Mateo’s Moment of Connection and Compassion

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After Palm Sunday service, we decided to go out for brunch downtown. Sienna’s sweet friend Gracie had spent the night and gone to church with us, so the five of us drove down Park Boulevard on a beautiful early spring morning on a hunt for food.

Our brunch was yummy and they actually made my hash browns extra crispy, but as typically happens after eating out at a restaurant, I started to have that bit of buyer’s remorse. As I was reminding myself that we were paying for the experience, not just the food, the girls and I exited the restaurant to meet Dennis and Teo, who’d left a few minutes before us.  I found them talking to a homeless man that looked in pretty bad shape.  As I approached them, Dennis asked: “Kels, do you have a dollar or two?”

I grabbed my wallet and pulled out the only two singles I had, handed them to the man, and said “God bless you.” He smiled without making eye contact and we all walked away.

Teo and I were holding hands and his questions started right away. “How much did you give him?  Could we give him more? He needs more than that, Mommy.”

I tried to explain, the best I could and asked him: “Do you want to do more to help people who don’t have homes or enough to eat?” He replied, “I want to help that man.” The simplicity of his connection to seeing this particular man’s pain was poignant.  I didn’t need to turn this into a grandiose teaching moment, Mateo just wanted to do something to ease this man’s suffering.

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We were about a block from the restaurant and crossing the street when Teo said, “I wish I could give him my allowance.” Once safely on the other curb, I stopped Dennis and the girls, then turned to Teo. “You want to give him your allowance?  We can, if you’re sure.  We can go back.”

“Yes, let’s go back,” he replied as he pulled me back toward the intersection.

His questions continued as we walked quickly down the street and noticed that the man was slowly walking away, so we had to catch up to him. “How much will we give him?”

“Well, your allowance is $7.00 and we already gave him $2.00.”

He employed his counting up method of addition: “Two. Three, four, five, six, seven. Okay, then that makes seven dollars. Mommy, what will he do with this money?… Maybe he’ll get a dog!”

“Seven dollars isn’t enough for a dog, but he could get a good meal today, that would be good,” I explained.

“Okay. Then, maybe other people will give him money for food tomorrow and for a jacket, maybe a bigger backpack to carry his stuff…”

We caught up to the man, and I handed him the five dollar bill at Mateo’s request. He thanked us in a vacant kind of way and I studied Mateo’s face as he watched the man.  His care and compassion were palpable.

We turned the corner to head to our car, just outside of Petco Park, where the Padres play. Teo said, “Oh, he could go to a baseball game!”  I again explained that a meal was probably the best way he could spend the money Teo gave him.

Walking hand in hand with my precious son, I thanked God for this moment. Sure, we spent more on breakfast than we needed to and there was the irony that parking literally cost twice what we gave this man.  But, that moment of connection and compassion only happened because we were there.  Dennis and I have been talking about finding a charity and volunteer opportunity for our family.  As I’ve been learning, more often than not, the kids lead and teach through their innocence and love.  This moment taught Mateo more about compassion and the spirit of giving than anything we could instill.

Parenting by Making Commitments and Building Trust

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Several weeks ago, Dennis, my mom, our friend Christina, and I went for a group “coffee date” during the kids’ Sunday school class. We had a lovely time chatting over our coffee when I noticed the time and said, “Oh, we better get back.  The kids will be fine in the church courtyard but it’s getting late.”  We scurried off and were just a block from the church when my cell phone rang.  It was my friend Michelle, who teaches one of the Sunday school classes.  “Someone is wondering where you are,” she said.  A tearful Sienna got on the phone and I explained that we were almost back.

As I came into the classroom, Sienna was still sobbing. I hugged her close.  “Honey, we were on our way back.  We knew you were safe here with our church family. It’s okay, love.” I kept given her reassuring words and holding her close for several minutes.

The following Saturday afternoon, Sienna started asking me questions about Sunday school. “You’ll be there to pick me up, right?”  Initially, I was a little impatient with her. Recently, Sienna has been needing a lot of reassuring and often her questions strike me as absurd.  And, if I’m honest, they make me worry about her worrying, which doesn’t feel good.  I distractedly replied: “Yes, of course we’ll be there, honey.”

Sienna’s pleas for reassurance continued the next morning and hit their peak during the sermon. She was in tears as she expressed deep fear that we wouldn’t be there to pick her up after Sunday school.  I took her out of the church so we could talk.  This time, I really listened.  What I heard and related to was genuine fear.  I could see she now had an association between coming out of Sunday school and experiencing the fear of not seeing us down in the courtyard, therefore the thought of sitting in class anticipating that moment was causing her anxiety.

As I started to promise her we would be there, a thought suddenly occurred to me: “Make and keep commitments to build trust.” This reminder has been popping up on my Outlook Task list for months, as a reminder to build trust with my coworkers by making and keeping commitments. The phrase comes from Speed of Trust, a book and program we’ve embraced at our office, which argues that making and keeping commitments to people is one of the best ways to build their trust in you. It was such a perfectly timed reminder.

“Sienna, why don’t we pick out a specific place in the courtyard for us to be when you get out of class?” I offered. “That way you’ll know just where to look for us.”

“Okay. Yes, that would be good,” she replied with a big exhale of relief.

After mass, we crossed through the courtyard on Sienna’s way up to class. “Which picnic table should we be sitting at?” I asked.

“That one,” she said, pointing. “That way I can see you right from the top of the stairs!”

As Dennis and I hurried over to the farmer’s market for an iced coffee, I explained to him that we had to get back right away. I wanted to be sure to be there in plenty of time. This was now a commitment.  I’d promised to be there and I knew she needed us to help her overcome this fear.

We got back at least 20 minutes before class was scheduled to end, so we sat on a comfy couch in the courtyard while drinking our coffee and chatting with our church family members as they came and left. As the time for class to end neared, I told Dennis I was heading over to sit at the picnic table.  Even though she could see us from the couch, that wasn’t the point. I’d promised to be there, at that picnic table.  Meeting the spirit of the commitment wasn’t the same as meeting it fully.

The look on Sienna’s face when she came to the top of the stairs and looked straight down at where I was sitting was pure relief, joy, and love. She came running down the stairs. “Mommy, you’re right where you said you’d be!” she exclaimed. I gave her a big hug and said a prayer of gratitude for being there, when she needed me.

That little moment built so much trust between Sienna and me. Since that week, she’s continued to express concern about whether we’ll be in the courtyard when class gets out.  I keep reassuring her and when I say, “I’ll be sitting at the picnic table,” she smiles and nods.  Clearly the memory of seeing me sitting there the first time I promised has given her a comforting association with getting out of class.

This experience meant so much to me. It reminded me of the simple truth that just showing up and being present, as a parent, is more than half the battle.  There’s not much that’s more rewarding than connecting with my daughter by fulfilling a promise to do what I love: be there for her.

The Best Resolution of All.

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The lesson I learned this week?  Never write on a calendar with permanent marker.

Actually, this realization started to set in at the end of last month, as my hairdresser and dog groomer each cancelled appointments due to illness.  Then, just this week, I didn’t attend a meeting on Monday evening, a work trip got cancelled on Tuesday evening due to weather, and a coffee date with a friend got moved from Thursday to Friday.  That last one was in pencil.  I finally wised up.

Most of those events were entered into our family calendar in permanent marker several weeks before.  I giggled when I recognized this gentle reminder that, though we want to believe we know what the future holds, every day is an unfolding mystery.  It’s best to be prepared and then curiously watch as the day unfolds and we have opportunities to learn and grow.

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This week was full of transitions for me and our little family.  After being home for two weeks wherein we celebrated Christmas, New Years, Sienna’s birthday, Mateo’s birthday, and a surprise trip to Disneyland (Whew!), it was time to get back into the school and work routine.

I love these two weeks that cap off the year and usher us into the New Year knitted as a family unit.  For the past few years, we’ve done a family goal setting session on New Year’s Eve.  For 2018, our family theme is “Home” and we set a goal to make our home more comfortable and inviting.  I just read this book: The Little Book of Hygee: Danish Secrets to Happy Living and it brought together so many of the ideas I’ve had swirling in my mind about making a cozy home!  I recently got a reading chair for the corner of our bedroom and it’s transformed the feel and function of that room.  I love having a dedicated cozy spot to read with my cup of tea!

This year the kids were really into the goal setting!  Sienna set a goal to read 40 books  and Mateo set a few goals, one of which is to “invent something to make things invisible”.   At first I started to reason with him that this wasn’t a very attainable goal, but then I figured: Shoot for the stars, kid!

As I posted the goals on the bulletin board in the kitchen, I realized that there was something missing.  We set these goals and intentions without properly acknowledging that we live and move and have our being in Christ.  God is in control, we’re not. For goodness sakes, I can’t even write something on the calendar and know for sure it will happen that day!  So, I added a verse to our goal list: … yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes… you ought to say: “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15)

I love goal setting and annual planning.  It’s motivating to imagine the habits and behaviors that will make life valuable and fulfilling.  It’s also fun to look forward to summer vacations, holidays, and annual events.  But, it’s easy to let all that planning create a sense of self-reliance or self-determination that’s simply false.  We control so very little and God provides all.  Keeping that perspective firming in mind is the best resolution of all.

Finding Peace in Seasons of Busyness

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It feels like I haven’t written a blog post in FOREVER!  But, looks like it’s only been a month.  That speaks volumes about how full and busy the last month has been.  Given that this is the Year of “Only What’s Essential” it seems something has gone wrong… or has it?

My personal workload at the office has been at an all-time high the past couple of months.  Between upgrades to my primary software programs, busy season planning (of which I do the scheduling for all the auditors), an integration of our administrative structure and processes between six locations (of which I manage 2), and other large, year-end projects that demand a lot of time, it’s been crazy.  “My own personal busy season” is what I’ve dubbed it.

Several weeks ago I heard myself muttering about being “overwhelmed” regularly.  My brain jumped and skipped all over the place as I took mental inventory of all that I had to do.  Fortunately, the mindfulness techniques I’ve learned kicked in and I decided not to pay attention to the “I’m overwhelmed” thought and just let it pass by.

Being so busy at work actually encouraged me to be intentional with my time, and figure out ways to delegate more.  Instead of getting caught up in mental loop of all the things I potentially could or should be doing, I just jumped in and started getting things done.

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After running with my friend on a weekly basis for much of the year, I’d encouraged her to run her first half marathon (“Hi Leslie!”) and then made a hasty retreat when she asked if I was going to run it too.  By encouraging another friend from church to run the race at a Friendsgiving event, I somehow talked myself into it too.  Although I hadn’t run more than 5 miles at a time for months, this race was looming and long runs had to be done.

Since I was busy at work and wanting to thoroughly enjoy the holiday festivities with my family on the weekends, I fit running in where I could and didn’t stress about it.  The week leading up to the race last Saturday was particularly hectic.  Fortunately, Leslie and I had a good run on Monday morning.  I then decided to rest until the race, which worked out well.  Instead of feeling like I was neglecting exercise because of my office workload, it was easily reframed as rest and recovery for the upcoming race!

Going into the race, I knew I wasn’t as prepared as I’d been for races in the past, particularly in terms of recent mileage.  But, I knew that I could run the distance and would just go out to enjoy the race, listen to my Christmas music (it’s the Holiday Half Marathon, after all), and not have any preconceived notions about a finishing time.

To my surprise and delight, I ran a personal best: 1:55.51.  Over four minutes faster than I ran on the same course 2 years ago!  Also, I felt awesome during the race!  When I returned home later that morning, I got cleaned-up and into my pajamas.  Teo and I cuddled on the couch watching “Holiday Baking Championship” on Food Network.  Later, I wrapped most of the Christmas gifts that were stashed in the closet, while listening to more Christmas music and drinking almond milk hot chocolate.  Sienna came to help and I got to teach her how to wrap presents.  Sitting on the floor, I watched her carefully fold the corners and resisted the urge to “help” too much!  We all got to bed early since Dennis and I had altar guild for the 8:00 a.m. service on Sunday.  That meant we needed to be there by 7:00 a.m. Whew!  Pastor asked our family to light the Advent wreath during the early service; so special!

Throughout the entire weekend, I felt myself breathing into the moment and remaining present.  When I was running, I didn’t think too far ahead; instead, I looked around, listened to the music, and focused on the feel of running.  When I wrapped presents, I did just that; I didn’t worry about work or think of all the things we needed to get done.  Setting the altar for the divine service on Sunday morning always brings me in touch with the ultimate gift that Christ gives us, in himself, week after week.

I’ve found that, when I’m especially busy or feeling overwhelmed, it’s an opportunity to practice mindfulness and being present in the moment.  All the activities or items on the “To Do” list, don’t add up to feeling crazed, if I’m able to stay present and do one thing at a time.  Running that race didn’t leave me feeling remorseful, as if I opted to prioritize it before family/holiday time, because I purposefully didn’t schedule anything else for the day.  A very busy work week didn’t leave me feeling like I was being robbed of the joyful holidays because I left work in the office on Friday afternoon and enjoyed the weekend fully with Dennis and the kids, and celebrated the Advent season with our church family.  When, every now and then, the thought would occur to me: “I shouldn’t be this busy right now, it’s the holidays!” I chose not to give that thought my attention, so it didn’t hook me into feeling frustrated or angry.

Through this season of busyness, festivities, and joyous times with family and friends, there are so many opportunities to get caught up in the chaos and miss out on tender moments of connection.  But, there are just as many opportunities to stop, breathe, look around, and be present in the moment where life is happening right in the here-and-now.  May this Christmas season bring you hope, peace, joy, and love as we celebrate the birth of our Savior.

What a Soccer Game Taught Me About Parenting and Letting Go…

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I’ve been applying the Serenity Prayer to my parenting lately; praying for wisdom and discernment for what I can change and what I need to accept. As my kids are growing and maturing every day, they need the grace and space to make mistakes and learn from them. They need me to cheer them on, support them in failure and success, and love them through each stage and phase of life.

A couple weeks ago, Teo had a soccer tournament and played very well. I loved every second of watching him and his buddies play!  The moment that taught me an important lesson came in the second of three games that day.  Teo’s team, the Ice Wolves, were playing one of the strongest teams in the division, one that they’d lost to earlier in the season.  Midway through the first half, Teo and another player collided as they went for the ball.  Teo sprawled out on the ground, knocking the wind out of him.  His coach and I helped Teo to the sideline as he tried to catch his breath.

He was mad at the other player, feeling that he had intentionally taken him out. He was in tears and out of breath.  As I tried to calm him down and prayed that he’d be able to pull himself together to reenter the game, he suddenly said, “I want back in the game!”

“Teo, catch your breath first,” I tried to counsel him.

Getting up from his chair, he said “Coach, I’m ready to go back in.”

As he walked out to his position in the defense, Teo was still taking those short jerky breaths you get after crying and trying to calm his breathing down. I was dubious that he was actually ready to play again.

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But, about a minute later, the ball was kicked toward Teo all alone on the field. He was midway between the center line and the goal he was defending.  He ran up and gave it a big boot down the field… and almost scored into the corner of the goal!  It was incredible!  I’m pretty enthusiastic on the sideline and cheered like crazy as tears filled my eyes.  He had taken all his frustrations and emotions and poured them into the game.  He hadn’t broken down and decided to quit.  After the struggle at the beginning of this season, I was so moved by Teo’s growth and development in this way.

As I thought back to my own emotions when Teo didn’t want to play soccer just a couple months earlier, I could appreciate a new perspective. He was going through a stage then – getting used to the harder academics of first grade and realizing that he could opt out of class, practice, whatever by feigning illness or injury.  That phase passed as he got comfortable in these new environments.  My need to control his experiences (and therefore his emotions), caused us both undue anxiety and stress.

Since that time, I’ve been praying for a serene mindset toward my parenting. I cannot control my children or make them behave or feel a certain way.  I can guide and lovingly support them, but they need to make choices and learn hard lessons when they make poor choices.  They need to explore the world, decide what they like, learn what they’re good at, and in doing so they’ll try things they don’t like and struggle to succeed.  They have their own journeys of growth that they need to experience.  They’ll benefit from parents who help them navigate their emotions while they grow and change rather than trying to coerce them to act the way we think they should.

To this end, I’m trying to listen more than I talk and ask questions more than provide answers. It feels much like the process of surrendering control over my own life, learning to be present in the moment, and trusting God.  Now I’m mindfully handing over my parenting to Him too.

Nothing Here to Fix, Mom

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It feels like a lot has happened since my last post a few weeks ago!  It’s funny when we experience periods of upheaval in life… and they seem to come in all sorts of packages.

After surviving another tax deadline on 9/15, the weekend began with Teo coming down with a bad cold, and having to miss his second soccer game of the season.  Dennis and the kids even stayed home from church on Sunday and I got to relish an uninterrupted Divine Service.  So joyful!  Then, by Monday morning, I had the cold too.  I was actually probably fighting it off the entire deadline week, but my immune system knew I had to make it through the deadline before shutting down!  I was down and out with this cold for two full days, during which I experienced genuine boredom for the first time in years.

The following Saturday, it was time for Teo to get ready for his late morning soccer game.  He protested, saying he “didn’t feel good!” and fought any efforts I made to get him into his soccer uniform.  He’d been claiming not to feel well regularly, sitting out of soccer practice and going to the nurse almost daily.  I was at such a loss.  His cold symptoms were much better.  He didn’t seem to be physically unwell, but he was definitely emotionally out of sorts.  I finally texted the coach that he wouldn’t be at the game.

I proceeded to have a mini breakdown of my own.  I cried on the phone with my mom and again alone in my bedroom.  What was going on with my boy?  He seemed to enjoy soccer so much.  Is something stressing him out at school?  Is it the transition to first grade and just feeling overwhelmed?  What can I do to help him through this??

I recognize that my reaction over the soccer game was a bit much.  It felt like I was doing something wrong and needed to figure out what so I could fix it.

I’d recently dug back into a discipline model that Dennis and I learned about several years ago, called Conscious Discipline.  The book for parents: Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Becky Bailey had been on my bedside table for months.  I read 75% of it, but never fully implemented her plan.

One of the major premises is that parents must first gain self-control, self-awareness, and self-discipline, then they can teach those same skills to their children.  Clearly, I needed a refresher on the tenets of self-control.  Over the next few days, I read, watched video clips, and generally refreshed myself with the skills of acceptance and assertiveness.  I remembered that my goal in discipline is to teach my children to make good choices, rather than force them to concede to my will.  Also, when conflict arises, it’s an opportunity to teach, rather than a difficultly to suppress.

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One of Dr. Bailey’s comments really hit home.  She explained that our perception of a situation dictates our emotional state, and our emotional state then dictates our behavior.  Of course!  Teo’s recent struggles struck me as something that I, as his mother, needed to fix.  Clearly, if I said or did just the right thing, I could control his emotions and therefore his behavior.

When I stopped and considered another alternative, I realized my error.  He didn’t need to be fixed.  I needed to accept that he didn’t feel like playing soccer that day.  He was still recovering from a cold and overly tired from school and life.  He needed me to empathize with his state and help reflect back what he was experiencing so he could become more self- aware and grow.  He needed natural consequences to his choices, such as leaving soccer practice if he claimed not to feel well, instead of letting him stay so he could join the scrimmage after the drills (as he’d done the previous two weeks!).

It took me a couple days (and some timely feedback from my loving husband) to untangle my emotions from the situation, so I could help Teo manage his feelings.

Heading into soccer practice on Wednesday, I had reached a level of acceptance and decided I’d do what I could, as his mom, to help set Teo up for success.  Then, if he chose not to participate, we’d leave and he’d miss the fun of the scrimmage.  I wouldn’t lecture or express any dissatisfaction with his choice, I’d just matter-of-factly bring him home.  My plan was to pick up some protein bars at the store and get the kids early so he could have a snack and be prepared for practice.  Instead, my car battery died at the supermarket and I had to wait for AAA to come jump the car and Dennis to get home, so I could pick up the kids.  Instead of being frazzled and stressed at this set back, I took it in stride.  Oh, thank you Lord for all the lessons in acceptance!

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In the end, he had a great practice – played hard and had a lot of fun!  Then, he had a great game on Saturday and scored a goal.  I loved watching him and his teammates play!  Many of the boys were on our T-Ball team, so it’s super fun to cheer for them all.  After the game, I told Teo: “I love watching you play soccer!”

“Really?” he asked.

“Yes!  I love you and I love sports.  You put them together and it’s like my heart is going to explode, it’s so fun!”

He smiled.  “I love you too, Mom.”

This whole situation reminded me and Dennis of many truths.  We want our children to know they are loved unconditionally and don’t need to earn our affections through their behavior.  We also want to teach them that they have free will to make choices, and there will be consequences to their choices.  They will have all sorts of emotions, and they are all acceptable.  Our job as parents is to teach, guide, and help them to manage their feelings and take responsibility for their behavior.

As parents, we have to discipline ourselves and exhibit self-control when the world doesn’t go the way we think it should.  For that matter, we need to reflect upon the fact that we may not know how things “should” go in the first place.

So many lessons – for the kids and the parents!

It’s Beginning to Look A lot Like…

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Fall!

Oh, how I love Fall! It’s by far my favorite season.

I love the coziness and slight chill in the air.  Though, in San Diego that means highs in the 70s instead of the 80s and 90s, but whatever, it’s cooler!

Bates Nut Farm 026I love when football begins, so we can cheer on the Dolphins and enjoy our Sunday routine of church, followed by brunch at home in front of the game.  So much fun!

I love our annual trip to the pumpkin patch at Bates Nut Farm!  I’m used to checking the weather and praying for cozy coolness for several days ahead of time.  Hot weather kind of kills the boot and scarf and sweater outfit I always want to wear.

I love the autumn wreath that we always hang on our front door.

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I love the fall flavors and making pies.  For several years, the annual pie auction at our church preschool was a highlight of the season.  I don’t mind telling you that I was really disappointed when this event was cancelled last year.  Still, fond memories of making my Whiskey Chocolate Pecan Pie and the fun of having folks bid against each other for it!

I love making pumpkin pancakes, which are delightfully easy to make paleo for me.  With some toasted pecans and a drizzle of real maple syrup.  Delicious!

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I love Thanksgiving and the traditions of the day.  We start with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with breakfast.  I’ll cook most of the day, while football is viewed and perhaps tossed around in the backyard, then we’ll feast in the late afternoon.  Finally, we watch Home Alone while eating our pumpkin pie.  It’s the best, but it’ll be hard to top last year, when my sister and her family came to visit!  That was truly the best.

I love going up to Julian during the fall. It’s this quaint, old mining town in the mountains east of San Diego.  We try to make it up each year for apple picking. This year just Dennis and I are going up there to celebrate our wedding anniversary!  We’ve always wanted to spend the night in Julian.  So, we’re taking this opportunity to spend one night and then hang out all day on our anniversary, which is a Monday this year.  It’ll be fun to explore the town with less of a crowd!

November 2012 029I love wearing boots and scarves.  I have a ridiculous number of scarves for someone who lives in San Diego.  So, daily scarf wearing in the fall helps justify the closet space they take up!

I love watching Teo play soccer!  Tomorrow’s the second game of the season, and it’s so fun to watch him and his buddies play.  After coaching T-Ball in the spring, I know several of his soccer teammates quite well, so it’s extra fun to cheer for the team.  At their first game last week, they discovered that the field was significantly bigger than last year.  It was an adjustment, for sure.  Time for some conditioning practice!

I love our neighborhood Halloween traditions of meeting at one house for a pre-party and then trick-or-treating around the neighborhood.  It’s so fun to see all the creative costumes!

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I love carving pumpkins!  I pretty much do the same jack-o-lantern face every year, so it’s like meeting an old familiar friend.  We’ve now learned to carve them a day or two before Halloween or else they’ll rot and literally melt on our front step.  That was never an issue growing up in Humboldt County!

I love our church’s annual Oktoberfest celebration!  We have amazing German food and beer, while enjoying fellowship with our church family.  This year is going to be extra special since it falls on Reformation Sunday, and… it’s the 500th anniversary of the Reformation!  Truly amazing to think how much the world has changed thanks to Martin Luther’s insight into the gospel and grace through Christ alone.

I love pumpkin spice flavor, be in in lattes, muffins, cookies, whatever.

As you can see from this post, another thing to love about fall is looking back on pictures of our annual trip to the pumpkin patch.  It’s so cool to watch the kids grow through the years as they pose in front of piles of beautiful orange pumpkins.  Looking forward to adding to the collection of pumpkin photos with my big kids this year!