Garden of Love

Our anniversary is coming up and I can't believe how many years it's been! Seventeen!?!? How does that happen? The years that separate today from my blissful wedding day have flown by, like the rice propelled at us as we sped off to our honeymoon. I don't feel that much older, but I do feel wiser.

Michael and I got engaged on my twenty-second birthday, seven very romantic months after we met. We were married before I turned twenty-three. We didn't really know much about being married, none of our close friends had done it yet, so we were the guinea pigs.

We lived in Laguna Beach. He was getting his Masters. We were both working hard and playing hard too. At the same time, we were still getting to know each other. It became clear, very quickly, that I wasn't very good at the domestic arts. As much as I loved playing house as a child, I didn't love the cleaning and the cooking and the laundry, FOR TWO, of married life. It was a hard transition from college-student-who-takes-care-of-herself-on-her-parents'-dime to married-working-person-with-to-do-lists-and-LAUNDRY. I'm better at it now, with lots of practice, but I can't say I always love it. But I'll save that for another day. Carpe Kairos, right Monkees? (Check out Momastery for more on Carpe Kairos.)

Michael learned very quickly that it was hard to share his space with a woman who didn't love cleaning that space, often including a closet crowded with clothes strewn about in an order that he didn't understand. He had to pick up the slack where I left off, like laundry. I sucked at laundry and he happened to be very skilled in that department. But over time, it worked. We worked hard to find a balance that was fair for both of us, taking into consideration our talents, like his mastery of laundry and my mastery of the bills.

The way we interacted and the way we spent our time also went through a transformation during those first few years. I learned very quickly that it was important for Michael to get his play time - surfing, golfing, snowboarding, watching sports - even if those activities didn't include me. Sometimes it was hard for me to understand how a Saturday morning at the beach with his buddies could be more appealing than bagels and a Target run with his lovely wife. (I see the absurdity now, but back then, I was still learning.)

Michael, on the other hand, didn't always appreciate the things I signed us up for, like swing dancing lessons, or that third cat, but he did them for me. We found a way to make most things work. And we worked at it.

Those first few years were filled with weekend trips and big purchases, late nights and weekends sleeping in, movies, dinners, and great newlywed passion. They were also filled with arguments and compromise, ironing out the little kinks, going to therapy to conquer the big ones, and learning how to live with someone who had different ideas and priorities than our own. The greatest lesson we learned was that giving to each other, things like time, respect, a break, patience, a love letter, etc., made the other person happier and, in return, more giving. And we haven't forgotten that.

The years since then have looked similar. We still work at our marriage, when it's hard and even when it's easy. We don't stop learning how to live with each other just because we are practiced in it. With a growing family and shifting needs, we have to focus on adapting. And communicating. And appreciating what we have. We try to be forgiving and giving, even when it doesn't serve our cause, like when he has to navigate my messy closet and doesn't call me a slob, or when I shred the to-do list so he can have a few hours at the beach.

Hopefully, we have twice as many years ahead of us as behind us, to hold tightly to each other and the commitment and interest in working to maintain a strong and fulfilling marriage. A wise man once told us that if we water our own garden instead of wasting time admiring someone else's green grass, we will have a happy life. After seventeen years, I'm blessed to say I agree.

So today, do one small thing to cultivate your garden of love!



Holly and Jenn

Green Day

Happy Earth Day! Today is the day we celebrate all the creative ways that we can leave less of a footprint on this planet we call home. Wasn't it Kermit the Frog that said "It's not easy being green?" I've seen many blog posts today that have shared about all the things we "should" be doing, so that we don't add to the landfills and, in turn, it is supposed to give us peace of mind for our future generations. The hope that they will be able to enjoy endless supplies of clean water, clean air and green pastures (like we do) is motivation for us to make changes in our daily living. Frankly, I'm with Kermit.

It's not that I DON'T want my great grand-daughter (in fifty years) to enjoy a lungful of fresh air and clean drinking water, but on some days when the clock is moving faster than it is supposed to and the day has brought its complex web of trials and tribulations, an extra long hot shower is just what the doctor ordered to keep this mama sane. I'm just not willing to give that up.

I also don't want to give up paper plates. Sometimes they save me time and energy and that is almost always better for everyone in my family. I will probably never make my own shampoo. A compost bucket is not in my near future. And what is up with those CFL light bulbs? Do they save energy because the light is so bad and glaring that it would be better just to leave them off anyway?

Does this sound selfish to any of you? Am I being rude to future generations? Are you on this page with me or are you far more organized and able to deal with stress in much better ways so that you have decided that you will never purchase a paper plate again? I wish I could join you.

Not that I wish I could give up the convenience of paper products. But I do wish I could be more organized and have more creative ways to deal with stress so I wouldn't mind doing extra dishes. Will that ever happen? I know I could simplify and have more down time but will I ever really not mind doing extra dishes after a long and tiring day? Let's just say I never would have made it during the pioneering years.

Now, before you write me off completely as someone who is sending the future environment to Hell in a hand-basket, let me tell you what I do to contribute.

I DO walk to school everyday with the kids. We turn off lights that are not in use. We try to run the dishwasher after 4pm (but sometimes it's earlier and it can't be helped). My kids are good about turning off the sink water while brushing (they remind me). We do our best to recycle. I recently found out that you're not supposed to put the cap of your plastic water bottle in the recycle with the bottle...sorry about that, I just never thought about's all plastic right??

We will try to do better. That's really my learning point today. We will do our best to improve, but please don't judge my Zip-lock bags and NORMAL light bulbs. I agree, we each have to do our part but we also have to know we can't do it ALL. I am also aware that we live in a society of convenience and I am grateful for the choices I have. I know many live with no choice. I promise that I will work harder to not take those choices for granted. I promise to live in a way that bears in mind the others that I am sharing this Earth with. So, my kids will walk home from school and empty the recycle bin when they get home. I will pick up trash when I see it to keep our neighborhood clean. I will try not to take a long hot shower EVERY night. But don't try to talk me into using those "other" bulbs and I promise you won't find a compost box on my porch any time soon. If you can live with that then maybe it won't be so hard to be green after all.


Holly and Jenn

Katie's Story Part I (from the OC Register article published April 12, 2013)

I know a girl named Catherine Elizabeth Hawley, Katie for short. She is one of the most courageous people I know. She is thirteen. She is gorgeous! She has cancer.

Pediatric cancer is a difficult and painful subject to discuss. It breaks my heart to think of all the families that have heard the words "it’s cancer" when they have hoped and prayed they would hear anything but that. It's a gut wrenching, cut-you-to-your-soul kind of pain that too many families have to experience on a daily basis. The Hawley family first heard those destructive words in 2009. Neuroblastoma. It had the power to take their breath and joy away. Those five little syllables. What happens then? How do you pick yourself up and keep walking that path? Especially when you’ve battled and fought to get off the path and then you hear “it’s back”. February 13th they heard those words.

I don't know the answer, but in getting to know this family and doing life together, I would hope I could do it with as much grace and faith. Watching them has given our family a new view of how precious and fragile life is. We have no guarantees. Whether we are here for 9 more weeks or 90 more years, we need to make each one count for something. Putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward even though we don’t know what might be waiting down the road, puts our focus on each step. It brings the reality of our time here into full exposure.

Mary Kay Hawley, Katie’s brave and courageous mother, is walking that road for the second time. Some days, skipping down it, determined to keep groups of young teens entertained while teaching them the importance of building friendships and having each other's backs. Other days, crawling on her hands and knees, refusing to give up, fighting just to take another step. Since first hearing the news of recurrence, it has been a daily rally of balancing the terrible with the beautiful. Family, friends, and fun, mixed in with doctor visits, hospital stays, tests, chemo treatments and tears. The silly faces, long nights of hanging with the people that mean the most, and snapshots of those giggles and belly laughs are what gets her through. Finding those blessings among the uncertainty is a gift and those that live with more-than-they-ever-wanted-to-know-about-cancer wait with open arms to receive it.

That's the other side of Pediatric Cancer: the side that you can’t fully comprehend unless you are living it. It changes the focus from the everyday routine to the moment by moment. It becomes something that reminds us what real life is all about. Real life struggles and disappoints, but it can be pure joy when in the midst of that hurt, you find yourself laughing, smiling and enjoying a moment that will be remembered. That is what is important. To be continued…

If you are asking yourself, “What can I do?” please follow these links for some life changing ideas: Donate to Pediatric Cancer Research

Sign up for Reach for the Cure! {H}

Holly and Jenn

Battle of a Lifetime

A few weeks back, we entered our first essay was very exciting! Sadly, our entries didn't win but that's not the real reason behind our writing. It's the great NEED to tell a story...our stories. Here is my entry. The contest theme was "Transitions." Enjoy!

Battle of a Lifetime

by Jennifer Hale

It is a sweltering Saturday afternoon in September and I'm frazzled. It's one of those days, packed with more activities and places to go than physically possible. The boys' games are on opposite sides of town and only an hour apart and somehow, I volunteered to be snack mom for both games. Really?

As usual, my husband and I are forced to divide and conquer. That means we have to locate two coolers in the mess we call a garage, sparingly spread the ice from the freezer between those coolers, and cut and package obscene amounts of oranges and cookies. Add to that my daughter's dance class and a birthday party she is due to attend, for which there is no present yet, and my stress levels are maxed out. I'll admit, almost all of my anxiety is my own fault. I should be more organized, but that fact doesn't help me at the moment. The heaps of mommy-guilt and mommy-insufficiency will just have to wait.

"Honey, I'll take Noah now and you take Logan to his game in half an hour. He has to be there 45 minutes early, although I think the kids are going to be exhausted before the game even starts, warming up in this heat," I grumble, annoyed by the stifling weather and our competitive coach.

"Just drop him off and swing by the store to pick up a gift card for the party. Bella, do you think Lexie would like a gift card for Target?"

At that moment, I look at my thirteen-year-old. Her eyes are wide and her nose is all wrinkled up. She looks just like she did when she was a toddler and she got hold of a lemon wedge. Disgusted.

"No, mom, gross! That's so lame! You like Target. Teenagers don't like Target! I can't bring a Target gift card to the party! God!" She hisses.

"Ok then. Michael, you're taking Bella with you so she can pick out a gift card that won't be offensive. And then, she can go to her brother's game and help pass out the snacks."

I turn to her again. "That should cheer you up," I smile, a little too sweetly.

"And I'll get you after Noah's game and drop you off at dance. Bring clothes to change because Tatum's mom is going to pick you up and take you to the party. Ok?"

"Good luck at the game, Logan! See you in a bit."

And we're off...

We don't stop running until four hours later when we finally land at our air-conditioned home base. I ignore the sink full of dishes and the counters piled with paperwork from school, and head for the couch. No sooner have I collapsed, a leftover Gatorade and a Real Simple magazine in hand, when my youngest, Noah, comes a-calling.

"Hi, my lovely mommy," he sweetly sings. I can tell he wants something.

"Hi Noah. What's up?" I reply, taming my terseness.

"Well, mommy, I wanted to know if you would like to have a Lego battle with me?"

Yep, there it is. My adorable eight-year-old wants to play with me. And as much as I completely love him to bits, at that moment, I would pay large sums of money to NOT play with him. I am done. All. Done. But I can't say that. It would ruin his day. So I stall.

"Oh, babe, I would love to have a Lego battle with you, but can I just rest for a little bit? Mommy is tired. I just need a few minutes to relax. Is that ok? Can I have fifteen minutes?"

He kisses me on the cheek and promises to wait. I secretly hope he'll ask his brother to take my place, but, as he leaves me to my magazine, I hear the "beep, beep" of his watch. He is timing me.

Flipping through ads and articles of various appeal, I find my favorite section, the advice columns. They always provide good perspective. The second article catches my eye: "How to Handle an Empty Nest." I laugh at the irony. At that exact moment, all I long for is an empty nest, and here this woman, Rebecca from Colorado, is simply yearning for a few more minutes of chaos.

"I'm not sure where the time went..." she is saying as I drift off.

I'm startled by a beeping noise. Silence surrounds me except for the timer sounding from the microwave. I groggily drag myself from couch to counter. The slow cooker is steaming. It smells delicious but I don't feel hungry. Actually, I feel a little nauseous. My head aches and my chest feels heavy. I survey the kitchen - tidy and organized surfaces, neat pile of bills, everything in its proper place - but it all feels wrong. Desperately, terribly wrong.

Michael comes in from the garage and turns off the timer. Standing alone at the sink, he washes his hands.

"Is dinner almost ready?" He asks.

I nod and watch him as he grabs two plates from the cabinet, two forks from the silverware drawer, and two napkins from the pantry.

"What would you like to drink?" he asks as he pulls two clean glasses from the un-emptied dishwasher.

"It sure was nice when the kids were around to help with the dishes. Remember when they used to fight over who did it last?" he reminisces.

"I do remember," I reply, "and I remember the countless dishes they chipped trying to hurry through it. They were always in such a hurry..."

My voice trails off as the tears begin to fall. Michael has me in his arms before the sobs are unleashed, holding me upright until they pass.

"It was over too fast," I cry. "I wasn't ready for them to grow up. One minute, we're stocking band aids and kissing boo-boos and the next, we're buying sheets and towels for the dorms."

The hole in my heart seems to expand out through my ribcage and into the pit of my stomach. It physically hurts me. "I know," he says, rubbing my back gently.

We hold each other in the heavy silence. The crock pot sputters, ready to boil over. That's how I feel, like an ache from my core is seeking a place to escape, a way to find solace. But there isn't any. Not there in that quiet kitchen. My husband, certainly hurting in his own way, missing our gone-too-soon children, willingly absorbs some of my pain.

Broken-hearted and drowning in our depressingly empty nest, I sob and mutter:

"Can they really be gone? It just feels so empty..."

"It's just so empty..."

"I'm empty..."

From a distance, another beeping sound slowly penetrates the confusion and sorrow-filled space around me. I hear a little whisper and feel an ever so gentle tap, tap, on my shoulder.

"'s been fifteen minutes. Are you ready for our battle now?"

I open my eyes and the leftover tears from my dream trickle away as my blessed present returns. I still have time.

"Absolutely, Noah. Let's go play."


Holly and Jenn

A Letter to My Daughter...

I'm so excited about our blog. It's like a personal scrapbook of all the important things that happen. One day, when we're old and gray, we'll be able to transport right back to this time in our lives because of these records. Our children and grandchildren will inherit these stories, stories about them. That thought makes me smile. So, without further ado, may I introduce our next series titled "Letters to our Children."

Dear Bella,

I'm writing you this letter because I love you. Part of that love includes hope and happiness and dreams, but it also includes fear and worry and limits. I understand that can be annoying to you, since you're almost 13 and you seem to know it all, but one day, God willing, you'll understand.

So there's been a lot of hype in the news lately about Victoria's Secret line of underwear called "Bright Young Things." Wow, people are upset. Critics complain that when a popular and successful company like Victoria's Secret sells underwear that says "I Dare You" or "Wild," they over-sexualize young women and send the message that your value is connected to how you look in your underwear. Victoria's Secret says that the BYT line is designed for college-aged girls so it's ok, since the girls are 18 or older. I think that teen girls and college-aged girls, and even 39-year-old moms, should be hearing one message only: YOU ARE ENOUGH. YOU ARE A GIFT. The way you look in your undergarments does not define who you are. Period.

In many ways, your dad and I want to shield you from growing up too fast. We want you to remain our innocent little girl who loves music and coloring and dressing up. We are still trying to get used to the pain that comes with packing away American Girl dolls and Disney Fairy books and too-small holiday dresses. It physically hurts to finish these chapters of your life even amidst the excitement of the present. In so many ways, we watch as you teeter on the brink of growing up and we witness the competing magic of your childhood encroached upon by the inevitable dawning of adolescence. It is a conflict for you, we know. We are conflicted too.

On the other hand, we want you to be prepared for what lies ahead, to feel comfortable with who you are and what you believe in, especially when the teen culture surrounding you emphasizes things like popularity, looks and wealth. And that preparation requires your dad and I to do some hard things.

Bella, we don't want you to ever feel like you're more or less, because of the clothes you wear or the things you have.You are unique, lovable, wonderful and worthy just by being you. God created you and you are a GIFT. You will know girls whose parents have unlimited resources to get them the trendiest clothes, the latest electronics, and one day, even a great car, but they do not limit the amazing potential that you possess. Likewise, you will know girls who are going through an acne phase, who wear their sister's hand-me-downs. They are no less deserving of your kindness. Please remember, you shouldn't place value in those girls merely because of what they look like or what they have. Each one of them deserves the opportunity to achieve greatness separate from their circumstances. Please, take the time to get to know them.

Sometimes, there is so much attention given to outside forces of influence that we, as parents, forget the great amount of influence that we have at our fingertips, inside the home. That is a mistake. I want you to know that you will have friends who are allowed to wear shorter shorts or more make-up than your dad and I are comfortable with. You will meet people whose parents give them more freedom than we allow. And that's ok. We live in a community that embraces diversity, from cultures to curfews, from religions to rules, and rather than waste time judging, your dad and I are committed to finding the right rhythm for our family. Our job is to thoughtfully, responsibly, teach and care for you. And you will notice that our recipe will differ from other families that you know. Remember, that's ok.

There will be a time when you will want more than what we permit and that may even cause you to roll your eyes and swear at us under your breath. But we promise to be consistent, to love you, to remind you that what you are made of is much more important that how you make yourself up. While you are under our roof, we will establish rules and renegotiate them when necessary. We will talk to you and always be available to answer your questions. We will challenge you to be the very best version of you, starting with your beautiful heart. And we will love you even more.

We will outline our standards and hold you to them. We will strive for your respect, more so than your friendship, even though that's harder than being "cool" parents. We will love you in ways that feel like smothering and nagging, but trust me, it is love.

We promise to tell you things when the timing is right for us, and for you. We will not scare you or use guilt as a motivator. We will teach you things that you will need to know as you partake in life's greatest adventure: growing up. And that will be hard for us because we want to protect you and keep you from feeling the inevitable pain and heartache that life delivers. But we will do our best because we know that along with the falling and hurting is the growing and soaring and oh so much happiness that life also has in store.

And when you purchase your first pair of lacy underwear, you will remember that you are much more than fancy packaging, because we will always tell you that and show you that. And I would be lying if I didn't also tell you that one day, donning a pair of sexy underwear will be important to you and your husband, that it will be completely appropriate and enjoyable and healthy. But we can't have that conversation until you're much, much older.

Love you forever,



Holly and Jenn