what I’m into :: September 2013.

Linking up with Miss Leigh for the monthly What I’m Into  – join in!  What are you reading, watching, musing over and thinking about?  xo.

This is what's been happening lately: sunshine in San Francisco.  It's a September rarity.  (Land's End).
This is what’s been happening lately: the rarity of sunshine in San Francisco (Land’s End).

Books read: 

Graceling (Cashore) – I’m getting back into reading YA lit (and loving it, mind you), and this is my first YA fantasy novel in, oh, like 20 years. But this I love: an adventurous, rough-around-the-edges, anti-stereotypical female protagonist in a rogue coming of age/discovering of self novel. It was hard for me to get into, but once in, I couldn’t put it down.

Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis (Winner) – wowzas. While some say that Lauren Winner’s memoir is too dark, if you’ve ever felt in that “middle” place in faith, her words are for you. Absolutely phenomenal.

She Matters: A Life in Friendships (Sonnenberg) – Eh.  You win some, you lose some.  Vlog review here.

Wild (Strayed) – meh, it wasn’t my favorite. I think I expected to be more Krakauer, Into the Wild-esque, and instead it was more, “I”m stepping into the woods and reflecting on my life. Again. And again.” [Now that’s irony! says she the memoir writer).

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Chbosky) – Loved, loved, loved, loved, loved – and again, vlog review here.

Currently reading: Falling Together; Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World; SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance; Les Miserables; On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature; Going Bovine; Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America.  

Boob tube: Criminal Minds, Weeds, Breakout Kings, Hollywood Game Night, Tamra’s Wedding.  And of course, The Emmy’s, the 49er’s, the Giants and college football have grazed the screen from time to time.

Movies: Hunger Games …did we watch more?  I’m just not sure.

In the blogosphere: I died laughing at “Surviving Whole Foods”.  Seth Godin’s “What if Surfing was Your Job?” reminded me of perspective.  And then, in an Alanis Morissette ironic sort of way, I found myself thinking a ton about Momastery’s “Six Reasons Why Social Media is Dangerous for Me,” while taking mental notes on Jon Acuff’s “61 Things Four Million People Taught me about Social Media,” reposted by Katie-friend over at Cardigan Way.

On my blog: regardless of stats, I most enjoyed writing a poem of sorts with “I am From,” musing over hair beauties and frights, and being reminded of the battle waged inside each one of us.

Pondering: What is the balance in putting yourself out there, marketing and networking and workin’ it, while patiently waiting for response and reaction and Spirit?  Also – and certainly much more importantly – how can I keep my toddler out of the trash can, the diaper pail and the toilet?

Meet the HBH (Hot Black Husband) - date night!
Meet the HBH (Hot Black Husband) – date night!

Cooking: Ya’ll: who cares what I’ve cooked in the last month when the HBH spent an hour and a half in the kitchen last night cooking me perfectly divine halibut with roasted veggies and green salad?  Winner winner chicken dinner.

What I'm Into at HopefulLeigh

That’s it!  What about you?  What’s been a part of your Septemberings, friends?

a typewriter, an ocean & a friend.

Photo cred: Mama Kat.
Photo cred: Mama Kat.

Do you ever feel this way?

There’s something about sitting down in front of a typewriter of sorts that helps clarify my muddy thoughts and broken sentences.  Sometimes it’s found in the tap-tap-tapping of the keys, but sometimes it’s found after feeling the squish of sand underneath my barefoot toes, generous gulps of ocean air soothing and calming and collecting my worries.  And sometimes still, it’s a gift received upon sitting across the table from an old, you-don’t-have-to-explain-yourself-to-me friend.  Over hot chocolate with extra whip and salt-rimmed margaritas alike, we laugh and we cry and we begin to understand even more the insides of our hearts.

So, what is it for you?

Might you get that typewriter, that ocean or that friend today.

xo, c.

a letter of lauren.

I think I was 23 when I first discovered her.

I’d flown down to San Diego for Thanksgiving, and as Sister was working days in the naval hospital, I’d traipsed around downtown, alone and lonely, the two words’ definitions still indistinguishable to me at the time.  It was the first time I’d ever gone to the theater by myself, and holding my bag of popcorn (extra butter) and Diet Coke, I remember thinking, am I even allowed to laugh when there’s no one to laugh with?  I wanted the comfort a friend next to me, an arm to clutch, the reassurance of flesh.

Friends defined me.  I was never without.

I was so scared.

But as the day went on, I got braver.  I ate lunch, by myself, and then I went to the book store, all alone, and perused the various sections of Borders – discount, non-fiction, fiction, children’s, spirituality, in that order – until I finally stumbled upon this find:

(um, read it).
(um, read it).

I looked at the cover, and I was like, What the cheesiness, Batman?  But curious nonetheless, I sat down in the middle of the book store floor (which really, is one of the most magical places on earth, if you ask me), and began to read her words.  I read about her spiritual journey, how God had always been part and parcel of who she was, of her story.  And then, somewhere and somehow along the way, her journey morphed from Judaism to Christianity, though she held onto and maintained many cultural elements of her Jewish upbringing.  

And her words were funny and witty and poignant to me, and I remember thinking, this is me.  I too am on a spiritual journey.  I too am a girl who meets God.  I too am funny and witty and poignant!  (What I lacked in esteem of Alone, I certainly didn’t lack in confidence of my own personality).

Three chapters later, mind made up, I brought the book to the counter, awkwardly shy and ashamed of the cover.  For whatever reason, my choice of faith shamed me.  Although I taught at a Christian school and spoke at Christian camps and faithfully attended a – you guessed it – Christian church, I didn’t want to appear like I was one of those people.  No, no, I’m a liberal.  No, no, red, white and blue donkey all the way!

I held my faith at bay until I knew my beliefs were safe for disclosure.

Walking out of the bookstore, I ripped the cover off my hardback edition, throwing it in the trash.  I was now free to be me, my beliefs released for their own choosing. 

And this I realized today, after finishing a third book of this author’s: Lauren Winner has been a part of my faith journey for a good little while now.  She’s been alongside me as the girl who seeks after her God, and she’s been with me as the one who grabs hold of her cultural roots.  And now, in her book Still, she’s beside me when and as my faith journey morphs and wanes and questions and pools – and then burgeons and builds and begins anew again.  She’s with me in the Dark Night, and in that middle place, and when the whys seem to overwhelm the other question words, the ones with definitive, absolute answers.

“What you promise when you are confirmed …is not that you will believe this forever.  What you promise when you are confirmed is that this is the story you will wrestle with forever.” 

And friends, this story, this grand and magnificent and tragic and beauty-filled story, is the story I wrestled with then, and am wrestling with now, and will wrestle with until I’m laid gray in the grave – and it feels good to admit that.  There is freedom in its disclosure.

So, Ms. Winner, thank you for being on this journey with me.  I look forward to meeting you someday.

xo, c.

[Books: Girl Meets God, Mudhouse Sabbath, Still – if you click on a link and buy one of these books, you support my reading habits, and therefore this blog.  Thank you!]

What about you?  What author has been with you on your journey of life?  Don’t be a lurker, do share!

5 that just might change your life.

We interrupt the normal flow of heart-rendering, faith-pumping, absolutely, positively hilarious creative Cara-writing to bring you be, mama. be’s 5 that just might change your life.  Without further adieu, might I present…

1. This book: The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  

I love the expression captured on this week’s vlog; it’s rather Whatchu talkin’ ’bout Willis? meets Oh really now meets Wahhh-wahhhhh.  

2. Coconut chocolate chip oatmeal cookies.  You’re welcome.  Original recipe here.

Minus: rice syrup, barley malt and orange extract.

Plus: applesauce (in lieu of above syrup & malt), and solely for health purposes, chocolate chips.

3.  These pants that I just bought on a whim from a private CAbi event – actually, let me clarify: I showed up to the CAbi-fllled house 12 hours after the party actually happened, so I didn’t exactly get an invitation.   Instead, I intended to enter into a day with my Lectio Divina girls, but instead found retail therapy a necessary distraction from the week’s break-in festivities.  Friends, they fit like buttah, just sayin’.  And I suppose they kind of look like it, too.

CAbi Gold Ruby Jean
CAbi Gold Ruby Jean

4.  Grout scrubber.  I know, first a CAbi party, and now grout scrubber.  I really am old.  But when you’ve wondered how many renters the grime in between the cracks of the bathroom floor have represented, and after you’ve chosen to hire a babysitter instead of a housekeeper, these things happen.  And the best part about said grout scrub?  It was passed down to me by a little old lady from church, only after she’d come to our house for lunch.  No further comment, your honor.

5.  This video, in its brilliant and brave embrace of sadness in the age of our can’t-live-without smartphones:

I couldn’t agree more.  Louis C.K., I know I’m just now now meeting you, but I’m a fan.

That’s it! So, don’t be a lurker: what’s changing your life?  Which of these five might you grab and hold onto for dear life?  

i am from.

Photo cred: SheLoves Magazine.
Photo cred: SheLoves Magazine.

I am from loud.  

I am from laughter and snorts and shouts and yells; I am from Saturday morning cartoons, loud, and Paul Harvey on weekday mornings, louder, and the clanging of pots and pans in the kitchen, loudest.  I am from impassioned conversation.

I am from faith.  

I am from the little Baptist church, and I am from The Old Rugged Cross and I am from It Is Well.  I am from baptism and holy candles, and I am from Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings.  I am from the uttering of thankfulness before each night’s dinner.

I am from music.  

I am from pianos and trombones and trumpets and flutes.  I am from the harmony and melody of each song, and I am from evoked heart palpitations felt all the way down to my toes.

I am from food.  

I am from crab and butter and bread for Christmas Eve dinner, and I am from oatmeal cookies, steamy and gooey and golden.  I am from glasses of milk and I am from sticky spareribs and I am from recipes remembered rote.

I am from rain.  

I am from gray skies and drizzle, from raincoats without umbrellas.  I am from huddling beside the fire with a book and I am from staying indoors, because we have to, because we can.  I am from gratefulness of the peeping slice of sun.  

I am from heart.  

I am from enveloping hugs and holy kisses.  I am from snuggles on the couch and I am from goodnight blankets: snug as a bug in a rug.  I am from being loved, always, always, and I am from loving in return.

I am from determinism.  

I am from achievement, I am from goals.  I am from setting the stakes high, and I am from provision.  I am from you can do anything you set your mind to, but mostly I am from I believe in you.  I am from empowerment.

This I am from.  

These things I am.  

What about you?  If you were to answer the question, “I am from,” where would you say you are from?  Linking up with SheLoves Magazine today – alas, I didn’t use the template, as instructed, simply because I didn’t click on the template until after writing today’s post.  Oops!  What does that say about me?  Don’t answer that question.

the beast & the beautiful ordinary.

Photo cred: SheKnows.
Photo cred: SheKnows.

My hair is a beast.

There’s no two ways around it: I used to have dreamy and lust-filled auburn hair, if I do say so myself.  When I actually took the time to do my hair, (which Math Majors, is generally never), my head was the envy of hair stylists everywhere.

And then pregnancy and birth happened, and all of the sudden my hair became its own zip code, home to a vibrant and unruly monster.  There’s new growth – everywhere – and the little curls around my hairline that were just darling in the 7th grade are now just freakishly frightening as a 34-year-old.  Hair products that worked two years ago yield utter greasiness now, or they just stop working altogether, and my half-curly, half-straight mane can’t make up its mind.  I’m ever, always on the search for my coiffure’s perfect catch, scouring Yelp and asking friends and begging strangers for their hairdresser’s information.

And then finally, when I think I’ve found The One, I faithfully save pictures of cute, savvy bobs on Pinterest and my desktop and iphone alike, begging for a shorter ‘do.  It worked when I was 22 – why can’t it work now?  And with great ease and gentleness the reply is always the same: um, I don’t think that will exactly work for your hair.  The words “mushroom” and “volume” and “oh, no, Honey Bunny, no,” are usually uttered, and I’m left defeated, mane home to its usual shoulder-length bore.

But I’m accepting this first-world problem in all its drab glory, for Jill the Brit made up for it on Saturday afternoon.

Nothing was out of the ordinary: she told me that my dream of sporting a bob was not an option today, or ever, and as she washed and conditioned my hair, I closed my eyes, realizing the peace and quiet and perfection of a toddler-less hour.  She talked when I wanted to talk, and her pits didn’t reek of onions and leeks, and she worked around my very important need to read the latest issues of People and Star magazines.  Does Beyonce ever wear pants?  When will Prince Harry marry Cressida?

I mean, pressure must be on with Will and Kate.

She let me sip my English Breakfast tea in its entirety, and she only left my side to chat with a customer once.  [I’ve visited some overdetermined, multi-tasking stylists, who cut my curls with one hand while applying color to the next chair over, and then find it their duty to trample the receptionist in an eager effort to answer to answer every phone call and enthusiastically greet each new patron who walks through the door.  Bueller …Bueller?]

But Jill the Brit got it.

And finally, with mere minutes to go, after I’d woken up from the scalp massage, and read through my magazines and sipped my hot, hairless tea, we began chatting.  And she told me how she wanted to be a stylist from the time she was a pre-teen, practicing on her girlfriends back home – and how she feels so, so lucky that this is her job.  This is what she gets to do.

And I began to picture our little waddling, toddling man and his Dada back home: he was probably crawling up on the coffee table that very minute, remnants from the garbage can caking his fingers (because digging through the trash is his new favorite hobby).  College football is playing in the background, and he’s babbling to the screen and to his father, throwing balls and zooming cars and eating crusty bits of Cheerios and banana off the floor.

“Yeah, me too,” I said softly.  And I actually believed it.

I do feel so, so lucky that this is my job, that this is what I get to do.  I get to be with our boy, and then I get to dabble in a bit of writing and speaking and blogging on the side.  Proclaiming Truth and Beauty and Hope has become part and parcel of my daily job.  And while I struggle, hourly it seems, with the Comparison Game, and with wanting to be so very extraordinary instead of mere Ordinary, I realize that what I so often see as “drudgery is another person’s delight.”  I am reminded of Seth Godin’s short article about this very topic last week, exhorting that “The privilege to do our work, to be in control of the promises we make and the things we build, is something worth cherishing.”

Yes.  Yes.  

I needed Godin’s reminder, and I needed Jill the Brit’s reminder.  I needed the reminder  that the Ordinary is beautiful, and that this life I get to enter into really is wonder-filled and extraordinary in and of itself.

And that, if you ask me, is far from ordinary.

What about you?  Does Ordinary sometimes trip you up?  How is your ordinary actually, really and truly, extraordinary?  


jumping on the kindness train.

Fight through the cheese, friends.
Fight through the cheese, friends.

I feel like we’ve been run over by the Kindness Train lately – in a really, really good, we’re not heading to the hospital sort of way.

And, as humans, isn’t this exactly who we’re supposed to be, and what we should be doing?

When crisis comes, whether little or big or somewhere in the middle, we respond.  We send a text, we make a phone call, we shoot an email; we drop off donuts to friends who’ve had puke-ridden children all week long, and we take the effort to walk across the street and introduce ourselves to our neighbors.  We hug our dear ones just a little bit tighter, and we listen – we truly listen – to the other without seeking to tack on our own story to the end.

This is Mother Teresa.

This is, of course, Jesus, whom she sought to emulate.

This is The Monkees movement of Glennon Melton’s Momastery fame, because this is seeking to treat others in the way we wish to be treated, and this is putting others before ourselves, and overall, this is responding to and acting with an attitude of love.

This, this all, because love does.  

I’ve mused over this whole idea before (here, in particular), and as one friend pointed out to me, there’s a certain irony in that she who seeks to be urges herself and others to do.  And I totally agree, with of course a “but” caveat.

For me, it is in my being, in my resting and praying and allowing my mind to slow down (even if everything around me is Crazy Sauce, exclamation point), that I’m given a greater urgency to respond.  Because it’s in this centering – which for me, is a centering with Christ – that my mind is taken off myself.  I’m reminded that woe is not me, that this too shall pass, and that there are greater battles to be fought.

So who do I need to respond to in love today?  Who do I need to show kindness to, and who can I be even further present to today?

Because when I receive this kindness, this love, this movement of saying and believing that YOU, stranger, YOU friend, YOU matter deeply because you simply ARE – it makes me want to respond with even more love and more kindness and more generosity.  

And isn’t this how it should be?

I’m jumping on the Kindness Train, cheese and all.

xo, c.

Thank you to so many of you who’ve reached out to us over the past week and a half.  Thank you for responding, thank you for showing kindness and thank you for loving us well.  IT matters – so thank you indeed.  

Otherwise, who has shown kindness to you today?  How have you joined in the movement?

the battle inside you & me.

I left the library on Monday, blissful six hours of writing time under my belt, sans (precious, adorable, energy-filled) Little Man.  Driving down a narrow residential street, I turned the corner past our favorite neighborhood playground, and was about to turn right again when I came face to face with Mr. Mercedes Benz.  Our streets were perpendicular to each other, so as he cut the corner to turn left, and I went around the parked truck in an effort to turn right, we came head to head, narrowly missing each other.


The hoods of our cars were almost kissing, a mere three feet between us, drivers squared up and ready to duel.  We were Talladega Nights, but set to broad daylight in a quiet, residential area of the City.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against those who are able to afford a $131,000 car payment – and maybe if I banked a million or two a year, I too would be sporting a Benz.  But then I’d also have my own driver (…and nanny and butler and personal assistant to boot), and I’d be spending every other month on a small island off the coast of Italy, so this kind of interaction wouldn’t necessarily apply.

But I digress.

Anger evident, he motioned his hands wildly for me to go to the left around him, for he obviously had the right of way.

I fought back, motioning for him to back up and admit mistake, as any kind I-almost-cut-you-off, I-was-wrong-you-were-right driver would do.  I also debated the logistics of hopping the curb to the right of his car, as the laws of driving would suggest, but figured that the innocent stop sign or the neighbor’s white picket fence would probably win.

We were head to head, waiting for the other to plead mercy, to let go, to give up the fight.  

And then I realized something: He’s fighting a battle.  

Even though at that moment, I wanted to win the battle so, so badly, I stopped fighting.  I stopped revving my engine, I stopped trying to be right, I stopped trying to win.  And as I drove past him, I didn’t even give him the bird, as I’m so prone to do when I think that the driving population is far from being for me, when the world is entirely against me.

But instead, I drove around to the left, and instead of a lone middle finger salute, I raised all FIVE fingers in the air and plastered a -mostly sincere and genuine – smile on my face and waved at him.

Like a good neighbor would.

Like any human being should.  

I feel like the phrase has been floating around the portals of America for a good while now; I’d heard it in sermons, and seen it in books, and lately strewn across Facebook and Pinterest and Instagram alike.  But it wasn’t until this last week that the depths of its truth sunk into my soul:


Because this I realized: I’ve been fighting a pretty hard battle lately too.  Experiencing the violation of a break-in has rocked me at times; even though I know in my head that we’re safe, that physically our house is more secure than ever, that mentally the chances of The Bad Guys coming again is slim, still I feel violated.  Still I feel scared and paranoid and sad and mad sometimes.

It’s like I’ve got my Berenstein Bears distorted green glasses atop my eyes for a little while here – so I glance at the backpacks of those we walk past on the street to see if they’re wearing my husband’s stolen one, and I peer out the window at every passing truck – are they the fake service workers the police said robbed our house?  

But then I stop.

I stop because I realize that these thoughts and feelings are normal for the time being, but they will not claim me.  This evil is powerless.  Instead, I acknowledge my own hard battle, and I lean into He who is my peace, the One who calms my beating heart.

I take a deep breath, and confetti-like grace showers my head, tickling my eyes and dusting my nose and covering my hair in all its New Year’s glory.

Somehow, this Divine Grace reminds me that the battle doesn’t just exist just inside me, but it’s inside every single one of us.  

And somehow this truth, this truth of Hard Battles inside you and inside me, inside Mr. Mercedes Benz and inside every other stranger and friend I encounter today, is healing.  It’s enough to make me realize that I don’t need to be right and win, that I can let go and practice kindness.  

Because you never know what might happen along the way.

xoxo, c.

What about you?  Can we fight the hard battles together?  Are you in?

teal kitchen mclovin (DIY).

A few months ago, I came to the realization that even though I really, really like open shelves in the kitchen, I can’t necessarily really, really have open shelves in a kitchen with a toddling, waddling “Is this glass vase a football?” little man.  I also realized that we have about 2.5 inches of counter space in our current living situation, and could stand to have an inch or two more.  

So, I rummaged through the landlord’s collection of odd items in the basement (of which we’ve been given permission to use – see also: I wasn’t going to paint one of the extra toilets lying down there and use it as a kitchen island), and stumbled upon this unpainted wooden cupboard: 

Love me some teal paint.
Love me some teal paint.

It was also around that time that I decided that we have altogether too many dark wooden objects in our house, and needed to add a bright and splendid splash of teal paint.  Done.  Behr Ultra Aqua Waters, you are magical, I say.   

Eventually this bad boy was hoisted upstairs, where it sat, ready for finishing, in our kitchen for the past three months.  [See also: Apparently burglars do not like teal-colored DIY projects, because they did not steal this in-progress piece of art.]  

That is, until this past week, where in we make lemonade out of lemons to take our minds off the lurking fear!

Now, part of why this project sat unfinished for so long was because I envisioned a tall and narrow kitchen island (as pictured above), with wheels affixed to the bottom for easy moving accessibility.  But then, as Neighbor Kara reminded me, it’s silly to have cupboards open incorrectly (and we’d have to drill new holes for the shelves, and cut the wood accordingly, and well, that’s just a lot of work).  So why don’t you just raise it off the ground to the correct level AND gain more counter space while you’re at it?  Brilliant.    

But how does one raise it up?  

Neighbor Kara pulled out her brilliancy again: raised swivel castorsand even found the perfect match at The Container Store.  So Cancan and I braved downtown traffic, all to realize when we got home, that there’s absolutely no way to attach said raised swivel castors to your fabulous teal kitchen island, unless you’re using their system.  

Of course.  Fail.  

That, and The Container Store DIY queen said it’d look janky, even if I did figure it out, and suggested I hire a carpenter.  

No way, lady!  I own an electric drill for a reason! 

Finally, we – me, myself and I – landed at good ol’ Home Depot again this past Sunday, where a slightly inebriated employee with rather bloodshot eyes gave me the step-by-step tutorial on how this was gonna work.  He was, after all, a carpenter for 30 years before cruising the orange aisles.  

Here’s what he came up with: 

Top plates.
Top plates.

That’s right: add top plates to the bottom of the cupboard and screw wooden legs into it.  I did have to give up the wheels at the bottom, but I think the island would be the epitome of JANK had I tried to make them work.  

Four top plates, affixed to each of the corners.
Four top plates, affixed to each of the corners.

Then, we added the wooden legs (left over from a defunct bench I made a couple years ago): 

14" wooden legs (from Home Depot), stained dark brown.
14″ wooden legs (from Home Depot), stained dark brown.

And then we got to flip it over and add the fun finishing touches: 

First, two hooks (similar to this) from Restoration Hardware when its San Mateo store was closing a couple years ago: 

His and hers aprons.
His and hers aprons.

And then, two knobs from Anthropologie (similar to this), also marked down significantly – did I mention I really, really believe in the clearance section of extremely overpriced stores?  Cough cough.  

Just lovely.
Just lovely.

Finally, so the Little Man can have an area all his own in the kitchen, I painted an old piece of wood with chalkboard paint, and screwed it onto one of the sides.  [See also: wherein Cancan begins painting every wall in our house.]

He wrote "A b C," but the scribbles are mine.
He wrote “A b C,” but the scribbles are mine.

So, but for the childproof locks that still need to be installed, the kitchen island is done, and I love it!  I’m still debating whether or not I should cover the entire top with a butcher’s block, or just leave it as is.  Your thoughts?  

Cancan "drawing" this morning.
Cancan “drawing” this morning.
Keep the current (smaller) butcher's block, or go for something bigger?
Keep the current (smaller) butcher’s block, or go for something bigger?
Recipe for disaster?  Glass, glass, glass.  Ball, ball, ball.
Recipe for disaster? Glass, glass, glass. Ball, ball, ball.

And finally, in all its DIY glory, the finished product: 

And did I mention our kitchen window now has bars?  Safety first!
And did I mention our kitchen window now has bars? Safety first!

What can I say?  I love it, and it serves our space well – but enough about me, what about you?  What are you making and creating right now?  Do share!  

xo, c.