For our family, summer means baseball games, exploring new cities, and living in a tiny apartment. My husband is a professional baseball coach, and from April to August, the kids and I leave our home in Texas to spend the summer wherever he’s coaching that year. This is our third summer in Visalia, California, the “gateway to the Sequoias.”
Visalia can get hot and dusty, but we love being able to escape to the mountains in under an hour, or to the beach in two. As a hub for agriculture, we can always find fresh strawberries, local honey, and the very best garlic.
So far the weather has been gorgeous, but heat is inevitably settling in, so we will be spending most of our time in the pool or in the air-conditioned library (our favorite spot). When the days get long, and the apartment feels even smaller than before, there are a few things that I turn to.
They have a coconut milk line too, but the cashew milk flavors top them all and this one is my favorite. Perfect for the end of a hot day.
The Library – I love the library all year long, but in the summer it’s extra special. They have a summer reading program for the kids with incentives and prizes. The a/c is always a bonus. And I get to request and read all the books on my list for free.
Erase Your Face makeup removing cloths – I randomly found these while waiting in line at DSW and thought I would give it a try. Amazingly they take off all my makeup, even eyeliner and mascara, with just water. As someone with sensitive skin who is always trying to use less chemicals, these cloths are a dream.
This Korean Beef BBQ Burrito recipe – I wish I could explain how amazing the combination of flavors in this recipe are. There are very few recipes I make over and over and over but this is one of them. It’s perfect for summer because you’re not heating up the entire kitchen, and it only takes 4 hours in the crockpot.
If you’re running short on time, you can even skip the food-processor part and just dump everything in. I like to make a big batch so we can make burritos and burrito bowls for a few days. Make sure to use all three herbs and the kimchi for maximum flavor. (If you’re not a kimchi fan, try adding thinly sliced cucumbers instead.)
CBD oil – I’ve struggled with generalized anxiety all my life, and living in a tiny apartment away from home every summer doesn’t help. As much as possible I try to avoid medication, so I started looking into CBD oil. CBD or Cannabidiol oil is the most prevalent cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. It’s non-intoxicating and does not produce a buzz or a high because there is no THC present.
Every morning I put a half dropper under my tongue, and when I’m consistently taking it, my anxiety level goes way down. I also use it on my skin when I have dry patches, and have even used it to soothe a bee sting.
If you’re looking into CBD oil make sure to find a company that does 3rd party testing and is transparent about their products.
Carly Jean Los Angeles – What can I say about CJLA except that I live in their clothes? Designed for capsule style, everything goes with everything, and 90% of their clothes are made locally in LA.
I love that when I buy from Carly Jean Los Angeles, I’m supporting a woman-owned small business, buying ethically-made affordable clothing, and building a capsule all at the same time. Plus, they show me how to wear everything on their instagram stories, and answer all of my styling and fit questions right away.
Tomorrow will be six months since our second foster son was placed with us. And in about 58 hours, we will adopt.
The truth is, my relationship with my son started out shall we say…less than idyllic.
I don’t want to be romanticizing things here. We had a little boy dropped in our living room, four days after the first time we ever heard his (first only) name, by two social workers who barely knew him, with two rather impressive ear infections and five changes of clothes and pretty significantly behind on sleep.
We didn’t know a nap schedule, didn’t know what he ate, didn’t know his bedtime routine, didn’t even know how to interpret the sign language he knew.
This little boy was delivered to our house mere days after we learned that our first long-term foster son would be leaving.
I don’t know exactly how to unpack the mourning process of that period, but what I can tell you is that there were TWO people in this house for a good bit of time that were busted up messes. Two people with extremely short fuses and two people prone to temper tantrums. Two people who wanted to love each other but didn’t really know how.
I thought of it for a long time as HIS transition issues, and sometimes I thought about MY difficulties with sending home our baby, but the truth is we kind of went through the wars together.
I tried so hard to be the grown-up, the one with tools to use to process and to behave correctly, even when I didn’t want to. And sometimes I actually managed it.
I comforted him in the middle of the night, when he would wake up, or half-wake up, just sobbing. Not baby-crying, not wailing, often not even out loud. I don’t know if you realize this but this is not something you hear very often – a two-year-old crying in a way that really isn’t intended for someone to hear or respond.
I went in often, even when I wasn’t sure my presence was comforting; when he’d jerk his head up every few minutes off of my shoulder and look confusedly at my face with his deep brown eyes, and I would just think neither of us even know each other. What are we doing here? and then he’d put his head back down, and then do it again a few minutes later.
I did go to him…until sometimes I just couldn’t.
Sometimes I knew we both just needed actual rest and sleep, and when I went in, he never ever slept.
Sometimes I knew I was just a reminder that the Mama he actually wanted wasn’t there. Sometimes I would think of my baby doing this exact same thing in a few weeks at someone else’s house. And so I said to myself, “I will be here tomorrow, his tummy will be full, he will be warm and dry, and we will have fun tomorrow. He will have to just go through enough nights where the morning comes and we are there, that he will eventually not be afraid.”
The truth is, this poor little guy got a broken Mommy, the not-first-but-final Mommy he knew.
We lashed out at each other sometimes. We both cried. I wasn’t a rock and I wasn’t a perfect refuge, like I thought I’d always be able to be for foster kids. But I was a human, and I think that we now have a sort of deeper respect for each other than we would have if he met me at my “best” and I thought I knew what I was doing.
I feel like I can say this now because truthfully, I look at that one or two months where we were just a hot mess held graciously but barely together by God.
I want to say I’m sorry to my son that he had such a hard time and I’m sorry that I had such a hard time, but we suffered together.
We’re us now, and we couldn’t be us the way we are without having been through what we’ve been through, together.
You know what though?
We’re not all done. I am not all done mourning my baby and he is not all done mourning his biological family, not by a long shot.
But now we mourn as a family, not alone.
He is my sweet, brilliant, hilarious, precious son and when he hurts for his first family, I hurt with him.
Also, in just a couple of days, you will be my son forever. For the actual rest of our lives.
What I learned as a foster mom
• Every single human life, no matter how seemingly arbitrary or bizarre or tenuous their connection to you is, how unfamiliar or even completely unknown their background; every single person has the potential to be an irreplaceable, essential part of your family, if you can humble yourself and learn about them.
• Marriages are intended to be places where you honor and uphold each other. You can survive more than you ever thought, and you can love more than you ever thought if you just keep your promises and consider the other person more important than yourself.
• I am not a strong or gracious or patient person. I am a person who up until now has had a relatively trial-lite life, and I now know better than to think I am better at coping or managing or being compassionate than anyone else out there.
• I would go through that (most likely) difficult first month or two (or six even, or more) of transition over again, even just for the 4 months that have come after. I would do that month or two of the deepest mourning over again a million times in exchange for the 10 months we got to spend with our baby.
When I look at that month or two, the hardest of my whole life, in comparison with the rest of our lives with my son? You look at me and say that month or two is not worth it? I look at you and say you’re crazy.
Six months. The first six months. Of many, many six-monthses. My sweet boy, you are so, so worth every single minute of it.
Abbey Daniels is a stay at home mom who has been irrevocably changed by foster care and adoption. She also leads missions efforts at her church and works for clean water in South Sudan. She blogs occasionally (who has the time?) at thefamilydaniels.wordpress.com
Mindfulness. For the past few years everyone’s been tossing this buzz-word around, lauding it as an incredible cure-all for stress and busyness, ill health and procrastination.
We have apps and conferences, special colouring books, retreats and constant reminders popping up on social media of just how mindfully others are living. (Which begs the question: If a woman meditated on a beach but didn’t take a selfie, did it really happen?)
And if you’re anything like me, you probably understand that, sure, there is definitely good reason to live more mindfully – to start meditating or carve out ten minutes every morning to journal, to breathe deeply and intentionally or start savouring the small moments in our day-to-day.
But if you’re even more like me, you’re probably also really adept at giving reasons why we can’t or don’t do any of those things.
Here’s some of the most common roadblocks I’ve thrown in my own way over the past six years of learning to live mindfully. (Maybe you’ll recognise some of them?)
I have no time
The good news is you don’t really need to give mindfulness any extra time. There are so many ways to adopt mindfulness in your current day that the argument of not enough time is completely moot. Choose one task you already do, and turn it in to a mindfulness moment:
hanging the laundry
making a cup of tea
driving to soccer practice
warming your lunch in the office microwave
Simply pay attention to what you’re doing in that moment – the sensations, actions, smells and tastes. That’s mindfulness.
I’m not good at it
Great! No-one is “good” at mindfulness. In fact, sometimes practicing mindfulness brings about more awareness, which can feel really uncomfortable. It can bring you back to consciousness, which often means seeing truths we’re not always happy to see.
Don’t let that stop you, because only from awareness can we learn how to change and adapt.
If we remove the idea of good or bad from mindfulness (or meditation, or most things, really) and simply view it as a part of our efforts to create a slower, simpler life, we can also remove the stigma of not getting it right.
View it as an experiment instead. Don’t attach any particular outcomes to the practices of mindfulness; simply wait and see how you feel.
I’m not that kind of person
I used to think the same thing about certain types of meditation, but what I was really saying is that I was afraid of it. I didn’t know anything about it and it scared me.
If you really don’t want to meditate, then don’t.
Instead of diving straight in to thirty-minute meditations or yoga classes, try adding a touch of mindfulness to things you already enjoy doing.
Love gardening? Use that as a practice. Love guitar? Make that your time of mindfulness. Or simply start noticing more.
I’m skeptical of its usefulness
It’s easy to be skeptical of a slow fix when we’re constantly bombarded with instant gratification, seven-day miracle cures and easy solutions to help you lose thirty pounds in thirty-two seconds.
There is no miracle cure.
And while there are many studies showing the positive effects of mindfulness and meditation on our brains and our well-being, you’re probably not going to believe it until you experience it yourself anyway.
Be playful and curious, and instead of attaching a predetermined result to it, simply experiment. Try some of these suggestions for a week at a time and see how you feel.
I get bored
We’re so used to constant stimulus that the absence of it immediately triggers boredom, or fear or anxiety.
Instead of giving in to that boredom, see it for what it is – your brain lashing out, looking for a fix. You don’t need to sit there peacefully feeling bored, but you can sit there and acknowledge how you feel.
Stick that boredom in the corner and continue to sit, continue to notice, continue to be.
I can’t sit still
Then don’t. Go for a walking meditation. Use your gym workout as a mindfulness practice. Garden or paint or write or sew in mindfulness.
I can’t stop my thoughts
You don’t need to. Thinking is what our brains do, so rather than trying to stop our thoughts from zooming around, simply accept that they are doing what thoughts do.
You can acknowledge their presence (give ‘em a little wave if you want to) and continue your mindfulness practice, knowing that if they’re important, these thoughts won’t go far. Hint: often they’re not important.
I feel too many feelings
We do a lot to avoid feelings like anxiety, sadness or anger.
We stay busy, we self-medicate, we say yes, we say no – all so as not to experience the “bad” feelings life has for us. But these feelings are important, because in order to feel the highs of joy and happiness, we also need to understand the lows of grief, envy or disappointment.
Mindfulness allows us to acknowledge and accept such feelings, feel them in all their depth, and understand that they are valid and important. It also helps us to understand that they are not everything – even on days that feel like sadness has swallowed the world.
It doesn’t make a difference
Some days, maybe it doesn’t.
But just like you can’t judge the usefulness of a French lessons by your fluency after day one, you can’t judge the effectiveness of mindfulness practice after staring at a flower for two minutes.
Focus on the moment it is impacting, and understand that you’re giving yourself the gift of time, buffer and space, regardless of how blissed out you do (or don’t) feel.
I can’t remember if my husband said these words or I made them up. Either way, I know he’s thought them before.
Because I’ll snap about the state of our home before people land on our porch. I’ll taste the soup and hate the seasoning, consider throwing it all in the trash and ordering pizza instead.
I once rinsed a cooked pork loin under the faucet to take off some of the salt and then had a minor meltdown in the bathroom. That same pork loin was placed on a clean, white platter dusted with herbs for folks to consume.
I get nervous when I think of all the people I invited that might not really know each other. The pressure to make connections, ignite conversation when it runs dry, and keep cool when guests take that first bite can feel overwhelming.
Gathering people in my home doesn’t always come easy. Even though friends graciously remind me that I was made to do this.
You see, I get tired and cranky too. I’m an introvert but often resemble an extrovert. I love the kitchen but sometimes I don’t want to cook. And to be honest, I don’t really want to scrub the toilet or wipe down the sink covered with dirt and hair.
And sometimes, I don’t feel like being vulnerable.
Because there’s that middle place, you know? The one that lands between small talk and going real deep. Where you’re not quite skimming the surface and talking about the weather but you aren’t exactly sharing all the mess and pain either.
I don’t really know this place. I tend to sway hard one way or the other.
I give it all away or hold my cards real close. I’m not sure how to stand in the in between. And both places can leave me feeling exhausted. From sharing my whole heart to masquerading around as someone I’m not.
Call me crazy.
I still gather. I still love it.
I miss it when it’s been too long. I need it like air or water or dark chocolate. Because deep down I know this — it’s not really about me and how I feel.
It’s about them. And it’s where my gifts align with the burdens of this world.
This isn’t to say I’m an incredible hostess, cook, or home decorator. That’s not it at all.
It means I feel suffering real deep. I recognize loneliness and isolation because I’ve lived it. I know how it feels to be uninvited and unwelcome.
I was nine when I vowed to never make anyone feel discarded. Because I had felt the sting of it.
That thorn has pierced my side longer than I’d hoped but it’s helped me uncover the very place I’m called to remain, abide, and lean in harder to.
Even when it’s uncomfortable. Maybe even more so.
Even when I believe God called on the wrong gal to carry out the job.
Because when I get real quiet, I hear this, “Be the invitation, Maeve. That’s all I’ve asked. Open your door, serve the bland soup, and give freely. Forget about landing in the middle, give it all away because you’ve got nothing to lose.”
Sometimes the gifts we’ve been given, the things we might actually do well require grit and obedience. They test our patience and cause us to sweat.
And in the end, when all is said and done, it’ll be hard but it’ll be worth it because we’ll feel used up. We’ll know our place.
We might find that the broken pieces of our past become the arrow guiding us forward – pointing us in the direction of blessing others in mighty ways.
We’ll find our stories are linked and woven into each other. And remember how good it feels to live in community.
We’ll find it’s not about being ready, it’s simply about being willing.
So let the cards fall where they may. Allow the thorn in your side to do more than hurt.
We might find a calling and realize a clean home and perfectly seasoned soup won’t heal the wounds of this world on their own.
We have to be the invitation first.
We have to build longer tables and save someone a seat.
That’s where true restoration begins.
Maeve is a writer, people gatherer, and kitchen dweller. She currently serves as the Community Manager for hope*writers, an online space for uplifting and encouraging other writers. She shares the musings on her heart over on Instagram & the blog — come say hello!
Its focus is literary-themed, which means while we have more options than we can possibly check off the list just in the London and surrounding areas, we will be doing a ton of walking. We’ll be out and about as a group, exploring both internally and externally what it means to create stories with our lives and work.
I recently shared my own packing list for London with the women attending, and as I sketched it out, I realized something:
This is more or less what I pack anytime I travel anywhere for a week (and even up to about a month — I simply do laundry and re-wear my clothes). I’d perhaps exchange a thing or two based on the destination’s weather, but otherwise, I keep things pretty simple.
Since I get asked all the time for a good master packing list for women, I thought I’d share with you my own personal list. I simply tweak the list based on what I know about where I’m headed.
But first, a few notes…
1. Pack light.
Truly, in all my travels, I can’t think of one time when my not bringing something made the experience worse — I either forgot about whatever it was I was debating about bringing the second I arrived, or I was easily able to find what I needed on location.
There’s nothing you’ll need you can’t find there in a pinch almost anywhere in the world. And if you can pack everything in a carry-on, you won’t need to check in anything, and the trade-off is a lighter state of mind while you travel.
Part of travel is to temporarily leave your state of normal and engage in a bit of new, right? Packing light will help you do that.
2. Don’t pack to be a cartoon of yourself.
Sometimes we act as though we’d suddenly want to dress differently once we’re in [insert new location here]. Sure, it’s nice to wear a thick wool coat when we normally live in the desert, or to toss on a hat for the beach we’d look ridiculous in at home, but we’ll still be ourselves.
Wear clothes that help you feel most like you. This way, you won’t feel frustrated when you go through your bag and can’t find anything to wear when all you want to be is comfortable.
Acknowledge the customs of your destination, but do so in a way that’s you.
3. Go capsule, but don’t be rigid about it.
Everyone says to create a capsule wardrobe when you travel, and I say that, too. But don’t be such a stickler that you end up buying things just for your trip because they “go,” or that you feel like every possible combination has to be an Amazing Outfit.
Stick with some classic basics that layer, and you should be set.
4. Check the weather.
This is such a big fat duh, I hate even putting it here. But sometimes it feels out of sorts to pack for cool weather when it’s 100 degrees at home, so you underestimate what highs in the 60s really feels like (especially when lows are also in the 30s!).
Go with layers, particularly if temps fluctuate throughout the day, and if in doubt, check the internet for go-to local advice. Google ‘what to wear + [city name] + [month of travel]’ and you should find what you need.
5. Don’t underestimate the power of good shoes.
If you’re traveling outside North America (aside from a resort or a destination specifically for relaxing), assume you’ll do more walking than in your daily life. It’s normal to walk miles simply getting around for life, not to mention taking in the sites.
Strong, comfortable shoes are essential. If you ignore everything else on this list but this, you’ll be in good shape.
Now, this is important: don’t get shoes you’d wear for exercise, because there’s nothing else that screams tourist! any louder. But, tennies are okay if they’ve got a modern, non-gym look to them (a good test: would you feel okay wearing them with a casual skirt?).
I’m personally a fan of a good slip-on that doesn’t feel sneaker-ish but is still casual, as well as packing a good walking sandal and/or ballet flat. Booties can be cute, too, if it’s a little cooler. Examples are linked in the packing list below.
If you aim for smaller, lightweight shoes, you can even pack an extra pair in your bag when you go out for the day, which means you can swap out mid-day if you feel the need.
6. Consider a wearable souvenir.
Some of my favorite souvenirs are things to wear, so consider leaving your bag on the lighter side and buying an item on location.
Locally-made jewelry, a dress, hat, shoes, or a bag all make fantastic memorabilia from your travels, and they can be surprisingly affordable if you shop markets familiar to the locals.
Some of my favorite bags, scarves, and dresses in my closet have come from Italy — I know to leave extra room in my bag when I travel there. I still wear my winter hat from the French village market where we lived for 6 weeks. And I still wear the blue sandals I bought in Thailand, the necklace from Australia, and even the socks from New Zealand.
7. Don’t forget your adapter.
Many counties outside North America run on a 220 or 230-volt electrical system, which means your American 120-volt small appliances won’t work (hair dryers, curling irons, toasters). Leave them at home.
But, you should bring an adapter for things like your laptop, phone chargers, Kindle, and the like. Something small is fine — I’ve got an example linked in the packing list below.
8. Pack in the right gear.
You can do either a travel pack you wear, like a backpack, or a small carry-on suitcase with wheels. I adore this Tom Bihn carry-on because it converts easily from shoulder strap to comfortable backpack, and mine still looks brand new after years of use to several countries.
But, small rolled luggage also works well in places where you won’t be carrying around your main pack much once you reach your guesthouse or hotel (remember, suitcase wheels can be a total pain on European cobblestoned roads). I love my Away carry-on (use my code SIMPLE to get $20 off).
(Also, these types of bags I’m mentioning are great for trips under a month or so. For our year-long trip, I used a 55L backpack for all my belongings, and it was perfect.)
You’ll also need a day bag for going out for the day. It can be a backpack, but it can also be more like a larger purse, so long as it’s comfortable and big enough to hold everything you’d need for the day.
I recommend making sure it has a zipper that fully closes the bag, especially if you’ll be on crowded subways and streets.
The Packing List
Finally, here’s my basic, master go-to packing list when I’m traveling for 1-4(ish) weeks, especially to a modern city like London.
And if you’d also like a free printable download of this packing list, I’ll be happy to email it to you:
You have Successfully Subscribed!
p.s. Want a slightly cleaner visual of this packing list? Head here.
Documents & Bags
passport + extra photocopy of the front page of your passport
additional photo ID (such as a driver’s license) debit and/or credit cards
Just bring your usual toiletries; there’s no need to bring anything “extra.” Keep in mind that if you carry on, everything needs to be TSA-approved (that means liquids and gels are 3.4 ounces or smaller, then collectively put in a bag one quart or smaller).
Check with your phone carrier and see if you can use your phone in your destination with minimal (or no) extra charges. If you can, it’s a godsend to use it out and about. (Sometimes you can add an extra international plan just for one month.)
A few days before you leave, call your bank (and/or credit cards) and let them know where you’ll be. They should put a note in your account, which means charges abroad won’t be marked as suspicious. (Trust me, it’s much easier to do this proactively ahead of time instead of reactively while you’re trying to make a late-night purchase with your card in another country. Ask me how I know.)
If you’re going to a major city (even in North America), download the Citymapper app — this is a great go-to public transportation app that also connects with your Uber and Lyft accounts, should you ever get stuck in a bind and need to hitch a ride.
Download a converter app so you can quickly convert money when you’re shopping — I like the app simply called Currency.
Also, the Trip Advisor app is great for ideas for places to eat and things to see when you’re out and about. They’ve got some great location-specific guides you can download straight to your phone, no internet signal needed.
Every place is different, of course, so ask around and check the internet about location-specific tips before heading out. But, this is my foundational packing and checklist before leaving the country, and it hasn’t failed me yet.
Going anywhere soon? What are your packing essentials?
A few affiliate links are used here, which means at no extra cost to you, making a purchase by clicking these links helps support this site. Thanks!
(Photos, from the top: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Roman Holiday, Before Sunrise, Eat Pray Love, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, & Under the Tuscan Sun)
The sun is beating down with the unearthly intensity that is early August. Heat comes in waves and I sink into the shade of my adirondack chair, pulling another one close for my friend.
Our kids, of course, are immune to the effects of hot summer afternoons, and their excited voices carry from the garden to the patio. They are making discoveries: drippy red tomatoes, long trunks of cucumber, tie-dye peppers on their way to ripeness.
They are dazzled. Enchanted.
My friend says wistfully that she wishes she had a garden like ours.
I’ll be the first to admit that there is a lot to be envious of in our little patch of garden. Lettuce, tomatoes, parsley, cucumbers, peppers, zucchini, radishes, string beans…and during berry season, a flurry of raspberries, strawberries and blueberries.
A glorious harvest that runs from the spring through the hot, hot days of summer and into the fall.
It is a life-giving, peaceful part of our experience as a family, even with our busy schedule. Here’s some good news. With a few simple steps, here’s all that stands between you and a little family farm of your own.
Don’t go crazy worrying about where to put your garden.
Find a spot that is reasonably sunny and unused, clear a little bit of dirt to make sure it’s not too rocky, and you’re in business. One of my favorite memories in our first house was digging up the grass in the back corner of our yard to form a big triangle with a tiny path down the middle.
It was just dirt then, but I could see the garden to come.
You can do some Googling to research what plants you want to use, but your best bet is to visit a local garden center. They’ll have the best plants for your climate, and lots of guidance for care.
Try to pick easy crops for your first season; standards like tomatoes and herbs are great. You can also look for some early harvest favorites (think lettuce, lettuce, lettuce) to get everyone in the family excited about the reward that will follow the watering and weeding throughout the summer.
Make sure that you leave plenty of space for spreading in your garden. You’ll be surprised by what just a few plants produce. Cucumbers spread like wildfire and tomato plants shoot off more fruit than you would ever expect. So be generous with open space.
Lastly, think about planting some pretty flowers around your garden to welcome in the bees. Bees are scarce these days, and there is nothing better for your garden than a possie of buzzing pollinators making their rounds. These days you can easily find a flower mix specifically meant to attract bees.
The beauty of a garden is that once you set it up, there is very little you have to do in the growing months.
The best thing you can do for yourself is set up a good routine for the few things on your checklist. You’ll want to try to stay on top of weeds and you’ll need to water.
Decide who is going to weed and when.
It will only take minutes if you stay on top of it. And hint—kids love weeding!
Then identify your watering plan. Will you use a sprinkler? A hose? Will you find a way to capture rainwater and filter it into the garden? Just try not to let more than a day go by without that ever-important water.
Here is my absolute favorite part of gardening. It is why we do it: the harvest.
There is nothing like getting into your garden, smelling the basil as your fingers rub against it, popping a cherry tomato in your mouth because you just can’t help it, debating if you’ll pick that cucumber or let it go one more day.
This moment of fulfillment, the dirt at your feet and a blue sky overhead, is about as good for the soul as anything I can dream up. And that’s before you even make it to the kitchen.
I bring a colander out to the garden for picking.
Once it is full of the day’s finds, I can plop it right into my sink for easy washing.
Then, I have a handful of easy and dependable recipes stashed so nothing goes to waste. It is a ton of fun to research uses for the contents of your garden on recipe sites in the months leading up to harvest. Have some recipes you like lined up before you’re under pressure to use all the goods piling up in your fridge!
If you’re interested, here are a few of my standards:
• Fresh salsa made with roughly chopped, multi-colored cherry tomatoes and herbs served over chicken or heaped onto a piece of baguette.
• Large, beefy tomatoes roasted on a sheet pan alongside chunks of onion and basil leaves, then thrown in the blender for the easiest luscious tomato soup you’ll ever have.
• Gravy (that’s what we Jersey girls call red sauce) made by simply cooking down tomatoes with garlic, onion, a dash of sugar, and a bay leaf in a large pot on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
• Cucumber salad with red onion, roughly chopped and tossed with olive oil, fresh and acidic in exactly the right way. I could go on.
My husband does can tomatoes, and I love having them on hand, but if it were left to me, it would be fresh food all the way. If you are brave enough to take on those cans, he would say it is easy. You just have to be methodical and wait until you have enough produce piled up to make the effort worth it.
Canning or not, you’ll find plenty of ways to use everything—gift baskets for the neighbors are always a much appreciated gesture; or goody bags sent home with friends after playdates.
Which brings us back to a sunny afternoon in August, where the heat comes through the ground as much as the sky.
Where my girlfriend and I want nothing more than to sit with our glasses of ice water and relax, while the kids are hard at work.
Tomatoes fly out of our garden, landing sometimes in and sometimes just near a large bucket. Four little pairs of feet are dirty. Giggles abound. My kids are familiar with the garden and their friends are discovering a world they never knew existed.
My friend says she wishes they could have a garden like ours. And, of course, I say with complete confidence, “You can.”
Nicole M. Burrell started her career writing for the Newark Star-Ledger in New Jersey. She then discovered a love of all things food while working in Marketing for Whole Foods Market, and took that love home to her family when she moved on to pursue freelance writing work.
“It looks like you’re thinking about some things that are frustrating you,” I said. “I’m sorry you’re not feeling great.” He didn’t join us for breakfast and stayed prickly through the morning, calming a bit when we did some gardening.
In the afternoon, his distress escalated to the level where his brain isn’t absorbing information and he gets reactionary and pushy. Nobody’s favorite.
This kind of day used to be the norm.
He’s new to the realities of having actual adult authorities (i.e. parents), and new to trying to regulate his emotional responses. Being a new parent myself – and of a teenager, no less – I’ve read and read and read as I do my best to understand where he is coming from and what I can do to give him the best chance to heal.
As I read, I realized that no matter the approach, no matter the situation or the author’s background, regardless of the purpose of their writing, the majority of everything came back to a single issue:
Even parenting advice geared toward helping prepare kids for adulthood relies on connection to “work.” The same techniques layered on a foundation of disconnect don’t succeed.
Taking the advice offered from every professional I’ve read or encountered, I now keep connection foremost in mind. It comes before everything, even school. And especially before my needs and agenda. (As an introvert, that last part is rough.)
As our teens drop their defenses, though, and freed from fighting for the right to be who they are, from that healthy place they naturally begin responding to opportunities to be their better self. Even in areas where there has been no explicit instruction.
This is simplicity of connection. The more you succeed at connecting, the less you have to work at everything else.
It can be challenging to develop new habits, sure. And connecting instead of correcting might be a new habit that feels clunky at first. But as we orient to true north and move toward it, the path toward whole goodness with our teen emerges.
One quick thing: If you haven’t already last week’s post about mindset-shift, click over and read it first. Shifting how we think about our kids makes it much easier to connect.
Get to Know Them
You see them every day. But do you really know the now of the soul unfolding before you?
Listen to your teen as though they’re a new friend you’re getting to know. When they’re talking, don’t give commentary or rebuttals or jump in with a teaching point. Just be a safe place for them to be themselves and observe who they really are.
Ask questions about what interests them and discover what they enjoy about it. If you can later explain their interests and what they love about them to your best friend, you’re on the right track.
You’re bound to hear things you’ll want to follow-up on, and one of the best parts of listening like this is getting insight into what guidance they really need. But rather than interrupting them, save it. You’ll communicate that your time together is about them and not about your personal agenda.
I don’t mean accepting all choices or behaviors. Uhhhhhh, no.
I mean letting them know they are one-of-a-kind with unique things they bring to the world and that are valuable and loved just the way they are. Not once they get better grades or learn to do their own laundry or become a perfect mini-me. But loved and accepted, just as they are.
Acceptance communicates that no matter how many fumbles they make, or how many decisions they make that you would have made differently, they always have a place cuddled up next to you.
As for them making decisions you don’t agree with? They already know you don’t agree. They want to know if they belong even though they feel like they’ve failed you.
Every book about connecting with kids, helping them succeed or heal, or becoming healthy adults has a sizable section about empathy.
Feeling understood feels good and increases connection. It also does some crazy-good brain voodoo that is still beyond my paygrade. There’s a deep magic in empathy.
But what does empathy look like?
It looks like trying to imagine how they are feeling, naming it back to them, and expressing that you’re feeling it with them. It also means not minimizing what they’re experiencing at that moment.
Recently my son was apprehensive about going to watch the World Cup with a big group of Brady’s friends. In the past, we might have tried to convince him it would be fine by pointing out that he would know several people and that he loves Chili’s so he’d be sure to have a good time.
Now we see that trying to convince him that he feels something other than what he truly feels only makes him feel defensive and misunderstood.
So instead, Brady said, “I know you don’t like groups of people when you don’t know everybody there. And tonight might be uncomfortable a bit, especially at first. It’s okay to be uncomfortable and it’s okay if it’s not your favorite thing ever. We’ll just have to stuff our faces with chips and salsa and see how it goes!”
(He went in a good mood and had a blast.)
Kids need to belong
Make your family the place they belong. The place they shine. A place that doesn’t get along the same without them.
Purposely have family interests and likes.
These aren’t your personal interests, they are the places your souls intersect in enjoyable moments. Do them often. This is not the annual trip to the beach but the grilling on Sunday afternoons and the weekly summer trips to the pool.
In our family, we surf. We go exploring on short road trips. We have family movie night every Saturday. We learn stuff and play games. We sample all the ice cream places to find the best one. We make fun of our dog and make word jokes, and we love Survivor (G’night!).
Kids also need to find their identity in the group.
If you haven’t already, find what role your teen feels best about themselves in and let them do it.
This is difficult for me because my son’s thing is fixing stuff and I’m a bit neurotic. I’ve had to force myself to stop worrying that he’ll break things and just accept that it’s bound to happen and that it’s an acceptable risk.
I’ve had to let go of fixing certain things myself. And I often have to endure a string of commands about how to fix my phone… fixes I’ve already tried. Which means I also endure unending insinuations of being an idiot.
But being our fix it guy and our homemade ice cream guru and our navigator cements his role in our community and helps him know he belongs.
Whatever attitudes come your way, whatever accusations, whatever blaming or complaining, keep your poise. Later, when everyone is calm, you can revisit any mishaps if you really need to. (And we don’t always need to.)
Staying steady makes your kids feel safe in their relationship with you and in the world. It also prevents you from being the cause of unnecessary provocation and escalation.
Now that you have some ideas connecting day in and day out, here are a few specific practices to get you started. (Or keep you going if you’re already well on your way.)
There are a million more, but these are a few that have had the biggest impact for me:
Join your teen in something they enjoy. You can hate it, you can be bad at it, just spend small amounts of time with them regularly enjoying something they love. I saw big changes when I began playing a bit of PlayStation with my son each day.
Give lots of hugs and physical touch. Go as far as they’ll allow and then push it a bit (but not if they’re in a bad mood). Put your arm around them when watching TV. Dance or wrestle or head-butt them when they’re not expecting it. Scratch their back when they’re working on homework and then give them a hug from behind and a kiss on the cheek. And of course, hugs. Lots of hugs.
Comment on the the positive. Notice something positive, especially if it was a personal success for them, and comment on it. Tell them in the car on the way to school or write a note and put it under their pillow. Just see the good things they’re making an effort in and find a way to tell them you notice.
Work together to find creative solutions. Instead of saying a flat “no” to things you’re uncomfortable with, figure out exactly what your concerns and considerations are. Invite your teen to do the same. Can they suggest a solution that works for both of you? Your teen will feel considered and they’ll be practicing thinking of others and problem-solving at the same time.
Let them know it’s okay to feel how they’re feeling. Teens often blame us for the discomfort they feel. They’re frustrated that their friends are going somewhere they can’t. They’re annoyed that their screen time is limited. They’re disappointed that their weekend plans got cancelled. Let them know it’s okay to feel that way. “It’s okay to be frustrated when things don’t go as you expect.” “It’s okay to disagree with us on this. You’re a thinking kid and you have your own ideas and that’s a great quality.” This is one of my favorite practices because it gives me something affirming to say in every situation. Try it!
Connecting with our kids is fun, enjoyable, and provides the security needed for their personal growth. But staying receptive, steady and available, and sacrificing other important things for the sake of connection, can be very, very challenging.
Perhaps you like the idea, but it seems like an uphill climb from your current situation. Be encouraged!
The more we connect, the less drama we face.
The less drama, the less tension, and the less felt need for discipline. Which means fewer difficult conversations and less work. The gain in peace and enjoyment is so worth it.
This week, pick one connecting thing to focus on and try to do it every day.
I like posting a reminder as a prompt like, “Ask a question about an interest he brings up in conversation. Ask a followup question I don’t already know the answer to.”
I don’t get political on this website very often because I know our readers and listeners come from a wide spectrum of beliefs, and because I believe most of our perspectives are more nuanced than what’s described in our polarizing media climate.
My personal beliefs are nuanced. There’s no way I can be put in a political box, left or right. I mean that.
But when it comes to separating children from their parents, it no longer becomes a right or left issue. It becomes a moral one. This isn’t about who you voted for. This is about holding children as agenda-driven hostage.
It doesn’t matter if this law has been written for awhile now, and the government is just now enforcing it. It’s a travesty.
It doesn’t matter if [insert other important issue] is also happening. We shouldn’t let children in need be subject to whataboutery.
It doesn’t matter if we need to tighten our borders because of illegal entry. Children should never, ever be pawns as though this is a game.
It doesn’t matter if the Bible says to obey the government. We know that throughout history, there have been countless times when the greater good is about the very survival of human souls (see: Nazi Germany, the Iron Curtain in East Germany, the Hebrews’ enslavement in Egypt).
(Plus, even though I’m personally a Christian, this isn’t a Christian Nation.)
This post will get too long if I get into the specifics about the political spectrum of what I believe (see: nuanced) or about the hypocrisy of a nation literally created by immigrants and upon the backs of forced labor where we separated families because we believed in American Exceptionalism.
That’s for another time. Here, I want to first point you to other things to read that go deeper than what my knowledge can parlay, and second, what we can then do — because I know it’s so frustrating to feel helpless.
“If I DID allow strangers into my home without question and this was known far and wide, and then one day I decided I was done and was going to start shooting everyone who stepped foot on my property, I would be in the wrong, not the visitors who came seeking help. There were plenty of laws and justifications for Japanese internment too, but that doesn’t make it right.”
“I did immigration casework for Senator Fritz Hollings, studied immigration law at law school under a former INS general counsel, and worked for a border Congressman in the district that included the Rio Grande Valley. So hear me out.”
Dear friends whom I trust have suggested most of these, and for that, I’m grateful.
1. Contact your reps.
Call Congress and demand they stop the family separation policy. Overwhelmed at the thought of talking on the phone? Use ResistBot — this is what I did (and do, for a variety of ongoing issues). It walks you right through the process, even helping you find your elected officials if you don’t yet know them.
Here’s the script I used, tweaking it based on one I found online:
“Hello! My name is Tsh Oxenreider and I’m calling from Georgetown, Texas. I’m calling today to tell Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and Representative John Carter to speak out against the Trump administration’s separation of immigrant families at the Southern border. This policy is cruel and inhumane and needs to stop. I think it’s very important for Congress to speak out against what is happening to families and to practice oversight on the Trump administration’s immigration actions. I’d also like these men who represent me to cosponsor the HELP for Separated Children Act, which strengthens protections for immigrant families and children. Thanks.”
I’m in Texas. So, I’m talking with my local church’s leadership about what I can personally do, both as someone living in a border state and as someone with this platform. I’ll keep you posted if we come up with something specific — there’s a team headed down to the border this week to partner with another church in our diocese about a variety of issues.
I’m warily leaving comments open here, only so if any of you know of more resources, you can kindly share them. I have zero interest in hosting a political debate here, so if it turns into that, know in advance comments will be deleted. If you disagree with anything I say, well, remember that 99% of what I’ve said above is simply about the basic idea that children should not be taken away from their parents.
Integrity occurs when what is right eclipses what side of the aisle we’re on. That’s when people win instead of politics.
The readers and listeners here are good people. I know you to care about the common good. I’m grateful for that.
Update: Reader and patron Bethany shared with me her Facebook friend’s post, and it’s too good not to add to this post: “Please, for those of you posting about this, on both sides: if you care about these children as much as you say you do – STOP the partisan sniping. STOP defending ‘your team’ while blaming ‘the other team.’ STOP trying to use the issue to gain political traction in future legislative negotiations. Get on the phone. Call your congressman and your senators.” Read the whole thing — it’s lengthy, but worth it.
I was about to graduate from college, and I felt lost, unmoored, without direction or clarity.
I didn’t have a job lined up. I was leaving a community that felt like home. I was moving home with my parents. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life.
I was completely overwhelmed, to put it lightly.
The stress I felt before graduation didn’t abate at all when I graduated and moved home. I still had no job. I still had no community. And I had no real purpose.
But I had my best friend.
She and I started talking about this idea of purpose. We read some books about simplicity and focus and living with purpose in everyday life, and we slowly started to adopt these words into our daily vocabulary, mulling them over, learning more about them and what they might mean for our lives.
We wrote manifestos for ourselves, focusing on how we wanted to live our lives rather than just making bucket lists full of things we wanted to do or dreaming about all the things we wanted to accomplish in our lives.
Things like grace, compassion, sustainability, authenticity, generosity, and slowing down topped our lists.
I started understanding purpose as a big-picture concept, not just something “real grown-ups” have when they have an important job.
I began to see that purpose was something that could be woven into my daily life, starting right then.
Living with this kind of simplicity wasn’t something I had to wait to start until I had accomplished something specific or reached a certain age to do.
It was accessible to me right then and there, as a new perspective through which to view my life, not a box to check off or a destination to arrive at, but a lens through which to examine the way I was living and the way I wanted to be living my life.
My sense of purpose and my manifesto outlining how I wanted that purpose infused into the various areas of my life gave me greater clarity and direction.
It wasn’t a magic wand that fixed all my problems, but it gave me clearer vision for my life, and it helped me make decisions that better aligned with my values.
This simplified view and declared purpose helped me sort through the various decisions I had to make about how I was going to live life in the real world post-college, and I credit this simplicity of focus for saving my sanity in those tumultuous and unpredictable years.
It helped me make choices about my work, my church involvement, my friendships, my finances, my housing situations, my health, and my family.
It gave me a focal point; it helped me identify my center, to articulate what mattered (and therefore identify what didn’t), and it gave me the permission to do less, but better.
Simply put, simplicity saved my sanity.
Jessie is a life coach and writer at Notes from Jessie, where she encourages women to live joyfully, simply, and intentionally. She loves Jesus, books, tea, and good food.
Five years ago if you told me I’d have a teenage son and would be helping other people connect with the kids in their world, I would have laughed. Out loud. In your face.
I enjoyed working with older kids on and off when I was younger, sure. In college I was a summer camp counselor and after college I worked closely with university students for several years. But kids weren’t my thing. In most ways, they still aren’t. But God has a sense of humor.
After moving to Lebanon some years ago to work with abused, abandoned, and neglected kids and teens, I began reading everything I could find about helping kids with rough starts. I asked for recommendations from counselors and others with relevant experience (like parents in the therapeutic foster care system).
I read psychologists and neurologists, specialists in therapy and child development, parents and counselors-of-all-types. I read for the every-parent, the therapeutic parent, for people working with high-risk teens, for teachers, and for parents who currently have kids in concerning situations.
I’m still reading.
And here’s what I’ve found. Regardless of the author’s specialization, their purpose for writing, or their approach to myriad concerns, everything comes back to a single issue:
Connecting with teens isn’t easy. If it were, there wouldn’t be so many books on the topic and you wouldn’t be reading this post. But recognizing that it all comes back to connection simplifies our thinking in our daily altercations interactions with our kids.
There is this sweet magic where by nailing this one thing, connection, you can half-fail at everything else and still end up with kids you enjoy and who can survive the suck that life throws at them.
Today I’m sharing some common beliefs and mindsets that deserve our scrutiny. Many of us haven’t questioned the beliefs we’re navigating by, and if our north isn’t true north, we’re going to end up off track.
Next week, I’ll share actions for connecting with the teen in your life. But adding those practices onto a wonky foundation is gets nothing but wonky. And we don’t want wonky. So, today we’ll be uprooting the junk so that next week we have some solid space available to plant the new practices.
There’s no way I can share all-the-things in two posts. I couldn’t do it in two weeks of posts. My hope is to open up some new questions and possibilities, and help you have new experiences with your teen that will encourage you to go deeper with connection.
Perhaps your relationship with your teen is already stellar. You have a great connection with them and are convinced they feel a deep connection with you, too.
If that’s you, you can stop reading. There’s not much for you here.
But if you’re like most of us, you suspect things could be better with your teen. And you want them to be. If that’s you, you’re on to something. Keep reading.
So here’s where we begin, seven beliefs to reexamine in our quest to connect.
1) All Behavior is an External Sign of Internal Distress
Just like our own missteps, less-than-fantastic behavior from our kids is a sign that something is amiss within them. When your kids are stressed, afraid, confused, or anxious, they need your unconditional love more than ever.
Next time your kiddo is acting up, ask yourself what might be going on with them.
Something from school? A life change they’re not equipped to process? Hunger? Hormones? Disappointment? Instead of seeing them as “bad” or “wrong,” remind yourself that they are hurting or confused.
Their behavior is a reflection of what’s going on on the inside. In the moment, be their ally against this tricky, messed-up world.
2) Kids Do Well if They Can*
People want other people to think they’re awesome. We don’t feel great when we’ve treated people unkindly and we really don’t like looking stupid in front of others. Kids are the same.
If our kids have the skills they need, and they have the internal resources at the moment to access those skills, they will. If our kids aren’t doing well, it’s because they’re lacking skills or they are at their limit in terms of what they can self-regulate, or because they have unmet needs.
If your teen is failing in a particular area or behavior right now, it’s because they’re missing something. The good news is that you can supply it or help them find it! But it’s not a matter of them just wanting to do better. They’re missing something, and if they could get it, they probably already would have. Kids do well, if they can.
(*I’m directly quoting Dr. Ross M. Greene. Check out his own explanation here.)
3) Kids Want Connection
Of the truths on this list, this one has taken me the longest to believe.
We have regular episodes at my house. Yesterday I spent most of the day on the receiving end of a tirade that insulted everything from the walls of our house (they’re white for crying out loud) to the motives of my heart, “all you care about is your headphones!” (I’m really not certain where this one came from). On days like these, it seems like the last thing he wants is me.
But since every professional I’ve read on this topic insists that what teens truly want is connection, a while back I chose to adjust my assumptions. And I’ve been shocked.
Your teen might be pushing you away. You might not know how to connect with them. If things have been rough lately, they might not be ready to rebuild just yet. But they want you and they need you.
As teenagers, they are asking all kinds of questions about what it means to be uniquely themselves. They’re figuring out who they are apart from who you are or who (they think) you want them to be. They are seeking new independence and since they’ll soon be adults, this is important! But they need your help. And they are hungry to connect with you.
Because he missed out on mothering in early childhood, I sit with my son each night while he falls asleep. Last night I entered his room to some mean-spirited glaring. I kept my approach, the loving, accepting one I’d chosen. The glare continued.
I sat on the sliver of bed I could find and said, “I know today’s been a hard day. But I always love you just the same.” He rolled away from me, making space, and gave me the shoulder twitch that let’s me know he’s ready for some back-scratching.
Today, we’re good. He’s easily responding to my requests and not picking fights. He’s playful and easy-going. And really? He likes feeling this way much better.
Our teens want to connect with us and will move toward that if they are freed to do so. It’s tricky, and hard to believe, but it’s true.
4) Discipline is not the answer
Limits and natural consequences are great, but discipline (punishment to curb undesirable behaviors) is not the answer.
We all grew up with discipline. Every system we’ve lived inside of our entire lives from family to school to government assumes that discipline is the way to curb undesirable behaviors. But is it?
Does punishing our kids or teens help them with their behaviors or help them make better decisions or help them become better people? People who study it say no. Further, the evidence suggests that alternative approaches do meet these goals.
This post isn’t about raising adults; it’s about connecting with kids. (Which helps raise great adults, but that’s beside the point.) Many of our punishments/consequences, however, are putting a wedge between us and the kids we love.
With punitive discipline, our kids feel misunderstood, feel a sense of injustice, and perceive that we’re just trying to control them. They react accordingly, and the distance between us grows.
But most alternative approaches encourage connection instead of disrupting it. If we could get closer to our teens instead of provoking them to shut us out, especially if our new way is likely to achieve our purposes better than punishment, shouldn’t we consider it?
5) Kids Don’t Know Why They’re Doing It
Whatever it is, they don’t know why they’re doing it.
We’re the same, right? We could sit down and figure out why we flipped out during that conversation last Tuesday, but we don’t. We know we were really mad, and we were. But why did our filters fail at that exact moment? We don’t know. And of course our kids don’t either.
The difference between us and our teens is that they don’t have have the years or skills or complete neurological development to get as far as we could get if we really tried. So really, truly, we should give them a break.
Asking kids why they did something only makes them feel stupid, something they feel too often as it is. Don’t ask them why they keep doing that thing. They don’t know.
6) It’s Okay to Be Pissed Off
It’s not wrong for your teen to be angry. Or frustrated. Or anxious. Or disappointed. It’s not wrong for you to feel these, either, even toward your teen or their future.
But whether toward our kids or ourselves, we often respond with a “what’s wrong with you!” when an, “I can see that you’re disappointed about this. It’s okay to be disappointed” would be more generous and kind.
More importantly, the first pits us against each other while the second leaves room for us to be okay with imperfection. When our kids feel it’s okay to be imperfect, they feel accepted. And acceptance is a powerful way to connect.
7) We Must Learn to Tolerate Our Discomfort
Adults should be in a healthy frame of mind before entering into potentially emotional conversations with their kids. We already know this.
When we’re stressed or outraged or overly-tired or anything short of calm and present, we’re likely to overdo it in an emotional moment with our kids. I’ve experienced this approximately 10,492 times with the kids I work with, an another teeny tiny handful with my own son.
But recently I read something that blew my mind. Dr. Shefali Tsabary writes,
The point about feelings is that they don’t have to make sense, don’t need to be justified, and don’t require our approval. Because we are so oriented to intellectualizing, we want to explain feelings away instead of allowing our children to simply experience them. The issue is our own discomfort, which we need to learn to tolerate.
“The issue is our own discomfort, which we need to learn to tolerate.”
Oh gosh. YES!
When my son is on the fritz, I want him to stop because I’m uncomfortable. But that part has nothing to do with him, and yet that’s the real reason why I’m tempted to try to control the situation with some law-throwing-down that does nothing to help and everything to enrage.
We must learn to tolerate our discomfort.
Whew. You made it!
That was a lot, I know. But we’ve got to pull the weeds if we want the plants to thrive, and these unquestioned beliefs are suffocating many of our efforts with our teens.
I’ve got a challenge for you. A simple one!
Of the seven beliefs above, choose the one that most immediately catches your attention. This week, recall it to mind often (paper or digital reminders can help) and see if it shifts your approach to a situation with your teen.