City Living

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.

 

 

Grace + Rain

I like to think of rain as the grace I need to rest. In California, there’s so little rain that my local friends seem to have their own built-in discipline to rest; or as they say—“relaaax;” or as we transplants say—they are “California Chill.” I’ve not yet come to fully embrace my own California Chill, so the rain last weekend was a welcomed reminder to take it easy and to slow down.

As a Northeasterner, rest is not so kindly looked upon. It’s even seen as a weakness. During this time in our lives, I’m grateful for being taught the California Chill, and for the reminder that I’m not designed to be on the go always, but that there’s grace in my life to actually enjoy rest. My reminders always came from the weather, like rain and snow.  Where I grew up, these were some of the only realities in life that could get people to slow down just a little bit—to take it easy.

I love that the world is full of little signs urging us to slow it down. There’s grace for rest in red lights and traffic, in flat tires, and getting sick. There are reminders all around us to work out of a place of rest. There is even humbling proof that the world will go on even if we’re not controlling every little piece of the puzzle—funny concept, I know…

There’s so much evidence out there that rest and productivity, not multi-tasking and focus each go hand in hand. It’s pretty amazing, and yet still we avoid the signs. We get impatient, angry even, at the reminders, and we ignore the research. Even when my nearly-two-year-old refuses to nap, I leave her in her crib for a time. She’s usually talking or singing, but even when she gets upset, I encourage her through word and action that it’s time to rest. We’ll see how this pans out in her life, but for now it helps build rest into our home culture.

I've recently been spending time at Allegro Coffee in Whole Food on Gilman St in Berkeley. They have a great setup of tables for groups of people to meet. They also serve until 9 o'clock and let their customers stay until Whole Foods closes. How cool is that? It's much later than any other coffee shop I've found in the East Bay. Hooray for later-night gatherings. And Hooray for places to rest.

Allegro Coffee Roasters // 1025 Gilman St, Berkeley
IG // FB // #ACR
 

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.

Reading, Books, & Freedom // Featuring One Shot Coffee & Cafe, Philadelphia

I’ve been spending a lot of time reading, lately. As I've mentioned before, I only started reading in my 20s. Now, as soon as I finish a book, I'm on to the next (no promises this will last, but I'll take it for now). Here are a few thoughts I have about reading, books, and for that matter--freedom.

First, there's prioritizing which books to read. HOW do you choose? Seriously, how? Please share your insight...As someone who has not been a lifelong reader, this is a difficult process. It's also why I recently challenged myself to only read one book at time. I am a sloooow reader, so picking just one book is tough! Do I go back to the classics that I missed? Hop into what my peers and friends are reading? Do I focus on the spiritual life, social issues, continue reading books based on authors I like, or go to my personal fave--books on intercultural studies? It's no easy task choosing the next book to start, and this is why I start so many at a time. But! I've chosen this new way, and am now a more productive reader overall.

Next, is that I cannot afford to buy all the books I want. When Kris and I packed up our Philly apartment to move across the country, we gave away and sold more books than anything else. I'll be honest, besides not wanting to spend all my moneys on books (most of which I'll read once), I don't want to go through that process again. Books, especially cherished, written-in ones were by far the hardest items to let go. My answer to these dilemmas today was the go to the library. Getting out into the community AND saving money--when does that happen??

In the same vein of collecting and holding on to books, I find they’re an easy source of pride. When I walk into a home with a lot of books on display, I assume certain attributes on that family--that they're well-education, smart, will probably want to talk about things I don't understand, and that overall they're...better than me. Do you know the feeling I mean? I've DEFINITELY had the experience of loving books for what they might tell visitors about me more than I cared to read the content within. It's such a silly thing, but it's humbling to know that any material thing (albeit, one as important as books) could do this to my character. It's like, why don't I also put down my window and turn up NPR while displaying TED stickers on my back window, so my fellow drivers might also know just how smart I am…? Oh brother, how do I even begin to take myself seriously?

The last thing I'll share about reading is that I think it's helping me to become a better listener. Did you ever experience this? For me, it was sort of an unexpected surprise. I was wondering this week if people who are better readers are also better listeners. From personal experience, I know this isn't true across the board, but it got me wondering if it might not also be the case for some others. Thoughts?

Anyhow, I'm grateful for books and reading and libraries. Sharing knowledge and information freely is such a sweet gift. As someone who isn’t terribly patriotic, freely shared knowledge is something I take for granted in the U.S. Why wouldn't I take full advantage of books, lectures, and the radio? For that matter, why wouldn't I take full advantage of conversations with strangers, social movements, social media, national parks and natural reserves? There's so much freedom in the Western World to share, preserve, and explore, all of which are areas I want to show more gratitude. Reading seems like a good step in that direction.

Tonight's Coffee Shop Feature goes to one of my old Philly spots. They have every kind of sitting arrangement possible (definite perk), delicious food, and loads of books. I have lots of photos from the upstairs of One Shot Cafe, and have never once asked the purpose of all their books. I always assumed it was a "take one, leave one" situation, but also like I might be stealing if I took one. I always forgot to ask before I left what purpose they served. Either way, it's a beautiful display, encouraging a home-like feel.

One Shot Coffee & Cafe // 217 W. George Street, Philadelphia

Also, check out their Instagram

As always, thanks for reading. Would love to hear about your relationship with reading,
books, libraries or generally...whatever else you'd like to share.

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.
 

Legacies + Cemeteries // City Lights Coffee, Charleston, SC

I like wandering through cemeteries. Not the new ones with perfectly manicured grass, but the old ones. The ones with grungy tombstones and vine-ridden mausoleums; the ones that are slowly being taken over by nature and slowly falling into the backdrop of the cities being built up around them; the ones where bodies found rest long before my parents were born. I find these old cemeteries to be great spaces for personal reflection.

 Photos from the cemetery at the Unitarian Church in Charleston // By yours truly

Photos from the cemetery at the Unitarian Church in Charleston // By yours truly

While wandering through these places, these contemplative questions inevitably arise: "What will be left when I'm gone?" and “What will my parents and those around me leave when they’re gone?” They are questions that both excite and challenge me. They are questions that remind me that I have no idea how long I have, and yet ask myself, “Does it really matter?”

Does the amount of days I have actually matter compared to what I do with those days? Usually, at this point in my life, thinking about death doesn’t scare me. But thinking about how I spend my days before that death arrives, DEFINITELY makes me question my choices and my path. Within, what I would consider, my Christian, Western, socially minded, internationally focused, far-from-perfect worldview, I think about legacy a lot. I think about eternity a lot.

And mostly, I think about how my legacy will affect eternity. In reality, this is why Kris and I decided to move across the country--why we left everyone we love for this new city. It was all in hopes of having the most eternal impact possible, of stepping out in humility (something that is not natural for either of us), and being the most like Jesus as possible. It's much easier to say that we moved here to work at a church—for a job, but really that's not it. In reality, we moved here to sacrifice our immediate comforts for the sake of the spiritual—for the sake of eternity. Our move might be considered a kind of spiritual fasting—sacrificing our physical, emotional, and mental desires for the sake of spiritual growth.

Did we have to move across the country to be a part of this eternal kingdom? No. But, we felt like it's where we were meant to be for this time. For this reason, we chose to surrender our own wants for the sake of something greater. This example is only a dime a dozen. There’s nothing extraordinary about it, but it’s our example; it’s our story.  It’s an example that is simply intended to make us all think a little bit more about the lives we're living and the focus of our legacies. It’s also an example in my life that I question just about every day.

Is my legacy always eternally focused? No way, man; no. way. But, when I think about legacy, this is what I think about. I think about eternity, and about planting seeds of Jesus's love and justice and faithfulness, and about how to do more of that. I think about how I want that radical love to be commonplace in my daily life. And, I fail. Like, a lot. I don't even leave my house many days of the week to spread this so-called love.

On those days, I try to focus my heart of prayer and on being prepared for the good deeds that do lie before me, and being prepared for the trials and hardships that will inevitably come. I try to be intentional with those days that I don’t encounter other people. And really, even these eternal thoughts (let alone, actions) only happen on very particular days, usually days when I’m weakest and loneliest and in need of reminders of that kingdom which is to come—the one where I want my legacy to dwell.

When I visit grave sites and think about life and about death, I will continue to think about legacy. I will think about those who left destruction, chaos, and selfish ambition. And I will seek to reflect those who left a legacy with an eternal impact--a legacy of great sacrifice and selfless ambition, whether they had one day or one century to do so.

There is one graveyard in Charleston, SC I always make it a point to visit. It’s so stunning and in the midst of that beautiful city, it’s a place for great reflection. Right near by, in walking distance, is also City Lights Coffee. So, next time you're in Charleston, grab a cup from City Lights for your wanderings, and swing by this gorgeous cemetery for some time of introspection.

City Lights Coffee // 141 Market St, Charleston, SC 29401
Unitarian Church in Charleston // 4 Archdale Street, Charleston, SC 29401

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

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." -Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew

Beauty and Eggs // Featuring Highwire Coffee Roaster

Tonight, while my daughter was asleep and my husband was at our Good Friday Service, I dyed eggs. I experimented with ingredients from around my kitchen: beets, spinach, green tea, turmeric, paprika, salt, crayons, and markers. I knew my husband didn't care (although he did humor me the other day when I thought dying brown eggs would work) and my daughter is too young to have much fun with it. So, I dyed them by myself. And it was completely worth it.

IMG_4169.JPG

This weekend, we're reminded of the sacrifice of Jesus for the sake of humanity. I'm reminded of his grace, his humility, how he defeated death, and how he is a perfectly loving, gracious, and just king. When I think about the kingdom of heaven, I just have to let out a sigh of relief, a sigh of hope that there is more than this place.

Dying eggs tonight was a reminder of that image of restoration, of new life, and of beauty. Beauty is all around, giving glimpses of the God who created it. Acknowledging and creating beauty is never ever in vein. Beauty has purpose simply for it's own sake, and I'm so incredibly grateful for that.

This week, I got to linger at a coffee spot I've been DYING (tee-hee) to go to, and it was all I'd hoped it would be. It was simple and beautiful. The sunshine helped and the plants were perfect company.

Highwire Coffee Roasters is located at Flower Land // 1330 Solano Ave, Albany, CA

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

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
-the gospel of Jesus according to John

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

I'm not a Minimalist, but I Embrace Simple Living

I spent my whole life living in excess: owning clothes I never wore, having rooms and surfaces cluttered with stuff (read—“have surfaces"), and attics full of boxes. It wasn't until my husband and I experienced a house fire that I even began to embrace a simpler lifestyle. After losing some items we used and cherished while not losing a bunch of junk we'd (I'd) collected over the years, it suddenly all seemed really silly to hold onto. While I don't live a minimalist lifestyle, there are the three main reasons I value simplicity:

IMG_3555.JPG

1.     Love of God // Living with all my wants, needs, and desires is not life giving. I find that living in excess has a way of making me spiritually lazy (or maybe all-around lazy?). When I’m constantly trying to clean up, maintain, and reorganize a bunch of stuff, I have less time and energy to focus my heart and mind on what really matters most in my life. Along with that, the more stuff I own, the more distracted I am on a daily basis, having my focus pulled in a million directs. For similar reasons, we've never had cable (don't let me sound too snobbish--we do have Netflix...and ad-free Hulu, both of which we deactivate during summer months.)

2.     Love of Neighbor // I have a really hard time with this one because there aren’t any tangible, obvious solutions. But, living in excess when my neighbor is in want just doesn’t sit right. I certainly still have way more than I need in this regard, so over the years I’ve sought to live with less and less while also consuming less and less. The consuming less is the key piece. It’s liberating to go through a household purge, but keeping off the excess is no easy task. This is why I have to be intentional about where I spend my time—both around town and virtually. It’s too easy to get sucked into adorable baby gear on Instagram and antique goods at the flea market.

3.     Being a Good Steward // The more we consume, the more waste we produce; the more waste we produce, the more we fill up land and waterways with non-biodegradable materials that will long outlast my life here on earth. This also plays a major role in why we sacrifice eating more of the foods we love for choosing to eat food we believe to be morally-made/grown/raised. What I mean is food that is local, organic, and natural when possible, and containing real ingredients. This might include grass-fed or cage-free meat or milk from cows that were not pumped with growth hormones (ideally grass-fed as well because…Mmm Mmm, it. is. delish!)

While gradually embracing simplicity of living, I’ve read a lot of material on becoming a minimalist, and here are the two areas I usually get stuck // Home and Wardrobe

1.     I like my home to feel cozy // I have paintings and tapestries on the walls, and an excess of blankets for friends. I keep funky and unique, ceramic mugs for the mornings and for when friends visit. I have hand-woven baskets to keep things in, and plants in all the windows. Oh--and string lights; there will always be string lights.

I have an eclectic taste, and I just like it that way. It's what I would call an outdoorsy, vintage, international, grandmom-kind-of-cozy space. That totally makes sense, right? As my friend Jill once said, I put all different stuff together and it just works.

2.     I like a little sunshine in my closet // I’ve looked on Pinterest endlessly for inspo on having what is known as a “capsule” or minimalist wardrobe. Maybe I just have yet to find the right source (and have considered becoming the source on the topic for this reason), but all the whites and blacks and tans just don’t cut it. I’m still figuring out what my goal should be on this one, but keeping some fun colors in the closet feels necessary for my style.

I've only ever been in one minimalist home, and when I say it was stunning--I mean, stunning! It was clean and there was nothing to trip over as I walked through and nothing to move when I set down my cup. The closets were so simple that there was no need for a dresser. There were no dishes in the sink because when home life is that effortless, and there aren't a million things to juggle, doing dishes isn't such a big deal. Because of this home, I will continue to seek to live a simple, and maybe even someday--minimalist, life.

Featuring a Philly Coffee Roaster this week, the ReAnimator Coffee space is the kind you want to go to get stuff done. There's no distraction and the decor is minimal--perfect for focusing on your work or a good read. Clean, simple, and beautiful. Click the link below for locations and more info:

ReAnimator Coffee // 310 W. MASTER STREET // Philadelphia // 19122

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

"As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments..." And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property."

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.
 

On Being Human

It’s so easy to fall into the temptation of wanting to “have it all together.” I literally cannot count how many times I’ve wanted to be in a different stage of life, a different place geographically, to have a career that I loved, or to have more time with friends because I felt lonely. I can’t count how many days I spent wishing I was just…happier.

The reality however, is that we’re not meant to be happy all the time. There are times of struggling, wrestling, and scrapping just to get through the day. This reality is part of what makes us fully human. Accepting where we are, and seeking to be fully present in our trials instead and fighting to do anything we can to move past them is what makes us present—it’s what gives us contentment in life. Trusting that where we are is where we’re meant to be, that no one else could take our place, is part of the pilgrimage.

The difficult days and months and years are part of the beauty of being human.

When I look into the past, I don’t regret the poor decisions I made because of course, they are a part of what made me who I am now and who I will be in the future. The only things I regret are the times I wasted any energy on wishing I was somewhere else, which quite honestly takes up a good portion of my history.

It was so important for me to learn to accept when it was time to hustle and when it was time to surrender. It can be so good and necessary to persevere to reach our dreams and goals, but it can also be terribly detrimental when those goals were never meant for us. For five years, I applied for hundreds of dream jobs and masters programs, wanting desperately to be more valuable than I believed I was at the time. Though my fight was fruitless, it wasn’t fruitless because I didn’t get one of those jobs or funding to go back to school. It was fruitless because it’s not where I was meant to bear fruit. I’m grateful now to know that even if I’m in a place and space that doesn’t meet all my desires, it’s more fruitful to surrender than to do whatever I can to be somewhere else--in an ideal land I’ve imagined should be my reality.

I'm so excited for this Oakland Coffee Roaster to setup their cafe at their roasting site in Fruitvale. Being fully present for their employees, those they are mentoring in other ways than in being baristas, is incredibly inspiring and their presence in the Oakland community is a sweet gift and blessing. Check out their site for all the locations you can get their beans.

Red Bay Coffee Roasters // 3098 E 10th St // Oakland

Also, check out their Facebook Page

(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.
-A letter from Paul to the Roman followers of Jesus

Intimidation // Featuring Blue Bottle

Intimidation is one of those aspects of life that we humans tend to sort of...make up. It's one of those areas that dwells more in our heads than in our reality. Through personal experiences and conversations, assumptions are made on the part of the one feeling indimidated, and sadly lives out in our actions, holding us back from the fullness of life that we could otherwise experience.

This is the feeling that washed over me when I first walked into the sun-filled, historic, W.C. Morse building--home to one of two Oakland Blue Bottle Cafes. Knowing already of its immaculate reputation as a coffee roaster, due to their presence on the east coast, I immediatly assumed a lot on the situation before I even entered their doors.  

 Photo from @bluebottle coffee. Link on image

Photo from @bluebottle coffee. Link on image

Knowledge can be a dangerous thing. One can handle their own knowledge with love and care, or conversely with power and conceit. I, admittedly, assumed the latter on the part of those who facilitate the inner workings of Blue Bottle. Initially, too intimidated to even begin asking quesitons about their Coffee Machine Repair shop or their experience of becoming a nationally-recognized coffee roaster, I simply ordered a coffee sampler (I'm always a sucker for samplers), and sat down.  

Realizing quickly my own pride and timidity by not engaging my barista, I decided--fearful or not, to revise my approach upon retrieving my order. And of course, when I did, my original assumptions of those of Blue Bottle were completely innacurate.  

When I decided to ask about the crazy-lookinig machine sitting in the window, which sat completely unfamiliar to my untrained eye, the woman was so warm and friendly, happy to tell me about their Cold Brewing process. 

Like a piece of art, the tall, what I would describe as "Swirly-gig," glass contraption brews the coffee for nothing short of 11 hours. Referred to as "OJ," the outcome is smooth and delicious. This drink could be the child of none other than the highly informed, happy to discuss, makers and coffee artists of the Blue Bottle.

It's in moments like these that I've learned the value of overcoming fear for the sake of human connections. After all, what's the worst that could happen, really?

For other locations and info, please visit bluebottlecoffee.net

4270 Broadway // Oakland, CA

#Momlife // Featuring Zocalo Coffeehouse

Since having my daughter a year ago, I have learned that being a mom to our little girl is no easy task. Nothing and no one in life had me pressing the pause button so many times in a given day. In fact, my own apathy was probably the only real contender when it came to hitting "Save Draft" in the years before my daughter's arrival.

IMG_2352.jpg

After college, I didn't get a career doing anything particularly life changing and I never got hired for a job that required much sacrifice or passion. In time, this is something I came to appreciate about my places of employment; I liked the fact that my job could stay there when I clocked out and I could focus my energy on the other areas of my life.

And then came motherhood...

I'm writing about this new life as a mom for one main reason: there are some moments in life when I just have to make something--make anything--happen for the sake of my own identity. In these moments, I know I'm not going to change the world or even anyone's day, but just sticking it out has to be enough sometimes. Persevering for the sake of passion seems like a worthwhile move, so here I am.

I'm a woman full of passion, a dreamer--perhaps even an idealist. Being a parent is hard. I don't end everyday feeling like I've accomplished something great, and I don't even like it all the time. It's not a job: I don't have to answer to a boss when I'm late or when my shirt is wrinkled, but it is hard work. It is one of the few things in life that requires intentionality, even when I don't feel like giving it my all. It requires much patience, grace, and the willingness to press hold many times in a given day.

So for now, these are my thoughts. This is my effort to do something to make the world more beautiful today in a way that speaks to who I am as a person--not as a mom, but as a creative woman wanting to add to the beauty of every day life.

For the other mama's and papa's out there, I'm intensely grateful for this little toddler haven:

Zocalo Coffeehouse | 645 Bancroft Ave San Leandro, CA, 94577

Thanks for joining me,

B.G. Cook

The Backstory // Featuring Calm Waters Roaster

I had a professor in college, who in one statement made the world more beautiful. During a mini celebration for his 70th birthday, in a lighthearted, now-that-you're-70 kind of way,he was asked the meaning of life. After a bit of thoughtful deliberation, his response?

"The purpose of life is to be a human being."

Now, six years later--I've rolled over those words, twisting and turning them like the six sides of a Rubik's Cube. In the hard chapters, the times of celebration, in the sad and tear-filled moments, I've thought of these words. Just keep on...being human. Be true and real and raw as to where I am in any given moment of my life, and seek to fully embrace the most mundane parts of my life alongside the extraordinary. 

My last coffee date before our East Coast departure.

In the beauty of a human creation, I usually find myself meditating on this theory about life and its meaning:

The Name of that Shop | The Unique Markings of a Building | This medium | Those Mugs

My mind wanders to and fro as to the whys and hows any given piece of art was brought into being. I consider, "what prompted its creator to choose each aspect the way that they did, with intentional care and thought?"

This is the thinking that lead me here--to These Sacred Grounds.

As I sit in cafes, not looking for sacred moments, but stumbling upon them nonetheless, these are the places my mind wanders. I mull over each aspect of the place--not judging, yet studying.

The beans, the cups, the lay of the land with tables or couches--maybe both. The chatter blended with the sounds of typing and steaming milk. The aromas and the way the sunlight makes shadows on books along the wall based on the font of the shop's name plastered on the front window. These are the aspects of life that help the world feel a bit less chaotic and a lot more grounded in beauty and love.

Featuring // Calm Waters Coffee Roasters, Bristol, PA
http://www.calmwaterscoffee.com/


If These Sacred Grounds had a dating profile, it would read as follows: New site looking to share stories of those my writer encounters around town. Tendency is to wander, deliberate, and maybe say something witty or opinionated once and awhile. New to Oakland, getting to know the locals, not looking for anything serious--perhaps light banter. 

Thank you for joining me here,

B.G. Cook