Hello, California! I missed you!

We visited our family and friends in California June 10-25 and had a wonderful time connecting with everyone!  Here are some highlights:

My Nephew Sean’s Preschool Graduation

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Playing Miniature Golf with Alyssa

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Falther’s Day at Crystal Cove with Lauren (she’s so photogenic, isn’t she?) and My Dad

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A Nice Walk Through the CSUF Arboretum with My Mom

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Visiting Peter’s Brother Steve’s Family- Dana, Isabella and Sam, who drove from Visalia, CA to meet us halfway in Santa Clarita

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Visiting Carpinteria State Beach on the Way Home from Visiting Grandma Bromiley

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Eating at Black’s Barbeque on the Way to the Austin Airport: Yes, Peter at that whole Beef Rib!

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Visiting Claro’s, my favorite little Italian market, with my Mom and Alyssa.

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I was able to visit the school I used to work at, Segerstrom High School, and even participate in graduation!  After three and half years teaching the same group of students in a Seminar class, they finally graduated.  I surprised them by showing up and reading their names for graduation.  It was wonderful to see 33 of the original 35 graduate (the other 2 transfered schools their junior year).  They all gave me this lovely bouquet of flowers to say thank-you.  What awesome students!

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Eating at In-n-Out, the place we met in 2007!

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Making a Home Part III: Home is Where WE Are

It feels like home.   Peter hugged me close to his chest and I sunk deeper into the embrace, the comforting feeling of knowing he loves me.  In the five years or so of hugs we have shared since then, I have experienced the same comfort in many of our embraces.

The connotation of a “home” begins with a physical place, a location of housing where we go when after work.   This is what I first think of as a home, but more lies beneath.  Home is where I belong.  It makes me think of rest, a place to relax, let my guard down, be myself, eat and care for personal needs.  When I thought to myself that Peter’s hug felt like home, God used Peter to meet my desire to belong, rest and be cared for.  At that time, my family and friends also met that need, but God was at work, rooting a relationship in a sense of belonging to each other.

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When I first arrived in Victoria, most of my home stayed behind in California.  Nearly everything felt foreign to me: the flat, vast landscape, the overgrown grass everywhere, the ubiquitous Tex-Mex restaurants, and worst of all: people everywhere I went who I did not know at all.  I felt out of place and still, after six months, struggle with coming to grips with my new surroundings.

The only familiar face I saw belonged to my Peter who supplied the comforting embrace bringing me home to the place both of our hearts belong.  In those moments of being away from the familiarity of California, we clung to each other in the way God designed us to: “[t]hat is why a man leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife, and they become a new family.”  We have been our own family since the day we got married in 2010, but living far away from our parents and extended family has forced us to lean on each other, and ultimately on God who gave us each other, to fulfill the desire for a place to belong.  Our home is wherever we are together.

Making a Home Part II: Leaving the Familiar Behind

In California, I had and still have a great support network of family, friends and colleagues with whom I had and still have deep relationships.  They were my community.

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It’s hard to be away from all of that here in Victoria.  Blessed with being part of a big family and so many communities where I felt I belonged in California, the move has brought to my attention how much I have taken this for granted.  Moving to Victoria meant that I was giving up immediate access to the communities where I belonged in California.  When I ask God to “search me. . . and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts,” He indeed does and shows me how much I loved and still love the sense of community and belonging I had in California. I know that the sense of belonging I felt was never mine to cling tightly to, but I’ve begun to realize how much I idolized my sense of belonging.  It’s gotta go.   I loved being part of a wonderful community in California, but I can’t and don’t want to love it more than I love Christ, my savior.

God sent us here six months ago for reasons I have yet to fully understand beyond Peter’s great job.  Trusting God here means I have to believe Him when he promises that “all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

God set us up for needing each other, and in His grace often brings people into our lives so we can enrich each other’s lives.  Though this requires some sacrifice on everyone’s behalf, the benefits of friendship and community often outweigh the costs of time and awkwardness.  Praise God I learned that earlier in life—a story for another time, perhaps.  Just like God doesn’t promise us good health or a high-paying job, we’re not exactly promised community and friendship, but in “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

Though I realize God’s plan does not necessarily include my vision of community, I continue to seek community out as much as I can because that is where I have seen and experienced so much transformation in the lives of God’s people, including myself.  I also still feel that desire to belong- serve and participate, love and be accepted, give myself fully to the life of following Christ in the place I call home.

Making a Home Part 1: A Sense of Belonging

I love to be home.  The idea of home brings up contented thoughts of comfort, rest, a sense of belonging.  Currently my physical home consists of a cozy one bedroom “townhouse” I share with my husband.  But is has been many places throughout my life. I just returned from visiting family in Southern California, and every time I told someone where I was headed for the trip, the phrase that came to mind and out of my mouth was “back home to visit my parents.”  Yet as the words hung in the air for a moment, they made me remember how little physical location really has to do with a sense of being home.

Messy Kitchen

While in southern California, I visited the school I used to work at and just walking the path from the parking lot, past my classroom, receiving kind greetings from former colleagues I spent six years collaborating (and conflicting at times), I felt like I was home.

Other (though somewhat ecclectic) places I have felt a strong sense of home are gymnastics gyms, where the stagnant aroma of sweat and chalk meld together reminding me endless balance beam and uneven bars practicing.  Those moments of tearfully struggling to master skills cry out in frustration from my memory.  But I also remember my best friends growing up who knew me because they struggled with me.

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Sometimes I slow down as I walk past a lawnmower or power equipment repair shop because the odor of decaying grass clippings, dirt and grease caked together remind me of my dad’s old shop and my grandfather’s “barn” in Chico.  I have even caught myself stopping at the door, inhaling deeply and whispering an embarrassed “mmm” to myself as I let the scent wash through my brain to bring me images of my dad mowing the lawn in the front yard or my grandfather showing me his latest woodworking project.  I admit to loving the smell of nasty dirty lawnmowers because they bring me that homey, familiar feeling.

My parent’s house, the school I used to work at, my gymnastics gym, my grandfather’s “barn” all feel homey to me because they are full of people I know, have history with, care deeply for, who love me unconditionally.  That’s all part of my community, the place I belong.

It’s hard to be away from all of that here in Victoria.  Blessed with being part of a big family and so many communities where I felt I belonged in California, the move has brought to my attention how much I have taken this for granted.  Moving to Victoria meant that I was giving up easy access to the communities where I belonged in California.  I know that sense of belonging I felt was never mine to cling tightly, but I’ve begun to realize how much I idolized my sense of belonging.  It’s gotta go.  I loved being part of a wonderful community in California, but I don’t love it more than I love Christ, my savior.

God set us up for needing each other, and in His grace often brings people into our lives so we can enrich each other’s lives.

Riverside Park in the Evening

We are big fans of leisurly walks, especially in the evening whe the temperature drops a little, making the sticky combination of humidity and sweat more effective at cooling us down.

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Riverside Park follows the Guadalupe River for a little over a mile and is home to the zoo, a golf corse, an abandoned dog race track (I think that’s what is) and the nicest restaurant in town, The Pumphouse.  There are many places to have a picnic and a few playgrounds for kids, too.  On Saturday evening, Peter took me on a date to get some BBQ at Uncle Mutts (we decided to never eat there again…different story), and then for a little walk around the pond and river at sunset.

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All the animals come out at dusk.  The symphony of insects chirping to eachother, birds darting from branch to branch, frogs, turtles and geese all come alive as the sun goes down.

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The above bird is a yellow crown night heron.  Having a biology professor husband is like having my  own personal naturalist to answer or look up all of my queries.  Peter pulls out his copy of Birds of North America every time we get home from the park or a day trip to figure out what kind of birds we saw.  When we go to the park during the day, I usually see a pretty little red bird called a summer tanager, which looks like this, but I haven’t been able to snap a photo of the one in the wild.

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These larvae entwined in spiderweb made Peter smile.  Apparently, the larvae, which would become some type of insect, were building a nest over a spider’s web.

While studying the larvae, we stumbled upon one of the only type of insect that are acceptable to me: fireflies.  Peter had told me a few years ago that the two scientific phenomena he really wanted to see are the northern lights and fireflies.  We decided that we would have to take trip both to northern Canada for the first and to Louisiana or some other swampy place in order to see the second.  Now that we live in beautiful, humid Victoria, we can see fireflies just a mile from our apartment.

Fireflies look like a split-second of a lit match.  During early twighlight, the lights are a yellow-orange color, but as the sun completely disappears, the lights transition to a soft green glow.  We’re not sure if it’s just the way we can see the light or if the two colors come from different species of fireflies.

While walking along the river bank we witnessed a firefly casual encounter just before sunset.  One firefly flashed his orangy light, another nearby firefly flashed right back.  In one quick motion, the second firefly flew over and landed on the first one’s back and they flew off together in a blaze of flashy lights.  Peter told me that the firefly flashing is a way to attract mates, so he was pretty sure we just witnessed their courtship.

Even trying to use the video feature on my camera, I couldn’t get a good picture of the fireflies.  They flash their glowy orange or green for only a fraction of a second.  I’ll keep trying and put up photos if I’m lucky enough to catch the fireflies with my camera.

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We ended our walk overlooking the Guadalupe river as the sun slowly set.  With no mountains or even small hills around for miles, the sun sets peacefully over Victoria, creating a softer and softer glow on the river, grass and trees, echoing the the rhythms of life here: leisurely winding down the day.

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A Drive North

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I had to drive north a few months ago to get my fingerprints taken in La Grange, Texas. The Victoria branch of FAST (the fingerprinting agency) was down for a few weeks, and I needed my fingerprints taken immediately, so I found the next closest branch- in La Grange, about 70 miles away.

Getting out of Victoria is easy as there is only one main road running north and south, and as soon as I got a little bit outside of town, farms began to appear. Quaint little farms of country lore. Farm houses set deep into the crevices barely visible from the road. Ponds and barns set beside vast grazing acreage. Cattle standing, walking around, eating from the clover grass, laying in the shade. And everything was that soft grassy green or deep-hen house-red. Like I was driving into a nostalgic memory of the midwest as remembered by previous generations. This tranquil scenery lasted for almost an hour before I approached the cities of Hallettesville, an older home to businesses supporting the local farming industry, Schulenburg, a city known for dairy, and La Grange, a hip, small town where I saw a cafe, something I hadn’t seen since my move to Texas.

I had heard about people taking a “country drive,” but like a true southern Californian at heart, I see driving as mostly utilitarian, getting to where I need to be. After sitting in Orange Country traffic for 45 minutes to an hour coming home from work each day, I don’t see any fun in taking a drive. So I dismissed the idea of a “country drive” as redneck practice that used up valuable gasoline and time. This all changed the day I drove to La Grange, when I just go to soak up the scenery, driving at my own pace with almost no contact with other drivers. So peaceful, so calming, so bucolic. A novel should be set there.

Since my first trip to La Grange in early March, I have been looking for a reason to drive up in that direction again. I had been reading about the health benefits of raw milk recently, and decided I needed it to procure it for myself. This presented me with the option to drive 60 miles south to Seguin to purchase $10/gallon raw milk or travel 62 miles north again to Moulton (just south of Shulenburg) to for $5.50/gallon raw milk. No brainer: I drove to Moulton to the Four E Dairy on Thursday, where I was able to see the scenery from my previous drive, but also experience the softly rolling hills of the farm roads. Farm roads don’t even have names, just numbers. No sidewalks or lanes, just miles and acres of corn fields, pastures, ponds, barns, country homes, grass, sky, clouds and cattle. I’m just in awe of the endlessness of the land surrounding me.

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I paid for my milk and took the scenery in as I drove back and began to realize I was experiencing pleasure from driving as I had never before done. For that moment, time and space ceased to exist; there was only me and the the farm country surrounding the road. What a beautiful gift God gave me, especially reminding me “a heart at peace gives life to the body. . .” (Proverbs 14:30). My heart was at peace. I didn’t expect it, especially not while driving, an activity that used to bring me so much stress. Truly, God restores us with the great beauty he created in nature.

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Though you can’t tell from the picture, it’s raining. A rain shower if I ever experienced one! I wish I had taken more pictures.

Balsamic Peaches Sundae

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Peaches finally came down in price this week, signalling the beginning of peach season.  I decided to celebrate with one of my favorite applications of peaches: a balsamic peaches sundae.

It tastes like peaches and cream with a little kick.  I’ve made grilled peaches with a balsamic reduction before, but the sweet-sour contrast was too intense for me in a dessert, so I started experimenting last summer.

I was inspired by a sundae my grandparents used to make for me when I visited them in northern California.  My grandfather had both an apricot and a  walnut tree at one time that he would harvest every year.  My grandmother made apricot jam which she would heat up and put on ice cream with toasted walnuts on top.  If you have never had freshly toasted walnuts, let me recommend that you find and consume them as soon as possible.

The concepts of the apricot and walnut sundae and the grilled peaches with balsamic reduction meld into one idea in this sundae.  It requires a little bit of cooking and cooling time before eating, but it’s worth it!  Also, make sure to use a high-quality vanilla ice cream like Hagen-Daz that has no artificial ingredients and uses sugar or honey to sweeten.  If I had my own ice-cream maker (which I hope to get in the next year), I would make my own.

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And, here’s the recipe:

Balsamic Peaches Sundae

Serves two

Ingredients

1 tablespoon butter

Two small peaches cut into one-inch pieces

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Tiny pinch of sea salt

About a cup of vanilla ice cream (half of a Hagen-Daz pint)

Directions

  1. Melt butter over medium-high heat in a small skillet.  After the butter starts foaming, add in peaches, honey, balsamic vinegar and sea salt and bring to a simmer.  Continue to simmer for about 5-7 minutes. The peaches should give off some of their liquid, forming a syrup with the honey and balsamic vinegar and thicken slightly.
  2. Take the pan off the heat and let cool for at least ten minutes.
  3. Serve the peaches in cups over the ice cream.