A full, incredible week

Learning through adventures is such a joy! There are SO many opportunities to learn in context and to make deep, lasting connections. Man, I love living in Los Angeles- being able to find and experience so many adventures with our family. I love that all of these experiences all happened in one week of our living…..

We hiked a 2.5 mile trail on Mt. Baldy. IMG_6785 Jacob met the Mission Specialist at SpaceX.IMG_3103

Natalie attended a lecture by Steve Winter, a renown National Geographic photographer. 10264180_10101713958170896_967922309611497004_o

We watched the Blue Angels, Patriots, Hornets, Harriers and more at the Miramar Air Show. IMG_5604

We biked several miles through the Heart of Los Angeles at the Ciclavia event. IMG_7176

A full, incredible week. I am so thankful and feel so privileged that we get to live and learn in these ways.

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Best Friends

If I had a camera in my hands this morning, I would have wanted to take a snapshot. The moment was precious. It was heartwarming. It was dear. It was what a mother’s heart yearns for and cherishes. It was worth more than all the gold in the world. Jacob and Natalie sat on their stools at the breakfast counter, intently listening to my reading aloud of Ginger Pye, the chapter book we are going through, and they had their heads touching, wanting to be super close to each other. There they sat nestled against each other’s crowns, their eyes sparkling with excitement as they listened to the words of the book. They stared at each other lovingly, they gave each other eskimo kisses and they laughed heartily together. I couldn’t believe my eyes. This was heavenly. Not all mornings are like this. Sometimes one or the other needs their space or is a bit irritated about something that the other one has said or done. But in general they are best friends. They deeply love one another. They are good, good friends. They long for each other’s company. Their friendship is a gift to this mama’s heart. I pray that this friendship continue for their whole lives long. Before breakfast they had been out in the backyard rip-sticking together. They had set up a very elaborate obstacle course of random items: a boogie board, a baseball mitt, two soccer balls, a tennis racket, a scooter and a balance. Very, very happily they were making sharp turns trying to avoid the items all the while encouraging each other with hoorays for each accomplished completed route through the course. When I dropped them off at school, they happily ran off together to the entrance; bounding with joy. I am so thankful today for the confident children that they are; how much they love each other and are convinced that they are loved. I am a thankful Mama today who wants to hold onto this morning’s sweetness.

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Just dropped off my baby on Wilshire Blvd

Eeks. I just drove away from the main Nikon repair shop where all broken Nikon cameras in Los Angeles go to get repaired. It felt so strange leaving my camera and two lenses there. Bizarre feeling. They wrote down a few numbers, put it all in a cardboard box and said I could anticipate an email within 24 hours of review by a technician. If I approve whatever cost/repair they recommend, it will be 7-10 business days before it is ready for pick-up. I love my camera. I loooooove taking pictures. My photographs are how I chronicle my life and my family’s life. They serve a very important role in the place of my faulty memory. As I drove away, leaving my very important camera with people I didn’t know but somehow am expected to trust, it made me start thinking about all the things/people we trust. Last week when I was at Knott’s Berry Farm getting buckled into a seat of  the crazy insane Supreme Scream 250-ft drop ride, I had the exact same thought: “Wow, I sure am putting a lot of trust in whoever designed this ride and manufactured this safety harness.” I know there are a lot things I trust without even thinking about it. For instance, I trust that other drivers will stop when they see a red light. More than anything I want to remain forever conscious of the fact that the Lord calls me to trust in Him daily.

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Pudding and Rockets?

Yesterday I asked Jacob if he would like to help me make some banana-vanilla wafer-pudding. “Sure, mom!” So I handed him the vanilla pudding I had already prepared, a cutting board, knife, several bananas and the bag of vanilla wafer cookies. He had watched his sister the week before make the very same dessert, so he knew what he needed to do. He began slicing bananas and then proceeded to layer all the ingredients together in a bowl. Seeing that he was fully aware of how to prepare the dessert, I moved on to doing some housework.

Jacob called me over. “Mom, mom! Come look!!” So I walked over to see what he wanted to show me. Oh.my.word. Ha! I love how my son’s brain is wired. Here he is making a pudding dessert but he’s thinking about space. “Check this out Mom! I made the grid design of the engines of the original Falcon 9 version 1” “And look Mom!!!! Watch! I’m going to now make the Octaweb design of the later Falcon 9 engines, using the cookies!”

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Wow! Who thinks of rocket engine configurations while making a pudding dessert? Yes- my 8 year old son. How did that thought even enter his mind? How does handling banana slices and vanilla wafer cookies trigger a memory of a research project he did last April? We ended last school year with a H-U-G-E unit on Space. He thoroughly researched SpaceX’s rockets and even got to go on a tour to the facility. I stood here in our kitchen in awe of how the neurons in his brain fire off and make connections. This is pure awesomeness! He clearly must have loved, loved, loved that unit on Space!

Falcon 9 (v.1) original engine configuration        Falcon 9 (v. 1.1) Octaweb configuration

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The Bay

So right now I’m feeling all kinds of guilty that I’m choosing to sit down and journal while there is soooooooo much to be done around the house. But the reality is that if I don’t take these moments right now to reflect and record today’s special moment, I’ll want to draw on this special memory in years to come, but my mind will fail me. I wish I had the type of memory that remembered all things- big and small. But oftentimes even the big things don’t have much stickiness in my memory. I’m not sure what that’s all about….so I journal and blog to try to hold onto the memories.

This afternoon we met up with our friends at “The Bay”. It’s a very, very special place. The  calm, waveless water by Long Beach/Seal Beach, right near Naples. A gorgeous place. A calm place. A place of many, many fun times for Jacob and Natalie. It is here that we meet our beloved homeschool friends from our Adventure Club. During the summer the families meet at the bay every week. Today was going to be a hot day, so several of us agreed that in the afternoon, once our homeschool academics had been completed, we would meet at the bay. Let me tell you…..that time and place with those ladies and their children is beyond delightful!

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Oftentimes the older boys of the group like to swim across the bay, from 57th St. to Naples. Today I joined them. Whoa! That was quite a swim!!! Swimming in the sea is no joke….with the current….the saltiness of the water….the choppiness of the water’s top due to the wind. But I did it! I swam from the beach all the way across to where you see those clumps of palm trees, across the bay.

(Photo Credit: Greta Eskridge)

thebayThe joy for me though was sharing that swim with the 4 boys and one girl who also made it across. Noah, James, William, Jacob and Emmerly had set out……while I sat on the beach deliberating whether I felt up for the challenge today. I had watched the boys go across in the past and had always quietly wished that I’d muster up the courage to try the swim. Today I hemmed and hawed quietly in my mind. My girlfriends were here on the beach- I would thoroughly enjoy getting to spend time chatting with them. Oh but the thrill of that exercise and the fun of getting to see if I could meet the challenge of swimming across were calling out to me today. And my sweet friend Greta said “you should do it. Go for it!” Sometimes that extra encouragement is what I need. So off I went. I swam and swam and swam. At one point a sail boat came through the channel- but cleared past me, no worries. It’s quite a different experience than lap swimming at the local pool! Man there’s no ‘taking breaks’ hanging on the sidewall or standing up. My breaks were sometimes swimming on my back.

When the kids noticed I too was coming, they shouted “try to catch up with us!” Ha! Yeah right. They were quite a bit ahead of me. I eventually caught up with them at the dock. They have a routing of tying up their surfboard and the boogie boards. 3 of them had rode in on those, paddling with their arms across the bay. 2 of the others had swam across just like me. I was SO impressed with those who swam. It is indeed quite a feat to swim across like that with nothing to hang onto for a break.

But then the hilarity began! They just pulled themselves out of the water onto the surfboard and up onto the dock. For the life of me I couldn’t do it. The surfboard had no wax on it and was suuuuuuuper slippery. If I had any luck getting my knees up on the surfboard, then I had to contend with the fact that in the process the surfboard had moved up in a rather vertical position up agains the side of the dock, with the way I had shimmied up onto the board and distributed my weight. I tried and tried again. No luck. All the while I kept trying, the boys were climbing up on the dock, up and over a railing and then jumping back into the bay from a high wall. They were having a blast! Emmerly in the meantime was collecting crabs along the dock. She has an incredible knack for catching animals! Her reflexes are sooooooo lightning fast! As the boys were jumping and she was catching crabs, I kept trying to get myself out of the water and up onto that dock. But with no ladder, mussels and algae agains the dock pilings to contend with and not enough upper body strength to hoist myself up, I had one failed attempt after another.

It was so sweet having the boys try to break down the “how to use the surfboard to get up out of the water onto the dock” procedure. They were doing it in slow-motion, explaining each step of the way, where I should place each hand and foot….and then they’d jump up onto the dock easy-peasy! Jacob then stayed with me trying to encourage me and help me figure out ways to stabilize the super slick-slippery surfboard that kept moving vertically away from me. When I thought about it later, it dawned on me that it was probably really significant and helpful to him to watch Mama totally, utterly fail at something. He doesn’t get the benefit of watching me do things I can’t do. And yet today he witnessed that. Mamas cannot do everything. He was so sweet keeping me company and trying to help. At one point though he said “C’mon JUST get up!!” He could feel my own angst of having tried what felt like a bzillion times. Seriously I think I tried for at least 15 minutes…..perhaps even 20 minutes. It felt like forever. At one point I thought to myself “you better reserve energy for the swim all the way back across the bay. you’re wasting a lot of energy treading water, trying to kick yourself up onto this surfboard and hoisting yourself up out of the water.”

But, finally! Finally. Finally. I made it up onto the dock. Hip hip hooray!!!!! What relief. 🙂

And then I climbed over the railing….walked over to the wall….and got myself ready for the jump back into the bay. Sweet Emmerly was going to make that first jump along with me. She had never jumped off before. This was a first for her and I at the same time. As we clung to the railing and I saw some trepidation in her eyes, with her inching closer to me…..I began to think “we just need to do this…..okay let’s count to 3 and do it”


And we jumped. Emmerly and I. What a sweet moment. And there were jubilant smiles on the boys’ faces.

Shortly after we made the swim back across the bay. Emmerly brought back with her a small bucket with the crabs she had collected from alongside the dock. Jacob and her shared the long surfboard…..trying to paddle with their hands all the while trying not to knock over the bucket of crabs.

The crabs made it to shore on the ride across the bay! We all made it back. A bit tired from that hard workout- but indeed feeling like a million dollars for having met the challenge!

(Photo Credit: Greta Eskridge)


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Lots of sweat

Today when I picked up Jacob from school all I could do was smile. His face was streaked with black smudges all across his forehead and down his cheeks. He looked like a coal miner. I knew exactly what had happened. He had been sweating like a madman and then used his hands to wipe the sweat from his face, except that his hands were black from playground grunge. When kids play with those classic, red, rubber playground balls, their hands get sooooo D-I-R-T-Y! His face told me about his ultra competitive playtime; how hard he had played for the coveted title of Gaga Ball Champion. I looked at his hands and I just cringed. Oh.my.word. How can he not care that his hands are sooooooooooo filthy? But hey that’s the joy of being a boy. And that makes me think of my husband and how awesome it is that he can work his tail off in our backyard, digging trenches for sewer lines and sawing things for our construction project…..with dirt and sawdust blanketing his forearms…and be totally comfortable and fine with that. And yet they both clean up so nicely. Today as I looked at my boy with his dirt-smudged face and hands and with sweat dripping down his face, I thought to myself “boys are awesome!” I remember when I was pregnant and discovered the news at our ultrasound that we would have a boy- I freaked. I didn’t know anything about raising boys. I grew up with one sister. I went to an all-girls high school. I didn’t really associate with boys until I was in college. How in the world was I going to raise a boy? And Steve comforted me….”don’t worry Pal….I was a boy….I’ll let you know how to raise one.”  Today was one of those days when I just smiled at the recollection of how nervous I had been nine years ago. Now I am so incredibly comfortable with being a mama of a boy. I love my boy….dirt and sweat and all. Today I delighted in his grand announcement that he had finally won against one unbeatable boy. That 11-year old boy was a force to be reckoned with in the Gaga Ball Court apparently. Oh the sweet victory on Jacob’s face when he could proudly announce that today marked the day that HE stayed in the court and the older, invincible 11-year old had been hit below the knees and couldn’t catch the ball nor dodge it in time.

The joy of that Gaga Ball victory caused him to want to play for an additional 45 minutes after school with Natalie. They both looooooove this game! It wasn’t enough for him that he played it all recess and all lunch. It’s definitely a clever game- very active, lots of movement, requires a lot of coordination and can involve a lot of children in a small amount of land space.

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It’s been announced: this weekend there will be momentous daddy-son outing…..they will be going out to buy Jacob some deodorant for the first time. I can just picture him now…..sniffing all the different scents of deodorants, trying to find the one he likes best…..and feeling so grown up and manly. That trip will indeed be a mark of entering manhood for him. An exciting weekend indeed. All in time for his first soccer game of the season on Sunday. Sweaty times…..here we come….

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Today was one of those days

Sometimes life is just funny. Yesterday when I didn’t have the homeschool lesson plan all planned out, I was stressed out because I felt like I was winging it. Ugh. Hate that feeling. So last night I made a point of staying up to plan out a great day of lessons for today. I went to bed feeling very proud of myself….I figured out a way to nicely transition from the Caddie Woodlawn novel we’ve been reading and the Civil War and Native American studies of the past couple of weeks, to the unit on “Cultivated Crops” that our Charlotte Mason homeschool group will be studying this Fall. I decided to make the transition with crops of the South that were very significant to a lot of the reasons behind the Civil War: the production and harvesting of cotton. Found great information about George Washington Carver who was a slave himself and made significant contributions to the crop industry after the Civil War. It was perfect. I had primary source letters from the Civil War that the kids could read and analyze….I had artwork portraying slaves picking cotton…I had a map of the U.S. with data on which states produce the most cotton….I had BrainPop and YouTube links on who George Washington Carver was and the contributions he made. He was very famous for his study of all the uses of peanuts. And how significant it was to introduce ‘crop rotation’, since cotton depleted the soil of so many nutrients. It was important to alternate the crops- one year cotton, one year peanuts, or one year sweet potatoes. This was going to be perfect! I was even able to link it back to the Civil War re-enactment we went to last weekend, where one of the soldiers sang a song to Natalie called “Eating Goober peas” I had no idea that peanuts were called goober peas in the South. So many rich connections and yet also moving forward with new topics. Oh I went to bed so satisfied and happy with my planning. I had fought a good fight with my printer last night and even had math problems printed and ready for the morning. It was going to be a great day. A productive school day. The best.

So this morning I started to roll it all out…..

The kids were at the kitchen counter eating their oatmeal as I read aloud from the Caddie Woodlawn novel. They were sooooo into it, that they pleaded for me to read more than our typical one chapter a day. We moved out onto the deck, the kids each swinging away to their heart’s content on our swings while I read two additional chapters. Then just as we were about to move back into the house to continue with the fine lessons I had ready and waiting….

Jacob said “Mom, look at Charlie’s leg!!” I turned my head and looked down at Charlie. Oh me oh my. There he was with a patch of raw skin. Ohhhhhhhh Charlie. He had been biting, scratching, who knows what…..and a patch of his leg was fur-less. All the fur gone and just raw, red, little bit of bloody skin. Oh.no.no.no. As I examined him, there was another spot on his leg that was all raw from having been scratched to nothing. Ugh. No.no.no. I could see my day of intact, creative lesson plans dissolving and in their place a trip to the vet taking place. A couple of weeks ago he had a spot on his back that he had been scratching, we put some Neosporin on it for a few days and then we noticed he itched it less. But now clearly it was obvious that something was making poor Charlie uncomfortable and super itchy. 

So we all piled into the car, drove to Daddy’s work, exchanged our new Sienna for the old, green van. Drove back home, picked up Charlie and then went to the vet. But the vet was jam-packed full. So full that all the parking spots were taken and cars were waiting in the parking lot for any spaces to clear. Well, we needed to deliver a birthday present to a dear friend in Lomita….so we continued on to our friend’s house…thinking it was better to be productive and get something accomplished instead of waiting for an hour in a really full doctor’s office. When we returned half hour later, the vet’s parking lot had one open space. I quickly drove down to the signal to make a u-turn and claim the spot. Nope- too late. Someone else had grabbed it. Today was just going to be one of those days.

Altogether, 2 1/2 hours later, a cortisone shot administered, antibiotics in hand, $135 charged on my credit card….we were headed back home. We made it back just in time for the kids to inhale some pb&j sandwiches and put some tennis shoes on so I could take them to their 12noon enrichment classes. 

Oh.but wait. The 3 local schools we need to drive by to get to their school, all had minimum day today. Noooooooooooo. Seriously?! So now there we were stuck in traffic. Lots of traffic. 

Okay….breathe Marina breathe…..just.let.go. Consider it success that you had math sheets ready so that you could throw them on a clipboard and have them work on their math in the car. Consider it a success that you had their spiral notebook journals ready and the topics for reflective writing already pre-printed in them. You can say this day was a school day. You read 3 chapters of a novel to them, had conversations about new vocabulary words, discussed character traits as you read, had them make predictions and interpretations of the text as you stopped and discuss the readings. They did lots of math problems. They even wrote today! They wrote lots. It’s okay. Breathe. Yes, you only did the first 3 of the 11 amazing things you had planned and prepared for. Yes, yesterday you were stressed out because you didn’t have anything planned. Yes, today you are stressed because everything was planned and yet it all went awry with the unexpected itchy problem that Charlie had. It’s okay. 

Oh did I mention that while the kids were eating their pb&j sandwiches for lunch, I tried to continue some of the lessons I had prepped? I won’t name who….but a certain someone accidentally knocked a tall glass of water on the counter….and water was pooling, running, scurrying across the counter everywhere. I hurriedly picked up the pile of all my precious lesson plans for today before they were drenched. That would have been misery beyond misery- to not have gotten to complete any of the planned work and to have it all doused with spilled water. Alas I was spared that heart attack.

So while the kids had their hour-long enrichment classes, I drove to Trader Joe’s to try to unwind as I did some grocery shopping. I perused the aisles feeling like an exhausted zombie. Can I have a nap already? Please.

Perhaps it’s because I’m sad that I had to let go of what would have been a great, successful homeschool day…..but when I rounded the corner of our block and I saw men taking down the street’s huge magnolia trees, I just felt sad. Really, really sad. One tree had already been reduced to a stump. Now they were working on my neighbor’s tree. Huge, big branches that took decades of growth now being chopped to mulch in one of those great, big, loud tree-chomping machines. The huge tree reduced to a tall, vertical, thick pole. And then the giant thud as it fell to the ground, with all of its chainsaw cuts. Oh the sadness. All the magnolia trees being removed on our street. All the streets. All being taken away because some lame head years ago didn’t think through the fact that these trees have roots that lift sidewalks. I seriously don’t understand why it is that city planners don’t have 20+ year plans for the type of trees and vegetation they plant. Perhaps city planning didn’t exist back then. Who knows. I don’t know. But today I’m feeling frustrated, depleted and now sad.

Hoping the rest of the day gets better.

I’m ready for a better day tomorrow.

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Natalie’s idea…..a great start to summer!

Two days ago Natalie asked if she could pleeeeeeeeeease plan a family picnic. Sure. Okay. When I woke up Friday morning and scuttled to the kitchen half-asleep for some coffee, I found a verrrrrry enthusiastic and super duper excited Natalie. This girl is a planner and loves being a hostess! Wow. By 7am the picnic was planned, labeled on our refrigerator calendar as “N’s Family Picnic 11-12:30” and already all packed up. She was beyond excited!!!! She waited for the 11 o’clock hour to arrive.

Then off we went. The four of us. Celebrating Daddy’s 1st day of summer vacation. Woohoo! The kids picked up their scooters and went blazing off ahead of us on the sidewalk as we trailed behind on foot. With the picnic basket in one hand and Steve’s other hand lovingly holding mine, I kept thinking “I’m so thankful for my creative, fun-loving 6-year old who planned this for us.”

Natalie was beyond ecstatic to lay out the picnic blanket on a patch of grass at our nearby park. With great charisma she pulled out metal lunch boxes and plastic plates that she had carefully thought out to pack for each of us. IMG_4182

After setting out a lunch box in front of each of us, she counted 1….2….3..….with SOOOO much expectant joy in her voice! The anticipation of seeing our reaction to her surprise was just killing her! It was so incredibly cute to witness. And boy were we surprised!!!!!!!! Daddy’s lunch box especially had the biggest surprise of all.  We laughed and laughed and laughed. If you would have told me I would get a million dollars if I could correctly guess the contents of the metal lunch box, I would never, ever, ever, ever have guessed: mini marshmallows, birthday candles, matches, toothpicks and miniature doll-sized forks. We were expecting sandwiches or chips or some kind of lunch item. Nope.


Did I mention birthday candles? A LOT of them! She had packed enough for us to celebrate someone’s 30th birthday. Steve and I were seriously rolling with laughter. This was definitely a surprise that we didn’t see coming! Natalie felt accomplished in surprising us. Indeed she had!

So there we sat….the four of us eating mini marshmallows. Steve used birthday candles to poke them one by one and eat them. I used a frilly toothpick. Jacob used a miniature doll-sized fork. I don’t recall ever having focused my delight in marshmallows, savoring one miniature mallow at a time. It really does make for a yummy experience when you eat them one by one, enjoying them in their sweet singleness.

Then out came the sliced cucumbers. Okay now this is a hilarious story! Natalie couldn’t find our peeler this morning, but she really did want to peel the cucumber skin before slicing it up for us. She had watched me use a paring knife the other day to peel the cucumbers, but she remembered me saying it was a bit tricky to peel the skin with a knife. She wanted to be cautious and not assume she could use the paring knife while we were still in bed and she was unattended in the kitchen. So, what did her creative mind come up with? Peeling the skin using her fingernail. Yes. Her fingernail. She just picked, picked, picked along the skin taking it off in chunks. If you look carefully at this picture you can see the “chunky” sided slices. Some are “straight, smooth” sided slices- those were ones she finished after Steve woke up and help her locate the missing peeler. 🙂

IMG_4204Then the fun  of dog-piling Daddy began. Steve is such a trooper! There he lay propped up on his elbows, casually, not in the least bit phased by the fact that his 6-year old and 8-year old were wrestling each other on top of him! How do daddies do this? They seem not to mind being pummeled, choked, laid on, their arms twisted or bodies smashed. And he just lying there unphased, smiling and thinking the whole thing fun. He’s such a fun dad!

IMG_4200And then more silliness ensued. Jacob tried sticking marshmallows to his two front teeth and balancing cucumber slices on his eyes.


The silly fun had begun. Next Natalie joined in on the fun. natalie teeth

Why not? I can’t be pummeled by wrestling children and still smile…..but I can stick marshmallows onto my teeth and smile! It surprised the kiddos that Mama was partaking in the silliness. Oh they don’t know what a silly goofball I was during my college days and Young Life leader days! They know me as responsible, serious mama….the silly sponge….but today seemed like a good day to let them know Mama knows how to be silly too. So then I convinced Daddy to join in the fun too. We all had mallow buck teeth! And we all laughed our heads off.


Oh how I love my Natalie girl. My sweet, smiley, creative girl that has a super amazing laugh. She laughs and laughs and laughs. Oftentimes the rest of us start laughing simply in response to her laughter. She is a treasure to our family. I took extra special delight in how she even wrapped and taped labels to the coffee mugs that held the Kool-Aid she had made for the picnic. Daddy and Jacob had their names on one mug. Mama and Natalie were going to share the other mug. And packed for the picnic was a large plastic pitcher of more Kool-Aid in case anyone wanted refills. She is a planner I tell you!


Some former students of mine always used to say I had a Kool-Aid smile. Let me officially introduce you to the girl who truly does have a Kool-Aid smile…..my sweet Natalie.





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The man at Starbucks

Tonight after the kids and I left our local library, I headed over to Starbucks to grab a mocha. I was longing for some rich, chocolatey coffee. As I approached the entrance, the corner of my eye caught sight of a homeless man who was headed up the sidewalk towards the storefront. While I stood in line to order my mocha, I couldn’t help but think that this man might be hungry. I looked out the window and saw that he had dug into the outside trashcan and was holding a styrofoam clamshell, eating the leftovers of someone’s throwaway dinner. As I walked out, I stopped and asked him if he was hungry and if he’d like a sandwich or something. He looked kindly at me and said, “yes, yes, actually, if you wouldn’t mind I would love a coffee.” I was taken by surprise. A coffee? Really? Whoa. Not the answer I was expecting. But as I looked at him, with his shirtless upper body, his shoeless feet, a tattered comforter strewn about his shoulders, I imagined why a hot cup of coffee would be such a nice treat. I asked him if there was any particular type of coffee he’d like and he said “I’d love a decaf. I’d like to be able to sleep tonight, so a decaf would really be great.” Jacob and Natalie followed me back into Starbucks where we stood in line to order the man a decaf. Jacob asked with a slightly shaky voice “Mama, is he homeless?” “Yes, Buddy. Yes he is.” A few moments later…… “Mama, if Omie decides that she doesn’t want to come live in the little condo in our backyard, can we offer to let this man come live there?” Oh the sweetness. Oh the beautiful heart. I replied, saying “Jacob, I just talked to Omie last night and she said she’s very much looking forward to come live with us. She will be moving into the little condo.”  “Oh, okay Mama.” A few seconds later….”Mama, I’ve seen several houses for sale in our neighborhood. Can we buy this man a house, with our money?” “Buddy, we don’t have enough money to do that.” Then it was our turn to order coffee. We did. The decaf was brewing and wouldn’t be ready for 3-4 minutes. I let the kiddos know that we could go outside and talk with the man while we were waiting for his coffee; that we could offer him the gift of companionship and conversation as we waited. I let them know it was okay to smile at him; that their smiles would be gifts of joy to him.

We headed outside and then began to chat with him. I asked him his name. Kevin. As we stood there talking about all sorts of things…..the Santa Cruz boardwalk, his birthplace in Anaheim, the difficulty in obtaining a birth certificate without an i.d., the subject of math…the three of us were just soaking in the sight of him. Here was a man, I was guessing in his 40’s, with open, festering wounds, scabs and sores all over his body. His bald head, his arms, his hands, his feet….all of it was acutely sickened by some kind of disease or serious illness. Yet his eyes were alive and his speech unhampered by any chemical or alcohol. He was with it and was able to carry on a conversation that was normal. Yet every part of his body screamed illness. He shared with me that he thinks he’s contagious with something, that there are worms that are buried in his skin….especially on the top of his head….and that he picks them out. Oh.my.word.

While we were there talking, a young man stopped by and handed him a bunch of gift cards from his wallet. He said he was sorry but didn’t have any cash on him- this was all he could offer. I looked at that exchange- so kind-hearted of the young man. But how could this man ever make use of those cards? There is no way this man, looking as he does, could ever walk into an establishment and make use of those gift cards. And if he offered those cards to a passerby, asking for them to make a purchase for him…..who would take hold of anything that had been in this man’s hand? This wasn’t leprosy, but clearly something that looked like it would indeed be highly contagious. It was oozing. It was scabbed. And there were very raw parts. We talked and talked. The gift of companionship for a man who must be so crazy lonely in this world. He lives on the fringe, not able to go in where the people are, living on the scraps of our human existence.

The Starbucks employee brought out the decaf coffee. I handed it to him and let him know that God loves Him. He asked me “are you a Christian?” Yes. “Blessings to you and your children.” He then asked if we go to church on Sundays. Yes. He looked at Jacob and Natalie and told them “if you ever feel weird praying to God, just keep doing it. Keep praying. My mom used to make me go to church, but I felt weird about it. Keep going to church.”

We drove away. We watched him walk down the sidewalk holding his coffee. As I drove home I felt a tug on my heart. I needed to go home and get some clothes for this man. The  cool night air had already set in. All this man had was a tattered red blanket and a pair of pants. So I explained to the kids that I would find something in our closet and then we’d return to give it to him. And so we did. As I drove back down Isis, I saw him walking the sidewalk headed to Rosecrans. He was about to get to the intersection where I couldn’t reach him anymore. I rolled down my window and shouted “KEVIN!!!” He didn’t hear. I shouted once more “KEEEEVINNN!!!!!” He turned, looking who might be calling his name. He saw me as I drove past and motioned for him to wait a moment. I pulled into the parking lot, rolled down my window and let him know that I had made a quick trip home. I told him he didn’t need to take it, but if it would be helpful I had a shirt, a jacket and a warm, fuzzy blanket. He smiled a big, wide smile and was beyond delighted. Many thanks were spoken. I handed him what I had brought. Just then he said “I need to keep moving, there’s a police officer.” He turned and started moving towards Rosecrans Blvd. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw the police officer roll right past my truck and out of the parking lot. Would they stop him? What are the laws with regards to transients? I don’t know. The kids were confused. Don’t the police help the homeless? I had to explain to them that the job of the police is to protect the city and the citizens. And that most citizens are afraid of people who look like Kevin. “Afraid? Why Mama?” Well, many people don’t like the looks of homeless people and get scared of what they will do or what diseases they might have, or if they’ll make bad decisions. And they don’t want homeless people in their city, making their city look bad. “But Mama then where will he go? Where will he sleep?” “I don’t know kiddos. I don’t know.”

But I do know this: God put it on my heart to give this man my absolute most-favorite blanket of all time. I cocooned myself in that blanket all winter long. A beautiful wool-like material on one side and on the other side the softest fleece/micro-fiber. I loooooooooooved that blanket. Beyond loved that blanket! And yet when I walked into my room to look for a shirt and jacket to give this man, my eyes fell on that blanket and I felt God saying “give him your prized blanket”. I didn’t even resist; I knew it was God’s tugging and I wanted to obey.

As we watched the man walk east on Rosecrans, he now had 6 things in his possession. Two of those things were in his possession when we met him (a pair of pants & a tattered blanket) and now he had four more things (a warm coffee, a shirt, a jacket and a fabulously warm, soft blanket). We more than doubled his possessions.

I can’t get his face out of my mind. His alive eyes in a skin-infested, raw, dirty, oozing body. God would you please bless him. I don’t even know how or what to pray for. But may the efforts we made to give him company, clothing and warmth this evening be something you use to bless him and bring him comfort.

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Perfect happiness. Great joy. That’s what yesterday was all about from 12noon-bedtime. The morning was anything but blissful. Packing up food, camping supplies, dirty clothes and taking down 3 tents….phew…that was A LOT of work. Hard work. Sweaty work. Work I did all by myself as a mama on this Adventure Club camping trip….9 mamas and their kids. All of us homeschooling mamas…..girlfriends on this adventure of life with our children….unified in desire to have our kids experience the world in the full grandness of God’s creation. We set out on a camping trip with our kids and we did it! Man did I realize and come to fully appreciate how much work Steve does when we go on family camping trips!

When my sweet friend Greta walked over with an ice-cold Starbucks frap drink in a glass bottle that she had purchased special for me from the campground store, I felt so significant. She is such an incredibly thoughtful lady and an observant one! She had gone out of her way to bring me sweet relief from the sweaty, tough work of packing up from camping. What a treat! I held that cold glass bottle up to my cheek and sighed a happy sigh.

Together we drove our packed up vehicles to Leo Carrillo beach and that’s when the bliss began. We walked to a secluded spot where there is a section of beach without rocks. The kids played to their heart’s content in the surf without getting smashed or injured. They played together for hours upon hours. At one point I jumped in the water with them and smiled at how truly refreshing the water felt. The sun was shining, the kids were screaming with delight at the impending crashing waves, cold water was rushing all around me……this was amazing. All the harried stress of getting our campsite packed up just sloughed off my shoulders into that ocean. I was soooooo thankful my friend Greta had planned to spend the rest of the day at the beach and I could tagalong to her plans. Making the drive home as a sweaty mess and arriving home only to then spend hours unpacking the car of smoke-smelling, dirty camp clothes and oodles of boxes and bags of stuff…..no thank you. Delaying that reality by a day was the best ‘extra’ day for this camping trip. I walked up to my beach chair, sat under the shade of my umbrella and felt joyfully disconnected from the rush and madness of busy life. Sitting there getting to chit-chat with a girlfriend, watching our kids play together, reading portions of my book…..man life was good. Life was sweet. This was beautiful living as a mama and homeschool teacher. There is freedom in homeschooling. Freedom to learn about things outside of the classroom. Freedom to extend academic learning into the weekend if you want to make a getaway camping trip. Freedom to experience the big wide world as your classroom……learning what it means to live out in the wilderness and relate to Sam Gribley from My Side of the Mountain, or to catch a toad and examine it, or see the farmers toiling in the fields cutting celery and preparing it for market, or the firsthand experience of the delicate handwork of picking blueberries one by one while the sun is beating down on you, or feeling the force of the undertow in the ocean, or observing hundreds upon hundreds (literally) of sand crabs scurrying across the sand out of a cave as the waters regressed….this is beautiful learning. It’s beautiful living. I felt so grateful that my husband loves this kind of living for myself and our children. When he tells me how happy he is that we go out and have adventures, it fills me with an overwhelming love for him. He works soooooooooo hard to provide this rich life for us. He genuinely loves our outings and is happy that I’m raising our kids this way and tells me so. That is a gift to me that far exceeds the value of all the money in the world.



And then if the day couldn’t get any better- it did!! My sweet friend Greta shared with me her plans to drive up PCH to Neptune’s Net for dinner. She told me about how her kids love to get french fries there and she longs for their clam chowder. Clam chowder?!?!?! Oh.my.word. I haven’t had clam chowder in years. By that point on the beach it was getting windy and cold, so the thought of warm, chunky clam chowder sounded absolutely heavenly to my palate. Could I crash her plans?! Oh she said yes!!!! Woohoo!!!! The camping extravaganza continued. We returned to the campground, paid to take showers and then headed north for Neptune’s Net.

boys at neptune's net

Sitting there in this local dive I could just imagine scores of surfers over the years who have come in to fix their appetites or where motorcyclists have made their stop along their way up the coast…..a super casual, relaxed, hip place with the smell of seafood wafting out the doors….doors upon doors of refrigerated craft beers….help-yourself ketchup and tartar sauce station….this was fun! I asked the kids what they would like for dinner, thinking they’d say something like “hamburger please” or “chicken strips please”. To my HUUUUUGE surprise Natalie said “Mom, do they serve calamari here?” What?!?!?! Did I just hear her correctly!? Oh.my.word. My daughter just requested calamari. And then Jacob asked if he could have fish. What!?! Whose children were these? My kids were requesting fish at a restaurant? Wow. I couldn’t believe my ears. So, yes, I ordered calamari, fish & chips and a half-pint of clam chowder.


I sat there feeling gloriously clean from my shower, enjoying the warmth and flavor of my clam chowder, sitting across from a girlfriend who I resonate with so deeply on so many fronts…..this was bliss. Perfect happiness. Great joy.

As we said our goodbyes to our friends and began our journey home, my sweet Natalie cried and cried. When good times end, life gets really hard for Natalie. The true evidence of how much fun she has had, really, is when she cries if it all comes to an end. I have seen it enough times to now recognize the pattern. She has cried after having had sleepovers with her cousins at Grammy and Grandpa’s house, when her Haven Academy shows have come to a close, and now this….a fun-filled 3-days of camping with her Adventure Club friends. Who wants good times to end? Not her. Not I. Can we just slip back into that beautiful world of pure reverie? She and I are so much alike in this regard. And, yet, her heart painfully aches at the goodbye to that world. So much so, that she cries. The further we drove away from our friends and that camp/beach experience, the harder she cried. We’ve debriefed about this pattern in her life enough, that she can now recognize it. Her options in life are too completely avoid ‘beautiful fun’ so as never to have to say goodbye to the experience, or to learn to cope with the super intense, painful goodbye to that fun. She, of course, doesn’t like the option of avoiding the fun that awaits her in life, so after many “mama this is soooooooo hard” exclamations of frustration and heartache, I then lead her down the path of capturing her favorite memories.

“Natalie let’s name and hang onto your 5 most favorite parts of this experience. Start off by telling me one thing that you really, really enjoyed.” And so we continued, reveling in the details of each thing she named. Smiling, laughing as we remembered.

1. Splashing in the waves with our friends.


2. Time around the campfire with our friends. The s’more-making and the story-telling. Avery’s 13 fairies story. (And then I added in how much I loved her vampire cereal story with the Baconhead family and their dog Mr. Hamburger. Loved her creativity! Her imagination!)


3. Playing tag and the microphone interview game, as we all played together between the four campsites.


4. The hot chocolate.

5. Time at Neptune’s Net with our friends.


Oh she’s so social just like me. Oh and because I’m just like her, I too know that it is good for my soul to name and hang onto memories. Perhaps that’s why I take a billion pictures and love to journal and blog. It helps me hang onto that which I love so much. So here’s my list….

• being with other mamas who love to homeschool and totally get me

• getting to build my very own campfire for the first time with an attending audience of 15 children, who cheered wildly when they saw flames dancing in the fire pit

• successfully packing for, setting up and tearing down a campsite

• the amazingly creative stories the kids made up and shared around the campfire: puppets that were chasing people……vampire cereal…..elves that bestowed wishes of motorcycles…..the bloody finger…..oh I was smiling a huge smile as I listened to their great stories and watched them ever-so-seriously deliver their stories to a captive audience, while shining a red flashlight onto their chin for full effect


• kids riding in the back of my pick-up truck around the campground; the shock, the incredulity, the excitement…..”Mama you are being a crazy mama right now”

• my mama-friends following a toad at night…capturing it….trying to recreate a habitat for it…flipping a crate over to contain it….filling a tupperware with water and seeing it jump into the water….finding another toad to add to the crate….hopeful all exits had been blocked so that they could be met by ooh’s and aah’s by the kids in the morning….the shocking discovery that both toads escaped during the night



• tacos, spaghetti, pre-cooked bacon, blueberry muffins

• going blueberry and strawberry picking


• returning from blueberry picking to find that squirrels had ripped open the trash bags and gone in search of edibles……squirrels scattering as soon as we exited our vehicles…..all but one squirrel, who instead cowered under the picnic table….Natalie’s intense desire to save the squirrel that had the massive growth on the left side of its face…..”Mama we have to take it to the California Wildlife Center” so they can take care of it…..she and I driving out to PCH so I could get cell phone reception to call the place and ask if they would advise us catching the squirrel…..asking myself “really? is this really happening that I’m going to be throwing a towel over a wild squirrel to rescue it and drive to Calabasas so it can be rehabilitated?” But I knew more than anything I wanted to be a good Mama and foster Natalie’s love for animals. I did not want to stifle or squash her care and concern for animals, so I told her I would be willing to pick up the squirrel and drive it there just so long as she knew what that would mean time-wise. It would be a 30 min. drive there, examination time and then a 30-min. drive back. We were talking about a 1-2 hour trip, which would mean not having beach time with the friends. At that point she needed think-time to ponder this very difficult decision. She ended up choosing to go to the beach.

• Jacob introducing the game Ticket to Ride to his friends. The joy on his face of being able to share a game that he loves so very, very much.


• Natalie walking around the campsites interviewing her friends, holding up our yellow flashlight as her microphone. She is such a hoot!

• a flint….teepee wood-building strategy vs. log-cabin wood-building strategy….the conversations and confidence of the boys to start a fire

• not so fun, but a memory nonetheless, of two moms dealing with their kids throwing up; …..two additional families hit by the bug a day after returning home

• Natalie walking around with one of those black-hairy caterpillars crawling on her green shirt

• Jacob and his two buddy friends sleeping in a tent all by themselves…..actually not going to sleep for a realllllllly long time, chatting the night away…..talking about all kinds of things….me not hearing Jacob’s voice anymore, certain he had fallen asleep….only to then hear him proclaim some time later “this is a great book!” after having sped-read a book his friend had recommended. Then their discussions about whoever would wake up first ought to wake up the other two. Jacob was certain he’d be the first to wake, so he promised his friends he would indeed awaken them. One friend insisting that if shaking him by the shoulders didn’t work, to jump on him to wake him up. Jacob uber excited at the prospect of getting to jump on a friend. Then the sweetness that melted my heart! The 3 boys decided to pray together. Oh.my.word. My mama heart was bleeding. All on their own accord they decided to take turns lifting up their thanks to God for the wonders of the day. I was in awe and beyond thankful for their faith in action.


This trip was so good for my soul. It started off rough and harried and a TON of hard work. Hours upon hours of prep and packing. I kept telling myself “this IS going to be worth it. Really. It will be.” Longing to be a kid again where I could just show up to a camping trip and experience the fun and joy of all the play. All this packing up and getting it all in the truck- oh.my.word. definitely not a fun part of being a grown-up. But as I anticipated, the trip was an incredible adventure and a wonderful memory to tuck into our hearts and minds forever. A shaping, formative moment. As Steve encouraged me upon our return, “it was really good for Natalie and Jacob to see that a Mama can do a trip like that all on her own.” Indeed. Historic for myself. An accomplishment and sense of success.

I was soooooo thankful to have had 3 days. The first day was all about hard work. The second day I began to unwind. By the third day, I was fully relaxed and experiencing bliss. So grateful for our new cherished friends. So thankful for the adventure of this trip with them.




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