Advent of Light: Create


I’ve always considered myself creative. I am always daydreaming and coming up with story ideas and characters in my head. I have a rich internal universe, which I’ve spent a lot of time in over the last year or so.  It’s comforting and interesting, but can be a little lonely after awhile.  Sometimes I think “I should really write a book—I’ve started several in the last few years—but then I stall when I run into a plot hole or other roadblock. And then I start wondering if I have anything worth sharing with others, or if I should just keep my inner universe to myself.


Advent of Light: Dare


I’m in a timid place right now. At this moment, I don’t feel a whole lot of daring.  I don’t know if I have the chutzpah to do anything more than just bumble along.  Not feeling too visionary right now. I’m not on fire about any goals or anything.  I haven’t decided if I’m okay with this or annoyed with this. Up until this past year, I think I’ve always been chasing after something, some goal, some dream, something.  I was productive—or at least I FELT productive. This past year, I’ve kind of loafed around. It’s been nice, but I feel vaguely guilty about it—like I’m wasting time—but I don’t have any goals in the works—other than “keep the kids alive” but they are pretty autonomous now, so I don’t have to work too hard at that, really.

Advent of Light: Dream


A couple of years ago, I gave up on a dream I had been pursuing for some time. It was a personal goal, one that challenged me physically, mentally, and emotionally. It was rough going, giving up—because I felt like a failure and like I was unworthy to dream again, because I was too weak willed to continue what I’d started.  It took me a long time to figure out that sometimes you have to try things to find out what you DON’T want out of life.  Eventually, I was able to forgive myself for giving up, but I struggled to allow myself to create new dreams for myself—what if I just didn’t have the fortitude? What if I am lazy? What if I waste resources? What if I’m just a loser? I’ve been struggling with negative self talk since I walked away from that dream from two years ago.  It’s hard to want to try new things and I have felt so uninspired and apathetic. I tried to tell myself that I was just burnt out and needed a sabbatical—so I took my 40th birthday year to allow myself to do nothing, telling myself I was just taking a break from all the hard work I was doing for what appeared to be little gain.  I even posted on this blog that I was taking a sabbatical year—a “midlife crisis” year to just chill and do nothing.  To be honest, I kind of needed it—just so I could assess what I really want out of life, and that’s been a good thing, but I’ve also realized that I still do a lot of living out of fear. That’s a big part of why I haven’t written here in so long.  I don’t know that I have anything worth saying or continuing on this blog, but I’ve gotten tired of doing nothing. I’m tired of feeling tired and apathetic, so I’m exploring some new dreams—in the context of how I want to feel—not so much what I want to accomplish.  I have determined I am not very task oriented. I don’t get a whole lot of satisfaction out of checking off boxes on a to-do list. My currency is how something makes me feel.  I don’t necessarily want to be the most accomplished person in the world—or even in my household—but I do want to feel connected, respected, and in control.  I want to feel heard and understood, and I want to hear and understand others. I want to feel creative and lively. Those are my new dreams.

Advent of Light: Wonder


I have followed photographer/speaker/author Karen Walrond at for several years and I love her photography and the tone of her writing. She is very soothing. She also provides links to her favorite songs on her playlist, which has introduced me to some fun new (to me) musicians. In December, she is offering a guided journal type writing course called Advent of Light and since I was looking for a way to focus some time on writing, I signed up.  I’m already behind, because life is busy, but thought I’d take a few minutes to pound out a few words from Day 5’s prompt: Wonder

At a Cub Scout Pack Meeting in November, parents and Cub Scouts alike were asked to think of something they were thankful for and write it down on a paper leaf, then attach it to a large hand drawn tree. Later, we would share with the assembled group what was written on our respective leaves.  Many of the adults and children said they were thankful for family or for Jesus or friends. The Cub Master leading this discussion praised each person’s choice. Truly, family and Jesus and friends are things to be insanely grateful for.  What was I grateful for that night? Indoor plumbing.  This was met with a sort of “womp-womp” expression from the Cub Master. She quickly recovered and agreed that indoor plumbing is indeed something to be grateful for, but I could tell she was looking for more noble ideals.

But I stand by my choice. I marvel every day—seriously—that I have clean water flowing through pipes that are inside my house, and it is easily accessible in multiple places throughout. In seconds, I can have hot water for a shower or to wash my hands. I have clean water to drink from taps on both floors of my house. I don’t have to leave the comfort of my home or brave the weather to use the bathroom.  I have machines hooked up to hoses and pipes IN MY HOUSE that clean my dishes and clothes!  It astounds me that it is possible and that I’m lucky enough to possess this technology that provides this most basic of human needs—clean water.

I follow another blog, called We Are That Family,  written by Kristen Welch, founder of Mercy House Global, a charity that empowers women and mothers around the world to provide for themselves and their families. Kristen co-founded a maternity home for pregnant teens in Kenya, with a Kenyan woman, Maureen Owino. Their mission was to preserve families and prevent orphans, to rescue girls who had been sexually abused and found themselves pregnant. Kristen and Maureen set out to provide a safe haven for these expectant girls, where they could both heal and prepare for the births of their babies. Kristen and Maureen felt very strongly about saving lives—and that no child deserves to grow up in an orphanage. Their philosophy is that it is better for children to have one loving, dedicated parent than to have none at all.  While they offer support and resources and facilitate opportunities for emotional and physical healing and preparation for giving birth, they help the girls with their academic studies and teach them a trade, so they will be able to support themselves and their babies.  Kristen’s blog posts about her trips to the toughest parts of Kenya and Maureen’s trips to the States shine light on the disparities of wealth and resources. She has written about how things she takes for granted in the States are simply overwhelming to her Kenyan friend and colleague. She says this not only reminds her of how much ease and convenience her life in the States provides, it reminds her to do her part to share what she has and work for and celebrate the successes of her Kenyan girls. Kristen admits to being often overwhelmed by the difficult lives and heartaches of the young women she loves and works for, and that many times the stories and circumstances of the girls make her feel hopeless, but she carries on in her work because even though she can’t do everything, she is not excused from doing something.  She says what helps her keep perspective is to remember to marvel at what is possible.

Advent of Light: Peace


I have followed photographer/speaker/author Karen Walrond at for several years and I love her photography and the tone of her writing. She is very soothing. She also provides links to her favorite songs on her playlist, which has introduced me to some fun new (to me) musicians. In December, she is offering a guided journal type writing course called Advent of Light and since I was looking for a way to focus some time on writing, I signed up.  I’m already behind, because life is busy, but thought I’d take a few minutes to pound out a few words from Day 4’s prompt: Peace

I have never really thought deeply about peace. I have always understood it in one sense to mean that there is no war. I have also understood it to mean feeling calm, assured that things will work out eventually, even if everything around you is in chaos. On Karen’s blog, I read a story about a king who goes in search of the definition of peace and is told by a wise man that it is in a grain of wheat. The king takes the grain and puts it in a box and guards it carefully, thinking over how this grain could possibly be the definition of peace. He can’t figure it out, so he goes back to the wise man and asks. He is told that though he was careful to protect and guard the grain, he was depriving it of the soil, the water, and the light it would need to grow  to its full potential. The wise man explained that peace is not just something to hold within ourselves, it needs to be allowed to grow and to be shared with others.

I’d never really thought of peace that way—to me, it had always meant no war or  feeling calm and reassured that things would work out eventually, even if everything around you is in chaos. So, the story above got me thinking—how can I share peace with others?

I am an intense and passionate person. I have big opinions and big feelings and I am not afraid to share them—but this also sometimes makes me a bit intimidating and obnoxious.  My intent is never to hurt or shame or anger anyone—but I have inadvertently done so on more than one occasion, simply because I allowed my intensity to overpower my consideration of others.  I have noticed this tendency particularly since the last presidential election cycle. I have always considered myself a “bridge builder.” I LOVE working to bridge gaps in understanding, culture, and education, but I think I’ve burned a few of those bridges over the last little while and it has taken me some time to figure out how to start rebuilding.

Karen mentioned in her blog that she had a chance to talk with Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, and he said that peace is more than the absence of war, it is living in harmony with others. I like that definition of peace. I am sharpening my bridge building tools, which are: listening to understand, preserving a person’s dignity, and bringing levity to tense situations when appropriate.

Advent of Light: Light


I have followed photographer/speaker/author Karen Walrond at for several years and I love her photography and the tone of her writing. She is very soothing. She also provides links to her favorite songs on her playlist, which has introduced me to some fun new (to me) musicians. In December, she is offering a guided journal type writing course called Advent of Light and since I was looking for a way to focus some time on writing, I signed up.  I’m already behind, because life is busy, but thought I’d take a few minutes to pound out a few words from Day 3’s prompt: Light.

I’ve been reading the Harry Potter series out loud to my kids (this is an annual tradition) and as the series progresses, the tone of the writing and the content get darker and more complicated. There are people who are turned off of the series because of this, but I find it fascinating, because with each volume, as the situations and experiences of Harry and his friends get darker and more frightening, the forces of good and love at work in the novels burn steadily brighter, and ultimately show out to a happy and hopeful resolution.  There is suffering and pain and loss, but through it all, is light and hope that good will triumph. I’m drawn to this series precisely because of that, and am often inspired and reassured by a quote from the film adaptation of the book Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

When I consider the times in my life that have felt the darkest, I have always managed to cling to the little fire burning within me that insists life is worth the fight. Sometimes the little flame needs some kindling by way of a good work out, a good laugh with my husband, a rambly talk with a friend, a ranty email to my mom, an hour poring over some Shakespearean tragedies (I’m weird that way), a good cry, a long nap, or a heart-to-heart,-no holds-barred talk with God. All these things build up the light in my world. I hope then, that I can share my light and help others build up their own.

Advent of Light: Grace


I have followed photographer/speaker/author Karen Walrond at for several years and I love her photography and the tone of her writing. She is very soothing. She also provides links to her favorite songs on her playlist, which has introduced me to some fun new (to me) musicians. In December, she is offering a guided journal type writing course called Advent of Light and since i was looking for a way to focus some time on writing, I signed up.  I’m already behind, because life is busy, but thought I’d take a few minutes to pound out a few words from Day 2’s prompt: Grace.

I have done some really bone-headed things this year, a few of them recently. Though I didn’t intend to, I managed to hurt and alienate some people that I love and respect, and I am still dealing with the consequences. It’s hard not to want to kick myself. I have made my genuine apologies and tried to make amends. I am an impatient person and am ready for bygones to be bygones, but I also understand that forgiveness and reconciliation take time, if they come at all.  I’ve done the best I could and now I move forward, with hope. I’m not really one to wallow in self-pity.  Is that grace? I guess it’s as much as I’ll get for now.

Advent of Light: Reflection


I have followed photographer/speaker/author Karen Walrond at for several years and I love her photography and the tone of her writing. She is very soothing. She also provides links to her favorite songs on her playlist, which has introduced me to some fun new (to me) musicians. In December, she is offering a guided journal type writing course called Advent of Light and since i was looking for a way to focus some time on writing, I signed up.  I’m already behind, because life is busy, but thought I’d take a few minutes to pound out a few words from Day 1’s prompt: Reflection.

This year has been interesting. It hasn’t been bad, but in reflecting on 2017, my general feeling is “meh.” This is mostly my own doing—I turned 40 this year and was so burnt out by April from all the going and running and doing that I do in my day-to-day living that I decided I was going to put the skids on everything I could.  I was exhausted from all the driving, all the striving, and all the things I had committed to.  I had failed in some long-time goals earlier in the year and was discouraged and frazzled.  I took some time to consider the goals I had been chasing and realized that it was time to let them go…to accept that I wasn’t going to accomplish them and admit that I didn’t really want to anymore.  I spent a good part of the front end of the year struggling with the shame of feeling like a failure and a quitter, but also knowing that as I was working on those goals I had discovered that I really didn’t want them bad enough to continue.  I expressed my feelings to my husband, who told me “Sometimes you have to visit a lot of ports to find your harbor.” Or something to that effect. I don’t quite remember exactly how he put it—but basically, he meant that sometimes we don’t know what we really want (or don’t want) until we’ve tried a bunch of things.  This thought gave me a lot of peace, and I was able to let go of my negative feelings.  I had some loose ends I needed to tie up, but I kept putting them off, because I didn’t want to let people down or admit that I wanted to be done. But, I finally did it, and I feel at peace. 

After that, I decided I was going to spend my 40th year having an anti-mid-life crisis. I was not going to go get a crazy new hair-do or take up a fascinating new hobby, or go on a diet, or start doing yoga or whatever.  I gave myself permission to just dink around and not commit to anything I didn’t HAVE to.  I gave myself permission to be a slug.

In some ways, this has been very nice. I’ve done a lot more reading than I have in the past. I’ve spent a little more time at home than I did before, which has enabled me to spend more time with my younger kids and getting to know them—not just to do all the homeschooling stuff. It’s been fun. I have spent more time with my husband—which his awesome, because I really, really like being with him.

In other ways, though, being a slug has made me, well, sluggish.  I have put on 10 pounds and felt myself get flabbier and less strong.  I have spent a lot of time laying around, scrolling Facebook. A general feeling of apathy has settled over me.  I’m tired all the time and feel a bit directionless. Turns out having goals keeps me active and focused, and not having goals turns me into a sleepy butterball. I saw a tee shirt recently that said “My patronus is a sloth.” I think that sums up 2017 for me. 

The good news is, I’ve had about enough of that. I’m bored, a little lonely, and antsy—all good signs that I’m ready to get up off my couch and get back into life. It WAS nice to dial life back to doing the bare minimum—I needed the rest. I think I just rested a little too hard and a little too long.  I’m intense like that—all or nothing, baby! 

Well, maybe not all or nothing. I’ve learned from this year that too much of a good thing is too much of a good thing.  It’s great to chase after goals, but not to the point of exhaustion and burn out. It’s also great to take a break and rest easy, but not to the point of complete inertia.

I’m not really one to do New Year’s Resolutions, but I am definitely paying more attention to what I’m doing every day, and asking myself if it’s the right thing to do for my long term health and sanity, and then acting accordingly. I read a book recently that talked about when you don’t have everything figured out, but need to keep moving, you should just do the next right thing.  I like that. It’s a good philosophy that I’d like to carry over into 2018!

The Epic Saga of the Pineda Flypocalypse 2017


Autumn is my favorite time of year.  I love the cooler weather, getting to wear sweaters, watching the leaves turn, and all the pumpkin spice stuff. (Yes. I’m one of THOSE people.)  But, as much as I love it, this season has its drawbacks. Well, one drawback, but it’s a big one. 


Every September, they get thick in these parts and my trusty swatter sees extensive use over a couple of weeks, to keep the suckers at bay, but this year was a whole other story.  I chronicled it in an email to my mom, which I share with you here:


Hi Ma,

So, yesterday, I had to drive Ellen and Calvin to and from work and of course they were each scheduled to arrive and leave at separate times, and in too short a span to bother going home in between, so I spent a few hours in town…with not even enough time to wander the aisles and window shop between my chauffeur duties.  Instead, I just shuttled between my kids’ two fast food establishments, gorging on junk.  I bought a full meal from one place and a good sized milkshake from the other.  I am going to weigh 400 lbs if this keeps up.  Meanwhile, Julio spent the day at home working in the garden, then running 12 miles.  This means the other kids basically had to fend for themselves all day long and did and ate who knows what.  Also, because the temperatures dropped significantly over the past few days, it’s been very nice outside and Julio decided to air out the house. He opened up Calvin’s bedroom windows (both of which have no screens in them) and I came home to a HORDE of flies all over the ceilings and walls in every room (except mine and the little kids’ rooms—those doors were shut, thank goodness!) ‘Tis the season for flies and they are usually pretty bad around here, but never before beyond the use of a good swatter over a few days.  But this—?

This was FLYMAGGEDON. The buggers were EVERYWHERE, ceilings, walls, door frames!  Ellen even commented on it when we got home, deadpanning, “Someone needs to tell Pharaoh to let our people go.” 

Julio had texted me while I was still in town, to please pick up some fly strips.  I have NEVER, NEVER needed to use those disgusting things—but I have friends who have—and I gotta say, it is a revolting sight, seeing eighteen inches of mucous colored, glue-y ribbon dangling from the ceiling and dotted with frantically buzzing sky raisins.  When Julio asked me to get these and I asked why—the picture he sent made me throw up a little in my mouth. I can’t even pull it up on my phone without wanting to hurl, so I’ll spare you the image. You’re welcome.

I got the fly strips and we decorated like it was an entomological version of Christmas. We hung approximately 17 of the things JUST on the main floor, while flies buzzed in our faces and bopped against our pinched mouths and tried into our noses and ears.  I was forcibly reminded of Hitchock’s film The Birds.  Have you ever screamed with your mouth shut?  Within five minutes of the fly strips going up, and much waving of brooms and towels to flush the flies off the ceiling and towards their sticky doom, the fly ribbons were COVERED with flies.  The buzz of the collective fly terror was unnerving, like stumbling upon a rattlesnake.  Calvin’s room was by far the worst hit last night, followed by bathroom, and then Ellen’s room . Both kids fled to the library to sleep that night—the only other room to survive the onslaught of pestilence and plague. 

When I got up for church this morning, the fly strips were so full of flies your could barely see the eleventy million ribbons we’d put up.  It was gross. So gross. But also grimly satisfying.  Flies aren’t our bullies. No, ma’am.

My gloating didn’t last long, however.  The intelligent flies, having seen their fellows succumb to the La Brea glue strips, had made their way downstairs to the kitchen.  It was World War Fly down there. And, of course—the designated dish-doer children hadn’t done their dishes at any point during the previous 24 hours, so the flies were partying like spring break in Cancun.  Crawling on the ceiling and walls, plinking against the window panes, dive bombing us as we walked past the pantry, whirring up in cyclones from the sink full of dirty dishes.

What Gary Larson’s The Far Side horror show WAS this?!

No one ate breakfast, because no one had the stomach for it.  We went to church, wherein we had the Primary program, and I could only sit up there in the choir seats with my Primary kids thinking how narsty my kitchen was and how we are all probably going to contract some fly-borne illness and spend three weeks taking turns puking our guts out. Then, Julio texts me that the home teachers are planning to come over at 7:00 pm.  Now I’m thinking about bacterial infections and all the flies still buzzing cockily around like they own the place, and I just couldn’t do it. I imagined the home teachers trying to give a spiritual message while also being carried off by millions of Musca Domestica, and I nearly lost it. I texted Julio back during the final verse of I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus, with “Hell. No.  Cancel.  Unless the home teachers know how to exorcise these demons or otherwise strike them down in Biblical fashion, THEY SHALL NOT CROSS MY THRESHOLD TODAY.”


Following the Primary program, I had to then go teach my Sunday School class and then sit through Sharing Time.  Between dealing with the big kids’ car wreck and the flies this week, I hadn’t even bothered to look at the lesson for the day.  I ran to the church library, grabbed a bunch of colored paper, glue sticks, and scissors and threw them at my class. “I will read today’s lesson to you while you make paper airplanes and glue your fingers together. This is so fun.” I forgot my lesson manual in my haste to get out of my infested house and to the Primary program on time, so picked a lesson at random from my phone.  Midway through reading about God creating the animals and saw they were good, I received a text from Julio saying “Went to buy more fly strips. See you at home.” 

When church was over, I corralled our  kids, who claimed to be starving and wanted to know what was for lunch.  I said I didn’t know, because the flies had probably mutated into giant super bugs, bent on world domination and were using the kitchen as their headquarters.  I was right.  Julio had already put up yet another bazillion fly strips—but these were the smart flies—the cunning, wily ones who knew enough to lie low and wait for their weaker comrades to clear a path for them through the labyrinth of gummy streamers.  The kids and I spent a good hour battling flies with swatters and waving them with the broom off the ceiling towards the sticky strips.  Hydra like, for every fly I killed, ten more replaced it.  We were smashing flies so fast there wasn’t really time to wipe up fly guts off the wall or avoid crunching their crushed bodies under our feet.


I made the mistake of taking my shoes off, so every time I felt one crunch underfoot, I shrieked like I was being murdered–making the kids jump and shriek like they, too, were being murdered. Tensions were high. And we were squicked out beyond measure. Undaunted, we went Mel Gibson in Braveheart on them.  You have never seen such carnage as we did. Finally, we had done all we could—the remaining flies were hovering about the ceiling, and the floor was COVERED in crunchy black specks.  The walls were covered in swipes of juicy bug guts.  Calvin, ever stoic about taking on the dirtiest of jobs, got so heebie jeebied sweeping up fly carcasses that he had to quit and go outside to dry heave.  Gloria staunchly picked up where he left off.  I started scrubbing down walls, cabinets, and counters with hot water and soap, trying to rid my kitchen of the evidence of a full scale fly massacre.  I went to check on Calvin, who remarked on how bug free the out of doors was, and that if he could stay outside, he might be able to eat.  And by the way, what is for lunch? 

Mother, I have sinned.  I ordered Dominoes pizza on the Sabbath.  Julio and I went to go pick it up, stopping first at the local farm store to see about a more effective way to kill the second wave of flies that were already taking over upstairs.  I remembered a friend of mine who had grown up on a dairy farm tell me once that every year when the flies got super bad, her mother would not only bug bomb the barns, but the house.  Well. I wish I’d remembered that sooner.  It was time to go nuclear. We brought our industrial dairy sized canister of insecticide home along with the pizzas.  We ate outside in the yard, planning our attack.  We had to move the pets to an area of the house that wouldn’t take any direct spray from the fogger, so holed them up in the safe rooms, with excellent (screened!) ventilation.  Calvin decided that, as bad as his room was, he wasn’t sure he wanted it doused in insecticide and decided to start sucking up live flies into the canister vacuum.  I reminded him that this didn’t kill the flies, only gave them a quick ride and a nice, cozy place to cuddle until we opened the vacuum to replace the bag.  I fogged his room. Then I fogged the vacuum.  The kid bathroom and Ellen’s room were next.  I may have gone a little overboard, because two hours later, both Blythe and Ellen told me that when they went upstairs to check the bathroom, their eyes started stinging.  So. Looks like we will be airing those rooms (with SCREENS IN THE WINDOWS, JULIO!!!!) and washing bed linens and clothes before moving the kids back in. 

Our dwelling is now back to a normal autumnal level of house fly bother.  Tomorrow, I will take down the umpteen fly strips and dispose of them—maybe even burn them—because I read a thing on the internet that said flies will breed on top of dead flies and their maggots will feed on the dead fly carcasses.  I’m screaming with my mouth shut again. 

What’s new with you?

Love, Marissa

Three books worth your time


I love reading and I especially love memoirs. I love reading about people’s experiences growing up, or in far off lands, or in their garden, or otherwise living their lives. Here are some of my absolute favorites:


Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver: This chronicle of novelist Barbara Kingsolver’s family spending a year committed to eating only locally produced foods, and raising their own made me think more about where my food comes from and to see the value in supporting local farmers and businesses. Kingsolver admits that they were not rigid about their commitment, and that it was a journey. Her insights about their experiences are thought provoking, but not at all in an accusatory way.  She just tells it how it was for her family. Her husband and daughter get in on the act, too, writing scientific snippets and sharing recipes and their own experiences eating local.  This book made me want to break out my gardening gloves and go plant some tomatoes.  The audio book is exceptional, the author reads and her Southern voice is soothing and calm. Listening, I felt like we were sitting at the same table, having a friendly chat.


Love in the Driest Season, by Neely Tucker: Foreign correspondent Neely Tucker and his wife are working in Zimbabwe, when they meet a tiny, abandoned, malnourished infant girl, and try to do the impossible, adopt her. The story chronicles their experience as foreigners, trying to adopt in Zimbabwe, a country that does not allow their children to be adopted out of country. I first heard about this book via NPR, during an interview with Mr. Tucker.  At the time, I was researching adoption, and was eager to get my hands on any first-hand accounts of adopting abroad.  The audiobook for this is quite good, too.


The Language of Baklava, by Diana Abu-Jaber: I picked this up from the library when I was part of a book club related to food and foodie memoirs. The author is of American and Jordanian descent and her memoir focuses on her experiences growing up in Upstate New York and Jordan, with lush descriptions of the foods from her childhood (recipes included!)  She is tender and astute in describing her family and especially her father, a gregarious Jordanian, making a new life in America with aplomb. After I finished this book, I tried my hand at making baklava, hummus, baba ganoush, and several other dishes that I’d previously been too intimidated to try, opening my mind and enhancing my appreciation for good food from far-flung places.


What do you like to read? Have you found any memoirs you’d recommend?