Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Fierce Flourishing

I joined MOPS* back in August and I was kind of stressed about the first meeting. It meant Noah was going to miss a nap. Let's just say that in general, I don't handle change well, and in the throes of postpartum anxiety and new motherhood, I REALLY didn't handle change well. But I went. And I haven't looked back once.

The MOPS theme this year was A Fierce Flourishing, and oh, how I needed to hear that was possible. Even though I'd had my child 15 months prior, I was really only just realizing the depths of my postpartum pain and anxiety. I've spent a lot of time and money since then, trying to make progress in both, and I've seen plenty of ups and downs there. But you know what gave me the most freedom this past year? The most relief? Being in a room full of other moms. Seeing that no two are alike but all of us love our children fiercely. All of us are horribly afraid of 'failing' as a mom, whatever that looks like. All of us have struggles. And never once did I feel judged when I shared heavy thoughts, or cried, or vented about having a strong-willed child.

When the leaders introduced the theme at the first meeting, they read this year's verse to us: "For you shall go out with joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands." Isaiah 55:12

It took all my willpower not to start crying then and there. The relief was palpable. Like a weight had been lifted. These words were like a balm to my heart. When I heard this, I'd been waking up each morning with a feeling of dread. With a heavy heart and the assurance that I couldn't possibly do this day all over again. The racing thoughts, the heart palpitations, the frequent night wake-ups with insomnia in between, the baby nap strikes, and always, always, the pain.

To be reminded that God calls us to JOY, and that he promises PEACE was exactly what I needed to hear. It got me to come home and open up my Bible and look to all the places where God reassures us that his promises are TRUE**. That this word does not go out and come back empty. In fact, that same chapter in Isaiah says that!

"'For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord.
'As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord's renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.'"
Isaiah 55:8-13 (emphasis mine)

I notice the twin threads of peace and joy everywhere now. The words stand out on any page. It's been funny to see how they've played out in the last 9 months. I got pregnant shortly after that first meeting, and when the panic overwhelmed me, I cried out, "how is this joy?!" I had just emerged from the newborn haze, I had a plan that felt manageable, and I was seemingly on the road to recovery. I was deeply fearful of how a pregnancy would impact that. But several friends were able to whisper, "there is joy here." And when I let go of my fear and my plans (again) and started to get excited about another baby, literally a bundle of joy from a good, good Father, we lost it. Again I cried, "how is this joy?!" And God rushed in with peace beyond understanding.

And now, as MOPS wraps up for the year, that's where I sit. Alternating between peace beyond understanding, and fear that I will do something to somehow ruin this peace. So yeah, I still have a ways to go.

This year, we focused on embracing rest, noticing goodness, and celebrating lavishly. Our devotional for the year notes that, "we become more ourselves when we celebrate, rest, and notice... and that looks a lot like flourishing." I LOVE that I can claim it fiercely. That I can take all my pent up anxiety and direct that energy into flourishing instead of floudering. Into activities that refresh me instead of drain me. And MOPS has absolutely been an activity that refreshed me from the inside out.

I'm so grateful to the MOPS ministry for reminding me of God's sovereign rule even as I adjust to this new role of motherhood. I looked forward to every single meeting, when I knew I would be able to rest in the presence of other adults and feel cared for. It has meant the world to me, and I'm so excited for next year!

*MOPS stands for Mothers of Preschoolers, but is actually available to anyone with children under the age of 5. I wish I'd joined when Noah was a baby!

**See Hebrews 10, 1 Thessalonians 5, Deuteronomy 7, 1 Corinthians 1

Monday, May 9, 2016

Mother's Day

What a funny holiday. I feel like I'm still in the new mom trenches enough to be learning the weight this job carries, and I'm hardly able to vocalize my gratitude to my mom, who did this x 4!

As for my own little family, it's been fun to start new traditions. Ross has been really good about utilizing my favorite love language (words of affirmation) to cheer me on and refuel my mothering tank. I love that. I love learning to accept compliments and grace, even though I have plenty more failures than successes in this parenting gig. I love that it's a new holiday for us, and not fraught with the pitfalls and failures and dashed hopes that have come with past birthdays and anniversaries.

I love the HILARIOUSLY excited face Noah made when he got to help me eat gluten-free donuts in bed this morning. I love the equally excited face he made when I opened the gift he made for me in Parent's Day Out. (And I really love the sweet photo album his teachers put together.)

I will say, though, one emotion caught me by surprise this year: sadness. Our pastor at church prayed for "all the moms who lost babies this year," and I found myself fighting tears for the rest of the day. Everyone's story is deeply personal, but the more time passes, the more comfortable I am sharing mine.

We miscarried a baby in the winter of 2009 and it took me a long time to grieve that loss. I finally started to process it a year before we got pregnant with Noah, and I spent the majority of the first trimester with him so anxious about every little thing going wrong.

Carrying and delivering Noah was a delight, and life with him is a grand adventure, to say the least! We got pregnant again last fall, and experienced a lot of highs and lows in the short 3 weeks between the first positive pregnancy test and the subsequent abrupt loss.

Among all my worries about having two kids under two, postpartum depression, pelvic pain... the one that didn't really cross my mind was fear of losing this baby. I was bigger and sicker than I ever was with Noah, and I guess I took his eventual full-term pregnancy for granted because I was genuinely shocked when I woke up one morning in October to signs of a miscarriage.

But even there, I found love. I was surprised and humbled by the support and care I received for a life that was so short. It meant the world to me. I grieved a lot of the milestones that come with the first 20 weeks. Since this baby's due date was so close to Noah's, I would be caught unaware with memories of announcing our pregnancy at Thanksgiving, feeling him kick for the first time on Christmas, and finding out we were having a boy during Restaurant Week and celebrating with a steak dinner.

But as the holidays ebbed away, so too, it seemed, did my grief. I noticed a quiet stillness in my heart. Welcome after months of panic attacks and sleepless nights and prolonged postpartum pain.

As spring comes, again catching me unaware is the memories of the burgeoning belly, the baby showers, the anticipation, the Braxton-Hicks. And I find myself mourning the loss of the baby even as I see God's lovingkindness woven throughout this baby's whole story. In wisdom and hindsight and what can only be Divine Intervention, I'm often filled with gratitude for a good, good Father.  Most days I'm well aware that God is a better parent than I will ever be, and that two of our babies are living in the presence of Goodness and Light and that's okay. I'm even happy about that, actually! But as we approach this little one's due date, the sorrow is creeping back in. Noah has legit baby FEVER and points them out everywhere. He asks for his friends all day long and I know he would love the company of an impending arrival.

But even here, on the days I'm frankly quite overwhelmed with Noah's sheer TODDLER-ness, I find comfort in knowing that maybe God knew I wasn't ready for two just yet. And yeah, there's a lot of guilt that comes with that comfort. It's not that I'm glad we miscarried. Not at all. But I'm glad God cares for me and knows what I need.

And I'm so very grateful that he made me a mother.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

When Acute Becomes Chronic

I've been thinking a lot lately about self. As in, two years later and I'm still not myself. In a grand sense, I'm so very grateful. To remain unchanged after becoming a mother is unfathomable. I don't necessarily miss the self who was a little more "put together" with plucked eyebrows and painted toenails and daily quiet time (okay, I miss the daily quiet time). But let's be honest, I've always been pretty low-maintenance when it comes to exterior perks and that's okay.

I haven't been the same since I had my son. I love him infinitely. He makes me smile like nobody's business-- far more than anything else makes me smile these days. But it's not fair or possible to draw my light from him all day every day. I cry to the Lord, and He hears me-- He's molding my heart to be more like His-- but He's not healing me the way I want. Physically, emotionally, mentally, I'm not myself anymore. It doesn't feel fair to my son, to my husband, to my family and friends, to me... for me to be... not me.

Even my future self, the one I see at the other end of this chain of lights, the one I draw toward me one or two bulbs at a time, on a good day, remains ever far away.

I miss the part of me that had inner vibrance. Some spontaneous, uninitiated joie de vivre, at least sometimes. I get glimpses of her, when I'm clear-minded enough to hold a thoughtful conversation. When I'm spilling over with words that need to find a page. When I have energy to move my body.

I wouldn't say I'm depressed. My counselor concurs, as does my paradoxical response to numerous anti-depressants and anti-anxiolytics. Dare I say? I'm sick. I don't look nearly as sick as I did a year ago, and my level of pain is decreased by at least 80% on a good day compared to this time last year. Once or twice a month, I can muster up a "real" workout and enjoy the adrenaline rush immensely, even though I pay for it for the next 5-7 days. I can have a good "normal" weekend from time to time, but it's always followed by a truly horrible week.

I can't help but feel like I've fallen into the doughnut hole. Of course, there's the political one, where health insurance (which I'm so very grateful to have) only skims the surface when the doctors who are willing to step out on a limb charge by the hour, and don't file with insurance. (Because when you're sick and overwhelmed, it's no big deal to collect paperwork and navigate insurance bureaucracy, right?!)

But this is the doughnut hole where I fear acute becomes chronic. The one where you sense very few people still take you seriously. The one where you doubt yourself, even as your gut tells you, there's more out there! This cannot and will not be how you feel forever!

How long do you have to be a shell of yourself to call it chronic fatigue? I know it has to be long enough and low enough to bring you to a point where you're willing to admit this is a real thing, even though it terrifies you to your Just Do It core.

As a healthcare provider, do I respect my clients enough when they bare their "please tell me I'm not crazy" secrets? As a patient, is it worth staying up late to write a narrative of the last two years for a doctor who may or may not want to read it?

At what point is it optimism to get my hopes up that maybe this next doctor knows that how I feel is real, and at what point is it foolishness?

At what point is is helpful to cut out this food or add that supplement, and at what point does the trying and failing do more harm than good? The kind of harm that makes you feel like this is all your fault even though surely you just drew the short straw. (And how long does it take these dang expensive vitamins to work, anyway?!)

At what point, I wonder. At what point does acute become chronic?

See also: these fascinating essays on women and pain.

See also: the genius spoon theory.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Oven 'Fried' Salmon Cakes

I looove crab cakes, but haven't had them since going gluten-free years ago. I've seen recipes for salmon cakes, but they always intimidated me. After last night, I have no idea why. These were so delicious and so easy!

The original recipe is here. Below is the recipe with my modifications based on ingredients I had on hand:

Salmon Cakes

  • 1 (14.75 ounce) can wild-caught pink or red salmon
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 2 Tbs diced onions
  • 3 Tbs Tessemae's Lemon Chesapeake Dressing
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons ghee or butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 425 and line a large baking pan.

Drain the liquid from the salmon and crumble the fish into a large mixing bowl, removing the bones. Add the pumpkin, eggs, almond flour, onions, dressing, salt, hot pepper sauce, paprika, and black pepper. Mix well and refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Brush the pan with some of the melted ghee, then use a 1/3 measuring cup to scoop the cakes and drop them onto the parchment. Flatten slightly with the back of a spatula. Brush the tops of the cakes with ghee, then bake for 20 minutes. Then carefully flip each patty with a spatula and return to the oven. Bake an additional 10 minutes until golden brown and crisp. Serve with a squeeze of lemon juice and your sauce of choice.


Monday, February 29, 2016

Life with a 20 Month Old

I've been starting and stopping one of these every few months, and when the narrative starts to get so absurdly long, I quit halfway through the day. However, today I'm committing to embracing the crazy and documenting it in my meticulously sentimental way, because somehow Noah is on the downhill to two. Like C.S. Lewis says, "Isn't it funny how day to day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different?" I can't believe my last day-in-the-life post was in June! So much has changed since then.

0536: Noah is awake. I turn the volume off on the baby monitor and Ross and I pretend to get a bit more sleep before our alarm goes off (we have literally never ever ever woken up to an alarm for the past 20.5 months. It was wishful thinking to set one last night!)

0600: Alarm beeps and Ross gets Noah. Since we dropped morning nursing a few weeks ago, we've been trying to find a new morning rhythm. I miss staying in the warm bed and snuggling a baby while Ross did his quiet time, and then handing Noah off while I did my own quiet time! This morning, Ross gives Noah some hemp milk, changes his diaper, and offers him breakfast while I do some personal Bible study and read a parenting essay (I need to remember why it's so important to be concise, direct, and loving with my boundaries when I'm picking up a boneless child mid-meltdown and all I really want to do is scream). Noah used to be on a muffin, smoothie, AND banana kick at breakfast, but now he's down to just the banana. Who knows.

0630: We trade off. I hang out with Noah and warm up my own breakfast and coffee while Ross has some quiet time.

0700: I run to the bathroom really quick and come back to Ross vacuuming up the dried thyme from the bottle that Noah swiped from the pantry, unscrewed, and dumped out.

0730: I throw the cloth diapers in the washer to start a load. Noah keeps begging for a popsicle from the freezer, so I distract him by letting him play with pots and pans while I attempt to eat a warm breakfast. Ross leaves for work. I give Noah a Larabar because he's acting hungry now.

0800: I finally finish the last of my coffee and breakfast, read to Noah, and browse for couches on the NFM Leap Day sale website.

0830: Pack to go to the gym. Noah immediately finds his applesauce pouch in the gym back and wants to eat it. I open it and he slurps it down.

0840: We leave for the gym.

0900: I check Noah into childcare and breathe. Whew! Joining the community center last month and going twice a week was seriously the best thing we ever did with Christmas money. Since we don't have family in town, 3 hours/week of gym childcare is literally my only respite when I might otherwise have a meltdown of my own some weeks. I love Noah, and I'm a much better mom when I get a tiny breather. I still feel a little guilty, but I also feel a whole lot more relieved and energized on the days we manage to get out of the house to get to the community center. Noah always says, "'rains and nunnels! Oh my!" (aka "trains and tunnels") and runs to the childcare room when we arrive, so I know it's hardly a chore for him. He likes the change of scenery, too!

0905: I sit in the hot tub (my aching back is a huge fan), go through my email, and study a bit for the IBCLC exam.

0930: I jump in the cold pool really quick and see Noah running around in the childcare area. He seems me, and a look of total delight and surprise crosses his face as he pounds the glass and shouts, "Mama!" I wave and blow him a kiss, and the older kids in the crowd Noah quickly gathers around him blow kisses back at me. Thankfully the childcare lady ushers the kids away from the window, and she later reassured me that no meltdowns were involved after the Mama sighting. Goober!

0945: I've changed into gym clothes and I do a quick workout.

1015: I get Noah out of childcare quickly because we have to rush to the chiropractor to make it to our 1030 appointment. On the way out, Noah tries to escape, runs into the garden, trips, and very narrowly averts a more serious kind of doctor's visit. Thankfully instead of smacking his head on the rock wall he tripped on, he twists at the last minute and manages to only scrape his cheek and get woodchips everywhere. We say thank you to Jesus, and hustle to the car.

1033: We made it! Noah plays with the toy kitchen at the chiropractor's office while I get adjusted. Then it's Noah's turn. Man he loves the chiro. Today he so sweetly climbs right up on the table, facedown, and so docile-ly lays his head down and waits for his adjustment. He must know he needs it! Last week he fell 4 feet down head-first onto tile and earned a lovely goose egg. He's been running diagonally ever since! He's full speed (straight) ahead after his adjustment.

1130: We are home for lunch and we obviously crammed too much into our morning, because it's meltdown city for my tired, hungry toddler. I change him into his naptime diaper and then put him in his high chair for lunch. He inhales gluten-free chicken nuggets, gluten-free pretzels, and plantain chips, all dipped into either salsa or almond butter. He loves dipping things! He totally discards the roasted butternut squash. I thought he would love it since it's so similar to his beloved sweet potatoes!

1200: I move the diapers to the dryer and take a quick shower. Can't handle gym germs.

1220: I have no one to blame but myself for the fact that the house is in total disarray now. Noah has also wiggled enough to make another stinky diaper, so I change it and rinse it out while more chaos ensues.

1230: Noah is shouting "nuk and 'nuggles!" and I'm finally able to acquiesce since we're all cleaned and fed.

1245: Noah is asleep. He almost NEVER used to fall asleep in my arms until he dropped to 1 nap at 15 months. Now this is my favorite part of the day.

1310: Noah wiggles and wakes up briefly, so I put him in his crib and he drowsily curls up to resume his nap. I love it.

1330: I eat lunch and watch 2 episodes of the Mindy Show on Hulu. I would love to say that I'm a productivity wizard during naptime, but that's SO not the case. I need a break, too! Every now and then I'm 100% lazy or 100% productive, but it's usually a mix of the two.

1415: I text with a friend a bit, look up two recipes online, and then sit down to start typing this epic novel. I'm hoping Noah takes a delightfully long post-chiropractor nap (like, the elusive 3 hour nap I always dream of).

1520: I close the laptop and start to tidy my perpetually messy desk. I literally have nowhere else to place paperwork, so it piles up quickly. #smallhouseproblems

1521: Just kidding. Noah's up.

1530: Noah runs straight to the freezer asking for a Pedialyte popsicle. I have no doubt he remembers me telling him this morning that he could have one after his nap, so I give him one while I get the diapers out of the dryer and throw some laundry in the washer (THANK GOD for modern appliances)!

1600: Noah and I bake some granola bars for a friend. He simultaneously drinks coconut yogurt out of a cookie cup and adds pepper to the yogurt dregs so he can cook, too.

1615: Change Noah's diaper and clothes.

1630: Play outside! We noticed the first robin of the year in our yard yesterday, and when Noah went outside today, he just stood and looked up in amazement and said, "bird tweet tweet... in the tree!" I love his little voice. And that "tweet" is the cutest!

1705: Head back inside (to Noah's chagrin) to start dinner. Noah and I sample one of the homemade granola bars we made and I start dinner (Mel Joulwan's salmon cakes and Trader Joe's broccoli and kale salad).

1740: "Yay Papa back!" Ross takes Noah back outside while I finish dinner and start tidying up.

1810: We all eat. Noah took one bite of salmon cake, and kept trying to eat the kale but couldn't chew it. Ross deemed the salmon acceptable enough to eat sans modifications, so yay! The recipe is a keeper.

1835: Ross takes Noah to shower while I do the dishes.

1845: We tag-team diaper, Aquaphor application, and pajamas. Noah insists on wearing PJs that are a size too big, but they have trucks on them so they win (and I'm shocked that they're really not that big on my baby!)

1855: Nursing session.

1910: Brush teeth, read stories, put Noah down in his crib. He sits and drinks water for a bit but lays down pretty quickly. Today wore both of us out!

1920: Sadly, Ross had to go back to work for a bit, so I grab a snack, catch up on texts, add to this post, etc. I know that today isn't anything special to other moms of toddlers, and heck it's probably calm compared to moms with multiples! But dang even reading through this makes me tired. Perspective is always good for me: instead of focusing on everything that I DON'T do, or don't do right, or don't do well, I get a glimpse of what I DO do, which is love this silly goose.

2100: Dude I didn't mean to waste so much time. I'm so tired! I always have grand plans of being productive once Noah's asleep, but I'm always too wiped out. (But too cute... He's asleep with his bear, puppy, quilt, water, and one of his books tonight!) I do physical therapy and then get ready for bed.

2145: Ross is home again, poor guy.

2245: I finally go to bed. Why do I do this to myself?! It's like I'm so tired by the end of the day I can't even do what I need to do to go to bed on time. Whew!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Crockpot Buffalo Chicken

Super easy, super flavorful, super healthy. Win-win-win.

2 lbs boneless chicken thighs
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 yellow pepper, diced
12oz bottle hot sauce (any brand that has just aged cayenne pepper, distilled vinegar, and salt as the ingredients)
1/4 cup Tessamae's Ranch dressing (optional)
1-2 Tbs ghee (optional)

Dump the chicken, onion, pepper, hot sauce, and Ranch (if using) into the crockpot and mix together. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours until the chicken shreds easily with a fork. When the chicken is cooked, add the ghee or butter, if using, and stir it in as it melts. Then remove and serve as desired. Ross ate his on a tortilla, and I served mine alongside a roasted sweet potato. Yum!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Homemade Hemp Milk

I'm not usually one to sit down with a cold glass of milk-- dairy or otherwise. But homemade versions are just so much tastier than the store-bought versions, that I always find myself sipping on a glass when I make a fresh batch. Hemp milk is possibly the easiest ever, because you don't even have to strain it.

Hemp Milk (based off of this recipe)

1 cup shelled hemp seeds
3 cups filtered water
2-3 pitted Medjool dates
1 tsp vanilla

Blend all ingredients on high till they are smooth, and enjoy!