“See me.” Lessons from a toddler.

seemeEven though Dietrich is not the most verbally adept 3 year old, he often surprises me with his correct usage of pronouns and plurals.  But obviously he is 3, so some of his phrases, though logical, are not actually grammatically correct. One such phrase: “See me.”

That phrase has really stuck in my head lately. The correct phrase would be: “Look at me.” But how often do we look with our eyes, and fail to actually see. And it started me thinking. How do we see people, truly see them. Not just what they look like, the clothes they wear, the things they do, but really see the person.

Even in my closest relationships I tend to look at people through the lense of self-interest. For example, if John does something because he is stressed, my first mental response is to think about how his stress affects my day, instead of first recognizing his struggle, his needs, his sorrow, his passions, etc. When my children misbehave, I immediately think about how their actions reflect on my parenting abilities and what people around me must be thinking about me, instead of noticing why they are upset or confused or looking for attention, etc. I’m not saying I think we should all unselfishly try to meet everyone’s needs while ignoring our own. But I do think it would be good to get out of our own head enough to recognize the humanity in the person next to us.

If it is so hard to see those that we live near, those we share lives, history, and love with, is it actually impossible to “see” strangers for who they are? What would it look like to go about my day and actually see the people around me?

A few weeks ago I got off work and had time to kill before the bus came, so as I often do, I started walking down the street towards the metro, planning on catching the bus at a later stop. I had almost reached the end of my walk, when a man stumbled across the street in front of me and disappeared into the drive of a hotel. It was like a blip in the normal smooth traffic of people and cars. No one else seemed to notice even though this man walked as if he were falling.

As I passed the hotel drive, I glanced into the covered space, wondering if I would be able to see him still. He was there, but not walking. Instead he was lying on his back with his head on the curb, feet stuck out into the driveway. I kept walking, but then I stopped. This wasn’t normal. I wasn’t sure what was wrong, if he was just drunk, or if there was something else going on, but I couldn’t just leave him there. I turned around and entered the driveway and walked up to the man on the ground.

“Excuse me, sir,” I said. “Are you ok?” He groaned and sat up, but there was blood on his head. I repeated my question and the man assured me that he was fine, even though his confusion and his body language told me otherwise. “You don’t look ok,” I said. “Can I get you some help?” He said he had fallen down, and then asked me if he looked like he had hurt himself. I told him about the blood on his head and that I thought it would be best if we called an ambulance to make sure he was ok. Thankfully at that point a man who had been standing a little ways away in the designated smoking area came over and asked if he could go in and ask the hotel to call for help. I agreed and I stayed with the gentleman. The hotel called for help, the man who had stepped in stayed and waited with me. This man had actually seen the older gentleman enter the drive and stumble into one of the brick pillars, which is why his head was bleeding and how he ended up on the ground. While we talked, the injured man sat cross-legged on the ground between us and kept wiping blood away from his sweaty forehead. He repeated himself often, and didn’t seem terribly coherent, so I wasn’t sure what to say to him. Later I wondered if it had been really rude to talk about him as if he weren’t there.

It didn’t take long before an ambulance pulled up and the paramedics entered the drive. The first one knelt down and addressed the injured man by name, asking him what had happened. The man said: “I fell down.” And the paramedic’s answer made it clear that this had happened before. The witness gave his report and we were allowed to leave. I walked away, but felt so uneasy. I actually turned back around after getting a few yards down the road, returned to the ambulance where they had already loaded up the man in the back and mentioned to one of the paramedics that I had seen this man before he hit his head and his behavior was not normal. “Yes,” he replied. “We pick him up all the time. My partner just picked him up yesterday actually.” There was nothing more I could do, but as I walked away I felt sad. Here is a man who is picked up by ambulance so often that the paramedics know him by name. Yet, nothing is changed for him. I “helped” him today by stopping and making sure he got help, but I didn’t truly change anything for him. It was all so incredibly sad.

I came home, my brain in a muddle, wondering if there was anything to do that could actually help someone like that. I talked it over with John, who has passionate views about the social systems in our country and who immediately began lamenting the fact that our systems are failing, and this is just one of many symptoms. And I agree. Work does need to be done to change big picture things. John’s good at thinking big picture. But his response didn’t totally satisfy me either. It is sometimes easy to help one person and satisfy our conscience enough that we can ignore the big issues that we should be contributing effort to solve. But if we completely focus on the big picture, we lose sight of what makes up the big picture — individual people. And that is just as wrong. Even though it felt like I was the only one who actually saw that man when he walked past me that day, I know I didn’t truly see him. I know nothing about him other than what I experienced during those few minutes with him. I don’t even remember his name. I didn’t touch him. I didn’t even stay truly present with him while I was there. But maybe I saw him just a little more clearly than I sometimes do. Our lives touched for just an instance and the disparity between them caught me off guard.

I really don’t know how to “see” people. But I think it requires listening and presence. Those are two gifts I have the ability to give to anyone. I may not have the means to change their circumstances, but I can offer them these two things. I’m not good at it. I often respond in selfishness instead of in the kindness of listening and presence. But I hope to practice this more, to continue to train myself to see.

“See me,” Dietrich says. Next time he says this to me, I will get down on my knees, look him in the eyes and say “Yes, I do see you.”

Finding Home.

We’ve been in Alexandria now for 2 weeks. As John has mentioned a couple times, the next three years will mark the longest we’ve been in one house since we sold our house in Siloam about 6 years ago. Since then we’ve moved from house to house in NWA, then to Germany and back again, and now to Alexandria.If all goes as planned, we’ll be in Alexandria longer than we were in Germany, even longer than we attended Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam. It seems like such a long time in many ways, yet in others, very short.

IMG_4279Knowing this sense of a possible security of place for the next three years has meant that I have looked forward to settling in, making this place our home. It means buying furniture and decorating to our taste instead of living with whatever we happen to be given. But unfortunately, we still have at least 4 months before that happens. Right now we are house-sitting for fellow seminarians who are gone for the summer. We are so so thankful for the provision of their house. We love living here, but it does mean that most of our stuff sits in storage waiting for us to have our own space to put it. At the beginning of August we will move on campus. But because the family housing won’t be completed by then, we will be put in some sort of temporary housing until Fall break, when they hope the apartments will be done and everyone can move into their own place. So again, we will make do, live temporarily, get by without settling in.

IMG_4261We should be good at living this way by  now, but I feel like what happens, what has been happening for the last several years, is that we never truly live life the way we want because it is too easy to say: “We’ll make those changes, live the way we want to once we are in our own place.” When living in constant transition, you end up putting off lots of important things because it is easier. Perhaps this unexpected change in plans is a chance for me to practice living the way I want no matter how stable I feel. After all, even the 3 years in seminary is still a transitionary phase. If I want to live intentionally this 3 years, why do I feel I have to wait until my house is semi-permanent? That may be helpful, but I think perhaps I’m just making excuses if I can’t start making some changes now.

At the same time though, I want to give myself and my family lots of grace. Not only are we living in a temporary physical home, we are learning a new balance of work and living. We have never before had a time when I was working as much as I am now. We have never before had to figure out how to balance running the household to the extent we are now. When I get frustrated about how it’s going, John reminds me that it has only been 2 weeks. “This will take time to figure out,” he says. And he’s right.

In general it is going well, my main frustrations focus around the grief of letting go. Despite the fact that there are lot of household care things that I don’t enjoy and gladly would share with John, there are others that I have grown accustomed to being in charge of and that I am struggling to let go. The biggest of those being cooking, grocery shopping, and planning meals. I still do some, but I’m not home for several meals each week, so we are trying to figure out how to work it out with two of us shopping, two of us making meals, and two of us trying to live within a single budget. And of course it is all complicated by trying to learn to shop in an area with a much higher cost of living than Siloam Springs. What it will come down to is lots of communication. And some of those conversations will be hard, because if John and I have one thing we tend to “fight” over, it is meal planning. I know, that comes as a surprise, doesn’t it? But it’s an emotional area for both of us and we have different ideas of how to approach things.

So, I have come to the conclusion that this time of temporary housing will be a time of exploring what I want home to look like. I will take the time I would have been using to set up my house to explore my new place in my family, to sort out the balance of house management, to think through what living intentionally looks like, and to process a few of the parenting and lifestyle things John and I have been working towards changing. In short, I will take this time to set up our real home, the home that moves with us no matter where we go.

Packing vs. Processing

The last couple of weeks have been spent doing little spurts of packing as we prepare to leave. Before that I had been doing a lot of internal processing. I’ve been going to counseling since the beginning of the year. My counselor mentioned to me the first time that she met with me that it was not just John who was going through discernment, but that I was also going through a period of self-discernment. John’s discernment was very intentional and included a committee of people that had chosen to walk alongside him, so it was easy for me to ignore the depth of the internal discovery that was happening in me. Even after she pointed out that self-discovery process, I still thought of it more in terms of external practicalities, like figuring out my passions and how that fit into how I spent my day, what kind of job I would get, what my long term goals were. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that it went much deeper than that.

It hit when I noticed the internal chaos raging in my brain. Without completely realizing it, the faith shift I was experiencing was digging deep into my inner self. Self-discovery suddenly meant rediscovering the true me, both how what I’ve always known about myself relates to my new worldview, but also digging into the depths of the hidden me, the me that I haven’t wanted to look at because it didn’t seem to fit into the conservative evangelical box I made for myself. As I opened locked doors, and tore down internal walls, things came tumbling out in a heap. My old coping mechanisms were set aside as I re-evaluated what lay behind them. I started dealing with obsessive thoughts that I’ve been mostly able to avoid the last few years. I started dealing with more grief related to Emma. I started questioning assumptions that I’ve lived with for as long as I can remember. And all this added up to a pretty messy me. It was good work, work that needed to be done, but it was scary and hard and so so much.

packing2For awhile I did process some of it. It’s not going to be a quick thing, that’s for sure. But then there was a day about two weeks ago when as I sat in choir practice listening to the voices raised in song and contemplating that I was going to miss being a part of choir, some of the sadness of leaving hit. It’s been predominantly an emotion of excitement surrounding this move, so I haven’t really felt much sadness, even though I intellectually recognize that it is sad. I knew the emotion of sadness would start to filter in eventually and when it did, it brought with it a whole new level of stress. I suddenly inexplicably started mentally listing all the things that I still had to do before I left. As the stress started climbing, my ability to handle the internal processes I had started began to dwindle. I have intentionally put aside the internal unpacking and reorganization process in favor of the practical need to organize and pack the physical objects of my house.

Right now we are living with a fairly high level of stress and it is hard. At the beginning of this week I had a near panic attack, something that hasn’t happened in 3 1/2 years. It is uncomfortable to me, but I do see an end in sight, at least an end to some of the things that are adding to our stress. As some of them end, others will begin, and eventually the internal chaos will start to make itself known again. Perhaps as I physically unpack my belongings at the end of the summer I can return to the process of unpacking those closets of the mind and reconfiguring them in a way that is not so cluttered. But for now, I need to learn to live in the unknown and chaos of both my external and internal environment.

 

True Belief.

fearBelief is a funny thing. There are many who would say that over the last few years my beliefs have changed. And I think they have. But what I’m beginning to realize is that it has been less about change and more about discovering what I truly believed all along.

I grew up feeling very strongly about what I believed. And there were things that I truly did believe. But there were many doubts that I could never fully shake my entire childhood. Even though my parents created a safe environment for asking questions and never told me to stop asking those questions, I always felt guilty about it. My assumption was that if I truly believed, then I would have no doubt.

In order to be free to doubt, I had to face and let go of one of the strongest beliefs I held, and that was that my salvation depended on my faith. My tradition, my family, and my culture taught me that in order to be saved from hell, I had to believe. Even if it wasn’t always clear exactly what I was supposed to believe, the focus was always on this vague idea of belief. Perhaps my truest belief was this idea that my salvation depended on my faith. It is definitely what fueled all my internal angst. When I doubted I was truly afraid that I was in danger of losing my way. When my actions didn’t match what I said I believed, I was frustrated, because I recognized somewhere subconsciously that this didn’t make sense. Dallas Willard talks to this in his book The Divine Conspiracy:

“In a setting where a social premium has been placed upon believing certain things for the sake of group solidarity, we must face the fact that human beings can honestly profess to believe what they do not believe. They may do this for so long that even they no longer know that they do not believe what they profess. But their actions will, of course, be in terms of what they actually believe. This will be so even though they do not recognize it, and they will lose themselves in bewilderment about the weakness of their ‘faith.’”

Some people live in fear that others will see what they truly believe. I was afraid that I would see what I truly believed. I hid parts of myself from myself. It was too hard to open those doors to see what was truly there because it would mean admitting that I wasn’t who I said I was, who I wanted to be. I prayed and hoped that the desire would be enough.

But still, I lived in fear. Fear that my God would somehow be shaken by my doubts. Oddly I couldn’t think clearly about it enough to realize that if my God was weak enough to fall apart under my barrage of questions, than he wasn’t a God worth believing in. Of course, the truth was that my God was in danger of being shaken by my doubts, because my God was just a picture I had made of a larger truth that stood behind it. And if what I believed most in was a picture I had constructed, than it is good to release that, even if it means having to spend a life searching for the truth that stood behind it.

I am no longer living with the same level of fear that I dealt with before. I feel freedom to ask questions that were always too hard for me to ask before. I am now willing to take the risk of being wrong, because I hope in a God who is right, and because I no longer believe it depends on me. I am joyful to be on a pilgrimage searching for truth, rather than sitting still pretending I have found it.

*Art by Seth. A visual representation of fear.

Rice and Beans 2016. Week 3.

Here’s our roundup of recipes for week 3 this year:

Monday

pumpkinoatmealBreakfast: Pumpkin Oatmeal. This was with steel cut oats, a can of pumpkin and pumpkin spices. Topped with coconut cream or milk.

Lunch: Leftover Tuna & White Bean Salad. I packed something else for Seth, but I don’t remember what it was.

Supper: Leftover Tuscan White Bean Soup. The kids all ate this, John and I were invited to supper at someone’s house where we had portobello mushrooms over kale, which was absolutely delicious and I will have to get the recipe for.

Tuesday

pumpkinquinoaBreakfast: Pumpkin Quinoa Bake with sunflower seeds. This was not done in time for the kids, so I think they had oatmeal or rice. But I enjoyed it. This is a recipe I modified from an elimination diet recipe book. It’s basically quinoa, almond or coconut milk, spices, pumpkin, and a topping made of nuts and honey. I replaced the nuts with sunflower seeds today.

redriceandblackbeansLunch: Black Beans and Rice. We had more of the leftover black beans done brazilian style. This time I had it with wilted kale as well.

Supper: Greek Bean Soup. Assuming you can still call it Greek without the oregano or tomatoes. Actually only a few of us had this soup as it was a hectic afternoon full of soccer practice, gymnastics, and Bible Study. The people who had to eat on the go had apples, cheese, pretzels, and peanut butter.

Wednesday

Breakfast: Leftover pumpkin Quinoa Bake. I had to leave early for an appointment, so I put the leftover quinoa bake in the oven to warm and that is what they all had for breakfast.

Lunch: Apples, cheese, peanut butter, and pretzels. Since this meal was so popular from the day before, I think this is what I packed in everyone’s lunches, figuring they could use a break from beans and it was easy for me to do quick before I left.

Supper: Leftover soup. I think we all just had the Greek Bean Soup that was still left from the night before.

Thursday

Breakfast: Grits. For a change of pace I made grits that the kids ate with sugar and milk. 

friedriceLunch: Fried Rice. I made myself some fried rice with lots of veggies, but I can’t actually remember what I sent with the kids for lunch. Probably leftovers of one of these recipes.

Supper: Leftover Taco Salad. The two middle boys were gone for supper, so I figured it was pretty safe to have the extra spicy leftover taco salad again. Plus I had made it to Whole Foods and bought myself some more tortilla chips that were safe for me to eat. Elise and I also enjoyed some treats, chocolate for her, coconut ice cream for me.

Friday

coconutmangooatmealBreakfast: Coconut Mango Oatmeal. They had mangos on sale at Whole Foods, so I bought one that we used to top our oatmeal. 

Lunch: Dal with Rice. This was from my international slow cooker cookbook. The lentils were garlicky and very good, though a little dry, I think I need more liquid next time. We topped it with coconut cream flavored with lime juice and cilantro. 

Supper: Pizza! I had leftover dal. Everyone else had pizza at the Miller family night that happens weekly.

Saturday

blackbeanveggiesoupBreakfast: Rice with milk and sugar.

Lunch: Black Bean Veggie Soup. I used up the rest of the black beans in a soup with frozen veggies and chicken broth and coconut milk. 

Supper: Brats and Potatoes. This is a meal we do often on bratsandpotatoesSaturday nights as we watch a movie together as a family. It’s potatoes, sliced brats, and saurkraut. 

Sunday

Breakfast: Oatmeal. I discovered that my flax seed oil that I just started taking as a supplement compliments the flavor of oatmeal well. So I have now been eating my oatmeal with maple syrup, flax oil, and coconut cream. Yum!

Lunch & Supper: Misc. The kids snacked at church and then we went to my parents’ house to play games, so they got other things there even though we had missed the official lunch there. Mid-afternoon I made Pad Thai, which is what I had for a late lunch/early supper. For dessert, I made myself a gluten free dairy free mug brownie topped with coconut whipped cream. The kids had hot chocolate and cereal after having a bit of pad thai.

Coming out of the shadow.

crazyhairI wanted to write a bit of a follow up post to the recently posted one on transition. It was really good for me to find that post and see where I was a year ago. It is odd that we forget sometimes how far we’ve come because as we change we forget exactly who we were before. So this was an interesting peek at the me that existed a year ago and a reminder that I should strive to continue to write, either publicly or privately, so that I can get more glimpses into my past as I grow and change.

One of the things that struck me when I read back through that post was how clear it was that I was following my husband into a new church tradition. I wasn’t being dragged, but I was definitely following. And while I will always be somewhat of a follower, I am definitely shifting towards an attitude of walking together rather than walking behind. That shift began for me in Germany, and I actually did write a blog post about it shortly after our return to the US. And it has continued to evolve from that point as well, and I’m not finished yet. But what I want to add specifically to the transition blog post is that I would feel much more comfortable now listing the things I love and admire about the Episcopal church without necessarily having to mention John’s reasons. I may have begun attending because of him, but I go now because of me.

Actually from my very first visit with our rector, it was obvious that the expectations of me were completely different than what I was used to. I am an individual, in partnership with my husband, but completely separate and worthwhile and valuable all on my own. I have felt much more free to be me even while being surrounded by many people who were not like me. In fact, perhaps it is partly because I am surrounded by many people who are not like me that I am able to feel the freedom to stand out, be separate from the crowd and find who I truly am.

And the freedom that has been offered me to be an individual is one thing that gives me peace in the possibility of becoming a priest’s wife, should we continue down the path towards John’s ordination. I don’t have to worry about whether or not I agree with him on every topic of theology or opinion on ministry. In this tradition I feel free to stand beside him and disagree if needed. And though I do hope we continue to mostly agree on things, it is very valuable to know that I don’t have to.

In some ways this new approach to our marriage as a partnership is hard. It has been made easier by the fact that my husband has always valued me for who I am and invited me to come out from the shadow behind him and join him. But, it has still taken lots of discussion and navigating as we explore what that means for us.  And it means that the decisions we make can be harder because we both need to buy into them. It also means that when we decide to do something that will take sacrifice on my part, I am more keenly aware of that sacrifice because now I choose it willingly with both eyes wide open. Seminary was that type of decision for us. I walk forward with excitement, but also bracing myself for the work ahead for both of us. Through our decision making surrounding the seminary decision, I knew very clearly, that I could say no, and John would have listened. The piece I carried in this decision held just as much weight as his. And that is both wonderful and hard. It is often harder to do something when you know that you could legitimately choose not to do it. And yet, it makes the thing that you choose to do much more meaningful.

Art by Will, used by permission. I chose this picture because I feel like the person pictured definitely has discovered who they are and has no problem living that out.

 

Rice and Beans 2016. Week 2.

Monday

Breakfast: Oatmeal. Told you, this is pretty much every Monday’s breakfast. Quick, easy, and everyone will eat it as long as it has sugar and milk. Since I am not doing dairy, I’ve been adding coconut cream to my hot cereal and it is delicious.

oatmealsoupLunch: Fried Rice. I made fried rice for everyone but me for lunch. My mom took me out to eat for my lunch, so I ate Thai Red Curry.

Supper: Oatmeal Soup. So this sounds weird, but it actually was quite delicious (unless you ask Will who is the only one who didn’t like it). It was from my The Gourmet Slow Cooker book and was basically steel-cut oats cooked in chicken broth with coconut milk added. The coconut milk was my substitute for cream so that this was dairy free.

Tuesday

ricepuddingBreakfast: Rice Pudding. I made rice pudding the way I usually do with arborio rice, except instead of milk I used a mix of coconut milk and Silk almond coconut milk. With sugar and cinnamon this turned out delicious and was a great hit with everyone.

tunawhitebeansaladLunch: White Bean & Tuna Salad. This is an easy recipe from my italian cookbook Everyday Italian. It’s made with canned beans, canned tuna (I use the stuff in olive oil so no added oil needed to the recipe), vinegar and red onion. For Seth I gave him some before I added the beans so that he just had tuna salad. We put it on top of lettuce and had carrots as well.

irishchampSupper: Irish Champ. If you can’t tell, we are in the Ireland section of my slow cooker cookbook. This recipe was not as popular as the oatmeal soup, but it was still good. I think it would have been better had I been able to make it with the traditional butter and cream. Instead I used coconut oil and coconut milk. Still yummy, though.

Wednesday

Breakfast: Oatmeal? I can’t quite remember, but I think we had oatmeal again.

biscuitsLunch: Leftover potato soup and homemade biscuits (some with cheese, some with honey). Actually for the school lunches I only sent Elise with leftover soup. The boys just had biscuits, apples and trail mix. When I had my leftover soup I added spinach to up the veggies in my meal.

Supper: Tuscan White Bean Soup. This was another recipe from the slow cooker cookbook. It is supposed to have tomatoes in it, but I left them out as tomatoes are on my list of foods to avoid. It was pretty yummy even without the tomatoes.

Thursday

Breakfast: Rice with sugar and cream. This turned out to be really popular with my boys. I just cooked up some jasmine rice and they ate it with sugar and a little cream (because we were out of milk). I used coconut cream on mine and it was also delicious.

Lunch: Sweet Potatoes, Black Beans and Toppings. This is pretty self-explanatory. Seth was supposed to have his sweet potato with butter and syrup, but I found out when he got home that he had eaten the butter plain, added the syrup to his water bottle, and left the potato untouched. Sigh. Elise and Will had theirs with black beans and cheese and sour cream. I went out to eat again (a rare occurrence but somehow happened twice this week). I had a hamburger on a gluten free bun with fries. 

Supper: Leftover Tuscan Bean Soup. Elise and I also had a treat while we watched a tv show later in the evening. I finished off my coconut milk ice cream and she had some chocolate. Yum!

Friday

Breakfast: Rice with sugar and cream. This was a repeat of yesterday’s breakfast because the boys liked it so much that when they saw I had made rice for lunch they really wanted some for breakfast too. So I ended up making another whole batch of rice after they finished off the first one. I also made a dairy free millet bake with raspberries and blueberries to take 

Lunch: Rice with Black Beans and Toppings. The kids had a side of tortilla chips as well. And I know I sent something other than beans for Seth, but I can’t remember what. For John and I, I made some sauteed kale to mix in with the beans as well.

Supper: Taqueria. We went to my mom’s birthday celebration and had a variety of things from the Taqueria.

Saturday

Breakfast: Fried Oatmeal. This is a breakfast we had in my childhood that I make occasionally for my kids too. It works best if you have leftover oatmeal that’s been in the refrigerator overnight so it riceandbeansplateis all sticky, but I made some from fresh oatmeal as well since we didn’t have enough leftover to feed everyone. Basically you make patties with the oatmeal and fry in butter (or coconut oil as we did) until crispy on the outside. Then serve with syrup. So yummy!

Lunch: Rice and Beans Plates. This is by far my favorite meal so far this month. I baked some sweet potatoes, made some red rice and more Brazilian Black Beans. Then I put out all sorts of toppings like salsa, cheese, avocado, cilantro and caramelized onions. Everyone could choose their own combination. Pictured is my plate, which had tomatillo salsa, cilantro, avocado and caramelized onions.

tacosaladSupper: Veggie Taco Salad. I sauteed some onion, green pepper and corn with some of the black beans from lunch and seasoned with salt, cayenne pepper, and garlic powder. Then we made taco salads with it. Mine is with sweet potato tortilla chips (one of the few kinds I found that didn’t have corn oil in them, which I can’t have) and green salsa. The kids had regular tortilla chips and cheese on theirs. The only complaint with this meal is that I overdid the cayenne pepper and it was pretty spicy. The kids had some leftover candy for dessert and I snuck some coconut milk ice cream.

Sunday

Breakfast: Rice with sugar and milk. I was looking for something easy for breakfast and I just decided we’d do rice again since everyone likes it.

lemonpastaandfishLunch: Leftovers. I had some leftover tuna & white bean salad, but the kids chose to forgo eating any leftover since they had all had snacks at church and I was planning on doing  an early supper.

berrycrispSupper: Lemon Pasta and Salmon. As promised I made a bean free meal for Sunday feast day. The lemon pasta was with rice noodles. For dessert we had berry crisp with a gluten free topping served with ice cream (mine was coconut milk vanilla ice cream).

 

Beans and Rice 2016. Week 1.

During the month of March each year our family usually joins with Lahash and participate in Rice and Beans month. The three foundational principles of the month are solidarity, simplicity and sharing. We eat meals mainly composed of rice and beans in solidarity with those in this world that eat this way always because that is what is available and affordable to them. We simplify our diet in an attempt to focus on what is important (at least that is the idea, not sure I always accomplish it, but it is something that fits in well with Lent I think). And at the end of the month we share our grocery savings for the month with Lahash, which uses the funds to provide for at risk children in Africa.

Responding to a question on facebook about recipes for the month got me thinking about documenting my meal plan each year. I cook with a lot of variety all the time. It’s how I like to do things. The majority of my meals are from new to me recipes because I always like to try something new. The downside to this is that some day when my children are all grown up and have households of their own they’ll probably come asking for a particular recipe and I’ll have no clue what they’re talking about. Or even worse they’ll never ask me for any food advice because nothing will stand out in the constant stream of variety I offer them. Of course on the positive side, I hope they’ll be people who welcome variety in all areas of their life, aren’t afraid to try new things, and confidently attempt to make whatever they feel like because they’ll believe it is possible.

I approach Rice and Beans Month with pretty much the same attitude I have towards all my meal planning. Which means there’s a lot of variety and I can’t tell you exactly how I did it year to year. Each one’s been a little different. So this record will hopefully help me know what did or didn’t work each year. Perhaps it will spark some ideas for some others also who don’t think they could stand rice and beans for one whole month and are looking for a little variety.

Just remember there are different ways to go about this, this is just mine for this year. If you want to go much simpler you can cook a large recipe that you use for multiple meals. I rely on that method for a lot of lunches, but you can also do it for supper. Or you could make one week meal plan and repeat it each week. And you don’t have to go all in either. Some people just do one rice and beans meal a day, or once a week or several times a month. Any little bit still allows you to take part in the experience.

I make a meal plan for each week that is different, but when it actually comes down to it, I don’t always follow my meal plan exactly because sometimes I forget to prep my meals or I wake up late or something comes up in our schedule. So the plan is a loose framework that I work with as fits us best day to day. Here, instead of recording what I planned to do and didn’t do, I’ll just post at the end of the week what we actually ate. This year I am using a new slow cooker book I got for Christmas that has recipes from around the world. Almost every country has a bean recipe, so I’m picking those out to do throughout the month. If you want the recipe, you may be able to find a similar recipe online or you can come look at my book. Recipes I did take from online I will link here.

My basic framework for this year is to do four full weeks of mainly rice and beans meals, starting Feb 29, which means we will finish Holy Week in time for Easter. Sundays are feast days in Lent, so this year I promised the kids bean and rice free meals on Sundays and a dessert. You will also notice that I include a lot of simple hot cereals for breakfast and some other meals that are simple and based on cheap ingredients like potatoes, since those seem to fit the idea even if they aren’t rice and beans. I have one kid who cannot stand beans, so you will notice he is often eating something else. I started allowing him some alternatives for some meals last year because it was so hard on him to eat beans all month. So, especially for lunches I usually provide him something that I think he’ll actually eat to give him a break and because I know that when he’s eating at school there is little chance that he’ll actually eat something he doesn’t like.

Also halfway through the week I removed a list of items from my diet that I seem to have developed sensitivities to. I’ve been working on figuring this out for awhile now, and now have a list to try. The main two things are dairy and gluten, so there were some changes I made to recipes after that point.

Monday

Breakfast: Oatmeal. This is pretty much every Monday’s breakfast for us, so not much different here. We top it with brown sugar, cinnamon and milk. 

Lunch: Hamburger Stew. I didn’t prep what I had meant to beforehand, so I ended up making a very quick hamburger stew by throwing some leftover taco bean/meat mixture in with some broth and veggies. I cooked some rice to go along with it and sent this with the big kids to school. Dietrich and I ate leftover red beans and rice from last week.

Supper: Chickpea Vegetable Stew with Rice. This recipe was in the rice and beans mailer for this year. I thought this recipe was delicious, but it was not popular with anyone else in this house (mainly because it had raisins in it), except maybe Dietrich.

Tuesday

Breakfast: Coconut Rice. I used more sugar than that recipe calls for and no salt, but otherwise it was pretty much as written. The kids added milk to theirs since it was a little dry, I ate mine as is.

Lunch: Red Beans and Rice. To be honest, I can’t quite remember what I sent the kids for school lunches. I think it was leftover red beans and rice for Will and Elise and leftover chicken breast with vegetables for Seth. I ate a rice, salmon, greens stir fry because we had leftover fish that was cooked up last week and needed to be finished. 

Supper: Bean and Rice Burritos. I made refried beans in my dutch oven from my new The Gourmet Slow Cooker. Then we made burritos by mixing the beans with rice, cheese, salsa and sour cream and wrapping it all up in tortillas. Seth, who will not eat refried beans had burritos with just cheese and rice. Not the best thing, but you do what you have to do.

Wednesday

Breakfast: Coconut Rice. We had leftover coconut rice for breakfast from yesterday. Elise warmed it up for everyone with almond coconut milk added for better consistency.

IMG_3886Lunch: Hamburger Stew. I think I sent more of the taco vegetable soup with rice I had made on Monday with the kids. Some of them had complained about not having enough food, so I started adding apples or chips or whatever I had on hand to give them a bit more items to fill them up for lunch. Dietrich finished off the vegetable soup, and I ate another salmon and greens stir fry, this time without rice. John made himself some more bean burritos.

Supper: Sausage Black Bean Soup. Last minute I had volunteered to make supper for choir practice, so I made a huge pot of this for all of us plus the choir members. I didn’t use a recipe, but rather just threw some things together from what I had on hand. It was an amazing soup, probably due to the fact that I added several links of brats I had in the freezer. Other than that, it was black beans, beef broth, kale and cumin mostly. Even Seth ate this, beans included, and commented on how good it was. 

Thursday

IMG_3891Breakfast: Oatmeal. We had oatmeal again, but this time it was steel-cut oatmeal. I had removed dairy from my diet by this point, so I used almond coconut milk and honey to top my hot cereal, while the kids use milk and sugar. A couple of the kids also added raisins.

Lunch: Refried Beans and Rice. Will and Elise and Dietrich had refried beans over rice with cheese and sour cream (and salsa for Elise). Seth was sent leftover chicken and rice with soy sauce since he can’t stand refried beans. I had refried beans, wilted spinach and rice all together with a splash of vinegar.

IMG_3893Supper: Brazilian Black Beans and Rice. I made these beans in my dutch oven (which is really amazing for making beans, by the way). The older two boys and John weren’t here for supper, so Elise, Dietrich and I had black beans over rice. They topped theirs with cheese, sour cream and salsa. I had mine with wilted kale (made with olive oil and balsamic vinegar). Then since Elise and I have special treats on Thursdays for our girls’ movie night together, we had chips and hummus dip.

Friday

Breakfast: Oatmeal? I cannot remember what we had. It was supposed to be cornmeal porridge, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t make that, so I’m guessing I made plain oatmeal.

IMG_3913Lunch: Black Beans and Rice. It was just Elise, Dietrich and I again for lunch, but we had pretty much the same things we’d had for supper on Thursday except I topped mine with avocado and cilantro and we also had carrots.

Supper: Various things. Elise and I were in Springfield, MO for supper, so we ate out at a restaurant. Elise had a basil mozzarella sandwich which she said was amazing, and I had an asian salad because it was one of the few things on the menu that was gluten and dairy free. She had a lemon bar for dessert, but I had to skip dessert because even though they had a gluten free option, they did not have a dairy free one. The boys and John went bowling and I think they ate pizza or something similar at the bowling alley.

Saturday

Breakfast: Hotel Breakfast. Elise and I ate at the hotel breakfast bar. I tried to get creative with the very few items that were available that were gluten and dairy free and made myself a parfait of applesauce, rice krispies (which I am told are not actually gluten free, oh well) and almonds and dried cranberries. I also ate a couple pieces of sausage, but not sure those were really safe either. Who knows what everyone else in my family ate.

Lunch: Rib Crib. Elise and I were invited to Rib Crib with family friends for lunch after her test in Springfield. She had ribs. I had brisket without bbq sauce, a salad without lettuce, tortilla strips or tomatoes, and fries. After eating several fries I realized that they were so yummy because they appeared to be batter fried, so those got handed off to someone else. I really don’t know what the boys ate. 🙂

Supper: Black Beans and Rice. I purposefully made a whole bunch of the black beans so that we could use them for lots of meals, since I have learned from years’ past that this is really everyone’s favorite way to eat beans.  I was exhausted after the drive back from Springfield, so it was nice to be able to reheat those beans and top some freshly made rice that John did for me when he knew we were almost home. Similar toppings to what was mentioned before. Everyone except Seth seems to like this meal.

Sunday

Breakfast: Waffles! Feast Day! I had some frozen toaster waffles leftover from last month’s meal plan, so Elise toasted them for everyone. We even had some vegan gluten free ones that we got at Whole Foods with a coupon they were handing out for the grand opening. So even I got waffles, and they were yummy.

Lunch: Pork Loin and sides. We ate lunch at my Mom’s house to celebrate a couple family birthdays, so we had smoked pork loin, green beans, mashed potatoes, and sweet potato fries. This was all fairly safe for me, there was tomato in the sauce on the meat, so I scraped that off, and there was parmesan cheese on the green beans, but I dug to the bottom to avoid most of it. There was chocolate pudding cake and ice cream for adults and tres leches cake for the kids. This was what I was most sad about since I knew I wouldn’t be able to have any dessert unless I brought my own, so John was kind enough to stop at Walmart on the way to Mom’s to let me run in and buy some dairy free coconut milk ice cream, which was amazing.

Supper: Various. Everyone got something, but it was really random since we were still just snacking and eating at Mom’s. I snacked on nuts and leftover sweet potato fries and really didn’t feel hungry for supper. I also was feeling a little nauseous by the end of the day, so I just skipped supper. Perhaps the tiny cheats in the lunch really were enough to affect me?

So that was week 1. We’ve already had an amazingly simple meal that almost everyone thought was delicious, so I’m looking forward to sharing this week’s meal plan with you in  a few days too.

 

 

Healthy Grieving.

elisekissingemmab&wWhat does healthy grieving look like? I don’t really have an answer for that. There is such a range of what deep sadness looks like, how people enter into it, and what steps they take to allow themselves to feel. And there are layers to healthiness. Is it possible that something that isn’t physically healthy for you can be emotionally healthy? I’m really not sure.

I’ve been experimenting with this concept the last few days. Not on purpose, but just because of the choices I made. For the last several days I’ve been a little depressed. It started Saturday night, when I suddenly felt a rushing sense of anxiety such as I haven’t felt in a long time. It was as if my emotions were manifesting themselves in physical sensations, to the point that I even felt shaky and weak. I was heading out to a women’s get together in which we had been encouraged to bring a picture of someone we loved and a story to share about them. I picked up Emma’s large photo album and allowed myself to be vulnerable with a group of ladies that I am still getting to know. I needed to be able to cry publicly, to say Emma’s name out loud, to watch other people look at her pictures and smile. And so that is what I did.

It took me a little while to go to sleep later that night because even though my anxiety was not up to panic attack level, it was still noticeable. But in many ways I welcomed it. Most of the time I view anxiety as my enemy. I sigh and wallow through the once a month appearance of it, thankful that most of the time it is not nearly as noticeable or troublesome as it has been in the past. But because this anxiety seemed to be so inexplicably linked to the grief of 10 years, I welcomed it as an old friend.

Over the next few days that anxiety dulled to more of a quiet depression. Not really a darkness, but sort of a cloudiness in my soul. I muddled through my days and I gave in to my compulsive eating habits. This is the part that I am still trying to figure out the healthiness of. I knew that what I was doing was not healthy physically for me. I knew that the aches and pains I was feeling in my body very likely had to do with the amount of unhealthy food I was eating, but at the same time I knew I was consciously making a choice to do what felt good at the time. I’ve been trying to work on allowing myself to make choices, rather than feeling pressured into the “right” thing to do. So, instead of telling myself, “You shouldn’t eat that,” I want to be able to say, “I am going to eat ____.” Obviously my hope is that I would fill in that blank with healthy options, but I also know that sometimes I will fill in that blank with muffins, or cake, or ice cream, or chocolate. And in that case, I need to be able to say, “I am choosing to eat chocolate. It may not be the best choice, but it is a choice I am consciously making and I’m going to live with it right now.” I sort of think that if I consciously realize that I am making an unhealthy choice and free myself from the guilt that goes along with it, then I will find it easier to get back on track when I am ready to make those healthy choices. I’m not sure if this is true or not. I guess I’m hoping it is. I wasn’t completely free of guilt the last couple of days, but I definitely consciously chose the unhealthy options lots of the time. For me it seemed to be all wrapped up in this sadness and depression and that was something I was not fighting against, but allowing myself to feel.

I tried yesterday to get on and blog about how I was feeling. The title of my blog was “Blah.” And all I could think of to say was, “blah.” I decided to spare you that unhelpful and uninteresting post and wait until the words began flowing again. And today they did. I woke this morning feeling a clearness in my thoughts and a lightness to my soul. I was filled with hope and motivation for my day rather than dread for all the things I had to do. And with my better mood came the desire to make healthier choices with my eating and how I spent my time. And in many ways those choices have come pretty easy, because I wanted to make them.

I guess if I were dealing with depression every day for long periods of time, then it would not be good to allow myself to give into the unhealthy. But for a couple days, I don’t think I damaged myself permanently. The couple pounds I put on will come off easily enough and my body and mind will start to feel better as I fill my stomach with good things. So, unhealthy or healthy, this is what 10 years later looked like for me.

Note: The flowers pictured were given to me by a good friend on Emma’s heaven birthday, one day before the anniversary of her own daughter’s passing. Whereas I am 10 years away from that day, she is only 1 year out. I have been incredibly proud of her ability to enter into her grief, the way she has shared it with her family, and how she has allowed it to pour out into comfort for me. Thank you, Melinda.flowers

10 Years Later

10 years. Next week it will be 10 years since I sat down to write a blog post to say good-bye to my darling Emma. This morning as I went through the routine of getting kids ready to head to school I was so angry. Every little thing got on my nerves and I’m afraid my kids felt the brunt of my bad mood. After breaking up yet another fight between Will and Seth I started packing up lunches and Elise made the perfectly reasonable request to have her baked potato scraped out of the peel rather than packed with it. “Yes, HERE, go ahead,” I said as I roughly pushed her lunch to her. Elise, who is always really good at reading my emotions quietly began preparing her lunch. “You’re not mad at me, are you Mom?” she asked timidly. “No, Elise, it’s just hard with the boys and I just don’t feel like doing anything extra today. Your request was perfectly reasonable.” It wasn’t the last outburst from me in the course of the morning either. As I prepared to leave to take Elise to school I apologized to both her and Will (Seth was already gone) about my bad mood. Elise readily forgave me, saying “That’s ok, it’s mainly because of some people . . .” and she pointed at her brother. Breaking in before Will could voice his displeasure at this, I replied, “No, I shouldn’t blame others for my emotions and actions. I need to take responsibility for them.”

Later, after all the kids were at school and Dietrich played happily upstairs, I turned up the music and started to wash dishes. And I reflected on my bad mood and wondered where it had come from. Sure, the boys were extra hard to deal with this morning since Will came downstairs in a bad mood and neither of them could seem to get along. But, as Becky Bailey says in her book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline, “you are never upset for the reason you think you are.” When I started really taking the time to notice how I was feeling and to allow myself to feel it, I realized that I was feeling a sense of melancholy deep inside. I had noticed it yesterday as well. Perhaps my emotional reactions were just this melancholy trying to break out and be felt. It’s hard to allow yourself to truly feel sad when surrounded by 4 rambunctious children. But that is what I apparently needed to do.

emma_10-5_01So, today I’m creating some space to feel sad. I’ve reread that painful blog post from Feb 22, 2006. I might pull out Emma’s album and look at her pictures. I’ve shed a few tears. And I’m writing, which is therapeutic for me and allows me to just feel what I need to feel.

I want to encourage each of you as well, to take the time to feel. No matter what emotion you are currently experiencing, give yourself permission to actually feel it. In my parenting, one of my goals is to help my kids also learn how to recognize what they are feeling and to give them permission to feel it. This is hardest when it comes to anger. It is easier to say, “stop being angry!” But I know that isn’t realistic or healthy. We can’t stop ourselves from getting angry. We will do better if we take the time to recognize that anger and then make healthy choices instead of allowing our anger to control us.

IMG_3169The same is true for sadness. Although in the case of sadness, I think we sometimes do need to allow sadness to dictate our actions, as long as those actions are healthy for us and others. We need to grieve. We must. This is true for both men and women. In this 10th year since Emma’s death, John and I have had some conversations about the grieving process for both of us. I had both practical and emotional support from many women, especially those who had also walked through the pain of losing a child. But there were no men who came alongside John in the same way, offering him a chance to process, a safe place to cry, encouragement to go to support group or counseling. My support group was open to men, but there were hardly ever men there and John would not have felt comfortable going. Why is that? I don’t think it is any one person’s fault. I don’t think John thought much of it at the time, it is now as he looks back that he recognizes the difference in expectations. And he thinks it should be different. We both agree that our culture is failing men in this regard. So, no matter your gender, please give yourself permission to cry. Give yourself permission to really feel the emotions that are difficult. And then come alongside those who grieve and give them permission also.