Life Will Out ~ Jen

I don’t like to be hot. I have never liked to be hot. God knows this about me and gave me parents who lived near the ocean and who listened to their children when we begged them to buy a house with a pool. Many a day growing up, I washed the sand from the beach out of my hair and bathing suit by jumping into the pool.

It was a lovely way to grow up.

Shea and I got all big in our britches after we married and decided that one thing married folks do is buy a house. The only place we could afford one without moving out of state—and without moving to the desert—was the Inland Empire. The average temperature out here during July and August is 100 degrees. We are an hour’s drive either way to the beach.

And since we bought a brand new house, the only thing in the backyard was dirt.

“We’ll get as pool in a few years when we have some equity in the house”, we said. Two years later we were $200,000 upside down. And even though I said I wanted a house sideways to the sun, we ended up with one that faces the sun. Which means we take the heat on the front of the house in the morning (like this morning when it was 89 degrees at 9:30) and the back of the house in the afternoon.

The back of the house was more of an issue, since all the living space is in the back of the house. We decided to plant some trees. We bought three, a non-fruit bearing pear tree and two hybrid cottonwoods that were supposed to grow 5-6 feet a year. We planted them strategically to grow and meet in the middle and block the sun from the back of the house.

We nailed it. By the second summer we had them, they were almost 20 feet tall and cast shade over the backyard grass by 3 pm. By the fifth summer, they had touched and my kitchen and family room were shaded by 3 pm. This Spring I noticed that our bedroom windows were in shadow by 5 pm, protected by a solid wall of 35 foot tall trees. They had done exactly what we needed them to do. They sheltered the house.

Our trees in all their glory.
Our trees in all their glory.

They also blocked the garage light of the neighbor behind us who works nights and whose wife only feels safe if her driveway is lit up like noon. They brought an extended family of wrens into our backyard who woke us up with happy chirps in the morning. For two summers, they were covered in hundreds of thousands of lady bugs for three weeks. They housed all kinds of bugs and spiders, and the geckos that came to eat them. When the wind blew, they rustled with the most peaceful, restful sound.


And every Fall, the leaves turned bright yellow and fell to the ground in heaps and heaps of glorious color.



The morning after we got back from Disney World in June, I went out to get the paper and noticed that one of the tree roots had sprouted next to the roses.

In the front yard.

The roots had been a problem for a while. We’d dug them up once and they’d grown back. The dirt is hard out here and the tree could not grow down, so it grew out.  But never in a million years did we think the roots would reach under the house to the front yard. It was a good 40 feet from the trunk and under at least 25 feet of concrete.

Shea did an inspection around the house and found something even worse. There was a four foot sprout under the fence in the neighbor’s yard. And the neighbors, God bless them, have a pool. The sprout was very close to the edge of the pool.

The trees had to come down.

Maybe you think that would be an easy decision, but it’s not. We picked those trees and grew those trees. We have pictures of them when they were $35 saplings and now they were giants. It was painful to end something so grand and proud. I almost felt like I had tricked them into life and now at my convenience, they had to go.

It took 20 minutes to cut down seven years of life. The kids and I watched from the window and I felt every moment of it.




Then last weekend we went camping. Our gardener is on vacation, so we’ve missed a cut. When we came home Sunday, this is what we saw in the backyard.


Life will out.

We cut down two trees. And forty sprouted up in their place. It’s worth thinking about, huh?

PS: I know that Shea has to get out there and take those sprouts down, but in my heart, I am rooting for the sprouts.

For You and For Pam and For Me ~ Jen

Dana’s dad, Allen Builteman, passed away on Saturday, May 11, 2013.

Dana might tell the story someday. It’s beautiful. He died peacefully surrounded by the ones who loved him most.

Dana and I had big plans for Mother’s Day on this blog. We have amazing moms. We were going to talk about them.

But then Allen got so sick. And my mom, God bless her, said “Spend the day with your family. We’ll celebrate my Mother’s Day another day”. So I am not going to talk about my mom, Terri, or Dana’s mom, Pam. This week has brought us a little too close to the sacred space of parents, and there just aren’t good or adequate words for us right now. I’ll ask you to pray for them, though. Especially Pam.

When I talked to Dana yesterday morning, she said to me “Have a happy Mother’s Day for me.”

Ok, I thought. I will, dammit. For you and for Pam and for me.

So we went here.


This is Coronado, Ca, one of my favorite beaches in the world. It’s worthless during the month of June and half of July because of gloom. But May can be beautiful.


And this is the world famous Hotel Del Coronado. The Del is over 100 years old and one of the largest all-wooden buildings in California.  The lobby is unbelievable. And yes, it is haunted.


The water was Hawaii clear. This is not normal for California. And my legs are not that white. It’s the Instagram.


It never fails that every time we go, Kate will scream “MOM! GOLD!!!” I don’t know what that is in the sand and I am too tired to look it up. But it’s cool.

Lastly, there’s this. I think the Del owns the beach in front of the hotel and they oh-so-nicely put a bar right on the boardwalk. So we got these. Seemed right.


For Allen. For Dana and for Pam and for me. For Terri. For all moms. For all dads. For that sacred space that is our parents. For the love of God.

And for beautiful days at the beach.

How meeting your friend from high school turns into strawberry cream pie ~ Jen

I was Facebook resistant for years. Years.

Then my niece convinced me I could lock a Facebook page down so tight that my name wouldn’t even appear in a search. I was ok with that.

I have 42 friends. That’s all.

Thankfully, one of them is my friend Jeannette from high school. We reconnected last summer through our other friend, Kristen.

Jeannette lives an hour away. But it is an hour that all Inland Empire Californians are happy to drive. When it is 117 degrees in my town for the entire month of July, it is a sea-cooled 80 in coastal North County.

Which means that while the rest of the nation is digging out from that last Spring snow, or sandbagging for the Spring thaw, in Southern California, we have this:


The other day we piled up the kids and went to a U-Pick field.


Kate had the bucket for 10 minutes and not one strawberry made it in. Not one.

And yes, she did accessorize it up for this adventure.


Gabe took picking seriously, so much that he was standing in six inches of mud to get the best berries. “I had to” he told me.

(Sigh. See previous post.)


Annie was mostly unimpressed, but that’s because I woke her up from a nap.


At the end, the kids had strawberry juice everywhere. Evan is actually dripping in this picture.

Luckily, I had wipes. We cleaned them up before we walked backed to the car, past the sign that said “No eating while picking”.


On the ride home, we talked about what to do with all our strawberries. Gabe and I decided we would make a strawberry cream pie. So we turned this:


Into this:


I had to hurry, because every moment, there were less and less berries in the bowl.

Shea blames Lizzie, but I’m on to him. Her fur is white. If she was eating berries, I would know.

Thanks to Go Bold With Butter ( for the recipe:

Strawberry Cream Pie

Vanilla Cream Filling:

3 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons flour

¼ teaspoon salt

2/3 cup sugar

3 cups half and half

6 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla


1 ½ cups chocolate cookie crumbs (I used chocolate Teddy Grahams and processed them in the mini-prep)

½ cup butter, melted

1 quart strawberries


Begin by making the filling. In a medium-size saucepan, whisk together cornstarch, flour, salt and sugar. In a small bowl, whisk together half-and-half, egg yolks and vanilla. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the cornstarch mixing, whisking constantly. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly. When it thickens, remove from heat, and push through a fine sieve. Cover the surface with plastic wrap and chill for at least 4 hours. This can be made 24 hours ahead of time.

Hull strawberries, cut in half and toss with a tablespoon of sugar. Let rest for two hours.

To make the crust, preheat the oven to 350°. Mix the cookie crumbs with melted butter and press into a 9-inch pie plate. Bake for 10 minutes, cool completely on a rack.

Pour the vanilla filling into the cooled crust. Arrange strawberries over the top of the pie.

Keep the pie in the fridge until ready to serve.

Nutritional Information (10 servings):

Calories: 408; Fat: 23; Cholesterol: 181 mg; Carbs: 43.9; Protein: 7.7;

The recipe got a grade of D in terms of health. But it’s homemade. And it has 68% of required daily Vitamin C.

That counts for something, right?