Monday, November 14, 2016

So This is How You Swim Inward

I like a good story. By that, I mean a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

But my story? I'm (hopefully) smack dab in the middle and I'm feeling stuck. 

I thought my story was anorexia. I thought my story was marriage. I thought my story was postpartum depression. I thought my story was chronic pain. 

Can I take a moment to say, I'm SO THANKFUL that none of these have been my sole life-defining story for more than 2, 5, 10 years? 

That being said, it means life carries me on to another plot line while the previous one is yet unfinished, and it drives. me. crazy. It brings me to despair and to my knees, alternatingly. These days, the despair is more prominent. Except thankfully it's not quite despair. It's more like this low buzz-hum of irritation. The "are we there yet" drones in the back of my skill constantly. 

Nothing brings that hum to a dull roar more than motherhood. I want my kid to BE potty-trained already. I want my unrelenting, (mostly) kind, patient, deadly calm, consistent discipline to show an inkling of paying off. I want to find my GROOVE. My routine. My sweet spot. I want it to be easy and I know it isn't supposed to be easy and I feel like the tension of this reality is squishing my brain out my eye sockets and my heart into a box two sizes too small. (I don't know, but I swear it's also making my jeans too tight?)

I see my impatience, and I want to focus on the times my toddler IS obedient, the many many many times he's incredibly sweet, the moments in which he's just hilarious.

But then my husband has a work deadline, or someone gets sick, or LIFE HAPPENS and to drown out that little voice of annoyance, I turn to distraction. Social media, of course, which is louder than ever. Books, which are much more profitable, but still not healthy when I stay up too late to finish a novel I just started, or read in the afternoons, ignoring Noah's pleas for more interaction with his mom. Driven to distraction. 

Sometimes, when I really muster up the energy, exercise can help quell the anxiety. A doctor told me last winter after a year of near-daily panic attacks, that if I can't use my mind to calm my body, I might be able to use my body to calm my mind. This is true. Except when it isn't and I'm trying to do a workout video while my kid is sleeping and our house feels too small as my husband tries to sneak back and forth from the garage to the bathroom while I'm bouncing around in a body that's still a bit awkward to me and a sports bra that's definitely too old.

By this, I mean I'm over this drought. Words crowd my head, but when I sit down to write them down, they're stifled and awkward and I don't like reading them. But the worst part of this drought is, it's SELF-IMPOSED. My self-care habits? Nonexistent. My effort to carve out regenerative alone time? Minimal, at best. My expectations? Possibly unrealistic. 

In my grad school glory days (OMG all of my co-workers found out I have half of my Master's and they basically all told me I was stupid to not just finish and my hours expire a year from now and what's happening here?!) I wrote a paper on Mercer's Maternal Role Attainment Theory. You know, before I was a mom. The process used in this theory helps the mom develop an attachment to the baby, which in turn helps the infant form a bond with the mother. 

I looked it up again the other day. The Maternal Role Attainment Theory follows four stages of acquisition: anticipatory, formal, informal, and personal. The anticipatory stage involves the social and psychological adaptation to the idea of the maternal role. The formal stage is the assumption of the role of mother. Early behaviors are often guided by others in the mother's social system, and she relies on the advice of others in her decision-making. The informal stage follows, in which the mother develops her own method of mothering and finds what works for her and the child. Finally, the personal stage is the joy of motherhood. In this stage, the mother finds "harmony, confidence, and competence in the maternal role." In some cases, she may find herself ready for or looking forward to another child. 

I kid you not, when I read this last week I was like, DONE. I'm THERE at long last! I was thinking, I'm ready for another kid, and I'm super confident in my parenting, and even though we don't have a fall routine, we could have a routine if I put the effort in!

The next day, it all went to sh*t, literally. Potty training regression. Sudden mourning of my toddler's independence, after it took us so so long to bond in the first place. Commitments every day of the week. I was feeling so frantic, that self-care became indulgent dismissiveness and removal from reality, as opposed to actual care of the self. I say this like it's never happened before, but let's be real. I came out of the last spin cycle long enough to read the summary of that mothering theory, and now it's all lather-rinse-repeat over here. 

My counselor asked me a few months ago, how does it feel to know that this is God's story, and not yours? I was like, oh! yeah. I'm starting to see that instead of this phase or that phase, this is just how life is. But have I let that sink into my bones? Nah. I mean, I know it to be true more than I did 5 years ago, for sure. But it's really hard to shake that feeling of if I could just ___ then ___.

----

I started reading my Bible like a book. Every time I want to "read the Bible in a year," I get really psyched to learn, and really into the footnotes, and then all of the sudden it feels unattainable. I feel like I don't really know who God is, after all this. But the wonderful thing is, I WANT to. I know what he's done for me. I know where he's turned darkness to light. I see the miracles he's worked in my life. But I don't know him for the sake of knowing him, and I want to. 

I want to step outside every morning and evening just to step outside. To look at the sky. To stand for 3 minutes and feel what the day is bringing, or reflect on what it brought.

I want to get out of bed early. I mean, I don't, but I do. I'm tossing and turning after 5:30am anyway. Why not get up and journal or read or do some other quiet activity (and NOT mourn the fact that our house is too small to do a workout while someone is sleeping)?

I want to buy a chair or couch that's comfortable. Seriously, the only comfortable spot in our house is our bed, and you can imagine that's not conducive to much, besides spending naptime on my phone pretending to interact with other people.

I want to do my physical therapy every single stinking day. I used to be so good at this, because I'm paying some legit money for it! And the exercises do help a bit, but I'm so out of the habit after my last "graduation." (And also, a little frustrated that they basically said there was nothing more they could do for my pain last November, and the pain drove me back to a whole round of doctors this summer, before leading me to physical therapy again where they were like, sure, we have tons of stuff you can do!)

I want to work out again.

I want to close all the stupid internet windows on my phone, and just check Facebook and email once a day on my laptop. (Okay maybe not Facebook. I hate it.)

I want to make a dent in my to-read list, instead of grabbing any old book at the library.

I want to paint a chalkboard wall to WRITE on, instead of taking screenshots of words that tug at my heartstrings.

I want to make a best friend. Like where we mutually understand that we are each other's best friend. It's been way, way too long.

I want to care less what others think, and care more about the people I'm seeking communion with.

----

Five A.M. in the Pinewoods
by Mary Oliver


I’d seen 
their hoofprints in the deep 
needles and knew 
they ended the long night
under the pines, walking 
like two mute 
and beautiful women toward 
the deeper woods, so I
got up in the dark and 
went there. They came 
slowly down the hill 
and looked at me sitting under
the blue trees, shyly 
they stepped 
closer and stared 
from under their thick lashes and even
nibbled some damp 
tassels of weeds. This 
is not a poem about a dream, 
though it could be.
This is a poem about the world 
that is ours, or could be. 
Finally 
one of them—I swear it!—
would have come to my arms. 
But the other 
stamped sharp hoof in the 
pine needles like
the tap of sanity, 
and they went off together through 
the trees. When I woke 
I was alone,
I was thinking: 
so this is how you swim inward, 
so this is how you flow outward, 
so this is how you pray.


Monday, November 7, 2016

Winter Squash and Caramelized Onion Tart

This blog is essentially our family cookbook and scrapbook. Nothing fancy. I've been posting a lot of recipes lately because we are in a food rut. I'm putting new recipes we like on the blog, so that I can find them easily next time I'm in a rut. 

Post-nap, pre-dinner is really not my favorite time of day. So when a new friend shared the idea of PrepDish, I was sold in about 2 seconds flat. I've always been skeptical of plans that require you to spend all day Sunday in the kitchen, preparing food for a week. This only took 1 hour and 45 minutes of my Sunday, and it was seamless. (It would've taken even less time if I hadn't been interrupted by broken glass and a toddler meltdown).

The premise, of course, is that you prep a lot of stuff beforehand, and basically assemble and bake or re-heat the day of. We've only eaten one meal so far, and it tasted incredible. Especially given how simple it was! 

The recipe was for a butternut squash, caramelized onion, and blue cheese tart. I altered it just a little, but I don't think it affected the essence of the dish at all. This was so good.

Ingredients

1-2 tsp dried basil
2 slices of bacon, cut into cubes (alternately, I used 1 large handful of EPIC Hickory Smoked Bacon Bits)
2 large delicata squash (or 2 small butternut squash, or 2 bags of frozen butternut squash cubes)
1 large red onion
4 oz blue cheese or goat cheese (alternately, I used Treeline Cracked Pepper Aged Cashew Cheese)

3 cups almond flour
4 Tbs butter, melted
1 egg
pinch of salt

olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (optional)

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. While the oven is warming up, wash and dry the squash. Cut in half length-wise and remove the seeds. For delicata squash, you don't need to peel. Just slice into thin rounds. For butternut, peel and then cut into cubes. Toss the squash with 1 Tbs olive oil, salt, pepper, and bacon if it's uncooked. Spread into a single layer on a sheet pan and bake for 30-45 minutes, removing to toss occasionally.

2. Thinly slice the red onion. Heat 1 tbs oil over medium heat, add onions and a pinch of salt. Stir occasionally for 20-25 minutes until caramelized. Turn off heat and allow to cool.

3. In a medium bowl, mix the almond meal, butter, egg, and salt. Press dough into a greased or lined 9x13 inch baking dish (I lined with parchment paper to make cleanup easier). Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes, until set.

4. Top crust with caramelized onions, roasted squash and bacon, and cheese crumbles. Place in oven for another 5-10 minutes to melt the cheese. Then top with basil, and drizzle with balsamic reduction, if desired.


Did I mention it was so stinking good?

Friday, November 4, 2016

Meaningful Work as a Mother


A few months ago, a new acquaintance asked me one evening, "did you work today?"

Now, it was an innocent question. But I'm sure I visibly bristled because the fact of the matter is that Noah was in the throes of the "twos," was newly potty training, our house was under construction, and I was emotionally and physically exhausted. But did I clock in or get paid or answer to anyone besides a toddler? No. So I said, "no, I mostly just work on the weekend," and left it at that.

Yet... I felt immediately defensive because I knew I worked that day, and I knew it was work that a lot of women would love to do, but can't for a plethora of reasons. I also knew it was the least appealing work in the world to other women; and to yet others, it didn't qualify as "work" at all.

So when the speakers at our women's conference breakout session last month defined work as "any purposeful activity involving mental, emotional, and/or physical energy, compensated or not," my heart cried YES.

What I got from the discussion was really refreshing, too: What is your calling? Anything the Father calls you to do! This means it doesn't have to look the same for all of us.

I often attempt to define who I am through what I do, and often when I put my "stuff" out there, I'm trying to get feedback about who I am. I want to know that I'm seen, and that what I do matters. Maybe it doesn't sound so bad, but at its core, that behavior means my work is my identity. And when I make my work, any work, my identity, I make sacrifices to protect it. Then I'm devastated when others don't validate it because it means they don't validate me. It's enough to make anyone defensive. This is probably where I spent the first 18 months of my job as a mom: piling on the disclaimers and feeling like I needed to pre-emptively defend myself for my choice to stay home Monday through Friday and work one shift a week on nights or weekends.

Here's the deal: before you're a mom, you're generally convinced that motherhood is either the best or worst thing that will ever happen to you. When it does happen to you, younger or older, planned or not, biological or adoptive, it's going to rock your world. From there, the path of motherhood diverges in as many different directions as there are mothers.

Unless you stay at home with a child for 40 hours a week, you can't understand the unique loneliness that can come with it.

Unless you are a mom and a full-time employee and/or full-time student all at the same time, you can't understand the mass chaos that comes with the dual roles and responsibilities and childcare.

Unless you're a single parent, or a solo parent with a spouse who travels often or works long hours, you can't understand the weight that carries.

So why do we assign value and judgement to someone else's life and roles? Why can't we let them do what they're called to do, and do what works for us without shame?  Instead of assigning value to whose life is "harder" or whose role is "more important," we need to remember that we are all living in the reality that life doesn't quite turn out exactly how we expect it to. Why can't we unite under the umbrella of the fact that it's all so very much harder than we thought it would be?

The awesome thing is, we can. We CAN work out of blessing, and not for it. Genesis 1:27-28 tell us God made us in his image to be creators, relational, and rulers. It goes on to tell us that he blesses us and THEN gives us a job to do: to be fruitful and multiply. As women, this line has caused a lot of grief because our fruitfulness is often expressed in physical childbearing. The good new is, fruitfulness is NOT limited to that, because we are creative beings, not just "creators" in the very strict sense of the word.

When sin and death entered the world, our own work got painful in every way. But this means we don't have to find the "perfect job" or "ideal situation." Because we live in a fallen world, we can expect to be regularly frustrated in our work, even when we're right where we should be!

This was so validating for me to hear. So needed. If I'm not striving for perfection, I can find peace where I'm at. Loving my work (even in the midst of the difficulty) is to image the Father. I can value people over accomplishments, titles, incomes, or traditional roles. When looking at my unique struggles, I can ask, how does this mundane thing image the Father and lead me to Him? I can ask other moms the same question, even though their mundane thing may be so totally different from mine.

All of us could stand to ask ourselves, "Do I really believe God cares about my daily work, whatever that may be?" Acts 17:28 says that in God we live, and move, and have our being. This means that he isn't just directing our lives, but that he's actively involved in us, transforming us in the midst of our daily challenges. He's using us to get work done, but he's also using work to get US done!

There are so many tensions as a result of choices and circumstances in our lives. Can we link arms and be united in Christ? Can we find peace where we are and not assume that everyone is out to judge us?

What if, when we saw someone drowning, we reached out a hand and said, "you're not alone?"

What if, when you're in over your head, you could see that hand, not as a holier-than-thou gesture, but as an offer of friendship and goodwill?

What if, when we are drowning, we said, "it's so hard," and reached out for help instead of running ourselves into the ground in the name of pride?

If I'm believing God, what does that change about who I am and what I do? Instead of more time or more money or more sleep or more discipline or more childcare, what I need is more kindness, more patience, more Jesus.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Viewing our Work in Light of the Biblical Narrative

A month ago, I went to a women's conference about trusting God. The speaker, Nancy Guthrie, was amazing and I'm still processing a lot of what she said. But one of the breakout sessions has been heavy on my mind and heart since I went.

For starters, it was called Meaningful Work. There was no discussion of stay-at-home mom versus working mom, or the ever-elusive "balance" or anything like that. The talk was actually based on Every Good Endeavor by Tim Killer and viewing our work in light of the Biblical narrative.

The Biblical Narrative has four parts:

1. The Ought: God's design for work in Genesis. God is a worker, and we are designed in his image. He planted the Garden, and created man to work the ground and to have dominion over creation.

2. The Is: The reality of life due to the Fall-- work is immediately hard. Pain enters the world, the ground is cursed, humans will have to work to make a living.

3. The Can: Living in between the cross and Revelation, where we see what can be redeemed even though it isn't yet.

4. The Will: All will be revealed when Jesus comes back. If you're a city planner, there will be a New Jerusalem. If you're a lawyer, take peace in knowing that justice will reign at last. If you're a mom, know that one day God will wipe all the tears from our eyes.

----

We obviously live in the frustration of the Can. I'm daily faced with the cultural narrative of work. I've struggled with it immensely, as evidenced by the fact that I've changed jobs a bajillion times. The cultural narrative is this: What do I do? Who am I? How valuable am I? Who is God? When I ask, "Whose kingdom am I building?" The answer is, "Mine."

God's narrative in the Can, tells us: Who God is. How God relates to me. Who I am. What I do. When I ask, "Whose kingdom am I building?" The answer is, "God's."

It changes everything to realize that my life isn't my story, but a small piece of God's big story.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Gluten-Free Pumpkin Muffins

I've made a lot of sub-par gluten-free pumpkin muffins in the past few years. Most of them taste okay, but they're fairly dense and not my favorite, in the end. Here's a recipe I think I can finally stick with!

Pumpkin Muffins

Dry Ingredients
1 cup gluten free oat flour
1/4 cup arrowroot flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
dash of salt

Wet Ingredients
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tbs molasses
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup almond milk at room temperature
1 tsp apple cider vinegar (optional)

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, combine dry ingredients, mix well, and set aside.

In a larger bowl, combine the butter and almond milk until smooth. Add apple cider vinegar, if using, and mix well. The vinegar is optional, but the acid will help make the muffins a little fluffier.

To the butter and milk mixture, then add the pumpkin, eggs, sugar, and molasses, and blend until smooth. Stir in the dry ingredients until combined, and then distribute between 10-12 prepared muffin cups. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Thai Noodle Bowl

Jalepenos and fall cilantro are the last ones standing in our garden right now, so this Thai-inspired dish couldn't have come at a better time. Once again, this recipe was slightly modified from Bev Cooks, because a lot of her recipes are relatively easy and taste amazing. This was so very different from what we normally eat, in a great way. 

Of course, if you really want a good idea of what you're working with, check out the original recipe here, but this is how we made it. And how we will probably make it next week, too! It was that good.


Thai Noodle Bowl

Ingredients


2 cups rice cellophane noodles
1 pound ground pork or ground beef
2-3 Tbs. Chinese five-spice seasoning
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbs. fresh ginger root, minced
2 Tbs. brown sugar
1 cup plain peanuts, roughly chopped
4 scallions, finely sliced
2 cups loosely packed cilantro, chopped
2 jalepenos, minced (optional: more jalepenos, sliced for garnish)
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
juice of 1 lime
2 Tbs. gluten-free soy sauce
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 tsp coarse salt
Sriracha sauce for garnish, as desired

Directions
Heat 1 Tbs. oil in a pan over medium-high and start browning the pork. Once almost done, add the five-spice powder. Toss around for a second. Add the garlic, ginger, jalapeno, brown sugar, peanuts, 1 Tbs soy sauce, and a pinch of salt. Stir to combine and take off heat.
Prepare the noodles according to package directions and drain. Combine the noodles, cilantro, scallions, and red bell pepper. Add the browned meat mixture and toss to combine. Squeeze the lime juice over the mixture and drizzle with 1 Tbs soy sauce and remaining olive oil.

Enjoy!


Friday, October 7, 2016

Currently: Change of Seasons

Favorite part of the day: Naptime? We had a busy weekend and I'm craving some down-time. I also worked night shift Monday night and didn't sleep for over 24 hours, so I'm still recovering.

Eating: A gluten-free chocolate crinkle cookie from Dolce Bakery.

Drinking: Decaf coffee. The doctor I saw this spring recommended avoiding caffeine when possible, because it will just continue to stress my adrenals. Even though I only drank it in the morning, it was affecting my sleep at night.

Reading: For fun, I just finished the novel The Highest Tide. It was good, it reminded me of my first love (the ocean), and the character was obsessed with Rachel Carson's work. Which reminds me, I've been wanting to read her books for years! For church small group, we are reading The Voice of the Heart: A Call to Full Living. It's a book about feelings, which sounds weird, but it's really good. For Bible Study Fellowship, I'm reading the book of John. And on top of all of that, I'm slowly working my way through Shauna Niequist's Present Over Perfect.

Listening To: "It is Well" by Kristen DiMarco and Philip Paul Bliss. They sang it a few times at the Women's Conference I went to last week, and I really like it.

Guilty Pleasure: I've been making a lot of trips to Dolce lately since I'm baking less at home.

Wanting: A clean house/no more renovations!

Needing: Umm... same as above?

Loving: Sunshine! The cool mornings are still tolerable because it's t-shirt weather by afternoon. I'm learning that I like fall well enough, but it gets a bad rap in my head because it just means winter is coming.

Thinking: I have so many thoughts in my head right now, and I'm struggling to get them all out in my journal, to my counselor, or on this blog to help me make sense of them.

Feeling: Grateful with a tinge of bittersweet. This time last year, I was pregnant, and right now my arms are empty. It's weird. At the same time, Noah's definitely outgrowing the baby stage, and I miss him needing me so much. It's all emotional!

Missing: Summer! The pool! Our June and July routines!

Exercise: My pain has flared up the past few weeks, but before that I was enjoying the simplicity of the 30 minute workouts via 21-Day Fix. I'm trying to get into Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube even on the days I feel blah, though.

Bane of my Existence: Um... my pain? I'm struggling with some new ways of thinking of it, and the fact that it may indeed be chronic. It's still an overwhelming thought.

Mood: Pensive and anxious.

Link: I'm Pro-Life. And I'm voting for Hillary. Here's Why.

Outfit: It's leggings season!

Looking forward to: This Sunday! We're planning a family day, since things have felt pretty crazy lately.