Sunday, February 23, 2014

Filled with joy

I have a sweet friend with whom I share a picnic table during recess time. She and I talk about love, life, God, our dreams. I love her because of her authenticity, and the fact that I can be authentic with her. We all need friends like that.

This week, in between refereeing soccer spats and oh-so-kindly reminding students to stop running into the carpool loop, she asked me, "What brings you joy right now?"

(Like I said y'all, this friend is legit.)

I thought about the big areas in my life right now. Her sweet question caused me to reflect all week on how much I have to be thankful for.

I love my job. It's hard and exhausting and sometimes frustrating but I truly love my job. I am passionate about public education, and even with all the craziness surrounding my profession lately, I have a lot of fight left in me. 

I love being a student. I couldn't wait to start my masters after completing my undergrad degree. I'm curious by nature (and nurture- my mom is the same way!) and I get really excited about learning something new. 

I love my family. I have more than a husband. I have a best friend. And my daughter is the most beautiful creature I have ever laid eyes on. Spending time with them is pure delight.
Yes, my days are busy. But they are full- full of things I love to do. 

The Lord has done great things

For us and we are filled with joy.

(Ps. 126:3)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Daylight and Quaker Oats

There's this Quaker granola bar commercial that features a haggard looking mom who pours OJ in her kid's cereal and groans when she realizes she has donned two different pointy-toed heels to work. All of her problems are miraculously solved, however, when a hot air balloon appears outside of her window, bearing gifts of dried fruit and granola in a neatly wrapped package. Suddenly, she is bright and beautiful again, even shooting hoops with the fam! The wonders of oats, I tell ya.

I have this strong and annoying desire for a quick fix in my life. I want my solution to sail in on a hot air balloon, too.

Maybe it's our modern American life, but I doubt it. The Israelites were the same when they built a golden calf when Moses was up getting those commandments (dude, I'll be right back) or despaired that God didn't bring them swiftly to the promised land.

It's the condition of our human souls, I think, to desperately want an end to suffering. I'm not sure the desire for quick fixes is a bad thing. I mean, if healing can come quickly, by all means, PLEASE bring it. 

But the real problem for me is my lack of trust in the Lord and impatience by working outside of His will for a quick answer.

I'm in a season now. It's one in which I have blessing upon blessing but fear upon fear that it will all go away. It's hard to talk about but I imagine I'm not the only one that deals with anxiety. It's also not the first time this has happened, but I'm supposed to be able to pray Philippians 4:6 and all my mental anguish will disappear. But it doesn't. Or maybe I should take a pill, and it will all be better. But it isn't.

I am in this struggle to discern if I have a chemical imbalance or a spiritual one, and in realizing the answer is probably both, I'm tempted to despair.

Because I really want a quick fix. I want to take a special pill or pray a verse and be able to sleep at night.

There's this Barenaked ladies song from the 90's. One line goes "You gotta kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight." Answers may take a while. They may not sail in on a balloon. They may not even come this side of heaven. But it will happen. For we serve the One who is the Light of the world (John 9:5)

I think maybe this is one where I'm just gonna have to sit here for a while, kicking at darkness, praying for Daylight.

Monday, February 10, 2014

We pause from our regularly scheduled deep thoughts to bring you...

The much requested post about my freezer meals since returning to work.

I am a graduate student, full-time teacher, and mommy. I used to be busy. Now I'm just crazed. I'm also doing this thing where I'm trying to lose the last eight pounds of the fifty I put on with the Sweet Potato, so in addition to doing the Bikini Body Mommy workouts (found here), I'm trying to eat at home more.

*as I type this, I'm eating from a pint of dark chocolate gelato. it has antioxidants, right?*

I get home around 4, just in time for Sweet Tater's last nap of the day. No way on this green earth am I going to bang around pots at pans at this time, or I will face the wrath of a Grumpy Baby and ain't nobody got time for that.

She wakes up around 5:30, and I wash out her bottles from the day, workout next to her while she tummy-times-it-up, nurse her, bathe her, and put her to bed. At this point, I lesson plan or do homework and pass out at 8:30. So yeah, cooking is low on the totem pole of priorities.

We're over a month into this new system, and here is what has worked. Twice now I have had a marathon cooking session wherein I destroy my kitchen and stock my freezer.

A few notes:

1) I don't have recipes for everything. I'll link to the ones I have, but mostly, the meals are easy and made up.
2) I use a lot of cheap and quick ingredients. Russet potatoes instead of red, fresh kale, jasmine rice instead of brown (cooks faster), and ground beef instead of stew beef. I also buy canned beans like they're going out of style, even though dry are cheaper. But not faster. You catching my drift?
3) I bought those foil tins from the Dollar Tree and also some gallon freezer bags. Bags of soup sounds gross but it is what it is.
4) Sides include Jiffy cornbread (can't beat 33 cents a box), sweet potatoes (sounds eerie now, eh?), and bagged salads if they're on sale.

Round one 
Buy the huge tube (ew) of ground beef and brown it all. Divide into half lb or 3/4 lb portions. Whatever you don't use can be frozen and used for a quick pasta and meat sauce dinner. I ended up with 6 bags from a 3 pound tube (ew). I also buy the bags of frozen chicken. They honestly gross me out unless I put them in the crock pot and they're cooked to shreds. Then I used them for the chili and tamale pie. Roasted red peppers are super easy, so when bell peppers are on sale I buy a ton. Then I throw them in pretty much every recipe.

Black bean pie (I added a little ground beef)
Beef chili (Three bags)
Tamale pie (I made two)
The Pioneer Woman's Mac and cheese (This was more to satisfy a took a little too long, but I made three pans)
Baked Ziti
Chili pie (basically the small amount of chili I had left in a pie crust with cheese on top)
Oatmeal breakfast bars *
Roasted red pepper quiche**

*I've made these a few times and am obsessed. They're really cheap and easy. Unlike me. Ha. I mash up 3 bananas, throw in oats, a little sugar, 2 eggs, and whatever random baking ingredients I have (chocolate chips, coconut, cranberries, etc). I ran out of vanilla so I used almond extract. And, because I'm nursing, I added four tablespoons of brewer's yeast and a few tablespoons wheat germ. It makes them kinda bitter, but I can smear peanut butter on them in the morning and for about 350 calories, I have a pretty filling breakfast.

**Quiche is one of those catch-alls. I just throw my leftover veggies, meat, and cheese in with four eggs and about a cup of milk and pour it in a pie crust. So I don't really have a recipe, but I make it all the time.
Sometimes I make extra filling and bake it in muffin tins, sans the pie crust. It's a quick breakfast that way.

Total for groceries was about $180, including our breakfast and lunch stuff.

Round Two
Chicken pot pie (2)
Bacon and Red Pepper Quiche (2)
Potato and kale soup with bacon (if you puree boiled potatoes with chicken broth in the blender it turns out like a creamy soup!)
Beef stroganoff (2)
Beef and rice casserole (3) (made from leftover rice, veggies, and ground beef)
Chicken and dressing casserole (3)
Chicken Pesto Alfredo Pasta (4 pans!)

I came home from grocery shopping ready to tackle round two of freezer meal cooking. It was a little hectic, but here's what I did:

-In the oven, I put bacon, cornbread, red peppers, and chicken breasts to bake. It was a little crowded in there!
-In the crockpot, I added a bag of that frozen chicken.
-I browned 3 lbs of beef,  boiled two boxes of pasta, and boiled a bunch of potatoes.
-When I had room on the stove top, I made stove top stuffing, sauteed celery and a bag of chopped onions, made rice andd two bags of mixed veggies.

As things finished, I put them in large ziplocs or tupperware in the fridge. The next day, I threw the components  together. For example, the pot pie is basically chicken, mixed veggies, celery, and a cream of chicken soup.  The pasta was some mushrooms and tomatoes (I didn't even cook them...), chicken, pasta, a jar of pesto and a jar of alfredo, and some shredded cheese. 

I labeled the tins and threw it all in the freezer. I'm amazed if you stuck with me this far!

Here's your prize: a picture of my freezer:
Happy cooking!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Old and the New

my facebook feed is taken up by three categories of news items:
1) sponsered ads for weight loss products. guess they have me pegged.
2) friends with babies. lots of babies eating rice cereal for the first time or rolling over or staring blank-eyed into the iPhone camera for a mommy/baby selfie. i love every picture because i am guilty of posting dozens of snapshots of my Sweet Potato, and i now understand the joy behind each picture.
3) friends without babies doing Very Interesting Things. like jumping off cliffs in australia, wandering the streets of paris, or eating a molten lava cake at the chili’s. i literally lump all of your pictures together now, as they speak of an Old Life.

there was a certain amount of dying to self (which is a Christian way of saying suck it up)  when I got married. my goals now had to be meshed with Our goals and my desires sometimes took a backseat to serve my spouse. i say sometimes because i have a strong desire to still Do My Own Thing and Voice That Assertively.

but The Sweet Potato has a much louder voice and stronger will. so when she came along, suddenly, i did not exist for any purpose other than keeping her alive and comfortable.

in my first few weeks post-partum, i realized how many things were now in my Old Life. i had done my fair share of traveling. i stayed out till all hours with best friends on the weekends. i had casually gone shopping at Target with nothing but a debit card and a cell phone.

my daughter, until very recently, nursed every two hours round the clock. in the first few weeks, she seemed to nurse every hour. i felt like i  couldn’t see friends, go on car rides that lasted longer than 7-10 minutes, or have a conversation with the husband. i realize this is what it means to have a newborn baby, and i knew it would change things, but until it happens, it’s a little shocking.

now that we are working on settling the Sweet Potato into her nighttime routine in a crib, any social engagement after 7pm seems like a long  ago dream.  

i say all these things, not to complain, but to illustrate that a very stark line was drawn on October 4. that line separated the Old from the New. and this New thing is costly.

but the Good things in my life are just that-costly.  marriage has been costly. my education (holy cow yes it has been) is costly. and the Sweet Potato is costly.

which got me wondering about the Best Good Thing-my relationship with Jesus. how costly has it been? typing that is a bit scary. but leaves me wondering….my sacrifices as a mother have just begun but they pale in comparison to the treasure of having my daughter. how much more would i like to say that i have forsaken the good things to treasure the Ultimate.  

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

As I Sit Pumping

You may feel weird about that picture but now that it's a daily routine for me, it's about as regular as brushing my teeth. Actually, it's more regular than brushing my teeth.
* It's also one of those things moms do all the time but nobody really talks about, and as breastfeeding produced an inordinate amount of anxiety within me during my first few weeks as a mommy, I'm determined to communicate openly about it so that other new mommies don't feel nervous or awkward to do or discuss what is just about the most natural thing in the world. Soapbox over.*

Anywho, I pump twice a day during work. I'm grateful to work in a school that gives and gives and gives, so I have 15 minutes of coverage every morning and a planning period every afternoon to make sure my kid has the benefits of breast milk when I'm working hard for da money.

That means twice a day, I have to stop everything I'm doing and sit very still in a locked room.

It can be a slight inconvenience, especially if I'm in mental flow and want to finish a task. Because an object in motion will stay in motion, I tend to come in like a wrecking ball (yep, I went there) during the school day. 

So basically what happens is I'm in the middle of grading, or typing an email, or doing some other Monumentally Important Task, and I look at the clock and realize it's time to go. Everyday I think about skipping it, but The Sweet Potato has this weird thing where she has to eat every few hours. I dunno. We'll ask the doctor about it. 

This time, however, has become a blessing. That's a Christian way of saying it's a good thing that maybe I didn't see before.

It's a required time to rest.

Think. Pray. Be still.

The Lord has built in pauses in my day out of His grace, knowing I'm not so good at them myself. I love how He knows what we need even before we ask Him. 

my mind is a hostile work environment

here we are, knee-deep into the hustlebustle of work, school, and mothering. i a little bit love my life right now, although it’s full of craziness. here is my reasoning: i love my daughter and i love my husband and i love teaching and i love learning and pretty much that’s all i do. i try to maintain that perspective when i’m super duper tired.

something i learned last week is that i am not superwoman and nobody wins a medal for running yourself into the ground. (or being able to button your pre-pregnancy pants at four months post-partum, for what it's worth).

last week, we were blessed with four snow days, only one of which included dangerous driving conditions for our neck of the woods. i still had workdays, but was able to spend extra time snuggling with my daughter. and filling up with an extra dose of you shouldas and oughttas. how annoying. why does the highly prized beast of productivity and efficiency smack right into the blessing of rest and relationship? will it always be this way?

i find this is a recurring theme in my life lately. i am horrible at relaxing but long for it to no end. the thought of eternal rest, to be completely honest, terrifies me. what does this say about the core of my soul? do i glorify my ability to produce and accomplish? have i turned a good thing into an ultimate thing? we were created to work and commanded to rest and maybe this is the tension i must live with this side of heaven.

Monday, February 3, 2014

on becoming type a

i have a wonderful husband. he is loving and helpful and caring.
he also has a massive case of add. like, lots of ritalin add.

up until about a year ago, i would not have described myself as an organized or efficient individual.

i have heard of cases in which a person loses one important sense (like vision) and their hearing becomes so much stronger in order to compensate. because i have chosen to tie my life to this man in such a way that the two become one, his sweet, (mostly) endearing lack of organization has created a multitasking monster in me.

this afternoon, i pumped while unpacking groceries. i regularly grade papers while eating lunch, plan curriculum at recess, and clean the kitchen while cooking dinner.

life is a bit crazy for us. i am now a mom. a parent. i have a daughter. (can you tell it still sounds new to me?) my daughter is beautiful and sweet. she has emerged from the “fourth trimester” just in time for me to return to my regularly scheduled job as a third-grade teacher and graduate student.

i became pregnant last year just as i had decided to return to graduate school full-time in addition to my teaching career and working in the afterschool program. yes, i am crazy. yes, it was hard, but to be completely honest, i’m extremely thankful for that time. i learned how to do fourteen things at once. i learned how to manage my time, prioritize the important things, and say no to everything outside of the important. i also learned my limits. i pushed myself too hard sometimes, and had to learn to rest.

when i am at work, these new skills are invaluable. i used to be the last one done with any task, and now i’m much more efficient. but when i come home to my sweet baby girl, i had a learn a new skill.

i am learning to breathe.

these are things i tell myself often: 

it’s ok that there are toys all over the floor (and my daughter can’t even put them there). 
it’s ok that there is clean and dirty laundry in literally every room in our house. 
it’s ok that our yard is the only one in the neighborhood that isn’t raked. like ever.

my new type a self is learning (read: has not yet mastered the concept) it’s more than ok.

my beautiful sweet potato is asleep on my chest. i fight daily that anxiety to run around and get things done. she has caused me to stop and slow down because i literally cannot get up when she is sleeping. i can stare at the dirty floor or my daughter's chubby cheeks. that floor isn't going anywhere, but soon my sweet potato will.

New Year's Eve Post. In February.

2012 was not my year. At this point last year, I was happy only because I was kissing the past 365 days goodbye. The year was marked with some dark times, and it turns out you can live on less money and more heartache than you thought possible. It turns out there isn’t a quota on setbacks or grief. I realize 2012 was more difficult for many, many people in the world. If I were to compare, our trials were not so significant. But when you are living in the trials, perspective is hard to maintain. Either way, I rang in the new year with much less sobriety than the year contained.

Today, I am typing this as my baby girl sleeps peacefully on my chest. Fairly soon into the year, I became pregnant with my daughter, whom shall henceforth be referred to as The Sweet Potato.

I have never been more aware of the passing of a week than I was this year. Each week when you are pregnant or have a newborn brings a new development.  Many developments were exciting (She has fingernails! She can lift her head!) but many brought fear (Will there be a heartbeat? Will she make it to term?) I have never known fear like I have as a mother. This is a whole new ballgame of anxiety. Yes, I should keep calm. But I am acutely aware of the incredible responsibility of keeping this little girl alive.

This year, I am learning to trust. I have felt like Wonder Woman, thinking “I carried this baby. I have fed this baby to her chunky-cheek status with my body.” But in reality, every heartbeat and breath is a gift from the Lord. As much as I would like to say it was me, it wasn’t. She was formed by a loving God in the secret of my womb, before I even knew of her existence.

While there is no quota on setbacks, it turns out there is no quota on joy. I have learned about the amazing providence of the Lord. He has provided financially, yes, but He has also provided immeasurable joy. He truly has restored unto us the years that the locusts have eaten, as described in the book of Joel. (I even was reminded of that verse the day before my husband, Joel, was offered a new job this year).

God wasn’t absent last year. He didn’t forget about us or delight in the heartache, but I can now see His hand in a way I didn’t last year. My vision was cloudy. I can see a little more clearly now. 2012 was not a cup of total bitterness, just as there were not-so-sweet times in 2013. But now I can see that in Him, my cup can be full.