Thursday, May 29, 2008

Happy 5th Birthday, Pey-Pey!

Last Sunday we celebrated our little friend Peyton's 5th birthday. His parents planned a very creative party for him at the Children's Museum of the Sierra in Oakhurst. This cool children's space offers opportunities for kids to explore the ocean, dig for artifacts, study medicine and wildlife, drive a fire truck and play in their very own art space. We loved it!
One of Meilani's fave spots was the train area. She's very into trains, planes and automobiles. That's what happens when we travel so much with our child!
There was a fun dress-up area where kids could put on costumes and perform on a little stage. Meilani was still feeling a little droopy from getting sick over the weekend but she was content to sit on my lap while I played a bit of piano.

Meliz McGowen, Peyton's oldest sister, got really into the dress-up time. She poses as a doctor and gives out orders to the little ones. So imaginative!

Kamryn Schultz smiles for the camera inside a giant expandable ball toy that started out small enough to hold in your hand and stretched large enough to sit inside. Very cool!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Meilani's Noah's Ark party: The animals came two by two

On Saturday, we celebrated Meilani's birthday with a Noah's Ark Theme. Appropriately, when we woke up on Saturday morning it was raining. Here was our chance to experience what Noah and his family endured for 40 days. Luckily, our sprinkles lasted only a few hours and stopped in time for the party. Meilani was also feeling a little under the weather but she perservered and welcomed all her friends.

Our swim party morphed into a patio party and we invented all kinds of creative diversions to keep the kids busy. Our friend Cori, who is the resident expert on toddler play, helped mix up a batch of blue flubber or "ooblek" (for you Seuss fans!).

Kamryn Schultz and Meliz McGowen were among the oldest of the party kids so they helped add the glitter and separate the flubber into plastic containers so each kid could take some home in their goodie bags with cookie cutters and the recipe. They had fun getting gooey and sticky.

We also had the kids paint these fun animal sun catchers. They were very creative with the paint. Meilani even got in on the action, making a sun catcher with Grandma Chris that looked like stained glass. Then we had lunch - complete with Meilani's favorite salmon with a tropical salsa, panini sandwiches, spinach dip in a turtle bowl and munchies like chocolate-covered peanuts and animal-shaped fruit kebobs. (Don't feed the animals!)

After lunch, we started the Noah's Ark-building contest. Each team got a loaf of cinnamon bread, some popsicle sticks and Noah figurines. Then they had blueberries, vanilla frosting, chocolate-covered sunflower seeds and almonds to decorate their very own arks.

Adam Abajian got very creative with his ark-building while his younger brother, James, was the royal taster. He had to check out the graham crackers to make sure they were up to par for building. Pass the frosting, please!

All the ark designs were winners but we especially liked this one designed by the McGowen kids. They used animal crackers to show the animals inside the ark with Noah and expertly built the walls so no water could get in.

We brought out Meilani's birthday cake, which was a cluster of organic chocolate cupcakes with two organic animal crackers and umbrellas to go with the Noah's Ark theme. Meilani blew out her candles and everyone dug into the dessert.

We made these goofy-looking chocolate-covered monkey pops and they were a big hit with the daddies especially.

Isaiah Tosland was a big fan of the chocolate-covered strawberries - yummy! (Wonder if they had those babies on Noah's Ark!)

Meilani opened some fun gifts - lots of art supplies, books, puzzles, pajamas and even kids' cookware - perfect stuff to bring to Virginia this summer.

Despite the weather and Meilani feeling a little droopy, the party went surprisingly well and we had a chance to celebrate year two of her life. We danced, ate like animals, put on our creative hats and even the mamas got to catch up a little bit.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Kids Cooking Club: Meilani celebrates her birthday in the kitchen

Saturday we started the celebration of Meilani's 2nd Birthday a little early by making our Cooking Club a Kids Birthday Party theme. We let all the kids tie on aprons and we devised a menu with kids in mind. We served White Bean Dip with Veggie Sticks, Cut-out Fruit Skewers, Personal Bagel Pizzas and Bug Chocolate cupcakes.
We started out our time together by mixing up some Flubber. What's Flubber? It's a fun, gooey, sometimes sticky, sometimes smooth. It's like silly putty meets play-doh. Our friend, Cori, shared a homemade recipe and Danna led the kids in mixing it up. The fun thing about flubber is you can roll it out like cookie dough or squish it up and store it in a little plastic container.

Juliahna helped us with the Corn Starch and water creation. Pour a box of corn starch in a tub and add water. Watch the mixture morp into sometimes liquid and sometimes solid. Think about what it feels like to stick your fingers in wet sand. The greatest part is it dries like powder and it's all easy to clean up!

Our friend, Caleb Smith, helped out with cutting the watermelon slices into fun shapes. We used cookie cutters to do the shapes, then put them on popsicles sticks with grapes like fruit skewers (minus the pointy edge).

While the kids played with gooey, gross stuff, the mamas made personal bagel pizzas with all kinds of toppings. These are an easy and fun way to please a variety of eaters. They are a fun recipe for a party or just a picnic lunch during the week.

One of our growing kid members, Corban Pusey, lounged on our patio and tried out the fruit skewers with his mama. He dug all the kid food we served. What a life! The day was steaming hot so the kids went for a dip in the pool with the daddies.

Our dessert was a new recipe for Chocolate Cupcakes with low sugar from our BABY BISTRO cookbook. Then we made a cream cheese frosting sweetened with pomegranate jelly and topped the cakes with organic sprinkles and chocolate chips to make them look like lady bugs. We sang the Happy Birthday song to Meilani and she blew out her candles.

Our youngest Cooking Club member, Olivia Andrade, even came to help Meilani celebrate. Her Mama and Daddy brought Meilani a cool sandbox toy to celebrate the big 2!
Meilani got a few homemade gifts too, including an apron by Allison and this fleece blanket made by Paula and Juliahna. Meilani curled up under the blankie right away and snuggled with her new stuffed bunny.

Meilani also loved her giant Winnie the Pooh coloring book from Caleb and Joshua Smith. She got right to work coloring *every* page. It's amazing how the simple things can be so much fun! Cooking with friends made our Saturday full once again. Next Saturday: the pool party!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Ericlee joins hundreds biking to work

Today, Ericlee dusted off his bike, pumped up the tires, oiled the chain and headed out for work on his bike. He joined hundreds of other men and women across our city who are biking to work to make a statement about health and the environment.

We live a 10-minute drive (6.5 miles) from Fresno Christian School where he teaches. It's definitely a commitment to ride there on some busy streets, but manageable.

Why ride?

Today is Bike2Work Day in Fresno.

Ericlee told me last night he wanted to bike to work this last week of school to save money on gas. (Can you tell it's the end of the month for us?) Well, we're all feeling the affects of high gas prices. 'nough said on that one. We'd rather spend our four bucks elsewhere. I reminded my hubby that today is Bike to Work Day. What a perfect opportunity to get started!

Ericlee also just started a new hefty workout routine. Admittedly, he has not be consistent in his workouts this spring because he had way too much on his plate in other areas. Now that our track season is over (we're coaches) and the school year is winding down he's committing to working out every day. We continue our healthy eating journey as well. The food choices alone have kept us "lean" this winter and spring, but it's time to take seriously our call to take care of our bodies fully by exercising.

Time to get all our bikes out and go for a spin.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Celebrating mothers of influence

Sunday morning Meilani and Ericlee let me lounge in bed and read while they made breakfast. Since I'm usually on food duty in this household, it was a great surprise. Cinnamon french toast and fresh strawberries and bananas adorned my plate along with a bouquet of bright flowers. I think one of the best parts of Mother's Day (and then Father's Day) is the chance to turn everyday routines into a chance to serve each other and shower each other with appreciation.
On Sunday we celebrated Mother's Day with both mamas (also known as Grandma Chris and Nana Maria). We all went to church together at the Bridge to watch Nana Maria sing in the choir. Then we headed to our house for a homemade meal and some time by the pool. We know most people go out for Mother's Day pampering, but we decided a few years ago to pamper ourselves at home and beat the crowds at restaurants. Not to mention that I love an excuse to make a decadent meal. (Cooking is pleasure for me, not work.)

For Sunday's lunch, I had fun using my new Emeril pots and pans. I made a new recipe out of Bon Appetit mag - a puff pastry asparagus tart for an appetizer. The served a Spinach Salad with strawberries and caramelized red onions and Gorgonzola cheese. Our main course was Mom's fave, Eggplant Parmesan with Tomato Meat Sauce. We had some fresh bread from the bakery and this decadent Chocolate-Lavender Tart with ice cream for dessert.

After our meal, the boys watched basketball and the girls took a dip in the pool. These are the kinds of holidays I love. After spending so many holidays, away from my family it's such a gift to just hang out together and enjoy each other's company. In the evening, Mom and Dad helped me complete a project I've been wanting to do for a long time. We recovered the cushions on our breakfast nook with a fun, stripey fabric. (My friend Cori got me started on Saturday and Sunday we finished the job.)

Before bed on Sunday night, I found myself reflecting on the mothers in my circle of life who have influenced me. Mothering is such a wonderful, thrilling, exhausting, and at times, overwhelming journey. I know it's important to gather strength from other mothers who walk the journey ahead of me or next to me. These are a few of the lessons I've learned from other mothers in these first few years:

From my own mother, Maria, I've learned the passion of mothering. She loves fiercely and wholly. She serves tirelessly and creatively. She has instilled in me the values of mercy and faithfulness. She has embraced a multicultural world and taught me how to celebrate diversity.

From my mother-in-law, Chris, I've learned the art of giving. She is faithful. She is a mentor and friend, always looking for ways to lift people up from their depravity and celebrate their humanity. She loves to spoil and tell stories.

My sister, Caron, teaches me that mothering is cracking open a wide world of learning for our children. I love the way she reads, sings, plants, swims, dances and dreams with my niece and nephew. She's taught me that it's OK to make mistakes and to give myself some time off too. My sister-in-law, Michelle, though only a mama for a few short months, has shown me perserverance and how to follow the mother instincts - even while she had to visit her baby in the hospital for the first month.

I've had the privilege of peering in the window of the lives of a few dear friends who started their journey ahead of me. From Michelle, I've come to understand the importance of teaching our children the Bible and giving them tools to live out their faith. Michelle is my mentor and even though her children are grown she's modeled for me the importance of mothering through fervent prayers and object lessons. She's shown me that mothering is about "letting go."

Cindy has taught me to have courage when I make decisions about parenting that are unpopular. She's taught me to trust my mother instincts. She's reminded me that dancing with my daughter and spending those extra minutes cuddling before sleep are priceless. Cindy reminds me that being a wife and being a mother is a balance I must be intentional about. Jen has taught me to be consistent with my daughter. She mothers her two daughters with such care and creativity. I like to steal her ideas for outings and craft projects.

My friends Jessica and another Jen show me the art of mothering multiple children. This is something I've yet to tackle. I watch them do it on a daily basis with grace and a huge dose of patience. They make sacrifices so their families can experience the best of learning, love and life. They encourage me as I think about the future.

Marcy walks this mothering journey beside me and teaches me mercy and grace as she mothers her own son, Corban, and a foster son, Angel, with equal care and love. Paula shows me how to celebrate children as she devotes her days to playing with her girls and teaching them spiritual values. My friend, Amy, schools me in ways to stimulate learning with her boys. She's not afraid to get out and play with Isaiah and Luke and celebrate their personalities.

Some of my friends have younger children, yet they are daily encouragement to me as I watch them walk this winding road before us. Susan teaches me the art of balance as she works and mothers Niana with enthusiasm. Christine shows patience as she's faced some adversity but still mothers with such a love and fierce pride over her son. Allison reminds me how to mother with wonder and style. She is frugal and measured in her approach. Mary mothers with a tender, nurturing touch. Beverly shows me with her laid-back and loving spirit how to give kids a space for play and messes while still maintaining grace and order. She shows me that ministry is a whole-family affair and that children should join us on that journey.

I'm celebrating so many mothers who have poured into my life. I'm indebted to the women who have mothered me along the way. I'm thankful to those who have buoyed me up when I felt unsure of how to mother best. See you on the mother journey.

Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Meilani's Milestones: Approaching the big 2!

Our baby girl is quickly growing into a toddler. In just a few weeks she will be turning the big two. In the last several months, she's had many milestones worth noting. The biggest milestone is in talking. We've moved on from words and phrases to sentences. It's amazing how Meilani can narrate a whole day's worth of events with 3 to 5-word sentences. We're fascinated by all this talking and language acquisition. The funny moments are when she throws in some slang like "C'mon, Mama" or "dude" or "Oopie" (oopsie) and her distinct, "Um, yeah." Do we say all that? Apparently.
Meilani has definitely grown more of a sense of humor in these last few months. She likes to do silly things and then laugh at herself and declare, "Funny!" This morning she set up her booster seat on a chair on our patio, got out her bubbles, put on her shades and informed me that she was in "Nani's office." (Where in the world did she get that one?)
We've created a girl with a world traveler heart. She's already been all over California, on a mission trip to Haiti, to a conference in Michigan and this summer she will be our companion in Virginia, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit and beyond. She LOVES airplanes and has quite the radar for them. Whenever she hears an airplane or helicopter, she informs us and points to the sky. "Take off, take off!" She also loves motorcycles, cars, garbage trucks and "fi-re cucks" (fire trucks). During a visit with our friends Josiah, Bethany and Beverly Ford last week, we saw a fire at the apartment building behind their house. We called the fire department, heard the dogs barking and watched the smoke. Meilani said a little prayer for the dogs and the people and hasn't stopped talking about the "fi-re cuck" since.
Meilani has been a little climber since she was a baby. She crawled out of her crib the first time at 8 months and that's where it all began. She's graduated to bigger and better climbing adventures. She always finds the tallest playground equipment and goes right to the top. She's also into balancing/standing on our exercise ball and galloping around the block. (Yes, we'll blame Daddy for these unique athletic abilities at such a young age.) This week we started taking walks with her in the neighborhood. She walks, runs, gallops ahead of us now instead of riding in the jogging stroller. It's a whole new world! And she's very observant of bugs, flowers, dogs, bumblebees, cars. (Watch out, Mama. Car come.)
Mama's favorite antic was this recent scene in the kitchen.
Dorina: Meilani, what are you doing?
Meilani: Feed baby!
Dorina: Why is she under your shirt?
Meilani: Baby eat milk!
Yikes! Yes, we are indoctrinating our child about the virtues of breastfeeding.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Reflection on the Mother Journey

I've been contemplating this journey called motherhood. I find that with each new day of mothering my daughter, Meilani, comes new learning, new adventures, new discoveries. I uncover new versions of myself as I continue to work on being a mother. I've been a mother officially for two years now, but I believe the journey really begins during pregnancy when your whole world becomes wrapped up in the concept of bringing a child into the world. I still remember the way I would hold my belly and dream what it would be like to be a mother. From the very beginning of pregnancy I was inextricably tied to my child, grappling with the idea that I would be responsible for this new life entering the world.

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about how to make my birth journey more intentional when we have our next child. I recently joined a group called ICAN, which is dedicated to helping educate and support mothers through their birthing journeys. Mothers, friends, midwifes, doulas, doctors, nurses and other birth advocates are part of this circle. This group recognizes that each woman's birth journey is unique and we all need support in whatever our journey ends up to be. Each month we meet and discuss topics related to birth. I joined now so I can ask questions and look at birthing options when I'm not pregnant and I don't have the pressure of an impending due date to worry about. My friend Jessica, another Fresno Christian School coach's wife, is one of the leaders of the group and as we have grown our friendship she has invited me into her personal birth circle as well. During her pregnancy, we talked a lot about how to embrace birth and motherhood and how to respectfully and gently bring children into the world, which doesn't always happen in typical hospital births.

Part of Jessica's journey into being a mother of four was a special Mother Gathering hosted back in March. I was invited as a friend and also to take pictures of the gathering. I felt honored to be included even though I've known Jessica for a relatively short time. This was kind of like a shower but focused more on encouragement and support than on gifts and goofy games. Each woman was asked to bring a bead and a piece of cloth to give to Jessica. We each shared the symbolism or meaning behind our bead as we threaded the beads together into a necklace for Jessica. The swatches of cloth were sewed together into a banner of remembrance of all the women who stand behind Jessica as she births her child and welcomes him into the world. The stories and words of encouragement that each woman shared were thoughtful and empowering. I realized how important it is on my own mothering journey to surround myself with women from many walks of life who can encourage me, walk with me and shape me into the person I want to be. So often I see that mothers in our American culture go at the journey alone. We may exchange notes on diaper brands or sleeping rhythms but we don't get to the deep stuff. We compare ourselves to each other instead of building each other up.

Jessica's friend, Belinda, who was the hostess of the Mother Gathering, also invited us to help pamper Jessica by washing her feet. We washed her feet to serve her in this momentous time - her final month of pregnancy. For Jessica, this foot washing was also symbolic of her faith and the way Jesus Christ washed his disciples' feet. As I think about mothering, I know a lot of the journey has to do with serving. Each day I am asked to serve my daughter in ways I haven't ever served a human being before. I breastfeed her. I wipe her behind and her tears. I dress and bathe her. She trusts me fully, never asking about my credentials or my education. She doesn't call me out as phony or question my inexperience or a ask if I'm a novice. She runs to me again and again calling, "Hold me, Mama. Hold me." And those words empower me. Those words give me strength to wake up in the middle of the night to comfort her even when I don't feel like it. Those words make all the cooking, cleaning, laundry and even the whining so worth it. Those words give me a deep resolve and purpose that I have never felt so powerfully.

At the Mother Gathering, Jessica had three friends bring candles, symbols of light, the Trinity and the peaceful ambiance she hoped to create in her home birth. When the time came, just a few weeks ago, I had the privilege of being a part of that home birth. It was a three-day process of welcoming her little boy into the world. The birth journey started on a Saturday evening by candlelight. Belinda and I were there, massaging Jessica's feet and encouraging her through each contraction. It was both peaceful and powerful - so different from any other birth - or for that matter anything else I've ever been a part of before. Throughout the night, as Jessica danced with each contraction, my eyes kept returning to those candles and thinking about the peace that passes understanding only God can give. Despite the pain she felt, Jessica clung to that peace and I saw in her a grace and dignity I hope to have in my next birth.

The journey over those three days was at times beautiful and at other times exhausting and overwhelming. We were all full of anticipation as we waited for the baby to arrive. Jessica dilated quickly but had a difficult two-day road trying to actually push the baby out. As an observer and attendant, I found it difficult. I felt clumsy. I did loads of laundry, cooked breakfast, comforted the youngest children who had lots of questions and concerns. I tried to serve my friend and her family but I soon came to understand that the most powerful act of service I could offer up was my fervent prayers throughout the process. This, too, was a lesson about the mothering journey. Sometimes I get so caught up in the "doing" of motherhood that I give myself little time for "being" a mother. What I mean is I often see my mother role as an extensive to-do list rather than a season, a journey, a time in space I've been given to enjoy, to relish, and to believe. As I learned through Jessica's birth, sometimes my most powerful act as a mother is offering up a prayer on behalf of my daughter and myself.

In the end, I did not see Preston when he came out. I took on my own mother role, mothering Jessica's children in my own home, while she birthed him with her husband, midwife, doula and friend closeby. At a recent baseball game, I snapped a quick photo of our newest newborn friend, Preston Morgan McGowen, son of Jessica and Billy, and little sibling to Peyton, Milani and Meliz. My Meilani loves peeking in at the baby, who she pretty much considers her new sibling as well. When I look at Preston I am reminded about the things I have learned about birth and mothering through his little life.

My second official Mother's Day approaches this week and I can't help but reflect on how this mothering journey has shaped me. I hardly remember my life before I was a mother. Perhaps that is testimony to how much this new role has become a part of my very fabric, my being. What I've discovered is that the mothering journey is really just part of the larger spiritual journey I'm on. Gary Thomas, in his book SACRED PARENTING, calls parenting a "sacred journey." He writes, "We live in the midst of holy teachers. Sometimes they spit up on themselves or on us. Sometimes they throw tantrums. Sometimes they cuddle us and kiss us and love us. In the good and the bad they mold our hearts, shape our souls, and invite us to experience God in newer and deeper ways." I've certainly learned this to be true. Each day is an opportunity for me as a mother to discover a new blessing.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Dorina springs into a new year with a spring birthday

This has been a particularly blessed week as I have been celebrating my birthday. Thursday was the official day to celebrate my 31 years but I've really had a whole week of cards, notes, phone calls, dinners out and surprise gifts. I'm convinced the best thing about birthdays is the chance to hear from all my favorite people in the world. Thursday morning my wonderful hubby woke me up with a Jamba Juice granola smoothie. My precious daughter greeted me with a very enunciated, very sincere version of the "Happy Birthday, Dear Mama" song.

Ericlee also surprised me with a huge package to open before he left for school. Meilani helped with the wrapping. (She doesn't care whose presents they are. She knows it's time to party.) The gift was a new professional set of pots and pans by Emeril Lagasse - that Food Network guy I love. My parents, Ericlee's parents, and my bro and sis-in-law all pitched in for this birthday gift. And let's just say these will probably benefit the whole family.

My parents treated us to a Chinese dinner at Joy Luck on Thursday night after track. Then Friday night Ericlee and I went out to a new Fresno restaurant called Gigi's Cucina Italiana. Using a special gift card from the basketball team, we indulged in an out-of-this-world Italian meal. It takes a lot to impress me when it comes to Italian food. (I guess you can say I'm spoiled.) This meal was fabulous. We started with this Caprese salad, including homemade cheese (!), fresh tomatoes, grilled eggplant and a balsamic vinaigrette. Then we moved on to Salmon ravioli with a Vodka and vanilla-infused sauce and Prosciutto & asparagus ravioli served with homemade foccocia bread.

The dessert was Chocolate hazelnut crepes with homemade hazelnut gelato. Out of this world. The presentation of the food was as decadent as the flavors. And contrary to our many other meals out this week, we felt full but not sick. Maybe it was all those fresh, local ingredients. A glass of Italian red wine topped off the meal. We felt like we were dining in Italy. Our waiter turned out to be a retired teacher-turned-marathon-runner. Go figure.

What a way to celebrate as I dance into the 30s decade!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Cooking Club serves up Sandwich Soiree

This month our Cooking Club put together a Sandwich Soiree. Our menu included these yummy Croissant Chicken Sandwiches by Paula, BLTs with a Healthy Twist, Italian Paninis and Fabulous Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Sandwiches. We also threw in a baby greens salad with blue cheese, sliced pears and a homemade vinaigrette. We thought this would be a fun way to usher in the season of eating outdoors and sharing lunches with friends.

Marcy helped slice up the sourdough bread from a local bakery and stack the provolone cheese and salami for the paninis. We brushed the bread with olive oil and grilled them on Mary's snazzy George Foreman grill. We even got those cool grill marks on our paninis.

Susan's Niana giggled and played with the older girls at the Cooking Club. She's getting ready to start walking and soon we are going to have to put an apron on her so she can help out in the kitchen. She's such a big girl now!

Our healthy BLTs included turkey bacon, lettuce, tomatoes and avocado slices on a homemade Honey Oatmeal Wheat Bread. Dorina made the bread and Stacie assembled these scrumptious sandwiches. (For recipes, click here.)

We finished off the soiree with these chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwiches. We cut the sugar in half and used whole wheat pastry flour for the cookies. The ice cream was homemade from farmer's market strawberries, raw milk and honey. And the end result was a refreshing treat on this surprisingly hot spring day!