Tuesday, October 26, 2010

WWJD on Facebook and His Blog

Once again, I have been very delinquent in my posts. I just haven't had the time or energy to sit down and let the words flow (and this seems to be a reoccuring theme lately). But I miss it, and I find that I seem to "function better" when I have the release of words flowing in my life on an ongoing basis.

Although, just because I am not letting them flow, it doesn't mean that I don't have them brewing up in my brain. They just keep on growing and growing, and finally, it is a bit of a release to allow them to jumble on out and then form up with precision on the page or screen. It brings that order to my jumbled mind -- somewhat similiarly to the way I process through talking or conversing.

Some people (like my husband, Rylie) carefully mull over their thoughts and feelings and when they feel like they have it just right in their head, they are ready to share it with the world. Not me. Many times, I find that as I speak it, I realize that it's what I truly think/believe. Many times it's the process of talking it through with a friend or loved one that gets me to that center of thought. Not sure what it happens that way. Maybe there are a few different ways to process thought. However, I've come to see that my way of processing can sometimes be dangerous.

Without that careful and measured thought process like Rylie, I can get myself into trouble by blurting something out as I feel my way towards a complete thought.  I've had to backtrack and apologize many a time for saying something that I realize afterwards was insensitive to my conversant's current situation. Sometimes I've said things that were backhanded compliments that I have wanted to capture and jam back into my mouth, swallowing them down and away forever.  But that's the thing about words spoken or written publically. Once they are out there, it's impossible to take them back.  We can't undo the hurt on our friend's face as we realize how badly we've wounded them; we can't take back the unholy screech we let out when our child defies our instruction for the third time in a row; and we can't erase the sting of untrue gossip we've repeated because it "was too juicy" to not pass along.

Proverbs 25:11 says, "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver." (ESV)

So, what is an "unfit" word like? A mealy, rotten, worm-ridden Red Delicious (the bottom of the apple barrel in my book) in a trash dump?

Guh-ross!

And today, as it so often happens on Bible Study day, Beth Moore addressed the very thing I had been mulling over this last week. She cautioned us about using today's social networking sites as a means to air our every thought and feeling. She reminded us of how changeable we can be in our humanity. What we so firmly and desperately think about someone and a certain situation may change in mere days, hours or minutes as we: a.) either receive other information, or; b.) allow God to change our hearts and minds. And, so, we should be very, very sure and careful of what we post on our status or on our blogs. Because it never, ever goes away.

I think a good litmus test before posting would be: 1.) Would I say this indirect thing I'm posting about someone or a situation directly to this specific person's face?  2.) Would I stand up in front of a group of my 200 - 600 Facebook friends in a live setting and say this thing I'm furiously typing out on my status or note?; 3.) Would I be proud of what I posted when my children read it 10 years from now? Would they be proud of me?

And if you're a Christian, then we have an even tougher code to follow in Philippians 4:8-9, which I really enjoy in the Message:

 8-9Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

Yet, it's hard to respond with truth, nobility, authenticity, etc. when our minds aren't filled with those things. And in the world we live in, it can be truly difficult, no doubt.

You've probably read this cute prayer about online about this topic: "Lord, keep your hand over my shoulder and your hand over my mouth." I'll admit to praying that prayer many a time. And, I think it's good to ask God for wisdom in what we say, or don't say. 

However, I also think that prayer should probably say, "...and help keep my hand over my mouth."  After all, is it God's job to constantly follow us around to make sure we don't speak out of line?  Do we really expect him to supernaturally push a mute button on us when we're about to say something we'll regret? Or do you think that he might actually want us to use discernment, to be slow to anger and rich in love, to exercise grace where it is not deserved, or even to learn from our mistakes?  To even say or publish that thing that we shouldn't...but then to see and experience the consequences of our hasty tongues and then repent and ask for forgiveness?

I don't know about you, but I'm realizing that we shouldn't get so offended when people mess up. Why shouldn't they get to do what I do all the time? We're all flawed and broken. We're all saved by His grace and we should offer it liberally and freely. But, what is offensive and and hurtful is when people do not accept responsibility for their actions and words. I so firmly believe that to err isn't a sign of weakness, (and actually it's a sign of our humanity and need for God's mercy), rather it's refusing to go through the corrective process when we realize we're in error or someone lovingly points it out to us (notice that I used the word "lovingly.")

I guess I'm saying that we need to make sure that we don't use these new "platforms" to bash people over the head "in love" or otherwise. As my husband (and Beth Moore) pointed out this week, the internet has made everything so "instant." In days gone by, we would have to really think about something and then draft it in a letter or if it was a book, have an editor read and approve it. Now, we just feel a rush of emotion and run to the keyboard or start a rant.

Is that rush of emotion always bad?  Not necessarily...sometimes for me, that's when my creativity flows the freest. But, should it always be published?  Again....not necessarily. It's okay to write something and then throw it away or delete it...or even save it for our eyes only. Not everything need be shared with the world.

Rylie laughed at me (with me) when I jokingly threw down a WWJD regarding some of the inflamatory Facebook/Blog posts I've read (and maybe even written...gulp!) and the after effects. Would Jesus send out an apology status for his angry outburst and ask for forgiveness?  Would he "de-friend" someone because they were a mean or hurt his feelings, or would he maybe just "hide" them?  Would Jesus even be ON Facebook?

I have my own opinions about that, but until I can ask Him (although I hardly think those questions would be the burning ones I would want to ask), I have the Bible to reference. And, so I'll continue to go back to Philippians 4:8-9 and other scripture verses until that day comes. I don't know about you, but I really want to be "worked into his most excellent harmonies."

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Beautiful Ambivalence


I have always been amazed at the power of words. They truly have the power to build up or tear down -- to bless, or to curse. Changing even one word in a phrase or sentence can completely alter its meaning. I just love exploring the English language.

Learning the definition of a new word and inserting it into the cannon of my vocabulary makes my day. And, for some reason, memorizing and retaining vocabulary has always come easy for me. I think it has something to do with the amount and variety of reading I did as a child. We did not own a television until I was nine. And I'm convinced that not having one was a catalyst to immerse myself in new lands, dreamed worlds and childhood wonders.

As a direct result of all that voracious reading, I intuitively understood the general meaning of larger vocabulary words because I could deduce it from their context. While I couldn't give you the Webster's definition, I could give you an approximate definition.

My love of wordsmithery (yeah, I made that up) has led to some ribbing from friends and family members when I use certain words that aren't in your typical circulation. I don't consciously try to use "big words," I just use them (that makes me sound even more arrogant...grrr!).

Case in point....in one of my high school English classes, we were required to learn 100 vocabulary words. I actually enjoyed carrying around my index cards and quizzing myself. For some reason, my memory works well with associations and recalling vocabulary, phone numbers and stories from long ago. (One of my party tricks is reciting off random friends' phone numbers. No "speed dial" settings needed for me. Most of the time, I don't even look up my contacts in my cell phone. I just start dialing from memory...yeah, I know...I'm a freak.)

Anyhow, back to high school English. One of the words we had to learn was ambivalence. This word is seriously one of the Ebenezers of my life. This words has stayed with me all of these almost 20 years.

am·biv·a·lence
[am-biv-uh-luhns]
–noun

1. uncertainty or fluctuation, esp. when caused by inability to make a choice or by a simultaneous desire to say or do two opposite or conflicting things.
Another thing that the people closest to me know is that I tend to be a black and white type of person. It's right or it's wrong. It's one thing or it's another. But, the older I get, the more I see this concept of ambivalence in my life. You see, it's easier when things seem to be clear-cut and there's no wavering.

But more often than not, I find myself pulled in two --and usually fully valid-- directions. And never has this been so prevalent than it's been for me as a parent.

I've gone through so many stages, and have even gone back and repeated them with subsequent pregnancies and children (four in total). As parents, we work so hard (especially with our first babies) to get them to crawl, sit up, walk and talk and all of a sudden, our little baby is a little person who loves to smack at our face and say, "No!" We instinctively know we need to lead and shape them to be fully-functional able-bodied independent people who will make good choices and successfully navigate the world.

So, why does the first day of school knock us flat? The week before we might have been internally rejoicing over some much-needed "mommy time," but the reality of the little baby that we held on our chest only seconds old, turning and waving to us as he or she walks into their class unaided completely takes our breath away.

It's ambivalence.

I can be relieved that I have a little less responsibility for a few hours a week, yet also grieve for the "babyness" of my little guy at the same exact time.

And that's the kicker for me. It's almost as if my heart is pulling apart in two different directions.

I have so much more of this feeling ahead of me. Now that we have finished having children (and have done something surgically about it), I've cried as I've let go of some "lasts." My last nursing session with my last baby boy destroyed me for days. I had planned for it. He was 12 months old. I was planning to leave for a friend's wedding out of town a few weeks later. I wanted him to be weaned and easy for my husband to care for. But, I still felt sad about it. My husband laughed at me when I groaned out my miserable feelings three days after I nursed for what would be the last time. But even now I feel the tears come to my eyes when I re-live that moment. And, maybe only a mom can understand what that feels like.

To let go...and want to let go, but then not wanting to...all at the same time.

Now when Camden outgrows his baby toys, his baby shoes, his baby everything...there's no more putting it away for the next baby. It gets packed up and taken to the Salvation Army or to another friend's house. And, the clutter buster part of me rejoices...but the sentimental mom part of me cringes.

When my 3-year-old tells me, "Mom, I want to snuggle you on the bed." Of course, I put down my dishrag and let him take me to "momma's bed" and snuggle me (which really means he wants a cuddle and then he wants to bounce on the bed and jump over me 10 million times.). I hold tightly to his little body and try not to think of him at age 15 and being not so enthused about being spooned by his mother (okay, and maybe rightly so).

Ambivalence.

The crib is going to come down for the final time in the next 6 months or so...and it will be put up in the garage for my children's children. After all, both my sister and I called it home for our early years. All four of my babies were laid there as well. It's been a precious, receptacle of my children's growth and milestones. Yet, I'm also looking forward to bunk bed and freeing up some much-needed room in the boy's bedroom.

Ambivalence.

They can't stay little forever. I know this. Yet, my heart fights against it. It's strange. It's a war in my head and in my heart. I want it, but I don't, but I do.

I long for a time when my days don't revolve around bodily fluids and excrement. I can't imagine being able to offload some of my household chores to children who will actually help and do the task well, rather than "helping me," which really means that I will need to do it over again.

But in the same breath, I want to take all these mental snapshots of them at this stage -- in this place and time -- and never let those go.

Ambivalence.

It gets me every time. And, I have a feeling, it's going to be around for a long time to come.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Profound Joy of Contentment


Well, it's been a crazy couple of weeks. We've been on two separate vacations, creating mountains of laundry and things that haven't been fully put away yet. In between that, I have helped my friend start and launch a cake business (I'm a part owner) and there has been untold hours of work that I've put in...long days and long nights...in the midst of those vacations and other obligations. In addition, my husband starts back to work tomorrow (he's a teacher) and I have a week of the kids on my own before school starts back up for them. Simply put, there is still much to be done and I'm exhausted.

I have had to let some things fall by the wayside: I have not updated my blog in forever; I have totally neglected to post any bargains or deals, nor have I had the energy, time or inclination to scout them out; My house is a whirlwind of disastrous proportions; My intent of learning how to play my guitar has remained an intention.

And, I've been so worn out at the end of the day, that I have been unable to read, and I've missed it. Those who really know me well, know that I am an avid reader. I read everything from cereal boxes, to biographies, to cheesy romance novels, to Reader's Digest -- and I enjoy it all. I love learning new things and odd bits of info to store away and share at just the right moment. I adore being transported to new worlds and going on amazing adventures...all from the comfort from my favorite reading chair.

Lately, I have been reading through the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith, featuring lady private detective, Precious Ramotswe. If you haven't read (or seen the HBO miniseries) these amazing books, you'll have to make the time to do so -- and quickly. The heart-felt humor and love of country permeates these books. You cannot help but feel moved by the character's affection for Botswana and the values that her father and the "old country" stood for. And, if you have ever been to Africa, it will make you "homesick" in a bad way for that earthy breath of that beloved continent.

Anyhow, after going for weeks of not being able to read for pleasure because of so many things going on my life, I picked up the latest book in the series (The Double Comfort Safari Club) last night as a "nightcap" before I drifted off to sleep. And as usual, Mma Ramotswe delivered her usual homespun adages and comforting view of people and their foibles.

In an unexpected bout of luxury, I was able to read this afternoon (in place of my desired nap) and in doing so, I was able to finish this installment of the series with this beautiful passage from the viewpoint of my favorite female detective:


"And for a moment, as she sat there with her friend, with the late-afternoon sun slanting in through the window, she thought about how she owed her father so much. He had taught her almost everything she knew about how to lead a good life, and the lessons she had learned from him were as fresh today as they ever had been. Do not complain about your life. Do not blame others for things that you have brought upon yourself. Be content with who you are and where you are, and do whatever you can do to bring others contentment, and joy, and understanding that you have managed to find yourself.

She closed her eyes. You can do that in the company of an old friend--you can close your eyes and think of the land that gave you life and breath, and of all the reasons why you are glad that you are there, with the people you know, with the people you love."

As I read that, something inside me said, "Yes, yes! Exactly!" It was like a breath of pure and sweet air into my very soul. I have started to feel a bit broken down and weary. The pace of my life has been crazy hectic (and some of that is my own doing entirely); but in the big picture of life, how can I complain? At the end of the day, I have so much to be thankful for. I'm am truly, truly blessed. My desire is to be content with who I am, and where I am, and to bring that same thing to others.

And the greatest blessing is that I can do that because...I am known....and I am loved. That truly makes all the difference in the world.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Beat the Drum Anyway


I always look forward to getting the mail for the day. Unfortunately, so do my children. So, if I'm not quick enough, I have to patiently watch them wrench it from the drop box that goes into our house -- wincing as precious mail gets crushed and torn. After I allow them some obligatory junk mail pieces to open, then it's Momma Mail Time!

I love the mail. I also love email. It's probably because I love writing and the written word. However, email will never take the place of a hand-written letter or card -- which are sadly becoming a rarity....but that's another blog post.

So today was no different. Somehow, the mail escaped unnoticed and unscathed from my children's attentions. However, pickin's were slim. A circular ad, a credit card agreement change and then one piece I didn't recognize. At first glance, I was ready to toss it. It listed me with my maiden name and then married name. The only place I have anything listed like that is on Facebook (all you married women know about that one...people from high school and earlier cannot find you if they don't know your new married name).

So, my first response was to roll my eyes and start mentally ranting about Facebook and the privacy evils they have been dealing with. But my curiosity got the better of me and so I opened it and realized it was a newsletter from the missions organization I used to work at in Brussels, Belgium after I graduated from college. There were some familiar faces and some that were new. However, my eye locked on a quote that was set out from the rest of the copy....and it imploded my brain. 

The quote came from a visiting pastor from Burkina Faso who was working on a project with the media ministry. Here's what he said.

"My people have a proverb:
'He who beats the drum does not know how far it goes.'"

Did you get that?  You might need to read it again and walk away from the screen and just let it simmer in your brain a bit. I'll wait....

Are you back?

Did it go as deeply within you as it did within me?

Drum Beat

There are so many ways to chew on this one. One of my first thoughts was about drum majors. I learned on Wikipedia (that great internet resource) that, "The drum major position is one of leadership, instruction, and group representation, but usually not administrative duties." Which sounds to me a lot like they get to dance around and jam, while bossing around the rest of the band.  Plus, they were those really ornate uniforms with ample plumage on their hats. They bear all the pressure of making the band perform. If a misstep happens we all look to him/her in silent accusation.

The more I thought about the drum beat in this way, the more it resonated with the type of person who is in a position of authority that informs their leadership -- like a president, a pastor, a police or fireman, a teacher or union boss. Although their direction in keeping the beat on track is necessary, we really expect them to do so. After all, it's the nature of their vocation.

So I mentally scratched that picture and my mind centered in on the lone person playing a solitary jimbay drum. If you've never heard one played, you're missing out. The nuances in the sound that is achieved by the minutest of changes in the hand position and placement is astounding.

My mind started pitting the cacophony of the entire drum section of a marching band against that solitary drummer. Truly, one would drown out the other.

But, that one little drum by itself can pierce the quiet and bring about warning, a portent of something to come, a call to prayer, invitation to a celebration, or just express the emotions of its player.

Do you ever feel like that lone drum player?

I don't suppose that anyone out there ever gets tired of doing good -- especially when it seems to go unappreciated -- and worse, when it's an object of scorn.

And truly, working hard to not lose your temper with your "problem-child" day in and day out does not seem to stack up to doing relief work in Haiti.  Resisting the urge to gun your engine to cut off the crazy driver who cut in front of you a few minutes ago (flashing your Not of This World decal in their proverbial face nonetheless) might not seem like much of an accomplishment...you know when you think about the person who is hungry but still refuses to steal.

But I truly think it's these "little" good things that we choose to do -- day in and day out -- that define us. After all, it's easy to beat that drum when people are looking at us in anticipation. It's like it's our duty. But, when no one is watching at all? That's when the true beat of our heart shows itself.

And yes, we can't know how far that drumbeat will travel. The person we choose not to retaliate against in the fast lane, might go home and carry that grace forward to their family members. That "problem-child" might one day grow up to be a relief worker in Haiti.

We just don't know the full affect of our actions.

So, be encouraged to keep on beating that drum...someone may actually really need to hear it.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Soul Touch


I've been reflecting on...well more like marinating in the memory of an amazing weekend I recently spent with some kindred spirits in Milwaukee.

We gathered together for a banner event -- the wedding of our mutual beloved friend, Krista. While this wedding was much anticipated, I know Krista won't be offended or surprised to hear that the time our group of friends would be spending together was just as eagerly anticipated.

These people are forever ingrained upon the pages of my life. We worked, lived and breathed together in Brussels, Belgium, where we all worked for a variety of Christian missions organizations that were all housed in the same buildings. I had the pleasure of getting to work with several of them, and even got to be roomies with a couple of the girls. But the bonds went deeper than that.

There's nothing like leaving everything you know and are familiar with to live in a foreign country that speaks not one, but two different languages other than your mother tongue. Add in great stretches of the absence of sunlight, a rotten exchange rate to the dollar and therefore, frequent poverty, homesickness, and living and working with complete strangers -- strangers whom you need to rely on to help you transition to this new life, and who are really the only ones who can help you have a sense of home away from home. Add all of these together, and you might have a recipe for disaster.

But, this didn't happen. Instead, we embraced the change, struggled in our language classes, earned our Belgian driver's license, traveled Europe on our time off, shared our histories, ate epic chocolate and mind-blowing Lebanese pitas, offered a shoulder and plenty of kleenex when homesickness was acute, and basically interwined our lives and heart strings with one another.

These are the types of things that bond people together. It wasn't the quantity of time that we spent with each other (and looking back one of my dearest friendships from that time holds the record of the least amount of time I spent with anyone there). Rather, it was the intensity of those times that fused our hearts.

Soul Touch.

It's what happens when people push through the polite platitudes and into the depths of sacred territory.

And because of the distance of that reach into the core of our very being, soul touches leave a mark. Because it's impossible for people to see each other's souls in such a rustic and vulnerable state, and not be forever altered.

And yes, you can abuse that sacred connection -- that's why separation is so brutal, and heartbreak is so shockingly painful. 

But when soul touch is treasured -- and even carefully protected -- it's a wonder to behold.

It can happen with intention or be completely unplanned. And that's how we can sometimes get ourselves into trouble. We can touch souls with someone we were never meant to touch -- and then we deal with the consequences. Many extramarital affairs begin in this way. That's why the Bible cautions us to, "guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life." (Prov. 4:23)

But when we get it right, there's nothing quite like it. And that's why I could sit there on the floor of our hotel's lounge and dip my spoon into the communal quart of frozen custard (from Kopp's of course) and laugh until we cried about who-can-remember-what with people whom I hadn't seen for several years (and some that I had never met until that weekend) well into the night.

And although I had communicated infrequently with some since those days in Brussels, being there together in that place in time brought back a veritable deluge of memories of Saturday morning berry pickings and communal pancake feeds, dancing on the cobblestones of the Grande Place, sipping coffee or enjoying a Dame Blanche at our favorite hangout on the Place, La Brouette, riding the TGV bullet train to Paris for the day -- just because, and pooling our money so we could buy a pint of Dreyer's ice cream for $6.

I genuinely love these people. They knew me "when," just as I knew them. The years that have followed have been well-enjoyed chapters from those original pages we penned together.  And even if it's several more years until we are able to enjoy each other's company once again, I know that the reverberations of that original soul touch continue on, and nothing -- not time, not economic hardship, not marital status changes -- will ever be able to erase that fingerprint that has been forever imprinted.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Adventures in Meat Grinding

With fingers trembling in anticipation, I folded back the lid of the smallish box and pulled out the current object of my obsession. So white...so smooth...such shiny glinting metallic accents.

Ever since I had seen one of these beauties online, I knew I needed to make one mine.  And now...the dream had finally come true.

I eagerly tried it on....a perfect fit...like it was made for it to be there.

And then...I turned it on and smashed a whole bunch of glistening beef down it's gullet.

Yes...it's true...I finally tried out my grinder attachment for Mabel, my "majestic yellow" KitchenAid Stand Mixer.  It was a red-letter moment for me and the fam.


And now...that moment was finally here. After much debating and doing a quick research of the product reviews on Amazon on the fly at Costco in front of the meat section, I selected my cut of beef: Beef Round Eye Round. (Don't ask me why the word "round" has to be in there twice...I will be demonstrating my complete and utter lack of beef knowledge soon.) The price...$3.49 a pound, with 4.29 lbs purchased total. I'm pretty sure that it is a round roast -- my second choice since a sirloin round seemed to cost a ridiculous amount. I also bypassed the filet mignon roast...pretty, lightly red and devoid of fat. However, I couldn't justify the $30 price tag. I also eschewed some of the more fatty chunks o' meat because I didn't want to have to saw it off, and I didn't want to have to eat it later in ground up form.

So, I still have some meat research to do...obviously...if I want to make this not only a healthful option, but economical as well.

So, you might be asking...why grind your own meat at all?  Well, I mentioned it a previous blog about how I have become a little grossed out by the way our ground beef is processed. Many different cuts of beef from many places on the cow, and not just that cow, but several cows, freaks me out. It seems to be a recipe for disaster when you take several different animal cuts and smash them together in ground form. What if 3 are perfectly healthy animals, but the fourth is a bit sickly? How would you begin to even extract that meat from the other 3 once it's all ground up together?  The answer is...you can't.

What's really attractive to me is that I can select my own cut of meat from ONE animal and then grind it myself. Barring actually choosing my own animal to be slaughtered and buy cuts of meat from, I figure this is as good as it gets right now (although I hope that's an option for us soon.)

So, there I was with my beef round eye round, cutting board and somewhat dull Cutco knife (which I need to sharpen for next time) and a whole lot of ambition. I followed the directions as to putting on the attachment (easy) after I washed all the parts with warm, soapy water and had selected the "coarse" grinder blade. I sliced that roast into thin pieces...


....and then turned on the mixer and started feeding them through.

And as easy at that, the meat started coming out...well, ground up. It looked a little bit funny...like fat red worms, but it was like sweet vision to me.


The directions said to send it through twice. However, after trying a few handfuls, it didn't seem to be making it any smaller (I did use the coarse grinder blade after all), so I quickly abandoned that idea. We mostly use our ground beef for casseroles, enchiladas and tacos, etc. If I were doing hamburgers, I would probably opt for the fine grinder blade. I sent through a couple of slices of bread (as suggested by an Amazon review) to clean out the innards of the blade casing, and then I put the pieces in the dishwasher and washed the blades by hand and left them to air dry.

- Total time to cut meat into strips: 10 minutes (would have been faster if the knife were sharpened)

- Total time to grind 4 lbs of beef: 6 minutes

- Total Ziplocks of 1 lb. of ground beef: 4

So, what's my verdict? I honestly didn't know what to expect, but the ease with which the meat went down into the hole and then was pulled through and ground up and pushed out the plate was amazing. I didn't need to use the little "push tool" very much at all. The pieces of beef seem to slide through on their own. I definitely think that this doing this entire process 1 or 2 times a month is worth the 20 minutes or so of my time. The peace of mind is already priceless.  Now...I just need to update you with how it cooks up and tastes. The round eye had hardly any fat and I trimmed off any that was there. Apparently, it will cook up pretty quickly and won't stick to the pan.

And...after doing a little bit of additional research, I have learned that relatively cheap cuts of beef (flank, chuck roasts) seem to be what I need to buy. So, that's what I will purchase the next time, and what I'll keep my eye out for in the sales flyers.

So, next up will probably be grinding my own turkey breast...or chicken.  And apparently I should be able to use the grinder on some strawberries for jam...after a thorough washing and sterilization of course.

Stay tuned...

UPDATE:  So, I cooked up some of the meat for enchiladas from this batch that I ground the other day...wow! I was pleasantly surprised. Meat cooked up tender and moist and actually, I had an excess of water that I needed to drain out, but no visible fat. I'm loving it!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sacred Community


Whatever you may call it, and however it may look to you, I believe that a sacred community is vital to making it through this life.

In fact, for me it's crucial to my very existence. Spending quality time with my sacred community restores my spirit like a nice Venti Passion Tea from Starbucks quenches my thirst on a hot summer day.

I think we all understand the word community. I would define it as the people with whom I surround myself with. This can vary from your work place, your church, your running team (Go, Team Run Your Race!), or a group of young moms.

However, when you add in the word, "sacred," something changes. It kicks things up to another level. And, just so you know, I'm using the " regarded with reverence" definition of sacred.

I'm sure we've all experienced this notion of sacred community.

Maybe you've sat down with a co-worker in the lunch room sharing about your favorite vacation spots, when all of a sudden, you're bonding over shared sorrows or joys.

Perhaps you've met some fellow young moms for coffee and as you share about the trials of poopy diapers and sleepless nights and fears about whether you're doing things right, you realize that you feel intensely connected to these other brave women, and leave with a lighter heart.

And, maybe, it's finding a group of widowers who know what it feels like to come home to an empty home and bed...and while it doesn't completely fill the hole of the relationship you've lost, it makes life more bearable.

Or it might be pushing your body to run mile upon mile with a group of people whom you meet for several hours a week that you sweat, share about life, cry with, and cross finish lines with.

In all of these scenarios, there's one thing in common....it all comes down to those little moments you share...and they're honest, and vulnerable, a little bit ethereal....and because of that....they're sacred.

Can a sacred community sometimes lead to heartache? Definitely. After all, it wouldn't hurt so much if the relationship wasn't so deep and a part of you. Do we say things that are hurtful and are hurtful things said to us? It's guaranteed to happen. Why? Because we're human. We're not perfect by any stretch of the imagination.

However, I would argue that conflict -- which is inevitable -- actually makes a relationship and sacred community even stronger when it's handled in a loving and respectful way. And, when it's not....it's just about the saddest thing you can ever experience....which can lead to a breach...which I've already talked about.

Nonetheless, the amazing joy and fulfillment that I have found within my sacred communities has been worth the risk of being hurt or the loss of relationship. To feel as though a group of people knows who I am, what I'm about (and who I'm working towards becoming), and supports me on that journey, and even better yet, will come alongside to walk it with me...that's a gift. And, it makes it an even richer experience when they invite me to do the same for them.

I've written about how Facebook scratches this itch for a lot of people. Say what you want about the annoyances of the social networking site, but has allowed people to express themselves. And, yes, sometimes it can get us in trouble. But, that's just like life. In "Facebook Land," apologies should be generously given and are sometimes even more necessary when it's easy to type before fully engaging our brain.

But, however helpful the internet may be in allowing people to interact with each other, it won't ever take the place of meaningful face-to-face dialoguing for me. A friend on Facebook can send you their well wishes, but it's not the same as having a friend come visit you in the hospital after you've had emergency surgery....or bring you a hot dinner...or take your kids to the park so you can have some "quiet time,"...or hold your hand at the gravesite service of a loved one...or stop by with a smoothie from Jamba Juice "just because"....these types of blessings cannot be duplicated in cyberland.

Yet I know that any form of connection is a good place to start. I have formed and developed some friendships through the portals of cyberspace. And actually, my husband and I initially fell in love by writing epic emails about our hopes, dreams, thoughts and ambitions. So, don't get me wrong, I actually think that emails, texts and social networking sites have made it possible for me to lovingly tend to the relationships that are important to me...and especially with those who are far away.

I crave connection on a deep visceral level. That's just how I'm wired. It's one of the many things that God created that I completely, utterly and unreservedly "regard with reverence."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Back to Basics....Revisited



So, I thought I'd give an update to my lengthy diatribe...err...blog post a few months back about the state of food in our country that I entitled Back to Basics. I'm happy to report some good changes in our house -- although we are not 100% there yet. All progress is good, right?

One of the first things I have done is put my KitchenAid stand mixer (She's a 5-Quart Artisan in "Majestic Yellow" that I have named Mabel) to use in making fresh and homemade white bread. I'm happy to report that not only was it not terribly difficult, it was a great bonding opportunity with my 5-year-old. The family gave the bread rave reviews and had thirds.

Mmmm...warm bread. I'm not sure of the cost ratio between homemade and store bought, but if you matched it in terms of quality ingredients, then I believe I came out ahead. You can't compare what I made to Wonder Bread, after all.

Today was my first day attempting wheat bread and again...not terribly difficult and much enjoyed. I think we're on to something. 


Add in the chocolate stromboli I made the other morning (idea courtesy of my friend, Carmita) and I'm a dough making fool!


I've also sworn off most of the jarred/canned pasta sauces. Instead I've been buying canned whole or diced tomatoes and using my Cusinart food processor to blend them up. I add in a can of tomato paste and fresh garlic and other italian spices. My husband raved about it and it literally took me about 5 minutes to do. No high-fructose corn syrup needed.

Another recent purchase was the grinder attachment for my stand mixer. I've recently had a harder time buying and consuming ground beef because I think too much about what part of the cow it comes from and from how many different animals. People rave about this grinder because you can buy a sirloin roast and grind your own. Not only do you know for certain that your ground beef came from one cut and one animal, it costs less.  I have not used it yet, but I am excited to do so.

I'm also excited to use it to make some strawberry and peach freezer jam. With the abundance of fresh and tasty fruit here, it would be a shame not to at least try. And, since I have a pretty easy recipe to follow, I would be a fool not to at least attempt one batch. (My Walmart store decided to stop carrying canning items...but luckily my local Target started stocking them....sigh, I love Target!)


I was like a kid in a candy store...albeit a little confused with all the choices. This is going to be one of my projects to try for this week.

The other project I am going to attempt is making my own yogurt. I'm a huge fan of plain yogurt. However, I think it would be cheaper to make my own, as well as making it easier to adjust the level of thickness I prefer. I found this innovative way to do it with household products -- yogurt maker not necessary.


Also, since posting this, my cousin, Amy, clued me in to a recipe for making yogurt in a slow cooker that she got from our mutal friend, Amy. (Confusing, I know...wait until my other friend Amy chimes in!)

So, I'm changing things..slowly, but surely.  My next major purchase will be the pasta attachment for my KitchenAid. I cannot wait to roll the dough and then use the cutter to make my own angel hair. I can already taste the goodness.

And now I'm curious...what are you guys out there in CyberLand doing differently?  I'd love more ideas...so share away!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Old Friends are the Best Friends


I've heard it said that "old friends are the best friends."  When I was younger, I thought it meant that your best friends would naturally be your oldest friends. And, while that might be true for some folks, it's not always the truth for all.  Now that I'm older and have more perspective, I think I finally understand what that adage means.

The friends that you have had for years and years and maybe even decades and decades are some of the sweetest friendships. It's not necessarily because of all the accrued time that you have logged together (although that might be it), rather it's the span of time you've shared over your two prospective lifetimes.

I know I'm not the only 30-something person who feels like high school was just a few years ago. It's only when I actually start mentally counting up from my graduation year (1991) that I am shocked to discover that so many years have actually gone by! Almost 20! How did that even happen? Of course, I can mentally flip through all the life experiences and occasions I've had since I was 17 and walking proudly across that stage -- but for some reason it doesn't jive with the reality of 20 years!

I have had many great friendships over the years. I can even remember my first best friend, Hailee. I wish that we were in contact, although I know so many years have gone by and you can only talk about Rick Springfield, the GoGos, and stealing blackberries from her dad's garden so much.

The other set of friends that really start the clock on my "oldest friends set" are from junior high and high school. I think it's mostly because it's at this point that we truly entered in more mature friendships. We walked through puberty together, laughed and cried about boys together, and shared our hopes and dreams for the future.

One of these friends is my talented friend, Lori, who spent the night on our couch last Friday, braving children crying and middle of the night potty breaks. I'm fuzzy on the details of how we met, but I think it was because of a mutual family friendship, and because we were both pastor's kids (PKs). Actually, it's a wonder we did ever meet since we lived two hours apart. However, meet we did, and we must have each seen something we liked in each other at the mutal age of 14, because we ended up corresponding by letter (before the days of email) and eventually both spent a week at each other's houses -- I traveled to San Marcos, and she came down to the desert of El Centro.

Because our shared PK status, we had lived sort of a parallel life. We both instinctively understood each other's life and the challenges we had and did face. We enjoyed the same type of Christian rock (Amy Grant, Whiteheart, Allies, anyone?) and clothing. And yes, we did end up buying the same sundress at Miller's Outpost and wore those things unashamedly to her church youth group.

We ended up in Texas at the same pastor's convention (that was fun!) and over the years, we attended the same summer youth camps. Eventually we both attended the same university (although at different times), and both spent time living overseas (at different times and in different places). We both got married (although neither of us could attend each other's weddings) and have continued to share our lives with each other via email -- and then Facebook. We've walked through our own tough times, and have even watched our parents get battered and bruised by church life, and have shared that pain with the other. We have that PK sisterhood and it's a club that offers some understanding into these things. Thankfully, we've both been able to share the restorative times as well.

I guess what I'm saying is that while I'm sure neither of us would describe the other as the end-all-be-all best friend....we are nonetheless good friends that have walked through life...well, together.  And the older I get, the more value and worth I find in that. Twenty years of friendship (and I think it's actually more like 22 or 23) is nothing to sneeze at...and actually it's a pretty big milestone. While I know that there are many who can boast 30, 40, 50, even 60 years of friendship, being able to count in the decades at all is a big accomplishment.

The years have only made me appreciate Lori even more. She has risen above some terrible moments in her life and has become the better for them. There is a honesty and depth in her. She craves authentic and transparent relationships -- something I also greatly value. She is a culinary wonder, and enjoys making food for the people she loves -- as I recently had the good fortune to taste for myself. She's also talented and accomplished photographer (as you can see in her food blog...btw, that's me thoroughly enjoying that roasted corn). But most of all, she's just a lovely soul.

I don't pretend to know all about Lori's life and her hopes and dreams -- just like she wouldn't pretend to know all of mine. And, I probably couldn't tell you about her 5 favorite things (hmmm...or could I?). But, I do know that the 14-year-old girl that I felt an instant connection to all of those years ago, is still a part of the Lori I know today. And, that matters. And, it also makes me feel like a part of her history. Just like she is a part of mine.

So...old friends...they may or may not be your current closest friends. But, nonetheless, they are still some of the very best.

Love ya, LJ!  I can't wait to see what the next 20 years hold for us.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Thrift, Thrifting Away...



So, I've been couponing, rebating and penny-pinching for a few months now and I thought I would take some time to reflect on how things have gone since I started down the path of "thrifting."

My biggest concerns when I started down this road were: 1.) it would take up too much time; 2.) I would end up spending more money to save money.

So, how have I done?

1.) I don't find that it takes up too much of my time. However, to be fair, I suppose you'd have to ask my husband and children. Yes, I do park my kids in front of Playhouse Disney from time to time so that I can print, clip and scour for deals. But, I estimate that I spend only about 1/2 an hour a day doing this. Admittedly, it is a bit longer when I add in putting it on my Deals Page. But, this is for all my readers (you know...all 5 of you), so how could I count that? 

Actually...let me just admit that I kinda enjoy it. It makes me feel like I have a grown-up job and that I'm being helpful. (If that's not exactly true, I don't wanna know!) In fact, I feel like it's my mission, in the way that some other (crazy) mothers feel like creating a cozy and spotless living home is their mission. So, lately when my husband asks why the dinner has not been started, I vaguely wave him towards the kitchen and say, "honeeeey, I'm working!"

2.) I have to be honest and say that I'm not really sure whether I've spent more money than I normally would have in order to save money (which can be counter-productive). I would tend to say I have done pretty well. I actually think rather than technically just "saving money," my thrifting has allowed to buy more/other things we have needed but couldn't afford.  I guess you could look at it either way.

I know that I have definitely had to learn to "walk away" from a really great deal because either:  a.) I didn't need the product or didn't know anyone who did, or:  b.) We just didn't have the money to spend on that item even though the coupon was about to expire. I have become really good at checking for products and when I find they aren't a good enough deal (or are not on sale which makes using the coupon(s) an amazing deal), I will leave the appropriate coupon on the product for some other lucky soul to find. (If you shop at either of the Clovis Targets, you're welcome!)

I know that I still have a lot to learn about the "ways of saving," but I've really enjoyed the journey. I cannot tell you the sense of pride and satisfaction that filled my heart when I used my $.48 Rimmel eyeshadow today. Not only did I save $4 ($2 off Target coupon & $2 Rimmel coupon), but I really needed a brown eyeshadow palette.

I'm almost completely unashamed to clog up an entire Target lane for 15 minutes (lane light getting flicked to the off position) while the harried clerk (and sometimes the CSM) tries to sort out my BOGOs, free gift cards, and sheaf of coupons. I only break out in a light sheen of sweat now as I try to make sure each coupon scans correctly and I get my due.

When I am strolling out with my cart and realizing that I saved $60 or $80, I am almost able to meet the eyes of the poor lady who got stuck in my vortex of discount shopping.

Today, I was feeling pretty good about my $43.98 worth of purchases that included 5 Nabisco 100-Calorie Packs (I only paid for 2) and eyeliner for $2.99. In fact I must share a photo of my loot:


Even though I know that there are frugalistas out there who probably could have gotten it all for like $3.95, I felt pretty proud of myself....you know, the "good" kind of proud.  The kind of proud that I imagine I would feel if I canned my own jam (I will one of these days!) or made my own laundry detergent!

Why? Because I'm being proactive! I'm working "my job" for all it's worth, and I'm feeling pretty darn fulfilled. Okay...and maybe a little buzzed from my "shopper's high."

So, my verdict?  Thrifting...I dig it. I'm pretty good at it. I like how it makes me feel. And, I'm not going to stop....

(Whoa...I just re-read that last sentence. Ummmm...on second thought maybe someone should check in with my family to see if I'm delusional and if an intervention is needed.)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Breach


The English language has many words that are swollen with meaning. And the word "breach" is one of them that strikes terror in my heart every time I hear it.

Picture this...you're sitting in a darkened theater. The music pounds ominously. The actors are just barely safe on the other side of the retaining wall. And then....all of a sudden...someone says the words that send shivers up your spine, letting you know that all may be lost:

"We have a breach!!"

A breach is never good. Usually cities are flooded. Aliens come pouring in, or worse, the Titanic sinks. Just take a look at the word's definition:

BREACH
–noun

1. the act or a result of breaking; break or rupture.
2. an infraction or violation, as of a law, trust, faith, or promise.
3. a gap made in a wall, fortification, line of soldiers, etc.; rift; fissure.
4. a severance of friendly relations.
5. Obsolete. wound.

Do you see what I'm saying?  Really...look at all these terribly descriptive words:

Break
Violation
Rift
Severence
Wound

Each of these conveys such utter destruction.

Sidenote:  in the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that it can also mean, "the leap of a whale above the surface of the water," which is actually a really amazing and majestic site...I've seen it for myself in Hawaii.  However, it doesn't fit in with my blog topic, so you know...I'm not putting it in. Writer's perogative and all that...)

I suppose you're wondering where I'm going with this little walk through the dictionary? Well, I was doing some thinking...you know, when I have the spare mental brainpower...and I was doing it at my favorite thinking place: Target.

Say what you will, but Target is a sanctuary for me under the right circumstances. (It can also be a carnival of crazy...as it was on Friday...but that was with 1 return, 4 children, a cart full of groceries, and a sheaf of coupons.) The right circumstances are just me, myself and I with 1 shopping cart, a diet pepsi from the food court, and plenty of time. I can really have a great time crusing the aisles, checking prices, trying on a shirt or some shoes, planning strategies to get a cart full of groceries at the cheapest price. It's my bliss.

However , the other bonus is that I have plenty of time and space to just think...which if you are a parent, you know is in short supply. And the word, breach, is what I thought about. Okay, yes, I had just finished a novel of that title, but actually, I had forgotten that at the moment (although it was surely in my subconscious). I was thinking about the word in the context of definition #4: a severance of friendly relations.

And really, is there anything more terrible than severing (or being severed from) friendly relations?  Of course it's easier to cut off relationship with people who have gone over to the "dark side," or maybe are just big meanies. But, "friendly" relationships? Ouch. That hurts.

It might have been that friend in third grade who turned on you on the playground just so she could hang out with the popular kids.  It could have been your best high school friend who went after the guy she knew you liked. Or, it might have been something even more horrendous like a spouse who cheated on you and left you with a gaping hole in your soul.

I'm sure we all have a person that comes to mind even as you read these words. Because we've all been on the receiving end of a relational breach. And, I'm sure that most of us have even been on the giving end of creating a relational breach. We all have good reasons, I'm sure. "The relationship was just too draining." "My needs weren't being met in that friendship." "He/she is not good for my emotional health right now."  We've all heard it and most likely have been there.

Please hear me...I'm in no way saying that there aren't good reasons for making a break in certain relationship scenarios. Sometimes it's the only sane and healthy choice. But that's not what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about the type of relationship that is crusing along just fine. You laugh together; you eat together; you share your hearts and lives together. And, then...there is a little crack. You might slap some putty on that thing and paint over it and carry on. But, then another fissure occurs, and this one is bigger and harder to patch. Wounds are made by words that are said or unsaid, and actions done, or not done.

And then you have a full on rupture, that leaves you on one side, and your loved one on the other.

"Ladies and Gentlemen...we have a breach."

And, it's painful. So, so, painful. Why?  The tying of two hearts together in friendship, marriage, or family life happens as you share joy, tears and life together. There's a lot of time and effort that goes into binding yourself together with someone. When a breach happens, there is no polite and careful unraveling of the strings that have held you together. It's more like a sharp sword that comes slicing down through those cords, parting tissue and muscle in the process. And, it hurts.

Betrayal of trust, loss of a shared dream, division of property, realization that the vulnerability you've allowed has left you...vulnerable.  These are only a few of the byproducts of a breach.

But it goes deeper than even that. There is genuine loss. When you have truly loved someone....when you've walked through terrible times with someone...when you've cried because you've seen tears in their eyes and they have done the same for you...when you've laid open your soul and said, "this is who I am...c'mon inside"...when you've done all that and that person is separate from you, it's a loss that can defy description.

Because you just miss her. You just really long for his company. There's a void left by their departure that is not easily filled by someone or something else. There can and should be a legitimate period of mourning for what was and is no longer.

And sometimes the breach can be repaired (and thankfully I do know of some wonderful stories of marriages and friendships that have been restored), but sometimes they aren't, or rather they haven't been yet.

So, I'm back to the darkened theater with my heart-pounding in my throat as the characters on the screen try to hide from the effects of inevitable breach. Yes, the breach is bad. It's an ugly gaping hole that allows much pain and trouble in.

However, it can also let things out.

Do we really and truly know what is within us (or within another) until we're broken? There are really only two options of what can come out.

Bitterness or Betterness.

Yes, I am aware that I made up that last word (writer's perogative, remember?), but it just fits. Only when I'm cracked apart will I know whether what comes oozing out is self-pity and bitterness or acceptance and betterness. I'm not saying that it's easy and there isn't a grieving process. After all, when a part of your life and heart is cut out, it not only hurts -- it takes time to heal.  And, yes, there's literally a chunk missing for awhile....

But...

there is healing! When I was doing some lite research on the word breach, I stumbled upon "biblical references," and this one in particular:

Psalm 60:2

"You have made the earth tremble;
You have broken it;
Heal its breaches, for it is shaking."

There's no question that there is brokenness -- that there are and will be breaches.  But there is also the hope of healing -- for the cessation of the life shaking and breaking.

I'm not naive enough to believe that I've seen the last of painful breaches in my life. But I do have the comfort of knowing that it's not necessarily the breaking that is the most important thing. Instead -- it's the mending.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Fame



I have to admit something...I'm still struggling with this whole blogging thing.

I started Mosaic Momma because I was inspired to jump into blogging by a friend (Launa) who had started one. I had been looking for a creative outlet for myself, frustrated English major that I am, and thought perhaps that being able to have a space to write my thoughts might be intriguing. However, I must admit that I went back and forth a bit before signing up. Why? Well, as much as I wanted to put my creative thoughts "out there," there was also a part of me that was thinking, "am I sure this is a good idea?"

The struggle for me is hard to put into words, but I'm going to try. One of the reason that I have been hesitant about blogging is that I wonder if I won't find that I like or need the affirmation of others too much. There is something so vulnerable and yet slightly cheeky about writing something down and then "sharing" it with people who "follow you" or maybe are just lucky enough to be your family and friends -- and therefore, can feel like they have a familial obligation to read/follow/comment/like, etc.

I'm just going to be honest and admit that I have a site counter set up on my blog because....I'm actually curious if anyone is visiting and reading and finds anything of value in these posts and pages. And, that makes me a little sad....and I'm not sure why. Maybe because I feel like it reveals a side of me that does want the approval and affirmation of others. And, maybe it's because I want to believe that I have something important to say.

Fame. I think people have always sought it. I think we've all seen people (and mostly celebrities or wanna-be celebrities) who desperately want to be recognized, admired, and notorious...and they are willing to do almost anything to make it happen. Lady Gaga is the epitome of that for me right now. I mean for one, her album is called...The Fame. And, she wears really crazy, over-the-top-enough-to-make-Cher-pause outfits, and done some pretty crazy things on stage. I've read articles where she has honestly and flat out admitted that all she wants is to be famous.

But how does that desire for fame and recognition play out in every day life -- the life we all live far-far away from the lights and glitz of Hollywood? I don't think that fame is necessarily what we average joes (and joelles) are seeking. But, I think it's similar.

And maybe I've finally circled the crux of what I've been pondering over the last few months. If Facebook, Twitter and blogs have shown us anything, it's that there is an overwhelming need in people to be recognized. We want to know that our thoughts matter -- that what we say is heard and acknowledged by people who love (or "like") us. There's nothing quite as sad as a Facebook status update that says something like, "Jane Smith is feeling really low right now," -- and then there is no follow-up post underneath by a concerned "friend" inquiring about what's going on.

Life flows all around us so rapidly. It's easy to get caught up in that non-stop torrent, and it's sometimes just as easy to get sidelined in an eddy and watch the world rush on by. And we wonder, does anyone truly see me?  Does anyone really care about what I think -- what I have to say about anything?


I've also been thinking about a story found in Genesis about a woman named Hagar. A lot of things happened to her that were not of her own choosing. Eventually she finds herself pregnant and alone in the desert. The angel of the Lord comes to her and tells her that God has heard about her misery. After he is finished, Hagar refers to God as "The One Who Sees Me."

I have always found that to be so simply profound. Did Hagar's circumstances change?  Nope. In fact, if you look at what is said about her son's future, it's not really that great of news. But it did change her perspective. Hagar was left feeling....seen. Someone realized how miserable she was...how tough things had been for her. Someone cared. And, that seemed to make all the difference.

So, this blogging/social networking thing...it's not a bad thing. But I'm thinking (at least for me) that it can be all-consuming if I let it. I can concentrate so much on myself that I become -- self-focused.

I'm not going to end this post with a pretty bow (although I really, really want to...the English major in me that wants to make everything into an essay of After School Special proportions is protesting loudly) because the discussion and thought process in my own mind is still ongoing.

So, I'm going to let it....f-l-o-w...

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Tenacious Faith


The concept of faith is a tricky one.

The idea of blindly putting my trust in someone or something, knowing I have zero control -- well, that can be difficult.

Maybe it's because it runs counter to the good ol' American philosophy of not being beholdin' to anyone. Or, it could be that making things happen by our own efforts and the sheer will of pulling up on those boot straps, is ingrained in us from a young age. Whatever the reason, surrendering control can be a painful pill to swallow.

I re-learned this lesson in a major way recently. (And I say re-learn because even though I believe that God will "work all things together for my good," the practical application often tests that belief.)

It all started with a tanzanite ring.

My husband of 11 years wisely heeded my hints (okay straight out blatant requests) to buy a particular tanzanite ring that I had my heart set upon at Zales. It was just what I had been looking for since returning from a trip of a lifetime to Tanzania. I had reasoned my way out of purchasing one of the gorgeous indigenous stones due to the cost. But after being back in the States, I regretted not making the purchase. Hence the ring at Zales. It was perfect. The right size. The right setting. And, most importantly, the right price -- on clearance with an additional markdown. It was irresistable.

Having just missed the super sale by one day, my darling spouse stalked the store and website until it came back on sale -- knowing that doing so would not only please my eye, but my frugal nature. He presented me with my ring of dreams for my birthday.

So, weeks later as I perused his annual birthday/Christmas list, my eyes caught on an item that had been there for three consecutive years: a wide-angle lens for his Canon Rebel. It had remained on the list solely because of its cost. Years before, I had done a quick search and found they were about $450. Which was a lot more than we could afford. The holidays are a rough time financially for us -- Christmas gifts for the kids and family, medical insurance deductibles, van registration, our anniversary...something always demanded an extra cash.

But this year, as I gazed at my cherished ring, I wanted to be extravagant. I wanted the "wow factor." So I went looking again and found that the lens was now discontinued -- and therefore harder to find and more expensive than before. However, in a stroke of genius, I decided to try EBay and found one for $200. I hesistated, but finally bid -- only to just lose the auction.

A few days later, I found another for the same price. It was in mint condition -- hardly used -- and came with the original box and packaging. I quickly put in my bid (and a back-up bid) and nervously watched the auction the next few days until....victory!! The lens was mine for $200!

When Christmas Day came, I was just as excited (if not more) when my husband opened up my gift. He was so shocked and ecstatic. I encouraged him to try it out and make sure it was working correctly so that we could return it within the return window if necessary.

Days went by and the lens worked great, and then it didn't. Then it worked great again, and then didn't. Once my husband realized that he couldn't make it work, he decided he needed to return it. Unfortunately he decided this after the return window was closed and attempts to contact and dialogue about the problem with the seller had gone from bad to worse to non-existent.

Even more unfortunate was the particularly heated "discussion" that broke out one night as we were putting away the dishes. I "discussed" his tendencies to disregard the informational gems I offer him, his urge to proscrastinate, as well as the terrible waste of a perfectly good $200. He "discussed" my propensity to buy from questionable vendors and convey avalanches of information -- making it hard to find those "gems." It quickly became nothing to do about the lens, but everything to do with our annoyance with each other's idiosyncracies. Tempers flared. Harsh words were spoken. Tears were shed.

And then a moment of clarity: $200 was not worth this terrible feeling of separation. After all, it was not him versus me. We're supposed to be on the same team. We were supposed to have each other's backs -- not be thrusting knives into them. We would gladly give up claim to that $200 over feeling this way towards each other.

And so, just like that, I let it go --which is no easy task for someone who struggles with wanting to be right and is a super frugal freak. But I just knew I couldn't hold onto it. And, as I loaded up the dishwasher, I felt an indescribable peace. I prayed for guidance and Divine wisdom, and I let God have control of the mess.

A few days later, I called our credit card company, and discovered that the lens purchase didn't qualify for buyer's protection. I just shrugged my shoulders. A few days after that, I opened up a dispute on PayPal. I really didn't expect anything.

A few days went by and then I received an email -- letting me know that PayPal had found in our favor and had fully refunded our money.

I was stunned. There it was. $200 back in our account. And, there was the broken lens sitting on our dining room table. After a few days more, we had an idea and contacted the lens company about the problem. We were told we could send it in for an evaluation for repair. Imagine our surprise when a week later, we were told it would take a $12 part from Japan to fix the lens, plus labor and shipping.

The total cost to fix it and clean it out good as new: $102.

Lesson learned about letting go of things that are uncontrollable: priceless.

It all came full circle a few hours ago. I had one of those surreal moments as I heard the joyous laughter of my kids at play, and saw my husband pull out his "new" $102 discontinued lens to capture it all.

And this moment that was so perfectly beautiful was made all the more so because it was viewed through my own inner lens -- thankfully cleaned of the grime of self and pride, and once again restored to clarity.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Going Back to Basics



If there is one thing I've learned in these 36 years of my life, it's that going back to the basics is always a good idea. Technology, customs and lifestyles change so quickly and move so fast, that one day you sort of wake up and become aware of how far you've come from ideals that you once valued.

This is how I feel about what's going on with the state of food in our country. When I became a mom, I did what many moms do. We protect our little cub. We go into hyper-protective mode and make sure all the crib bedding, clothing, furniture, car seats and strollers are the safest they can be. We feel the immense responsiblity of this little life and we take that responsibility seriously.  And when they start to eat what we eat...then we want to do the same. All of a sudden, how milk and meat is processed becomes of utmost interest. We read labels and wonder what words like "hydrogenated" and "trans-fats" mean and how we can avoid them.

Unfortunately, I have come to understand that the packaged foods that we are so used to consuming have very little nutritional or even beneficial content. Did you know that the taste and smell of your packaged foods are engineered in a lab in New Jersey?  They literally take foods at their most basic state, strip all the nutrients and minerals as they process it, and then dose it with a large amount of post-end nutrients (chemically-enginereed nutrients of course). And, then they literally figure out how to make a smell like strawberry and then add it to your strawberry yogurt. So, instead of consuming milk, cream and some sort of yogurt culture with some strawberries, take a look at the ingredients in most store-bought yogurt.

How in the world did that happen?

Convenience Food.  Pre-packaged, non-perishable, long-lasting, and toxic food.

And I think the "non-perishable" part is what's missing. Food, by it's very nature, is made to progressively lose its nutrients and decompose.  Therefore, it makes sense to eat it as quickly as possible. Sure, we can prolong this process by refrigerating it or freezing it, but eventually, it's going to go bad. However, the advent of packaged foods that showed up around the 50's/60's promised to make life easier for families. The notion of "the little wife staying home" to make jellies, breads and butter all day disappeared as women began to invade the work place.  All of a sudden, it was a daunting task to come home from work and create the usual "spread." Lo' and behold, the introduction of "instant" items.

Depending on your age, you might be part of the first generation that may have never experienced "home-made" or "from scratch" foods. In fact, you might think that "from scratch" involves creating your own spaghetti from a jar of Ragu brand sauce and a pack of spaghetti noodles. And why...because this is what we know. It's what we were taught and what we have seen demonstrated. The days of milk fresh from the cow to your door in glass bottles is a distant reality (one not known by many). The idea of going to your local butcher and knowing who his suppliers are is a distant memory as well. Does anyone know where our food comes from?

Well, if you've seen Food, Inc., then you are starting to understand the problem. Add in a read through of Fast Food Nation, and you'll really start pulling your hair out.  If you never want to be able to choke down menu items from a fast-food restaurant, then definitely watch the movie, Supersize Me!

You will start to look at processed white flour, sugar, and oils in a new light. And, it's not in the light of home-cooked meals, because a home-made pizza dough with white flour and oil will nutritionally beat the pants off any frozen pre-packaged one out there.  But, it's the quantity of these items that are in our foods that is alarming. If you see sugar or "high-fructose syrup" listed in the first 5 ingredients, it can't be good. Our bodies were not made to adequately digest and function at their optimum with the amount of those items we consume on a daily basis.

And unfortunately, we cannot rely on food companies to police themselves. By definition, they are a business. They exist to make money. I find it incongruous that the milk board would tout milk as an essential source of calcium that is vital in promoting "strong teeth and healthy bones," encouraging us to serve our children milk with every meal -- and then turn around and load it up with sugar and flavor-additives to make it chocolate and strawberry flavored to it to make it "more appealing." That's marketing at it's worst....and they can't have it both ways.

The health and quality of life of children and families are not on big-businesses top-priority list -- unless it will make them money. So, just as food advocates say, we need to put our money where our convictions lie.  If we are willing to pay more for high-quality, fresh and organic ingredients, guess what we'll get?

So, what can we do to be different? 

Get informed.

Change how you do things.

It's really that simple. Is it easy?  Of course not. We have a "taste" for those foods now. Let's face it, they make them taste good. They make them really cheap. They want us to buy them over taking the time to make homemade alternatives.  And a lot of the time, it does come down to the commodity of time. We don't have very much of it, it feels like. It sometimes seems like a no-brainer when you need ice cream and you know you can go buy it for $3 at the grocery store, versus spending a bit more for the ingredients and going through the steps of scalding it on the stove and mixing it in the mixer and freezing it in the freezer. It's 15 minutes vs. 5 hours!  But, is it worth it...all this cutting of corners? I think that our obesity and health epidemic would weigh in with a resounding no.

So, what can we do?

1.) Buy fresh local - Farmer's Markets are awesome, but the produce you get in some stores can be just as fresh. Even frozen is a good option because it's additive free and flash-frozen right after it's harvested so much of the nutrients are still there.

2.) Cook/bake from scratch - it's relatively simple to make your own homemade spaghetti sauce. However, have you ever thought of making your own bread? (and you don't need a breadmaker to do it.) How about making your own yogurt? Pizza dough? Pasta? Hummus? Dressing? Truth be told....it might be a bit time-consuming at first, but I'm pretty sure that with some practice and thinking-ahead, it might not take as much time as you think. Need ideas and recipes?  The internet has a wealth of information. All you need is Google.

3.) Teach your children about food - and sometimes we need to teach ourselves first. (And a good concise and thorough book on the subject is Food Rules: An Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan.) If we want to raise children who know how healthy food is supposed to look at taste like, we need to let them see where it comes from and let them help us make it. And I found this super cute box of recipes for kids to make on Amazon!


We need to teach them about how "good fuel" creates "good results" in their bodies. They need to know that it's essential to put premium fuel inside the body that will carry them through a lifetime. Invite them to cook with you and be creative. I found a fun little cookbook and cooking cups to get you started.

This is the road I'm walking down. Am I perfect? No. Do I still take my kids to McDonald's?  Yes. Do I find myself reaching for the easy pre-packaged items?  Of course. But, this weekend, I made my family a calzone completely from scratch (okay, I didn't personally make the cheese, but I now that some people do...). And, did they love it?  Yes. And, I felt really good about taking the extra 15 minutes to make that dough ball. Plus, I got to bond with my 4-year-old as we rolled it out and filled it up with the contents. And, we did make homemade ice cream that everyone raved about.  And the apple tart I made for an auction received rave reviews. Yes, I could have bought one from the store or a local bakery, but I made that with my own two hands (and with the help of two smaller hands), and the sense of accomplishment was pretty amazing.

My current project is my kids' sack lunches. I don't know about you, but I get stuck in a rut of what to send with them every day. We've made the decision to allow one meal from the cafeteria a week, but the other 4 days are from home. One of my best finds is products by Fit N Fresh. I bought my first one a few months ago. I actually uploaded a picture (it's about halfway down the page...white container with red lid) with it in it as part of a super duper shopping outing I had at CVS.

Little did I know how much this would help me to get out of the sack lunch rut and keep providing healthy options for my daughter. I LOVE this container. I use it for soups and warm leftovers from the night before. And, luckily, she LOVES leftovers....and salads! So, I was thrilled about my newest finds at Ross and I scored them for about $5.99 each - the Salad Shaker and Lunch on the Go. The beauty of these is the flat reusable ice pack that goes into the container to keep it cold. It's a part of the container and fits in seemlessly. I have endless options that go beyond pb&j and a meat sandwich!

Now I need to tackle the rest of her lunch bag. I have the tendencies to want to add a "treat" to every lunch. I add in a chocolate pudding every now and then and a Capri Sun almost every day. I was reminded about the high sugar in both of these when I watched Jamie Oliver's show and saw him rip apart the sack lunches the children brought from home. How do I reconcile my new goal of making everything I can from scratch with the bustle of the mornings and the convenience of pre-packaged items?  That's something I'd love to hear input on...and something I'm going to figure out over the next few weeks.

Whew...this blog post just flew from my fingers. I guess I definitely have an opinion on this subject. Hopefully it's not too long and rambling. I'd love to hear what you have to say on this topic...