Thursday, January 27, 2011

good food, simple food

I just finished French Women Don't Get Fat, not because I worry that I need a diet but because I share the philosophy of the book.  Basically it's about enjoying food, eating it in balance, eating smaller portions of only the really good stuff, and not having a huge guilt trip about food.  One of my favorite concepts from the book is that we overeat out of boredom.  We substitute quantity for quality all the time.  A lot of the time, poor food habits come because we are simply tired of our old food routine.

I used to like junk food, just like every other American.  I wasn’t brought up that way, which is key to how I came to approach food after my younger adult years.  My Mom was very careful about what we ate, with a balanced diet, low chemicals, lots of fruits and veggies.  I think my first food was an avocado, to which I attribute my continued love of that particular fruit.  But of course, when we are teenagers and college students, all of us eat the crappy stuff.  Easy Mac.  Fast food.  Slim Jims.  Potato chips.  Desserts that use high amounts of sugar to mask the lack of flavor.  High fructose corn syrup.  Soda pop.  I certainly ate my share of it. 

I remember when I was in seminary and my friend Natalie had come back from a trip to Europe and she said, “American food is gross.”  I just had no idea what she was talking about.  But I do now.  With every new indulgence I have into really good food, I understand more and more.  There have now come to be many foods that I can hardly bear to put into my mouth because they are, as Michael Pollan calls them, “foodlike substances,” things that my grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.

Every few months I try have a cold cut sandwich because I forget why I don’t eat lunchmeat.  Today I did that.  Now, this lunch meat was fairly decent.  It was from Costco and was thick cut, good quality.  But it’s still pressed meat, you know?  It’s still full of a crappy salt mixture that makes me feel a bit nauseated when I put it in my mouth.  It’s still slimy.  Yuck.  I couldn’t even finish my sandwich.  Half of it went into the garbage.

Apart from the lunch meat misstep today, it was a lovely day for food.  Burrito and I have been trying to eat more fruits and vegetables as well as protein.  And since I have a tendency to run around the house or busy myself on the computer all day, failing to eat as much as I should, I am making the effort to sit down with her and have a snack when she has one.  This helps her to finish her meals too (or at least eat a little more).  And I’ve been noticing that when I eat a little bit every few hours, I feel so much better.  Our morning snack was composed of splitting an orange and having little almond butter cracker sandwiches.  We both finished the whole thing.  For lunch, I made her grilled cheese and homemade applesauce with cinnamon.  It is amazing what cooking apples will do to them.  These apples were the kind you get cheap in a bag, so they weren’t the best quality—rather tasteless raw, to be honest with you—but when I cooked them, they got sweet and tangy and delicious.  I made the applesauce chunky, skins on, and it was just perfect, still warm when we ate it.

Tonight was the best though.  I am of the mindset that vegetables artfully prepared are even more delicious than meat.  I'm sure this is a crazy idea to state in the middle of Montana.  And I'm not a vegetarian.  I love a steak as much as the next person.  But I do love well-prepared non-meat dishes.  They are savory.  And if you give me the choice between savory and sweet, I’ll choose savory almost every time. 

Ever since I saw pre-cubed butternut squash at Costco, I’ve been looking forward to trying this new convenience.  As everyone knows, it is a hassle and a half to cut open the tough skin of a squash, scrape out the seeds and fibers, peel the thing, and then cube it.  So it was very exciting to skip all those annoying steps and just get to the deliciousness that is a butternut squash.  Tonight I made Giada’s Butternut Squash Soup (with sage!).  Then I got a little creative and made an awesome Bruschetta.  I diced tomatoes, minced garlic, sliced basil, and drizzled it with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, finishing with a couple of grinds of sea salt.  I put this mixture on top of warm artisan bread, added a pinch of Parmigiano-Reggiano and toasted it in the oven.  It was divine.  I could have eaten it all night.  The sharp savoryness of the garlic and the complex tang of the cheese particularly hit me.  Wow, that was flavor. 

The amazing thing about something like Bruschetta is the simplicity of the ingredients and preparation.  Good food doesn’t have to be complicated.  I think oftentimes with food the important thing as a cook is simply “Don’t mess it up.”  I was explaining this to Burrito today when she ate her sugar-free homemade applesauce.  I told her that God made many foods so delicious that they didn’t need extra sugar.  To which she replied, “Yeah!”  I hope she got it.  It’s a really important lesson.

Of all the cooking lessons I hope to impart to her, the main ones are:
1)      Butter will make everything better
2)      Garlic—and lots of it—will improve every dish except dessert (Hubby adds: “And cereal.”  I’m not sure…maybe garlic could improve some cereals)
3)      Don’t mess it up
Oh, and we made homemade chocolate chip cookies today too.  With butter, of course.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

foodie's paradise

One of the things I love best about living here in the Flathead Valley is the wonderful access we have to great food.  It’s a foodie’s paradise.  Or at least, coming out of the culinary isolation of rural America, it seems like it.  I will say our local grocery in North Dakota happily was run by a family that was up on some of the latest cooking trends that did not include cream of mushroom soup and Jell-O with carrots.  So I was able to find “exotic” things like Asian sauces, fresh gingerroot, a few fresh herbs on occasion, organic milk (which was awesome to have for Burrito), anchovy paste, sundried tomatoes, pesto and the like.  I was very grateful to them for their hard work stocking some of these items because it made a big difference to me in that tiny town.

But even so, it was quite a small store….and the next nearest store was 15 minutes away…followed by one that was 30 minutes from home…followed by the larger town’s stores that were a full 75 minutes from home.  I never knew for sure if I would find what I needed for a given recipe close to home, so when I was in the larger town, I was forced to stock up on things.  This, of course, meant that the chances of my stock-piled food items going bad before I needed them was high.  It was a very frustrating place for a budding cook to live, especially since for most of the time we lived there, there was no restaurant in town (unless you count gas station pizza—I don’t).  So, with no take-out options, I had no choice but to learn to cook the good food that I wanted to eat.  I had always been interested in cooking and even pretty decent at it but my desire to get better at more interesting dishes really began to take off in North Dakota. With no good pizza or Asian food available for take-out, there was really no other option than to make it myself. 

So, now that I live in an area with many beautiful, new grocery stores and wonderful restaurants and bakeries, I begin to get a little giddy when I walk in the door of one of these establishments.  When I lived in North Dakota, I used to go to Whole Foods when I was on vacation, mainly to look at all the beautiful food.  It was rather like visiting an art gallery for me.  We all need a place for beauty in our lives and for me, a big part of where I find beauty is in food.  I seriously get this quivery feeling of joy all over my body when I’m in the presence of that much beautiful food.  The feeling is, I think, a bit like the over-stimulation a toddler must feel in a toy store.  What to look at first?  What to touch first?

I still get that feeling when I go in places that have lots of beautiful food.  I still can’t get over the fact that I can go to my local grocery store and find fine cheeses in the cheese case (and this is the grocery store that locals don’t care for too much!).  I can scarcely believe I can go down to Great Northern Foods in Bigfork and pick up a French baguette that is not only beautifully golden but that is also a divine thing to eat, crusty on the outside, chewy on the inside, tempered with the complexity of flavor that putting time into bread will bring.  I pinch myself when I sit down to share a huge warm, homemade cinnamon roll with Burrito at Pocketstone CafĂ©.  Cinnamon rolls usually taste like cardboard, in my opinion, but this one is made with real food, not “foodlike substances.”  It’s chewy and fresh and topped with an amazing homemade cream cheese frosting that doesn’t use sugar to disguise the flavor but to bring out the flavor.  The care and time that have been put into this treat have converted this cinnamon roll skeptic to its lover after all.

Every grocery store here carries artisan bread and more obscure produce like fennel, celeriac, fine mushrooms, mangos, big tubs of fresh basil.  Every grocery store has a large and affordable selection of wine.  Every grocery store has a fine cheeses case with a goodly variety.  And then there was the machine I found at Mountain Valley Foods in Kalispell where you could grind your own peanut butter into nutty, creamy goodness.  I nearly swooned.

And so I have taken surveying missions into the wonderful grocery stores our area has to offer.  It is a wonder to now read a recipe and know where I can find most any ingredient in it and within a few minutes’ drive too.  The richness of the food available in this area makes my heart sing.

I know I’m a bit overly interested in my food, but besides writing, it’s my art form.  I just love to prepare and enjoy something wonderful.  And I love that there is always more to learn about food.  You never fully master the arts of cooking and eating.  You just keep discovering more wonderful things.  What a joy to be free to express that love and learn all the good things there are to prepare and eat in this world…especially this foodie paradise corner of the world.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

the burrito

You may have noticed I call her the Burrito.  Here's why:

I’ve been thinking long and hard about what identity and privacy will mean for me on this blog.  It seems to me that it is a balancing act.  When you publish anything, online or not, you give up a little bit of your privacy.  And I know there is no absolute privacy on the web, but even so, I decided to set some specific guidelines. 

I decided that though I won’t scream my name in your face all the time, I won’t hide who I am or who my husband is.  Trying to do that just creates a fake sense of anonymity anyway.  And it might make you wonder if I’m a real person or if I can be trusted.  And since my goal is to encourage you and share my story, I guess it wouldn’t make much sense to leave you in doubt about who I am.  It helps to hold me accountable too.  If people can figure out who I am, then maybe I’ll be careful not to rattle off things that could embarrass or hurt others…or myself.

But for now, I’ve decided I won’t use my daughter’s name in my posts and I won’t use her picture.  I know other moms have found ways to do that in their online work, but right now it’s just not something I’m comfortable with.  And maybe it will help to draw the line a little clearer between me and her.  It’s my writing, not hers.  I need to own it; she shouldn’t have to.

(Which brings up the question, is it worse to be the kid that always gets mentioned in sermon illustrations, or the kid who always gets blogged about?  Now, instead of just PKs (Preacher's Kids) and MKs (Missionary Kids), we have BKs—Blogger’s Kids.  I hope they won’t need to start a support group or something.)

So, I’ll be referring my daughter to her as Burrito.  That’s our pet name for her anyway.  It all started when she was a little baby and we discovered that swaddling her up tight in a big blanket helped to calm her down.  Daddy saw her and started calling her “my little Burrito!”  And she really did look like a Burrito all wrapped up in a tortilla.  We’ve joked that we might continue calling her that even into her teenage years.  That could be awkward when the boyfriends come to visit….

Thursday, January 20, 2011

which of us is really not ready for potty training?

I blame it on Burrito.  She isn’t potty trained yet.  She is almost 2 ½.  I’ve definitely been careful not to push her too hard since I’ve heard that can backfire pretty easily.  And she is still pretty young.  And she doesn’t wake up dry, as my mother in law told me to watch for. 

She is pretty finicky about cleanliness lately though (how this co-exists with her tremendous ability to make a huge mess, I do not know).  A little speck of dirt or dust ends up on her hands and she’ll gasp, “Oh!  Dirty!  Clean it off!”  More over-reaction I have never seen in someone in regards to a bit of fuzz.  I hope she is not gaining a sense of scrupulosity and over-attention to germs from me.  I’m trying my best not to overreact to things like the time she left some suspicious objects in the tub, but I wonder if I failed at that since she is now scared to death of “messing” in the tub.

But then I suspiciously forget to set her on the potty throughout the day.  I remember diaper changes and everything.  I remember to feed the child and dress her and get her up in the morning, but I have trouble remembering to give her a chance to try to learn her potty skills. 

I’ve wondered lately which of us is really not ready for potty training.  I think it might be me.

Is it that I want to keep her little?  That might be part of it.  She’s already growing up too fast.  I look forward into the future and see her in school and then a teenager and getting married…  I just want her to stay home with me and giggle a little more and say, “I love you too, Mommy” some more.  Yeah, that might be part of it.

Is it that I think I can’t do this whole potty training thing with her?  I think I’ve mentioned that I am a bit change resistant at first.  We’ve got a nice system going, and I don’t care what anybody says…diapers are easy…well, at least they are if you’re polluting the environment like I am with disposables (I know, I know…but I just can’t deal with washing out those soiled diapers every day…I hope you can forgive me…you cloth diaperers are saints, and I mean that from my heart!).

Yes, (disposable) diapers are easy.  It’s weird because when I was about to become a mom, changing diapers was like the thing I was most worried about.  I mean totally gross, right?  I had no idea that diapers are the easy part of parenting!

But getting a new routine going, figuring how to find a clean toilet out in the wide, wide world when we go places, dealing the inevitable messes that will result (God forbid on carpet!) when Burrito begins her potty schooling, ah…it just makes me want to collapse in an overwhelmed heap.

When you think about it, potty training is one of the major transitions we go through in our development.  They totally should cover it in developmental psychology (or do they?).  In the big stages of life, it goes something like this:
Getting born
Learning to walk
Potty training
First date
Getting married
First grey hair (in my personal list that comes after potty training but before first date)
Earthly departure

Just the ability to go to the bathroom under one’s own power is such an epic life transition that I shudder before its power.  How will I adjust to this new stage of life?  Will I be able to handle the new life challenges that will emerge?  Will I be the same person I have always been?  Will Burrito?

In coming to transitions in life, I have found it useful to grieve the past before moving on to the future.  As Elizabeth Kubler-Ross taught us, we must embrace the grief cycle of denial, anger, bargaining, depression…and finally moving to acceptance. 

Ok, I admit it.  I’m resisting the change.  While it’s true that Burrito might not be quite ready for this new change in her life, I know I’m having a tough time with it.  But life moves forward, whether we’re ready for it or not.  And sooner or later, we have to accept that.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

on being a non-judgmental mommy

In my last post, I told you of my journey to become a stay-at-home mom and what a surprise it is to me that this is what I want to do.  I’m very aware that lots of moms out there are a bit sensitive on this topic, so I want to take a moment to address those fears, and to let you know that you have a safe place here on this blog.

I think that being a mother today is a very tough job.  I think that when our babies are born, it’s like this self-critical, self-judging chip gets planted in our brains.  We are always obsessing over whether we are doing a good enough job as a mom, and maybe even more frequently, whether other moms are judging us on our decisions.

It seems like when I would talk about my desire to keep Burrito out of daycare, other moms who were using daycare felt like they needed to justify their decision to me.  This made me sad.  I didn’t want to make them feel that way.

Decisions, decisions.  There are the choices of babyhood: cloth diapers or disposable?  Nursing or bottle-feeding?  There are the choices of child care: Nanny or daycare?  Stay home or work?  Vaccines or no?  And it’s easy to meet moms who will jump down your throat over the decisions you’ve made.

Now, it’s true that there are some awful parents out there.  But I honestly don’t think most moms are like that.  Most moms are just trying the best they can to get through the day and love their kids as well as they can and care for their kids in the best way they can.  For some families, bottle-feeding is best.  For some families, attachment parenthood is best.  For some families, Mom feels called to have a job.  For some families, Mom can’t imagine being anywhere but home.  Everybody’s situation is different.

As long as we moms aren’t putting our kids in danger, don’t we owe it to each other to support each other in the decisions we make, to be a positive, encouraging voice to each other in a world full of negativity?  To not make each other feel dumb and inadequate?  Chances are, the moms you know have thought long and hard about the decisions they are making for their children.  They want the best for their children and as far as they can tell, their choices reflect the best they have the capacity to give their kids.  Maybe we could respect that, instead of making moms feel like dirt.  Isn’t being a mom tough enough?

I don’t know how I would have gotten through those tough early days of mothering without positive women encouraging me along.  I always appreciated those women who told me what worked for them while emphasizing that I needed to find what worked for my family.  And so, sometimes I took their advice and sometimes I didn’t.  I found that with prayer and discussion with my husband, I was able to find a unique patchwork of strategies that worked for our unique family.  My Mom told me that’s what I should do, and I’m so glad she did.

So, I want each of you to know, as you read this blog, that my goal is to just share my experiences as a mother without casting judgment on yours.  I know you love your kids and want the best for them.  Please assume the best of me too.  And then maybe we can learn from each other.

how I came to be a stay-at-home mommy in montana

This time last year, I was beginning to fray at the edges.  

Ok, I had started to fray a while back.  The truth is, in recent months, I was finally beginning to admit to myself that I was fraying at the edges.  I had a one year old daughter (who I will call “Burrito” for reasons I’ll explain in another post).  My husband and I were serving as pastors of two churches in rural North Dakota.  My father had just been placed on Hospice in Arizona, and I was trying to provide effective care for the wide-ranging needs of 600 or so members of our churches and attempting to still care well for my little family.  And I had just begun to suffer from serious insomnia a few months before. 

The lowest of the low point was the weekend of our biggest service at our northern congregation.  The service was during the big town celebration in a predominantly Icelandic community.  This little North Dakota town didn’t have a lot of notoriety throughout the rest of the year, but every August during the celebration of Icelandic independence from Denmark (the “Deuce of August”), large crowds gathered for the festival.  Important people journeyed from the homeland, including the Prime Minister of Iceland on two of the four summers we were there.  Each year, we conducted a worship service in the heart of the festival and it always turned out to be one of the best attended services of the year.

On this particular day in August, it was my turn to preach.  I had not slept for four nights before this (seemingly out of nowhere) and as I stood up to give my message to the large crowd, I remember the room swaying around me.  I remember a feeling of wispiness and unreality.  It was all I could do to keep my focus on each sentence and try to read what I had written.  My lips and whole body felt weighted down under each heavy word.  When I finished, I collapsed, exhausted, into my chair and my husband led the rest of the service, as we had agreed.

For four nights, I had not slept.  I was wrung out and exhausted and my bed at night became a torture chamber of fear.  Watch the clock.  Count the minutes.  Mind wide-awake.  Unable to shut it down.  “If I go to sleep RIGHT NOW, I can have four hours of sleep.  But I must go to sleep RIGHT NOW.”  But of course, I couldn’t.  It was like I had literally forgotten how to sleep.

Yes, that was the low point.

As you will come to see, I am a particularly stubborn individual.  I was beginning to feel the pull of the exhaustion months and months before.  Some of you might not know a pastor or a pastor’s life very well.  But if you’ve been in any sort of leadership position, you might understand a bit of what I was going through.

I got into ministry because I loved God and His Word and I wanted to share it with others.  I think I was more attached to this work of ministry than I was to the idea of being a mother, in fact.  I had grown up dreaming about getting married and about doing an important work in the world (Writing a book?  Being a missionary?), but not too much about having a baby.  More about that later.

What I didn’t count on was the 24-7 nature of being a pastor.  When you are a pastor, you can get called anytime of the day or night and there’s no telling what kind of situation you will face: someone’s drunken rantings, an expected death, a tragic death, someone’s anger due to your own fault or not due to anything you did at all.  There are countless expectations put on you, some intended, some not.  Everybody who sits in the pew has a different idea of what you should be doing with your time.  Some are charitable, some are not.  That’s human nature; that’s people.  And that’s the burden of leadership.  It goes with the territory, and it went ok for a while, I guess.  Until I had a baby.

The most surprising thing that happened to me when my daughter was born and as I got to know her in the months that followed was the profound love that absolutely captured my heart for her.  Suddenly, my new role as mother—previously not very interesting to me—became the dominant role of my life. 

I know, I know.  Everybody says this will happen to you when you have kids, but you see I really didn’t understand kids before Burrito was born.  I had never babysat a child under the age of 5.  I had never changed a diaper.  I wondered if I had what it took to be a mother.  I had always been much more attached to the idea of having a career or a ministry than the idea of being a mom.  The idea of having a baby was to me something I wanted to be sure to do before I died.  But it was also something I was frankly scared to death of.  But I couldn’t have been more mistaken about how much I was going to love being a mother.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not going to tell you those first few months were easy.  You watch these chick flick movies about having a baby and you think you are supposed to have these rapturous feelings about your screaming, diaper messing little one from day one…even though they are a bit of a stranger to you.  I didn’t have those rapturous feelings all the time right away.

First of all, I got off to a rough start.  I was going to have a home birth, and Burrito didn’t want to come and didn’t want to come.  I was in pretty intense labor at home for two days before I decided, “Yep, I need to go to the hospital.”  Like I said, I’m pretty stubborn.  (And apparently, so is my daughter.)

So, I had a c-section, and I was absolutely exhausted after that.  My maternity leave was spent trying to heal up from the trauma on my body and journeying through a painful start to nursing.

I remember that in the early days it was easy to resent the baby who never wanted to go to sleep and who woke up so often.  I remember the despair and exhaustion and the physical pain from the c-section.  I remember how I felt it physically when she cried.

Yes, those days were tough.  We had family and friends come and help us the first couple of weeks but I was pretty stubborn there too.  I could have gotten a little more help, I think, but somehow it was important to me to do things for myself, my way.  I wanted to own those early days.  But I was very, very tired.

But even in the most painful times, there was this strong attachment to my daughter.  I have never before felt it physically in my body when another human being cried, but I felt it with her.  I think we bonded early on over the trauma we had been through…me to bring her into the world, her to adjust to the world she had been brought into.  I think we neither one like change too well at first.

I went back to work, and I was trying to work, care for the family, take care of the baby, nurse the baby every couple of hours, and somehow remember to eat.  I felt like I was letting everybody down.  I felt really, really empty.  I remember one time agreeing to go to a meeting for a funeral when I should have been nursing and how crummy I felt and how I knew I shouldn’t have done that but how I felt I would let the grieving family down if I didn’t go.

A family friend cautioned me that if things didn’t start getting better for me soon, I might have to face that I was asking too much of myself and my health.  She said I might need to think about making some major changes in my life.  I shrugged her comments off.  No way.  I’m super woman.  I can do this.

I did start going to counseling, and it was helpful, but that was before the onset of the insomnia.  When it began, my counselor convinced me to go to the doctor.  I finally went.  I have battled anxiety and depression since at least my teen years, but I finally had to admit that this had gotten out of control.  Medication slowly began to bring stability back to my life.  I could handle the stress much better, but I still felt like I was letting people down: my husband, my baby, my churches.  Honestly, I want to do things so whole-heartedly, so when I feel I am not giving something my all, it bothers me a lot.  But I was doing better, so I slogged through. In the rural towns in North Dakota where we served, pastors come and go a lot.  It’s pretty tough on people and I really wanted to not let them down, to give this thing a chance.  In my head, I was committed to a ten year stint with them.  I even told some people that that was what I hoped to do.

But then things began to turn.  To add to the stress, my Dad died in February of 2010.  I had barely had a chance to mourn his loss when some major church conflicts and threats on my job began in the summer.  This time I didn’t stop sleeping, but it was awfully stressful.  And I was willing to go through it, to not take the easy way out, but more factors circled around and without going into all the sad details, it became clear…it was time to go. 

We were planning to join a different denomination (kinda like the “brand” of church) and since there were smaller numbers of churches and positions in this “brand”  available, we decided my husband would be the one to look for a call.  To our surprise, he quickly jumped to the top of the list at a church in Bigfork, MT.  My first reaction was “Montana?!”  As far as I knew, there was no state more isolated than North Dakota, except maybe Montana! 

But when I started to look online and when we came to visit, all that changed.  Here was a magical land of trees and mountains, of gourmet food and fine theatre, but the safety of a small town.  I quickly became very excited about Montana. 

But the biggest joy about Montana was that here I could do what my heart had been calling me to do for two years.  Here I could be free to focus on my daughter and her care.  Here I could stop missing out on her priceless moments.  Here I could stop feeling so divided all the time.  And what a surprise it has been that this was my heart’s desire!  I thought I was just a career woman, but my daughter has completely changed my life.  She has turned my desires into something completely different.  She has awakened my heart.  There is no place I’d rather be right now than home with her.  And that is a blessing that this time last year I couldn’t have even predicted.

There’s so much more I want to share with you about my life and the journey of motherhood.  So, stay tuned!
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