Sep 062012

We loaded up and headed to the ‘bu for Labor Day weekend.  Nine preteen girls, seven moms, and two dads with adventurous souls and a bit of camping chutzpah.

Malibu Creek State Park is scrub camping unless you get one of the shady spots, which we didn’t.  We did score a spot pretty close to the bathrooms though.  It’s all relative.

Here’s where I cut out the boring bits and serve up just the highlights.

It was really windy when we arrived so it was hard to put up the tents.

mary smaller   

The girls got creative.

We got all the tents up in time to take a walk to the ‘rock pool’, a naturally formed pool in Malibu Creek surrounded by vertical volcanic cliffs. It was the location for some scenes in Swiss Family Robinson, Planet of the Apes, and a few Tarzan movies. 



The girls braved the slime and waded right in.  They quickly discovered that flip-flops float and were virtually worthless against the muck.


Everyone swam and explored both above and below the water. My kid discovered great treasure when she dug up an old shoe from the bottom of the pool.  It had started to decompose and was full of rich black sludge.  She was in heaven investigating how being under water had changed the properties of the shoe.

As the sun pulled the curtain on our swim, we walked back to camp for a scrumptious spaghetti dinner. At the ‘campfire’ that night, the girls were treated to a live animal presentation put on by Wildworks.  They enjoyed meeting a skunk, barn owl, and many other local animals along with an African Serval that had been surrendered at a local shelter as a kitten.  The girls lingered long after the talk was over to pet the dogs that accompany the more exotic animals.

On our way back for the traditional s’mores, one of the moms discovered a tarantula in the path.  Apparently they are native to Southern California and males are often seen wandering in search of females in the fall!tarantulacroppedsmall.jpg

We managed to get a decent night’s sleep and woke to the summer sun blaring down on us.  (I got to share someone’s air mattress.  Sh!  I know that’s cheating.)  After a leisurely breakfast, the girls decided to spend the morning ‘relaxing’ while a group of mom’s took off to explore the campground. On our ramblings, we discovered that some people bring their entire kitchen camping with them, California King Snakes are constrictors and REI trains their employees at Malibu Creek. The highlight was watching a lone coyote yip at an open field as if it’s life depended on the amount of noise it could make. Being city folk, we assumed it was injured or protecting it’s young.  As we passed by at a safe distance, it abruptly quit and trotted off towards the park entrance. So much for our theories.

Lunch was perhaps our most thrilling adventure of the trip. The girls had constructed “Buddy Burners” out of upended coffee cans using tuna cans filled with wax and cardboard for fuel.  They cooked amazing grilled cheese sandwiches on them and then started a batch of brownies and some chocolate chip cookies.  



We had to abandon the project mid-stream since the hot wax began flowing down the wooden picnic benches carrying the flames with it.  

 bench crop

A little quick thinking saved the bench, but the dessert idea was abandoned.





We headed off to Zuma Beach where the girls challenged the power of the waves and gladly lost every time. They soon retired to the sand where they buried a few brave souls.




Needless to say, showers were the first order of business when they returned to camp. Another good(?) nights’ sleep and a Starbucks’ run brought us to the end of a wonderful weekend.



 Posted by at 18:26
May 252012

[Alisa’s Note: After posting Sarah’s story about her son, Gideon, just before Mother’s Day (See May 12th), I received an email from her with this story attached.  She explained that this had been “brewing in her head for some time” and recent circumstances had urged her to complete it.]

My sister used to be an art teacher at Kalamazoo Christian High School. She had the privilege of becoming a mentor to a student named Michael Pinto. Michael took her art classes his Freshman, Sophomore and Junior years and, when he got to his Senior year, he did a one-on-one special art study with her. Fours years pass so quickly and Michael graduated – college bound!

A few weeks after graduation, for reasons we will never know, Michael left a party with a friend who was drunk and got in his passenger seat. His friend drove that car into a tree and Michael didn’t survive. Michael’s parents knew that my sister, Sheila, had a special relationship with him and, although she didn’t know them very well, she agreed to speak at his funeral.

Michael had one younger sibling – a 15 year old brother named Paul. Paul has Down syndrome. And here it is. The single most ignorant (and to me abhorrent) thought that has ever crossed my mind: “Why did God take the good son?” There it is out in the open for me to be everlastingly ashamed of. I thought that maybe it would have been better if the son with the cognitive disability had been the one chosen to go to heaven first. Not the one with so much “typical” potential.

Through the years following Michael’s death Sheila developed a close and special relationship with Michael’s parents and with Paul. Through Sheila I have gotten to hear about how funny, smart, stubborn and persistent Paul was and is.

Two years after Michael’s death my husband and I gave birth to our first son, Quinn. Almost to the day, 3 years after that, we had our second son – Gideon, who was born with Down syndrome. Two boys, 3 years apart, the oldest typical and the youngest chromosomally enhanced– just like the Pinto family. God works in mysterious ways.

Cut to 4 ½ years after that – to last week and the very untimely and heart breaking death of my friend Monica’s son with Down syndrome – Timmy. Timmy was 12 years old and for me he was a beacon of hope and potential. When you have a baby with Down syndrome seeing older kids or adults with DS usually scares the crap out of you. It’s a future you don’t completely understand yet. But Timmy wasn’t scary at all. I loved seeing and talking to him. He was bold, funny and confident. He could read and was a working actor. I saw Gideon’s amazing future potential in him.

Timmy died in his sleep of heart failure. He had had 2 heart surgeries among other various surgeries and was on his fourth pacemaker. And I suspect in my heart – that friends might be thinking (just like the ignorant me) that while this is tragic, maybe it is for the best because Timmy was retarded.

Or that however sad this is now it’s probably a blessing in disguise because he had heart problems and cognitive and physical delays and this will be easier for his parents in the long run.

Or that at least Timmy is survived by his two typically developing sisters and it wasn’t one of them.

And if you did think that – even for a second – how can I blame you? I did. Society does. Professionals do. The entire flipping world does. Behind closed doors. Locked away in our private thoughts. Or spoken in confidence only to our significant others.

The evidence of this is the 91% abortion rate of babies with Down syndrome after diagnosis in utero. We are taught that anything less than typical isn’t valuable and is easily disposed of. But the passing of Timmy and the passing of Michael are COMPLETELY EQUAL. Timmy with Down syndrome and Michael – college bound  – are totally and wonderfully fearfully made completely EQUAL in God’s sight, my newly liberated sight and their parents’ sight.

I want to shout from the rooftops that I don’t care how many surgeries Gideon has to have or how many years it takes him to read or how many diapers I have to change – Gideon’s value is just as amazing as Quinn’s. His diagnosis was not what we expected. And Gideon our little boy is NOT what we ignorantly expected. If we had done what the 91% do and abort out of our grief and ignorance I would have lost the most amazing gift God had ever given to me. Gideon and all kids with Down syndrome are here for a reason. Down syndrome is the most commonly occurring genetic anomaly since the beginning of time. That’s not a mistake. I love and appreciate both my kids for their amazing abilities. But this article is about Gideon. And his abilities are his tenacity, his amazing ability to love without prejudice and the joy in which he approaches his life. Things that are sometimes really hard for us typical people.

So how do we change Society’s perception, the unspoken thought that kids who are special needs are worth just a little less? I’m not sure. But the only way I know I can help is to write about my ignorance and the child who cured me of it.

 Posted by at 16:06
May 212012

We will screw up.  We will drop the baby.  We will leave the toddler in his diaper so long that it will slide down his leg and settle around his ankle.  We will put our foot down and refuse to let our preschooler leave the house in a black negligee even though we know it’s his version of a Batman costume.  And the list goes on….

We’re human, we’re fallible, and we will make mistakes – some of them huge – which we will feel terrible about.

The good news is: our kids will survive and we will too.

This brings me to today’s episode of parental guilt.  This has been a crazy week and it’s only Wednesday.  It doesn’t look like the frantic pace will ease up much until about a week from now so I was really looking forward to a few quiet moments alone (in the car) while waiting for my oldest to finish a sax lesson.  

Enter child #3. The baby. My girl.  Somehow she got it in her pre-teen head that she would go with me, that she needed to spend time with me, that she couldn’t survive without me.

Jealously guarding my ‘me-time’ I said no.


That’s when the tears and pleading began: “I’ll read my book!  I’ll be quiet!  I won’t bother you!”
No. (Holding firm)
“I really need to go with you! Don’t leave me!”
Oy.  More than a twinge of guilt at this point as I peeled her sobbing self off me and slid out the door.  Alone.

So was it worth it?  I definitely feel refreshed after just 30 minutes alone, but would I have felt just as renewed if she’d been with me?  Maybe.
Was she permanently damaged by my ‘rejection’?  I certainly hope not.  Does the fact that I spent 90 minutes leading her Girl Scout meeting earlier in the day make a difference?  Who knows.   
Do I still feel a twinge of guilt? Absolutely.

But the key is what that guilt motivates me to do.  

Do I owe her something because I didn’t take her with me? Nope. At least not in the way you might think.  No toy, no article of clothing, not even a special chocolate treat will ever or should ever be a substitute for genuine affection and focused attention.  A great big hug, heartfelt words of concern and an effort to participate in something important to her will go much further.  I might also owe it to both of us to say no to the next project.  Not to all of them, but the next one.

For now, my alone time is up.  On to the next thing.  

I have solved nothing but I’m jumping back into my life with both feet, sure to make more mistakes, but we’ll survive.  We’ll survive asking forgiveness, laughing together, and refusing to give up on each other.  

 Posted by at 16:31
May 202012

Creativity: that which makes people try to deep fry lettuce.

Oh No, I didn’t.  Someone did though.  Someone from Texas of course.

It’s that type of creativity that I chase after though.  It’s what I rely on when facing a defiant four year old or fourteen year old.  It’s that voice that says “What if….?” and “How about….?” It’s what I hope to inspire in my staff, my preschoolers, and my own kids.  

My kids are extremely creative: Sunshine, my oldest, plays saxophone, draws, writes, and creates short films.  Waffles, my daughter, also plays saxophone, draws, writes, and designs her own clothes.  Then there’s E, my middle.

e-playhouse-costume-small.jpg His creativity is not so obvious, but he has taught me more about creativity than anyone. When he was two, he could already think circles around me.  He could take ordinary objects and use them in extraordinary ways.  The
little plastic ‘table’ that keeps the pizza delivery box off the pizza?  Good for picking your nose.  A cardboard playhouse?  Stick your head through the chimney and wear it.  

E can look at things from every possible angle and find the best way to approach a problem.  He strives to be original.  When he was 5, his teacher asked the class what they were thankful for.  She got the normal answers of “food”, “toys”, “friends”, etc.  When she came to him, he didn’t have an answer so she finished with the rest of the class and came back.  His final answer: “my second cousins.”

No pat answers for that kid.

As a teenager now, he is incredibly quiet, but the deepest thinker I know.  His interests include fencing, archery, and falconry; he has seriously contemplated what it takes to be a shepherd…of sheep!

If you ask him what he thinks, be prepared to be blown away by the answer. When he came home from Summer Camp last year, I asked him what his favorite part was: “Reading the book of Revelation down by the creek,” he says. Boom.

So, while he’s the less obvious choice of all my kids, E gets my vote for “Most Likely to Deep Fry Lettuce.”

 Posted by at 14:42
May 182012

I confess, I’m seduced by books.  I always O.D. at the library.
So I pile books up beside my bed and they wait for me each night as I fall into bed, usually too tired to read more than a page.  But their presence comforts me.

So what’s there now?

(Did I mention I love lists?)
below bedside


  • A few random magazines
  • 420 Characters by Lou Beach
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
  • Best Food Writing 2011 by Holly Hughes
  • Los Angeles Noir ( a collection of short stories)
  • My Study Bible
  • Tess of the D’urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  • The Excellent Wife by Martha Peace
  • The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson
  • The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosely
  • The March issue of National Geographic
  • The Message by Eugene Peterson
  • The Play’s the Thing by Elizabeth Jones and Gretchen Reynolds
  • Unveiled by Francine Rivers

It’s going to take me awhile to plow through these, I’ve been working on some of them for months.  Wonder what I’ll curl up with tonight…

 Posted by at 18:11
May 102012

*Alisa’s Note: Today’s guest post is from one of my blogging friends – maybe the first blogging friend I had.  Sarah’s blog is still one of my favorites. [Check it out here.]   She is a gifted writer who throws the doors wide open on her thoughts.  She was gracious enough to write a guest blog post on the topic of a ‘Teachable Moment’.


I wish I could say I was a quick learner.  I wish I experienced an “ah ha!” moment once and then always carried that little lesson around in my pocket, never having to relearn it.  Alas, I am not.  I am more of a painstakingly slow learner, often having to allow God to remind me, nudge me, and even sometimes smack me with the same life lessons over and over again.


On January 14 of this year, I became a mom for the first time.  My beautiful baby boy was born, and three days later I found myself at home with this little person who needed my attention all the time.  Rewind to about two weeks prior his birth and you would find me constantly on the move.  I’m a do-er.  Every week I made my to-do list of errands, household tasks, projects I wanted to complete and people I wanted to connect with, and more often than not by the end of the week my list was accomplished–every item neatly crossed out with a highlighter.  I’ve spent 23 of my 30 years as a full time student, I know how to multitask and I know how to get things done.  If I’m honest, I’ve found a lot of pride in how productive I’ve been in a given week.  Friends used to laugh because when we would have a 3 week break from classes I would not just travel to one place–I would usually pack my vacations full of multiple cities or states so I could visit as many friends and family as possible. Yes, aside from the one month in grad school where I had mono, I have always enjoyed getting things done.


Fast forward back to this winter and the arrival of my little one, and all of a sudden life looked drastically different, more so than ever before.  All of a sudden my most important “task” of the day was sitting in a rocking chair for hours on end feeding my baby.  All of a sudden I found myself laying on a couch doing “nothing” but holding my child who couldn’t nap anywhere but in someone’s arms.  The dishes sat there, untouched.  The laundry was done when my parents came to visit to help out. Vacuuming or cleaning the bathrooms?  Ha!  Running lots of errands and connecting with many people?  No longer an option with my son who hated his car seat and left me feeling foggy brained and incapable of connecting with others in a meaningful way.  Those to-do lists I had prided myself on were now non-existent.  And if I’m honest, so many days would come to an end and I would feel so unproductive, so lazy, and so frustrated.  Who was I now if I wasn’t Ms. Productivity?  I knew in my head what I was doing for my baby was infinitely more important than doing the dishes, but for a slightly-OCD person like myself, sometimes all I wanted to do was clean my kitchen!


It’s been four months now, since the arrival of our little one, and I think I am finally beginning to learn my lesson.  The other day I laid down with Aidan in my bed to see if I could settle him down for his afternoon nap.  He snuggled up next to me, nursed for a few minutes, and drifted off into a peaceful sleep.  “Alright!” I thought.  “I can finally go get something done!” As I lay there thinking about what I was going to go sneak off to accomplish, it hit me.  The only thing that was important to me that day was being with my son.  My kitchen was relatively clean–not perfect, but good enough.  My husband and I have plenty of clothes, I didn’t need to do laundry just because the basket was full.  All of a sudden grilled cheese sandwiches sounded just fine for dinner, no need to go prep anything fancier.  As I watched him rest, his little lips still making that sweet sucking motion in his sleep, I realized there was no where else on earth I wanted to be.  I was being completely “unproductive” by my former standards, but when I think about what really mattered in that moment, I was doing the most important thing I could have chosen to do–I stayed snuggled up next to his little body and held him as he slept in the safety and comfort of Mommy’s arms.


God commands us to “be still, and know that I am God,” and I think part of what God had in mind here is that He wants us to surrender our to-do lists to Him.  He has spent the past 4 months teaching me over and over again a new way to define “productivity.” He calls us to just be, to let go of all the things we frantically try to accomplish to somehow prove our worth here on earth.  He whispers a reminder “Sarah, you’re so much more than your list of accomplishments, that is not what gives you your value or worth.  Be still, let me be God, you worry about being fully present for the people I’ve placed in your life.”

 Posted by at 07:31
May 062012

Today’s Guest Post by my 16 year old son.  The following is the text from his faith story that he told in church this morning. You can also watch it here.

It was a Sunday unlike any other. It was sunny, and the birds were humming the echoing sounds of the last hymn as I sat waiting in the pastor’s office. Sitting next to me was my best friend, and we both had stood up in front of the whole church, as 7-year olds, and said we believed in Jesus, and were ready to be baptized. Coming from a Covenant church, that was how it was done. As soon as I jumped in that tub, I held my nose and closed my eyes, only to hear, “not yet, kid”. But what happened there was a transformation that I wouldn’t realize, unfortunately until much later in life.

Next Sunday, I sat in Children’s Church feeling unchanged. All these grown-ups were congratulating me and I had no idea why. And like a machine I, for what seemed like the millionth time, answered all of the leader’s questions about the bible story correctly, and got to play on the playground; same as the week before, and the week before that.

Then, in 6th grade as I was sitting down to lunch with a friend of mine, he proceeded to tell me how wrong and stupid I was for believing in any religion. Up to this point I had thought everyone was a Christian, everyone believed in God, and everyone was a nice person. I stood up for my faith, sitting on the edge of the bench staring him in the eyes while my other “friends” sat there and watched. But he shut me down; he essentially ripped my power cord out of the wall. I was distraught. Then began the doubt.

Fast-forward about a year, and flip my life on its head, and that’s where I was when I moved to Glendale: new town, new school, new just about everything else. I remember thinking as I first stepped into Glendale Presbyterian Church, “I don’t want to be here. Why is my mom making me go through this? Why am I walking into a building I have no memory of ever being in?” Then all of a sudden, I got a holy smack across the face; during the benediction I hear a little something down the row. I turned my head and saw my mom crying. Us kids thought this was weird: we had never seen my mom cry in church before. That benediction just happened to be: “You go nowhere by accident, Wherever you go God is sending you….” I only today realize the significance of that.

Whatever God did it must have worked, because here I am today. I stand humbled before you… relatively unscathed, and ready for a next step. Today is the day that I am replanted in good soil.  Growing up in love and Christ.  Growing up stronger than ever.  Since that moment, God has called me to various service opportunities that have changed lives, most importantly mine.

Jesus became my big brother, guiding me when I had no idea who anyone was. Challenging me, confronting me, checking up on me, teaching me, and no matter what he had my back, even when I told him to his face that he didn’t love me and he was just as fake as an Elvis impersonator. One thing that to this day I want to do is emulate what Jesus did, in the big brother sense, to my little brother the best I know how, and to the best of my abilities.

My faith started like many who grew up in the church. What became an easy say-the-right-answer, monotonous hour before I got to play with my friends has, over the years, turned into a radical lifestyle that I would not give up for the world. That’s the beauty of the gospel. Isn’t it? That omnipresence of God in time and space: what happens one moment may be the fuel you need to carry on later in life. 

 Posted by at 14:38