Late-Fall Shorts

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Adjusting to an Empty Nest

Anna left for her year abroad on September 3rd. Nothing quite prepares you as a parent for leaving your youngest at the airport, knowing she will be across the Atlantic for the next year. As I watched her make her final steps through security, I felt my smile start to quiver and my throat begin to constrict. I made it as far as the parking lot before the tears came.

Thankfully, she arrived safely to her school, despite a six-hour flight delay and navigating different trains before making it to her final destination. Since arriving in England, she started a blog and tells the tale of her travel adventures in her first post. Check it out. You can also see some of her amazing photography too.

The house is certainly quieter these days. I’m sure the transition has been made somewhat easier as the fall season is a busy one for Brad and me. While we miss both of our kids, we also feel immensely proud of them and their endeavors. All of Jake’s classes this semester relate to his major and it is exciting to hear about his film and playwriting projects. Anna has been able to travel and just returned from her first trip to Prague and Sweden. She spent three nights in Prague by herself. Whenever Brad and I talked with her during the trip, we both marveled at her common sense approach to travel and her willingness to explore new places. I never would have done anything like this when I was eighteen.

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What I’m Into These Days

Lately, I’ve been on a nail polish kick. Not sure what started it for me, but I’ve enjoyed pulling out my caddy of colors and doing some at-home manicures. Sometimes, I can make the polish last for a week. It helps that I don’t do many dishes with eating in the dining hall. In the midst of this busy season, it has been a fun treat for me.

On another beauty note, I’ve started to straighten my hair again. After wearing it curly for the past couple of years, I decided it was time to bring out the flat iron again. A couple of years ago, I discovered The Small Things blog in an issue of Better Homes and Gardens. I’ve learned a number of beauty/fashion tips since following Kate. Recently, she did a piece on “How to Flat Iron Your Hair for a Soft, Volumized Look.” Watching her tutorial was really helpful. I have fine, thin hair and her suggestions made all the difference.

I’m late to the party on this one, but I recently finished watching Victoria, season 1, on Amazon Prime. I missed it last year when it aired on PBS, but am so glad I watched it. I’m a sucker for period pieces. I love the spunkiness of Victoria’s character. Any woman who bears nine children and runs a country has my respect. Speaking of period pieces, Season 2 of The Crown airs on December 8 on Netflix. Just in time to distract me from grading finals.

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A Poetry Recommendation

Last year I swapped books with a writer friend and received a copy of his poems based on the Psalms. Opening King David: Poems in Conversation with the Palms by Brad Davis has been part of my devotional reading for the past year. I’m on my second go-around with the collection. I think I mentioned here before that I read the Psalms year round. Once I finish, I start over. I did the same with his book. Reading the day’s psalm and then Brad’s poem has enriched my Psalter reading. Brad and his wife have worked in boarding schools for the past thirty years. I’m particularly drawn to the poems that reference boarding school life. I can relate. I also like that Brad doesn’t make the life of faith a neat and tidy package. His poems are real and honest.

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Thanks for reading! I hope your November is off to a good start. Until next time….

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Overnight Getaway: Backpacking within an hour of Manhattan

All of my life I have enjoyed the outdoors. Whether it was hiking trails in Sequoia National Park with my parents and brother or walking outside with my children or dog, spending time in creation brought (and continues to bring) joy and pleasure.

So with an extra day off from school and the promise of amazing views and beautiful trails, I agreed to an overnight backpacking trip with Brad last weekend. At first I was reluctant. I had my mind set on car camping, with its offer of a shower and running water. After reading some reviews about Harriman State Park and the promise of a delicious brunch at Blooming Hill Farm, I relented.

Since moving to New York, I have been struck several times by how quickly a person can be “in nature” in a relatively short period once leaving New York City. It really is quite wonderful. Crossing the Hudson River about fifteen miles north of Manhattan, the landscape changes. The horizon—no longer cluttered with skyscrapers—fills with woods and the beginnings of mountains. In my mind’s eye, I imagine the original inhabitants of this land standing amongst the trees on the granite bluffs, scouting the river and the land below for food and potential threats.

Within the hour of leaving the city, we pulled into the quickly-filling parking lot of the farm. We made our way to the barn and queued up with other hungry customers to place our order. The pastries lining the counter were too tempting to skip so we each ordered one. I had the morning bun, a flaky pastry sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. Brad snagged the last pecan sticky roll. Soon our main dishes arrived. My breakfast pizza with roasted potatoes, tomatoes, onions, fresh herbs, and two fried eggs was divine. These simple vegetables transform when roasted, making each bite a medley of flavors and deliciousness. Brad ordered the brioche bread-pudding french toast with fresh cream—over-the-top goodness.

 

More than full, we gradually made our way to the park. One of the few downsides of our trip was the heat. The effects of Hurricane Maria brought warm temperatures for late September and the high was close to 89 degrees! Thankfully, we were in the shade most of the time.

We hiked a mile and a half to the Bald Rocks Shelter. Another couple was already using it, but we found a lovely spot a short distance away that had a fire ring, a grassy spot for the tent, and a few logs for sitting. We set up camp and headed out for a hike/search-for-more-water quest. This was the second downside of our trip. Many of the creek beds were dry. I eventually spotted a pool of stagnant water, not what you want to drink, and we knew we were closer to water. Continuing down the gully, we kept our eyes peeled for flowing water. After a bit more searching, we heard a small trickle and found a tiny flow coming over a rock. We filled our water bottles (don’t worry, we treated our water) and headed back to camp.

 

As dark descended, the sounds of night filled the air. The evening was warm, but our bright fire provided ambiance and kept the bugs away. We shared our simple backpacking meal and sipped some wine out of a water bottle. Nothing fancy, but nourishing to the body and soul. Later, as we crawled into our tent, the nighttime sky exploded with stars. No, it wasn’t the Ritz Carlton, but something about the fresh air, the sounds of nature, and the chance to be away from everyday life for a moment, offered refreshment and a sense of peace.

The next morning as I emerged from the tent, I caught a glimpse of the sunrise. Standing there, transfixed by the fiery orb rising as it does every morning, I experienced a brief, sacred moment. I have no power to make the sun rise each day. I have no control over the day or the night. Yet, because of God’s goodness and love for his children, every once and a while the curtain of ordinary life is pulled back and we experience an extraordinary moment. Such as this one. Having the best seat in the house to watch the grandeur of a new day beginning.  

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After breakfast and another hike for more water, we packed up camp and headed back to the car, ready to return to normal life. I know backpacking isn’t for everyone. But, I am grateful for opportunities to carry everything I need on my back and to trek into the woods for a different kind of experience. One that requires me to hike to it.

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Some Favorite Family Read-Alouds

Hi friends!

Head over to my friend Jessica Snell’s blog to read a piece I wrote about some favorite family read-alouds. I think you’ll enjoy checking out her blog, and hopefully you will find a new title or two to add to your reading list.

Until next time,

Alicia

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Sabbath Books

I’m excited to have Jessica Snell guest post at Always Orange. Jessica was my editor for Everywhere God. Her suggestions and observations made my book better. I love what she’s talking about in this piece and I think you will too.

I want to read more than I do. So do you, probably.

And this is true even though I already read a lot.

(So do you, probably. If you’re reading this—this lovely blog that is neither YouTube video nor cable news offering—you’re probably a reader by both inclination and training.)

In fact, I read enough that people laugh at me when I tell them how many books I have going at the same time. At minimum, it’s usually

1) A non-fiction book I should read (perhaps on parenting, or biology).

2) A novel or anthology I should read (I’m a writer, and so I have to keep up with my genre).

3) A novel I’m reading to my children.

4) A book that lives in the bathroom.

5) A book that lives on my nightstand.

6) A book of poetry, to be read a few pages a day.

(And, yes, it’s necessary to have at least a book a room—stop laughing at me.)

But, even though six-books-at-a-time-at-minimum served me well for a long time, I recently added an obligatory seventh:

7) A Sabbath book.

I added this last category because I needed to.

I found that I was reading more and more, and getting more and more discouraged. My heart was worn. The world kept looking uglier and uglier. And reading was…well, reading was becoming work.

And, actually, it was okay with me that reading was work! Some things are good to know, but hard to read about. Most of the books in the world that are worth reading still have hard parts, or ugly parts, or even downright disagreeable parts. You read them anyway, because it’s worth doing the work of panning away the sand in order to get to those flakes of gold.

But, friends, I had forgotten: Six days shall you labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest.

I needed to read books that were pure rest.

And I knew what that meant. For a book to be a book that gave me rest, it needed three things:

  1. It needed to be to my taste. No apologizing here. Some books are good books—in that they’re written with skill, or in that they’re of great moral worth—but they are not to my taste.
  2. It needed to be well-written. I’m a writer and an editor by trade, so poor writing pulls me out of the reading experience. I start editing in my head, and that’s not restful.
  3. It needs to be morally good. I don’t want to fight with my Sabbath books. I don’t want to have to be constantly filtering out the lovely from the unlovely.

In other words, Sabbath books tend to be old favorites. One of the first things I reread, when I realized that my heart needed rest and healing, was the entire Lord Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy Sayers. And I also dove back into Lewis’ Space Trilogy.

These were books I did not have to fight. I didn’t need to analyze them (though they’re hefty and well-woven and stand up to analysis). I didn’t need to argue with them (most of the good things already in my mind were formed by them, or by books like them).

And they’re beautiful. They brought me back into the land of well-watered gardens, of rivers glinting gold in the sun, and of old and graceful trees, whose green branches bow down to the ground.

This was the rest my heart needed.

I will note, just to close, that these books, in general, are written by authors who allowed their own minds to be formed and shaped by the best of books, by the Bible. The scriptures are the River of rivers, and the green lands of my Sabbath books were tended by people who had themselves been nurtured by the scriptures. That source was part of the shape I was looking for, part of the echo I want to hear. The Bible is, of course, the first and best Sabbath book.

The Bible is the first river I want to swim in, and I want to listen to it and read it often enough that my thoughts start to echo God’s thoughts, and that the shape of His sentences carve the shape of my own. I want the inside of my heart to show the mark of that river, as if my heart were a fertile valley that was shaped by that river’s constant flow.

But I also love reading the work of people who’ve listened longer, and listened better than I have. I want to read the work of people who have also loved this world God has made, and who teach me to look at it again, and to see the glory and the weight and the wonder of being alive in it.

I want to fight my way through hard books, and argue my way through bad books, and discern my way through normal books.

But I also want to be refreshed by good books.

And by taking one day out of seven to read only the very, very best of books, I have been.

Jessica Snell - Copy

Jessica Snell is a writer whose work has appeared in Christ and Pop CultureDaily Science FictionThe Lent Project, and more. She blogs about books, faith, and family at jessicasnell.com and you can follow her on Twitter @theJessicaSnell.

She’s also the editor of Let Us Keep the Feast, a book about celebrating the Christian church year at home. Need ideas for Advent, Easter, and more? Check it out!

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A Writer’s Manifesto: The Kind of Writer I Want to Be

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This summer was the first in several that I did not have a writing deadline. The book was finished, published in fact. Outside of one book review due in June, I had no other commitments.

Instead of feeling a sense of freedom and anticipation, I felt lost and overwhelmed. I didn’t write nearly as much as I wanted.

One goal I had for the summer was to promote my book. After a Google search on “how to market your book,” I quickly felt like the biggest failure. No, I haven’t joined Facebook groups or commented on other’s blogs nearly enough. No, I haven’t done a podcast. No, I don’t have pinnable links. No, I don’t use social media enough. Discouragement moved in at my desk.

Suddenly, I felt stuck—no ideas for writing and no motivation to do something, anything in regards to promoting my book.

And then a couple of weeks ago, a fortuitous walk with a fellow writer gave me the necessary clarity I desperately needed. Alicia, what kind of writer do you want to be? Which writers inspire you? Be like them.

Ah, yes!

Like many writers, I have a day job, a very full one. I have to grab snatches of time to write and I often fail due to the demands of my job. I don’t have hours to spend on the internet following current trends and tweeting about them in real time. Often I feel like I read an article and think, “that was the article I wanted to write.” Rather than be bitter that I didn’t think of the pithy 140-character tweet or write the article first, I need to plug away at the work of writing, developing my craft.

So this got me thinking about the kind of writer I want to be. Because I never met a list that I didn’t like, I decided to write down my claims. Maybe I’ll even post them on my refrigerator.

Here they are, in no particular order:

1. I want to be a writer whose pieces are thoughtful and insightful. This means I will produce less work. I can’t crank out a piece in a couple of hours. I’m still developing and honing my writer’s voice. I spend a lot of time rewriting and revising. That’s okay because I want to write solid pieces that say something true, good, and beautiful, even if it takes me more time.

2. I want to be a writer whose pieces are honest and humorous. Some of the writers I most admire have this amazing ability to articulate real life in words that make me want to shout, “Yes! Me too!” They also make me laugh at myself in the process. You mean you’re just as neurotic as I am? I want to be that kind of writer.

3. I want to be a writer whose pieces reflect faith intersecting with all parts of life. I will be forever grateful to Edith Schaeffer for opening this door for me. As I wrote in my introduction  to Everywhere God, “She wrote about eating, gardening, walking, cooking, talking, and God all in the same mix.” This means I can write a blog post about the latest fall fashion trends without feeling like my writing is trite or superficial.

4. I want to be a writer who cares less about stats, likes, retweets, you name it, and instead cares more about improving and growing as a writer. This is a hard one for me. I can’t imagine posting an image to Instagram and having, oh, I don’t know, 5,000 people like it!  My writing may never meet with the success that attracts the attention of large publishing houses and prestigious agents. But I know at my deepest level, that I don’t want to write a single word that I don’t believe is true or is written merely to impress others. My calling as a believer and as a writer is to be faithful in the everyday matters of life. To this end, I will write, trusting God with any results that may come my way.

This piece is about writing, but I think the truths apply to other parts of life too. At different points, I’ve found that I’ve had to make a list—literally and figuratively—regarding other areas. What kind of wife, mother, teacher, woman, do I want to be? This exercise is particularly helpful when I fall into the “compare and despair” mentality. It helps me see more clearly the person God has called me to be and who he has not called me to be.

Grace and peace, friends, as you begin a new week.

 

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La Belle Province, par deux

Next week, our family will visit la belle province—otherwise known as “the beautiful province”—a nickname often used for Quebec. Last summer, Brad and I spent a week exploring Montreal, loving the  European-charm-meets-modern-city feel of the place. During our stay, we found ourselves repeating the phrase, “the kids would love this city.” 

As we began to think about our summer plans and to prepare for this new season of life—semi-empty nesters—making time for a family vacation became a priority. Immediately, Quebec came to mind. For the past twenty-one years, summer has been the four of us. The months of June, July, and August have included visits to extended family as well as some special vacations—Yellowstone, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, Lake Tahoe. Slowly, I’m coming to terms with the fact that Jake and Anna won’t be around during the summer months in the years to come.

When Brad and I visited Montreal last July, we had no idea that in February we would visit Italy. For those who know me or have read my writing, you know how much I dreamed about a trip to Europe someday. As we planned our 25th wedding anniversary trip, we figured Montreal was as close as we would get to Europe for a while. Little did we know. We were truly excited to explore the city, which was also on our list of places to visit someday. She didn’t disappoint.

In the weeks leading up to our trip, I scoured travel books, Pinterest, and saved magazine articles for places to eat and sites to visit. In the end, our trip represented a mix of the things we love: food, art and culture, and nature.

The Food

Montreal is a foodie city. One of my favorite lunches of all time was the one I ate at Olive & Gourmando. In fact, I ate there twice—once with Brad and once with Jacquelyn, after Brad left to go backpacking and Jacquelyn joined me for a few additional days. My mouth still waters when I think about the “Salty.” The fresh ingredients, coupled with a cool vibe, makes this a favorite spot to eat. Suffice it to say, we will definitely be eating there again this summer.

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The Salty: Homemade ricotta cheese, greens, and a toasted English Muffin

While we never ate a bagel in Montreal (perhaps this trip?), we did eat poutine and the smoked-meat sandwich—two other must-trys when you visit Montreal. I may eat poutine again if it is offered, but it doesn’t top my list as a “must-eat-this-again” dish. I feel the same way about the deli sandwich I enjoyed at Schwartz’s. It was good, but I won’t be disappointed if we miss it on this trip. On a side note, I love that al fresco dining is everywhere. Quebecers know they must savor every moment of the summer months so even humble cafes usually have at least one outside table.

Art & Culture

I’m really glad we visited the La Basilique Notre-Dame. From its sheer size, to the stained-glass windows, to the organ, it is an impressive cathedral. I also visited there twice—once with Brad and once with Jacquelyn. On my second visit, Jacquelyn and I sat in a row and chatted unhurriedly, enjoying the beautiful space while watching tourists come and go. I definitely want Jake and Anna to see this place.

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The organ at La Basilique Notre Dame

Brad and I also enjoyed visiting the Pointe-à-Callière. While there, we learned the history of Montreal and how the city developed over the years. The museum sits on top of the actual spot where the city was founded and visitors can view some of the archaeological ruins.  

Nature

On one of our last days together in the city, we road Bixi bikes to the Mount Royal Park. The Bixi system is an easy way to explore Montreal. Plus, the $5/per-day rental makes it an affordable option. As long as you return your bike to a Bixi station within the allotted time frame, you can check bikes in and out in the 24-hour period without additional charges. In addition, the city has many designated bike lanes, making it easier to share the road with car and bus traffic. Mount Royal Park is a lovely green space in the city. On Sunday afternoons, it becomes the spot for a drum circle, also known as The Tam Tams. Families picnic, couples snuggle, and people play to the beat of the drums.

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Mount Royal Park

Like good books that need to be reread, favorite places need to be revisited and shared with those we love. I’m looking forward to experiencing Montreal (and Quebec City!) with my kids. We will create new memories and most likely share a few stories from previous vacations. Sure, we will get annoyed with one another and our plans may turn out differently than we expected. But for this mom, having the time together, just the four of us, will be a treat in its own right.

 

 

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Road Trip Manual

Summer has arrived in full force on Long Island. The parking lots to the beaches fill before noon. The blooms on the hydrangeas are so plentiful that the branches droop to the ground, trying to bear the weight of the blueish, purple-flowering globes. All of my favorite summer flavors—basil, tomatoes, corn, fresh mozzarella, and berries make regular appearances at my dinner table.

It is also a season for road trips.

Last week, Brad and I returned from a trip to Michigan to visit our parents and extended family. It wasn’t until I read J. Courtney Sullivan’s article “Notes from a Road Trip” in the latest issue of Real Simple that I realized we are a road-tripping family! Together we have logged thousands of miles and traveled many of the major interstates that connect the east and west coasts. Over the years and miles, we have developed our own road trip “manual” that defines how we travel.

For us, car trips were born out of necessity. If we wanted to see family or go on a vacation, we needed to drive. There wasn’t money in the budget for airlines tickets x four, especially during the graduate-school years. Our first long road trip occurred when the kids were little and we lived in the Chicago area. It was my grandparents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary and the Smith clan was gathering in Montana at my uncle and aunt’s ranch. After seeking advice from several of our friends who had young children, we decided to drive through the night. We left our house around 6 pm and drove for the next twenty hours. I can still remember the point when Brad and I both hit the wall. It was close to 5 am and the first signs of morning streaked the sky. We stopped at a rest area for some brief sleep. At that moment, I was ready to ditch the budget and grab the nearest hotel room where I could sleep in a prostrate position on a comfy bed. Of course, the kids woke earlier than usual as the sunlight streamed through the van’s windows. The final hours to the ranch seemed to last an eternity. We survived and still tell stories about that experience. Thankfully, most of our road trips since then have involved primarily daytime driving, which suits both of us much better.

In a couple of weeks, we will once again hit the road as a family and head north for a week in Quebec, spending time in Montreal and Quebec City. Our road-trip manual will be in play.

First, we will leave the house early, by 6 am if we are lucky. There’s something about starting early on a road trip. Driving during the morning hours invigorates. The unfolding day is fresh and exciting. And, since we live near a major city, we avoid, or at least try to avoid, rush-hour traffic.

Second, we don’t stop for lunch. Instead, we eat our packed lunch in the car. We do this for two reasons: to save money and to save time. Since the majority of our trips are to visit our parents who live twelve-plus hours away, we look for ways to save time by limiting our stops. Another car-trip ritual we follow is to stop for an ice-cream treat in the afternoon. This snack fills our stomachs so we can make it in time for dinner, albeit sometimes a late one. Sitting down to a home-cooked meal after a long day in the car is a delicious reward.

Third, our car trips are a mix of silence and stories. Driving for long stretches definitely puts a person in the “zone.” I always pack a variety of books and magazines to read while we drive, but often I find myself staring out the window, lost in my thoughts. The sound of the car’s tires against the pavement and the passing of trees and other cars becomes a meditative experience, allowing time for reflection—something I often don’t take time for in my everyday life. At different points throughout the day, stories of family memories and previous trips bubble to the surface and are retold. However, lest you think car trips are only filled with tender moments, let me set the record straight.

Sometimes the busyness of preparing to leave on a road trip, coupled with other life stressors, make for tense driving. Additionally, the silence in the car reflects angry thoughts and is the result of an argument rather than the recalling of some sweet family memory. Yet, the miles heal. Eventually, someone apologizes and seeks to sort out the conflict. After all, there is plenty of time.

Lastly, road trips are a chance to forgo the usual habits that govern our days. As our children grew, we allowed more DVD watching. This past Christmas, Anna watched one movie after the next as the miles passed. I never would have allowed that when she was little. But she was adamant that this was the only way she would survive the trip. We also eat foods that we don’t normally consume when we drive. Who cares if the day starts with a donut, involves a mid-morning snack of chips or a candy bar, and includes afternoon ice cream? That’s part of the fun of a road trip.

I am always grateful when the car pulls into our final destination after a long day of driving. I feel like I will never want to sit down again. Later, falling into bed, I am struck by the fact that I began the day at home and now I am in this new place, miles away from where I started. New adventures await. My body relaxes and the hum of the car’s engine fades from memory, ushering in peaceful sleep and dreams.

 

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