Hello July and Happy Birthday “A Room Full of Roses!”

Hello July and Happy Birthday “A Room Full of Roses!”

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“Answer July—
Where is the Bee—
Where is the Blush—
Where is the Hay?

Ah, said July—
Where is the Seed—
Where is the Bud—
Where is the May—
Answer Thee—Me—”

~Emily Dickinson

 

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I can’t believe July has finally rolled around. Summer in full swing, Fourth of July celebrations, hot dogs, fireworks, watermelons, and warm poolside days mark this festive month, at least for me!

 

Also, it’s officially the ONE YEAR anniversary of this blog! Holy cow, I can’t believe it! You all have stuck with me through so many seasons—not just the full four seasons of a year, but my seasons of grief, which have waxed and waned, and moved through me in the mysterious, often unfathomable way of grief. I really appreciate it. It feels so good to know that even one person reads my ramblings, let alone a good bunch! It has been quite a journey. Last year when I started blogging, I was in the midst of the worst pain I’ve ever experienced, and due to family dynamics and challenges that other family members were facing at the time, I was utterly alone and isolated in my grief. I had wanted a memorial for Gram because I needed the support of people who loved her, but it was not meant to be. Instead, I just started writing. I needed to process my feelings, and I’ve felt such support from my dear loved ones who take the time to read what I have to say. I am so grateful to you!

 

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As you might have noticed, there have been a few changes around here in preparation for this milestone, namely that the name of this blog has changed ever so slightly, going from “Room Full of Roses” to “A Room Full of Roses” due to me caving, upgrading this blog and buying the domain. However, the morally corrupt people who devote their lives to buying domains and then accepting outrageous bribes for their release had, naturally, already purchased roomfullofroses.com, so adding an “A” was necessary. I don’t mind though, it works well! I’m hoping to spruce the place up a bit more in the coming weeks and months as well.

 

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Mom likes to joke about sharing her birthday with Harry Potter, and as her birthday falls on the 31st, we will likely do something fun with her the weekend before. Things are really winding down for our U.K. trip and I imagine we will be running around like chickens with our heads cut off, putting all the final details in place and packing that weekend as well!

 

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Here’s what’s on the calendar for July:

 

 3rd—Feast of St. Thomas

4th—Fourth of July

10th—National Kitten Day (!!!)

11th—Feast of St. Benedict

13th—National French Fry Day (sounds like a good excuse to eat fries for the first time in months)

14th—Feast of Kateri Tekakwitha

16th—National Ice Cream Day (so many good food days in July!)

19th—National Hot Dog Day (ok, I’m going to gain all my weight back…)

25th—Feast of St. James

31st—Mom’s birthday, Harry Potter’s birthday, Fest of St. Ignatius of Loyola

 

What do you have going on this month? Love to you all!

 

 

Hello Summer!

Hello Summer!

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It’s finally here!! Sweet, hot, delightful, joyful summertime! I’m so excited for summer this year. It’s normally not my favorite season, but I don’t know what it is…for some reason, this year is different. Living south of San Francisco, we get to enjoy summer heat, summer sun, outdoor swimming pools, and all the fun the beautiful South Bay has to offer.

We have adventures planned, and not just international ones. Husband recently went camping in the high Sierras, we have plans for weekend outings to Half Moon Bay and other stops along the breathtaking California coast…and even though I’m not a spontaneous or stereotypically adventurous person, I know we’ll be running off hither and thither to bask in the sun in various ways over the next few months.

My most favorite aspect of summer, far and away, is the heat. The Bay Area is notoriously mild– and when I say notorious I’m looking at you, Outer Sunset. This part of the city is blanketed in fog from June through September, and it was so depressing to survive winter and spring, just to have to spend all summer making stews because you’re still freezing! Now that we’ve moved south, we get to experience heat, and it is such a novelty to be sweater-free, and to feel comfortable in skirts without worrying you’ll get chilly. Another thing related to heat is food– it is profoundly easier to eat clean, light, raw and otherwise healthy foods when you’re hot. Cold weather invites calorie binging. Hot weather invites simple, clean eating. Many years ago when I lived in the Sierras and the weather was scorching, I would occasionally just eat fruit– maybe a few peaches in a day– and that was it! And I felt good! It was too hot to eat and too hot to cook, anyway.

A summer tradition in my family is our many summer “porch parties”– dinners on my parent’s deck, where Dad barbecues and friends gather around the table, the evenings illuminated first by a lazy setting sun, and then by white fairy lights and myriad candles. We have a few nice ones planned this year, and I’m going to revive some Moroccan recipes I used to make that have fallen by the wayside.

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What do you have planned this summer?

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” — Henry James

 

 

The First Fruits

The First Fruits

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I’m hoooooome!!! I can hear Grandma beginning to sing “Hoooooome, home on the range!”

Vacations have an interesting quality of being fun, tiring, exhilarating, stressful, restful and busy all at the same time. I’ve found, though, that they are the gifts you give yourself that keep on giving. They bear fruit long after you have returned, and you can’t always anticipate what that fruit will be. A new approach to a particular issue that was bugging you, a strengthened resolve to begin something you had been putting off…a good vacation will bear fruit like this.

And how could it not, in places like this?

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In an effort to make talking about being home more pleasant, I’m just going to randomly share photos from our glorious adventure with you.

Tomorrow I go back to work, to once again become enmeshed in the Bay Area rat race that is full of long commutes, dirt, crowds, noise, concrete, pointless minutiae. I am exceedingly grateful for my job, for Husband’s opportunity to attend graduate school (new semester begins on Wednesday!), and for our obscenely over-priced apartment that we call home. But coming back from the time we set aside these last two weeks…

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Coming back from silence, trees, warm air, dirt roads, the loving arms of family, no alarm clocks, rivers, swimming pools, rocks, the slow pace of summer in the country…it was hard. It was the tiniest of culture shocks. And it is the (small) cross we lift and carry as we move forward toward the goals we seek. “To know that the Father’s wisdom is in every cross, is faith,” said Mother Angelica. Thankfully, I do have the self-awareness to know that the cross of starting a new semester, returning to a ho-hum but good job, and life in the beautiful Bay is indeed the smallest of crosses. I have to remind myself that vacations are vacations because of work, because of school, because we put in the effort and received the reward. That process is gratifying, even if exhausting, and even if it sometimes feels dehumanizing in its demands.

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And so I am called to reflect on the fruits of my break from labor. While I know I will continue to discover them in the coming weeks, possibly months, the ones I know for sure have manifested are these:

I need to make my workspace a place I want to be. My desk at work is bare, because I am a minimalist. Clutter stresses me out, so aside from a framed picture of my deceased cat (yes, I am that weird) and a company mug, it’s my computer and that’s it. I think I would enjoy returning to work each day if I made my surroundings as inspiring and comfortable as possible. I bought a fantastic tea cup with saucer to bring, because I hate drinking tea from my work mug. I’m planning to bring in one or two plants, and some pictures from our summer adventure. I have control over how I feel in my workspace, and I’m going to take advantage of it.

We need less pointless entertainment. I stare at a screen all day long. It’s my job. Why, then, have I been coming home after a long day of screen-staring, just to turn on the TV, flop on the couch, and veg out? I scroll through Reddit to help me wake up in the morning, and before I go to bed. This is too much. It causes me anxiety, and prevents me from doing things that would otherwise nourish my body and soul. I’m going to try using a different alarm clock so that I’m not so reliant on having my phone near me 24 hours a day. Husband and I have discussed implementing real quiet time before bed— time for meditation and prayer, time to just wind down before going to bed at a reasonable hour. I think this alone would really help my daily grind feel more relaxed and me less anxious.

I need to fix the stuff that isn’t working. By this I mean around the house. Homes are always works-in-progress, but there are some things that we have been ignoring that have been interfering with our ability to do small tasks, which then affect larger tasks, which then affect how we feel in our home. For example, our entry way hasn’t had a place for us to hang bags, put mail, or stash keys and wallets. Instead, all of this stuff was being placed on the kitchen table. Because the kitchen table was always covered in junk, we got into the habit of eating on the couch, in front of the TV. This relatively small snowball really does take a toll on us, though. The kitchen table looks dreadful, we engage in too much pointless entertainment, we don’t connect over a meal, etc. Thankfully, while on vacation I stopped at thrift store near my in-law’s house and found the PERFECT little stand for our entryway for $10. It matches our other furniture, holds our keys, has a drawer for our mail, and some shelves for other things. Today I went to Target and picked up some other much-needed household items. It feels really good to be finally getting those little irritating issues resolved.

Eat well. After two weeks of (delicious) restaurant food, Husband and I have gained noticeable and not-insignificant weight. It’s crazy how lazing around and eating tons of rich food will do that! I’m really glad to be home, and to be getting a start on rebooting our diets. We both have set new goals for ourselves in terms of what we individually want our relationships with food to look like, and thankfully those goals are reasonable, healthy, and budget-friendly. We do have fond memories of Voodoo Doughnut, though.

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So, those are the four that I’m working on for the next few days. There will be more to come, I’m sure, but I’m taking it one step at a time. Slowly, and with much patience and diligence, we can always reflect and refocus the direction our lives are taking. I’m so thankful for the opportunity we had to visit Tahoe, Sierraville, Graeagle, Portland, Nevada City, Grass Valley, and the many other places we stopped along the way. I will continue to sift through the hidden fruit it is bearing, as I shake out the dust from the road. I know it will see us through, until the next adventure. 

A Trappist Retreat

A Trappist Retreat

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It’s finally, finally Summer vacation!!

Husband and I took just over two weeks off of work and headed north to the Sierra foothills to spend time with our families, and to get some much-needed nature therapy. I’ll be posting some of the wonderful adventures we’ve been having in future posts, but for this post, I wanted to share what I did the first four days of my vacation— a wonderful retreat with my mother to the Trappist monastery The Abbey of Our Lady of New Clairvaux in Vina, California.

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My mother and I had the pleasure of doing a three-day retreat to New Clairvaux last January. While it was restorative and peaceful, our hearts were heavy and rather than being spiritually fruitful, it was largely just a rest for us both. Time away from our troubles. Grandma had been very ill and unhappy, and she had been put on hospice care the week prior, which was both a blessing and cause for sadness. After Grandma passed, my mom decided to treat me to another retreat in the warm summertime…and boy, was it incredible! 

The Abbey of New Clairvaux is home to some amazing Trappist monks who have traditionally supported themselves by growing prunes and walnuts. Within the last ten years, however, they have branched out and began growing grapes and making award-winning wines, as well. Located just north of Chico, they are really in the middle of nowhere…and the peace and quiet of their abbey is unparalleled.

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Their four-day weekend retreats are self-guided, meaning you determine what to do with your time yourself while at the abbey. There are many lovely things to do!

There are plenty of little nooks and crannies in the lush garden to relax with some devotional reading or in which to pray:

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You can visit the beautiful koi pond behind the visitors center:

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You can visit the St. Cecilia Chapel, where I had the pleasure and honor of praying for many dear friends, near and far:

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You can visit their fantastic library, stuffed to the gills with Catholic books on all kinds of topics (an additional two big bookcases not pictured):

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You can visit their sweet bookstore and gift shop:

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You can visit their beautiful rose garden:

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At mealtimes, you can get a simple, wholesome, vegetarian meal prepared by the monks in the guest kitchen (pictured– a mid-day snack of salad, homemade wheat bread with cheese, home-grown prunes and sliced melon):

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You can even choose to eat in the silent dining room, if you decide to do a silent retreat:

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There are many outdoor tables, including this awesome table made out of a huge slab of stone that reminded me very much of The Stone Table from Narnia:

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You can take a walk on the paths surrounding the orchard and vineyards:

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One of the days we were there, we visited their tasting room. We got to enjoy a taste of six of their incredible wines! If you are a wine drinker, I highly recommend joining their wine club (info at their website). In the Trappist tradition, everything they make is excellent.

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A must-see is the chapel that they are re-building, which was originally a medieval chapel deconstructed and shipped to the U.S. by William Randolph Hearst:

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This is a monumental task, and they have been at it since the early 1990s, I believe. The stones were shipped over, and then unceremoniously dumped in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco when the Hearst estate decided not to use them. As a child, I played on these huge stones in the park! Thankfully, after petitioning the Hearst estate, they were given the stones and are using them to construct this chapel, set to be completed this year.

One of the most enriching aspects of visiting the abbey is getting to attend the liturgy of the hours with the monks. Vigils at 3:30 a.m., Lauds and Mass at 5:45 a.m., Terce at 9:00 a.m., Sext at noon, None at 2:30 p.m., Vespers at 5:45 p.m., Compline at 7:35 p.m., after which begins Great Silence (no talking until Mass the following morning). Visitors don’t have to join the monks for these short periods of chanted prayer and contemplation, but it is SO worth it to join them. It creates structure during day, and keeps God on your mind while chanting the ancient psalms to ancient melodies.

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I went for many long walks, and was blessed with much insight into spiritual issues I had been wrestling with. It really goes to show that when you take the time to listen— to slow your pace, to quieten your mind, to do nothing but speak with your Creator— God will answer you. It can be such a revelation that it isn’t God who refuses to speak to us, but us who refuse to listen for his Voice.

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In January, I had been facing sadness, anxiety, and stress. As uncharitable as it is, I felt envious of the monks. They chose a life that renounced all of the complications that I had, seemingly foolishly, bought into. All of the things that had been driving me crazy, I had to go back to. There was no escaping them. I wanted to stay with the monks, and I was filled with a hopeless anger at myself that I’d done the things I’d done to build this life of complicated worldliness. I regretted having to return home so much.

Yet this time, I didn’t feel that way. I’m happier and less anxious about my life, for many reasons. Grandma passing is one of them, in a strange way, because the anxiety of her suffering is over. This time around, I found such calm, peaceful happiness. I felt so enriched, so blessed. I had so many little encounters that were placed before me with such clear grace and wisdom, and my heart swelled in gratitude many times.

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I am so grateful to have had this time to visit with them again, and that it was so spiritually nourishing. I sincerely hope everyone who wants to may be given the opportunity to visit them. While most of us do have to return to the hustle and bustle of regular life, the wisdom of the monastics can direct us, guiding us in even the most hectic of times, reminding us to invite peace and silence into our daily lives, no matter where we are.

Abbey of New Clairvaux website: http://www.newclairvaux.org

 

Delightful, Delicious, De-Lovely

Delightful, Delicious, De-Lovely

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Time for another triple-D– a post about things that bring me joy (delightful), things that are tasty (delicious), and things that are just beautiful (de-lovely)!

Delightful:

One of my dearest friends in the world recently moved back to her homeland, France, with her darling little girl after seven years of life in the States. It was hard to see her go, especially when time zone differences mean that we don’t get many chances to have the hours-long conversations we used to, let alone see each other regularly. However, there is a silver lining!

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French care packages!! Holy cow. This sweet lady has already sent me a few of these in the past when visiting her family, but this is the first one I’ve received since her move. Boy, does she know what I like! To break it down for you, she included:

Several Le Petit Marseillais body products, including hand lotion, body lotion and shower gel.

By U Coco Manoi shower gel

Tahiti pomegranate-scented spray deodorant, which I love (something that is only just now beginning to catch on the States)

Knorr instant soup packets, in various flavors

Nescafe Cappuccino Intenso, also something we don’t have here and the only coffee product this tea-drinker really enjoys (all the coffee-drinkers reading just fainted in despair at the thought of *gasp* instant coffee)!

La Mere Poulard caramel flavored cookies

Bonne Maman coconut cookies

Twinings Russian Earl Grey and Lipton Thé Fruits des Bois tea bags

A few little individual servings of packaged cake and cookies

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It was Christmas in July! I will be returning the favor as best I can by sending her some things she has been missing from the States soon.

Delicious:

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SCONES!! Or, rather, a humongous picture of scones!! Sorry, I’m still kind of lazily realizing I should probably pay some attention to the size of the pictures I’m posting. They are kind of all over the place.

Anyway, I made cream scones! I was dying for a reminder of my days spent in the U.K. last year, and wanted a pastry to go with my tea, so I made these lovelies. They tasted delicious, and were lovely and flakey, but for some reason I can never get my scones to rise. Maybe my baking powder is too old. Is that a thing? Husband smeared them with butter and raspberry jam, and they disappeared, despite their flatness.

De-Lovely:

I am a weirdo. One of the things that makes me a weirdo is that I have a passion for office parks. You know, office parks– those extremely corporate, somewhat soulless tracts of land devoted of office spaces that always have really pristine landscaping?

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See, I just love them BECAUSE of their wholly unnatural landscaping. Isn’t it just SO PRETTY? Thankfully for me, I leave near a bunch of office parks chock-full of landscaping so pristine they all look like the covers of a 1990s McGraw-Hill reading textbook (you know what I’m talking about, Catholic school children of the ’90s).

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One of these days I’m going to take a picnic blanket and park it right underneath the windows of five-hundred office workers, who will look on in dismay as a crazy lady rolls down their beautifully manicured lawns to her heart’s content. Until that day, I think I’ll satisfy myself by just taking pictures.

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I know, I’m crazy. I’m learning to just embrace it!

Delightful, Delicious, De-lovely

Delightful, Delicious, De-lovely

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I’m looking forward to regular Delightful, Delicious, De-Lovely posts of current favorite things! Things that bring me joy (delightful), things that are tasty (delicious), and things that are just beautiful (de-lovely). Hope you enjoy! This week…

Delightful:

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I live down the street (literally, half a block away) from YouTube headquarters. It’s pretty neat to walk by their offices, mostly because they have these utterly delightful swing seats out in the open for any curious, swing-obsessed person to be tempted by. While they are located on YouTube property, they aren’t hidden. They are out in front, and seem so welcoming that more than once I’ve just walked up to them and…had a lovely swing. And no one has ever said a word, or asked me to leave, or given me a second glance! Thanks YouTube, for being generous with your delightful semi-public swings that I enjoyed this weekend, in the glorious Saturday sunshine!

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Delicious:

On Sunday, Husband kidnapped me and took me for a drive down the coast. We went waaay farther than expected, and ended up in Santa Cruz! We made a pit stop after seeing hand-painted signs that read “Jam Tasting!” along the road…and we were not disappointed!

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Guys, this the sight that met my eyes when we walked into the old, nondescript, blue, shack-like building off Highway 1. Organic strawberry heaven. Chocolate covered strawberries. Chocolate strawberry truffles. Strawberry shortcake, strawberry fool, strawberry cheesecake, strawberry juice…holy Toledo, it was incredible! We sprang for chocolate covered berries and a truffle.

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Apparently, we had stumbled upon Swanton Berry Farm, the first unionized, organic farm in the U.S.! They have a large U-Pick farm, and this beautiful little shop full of organic berry goodies.

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Also, they have jam tasting. And not just strawberry jam. Ever heard of tayberries? Me neither, but they make an amazing jam! Utterly wonderful.

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We enjoyed our treats outside on their lawn, before heading to Four Mile Beach…

De-Lovely:

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God’s majesty can speak for itself. The unbelievably blue water, the incredible waves, the utterly magical tide pools, full of stunningly beautiful creatures…it was a wonderful day, and I am incredibly blessed.

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