February 28, 2014

Nannies, Date Nights and Yard Work: all for 7 Quick Takes

Today is brought to you by the number 7. For 7 Quick Takes and 7 Posts, 7 Days. It's been a long week, though after reading about the ins and outs of other ladies' (and some gents'!) lives, I definitely feel like my busy cannot even hold a candle to theirs. Many thanks to all you strong women out there for being, well, strong.

Now, for a few tidbits from the happenings in my neck of the woods.

--- 1 ---
I started new little adventure this week (technically I started last week, but this was my first full week). I care for the kids of two different families. I think this line of work is called "nanny-ing," yes? I don't particularly care for that title. It conjures up images of petticoats, uncomfortably cinched black dresses, and hair secured tightly on top of my head. I am not any of those things. In fact, I am concerned my jeans are going to wear holes in the knees pretty darn quickly based on how much time on the floor I spent with the kiddos this week! I am fully aware the Mary Poppins nanny is no longer (was it ever?) common place, but I just want to make it clear that I don't strut around in a black dress. :) I have truly enjoyed getting to know the kiddos this week, though I may have traumatized one of them already! oh no! Do NOT close the door when she goes down for a nap...got it. Oh boy, lots of work rebuilding that trust going forward.   

A few weeks back, the hubs and I started a new habit: weekly date night. Whaaaaa? We've been married for four years and didn't have date night? Nope, not even once a month. Our dates consisted of going to Costco. Or running down to visit with my parents. Or doing laundry.Yes. I feel sort of guilty for not putting more emphasis on prioritize quality time with David, spending time with just him apart from our daily obligations. Though I need not feel guilty, because we certainly weren't neglecting our relationship. Nevertheless, we finally made setting specific time aside for dates a priority when our grief therapist told us both individually, in separate meetings, that we needed to start dating intentionally. No talk about work. No talk about the house. Just us. Prescription date night--doctor's orders! Since then, we have truly enjoyed our new weekly routine. Whether we grab a burger, beer and a movie, or simply stay in for game night (Rumikub or Cribbage are the go-to's!) our relationship has a built-in reconnect button at the end of every week. I foresee a mellow date this weekend, most likely take-out and some Wii. :)

Best moment this week: SUNSHINE! We have had several glorious days in a row. These are much needed because even on the sunny days our house does not get much light. As I'll show you (eventually) when I finish my House Tour post, we have a ranch style house. We do not have tall ceilings with tall windows. We have regular, 1970's windows. Furthermore, we are in the middle of the woods. And not just any woods. Thick, old, tall trees blocking even the brightest of rays. I shouldn't complain--the evergreens are beautiful. We are very fortunate to live in an area where people value their trees. But this girl needs her light. Guess I'll just savor my walks!

I have read so many great new blogs this week! So fun. I stumbled upon Romancing Reilly yesterday where I was introduced to a YouTube series called My Beautiful Woman. Have a peak.

An incredible example of trust. Of hope. Of unconditional love. My heart ached with such intensity for all the children in the world who are unwanted. Because all I can think about is how much I want my baby with me. Because if only I could rescue all of those babies. My heart swelled with admiration for the women who open their hearts to loving and nurturing children--both their own and others. My heart overflowed, intensely burning with hope. If such a small country like Taiwan can demonstrate unconditional love to the world, then perhaps our world can slowly change. If you have more time, I encourage you to view the other two videos as well. Tissues advised.
Perhaps you have learned just how much I love food. How much I love to cook. My favorite dish this week: more soup. And bread sticks. But not just any soup and bread sticks. Olive Garden copycat Minestrone soup and bread sticks. Mmm. The recipe comes from Cooking Classy, who makes this dish even more enticing (as if one really needed to make this yummy soup more enticing) the soup cooks all day...in the crockpot!

Jaclyn's photos are truly beautiful!
Oh yes. Dump and go. When I got home from my long day with the chillerns Tuesday, I simply finished off the soup with fresh zucchini, garlic, pasta and canned beans. Oh, and I omitted the spinach (because I didn't have any on hand) and added cooked ground turkey to appeal to David's "must-have-meat" requirement. The ground turkey was left over from another meal earlier in the week. I left the crockpot alone to finish cooking the deliciousness while I quickly whipped up some bread sticks--Olive Garden copycat Bread Sticks. While bread sticks are a yeast bread, you can either use a bread machine (you'll need to allow for more time) or--as I did on Tuesday--use your Kitchen Aide hook attachment to quickly pull the dough together. Instead of letting the dough rise on the counter (or on top of the dryer because it's a perfectly warm environment), pop the doughy bread sticks in a warm oven (170° F) for 15 minutes. Bam. Speedy rise. This recipe gave me these little tips for speedy, Olive Garden scrumptious-ness. Brilliant.

The house projects are piling up. How does one not get overwhelmed? I've accepted that the To-Do list will never end, but boy it would be nice to have a sense of "we're making progress." On deck for this weekend: repair short-ed out light switch in kitchen (somehow having light when cooking is well, necessary); remove and replace the worn out rollers and axles in our dryer (the noise has gotten out of control); and install the medicine cabinet in our master bathroom. Wish us luck! Maybe we'll get to the yard next week.....??

Speaking of yards, I'd like to pose a poll. If you were looking at buying a home--would you rather have a waterfall into a pond, or a pondless waterfall? A few facts likely pertinent to your decision/opinion: ponds require a great deal of maintenance (chemicals, filtration, weekly cleaning) but can house fun fish and turtles; pondless waterfalls lack the ability to house any cool pets, but require [practically] zero maintenance while still providing a beautiful, serene feature in one's landscaping.

Our pond at peak performance. In the summer. Note the ugly hose.
What our pond could be. Pondless :)
Your thoughts are valuable as we are currently trying to decide how to proceed with our present waterfall and pond! It's growing things... 

Wishing you the happiest of Fridays! For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

February 27, 2014

Veto-ed Arizona Bill...Not so Bad

The news is just chocked full of crazy, polarizing events these days. So much so that I quit watching. I used to tune in at 6:00 to watch Brian Williams, or have the Today Show running the background while I puttered around the house each morning. Finally I decided it was just too much listening to all these stories. I would get emotionally wrapped around many of the issues. Some stories even triggered my inner voice to actually well, speak out loud. To the television. With no one else around. Probably should have that checked out... 

Anyway, I happened to turn the TV on this morning as I got ready to leave for the day. Matt Lauer commented on the bill Arizona was trying to pass that would allow businesses to refuse service to people who live a gay lifestyle. It was vetoed yesterday by Arizona's governor, Jan Brewer. Her reasons? The law would cause more hurt and damage than benefit, creating a culture of discrimination. 

You know, I thought I would be upset over this--after all, it is important to me that we help steer the country on the right moral path. HOWEVER. Yes, that's a big however. HOWEVER: I think this leader happened to make a pretty smart move. If the bill were to go into affect, the entire state of Arizona would be playing into Satan's hands. They would create an environment of hate. Instead, Gov. Brewer opened the door to more conversation. 

What kind of conversation? Some might view it as a conversation of accepting all types of people. Some might say this move (or lack thereof) is a step in the right direction. But Gov. Brewer did not say she was vetoing the bill because she wanted to "get with the times."  She simply stated that the bill "'...could divide Arizona in ways we could not even imagine.'" And I agree with that. If states started refusing services to people based on one type of sin, well shouldn't we start refusing service for other kinds of sins too? Divorce, murder, lying, squandering, same sex behavior, premarital sex, the list goes on. A sin is a sin, is a sin.  

It is curious that our society does hold people to certain moral code. Murder, for instance, is against the law. Stealing and fraud are against the law. Rape is against the law. Society has deemed these behaviors as harmful as a whole. The moral code has ebbed and flowed throughout history. Some cultures did not believe killing other people was wrong. Some cultures did not believe having multiple sex partners was wrong. Our culture used to believe that drinking alcohol was wrong but smoking tobacco was okay. It used to be illegal to divorce one's spouse. It is currently acceptable to kill an unborn baby. My point here is that the human race--since the beginning of time--have revised what we understand to be right and wrong. We are constantly discovering God, while constantly being lured by Satan. Our history is an incredible reflection of that battle. 

As humans, we are called to love our Creator. If one is not raised in a Christian family, it is more abstract for a young child to recognize that the goodness in his/her life is God. But people realize God is love every day. A child, teenager, and even an adult will question where love comes from. The answer may not always be clear, but eventually--in life or upon death--people will see that love is from our Creator. Throughout our lives we have opportunities to encounter His love, to learn how to love Him, to share in His love. Constantly building a stronger, more trusting relationship. Many times, we can't keep this profound love to ourselves. We can't help but want others to also know God.

I think this is why many Christians work so hard to correct sinful behaviors. Those who know God, who have a relationship with Him, understand that sin drives a wedge between us and God. Some people may not realize this, so logically education is key. The most straightforward path seems to be educating people about what is wrong. While these crusaders might proceed with the best of intentions, they constantly encounter unexpected blockades. See, God created all people with free will--the freedom to choose how to live, whether to act out of love for Him or not--and a plethora of emotion. Hurt, anger, joy, grief, jealousy, awe, peace, pride, excitement. As freely as we choose to love God, another person freely chooses to not love Him. Therefore, our goal of sharing God's love can be shot down. Over, and over, and over again. This may lead to discouragement, frustration, bitterness. Without realizing it, people who started out with the best of intentions begin to spread God's love out of hurt. Those people translate their hurt into acts of judgment. Discrimination. Hatred. 

These intentions of love have just been hijacked by the Evil One. Satan is merely using the pain we feel--the pain expressed as discouragement, frustration and bitterness--as fuel for his fire. He latches on, feeding us lies about how we can "better" fight the fight. Satan can tell us that men are only out to use women for sex, better provide an avenue for "freedom" with birth control. He tells us that babies will ruin our lives, taking time away from what we want to do. Therefore, he provides "rational" thought for terminating pregnancies. Satan can even feed us lies about how to defeat him. He might suggest that we must be aggressive. That we should take up war with sinners. To fight in such a way that proclaims the good news and corrects bad behavior. Yelling at women from the safety of our computer screens, shaming them [unintentionally] for succumbing to their fear, their pain. Or, creating laws that allow businesses to ban people who choose to partake is same sex practices. Those who love God are angry that Satan appears to be winning if people are legally allowed to behave in a sinful way. That anger is exactly what Satan is counting on. 

It is important to continue to help others see how sin can be bad for us, how sin just feeds the fire of anger, isolation, unrest. But. It is more important to show others how God's love will heal. To show them who God is. That He Jesus Christ, our Lord, our Savior. That He is a new born child. That He is the Creator of all things. That God is LOVE. 

We all must learn to share God's love by loving. 

Love is patient. Love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated. It is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all thing. Love never fails." 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Legally protecting people who choose to live the gay life style is incredibly controversial today. It is disheartening to me because same sex behavior--and the support of that behavior--can drive a deep wedge between a person and God as well as between God and the children who are part of such a lifestyle. I like to think our laws are meant to protect the well-being of all people, but that is not always the case. Nevertheless, we can still love the person who chooses to sin in such a way. We can do our best to welcome them into our lives, seeing them as children of God, a children like you and me. We can love them the same way we love a person who chooses to partake in pre-marital sex. Or a person who chose to terminate a pregnancy. Or a person who swears or says spiteful things about others. Because we all slip up. We are all sinners. Sadly, we are all sinners. 

But there is hope. So much hope! We can stumble. We can crash and burn. And yet, if we want to, if we chose to, we can change our hearts. We can tell Satan no. We can ask God to forgive us. Then we might stumble again. And again, we ask for forgiveness and the grace to live more Christ-like. Today, as part of the vast human race we continue to be players in the greatest story ever told. I am grateful that Gov. Brewer offered an act of love rather than hate in this week's history. She reminded us to love the sinner, reject the sin. 

P.S. if you're looking for more lovely musings check out the other contributors at Conversion Diary - 7 posts, 7 days! 

February 26, 2014

Kitchen Secrets

Born and raised in a family of all girls, where the only boys in my life were my boy cousins and/or friends, I never once questioned the fact that it is a lady's job to cook. A man's job to enjoy the food we cook. 

hmmm. what shall I cook tonight?

Oooooohhhhh. Stirrin' the pot now! 

Yep. For whatever reason I completely shut out the idea that men could cook. The idea of men actually enjoying cooking was flat out laughable. I mentioned this to my parents several years ago during a visit home from college. At my bold assumption, my dad was horribly offended. He had prepared dinners for us every single Sunday night since we were little! What made me think men couldn't cook? 

Well, that was just it. Dad only cooked for us because my mom, sisters and I all went to church Sunday (or sometimes Saturday) evenings. My dad, not being Catholic, chose to stay home and help the family by preparing dinner. I noticed my mom would give him pretty easy recipes to prepare. He generally had a rotating schedule: enchiladas, roasted chicken, chicken kiev, spaghetti, and anything on the grill. So, from my perspective, my dad didn't want to cook. He just helped out so we could go to church. (very much appreciated, Dad. Thank you :) All outside perspectives continued to prove that men either could not or did not want to cook. Whenever we visited my extended family, only the women cooked. My aunts, my grandmas, my mom, me... The men stayed far, far away from the kitchen. 

I was also raised in a culture where the children helped out around the house as soon as they could reach (except when it came to laundry. For whatever reason my mom insisted on always doing the laundry herself). When it was time to cook, all one needed to do was pull up a stool and voila--big enough to help cook. I do not have a "first" memory of cooking. I'm sure I was helping in the kitchen as soon as I could stand. It was an activity that would keep me busy while allowing my mom to keep her eye on me. Smart lady. Needless to say, I have always known how to cook. And I had a strong example to learn from. My mom was--and still is (better say that out loud just to make sure she'll still feed me when I visit ;-)--a pretty darned good cook. 

I'll bread some chicken...


She taught me how to follow recipes, and unintentionally many techniques one might need when making those various recipes. For example, don't shake your cup of flour (or sugar, or any dry ingredient) people. Level it off with the back of a knife. Don't tap the cup either. Keep the flour fluffy. This accurate measurement will ensure you have the appropriate density in your dough. No one likes to eat bricks. After all that time cooking with my mom and the basic techniques under my belt, I went to college fully prepared to cook for myself.

Pan fry in butter. Mmmm.

I stuck to recipes that I knew well. Those that I had tasted countless times growing up so that I could always have an end goal for my own attempts. Occasionally, rarely would try new recipes. I can only remember one that ended up being a "success," that is to say was worth repeating. That recipe was a stir fry with veggies, cashews and a pomegranate teriyaki sauce. Mmm. The other experiments? Definitely not worth repeating. Bland or dry. That was usually the outcome that knocked these recipes off the list. It took several not-worth-repeating experiments to help me realize that some recipes are just, well, bad recipes. We've all had experiences like this, yes? We think we've found a new great recipe to try. The picture looks just spectacular, tantalizing your taste buds. So you give it a whirl. Follow the directions ever so closely. Double checking your measurements. When it finally comes out of the oven (or off the stove), you take a bite. And wish you hadn't. Yeah. Sometimes, recipes are just gross.

My mom would try new recipes when we were kids. And, she did have "failures." I never thought my mom screwed up, though. Rather, the recipe was just a bad recipe. After dinner she would make a little note next to the recipe "not good." Very polite. Nothing too judgmental. Simply put, tried it once--don't make again. I look back fondly on her experiments. I can remember seeing her handwriting next to different recipes. Perfect cursive. Calm. Neat. No huge "X" marks through the entire recipe. 

Popped the browned chicken in the oven...

I, on the other hand, cannot stand making a bad recipe. I feel like I wasted money on the ingredients. I wasted time and energy cooking something that ultimately was not worth the calories. I do not write "not good" neatly next to that recipe. I cross it out. I tear it out. I write in big, block letters--DO NOT MAKE AGAIN: GROSS. Sometimes I even double underline just to make doubly sure I don't mistakenly skip over my note and try making the recipe again. 

...while I make me some sauce!

In my four years of marriage, I have continued to experiment. And from those four year I can point to some epic failures. I remember my first one. Oh boy, I literally threw my hands up and screamed in frustration about my failure. Yes. I was a mature, married woman. Don't you dare question that. I made lentil chili. Well, at least I thought I was making lentil chili. See, my mom's recipe is really quite good. That's an understatement. It is out of this world. I don't care to deviate from it. So I thought that her recipe was the recipe included in our family cookbook. I filled my pot with water, consciously questioning how MUCH water was called for in the recipe. It seemed excessive. Like three quarts excessive. But I ignored my instincts and experience. I proceeded with the recipe anyway. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. In the end, the "chili" was water with lentils. 

This really was a dumb mistake because now I read that recipe and immediately realize there are several mistakes. First of all, the recipe calls for yes, far too much water. Even if I were to just cook the lentils aside from making a chili, too. much. water. Next, not enough seasoning in the recipe to add any flavor whatsoever. No garlic. No onion. No salt. NO SALT. What??? Just a few herbs. And for the amount of water in this recipe the amount of herbs called for needed to be increased by at least three. Wow. Riles me up all over again just thinking about this.  
More butter

Simmer until reduced by half

Remove from heat, add more butter. Love me some French cooking.

If I had the knowledge, experience and the expanded repertoire of cooking techniques that I have now, perhaps I wouldn't have tried this recipe. In the four years later after the incident, I have fine-tuned my ability to filter recipes. For the most part I can tell if a recipe will be a success or not before trying it. Thank goodness! Saves me so much time and angst and money and, well. It just saves me! What are these tips and tricks you ask? Oh, I have been just itching to share them with you. So. Ladies and gents (yes, I'm including the gents because I have come into the 21st century and realized that gents really can love to cook. Furthermore, not all ladies like to cook. Mind-blowing!)...

Voila. Lemon Chicken Piccata. 

Elizabeth's 5 Secrets to Finding a Good Recipe:

1) Know what flavors you (and your family) like. David is a ZERO TOLERANCE guy when it comes to mushrooms. And generally onions (my grandmother's home-canned tomato sauce recipe is pretty much the only exception. Good job, grandma :). David also does not care for super spicy or strong hints of mustard. When looking at recipes, I consider if the recipe would lack depth of flavor if I omitted onion. If not, the recipe is a maybe. If so, could I substitute with celery? I know I can reduce flavor elements easily as long as their properties do not affect the textural outcome. For example, I could not omit peanut butter from a Thai peanut sauce. But I could substitute it with say, cashew butter. The fat content of the two nuts are similar enough the final texture of the sauce would be the same.   

2) Be comfortable with all the recipe's ingredients. The number one lesson I always, always, always emphasized when I was a culinary instructor on the east coast: know. your. ingredients. If you don't know one or more of the ingredients, but the recipe still sounds enticing... Google it. What is it? What does it taste like? What is it used for or in? How do I prepare it? When I was pregnant with Samuel I could not get enough of the hot, hot, hot foods. Nothing was hot enough. I loved the taste, the feeling on my tongue. Yum. Near the end of our relocation on the east coast, I found a one-pot recipe for Chipotle Chicken and Rice I wanted to try. The ingredients were all super simple: rice, chicken, garlic, tomatoes, lime, seasonings, and chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Oh man. Everything was smelling scrumptious as I prepared the pot. The last ingredient to add was the peppers. They smelled heavenly. Sweet, smokey, rich in flavor. Not having ever worked with chipotles before, I decided to follow my gut rather than do my research. Peppers are peppers. I knew what I was doing. The recipe called for two peppers. But surely, for this whole pot that wouldn't be enough! So I added three and dumped in some extra adobo. Mmmm. Smelled soooooo good. Until a hour later when I took a bite. Oh. My. Goodness. When I said I couldn't get enough heat, I was wrong. If I had simply taken 5 minutes to Google "chipotle peppers" then perhaps I would have known that they are dehydrated jalapenos. Two peppers would have been plenty hot to begin with.   

3) Consider the proportions. There are standard ratios of seasoning to liquid, or flour to fat to liquid. Ratios are the root to all recipes. I have observed and ingrained what proportions will work well for yeast breads, stocks, marinades, etc. and can imagine how a recipe will turn out by reading the amounts of each ingredient needed. If you want to be very technical, or if you need more straightforward direction in learning about ratios, check out Michael Ruhlman's book, Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking. I never learned the specific ratios. In fact, I just Googled "recipe ratios" which led me to that book. Maybe I'll read it and further improve my culinary skills. :) 

4) Visualize the recipe as you read it. Imagine the flavors. Imagine how it will look. When you do this, you can better anticipate mistakes and prevent them. Last week I attempted Chicken Cordon Bleu for the first time. Ever. I read four different recipes before concluding how I was going to make the dish. Each recipe had a different method. Each recipe had pretty similar ingredients and proportions, though I learned that Chicken Cordon Bleu has room for interpretation. As I read each recipe I visualized how I would prepare the chicke:. a) Pound it flat to roll ham and Swiss inside, pin closed with tooth picks, roll in flour, egg, then breadcrumb. Ugh, that would be annoyingly time consuming; b) Place chicken in dish, layer with ham, Swiss and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Flavors are there, the traditional roll was not; c) Cut a slit in each chicken breast. Roll grated Swiss inside a piece of ham. Stuff the ham roll inside chicken breast. Roll in flour, egg, breadcrumb. Bingo. The last option was the best option for my cooking abilities--authentic, but simplified.   

5) Continue to learn new techniques. As with any skill, the more your refine your technique, the more likely you will be able to visualize how you will achieve your goal; in this case, be able to filter through the good and not-so-good recipes. Currently, I'm trying to find a good recipe to prepare short ribs. I've never cooked short ribs before, so I'll need to learn a new technique. I've researched several recipes. I've read various methods. The conclusion? I want to braise them low and slow in the oven to end up with fall-off-the-bone meat. I've never braised before. That's when I turn to good ol' Michael Symon, the King of Meat. Wish me luck! 

BONUS: Know your limits. Does the recipe require you to make a cream sauce from a rue? If so, are you able to anticipate the need to baby-sit the sauce because the milk will burn if you forget to stir constantly? Do you have children scrambling at your feet preventing you from being able to stand at the stove for six-plus straight minutes? No? Then perhaps that mac-n-cheese isn't for you. Not tonight anyway. Instead, maybe a soup that simply requires you to toss in a number of ingredients and walk away. Ahhhh. That sounds nice. Your limits also include what cooking equipment you have available. Some recipes really do need to be made in a Dutch oven, not a stock pot. Sorry. The Dutch oven heats more evenly, preventing dry over-cooked meat on the bottom. Stock pots are great for well, stock, :) soup, and stew. I cook my lamb stew in the stock pot. Short ribs, on the other hand...I'll need a Dutch oven.  

February 25, 2014

This time last year

This time last year...
We were unpacking boxes in our new rental house.

This time last year...
I was reconnecting with family after having not seen them for over six months.

This time last year...
David was skiing without me.

This time last year...
I was 30 weeks pregnant. I posted on Facebook,

"In a moment of clarity, it just hit me: I only have 10 (-ish) more weeks before we get to meet Baby! Where has the time gone?!" 

This time last year...
I was nesting like crazy.

This time last year...
My sister-in-law was recovering from surgery and radiation treatment. So was my grandma.

This time last year...
David was assembling our Bob stroller that had just come in the mail.

This time last year...
I imagined a year from then that I would be baby-proofing my house, trying to keep up with a 10 month old.

Even now, after all that I've been through, I'm still surprised--amazed--at how life never seems to go as I expect it will. I could have never imagined that my growing bump would in fact become a major bump in the road.

Looking back now I realize how different a person I am than the person I had expected to be. Not any better or worse, just different. Okay, some days are a bit worse...but that's just the grief talking. :)

Today, I am skiing alongside my hubby, tearin' up those slopes as if I had not in fact delivered a child less than a year ago.

Today, all our boxes but one are unpacked in our very own house.

Today, I have the freedom of time to help those who need it.

Today, I thank God from the bottom. of. my heart. for the doctors who caught and conquered the cancers in both my sister-in-law and my grandma. They are both stronger than ever a year later.

And today...I have a saint praying for me.

February 24, 2014

Perhaps I shouldn't write this since I'm not actually Breastfeeding...

But I'm going to anyway! Many women in my life are breastfeeding right now (or weaning their little ones, or preparing to breastfeed their little ones) and I totally would be breastfeeding right now if Samuel were here. August is usually National Breastfeeding Awareness month, but here's the thing about awareness months: it's only a month. And the issue is really an year-round thing. So I'd like to re-introduce the subject, just to get your minds a-reelin'. Back in August when the subject was all the buzz, there was this clever little post by Anna Helfey at One Crazy Mother that highlights one of the most frustrating aspects of breastfeeding. Really, her commentary is quite amusing. I'm sure many of you stumbled upon this little gem last August, but if not. Please. Do read.

No seriously. Read it.

It's okay. I'll just play in the snow while I wait for you.

Olaf's [older] sister.

So what'd ya think? Intriguing, yeah? Ms. Anna received 615 comments on her post. 615. I haven't even had that many page views on one post. Anyway, her little blurb was quite inspiring.

Whether or not I would breastfeed was never even a question. Sure I was aware complications could arise, but as long as the physiology was working we would BF. It was something I had so looked forward to doing with my little Samuel. The ability to nurture him, comfort him, bond with him. All of it so crucial to his development. Breastfeeding would simply be an extension of my care of him from the womb. But I did worry about the social disturbance it could cause when I would need to feed Samuel in public. I had noticed a certain stigma about feeding in public. An unspoken rule that moms should keep their breasts tucked away, or at least behind closed curtains. God forbid should any man or *gasp!* a child! catch a glimpse of her side boob, or worse yet, her nipple!

Somehow in our society a woman, graced with a unique body--a body that has been naturally designed to carry and develop a baby for nine months, a body that has been naturally designed to birth this baby, a body that has been naturally designed to produce nutrients meant for the baby to continue its development outside the womb--is misunderstood. That is to say, a woman is seen for only her physical body, not for her whole being. More specifically, it seems that society looks at a woman's body and does not see beyond the sexual nature of it. As if her body is nothing more than a sex object. Anna's post clearly highlights this deeply ingrained belief by paralleling the act of feeding one's child with a spoon to feeding one's child with her own body.

I am very much aware that objectifying women is old news. We can look at the media, the fashion industry, the ad industry, politics, the corporate business world and see just how much society objectifies the human body, and more glaringly the female body. Sex sells, man! So for the past five decades or so women have tried to counter this from a variety angles.

Exhibit A: "I'm not going to let you reduce me down to my body!  I am MORE than that!  I am a strong, independent, brilliant person who can contribute many a great things to this world!" She then goes out into the world and works hard, taking a career by the horns, shoving her fist up society's you-know-what.

Exhibit A is meant to be facetious.
I am in no way implying women should not be in the workforce.
Exhibit B: Men are objectified.  They are groomed to believe they are nothing more than their bodies' urges.  We can't expect a man to control himself.  We must provide him with "means of release."

Exhibit C: To counter any sort of objectification, a woman says: "No way are you in charge of my body. You can't tell me who, or when, or how I'm going to express my sexuality. I can do whatever the hell I want with it."  <--NOTE that her body is an "it."  It is an object.  She is now objectifying herself.

With each example, the motives behind one's actions are rooted in one's connection to his/her sexual nature. Our "sexuality." As a society we have identified our sexuality as something we use, share, keep to ourselves, hide, put on display. As a society, we have identified sexuality as a thing, an object.

SO? Where am I going with this?

What if I suggested to you that sexuality could be defined as something greater than the sum of your parts? That one's parts--in this case, one's genitality--is only one aspect of one's sexuality, not the entirety? If we take a step back, then, we can see how society is not objectifying one's sexuality as much as it's objectifying one's genitality. All of the above exhibits are objectifying a person's body, yes, but specifically in relation to his/her genitalia, which for some odd reason has been generalized as one's entire sexuality.  

The thing is, sexuality is more than just one's parts. As a woman, it is my femininity. Or for David, his masculinity. My femininity has many, many facets that I have come to know and value. There are facets that I'm still discovering, still fine-tuning. I am coming to know that my sexuality is something I was born with, and only a very small piece of it relates to my sexual urges. Some other aspects of my sexuality are my womb. My fertility. My nurturing instinct. My instinct to verbally communicate. All naturally feminine qualities. All things a woman can come to know and understand about herself over time. It is a very personal part of who we are.

So, if we are to look at one's femininity or masculinity apart from one's genitality, and see one's sexuality as a whole, then perhaps we can see how a mother feeding her babe at breast is not in fact a sexual behavior. Rather, it is a feminine behavior.  It is a faculty all women are born with so as to nurture their offspring.  

Now, the reason I spent so much time talking about sexuality vs. genitality is because I think the confusion between the two is the reason so many people--both men and women--are uncomfortable seeing a woman feed her baby at breast. While a woman's breast is part of her sexuality, this is only because it is part of what makes her feminine. It seems that generations upon generations of people have misunderstood the human body in our culture, not grasping it's original purpose nor appreciating the feminine and masculine. I could write post upon post on this topic, but that's not my point here. My point is simply that breastfeeding is a feminine behavior, not a sexual one.

Now that I've shared many of my thoughts I'm not sure I've really added much value to the conversation that's been buzzing for years now.  I'm sure this is old news for all those moms out there nurturing their babies. And probably old news to those of you who grew up around breastfeeding women. But nevertheless, as long as we're having the conversation we work toward changing the way we understand and perceive the roll of a breastfeeding mother in our society. She is simply filling her feminine role in this world. Nurturing. Mothering. Continuing to extend her body for the development of her child.

Breastfeeding mamas, carry on.    

February 21, 2014

Take a [ski] trip. Help your marriage.

Big changes tend to trigger an incredibly deep insecurity in me. So far, they have all been the sign of a new cycle of personal development. But coping with and overcoming my insecurities, adapting to another version of me, is a frustrating, anger-filled, confusing road. I tend to argue with people more often, I bitterly complain about the state of the world, I feel hopeless in my own efforts and values. In sum--I feel purposeless. I used to blame my extreme moodiness on my inability to cope with change: "Change is really hard for me, so it's expected that I'm just going to be miserable, panicky, and at times depressed. Guess I just need to learn how to live with that." Last spring, as you might already know, I faced the biggest change, the most extreme change I hope to ever encounter. Becoming a mom and losing my son. Such an extreme situation, yet I didn't undergo the expected relapse of insecurity. Instead, I felt stronger, more convicted in the person God created me to be. That's odd...if my life-long pattern was to hold true I should fall into some kind of deep depression, what with the grief, the postpartum hormones, the changes. For the past ten months, I've been anticipating these feelings and worked to have a different, more positive experience. I set positive, realistic, expectations.

I expected to be once again pregnant shortly after we lost Samuel. I had expected to find purpose, fulfillment, joy in supporting my husband, my family full-time. I had expected to thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to be SAHM even without my baby; suddenly I could focus 100% on all the house projects, family projects, personal projects I had stacked up. I had freedom of schedule, freedom from any real obligation. Oh, what bliss that would be! Surprisingly--sadly--these expectations were not met. I was not expecting the slow, silent affects of being a child-less mother. That over time I would grow lonely. Bored. Hopeless that I wouldn't have a child to mother any time soon, if ever. That I would grow bitter as a result of the loneliness, boredom, and hopelessness. How that bitterness could seep into my marriage, my sense of self, and slowly but surely eat away at any joy, peace or love I had so confidently established before. 

I had expected to experience insecurity in how I coped with, how I grieved the loss of Samuel. Instead, I grew insecure in my purpose in life, in my marriage.

Last weekend David and I took our annual Presidents Day trip to McCall, ID where we ski Brundage Mountain. It was in this town, on this hill, that David taught me to ski eight years ago. While I was never athletic as a child, I am absolutely 100% certain I would have been if I had learned to ski. My body feels powerful, confident as I float down the hill, flying away from all things stressful. Just me, snow-covered trees, cold, dry air and an ever-changing terrain. When I feel lost, skiing helps me to find my center. I see God so very present as I immerse myself in the absolute beauty of His creation. Skiing is freedom. Skiing is clarity.

Three days of spirit-lifting tree skiing through several inches of fresh powder finally gave me a sense of clarity. I could finally think. I'd been stuck for so. darn. long. Exhausted and frustrated, I couldn't seem to sort through the mess that was my mind. Now, finally, FINALLY, I felt free again. The drive home--the loooooong drive home (10+ hours with mountain pass closures that fortunately ended up working in our favor)--provided me the chance to gently sort through my scrambled thoughts and emotions. I thought a great deal about who I was becoming, about who I wanted to be for my husband, for my kids. I was supposed to be tending to a 10 month old in the back seat of our Rav4. But no. Once again, just David and me. Eight years later, just the two of us driving several hundred miles after burning our legs into the hill. Just us, day dreaming about how to discipline our future kids, where we'd like to take them, how soon we get them on skiis...and how our marriage still is in need of some serious hard work. Apparently much of my mental clutter--as Jen over at Conversion Diary puts it--was concerning my marriage, specifically how it had been going since Samuel had passed.

It's common knowledge that couples can really struggle after the loss of a child. In fact, couples who undergo such tragedy, 75% (or more) will divorce. The specific reasons for divorce after child loss vary, but generally can be categorized in two ways: inability to or difficulty with emotional processing for one or both partners and financial distress as a result of (or even prior to) the loss. Not once in the last ten month have David and I considered divorce. But there have been a couple of phases when I had seriously questioned our ability to maintain a close, deeply loving relationship. June was tough, a month after Samuel had been gone. August really sucked since I suddenly had nothing to distract me. And the most recent phase--the longest phase--started a month after we moved into our new home. For whatever reason, David and I struggled to connect in our usual M.O.

Typically, we would spend the majority of our free time together, share our hobbies, and offer our thoughts, feelings and opinions freely in order to stay connected. While this MO worked really well for us, I struggled with the timing and attitude of how I shared my thoughts, etc. David struggled with offering content. These little hiccups would cause many of our conflicts before Samuel was born, so it was important to us to work hard on improving these tendencies. Over our three years of marriage before Samuel we managed to build a strong, trusting, actively loving relationship. Samuel's death then presented a whole new set of challenges. Being able to connect didn't come naturally even though logic suggested it would. After all, we had experienced the exact same event, side by side, hand in hand. Yet, our emotional responses and how we handled those emotional responses were completely different. As David and I learned to grieve independently--a very valuable process in our marriage--connecting become more and more challenging. How could we be both connected and independent? We both hurt in ways we had never hurt before. We are sensitive. Unsure. We experience bitterness, anger, confusion, frustration, hopelessness, fear, sadness, longing. All these emotions, all of this hurt, can overwhelm one's ability to choose to love openly, unconditionally. So how?

The straightforward answer: Both of us work with a grief and loss therapist, who has provided us with a source of understanding and stability when our emotions are overwhelmingly confusing. Both of us have found great comfort in prayer. We have developed an even stronger understanding of how we encounter both God and Satan, which helps us to clearly see when to accept both our pain and our grace (that is to say accept our faith, hope and love), as well as when to reject certain fear-based thoughts.

The abstract answer: Above all, we come back to the table each and every day challenging each other to be open. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. We want to be connected, even though we fear the other may trigger something painful. We want to love each other unconditionally, even though the other could possibly be closed to that offering of love in any given moment. We want to be with each other until the very end, even though we very well may experience more hurt, more sadness, more frustration together. Why, despite all the possible hurt, do we want all of this? Because at the end of the day, when David and I can be open and can accept the other person's love we find peace. We have purpose. We see God. 

The primary source of conflict in the last ten months has been rooted in our individual insecurities, trying to understand how to connect, to openly love again.

In fact, the source of conflict throughout our relationship has stemmed from insecurity within ourselves. Why this notion is such an ah-ha this week, why it took three hard days of skiing with the love of the my life to remember such a simple fact is beyond me. It is difficult to identify insecurity as the source of conflict because the conflict usually stems from some behavior and words spoken or unspoken. After taking a  step back--that is, spending some quality time away from daily life--I could see how my frustration with the way life was going was merely a reflection of my insecurity. Taking a step back allowed me to truly identify where I am in life--yep, a lonely, bored housewife. I have been rejecting that notion consciously for the past two months because I believed being lonely and bored was shameful. After all, my mom always told me, "If you're bored I can give you something to do."

Not being happy with my current identity, my current situation can really affect how I love myself, and therefore my ability to love and be loved. Of course I am going to experience conflict in my marriage if I don't love myself because I couldn't possibly believe that anyone else could love me. When David says or shows me he loves me, and I'm feeling unsure of myself I may not accept his love. Wow. Not cool. And from the other side, if I offer David my encouragement, joy, support--all that is love--and he cannot accept, it because he is unsure of himself. Well then, we've got a real conflict on our hands. 

So where does insecurity come from? In this unique case, for me (and everyone is different), I think my insecurity started from not accepting, not allowing myself to be someone other than the mom and housewife I expected to be with Samuel. My expectation was that Samuel would be born. I would stay at home and care for him, the house and David. Well, Samuel isn't here so the expectation evolved. I would still stay home and care for only the house and David. ... that's all fine and dandy if I could have foreseen other aspects of my identity. I need to be connected to my family. I need social interaction. I need to contribute to the community. I need to challenge my brain. I need a full schedule. 

Most of those needs I have been rejecting, refusing to allow as part of me because it would somehow imply that I am no longer a mom. If I were gallivanting around town helping the community, giving my time here and there, challenging my brain, making new connections, I would somehow by defying all the things I could hold on to as "Mom." I was going to be a Stay At Home Mom. Not a Gallivanting Around Mom. Furthermore, I want people to know that I am a mom. It is so much of who I am. But there is no way for a stranger to know I'm a mom without me telling them the story of Samuel. Which, quite frankly, can really dampen  the mood. 

*On her first day of tutoring, she introduces herself to the math teacher, "Hi, I'm Elizabeth. I am so excited to help the kids learn! They are just like sponges, ready to soak up information. I had a child once. He wasn't around long enough to soak up information. He died..."* 

Yeah. Just a little awkward.

I still struggle to talk about Samuel without a specific prompt, especially since the subject isn't always contextually appropriate. Strangers don't ask (usually!), "So, do you have any kids?" 

Nevertheless, something about skiing last weekend, fitting into my old ski clothes, feeling my body move so confidently, and seeing God's presence in the mountains...I think I can accept the "anonymous mom" identity now. I think I can expand that to "Strong-willed, life-giving, creative, BUSY, gallivanting Mom." I am blessed to have the availability to give back to the community right now. To positively affect the lives of others. Two families are really benefiting from that, as I care for their little ones Monday thru Wednesday. We play, tell stories, explore and learn the usual toddler and preschool life skills. I will benefit from interacting with others, challenging my brain, and giving my heart. On Thursdays, I'll be mentoring, helping fifth graders really solidify their understanding of math. There will still be plenty of time to work on house chores and projects, to cook dinner, do the obligatory laundry and...to spend quality time with David. The worst that could happen? I might have a sense of self again.


February 8, 2014

Harbor Freeze

No snow in our sweet little neck of the woods (yet?), but we certainly are witnessing a cool little outcome of the cold! The harbor--salt water--has frozen over! Okay, not completely (unlike in 1950, when the whole harbor froze over enough for ice skaters to have a bit of fun). But still, a very beautiful spectacle for us. 

"Umm...can I get a little help here? Not able to get to my fish!"

Gorgeous, yeah? Sure, it's still gray but I love the mountain  peaking through the clouds.

Playing with composition...I can't decide which frame I like better :) 

I was taking all these pictures on my daily walk around the harbor. I had yet to stop and document the beautiful scenes just down the hill from our house. For whatever reason I decided this frigid day was a good day to pause.

My fingers definitely paid the price of reduced heart rates from those little pauses.

I heard this weird cracking and squeaking as I stopped at this pier. Took me a bit, but I the incoming tide was causing the ice to move! (duh)

Old fishing house.

Gorgeous, icy day. I felt so honored to have the opportunity to witness the harbor freeze over. Now if only we could get a bit of snow? 

Stay warm!