Saturday, September 29, 2012

Fall Leaf Tour

Today we went on our annual fall leaf tour up around Cripple Creek and Victor. Last year when we took Allie, she was a tiny little peanut.

Although she was much bigger this year, she still kindly slept during the whole drive so we could enjoy ourselves. Here's a video of the beautiful view - a lot of leaves still haven't turned yet.(OK, so she woke up in time to scream for the video.)

Then we stopped by Mueller State Park for a short hike. Last time we went there, I was preggo and could barely make it up the hill. This time, we just so happened to run into our friends the Ohls in the parking lot and had a nice little hike together.

And Allie got to hang out with her friend Nathan, who is exactly one year older than she is. Obligatory baby video:

Friday, September 28, 2012

Allie Upside Down

I've been thinking. You know what this blog could use a lot more of? Videos of babies.

To remedy the situation, here is an up-close video of Allie.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Spirituality of Nursing or "Amber Done Turned Hippie"

This week, Alexandra is officially weaned. It has not left us unmarked - Allie has been crying because of constipation, poor dear, and I've been crying because I suddenly can no longer eat like a rabid wolverine. (This has apparently not yet set in, as I am eating cookie dough out of the tub while I type.) I didn't want to leave this milestone unmarked, because as it turns out, nursing was a very moving experience for me.

Disclaimer: I do not write this so anyone will compare their experience with mine. I simply write it to remember something that was very special to me. 

If you recall, I'm more of a head person than a heart person much of the time, and so before Allie was born, Mike said he really couldn't picture me nursing. I myself couldn't really picture it and wasn't sure how I'd fare.

At first, nursing was hard work. I could tell you of several Three Stooges-esque episodes in which four people worked at once to get that 5-pound  babe to actually eat. But I won't. In fact, it wasn't until Allie was about 3 months old that nursing was finally easy and even serene.

That time spent nursing my sweet little baby turned this crusty, critical woman into a smooshy, sentimental sap. I simply loved it. Holding a baby who is completely trusting in your arms and offering them a primal comfort is something utterly different from anything I'd experienced before. Since I'm a writer, I'm going to get all analytical about it.

Because I'm a theist, I believe all things were created by God - each bodily function was not an afterthought, but carefully crafted. And because we were carefully crafted by God, these functions must reveal something about the Creator of it all. I couldn't help when nursing my baby but feel that it was somehow an expression of one part of who God is.

And in case I'm sounding too earthy-birthy, the writers of the Bible agree! Isaiah uses nursing as an analogy for the great good God has promised to Israel:

"Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her,
    all you who love her;
rejoice greatly with her,
    all you who mourn over her.
For you will nurse and be satisfied
    at her comforting breasts;
you will drink deeply
    and delight in her overflowing abundance."

We are supposed to rejoice for we will be figuratively nursed and therefore satisfied, comforted and delighted. The experience of a baby nursing from her mother is a shadow of the joy we will have in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The love of a nursing mother is even compared to God's love for His people:

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
    and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
    I will not forget you!

When trying to come up with how strong and unconditional God's love is, the prophet's best comparison was a nursing mother.

Now that I'm pretty much done with nursing, I feel a sense of mourning. I've been looking forward to having my body back to myself for awhile and getting to sleep through the occasional morning feeding. But at the same time, it's sad that such a beautiful time has come to an end. But that is the way with so much of life. God created so many seasons, beautiful in their own way, that each reflect Him uniquely. And what an honor that we get to take part in that. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Are You Willing to Do Nothing for God?

The first day of the Story conference, a conference "for the creative class," left me feeling a bit of hipster vertigo. Although my husband and I are both writers, we tend to shy away from people who classify themselves as "creatives." We best like hanging out with engineers, so we can play the role of the creative kooks with limited competition.

Can you picture a conference created by engineers for engineers? I'm imagining clearly labeled schedules, a lot of khaki and polo shirts, and talks punctuated by subpoints and graphs.

Now picture the opposite of that - a conference created by "creatives" for "creatives," and you have the Story conference. A schedule that did not actually include who was speaking when. Cider served in the lobby by a mustachioed unicyclist. Performance artists creeping in the corners. Enough young men in skinny jeans to fill a hundred years of hipster pin-up calendars.

It was not exactly my thing. (With the exception of the mustachioed unicyclist cider server. I'd like him to ride by my house at 3 pm every day.) But two speakers, the very last two, resonated with me. My coworker already blogged about what Kyle Idelman had to say, so you can read about that here.

The other speaker was Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales and Bob the Tomato. (When he got excited during his talk, he'd start to sound suspiciously like Bob.)

Phil was an ambitious guy - he started out wondering, "What's the one big thing I'm going to do for God during my life?" He had a passion for teaching children and came up with a tomato and a cucumber to battle the evils of Hollywood. He eventually thought his God-given mission in life was to create the Christian Disneyland. He had success after success, which led him to believe God was leading him in that direction.

But then in 2003, everything came crashing to the ground when Veggie Tales went bankrupt and the rights to everything he worked to create was sold at a public auction, even Bob. So here follow my notes on what Phil learned from this crisis in his life.
  • Sometimes we think God wants from us what we actually want. When we're trying to figure out what we can "do" for God, such as creating the next Disneyland, our answers reveal more about what we think we need in our lives to be valuable. Phil's father left their family when he was a little boy. Since that time, he's still grappling with trying to earn His heavenly Father's love - to be worthy enough not to be left.
  • Once you've said, "God, here's what I'm going to do for you," you've turned the relationship upside-down. If we've given our lives to Christ, then what we're doing in 5 years or 10 years or 15 years is really none of our business. God doesn't need our ambitious long-term business plans to accomplish great things, he needs us to obey Him today.
  • When we're focused on outcomes, we get stress, not fruit. When we have big ambitions (even if they're "for God"), we tend to focus on outcomes rather than on obedience to God. There is no stress if we leave the outcome in God's hands. Do we have peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control - the fruit of the Holy Spirit? Or do we have stress? 
And my favorite point of all...
  • Are we willing to do nothing for God? If not, it's religion and ego-scratching. We must find our identity in Christ so our work doesn't come out of our wounds from the past or our ego, but from Christ. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012


I'm home! The remainder of my time in Chicago at Story was really good. There were a couple of speakers at the conference who resonated with me, Kyle Idleman, author of Not a Fan, and Phil Vischer, of Veggie Tales fame. I believe I'll post notes from their talks soon.

Being away from Alexandra was way easier this time than in June. She did way better too. She was basically partying it up with dad the whole time. Here she is with her new lion from the zoo.

After the conference was over on Friday (followed by an after party complete with nitrogen-frozen ice cream, a mixologist and creepy bunny dancers), we had a chance to tourist it up. We walked to the Chicago Bean, something I'd never heard of but is apparently famous to non-rubes. It was raining the whole way, so we were soaked through, but the bean was actually super neato. Here's my coworker Eric checking his phone in front of the super-neato bean.

That night we walked and walked and walked in the rain and were finally rewarded with a repeat dinner at Lou Malnati's (where we had deep dish pizza two nights before). I ate a loaf of spinach bread for dinner. Hmm...I wonder why I gained two pounds on this trip?...

The next morning, I got to see Lake Michigan.What a beautiful place on the edge of a big city!

And I got to eat a blueberry crepe with lemon ricotta filling made by a genuine Parisian from the farmers market.

On my ride to the airport, I got to have a good conversation with yet another Muslim middle-Easterner, Abdullah from Jordan. He was very friendly and we talked about babies and religion and food. Next time I go to Chicago, his beautiful Syrian wife is going to make me tabbouleh. My conversations with Abdullah and Rashid, my Pakistani cabbie from Wednesday, coupled with listening to a Christian Palestinian, Sami Awad, whose family was displaced in the 1948 founding of Israel, left me with a takeaway: In all the protests and negative news surrounding Muslims in the middle East, it's good to remember that not all Muslims are violent American-haters as the nightly news might lead us to believe. Most are people just like you and me who love their families, want to have a happy and peaceful life, respecting the people around them.

When I got home from my trip, my cute little baby was waiting for me, not seeming to notice I had ever really left.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Windy City

Guess where I am? Chicago! Yay!

I've always hated coming to Chicago, but that's because I only ever flew through the airport and primarily sat for long hours with no internet and no good food, the two things that make me happiest in life. Except my baby. And husband. And God. And all that.

I digress. I'm at Story, a conference for the "Creative Class," which apparently means accordionists and hipsters.

I digress again. I got in yesterday afternoon and I had the coolest drive in to the hotel. My cab driver was a Muslim from Pakistan. (By the way, I'm so tired, I just wrote "My cab driver was a Pakistan from Muslim.") We got to talk about the protests, how Pakistan has changed in the past 20 years and the difference between Islam and Christianity. I even got to share the gospel, in a very stuttery, broken kind of way. It was cool. I also learned so much from Rashid about what he believes. I just love getting to talk to people from other cultures, which doesn't happen so much, being the crazy shut-in that I am. 

My hotel is a bright blueberry of a place. Really. There's blueberry wallpaper and lime colored curtains. Very exuberant for the hipster "creative class."

I went with my coworkers to get deep dish pizza for dinner last night...I can't say I liked the pizza.But the menfolk did.

Today we went to the conference and I got butterflies in my stomach every five minutes worrying about my poor abandoned baby. (Turns out, she's doing just fine and hasn't been enrolled in psychotherapy just yet.)

For dinner we wandered down to the magnificent mile, which is famous for its shopping. I'm not big into shopping, and this was all yer high-falutin' stores, like Hermes and Vera Wang, so I can't say I was much interested. We wandered and wandered but couldn't find an affordable restaurant that wasn't busy, so we ended up at California Pizza Kitchen. I felt a little guilty, eating CPK in Chicago...but honestly a California salad is more up my alley than a Chicago deep dish pizza.

And that's all I have to say about that. Good night!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

12 Months!!!

Happy Birthday, Alexandra!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

What Day is Today? It's Allie's Big Day.

Yesterday was Allie's big birthday party with Jett. Jett just turned 2 and Allie is turning 1 on Tuesday. Hooray!

We had a Finding Nemo themed party, since we love Nemo.

We had blue ocean water to drink.

And sand dollar cookies. (Thank you, Pinterest, for easy, cheap ideas!)

We ate Nemo's Cousins (Goldfish), Shark Teeth (triangular cheese) and seaweed spread (spinach dip).

Little fishies watched over the party.

There were lots of presents, especially since it was a joint birthday. And here is the one photo you get to see of Jett. :)

Jett loved the cupcakes and ate one and a half, very politely with a fork, making sure not to get dirty. Alexandra, on the other hand, wouldn't take a single bite of cake. The frosting on her lips is only there because Mike put it there. But she did enjoy massaging the frosting with her fingers and trying to wipe it on Jett.

She got some excellent toys, such as this Broncos outfit that she can wear while we're watching...Pride and Prejudice.

And she got this toy car that she is just wild over.

Today was a big day for her too - she was dedicated at church along with her friend Timothy.

I love that Crazy Allie is looking down over the proceedings.

Happy Birthday, Alexandra!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Party Trick

Alexandra's first birthday party is tomorrow, so she started working on a party trick today to share with all her guests.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Happy Apples

This weekend, we reveled in all the goodness that is a late summer weekend.

On Saturday, we went to Roxborough State Park, which I'd never gone to, even though I grew up so close to it.

Then we dropped by to see our new nephew be adorable, which he was.

On Sunday, we went back to Happy Apple Farm, which is becoming an annual event for us.We went with our friends the Navarros who have a daughter just about Allie's age. The only thing cuter than a little baby is two little babies!

We ate apples until we made ourselves sick, and then to make ourselves feel better, we ate apple pie. We were reminded of how grateful we are to have good friends.

Look, Allie's two feet tall!

Man, I'm a sucker for these tourist photo spots.

Here are my happy apples.

Now it's a cold and drizzling morning - the first harbinger that fall means serious business. But I'm cozy in bed, cuddling with my little apples.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Man Behind the Camera

I had the fun opportunity to interview Jeff Arnold for Compassion the other day. He started working on my old team the week that I switched to Compassion Canada. Read more about his coolest and hardest job here.

And just a teaser to get you to read it, here's what he does:

Monday, September 10, 2012

Allie Loves Books

Throwing them, that is.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Day in My Life: Allie Speaks Out

Hello, tall ones. It has been brought to my attention that my life has been misrepresented on this blog as being all giggles and good times. Yes, my life with the Tall People is nice. But it's also a lot of work. I wanted you to have a more realistic look at my life, so here is a glimpse into one of my days.

7 a.m.: Woke. Wrestled Ollie the Oliphant until Tall Guy came and got me. It took him a whole 5 minutes. Sheesh! It's hard to get good help. Tall Lady nursed me and that made me happy. Lately, she and Tall Guy have been conspiring to pawn off a bottle on me instead of the real deal. Whatever! I wasn't born yesterday, so I turn my nose up at that thing.

7:30 to 8: Rolled around on the bed with the Tall People. Punctuality and bottles aside, I really like them.

8 to 10: My daily exercise regime. You don't get thighs like this without hard work. I did my squats, my presses, and all my yoga moves.

10 to 11: Nap with Ollie.

11 to 12: The Tall Lady nursed me again. Then I did even more of my Thigh Master 2000 Workout, doing pull-ups and push-ups on her. I really needed to unwind from all this activity, so I spent some time doing my favorite activity: blowing raspberries on Tall Lady's leg. Her legs aren't nearly as toned as mine, so at the end, I bit her knee. I just couldn't resist, they're so chubby. She has a bruise from it today. She keeps whining about it.


12 to 1: Tall Lady took me took Walmart and I made Chewbaca noises at everyone who passed me.

1 to 1:30: Tall Lady tried to feed me peas. Peas, I tell you! I threw them on the floor. Tall Lady kept shaking her head. I wonder if she has a tic. She should have that looked into. Then she gave me meat. I didn't want it, so I screamed at her. I wanted to make sure she understood that I disapproved, so I screamed repeatedly, very loudly.

1:30 to 2: I had some more workout time in the living room. Tall Lady kept looking at that flat thing with buttons, so I let her know that this was inappropriate behavior by screaming. You have to be firm and consistent, so I made sure to scream repeatedly, very loudly. What they say is true - discipline is hard work!

2: Tall Lady put me down for a nap. Whatever! What, does she think, I'm 10 months? I stood in my crib and cried for a long time until Tall Lady came to get me. She tried to nurse me again, since I skipped lunch. I decided this was the perfect way to sleep, but she wouldn't let me and put me back in my crib. How rude! Like I said, good help is hard to find.

Tall Guy finally got back, and since I had been firm and clear for several hours, I didn't have to nap. Consistency is everything, people! Just be firm and unswerving, and they'll understand how to behave appropriately eventually.

5: Tall People tried to feed me again. What a bore! I let them know I disapproved by screaming and throwing the food on the floor. That tic came out again and they kept saying the same thing over and over again. Something like, "Nooooo." I really do think they need to see a doctor for that.

5:30 to 7: Wow, it was an eventful day, what with all the exercise and Tall People training. I unwound by eating some leaves in the back yard and then having a long soak in the tub. It had been a hard day of discipline training for the Tall People, so I made sure to give them lots of extra hugs and affection before bed so they would know it was all right.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Confession of an Inhospitable Woman

Hi, my name is Amber, and I'm inhospitable. ("Hi, Amber.")

I read this post recently and was reminded again of an ongoing struggle for me: hospitality.

Often when I tell people I'm not a hospitable person, they are surprised. I did write a book about throwing parties, but that does not a hospitable person make. Hospitality isn't about cooking good food or having an immaculately decorated home or having a cleaning regime up to Mary Poppins' standard. And therein lies the problem: I confuse hospitality with perfection.

Growing up, I lived in a very neat house. I've mentioned it before, but my parents are hardworking people. The author of Proverbs could have said, "Look to the Brays, you sluggard!" in place of the Proverbial Ant. Even when they are tired and busy, they always make time to do the dishes, tidy up, and put everything in its place.

My problem is that I inherited their standards but not their diligence. Alas, I am lazy when compared to my parents. From the outside, this might not seem true. I keep a generally clean home - though I would compare it to Holden Caulfield's roommate in The Catcher in the Rye - he looks like a pretty together guy, but when you look closely at his razor, you see it's rusted and dull. If you look at my home from afar, it looks nice. But if you get up close, you see cheerios on the floor, dust on the mantelpiece, and Tower of Pisa-esque stacks of laundry.

(I'm not kidding about the dust. One time, a friend of ours was over and, looking down at the top of our entertainment center in our sunken living room, exclaimed, "Is that dust?!" upon seeing the thick blanket nestled there. Curse you, tri-level!)  

Mike and I host small group and dinner every Monday at our house, and I'm embarrassed to admit how much of a struggle that is for me. I start worrying about it on Wednesday. I get itchy palms on Friday. And by Sunday, I've got the sweats - all because of the worry that I won't have time to whip up a perfectly clean home by Monday night. (Despite the fact that lovely Mikey ends up doing much of the cleaning himself. What a guy! Huzzah! Bravo!)

But my itchy palms let a negative attitude creep in - that small group is an imposition, rather than an opportunity to welcome others, share with them, bless them, and be blessed by them in return.

In retrospect, I see how silly it is. I'm always so encouraged and happy when my guests leave. I know that our little band of friends is helping one another along through the difficulties in life. And not once have they pointed out my imperfections...Well, OK, just that once.

I'm learning that hospitality is about our heart - our warmth and love - not about keeping a perfect home. If instead of focusing so much on the toys on the floor and fingerprints on the window, I rather focused on the state of my heart - on creating a place where people can be refreshed and encouraged, just think of the difference it could make not only to others, but also to myself.

"He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed." Proverbs 11:25  

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Five Years

Tomorrow, I'll go to Compassion's weekly chapel. They'll play cheesy jazz music. I'll walk to the stage and shake a big wig's hand. They'll give me a statuette of Jesus. All this can only mean one thing: I've been here for five years!

Mike and I divide our lives as pre-Colorado Springs and present day. All that led up to moving here was our formative youth, and so we associate the Springs as the beginning of our established, adult life.

Our first few years were hard. Mike struggled to find employment before we started the ice cream store, and I missed northern Colorado and our friends dreadfully.

But slowly and surely, the Springs have become our home.

We found a church that we consider our home and our family - people who would be there for us if our car broke down or our home burned down (which they have proven).

I found work that uses my skills and is both fulfilling and exciting. Mike has become an ice cream mogul, using his myriad skills as an entrepreneur.

We found our favorite local hang outs, bakeries and shops - even in the midst of the restaurant chain desert that is the Springs.

And we found new places to explore and love - the red rocks of the aptly named Red Rock Canyon, the scrub oak jungles of Bear Creek Canyon, the uninterrupted vistas of our now-burnt hillsides.

It hasn't been an easy five years, but it's all part of the unfolding story of life - one we are eager to share with our small family - camping in the backyard, looking at the changing aspens on Wilkerson Pass, ducking through caves with old-time lanterns, and picking berries at Happy Apple Farm.

Thank you, God, for my work, my church, my family, and my home.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Built-in Bookcases

When we bought our house, our living room looked like this. That awful gun-barrel grey paint on the pillars was scattered throughout the home.

Then after we'd lived here a couple of years, it looked like this.

We still disliked all that wasted space on either side of the fireplace and, despite our home full of bookcases, we still had books stacked here, there, and everywhere. So Mike has been hard at work, and here is the fruit of all his labor!

Look at all those lovely books that now have a home. And now we have lots of storage in the cabinets and the baskets on the first shelf.

We still have to install the crown molding on the top, but that is a project for another day. I, along with every other girl my age who first saw Beauty and the Beast in the theaters, dreamed of having my very own 5-story library with a ladder. And now my very own beast has built me my bookcases. Mike and I love them because they make the home feel so very us - stacks of children's books and Shakespeare and Aristotle anthologies.

Thank you, Mikey!