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Gnocchi and Valentines

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Valentines Day.  Most people take firm sides of either loving or hating this classic holiday.  I’m one who falls massively on the love side of the scale.  A whole day dedicated to expressing affection! What could be more ‘Becca-like?  As a kid I delighted in the endless pile of tiny envelopes you got to open, always hopeful for the ones containing a foil wrapped chocolate or powder coated message-candy.  And while I greatly admired my classmates who managed to make 31 handmade valentines, the store bought variety with Winnie the Pooh or Snoopy or Cinderella handing out hearts and balloons were just fine by me too.

This year I think my delight meter burst in the red over St. V’s day…not surprisingly the Bebe had some part to play.  But actually the most expansive part of this past Tuesday was that several people–old friends from college, my dear Mummy, gals from my Bible study group and my former boss–all made efforts to say hello and express love in some special way.  It was like a grown-up version of what I so enjoyed in elementary school: Valentines Day is for everybody, not just lovers.

Of course the romantic, make-sure-you-have-a-date pressure of Valentine’s Day can be a major drag.  When you are single, V-Day can feel like the day of dire desperation or sinking cynicism. One year I got so befuddled I actually tried to find an ex-boyfriend who had since moved to New York to pursue acting, and ended up leaving a needy-sounding message on the machine of some dude with the same name.  Yep, that was me.

What I decided to do this year was surprise my husband with a home-cooked dinner and an intriguingly romantic and creative atmosphere.  So I made meyer-lemon gnocchi (from scratch no less!) while baby sat in his bouncy seat wondering what I was up to.  And Ben surprised me with a hand made garland of origami hearts, each one containing a promised outing, adventure, or gift.   Smashing dahling!  This is a year to remember!

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Love in the Afternoon

It rained yesterday.  A real rain.  Not the half-hearted drizzle Southern California sometimes mistakes for rain, but the rat-a-tap-tap pour down on your tin roof kind of rain.  By afternoon, it had cleared up enough to reveal a glorious sunset between the palm trees.  But still, the cozy feeling of a rainy day persisted.  And by afternoon, I was in love.

In love with the easy comfort of home.  In love with the cute little piles of debris: baby rattle here, pacifier there, fabulously unmade bed, Melita coffee filter with its fragrant grounds, stash of watercolors and pencils, left over butternut squash lasagna with its vibrant orange color.  In the middle of it all was my son, laying on a blanket on his tummy, propped up on his forearms.  He’s building up the strength to roll over soon – a milestone often reached at 3-4 months.  He looked so adorable, little tushie and little legs, struggling to keep his head and shoulders off the floor.  And when he started to tire from the exertion and cry, I picked him up and we danced, and danced.  On the rainy day, to the tune of flamenco guitar by Ottmar Liebert.

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Sle-e-ep in Heav-en-ly Peace

A week or so before Christmas I was pondering my purpose in life.  I was disappointed with the reality that no matter how hard I try to be efficient, I just can’t seem to get much done besides being Mamma.  Some days, just getting a load of laundry completely through, or getting the dishes from table to dishwasher feels heroic.  The interruptions of baby Aaron are frequent and imperative.  Not that I’m complaining.  Being a mother trumps any experience or achievement real or imagined in my life so far.  Just holding him is a sweet reward.  Yet I persist in wavering between pure surrender to the fleeting moments of motherhood and the voice of the self-critic that says I’m not doing enough to validate my freedom, my time, my education, etc. etc.

So, while nursing the wee babe I decided to journal.  I figured by asking the question: “what am I supposed to be doing with my time right now” the answer would manifest.  I wanted to search the Scriptures for answers, but my Bible is unwieldy.  Too big for balancing with the baby on my lap, especially when he’s focused on his all-important task of eating.  Meanwhile the good hormones released by breastfeeding had begun to work a marvelous calm in me.  When Aaron finished eating I decided to lay him down on my bed and sleep next to him for 15 minutes or so.  My face was right next to the baby, so we were looking eye to eye, so focused I could see my own reflection in the blue-black of his iris and pupil.

We both fought sleep in order to keep staring, but it was a losing battle.  Aaron succumbed first.  Sleep washed over him like a soft wave and I admired how his wide lids and long lashes are so perfectly formed.  Cheeks full and flushed with life.  Lips slightly open.  I could feel cool air on my face and looked up thinking it was the ceiling fan, but the fan was off.  It was the breath from baby’s nostrils.  And then he reached with his hand, still so hard for him to control, and it landed like a gentle smack across my nose.  Palm to Palm is holy palmer’s kiss (Romeo & Juliet, Act 1 scene 5).  Smack to the nose is baby Aaron’s kiss.

I got to thinking the intimacy between us as mother and son was so seasonally appropriate.  The image of Madonna and Child–an icon of Christmas–is kind of an ordinary event.  A portrait of a woman holding her child and contemplating the mystery and the miracle of his life.  For us as women it is also an expression of Emmanuel.  Just as the Spirit hovered over Mary, God-is-with-us, dignifying, sancifying and blessing our everyday acts of love toward our children and other family members.  Mary had prophesied over herself: “henceforth all generations shall call me blessed“; I believe she was also symbolically prophesying over all womankind.  We too are blessed to be agents of heavenly peace.   We carry this Peace when we welcome the love of God for us and within us, allowing that Love to spill over into the lives of the people around us.

Thank You Aaron, for being my son.  Thank You Jesus, for coming as a helpless baby.  Thank You Father, for sending Him to us in this way and affirming forever the dignity of every mother’s work.  Thank You for the blessing of this sacred time in my life, when I am called to contemplate the peaceful face of an infant and even to see through his tender eyes a new image of myself.  Thank You for this beautiful portion of Heavenly Peace.


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The Creative Everyday

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How do you nurture your inner-artist when your day is full of unglamorous tasks like diapering and laundry and scrubbing the kitchen sink?  One idea is to make your world (including your laundry room, kitchen, sleeping area, etc.) a place that inspires.

Here’s a few things I love:

  • A beautiful tin and the aromatic contents of Peet’s Winter Solstice Tea (available only this time of year)
  • Shadows cast by small bowls and bits of pottery on the tile
  • Original art by high school senior (at the time I bought it) Natasha Weir.  Hanging over the stove like a port hole on a ship
  • A painting of Crystal Cove on the kitchen wall I painted turquoise
  • A framed photograph of my German grandmother at 19
  • Whimsical clay cups Ben and I bought from an artist in San Diego
  • Radishes and chard sprouting from seed and beginning to look ready for harvest in the garden
  • Walking to the grocery store and nesting the purchases around Aaron in his stroller
  • Putting paint brushes in glass jars and storing them in the laundry room
  • The new bright blue label on Trader Joe’s plum tomatoes
  • Discovering a new way to make Mexican hot chocolate

I’d love to hear from you…where do you find the “creative” in your hum-drum life of everyday?

Calm Evening

I love you Ben Faubion (my husband, best friend, counselor, creative partner, fellow traveler, muse)!  Tonight after Aaron went to sleep we listened to a few chapters of A Tale of Two Cities on Audible.  We’re debating whether to get a TV…on one hand it would be nice to see Netflix on a screen larger than our iPad or laptops; on the other hand, not having the big screen forces us to be more creative with our down time…listening to great literature or to Ben’s latest Blues riff on the guitar, for example.

I suppose the bigger issue is how to maintain and cultivate an atmosphere of calm creativity in our home.  As Aaron grows up, I want him to be a kid who knows how to use all of his senses, especially his sense of imagination.  I want him to know how to entertain himself and his friends via his own creativity, as well as having the capacity to sit back and enjoy media created by our society.

This means Ben and I need to continue to model it.  How do we spend our free hours?  Are we engaged in meaningful dialogue with each other?  Have we made our home an environment that reflects both of our styles and interests, but nonetheless harmonizes in a satisfying way?  Do we spend our time productively, challenging each other to grow past our fears and insecurities and truly live out our calling?  Do we know how to rest together and just be?

Giving Thanks

This year I have so much to be grateful for, it is hard to know where to begin.  By far, the biggest blessing is our son Aaron.  As Ben and I look at him, we can’t believe we’ve been entrusted with something so pure.  It’s a sacred trust, according to my good friend Judith Montgomery.  The life-giving energy of a new baby is so profound, it reaches back into your past and changes the way you view the future.  I see my mother and father with a newfound gratitude, a sense of overwhelming love. It’s like this sweet grace poured out over all of our human shortcomings, because in spite of them, a new life has come forth, through us.

This year we celebrated with our dear friend Irena Polic, her adorable and rambunctious twin 4-year olds, my mom Bobbi, and my big brother Jesse. Irena lived with my family when she was a senior in high school (I was a freshman), and we’ve been crazy about her ever since.  She is Croatian, beautiful, brilliant and a fabulous example of a woman who balances career and motherhood.  It’s amazing to look at us, just teenagers when we first met, and here we are, both moms of sweet young children.

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Whistle While You Work

How do we rediscover joy in our work?  Whether we work at a public space, in a cubicle, have our own office or work at home, I believe taking time for the adornment and regular updating of our physical environment is key.

I have for years wanted my workspace to include the following:

  • a red-orange desk or a desk alongside and accent wall painted peachy-red/orange
  • Framed artwork by artists I love, including child-artists
  • Framed photographs of places or people I love
  • A hint of things from other times, places & cultures (i.e. French decorating magazines, small objects, maps)

In fact, the inspiration for these elements came through an exercise in the touchstone book for creative recovery: The Artist’s Way (you can order the book on Amazon or click here for a link to author Julia Cameron’s online course).  Here is what I wrote in one of my morning pages (an foundational daily exercise explained in the book):

November 12th 2009

In my ideal environment the house…has an accent wall that is a luscious salmon-orange color.  It has loads of color and fabulous real paintings on the walls.  It is neither cluttered nor bare, it is calm and yet vibrant…

What is so lovely is the way this exercise really did ignite the process whereby my husband and I moved from our dull, drab, dreary, lackluster environs in a taupe-colored townhouse in a boring suburb, to the south facing, light-flooded, funky, airy, palmed tree-lined, centrally-located and creative apartment we now occupy.  With the help of some of our brilliant artist friends, we do have real, large-scale oil paintings on the walls.  And, as the following photos attest, I did set up a little work space for myself that includes a red-orange desk and the other items listed above.  The result: one happy Mamma who is beginning to connect with her “writer within.”

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