Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Living the dream..

I have found myself thinking about something I hear someone say regularly. These words have been sticking in my mind and I can't help but think about them, turning them over in my mind, again and again, I really feel the need to get the thoughts out.

To the left you can see a picture I took of our sweet little calf, Heracles. This was two months ago so his voice is deeper and he is no longer the size of a black lab. He is bigger than the yearling sheep. He is beautiful. We bred our dairy cow and she delivered him this past March. There is a lot of pride wrapped up in the little guy. We worry about him and hover over him and make sure that he is fed and watered and halter broken and brushed and petted constantly. He is not just well cared for but pretty darn spoiled. He follows my daughter, Veronica, by the sound of her voice. She is his person. He does whatever she wants, he trusts her and her voice.

Veronica, Calf-Whisper Extraordinaire.
We spend a lot of time taking care of the animals we have on this little hobby farm. It is an unbelievable amount of work and we are not well suited to but we do it. Somehow we keep the animals alive. Somehow we manage to keep their babies alive. Somehow we manage despite annual snowfalls as deep as twenty-eight feet, and I am not even kidding about that amount. The Keweenaw is real, guys. Not only do we keep the animals alive, we aren't dead yet either. That is winning, in my book.

Sometimes I go to bed at night and I wonder what we are doing and why. We took a major leap coming here and we didn't really understand what we were doing. Basically, my husband and I looked over a ledge, held hands, and jumped. He quit his white collar job in finance and we sold our remodeled home and offloaded literally half of everything that we own. We had to grow into this work here, and this is serious work people. The visions of sweet animals on pasture is beautiful. The visions of children playing in a farmyard with the animals just steps away is also beautiful. In reality, it is just as beautiful as we imagined but it is also just a lot of reality. I know people dream of raising their children on the land but I doubt their sanity when we are mucking the barn, milking during fly season, or trying to lure sheep out into the open so we can help them. They get into a lot of trouble and not just in the Bible, guys. Seriously.

Sometimes I question our sanity. My husband sacrificed a white collar salary. We sacrificed a lot of urban comforts. We sacrificed our relationships since now my mother, sister, and my best friend who are the people I love most (after my husband) are twenty hours away. Oh, add in the oldest boy who decided after graduation to move to my mom's because Colorado is much awesome. We are crazy. Our life is crazy. Everything is crazy and here we are, in the thick of it. I have days that are just too much sometimes. The other day, actually a really bad day, I was in town at the Walmart because we gotta eat and wash and do things. I asked the checker how he was doing. He often replies the same way.

"Livin' the dream. Not my dream
but I am sure it is somebody's."

This. This is the anthem of my life. But maybe not in the way that you might think immediately. I know that I am living the dream, even when it doesn't feel like dreamy. I think that is what is wrong. When we sit around and dwell on the things that hard or wrong or unfair we forget that this is the price we pay for the dream, even if it isn't your own. I am not pointing fingers and I really like this checker; he is on the short list of people I look for when choosing a lane. It's like this, when I was young and I had several children very closely spaced, there was a time when I was frustrated with my fertility (nobody tell me I have too many kids, that is the fast track to Delete-and-insta-block-ville). I have a dear friend who has never had children. She has been married as long as I have and never had any. So heavy was this burden was for her and I am a better person for knowing her and watching her carry on through it.

When I was up with sick kids and I was so tired that I actually cried, I prayed for her. When I was thrilled at my children's first steps, I prayed for her. When someone would tell me that I have too many kids, I would pray for her. When someone congratulated me on another baby, I prayed for her. I have prayed for her thousands and thousands of times over the intervening years. I always thought about how I was using my burdens for her sake. That in using my struggle, I was blessing her. I should have been thinking how she was blessing me. I have been living the dream for two decades and most of the time I didn't even know it. How many times would she have happily taken on the price I pay to live this dream? Thank God that in my navel gazing I at least prayed for someone other than myself. I should call this friend and tell her that she is a blessing to me because she keeps me from being a totally self-absorbed narcissist. Without her, I cannot imagine who I would be.

Sorry for the electric fence wire; I am too lazy to clone it out.
Behold Jack, hugging Io while Heracles licks his hand.
I think there is a temptation to focus on the cost of the dream and not the dream. We look at what we have to go through and we don't see what our suffering buys for us. With children it is easier, though not easy, to see the endgame. Pregnancy and childbirth and violent and painful and messy. When your baby smiles at you for the first time it is ethereal. The clouds part and the sun shines and the angel chorus rings out. We are actually living the dream but we don't see it because we are focusing on the cost.

Dreams are expensive. We get that, right? Kind of? Don't we all love the film montages with a workout sequence and people rise to the top? Don't we love the movies with the swelling music and David conquering Goliath, but there have to be a couple of serious obstacles so it feels more triumphant? We don't want it to be too easy, we want the characters to have work for it. We want to think that when they succeed, we succeed. We want to believe we are the kind of people who will do whatever it takes, who will make it to the top, who can't be held down. In reality, we are the people who want to Netflix and Chill but have success still come to us. I do this. I know a lot of people who do this.

I am not really sure where my story arc is headed or where the late nights and early mornings and the accidental injuries are headed but it is somewhere. In real life, these sequences don't have a soundtrack with a driving beat and they take a lot longer. There is a culmination here somewhere. I am going to have to see where this all is headed, how it all works out, and then I will know what it all meant. Maybe someday I will have that, "I was born for this!" moment. Then again, maybe I won't. Not all dreams end the same way.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Canned soup and the city girl...

I am a city transplant living in the rural upper Midwest and trying to find my way. The way that I feel out the world is with food and while it isn’t necessarily practical it works for me. I figure that we might as well eat well. If nothing else is going right, I got a legit recipe for sharp cheddar pâte àu choux that will cure what ails you. If I need to pull out the big guns, you will see me in the kitchen merciless attacking lemons for homemade curd that I will eat right off the spoon. Because reasons. One of the salient characteristics of my personality is how I love food. I love everything about it. I love shopping for food, cooking food, serving food, eating food, writing about food, and I frequently annoy people with what might actually be an unhealthy commitment to food. That said, people who might suggest it is unhealthy also readily accept dinner party invitations so, there's that. My freaky little obsession works out well for them. I used to tell people it was because of my country childhood, which is why I could never bring myself to make or eat what I have unkindly called “cream of barf and potato pellet casserole”. Not a good side of me and I totally regret it. Let me tell you more about that.

My mother and father both had rural roots with farms and horses figuring prominently in their childhoods and since neither set of grandparents headed the siren song to move to the city, these were also a part of my childhood. The difference is that it wasn’t actually my childhood, just a part of it. I lived in the city. As a teen and young adult, I moved around the city in trains and buses and cabs and hung out in chic late night coffee shops listening to poetry recitation. That is how I met the man who is now my husband, a man who had a similar city childhood with farm country summers.  As grownups and married with a slew of children, we moved out of our lower downtown row house and out to the place where the city meets the suburbs. We were looking for the best of both worlds: bigger houses and actual yards but the city limits literally a half a mile away. We had a cute tri-level with a decent yard but my husband could still take the train to work and on the occasional Friday night I could meet him downtown for drinks, dinner, and the symphony.

As they say: that was then, this is now.

A few years ago there was a bit of a quandary with what to do with my husband’s family’s farm. No one really wanted to live out there and no one wanted to pay the bills and someone needed to do both. We made the seriously crazy decision for my husband to quit his white collar job in finance and sell that lovely tri-level with the newly and perfectly remodeled kitchen, the one designed to accommodate my freaky food obsession. That one. You’re welcome, new owners. Then we moved our children to a house half the size with no garage but with an aging grandfathered septic system and patchy electrical service. Clearly, I love my husband more than I love food, which is as it should be. We are now almost a mile from the closest neighbor, two miles from a paved road, seven from the highway, seventeen from the closest gas station, and twenty-one miles from the closest grocery. That one is a unique one. It is an IGA (Independent Grocers of America) slash gas station slash hardware store because when you are out getting Stihl chainsaw parts, you might want to pick up some milk and bread along with diesel. Because reasons, though different ones.

Here I am, in prime casserole country though sometimes they call it hot dish. That’s a word I had to learn, not one that you hear too often back in Colorado. The country world doesn’t feel like I thought it would. Read between the lines on this one: this means it doesn’t taste like I thought it would. There is this city idea that in the country everyone is getting all of their veggies at farm stands run by children in overalls for salads to eat alongside their pastured raised beef steak and farm fresh milk. In reality, it’s a lot of Walmart ingredients. I think there are a lot of reasons for this but in the end, I am no social scientist and if I start up on my soapbox, someone is going to come along and push me off. So let me say this: the food priorities are different and lean towards stability, economy, and ease of preparation before quality and nutrition which are in a dead heat for last place. I have some idea of what people are thinking, they need food stuffs that don’t need to be replenished often and can be easily transported to a place hundreds of miles from an interstate. They want it to be fast and easy because there aren’t the same resources like cafés, bistros, delis, and food delivery. They don’t have a dinner backup, particularly when in the outlying areas like I live. They also need cheap because financial stability is hard fought for in the small economic markets like this. Hello, casserole. Or hot dish. Call it what you want just don’t notice that I was able to sneak in sociological analysis.
This makes things hard for someone who is hyper-dedicated to food and who might be a lot irrational and perhaps even a little neurotic. I am talking about me. It is hard for me. We had someone over for dinner not too long after we moved. He asked what I was making and I told him where I got the beef and that it was pastured raised and had a nice life and that I had made the chèvre cheese and bread myself from a sourdough starter I had made and then I saw his face.

“It’s beef stew,” I said.

He smiled at me and replied, “Hey. Have you guys ever seen the show Portlandia?”

I am not even kidding. I am now a figure from Portlandia. This actually happened and maybe it is not a bad thing because it made me realize something. I realized that there is a difference between being someone who really appreciates good food and a jerk face food snob. I don’t want to be a mean person. Mean people don’t cook for others and if they do, who comes to sit at their table? Other mean people? That sounds like a lousy evening. I want to be someone who is gracious and that means not equating ingredients with moral superiority. It means remembering that people come first and it means that sometimes I will eat canned soup and tot casserole because the most important ingredient in that dish is the love that someone else put into it. I know what it means to feed people and how much of my heart goes into a meal and it isn’t different for others. It’s real.

Several years ago someone told me that she suffered from terrible anxiety at church potlucks because she was afraid I would eat her food and not like it. I was taken aback and told that her if I had ever said anything unkind, I deeply regretted it. Fortunately I hadn't but in the end, it didn't matter. Knowing I was a recipe developer and catered local events made her all kinds of nervous that I would hate her food. She is an incredible woman, someone who is giving and kind and raised kids who could shake hands and smile at adults. I don’t want to think that I am that kind of woman. You know, one who crushes another one because I am not into crushing people unless it is under the weight of pâte àu choux because that is the way to go, guys. Seriously. Bring on the pastry cream, I am ready.

I want to be nice but I am also the kind of person who is unreasonably attached food which is only becoming increasingly obvious to people who live here. The question is what to do about it? I am me and I am here and here is different than where I came from so what now? More food. Pretty much my solution to all the problems is to have more food. I decided that the absence of a food culture here just means that there is a void that I need to fill and I will fill it with food. The best thing I can do invite all the people to dinner and bring food to all the places. See? More food. If I want to find a home here, I can’t be said jerk face food snob. Of course part of my plan is to then lure them into my crazy with homemade sour cream donuts and chicken Provençal which, by the way, can win over the heart of even the most resistant lumberjack. Ask me how I know. Okay, I will tell you without you even asking: harvest party potluck slash game night at the rec building slash ice rink. This one is cooled by winter and not expensive machines so, thank you, Mother Nature.

In the end, I am just a girl who is actually a middle aged mother with a heap of kids and a husband who knows on which side his brioche is buttered. We have moved out to the country and we are building a life here with a dairy cow and her sweet calf, sheep, turkeys, and ducks and I am learning a lot along the way. I am learning to be a better version of me without sacrificing who I am. I am learning how to eat what I am offered and truly enjoy it. I am learning to gently introduce people to my crazy food obsessions like cheese making. I have also learned how to butcher a steer, like actually butcher it in the yard. I can do that, too. If I can do that, I can do pretty much anything. And really, if I can do that, anyone can do pretty much anything. So, let’s start by eating together. The answer to life’s troubles is more food, always more food.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

One screen to rule them all...

Sometimes the burden is too much.
I have no idea what is wrong with us. We are crazy people. You know how people talk about the endless arguments over who has the remote control and who gets to decide what goes on the television? Never happens here. Like ever. We are the people who pass around the remote control like some kind of nuclear hot potato, ready to explode and take us all out with it. There is just something wrong with us. If we are the one who has to decide what we will watch, we quickly manage to slip the remote onto the lap of the person sitting next to us, or quietly drop it onto the coffee table and walk away.

We are old-fashioned people in a lot of ways and some of those ways might surprise you. We do have a hand crank coffee grinder on the wall in the kitchen. Who does that? I'll you. People who fight over who must hold the remote control. We have one television, one, and we watch it together in the living room. If you don't feel like watching with the family, you are free to read a book or sew or paint or play Risk with three of your brothers, but you don't get any WiFi. That stuff is in rare supply out here and the family is watching something. If that movie starts to buffer, your siblings will hunt you down like a dog and turn you and your tablet into us parents. You might think that with only one screen to watch that there might some intense battles over what will be on it. But no. Nobody wants that kind of responsibility.

We can't get broadcast television and we don't pay for satellite, we watch Amazon and Netflix and some YouTube (the BYU App is awesome). We tend to gravitate towards series of television shows or movies because it reduced the choices we have to make and we can just do the next one. When we come to the end, there is this terrible crisis of not knowing what to watch and not wanting to be the one who will figure it out. We have watched entire seasons of shows that no one liked simply because there was more to watch and thereby preventing more decision making. Again, who does this? People who hand grind their coffee beans and use a French press and a kettle. Sometimes we use the neat little stove top espresso maker but I digress.

The only ones who actually know what they want to watch are the ones who are not allowed to decide. The two youngest have some series cartoon addiction and there is only so much Masha and the Bear that one can, well, bear, but at least they know what they want and aren't afraid to express an opinion. Also, for the record, these two have lunch daily with a bestie who doesn't even know they exist. They love, love, love to watch Alice, the daughter of Studio C's Jason Gray on his family's YouTube channel, find it HERE. They would watch Alice sleep. It doesn't matter what she is doing, they care. Alice is walking in a store? Awesome. Let's watch. Alice is eating a sucker? Amazing.  Let's watch. Alice is coloring? Brilliant. Let's watch. Alice is in a car seat in a car and pretty much not doing anything yet but, dang it, do not stop this video. Because they don't get to do the same things the older kids do (like online school) they get to watch all the videos of Alice, though I like to leave it at one a day. Today was a three video day because I wanted a chance to use the bathroom, but I digress.

We need another family member, one who does not knit or crochet who has both hands free and is willing to make television watching decisions for us because clearly, we are incompetent.  Only one of my kids is old enough to get married but I am open to adoption. I am taking applications.

Looking to adopt a new family member to wield the remote control and make television watching decisions. Must not be afraid of wolves, snow measured in tens of feet, cow milking chores at five am, or eating organ meats. We have plenty of all of the above. Must be willing to bunk with upto a half dozen existing siblings. Ability to run a wood processor and/or splitter a plus. Apply within.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Starting small...

The little things really are the big things. We say it all the time but I think very few of us believe it because we certainly don’t act like it. We want every event to be like stills pulled from a movie where everyone is bathed in golden hour light and flower petals fall from the trees as we lay in the grass below. We start out any random Friday night and inside we are hoping just a little bit that it will the night of our lives, the one that we could never forget, and if it isn’t we are let down. I think this leads to a lot of disappointing moments in our lives where we are dissatisfied with ourselves, our family, our friends, and our lot in life.

I think there are a lot of things that contribute to this, things I admittedly indulge. Facebook and Instagram certainly don’t make it any easier. I can peek at the small luxuries of women who are both like me and totally not like me and feel like my life doesn’t measure up. I didn’t start this morning with a croissant on a charming antique plate with earl gray tea and imported French preserves all placed next to a novel with a beautiful cover and a bouquet of flowers. Truth be told, my morning started out with me in a rat’s nest bun and leggings as I slurped crappy coffee with almond milk from a chipped mug and a bowl of ramen in my lap and not even the really good kind. Like the desperate kind. More truth, not even that woman’s day actually started out like that because I am telling you right now that she totally composed that shot so we could see a carefully curated selection of her morning’s elements. What may or may not have been outside the frame of that iPhone shot, I will never know. All I can really be sure about is that nobody is sitting down to the breakfast and thinks, “Snap. This looks like an amazing shot. Lemme casually lay my novel down here and snap an IG.”

Life is real, like a lot of real. It is real hard. It is real messy. It is real loud. It is also real good. I think we need to not lose track of that. Life is legit good and probably because it is also hard and messy and loud. When we sit down to think about what our lives mean, too often we are looking for the big things that identify us and it’s unfortunate. If we take a few minutes to think about it, when we sit down and evaluate the lives of someone we loved who died, we don’t think about the big things. It all comes down to the tiny things, the smallest of things, the things that are really real.

Think about someone you lost but whom you loved deeply and profoundly. Do you list their job or college or the kind car they drove (unless it was something cool or quirky because that is something)? I am guessing that you are thinking about things like the way they smelled or the way they always mispronounced a word or maybe songs they sang. I know I do. My grandfather was a musician with long, beautiful fingers with deep nail beds and very, very round tips. My father and his siblings had these hands but I don’t and oddly, I really wish I did. It wouldn’t make my fingers work better or be more finger-like but I could look at them and think of him.

If you asked me at this moment, right now, to tell you something about my grandfather, I would tell you about making tortillas for him when I was a child. I used to make tortillas with grandmother and I would drop them onto her nasty, shedding green kitchen carpet and I would pick them up and keep rolling. After they were cooked, no one else would eat them but my grandfather. He would slather them with butter and ignore the dirt and lint and God only knows what else and eat them and he never failed to tell me that they were delicious. I will never forget that. I was probably five years old and making food that someone enjoyed and it literally changed my life, it set the course for me. It was a tiny little thing but it is also enormous and consuming. These moments are all we get, really. We just scoop up all these small moments and pile them together and they make up our lives and we can’t afford to let them roll away just because we are looking for the bigger thing somewhere else. These things are the big things because of their totality, where the whole is really far greater the sum of its parts.

As a mother I want my children to know this. I want them to look for the small things. The world will creep in with its antique plates and imported preserves and we need to push it back with rat nest buns and a little reality. We need to start with ourselves and looking at these little moments and seeing the beauty in them, even if it is hard to see at first. I don’t always feel like I am at my best. Honestly, I feel like I am just holding on for dear life, but that isn’t what my kids see. I am not sure what they do see but they are watching and they see something. When I die, God willing it is a long, long time from now, they will talk about the things that they remember. They will remember the little things and I can’t know from here what it will be, so I need to give them opportunities to find those little things.

One of the ways that we give them that time is to just be present and not fill every moment. Sometimes these things roll into the room when we move just past the point of boredom. It means not trying to constantly curate my life but let the kids see things that are me, like my rat nest bun. It means letting moments be small and beautiful and waiting to find out later what they were worth. When my grandfather ate those tortillas served on my play kitchen dishes, he had no idea what it would it mean. He was just there, in the moment, doing the little things. He could never have known it would be the most beautiful memory I have of him. There are a lot of ways that we can do this but the truth of the matter is that we won’t know what it all means for a long time.

Things of value are an investment, they take time and they need to develop, and they start small. The little things really are the big things. Just trust that.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Review of "The Suitcase"...

I have been meaning to review the children's book "The Suitcase" for way too long. Jane G, Meyer, the fabulous author, is super patient and kind. I kept meaning to get to it but in the end, I just really had a lot on my plate.

My favorite in-law, like favorite of favorites, was in the end stages with cancer. That should be enough, right? But it wasn't. It was Lent. Not only that but we had a major dust-up in the choir and lost a principle voice on old calendar Annunciation which was the Friday before Palm Sunday. I had to scrape together all the musical pieces and just figure it out at the last minute.

Then we got a text on Holy Saturday night. As my boys were in the church getting ready for the Paschal services and my little girls were sleeping in the van and my husband and two of our teens were hurriedly setting up the brown paper sack luminaries for the procession, we stopped and held our breaths. Ben's Uncle Jack had finally died on Holy Saturday Night while we walked through the dark lighting candles and preparing to announce that Christ had conquered death by death. He was gone. We were stunned for a minute but what could we do? The best thing to do what finish lighting all those candles and pray for Uncle Jack through the miles so that his wife and daughters might feel our love. We went into the church and more loudly than ever before we announced that Tropar.

And that, my friends, that is how we teach
our children about the Kingdom of God.

So in the end I am really glad that I waited to review it because in the end, it meant so much more. Every day we must prepare out children to go to the Kingdom and we do it in small ways. What we do doesn't have to be bold or great or strong. It only has to be done with love, real love, love that comes from the bones and sticks in your throat and isn't sappy or sweet but a little sharp. Don't get me wrong, this book is gentle, but it also honest. How do we get to the Kingdom of God?

According to the main character in the book, a special little boy named Thomas, the ways to get to God can be packed into a suitcase. It is applesauce for the hungry, a coat for a child who has none, alms for the poor, a mustard seed, and even some sticky tape to close out mouths for silence so that we can listen. The illustrations are gentle and soothing, with soft edges that allow the imagination to fill in the details. They are beautiful and refreshing and childlike with a sense of innocence which makes them perfect for the book.

My children have spent a few days thinking about this book and reading it to themselves and each other and I have read it with them. Then came Redonitza, the day in which the Church returns to the services of the Panakhida and we joyfully proclaim the Resurrection to our dead. We made more red eggs, a lot of red eggs since my husband's family has been here since the late nineteenth century, and we read this book before going to the cemetery. We went and prayed in the cemetery. We remembered them all and prayed at their graves and gave them each a bright red egg. We brought food for the dead to remind them that Christ died that death would not have the last word and that one day they will rise from these graves.

When we came home that night we talked about this book and what it means to do these small things for others. Applesauce for the hungry, a coat for a child who has none, alms for the poor, a mustard seed, silence, and red eggs on graves. We feed our dead as we feed our living, not merely on food and drink, but on love and hope. This is how to find the Kingdom of God.

In the end I stopped feeling badly for not getting to this book yet and started feeling grateful because it came at the perfect time. It came in a small brown cardboard package and it gave us a way to talk about what we do for the children of God and His Kingdom. By the way, I am speaking both metaphorically and practically, Jane has a great list of suggestions in the back of things to do with your children. Totally solid ones. You should totally check it out. You can buy it from Paraclete Press HERE or through all the regular channels of book acquisition.

So I am going to remember all the wonderful things about Uncle Jack, lists of things you won't understand, things like forks, ceiling tiles, koi fish, pumpkin pie, and marshmallow guns. I now can add to that list applesauce, coats, mustard seeds, and Scotch tape. Love is good. May his memory be eternal!

I was not paid for this review, I don't charge, what I got was a proof and a book and I am thrilled. If you want to remind you that you can read my other reviews HERE.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Practice patience and not perfection...

Today I am annoyed with one of my children for a pretty small reason. I think that often we are annoyed with people that are ultimately small fry and this is a prime example. This child switched a load of laundry and I know, I know, he just grabbed the whole wad and tossed it into the dryer. I would separate each piece, shake it, and place it in the dryer and never forget to check for stain removal and be sure to hang or lay out all the appropriate items. Because laundry. He should have noticed the line dry only items.

If you know me, you know that I have two things about which I am super, super, embarrassingly neurotic about: 1) Food, 2) Laundry. If you don’t know me, well, now you know one of my salient characteristics. I will cry over food and laundry. I am stubbornly prideful about these things. The former is obvious and the latter, less so. Food is a great joy of mine. I love shopping for food, planning menus, cooking food, feeding other people, talking about food, eating food…food and food and more food. I sure you are not surprised by this. I write about food. The laundry thing might surprise you.

I care a great deal about properly done laundry. I want it sorted very specifically by color and washing temperature. I care about soaking and hand-washing and line drying or drying flat so the clothes last longer and wear well. Having an unfolded basket of laundry puts me on edge and I will get snappy and overwhelmed and drop everything to fold it. I am not like this about all things. For instance, I rarely mop. I sweep, I spot clean, and I ignore. Whatever. More time for laundry. My kids know that I will correct them if they don’t do it correctly and often I would rather do it myself than have it done badly. This means that I am more often than not struggling to keep up because I don’t let them do it. I make the perfect the enemy of the good. I have all kinds of good reasons for it. We don’t have a lot of money. We need these clothes to last. It won’t take me long. They could do other things. All these things sound rational but really they are a cover for pride.

Because I am prideful.

I have right now an opportunity to work on that pride. For Eastern Christians, Great Lent started yesterday. Clean Monday is usually quiet. We do okay. We do small little things with ease, like swap out half-and-half and instead choice almond milk. No big deal. The rubber meets the road when we have to do it again the next day, and the next, and the one after that. Then we start to get anxious and we start to complain. This is not going to be a post about how God is patient with us even when we struggle. He is, but that’s not what I am going to talk about. I am going to talk about our own patience.

I need to be more patient.

I didn’t yell at my son who switched the laundry but I was inwardly annoyed that he can never switch the laundry. He forgets to start one machine or the other or add soap or even do it at all but doesn’t remember that he didn’t. There is an enormous amount of babysitting when that kid is doing laundry. He means well and he is never intentionally disobedient. He just can’t do it. Sometimes I think he will never do it and this reminds me of something my mother-in-law said years ago when my husband and I were engaged.

She warned me he was passive aggressive and he had been so bad as an early teen, she had him stop washing dishes because he always broke at least one every single night. She took it personally. I hadn't seen anything like that so I asked him. He was so surprised. He had never intended to be so destructive; he was just a really clumsy child. It was never intentional. He did outgrow it and now a broken dish is a rare thing and I jokingly tease him that his mother warned me about him but it is a non-event. It’s small fry. Just like my laundry thing. My mother-in-law likes clean dishes and a clean sink and bleaches hers each night. Nothing else worries her as long as the dishes are done and her sink is sanitized, everything else fits in at the edges. She saw offense where there was none and to her credit she never let her son know it, she was very kind about it. I also see offense where there is none. It is just laundry. He will outgrow this but will I?

This Lent I will have lots of opportunities to do hard things (being vegan for seven weeks is freaking hard, guys) and I will have lots of opportunities to lose my cool. I need to practice patience. Patience with my children. Patience will people I meet. Patience with my laundry. Patience with myself. One of the things that I tell mothers is to practice patience and not perfection. When we make mistakes, start over. When we are upset with our kids, step back and cool off before getting back in the game. When someone is sharp with us, take a deep breath and realize that we might see offense where there is none, and give them the benefit of the doubt. Practice patience because nothing will ever be perfect. If I eat all the cheese in the deli case but I am patient, this Lent will be a success. I have no intention of doing that but really, that is what this season is about. I am going to start today with my laundry. Deep breath, people. I am going to have him start the next load.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Guiding children through Clean Week...

A lovely Facebook friend St. Seraphim Cathedral asked if I would write a couple of pieces for the church school families. I thought that it might help your families. This is the second of two pieces, the other may be found by clicking HERE.

We have been slowing stepping up towards its but it is nonetheless something of a shock when Great Lent finally arrives. The Church in her infinite wisdom slowly leads us into the most challenging of Fasts with a fast free week, a normal week, Cheesefare week, and then finally Clean Week. We should be ready but often we are like small children who have been warned that it is almost time to leave the playground and instead of being grateful for the time we have had, we start to feel just a little resentful that it is coming to an end. Clean Week is hard, there is no debating it. Not only is the spirit less than willing the body is more than weak. When we have children, we have to contend with their physical, psychological, and spiritual needs at this time and not only our own. Clean Week is the time to follow the Church’s advice and lead gently.

Show your children what is coming…
In our family, we will spend Sunday afternoon cleaning out our refrigerator, just like we always do. Things that can be frozen for Pascha will be and things that cannot will be eaten. When we move all the rich foods from the fridge and stock it with Lenten foods, it sets a tone. We wash all the shelves and drawers and even the outside so that we will be ready. Having a clean fridge filled a completely different set of contents is a physical reminder of what will begin.

Have a record keeping system for the weeks…
This is especially true for smaller children who don’t really understand calendars. My children have always liked the Lady Lent picture, the one with seven legs. We don’t do the salt dough or cookie one but that is because we have pets who might find them delicious. We stick with one printed out from an image on the internet and that is colored by the children. My children take turns taking the scissors and cutting off a leg at a time while they watch and wait for Pascha.

Give them something to look forward to…
Like I said before when I told you that you need a basic meal plan, you need to have a weekend plan. When the first weekend of Lent comes and it is more relaxed, then make it more relaxed. If you are pouring a glass of wine for dinner, make sure that the children have something special. In our family, we add seltzer water to juice for the children and let them sip from martini glasses. I have a large collection from the thrift store and a couple of plastic ones for the youngest. It’s special, and the children don’t get to do this very often so it gives them something to look forward to each week. We also make sure that we do a Sunday evening popcorn and movie night and we never forget to use lots and lots of olive oil and nutritional yeast. Your children need to a sense of relief from Lent, especially that first week, so make a plan for next week.

Build in some gentle dietary choices…
I know a lovely nun who jokingly refers to Clean Week as the “Insta-Cleanse” because the rapid and sudden shift from the diet of Cheesefare causes a little digestive upset. If your children are miserable from the diet of Clean Week, they will transfer their frustrations onto other elements of the Church and her practices. This is a dangerous practice. We have to find small ways of building in comfort, especially this week. Swap out whole grains for refined and polished grains and do not feel guilty. Believe you me, you are getting plenty of fiber this week already. A little less will be good for you! Provide white Lenten crackers, bagels, breads, and rice to have with our beans and lentils based dishes to make things a little easier. Also make sure that we have low fiber fruits like bananas, grapes, and melons. These make good snacks and help slow down the digestive system. You might want to avoid dried fruit this week and stick to fresh to reduce the fiber in your diet, reevaluate next week and see if your body is feeling ready for a little more fiber but go slowly, especially with small children.

Looking for other practical ideas?

  • Jennifer at Illuminated Learning has a great poster that you can download and print, just warning you that it is a larger poster and will need to be printed at a shop. Find it HERE.
  • Sylvia at OrthodoxMom wrote a wonderful Lenten study guide for mothers that I use and love. You can download and print the pages or you can load them onto a Kindle. Find it HERE.
  • Jane, the children’s book editor at Ancient Faith, put together a wonderful list of books to use with your children over great Lent. Find it HERE.
  • If you feel like you want something a little more in depth and you have the time and energy for it, this program by Annalisa is one my children have loved. I use it every summer as a substitute for Protestant Vacation Bible School for my own children. Find the book HERE.