Monday, September 30, 2013

Mama Talk: Creativity (A Prelude)

Fingers trembling with joy, I sat down at the computer that September morning.  It wasn’t just the cups of coffee I’d been drinking; this exhilarating feeling was coming from somewhere deeper.  The baby was laying down for a long nap.  My daughter had just headed off for her first morning back at preschool.  And I had TIME.  And ENERGY.  And my HEALTH.  I was going to write!

I flipped on my “Fun. Radio” Pandora station and started to type.

I had missed this so much.  It seemed that just as soon as I hit my stride with blogging and editing a few years ago, I got pregnant.  I don’t do pregnant so well.  I was nauseous and I kept getting sick.  I was tired and distracted.  I kept forgetting things that I’d normally be on top of.  I finally gave up on blogging and writing.  It just wasn’t in me.  It was my year of fog. 

And then the baby was born and, well, you know how new babies are.  If you can manage to get enough sleep while caring for them, then basically you are rocking the world.  There’s no time or energy for creative pursuits. 

When the baby was about six months old, I was still in my slump and was beginning to think I was never going to accomplish anything beyond laundry, diaper changing, nursing and sometimes cooking dinner from scratch.  (I guess technically, caring and feeding for another human is creative, but sometimes it doesn't feel that way.)  Thanks to my friends and my family, I got through a couple of bad months of depression. 

And then the golden intersection of preschool mornings and baby naps hit.  Suddenly this non-morning person was up and at ‘em, getting showered and dressed, and dreaming of what to do with the time that was suddenly available. 

I am coming to realize that I need creativity in my life.  I need it badly.  When I am creative, I begin to glow.  Seriously.  I get filled up with joy and it can’t help but spill out on my family.  Instead of being less than as a mom, I am more!  Sure, there are times when creativity is not possible, but I am finding that it’s important to accept that fact and then get back to creativity as soon as I can.  Because feeling alive and whole is contagious.  My family can’t help but catch it.

Sometimes the problem with creativity is that we feel pressured to be creative in the same way that other moms are creative.  We feel that we should all be like moms on Pinterest.  We feel that we should all be good at crafts.  Or whatever.  Maybe our creative corner of the world looks really different than other moms.  Maybe we never even saw it as creative.  But it’s what makes us ourselves.  Personally, I think being creative in a totally different way is what makes us moms interesting. 

In my small group right now, we are studying Genesis and lately I’ve been so struck by how all of us as human beings are made in God’s image.  I think that there are many elements to being made in God’s image, but one of the biggees is that God made each of us creative beings.  Now, we can’t create ex nihilo (out of nothing) like God can.  God took nothing and made something.  We can only take stuff that’s already here and make something new out of it.  But when we do that, we reflect our Creator.  I think that’s where the joy comes from. 

Maybe for some of us, it’s computer code.  Maybe for others it’s pursuing health and wholeness.  Maybe some sew or or knit or craft.  Others may love to create culinary masterpieces.  Some may love to write.  Some may paint or sketch.  Some may homeschool their kids.  Some may be engineers or architects.  There are so many ways to be creative and make something new out of what we’ve been given in this beautiful world.

In the coming weeks, I’m going to be interviewing several ladies who I admire for their creativity.  They are all moms and they are all creative in all kinds of unique, awesome ways.  We’re going to call it “MamaTalk: Creativity.”  I hope you’ll read and comment and put in your own two cents.  I hope you’ll share and help us the myriad of ways we moms are able to reflect our Creator.  And I hope that if you are having a hard time finding your joy or the reason why you should even make the time for it, you will feel freshly inspired and encouraged.  I hope you will find the time to carve out for being creative—for your family, for God, for you.

Hang on.  It’s going to be a creatively awesome ride!

Friday, September 13, 2013

The West Wing and the Portrayal of Women on TV

Imagine with me for a moment that when we sat down to watch television with our sons and our daughters, what we saw when women were portrayed were competent, smart women accomplishing important things and keeping their clothes on.  What would that be like?

I've spent the past few months watching through all seven seasons of NBC's The West Wing on my Amazon Prime streaming service.  As I have done so, I have been struck by the different way women are treated on this show as opposed to virtually any other show on TV, past or present.

One of the earliest episodes in Season 1 is called, "These Crackpots and These Women." In this episode, three of the high-powered male characters stand at a cocktail party and admiringly watch the strong, capable, smart women with whom they serve and comment on their inner qualities instead of the size of their breasts or rating their prowess in bed.  At one point, the chief of staff comments on one woman staffer who is "going punch for punch with Toby in a world that tells women to sit down and shut up."  By and large, this conversation among the male staffers summarizes the basic attitude toward women on the show.  You rarely see women sexualized, women are always portrayed as strong people with brains who have things to say, and women virtually always have their clothes on (and their clothes tend to be business suits or classy, sophisticated evening gowns). This is the TV show I want my daughter to watch.  In fact, this is the TV show I want my son to watch.  I want them to see how smart and capable women are, how wonderful it is when the two genders work together to accomplish goals.  I want my daughter to see that she is more than beauty (although she is that), but she is also a smart person, a serious person.

As I have found myself steeped deeply in The West Wing these past months, I have become very aware of how terribly women are treated on most other shows.  On most shows, women exist for men in some way.  Women are merely sex objects, bodies, for the consumption and pleasure of others.  Women are taught (Miley Cyrus, anyone?) that the more outrageous the spectacle of their nakedness and sexuality is, the more fame they will be awarded and the higher they will climb in achievement.

This point was underlined in a New York Times article by Jodi Kantor this Sunday, "Harvard Business School Case Study: Gender Equity."

In even such a venerable school as the Harvard Business School, women are often silenced and relegated to being sex objects.  Kantor writes: "Yet many Wall Street-hardened women confided that Harvard was worse than any trading floor, with first-year students divided into sections that took all their classes together and often developed the overheated dynamics of reality shows. Some male students, many with finance backgrounds, commandeered classroom discussions and hazed female students and younger faculty members, and openly ruminated on whom they would 'kill, sleep with or marry' (in cruder terms). Alcohol-soaked social events could be worse." This from a so-called "serious school"!  If Harvard fares this way, what hope the rest of the world?  The article goes on to detail the ways in which the leadership of the school is trying to upend the social system that makes such an environment possible.  They have made some modest gains and I hope they will continue their good work.

Sex is a part of life.  But is it all there is to life?  Has our culture become so saturated in a sexualized way of approaching women that we can no longer view them as real people with an important perspective to share?  As serious leaders?  As intelligent agents of change, hope and purpose?  I've begun to ask these questions even more after watching the eye-opening (and sometimes graphic) documentary Miss Representation (available on Netflix streaming currently).  Jennifer Siebel put this film together because of her deep concerns for her daughter as she looked at the way women were treated in the media.  She realized how powerful the images we see day after day on our screens can be to us.  She wanted to challenge the norms and raise a clarion call for higher standards.  She also wanted to challenge us all to consider what the media norms for the portrayal of women say to our culture about women in leadership.  Do they keep us from taking women in leadership seriously?  How can we change that?

I find myself wondering, with Siebel, not only how the media affects my daughter's body image and self esteem but also how it impacts what she wants to do with her life and whether she feels that she can be taken seriously in a world that talks more about Hillary Clinton's pantsuits and Sarah Palin's beauty queen looks than the substance of their arguments.  And I wonder how the media impacts the experiences of women in ministry too.  I was once a woman in pastoral leadership.  Did the men who I led see me as a serious person with intelligence and serious thoughts?  Or did they see me as a girl who needed to keep house, look pretty and leave the serious thoughts to the boys?  If I had to guess, I'd say that I think that there were probably some of both mindsets.

I don't know exactly what we do to change things.  But I have a couple of goals for my daughter and son as I seek to shape their view of women.  First of all, I hope to encourage them to view worthy, edifying television and movies.  Although I will seek age-appropriate viewing, this does not mean that I will look for what is the most squeaky-clean as my only concern but rather that I will look for media to consume that uplifts worthy values and worthy people, that shows the consequences of bad choices, and that stirs imagination and thought.  I will also hope to seek out projects that give a positive view of women.  Secondly, I hope to engage my kids in discussion about what we see on the screen.  We won't always agree with everything we see and I don't believe in throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  If the majority of a show is good, I won't abandon it because of one distasteful element.  But I will (and already do) talk to my kids about what we see, what is worthy, what is not, and why.  I will teach them to analyze what they see instead of just accepting it whole-sale.

And I will hope for many more worthy television programs like The West Wing.

What about you?  How do you navigate the challenges of media and the portrayal of women with your kids?  What shows or movies have you found to be especially worthy and edifying?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Healthy, Quick School Night Dinners

Well, hello there!  I'm back!  Now that my daughter has returned to preschool and my baby boy has begun some wonderful mega naps, I am finding myself with the time to do some writing again!  I simply could not be more excited if I tried!

So on Facebook I keep hearing the exhausted mama refrain, "What the heck do you make for the kiddos to eat on school nights?  I need ideas for healthy, quick menus that my kids will eat!"

It IS hard to come up with good ideas for busy nights.  Mamas, I've got your back.  Here are some ideas that are favorites around here:

--Make-your-own-pizza bar.  Costco carries a great cheap pizza pack from Boboli in their bread aisle.  It has eight mini pizza crusts and sauce packets.  You get to customize your pizza any way you'd like.  I like to lay out a variety of veggies along with the usual meats and cheeses.  I suggest green pepper, onion, garlic, avocado, sliced tomato, spinach, olives, even broccoli.  For meats, you can use pepperoni, salami, pre-cooked chicken breast, even shredded pork (with BBQ sauce, of course!).  You can add extras like sun-dried tomatoes, basil, or cilantro if you want to.  You can do the standard shredded mozzarella for the cheese, but you could also get creative and try something like blue cheese or feta.  Some friends of ours had us over for dinner, did this pizza bar idea and then grilled the pizzas on their BBQ grill.  What a great idea!  Your very own pizza oven!  You have to watch your pizzas carefully so that the bottom does not burn but it really is a fun and easy way to get dinner DONE!  And the great thing about make-your-own pizzas is that kids are so much more likely to actually EAT a creation that they helped make!

--Asian noodles with stir-fried veggies.  Boil your noodles in one pot, stir-fry your veggies in another (I use extra virgin olive oil), and whisk your sauce in a saucepan on the side.  Then toss everything together at the end.  I use whole wheat spaghetti but you could also use regular spaghetti, udon noodles or rice noodles.  You can use either a teriyaki sauce like this one or a peanut sauce.  I even adapt a separate version of a peanut sauce to be unspicy for my daughter (I just use whisk water or chicken broth, soy sauce and peanut butter in a saucepan over medium heat until smooth).  The magical thing about this recipe is that you can use ANY veggies you have in the fridge!  It's a great way to use up extras and leftovers.  I have used broccoli, kale, spinach, sliced carrots, peppers, zucchini.  The sky is the limit!  Top with peanuts, green onions, cilantro and (for the spicy palate) Sriracha.  Yum!

--Homemade mac and cheese with veggies and ham.  You can find my super-duper EASY recipe for homemade stove-top mac and cheese here.  Once you have tossed the pasta with the sauce, add peas, broccoli, carrots or whatever your kids like.  You can also add cubed ham or pre-cooked chicken to add some protein.

And...check out this post on how to avoid the five o'clock dinner panic!

Those are three of my top ideas!  What is your favorite go-to for a quick, healthy meal that the kids will actually eat?
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