Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Christmas festivities

Hello, friends! Merry late Christmas and happy early New Year!

I hope your holiday week has been peaceful and joy-filled. Mine has been full of family, rainy window panes, and cozy fires. It's also been full of Swiss chocolate, Belgian chocolate, Austrian chocolate and American potato chips. I've experienced a Christmas miracle in which I can eat whatever I want without repercussions. And by "experienced" I mean "imagined." Because imagination is part of the magic of Christmas.

Early in this festive week our dear childhood girlfriends, Elizabeth and Anne, came into town for a slumber party. Elizabeth and Anne are like second sisters to us. We grew up in the same cul-de-sac and even home schooled together. Most of my best childhood memories are with them.

Circa '94 or so. From left to right: Aaron, Marc, Me (in the back), Anne, Rebecca, and Elizabeth

Not long after Elizabeth and Anne arrived, my brother and sister-in-law came into town, completing our Jackson crew. And then, more dear family friends, the Longs, came by for pizza and general merriment. Any weekend plan that includes Elizabeth, Anne AND the Longs is a good weekend, indeed.

Left to right: my beautiful sister-in-law, Natasha; my beautiful sis, Rebecca; and the beautiful Jena Long. Lots of beauty on this couch.

The oldest of my two brosefs, and Grandma

Throughout the week, we interrupted our bouts of busyness with fireside lounging and long walks in the nippy winter air.

I love walking in the Pacific Northwest. The air is clean and brisk, and the horizons are verdant and mountainous.

Pirouetting into a honeyed horizon. From left to right: Mom, Me and Rebecca

One night, we all crammed in the car and headed to Peacock Lane. Peacock Lane is a street in Portland on which every house is decked out in lights. We didn't get many cool light shots, but we did snap a photo of the crew, minus dad who was home preparing his Christmas Eve service sermon:

Dad, we missed you on our outing!

We did manage to get one picture of the entire family on Christmas Eve:

We also managed to get about a thousand other pictures of Christmas festivities because my brother Aaron I have an affinity for documenting family events. Between the two of us, our pictures will have our hard drives moving at the speed of molasses any day now. (Do you picture-taking types keep your photos on external hard drives?)

This picture cracks me up.

When I am home I have a habit of stealing my dad's sweatshirts and coats (because they are big and warm and cozy), as I have in this picture. Sorry dad.

My last day home my sister and I went to an old family friend's house for the most delightful almost-new-year's tea party. Oh my goodness, just look at this table!

 How lovely to have such dear friends in such a beautiful part of the country. And what a sweet end to a full week.

I hope your week has been full of pockets of sweetness, too, my friends.

Happy celebrating tonight!


© by scj

Monday, December 22, 2014

In which I take a trip to Uranus, among other places

Well, it would seem that all of the germy bugs I've evaded this semester have conspired to regroup and infect me this month. After succumbing to two bugs earlier this month, I came down with bug #3 this weekend. So much for my raw garlic regime. Its germ-fighting strength isn't all it's cracked up to be.

I didn't get a fever this weekend but my sleep has still been filled with sick-tastic dreams. Last night I had a dream I went to Uranus for the weekend. Apparently I'd found some sort of tube that transported people to different planets. Jackpot discovery.

While on Uranus I made a point of asking the planet's inhabitants if Uranus is pronounced "Yur-in-ous" or "Yur-anus." "It doesn't matter," they told me. "Whatever you'd like."

So there you go. Now you know. 

Fortuantely, I didn't get sick until my second day in Portland, so my first day here I got to enjoy a healthy afternoon in the brisk air at the Christmas tree farm with my mom, grandma, brother and his girlfriend. The rest of the Jackson troops didn't arrive until later in the weekend.

Here I am at the farm with my old friend, Mrs. T.

Mrs. T. and her husband own the Christmas tree farm. Mrs. T. has prayed faithfully for me for 29 years, and these days she writes me regular letters to inquire about my life and to tell me how she's praying for me.

I love seeing her when I'm home, and her Christmas tree farm is one of my favorite places in the world.

It's got a petting zoo complete with miniature horses, goats, sheep, and pheasants.

There are few things in this world as delightful as having a baby miniature horse nibble oats from your hand. It's giggle-inducing, to say the least.

The little horsie eating out of my hand was a NIBb.ler. He didn't need oats to induce nibbling. He'd nibble our fingers, knuckles and gloves whenever he could. Nibble nibble nibble nibble.

The goats were especially hungry little critters. Either that, or they were just goats. Goats are like the football players I shared a training room with in college: they like to eat whatever, whenever. And my, how the little goaties strained and pushed to get some o' them oaties. (Don't mind my cheesy rhyming. I'm in a cheesy rhyming mood. "Twas the Night Week Before Christmas" and all).

Try to win a staring contest with a goat. It's easy. If he doesn't smell food on you, then "he gone." (name that TV show).

I grew up going to the T.'s tree farm every year growing up. Everything about it gives me warm and fuzzy nostalgia.

This nativity scene in the barn makes me feel eight years old all over again:

Every year, after we'd chopped down the perfect Christmas tree, we'd gather around the fireplace near the nativity scene and sip hot chocolate while munching on miniature candy canes. Happiness must taste like hot chocolate and miniature candy canes.

This year, Mr. T. fired up the tractor to give us our own private hayride tour of the farm.

Mr. T. is driving the tractor that is pulling the hayride. Can you see his green hat peaking through the front window?

Well would you look at that: all three of these ladies have known me my entire life:

And I've known this handsome guy all his life:

He makes me laugh more than anyone on planet earth. Come to think of it, he also makes me laugh more than anyone on planet Uranus.

(How did you pronounce that now that you have official Uranean permission to pronounce it however you want?)

A hayride at sunset down a pine-scented lane is one of the best things of life. It was the perfect way to start my Christmas stay here in the Pacific Northwest.

Pine-scented, peaceful December 22nd to you, my friends.



P.S. How fabulous is my grandma?!:

P.P.S. Guess what I woke up to my second night here? A FIRE ALARM. Thankfully, there was no fire, and there were no trips to the ER.


© by scj

Friday, December 19, 2014

Finals Week

It's finals week which means I am tired. Except saying I am tired is like saying Colin Farrell looks decent. I am not tired; I am EX.hausted, and Colin Farrell does not look decent; he looks DE.lightful.

Can I get an Amen?

For me, finals week has a habit of holding all sorts of strange happenings. Last week, I told my exhausted and overwhelmed freshmen that my very first college finals week was like something out of the twilight zone.

One night that fateful finals week, I was in a sleep so deep it might have taken Prince Charming's kiss to awaken me had a bunch of unruly college guys not pulled the fire alarm in my dorm instead. That alarm did the trick and woke me up in a disoriented stupor. I sat up, my ears ringing, and noticed thick smoke hanging in the room. This is it, I thought with panic. I am going to die in a fire on the second floor of my freshman dorm. On cue, my heart started racing and adrenaline charged through my body, and then, just like that, I stopped breathing. My very first panic attack.

Prince Charming's kiss would have made for a MUCH nicer story.

A few seconds later, the smoke I saw disappeared. It turns out I hadn't awakened fully when the alarm rang, and I had dreamed up that smoke. The panic attack evaporated about as fast as the imaginary smoke, and I filed out of the building onto a grassy field adjacent to the dorm with a few hundred other girls, where we remained for thirty minutes — until about 3 AM.

The next day I studied and ran my little heart out, and then, after dinner, while I chatted and laughed with the girls on my hall, my breathing suddenly grew labored and I struggled to swallow. When my symptoms didn't subside, my R.A. called campus safety and had them take me to the emergency room.

By that point, it was almost midnight, and I was scared and tired. Thankfully, my roommate accompanied me to the ER so I didn't have to be alone.

Freshman year in the dorm: my roommate is the brunette on the right

By the time we arrived at the ER I could breathe more easily, and by the time the doctor saw me I was back to normal.

"I think your body is still experiencing the effects of the panic attack you had last night," he speculated. "Go home and get some sleep and you should be fine."

So the campus safety officer — a seasoned officer in his forties — drove my roommate and me back to our dorm where we fell, once again, into a very deep sleep.

A few hours later, there was a knock at our door. My roommate stumbled out of bed and opened the door to find the campus safety officer from the night before holding my phone. "Sarah left this in my car last night," he said. He held out the phone, but before my roommate could take it, she fell on the floor in a dead faint and began having a seizure.

For a moment, the officer stood there watching her twitch and writhe on the floor, her eyes closed and her face sheet white. And then — and this is the point in my re-telling of the story where I laugh until I wheeze — he looked at me, his head cocked and his finger pointed at her limp form, "Is she okay?" he asked.

I looked at him incredulously, rushed to her side and responded, "NO! She's fainted and is having a seizure. CALL 911!" So he did, and minutes later the paramedics were there, leaning over her as she came to.

I had finals and couldn't accompany her to the ER, but when she returned she was okay and all was well. She was wearing the same yellow ER bracelet as the one I'd gotten the night before. We have a picture of the two of us wearing our matching ER bracelets, our hair in a state of disarray, our sweats rumpled and baggy. I'd post that picture now except it's buried in a box in my closet and I am too tired to fish it out. Because: finals week.

Finals week. It never ceases to be the bearer of... good fodder for future stories, or, at the very least, weird happenings.

Last week, the night after I told my students about my very first finals week disaster, there was a storm warning in my area. Because some people were told to evacuate the hills near my house in case of fires caused by fallen electrical lines, I checked my fire alarm before I climbed in bed, just to be sure it worked in case of a fire in my hills. It did work, and I fell into a deep sleep.

A few hours later I was awakened by an alarm that sounded like a banshee being tortured. This is it, I thought. The lines are down and my house has caught on fire. Finals week and fire alarms are like cookies and milk, Lucy and Ethel, salt and pepper, Jack and Jill, peanut butter and jelly.

I flew upright and quickly assessed the exits in my bungalow, looking for an exit that wasn't blocked by growing flames. But there was no sign of flames and no smell of smoke...

I looked around, perplexed, and noticed my cell phone flashing on the window ledge next to my bed. The screen read "Flash flood alert" and the banshee alarm was coming from my phone, kindly alerting me at 3 AM that I could drown if I decided to go driving that night at 4 A.M. I sleepily silenced my phone and went back to sleep.

The next night, I was awakened by a stomach bug. And a couple of nights after that, I was awakened by lightning and thunder. So yeah, not getting a lot of sleep over here, but I've also not had a single trip the ER, which is a finals week victory.

Water, water, everywhere!

And all these storms are doing wonders for our air. They're scouring it, removing every patch of smog so it is crisp and clean. The view of the ocean from my backyard looks like it's been upgraded from SD to HD.

We southern Calfiornians aren't used to all this water, though, which probably explains why I found this boat lying by the side of the road on my walk this morning:

Someone took that flash flood warning very seriously.

Merry week before Christmas, my friends!


© by scj

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A sad development and a welcome gift

Some of you may remember my good friend George, the cactus:

If you've met George, then you know he's not all pins and prickles. In fact, he's a warm fellow with a delightful sense of humor. I am mom to a whole family of cacti, but George is my favorite. He, with his unexpectedly soft heart, is oxymoronic. Whoever heard of a soft cactus? I love oxymoronic cacti, and I love George.

And then, yesterday, I saw this:

My normally erect little friend was leaning like the Tower of Pisa, which I have just googled and discovered is not the "Tower of Pizza" like I'd originally typed. Such a disappointing turn of events.

But I digress.

I gently tapped George, both to avoid getting stabbed and to avoid knocking him over, but he fell over anyway. And when he did, this is what I saw:

In the end, his soft, gooey heart was his demise.

Alas, sometimes those with wicked, prickly hearts prosper, while those with soft hearts fall over sideways to an anticlimactic end.  

IS THERE NO JUSTICE?!!!! I'm pretty sure King David wrote a Psalm about this. . .

I've propped George back up and am hoping his two parts will somehow fuse over the next few weeks. It would be my Christmas miracle.

In the meantime, I am healing from a bug I caught this weekend. In fact, I came down with this bug literally minutes after posting my declaration that I've been healthy all semester because of my daily raw garlic regime. Pride goeth before a fall, I suppose.

The good news is, because of my bug, I was home for a very special occasion.

Last year, when I was still struggling with regular relapses, I was home so much I could watch the sunset from my hilltop perch almost every day. I discovered that November and December host the year's very best sunsets. During these months, there are approximately four sunsets that knock my socks off, quite literally. As soon I see the sky catch fire, I peel my socks off faster than you can say "HOLY SMOKES!", I throw on my flip flops, and I run outside to my lookout point.

But this fall, because of my gloriously healthy body, I've been out and about so much that I missed the first two knock-your-socks-off sunsets. It was painful to have to watch them from the valley rather than on my hilltop, so I asked God that I'd be home for the next knock-your-socks-off sunset. This weekend, when I was home sick, he graciously responded by gifting me with one.

Unfortunately, I didn't get my camera out in time to capture the sunset in its prime. But you can imagine that the sun sunk into the sea and turned its turquoise waves a shade of flaming fuscia, and then God tipped the ocean upside down and waves of electric pink crept across the sky, till the valley glowed under a pulsing, fiery canopy.

I was too distracted by the sunset's beauty to get any good shots, but this gives ya a little taste of the glory

And oh man: our sun, sky, and sea are cursed and dying, and one day, when God recreates the earth, the sunset will be more dazzling still. Can you imagine what a sunset will look like when the sun and sky are young and uncursed? Holy.Smokes.

Are you busy and frazzled this month, friends? I hope you've had time to rest and enjoy twinkle lights and hot chocolate with people you love. And I hope you've had pockets of encouragement as you navigate the crazyness of the holidays. Yesterday one of my college students made me this tiny origami star "because you're a star." It made my day.

I don't think it takes much to make someone's day, but heavens, I sure don't think about ways I can do that enough. So here's my Wednesday challenge for us: let's go make origami stars. Or, if you're bad at origami, let's write a short note, or bake a brownie, or give a compliment. And then let's give that "origami star" to someone tired.

Happy folding, my friends.

Hugs and hugs and hugs,


© by scj

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Another List: Holidays, a Festive Recipe, and [Not] Moving

I'm full of lists these days because lists make me feel organized, efficient and productive. It's an illusion that gets me all warm and fuzzy inside, so I embrace it.

And so, in honor of the weekend, I have another list of rather disparate items:

1. I met my sister, who lives in Portland, at my grandma's house in Arizona for Thanksgiving last week. It was so lovely to see them both.

Sister and I enjoyed long walks in the desert warmth....

...a trip to the zoo...

...and, of course, junk food.

There is little in this world that soothes the soul like eating an entire bag of cheese puffs with your sister whilst watching the movie Holes.

2. Third graders are some of the most [delightful, hilarious and fun] germy human beings on earth. Or so I thought. But then I started teaching college, I discovered it is possible to be sick more severely and often than 9-year olds.

These crazy kids. I love 'em. Third Grade, you were good to me

When I taught third grade, my students started dropping like flies at Halloween and stayed sick until Easter. But college students start getting sick the first day of class, in August, and they stay sick every week until the last day of class in May.

When I taught third grade, I got sick every two weeks or so. But this semester? I've been healthy as healthy can be, with the exception of a VIOLENT bug back in August that had me wondering if I was tasting death.

I have a number of tricks to staying healthy when everyone around me is getting the flu, mono and strep, but my secret weapon is this: I eat raw garlic every night before bed. It chases away bugs, bacteria, and vampires.

 Because: Team Jacob. 

Avoiding refined sugar, exercising regularly, having flowers around the house, spending time with funny friends, and getting lots of sleep will help with fighting off bugs and bacteria, too. Although they won't be much help when it comes to fighting off vampires. Consider yourself warned.

3. I lifted weights yesterday for the first time in 4.5 years. Just four months ago I thought I'd never be able to lift weights again. But here I am, 24 hours after lifting, and although my body is flooded with lactic acid, and although my triceps feel like they've been pumped full of water, and although my hamstrings feel like very tight violin strings, I FEEL GOOD, like a fish thrown back in the water. Praise God.

4. This week I've been full of ambition. I'm going to do an Iron Man! I'm going to write a book! I'm going to make four batches of Christmas fudge! I can tell you one thing with certainty: my response to that last proposal is Y-E-S.

Here is the source of all this dreamin':

Peppermint hot chocolate with whipped cream. You've gots tah make some. It'll put a lift in your step. 

Here are the directions for one serving of this dairy and refined sugar-free nectar of delight:

Measure a mug full — about 1 1/2 cups — of SO Delicious unsweetened, vanilla coconut milk and pour it in a saucepan.

 If you get the plain coconut milk then be sure to add a splash of vanilla to your hot chocolate.

  • About 2 T of cocoa powder
  • About 2 tablespoons of maple syrup (I usually just add the syrup to taste)
  • 2 of these honey mints from Trader Joe's:
Whisk the ingredients together until the chocolate mints are melted and the mixture is frothy and steaming.

Pour the hot chocolate into your favorite mug and top with coconut whipped cream.

To make coconut whipped cream, put a can of full fat coconut cream in the fridge overnight — Trader Joe's brand is by far the best for whipping cream. Take it out and whip its contents and maple syrup (add the syrup to taste — I usually put in about 2 tablespoons) in your food processor until ingredients are thoroughly blended.

And voila! You're ready to rumble.

5. Earlier this fall, when I started thinking seriously about PhD programs, I decided I wanted to move to Scotland for school. My dream school is in Scotland and I figured I'd shoot for the stars.

My great grandparents came over from Scotland on a boat, so this beautiful place is my homeland.

With time, however, I realized it wasn't wise for me to go traipsing off to Scotland to complete a stressful PhD program so soon after a full return to health. I figured I should give my body some time to get strong before throwing myself in the deep end like that.

And then, this week, it rained for three days straight, and I knew I'd made the right choice, as Scotland is one very green and very rainy place.

When the sun shines here I often feel like Life is reaching her arms inside my soul and tickling me. But when it rains for three days straight? I tend to feel like Life is reaching her arms inside my soul and playing a mournful tune on the cello strings she's found there. That, and I feel like a fat, oozing slug that has just been doused in salt.

So the sun: it's a good thing. And Scotland: it's a dream I may revisit next year. In the meantime, I'm looking at a program here in the sunny south, and I'm applying sunscreen while I hit the beach.

I hope your weekend is off to a merry and restful start, my friends!


© by scj

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Rainy day facts

Today, in honor of our first full rainy day of the school year, I give you a list of facts:

FACT #1: My family is very good at eliminating flies. But we don't use fly swatters. We prefer the bare hand approach. As soon as the pesky critters have outworn their welcome, we just reach up, grab 'em, and then throw 'em away.

Once, my dad discreetly caught a fly while he was preaching a sermon. He continued to preach as the fly tried to squirm its way out of his hand before he finally confessed to the congregation, "I've just caught a fly and don't know what to do with it."

Fly catching is our Jackson family super power.

Now you understand why none of us have managed to eliminate crime or defeat masked archenemies.

FACT #2: When I was in college, my roomies and I liked to take late night trips to the grocery store to get candy, ice cream, and best of all, frozen yogurt, to satisfy our sweet cravings.

The sweet cravings runs started with these girls, freshman year of college

We had loads of fun together. This was after racing boats in the streets-turned-rivers on a rainy day.
Over the years, we added more roommates, and therefore more members to our sweet cravings runs. Sorry for the spots on this Halloween costume photo.

We eventually got so into our dessert runs that we decided to pinpoint the best frozen yogurt store in the area. Naturally, I developed this rubric to aid our assessment. Notice column #3 in the row assessing service: "[employee] smiles with mouth, eyes and heart." We were seeer.i.ous. (Click on the photo for a bigger picture)

Since college, however, something has gone terribly awry with my cravings. Last night I left my cozy bungalow and ventured into the rain to the grocery store because my cravings were something fierce. But instead of filling my cart with ice cream, I desperately needed . . . carrots. CARROTS, people. I'm guessing there's some sort of kink in the tubes that carry my cravings from my stomach to my brain.

FACT #3: I have a female friend who lives alone. Naturally, she sleeps with a butcher knife under her pillow. Because: robbers. Recently, her cleaning lady was stripping her bed when she discovered the knife. Without blinking an eye she carried it into the kitchen and set it in the sink so it could be washed.

Bless the cleaning woman who doesn't bat an eye when she finds a butcher knife under a pillow. 

FACT #4: There is a perfect footprint on the top of my piano. Sherlock Holmes would have a hayday with this footprint, it's so beautiful. It would probably go in his Footprint Hall of Fame. It may even receive the place of honor in his Footprint Hall of Fame.
I wonder what he'd deduce from the footprint and surrounding clues? Maybe he'd discover that a Christmas elf crept in the window above the piano in the middle of the night in order to eat some of my Christmas fudge? Or maybe he'd discover a friend of mine decided to climb up on the piano and jump from it onto my couch when I was in the bathroom? Or maybe he wouldn't be able to figure it out at all. Because a footprint on top of the piano is pretty mysterious.

FACT #5: It's raining cats and dogs here. I hear it's supposed to rain five inches today. This is great news because we've been experiencing a drought here for a few years. However, it is not great news when you are wearing leather shoes and have to ford the lake that is the parking lot. Oh California, you could use some help in the drainage department.

FACT #6: My students and I did a "dance of magic" today. Outside. In the rain. It suddenly made the day, well, magical.

I hope your day has been sprinkled with curious, silly and funny facts, friends.



© by scj