Wednesday, April 27, 2011

creative suppers on the cheap (I)

Since going down to one income, our family has had to do some budgetary adjustments.  We are much more conscious of what we are spending on groceries and much less willing to throw out leftovers or produce.  I won't say we perfectly use every last morsel, but we do try a lot harder to waste very little.  Whereas I used to plan my menus around what I wanted to eat, now I plan them around what is on sale.  However, I find that I can always find something delicious to make, even with more budgetary constraints.

Food is important to me.  While I never starved as a kid, there were years when food wasn't the most plentiful.  I tend to stock up enough food so that I never have to worry about being hungry.

But food doesn't just inspire sad memories in me.  Some of my happiest memories are about food too.  I just got a book from the library called What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets.  One essay in this book asks the question, "Why do we cook, when it's not necessary for life?"  The answer the authors come up with is that cooking is something that is simply very human.  It adds a powerful dimension of creature comfort to our lives.  It separates us from the animal kingdom.  I would add that it is a powerful burst of creativity.  It even brings some meaning to our lives.  My favorite quote from an interview during my freelance writing days was when a cook told me that she felt cooking was one of the most intimate things you could do for another human being because when you cook something, it becomes a part of them.  Cooking means sharing in community, sharing in creativity, bringing something of beauty to the lives of those around you.  It brings people together.  It brings joy into my heart.

All this to say, I don't know if I could live on a diet of rice and beans.  Cooking and food are too important to me.  If there is a way to seize up life and experience it with gusto for each person, cooking and eating are my way.  So, one of my biggest worries as our budget got tighter was that it would mean very, very boring eating. 

Boy, have I been shocked.  We eat good.  We eat so good. 

And like I said above, one of the biggest helps is wasting less.  This means not only eating leftovers, but also not always having to follow a recipe.  Which is new for me.  I have almost always been a recipe cook, afraid to venture outside the boundaries of the known, the defined.  But when we have a bunch of veggies about to go bad in your fridge, when you have a hankering for something wonderful to eat, you bring these two elements together and you make something that makes sense to you.  That's how I came up with my Roasted Vegetables with Maple-Balsamic Glaze (which I made for friends this Easter and they loved it).  I am finding that if I have a well-stocked refrigerator and pantry (thank you, Costco!), if I understand some basics about technique when I cook (the why, not just the what), I can put together some lovely food.  Of course, I have to be willing to fail a little bit.  Not everything I create or adapt will turn out perfectly.  Sometimes there will be a great big flop.  Am I willing to fail?

One recent meal which decidedly did not fail came about because we had been given some beautiful lake trout caught by a local fisherman.  It was from a smaller fish, so the meat was a gorgeous pink, almost the color of salmon.  I decided not to mess too much with what God had made so beautifully, so I simply salted and peppered the filets, coated them in Dijon mustard, caked them in panko breadcrumbs and fried them in extra virgin olive oil in a cast iron skillet.  They came out crunchy and browned and almost buttery, melting in my mouth.  It was easily some of the best fish I had ever had.  I paired it with an adaptation of a recipe I had found in Cooking Light magazine, Mediterranean Barley with chickpeas and arugula  (I adapted this to Mediterranean Bulgar with chickpeas and spinach; spinach always makes an excellent substitute for arugula and is often easier to get.) Altogether, it was truly a beautiful meal.

I am learning to take what I have been given and make something beautiful out of it.

Hm, maybe that's a lesson to learn from life in general...

Friday, April 22, 2011

first communion at age 2

Burrito may only be 2 ½ but she took her first communion last night at our Maundy Thursday service.

We are Lutheran and most Lutheran churches that I know have first communion at around third grade, though it is starting to differ more and more.  I used to be fine with this age.  To be honest, I just didn’t think about it much.  It was just the tradition. 

I grew up evangelical, but I don’t remember ever not having communion, but then I had a profession of faith so early that I don’t remember it either.  After talking to my Mom, it appears I had communion from the earliest of ages.  She doesn’t remember me not taking it, although it’s probably a fair guess that my parents waited till after my profession of faith.

At any rate, my parents didn’t believe in excluding me from the church and the blessings of it, even though I was a child.  I participated in worship, Bible study, personal and family devotions, service to others, evangelism (sometimes at my own initiative), and communion.  I am grateful to my parents for making all of these things a priority and for taking the time to teach me.  I think this “daily life” faith that they taught and modeled is why I have a strong faith today.

I joined the Lutheran church as a young adult, drawn to the strong articulation of grace that it teaches.  I was a pastor in North Dakota and gave kids their first communion in third grade.  And even though I had taken it since I was a young child, I didn’t really think about the third grade approach.  It was just a tradition.

And then Burrito came along and like much of my view of the world, my view of childhood communion changed too.  My changing view began a couple months ago when I would take Burrito up to communion with me to receive a blessing and she would turn to me and say, “I want it too!”  And I had no earthly reason that I could give her why she couldn’t participate.  I agonized over this.  I couldn’t imagine telling her, “Well, honey this is just for the adults and the people that can think abstractly.”

Didn’t Jesus say, “Let the little children come to me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven”?  Didn’t Jesus repeatedly tell us that it’s not that little children need to have faith like adults, but that adults need to have faith like little children? 

I think our fear of giving communion to children comes from Paul’s exhortation in I Corinthians 11 that warns us of taking communion unworthily.  But he simply says that we need to “recognize” the body and blood of our Lord.  Years ago, I heard a wonderful sermon by Pastor Jack Hayford in which he pointed out that the only way to come to communion unworthily is if we fail to recognize the forgiveness that God is extending to us.  In other words, we need to avail ourselves of the healing power of communion.  I suppose this could come either through not acknowledging our sinfulness or not acknowledging Jesus’ forgiveness.  I think there’s also a fair argument to be made that what Paul is saying in I Corinthians is actually, “Don’t glut yourselves on communion and exclude some of the believers because so many of you are taking too much!”  So, it’s a passage not about how only some believers can take communion but on how every believer can.

The fear of partaking of communion unworthily has robbed all too many people of the blessings of communion.  In my congregation in North Dakota, I would talk to some of the older ladies and they told me how only the people who had community status of being “really holy” would come forward to partake.  Others felt they would be viewed too prideful to come forward and take the sacrament.  They now look back on those days as pretty sad.  And I agree.  What a twisting of what communion is meant to be when we say that only perfect people can have it!  Because, of course, there are no perfect people.  We all need God’s grace, and He asks us to come in faith to receive it.  To come like little children.

But it never had hit me how important communion can be to a little child until my daughter said to me, “I want it too!”

I began to think about how adults with their ways of making faith too complicated and with their justifications for their sin nature might be much more in danger of partaking unworthily than a little child.  I do believe children are sinners too, as a toddler tantrum will reveal!  But they are more guileless, simpler and find it easier to believe than adults too.  They don’t make things too complicated.

I also thought about how the hands-on aspect of communion was practically made for a child.  It’s like a regular children’s sermon on Jesus being with us, forgiveness, community.  Kids love things they can taste and touch.  In the Old Testament, there are countless celebrations and ceremonies that God calls the people to do and to use to teach their children about faith.  I believe one of the biggest reasons why there are so many hands-on symbols in the Jewish faith is for the teaching of the children.  We have a fantastic opportunity to teach our kids about their faith in communion but for many of us, the message we are sending is, “You aren’t old enough, you aren’t good enough for this.”  We should be inviting them into the richness of communion!  How arrogant to think that we adults “get it” but the kids don’t!

My husband and I both began to have a change in our thinking about communion in the past few months.  We talked and prayed about it.  And in the end, he presented his thoughts to our church council and asked for their approval to change the policy to being when the parent feels their child is ready, with no requirements on the age.  They approved this change, and he announced in church that younger children would be able to receive communion on Maundy Thursday if their parents felt they were ready.  One more child joined us and clearly was ready. 

Last night was a powerful time with children receiving this special gift of Jesus with their families.  Burrito and Christopher and I went over and over the basic teachings about communion.  She learned to say, “This is My Body, This is My Blood…shed for you…forgive our sins!”  She learned to say “Amen” after she received communion and that it means, “I believe you!”  I told her that just as surely as when Mommy says, “It’s time for breakfast” and she gets breakfast, when Jesus says, “This is My Body, This is My Blood,” Jesus is really there.  We talked about the story over and over again.  She helped to bake the bread for communion. 

Yesterday, I realized I had been so busy teaching and preparing her that I had neglected to her a cross necklace to remember the day.  I ran and looked through my jewelry box and found a perfect gold cross.  Christopher teared up when I gave it to her.  She had fun showing off her pretty cross to people at church.

She was really excited for the communion service.  She whispered loudly through most of the service but said most of the Lord’s Prayer and “hear our prayer.”  She pays much more attention to the service than her behavior sometimes indicates.  Christopher announced her name along with the other kids taking first communion and she said, “That’s me!”  She went up and knelt down with me. I think the most precious moment for me was seeing her hold her little hands up to receive the bread that her Daddy placed in her hands.  She ate it and drank all her grape juice.  She forgot to say “Amen” but I reminded her and she said it then.  It was such a special moment for our family, and I am so glad that she is able to experience God’s grace in communion now.  And I am glad not just for her, but for the other children who will come to experience God’s grace because He gave us a change of heart and a change in understanding.

This morning, when I went to get her in her crib, she said, “I drink all my juice!”  Apparently, the special moments of communion were still on her mind.  Thanks be to God!

(Note: For another perspective on this, my friend Liz has a post about how she let her 23 month old take communion.  She is a children's minister.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

easter dress

We went all out this year for Burrito’s Easter dress. dresses.  A lovely blue sundress with eyelet lace and yellow flowers.  A flouncy hat with a big white bow.  White gloves and a matching handbag.  And, of course, cute little white sandals.

She was so excited to get home and try everything on.  In fact, she wanted to try on her dress in her car seat, but the logistics proved impossible.

It had been a long day.  Lots of racing around and shopping, a dinner out, and a late night (for her) coming back.  We skipped her bath so we could get her to bed sooner.  She needs her rest and has even more than the usual toddler grouchiness if she doesn’t get enough sleep.  In fact, she had been a bit grouchy on the ride home.  I tried to take her dress away (worried that her attempts to get it on were in fact stretching it out) and she burst into tears.

Yes, she was a little grouchy.

But the minute we put her in her dress and accessories, she transformed into a young lady.  She stood in front of our long mirror and analyzed herself.  And was it my imagination, or did she stand up a little straighter?  She was clearly delighted, declaring, “I like my pretty dress!”  And Christopher and I were forced to collapse on the floor in response to the sheer cuteness.  “Oh my goodness!  How is she our’s?”

Nothing delights me more as a mother than getting my daughter something that will delight her.  The sheer joy on her face, the joy of feeling beautiful and cared for, the joy of having something that she really loves is worth any price tag.

I remember Jesus saying something like that.  He said that a good parent won’t give their child a stone or a snake when they ask for a fish.  He said that even as we delight in giving good things to our children, so our Heavenly Father delights in giving us the Holy Spirit.

It’s amazing to me to think that the way I feel about my daughter is how God feels about me.  He delights in me.  He delights in seeing me delighted.  I tend to think about God all too often as some sort of cosmic rule monger, always watching me to see if I trip up.  The idea of God as a delighted, loving Heavenly Father is a tough one to get my mind around.  But it’s the picture of God that Jesus gives to us.

This is Easter week, so naturally my mind is on Jesus’ sacrifice and death for me, and His victory over death in the resurrection.  My mind is on the ultimate gift that I’ve ever received.  The gift for which no price tag was too great, that I might know the delight of life forever.  The gift of salvation.

Hebrews says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:2, NIV).

Jesus delights in the joy of giving His children good gifts.

The other day, Burrito turned to me and said, “I like my pretty dress.  I dance in the palace.”  “In the palace?  Like Cinderella?”  “Yeah.”

What joy to give my daughter a good gift.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


You may have noticed a decrease in frequency of posts on the blog in the past few weeks.  There is a reason for that.  I was unexpectedly blindsided by a relapse of depression and anxiety this past month.  And at first I was embarrassed to write about it.  I build this blog on the picture of a happy mother, writer and cook, living the dream in the gorgeous Flathead Valley.  I didn’t want to show you the struggles I was still having.  I didn’t even want to show them to myself.  But I couldn’t write a gushy post either because it just wasn’t true.  And I hate things that aren’t true.  I owe it to you to give you an honest blog, a true account of what it is to be a mother, to be me the Mother.

So, yes, March was a month of being blindsided.  I say blindsided, because after such a difficult year last year, the year in which my father died, the year in which I underwent strong conflict at the church I pastored, the year in which I struggled to give up my job for the sake of being with my daughter, the year in which I battled insomnia, the year in which I underwent a biopsy…after all of that, there is so much going well in my life.

For the first time in at least 4 years, I have friends nearby that I can call, spend time with, and be myself with.  I live in a beautiful area surrounded by the splendor of God’s creation—beautiful, snow-capped mountains, a glistening lake.  I am finally able to follow my heart and be home with my daughter.  I have a wonderful husband who is thriving in his new call, and is highly supportive of me.  I have many ways to express and broaden my love of cooking.  There is something enjoyable to do in the community all the time.  I have the pleasure of sitting in a Bible study and just listening and soaking it in as a respite for the soul.  For Pete’s sake, I have this blog…and I’m finally writing again for the first time in years.  There is so much going right in my life.

And yet, I found myself yet again stricken with high anxiety and a strong dose of depression.  It made me very upset with myself because there is no earthly reason I should feel that way.

I began to feel really hopeless.  Would I never escape this?  Could I really not let myself be happy?

I read recently in one of my books about anxiety that it often hits when things are going “too well.”  A person who struggles with anxiety almost does a little better sometimes when there is an external, challenging situation.  It sucks up their attention, gives them a visible enemy to fight.  But in good times, our nature still is on “high alert,” still expects struggle and conflict and picks a fight with itself.

Yet again, my internal conflict became so physical and scary that I finally took myself back to the doctor.  I found it impossible to sleep without my sleeping pill, felt hopeless, had racing thoughts.  I began to feel really bad like clock-work at 3:30 or 4 in the afternoon.  Then one day, I had an anxiety attack that lasted all day.  That was the day I trucked myself in to the doctor.

A week or two later, I am feeling better each day.  I was able to talk things out with a friend who was understanding and listened.  A dosage adjustment of my antidepressant has helped a great deal.  I’ve also been working hard to improve my diet.  (I think I got a bit overly excited at all the delicious desserts available in the Flathead and had been consuming way too much white sugar and white flour.)  After doing some reading on the internet about a diet to help with depression and anxiety, I am bumping up my whole grains, flax seed, and walnut consumption (low blood sugar seems to greatly increase my anxiety).  I’ve lowered my coffee consumption a bit.  I’m trying to eat other Omega-3 rich foods like fish and avocado.  I’ve dug out books on anxiety and the issues I struggle with and am working on facing my anxieties, instead of running from them.  Turns out the more we suppress and run from our anxieties, the more they dominate our lives.  Antidepressants work to help us better cope with anxieties, but they don’t eliminate them from our lives.  And if we run from those anxieties, we will still have to come back and cope with them later.

I feel good about the fact that yesterday although I had two or three attacks of anxiety, I was able to work through them.  I was able to lean into the anxiety and face the fear and find relief.

The sun is out for the second day in a row and that helps too.

I’ve come to see that I am a person in recovery from anxiety and depression.  I will probably never fully live without it.  But it doesn’t have to dominate my life and doesn’t mean I can’t experience joy.  I will have relapses.  I’m sure of that.  Sometimes they might make logical sense and sometimes they might not.  But if I can lean into the anxiety, the fear will pass and I will gain courage for the next challenge.  There is a full and wonderful life to be lived, even for a person like me that struggles with this disorder.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

random things to love (?) about the flathead valley

On any given day, you may find a herd of wild turkeys, a group of deer, or maybe even a black bear in your yard.

The nightly news will (without a doubt) include at least one of the following stories:
--Big Rigs that plan to travel across Montana despite those who attempt to fight their passage
--Battles between the feds and state of Montana over how marauding wolves should be handled
--The legalization of marijuana
--Battles between the feds and the state of Montana over the legalization of marijuana
--Ok, battles between the feds and state of Montana on any topic whatsoever (I expect to see some who would suggest Montana secede from the Union at some point)

The sudden appearance of massive quantities of stockpiling foodstuffs (such as the appetizing-sounding dehydrated scrambled eggs) in the grocery store where there were no such products only a week ago (leaving me wondering if there is a massive disaster in the works that I did not receive the memo about).

The seemingly equal numbers of drive-through espresso stands and large Ten Commandments signs.

The abundance of graupel (how did I make it through this much of life without knowing about an entire kind of precipitation???).

The weather that is completely different five miles apart…and that may change around five times a day (rain to graupel to sun to snow to…you name it)

The mountain vista visible over a shimmering lake that doesn’t freeze in the winter.

The warmth and hospitality of everyday folks, their willingness to invite a newcomer places.

The Flathead Valley is an eccentric place, but a beautiful place.  While politics keeps my head spinning with wonder that any government system functions at all here considering all the turf battles, it’s worth it to live in such a beautiful place full of people with big open hearts.
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