Sunday Offerings – Three Simple Joys

It’s a Sunday in Summer and, I confess, I didn’t make it to church today.  But, I did spend some time thinking about the following simple things that bring me joy and make me grateful.

!. Dodge Ball

Yesterday, Nico came home from a week at Boy Scout camp. He was covered in grime, and filled with stories of his camp adventures. He told me what he did each day, but when he told me about his last day at camp, his ever-deepening voice was filled with pride.

He told me that on the last day of camp, the camp staff challenged the scouts to an epic game of dodge ball. The game started out with about 30 boys playing against an equal number of staffers. Little by little, as the camper or staffer was hit by the ball, or failed to catch the ball, the player was eliminated. The game got down to Nico, the lone camper, against 3 of the kitchen staff. Nico threw the ball at one of the staffers. The ball hit the staffer’s legs and bounced off, hitting the second staffer, and both in one throw. With the game down to Nico and the last staffer, Nico threw the ball at the staffer. The staffer bent down to catch the ball, caught it, and then dropped it! The other campers who had been eliminated but were still watching the game let out a loud cheer for Nico.

The scouts won! Nico proudly told me how he was carried back to camp on the shoulders of his fellow scouts. What a great moment for him. Nico, the last man standing, triumphs in dodge ball!

2. Magical Cups

I have been helping my mom go through some of my grandmother’s things since my grandmother’s passing. It has been difficult and discouraging because she had so much stuff. We can’t just toss it out because some of it has value, even if it is just sentimental value. I took a few plant cuttings from my grandmother’s garden in the hope that maybe, in her death, my grandmother’s green thumb will have magically passed onto me. Yeah, we’ll see how that goes…

I also took these:

These are metal cups. They are the two remaining from a set which is long gone. When I was a child my grandmother would serve me milk in these cups. The milk always tasted so good when I drank it from these cups. Even though my stomach can no longer tolerate milk I wanted the cups, so my mom let me have them. Yesterday Diego, who rarely drinks milk, asked for a glass to go with his PB and J. Juan served him milk in the cup. Later, Diego asked for more milk from the cup. He said he had never tasted milk like that before. He told me the cup was “magical.”

I may not have my grandmother’s green thumb, but I have her magical cups.

3. Greener Pastures

About two weeks ago, Juan declared war on the grass. He looked at the patchy, yellow, poor-excuse-for-a-lawn we had in the backyard and said, “You and me lawn. I am going to win.” He went out and bought grass seed, lawn topper and set our sprinklers to automatic. Friday, we came home from a couple of nights out of town and we saw this:

Juan Wins!

Grass. Growing. And it is green!

Yeah. Maybe my grandmother’s green thumb went to Juan instead of me?

What about you? What simple things bring you joy? What simple things make you grateful?

Sunday Offerrings – A Day at the Races


Today we went to at a Cub Scout event, the Soap Box Derby. The Derby is an annual event where the boys race homemade cars. The boys steer the cars with their feet as it goes along the slightly downhill, winding course. In case things get a little scary on those hairpin turns, the boys use a hand brake to slow themselves down. The runs are timed and the boys compete against each other.

Diego’s Cub Scout pack is a really nice group of families and boys. I like the cub scouting program because I think it helps to remind boys about what it means to be a kid. The kind of kid who plays outdoors in the water on hot summer days, goes camping, and takes hikes though the woods. Sometimes my boys become so hooked into the video games and television they forget about going outside and playing around. Today, they were reminded of that.

And I was too.

My "pit crew" readies me for a race.

But Diego did much better than I did.

Here’s my attempt:

Obviously, Diego did a lot better than I did!

3rd Place Finish!!

If You Give a Girl a Groupon*

Groupon by WOVOX Team

If you give a girl a Groupon to buy plants at a nursery, she’s going to want to plant them.

She’ll start to till the soil and realize she needs to weed the flower bed.

She’ll weed the flower bed and realize her plants need plant food.

She’ll go to get the plant food and see that the recycling hasn’t been done.

She’ll get her sons to sort out all the cans and glass in separate trash cans and put them in the car to take to the recycling center.

When they come back from the recycling center, she’ll realize the car smells like old beer bottles. So, she’ll bribe ask her daughter to wash the car.

When the trash cans are emptied, she’ll smell that they are filled with stinky liquid and debris. So, she’ll get her son to wash them off.

When the trash cans are moved from their spots, she’ll see that the side yard needs to be swept and washed.

So, she’ll use the broom to clean it, and when it’s almost done, she’ll step back to admire her work. That’s when she’ll realize the rain gutters too, are full of debris.

So, she’ll ask her husband for some help and he’ll bring a ladder there. When he begins to clear the clutter, he’ll realize the tree needs to be trimmed.

Her husband will trim the trees and clear the gutters,  and uncover an ant colony. So, he’ll have the spray with ant spray. After her husband fumigates the gutters, she’ll have to hose off the windows and walls.

When the hose is unwound, she’ll take it to the flower beds.  That’s when she will discover she didn’t finish planting her new plants. Which she bought with a Groupon. Which started this crazy chain of events in the first place.

THE END

* Inspired by the children’s book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. by Laura Numeroff

A Birthday, a Graduation and an Anniversary*

We all went to church today and celebrated another special holiday in the church calendar.  It was Pentecost, the birthday of the Christian church.  So, in addition to our usual worship service, where the kids often assist as acolytes and I assist giving communion, the service had a festive flair.  There were flags during the procession, incense, and  birthday cake and a jazz trio on the lawn after the service.  Even the altar looked festive because it was  adorned in the color for Pentacost, which also happens to be my favorite color–red. Underneath our albs many of us wore red, including me.

Red shoes

With me and the older kids participating in the service, Juan and Diego sat by themselves in the pew.  Juan kept Diego entertained by letting Diego draw on  on pew cards. Diego drew the same thing he always draws:

A Christmas scene

When Juan asked him why he always draws a Christmas scene, Diego said he would draw something else. And he drew this:

Easter scene drawn by Diego

I guess he doesn’t know how to draw a Pentacost scene.

Sigh.

After church we had another celebration to attend, graduation.  Diego graduated in cub scouts today.  He graduated from a Tiger cub to a Wolf cub.  The ceremony is called “bridging” and marked by the boys from his pack crossing over a bridge. We took a picnic lunch to a local park and celebrated with the other families. How quckly time flies. I remember when we were at the same park watching Nico bridge as a cub scout. Now Nico is  a boy scout and working his way up in rank.

Sigh.

Diego goes from a Tiger cub to Wolf, and trades his orange scarf for a yellow one.

After all that you think we’d be done with our celebrating. But wait, there’s more. We all went out to dinner to celebrate my parents 50th wedding  anniversary.  Through their  50 years together my parents have managed to raise four kids, have 9 grandchildren and share some wonderful, and not so wonderful experiences. Through it all they have stayed comitted to each other and our family   We like to joke that my we don’t know how my mom managed to do it.  As if to prove our point, my dad told us his own joke tonight.  He said that my mom saw him crying on their anniversary. When my mom asked my dad why he was crying, he told her that  50 years ago my grandfather caught my dad and mom together and, with his shotgun aimed at my dad,  my grandfather asked him to either marry my mom or go to jail. My dad jokingly recounted how he chose to marry my mom.  Again, my mom asked him, why he was crying. My dad explained,  he was crying because he realized that if had chosen jail, he would be a free man now.

Sigh.

My parents on our recent trip to New York

*This post was inspired by the post, Blessings, Tonys and Zombies, in Accidental Stepmom. Check her out.

Sunday Offerings – The Body/Mind/Spirit Connection

Yesterday I went on a women’s retreat put on by the Women’s Community at my church.  I was a little hesitant about going because the last time I went to an all women’s retreat the retreat was organized by a very bible based church,
I was in my 20’s and the women who attended were nearly all  (gasp) women in their 50’s.  Yesterday’s retreat was very different.  The average age of the women was still probably 50+ but somehow now that I am closer to the average age, that wasn’t such a big deal. The bigger difference was the theme and feel of the retreat–no bible thumping, hallelujah-shouting, blue-haired women here. The theme of the retreat centered on the body-mind-spirit connection, and the ritual we all use in getting our bodies in a place to open our minds, and our spirits.

Zelda, a female Episcopalian priest from my church,  led the retreat.  She  helped to show us how some of our daily rituals open our minds and spirit. Something as ordinary like stretching in the morning, or like me, washing my face at night. As I listened to the other women offer examples of daily ritual I realized that I could use some more ritual in my life, something other than the washing-my-face-at-night-before-I-go-crashing-into-bed-and-falling-asleep-as-I-try-to-get-through-my-nightly-prayers. All, too often I don’t even get to the nightly reflection part because I am so tired at that point all I want to do is lay down and SLEEP!

One of the ways we were supposed to use our body’s on yesterday’s retreat was to walk around this amazing retreat center in the San Gabriel mountains very close to my house. Yesterday’s springtime temperatures and clear skies made a glorious day to be walking about the mountains.

Zelda had set up the walking labyrinth, and she set up a trail with small stations along the way.  We were asked to walk the labyrinth or walk along the trail (the body connection).

The labyrinth set up in the shade of the trees.

A steep part of the spirituality trail.

Along the trail Zelda set up “sacred stations,” which were meant to be places where you could stop and wrap yourself in a prayer shawl and meditate on the writings that were placed at each station, or meditate on some of the questions we were given at the start of the retreat, then we were asked to write or draw our thoughts in a journal, (the mind connection).

One of the sacred stations along the spirituality trail

At the end of the two-hour walking and journaling period, we returned for lunch and, if we wanted, we shared our thoughts, and had communion, (the spirit connection). It was a transformative day.

I came away with many thoughts and revelations but one of my thoughts was that I should really practice this more often.  I need more ritual in my life so that I can get to the mind/body/spirit connection. And, as Zelda said, if you say it aloud for the universe to hear then it often works. So, I’m saying it out load to the blogosphere–“I am going to get up a half hour earlier to walk and meditate and journal.” This is huge, because as my husband Juan says, my daily ritual is trying to sleep in as long as possible before I have to start my day. Please pray for me.

Peace Be With Me

This past Sunday we went to church. All six of us. Now, I am no saint, but church is something I do pretty regularly, and as it is Holy Week, I will go to church several times this week.  I enjoy  going because I love my church, the community and the way it refuels me for the week.  Attending church on Sundays is the time when I put all the busy thoughts and “To Do’s” out of my head, and make room for calm and peace in my life. But getting to the point where I can FOCUS on the service and letting in some peace and calm is a challenge in itself.

Walking into church with the four kids we received several greetings from people we didn’t know.  Something about a family the size of ours seems to draw a lot of attention. As we all walked past the adoption and foster care ministry table the woman staffing it smiled at me and said, “Are you interested in adoption of foster care? I must have looked mortified, because she quickly added, “or know anyone who is?” We entered the church and  managed to find a pew that would accommodate all of us.  I quickly rearranged our seating order, Erica seated away from her sister, Olivia, Diego next to Nico but beside me. Once everyone was arranged to minimize potential sibling conflict,  I made sure that Diego had crayons and the bible lesson to color.  Then I put my phone on silent and warned the older kids not to take out their electronics in church, upon threat of losing their electronics for the week. Finally, I settled into the pew and said a silent prayer for peace and stillness. CALM.

CLICK. What? I heard the sound of something clicking. I looked over and Eric was playing with Nico’s magnets he had taken out of his pockets. I confiscated the magnets, gave Erica and Nico the evil eye and shifted my attention back to the reading. BREATHE. FOCUS. I managed to make it all the way to the end of the sermon when I suddenly noticed that Erica had  rearranged her seating and somehow worked it so she was seated next to Olivia. TROUBLE. I noticed Olivia and Erica, baiting each other. In church. Just when I was about to reach over and threaten them with loss of liberty, the priest caused a diversion.”The Peace of the Lord be with you.”  The girls quickly shifted their attention and in unison replied, “And also with you.” RELIEF and REPRIEVE.  Erica turned to hug me and said, “Peace be with you.” When someone reaches out to shake your hand and wishes you peace, it’s really best to respond likewise, and not inflict punishment or cast them dirty looks. Erica and Olivia escaped punishment. And I again tried to focus on PEACE. I turned to the woman seated behind me to offer the sign of peace. She asked, “Wow, are these all your kids?” I told her they were mine, and she said “God Bless you as she reached out to shake my hand.  Then she added “Peace be with you!”

I think she meant it.  I know I needed it. AMEN.

When they are not goofing off in the church pew, Nico and Erica serve as acolytes.

Advent’s Arrival…Better Late Than Never.

How can it be that we are approaching the last Sunday in Advent and I have just begun to feel like I’m in the spirit of the season?   I know this isn’t a spirituality or religion blog, but as Juan told me, the blog is about the many parts of my blended life. So, I hope you’ll indulge me as I go on about the spiritual part of my blended life. The very fact that I was one part Catholic, and am now Episcopalian  goes to show how blended my life really is.

Anyway, tomorrow is the fourth and last Sunday in Advent. Last Sunday we lit the pink candle on my advent wreath. The Joy candle. Joy Sunday. Even though it was the third candle to be lit, it was the first time I lit candles this Advent season. As I wrote about here, my Advent did not start off well. I kept trying to quite myself and be still , but it seemed that life kept getting in the way. There was so much to do. I didn’t get my Advent wreath unpacked and finished until after the second Sunday, Peace Sunday.  

Finally, last weekend, I decided I needed to just do it. No more excuses. I got my Advent on, and everything else has been, falling into place, kind of. We bought our Christmas tree, and I put the lights on it.  The tree stayed just like that for several days. I finally put one box of ornaments on the tree, and the rest of the ornaments still sit in their boxes nearby. The tree looks a bit minimalist, but it is nice.  We decided to decorate the house so  Juan and I went up to the attic and took inventory of our decorations.  We decided to continue our “minimalist” theme  and chose only the most “necessary” decorations. He only had to lug down only half the crates, and that made him happy. The house looks ready, but doesn’t scream CHRISTMAS!  Then, last Sunday, I prepared our Advent dinner, one of our yearly family rituals, but which we hadn’t made time for so far. The food  was good, but what was most important was the fact that we all sat down for a meal together.  The kids lit the candles and we tried to connect as a family. We even had the girls’ mother join us for dinner. 

As part of getting into Advent, I  have been praying.  I have been waking early and enjoying the dark and silence of the house to pray on those things to help me get through my day.  I have also been going to bed earlier to allow myself the energy to pray before I go crashing into sleep. This week I met with one of the priests in our church. We talked about things that have been troubling me and we spoke of Advent, and how this Advent has been one of the more challenging Advents in her life too. I told her how each liturgical season like Advent or Lent, I try to approach it with a goal. I am very goal oriented like that. If it’s Lent I like to take things on,  like prayer, or I give up something, like wine or chocolate. Okay, maybe not the wine, and probably not the chocolate.  But,  during Advent it’s not about taking something on, or giving something up. It’s the time  most commonly thought to prepare for the birth of the Jesus, a time to prepare for the light that comes to the world with His birth. But, as my priest reminded me, it’s not just this one time a year. Advent serves to remind us that God is with us, within us, all the time. That light is with us, and within us, year round.  We just need to tune into Advent to reconnect with that idea.

So,  I am fully into Advent. Just in time for the last Sunday. Tomorrow I will light the fourth candle on my Advent wreath. I will light a candle for Love. And I will go forward  this week towards Christmas, walking in love, as God loves me, and you.  Happy Advent.