Friday, September 06, 2013

I'm moving!

Hi friends! I just want to let you know that in the interest of streamlining my web traffic, I'm combining this blog and Beyond Toast. All posts will now be on one blog, whether they're food-related, book-related, parenting-related or otherwise. If you're a follower, please join me over there!

See you soon!


Friday, August 16, 2013

When We Just Need a Chance to Redeem Ourselves and Be Supermom

My 13-month-old suddenly has an affinity for babies. She's fascinated by them. She has a book of babies from around the world and suddenly, it's her favorite book. She excitedly points out babies everywhere we go (even some older than her, which leads me to wonder if she realizes she, too, is a "baby"). When we spent a week in Michigan last month, she developed an attachment to a baby doll in the toy box at her grandma's, so after we got home to Virginia, my sister-in-law and I went to Target to get her one of her own. I'll never forget the moment we turned down that all-pink doll aisle in the store. Her eyes grew wide, then wider. She held out her arms, took a deep breath, and exclaimed in a tone of complete awe, "baaaaaaabieeeeeees!"

We found some that were just the right size for her. There were so many options - a bath time version, a potty training version, one with a stroller, one with a car seat. She insisted on two - one for each hand. She would have nothing less. And while I don't usually just indulge her every whim, we were facing potential real tears, here. She was so overcome by the babies. Auntie Jen quickly suggested she get one to keep at her house. What a relief! Thank goodness for the understanding, generous love of aunties!

We took the bathtub version home with us, and she hasn't left my girl's side since.

Until yesterday, that is, when we briefly lost her.

The weather has suddenly gotten cooler here, so I took my girl along on a run. E packed her and her baby into the jogging stroller (because she wasn't going without baby, no sirree) and we set off. As we did, I thought to myself that I'd better keep an eye out for baby to tumble from the stroller, since my girl is into throwing things these days, too. She loves her baby, but that doesn't mean she hesitates to wing her across the living room if she feels like it.

We got about two thirds of the way through the figure eight-shaped route I'd mapped out, and I paused to check on her, make sure the sun wasn't in her eyes.

Her baby was gone.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I'd been watching! When had she fallen out?

I think all moms must have this moment, the first time you fail to prevent a little one's most precious possession from going missing.

I felt a bit of panic, I won't deny that.

We turned around, and I resumed jogging, my eyes combing the grass edging the sidewalk for a small, pink-and-white clothed baby doll.

I was praying, hard. Yes, over a lost baby doll. What mothers pray for in the course of an ordinary day runs the gamut, I guess.

We got back to the center point of the figure eight - home - and I dropped off my girl all in a flurry, leaving E to extract her from the stroller, explaining that I was going back out in search of her baby before someone snatched it up. And I began my run route all over again, a little faster this time.

The neighborhood across from us, which we'd run through, is full of little kids, and I could easily imagine someone finding baby and making off with her in the time since she'd been dropped. As I ran, my eyes continued to comb the grass, the gutter, the sidewalk ahead.

I failed to mention that in addition to being full of families, the neighborhood across the street is also - well . . . less nice. There's a lot of litter. Wadded up t-shirts in the gutters. Discarded shake cups. Rolled-up newspapers in the grass. All objects that from a hundred feet away look like they just might be a little bitty baby doll.

As I ran that mile, I experienced moment after moment of false hope, and I actually welled up with tears a couple of times. As I got farther and farther along, I began to lose hope. Surely someone had picked her up already. I told myself I was silly to feel so upset by the prospect of not finding her - I could easily return to Target that night and purchase another identical baby doll if need be. Just because I'd missed the moment my toddler tossed her toy out of the stroller, that didn't make me a bad mommy.

I don't know exactly what it was that was going on in my still-kind-of-new-to-mommyhood brain, but I needed to find that baby doll.

And then I saw her for real, lying fifty yards ahead of me on the sidewalk. God's grace.

Filled with relief, I scooped her up and ran the rest of the way home.

When I came through the door with baby in hand, my girl acted like nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Me, I felt like Supermom.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Six Months of Books in 2013

At the beginning of the year, I set a goal to read 26 books in 2013. The year is a little more than halfway over, and amazingly, I've kept pace with that goal. As of June 30, I've read 14 books. I've started another four, but I won't get into my issues with reading multiple books at the same time here.

Appropriately, last weekend at McKay's I picked up a memoir by journalist Sara Nelson called So Many Books, So Little Time. It's about a year of reading, one book a week, what the author read and what she thought of it, how it played into her daily life and relationships. Although I've only read the prologue thus far, a line in the jacket flap copy caught my attention. It read, "She had a system all set up: fifty-two books, fifty-two weeks...and it all fell apart the first week. That's when she discovered that the books chose her as much as she chose them." In my own experience with a year's reading list of 26 books (I'm less ambitious, giving myself two weeks per book, which was wise, as a goal of 52 books would have me failing miserably to keep up), this has been so true. The books choose you as much as you choose them. And there's no controlling it.

I started out with over 40 books on my list and had to whittle it down to the 26 I wanted to read most. The final list included books that have been sitting on my shelf for years waiting to be read, the top prize-winning books of 2012, and a few titles that I'd downloaded onto my eReader and hadn't yet read. I've found myself deviating from it in unexpected directions. Some of this has been mood-driven, some of it discovery-driven. Some of it was just happenstance. There have been a couple of valuable re-reads too, of which I'm not ashamed and which I am counting.

My reading choices are always a mixed bag. The English major in me craves really good literature. The journalist in me loves nonfiction, especially biographies and food journalism. The foodie in me loves a good food memoir or food-related fiction. The francophile in me can't pass up a good read on Paris or Provence. The part of me that still dreams of Kenya craves books with an African theme. The Christian in me needs some spiritual growth reading thrown into the mix. The new mommy in me just wants some help, for Pete's sake!

Here are my original 26 books and how they made it onto my list, in no particular order. Those I've read include a rating out of five stars.
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo. Winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for nonfiction. Also, culture and poverty in India interests me (thanks to Slum Dog Millionaire, I'll admit, as cliché as that might be). I seriously can't wait to get to this one.
  • The Round House by Louise Erdrich. National Book Award Winner, fiction category. Currently reading this for a book club I'm going to check out next week and am totally wowed thus far. 
  • The Pale King by David Foster Wallace. This unfinished novel was one of the three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. It was an odd year for the Pulitzer, as the judges couldn't decide on a winner and left the three finalists hanging. Of the three, The Pale King sounded the most interesting to me. Wallace himself was the most interesting to me of the three finalist authors.
  • Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. Winners of the 2010 and 2012 Man Booker prize, respectively, Bring Up the Bodies is the sequel to Wolf Hall. Also, the Henry VIII era is one of my favorites in British history. I can't resist a good Henry drama.
  • Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected by Kelle Hampton. I was already about halfway through this when Baby Girl was born, and had set it aside. I wanted to finish it. I follow Kelle's blog and was curious about the story of her daughter Nella's birth (Nella has Down syndrome). It's an amazing and humbling story. I loved it. Four stars.
  • Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz. I can never pass up a good bio on Julia. I'm halfway through this, and need to get back to it. I set it aside at the point when they left Paris because, well, I was sort of heartbroken that the Paris years were over, you know? Living vicariously, I guess.
  • Nomad: From Islam to America by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. This sequel to Ali's first memoir, Infidel, about leaving Islam for a Western life has been on my list for a long time. 
  • The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I've had a copy of this since 2008, and was long overdue to read it. It's life-changing. Totally inspiring. A perfect follow-up to Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. Five stars.
  • Alice Waters and Chez Panisse by Thomas MacNamee. This book has been on my shelf for over a year. For about two years prior to that, I stalked it in the bookstore, debating about reading it. Food maven Alice Waters and her mythically proportional Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse have always intrigued me. t's a  bit dry and drags on at some points, but then, don't most of our lives? Three stars.
  • The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz. A food memoir about living in Paris? No contest. Plus, I already owned it. Lebovitz had me laughing out loud and reading sections to E. Four stars.
  • Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. This book was all over the Christian blogosphere at the beginning of the year, receiving accolade after accolade.
  • Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson. This sounded like the perfect young mom book, for the sleepless nights and insane days trying to live a balanced life. Because it is desperate at times. I'm slowly savoring this, a chapter at a time. It's validating, nourishing, encouraging - in short, it is exactly what the subtitle claims. Five stars.
  • American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld. This fictional piece loosely based on the life of Laura Bush caught my attention when it first released (admittedly, it might have been the cover that did it). Now that I live in DC, it seemed an apropos time to read it. And I already had a copy. A totally satisfying piece of fiction. Four stars
  • The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party and The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection by Alexander McCall Smith. I'm not a mystery reader per se, but my mom-in-law got me into The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series three years ago, and I can't help devouring them. I was two books behind at the beginning of the year. Neither one disappointed. Four stars.
  • Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis. This memoir was almost published by my company, so I've long been interested in the story of this remarkable young woman who gave up her privileged American life to move to Uganda and adopt a whole passel of orphaned little girls.
  • The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Because who doesn't want to figure out how to be happier? Caught my eye in an airport bookstore.
  • Time Was Soft There by Jeremy Mercer. I happened across this memoir by a young man who found himself in Paris working at the famed Shakespeare & Co. in the used bookstore and snatched it up. Couldn't resist.
  • The Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley. Another memoir, this one about living in Kenya in the late 1950s. I watched the movie (which starred Hayley Mills, of all people). Loved it.
  • Almost Amish by Nancy Sleeth. This book on the quest to live more simply by is written by the wife of Matthew Sleeth, champion of the Creation Care concept and author of Serving God, Saving the Planet. I'm always interested in how to live more simply.
  • Tarte Tatin by Susan Loomis. I loved Loomis' first book, On Rue Tatin. Another memoir from an ex-pat living in France.
  • 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. Another treatise on simple living from the Christian perspective. I read Jen's blog, and her book has gotten a lot of traffic online, with mixed reviews. I want to form my own opinion.
  • Chocolat by Joanne Harris. I've been trying to read this with a book club forever, but it keeps getting voted down. I figured it was time to read it on my own.
  • My Love Affair with England by Susan Allen Toth. In addition to being a Francophile, I'm an Anglophile. And actually, given a choice about where to live abroad, I think London would be my first choice (easy access to Paris). I have been meaning to read this for years, literally.
  • The Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway. Hem is my favorite classic American author, but I've never read this particular work.
  • The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. Food fiction. Enough said.
The interlopers, books I didn't plan to read:
  • Spirit-led Parenting by Megan Tietz and Laura Oyer. I had a copy of this hanging around from 2012, and just hadn't finished it. Not particularly well written, but good content. A great read for new moms who are overwhelmed by all the conflicting advice in the baby manuals. Two stars for the writing versus four stars for content = three stars.
  • Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. After watching the film verions of P&P and S&S back in February, I had a hankering to read them again (for the first time since college). I think I loved them twice as much as a married thirty-something than I did as a single twenty-something. Five stars.
  • White Jacket Required by Jenna Weber. I support the bloggers I follow by reading their books. This one was a total disappointment. It was flat and sort of lifeless. It's the single book I regret spending time with this year. No stars.
  • Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld. Since I'd put American Wife on my list, and I already had a copy of Prep, I decided it would be apropos to read Sittenfeld's first book first. Not as intriguing as American Wife (the main character has way too much angst for my taste), but still interesting and a good story. Three stars.
  • Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly. I happened upon a copy of this classic teen love story from the 1950s in the used bookstore. Couldn't resist buying and reading it again. Twenty-some years later, I still think it's the sweetest teen romance ever. Four stars.
  • It Starts with Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. This is the manual for the Whole30, so when we decided to do it, I bought the book and read it. A must for anyone who really wants to understand the benefits of the Whole30 and a Paleo diet in general. Four stars.
  • This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader by Joan Dye Gussow. When Michael Pollan cited Gussow in The Omnivore's Dilemma, it dawned on me that I'd been given a copy of her book as a gift a couple of years ago. Intrigued by Pollan's comments, I picked it up and started in. Currently reading (and enjoying).
I'm sure there will be books on the original list of 26 that I just don't get to, and thus they'll get moved over to 2014. Regardless, the main point, which is to make reading a significant part of my days, has worked. Setting a goal like this means that I'm focused on reading, learning, growing in the chunks of time that present themselves, like while I'm working out on the elliptical or bike, or waiting at the doctor's office. Reading is one of the practices that feeds my mind, heart, and spirit in a very necessary way. When I fall away from spending regular time with books, I don't feel as productive, as nurtured, as fulfilled.

What are you reading in 2013? Post a comment below - I'd love to know!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Figuring it all out

I feel like a runaway. I'm sitting in the cool, coffee-scented air of the Barnes & Noble down the street from my house, listening to some version of I Just Met a Girl Named Maria ('cause B&N is down with the show tunes) playing over the store's intercom system. I'm here to work on my neglected novel. There are food stains scattered across my t-shirt from Baby Girl, my face is devoid of makeup, and my (unwashed) hair is hidden beneath the faded purple Northwestern baseball cap that has absorbed the head sweat of probably a thousand workouts. I am thus attired because I made a mad dash to get out of the house as fast as humanly possible the minute Baby Girl was safely in Afternoon Napland (not without a twinge of guilt) and I am probably not in any state fit to be seen in public, but I'm here and that's what matters.

I was supposed to begin doing this - spending Friday afternoons in the bookstore, writing - back at the end of May, when summer hours bega (which translates into having Friday afternoons off via flexing out your work hours over the course of the rest of the week).

It's mid-July. It's my first time here. Argh.

So yeah - I'm supposed to be working on my novel, but I just needed to get this off my chest first. Because, well, for all my good intentions back in February and all my lists and organizational tools, I am still figuring it all out, meaning this whole work-from-home-mom-aspiring-author-living-in-a-new-city thing. And I'm realizing this: it's okay. Really and truly okay. It's okay that my house is messy and working out consistently is still a challenge and the baby weight that continues to plague me is trickling off a quarter pound at a time and my blogs continue to get sporadic attention. It's okay that I still don't have any friends here and we still haven't found a church and we still don't leave the house four days a week most of the time. Because in spite of all this, there is progress. I mean, I'm here, aren't I?

And I've figured out a few things for sure. Like the fact that I am best at working out consistently when I go to the gym during my lunch hour. Early morning is just too early for me, and late afternoon is slump time. Between 11 and 1 is perfect. So that's what I've been doing, and it works.

I've also figured out that travel kills my blogging habit. Oh, I take my laptop along every time, but finding the time or even the physical space to think, much less write, escapes me. There's always too much going on. It's not that I don't have material - my backlog is scary, in fact. So sometime, somehow, I plan to get ahead (ha!) and have posts scheduled to publish while I'm gone. I have no idea when I'll be able to make that happen, but I do have a plan, and that's the first step.

Ultimately, what I keep learning over and over is that I am so blessed to work from home. To not miss a millisecond of Baby Girl's development. I'm reminded of this every time I travel for work or have to spend a week in the Grand Rapids office. I get to be there. I get to witness  every new discovery, every new word. And for me, personally, that has become more and more priceless over the past year because she has changed so much so fast. And even though she gives me a hard time every day about being at my desk, and she begs to sit on my lap and pound on the computer keyboard and fusses when she can't do that, she gives her dad a harder time when I'm not there at all. It's definitely not "out of sight, out of mind" with her. I'm so thankful for this season of being home with her and still being able to provide for my family while E is in school. I'm grateful for my gracious colleagues who express delight when we're on a conference call and she's babbling (or shrieking) in the background.

So all the rest of it - running and blogging and time for my novel and a social life and church - I'll keep figuring out those things, and eventually, I'll get there. Because God doesn't give us passions without also giving us the wherewithal to pursue them. I'm going to stand on that truth for as long as it takes.

For now, I have a giant iced tea and a manuscript full of corrections to make and a few precious hours. It feels good.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Different Father's Day Perspective

Today was my favorite Father's Day ever, because it was the first Father's Day I spent as a wife and mother, and it caused me to pause and look at my husband and 11-month-old daughter together and really cherish what I see between them.

I always knew E would be a really good father. I saw it back when we were first dating, in the way he related to his nieces and nephew, treating each one as though he or she was truly special, and going out of his way to connect with each one.

The day Baby Girl was born, I watched as E fell head over heels in love with her. She was so tiny in his hands, but he was both confident and capable as well incredibly gentle. It was as though he'd been waiting his whole life for that moment - the moment his daughter was delivered into his waiting arms. As for her, she was comfortable from the very first moment, snuggling up to him like there was no place she'd rather be than tucked into the crook of his shoulder.

This first year of Baby Girl's life has been a unique, special time. Because he's in graduate school and I'm working to support us, E has had the opportunity to be home with her every day. In some ways, it's been a stretch for him - it's the first time since he was 15 that he hasn't held a steady job. He's faced more spit-up, mashed bananas and dirty diapers than he ever imagined. But he hasn't missed a single milestone from her first word to her first step - he's been right there for every single one. A year from now, he'll have a Masters degree and hopefully a new job to go with it, and this precious season will be over. If we have another child, it's highly unlikely he'll get the same opportunity.

Today, I found myself celebrating the special bond that has formed between my husband and our precious girl because of the endless hours they spend together, and looking forward to watching the relationship between them develop as she grows up, which I know will nurture her in important ways. I'm betting she'll learn some practical things that aren't very girly, like firearm safety and basic auto maintenance. She'll also be taught that hard work is rewarding, and that it's important to pursue your dreams and not give up on them when the going gets tough. He'll make sure she has an understanding of what's going on in the world around her, within as well as beyond U.S. borders. And hopefully when she's all grown up and someone asks her who has influenced her faith in God, one of the people she names will be her dad.

We celebrated all these hopes and expectations with a picnic at the park. We ate fried chicken, pasta salad, deviled eggs and strawberry shortcake, and then romped with Baby Girl on the playground. She was all smiles, and so was her daddy.

I couldn't ask for more for either of them.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Finding a New Rhythm in Motherhood, Part 2

Last time I told you I have this nice, longish list of goals I want to accomplish by (roughly) December 31, 2013. And most of those goals require a daily investment of my time. My full-time-work-at-home, new-mom time. Did you laugh at me? Snort in derision, maybe? It's okay if you did. I forgive you.

I am aware that there are still only 24 hours in a day, in case you were wondering. I'm not delusional. God hasn't shifted the universe to provide me with more hours in which to successfully accomplish everything. And yes, I do need sleep - as much as Baby Girl will allow me to get. I'm not planning to forego sleep - if anything, I hope to be getting more rest in 2013 than I did in the second half of 2012. Yes, I said hope. Hope is different from expect. I'm keepin' it real. Baby Girl may not sleep through the night until she's nine, for all I know.

What I'm talking about is re-ordering my days to find a new rhythm that works for me in this season. We all need rhythm. From the beginning, there has been rhythm to all of life. Rhythm was established with creation. There is rhythm to the rising and setting of sun and moon, to the seasons. There is rhythm to seven days of labor and a day of rest - sabbath. It makes sense that we, being God's creations as much as earth and stars, would be creatures of rhythm. Even our bodies have rhythms and cycles of their own, independent of anything we might try to impress upon them.

Right now, my days can be incredibly full and chaotic. Balancing a full-time job, a marriage, a seven-month-old and a household while trying to meet my own spiritual, physical, emotional and intellectual needs is a crazy-making endeavor. But I'm working on it, and I've found some tools along the way that are helping me to find some semblance of rhythm, tools that enable me most days to feel, when I climb into bed at night, that it's been a pretty good - if imperfect - day.

This 25 Point Manifesto for Sanity from my dear friend Ann was the first thing that helped me begin to wrap my arms around a new rhythm. So much of what she offers here is good and wise practice to delve into. I have the manifesto posted on my refrigerator, so I see it every time I walk by. It reminds me to slow down, to be deliberate, to celebrate in the midst of the busyness, and to be ever-mindful of God's presence.

Here are a few of the key things I'm doing to help myself manage marriage, motherhood, my household, my job, and my own needs with some semblance of rhythm:

Begin each day with the Lord. I've resumed getting up early enough to begin my day in solitude. For a long time, my ability to spend daily, dedicated time in God's Word with any kind of consistency was rare at best. Considering I'm exhausted by 10 p.m. every night, I knew I had to look at early morning as my new best friend if I was going to manage to have any quiet time with God's word. Baby Girl gets up pretty early, and I needed to start beating her to it. After a good night, with maybe only one brief wake-up from Baby Girl to interrupt my rest, I roll out of bed at six. I make myself a cup of coffee, light a candle, and settle down at the kitchen table with my Bible and current devotional book, sipping my coffee while I read/pray in blissful silence and the sky begins to lighten. It is, I'm finding, a time worth getting up for, even when I feel like I could really use another half hour of sleep. I find myself drawing strength and encouragement from it, and I sure need that!

Make a daily plan. After my quiet time, I make my plan for the day. While my weekdays are mainly dictated by the demands of my full-time job, there are still gaps to fill in, the need to find time for the rest of life's demands - laundry and dishes and errands and the things that are for me, like reading and writing and exercise. This Day's Draft, also from thoughtful Ann, has become my right hand (note: you can find many other free daily planners and other helpful organizers online, including here). Granted, I rarely manage to check off every little thing, but it keeps me mindful of the priorities large and small, including simple, basic things like drinking enough water (something I seem to lose track of so easily).

Practice focused time and regular breaks. One of the most challenging things about being a new mom, for me, was the chaos. For the first three months, it seemed like I just couldn't get a single thing done, whether it was folding a load of laundry, making a quick meal, or cleaning the bathroom, not to mention writing a blog post or taking a shower and blow-dying my hair! Whether you are a working mom or a stay-at-home mom, we all need focused time during which we power through the things we need to accomplish, but we also really need to remember to take regular breaks. Now that Baby Girl is a little bit older, I've found that the Pomodoro Technique works really well for me. In a nutshell, a "Pomodoro" is 25 minutes of very focused work time, followed by 5 minutes of break time. Every four Pomodoros, you take a longer break of 15-30 minutes. I use the Pomodoro Technique both during my workday (when it's not dictated by meetings, that is) and during my household work time. Twenty-five minutes is the perfect amount of time to accomplish something of substance, from writing up a report to scrubbing the kitchen floor. During the work day, I use my five-minute breaks to connect regularly with Baby Girl, grab a cup of tea, read a blog post or a few pages of a book (that's my book, eReader, manuscript and journal stack there in the photo above - I keep it all within grabbing distance), practice my scripture memorization, throw in a load of laundry or empty the dishwasher. Even if I choose to complete a five-minute chore during my break, it gives my mind a rest from what I was doing before, and I go back to work refreshed. During non-working hours, I use Pomodoros to do cleaning, fold laundry, make my meal plan, and so on. Knowing I have just 25 minutes before the timer on my phone goes off motivates me to work quickly and efficiently, because I'm looking forward to five minutes of respite.

Plan meals. I've found that making a weekly dinner menu has a significant impact on my daily rhythm because I never find myself in a tizzy at 5 p.m., trying to figure out what we're having for dinner. Every Friday night (which is takeout night), I choose 4-5 meals to make the next week, including planning which night(s) I expect there to be leftovers. I try to have at least one night of leftovers plus one night of planned takeout to give myself breaks, even though I love cooking. Then, I make my grocery list accordingly. While it takes time to choose meals (I always consider what's already in the fridge and pantry) and figure out what I need to buy, it saves time and headache in the long run. My sister-in-law never used to plan dinners a week at a time - instead, she would decide during the day what to cook that night, and would stop at the grocery store on her way home from work. She would make another trip on Saturday to buy other things she needed, like cereal and paper towels. We estimated that she was spending at least four hours a week in the grocery store! I probably spend an hour planning and an hour shopping. There are lots of great free printable menu planners available online (again, there are some great free printables here), but I like this notepad version. Each one is sixty sheets and lasts about 14 months. I like that there's space on the right for breakfast items, lunch items, and snacks. This helps E, for example, by indicating that there are bagels in the refrigerator, which he might not see (and eat) otherwise. As things run out during the week, I cross them off.

Divide household chores into manageable parts. I'll just say it: I hate cleaning. Despise it. Abhor it. When I was growing up, my mom cleaned the entire house from top to bottom every Saturday. Kudos to her, but let me tell you, cleaning house is not how I want to spend my Saturdays, especially because I'm on Baby Girl duty all day while E does the bulk of his homework for the following week and I need to get the grocery shopping and other errands done. So I use a cleaning calendar customized to fit my home's needs (it's there below in the picture, on the fridge along with my menu pad, the Sanity Manifesto, and two of my online book club reading schedules). Every night after work and on Saturday mornings, I spend 25 minutes (one Pomodoro) blazing through one room or one major task throughout the whole house, like vacuuming. I like it because it divides the work into chunks that are quickly accomplished, and it feels like things never really have a chance to get dirty. I also throw in a load of laundry almost every morning, drying and folding it during my five-minute break times. This way, the laundry never reaches a point that feels unmanageable, and I have time for other things, like my husband.

Plan daily quality time with your spouse. I've never been much of a TV person, but E and I have gotten into the habit of watching old TV series on Netflix or iTunes. It's cheap, it's relaxing, and we enjoy plenty of banter along with it. We choose a series at a time, and one show will generally last us a few months, depending how many episodes aired. Sometimes we even wait for something to finish its current season so we can watch it at our convenience. We've done this with Battlestar Galactica, The Tudors, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, and most recently Lost. I'm not necessarily suggesting you go the TV route, but find something that suits you both, some way you can connect daily. Take a walk after dinner. Play a game you both like. Share a bowl of ice cream on the couch after the kids are in bed. Find some way - any way - to connect before your head hits the pillow for the night.

Make exercise a priority. When I was single, I worked out after work or late in the evening. But back then, there was no one waiting for me to make dinner, no baby to bathe, no laundry pile screaming my name. After Baby Girl was born and I went back to work, I knew I had to find a new exercise routine that fit in with my new life. It was a struggle. Most moms say that if they don't work out first thing in the morning, it doesn't happen. But folks, I am so not  that person who can roll out of bed and go for a three-mile jog. I've tried. I'm incredibly sluggish upon rising, and while I might feel good afterward, working out before eight never feels successful to me. It takes me a few hours to feel awake and energized enough to move my bod that vigorously. My solution? I start work an hour early at 7 a.m., work until mid-morning (depending on my meeting schedule), then head to the gym or out for a run. If you're having trouble fitting in exercise the way you used to pre-kids, start noodling some other options. Find a gym with child care. Buy a jogging stroller. Sign up for a Saturday yoga class. Coerce your spouse into letting you off the hook after dinner two nights a week so you can take a few loops around the block. Buy some workout DVDs and get down in your living room during naptime. Just make it happen.

Carve out time for your passions. With everything else I have to do, my writing is always the thing that's in danger. So I've tried to commit to one of two potential blocks of writing time every day - either during my lunch hour, or as soon as Baby Girl is in bed. If Baby Girl is napping at lunch time, I grab my yogurt or hummus and settle in at the kitchen table for an hour of uninterrupted writing. If she's awake at noon, I wait until she goes to bed and then spend an hour on a blog post or my novel before E and I have our TV time. I keep a journal in which I plan out blog posts for both blogs, so that I'm always prepared to jump in and start writing (I do that planning on Sunday afternoons), and I always have a printout of the latest version of my novel handy for making notes and edits easy. I wish I had more time, of course, but an hour a day is better than nothing. Some days, unfortunately, I end up having to forego it altogether because something unexpected happens - Baby Girl is teething and fussy, dinner takes twice as long as planned, someone calls and wants to talk. It's not always possible to manage all 24 hours of the day. The important thing is to plan time for your passions, so that you manage to make that time happen as often as possible. If you never plan for it, it won't happen at all.

Practice Sabbath. I deliberately abstain from chores, errands, laundry and other household-related work on Sundays (this is why I plan my menu on Friday, do my grocery shopping on Saturday, and use a six-day cleaning calendar). I cook something simple and nourishing for dinner, most often a big pot of soup and some homemade bread, and reserve the rest of the day for church, time with E and Baby Girl, reading, writing, occasionally crafting, and just generally relaxing. I try to remember that the Lord himself rested from his labors on the seventh day of creation, and he asks us to do the same, which is certainly in our best interest. Because I practice Sabbath, I'm always ready to hit the ground running on Monday (if Baby Girl lets me sleep on Sunday night, that is).

Whatever stage of motherhood you might be in, I'm sure you're still trying to balance all the pieces of life with a family. Word is that it changes continually as your kids grow, and you have to readjust. Personally, I'm looking forward to the day when Baby Girl sleeps through the night - every night - and the extra energy I'll have when that happens.

If you're a mom, I'd be interested in knowing what's helped you to have rhythm in your days. Leave a comment below!


Monday, February 04, 2013

Finding a New Rhythm in Motherhood, Part 1

There are two things I know to be fundamentally true of God and want to talk about today. One, he continually calls us to know him more deeply through his word (the Bible). Two, he wants us to be good stewards of all he has given us, including our bodies, our relationships, our talents and our time.

I realize it's the first week in February, and it's a bit late for New Year's resolutions. As I explained here, I'm not usually one for making resolutions. But this isn't really a post about New Year's resolutions per se - it's about beginning again after a long vacation from any sort of goal-setting, which is often what happens during seasons of major upheaval like wedding planning or new motherhood. The new year just happened to be the catalyst for me to start thinking about setting some daily and long-term goals again, and figuring out how to incorporate those into a life that now includes marriage and motherhood.

After 19 months of constant and major life transitions, I felt foggy and out of sorts, a woman who'd lost her compass. Work was going well, with plenty of positive feedback from colleagues about my ability to do my job as a telecommuter. I was getting a handle on motherhood and adjusting to regular sleep deprivation. But I was craving direction and a rhythm to my days. I'd been focused so exclusively on weathering all the changes in my life that I'd let go of some of the key things that I personally need in order to feel balanced and healthy physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. So I made a list of the habits I want to revive this year. These are the things that comprise my smaller, day-to-day goals, and they're written on a chalkboard hanging in my kitchen.

Reading blog post after blog post about other people's New Year's resolutions also made me think about setting some longer term goals, and it makes sense to have the end of the year in mind as a sort of deadline. It's been a couple of years since I've set any kind of personal achievement goal for myself, so doing that sounded really, really good. I'm ready for some new growth opportunities and challenges, and I need those things to be measurable in some way, with an end result to aim for. So I made another list of more comprehensive goals. The nice thing is that some these long-term goals are naturally comprised of my smaller daily goals, so it all fits together.

When I relayed my list to E, he warned me about expecting too much from myself. He's worried that if I fail at anything on my list, I'll be disappointed. A few years ago, he might have been right. But if there's one thing marriage and motherhood have taught me so far, it's that no matter what kind of journey you're embarking on, there has to be grace in the mix. I'm talking about grace for yourself, the freedom to let yourself mess up. Because there will be days and weeks that don't go well, and you have to go easy on yourself when those come; you have to give yourself room to start again. While the end result matters, and it's good to have deadlines to motivate you, it's really the journey that's most important, what you learn and how you grow along the way.

So, I'm expecting to fail on some days. And that's okay with me. I just want those days to be in the minority, so that I still make progress.

For accountability's sake, I've decided to lay out my goals here, in detail. If you've made some goals of your own this year, I'd love to know what they are and how you're progressing.
  • Read the entire Bible, a little each day. It really makes a difference in my day when I begin it with time spent reading God's word. I've been wanting to make it through the entire Bible for a long time, but I always seem to return to my favorite books over and over. I'm not doing this just to get it over with or so I can say "I've read the whole Bible, every word." It's not a check mark for my bucket list. I'm doing it because I know God will meet me in the parts I haven't yet read as well as those that are familiar. Gaps in my understanding will be filled. I'm going to grow in ways I have yet to imagine. So - to make it simple, I downloaded The One-Year Bible onto my eReader. It's really a no-brainer, because someone else has already decided how much you will read every day. Each reading combines the Old and New Testaments, as well as a portion of Psalms and Proverbs, so you get a mix rather than wading through Leviticus all by itself for a week, yet there's still continuity because you begin at the beginning of each part.
  • Practice gratitude daily. If you haven't read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, I highly recommend it. It was a total game-changer for me, transforming my heart and my "eyes" in the best possible way. I keep a little journal on my desk and record the things I'm grateful for, the thngs that bless me throughout the day, and it makes me more deeply aware of God's presence in my life. The more regularly I do this, the more my days are shot through with peace and joy, no matter what else happens.
  • Memorize scripture. I've always wanted to do this, and anyone who practices scripture memorization claims it's a transformative process, that committing God's word to memory is like bringing the truth deeper within you. I'm using a cool resource called Scripture Typer. It utilizes muscle memory to help you learn, and in just a few minutes of practice a day, memorization comes easily. I've committed to memorizing Romans, one of my favorite books, as part of an online community, and so far, it's been incredibly rewarding.
  • Become part of a local church. God wants us to be part of a community of believers. We need to pour into others and to be poured into. We need to worship together with other believers. We need to make like-minded friends. So E and I are working on this goal together, visiting area churches that seem like they could be potential church homes. Thank goodness for the Internet in this endeavor!
  • Lose 60 pounds. I have boyfriend weight, married weight and baby weight that has slowly piled on over the past three and a half years, and it's time to do something about it. Sixty pounds may sound like a lot, but I'm giving myself a whole year to lose it, which comes out to a little more than a pound a week, or five pounds a month. That's a slow, healthy pace, and I'm working on it without any kind of extreme dieting plans or over-the-top exercise demands. I'll post more on how I'm doing this, but it begins with a lot of the items on my chalkboard - healthy meals, daily exercise, getting enough water.
  • Write. I have two writing goals. The first is to post consistently on this blog and on my recipe blog - three times a week on each. The second is to complete the novel I'm writing and work on finding an agent. Both of these goals mean I need to make time for writing on a daily basis. I also need to find a way to block out chunks of time for writing on the weekends. It's not easy to work it in between my full-time job and caring for my family, but because God gave me a heart for writing, I know he'll help me find a way.
  • Read. Once upon a time when I was a single girl, I read at least 52 books every year. That's a book per week. This year, I'm shooting for half that - 26 books. My actual reading list is quite a bit longer - about 40 titles - but I know I won't get to all of them. I'll be posting my list here sometime soon, and my plan is to share some reviews here over the course of the year.
  • Attend a writers' conference. This is something I've been promising myself for years, but there was always something else going on (wedding planning, pregnancy, other financial priorities) and attending a conference just kept taking a back seat. Conferences are opportunities to gather ideas on writing and self-promotion, and to connect with other writers and people in the publishing business. There are a number of conferences I'd really like to attend, but I'm going to begin this year by picking just one, setting aside the funds to cover it, and making the most of it. I'm really excited about this goal.
  • Become a better photographer. Before E and I went to Kenya for our honeymoon, we bought a fantastic Nikon D5100 digital SLR camera. I had been wanting one for a long time. I love photography - I took several classes in college, learned to use a manual SLR camera, and developed my own pictures. I haven't taken the time to really learn how to use my digital SLR to its fullest extent, and my goal is to do that this year. I really want to become a better food photographer. I plan to work on this on my own, with the help of some books like this one, and maybe take a class at a local camera shop. I would love to attend a weekend photography workshop like this, but they're expensive and would require air travel, so maybe next year.
Stacked up like this, it looks like I have some weighty goals for the year. But since the majority of them can be broken down into manageable bits, I think they're totally doable. And like I said, I'm leaning on grace to fill the gaps.

What about you? How might God be calling you to re-order your days to get to know him more deeply and to be a better steward of what he's given you? Leave a comment below.


Friday, February 01, 2013

A Love Letter to My Husband

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. ~ Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NIV)

I had an epiphany this week - that all the crazy-making hormones of pregnancy don't exactly go away when the baby arrives. Especially if one is manufacturing milk to feed said baby. This explains some - not all - of my emotional rollercoaster riding the past six months. Granted, I have not done anything like decide to paint the living room at midnight, but I have had my share of insanity. Like the night I tearfully told E I felt like our marriage was falling apart because we weren't kissing each other good night every night of the week (he's generally asleep the minute his head hits the pillow, poor guy, since Daddy Daycare begins around 6 a.m., with occasional middle-of-the-night stints as well).

I have a few solid excuses for being a these days. In the space of 19 months, I got engaged, got married, got pregnant, had a baby, moved into a new role at work, transitioned from working in an office to working at home...and moved SIX times. Yep, you heard me correctly. Six. And the fifth move was halfway across the country to a place I'd only visited three times. On top of that, all of this relocating involved two stints of living in relatives' basements - one during my third trimester, one with a two-month-old infant. It also means I never got to nest during my pregnancy - I never got to let my craziness all hang out. Clearly, I was repressed. Ha!

Seriously, I think all of this is enough life change to give anyone a free pass to the loony bin.

And my man, he has borne it all with steadfastness and (most of the time) grace. Clearly, he doesn't always understand what's going on with me (nor does he want to, I'm sure - he just wants to survive it). He occasionally loses his cool for five minutes when I do something utterly ridiculous, but the resultant cloudburst of tears that ensues encourages him to rapidly get his act together, so as to close the floodgates as quickly as possible. Poor guy.

He really has been a trooper, and to be fair, he has endured as many transitions as I have, including leaving his full-time job of twelve years to return to college in pursuit of a more fulfilling career and an overall better life for us. He never envisioned himself as a stay-at-home dad by day, full-time student by night. He deserves my gratitude for handling all of this, coupled with my unpredictable hormone surges and the resultant emotional highs and lows they elicit.

Thus, this letter:

Dear E,

Thank you for all the ways you support us as a family. I know it must be difficult not to be working at a "regular" job, but in my mind, you are doing the most important job right now - taking care of our daughter. You're an amazing dad, and I couldn't ask for more as far as her daily care is concerned. I know how much this requires, and I know how tired it can leave you at the end of the day, mentally and emotionally as well as physically. I can't express my appreciation enough.

Thank you having the courage and faith to step out on a limb and go back to school to pursue your dreams. I know it's hard work, and that you struggle every week to find enough time to get everything done. I'm so proud of you for taking this leap, and I am behind you every step of the way.

Thank you for doing your best to understand my emotions and to meet my needs, to listen when I go off about things and do what you can to help me feel better. Thank you for all the ways you encourage me - to write, exercise, to do the things I enjoy. Thank you for being willing to step out of your comfort zone in order to find a church and to find community because you know I especially need those things. I know it isn't your cup of tea.

Thank you for weathering all these changes - wedding, pregnancy, parenting, moving, changing roles - together. Because we are doing all of this as a family, as a united team, I know we're going to survive it and come out stronger on the other side. I'm looking forward to all the days of our life together, because every one is an adventure.

You're a great husband. You're also my best friend. I thank God for you every day, and I wouldn't trade you for anything.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Grace for the Work-from-Home Mom, Too

Lisa-Jo over at The Gypsy Mama wrote the other day about how working moms need grace - grace to handle the daily good-byes, grace for handing over their children to others, grace for the guilt they carry. In my journal where I count gifts from God, I write "the ability to work from home, not to leave my baby every day." Yes, it's a gift. It's a blessing. And yet I need my own supply of grace to get through it most days, when I look over my shoulder and see this:

Those, eyes, they beckon. Daily, they reflect confusion, sometimes sadness, sometimes frustration, sometimes desperation. Why can't mommy hold me right now? Why can't mommy play with me right now? She doesn't speak in words, but her eyes say it all.

Working moms who leave home every day aren't the only ones who feel guilt. And at least, I think sometimes, they don't have to face the longing that confronts me all day long.

My husband, a full-time graduate student who goes to school at night, parents while I telecommute to my job five states away from a small desk crammed into a corner of our living room. I leave my desk as often as I can for a quick snuggle, once every half hour or so. When I have a break, grab a coffee or fix my lunch, I grab Baby Girl, carry her with me. But it's never enough. She wants more, always. I do, too.

It's a gift, being there to greet her after naps, watch her play, sneak a kiss here and there and make her giggle. But there are moments when I wonder if it might be easier on her if I were just somewhere else, out of sight and maybe therefore out of mind? Not visibly out of reach across the room, unavailable for cuddling the afternoon away. I worry about breaking something in her, worry about her feeling perceived rejection. The only remedy for my worry - the only insurance of her well-being - is grace.

I don't think my guilt is any smaller than a mother's who leaves. It tears at the heart.

My sister-in-law writes an email asking me if I'm ready for a "local job," meaning do I miss my corporate office life. She says from her view, I have "the perfect from home, make good money." We all dream of that, she claims. I want to tell her dreams are prettier in concept. That my "dream life" quickly turns nightmarish when Baby Girl is screaming for me and I have to go in the bedroom and shut the door against her cries because I have a conference call in two minutes and I can't comfort her right then, no matter how much I want to.
There are days when it just breaks me at the core. At least her daddy is right there.

I get through it with prayers under my breath as I tiptoe behind her to the bathroom, hoping she won't turn her head and break into a full-on cry because I passed without stopping. I get through it with self-reminders that I would rather have sixteen quick snuggles than nothing between eight and five. I get through it by writing down my daily thanks for moments I'd miss at an office. I get through it knowing we are blessed with a warm home, food on the table, and our physical needs met through my days at that little desk, phone headset jammed into my ear.
It's good constant reminding that blessings sometimes come with challenges, and those challenges don't weaken the blessings. I can bear the sting and the guilt, count the blessings, and still need the grace.

Monday, January 28, 2013

What's True Worship?

Someone I love (and who loves me) lamented to me the other day about how Christian music has changed over the years. She said to her, it's no longer "worship music," meaning, I guess, that she personally doesn't feel like worshipping God when she listens to it.

She asked me what I thought. I could tell she was looking for me to agree with her.

"Well," I said slowly, "I think people worship differently. We're all wired uniquely and people connect with God in different ways. I know I personally feel very worshipful when I'm listening to some of the music you're talking about."

It's true. I hear Casting Crowns' "Prodigal," and I'm a weepy mess within seconds. Jason Gray's "Remind Me Who I Am," incites raised arms and an upturned face. Mercy Me's "Spoken For" brings me to my knees.

And then she said it, in a way that sounded both dismissive and condescending:

"Well, then I don't think you have ever experienced true worship."

I was stunned. Then hurt. Then outraged. It only took about ten seconds to cycle through all three emotions. I'm pretty sure she had no idea how she sounded to me, though - she just went on like there wasn't a thundering silence there between us. I guess I was the only one who felt it.

I didn't respond. I felt a strong, uncustomary urge to keep my mouth shut, in spite of the blazing retorts running through my head (and there were plenty of them). I think the Holy Spirit must have been holding down my tongue with both hands. I remained outwardly calm and unruffled, and the conversation moved on to other topics.

Her words stayed with me, though.

I think part of the beauty of creation is that God made us all different, each with unique gifts and talents, needs and desires, personalities and sensibilities. We all relate to people differently, so why shouldn't we all relate to God a little differently? Why shouldn't we all find that we worship a little differently from everyone else?

In Spiritual Pathways: Discover Your Soul's Path to God, Gary Thomas identifies eight different ways people tend to find connection with God. Thomas calls this "spiritual temperament." He cites some good Biblical examples of people worshipping differently - Abraham by building altars, David by writing Psalms, Solomon by making sacrifices, Mary of Bethany by sitting at Jesus' feet. He also gives an overview of the evolution of the Christian church through the centuries, pointing out how different denominations formed in part because different groups of people wanted to worship God a certain way - differently from the churches around them.

Thomas also points out that achieving a "mountaintop experience" or "spiritual high" is not the ultimate goal. What is most important, he writes, is to "through the ups and downs and the routine of life...learn to spend time with God, enjoy him...grow in our adoration and understanding of [him]. And while Thomas offers eight spiritual temperaments to consider, he also offers that for many of us, just two or three of these may be ways we personally worship God. Thomas does not weigh any one spiritual temperament, or any combination thereof, against any other.

I sit in my home office every day, plugged into my iPhone, Christian music streaming into my ears. And every day, because of that music, I experience moments of what are, to me, worship. There are many songs that grab me right by the heart - by the soul - and pull me heavenward.

There are other ways I experience God - time spent outside in nature, prayer, lighting a candle each morning when I wake up, counting blessings - but today's Christian music is also a spiritual pathway for me, a road to worship. My sense of connection with God is part of my unique relationship with him.

This was a reminder to me not to judge how anyone else personally connects with the Lord. If I do, am I not in danger of gnosticism? Am I not prideful? Am I not everything Jesus would not want me to be?

As a Christian, my responsibility is to hold out my experiences, my discoveries, my joy moments to others as a gift, an invitation to find their own joy moments, no matter that they might look a bit different from mine.