Monday, July 30, 2012

Deliberately spend at least 15 minutes outside most days

I am an outside kind of girl. I really love being outdoors, either for walking or hiking, eating on a patio, or relaxing in the sun reading a book. Add mountains or beach to these scenarios and I love being outside even more--except for when it is cold. I do not like being cold.  At all.

When I made my list, I had had a bit of a revelation. I was an outside girl, but I was living an indoor lifestyle. There are a couple reasons for this. One is that my sweet J is not such an outside guy. And as much as I dislike cold, he dislikes heat and humidity. Living in mid-Carolina, that sometimes presents a bit of a challenge for us to find a way to be together outside and both be comfortable.

The second--and truly bigger--reason is that I became a mom. Being a mom comes with mom responsibilities. Like cooking a lot of food.  And then washing a lot of dishes. And doing a lot of laundry. And sweeping and vacuuming so you don't get ants in the house--which in a house built in the 1950's only works hypothetically. And just as soon as you accomplish all that, some sweet little person wanders in from the beloved outdoors--where you were just planning to join them--and exclaims, "Mama! I'm really hungry!" And the cycle starts again.

See, in most homes, at least homes that I can afford, there is not an outdoor kitchen with an outside dishwasher. Or an outdoor laundry station. In my dream house, I have an outdoor kitchen (and I hire someone to do our laundry).

So back to my epiphany. I realized that if I was going to have some time outside, I was going to have to choose it. It was going to mean that sometimes I would have to choose to be outside over washing pots and pans. Sometimes laundry baskets would sit unfolded for me to get some sunshine in. Occasionally I would leave the crumbs to the ants in order to sit in silence on my porch for a few moments. But I realized that part of who I was had been missing. That's how this item ended up on my list.

I would say that this goal has been accomplished for a while. I just haven't gotten around to blogging it yet. I now have a habit of grabbing a bit of time outside most days. Sometimes I trade a Y workout for a walk on the greenway or grab my yoga mat and practice on my back deck. (Earlier this month, I took my mat to the greenway and did yoga on the greenway--even a little more scary than doing yoga on the beach--but it was great fun!) Sometimes I read a book on my screened in deck.  Sometimes I sit on our front steps with my kiddos at dusk and we listen to the night song and look for fireflies. Sometimes I find an outdoor table at a coffee shop and write there. Sometimes I push my kids on the swings as long as they want me to. Sometimes I sit with the word of God as I marvel at His creation.

This action item has brought me more than just some fresh air and vitamin D. It has brought me perspective. I've realized that sometimes the sink of dishes and the baskets of unfolded clothes can wait. Martha Stewart isn't actually coming around to do perfect house checks. Sometimes an apple, a handful of grapes, carrots and some whole-grain crackers is a "good enough" meal for my monkeys.  But most of all, it has taught me to not deny parts of myself that God created. He made me to be a girl who loves nature and sunshine and the summer breeze. I'm more of myself when I step out the door.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Baby Sister

I wrote this essay last summer and wanted to share it here.

Baby Sister

“She’s ugly.  I don’t like her," I said, handing the Polaroid back to my Granddad.  Granddad wasted no time unbuckling his tooled leather belt with a silver and turquoise buckle.  “She-is-your-sister-and-you-will-love her!” he said between swats to my bottom.

Granddad wasn’t awful—he didn’t know how to deal with it either.  We’d all been thrust into an unknown world on August 27th, 1976.

I remember standing in the St. Joseph’s Hospital lobby, staring at the photo, the washed-out, blurry image.  What was that thing with tubes and wires sticking out of it?  That couldn’t possibly be our new baby!  All my 3-½ year old mind could process was, “she’s ugly.”

What I couldn’t have possibly known was that babies born with Down syndrome, a month early, at 3 lbs. 7 oz., and with several holes in their hearts don’t look like the baby on the Gerber infant cereal box.  That had been the image I’d been carefully studying and dreaming of when I thought about our new baby…not this alien-looking creature in the photo.  I didn’t understand how this could be our baby.  Neither did Granddad.  And we weren’t alone.

But it was our baby and we did learn to love her.  Actually, she made it so easy to love her.  Once she made it out of the incubator and through her open-heart surgery and was finally home to stay, she stole all our hearts.  This baby sister had twinkling eyes, an infectious laugh, and a smile that radiated love.  By the time her first birthday rolled around, I thought my baby sister was, in fact, the most beautiful baby I’d ever seen.

Baby Sister on my 6th birthday (with baby brother, Nana & Grandpa)
Baby Sister & me on her 35th birthday...still adorable

Try a New Recipe: Banana Cake/Gluten Free Baking

We often have a few bananas lying around that are on the verge of being really too bad to use for anything.  Many times I will make banana bread or these amazing banana muffins, but last night I was in the mood for something different.  I wondered, "is there such a thing as banana cake?"   (One thing you should know about me is that I love cake.  A lot).

Indeed there is.  I found several recipes on (my favorite online recipe resource) whose main ingredient was cake mix.  Umm, no.  But then I found this: Banana Cake VII.

Of course, I had to adjust it to be gluten free.  And I always wonder how that is going to make it turn out.  I used 1 cup Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose GF Flour and 1/2 cup of almond meal to replace the flour and used three whole eggs instead of 2 eggs + 1 egg white to help bind it without adding xanthan gum.  (Cause xanthan gum is nasty, y'all.  IMHO).  I baked it in a 10x13 pan because I do not have round cake pans.  Because I was too lazy to make frosting, I just dusted it with powdered sugar.

Result: really, really yummy.  The kids were dancing around singing "banana cake! banana cake!" and J looked up from his plate, and mumbled through a mouthful, "this is gluten free?!"  Indeed it is!

So try it the way it is written or try it my way.  Either way, I hope you will enjoy. :)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Letter to Grandma

Today is my Grandma's birthday.  I thought today would be an appropriate occasion to send her the letter I intended to when I wrote my list so many months ago now.

My Grandma is really special.  And one of the things that makes her so special is that she's been an amazing grandmother to me, despite us not even being blood relatives.  She became my grandma when she married my Granddad who was widowed when my Grandma Jane died of breast cancer.  Grandma had also been widowed, sadly and tragically, when her husband was killed in a horrific workplace accident.  It was unfortunate circumstances that brought my grandparents together, but I believe they were glad to have found each other and lived happily married for 38 years, until he passed away in February 2011.

(Here they are, the happy couple, around the time  they got married.
Who is that cute baby she is holding? ME! :))

So my letter to Grandma is personal but I will share one snippet and it will help you see why my Grandma is so thoughtful, generous, and beautiful.

Among my most treasured earthly possessions are the 30 years worth of Christmas ornaments that make up the one-of-a-kind Grandma collection. You told me once that when we grew up and moved out on our own, you didn't want us to have empty Christmas trees. The year that I moved to Charlotte, I was so lonely. By the time Christmas rolled around, I certainly wondered if I had made a big mistake. To ease my loneliness, I got a tiny tree from the Home Depot, covered it with lights, and hung each ornament that you had made for me. In doing so, I was reminded that, though lonely, I was not truly alone.

I now have a big Christmas tree and more sixteen more ornaments from you, as well as ornaments for my kids that they will take with them when they leave our nest.  I like to think of each of those ornaments as a hand-made prayer that you stitched with generosity and selflessness and each is a testimony to who you are.

Happy birthday, Grandma.  I'm so grateful for your influence in my life.  I love you.

 (Grandma & me last summer.  Isn't she lovely?)


Written July 14, 2012

A few days ago, I heard some sad news.  A friend shared that a couple from church had gone in for their 18-week ultrasound, only to find that their baby had died.  My friend had emailed asking me to pray as she knew I'd understand.

This isn't the first time I've heard a story so similar to my story of Matthew.  And it won't be the last, I'm sure.  In the past almost two years, I've heard of several women whose babies were lost right around the 17/18 week mark.  Each time I hear such a story, I'm jettisoned back to my own experience and the memory of lying on the ultrasound table, in shock and disbelief as I stared at a perfect-looking baby, save the absence of any flicker in his heart.  The memory of being induced into labor for a child I knew was already gone.  The memory of the nurse taking away his body, knowing I would never hold or see him again.

I hear the stories of these other women and I'm awash in my own memories while I simultaneously ache for their experiences, too--knowing that their lives are forever altered, their dreams shattered, their hearts broken.

There's this part of me that secretly hopes that if I tell Matthew's story enough, then this will never happen to any other mother.  That his life can be some sort of talisman to protect other babies.  That if I just speak with courage enough, somehow I can shield everyone else from this horrible experience.

But simple awareness of late miscarriage and stillbirth doesn't stop it from happening.  My story doesn't prevent anyone else from having to go through a similar nightmare.  Matthew's life wasn't a sacrifice to keep other babies safe.

There is something, however, our story does do.  It lets people know that they are not alone when and if (God forbid) this happens to them.  It lets them see that it is ok to talk about and there are others who "get" it.  In my darkest moments, I was so grateful for the other mothers I knew who had lost babies prematurely who were courageous enough to share their stories with me and help me see the light over the edge of the horizon of what felt like an impossibly dark night.

So tonight I mourn.  I mourn for those acquaintances and their fresh pain.  I mourn for Matthew and all I miss about him.  I mourn for the babies of my friends' that have been lost and also for the stories of loss that are yet to come.  Because, I've come to realize, there will be more stories.  More people I love will lose babies that they love.  And there's not much at all that I can do about that.

But I can be there when it happens--to say "this stinks!" and to cry with them and mourn.  I can also be there to shine light into dark places and inspire hope and help buoy them through the rough waters.  Today author Donald Miller tweeted this, "Finding something redemptive about the suffering we've expereienced could be the beginning of healing."  I think he's on to something.

And so I keep telling my story, sharing my thoughts.  I'll be unashamed of my moments of sorrow and adamant about the resiliency of the human heart.  And in that, I keep my son's light alive, in hopes that it will kindle that light in other mamas' hearts.

May God's mercy cover this family in their difficult time.