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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 Christmas: A Sharing Sesh // Day 4

I’ve been writing for several hours this evening, and while I thought I was going somewhere very specific on this 4th Day of Christmas (5th on the East Coast; sorry, friends!!), it turns out that the somewhere I thought I was going should wait.

For this reason, my fourth share with you is the thing that makes me love Netflix more than anything else. Yes, more than House of Cards and Fuller House put together. For me, the gem of Netflix is the documentary selection.

If you’re still of the mind that documentaries are just “boring movies,” it’s time to catch up, my friend. There is a whole world out there of people telling incredible stories in beautiful and compelling ways. Documentaries are the peoples’ stories. They are research and they are art. Documentaries make for great discussions with friends and with people we otherwise may not know how to find a connection. Through the screen, documentaries teach us about a topic in much less time than personal research.  Maybe that’s their key selling point, that we can get information quickly and beautifully right from our own television in an afternoon.

Don’t get me wrong, documentaries are not the end all of learning about a topic. But, if you’re interested in learning more about food, education, the prison system, farming, other cultures, or anything else under the sun, documentaries are a wonderful gateway. They help us begin good and necessary conversations.

I’m going to keep this one brief, and I highly doubt this post is changing any lives, but if you haven’t embraced the world of documentaries, I encourage you do so. Go out (by staying in, of course), and learn something new today. Maybe it will spur you on to greater things tomorrow.

Have you ever watched a documentary that helped change your life or views on something? Tell me about it!!

12 Days of Christmas: A Sharing Sesh // Day 3

Today is the day! It is THE day! After four years, our calendars are marked, we have accepted the invitation, and we are ready. to. go. As I wrote about before, four years ago Kris and I set out on a journey to figure out our personal finances. We had no prior understanding of budgeting or debt or anything in regard to money.

Though several friends suggested we take some plan of action for our finances before getting married, it never caught on. It never stuck. And by that, I mean we weren't interested in hearing about money--it sounded boring and not "for us." At least not until that January of 2013; not until desperation began to take over and we had no choice but to do SOMETHING--ANYTHING to get our finances in order. Once we had no money, no career, and nearly $100K in student loan debt, we knew something had to happen.

What happened next was one of those experiences I wish more of my life looked like. It was one I think could be compared to a marathon instead of a sprint...not that I would know, but it was one I can look back on and see that we didn't simply recognize a problem, but we took the hard, difficult, and necessary measures to change them.

So often in life, recognizing our issues isn’t the difficult part—at least not if we’re being honest. The difficult part is figuring out what needs to be done in order to change our path, to redirect our steps. And we actually did, my friends. We actually changed our outcome. I hope that as time goes on, this part of our history is something we can pass down to our children and their children. I hope this isn’t an aspect of our lives soon forgotten because this wasn't easy and because it's an experience worth passing along.

I’m not going to get into all the details of the hows, the whys, and the mistakes because I’ve shared that with you already, but I am going to share the tools with you in hopes that it will continue to inspire others to make the necessary changes. I'm going to start by saying that money and personal finances and budgeting and debt and workbooks and courses all sound like an awful combination of words that make me want to fall asleep just thinking about it. But please trust me when I say that Financial Peace University can truly be a tool that changes your life. No, I'm not getting paid for this in any way; I'm just a really happy student whose life and family were changed because of this material.

There are classes you can attend, which honestly may be ideal as far as having others to go through this process with, but that’s not how it looked for Kris and I. I honestly do not remember the conversation or the final push that made us decide to go through the FPU material, but I do remember it was on sale. I also remember being sorely disappointed when I thought I’d ordered DVDs, but in fact ordered CDs—uh….what? 13 sessions (now 9) of teaching on personal financial over CD. . .?

I mean, it already sounded fun, but man…now we’re really in for a treat.

But guys, it actually worked. For one, Dave Ramsey is hilarious. He’s engaging and he speaks from and to the heart. He shares his own past and struggles with finances and he gives so much detail and encouragement that he really just kind of pumps you up, even over CD-Rom.

Anyhow, there we were 13 CDs and a workbook (a workbook of which I bought used on Amazon because we were so broke) at our fingertips. Quick survey, does anyone still own a CD player? We sure as heck did not. What to do now?

Fortunately, we had a road trip planned. NJ>Niagara Falls>Grand Rapids>Columbus>NJ.

We’re pretty roundabout people, as you can see from a map, but we made the best of our long, snowy drive that January of 2013. We listened; we wrote. Most importantly though, we learned to talk about money and how to get on the same page with one another in regard to our finances.

Four years later, we’ve hit our goal. Today is the day. The final payment is headed to Great Lakes this very day.

I hope you can hear this, friend. If you’re struggling at all with your finances or you simply want to get to the next level, take the time to take FPU. It’s worth it. It’s nothing more than a tool, but it’s a really great tool that helps people find financial freedom.

I think the idea that really sums up the material for me is that Kris and I stopped being controlled by our money, and we took control of it. And by that, I don’t mean either of us spent uncontrollably or had major money issues. But, in truth, we just didn’t know where it was going. We didn’t know how much we made or had or how much we spent on food or gas or electric bills. We learned to be the ones to make those decisions before they just happened.

Have you taken the course? How did it help your family? Have you thought about it and not gotten around to it? Where are you in your financial journey?

Merry Christmas, and have a Financially Freeing 2017!!

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:

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
 

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.

When Life Gives You Lemons...Make Coffee // My First Recipe Share

I will start by saying this: I don't like sharing. As someone who LOVES being around people and hosting people, I specifically don't like to share recipes. In fear that I might miss out on hangout time, it's like I want people to rely on my presence for certain delicious foods and drinks. Totally insecure and delusional--I understand. Fortunately, there's enough love in my life that I'm slowly able to let these irrational ideas go (yes, ideaS--there are others). So, this is me saying--I want to share this thing I love with you even at the risk of losing some time spent with you.

Now that that's off my chest--here goes...

A couple years ago, I stumbled upon a drink recipe on the internet. I sadly don't remember where it was, but I remember that the blog writer who shared the recipe said it was a drink they discovered in a cafe in Sweden.

The drink was Coffee+Lemonade.

WHAT?!

In Germany, I had cola mixed with a certain type of beer, and that was weird. A couple Christmases ago, I started mixing Egg Nog with Ginger Beer--again, strange. But, learning about lemonade mixed with coffee was a whole other category of combinations I'd never think of on my own. You know..."Like lamb and tuna fish."

Or was it...?

It most definitely was not. This drink quickly became my dearest, most refreshing coffee friend. I've made this recipe more times than I could keep track, and have won over many-a-convert to the lemonade + coffee blend.

Since discovering this fresh, home-made deliciousness, I've done a lot of experimenting. I've tried:

  • Cutting out the need for fresh lemons by making lemonade in advance and adding it to the cold brew.
  • Mixing a bottle of yummy Trader Joe's Organic Lemonade with my cold brew.
  • Adding more lemon to my simple syrup, so as to cut out the need for a fresh lemons come drinking time.
  • Using oranges since I always have those on hand. It was WAY too sweet and lacked the tartness that makes it so great.
  • And lastly, and worst of all, forcing a cup of hot coffee to get cold quickly by adding ice (yuck!).

So, when I tell you that making this refreshing twist of a coffee beverage from scratch is a necessity--I mean it. That also means there's a need to prepare for all of the ingredients in advance.

Last thing: if you're weirded out by the idea of coffee and lemon, think about the fact that adding lemon or lemonade to black tea is completely normal. That usually helps people get past the weird factor.

And...ENJOY! Also, thank you to the one who originally shared this recipe online, so others could too!!

Coffee Lemonade //

Based on your sweet, bitter, and sour preferences, you should totally play with the measurements on this, but here's what I do:

  • 1 Cup of Ice
  • 1/2 Part Cold Brew Coffee (Stir 1/3 cup fine coffee grinds to every 3 cups cold water in a sealed container and let sit overnight on the counter. Strain and place in fridge. I use a glass jar with a lid for the brewing and a French Press to strain).
  • 1/2 Part Home-Made Lemon Simple Syrup that has cooled in the fridge (Boil 1 cup sugar to every 1 cup water to every lemon juice and zest from half of a FRESH lemon for one minute or so, and let sit until it thickens.)
  • Top each serving off with juice from half of a lemon.

Cold Coffee + Sweet + Tart. Yum!!

Just to reiterate, I promise you I've tried every shortcut in the book on this recipe, and this is truly the way to go. IF (and it is a big IF) you're reallllly craving some Coffee Lemonade and never seem to have lemons on hand, getting good. I mean--GOOD. Lemonade and mixing it with cold brew can work. BUT, everything fresh and made by your hands is definitely the best way to go.

I hope you enjoy!! Tag me if you decide to make yourself a delicious batch--I want to hear what you think :) Also, do you have any weird recipe combinations that you love? Share below!!

Thanks and Blessings from Oakland.
 

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

A Mother's Day Gift Guide // aftcra

In light of my love for all things American and locally made, I wanted to share a site with you I recently discovered. In their words,

"aftcra is an online marketplace where you can buy and sell American handmade products. Our mission is to support local artists and artisans living in America by connecting them with handmade admirers across the globe."

In hopes of spreading the word about this up-and-coming American artisan site, I've created this Mother's Day guide featuring products from aftcra. Don't worry, don't worry--you didn't forget; Mother's Day is still about five weeks away. But, in order to support artisans, it is important to look ahead for the necessary turnaround time for production.

I know my husband and I often forget to show appreciation for the moms in our lives. For this reason, I'm taking some time to think about all the things I'm grateful for about them, and beginning to plan which of these aftcra treasures might show them our love when May 8th arrives. You can click on any of the photos to go to the artists' links, none of which are affiliate sites. Enjoy!!

For your Crunchy Mamas

 Coiled Rope Basket with Handles Made in North Carolina Price Tag: $58 (plus $10 US shipping)

Coiled Rope Basket with Handles
Made in North Carolina
Price Tag: $58 (plus $10 US shipping)

For your Wine-Loving, Hostess Moms

 Handcrafted Wine Rack with Early American Finish Made in Texas Price Tag: $62.50 (plus $18 US shipping)

Handcrafted Wine Rack with Early American Finish
Made in Texas
Price Tag: $62.50 (plus $18 US shipping)

For your Homebody Mamas

 Coffee Books and Rain Tee Shirt Made in Ohio Price Tag: $22 (plus $5 US shipping)

Coffee Books and Rain Tee Shirt
Made in Ohio
Price Tag: $22 (plus $5 US shipping)

For your Gardening/Homesteading Gals

 Reclaimed Glass Honeycomb Sun Catcher Made in Minnesota Price tag: $100 (plus $12.50 US shipping)  

Reclaimed Glass Honeycomb Sun Catcher
Made in Minnesota
Price tag: $100 (plus $12.50 US shipping)
 

For your Ladies who are always behind the Lens

 Business Card Pocket for Camera Strap Made in Oregon Price Tag: $10 (plus $4 US shipping)

Business Card Pocket for Camera Strap
Made in Oregon
Price Tag: $10 (plus $4 US shipping)

 Camera Lens Cap Pocket Made in Oregon Price Tag: $10 (plus $4 US shipping)

Camera Lens Cap Pocket
Made in Oregon
Price Tag: $10 (plus $4 US shipping)

For your Eclectic, Book-Loving Ladies

 Industrial Desk/Nightstand Lamp Made in Illinois Price Tag: $65 (plus $20 US shipping)

Industrial Desk/Nightstand Lamp
Made in Illinois
Price Tag: $65 (plus $20 US shipping)

And of course...your E-Book Worms too

 Oak Wood Valet Charging Stand Nightstand Dock Made in Virginia Price Tag: $49.99 (plus $13 US Shipping)

Oak Wood Valet Charging Stand Nightstand Dock
Made in Virginia
Price Tag: $49.99 (plus $13 US Shipping)

For the Mothers who taught us the value of Traveling

 A Custom Passport Holder Made in Utah Price Tag: $69 (plus $4 US shipping)

A Custom Passport Holder
Made in Utah
Price Tag: $69 (plus $4 US shipping)

 A Custom Driftwood Collage Made in Ohio Price Tag: $149 (plus $14 for US shipping)

A Custom Driftwood Collage
Made in Ohio
Price Tag: $149 (plus $14 for US shipping)


For the Mums who've always wanted to live in a Hobbit Hole: "Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”
-
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

 Barrel Top Twig Coffee Table Made in Kentucky Price Tag: $175 (Includes Shipping)

Barrel Top Twig Coffee Table
Made in Kentucky
Price Tag: $175 (Includes Shipping)

And lastly, for the Moms in your life who've heard far too many times, "I can build you that!"

 Pine Wood Dining Room Table with Hairpin Legs Made in Michigan Price tag: $555-$635

Pine Wood Dining Room Table with Hairpin Legs
Made in Michigan
Price tag: $555-$635

I'd love to hear your ideas for great Mother's Day gifts! Fill me in by commenting below :)...

Thanks for joining me, and don't forget to check out aftcra!!

 

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

Zooptopia // An Attempt at a Movie Review

As my husband and I pulled out of the drive-in after watching the recent Pixar film Zootopia, many different thoughts of the film arose in our conversation. Here are a few:

  A cup of Verve.

A cup of Verve.

As a parent // Like my parents did for me, I want my daughter to know that she can pursue any dream she has for her future. Be it a career, an educational path, a desire to travel or move to the big city, I want her to know that we will support her and guide her to pursue any calling she believes to be hers. More importantly though, I want her to know that who she is matters more than anything she comes to do in life.

We hear all the time about miserable millionaires, dissatisfied celebrities, and hearts corrupted by greed and power. In the like, I've seen plenty of people who say they've "arrived," and yet have no more joy than they did before they even began to seek their success. And yet, on the opposite hand, I've heard stories and met people who struggle day in and day out to get by, and yet the joy that they have is contagious. They are full of integrity and generosity.

Of course, neither of these situations are mutually exclusive nor are they a guarantee on either part, but that's the point. No matter where my daughter's path leads, I want her to know that who she is as a human far outweighs whatever she comes to accomplish. Though the heroine bunny's goals were not money or fame, the focus was on her career path over her integrity and character as a future bunny police officer.

Title // As we talked about Judy Hopp's parents and the fear-filled values they were instilling in their daughter, we asked, "what happened to "'No Farms No Food?'" The writers of this movie had an incredible opportunity to show an example of parents who could encourage their daughter in her dreams, while also not belittling their life as farmers. Being portrayed as small town, back country bunnies, wanting their daughter to stay put and "settle," never risking anything for the betterment of the community was a huge disappointment. The movie made the farmers out to be fearful instead of strong and influential in their own community. For shame, Pixar. A big city officer is no better than a carrot farmer. Both are good and necessary, but again--who they are as bunnies is what matters and is the piece that will determine what legacy they leave in this world. A job title cannot do this.

Social // Oh dear, do I dare? I do. This movie made a great attempt at touching the heart of many a human struggle one might experience. If your battle is being a woman in a "man's field," if it's your socioeconomic status, cultural background, or job title, there is a beautiful message that says you can pursue your dreams, and if you persevere through the trials and the discouragement of others, there is a chance you just might make it. Awesome, yes. I greatly appreciated that this film told viewers that things don't always seem as they appear, and that you can rise above your situation, and that even that which seems impossible can be possible.

So, my pros for Zootopia are that through hard work and determination, you can pursue your dreams, and that not all is what it seems to be--even a bunny can overcome the scary big-city. But really, much of that message was hindered by putting down the farmers and by not sharing the message that who we are as humans outweighs what we do for a job. I haven't even started on how tired I am of Disney for starring strong willed, independent children who are never supported by their parents, and yet always end up being the "good guys" while the parents end up somehow changing their perspective, instead of the other way around (or both/and). In too many of these movies, the parents have either died or or are fear filled in their ways of parenting. To name a few, The Little Mermaid, Brave, and Finding Nemo. Don't get me wrong, I like these movies for other reasons, but I would find it refreshing to see more loving, supportive, and wise parental guidance. Some all time favorites include Meet the Robinsons, Monster's Inc., Cars, and Lilo and Stitch.

Have you seen the movie? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Today, I'm featuring a CA-based coffee roaster known for their commitment to Directly Traded, relational coffee buying practices. In their words:

"The Farmlevel Initiative is vital to the future of coffee. At Farmlevel, it shows farmers that their work matters, their attention to detail is noticed, and that we support them every step of the way. It supports paying our farmers premiums for quality coffees through direct trade relationships. Our direct trade practice allows us to exceed Fair Trade minimums every time, no exceptions."

You can find Verve coffee at several cafe locations around the Oakland area. In the meantime, check out their informative website to learn more about what it means to support Directly Traded Coffee, "Farmlevel" coffee.

(Please do not assume this post to be reflective of the thoughts or philosophies of the above featured shop. Thanks for joining me, friends!)

"And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
-Jesus replied with the Story of the Good Samaritan.

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:

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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."

Entering the Sacred Space

Have you ever found yourself in a sacred moment, not necessarily realizing you were heading there or how you ended up there? In my life, I find that moments shared around a table often end up being sacred.

 Sacred moments in life are never hindered by the imperfections of the space (or the quality of photos taken in an attempt to remember), but they are always etched in our memories by the presence of those who were there.

Sacred moments in life are never hindered by the imperfections of the space (or the quality of photos taken in an attempt to remember), but they are always etched in our memories by the presence of those who were there.

Sharing Dinner at a Local Cafe | Partaking in Communion | Savoring a Beverage and an Early Morning Conversation

These are the moments when heaven feels a little bit closer and life a little less lonely.

Beginning next month, it is here where I will endeavor to share some of these moments. By honing in on the heartbeat of some local (and hopefully not-so-local) coffee shops, we will seek to capture these moments and what it is that led us there.

The Space | The Person | The Drink | The Atmosphere

Because you never know...The place where you are standing just might be remembered as one of These Sacred Grounds marked out in your memory as one that came to define a beautiful aspect of your life or your future.

It is in these places, in these moments, where we might have a defining conversation, encounter love through a stranger, or where our souls might be inspired by the beauty of humanity.

Thank you for joining me.

b.g. cook | Oakland, Ca