Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Healthy Summer Pies: Berry, Lime, & Chocolate



These cold, creamy pies have to be one of my favorite things about summer at home.  The kids and I have fun making them together in the morning, measuring out the ingredients, pressing the buttons on the food processor and blender, pushing the crust into the pan, and of course licking the dishes.  They are so easy to make, and with two helpers underfoot and a third helper usually about to wake up from his nap ready to nurse, I’m looking for easy.

We have even more fun eating these pies for an afternoon snack, then for dessert after dinner, then for a before-breakfast snack in the morning … or whenever we happen to be feeling hot and hungry.  They’re healthy enough that I can freely offer second helpings for my kids to gobble up.  The pie is gone before we know it, and it’s time to make another.

Below is Elanor enjoying pie at age 1 and at age 3.  Time goes by so fast ...


Easy Pie Crust
1 cup almonds
¾ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
6 pitted dates
1 or 2 spoonfuls of coconut oil

Put almonds, coconut, and dates together into a food processor.  (You can substitute pecans or walnuts in place of the almonds.  If you are using walnuts, you may not need to add any coconut oil later.  You can also substitute prunes or raisins for the dates.  6 pitted dates equals about 1/3 cup of chopped dried fruit to sweeten the crust.)

Blend these three ingredients together into a fine powder.  Your pie crust may be done at this point—test with your fingers to see if you can press it together.  If it’s too crumbly, add a spoonful of coconut oil (you can substitute softened butter), pulse, and then test again.  Add another spoonful of oil if you need to.

Lightly grease a pie pan, press in the crust, and put in the freezer while you make the filling.

Berry Filling

3 egg whites at room temperature
¼ cup sugar
2 dropper-fulls liquid stevia extract
½ tsp cream of tartar
3 cups frozen berries, partially thawed.
2 tbsp lemon juice or lemonade

(If you are uncomfortable eating raw egg whites, the original recipe gives instructions for how to bring your egg whites to 160 degrees.  I don’t mind raw egg whites as long as they are fresh from a farm that I know, and if I clean the eggs before I crack them.)

Mix together egg whites, sugar, stevia, and cream of tartar to make a stiff meringue.  (I do this in our blender with a different attachment.)  Scrape the meringue out into a separate bowl.

Put the berries and lemon juice into the empty blender.  (I use strawberries, but the original recipe calls for raspberries.  I think you could also do blueberries or a berry mix, or even another fruit like peaches.  Fresh fruit would work just as well as frozen.  I also use lemonade in the place of lemon juice since I had Costco organic lemonade on hand.  Lime juice or lemon extract or oil would probably work just as well.)  Blend into a smooth puree, and then fold into the meringue.  Pour filling into the pie crust and freeze.  Serve with whipped cream.

Lime Filling

2 big or 3 small ripe avocados, peeled and pitted
2/3 cup lime juice (probably about 5 limes)
Zest from 1 lime
Pinch salt
½ cup honey
½ cup coconut oil, melted
Honey or stevia to taste

Blend all ingredients in food processor until smooth.  I usually keep tasting and tinkering with the recipe until I like how it tastes—adding more lime juice for stronger flavor, and more honey and stevia to sweeten until it’s right.  Pour filling into the pie crust and freeze.  Serve with whipped cream.

The first time I made this pie I was a little grossed out about using avocadoes in a dessert recipe.  But the avocadoes don’t affect the flavor at all; they just give a smooth texture and a green color.  Even my son who hates avocadoes loves this pie.  He has no idea there are avocadoes in it, and don’t anybody dare tell him!

Chocolate Filling

1 cup nut butter
6 pitted dates
¼ cup coconut oil, melted
1 cup plain yogurt
4 tbsp cocoa
1 tbsp vanilla
Pinch salt
Honey or stevia to taste

I first discovered this recipe trying to find a use for hazelnuts.  I don’t even remember how I got the hazelnuts, but making hazelnut butter in the food processor is easy, and then I added the other ingredients.  These days I usually use peanut butter since that’s what I have on hand.  Almond butter would work well also.  The 6 dates can be replaced with 1/3 cup of raisins or other dried fruit to sweeten.  The yogurt could also be Greek yogurt to give this pie even more protein.

Blend all ingredients together in the food processor until smooth.  This is another recipe I keep tasting and tinkering with to make sure it’s sweet enough.  Pour filling into the pie crust and freeze.  Serve with whipped cream.

I love how healthy these three pies are—gluten free and low in sugar.  The berry pie is a good serving of fresh fruit; the lime pie is high in Vitamin C and healthy fats; and the chocolate pie is so filled with protein and so filling that it’s a meal in itself.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What My Daughter Has Taught Me About Gender



Dear Elanor,

This month you turn three years old, and in the past three years, I’m not sure who has grown more—you, as you’ve changed from an easy-going baby to an inquisitive, dramatic, strong-willed, endearing little girl—or me, as I’ve tried to catch up with being your mother.  Sometimes I feel like we’ve both molted out of our old skin and become new people, these last three years.

Part of that growth, in my life, is because of what you’ve taught me about gender.  Maybe that’s backwards how it should be—I’m your mom, aren’t I the one who is supposed to have all the answers and explain all things to you?  But the truth is I still have a lot to learn about what it means to be a woman, and specifically what it means to be me as a woman, and sometimes I think you’re ahead of me in your confidence in who God has made you and your freedom to be who you are.


I grew up with strictly defined gender roles.  Some of that was because I, as I think most children do at the beginning of their lives, assumed that my individual experience was universal reality, and that all men and women were like my parents with their specific personalities and division of labor within our home.  For instance, my dad didn’t cook, so I couldn’t imagine a man cooking (until I met your dad).  Some of my ideas about gender I just absorbed from the American culture around me, or from my family’s reaction to it—baby dolls were a yes, Barbie dolls a no, for reasons I now sympathize with!

Some of my ideas about gender were shaped by the patriarchal movement, with its insidious mix of twisted Biblical truths, specific historical practices, and imbalanced applications.  Boy things and girl things were as sharply defined as two columns—clear distinctions, little to no overlap.

My problem was that I didn’t fit into all the girl things.  I hated to hand sew—and still do.  Tea parties made me nervous.  I did not like the color pink.  I absolutely detested Elsie Dinsmore.  I wanted to wear jeans and go to college, but those were in the boy column.  I liked adventure and heroism and independence, but those were masculine qualities.  I decided early on that boy things were cool, and girl things were not.  As early as age eight I remember I defined myself as a “tomboy” and thought I was cool because I had eight boys that I played with, to match my age.

It’s hard for all of us, no matter what our background, to grow up and figure out who we are in the middle of all the stereotypes and conflicting messages we internalize about gender.

At age twenty-six I became a “boy mom.”  This was an identity I was comfortable with.  It kind of hearkened back to my tomboy days.  I learned more about trucks from those picture books than I’d ever known before.  There was not a pink thing in my house and I was comfortable with that.  For whatever reason I expected that all my biological kids would be boys.  When I was first pregnant with you, my second born, I thought of you as Brennan Peter because of course you were the second boy we planned on, and when the ultrasound technician told us otherwise, we told her to go back and look again.

What, a girl?!  But I’m a boy mom.  How do I raise a girl when I’m still not sure what it means to be one?

Three years later, and you are showing me.  You are who you are, and your brother is who he is, two unique masterpieces designed by God who, like your parents, don’t fit the stereotypes in many ways.


You love princesses, whether it’s Elsa and Anna, Rapunzel, or Sofia the First.  Pink is your favorite color, with purple a close second.  You love My Little Pony and all the accompanying combs, crowns, and accessories.  You are very particular about what you wear.  You love to dress-up and have several princess gowns hanging in your closet.  You love baby dolls.  You adore tea parties.  You get excited about fixing your hair and having pink toenails.

You are probably the most aggressive person in our family.  You like stories that have you (usually with your baby doll as a sidekick) beating up the bad guys with swords and chopping them into a million pieces.  If you think someone in our family is being threatened, you will take out your perceived enemy with whatever violence necessary (and usually a bit more).  For this reason you can be a bit intimidating to your brother’s friends because you don’t get when they are just pretending to shoot each other, and David is in no actual harm.  On at least one occasion I’ve heard, “David, protect me from Elanor!” and I know my intervention is in order before injury takes place.  You once raced out of the house with a toy weapon intent on attacking a neighbor whom David decided was a spy.

You like Transformers, dinosaurs, and monsters.  You like to go fast, whether it’s on a boat ride or in the car.  At your brother’s preschool T-ball game when he and the other players were contemplating the shapes of clouds in the sky or something like that, you at age one escaped my notice, ran out to the field, and grabbed the ball.  For Halloween you wanted to dress up as Cinderella, and then at the last moment decided your costume was not complete without an Optimus Prime mask accompanied by a scary roar behind it.  I love the fact that you saw absolutely no contradiction in your outfit.


 Being your mother has shown me how steeped our entire culture is in gender stereotypes, and how confusing it can be to kids growing up.  When your brother at age three fell off the toilet, banged the countertop edge, and got a black eye in the middle of the night (a most unfortunate event, believe me!), complete strangers told me approvingly that he was “all boy.”  What, I wondered, is particularly masculine about falling off the toilet?  Hello, people!  Are we just assuming that black eye=aggressive fighter= “all boy”?

While walking through the children’s section of an old church, I saw a sign on the wall basically joking about how little boys behaved so much worse than little girls.  It wasn’t funny to me, and I wondered how many children (and their teachers) had been subtly influenced by it over the years.  It does a disservice to both genders, I think—a condescending pat on the head to little girls who are expected to be prim and perfect (“what are little girls made of?”), and a grudging expectation that boys will misbehave (“boys will be boys!”).  The reality in our family, at least so far, has definitely contradicted this stereotype!

The hashtag #boymom can be used online with descriptions of what it’s like to be a mom of all boys, and all the dirt and adventure and noise that go along with it—and I really think the hashtag should just be #kidmom because goodness knows you, Elanor, supply much of the dirt and adventure and noise in our house right now.  Most of the descriptions of being a mom of all boys apply equally to moms like me of boys and girls, and I would think moms of all girls as well.


A blog I just pulled up randomly doing a quick google search “mom of boys” tells me that to mother boys, I must relax my safety standards, be prepared for messes, and have food on hand at all times.  Like, girls aren’t daring, messy, and hungry, too?  And, a boy who was cautious and neat, and maybe not so hungry because he’s not on a growth spurt at the moment, wouldn’t be masculine?  Where do we get these ideas?

A few months ago your brother and I were reading a school assignment about Amelia Earhart, and it bothered me:

“Back in 1910, most young girls liked dolls and frilly dresses.  Not Amelia Earhart.  She liked to climb trees and hunt rats with a rifle or a bow and arrow.  Her idea of fun was to body-slam into her sled and shoot like a comet down a snowy hill.  Even when she was a little girl, Amelia planned to be famous.  And not famous for doing a ‘girl’ thing.  It was her ambition to be the first girl to do something as big and brave as a grown man.”  (Hooked on Phonics Master Reader #30).

What?  At least this gave your brother and I opportunity for a good discussion.  And it helped me to solidify a lot of what bothers me about gender stereotypes:
  • Gender differences are strictly defined, often down to specifically assigning colors, hobbies, and personality types to each gender.  (What about flying makes it inherently masculine?  Or tea parties feminine?)
  • Next, it’s either implied or directly stated that boy things are inherently cooler and more fun, while girl things are boring, silly, and safe.  (Why would you want to sit inside in a frilly dress when you could instead hunt rats with a rifle?  And if you are the kind of girl who would prefer the frilly dress and you think hunting rats is gross or pointless, you start feeling slightly ashamed of what a boring person you must be.)
  • So, a girl has two options: resign herself to the boring qualities defined as feminine, or try to increase her value by rejecting that and doing the cool boy stuff.
I don’t want you to think that way.  I want you to be completely comfortable being yourself, loving princesses and pink and tea parties.  Because those are just as cool as any “boy” things, and the woman who shapes her world while wearing a frilly pink dress to social events is just as important as one who tries to fly around the world.

So go ahead and be you and wear that pink dress.  But wear it in with a Transformer mask if you want to, and roar like a dinosaur.  Be crazy aggressive (okay, as long as you’re not hurting your brother, his friends, or the neighbor).  Learn to fly and fight bad guys if you want to.  The important thing is: be you, be Elanor, the girl and the woman God created, not to fit any cultural mold but to fit His purpose.


By the way, I’m not obtuse (even though you already sometimes say “Mo-om!” in that teenage tone of voice that heavily implies you think I am).  I get that there are obvious differences between boys and girls, and I think there are some non-obvious differences as well.  I even believe that God assigns us in the Bible a few distinct roles, and that we as men and women can at times struggle with specific strengths and weaknesses.  I concede that stereotypes exist for a reason.  I don’t think it’s wrong to acknowledge these different tendencies, as long as we recognize that they are just that—tendencies that not everyone fits, tendencies sometimes influenced by biological makeup and sometimes by cultural surroundings—and not strict molds and specific dictums or right and wrong.

But qualities like brave or fierce or heroic or aggressive—these don’t belong in the masculine column, while girls are stuck with demure and submissive.  You’re showing me that God creates women fiercely brave, aggressively protective, stubbornly bold. 
He makes us in His image that way.  Denying that part of ourselves to try to fit a stereotype minimizes His design.

Elanor, my princess with the monster roar, be all that you are, and don’t hold back.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Brennan's Birth Story



I remember when it occurred to me in the middle of David, my firstborn’s, birth (that was a 21 hour labor so I had time for thought!) that at that moment I was the weakest I had ever been, hardly able to move without help, but at the same time I was doing the strongest thing I had ever done, bringing a new life into the world.  That is why I like reading, and writing, birth stories—a birth, no matter how it happens, can be a defining moment not just (obviously) in a baby’s life, but in a mother’s life also.

David and Elanor were both eleven days late, and with both of them, the time between due date and birthdate was miserable for me—not just because I was uncomfortable, but because I was expecting and hoping labor to start at any hour and kept being disappointed.  I would wake up crying realizing I was still pregnant.  Hormones were definitely going crazy, and I felt stuck in a horrible holding pattern.  Both births also involved very leisurely drives to the hospital.  David’s labor was so long we could decide whether to leave home before or after rush hour traffic (we opted for after so we could eat dinner at home, that’s how slowly things were going).  When we drove to the hospital with Elanor, I wasn’t even in labor.  I was expecting to be induced, and would have been if she hadn’t decided on her own that today was the day as soon I was settled comfortably into a hospital bed.

With Brennan, I wanted to avoid the days of disappointment.  I assumed he would come as late as possible—my midwife team and I decided for a number of reasons that would be seven days late, not eleven, so June 20th was going to be his birthday.  I expected another slow drive to the hospital on the morning of the 20th, and hoped that with a little nudge my body, perversely waiting for who knows what, would decide to have a baby that day.

So on Saturday June 13th, the due date, we went grocery shopping, cleaned the house, and Ben mowed the yard.  I made a week plan like I always do on Saturdays, this time planning to take the week slow, get a little done each day, and do fun things like meet a friend at the pool with the kids.  I told Ben that night before we fell asleep that I was fine with waiting until the 20th.  I’d been waiting for 9 months, I could hang in there for 1 more week.  So I fell asleep.

A little after 2 a.m. I woke up having a contraction, which would have been surprising if it hadn’t been happening every night for the past several weeks.  This time I had a few contractions in a row, and my only thought was that I hoped they would stop so I could fall back asleep.  We had church in the morning and a birthday party in the afternoon—not a good day to wake up at 2 a.m.  But I couldn’t fall asleep, and eventually my moaning woke up Ben.  He brought me a cup of iced tea and I sat on the edge of the bed telling him this was not the real thing and wishing my contractions would stop so I could sleep.

Finally a particularly hard one came and I said, “Well, I’m obviously not going to sleep like this, so we may as well start the drive to the hospital just in case.  We can always turn around and come back, and driving will be better than lying here miserable.”

It took us only about 10 minutes to pack up, and I went downstairs to wake up my sister Anna, who is living with us right now and had kindly agreed to take the kids if we needed to leave in the middle of the night.  “This is probably not the real thing, but we driving to the hospital just in case, we will probably be back soon, so sorry to wake you up!”  And as I got in the van to leave I told Ben, “We are probably being so stupid!”  I felt annoyed because I had not wanted to get my hopes up and be disappointed again.  I was fine with waiting until the 20th, and driving to the hospital only to learn I was not in labor seemed like a pointless way to spend the night.  But off we went.

The contractions were getting stronger on the way there (Ben told me later he was timing them with the van clock and they were about 2 or 3 minutes apart).  Ben, who normally sticks to the 55 mph speed limit, was going about 80.  I still didn’t think it was for real, but I just wanted to get there where I could be more comfortable than I was sitting in the van passenger seat.  I tried eating something, since with both my other labors I had eaten a good meal at the beginning.  This time all I had was one bite from a fig bar, and I could hardly swallow it.  I was just not hungry.  Maybe that should have been my indication that I was farther along than I thought, but I didn’t think about it.

We called the midwife team, and Julie was the midwife we got on call.  She was new to the team, and though I had had an appointment with her, I didn’t remember her in the moment and felt a little nervous.  She told me she would meet us at the birth center.  A deer jumped out of the road while I was on the phone with her and I gasped.  I don’t think I was quite coherent enough to tell her it was a deer, not a contraction.  Fortunately we didn’t hit it and kept going.

We turned my birth playlist on using my phone, and I was listening to songs like “Shoulders” by King & Country and “You Make Me Brave”—probably the best birth song ever:

As Your love, in wave after wave, crashes over me …
You make me brave, You make me brave,
You call me out beyond the shore into the waves.

I started crying at that song, not because I hurt but because I felt so darn vulnerable, not sure what to expect, preparing to be disappointed, and to be honest still somewhat groggy from sleep, like it was all a weird dream.

At 3:30 we got to the Natural Birth Center, across the parking lot from the Birthing Inn section of the hospital.  The nurse opened the door for us, and I got out of the van with my purse and my phone still playing, trying to walk in like I was fine, except that I had another contraction before I got to the door.  I expected to go to a triage room where they would see if I was in labor, but instead we went straight to one of the bedrooms.  There was a queen-sized bed with a lot of pillows and a huge bathtub, a beautiful home-like environment.  The nurse started filling the tub immediately and I was looking forward to soaking in it while we decided whether or not I had to go back home.

Though I had talked to Julie on the phone, Paula was the midwife who came in.  I was glad since I had just had two appointments with her and knew her better.  She checked me, and I was bracing myself for her to say, “You’re still 3 cm, Lisa, go home” or maybe—hopefully—“You’re 4 or 5, you can stay and we’ll see what happens.”
Instead she said, “You’re 9 cm.”  What?!  I could hardly believe it.  There wouldn’t be time to get in the tub.  At that point I decided to do all I could to just get to the end and out of the pain as fast as possible.  Paula broke my water.  She said lying on my side would help, so I tried that for a few contractions until I felt ready to push.

This was my first birth that I got really cold during labor.  For whatever reason, I was shaking with cold and my teeth were chattering.  The nurses were piling warm blankets on me, and it was like I couldn’t get enough.

I also remember—and this was true with my other births as well—that even when I’m in pain and so much is going in my body, I am vividly aware of the details around me.  I remember wondering about the stripes in the window valance, for instance.  And we put my phone on the bedside table and kept it playing music the whole time, and I remember the different songs coming up.

It’s always hard for me to transition from relaxing during a contraction to pushing.  It’s like I don’t know how to do it, and it just hurts, and I can’t figure out a position to be in that makes it better.  There were two nurses in the room by now, and both of them were giving me instructions that just confused me.  The nurses at Brennan’s birth were probably actually the least sensitive of the nurses I’ve had, but I know they were trying to help with their ideas.  I got the feeling that if I could just figure out what to do I could be over the hurdle.  Paula wondered if I wanted to try a different position.  But with both David’s and Elanor’s births, I was lying down in bed supported by pillows, and I wanted to do what I knew worked for me.  Ben kept looking in my eyes and letting my foot push against him and encouraging me.  He was the only one not telling me what to do at that point, and it was nice just to know that he was there and that I was going to figure this out.

Finally we got it together so I was pushing effectively in each contraction, and in four contractions Brennan was out.  He was born at 4:30 in the morning, only an hour after we arrived, and just over two hours after I had first woken up.  He was 8 pounds 7 ounces, and 20 ½ inches long.

 
Paula put him on my chest immediately, and I was so overwhelmed and still in so much pain it was hard for my mind to grasp that my baby was now outside me.  It had all happened so quickly that it still felt surreal and hard to grasp.  Brennan lay on my chest attached to his cord for awhile while they fixed me up.  They put a blanket over both of us to keep him warm.  I was grateful just for the time to hold him and gradually realize—This is my baby!  We did it! He’s on the outside!  The birth is over and it only gets better from here!

Me and Paula.

So Brennan begins his life outside the womb as my earlier than expected baby, coming quick and forceful.  So far he’s been relatively easygoing and I only hope that lasts.  I was worried that I might have a hard time attaching to him (probably because I just worry about things, I don’t think this one had any rational basis), but that has been no problem, to put it mildly, since I’m utterly besotted with him.  He loves to rest his head against my chest with his arms folded, sometimes asleep, sometimes awake looking up at me like, “So there’s the face that belongs to the voice I’ve been hearing all this time!”

 Resting at the hospital.
 
Today I asked David to check on Brennan while he was sleeping, and David came back and said, “He’s not crying, but he is awake, just looking spectaculared.”  Pause.  “Is spectaculared a word?”

We told him it wasn’t, but I knew exactly what David meant about Brennan’s gaze—that wide-eyed with wonder curiosity like he’s trying to take everything in.  With this baby I’m more aware of the miracle I get to see unfolding.  So many babies begin their lives neglected by their mothers, or taken from them because staying with them would be unsafe.  I get to love my baby and bond with him from day one, and give him this healthy foundation for life.  The newborn weeks are challenging, but I don’t want to wish them over too soon because I know I’ll never get them back—I’ll blink and Brennan will be crawling, walking, developing his personality, starting school.  Right now I’m happy to have his arms folded against my chest and his face looking up into mine.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

What I’ve Learned through Foster Care



He left this morning.  I figured the judge would rule that way, so last night I packed up baby boy clothes, again.  I boxed the formula.  I set out the medication and extra diapers.  It was all ready to go, and sure enough the call came, and we hadn’t finished breakfast before an appreciative social worker and an excited birth parent were in our family room.

“Thank you for all you have done.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.”  The birth parent is as excited as any parent with a new baby.  And I’m happy for their excitement, but also a bit concerned, because even now there is so much about their baby that they don’t know how to care for.

I guess they will learn.  There will be bumps on the road and I will not be there.  Because in a moment Ben and I change from the parents who know more than anyone else how to care for this baby, to people in the past who may never see him again.  The car backs out of the driveway, and where a minute before there was excitement and activity and boxes and bags, and a baby, in the family room, now there is only an empty bed.  Again.

This time we only had the baby for just under two months, and I feel only concern, not real grief.  But I keep remembering last time when my heart got torn out.  And even now I feel my throat tighten at the emptiness in the house, at how in a moment, a case I’ve poured my heart and so much time into can just be—done.

It’s just a second that I feel this way, because we are in the middle of breakfast, and David is doing his math page, and I promised the kids we would make strawberry chocolate chip muffins if they were good.  So I’m pulled back to this moment of being a busy mom in a busy house, and I know it will be awhile until I can pick up foster care again, and I think about what I have learned through it and how much it has changed me.

It’s Not About Me

One of the main lessons I’ve learned since stepping naively into the foster care world is that it is not about me.  As a foster parent, I have been thanked and loved and appreciated and supported, but also a number of times falsely accused, ignored, used, manipulated, lied to, jerked around.

I knew going in that it wasn’t about me, but sometimes when I’m offended I need to remind myself of that.  Any foster care case is not about filling my gaps, meeting my needs, or helping me feel better about how needed I am or what a great person I am.  In foster care cases it really doesn’t matter what I think or how I feel.  It just doesn’t matter, and the sooner I accept that the happier I am.

I’m grateful that my thoughts and feelings matter to the Lord, to my husband, and to my friends.  But in the foster care world, my opinions and feelings are really not all that important, and I’m there primarily to love the child, to be an advocate, to reach out to their family.

Boundaries

One of the challenges of foster care is that we become aware of a lot that we cannot control.  We learn about tragedies, about complicated drama, about decisions we don’t agree with.  We learn about a lot of things, and most of them we can do nothing about.

So I’m finding that I need to fulfill what I am responsible for.  Feed this baby.  Love this baby.  Reach out to the parent if I can.  Call the caseworker and advocate for this baby.  Pray for this case.  And then it is out of my hands.  And I cannot let my life be consumed with worry and frustration over what I cannot control.  I can only do my job well and leave the rest.  And really isn’t all of life that way?

I’m learning too how to reach out to dysfunctional people without letting their drama spill over into my life.  I’m learning how far to go and when to say “enough.”  I’m learning when to say, “Yes, I can help with that” and when to say, “Absolutely not.”  Setting boundaries is a hard balance which I usually find by first overstepping on one side or the other, but slowly I’m learning.

Grief and Hope

This was my main journey of last year—learning what grief was really like and how to hope through it.  I still don’t have a lot of words for what I learned but I know I am changed.

Messiness

I’m learning that when we step out of our comfort zone and do ministry, it can get really messy.  Things aren’t always black and white, and it’s hard to explain that to someone who sees the world that way.  Things are complicated and answers are not easy.

I remember when a friend told me that I might find encouragement in Beth Moore’s story of loving and then having to give up her adoptive son.  I made the mistake of googling this, and instead of finding an encouraging story, I stumbled upon a range of personal attacks from people who just did not understand what foster care and adoption was really like.  “She refuses to say much about it.”  Well, maybe that’s because it’s confidential.  “She gave up her son.”  Well, maybe because she or some authority made the hard choice that he should be with his birth family.  And so forth.

This is not easy stuff, people.  The moment you foster or adopt, you open your life to a tragedy, and often a series of tragedies, that happened.  There are no quick fixes for these tragedies.  There is often no one right answer.  Everything is bittersweet and nuanced and complicated.

The baby’s leaving this morning was a triumph to his birth family and a testimony to how hard they worked to get him back, but at the same time it was a concerning transition and a loss for us.  His coming into care in the first place was exciting for us, and a good change for him, but it happened because of wrong things that go way back.  If things had gone differently and we had been able to adopt him, it would have been because of other tragedies that would have happened along the way.

Even the foster care system is messy.  You hear from the cynical about how much the system is broken.  The truth is there are a lot of wonderful people trying to make a difference, and a lot of laws that really make sense.  There’s also a lot of mess and nonsense and red tape and things that make me feel like pulling my hair out.  Hmm, why did I think ministry would be straightforward and easy?

Attachment

Foster care has forever impacted my parenting by reminding me of what is truly important.  It has taught me how significant and life altering it is to parent—one of the most important jobs a person can ever do—and all the more important for a child’s first few years of life.  I believe that what I am doing as a foster mom, and just as a mom in general, really matters and really makes a difference, because that’s what the research shows.

When my first son was born, I worried way too much about sleep training and schedules and other silly things that were essentially my attempt to bring control to an area I knew nothing about.  I’m still really fond of sleeping and having a good routine, but I’m learning not to sweat the small things, and to focus on what really matters.  Does this child feel loved?  Am I teaching this child how to attach?

I read this quote from a New York Times review of a foster care book: “Though foster parents understand that their parenting responsibilities are usually temporary, some can’t help falling for their foster kid….”  And I thought, this reviewer totally does not get it.  Not. At. All.  Try it this way:

“Though foster parents understand that their parenting responsibilities are usually temporary, they are also trained to know the importance of attachment.  They make a deliberate decision to bond with each foster kid, knowing that risking their own heartbreak is worth it to make a lasting difference in each kid’s life.”

There is a lot more I’ve learned since opening my life to this mess called foster care, and this bumpy journey we’ve been on.  It has not turned out like I dreamed.  I still want to adopt through foster care someday, but I also know we are gifted in reaching out to birth families and maybe adoption isn’t part of God’s calling for us.  Whatever God’s calling is, I have a feeling it will not be predictable or easy.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

When your mommy efforts crash and burn



The days when I most feel like writing a blog post about motherhood are the days when everything is going well.

I think maybe I should write a blog post about home schooling Kindergarten in those moments when I feel we are so very clearly on top of our game.

Maybe I should write a blog post about cultivating good sleep habits when both our kids have been sleeping through the night for a long time.

Maybe I should write a blog post about helping your 2YO play independently when Elanor is being so content and creative on her own—hmm, maybe that’s why the home schooling was going so well?


Then there are the days (or, for me right now, the entire horrendous month of January) when all my mommy efforts crash and burn and all the answers I thought I had are kind of sizzling in ruin on the floor around me.

Not to be overdramatic or anything.

Those moments when I am collapsed in exhaustion in the family room while my son is in bed with a stomach bug and my daughter is for no apparent reason in the middle of yet another big meltdown.  I feel like I should peel myself off the couch and try to help her, but I seem to have misplaced the manual on how to switch off tantrum mode and what exactly she is trying to communicate through her different moods.

Oh, wait, she didn’t come with a manual.  And I am trying to grope my way along and keep my sanity and patience and firmness and hoping there is a light ahead when this will be easier.

David has been in a hard stage before and I am trying to remember how I felt then.  I remember for a few months when he was three we were dealing with tantrums, and I cried a lot.  Then the tantrums stopped as quickly as they had started, and I wrote a blog post about what I learned.

Now we’re going over another bump with Elanor, except she is different and everything is different, and the things that worked with David don’t work with her.  I desperately want to have a good relationship with my daughter, and I love it that she loves to be with me.

But I don’t love it that suddenly with no warning separation anxiety has hit—why after being confident and assured for so long does she now want to be connected to me at all times?  Why, after her sleeping so well for so long, do I feel like I have an infant again up multiple times in the night?  Why does she only seem content when she’s watching a movie?  Why can we have so much fun together doing something like a baking project and then a millisecond later she is screaming and kicking on the floor?

Part of the frustration of parenting for me is the lack of answers to questions like these.  On one hand, I can find very specific and confident (and contradictory!) answers from parenting books that assure me if I were a little more strict (or a little more lenient) or did something just a little differently, success in parenting would be mine in a moment.  I’ve gotten to the place where I usually ignore those formulaic approaches and try my best with the wisdom of God’s Word and the intuition He has given me and Ben.

But I still find myself casting about for answers—is she on a growth spurt?  Teething?  Is this because I’m pregnant?  Is it somehow connected to our foster baby leaving 6 months ago?  Is this all a detox from the fun time she had in Florida?  Are these weeks of drama because she was sick for a few days?  Is there an undiscovered food allergy?  Have I not been giving her enough attention?  Am I pandering to her too much?

I can drive myself crazy with questions like these, and it’s a little hard to think logically about them when Elanor wants at the same time to be held close and to have the freedom to run around, to eat something yet she’s not hungry after all, to play with that toy but never mind she hates it, and I think—she doesn’t know what’s wrong either.  She is just, for whatever reason, at this point in her development, really, really frustrated.

It’s easy to feel mommy guilt when our child is going through a rough stage, to wonder if we somehow did something wrong, or caused this, or if we’re not responding in the best way, or are we missing something obvious?

But I’m trying to remember this:

In some jobs, you can put in X and know with certainty that Y will come out.  The cause and effect are clearly linked.  There’s a formula and pattern and it all makes sense.

Parenting isn’t like that because we’re dealing with people.  We put in X and we have no idea what will come out.  When good stuff is coming out, we can applaud ourselves, and other people may join in, at what a great job we are doing.  Look, I have a happy, well-balanced child for the moment!  Aren’t I a great mom?

Then we hit a rut when weird stuff is happening and we don’t know why and we’re crying out for wisdom.  I think in those moments it’s helpful to remember:

The perfect parent we are really trying to imitate is God.  And His parenting didn’t always go well.  His children didn’t always turn out and follow Him perfectly.  His lavish grace and mercy wasn’t always met with appreciation and obedience.

The parent we are really trying to imitate is the Father of the Prodigal Son.  Somehow his oldest was a hypocrite and his youngest was a rebel.  He just kept doing the right thing in his parenting, waiting patiently, reasoning gently.

I hope if there is something I can do differently that will help Elanor through this rough patch, that I figure it out really soon.  But I also don’t want to beat myself up that things aren’t going perfectly for me right now.  I feel like one test of parenting is how we live when all our efforts are crashing and burning around us.  Am I still being consistent?  Patient?  Joyful?  Or am I allowing the mood swings of my two-year-old to become mood swings of my own?  (Not like I’ve had moments of hysterical tears these last few weeks, that’s just a hypothetical question.)

Anyway, I have no really great ideas about parenting right now.  Love your kids and be affectionate with them.  Be firm and try to teach them good things.  Try not to go crazy when they do.  And when it’s falling to pieces, try to remember your hope is in the Lord, not in your sweet children or your awesome parenting skills.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Helping Your Kids Stay Healthy This Winter



Cold weather rolls in, and we moms start thinking the same thing: how will we help our kids stay healthy this winter?  And, is it worth it going to church children’s ministry, a play date, library story time, or a home school field trip, with the inevitable exposure to germs?

Here are a few tips I’ve learned for helping my kids stay healthy in the winter so we can still get out and about.  A disclaimer first that some of these ideas take time and/or money—not much, since I’m busy and on a tight budget, but some.  The way I see it, though, I’m going to spend my time and money somewhere, and as far as it’s possible, I’d rather spend it on healthy food and supplements than on sick visit copays and prescriptions.

Hand sanitize and wash after being out.  Keep a healthy hand sanitizer (I like this one) in your purse so that your children can sanitize immediately after shopping or being with friends, and definitely before eating out.

Then the minute they walk inside the house, have your kids thoroughly wash hands with a good soap (I like Udderly Fresh Soap and also DoTerra OnGuard soap).  Help your children avoid contact with shopping cart handles, restaurant high chairs, and other things that are swarming with germs—clean with a sanitizing wipe or put a cover over it.

Avoid artificial colors and sweeteners (including high fructose corn syrup).  I try not to buy anything with these ingredients.  This simple step cuts out a lot of unhealthy food.  Because we don’t actually have a food allergy to these ingredients, I don’t freak out if my son has candy at a class or colored frosting at a birthday party.  A little bit here or there is not a big deal; it’s just not a regular habit.

 This was one of our exceptions to the "nothing artificial" rule!
Minimize sugar.  Depending on where you read it, the exact numbers are different, but the basic fact is that we eat many more pounds of sugar per year than our ancestors did.  The difference is something like 2-7 pounds of sugar per year in previous generations vs. 150 pounds of sugar and high fructose corn syrup per year now. 

That’s a huge increase, and we’re paying the price for it.  We are getting used to having everything hyper-sweetened.  If a child starts the day with fruit juice and boxed cereal, has a pb&j sandwich for lunch, and has something like spaghetti for dinner, chances are that every single dish is sweetened, not to mention any snacks and desserts thrown in.

Make simple, small changes.  Make your own food instead of buying it packaged.  Serve homemade oatmeal instead of boxed cereal, or plain yogurt mixed with fruit instead of a yogurt cup.  Use honey, maple syrup, liquid stevia, or fruit as sweeteners.  Look up paleo recipes online when you’re baking something—I love these coconut flourbrownies, for instance.

It’s easiest of course when you can start this with babies so your kids’ taste buds acclimate to healthier options.  If your kids think plain yogurt mixed with honey and orange pieces is a normal dessert, so much the better!

Avoid stress, and get enough sleep.  These are good rules to help us moms stay healthy (though of course they can be nearly impossible to follow!).  But they also apply to our kids—are they getting enough nighttime sleep?  If they need a nap or quiet time, do they get it?  Are they anxious and hurried from one event to another, or do they have time to relax, read, and play?

Eat lots of fruits and veggies.  Find yummy ways to serve vegetables—broccoli or green beans tossed with olive oil and oven roasted, peas steamed with butter, or whipped carrots.  If your kids don’t love them, they can still learn to eat them—every mealtime at our house usually includes some sort of instruction like “eat five bites of vegetables and then you can have your biscuit.”  Fruits are a natural favorite for my kids, and we try to eat lots of berries and citrus especially.  Smoothies are a great way to disguise fruits, and even vegetables like spinach.

Supplement.  Supplements can do more harm than good if they have synthetic ingredients that your body just reacts against and tries to flush out of the system.  Buy a completely natural whole-food supplement.  A good way to verify the quality of a supplement is to see whether or not the Vitamin E is synthetic.  We use GNLD LiquiVite, a liquid supplement full of vitamins/minerals/other immune boosters.  (We’ve ordered a similar all-natural liquid supplement from the Vitamin Shoppe, which was half the price but also half the potency.)  We also like GNLD chewable VitaSquares and VitaGard. 

We buy liquid Vitamin D from the Vitamin Shoppe, and give our kids a drop or two every day.

One of my favorite ways to supplement to fight off sickness for me as an adult is to take garlic capsules.  I like GNLD garlic because it’s very potent and doesn’t make my breath smell afterwards.  If I’m fighting sickness, I will take as many as 6 garlic capsules a day to quickly kick any infection.  My kids can’t swallow capsules, though, and no way are they chewing garlic capsules, so I haven’t found a way yet to help them with this (other than to mince fresh garlic and put it in soups and casseroles).

Other weird stuff.  Because frankly, some of it is weird.  But it works.

Herbal tea.  The Nourishing Herbalist, probably my favorite health blog right now, gives instructions here for making your own herbal tea that is basically a homemade supplement.  Again, this is the kind of thing that takes a little time and money, but once you get started, you spend only a few minutes a day.  We ordered our herbs from iherb.  Our kids love to drink it and so do I.

Raw milk.  This is a controversial one, though surveys have shown that you are more likely to get sick from eating spinach than you would from raw milk.  Here in Virginia we can only legally purchase milk through a cow share system.  Find a small farm you trust where conditions are clean and cows are regularly tested.  Raw milk is full of vitamins that would be otherwise be killed in pasteurization.  It’s also a great source of probiotics.  Speaking of those …

Probiotics.  Drink raw milk, make your own yogurt from raw milk (again, it will take a little time to get the hang of it, but once you learn, it’s very easy and saves a lot of money), and/or give your kids a probiotic supplement like FloraBaby.  (FloraBaby can be good for mixing into formula if that’s how you need to feed your baby.)

If you’re not excited about the idea of raw milk and homemade yogurt, at least try to buy organic whole milk yogurt and give your kids a serving a day.  For us, yogurt is always our bedtime snack while we have a Bible reading.  Probiotics boost the immune system and can also help your children from becoming constipated.  Having one BM a day is a good goal.

Apple cider vinegar and honey drink.  Use Bragg raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar (available through Amazon or a local health food store).  Then buy raw honey from a local farm—you can save by getting a gallon jar.

From the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, I order from Hay’s Apiary through the mail.  The cost (including shipping) is actually less than what you would pay for raw honey at Costco, which I’m sure is healthy but doesn’t have the advantage of being local.

Once a day, or at every meal if you’re really ambitious, mix 1 tbsp vinegar and 1 tbsp honey with a glass of water.  I can’t believe my kids actually like this, but they do, and both the vinegar and the honey have multiple health benefits.

Elderberry/echinacea tincture.  This is another one from the Nourishing Herbalist.  She explains here how to make it but I find it much easier to buy hers, which is reasonably priced.

Essential oils.  This is still a new frontier to me so I can’t say much.  Essential oils rubbed on the bottoms of feet and/or diffused into a room can really help not only in preventing sickness but in helping your kids get better when they’ve got something.  Diffusing essential oils in their bedrooms at night can be especially helpful when they have a respiratory sickness.  After doing a little research and price comparison, we’re ordering our essential oils from Native American Nutritionals.

UPDATE: We’ve started to use essential oils a little more since writing this.  Oregano oil is strong but effective in helping fight infection—dilute one drop with coconut oil and rub on the bottoms of feet.  I like to diffuse Olbas oil (from the Vitamin Shoppe) to help with respiratory sickness.  Elanor gets sick more frequently now (maybe because she keeps putting her fingers in her mouth), and I diffuse Olbas Oil in her room overnight when she is sniffly.  Lavender and peppermint are other favorites—both help against sickness; lavender is especially effective for calming and sleeping, and peppermint is good when you’re feeling nauseous or have a headache.

So there’s my smattering of ideas!  Yes, they take a little time or money, but if I have the choice, I would so much rather be doing these things, than cleaning up vomit and blowing noses and cancelling events because my kids are sick.  I'm grateful for all the days that we can stay healthy, and when we do get sick, I'm grateful that these ideas can usually help us get better quickly.

Here’s to a winter of helping our kids stay in their classes and play dates and out of the doctor’s office!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

When Submission Becomes Codependence

I'm posting over at Warrior Wives today:


"I remember when I learned in clear, concise words that my identity and purpose in life was to be a helpmeet to my husband, a mother to my children, and a keeper of my home.  I was probably eleven, and I was memorizing a motto.  Nothing about the motto surprised me, since I had been taught these concepts my whole childhood.

"Nothing about the motto concerned me either.  What more could I want than Prince Charming to show up in my later teenage years and give me a happily ever after?  I would gladly obey my husband and care for our home and children, especially since the alternative was forever obeying my father and caring for his home and children...."  

Read the rest at Warrior Wives.