What I’m Into :: June 2013

It’s that time again: time to link up with Miss Leigh for What I’m Into – read on, enjoy, dialogue, and join in the fun!

Finished reading:

Hello, Mr. Bellow.  (Photo cred: Open Culture.
Hello, Mr. Bellow. (Photo cred: Open Culture).

Humboldt’s Gift (Bellow) – BFF Mindy recommended this to me, and while I liked it, I think I would have loved it had I read it with book in hand and pen to the side, instead of via Audible.  Instead, too many amazing nuggets were lost as the words streamed overhead.

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art (L’Engle) – I’ve officially declared 2013 as The Summer of Madeleine; for more, read this review of sorts.

The Silver Linings Playbook (Quick) – generally speaking, I usually read books before I see the movie, but this was not the case.  A quick read, I couldn’t help but picture Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence jogging down the streets, each fighting their own inner demons.  As such, while the movie followed the general theme and plot line of the book, it was so, so interesting to see what the screenwriters chose to emphasize next to the author’s original intent.  If I were Matthew Quick, how would I reconcile these creative differences?

And then I read through four cookbooks, much to my own “I do what I want” reading pleasure: The Pioneer Woman Cooks (Drummond), Weelicious (McCord), Gas Grill Cookbook (Better Homes & Gardens), and SOUP (Williams & Sonoma).  As previously stated on the blog, they can be collectively summed up as the following: If one were to summarize the three, the following subtitle might be  produced: “Butter-dripping, bacon-induced, HMO-free, organically-produced, family-friendly bites, any cowboy can cook on the backyard grill, pureed to your heart’s content.”

Currently reading: Les Miserables (47% of the way through); And Baby Makes Three; America: The Vegetarian Table (Madison); A Circle of Quiet (L’Engle); Never Let Me Go (Ishiguro); Dinner: a Love Story (Rosenstrach); Looking for Alaska (Green); Missional Church (Guder).

Not all housewives in California are like this, just FYI.  (Photo cred: Bravo).
Not all housewives in California are like this, just FYI. (Photo cred: Bravo).

TV: We finished watching SMASH and Arrested Development, both for the season.  Of the latter, my inner-Broadway star wants to take her white girl dance moves to Manhattan as well; and the former, it’s drearier & darker, but still a cult classic.  And you can also add to this list my Monday night love, Real Housewives of Orange County.

MoviesThe Debt (intense, but LOVED it); Life After Porn (uh, what friend recommended this documentary to me, and …why?); Parental Guidance (eh, but I suppose these are the movies we’re entering into as parents).

In the blogosphere: Mandy Steward over at Messy Canvas inadvertently encouraged me to click “unfriend” on 1000+ people on Facebook yesterday – more on that next week.  And not that I’m losing my own blogging mojo, but I loved Sarah Bessey’s thoughts on her own mojocomma blogging.

On my blog: I’ve continued to daily ask the question, what legacy am I leaving?  Thank you, Stephen Colbert, for your tribute.

Pondering: Mama’s first weekend away from baby, which starts in about 3 hours and 22 minutes (not that I’m counting or anything…).

Cooking: I just invented crab cake burgers last night for dinner.  You’re welcome.  Crab cake + thin “One” bun + lettuce, heirloom tomato, thin slice of cheddar cheese & tartar sauce.

Baby Cancan: How will you do without your mama this weekend?  How will your mama do without you this weekend?  How will your daddy do alone with you for 44 hours?  Did I pump enough?  …and happy 1st birthday in two weeks, Baby Boy.

What I'm Into site

Happy weekend, ya’ll!  xo.

Celebrating summer (& want to write?)

Photo cred: HD Wallpaper Pics.
Photo cred: HD Wallpaper Pics.

That big, bright yellow ball in the sky has begun to show face here in San Francisco lately, which is a rarity in itself, given the normal June Gloom – so how else am I to respond than to quickly slam the laptop shut and embrace summer in all its glory?

As one should.

Road trips and visits to family and hotel overnights are on the calendar, and the fridge is stocked with ample fruits and veggies, more than the normal bounty; the TV is off (but for Real Housewives of Orange County, what can I say?), and the stack of books to my right seems to be growing, not depleting.

My old roommate Amanda thrived on the fullness of fall – she loved the oranges and yellows, the crisp bite in the air that beckoned for sweaters and scarves and a cup of hot chocolate in hand, and with giddy excitement she welcomed her favorite viewing pastime, football.  She was one of those bonafide, I-truly-love-the-pigskin type of girls, which perhaps is why she married one of Frosty’s boys turned coach himself. (But maybe also because Jess is kind of the bee’s knees, and really, really loves her in return).

But me?

Give me sunshine and perfect, 80 degree weather that beckons me to don the sunblock every hour on the hour.

Give me squishy sand to crumble beneath my toes, and a book that forever smells like campfire because that’s where you read it last, and that’s where you’ll remember it, always.

Give me sweat and camping and long, long walks with blisters that take two weeks to heal; give me mosquito bites and backyard BBQ’s and heirloom tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, daily.

Give me floppy sun hats and tank tops and brightly painted toes; give me a cold glass of Chardonnay and another Madeleine L’Engle book (because it is, after all, The Summer of Madeleine).

So, here on the blog, we’re going to celebrate summer in the best way we know how: with stories and memories of past and present, soaking in the fullness of this perfect, favorite season.

List a memory or two in the comments, or better yet, answer this question: what’s your favorite childhood summer memory?  E-mail your response (between 500-700 words, preferably) to caramac54@gmail.com by Friday, July 12th, and I’ll publish my favorites on the blog through August.  

And I’ll throw in a few of my favorite summertime memories as well …because I can.

Summertime, we welcome you!

Colbert’s tribute & rewriting today.

Have you seen this yet?

I love Colbert’s unmasked emotion and unashamed love for his mama.

I love the memories he carries with him, from childhood up through the present day, and the profound, recognizable influence his mother had over his life.  

And as often happens with death, whether it’s a death near or far away from our hearts, it too makes me wonder the legacy I too am leaving behind.

Mondays are normally my writing days, the one day a week in which we hire a sitter and I go hole up in the back room, and then make my way to a local coffee shop or lunch spot or to the library.  With Cancan in the trusted hands of Miss Juvy, I’m free to write and think and process, uninterrupted from his constant demands.

Because it’s important for Mama to have a break.

So today I dreamed of driving across town to sunshine, for all the little San Francisco microclimates boast varying reports of sunshine and fog, of hot and cold.  I’d rewrite my Prodigal piece, and finish working on my Real Simple essay, crossing my fingers to please-please-please win the $3000 grand prize, and actually get paid to publish something.

(Patience, Little One, patience).

But then Miss Juvy texted that she was sick, and instead of a merciful, Oh, bless her heart response, as came forth from the HBH (no, really…)*, my heart sank that I’d now be resigned to instead write while Baby slept, and have to spend the day entertaining my 11-month old son.

Ugh.  That is certainly not the legacy I want to leave.

Instead, I want my children and my husband and my family and my friends to say something like this, like Colbert said of his mama:  

“But her love for her family and her faith in God somehow gave her the strength not only to go on but to love life without bitterness and to instill within all of us a gratitude for every day we have together.”

So as soon as Cancan wakes up from his nap, I’m rewriting the day.  I’ll shut my laptop, because there will be time to write later – for there’s always time to write later – and then we’ll head to the park.  We’ll swing on the baby swing for about 4.5 minutes, because that’s about all he can handle right now, and then he’ll plop down in the middle of the sand box, shoving fistfuls of grainy sand into his mouth, while staring in awe-like wonder at the big kids.

And I’ll look over at the mama next to me, and simultaneously we’ll shrug our shoulders together:

Oh, children, she’ll shrug.

Protein, right?  I’ll shrug in reply, crossing my fingers that, indeed, what doesn’t kill him only makes him stronger.

And then I’ll look at my son – my brilliant, beautiful, handsome Little Man – and I’ll smile.  I’ll look to the sky above and nod a giant God-directed THANK YOU, grateful and without bitterness at the gift of today.

Have your own expectations gotten in the way of the gift that’s right in front of you?  What did you think of Colbert’s tribute?

* = the HBH really is that kind and loving and merciful.  Where my mercy at?!

on community: the little white house.

Here’s the plain and simple truth: you will love the picture painted by today’s post.  Not only is its writer one of my favorite people in the world, but she taught me how to be still and quiet and be.  Her everyday world is so very different from my own, but that’s one of the things I love about her – so without further adieu, meet Lizzy!  

On one of our many adventures (Colorado, circa 2008 or so).
On one of our many adventures (Colorado, circa 2008 or so).

So, on my family’s farm, we sell fruits and vegetables. We plant stuff, people pick it, they pay us, and everyone’s one big happy family.

There’s this old Russian lady who has been coming every year for as long as I remember, and she’s pretty bad ass. She can pick potatoes like nobody’s business, isn’t afraid to get dirty, and has, I swear, about fifty grandkids. And even though the only English she knows is God bless you and potatoes, she may just be my friend. Actually, I think she really is.

One of her grandkids told me that she loves the farm because it reminds her of her home country, which she hasn’t seen in decades. I love that I get to bring a little smile to my Russian friend’s heart.

Just up the hill from the farm is where I live, in a cute little white house that I share with my sweet pup, Bruce. Out my window, in front of me, I have this great view of the valley and the farm, and my parents’ house next to that. Then, directly behind my cute little white house are my cute old grandparents. Every morning, gramps walks the newspaper down and sets it on my porch. He never misses a day. To my right is my uncle, who is like Mr. Handyman galore. To my left; the cows. They count as friends, right? And a little farther in front of me is an amazing community of Young Life kids and leaders who love me and know me.

It’s as if I’m…..surrounded. By friends. By people who care. By cows.

I think that’s how God works, though. He likes to build unexpected, beautiful circles of people around us. For me, it wasn’t until I stopped trying to build my circle that I realized God was already building it for me. Once I learned that he really does take care of the details if I simply listen and trust, life became pretty sweet.

Community. It’s found in Russian ladies, and family near by. It’s found in friends far away. It’s in the all-grown-up former Young Life girl turned friend, who buys me coffee just because and asks how my day is. It’s found in the loud, crazy group of senior girls who’ve poured out their hearts to me, and who share in my life (and who are always on a husband-hunt for me).  It’s on mountaintops and in the every day things; in teenagers and grandparents.

I don’t think there’s a limit to God’s creativity. Once he plops us down where he wants us, he pretty much takes care of the rest. When we allow the best artist there is to create and sculpt and shape our life, that’s when things become beautiful.

Ugh.  Don’tcha just love her?  (And want to plant your own urban farm?)  Leave a comment for Lizzy below, and in the meantime, if you haven’t already, continue to cheer on Cara’s writing by subscribing to receive emails directly, or by following be, mama. be on Facebook.  Thanks!

on L’Engle & kindred hearts (a book review, of sorts)

This week's L'Engle goodness.
This week’s L’Engle goodness.

Sometimes there are books that grab the core of your mind and heart, holding on to you for dear life, its pages a living, breathing organism.  You read the weighty, thought-through words and the perfectly crafted phrases and the well-placed sentences, and you think, I wanna write like that.  

You wonder if every reader feels the kinship you do with this particular author, and like your favorite underground Indie band, it’s a love-hate relationship: you hope that the world discovers the goodness that is Madeleine, but in a weird, Hoarders sort of way, you also fear the same deep connection.  Because you just kind of want her for yourself, you want to call this kindred spirit your own.


But today I choose to share.

It’s the summer of Madeleine L’Engle – all the books I listed last week as potential summer reads?  Emphasis: potential.  I just finished Walking on Water a few nights ago, and am diving into A Circle of Quiet now.  To be honest, I’m not sure if I ever actually read A Wrinkle in Time as a child – although I’m sure I did, since playing Library* was one of my favorite games.  I’d take all the books off the shelves, adorning the family room couch, the coffee table, Dad’s recliner and the kitchen table with my finds.  And then I’d welcome my siblings and Angie the teddy bear and any other imaginary well-wishers into the Cara Public Library, helping them find their perfect literary find.

I mean, you did the same at eight, right?

So let’s play Library: let me help you, for just a few more minutes, fall in love with this book.

Since I’m entering into the world of writing, more than a few friends recommended Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art.  L’Engle is, perhaps, best known as a children’s author – but she’s a sage storyteller, and as a Christian, her writing magically weaves together a beautiful fabric of life and love and faith and humor and wisdom.  And although she sometimes cringes when “Christian” and “writer” are paired together for what it does – and doesn’t – represent in or about her writing, she also recognizes the unique, holy intersection present in the act of creating.  Because, “…creativity is a way of living life, no matter what our vocation or how we earn our living,” and because “All of life is story, story unravelling and revealing meaning.”  Yes and yes.

How then are you creating?

What’s story is being told in you and through you?

I’ll leave you with this: for myself, as a Christian and as a writer, I want to reach a varied audience.  But I don’t want my niche necessarily defined as Christian writer, because I want to reach a varied audience, and because sometimes Jesus is most clearly, powerfully proclaimed when he’s not.  Of that idea, L’Engle says this to a young, aspiring Christian novelist:

“…if she is truly and deeply a Christian, what she writes is going to be Christian, whether she mentions Jesus or not.  And if she is not, in the most profound sense, Christian, then what she writes is not going to be Christian, no matter how many times she invokes the name of the Lord.”

Cat’s out of the bag – but oh, oh, I am grateful to L’Engle for putting to words that which I haven’t quite arrived at yet.

You may now head to your local Place of Books.

xo, c.

* = See also School and House.

What’s your favorite Madeleine L’Engle book?  What book is changing you now?  

on a rite of passage.

True confession: I wasn’t planning on walking in Saturday’s graduation ceremony.  Yes, I’d completed a Master’s degree, but it’d taken me eight years to get there – so, unlike the traditional two or three year approach, I didn’t have an affiliation to a specific group of people, let alone to a particular place.  24 classes had been spread out between three main campuses, at a number of secondary sites for intensive, week-long courses, and at the far end of our dining room table for various online and IDL courses.

I was just glad to be done, and really, by this point all I wanted was the official piece of paper for our make-shift office wall.

But a lack of allegiance doesn’t mean that I didn’t read (uh, most of…) the coursework, write the papers, take the tests, and interact and think and question and dialogue with the subject matter at hand, against my own core beliefs.

So when my friend Becki told me that her husband, Scott, who’d been on the 10 year plan, was also graduating in June, she encouraged me to to jump on the Rite of Passage ship and just walk.

What if I don’t know anyone?  (otherwise known as what if no one cheers for me? in more regular, not-so-covert circles of thinking).

Somehow Becki picked up on my question’s secret meaning, and promised that she’d scream her head off for me.     

I obliged.

And I’m so glad I did.

Where's Waldo?  Find Cara.  Find Scott.
Where’s Waldo? Find Cara (hint: she has bright auburn hair in the sunlight). Find Scott (hint: he’s really, really tall and potentially standing in the very back row, on the far right).

Because even though I only knew a handful of graduates, there emerged a single moment that sealed the journey and all its significance for me: I was hooded.

At a high school or college (…or pre-school, or 6th grade, or 8th grade, or…) graduation, your name is called, and you walk across the stage.  Perhaps you shake a hand or two, or you give the celebratory “I can’t believe they’re passing me – Suckas!” fist pump or, in one last, merciful teacher’s pet sort of move, with tears in your eyes, you give your principal a final farewell hug.

To each his or her own.

But when you become a Master, it’s like the whole world stops for you, just for one five-second blip.  Your name is called, and with hood draped upon your left arm, you walk up to a set of tenured professors and hand them the sacred fabric.

Turn around!  they hiss, smiles mechanically plastered on all three of our faces.

Each taking a side, while the room sits in silence, they drape the hood over your neck.  They fluff it and pat it and shape it, until there’s this perfectly molded symbol of achievement draped over your shoulders, slinking down your back.

And it was there, in that split-second, before the pair pats your back, signaling that it’s your time to walk across the stage, that I had my moment.  

A journey confirmed.

A celebration made real.

An achievement acknowledged.

I’d crossed the threshold – and this, this was worth taking the time to pause and reflect and recognize.

rite of passage is a ritual event that marks a person’s transition from one status to another.  And in my opinion, life is full of little and big, everyday and occasional rite of passage moments – adolescence, as one writer put it, is one large rite of passage, in which through the newfound freedom of puberty, all those first-time experiences are christened, one after another after another.  Marriage itself is a rite of passage, but then again, so is that first time you set off the smoke alarm while cooking dinner, or that moment when you realize you throw a damn good party together.

Let’s do this again.  

I love thinking about the fact that Jesus, entrenched in his own culture, participated in various rites of passages: circumcision and Bar Mitzvah as a child, along with yearly observances of various Jewish holidays.

With our own son, each day seems to bring about a new moment in the journey that’s worth celebrating.  He sat up on his own, he stood up for the first time, he didn’t spit up his peas – toot, toot!  Toot toot!  He’s a week old (and we didn’t kill him); he’s 11 months old, and how’d this happen already? – regardless, huzzah, huzzah! 

When their son, Quinn, was born, my friends Ryan and Rachell celebrated his birthday every single month.  I mean, we’re talking a best of the best, triple-layer cake from the local bakery that they’d adorn with candles and an accompanying “Happy monthbirthday to you…” – at first I thought it was a little extreme, but then I realized: this matters.  Quinn making it another month in this crazy, messed up world?  It matters.  Celebrating in the everyday the reality of his blessed Quinn-ness?  That matters too.

This is how I want to live life.  I want to celebrate life with the community around me, be it with the HBH and Cancan, or a room full of party-people, or an audience that I hold little affiliation to.  Because this celebration matters, and it builds solidarity, and it’s important to lift a glass to the journey.

And all of that, it counts.

What about you?  What’s a rite of passage to you?  


when in rome…

And when the parentals are in town, do as the parents would do.

Well, mostly.  Kind of.  Sorta.

So far we’ve been cheering on the graduate (uh, that’s me):

Thanks, cheering squad!  Love the Master of Theology herself.
Thanks, cheering squad! Love the Master of Theology herself.

And celebrating fathers, via rib eye on the grill and Auntie’s famous lemon meringue and kind words to boot…

The HBH just gained a new holiday!
The HBH just gained a new holiday!

And we’ve done those things you’re supposed to do when Papa and Grammie are in town, like pay an exorbitant amount of money to see caged animals in their semi-natural environment: we’ve gone to the zoo.

Cancan's favorite part: his own free tractor ride in the children's petting zoo area.  Score!
Cancan’s favorite part: his own free tractor ride in the children’s petting zoo area. Score!

So as we get ready to celebrate one last night of life together, with gorgonzola burgers and roasted beets and cold, clinking glasses of Chardonnay to boot, I’m going to go practice being.  

With them.

xo, c.