Oliver’s Birthday Experience

In the middle of the Yaya and Grandchild Christmas shopping trips, I hit “pause” today for a birthday dinner and shopping experience. Grandson Oliver celebrates his 10th birthday Monday. He will get to go Christmas shopping for his family next Wednesday. We spent the day together on this gorgeous Saturday, focusing on him rather than others.

This grandchild waits very patiently for his birthday excursion at the end of the year. He knows his turn is coming. And he doesn’t mind that his birthday and Christmas are exactly one week apart. A birthday is a birthday, after all. No combined celebrations for him.

As with my other grandkids, Oliver got to choose where he ate his birthday meal and where and how he wanted to spend the birthday money I gave him. We had such a fun day together.

Where the other grandchildren have chosen to spend their money of things that they wanted, or in my oldest grandson’s case, things he needed, Oliver continued down a different path that he initially embarked on last year.

Oliver prefers to do things, rather than purchase things. He chooses to experience fun and create memories over buying more stuff. He selected the mall as his destination, and his birthday celebration began in earnest.

With his birthday cash, he bought a small amount of candy at the mall sweet shop, and an inexpensive remote control helicopter. The rest of his afternoon was spent being an active participant in his own celebration.

Oliver experienced the Spider Jump, a favorite activity for him, where he bounds high into the air and flips forwards and backwards. He tried out the newly set up Virtual Reality pods, selecting a dinosaur park to explore. This boy talked me into joining him. Although the experience was interesting, we both felt it could have been better.

We spent the bulk of our time together at TILT, the arcade located at the mall. Oliver loaded a card there with cash, which he could then easily scan at the various games he played. He joined other kids a couple of times in the laser tag area, drove race cars, went on dangerous virtual missions requiring skill with weapons and beat me several times at air hockey.

I tagged along, cheering him on, watching him play, listening to his lively chatter. This is what I love about these one on one times with the kids, seeing them shine as their unique selves and hearing what’s on their minds.

These was incredibly cool, a mission impossible style crawl across a room full of laser beams. Oliver selected the hardest level…and in 74 seconds was slapping the check point button on the opposite wall, all without breaking a single beam.

We concluded Oliver’s birthday experience at his restaurant of choice, Cracker Barrel. There he enjoyed a hearty breakfast for dinner and a decadent piece of chocolate cake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. As we dined, we talked.

Oliver is a great conversationalist. He always asks me about my work and what I am currently enjoying in my journey. He asks great questions, like this one that he posed tonight: Yaya, what has been your favorite age? And he followed up with a Tell me why… when I answered.

I love watching this boy as he shifts into a young man. Oliver is thoughtful, polite to the people assisting him, and very curious about the world and the way things work. I am fascinated with his desire to experience his birthday by doing rather than buying items, and I look forward to seeing where this trend of his goes. It is wonderful to see Oliver, younger brother to Joey, older brother to Aubrey, becoming more and more his own person, sure about who he is and what he wants to do.

Happiest of birthdays, Oliver. I appreciate who you are, and who you are becoming. Thank you for spending time with me, sharing your thoughts and your heart and your unique perspectives. I love you!

Winter Band Concert

What a treat this evening, to be in the audience during grandson Jonathan’s band concert debut. This talented young man, who sings, dances and performs in musicals and plays, added a band instrument to his repertoire three months ago, choosing the clarinet.

Tonight the 6th Grade Band opened the winter concert at the Pittsburg Memorial Auditorium.

Looking classy in a white button down shirt, suspenders and a bow tie, Jonathan was front and center on the stage. He did not appear to be at all nervous for his first band concert.

The 6th Grade Band, Jazz Band, and 7th & 8th Grade Band performed under the direction of Mr. Matthew Reimer. He did a fantastic job of introducing each band and explaining their musical numbers. It was easy to see that this dedicated band teacher is building skills in his students that will further their musical talents.

Jonathan and his fellow musicians led off with A Mozart Melody by W.A. Mozart, a readily recognizable tune. Listen to it HERE. Their next selection was Listen to Our Sections by John Higgins. Mr. Reimer explained this piece helps the students learn when to play, and when not to play. Watch it HERE.

Aura Lee by George R. Poulton was musical piece number three. You can experience it HERE. And for their grand finish, the band performed a Christmas classic, Jingle Bells by J.S. Pierpont. Sing along HERE.

I was so proud of Jonathan, and the 6th Grade Band. These children are at the beginning of a musical journey that will take them through hours and hours and hours of practicing and perfecting. Ahead are many performances in marching bands, ensembles and concerts. I am thrilled to have witnessed this auspicious first performance.

Jonathan’s big brother, Dayan, who made it home from the university in time to be present in the audience, began his musical journey in 6th grade as well. I spent the next six years enjoying his concerts and performances. How perfectly timed is Jonathan’s decision to pursue band as well. I have more years ahead to enjoy his performances.

There are powerful life lessons to learn, mastering a musical instrument. Those lessons about playing their parts, focusing on the music in front of them, and allowing the other musicians to play their parts well are apparent to me also as I watch with appreciation and gratitude.

It just would not have felt right this December, without a band concert to attend. Well done, Jonathan. You played beautifully. Bravo!

Joy Multiplied

I truly do love this time of year. From the big family Halloween party at the end of October, to the beginning of a shiny New Year, this is a season of incredible joy and special connections and marvelous fun. At the center of it all is family.

I spent the afternoon and evening with granddaughter Aubrey, on outing two of five of the annual Yaya and Grandchild Christmas shopping tradition.

I can tell my grandchildren are growing up, beyond my observations of how tall they are getting or how mature our conversations have become. Their shopping habits are changing.

As she did for her birthday shopping trip, Aubrey avoided the toy store for our Christmas outing, preferring the mall and a big box type store. She shopped wisely and with great care for her family members, not wanting to waste any time in shops that did not have what she was looking for.

She did pause to point out a cute outfit, in case I needed any gift ideas for her. However, her focus, for the most part, was on others and surprising them with thoughtful purchases.

I love these one on one excursions with each grandchild, following them as they browse, listening to their chatter and observing their gift selection process. Each child is unique and has his or her own way of making decisions.

Aubrey chose Popeye’s for dinner, hungry for their cajun chicken, mildly seasoned for her, mac & cheese and biscuits. We continued conversations we had started in the car, including one on the serious topic of bullying. I questioned her about bullying in her school, and was relieved by her answer. However, we discussed the importance of standing up for ourselves and for others who are being picked on, and that it is always okay to talk to an adult if she notices a child being treated unkindly.

After that conversation, Aubrey found a yellow wrist band on the sidewalk outside of a store, with “No bullying” written on it. She asked about the big word that describes when things connect unexpectedly, leading to a chat about synchronicities! I love the interesting flow of life, and I love Aubrey’s heart.

At my house Aubrey made quick work of wrapping her gifts, writing her own gift tags and selecting bags and tissue paper. And then it was time to take her home, after a successful and fun evening.

I thought again tonight about how magical this season is. For me there is deep gratitude, a recognition of blessings and Divine guidance, and appreciation for gifts that cannot be wrapped, only experienced and held in the heart.

I love the sights and sounds of Christmas, the crisp cold air, the warmth of home, the joy that surrounds me and overflows my heart. And, that joy is magnified and multiplied by these grandchildren who share shopping trips and stories and meals and dreams with me. This is my favorite part of the most wonderful time of the year.

Store Review: Natural Grocers

I have looked forward to this day since I first learned Joplin was getting a full service health-centric grocery store. I’ve watched with keen anticipation as the building went up, at the busy corner of 7th and Range Line.

This morning, Natural Grocers opened its doors in Joplin, launching the store with a day full of activities designed to draw the curious and the excited within. I inhabited both categories! I grabbed a shopping cart and wheeled through the store late this afternoon.

I went to their website to research this company, with 143 stores currently in its corporation, and I was impressed and inspired. Margaret and Philip Isely started Natural Grocers with $200 that they borrowed, and the earnest desire that everyone should be able to afford a healthy lifestyle and be empowered to take control of their health.

They began by going door to door in Golden, Colorado, lending out books on nutrition, talking to people about their health, and giving samples of whole grain bread. They would return after a couple of weeks to answer questions and take orders for the bread, nutritional supplements and natural, nourishing foods.

During a time when TV dinners and convenience foods were enjoying their heyday, the Iseleys bucked convention and taught that nutrition was the foundation of a healthy life. Margaret had personally experienced that change in lifestyle. After the birth of her second child, she became chronically ill. When traditional medicine did not help or heal her, she turned to eating nutrient dense, natural foods and taking dietary supplements. Margaret healed herself and that became the impetus for what she would offer to others.

In 1989 the Iseleys switched to a store format, incorporating an organic produce section. The following year they removed all partially hydrogenated oil products from their shelves, a move that was years ahead of the times. In 1995 they formalized their nutrition education programs, creating a Nutritional Health Coach position. Every store offers classes on health and nutrition. A few years later the stores went bag free, creating a huge impact on the health of the environment. And in 2014 the company rolled out their pasture-based dairy standards and began the process of removing products that came from confinement dairies from their shelves.

The Iseley’s story resonates with me and endears me to their story even more. I can identify with Margaret and her decision to reclaim her health. I believe there is currently another major shift taking place, led by people like Anthony William, as people become more and more sick. Facing diagnoses of mystery illnesses and autoimmune disorders, and finding marginal relief of symptoms with very few cures, people with chronic pain and illnesses are discovering the amazing healing properties of natural, nutritious food. I am among those taking back their health. And Natural Grocers desires to support and help me, and others, with that process.

Natural Grocers was a joy to be in today. The parking lot was full, as was the clean, well lit store. The staff was cheerful and helpful, in spite of being busy restocking shelves. For people weren’t just looking. They were shopping. They were asking questions and reading labels and dropping items into their carts.

I loved the store. One hundred percent of the produce is organic. The canned goods and frozen foods are organic and non GMO. There are shelves of bulk items such as raw nuts, dry legumes and rices, spices and seasonings and grains. I found non dairy products such a yogurt, made from almond and coconut milk, unsulphured dried apricots and a huge gluten free section.

In addition to an incredible array of nutritional foods, Natural Grocers sells healthy pet products, vitamins and supplements, environmentally friendly paper goods and body care products. I was delighted to see that I can pick up chemical and dye free hair and shower products, as well as hand soaps and cleaning products. One of my goals for 2018 is to eliminate chemicals from all of the products that I use in my home and on my body. I will be looking to Young Living Essential Oils for help in this area. However, it is great to know this grocery store supports my decision as well.

I was extremely impressed with Natural Grocers today. I love that they offer health and nutrition classes. I appreciate their ongoing mission and the passion this family owned company has for supporting people in their health journeys. I was wowed by their product selection and their competitive pricing.

This store became my primary grocery store this afternoon. I look forward to getting to know the product and attending classes and exploring new foods and ideas. As they support my healing journey, I will support them by showing up and making purchases and recommending their services and wares to others. Well done, Iseley Family. Let’s journey together.

4 Bean Vegan Chili

On cold winter evenings, a bowl of steaming hot chili makes a satisfying and warming meal. I have used a chili recipe for many years, adapted from one my dad created. Since going plant based, I have tried several chili recipes I found online or in cookbooks. They tasted fine. And yet I still felt compelled to keep trying, keep looking.

Ultimately, I ended up creating a recipe of my own.

This simple to make chili comes together in minutes, and uses easily found ingredients. I used organic, and non GMO, canned goods from the grocery store, with fresh veggies such as onion, green bell pepper and garlic.

Putting together this recipe gave me the opportunity of also try out a recipe maker. The app I selected works well enough, but doesn’t have a format that makes it suitable for using in my blog posts. I will keep searching.

I chose to use pinto, black, great northern and red kidney beans, however, any variety of beans could be used. I want to add lima beans next time. More, or less, seasoning could be used. And red bell pepper could be substituted for the green.

I liked the ease of preparation and the spicy aroma that filled my kitchen as the pot of chili simmered on the stove. I diced an avocado and anticipated a homey, warming bowl of chili.

I was not disappointed. This was a very tasty chili, and exactly what I have been looking for. That old adage that says “if you want something done right, do it yourself”, rings true in this case. I created what I was looking for.

There isn’t any meat in this recipe, but there is wholesomeness, goodness and lots of love. I think my dad would approve.

Try a New Fruit

I was grateful to select an easy and fun Inspiration Starter today. I am always open to trying something new. I drew out the slip of paper with the words, Try a new fruit.

During the summer months, my local farmer’s market carries a huge assortment of amazing fruits and veggies. This time of year, I shop at the neighborhood grocery store. I hoped there would be a fruit in the produce section that I had not eaten before.

At the supermarket, I found one…one…fruit I had not tried before. There were cartons of small yellow fruits called guavas. Perfect! I bought a box containing 10 of the tropical fruits.

I had to look this fruit up, to learn more about it.

Guavas are indeed a tropical fruit, found in Mexico and Central and South America, and also in countries such as Pakistan, China and India. There are many varieties. The skin, which is edible, can be green, yellow or maroon when the fruit is ripe. The flesh inside can vary from off white in color to dark pink.

The fruit I bought for the first time was soft, with a fruity aroma. When I sliced one in two, the flesh inside was off white. The tiny seeds are very difficult to remove. Everything I read suggested the seeds, like the rind, were edible.

I chose to use my guavas to make a refreshing drink called agua de guayaba, or guava water.

The recipe was easy:

• 6 or 7 guavas

• 1/4 – 1/2 cup raw, unrefined coconut sugar

• 6 cups water, approximately

Wash guavas and slice each one in half. Drop into blender, rind, seeds and all. Add 4 cups of water and 1/4 cup of coconut sugar. Blend for one minute, or until fruit is thoroughly liquified. Pour into a pitcher. Add up to 2 more cups of water. Taste and add up to 1/4 cup more of coconut sugar.

I added more water. The taste was just right for me, sweetness wise, so I didn’t add additional sugar. The drink was very light and refreshing. I did not, however, like the seeds. Blending didn’t break down the tiny seeds and my body instinctively reacted to them, which is my way of knowing whether to consume something or not. It was a “not” for me.

It was a simple task to pour the guava water through a fine mesh strainer and remove the seeds. After that, I enjoyed drinking this special treat.

Guava has many health benefits, including being extremely high in vitamin C and vitamins B3 and B6. This small fruit reduces the risk of prostate and breast cancers, promotes a healthy digestive system, supports the thyroid, aids in weight loss, increases brain function, improves eyesight, prevents colds, slows the aging process, reduces cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and regulates blood sugar.

That is one power-packed little fruit!

Now that I am familiar with guavas, I will include them occasionally in my diet. This is their season, late fall and early winter. I have never noticed cartons of guavas in the produce section before. With an increased awareness of them, and their benefits, I will not be able to help but spot them now!

And that’s what I love about these creative games that I play. They expand my knowledge and my awareness, teach me trust and introduce me to new things. I always win, in so many ways, when I play!

The Heart of My Day

My day has been spent being Yaya to two of my grandchildren. As a grandmother, that is one of the best ways I can spend my time, investing in my grandkids and being loved by them.

Grandson Jonathan and I kicked off the yearly Christmas Shopping with Yaya tradition. I take each of the grandkids out to purchase gifts for their family members and treat them to the meal of their choice.

Jonathan is an excellent shopper who knows what he wants to buy for his family, and he wastes no time in accomplishing this task. We chatted as we made several stops, and Jonathan introduced me to Snapchat, creating a profile for me as I drove. This young man is my techie grandchild, and I laughed as he crafted a bitmoji to represent me.

Jonathan has such a tender heart as well. As we pulled into the Walmart parking lot, he noticed a family holding up a hand lettered sign, asking for gas money. We purchased Christmas gift bags and tissue paper in the store…and picked up a gift card to give to the family as we left. This was Jonathan’s idea, and I was happy to encourage and support his generosity.

We grabbed carry out lunches from Applebee’s and returned to the house to wrap gifts and watch an episode of Stranger Things together.

I appreciate Jonathan. He is smart, funny and easy to talk to. He has big ideas and he is working on being able to carry them out. Someday he will be creating apps that make life easier or more fun for people. In the meantime, he is expanding his compassionate heart by being mindful of others and making a difference where he can.

This evening my granddaughter Aubrey joined me for a sleep over. It’s been a while since she has spent the night and both of us were excited about this special treat. Her thoughts about it…”We are having a granddaughter and grandmother slumber party. Some might find that weird. I think it’s fun!” I agree, Aubrey.

This beautiful girl is growing up. As we dined together at Texas Roadhouse she kept up a very mature chatter about school, football, friends and movies. Her current favorite film is 47 Meters Down, a shark flick. Aubrey has interesting and refreshing views about life, people and situations and I always enjoy a conversation with her.

I left my phone unattended for a few minutes, and found this surprise as my new background!

Aubrey knows her way around a cell phone as well, and offered to further my education in Snapchat. After donning our pjs and getting ready for bed, Aubrey gave me some quick lessons in using this photo based app. We laughed over the special effects and she patiently led me through creating my first Snapchat pic.

These kids are precious to me. I enjoyed spending my day divided between two of the grandkids. This week I will set up times to take the rest of my group shopping for Christmas gifts. That’s a fun activity, watching how thoughtfully and carefully each child shops. The greater joy though is just spending time with them, hearing their thoughts, learning what’s important to them, and encouraging them to follow their hearts.

Yaya is a sacred title to me. I am blessed to bear that name in honor of these five adventurous souls.

Travel Scavenger Hunt

I’m not quite sure what I had in mind when I wrote out this Inspiration Starter back in July…Go on a travel scavenger hunt. However, when I drew this slip of paper from the jar today, an idea immediately came to mind. A scavenger hunt, by definition, is a game in which the participant seeks to gather all of the specific items on a list.

I had a list in mind, and it was connected to travel.

The first Inspiration Starter I randomly drew on December 1 had to do with going on a Getaway Weekend. I was puzzled at first about why I drew that slip on a day when a weekend away wasn’t possible. However the day was full of surprises, and by the end of the afternoon I had been gifted with a generous check, for the very specific and stated purpose of having a solo weekend out of town.

I am full of anticipation for a few days of personal retreat time in January. I used today’s inspiration as a nudge to seek out the perfect place to get away to.

Here was my scavenger list for that special weekend:

• Location within 100 miles of Joplin, with particular interest in NW Arkansas or SW Missouri.

• Water view

• Kitchenette so I can do my own meal prep

• Private deck

• Cute place

• Seclusion

• Right price

I would know I had found the perfect place for my retreat if I could check all of the items off of my list.

After a bit of searching on my laptop, I “happened” to stumble across something new to me…Vacation Rentals By Owner, or VRBO. These homes, cottages, condos, apartments and cabins are managed by their owners, much like Airbnb, and the prices are incredibly good.

I sorted through possibilities, checking them against my scavenger list. Some had a couple of my “must haves”. Quite a few had six out of seven. I knew those were not the places for me. I found three that had all seven items. It then became a matter of which location appealed to me the most.

The little condo I have selected, located in NW Arkansas, not only had all seven of the items on my list, its decor drew me. There is a Namaste pillow on the bed, a framed art piece with the word HOPE on it, a glass door that opens onto a private deck. It is cozy, intimate and perfect for my purposes.

I love how the Divine has brought this whole idea of a getaway weekend together, encouraging me to go, giving me a playful nudge to find the right place, and providing the funds as a beautiful gift to me.

That last part carried significance today, as I played my scavenger hunt game. Because, the object of the adventure is to find the items on the list, without purchasing them. I laughed when I realized how wonderfully connected it all is.

It is going to be an amazing weekend away, I can already tell.

From Kid’s Craft to Framed Art

Tonight’s fun project was inspired by an idea I had last year. I found a child’s carefully drawn snowman, in a box of keepsakes from Greg’s parents’ house. The child who drew this cute snowman was Greg’s brother, Ray. I estimated the drawing was done in 1958. I framed the snowman, using a plaid scrapbook paper for the background.

I have enjoyed using this framed art as part of my Christmas decor. Ray passed away in 2002, making the snowman very special. I think of him when I look at his artwork. That project in turn inspired me to create framed art from vintage Christmas cards from the early 1900s.

Earlier this year, I uncovered more Christmas crafts, created long ago by another child. These construction paper pieces were made by Greg, when he was nine or ten years old. Being a parent, one thing I embraced long ago is fairness. Having turned his brother’s snowman into Christmas decor, it seemed right to do the same with Greg’s holiday candle and poinsettia!

Tonight I assembled materials to transform these childhood keepsakes into framed art. One slight challenge that I had was that Greg’s artwork wouldn’t fit within an 8×10 frame, as Ray’s snowman had. It was simple enough to buy larger frames. An 11×14 frame worked and at Michaels they were on a ” buy one, get one” special. Perfect.

The challenge part was finding a holiday themed paper large enough to serve as the background for the artwork. Scrapbook papers don’t come in that bigger size. I bought a roll of Christmas wrap, thinking that could be an option, and gathered my supplies, which included sheets of 9×12 holiday scrapbook papers.

When I opened the first frame, and discovered there was indeed an actual mat included, with an 8×10 opening, I made a quick decision. I liked the idea of using the scrapbook paper and the mat…and allowing the artwork to rest outside the mat, rather than within it. It was a literal “outside of the box” project!

Double sided tape secured the festive construction paper candle to the mat and background, and into the frame the repurposed artwork went. I used a plain green background for the poinsettia and in a few minutes the second framed art was completed.

The framed poinsettia is upside down in this photo, however, I am pleased with the results.

These simple projects are meaningful to me. Creating framed art from childhood treasures honors the artist, provides a lasting keepsake, and they are great additions to my holiday decor. I would rather have these pieces of art by Ray and Greg, which are almost 60 years old and 55 years old respectively, on display where they can be appreciated and enjoyed, rather than forgotten in a storage box.

I think Ray would smile over his framed snowman. And I know Greg takes delight in seeing a keepsake from his childhood elevated to framed art and displayed as well.

I must sort through more boxes…and see what other treasures I can find.

Draw a Memory

I’ve been in the mood to draw the last couple of days. Which is why I was delighted to select the Inspiration Starter that I did today. More than just an invitation to draw, this slip of paper instructed me to Draw a memory. Immediately a fond memory from my early childhood came to mind.

I was ready to sketch.

I looked through an old photo album, for a photographic representation of my memory. I found it. The black and white photo captures my four year old self perched atop a clothesline pole in the backyard of my childhood home.

I was a climber as a child. By age four I was climbing furniture, shimmying up poles, scampering up trees and sitting on rooftops, the tiny queen of my world.

The photographer, probably my mom, lopped off the top of my face and head in the picture. However, there’s a hint of a smile on my lower face and the relaxed pose of my body suggests this was not the first time I had scaled the clothesline pole.

This memory makes me smile, more than half a century later. Using the the photo as a guide, I sketched out this fun recollection.

As I drew, this memory expanded to include my penchant for climbing tall objects, and also disappearing into closets, crawling beneath beds, and sitting in the middle of a neighborhood field, completely hidden by tall grasses that rippled in the breeze. Beneath all of these activities was an inborn desire to seek out solitude.

I had a bedroom of my own. But I was easily found there. Hiding from view, even in a simple and obvious place like beneath the bed, provided solitude for a time and space to fire up my imagination. The neighborhood kids weren’t as adventurous about sitting on rooftops or climbing to the uppermost branches in a tall tree. So these places gave me privacy and a different perspective.

Sometimes I’ve looked back at my childhood and thought, What a strange and quirky kid I was. Today, I looked at my finished drawing with a smile and the shine of tears in my eyes. I remembered that kid and thought, I love that spirited girl. She wasn’t afraid to be herself, and seek out places to think and dream and study the clouds and the stars.

In embracing her, I embrace some of the best and most courageous parts of myself. And I engage that fun, creative side of me that has reappeared these last few years and grown. What gifts that wee girl has given to me.

Thanks, kid. I am grateful.