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#GivingTuesday Guide 2018

#GivingTuesday is a great opportunity to take a break from all of the holiday spending and think about some organizations and nonprofits that are deserving of a little extra love. During these holidays many people feel the pull to give their time or money, and whether we realize it or not, this is incredibly fitting for where we are in the liturgical year. Advent is like a mini Lent where we simplify and sacrifice some daily joys with the hope and anticipation of the coming of a Great Feast. And #GivingTuesday is an opportunity to engage in that spirit by “giving up” some of our treasure for “nothing” in return.

Something I don’t share about often on here is that my professional passion is nonprofit management. I have worked in programs and in fund development. I have worked on the ground and behind the scenes. I have worked or volunteered in homeless services, restorative justice, education reform, refugee resettlement, environmental education, and in consulting roles for organizations with all sorts of missions statements. And if one thing is true across the board it’s this: community-based nonprofits and social change organizations rely on generous donors like yourself to carry out their important work. But the generosity of the community also pays for employees’ wages and benefits, for utilities and rent, for computers and office supplies. These last items are often what grants and federal funding won’t cover and donors don’t get as excited about giving $100 for utilities as they do about ensuring a child has lunch for a week. But this is why nonprofits often don’t offer competitive compensation for their employees. But I’m starting to go into a topic for another day.

Year-end giving is a last push to engage donors and receive donations to keep an organization strong. Many nonprofits have matching funds or other incentives that can drive more money to programs and services that reach the marginalized and disenfranchised. And that’s why #GivingTuesday is an important reminder to set aside some of our treasure to offer it to the organizations that are doing good service for our communities.

At the end of this post I will give a list of some organizations that I think deserve attention. This #GivingTuesday do some research and find organizations in your area that serve a group of people or fight for a cause YOU believe in. If there is a community foundation in your city, check out if they are running a giving campaign like Monterey County Gives. These campaigns raise millions of dollars for small organizations each year.

Think about programs that you have received some sort of benefit from. Many programs for children are nonprofits. Many museums and aquariums and zoos rely on donations. Many green spaces and parks have foundations or initiatives that raise money to keep these areas protected. Libraries also often have a “Friends of the Library” group that accepts donations on their behalf.

Think about the people in your community that need the most support. Are there a lot of folks that live outdoors Migrants? Refugees? Single mothers? Good chance there is an organization serving these populations to some extent. And of course there are the organizations that provide services for mental health, housing, education, rehabilitation, and the list goes on.

Here are some organizations that are important to me:

Family House

If you have been following my family’s story you will know that our daughter was in the NICU for 3.5 months and we were 2.5 hours from home. Family House provides free housing to families of children with life threatening illnesses that live 50 miles or more from UCSF. But, really, Family House provides more than just a room to sleep in. The staff fosters an environment that breeds community and support. Walking into Family House felt like a refuge after long days at the hospital. Often times there was free food in the kitchens, activities for the kids, and warm smiles at the front desk. Being able to laugh at a joke or talk about something other than medical jargon or talk some more about medical jargon, the staff was there – sometimes with warm cookies and milk or tickets to a Giants game. Or sometimes just a hug. We even were able to stay there for follow up appointments in the city, which was such a relief to not have to make that long drive twice in a day for a 30 minute appointment.

Honestly, they have thought about pretty much anything. Including Fozzy’s Toy Room, which is a little store with a selection of free toys for each child per visit – of course it was one of Oscar’s favorite places to visit whenever we stayed at Family House. If you want to help purchase items to fill Fozzy’s Toy Room you can see the Amazon Wishlist here.

UCSF Benoiff Children’s Hospital

This state-of-the-art hospital provided more than just life saving medical care for Olivia. The hospital also had Child Life Specialists and programs that offered services for Oscar, including a play room where he could go a few hours every day so that Casey and I could both be in Olivia’s room at once or, you know, talk without interruptions in day light. Or eat. Oscar loved the playroom and became very close with the employees and volunteers there. He looked forward to going every day to play and learn. The hospital also provided social workers, family services, and mass every Sunday.

Foundation for Ichthyosis and Related Skin Types (FIRST)

FIRST is dedicated to advocacy, research, and support for the ichthyosis community. We had never even heard the word ichthyosis before Olivia was born, and for something so rare the Internet can be a scary and unhelpful place. FIRST’s website is full of articles and information for medical professionals and families alike. Within a week or two of Olivia’s birth I received a phone call from the Executive Director and was given the names and contact information of other Harlequin Ichthyosis families. I still go to the website for recommendations of skin care products or ideas for things that are hard to navigate, like rude strangers. FIRST also supports research for medicines and cures and genetic testing – a glimmer of hope for all of us. And maybe most important is that FIRST hosts a conference every two years. We got to go this past summer and it was so good to meet other ichthyosis families in person.

World Relief

Consider donating to organizations, like World Relief or Catholic Relief Services or Catholic Charities, that may have lost federal funding or has greatly reduced funding for their good work around immigration and refugee resettlement. World Relief took a big hit under the current administration and had to close several offices, including one I loved volunteering at here in Nashville.

Restorative Justice Partners, Inc.

MEarth

Catholic Charities of Tennessee

New Camaldoli Hermitage

Spero Collaborative

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Preparing for Advent

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Preparing for the Beginning of a New Liturgical Year

Advent is a time to prepare for Jesus’ coming. Recently I heard on The Simple Show podcast that Saint Francis of Assisi talked about the three-fold preparation: remembering Mary’s pregnant preparation to welcome the Son of God into the world, preparing our hearts for Jesus to come to us this Christmas season, and in preparation for Jesus’ promised coming in the future. How perfect is that to tie into the Catholic ideas regarding conversion: we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will continue to be saved. Advent also marks the beginning of the new liturgical year.

One thing that I like to do before Advent every year is to attempt to get all of my holiday shopping done. This is no easy task considering that within Advent and Christmas we celebrate a handful of birthdays in addition to Saint Nicholas Day and Christmas. We do go crazy with gifts in our family and I loathe shopping, so getting this done so that we can actually enjoy the season is important to me.

A Short Guide to Responsible Shopping

The reality is that many of us do still partake in the consumerist aspect of the Northern American traditions of Christmas, but something that I have found that helps me better line up my shopping with my Catholic faith is to be intentional about where I spend my money.

As my much cooler than me friend-from-college, Rani, reminded me: let’s support small, local, organic artists and makers. Let’s try to support companies committed to social and environmental justice, sustainability, and our Earth. Apart from finding small shops and artisans on social media, the Internet, or local craft fairs, you can also support B Corps businesses. If you haven’t heard of B Corps businesses, I highly recommend reading up on it here!

Two B Corps and/or organic companies that I love and trust and frequently buy from (and some have already started their Black Friday sales):

PACT ORGANICS (Men, Women, and Children Apparel)

https://wearpact.com

Click here to get $20 off your first order

I love their socks, leggings, and shirts and children’s shirts and PJs. They always have great deals and bundles going and the products are well made and super soft!

COTOPAXI (Outdoor/Adventure Wear and Outdoor Gear)

https://www.cotopaxi.com

Click here to get $20 off your first order

I first came across Cotopaxi on Instagram as a sponsored ad and after a year I finally purchased one of their bags as I kept tracking great reviews. And then I purchased another bag for myself, one for my husband, and some just to have. I just ordered a pair of their joggers ad a puff jacket. The quality of everything is fantastic and the layouts of all the bags are perfect. I love, love this company.

I also love supporting shops of small independent artists/craftspeople. I have either found them on Instagram or I know them in real life and I think you might like them, too:

Rani Ban– screen printed shirts and other art

Be A Heart– hand lettering, posters, baby swaddles, bandanas, and all things pretty

Brass and Mint Co– hand lettering, prints, mugs, and more things pretty

Rose Harrington– beautiful prints, floral rosaries, mugs, and even more things pretty

Quail Lane Press– beautiful topographic prints

If you want to learn more about living out the Catholic liturgical year, here are some great resources!

Haley from Carrots for Michaelmashas two cookbooks, an autobiographical account of living more simply in The Grace of Enough(which is on my current reading list)

Kendra Tierney’s blog Catholic All Yearand she has a new book, The Catholic All Year Compendium, out that compiles and adds to what is included in her blog

Listen to this three episode series of The Simple Show podcast:

I hope this offered some help in preparing for a purposeful Advent!

I’ll be back with a #GivingTuesday guide and a list of Advent feasts, traditions, and prayers soon!

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Today’s Mindful Wanderings: Hallowtide + Momento mori

Halloween is the beginning of Hallowtide in the Catholic Church – the first of three days where the Church remembers those that have come before us: Halloween (All Hallows Eve), All Saints Day (All Hallows Day), and All Souls Day. Halloween, for us, is actually supposed to be a day of fasting followed by All Hallows Day, which is a feast of celebration and remembrance of the saints that came before us. All Souls Day is a feast and celebration of remembrance of all of the departed, especially those close to us. Many are aware of Dia de los muertos in many Latin American countries, especially since Disney’s movie Coco came out last year. And the movie wasn’t that far off in some regards – we set up pictures and candles and we remember our lost loved ones, often eating and drinking the things that they also loved.

If you hang around Catholic circles enough you will end up coming across the Latin phrase “Memento mori” which means remember that you will die. It may seem morbid, but really it’s a call to recenter priorities and refocus on God, as our ultimate goal is to be a saint, to enter Heaven. Hallowtide reminds us of this, too. Hallowtide reminds us that, as Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble points out in her article about “Memento Mori,” “…Jesus has changed the nature of death for those who believe. Before becoming pope, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger once wrote: ‘The sting of death is extinguished in Christ.’”

Some believe that the veil between the departed and the living is thinned during this time of year, but the Catholic doctrine regarding saints has helped me understand that our friends in Heaven are always near with an open heart and a listening ear asking, “how can I pray for you today, my friend?”

And the past 18 months has also shown me how thin that veil between life and death really is. The first week in July of 2017 I found out I was pregnant with Olivia and my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 34. The anticipation of life and the reality that we will all die someday sitting together in one room. We find so much hope and strength in anticipation for babies to enter this world, don’t we? But babies also remind us of the fragility of life. Olivia came 8 weeks early and with a congenital skin condition that had potentially bleak outcomes. When Olivia was born that veil between life and death seemed not like a veil, but a gaping doorway that she could slip in and out of at any moment.

A year after my pregnancy news and year after my sister’s diagnosis – only about three months since Olivia had been discharged from the hospital – our 18 year old cousin fell into a coma. And all of the sudden I was reminded of that thin veil between life and death once again. Again, face to face with how quickly and unexpectedly our life can be taken away. Our familial resiliency convened once again and we came around to support one another again. Although weary from our own sufferings and questioning how much more we will be asked to endure, we found each other. And I’m reminded that we have ancestors that came before us that endured their own hardships and they are still there beside us, convening with us asking, “Mi amor, how can I pray for you?”

As my sister’s tests came back clear, and Olivia continued to be her happy and content self, and my cousin made progress recovering from a brain injury, I found out the one of the youth that I worked closely with during my time working in restorative justice was shot and killed by other young people in his apartment complex. My heart broke as I wondered how much more emotional energy I had stored up to process this all. And I found comfort and hope in “momento mori” because our life on earth doesn’t have to be the end. We learn. We grow in relationship with others. We find and rediscover our identity and who God has called us to be with the hope that we leave a legacy of love and goodness for those that will come after us. We endure for the good of the future.

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A Note from Natalie: We’re All Doing Alright

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I can hardly believe that it has been three months since I last wrote an update. As most of you know, in August our little family of four (and our dog, Oso) said, “see ya soon” to California and made our way to Tennessee. There are several things that prompted the move, and although it was certainly the right decision for our family, it has not been easy. The move itself was relatively painless thanks to Casey, his little brother, and his dad. My dear friend Melissa was sweet enough to drive from Long Beach to Carmel Valley to San Francisco, to hop on a plane just to be an extra set of hands for the flight. She is simply the best.

We are living and helping out on a beautiful farm in a small town east of Nashville. Casey gets up most mornings to help with the morning chores and helps throughout the day with anything from cleaning eggs to moving cattle fencing. I have learned how to eviscerate chickens and ducks. With this setup Casey is able to spend time working on his music and we can spend more time together as a family. This transition has forced me to rethink my ideas around productivity. I have worked outside of the house pulling in predictable and scheduled paychecks that I’m trying to figure out what is realistic to expect of myself right now.

Between the farm work, establishing medical care for Olivia, and settling into life as a family of four, the last few months have just blown by. We deeply miss “our people” back in California that did so much to wrap us in their arms and take care of us in immeasurable ways. We were so lucky to have people around us that knew how to deeply care for us. We have been welcomed to Tennessee by some wonderful people, including the Simpsons who have been gracious enough to let us “help” on the farm. We are continuously humbled by the generosity and love that was and continues to be extended to us.

Life seems to be slowing as the weather gets cooler and Casey and I are finding that there are a lot of things that we are just now processing about the last 10 months. It often feels like the world was going by us a hundred miles an hour and it has taken awhile for us to catch up. And as Olivia’s first birthday draws near, I find myself wondering how it’s all going to feel when the day after Christmas arrives. Of course, we find ourselves in awe of her on a daily basis. In awe that she is here with us giving up belly laughs for Oscar and mimicking sounds. We are in awe that she has such a laidback temperament after the trauma that she has experienced in her short 10 months. We often say that when you look at her, you just know that her soul knows something more than any words can express. She’s already lived a remarkable life. And we know that there is just more of the sweetness to come, and for that we are incredibly lucky. But do not be fooled, the girl has an ornery streak.

Establishing medical care for a baby with a rare condition in a new state is a fulltime job  – let me tell you. I’m still trying to learn the ins and outs of the system in Tennessee. We are fortunate enough to be tapped into Vanderbilt, which has a children’s hospital that is on par with USCF. The care Olivia has received has been wonderful. What is difficult is educating and re-educating about Harlequin ichthysosis, and having to answer the same questions and review the same information over and over again. As any parent of a child with medical needs will tell you, it’s draining and exhausting to go through these appointments. At UCSF all the specialists saw Olivia while she was still in the NICU so they were learning with me. Here, they walk into the room like a deer caught in headlights. What has helped me be a little less annoyed is that Vanderbilt is a teaching hospital, as was UCSF, which means that just by Olivia going to her routine appointments future medical professionals are learning about a rare condition. If that means that another set of parents down the road doesn’t have to be told outdated information and can be given some peace of mind, than I can curb my frustration that her chart is STILL not up to date after months of appointments.

Olivia has been able to maintain some weight gain without her feeding tube, but that conversation is still my least favorite and the most frequent. We go to physical therapy and occupational therapy on a weekly basis and we average three appointments a week in Nashville (about a 40 minute drive). Cognitively Olivia is typical and hitting her marks.  Although, we know she has minor hearing loss in one ear, she is cooing and mimicking sounds. She still loves to hear Casey play guitar just like when she was in the hospital. She and Oscar find so much joy in “playing” together, which is usually Oscar whipping around the room and Olivia smiling and laughing along. Olivia sits up on her own and has been doing so for a little over a month.  Much of her physical development is delayed though – she doesn’t roll over well, or frequently, and she is just now starting to put weight on her feet and legs. We know to be patient because she will catch up. She will be getting another ear cleaning and hearing test in the next few weeks to determine her hearing in her left ear. She may need surgery on her left hand and left foot – we have an appointment next week about that. I’m hoping none of this means any more hospital stays, but that’s always a possibility. It seems as though hair is growing in well, but her scalp is definitely one of her most dry areas so damaged hair follicles are always a concern. Overall, Olivia is doing well. She is happy and curious and sociable. We are so lucky to have her in our family.

Life is starting to find its rhythm again. Please continue to pray for us: that we are able to figure out stable income, Olivia’s continued health as flu season started early this year, and for wisdom and protection for upcoming procedures.  And, as always, keep all the families with children in the hospital in your prayers. Lastly, please keep my cousin Tito in your prayers. He is recovering from being in a coma. I started a GoFundMe for my aunt where you can learn more about his progress: https://www.gofundme.com/TitoAlfaro.

In infinite gratitude,

Natalie

+JMJ+

 

 

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Home: Saying Goodbye (for now)

The great irony of my life is that when I proclaim something, I often end up eating my words. I had finally settled into being home and I was in the process of coming to terms with what life might look like for me in the near future taking on some small side paying jobs, starting Oscar in a preschool, and mapping out some goals with Casey for his music. I was trying to establish a routine and a schedule for us. I was finding my identity again and that was largely reflected back to me through this place that I feel in my bones: home. My last blog post was all about the healing power of this place for me and how intimately we know one another.

But, as life goes, God took me for a 180 that I could never have guessed. Again, I was reminded that “surrender” is the word of 2018. On our way to drop off an application for an apartment in Monterey, a series of events occurred that drastically changed our route. The short of it is that we will be moving to the Nashville area in August to work on a farm and dig deep into that music world. A world that we’ve carefully skirted around for years, but Casey is ready to go at it again. As much as we both wanted to fight it, we just had to say yes. It was all divinely falling into place.

We partly had to say yes out of desperation, too. The Monterey Peninsula is just too expensive. It breaks my heart to see my fellow Californians being pushed out of their hometowns because the cost of living is unattainable for most of us. We’ve all heard it over and over: my generation was told to go to college and promised you’d get a good job and you’d be better off than your parents. We all know where the rest of this goes.

I have a complicated relationship with Nashville, which made for a tearful and reluctant muttering of yes. Little did I know Casey was praying that I would have an open mind and heart about the whole thing. See, I have said countless times that we would never move back there. I would never move back there. I couldn’t help but be baffled at God’s timing of this all. After the last year that we have had now is the time that I have to surrender again? But, I couldn’t deny this tugging feeling that home was telling me to move on. And as I rolled my eyes and agreed to the move, it finally made sense why I had to say “yes” all those other times. For anyone that knows us, a move to Nashville has been discussed and reworked a dozen times. In the end, it was never right. Each time I agreed to this move before and it didn’t happen, it was like God was softening me so that this time, in His time, I was ready to do it. He knew that I wouldn’t have agreed so easily if this was the first time because this move is and will continue to be complicated with a 2.5 year old and a 6 month old with a rare skin condition and a lot of medical needs.

An adventure awaits us that we are being called to undertake. I am heartbroken to leave my precious California and to leave my family and friends. We live in literally one of the most beautiful places on earth. I can barely think of the Pacific Ocean without feeling a lump well in my throat. This place and this community has been so good to us for so long.

As you can imagine, moving across the country is expensive. Transferring all of Olivia’s medical records and history continues to be a saga of terrible hold music and a glaring verification that bureaucratic systems are made at the hands of flawed humans. But, we will make it work and it will be okay. As my very wise aunt, Gina, told me in a voicemail recently: “…it all works out in the bigger picture. You don’t know what’s in store for you.” So, off we go.

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A Note from Natalie: We’re home!

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On April 7th, the Saturday before Divine Mercy Sunday, Olivia was discharged from the hospital. It all happened so quickly that I was certain something would stop us from leaving. Olivia had a procedure for her ears on that Thursday and recovered well. During rounds the doctors looked at me and asked, “So, do you have any reason to stick around?”

I was dumbstruck.

Of course we wanted to go home, but by responding with, “No, we have no reason to stay” I knew I was also saying, “Yes, we are ready to take this on at home.” And that was the part that felt the most overwhelmingly.

Taking on Olivia’s cares without a full time nurse has been a challenge, but we continue to find a routine that works for our family. A routine that is full of appointments and phone calls and lots and lots of coconut oil, aquaphor, feeding tubes; and a whole lot of trial and error.

After our first few appointments and the first couple weeks home, it was pretty clear that I wasn’t going to be able to go back to work full time. Since leaving the hospital Olivia has unfortunately stopped eating from a bottle, which means that we are relying on a feeding tube to keep her nourished and hydrated and it’s breaking me. She will nurse, but not often because she rarely feels hunger. Her feeding has been the biggest knot so far because there are so many variables – she had thrush, we changed her fortifier and then changed it back, she no longer latches to the bottle that she took before, and the list goes on.

We avoided talking about my job, knowing the inevitable, until Casey and I finally had a “come to Jesus” moment. We knew it was the right decision to make, but it was also scary. My paycheck has always been the constant that we could base our budget around. The line in the Our Father when we simply ask God, “Give us this day our daily bread” comes to mind regularly these days.

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The silver lining in all of this is that it’s giving us the opportunity to really focus in on Casey’s music; and me being home is giving us a lot of time as a family. We know that this is what we’ve wanted for awhile, it just didn’t show up quite the way we expected.

We have been welcomed home in such a sweet way by the familiar and I am so grateful for that. This weekend I went on a run/hike at Garland and found myself huffing up a trail looking at all of the purple around me. Suddenly it hit me that the last time I was on that trail I was only a few weeks out from Olivia’s birth, but I had no idea how soon she would come or how much our world would be turned sideways. This was the very park that I saw those first two coyotes. It was a sense of home when we were in the city not knowing when discharge would come and my mom would say to me, “when you go home we can finally take Olivia to Garland and you can run and I’ll stay back with the kids.” It felt so far off when she said that. But on Saturday I found myself zigzagging on trails that I know like the back of my hand breathing in the smell of dirt and the familiar native plants. Part of me didn’t really feel home until I got sweaty and dusty in this land again. These runs in Garland and along the Pacific are therapeutic for me and I need to remember that because I need a lot of healing and I am working on a lot of forgiveness on events that surrounded Olivia’s hospital birth.

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I try to keep these simple comforts and the joy of my kids at the forefront of mind as each day brings its own set of challenges. Luckily, two year olds give you a lot of laughter and preoccupation from adult worries throughout the day.

Current Prayer Requests: Olivia’s feeding, our family as we settle into our new normal with me at home and one income, and for the families that are still in the NICU.

Warmly,

Natalie

+JMJ+

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Today’s Mindful Wanderings

93 days in the NICU. Nearly 93 mornings that I have walked by this view and thought I should take a picture. The lighting is always just right and the natural earth tones starkly set against the concrete is a visual reminder of the tension between tender new life living in such a sterile and medical environment. These 93 days have brought us from Christmas to Lent and now (im)patiently awaiting Easter.

One of the (many) reasons I love the Catholic Church is the opportunity to engage with the liturgical calendar. Every season is meaningful and throughout the year there are repeated opportunities to practice patience and penance only to be rewarded with feasting and celebration. As humans we seek ways to keep track of time, often for the purpose of remembrance. Liturgical living does this on an even deeper level.

This year I am finding myself especially focused on Holy Week as we conclude Lent and look towards Easter on Sunday. Spy Wednesday (remembering when Judas betrays Jesus and reflecting on the times we have failed and have also betrayed Jesus), Maundy Thursday (when we remember the Last Supper: the institution of the priesthood, the mass, and the Eucharist – the alters are stripped, feet are washed, the Eucharist is removed, and we enter into three very intense holy days called the Paschal Triduum), Good Friday (reflecting on Jesus’ crucifixion and death), which finally brings us to Holy Saturday and the Easter Vigil. The mass starts in the darkness of Lent and by the end we are in the light of Easter. We have welcomed new Catholics through baptism and confirmation, Jesus has given us his body and blood, and Jesus has risen.

Lent is heavy, but there is light at the end of it. The darkness of winter is ushered out by the light of spring. And how much more sweet and warm is that light after enduring the last days of the darkness. I see Easter celebrations starting and I understand the temptation to hurry Lent up to celebrate. But, I pause. We must wait. The parallel of wanting Lent to end already and my impatience for discharge from the NICU is not lost on me. Now that we have a tentative timeline for discharge I just want to hurry up these last days so that day will finally come. But if we are deliberate and prepare for that Easter Feast it will be that much more sweet and deserving, won’t it? As will be the day that I trade urban cactus for the coastal oak trees of home.