Archive | September, 2014

When Your Neighbors Can Hear Every Word

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Image via

I’m not used to living so close to people.

Our first evening in our house in Coronado, we stopped still and listened in amazement. We were eating dinner on the deck, and we could hear the children on the other side of the fence, just 10 feet away from our dinner table, chattering with each other as they jumped on their trampoline. We could see them through the gaps in the bamboo fence. Just 10 feet away! We could watch their parents come out to break up an argument between them. We could hear the words exchanged, hear the inflections of frustration and exhaustion in their voices, see glimpses of their clothes and their gestures and their moving lips.

We turned back to our meal, trying to ignore the lives being lived just a few feet away, as we fed our children blueberries and turkey.

That night, Elliott and I put our kids to sleep and then leaned back on our own pillows to read before bed. It was 8 o’clock, quiet. And then — again! — we heard voices, different neighbors this time: a husband and wife, preparing to eat dinner in their garden.

“Wait! I told you to leave the salmon on the grill for a few more minutes!”

“But it’s done.”

“No, it’s not, look at this. Not flaking! It needs more time.”

I felt my own stomach muscles clench reflexively as the argument escalated. But then…

“Oh, you’re right, honey, I see you’re right. I’ll put it back on.”

I relaxed, impressed with this woman, this new neighbor of mine who knows out to pick her battles. Shyly, I peeked out the window. I could see a middle-aged couple in their quiet garden, he in a woven robe, living out their lives, completely unaware that I could hear every word and observe every action. I closed the shutters. There is a fine line between hearing words unintentionally and watching actions intentionally, and I wanted to respect their privacy.

We did not live close to our neighbors in Sicily. Our house was located on the end of a dead-end street, and the buildings around us were all garages. We lived right below a castle with a large courtyard, so we heard plenty of activity, but we had no windows facing the town or other people. All our windows faced outward towards the countryside: deep valleys, sprawling vistas, and people living hundreds of feet below us, half a mile away.

We liked it. As a mom, I became used it without even trying. The baby is screaming? No one will hear him but my own family. I’m disciplining Lena? No one will hear our interaction, meted out as I see fit. It’s a hot day? No one will see our entire family clad only in underwear.

But immediately our life in California is different. If we can hear them, they can hear us. This is partly because it is HOT here, and none of us have air conditioning, and so we’re all living with every single window open as wide as it can go. And all of us eating outside. And playing outside. And living outside, a few feet from individual decks and backyards, escaping the heat together and practically landing in each other’s laps.

This happened a couple of weeks ago:

“Is it someone’s birthday today?” my neighbor asked when we ran into her on the sidewalk.

“No, not today,” I said, somewhat confused.

“Oh, I thought I heard you singing ‘Happy Birthday’ earlier.”

“We did! I forgot. It’s my sister’s birthday today, and so the kids and I recorded a video of us singing for her.”

And all the while I’m thinking, OMG she heard that?! She can heard everything! She can hear every time I put the kids in time out! She can hear every time Gil has a temper tantrum! She can heard the kids arguing, me intervening, and every conversation we have about poop and pee. All. Day. Long.

Yes, she can hear everything. They can all hear the scattered, louder parts of our everyday lives.

Is there a way to turn this around, to make it something good?

Is there a way to redeem the crowding, to share something other than “Happy Birthday”?

Yes. I’ve been thinking about it for a month now, and I think yes.

What about hearing Lena’s little voice singing, “Jesus Loves Me”?

What about hearing Elliott and I disagree graciously over the grill, like our neighbors did?

What about hearing us talk to our children about obeying God and His Word, instead of disciplining them just because we’re embarrassed or annoyed?

What about hearing us get mad, get frustrated, raise our voices at our kids (we all do, it’s inevitable)… and then ask them for forgiveness?

“I was wrong, Lena, and I’m sorry. I should not have been so angry. Will you forgive me?”

Over the past month, this has slowly become my goal. To let my neighbors hear a life lived out with grace. With frustration, yes. With toddler tears, yes. With lots of “Happy Birthday,” yes. With plenty of failings, plenty of mess, plenty of reality. But also with grace shown to each other, pulled from a source greater than ourselves, filling us up, spilling over, flowing out, shared with others.

Through the windows, across the deck, over the fence, into their homes.

Or over a glass of wine in our backyard. Because I’d like to share that with our neighbors, too.

17 :: in Coronado, family, home sweet home, thoughts

On Waking Up Before My Children

books-coffee-morning image via

For as long as I can remember, Elliott and I have gotten up in the morning with our kids. A little voice calling, “Maaaama!” is the signal that our day has begun. One of us stumbles out of bed, bleary-eyed, and brings that baby back to bed with us, and then the three (and eventually four) of us wake up together.

It sounds deliciously relaxed and cozy to start the day this way, but most of the time it’s really not. It’s whines of “I want breakfast now” and more fussing than seems fair and a general sense that the day has gotten away from you before you were ready for it to begin.

So this week… I started waking up before my kids. Ok, it’s Tuesday, so we’ll see if it lasts! But I knew this week I needed a little extra time to get my bearings in the morning. Elliott’s out of town, my dad is staying with us, and thus I’m facing a week of solo parenting. In order to parent and serve with grace and patience, I’ll need to know my limits and guard them carefully.

Thus far, by the time nap time finally comes every day, it’s all I can do not to dump the kids into their cribs and race for the couch with a good book and a tall glass of ice water (it’s been so hot here and we don’t have A/C). My soul craves that time alone without little voices, little messes, little tummies, little needs.

But I’ve felt extra strength and peace in the morning thanks to waking up an hour or so (or less…) before them. I make a pot of coffee and sit at the table and take a tentative sip. I’m sure many of you know how spectacularly delicious that predawn, freshly-brewed cup of coffee tastes. It’s indescribably fortifying.

And then I’ve been turning to the Bible, reading a few chapters according to the plan that Elliott and I do together. A great sense of peace comes not only from God’s Word itself but also from knowing that I have “tithed” this time, that I have set my priorities in order, that I have responded in gratefulness to the Father for all the good gifts He’s given me.

And then I pray, set the Bible aside, and dive for a few minutes into my latest library book, gathering my last pieces of reserve around me like a blanket to help me stay warm, stay strong, stay gracious for whatever the day might hold.

And then…

“Maaaaaama!”

And so it begins again.

What about you? Do you wake up before you absolutely have to? Generally Elliott and I stay up too late (eleven-thirty, twelve…) to make it feasible to get up early. What gets you out of bed in the morning? Or maybe I should be asking, “What gets to you to bed early enough at night?” Because I’ve got to do something about that next!

22 :: in Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom Series, motherhood, thoughts

Hello, Coronado!

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The days are zipping by at a fantastic rate, and before I know it… we will have lived in California for one month! September 7, I’m looking at you. The days have been long but this month has been short.

In an attempt to chronicle these early days, I went through a bunch of photos on my phone (including some from my Instagram), and thought I’d share the highlights with you all today. Come take a walk down memory lane…

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My mom and dad arrived the same day we did, and my mom took this photo of us before one of our first walks around our neighborhood. That’s the entrance to our house; I shared a lot of photos of it here. We’re living in a beautiful little town on an island called Coronado, which is located just off the coast of San Diego. Elliott is only 1.5 miles from work, which is also in Coronado.

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First things first: we bought a car! We had done a little research and knew we wanted a Honda Odyssey (MINIVAN… ack!!!) so we have room for visitors, friends, and family. As you can see, we put our money where our mouth was the very first time we drove our car. Hi, Mom and Dad!

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L: Some things are the same no matter where you live, like your baby in his highchair eating yogurt. I love the simplicity and familiarity of this scene.

R: The same weekend we moved in, our friends John and Mari visited with their son. Lena pulled them around the driveway in one of the many boxes we have around here…

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L: We baked cookies and took them to our neighbors which is a great way to make friends! There are a bunch of kids on our block, and we’re excited to get to know them better.

R: Later that week my mom, the kids, and I took my first trip to Target since we moved back, and my mom treated me to a macchiato and the kids to cake pops! Man oh man, those things are delish.

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My mom, the kids, and I spent hours walking around Coronado and admiring houses. This one on Olive Ave might be my favorite (but its neighbor comes in a close second). That garden!

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Annnnnd the car already has problems. So humbling! So frustrating! Honda said it was their fault due to an issue in the engine and fixed it for us, but the fixing took five days and a rental car.

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One night in August, the Coronado Library hosted a pirate party for local families. The kids decorated pirate hats, played games, grilled hot dogs, decorated cupcakes, and danced to a pirate band. I think I officially fell in love with Coronado that night.

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Speaking of the library, this happened the next morning. I arrived at 9:50, but the library didn’t open till 10. I watched in awe as a huge crowd — at least 75 people — gathered outside the doors, waiting for the stroke of 10. Obviously it’s a well-loved, beautiful resource for many, many people in this town. I’m definitely one of them; I’ve been to the library almost every day since we got here!

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Little Italy Farmers’ Market and breakfast burritos. All more delicious than I could imagine.

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On our first trip to the beach, we found an injured cormorant. Elliott the Veternarian-slash-Hero called Wildlife Animal Rescue and then showed them how to gently capture and carry the bird away.

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Another day, another beach. This time we were invited for dinner at a friends’ oceanfront house. I love these kids!

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L: Lena taking selfies to send to one of her aunts and uncles.

R: Gil in front of the “tea house,” the little studio in our house’s backyard where my dad will be staying every month. He works outside San Diego and spends a part of each month here, even though he and my mom live in Virginia. More details in this post. We’re so excited about this!

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Gil fell off the couch and seemed to have a lot of pain near his shoulder, and the kids’ new pediatrician confirmed that he’d broken his collarbone. This photo was taken during the three hours (!) we spent in the clinic that morning getting x-rays and waiting for results. I blew up two gloves and tied them together as a toy, which amused the kids for exactly 10 minutes of those three hours.

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L: Marmee and Grampa (Elliott’s parents) came to visit as well! We loved our peaceful week with them, and Lena was especially grateful for a constant playmate. Lena worked on this bead design with Marmee for hours and hours, and they were so proud when they finally finished it!

R: Gil gets my locked phone and somehow manages to have conversations with Siri and take pictures of it.

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Elliott is embarking on a new adventure as an urban gardener. He ordered six of these planters and set them up with tomatoes, strawberries, beans, and squash. So far I’m a huge fan of how neat and clean they are on our balcony, and we’re excited to begin harvesting this fall!

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L: With access to such a huge library, I’ve been going crazy reading so many books I’ve waited so long to read. This particular one wasn’t great literature, but I ate it up in a day. Here are more books I’ve read and loved lately.

R: Every Sunday evening in the summer, Coronado hosts a concert in the park. We’ve gone to every one that we can, and it’s totally heart-warming to see the whole town picnicking on blankets, dancing by the pavilion, and savoring summertime together.

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Everyone is loving our new house, including our Maine Coon, Siena.

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L: Playground straight out of paradise.

R: Lena continues to love puzzles, putting them together completely independently and then turning to me with glowing pride.

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And lastly, I’ve started running again. After three years of living in a tiny Italian town where jogging was impossible due to narrow streets and nonexistent sidewalks, it’s so refreshing to go for a run outside. I caught this sunrise last week by the bay. Who wouldn’t want to get up for that?!

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And now you know a little (or too much…) about our new life here. Thanks for sticking with me through all the photos and stories! Catch you again here later this week, I hope. ;)

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19 :: in Coronado, family, life lately, moving in, Uncategorized

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