Category Archives: Family

My Grandmothers for Dia de los Muertos

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My Oma wearing a mustache so that I would let her hold me.

It wasn’t until we participated in the Dia de los Muertos city-wide parade with thousands of us dressed as cavaleros that I fully began to realize the importance of bringing the dead into the light for a party and to honor them. Prior to this, it all seemed a bit too spooky, scary.

Lately, the spirit world has felt more important than my rather logical mind has historically allowed. Certainly there are the ghost hunters, and those who do witch-like magic and bring all sorts of woo-woo into the world, but, I believe the spirit world wants us to listen. While I imagine there are all sorts of ways to do this, for me it is allowing space for my heart to swell, open and remember.

Cooking and gardening are incredibly meditative, and with our local food year I have been doing quite a bit more of both. In addition, I have focused on healing my heart after a rather difficult and emotional year. Throughout my daily meditations required by our local food year, I find myself often thinking of my grandmothers through whispers from my heart.

Plant a circle of six zucchini seeds around that hole of compost.

Add a splash of water to those veggies to soften them slightly.

That volunteer plant coming up could end up being delicious!

Caramel? Yes, make caramel from that local honey and dip apples in it. Beautiful.

Try this gorgeous wine! You only live once ūüėČ

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Build a hoop house, it will bring you goodness for months to come.

My paternal grandmother, my Oma, left this world when I was only 6 years old. I do remember her despite being rather young and living 1,000 miles away. I remember the big patio the entire house surrounded, the high ceiling living room with the grand piano, the trampoline and I swear I remember her voice. I have seen plenty of pictures of her including when I was a baby and refused to let her hold me until she decorated her mouth with a mustache to match my Fathers.

In theory, our limited time on this earth together would logically mean she could have little influence, but I feel her a part of me. I often think she would be most delighted by my family’s efforts to do this Local Food Year and she would adore my husband. I imagine her thinking he is awfully smart, although, he could be a tad taller.

My Oma and Opa had an incredible garden, including bananas, figs,¬† apricots, walnuts, persimmons, zucchinis, berries, tomatoes, pomegranates and plenty of citrus. The lemon tree I remember was the first thing you would experience upon pulling through the gates to their Thousand Oaks home. Our big red suburban would park alongside the lemon tree, we’d open our doors and after two days of driving that smell was heaven.

My Oma + Opa also took their six kids on treks through the Sierras. She had this natural sense that we are to tread lightly on this planet, partially from a place of frugality and as a child of the Depression, but I also believe she instinctually knew the importance of conservation. In many ways, this local food journey has made me feel I am following in her foot steps as I dig deeper into  gardening, but also another one of her loves: writing.

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My Oma.

She attended Mills College, where she¬†majored in English with a Philosophy minor and she wrote beautiful poetry. When I was in grade school there was a writing project to create your own book of poetry along with another poet of your choosing. I choose Lucille Allison’s works rather than select a more well-known or frequently published author.

On the other side, my Mom’s mother, who I called simply Grandma and in her later years we all gleefully called Miss Mimi, was a gift who I was able to cherish until right before meeting Xerxes. She was always a character in many ways with a goofball personality, often a twinkle in her eye and a laugh that I can hear easily still bubbling up from my own heart. She was a seamstress, artist, doll maker, potter (I still have a few pieces) and being French Canadian she knew her way around a kitchen with ease and grace. Actually, when I became a Personal Chef, my Mother told me how Grandma had done something similar many years ago and how nearly every meal was inspired by Julia Child.

While my Oma has many recipes I cherish, I feel cooking is where I followed my Grandma’s foot steps. She cooked with¬†love and artistry including perfectly cooked vegetables, but also beautiful desserts such as her brownies, pecan pie, caramels and fruitcake. I grew up having no idea that people disliked fruitcake as it was a treasure in our home. So much so that my parent’s Wedding Cake was fruitcake as well. In addition to picking up her cooking passion, if I am so blessed, I would like to think I have a tad of her goofy sense of humor.

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My Miss Mimi hanging with her bestie Billy.

In her final weeks of life, my Mother asked me to fly out to Virginia to help her and her sisters as they went through the painful journey of saying good-bye to their mother who decided to stop dialysis treatment. It was of course a time of many emotions, but I cooked my way through it, keeping my family fed and making some of my Grandmother’s last meals.

Every night we would pour glasses of champagne, including one for Grammie and we would toast her to sleep. The last time she sat up fully, Grandma and I decided to watch a cooking show together. Rachel Ray was leading us through Twice Baked Potatoes. Grandma turned to me and said “Oh, Twice Baked Potatoes are a fabulous idea! I will have to make those when I am done with‚Ķ ” And then she burst out laughing “Oh! I guess I won’t be here!”

A few minutes after¬†that comment she started to feel deeply uncomfortable, and we quickly got her into her bedroom to lie down so she could rest. Once her cries finally calmed and she appeared to be sleeping, my Auntie Amy and I stayed with her to keep vigil. Curled up in her bed peacefully, Grandma peeked one eye open and said to both of us “Did I scare you!?”
For the love of mercy- she was such a hoot!

Even though I have more memories of eating Grandma’s food rather than cooking alongside her as so many chefs I know got there young start, her spirit is often with me as I cook whispering into my soul, try this, listen for that, smell deeply, taste this, fold with care, whisk with abandon, love it all. She is with me.¬†¬†¬†

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My sweet Grandma and Grandpa.

Several years after my Oma passed away, my Opa found a beautiful lady named Patti who he eventually married and she became my stepgrandmother. We called her Patti Grand, and grand she was indeed. Her first life was in Hollywood, as the wife to Howard Wilson who was a Sound Director whose movies include the Quiet Man. Like my Oma, he passed way too young.

Chatting with Patti Grand, all of us grandchildren were gifted many tales of her attending the Academy Awards, meeting¬†celebrities, and the beautiful places she traveled with each of her husbands. She also taught us how to play poker, and gave me my first sip of Glen Livet. Let’s say, compared to my relatively humble family, Patti Grand brought a bit of glamour and pizzaz to our days.

Soon after meeting Xerxes, and not long after my Grandma’s passing, my Opa became sick and went into the hospital for a brief period. Living only a few hours away in San Luis Obispo at the time, I drove down to LA to be with Patti, cook, clean, and navigate the situation with Opa and the hospital. It was an honor to be there for both of them, to cook them meals they celebrated with love and enthusiasm, but it also gave me ample chit-chat time with Patti where I heard all about her adventures with both Opa and Howard. She lived a colorful life and she cherished it. In her love of the fine life, she also had a handful of recipes I remember and really a rather decadent way of dining and enjoying life in general. This Local Food Year has been incredibly humbling in many ways, but Patti Grand’s whispers are to not be intimidated by the finer things. That price point might feel a bit much for the budget, but enjoyed with love and pleasure it is serving beyond its value.

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My Opa + Patti Grand

When they married, Patti Grand had recently been sick and at 80 years old and my Opa merely 75 years, they would talk¬†about how they probably wouldn’t have many years together. In addition, Patti made it clear that she would be dying before Opa. Instead, they were married for 18 years and my Opa sadly died before Patti, just a few days before my own wedding.

When I dig in to the dirt or face an empty page, my Oma’s influence feels ever present. In the kitchen, when I find myself approaching a meal with an eye towards grace, artistry and a wee bit of perfection my Grandma is closely with me. When I find myself enjoying something a bit extravagant Patti Grand reminds me to stay present with it and not over think whether or not I deserve it. The more I do this work, the more I feel a duty to them, who set the stage that women are strong, capable, unique artists with voices that need to share their ultimate truths whether through food, gardening, writing, painting, dancing, hiking or whatever makes their soul sing.

These women came before me and while they may not have sat me down and given me the step-by-step guide for all of what I am to do for this Local Food Year or even my life, I can’t shake the joy I feel from their distant secrets of how to do so many things. They breath life through messages I feel trickling up through spine, into my heart and out from my hands where I can serve them and their lives by living my own from a place of love, light and continuous creation.

When we celebrate Dia de los Muertos, when we look at how the dead have grandly entered and influenced our life, may we each face it not with the ghoulish nature that so often is projected in our society, but rather with profound respect for we are not who we are without these beautiful people who came and placed their marks own our hearts and their lessons within our souls.

I love you Oma, Grandma and Patti Grand!

With humble gratitude,

Lilly

Reflections on June… our first month of Local Food.

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Loving his Rhubarb Yogurt Parfait Snack

The first month of our local food year was beautiful, trying and full of a few surprises as well. We have received so many questions about it so far that I am excited to share what felt great and what we are still working to improve. It should be worth noting that while I love to plan and write lists and figure out all the details in advance, this adventure has had some outlining, but it was more about diving in and seeing what might transpire.

At the start, we quickly realized we needed to gobble up the existing food in our kitchen even if it was lacking local origin. This was a bit of a godsend as the month was busy with two different camps that kept the kids and I driving around the metro area every day for a couple of weeks and because fruit and vegetables are not quite abundant yet. I really thought we would have finished all of this non-local food by now, but we are still nibbling away on a few things.

The month also felt rather ‘built around meat‘. I realize the Standard American Diet practically requires meat at nearly every meal, but our family’s normal diet is a bit more on the semi-vegetarian side. Personally, while our delicious grass-fed beef and a handful of other options have been delightful, I plan to embrace more beans that I have been acquiring recently. Both for the sake of our tummies and our wallets.IMG_6187

In many ways, I have felt strapped to the kitchen. I have a feeling this is no surprise to most of you. I hesitate to lay this out as a complaint, but seriously dining out once a week (or more!?) has been missed by both of us if only for the break from cooking and cleaning. Part of this is because I have felt seriously uncertainty about the food that is coming and going. I must humbly share that I have not been effectively meal planning. I feel a bit ashamed to admit this publicly, since I meal plan as a profession, but, the transition to all local has thrown off my game. July is leaving me a lot of hope that if I make one change, just one significant improvement, it is to focus on meal planning. For reals!

As much as we miss the break offered by dining out, we do NOT miss the food received from restaurants. We have enjoyed some incredibly satisfying, goofy smile producing, do a little food dance in celebration meals. In many ways this was a driving force of this whole year. To be forced into creative new meals and ways of eating. This has been the best part by far.

IMG_6220Some of our favorite meals, include:
Meatball Sliders
Grilled Asparagus + Garlic Scape Potato Salad
Whole Wheat Tortillas stuffed with beans + grilled veggies
Sourdough Waffles (OMG… where have these been our whole lives!?)
Veggie Packed Sloppy Joes (tasty, but so simple to make no wonder lunch ladies love these!)
Lentil + Beet Salad
Rhubarb Coffee Cake

The kids favorites:
Eggs in a Hole
Strawberry Steamers
Donut Muffins stuffed with Creme Fraiche + Grape Jelly
Peanut Butter + Honey Ice Cream
Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Pancakes ‘in shapes’
Homemade Pickles (made by our visiting Tucson buddies!)
Cherries (not a meal, but their faces have become permanently stained, so worth noting their love)

We have also explored our food system in cool ways. On the second day of our Local Food Year, we drove to the Western Slope of Colorado. It made us reevaluate what we eat when we travel and I wrote about it here.

IMG_6268The kids and I also went berry picking twice. The first time came in the nick of time before our son’s 3rd birthday. Strawberry is his favorite for pretty much anything and thank goodness his birthday was the day after the first strawberry picking day at the Berry Patch Farm. The cake was delightful, all-local and sweetened only with honey.

We had a couple of meals with friends this first month and what was so delightful was how they were eager to figure out this local food thing with us. Our first meal with friends they brought the most delicious meat from their Uncle’s ranch that we grilled into burgers. Then dear friends were brave enough to have us over for dinner at their house where they served a gorgeous grilled Tri-Tip from Western Daughters, Fruition Cheese, a salad from their garden, tomatoes and we brought the Grilled Asparagus + Garlic Scape Potato Salad.

We also camped for about 24+ hours with our farming friends from Tucson who were visiting. They made homemade Colorado pickles and we collaborated on several meals including a Sausage Dinner made under a tarp in a heavy downpour, a scrumptious local Lentil + Potato Salad, a veggie hash with scrambled eggs for breakfast and a couple of lunches featuring local goodness and veggies to go on top of my Honey Whole Wheat Sourdough.

The garden was coming along quite nicely, we were excited about the possibilities and then we were hit hard by hail. We were not wiped out, but heartsick as we were excited to rely on our own produce. Fortunately, there are farms beyond our small area that were not damaged and we can continue to buy produce as needed. We are also starting to see some leaves that are giving us hope.

This is what we missed the most in our first month:
Xerxes: Convenience. Being able to buy food in a pinch.
Juliette: Sweet Cow (our favorite nearby ice cream shop)
Zed: Kombucha (This is confusing as we actually have been drinking it on occasion. 3-year olds are goofballs!)
Lilly: Eating out occasionally to take a cooking break.

What we most loved in June:
Xerxes: Sourdough Waffles and the delicious steaks + burgers
Juliette: Homemade Ice Creams
Zed: Homemade Ice creams and Yogurt Parfaits (see top photo).
Lilly: Whole Wheat Tortilla Tacos (although, I think I am going to make them sourdough soon) and the Grilled Asparagus + Garlic Scape Potato Salad

Things I am still figuring out and plan to work on in July:
snack plans for the kids
meal planning!
sourdough everything… well, if it is wheat based, but seriously those waffles made me want to sourdough everything up!

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Donut Muffins Filled with Creme Fraiche + Grape Jelly

What questions do you have about our first month of eating local?

Traveling Local Food!

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Brie + Jam Sandwiches as we drove up into the mountains!

On the 2nd day of our local food year, we thought, hey- this isn’t challenging enough, let’s drive 5 hours out of town and see how we manage. I suppose that wasn’t really the motivation, but that sarcastic phrase kept popping up in my head as I packed nearly every morsel we would consume on this trip.

Actually, Xerxes volunteered to help build the largest low-income solar installation in the state of Colorado through GRID Alternatives. That was the true motivation, but to get his family on board to join his adventure, he enticed me with promises of tasting local Colorado wines and hitting the Farmers Market in Montrose.

The original plan was to go camping, but when we attempted to get a site with the other GRID volunteers we had an awkward encounter with the owner who refused to let us camp because we had small children. There is a scary river nearby apparently. Our kids were disappointed until we promised a hotel with a pool instead.

As this promise was made, I suddenly had visions of standing in a hotel parking lot cooking up eggs, bacon + coffee on our Coleman and wondering again… what were we thinking!?¬†

But, after some more planning we actually had some of the best travel food we have ever enjoyed. I started by making way too many sausage size Honey Whole Wheat Sourdough Rolls which served not only the local brats + sauerkraut we had one evening, but sliced thin they become perfect little breads to top with the local cheese + salami I stocked up on at St. Killians in Denver. There was also a bag of baby lettuce from our greenhouse that we nursed through various types of sandwiches up until the last meal on our drive home.

For breakfasts in the hotel we had slices of bread with butter, hardboiled eggs and yogurt with apricot honey puree a friend gave me from last year’s harvest. For the coffee, Xerxes brought his personal sized press pot from work that we filled with hot water we simmered¬†in the room’s coffee pot. Alas I forgot milk for the coffee, so we decided a slight slip up with hotel creamer wouldn’t hurt. But, it made our otherwise delightful coffee seriously nasty, so I opted for black and was quite content. I always thought that hotel coffee was bad because of the beans, but apparently the creamer punishes the entire cup as well. (BTW- coffee has fallen on the exception list, that I will be writing up in a post soon!)

We had a few non-local items join us as well since per my last post we decided to eat rather than trash them, but for the most part it was a very local travel food supply.

While in Montrose, we hit up a great little indoor market that had some local cheeses (hey- cheddar!) and other goodies. Then on Saturday while Xerxes was volunteering, we went to the Farmers Market which was small but mighty with a limited selection of beautiful spring produce. I bought a bag of snap peas for each of my kiddos and they followed along after me munching away delighted. The kids also selected a small bag of dehydrated local fruit they enjoyed on the drive back, while I took some dry strawberries that are still on standby in my purse. I also snagged up some gorgeous pine nuts, a bundle of radishes, a freshly ground bag of colorful cornmeal and a couple pounds¬†of itty-bitty popcorn kernels that I can’t wait to see all fluffed up.

We also chatted with a local hog farmer and he invited us back to his farm later that afternoon to meet the baby piglets. More on that adventure later!IMG_6103We tried some lovely wines as well and were blessed with a sale on some of our favorites so we have a little stock of Colorado wines to enjoy throughout this season and probably next.

Probably the goofiest part was in the final hours of our drive back through the mountains, as the sun set Xerxes decided coffee would help him stay alert through the winding roads. Understandable, right!? As we pondered the possibilities of pulling out the Coleman, I suggested we just grab some hot water from a gas station and fill the press pot. Not long after this whim of a suggestion, I was stealthily walking out of the convenience mart with a steaming mini press pot of coffee and a bag of ice for our rapidly melting cooler. Even though¬†all I was grabbing was essentially no more than 3 pints of water in various states of matter, all in my own containers, it felt a bit like I was in violation… of what I am not sure.

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It wasn’t the longest trip, but in that final meal, at the fabulous rest stop with Solar Panel Flowers and a playground, as we scrounged together the odds and ends of all the weekend’s food, we both found ourselves feeling pretty blessed that this initial trip was so delicious and fairly uncomplicated.

Do you pack nearly all your food for road trips or do you wing it with a cooler and stops at restaurants?

May our local food adventure continue! If you want to see quick and periodic snap shots of our adventure follow us on Instagram or join our Facebook Group.

Cheers,

Lilly

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Comfort + Joy for Winter


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Comfort.
Joy.

These¬†two words are totally synonymous with the holiday season. Specifically that one Christmas song with all its tidings. But as I write this, I am currently weaning myself off of the Figgy Pudding, my view is of snow melting from our White Christmas and I can still smell the pine of our slowly drying + dying Christmas tree. It takes me awhile to let go of this time of year especially when it means diving into a season that is a tad dreary and which the ‚Äėhealth‚Äô obsessed seem to require we detox off the holiday with chilly veggie beverages and crunchy salads.

But… why?!

I hardly need the carols, sweets, treats, and holiday hoopla, but as we settle into the winter season with the holidays really marking the start of, why do we abruptly end all of that delightful comfort + joy just a few days after the glorious start of the season?Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 3.32.06 PM

In the last few years, I have been a tad obsessed with the notion of the season of Hygee. It is a time that is revered and celebrated in Denmark with candles, visiting with friends and family, and overall bringing a bit of light into the darkest months. Considering past winters full of my own workaholism that borders on depression, I cringe a bit to start this time of year again. Because apparently in my own life the idea of diving into work and post-holiday food austerity somehow makes me ‚Äúhappy‚ÄĚ.

Screw that!

I want some comfort, joy, fluffy blankets and sparkling lights that will last well through the spring of Colorado that is too often coated in snow and mud as I wring my hands overly anticipating the soil warming enough for me to plant anything!

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 3.30.55 PMAlas, I know very little of this Hygee pronounced Hoo-go, but I love the idea of discovering it. Especially with a few buddies. Want to join my adventure this season as I dive into candle lit family meals, comfort foods, bottomless cups of soups, fires indoors or out, walks in bundled up attire, maybe even some chestnuts on an open fire or even easier- some s’mores that are too often reserved for summer… oh the possibilities!

Even if you live in ‚Äėwarmer‚Äô climates as I did not too long ago in Arizona, the days are still shorter, and the hygee would still be a welcome change of pace from the harried winter months where hitting the grindstone seems oddly required in our capitalist world.

Does this glimmer of an idea, this season of hygee inspire you? What do you most look forward to doing this winter season?

Join my hygee adventure!

winterjamsignupbuttonTo start it off with a spark of light, I am doing an Instagram challenge where we will Re-New Our Food to discover the life-giving joy of feeding ourselves. This will not be about stringent cuts to calories and eliminating certain types of food (unless they are joylessРbye bye fake unhappy food), but rather it is a time to embrace the goodness that is abundant during the winter. We will explore new ways to use foods that are currently in our kitchen and turn them into comforting delights that nourish not only our bodies, but hopefully our hearts + souls as well.

Join the fun! As I started my party planning, I asked my 5-year old what she thought of when I said comfort + joy. Without skipping a beat, she said being cozy and playful. 

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 3.34.05 PMSo let’s snuggle up with this idea and play with all of the possibilities that are unfolding this crisp + bright season!

It’s FREE, Sign up for the FUN here!

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Cook seasonally. Eat consciously. Live well,

Chef Lilly

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Thanksgiving for Strangers

photo (16)One of the two strangers invited to our tiny Thanksgiving over 11 years ago, was a student at the yoga studio where my sister taught and I took classes almost daily. My sister overheard he was having surgery the day prior and she asked if he had Thursday plans.

Honestly, I was a touch annoyed that my sister so boldly invited him to our¬†no-responsibilities, no-expectations Thanksgiving. Although, I didn’t turn the idea down either– I mean he was cute and I was single, so what was my issue, right!? But, it did put a little fruit fly in my excitement as I now had to carefully consider my attire on top of the recipes I was crafting and preparing.

The stranger could barely walk post-surgery, so my sister escorted him into the kitchen and propped him on a stool. We chatted casually.¬†In my nervousness of having this¬†handsome guy¬†watch me cook, I kept cracking awkward jokes until he begged me to stop as laughing made him cringe in pain from the surgery. We talked about the ‘horror’ of food packaging waste on veggies, the fact that he was much, much older than me (in fact, he is only two and half years ahead) and his own interest in cooking. Apparently, he had been a chef, including starting a restaurant, before going back to school to get his doctorate in Physics.

I was intimidated, but admittedly more + more smitten.

The dinner was great, despite my apprehensions. We talked about what we were grateful for. I remember being thankful my Personal Chef business was finally happening after years of dreaming + scheming and that there were clients eating my food that very evening. But, I will never forget when he stood to get seconds, hobbling his way to the buffet determined to do it himself, chattering on about how it was one of the best Thanksgiving’s he had ever had.

He was smitten… at the very least by my food.

The next time I saw him, a week or so later, I was in a full tutu with a crown wrapped around a bun on my head as I lead my ballet students in a mini performance of the Nutcracker. Somehow that didn’t deter him. Our story has continued including many adventures, several change of addresses, countless more scrumptious shared meals, and now a couple of cute children we are figuring out how to raise.

Ever since that fateful day, we have an unspoken tradition of inviting someone we barely know, who is not in our immediate circle, for our Thanksgiving. I like to think it is in honor of that day when I first cooked for my sweet husband Xerxes, and that other stranger, Fig.

We don’t always have a guest that fits the ‘stranger’ requirement and on occasion my husband and I have been the strangers at someone else’s Thanksgiving. But, what that beautiful day years ago reminds me of is to¬†not resist¬†the life changing possibilities of opening your¬†doors¬†to someone or something new. That day, I was annoyed with my sister’s willingness to reach out to strangers with ease + grace, but I took away more than a future husband as I know now that outstretched arms can change any story.

We live in a world of uncertainty. Sigh. Lately, that statement seems to be understatement. Recently, Xerxes and I have shared sadness over our own family challenges as well as genuine heartache about events on the world stage that have left people without loved ones, without a home, without a country.

Too often… we feel helpless.

We are all striving, trying and forging our own journey. How can we honor our fellow humankind, even when we are thousands of miles away and seemingly useless? How, beyond dollars sent, can we be of service to our fellow humans who are suffering, displaced and challenged in ways we hope to never experience? How can we also honor our smaller more personal conflicts beyond wiping our own tears and attempting to learn from the lessons?

I wonder¬†what would happen¬†if all of us, me, you and everyone in between, reached out to more strangers? Would our worst fears come true? Or… would opening ourselves up to others actually lead to blessings… new paths, new stories?

The tragedy in Paris led to the twitter hashtag #porteouverte. This open door call came on a night when being afraid and closed off would be more than justified. That brave act of love, that was reposted over and over, hit me deeper than any other story from that evening as love was clearly winning. The new possibilities can only start with each of us courageously reaching out. When we are the ones who open our doors or if we are brave enough to be the ones who accept an invitation to be helped, we will inevitably receive a flood of love.

I know you have a story to share below when you connected with a stranger and goodness came forth. Maybe it was that homeless guy who you gave a couple of bucks in loose change and his giant smile filled your heart with blessings. Maybe it was the frazzled mom who you gave an understanding smile as she rushed her kids into school late with a baby screaming on her hip. And maybe now, you two go for a walk around the lake on a weekly basis as you talk about the craziness and bliss of raising children.

Our stories unite us and as we practice this muscle of giving a little love to a stranger, I believe we can change our world. The simplest days will be brighter, but also days such as Thanksgiving will turn into more than a holiday or an excuse to eat too much as we toast new people who come into our lives bearing the blessings of their own heart.

Join me. Let’s be grateful for the stranger everyday, but especially this Thanksgiving.

With love + gratitude,

Lilly

PS- This cherished photo above was taken the day our story began Thanksgiving in 2004. Xerxes and I are the ones looking towards the camera… and maybe into the window of our coming future yet unknown to those two innocent faces.

Back-to-School, Back-to-Love

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Morning routine drawn, happy pictures taken and my bright, beautiful 5-year old headed off for her first day of Kindergarten. As my husband said on repeat as we drove him to work immediately following “That was big. Whatever just happened was really big”. And he is right in bigger ways than either of us could have expressed on that short drive.

You have a baby and in those moments when you are at a loss, when they are inconsolable and you are beyond sleep deprived in some other orbit from the rest of the world, you find yourself longing for the first day of school when someone, anyone other than you, will be in their attendance for 8 hours at a time.

In many ways, I knew she wouldn’t cry or fuss¬†on the first¬†day. She was too darn excited. Four days earlier she actually had a meltdown because school had not started yet. Other than a ‘shy moment’ when we introduced ourselves to the school principal, she slid onto that blue kindergarten carpet without issue. Just a few feet away I was using all my effort to hold back the water in my eyes and kept wishing to drop my sunglasses on my face so as to not distract her with my own flooding emotions.

A lot has happened since she graduated from preschool a few months ago and the result has left her relatively unaware while I am still in recovery. It started when she had a seizure in May that lead to an ER visit. “Febrile seizures” they said, followed by: “Chances are she may never have another. Just make sure to reduce her fever when she is sick.”

We went home and life continued almost entirely unaltered other than a story to tell about the horror of watching your child go from simply sick to seizing followed by a hysterical ambulance ride and how touched we were by the supportive community that rose up to help us. We told the story from a place of relief– chances are she may never have one again. That phrase helped me sleep at night with her blissfully in the other room.

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But, that phrase was not for our family. Within a few weeks, she had another seizure. This time it was without a fever although that arrived a few hours later. Basically, instead of a fever indicating she may get a seizure, the seizure was the warning of a nasty bug that lasted over a week. Then she had another seizure in the middle of the night a few hours after we returned from the ER. That was how our summer began.

I was undone. Suddenly, my semi-lax parenting style that I felt allowed her plenty of space to grow and my lack of concern when she got sick hey- it helps build her immune system, right!? were tossed out the window. I felt hyper-aware of everything, completely on top of her and uncomfortable with myself much less our relationship.

The following weeks of summer followed suit as I spent more time with my children, yet in a state of anxiety and fear. Attempting to do whatever next thing I could think of to keep her from another seizure or to distract myself from the awful feeling inside. While she didn’t have another one during the summer, it was hardly because of my worry and stress.

Then we went on a trip. A big one for us. Two and a half weeks that involved flying across the country to drive up and down the East Coast. In the first eight days, we drove for six. Typically about 2-3 hours per day that we attempted to overlap with our toddler’s nap, but we started learning the hard lesson that small children aren’t nearly as motivated to sit blissfully looking out at scenery listening to self-help books on tape as we were. Our love of road-tripping that shaped our 20’s and early 30’s was vanishing fast.

Did I mention, throughout it I was an emotional mess? Everything felt big and wrong and icky. Tantrums from either child felt larger than I could bear. And every transition from car to house to car to hotel was more dramatic than it needed to be. I attempted to relax on the days that were ‘relaxing’ but threats to my children seemed all around. Watching my daughter in the pool, with her new love of putting her head underwater had me sitting on standby with eyes locked on her every twitch, ready to rescue her. I had never felt this way and suddenly my empathy for the helicopter parenting style soared. I was torturing myself.

At the end of our time in the Poconos, we planned one more trip around the lake on Great Grandpop’s Golf Cart that my children were obsessed with. My daughter ran into the cabin where I had been packing and said “Mama- we want YOU to drive the Golf Cart”. Half teasing, I said “Oh, I have never driven a Golf Cart before. Should I be nervous?”

Her wide eyes looked up at me and with a slight giggle she said:

“Mama, YOU can feel anyway you want.”

photo 2 (1)At that moment, I was no longer looking at my child, but rather an angel with a specific message. YOU CAN FEEL ANYWAY YOU WANT. I knew I wasn’t nervous about driving a Golf Cart, I was nervous something would happen to this sweet girl in front of me who was walking around with a piece of my heart inside of hers. Her words shot through my entire being and I suddenly felt willing to heal from our summer. Willing to feel something other than fear. I craved feeling the joy she clearly held and I finally let her love infect me.

That was the first step, opening up to feeling differently, feeling better. Then a couple of days later my husband and I had one of those ‘serious’ should we invest a chunk of change in my business or not conversations and somewhere in there it came out that I was blaming myself for our daughter’s seizures. That I couldn’t control them. That I failed to keep her safe.

As the words poured out, I didn’t realize the truth they had held deep within me. My husband grabbed me and said “It was not your fault.” over and over until I was a puddled of tears letting all the self-blame come spilling over.

The logical side of me knew that I didn’t cause her to be sick, much less cause her to seize. In the moment of each seizure I had risen to the occasion in the best way I could, pulled together and present for her shaking yet stiff body as I frantically whispered to her I am with you¬†and please come back to me. Eventually,¬†her body would crumble into my arms both of us defeated. Meanwhile, that ego-based creature deep within gnawing at my soul that wants to control everything, told me something false: I had failed my child. With my husband’s words, I felt the next step. I was starting to let go. It was not my fault.¬†

playing + building sandcastles

Playing + building sandcastles

Soon after our ‘big trip’ finally became a vacation as we found ourselves with toes deep in the sand, the sun drenching us as we played in the ocean or pool together. We experienced a place we never knew existed with inviting warm water, blindingly white beaches and the perfect balance of breeze. The rawness was slowly washing away and I found myself a layer deeper, somehow exfoliated by emotions that had spent the summer overwhelming me.

Returning home to the back-to-school countdown, I finally felt refreshed and ready to deal with whatever the new year has in store.

Will my daughter have a seizure again? Maybe. Maybe not.

Will she be in a school that will take care of her and will do their best for her if she has a seizure? Yes.

Will she get sick? Probably.

Will I blame myself? I hope not, because that will mean I once again am trying to control the uncontrollable.

photo 1 (1)

Letting the sun warm my sweet toddler and I as we sailed around.

Dropping my daughter at school that first day was very different than I anticipated just a few months ago. Our summer brought lessons of letting go, releasing self-blame and allowing love to win. I hope to remember these lessons throughout the next 13 years of her education, because as my sweet angel told me I can feel anyway I want.    

With Love,

Lilly