Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Pura Vida!

Costa Rica...remember a couple years ago when Bella and Michael traveled there with a handful of other middle-schoolers? I was worried about the wild horses and the rickety zip lines and the child-eating crocodiles and the BUGS? Well, I'm happy to report that I was a little crazy back then. None of that exists. Well, at least not in Costa Rica.

We just got back from nine AMAZING days of adventure and I have one thing to tell you friends: you HAVE TO get to Costa Rica. The minute we landed and met our tour director and bus driver - Seidy and Rafa - we felt immediately welcome. And not fake welcome. The Costa Ricans truly love tourists. Did you know that tourism is their number one industry? That much of how and why the country developed was inspired and motivated by the visitors that came, fell in love with, and settled down in Costa Rica over the last two hundred years? It's true. Go there. Ask someone.

My husband, along with two other teachers, lead a group of 24 students (Logan was one), and 8 adults on an ecological tour of the volcanos, mountains and beaches of this beautiful country. We started with visits to the Poas and Arenal volcanos and the town of La Fortuna. The weather was tropical and cloudy. Lush green hills stretched as far as we could see. We kayaked on Lake Arenal, visited Baldi Hot Springs and ate our first of MANY traditional meals: Casado (rice and beans), various meats and fish, and more fresh fruit than we knew what to do with.

The highlight of our time in La Fortuna was a visit to a local elementary school where we provided back packs and school supplies and played with the kids studying English. Ranging ages 6-12, they told our students that they dreamed of being doctors, truck drivers, soccer players, mechanics and teachers. All the boys played soccer and all the girls jumped rope. The cook (yes, they get a hot and healthy lunch each day), served fresh fruit and taught us how to fry plantains. The best part for me was when the principal's daughter asked to take a picture with me. She hugged me tight and said over and over, "It's nice to meet you," in her sweet voice. We teared up when it was time to say good-bye.

Then we were off to the mountains of Monte Verde, literally, Green Mount. I'm not sure I've adequately expressed how green Costa Rica is. The pictures just don't do it justice. There, we zip-lined through rain forests and over tree tops...it was absolutely incredible. Also in the mountains, we rode horses to a natural hot spring, visited a family farm, milked a cow, tried fresh cheeses, planted trees in a reforestation project, toured the rain forests, sampled even more delicious traditional food and learned about our host country. Each activity and encounter was filled with meaning. A warm drizzle followed us through the mountain towns but in no way did that hinder us. In fact, we rediscovered the magic of playing in the rain, getting slightly (or totally, if you forgot your poncho) drenched, skipping and singing and listening to the music of raindrops. No wonder kids love it so much...it's truly enchanting! Grown-ups, if we ever get rain in California again, GO OUTSIDE. Take your umbrella, and the nearest child, and find a way to enjoy this simple and beautiful pleasure.

Next we were off to the beaches. The waters of Manuel Antonio National Park were a fabulous 85 degrees. The sand was soft. And even when the occasional thunderstorm touched down, the waves still welcomed us. We played with monkeys, swam for hours upon hours, walked and ate and shopped and melted into a place that was beginning to feel like home. Even with a packed itinerary, we all felt completely relaxed. And I think I know why...

Throughout our nine days of travel and adventure, Seidy and Rafa taught us so much about the priorities and motivations of Costa Ricans, the most important being Pura Vida. Literally, the phrase means "pure life" with other translations such as "full of life", "this is living", or "real living". It's used both as a greeting or a farewell, as a way of giving thanks or stating that all is good. All the locals say Pura Vida, and they mean it. Life is pure, good. And in Costa Rica, you truly feel what they mean.

On the last day, tired and smelly and wet, we hugged our old and new friends and promised to find each other on one or the other social media platforms. We embraced Seidy and Rafa, and thanked them for sharing with us their beautiful culture and country. But more than anything, we (at least the adults) wondered...How could we possibly bring the peaceful vibe, the welcoming attitude, the slow-down-and-smell-the-rain pace, back to the hustle and bustle? Could we bring Pura Vida to the OC? And keep it sacred?

Pura Vida is a choice people. And it doesn't matter where we live, how long the to-do list is, or what stresses we're facing, we should strive for Pura Vida. Sometimes the simplest things in life are the most fulfilling. Sometimes slowing down is the only way to truly move forward. Sometimes we have to look at things through a different lens to see the meaning. Sometimes a new adventure has the power to propel us off the hamster wheel. The lucky thing is, we always have a choice.

Go to Costa Rica people. I promise, it will inspire and change you.

Pura Vida!

{J}

Friday, June 19, 2015

The End of an Era

It's the end of an era...

I remember, very vividly, Isabella's first day of kindergarten at Chaparral Elementary school. Miss Grieve, her sweet teacher, welcomed the "late owls" with a bright smile, truly excited to shepherd those littles into their first real year of school. The room was bright and bold. Words, numbers, pictures and happiness awaited them. And just for good measure, the song "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" rang all around them as they crossed the threshold into kindergarten bliss. I cried.

Now, 10 years later, my youngest has just wrapped up his last few days at Chaparral Elementary school. As each hour ticked away, as each end-of-year event unfolded, my heart broke a little more. As excited as he is for middle school, and as fun as the next chapter is, it's painful to say goodbye to this glorious and magical part of my children's youth.

I know it's inevitable and I can't turn back time. And I'm pretty sure they wouldn't let me hold him back a year, even though he is on the small side. But as I counted down flag salutes, I couldn't erase the feeling that the best memories really were behind us. Because in many ways, they are.

The wonder of each new milestone - riding a bike, tying a shoe, making a friend, letting go of my hand - all of those miraculous firsts, the ones that required the best digital camera money could buy, we've recorded those.

The excitement of each new grade - finding out teachers, exploring an interesting new subject, trying out sports and musical instruments and hobbies, learning what inspired them - all of the wondrous discovery that unfolded with each stage, we've uncovered so much of it.

The days of hanging art on the fridge and walking littles to their lines are gone. The days of reading library books together and cutting word sort words are gone. The days of park picnics and play dates are gone. The days of getting a play-by-play of the day while holding hands on the way to the car, are GONE! In middle school, almost none of that happens. And I already miss them like that: little and needing me.

Chaparral Elementary school, you have given our family some of our most joy-filled years. Morning announcements, music with Mr. Heely, Champion Follies, holiday activities, Town, Walk Through California, Ancestor Day, candy grams, Spring Sing, the Kellogg House, jog-a-thons, carpool, recycling, little/big buddies, countless performances, the list goes on and on. And even though the transition is more bitter than sweet, I must acknowledge the incredible teachers that have shaped my three children and prepared them for the future, even if their mom would like to press pause.

So as we bid a final farewell to our favorite school, we thank you...Mrs. Nicolai (then Grieve), Ms. Schofield (then Siglock), Mrs. Killian, Mrs. Stetter, Mrs. Adams, Mrs. Eusey, Mr. Trager, Mrs. Simpson, Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Mannix, Mrs. Valdez, Ms. Millat and Mrs. Burns. You will forever be treasured in our hearts.

Until next year, have a GREAT summer! (And don't be surprised if you see us at a flag salute or two next year, just for old time's sake.)

{J}

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Happy Mother's Day!

Thank you, Mom, for teaching me patience. For showing me patience even when I threw tantrums as a toddler, talked back as a pre-teen and disregarded you as a teenager. When I flew from our beautiful peace-filled nest to head to college and never came back, you were still patient. When I started the journey of parenthood and came to truly understand what an incredible mother you were to me, you waited patientiently for that acknowledgement. You modeled the kind of patience that only moms have access to. Endless patience.

Thank you, Mom, for teaching me grace and not just grace for others. A good portion of a mother's sanity comes from having grace for herself and you reminded me of that, especially when I first became a mother. When I couldn't do it all, you reassured me that no one could. When my unreasonable expectations smothered me, you gently insisted that I just do the best I could at the most important stuff: showing up and loving them. You showed me that it was a choice that every mom should make. Practiced grace.

Thank you, Mom, for teaching me about love. Not romantic love, that sometimes fleeting and often intense kind of love, but the kind of love that a mother feels for her child. It's a lasting, unconditional and overwhelming love. It's a feel-in-your-gut, sacrifice-a-limb, keep-you-up-all-night love. It's the kind of love that has the power to bring you to tears and to your knees, often in the same breath. Thank you for showing me an eternal, unwavering and all-encompassing love. Boundless love.

I love you forever! Happy Mother's Day Mom!

{J}

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Spring Break!!!

Spring break. Every year it comes just in the nick of time! It's April and we're a bit tired. The culmination of a year's worth of work is staring us down. Activities are going full force and summer planning is looming. It's enough to send me into hiding to binge-watch Downton Abbey and drink Diet Coke. How do we possibly maintain the level of production and enthusiasm needed to get our families safely to summer? Really...how?

The other day, Michael and I were merging calendars - three schools, project and test schedules, all the extra activities, deadlines - and I was complaining. Then, like a little nudge from a higher power, a more important question demanded attention: what about them? The ones actually doing all the work, juggling demands that they might not have even asked for? What about our kids?

As much as we feel the pressure of pending science projects and research papers, they feel it double. As much as we worry about sports qualifiers, semifinals, championships, they lose sleep about it. As much as we are aware of each A-teetering-on-a-B and how critical the upcoming tests are, they are hyperaware.

Because our kids, usually by middle school and definitely by high school, are living through each of these challenges, growing in knowledge and self-awareness, striving to become the productive people we envision, hoping to measure up. And along the way, they are recording their performance and gauging their worth. Sometimes the barometer lies within their peer group or team. Sometimes it's a sense of passion from within. Sometimes it's us. They witness our worry. They hear each criticizing inquiry. They feel our, "How was the test?" and "Did you do your best?" and the pressure compounds under all of the mounting expectations.

Setting goals and communicating expectations is part of the job we all signed up for when we decided to be parents. But too often, we forget that the parent-child relationship is meant to be more than a nagging system of checks and balances.

So let's make sure, as we stagger toward the school-year finish line, that there's plenty of encouragement and perspective and understanding and balance and support and love to help them finish strong. Let's assure them, with words and actions, that they are so much more than the sum total of how they perform. Because pretty soon, our chance to do so will be over. Our kids will be out of the house trying to make it in a world that unleashes criticism and judgment relentlessly, and I promise you, they'll not remember the team they beat this season or the grade they got in Geometry. They'll remember how we made them feel about themselves regardless of it all.

I know we're tired and ready for a longer break than the one we just finished, but let's not lose focus. This is our legacy. Make it really count.

{J}

Monday, March 30, 2015

Milestones Start with Baby Steps

(Choate Rosemary School: renowned boarding school in Connecticut, and the place where the adventure begins...)

The milestones of two ambitious writers... The first 100 pages are professionally revised. Our synopsis is complete. And our query letter has been reworked dozens of times.

We had six literary agents at the SDSU Writers' Conference request to see our work. Today, we sent everything off. We're thrilled about our revisions at the guidance of our AMAZING Editor, Deborah Halverson. We're hopeful that there is an agent out there who shares our vision. And we're eager to give FORGED its very best shot at oneday landing in the hands of readers.

As many of you know, we have been working on this book for a year and a half. What isn't commonly known is that the path to publication is almost never straight, or quick. But we're still writing.

This year, our biggest challenge was a genre shift, from new adult (18-25 year old characters) to young adult. Our characters aren't freshmen in college anymore, they're seniors in high school. Believe it or not, that one year makes a HUGE difference. Initially reluctant about making the change, halfway through it, we feel like this is the story that was always meant to be written. So now we wait. And we finish revising the second half.

In case you'd like to read more about Forged-book one of the Power of 7 series-below is our latest query letter:

“The first seven were given extraordinary powers in order to save their people. The final seven will use those powers to save humanity.” David Amesbury, Dean of Sixth Forms at Choate Rosemary School reveals the legend to Emily during her first week of her senior year in FORGED, a young adult, paranormal adventure. The manuscript is complete at 79,000 words.

Emily has always felt abnormal. When her best friend—the only one who knows her secrets and insecurities—mysteriously dies, she's left to navigate her senior year alone. Or so she thinks. One night, Emily witnesses an attempted suicide and is shocked that her hands have the power to heal the broken boy who lands at her feet. When she’s confronted by a demon disguised as a student, John intervenes. Captivated by her talent, John divulges his own power to communicate with spirits. It isn't long before they discover that they've been brought to Choate for a very specific purpose.

FORGED, told from the points of view of Emily and John, follows the "Healer" and the "Listener" and five other gifted students, as they confront a force that only they can overcome. Not only will the mission put their lives in jeopardy, but it will undermine the emerging love between them. In an atmosphere riddled with spirits, demons and secrets that are centuries old, these seven will find that by embracing what makes them ordinary, they have the power to restore humanity.

FORGED can stand alone or act as book one of a series for which a synopsis has been established. Thank you for your time and consideration. We hope to have the opportunity to work with you.

What do you think? Thanks for your feedback and support.

{H&J}

Monday, March 9, 2015

My Kids are Addicts...Are Yours?

Sugar addiction. It's a real thing and my house has it BAD! It all started last Halloween when the Halloween Fairy got lazy and the kids got sneaky. See, she's the one who typically visits a week after Halloween and leaves cash whilst magically removing the remaining candy in the house. The kids get a week of indulgence and then POOF, we go back to our more healthy habits.

Unfortunately, the Halloween Fairy forgot to visit the Hales at the same time that the Hale kids figured out the game. And for the last several months, my kids have had their own secret stashes of candy tucked away in drawers and cubbies and locked-away troves.

How did I find this out? Well, I was fighting a migraine last week and in one of my rants I cried out "Make it stop!" and "I really need chocolate!!" At that exact time, my two boys looked at each other. It was a look without words. It was a silent message of great import. It was a realization of high stakes. And my youngest, I swear he loves me the most, decided to be the sacrifice.

"Mom, my lovely, hurting mom. I have what you need..." he said sweetly before rushing off.

"He's going to his secret stash," Logan told Bella. They looked worried and avoided my eyes. I think they wanted to run but, like moths drawn to the flame, they HAD to stick around and stand witness to their little brother who, at that moment, returned with a selection of mini candy bars.

"Here you go, mom. I hope you feel better soon." Noah sealed his gift with a smile that could melt the polar ice caps.

"Thank you, Noah. That's so sweet of you." I unwrapped my first Twix. My kids twitched nervously. "Is this leftover from Valentine's Day?" I asked while looking through the pile for a Snickers.

"Um, well..." he glanced nervously at his siblings, "No. I think that one's from Halloween."

Though Logan and Bella sat in silence, their faces contorted and their eyes pleaded: "Noah, STOP! Say no more! Maybe we can salvage this!!"

"So you still have Halloween candy? It must be almost gone, right?" I calmly continue the interrogation.

"Well..." that kid can't tell a lie, "I think I have some from Christmas and Valentine's Day too. And I bought some from my friends at school..."

By now, Noah won't look at his brother and sister, both shaking their heads certain the hammer's about to fall. But he can't look at me either because even though having a little bit of leftover candy around the house isn't a crime, having a secret collection along with free and easy access to it, feels like quite a betrayal.

"Does everyone in this house have a secret stash Noah?" Bella and Logan sunk a little lower in their seats.

"Okay, tell the truth. Do you have candy every day?" I addressed them all.

Nods all around.

"Even on days when we have ice cream or some other dessert?"

More nods.

"And last week when I bought you Cinnamon Toast Crunch and you fought over the last bowl?" (True story. I think they would've actually come to blows had Michael not intervened.)

Affirmative.

"You guys have a problem. And it's WAY bigger than me finding out about your hidden candy...You are addicted to sugar."

Then we had a long discussion about the way sugar changes your brain chemistry and takes the tastiness out of other foods and messes with your metabolism and lowers your immune system and causes you to act like crazy, deceitful children. We talked about the risks of addiction and the benefits of having control of your body and mind. And how moderation is the key, for most things, at least. The conversation took lots of turns and dips but it ended up being the best family intervention ever.

Maybe you feel like there's an unhealthy habit in your home that needs to be addressed. You're definitely NOT alone. Don't let those secret stashes get out of control, whatever they may be. Seek them out and reign them in. If I can kick the D.C. habit, and my kids can overcome their sugar addictions, for the love, there's HOPE for all.

Be well.

{J}

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Time to Remember, A Time to Love

Ash Wednesday is upon us. For Christians, it marks the beginning of Lent, a period of solemn, spiritual preparation for Holy Week and the celebration of Easter. It is a time to remember and imitate the life and ministry of Jesus and it leads up to the commemoration of his death and resurrection. That’s what Christians celebrate.

But we don’t have to stop there. I have friends of varying faiths that use this time to bring into mind their own values and beliefs, to remember the reasons behind the rituals, to contemplate. And what a gift. Every morning, we have the great opportunity to start anew. To think about how our mark on this earth can be just a little bit sweeter and to DO something about it. To be more kind, more disciplined, more gracious, more present, more faithful, more loving.

When I think about some of the recent atrocities brought upon our fellow believers, fellow human beings, around the world, it’s hard to ignore the fact that our world is in dire need of grace and love. Sometimes, I forget that THAT’s my job - in the midst of carpools and craziness, in spite of the terror on every news channel, especially when it's not easy or convenient – my job is to spread forgiveness and understanding and love.

People, my prayer this Lent is that each of us takes advantage of the opportunity to remember our God, regardless of the name we call him, and to contemplate how we can each shower great LOVE upon the world, like HE did. What a privilege it is that we even get that chance.

So on this blessed Ash Wednesday, I leave you with the profound words of Sister Joan Chittister:

"It is very easy to forget the wonders God has done for us. God often performs these marvels when we are least hopeful they will happen, least sure they can happen.

Out of death, after pain diminishes and numbness fades, new life so often comes forth. After the loss of one direction, another more vibrant than the first so often emerges. Beyond what the world says are our best years, comes a fullness of life unmatched by any other stage.

These are the miracles of life. These are the wonders we stumble into, so obviously not our own making that they must be of God. These are the things that must be remembered in the midst of the daily, dull, depressing moments of life.

Good has so often come out of even the more shabby parts of our own life. We retreat from religion because it disappoints, only to find no better answers elsewhere and return more spiritual than ever before. We fail ourselves miserably, then find new life when we discover that people loved us for ourselves, not our images. We get stopped in our indulgent, dishonest, ambitious, shiftless tracks and become newer, better selves. These are the wonders of life.

Every life is filled with a series of small miracles designed to carry us through dark days, up steep mountains, down into the valley of death, beyond every boundary.

One of the spiritual disciplines of Lent is to recognize these, to let praise raise in our hearts. We need to see the miracles of our lives as signs along the way that no path is too twisted, no burden so heavy, no social system so impenetrable as to confound us utterly. The God who has sustained us in the past will not desert us in the present.

Praise and memory take us into tomorrow with open minds and certain hearts."

Love to you!

{J}

(Passage from Ideas in Passing - benetvision.org)