Progress

I haven’t posted anything here in quite a while because it is impossible for me to write without talking about the thoughts and feelings at the forefront of my mind…but that hasn’t been an option until now.

As I announced on Facebook a few days ago, we will be moving away from Tuscaloosa in the coming weeks (or months, depending on how long our house takes to sell). Michael was promoted at work, and he will be taking over the management of maintenance operations for a plant that is a few hours from here on October 1. We have been working through the application, interview, and testing process for what seems like forever. The whole time was spent in this land of “don’t talk about the elephant in the room” which usually accompanies these things.

I wrote the following a few weeks ago, when I needed to put into words the struggle and chaos inside of me. I couldn’t hit “publish”–in fact I couldn’t even write past what you see here–because everything was so jumbled and uncertain. 

Progress.
I am in a strange season of my life right now where things aren’t changing at all, but are always one step away from changing dramatically.
This kind of constant limbo has a quicksand-like effect on me. I have real trouble keeping myself moving forward and accomplishing even the normal tasks of daily life.

This small spurt of introspection did, however, help me to push past the temporary paralysis I had been experiencing. I began working to make progress in whatever small way I could – regardless of what news (or lack of) the day might hold. I prayed for the grace to get through the day without being bogged down with worry. I didn’t force decisions that were creating stumbling blocks… I just tried to work around them.

I decided to work on projects which I would enjoy having finished regardless of whether we were to sell the house in the end.

I patched the walls and painted my laundry room a soothing green, reorganizing and reducing the pantry area as I went.

I refinished the chest of drawers in my bedroom instead of throwing it out and starting over. :)

We rearranged the kitchen and added cabinets/counters where there had been none. (I’ll have a few posts about this process soon–it deserves it.)

I purged so much junk from my house that Michael started hiding his tools and hunting gear in self-defense.

I fixed lingering minor cosmetic issues in the house which I usually just dealt with or overlooked–the broken hinge on the cupboard door, the missing knob on the drawer, the broken sprayer nozzle, etc.

I looked at my house and began to live in it intentionally, instead of by happenstance. The toaster, mixer, crock pot, blender, and food processor all found forever-homes instead of bouncing between surfaces. Things which had never really had a “place” were either given one or disposed of. If it isn’t TRULY useful or loved, it has to go.

Mainly though, I prayed–and I made progress. Little by little, day by day, sometimes hour by hour.

Then…the job was his. The waiting was over. The possibility is the reality.

And I’m still focused making progress. Thankfully, I’ve got a lot less ground left to cover now than if I had stayed in that quicksand. I am so grateful for God’s grace and peace which allowed me to push through this season of waiting and for His perfect timing with this blessing.

I don’t know what you are struggling against–a health issue, a sick family member, a job opportunity or loss, depression, or even just the weight of all the “little” things. I just want you to know that you don’t have to do it all, know the answer, or even have a plan. All you have to do is take a step.

Pray for the grace for today–for right this moment. He is faithful to give you just what you need, although it might not be all you want. Allow yourself to be content with the small victories, and just focus on trying every day to make progress of some kind. It adds up, and it makes a difference in both your home and your spirit.

Creamy Orange Coconut Smoothie

The best part of making homemade coconut milk, in my opinion, is definitely using it to make smoothies! We’ve tried several different smoothie flavor combinations in the past few months, but the boys’ very favorite recipe is what I usually call our Orange Creamsicle Smoothie. When we made our first batch of homemade coconut milk yesterday, Zander immediately wanted to try it in that recipe. The results were fantastic! In fact, I only got half of a glass because the boys slurped down their own before descending on mine when I wasn’t looking! I wish their mother had taught them better manners… Oh wait. ;)

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Ingredients:

3 frozen bananas (I had these already peeled, but I often just toss the whole banana in the freezer and use a knife to peel it when I’m ready to use…either way works!)
1 cup orange juice
1 cup fresh, homemade coconut milk (or whatever milk you prefer, but coconut is AWESOME in this)
1/2-3/4 cup cottage cheese (I use this to add a kick of protein and additional creaminess–processed dairy like cheeses and yogurts don’t bother the milk-sensitive tummies in our family like plain milk does)
Optional additions:
Sweetener to taste (our milk was sweetened, so I didn’t use any additional sweetener)
Ground flax seed (I often toss 2T or so into smoothies for the nutrition bonus, but I didn’t think about it for this batch)

Put all ingredients besides bananas into blender. Cut up bananas and add them to blender. Blend until smooth and serve immediately.

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Creamy, fruity, delicious! No single flavor overpowers the others, and it was just the right level of sweet. Yum!

Homemade Coconut Milk

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The boys and I made a sad, sad trip yesterday. One of my favorite local grocery stores is going out of business.

We stopped by to see the reality with our own eyes during yesterday’s errand run, and it is undeniable–the bakery, deli, meat, seafood, and freezer sections are completely vacant. The produce section is apparently the next target, because the prices in that area were SLASHED. While I’m totally bummed about the store closing, I’m NOT bummed about getting a ton of apples for $0.99/lb, a 3lb bag of oranges for $1.99, a nice pineapple for $1.50, and two coconuts for $1 each!

Wait…two coconuts? How did those end up in my basket?

What in the world was I thinking? Oh…right…I was channeling my inner homeschool mom.

“Won’t this be a fun and educational thing to do?!? The kids will be fascinated to see the processing of a fresh coconut!”

I also had read on Spartan Race’s Food of the Day email about using fresh coconuts…so I guess it was just all working together to cause my impulse buy. :)

Regardless of HOW I made it home with two coconuts, the fact remains that they were sitting on my table.

First, we used a CLEAN screwdriver and a hammer to open the coconuts, and then we collected the coconut water from inside.

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Then we used the hammer to crack them open. A quick taste of the coconut meat and coconut water sent the boys running for a glass of water to get rid of the taste! Hmmm….that could be a problem.

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Naturally…I consulted Google, and came across this site which gave instructions for making coconut milk! Three out of four members of our family are sensitive to cow’s milk and usually drink almond milk instead, so coconut milk is certainly something that I was interested in trying.

Simplified instructions: Process the meat of one coconut, the coconut water from that same coconut, and two cups of boiling water for about 5 minutes. If desired, add sweetener to taste in the last minute of processing. I had to split this into two batches in my 7 cup food processor. 

I knew that we would only be using the coconut milk for drinking and in sweet recipes (like smoothies), so I added a bit of sweetener to make it more tasty. One coconut produced almost a full quart of milk.

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Of course, it didn’t ALL make it into the jar because the boys kept sneaking sips from the bowl with their straws while it was still warm from the processing… :) Sounds like success to me!

After squeezing out the milk, we were left with a bowl full of finely ground, slightly sweetened coconut meat. I’m going to use some of it in muffins, and I’ll freeze the rest for later use. You can also apparently dry it to make coconut flour, but since I had sweetened it I chose not to go that route.

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Overall, I’m thrilled with the results! I still have one more coconut to process, but I may try freezing the meat and coconut water until we’ve used up the first batch since the milk only lasts a few days in the fridge (no preservatives!). You can’t beat getting a quart of preservative-free coconut milk and about two cups of minimally processed coconut meat for $1!

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Check back tomorrow, when I’ll post my delicious new smoothie recipe featuring our fresh coconut milk!

Blueberry Picking

About a year ago, I found out that there is a U-Pick Blueberry Farm in our area–Leavelle Farms! I was so excited…until I realized that it was already closed for the year. :( Bummer. I was determined not to miss it again, though, so I “liked” their Facebook page to make sure I was notified when they reopened.

They opened in mid-June, and I kept trying to schedule a trip out there…and kept having conflicts come up. I’m actually glad that I didn’t get to go sooner, because Michael was able to go with us when we finally got to go! Woohoo! I love a family adventure!

We headed out mid-morning on Saturday. We arrived to find the weather pleasant and the sky overcast–perfect berry-picking weather!  The farm was perfect–plenty of bushes with lots of berries, easily accessible bathroom (essential for a pleasant outing with kids), friendly owners, and only $6 per GALLON of berries you pick! We picked and picked…even through a rain shower. We all got a bit wet, but we also left with a full gallon of berries to enjoy.

It was a wonderful day, but I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves…

(I apologize for the focus issues in some my pictures. I’m still working on getting used to my camera, and I get in too much of a hurry sometimes.)

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Note that the focus here is on the bush, not the adorable face…should’ve switched to manual mode… ;)

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Note that NOTHING is in focus here…I like to call this one “auto-UNfocus”

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Marked improvement. I love this shot.

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All of my guys working together…smile.

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And finally, my little drowned rat. :) Sweet boys, sweet berries, and sweet memories. You can’t beat that.

We had so much fun that I gathered up my mom, my niece and nephew, and our awesome neighbor friends and went back on Monday! We gathered another 4 gallons between the three families! There are now 12 quarts of berries in the freezer to get us ALL through the winter with muffins, cobblers, and other blueberry dishes. :)

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I’ll have to share my recipe for blueberry cobbler that came out of this adventure soon, too. :) Yum!!

 

 

Photography Adventure

EEEEEEEEK! My precious husband encouraged me to jump in and buy a new camera yesterday. It is a combination 10th anniversary, birthday, Christmas, Mothers Day (and any other holiday you can throw in) gift. It has lenses and gadgetry and enough tweakable things to keep me busy for months! I read the basics of how to use it without breaking it, and I was off…shooting everything in sight.

I have pictures of…

Marbles

Marbles

a monkey

annnnnd…a monkey.

Tiny flower's close-up shot. :)

Tiny flower’s close-up shot. :)

 

Crushed Sidewalk Chalk

Crushed Sidewalk Chalk

The chalk and marbles are going to be printed out and used as artwork for the monkey’s bedroom. They’re both his, and their destruction was by his hand. I think they’re a good reflection of him. :) The tiny flower is just my favorite nature shot thus far.

I also took some GREAT shots of my two boys and my niece. I’m hoping to get my nephew tied down long enough to get a similar shot of him ASAP so that I can print them as a matched set for the walls.

This is so much fun, and maybe it’ll be the ticket to making money from home. Oh the possibilities!

 

But I Made a Committment!

Hey! We are working on something really worthwhile, and we are one person short for our leadership team. Is there anyone who would be interested in helping out?

I see you there.

With your hand up.

Yeah…you.

The automatic-overvolunteering expert. You don’t even know what the worthwhile project entails, or WHY this project is sooooo important (aren’t they all?), but your hand is in the air because you’re NEEDED.

Here’s the thing–you’re needed elsewhere too. In fact, your talents and energy are needed in pretty much every volunteer role in every organization in your life. EVERY. ONE.

Don’t believe me? Just go to a PTA meeting and utter the words, “I’m available to help.” You’ll be on 6 committees and have a fundraiser to plan before you can say, “where do I sign in?”

The same exercise can be performed at your church, your alumni groups, your youth sports leagues, or at a variety of other venues. It’s like magic–people need people who have time, talents, and resources to donate. You can literally quit your full-time job and go into full- time volunteering only to find that you have LESS time for your outside life than you had before making the switch. Ask me how I know. I dare you. :)

I can write this because I am a chronic overvolunteer. I’m currently in recovery, but relapse is never farther away than a phone call. All it takes is one, “we REALLY need someone to…” to drag me right back in. Maybe with a, “it won’t take much time at all!” thrown in for good measure.

I know there’s not much room left on your plate for another project, but if I just pile this a little closer to that…..

Once I’m in, I’m hooked. I know that I made a commitment–people are depending on me. So I adjust my schedule.

I ask my mom to keep the kids, try to make a supper that will still be edible when my husband gets home in two hours, and fly out the door to another meeting. Yeah, it’s the third night this week that I’ve had to do this, but I made a commitment. I feel guilty because I don’t have ALL of the skills that the position really requires, so I try to push myself to develop in that area. Yeah, I may have to stay up a couple hours after my husband goes to bed to fit it all in, but at least I’m honoring the commitment I made, right?

Wait…no? But I made it to every meeting! I fielded every email and phone call that came in! I soothed the angry parents, I paid the vendors, I made sure the reports were filed, and I wrote those three recommendation letters. I balanced the PTA checkbook, figured out that tax code problem, and designed a new system for expense tracking. What did I miss?!?

Oh…the soccer practice. The class party. The shared meal time. The evenings at home with my kids. The quiet conversations with my life partner before sleep. The precious moments that you never realize you’re missing until two years has gone by, and you have no idea where they went.

Yeah…I did miss those. But I made a commitment, and I have to honor it.

What about the other commitments I made? Before PTA…before leadership roles…before all of this.

I made a commitment to God to love and serve Him. I made a commitment to my husband to be his wife and life partner. I made a commitment to my children to be there to love, support and train them. I made a commitment to my family to have our home as my first priority when I became a stay-at-home-mom.

What about those commitments?

So, I’m freezing my volunteer availability indefinitely. Just like an alcoholic can’t have “just one drink,” I can’t allow myself to “just serve on this committee.” I know my weaknesses–or at least I do NOW. I’ve seen them wreak havoc on my house, family, and relationships. For this season in my life, I will not be available for your committee/project/office. I am going to commit to focusing in on developing into the best and most intentional wife/mother/homemaker that I can be. I am going to pour my time, talents, and resources into the precious life I have been given…

Because I made a commitment.

Unless You’ve Got A Better Plan: Why I’m Observing Lent This Year

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For the first time in my Christian walk, I am observing Lent. I haven’t converted to Catholicism, so what’s going on here?

I was raised in and continue to be part of the Southern Baptist community, so Lent wasn’t really something that I was even aware of until I reached college. Although the idea of giving up something that I enjoyed/relied on for 40 days was intriguing (I always love a good challenge), I never really saw the point of participating in what–from all I could see–amounted to a Spring-Break-prep diet of no chocolate (or bread…or alcohol…or sodas…or whatever troublesome food group the friend chose). Good thing I don’t have to do that since I’m Baptist!

Obviously, I was missing a critical piece of the puzzle.

In the past several years, I have gained a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the Catholic faith through interaction and discussion with some of my dearest friends (along with several great bloggers that I enjoy following). I have also gained a bit of maturity (I hope) and the ability to better appreciate and understand the value of learning from others with greater experience and perspective than my own. I have realized that there is a wealth of beauty and wisdom in many of those time-honored traditions which are simply lacking in my own experience. There is a reason that the church, many years ago, instituted this practice of setting aside a season for the preparation of believers’ hearts and minds for Easter. The reasons are both biblical and practical. In order to be able to fully celebrate the Resurrection, we must break out of our routines and spend time drawing closer to God in preparation. To facilitate that process, the Catholic church created a structured set of expectations and obligations to guide believers in the weeks leading up to Easter.

Since I am not Catholic, however, I am not under any obligation to observe those rules. Whew! That’s a relief…they seem kind of tough…

The problem is that we, as Protestants, often reject the traditional/structured methods of accomplishing such things (Lent, confession, etc.) automatically without understanding their purpose and therefore fail to see the need to replace them appropriately. It is fine to say that we aren’t going to follow the prescribed Catholic Lenten policies of when to fast, when to break our fast, what to eat, and so on. It is fine to do so, however, ONLY if we implement our own appropriate plan of spiritual preparation instead–which should only be undertaken with much prayer and using scripture as your guide.

The thing is, the structured observance of the Lenten season was specifically and carefully constructed over the years to fulfill the spiritual needs and scriptural obligations of Christians (not just Catholics) with the experience and wisdom from centuries of walking believers through this process. It addresses the many issues and struggles that can keep us from having a deep and meaningful experience in this season. It is also, quite honestly, a much better plan than I have come up with thus far in my life, and I’m pretty sure that it would take a LOT more trial and error before I got anywhere close.

So the question I’m left with is this: why should I insist on reinventing the wheel and rejecting the observance of Lent just because I (or my denomination) didn’t come up with it? Why can’t I, as an educated and capable individual, examine the practices for myself to find the biblical and practical reasons and thereby understand the intrinsic value of those traditions?

Is it my (our) own pride that is the reason for the automatic rejection of a plan that could provide huge opportunities for obedience, growth, and spiritual cleansing in this most sacred of seasons? Or is it as simple and juvenile as a “You can’t tell me what to do!” mindset? Either way, it seems short sighted and self defeating to me.

Now, don’t get me wrong–I’m not suggesting that the observances I witnessed in college are what I should attempt to replicate. What I had observed was often people going through the motions of following their faith, completely divorced from any meaningful discussion or awareness of the underlying spiritual journey that should be taking place as a result. Ritual without reflection is empty, powerless, and even potentially harmful. It lures people into a cultural christianity which depends on “checking boxes” instead of challenging the believer to dig deep and draw close in a personal relationship with God. That’s NOT what I’m looking for, and I’d dare to guess that it isn’t what any of us have in mind–Catholic OR Protestant.

With that understanding in mind, I would like to share with you my plans for observing Lent this year. Please let me know if you see any Rookie mistakes. ;)

Sacrifice: Instead of “giving up” a food or drink or something similar, I have decided to give up sleep. Not all sleep, of course, but sleeping-in specifically. :) I’ve made a commitment to embrace the model set by Proverbs 31:15–rising early to plan for the day ahead. I will use the time for prayer, Bible study, and planning for my household duties for the day.

Why this makes sense to me–the practice of choosing something to sacrifice (however small) is intended to prepare our hearts to appreciate the magnitude of Christ’s sacrifice for us. It also serves as a way to repeatedly draw our attention to that sacrifice each time we think of (or struggle with) that small personal sacrifice. In those moments, we have the chance to  offer up prayers of praise and thanksgiving as well as prayers for strength. Adding the additional element of Bible study will add another layer of spiritual growth to this season of preparation. I’m going to be continuing my efforts to read through the entire Bible (now stretching out to almost three years with my distractions and delays…), and I should have just enough time to finish the rest of the Old Testament if I push myself! How exciting to be starting the New Testament on the day we celebrate Resurrection of the One whose coming divided the two Covenants into old and new! :)

Fasting: This year, I’m choosing to adopt another element of the Lenten season and fast on Fridays and special Holy days (like today!).

Why this makes sense to me–I have never participated in a fast. Ever. At all. Then I read Matthew 6:16 where Jesus said, “and WHEN you fast…”. Wait…that’s a problem. If Jesus took it for granted that his followers would spend time in fasting, then as a believer I should have some reflection of that in my walk. Fasting (when executed thoughtfully and intentionally) helps to focus a believer’s mind and energies on God and specifically on prayer. It is also intended to be an act of penance and remembrance of the death of our Lord. I know that the traditional rules say to fast specifically from meat on those days, so that’s the minimum I’ll observe. I have a very real and pressing prayer need right now as well though, so today’s fast is going to be more strict–perhaps they all will. I am going to try to eat only minimally, and only raw fruits/veggies on fasting days. I am going to let God lead on this, and I am going to really focus on prayer for that issue on those days. I know that He is more concerned with my heart than my stomach, so I am not going to allow this to become an “all-or-nothing” thing where guilt gets to hang out and beat me up. I’m making an effort to choose obedience, and that’s 90% of the battle, my friend.

Worship: To the best of my knowledge, traditional rules also require attendance at a weekly worship service as well as those held on special Holy days. This year, I will commit to attend at least one worship service each week from now until Easter.

Why this makes sense to me– I have been out of the habit of corporate worship for a while now because of a lot of different reasons–schedule conflicts, personal struggles, family obligations, and so on. The bottom line is that God created us as a body of believers, and He instructed us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. So…we will be there. It’s that simple. There are many churches in this area, and they hold too many meeting times to allow for my lame excuses. Even my own home church offers at least 4 different opportunities each week between small groups, two Sunday services, and Wednesday night prayer meeting…and we live close enough to walk there. No more excuses.

That’s it!  That’s the plan. It seems a bit overwhelming when I write it all out like this, but I believe that the end result will be more than worth it. I am in desperate need of spiritual growth after the last year and a half of stagnation, and that’s honestly my only motivation. I desperately want to be closer to God. I’m not checking a box. I’m not competing with myself or anyone else. I wouldn’t even be sharing this at all, but I really felt like I was supposed to. Maybe it was just so that I could hold myself accountable, or maybe someone else needed to hear someone think through all of these things too. I don’t know, but here it is for what it’s worth. :)

In short, I’m adopting a mantra of “Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it” in regards to some areas of spiritual tradition like the methods for observing Lent. Because it doesn’t make sense to throw out a perfectly good system–unless YOU’VE got a better plan. :)