, I've been thinking about the items I can't imagine living without, and here's what I've come up with (The links below are affiliate links: if you make purchases through the links, Amazon will pay me a little bit at no extra cost to you :-)). This list doesn't include things like clothes and toys, so much as the bare necessities. Although as far as clothes and toys--hand-me-downs for the win!

We tried SO many binkies with baby girl, and this is the ONLY one should would take. We weren't for or against using one in the first place, and waited several months for the sake of steering clear of nipple confusion. When it came to it, our girl was WAY fussy and so we were all for using a binky to help in those early days. These ones are made by a family business in Italy from 100% natural tree rubber.

I'm obsessed with our bottles. Again, Miss. fuss never took milk from a bottle, but we were eventually able to use these puppies. They are 100% plastic free, made of stainless steel. This means they won't break, don't leak gross chemicals, and are super lightweight. They're also compatible with quite a few different nipple brands if babe doesn't like theirs.

I've had six different baby carriers, plus one I made myself. Along with a very lightweight, bouncy wrap that I have (which you could find similarly at Solly Baby,) this is my favorite. We're on the go a lot, so strapping the mini on has made it possible for being active and some pretty strenuous hiking. This carrier is great because it isn't bulky or heavy, and it's machine-washable. Apparently there's even a 4-position carrier now, which is pretty sweet.

This is the only balm I use on basically everything. While our newborn had some pretty nasty baby acne, everything I read said leave it alone. But, in one place I read, it said to keep it moisturized, which made way more sense to me. So, I used this and it was gone in two days. Obviously this isn't medical advice, but it totally worked for us.

I decided to give cloth diapering a try, and it worked really well for us. I've put it on hold since moving to drought-ridden CA where we pay for our laundry. But, I'm so glad I chose these ones. They aren't bulky and we've never had a blowout.

I included this water bottle simply because I couldn't believe how thirsty I was during pregnancy and nursing. Nobody informed me of this and I didn't read it anywhere, so I learned really quickly to always have water handy. I'm not totally in love with glass water bottles, but I like that this one has the pop-open flippy top and a silicone sleeve. 

I'm sure everyone gets a pack 'n play these days, I just remember having NO clue how to decide which one. We were given and borrowed several. This is the one we ended up buying, and I'm really glad we did. It's compact, and includes a bassinet, a napper and a diaper changer spot. Baby girl slept in this puppy every night for about 8 months, and still sleeps in it at a year and half when we travel.

Heidi girl loves books, and it's been wonderful reading her stories out of this Jesus Storybook Bible. The illustrations are great and the stories give simple summaries of scripture, with each one pointing to Jesus.

What were your baby essentials? Was there anything you felt like was a waste of money/space or anything you never expected to want, but fell in love with?

I haven't been to this cafe yet, but cannot wait to check it out. According to their website, they have built in baby and children sections where parents can watch over their children while getting some work done. Srsly? This sounds like a win.

Small Talk Family Café // 1536 Newell Ave, Walnut Creek, Ca

(Please do not assume that this post reflects the thoughts or philosophies of the above featured shop. Thanks for joining me!)

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.a
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
-A psalm of King David

Unsolicited Advice

Any expectant parent knows what it's like to hear the unsolicited advice of strangers on what to expect in pregnancy, delivery, and parenthood.

I know I get pretty antsy while other moms, grand moms, and aunties stop to give me their opinions while walking through the grocery store. Sometimes it's hard for me to remember that these women want to share their past experiences of motherhood with someone who just might want to hear about them. I'm also quick to forget that we're only in the first and second generation of soon-to-be mamas who have the Internet as a child-rearing resource, further devaluing the raising of children as a communal village.  

While I was pregnant with my daughter and working in retail, I heard the thoughts of many-a-customer on cutting grapes in half and not lifting a box of apples; some days it seemed the opinions of others were never ending. Out of all the things I heard during that 6-month time period however, there was one dear customer whose advice I will always cherish, both in motherhood and life.

Remember that it's all temporary. The nights that you're up all night because the baby is teething are temporary, and you will get through them. But also remember that the cuddles and baby giggles, the tiny clothes and sweet, soft baby skin--those are temporary too.

What my sweet Thursday-morning customer was telling me was, "live in the moment and cherish each stage by remembering that the hard stuff, along with the good, are but a passing moment." The joyous memories and lessons learned will be experiences I may look back on someday, only to stop a young mom-to-be in the grocery store in hopes she'll want to share my memories as well.

It's easy as humans to want to rush the hard stuff and pause the good stuff, but the hard stuff holds so much value. When we rush, we miss out on the gift of preparation that those experiences are providing us.

To go along with this reminder that we should be present wherever we are,
even in the midst of difficulties, I am featuring a coffee shop whose motto is "The place to be." Wherever you are in your life, it is the place you are meant to be.

Hive, The Place to Be | 2139 MacArthur Blvd | Oakland | 94602

(Please do not assume that this post reflects the thoughts or philosophies of the above featured shop. Thanks for joining me!)

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
-Paul, in a letter to the Roman church

Thryve // Mended

In honor of all the hard work and dedication the beautiful women of Thryve Magazine as well as all of their contributes put into their latest addition, I want to share some great news with you!!

In sweet humility, I was honored to be a part of Mended, issue 6 of Thryve, released March 6th. It was a huge surprise to me when they wanted to publish this piece I wrote for this special edition. Now that it's out, I couldn't be more ecstatic to have had the opportunity to play a role.

I would love for you to see what Thryve is all about by visiting their site. As of this latest addition, they felt led to make their publications FREE, so no excuses ;)!! But really, please go and read the stories and see the artwork/photography of all the incredible women who played a role in this latest issue.

Live Fully Alive // Also be sure to search Instagram for #LiveFullyAlive to see what this motto means to their devoted followers.

All of the people involved in this publishing process are people who perfectly represent the mission of These Sacred Grounds. Their presence in my life is one of peace and lingering, always willing to take out special time to simply be present with those around them.

A special thanks to my longtime friend, Abi Ray of R.Riveter (the bag featured in our shoot) for traveling all the way to California to take part in this issue, and to Heidi, Kris, my mom, and Valisha for helping me along in the writing process.