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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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
 

Cold Brew + Summertime Feels // Featuring Heritage Roasting Co.

I mentioned a few posts back how I'm struggling to carve out space to write regularly. Update: this is still true, and that's all on that. What I'm really here to tell you is that when I was pregnant with my daughter, the idea of ingesting anything hot made me want to throw up on the spot. Literally (like, really…literally), simply the thought of something hot made me gag. And when I say gag, I don't mean first trimester, just in the morning gagging. I mean all day, every day, month upon month upon month gagging. It was truly a joyous time of creating life. . .

Fortunately—and this is a big fortunately, the smell of coffee didn't bother me. So, that spring I started making regular batches of Cold Brew Coffee for my early morning shifts. At the time, I was concerned I would forevermore avoid cold, coffee beverages like many women do with edibles they eat and drink a lot of during pregnancy sickness. I am happy to report two years later, however, that I'm still on the cold brew wagon. I’m also thrilled to report that this second pregnancy is nothing like the first as far as the nasty all day, every day sickness. P.T.L.

So far this spring, I've made a couple batches of cold brew and still love it. And while part of my brain is now saying, "uh oh…the humid, NJ/Philly summer must be upon us," the other part is celebrating because it knows this isn’t true, knows that I now live in Bay Area, and understands that I can simple enjoy this coffee beverage sans the sweat and 100 degree weather. Again, hallelujah! That part of my brain and I are pretty excited about this. Stay cool, my friends and enjoy!

To make your own, super easy Cold Brew:

  •  Mix 1/3 cup of fine coffee grinds to every three cups cool water in a glass container with a lid
  •  Allow it to sit covered on the counter overnight
  • Filter it and put it in the fridge the next morning

And now, for a longer list of side notes than recipe instructions:

  • I only like dark roasts when drinking hot coffee, but I like using medium roasts for cold brew—don’t know why; there’s probably science involved.
  • I use a French Press to filter out the grinds.
  • C.B. tends to be less bitter than hot coffee on account of using cold water—or again, something equally scientific like that.
  • Lastly, this should be fairly concentrated, so it may be too strong for your taste. You can add more water when you drink it or do as I do and add milk. I drink hot coffee black, but I prefer milk in my C.B.

That’s it! As always, thanks for you reading.

The coffee I used for this batch comes from the lovely people of Heritage Roasting Co.
These folks in Shasta Lake, CA seriously love their community and are continuously expanding their community center to serve the needs of those around them. What's not to love about people who make great coffee and love people so well? Check them out:

Heritage Roasting Co. // 4302 Shasta Dam Blvd, Shasta Lake, CA 96019
IG // Facebook

My Favorites // Baby Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unsolicited Advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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."

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

There's No Such Thing As Cheap

A photo posted by BG Cook (@brittanygcook) on

An idea I wrestle with constantly is that there's no such thing as "cheap". In some way or another, everything has a cost. When we as consumers buy cheaper versions of products, there are several ways that this lower cost is made up. The sad and unfortunate reality is that the cost is usually made up in what is considered to be unimaginable conditions for the people producing the products. The other alternative, though not mutually exclusive from the first, is that a consumer is paying for their product by giving up quality and longevity.

By being "cheap," both human ethic and quality are sacrificed.

Nothing is cheap. Somebody is paying the price for our purchases and for the lifestyles we chose to live. When it comes to food and drinks, the same realities apply. As consumers, we choose where we compromise:

Farmers' Living Conditions | Land & Waterways Pumped with Chemicals | Animals Raised Unnaturally

Everything has a cost. Just because we as consumers think we're saving money and therefore doing a good thing by being frugal, we're actually being fooled into letting others pay the cost. And yet, in small and BIG ways, change is taking place everyday.

I had a friend in Philly who owned a coffee shop--actually two.

Blew is a coffee shop owner committed to using ethically sourced goods: coffees, teas, pastries, art...Her commitment to sourcing ethical and when possible, local goods for her shop, she is setting an example for us all that living a little less selflessly isn't so impossible after all. In her words,

"Everything in the store follows our 4 values: local, organic, relational trade, and made with love. We want to encourage that it is possible to live simply, healthy, and aware lives. "

It's my tendency to think on a global level, to think in terms of how everyone and everything is connected. Because of this, I'm especially drawn to coffee shops like Frannie Lou's that hold to the same values. It's all too easy for us humans to think that our actions don't cause ripples that effect others around the world. That just isn't true. In fact, I'm starting to think that our individual actions and choices are perhaps the only way to make a difference worldwide.

Personal sacrifice in our daily lives is necessary for the sake of compassion and justice, and for the sake of our neighbors--near and far alike.

Featured Shop: Franny Lou's Porch
2400 Coral St // Philadelphia, PA