Sunday, June 8, 2014

One week a veggie

Today marked one week into our vegetarian experiment. And altgough it's not been simple, it's been easier than I'd expected. Mostly, I think, because we're all pretty easy-going about the rules. What's nice is we the opted in -- even the kids -- so it seems we're all trying to stick with it, but it's no big deal if we don't stay 100% veg. So that seems to take some pressure off, and actually makes it less tempting, I think, to eat meat.

I spent the first couple days obsessing over recipes, then realized around Wednesday that nobody here really cares how long I spend in the kitchen as long as their bellies are full. So I stocked up on some frozen "alternative meat" products like vegetarian chicken nuggets (which taste better than the scary "real" chicken nuggets), veggie sausage and beef crumbles.

I had some trouble by Thursday too feeling like if I ate one more grain product, I would cry. I also don't think I was eating enough protein, despite all the beans in every dish. Enter Morningstar Farms grillers, which made really delicious burgers. Yum. Even my biggest carnivore seemed pleased.

Campfire nachos. Yeah, they were delish.
We camped at the beach this weekend, which could have been problematic. However, my camping buddy is quite understanding and we agreed to just bring our own meals. Each night we ate a huge salad of fresh greens from her garden, and the kids noshed on goodies like mac-n-cheese, pizza roll baked on the fire, and bean-and-cheese nachos (also baked on the fire...we don't fool around). The pizza had pepperoni in it, but I only had a couple bites, so it hardly counts, right?

I have been letting the boys eat meat if they chose to, and on the drive down to the beach, Happy ate a sausage and egg sandwich (which he declared to be the second-best sandwich of his life). Otherwise, neither child has balked at this veggie thing. By the way, roasted marshmallows are vegetarian fare, thank goodness.

In that light, here's a list of yummies that we've all discovered are favorite foods that just happen to be vegetarian:
  • Cereal, scrambled eggs, pancakes
  • Grilled cheese sandwiches
  • Popcicles, water ice, ice cream sandwiches
  • Spaghetti with broccoli (Happy's fave)
  • Cheese pizza with olives (Zippy's fave)
  • McDonald's french fries (godsend halfway home from the beach when we were all tired & hungry)
  • Strawberries from our garden!


I feel good. Like we're all learning a little about food choices that we can make in the future, too.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Vegetarian Experiment, Day 1

Fridge full of goodness
We're just back from the Newark (DE) Farmers Market, where we bought one of everything. I spent a lot more money than I'd intended, but I wanted to be sure we have enough of the grainy staples, as well as some new spices, nuts, and vinegars. And of course, cheese. I think my entire family (myself included) is clinging to cheese as the great hope in this vegetarian experiment. We now have an entire crisper drawer full of cheddar, mozzarella, colby jack, more cheddar, American slices, and goat cheese. Also ricotta cheese, for the yummy vegetarian lasagna recipe I hope to make tonight, and cottage cheese because I love it no matter what you say it looks like and because I don't get enough calcium.

I'm nervous about this vegetarian thing today...mostly because I feel a lot of pressure to make fabulously delicious food so my family doesn't whine and moan about the lack of animal protein. And I don't want them to be hungry (even though we're all in need of a little hungry-tummy right now...the summer clothes are snug for everyone but Zippy), because hunger equals more whining and moaning -- and blaming Mom for this hair-brained idea in the first place. Honey is actually the one providing a huge amount of encouragement, and he's come up with some great lunch ideas for himself and the boys, sans lunch meat or peanut butter (in keeping with preschool rules). Cream cheese and strawberry wraps, anyone? How about hummus and red peppers? Or my personal favorite: Honey and walnuts on English muffin.

Snacks at the ready. And some onions.
Which aren't great for snacking.
I don't think I'm going to miss meat, personally, but it will be difficult to reprogram my thinking through our weekly menu. I usually go to the grocery store and buy whatever meat and fish is on sale, then build meals around that. Today it was challenging, building meals around veggies and grains. And cheese. Don't forget the cheese.

Zippy's favorite fruit.
He's eating one now, in fact.
I'm also nervous that I'll have to spend a lot of time preparing dinners, which is sometimes not ideal in our busy household. The timing here might be good, though, with summer being less action-packed in the evenings. I plan to find a few meals that I can make large quantities of, so we can have a big Sunday dinner with leftovers for another weeknight. And I have a feeling we'll be eating lots of "Pasta-with" dinners: pasta with spinach and garlic, pasta with tomatoes and zucchini, pasta with broccoli and peppers.

Pizza is vegetarian, and my kids' favorite topping is black olives. So pizza-and-movie Fridays can still happen. Whew. And we're still eating eggs and the aforementioned cheese, so omelettes and frittatas are a good, easy bet. Throw some tater tots in there, and everyone will smile.

Something struck me today, as we pulled away from the farmers market: How amazing it is to live in a place where we can access so much food at any time of year. And how fortunate we are to be able to walk into a market and not really worry about what we're spending or whether we'll be able to eat three meals each day this week. Our bellies may be hungry as we get used to vegetarianism, but that's nothing compared to what some families feel. I'll try to keep those families in my heart -- and remind my kids from time to time how grateful I am.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The pull to simplify


This winter was brutal. Not just because of the neverending snow days (10! Our kids had 10 snow days! And a handful of late openings, which wreak even worse havoc on routines), but also because of the evening schedule, my daily work load, and the pick-up in my travel dates. I was a miserable cuss by February. 

I felt like there was not nearly enough of me to go around. Always torn between my home and work responsibilities, I had a horrible time managing my time, focusing on tasks, and getting things done -- in the office and at home. I was working all day, regardless of whether the office was closed because of snow, and I was logging on after the kids were in bed because the list of tasks was just growing and looming. I wasn't getting enough sleep, and I was waking up feeling even more tired than I had at bedtime. Burning the candle at both ends, my mom used to call this. 

I became short-tempered. I became sad. I became frustrated. Around mid-March, during a snuggle session with our new kitty, Nacho, feeling his motor-boat purr against my belly, I realized that I needed to get a grip. I needed more snuggle time. I needed more play time. I needed to do just one thing at a time. And I needed to give myself permission to let some of the to-do list items fall off.

Breathing space. Simplification. Focus on what's important. As the snow melted and the daffodils started pushing through, the universe also put some heart-opening words in front of me:

(1) My "Star Word" for 2014 is grace. Every couple of years my church does a fabulous word study exercise in which all congregants select a word on a star, at random, to guide reflection and self-study through the year. Sermons center on certain of these words, but mostly you just post the star on your mirror, pray about it, study some key texts in the Bible, and move along with your life. My word, though, is just so big. I couldn't just move on. It's at the heart of me and my spiritual journey and my life goals. Grace. Gracious. Grateful. I'll write more about my thoughts on grace in another post (way too much here for a paragraph!), but the bottom line is this: I realized I need to giving myself grace when I screw up, when I let go of energy-sucking tasks in my life. Grace is linked to forgiveness and absolution of guilt, to abundance of spirit, to moving with fluidity and poise. These are all aspects of myself I'm striving to enhance, aspects of others I'm striving to encourage. Grace. The word itself is a whisper, a gentle breath, a pause. Grace lets me make decisions based on what I need, not based on what others expect.


(2) Driving home one February afternoon in a panic to catch Happy at the school bus, I tuned in to NPR's Fresh Air in an attempt to focus my mind on something other than the 79 deadlines that I was blowing, the brownies I had to bake for preschool the next day, the bills I forgot to pay, and the endless homework grumbling I was about to encounter from the grumpy third grader on our way to piano lessons. Terry Gross was interviewing Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time. I almost drove off the road nodding my head so vehemently: Schulte was speaking from my very own heart about the pull working parents, especially, feel in too many directions. We're fragmented. But here's the kicker: We don't have to be. We have plenty of time for "leisure" (and an exercise in my church parents' group revealed startling differences between men's and women's definitions of this word) if we make it a point to do one thing at a time, unplug from our work, turn off our smart phones and iPads from time to time, and  say no to anything we don't truly want to do. What is this crazy talk? Unplug? Say no? Focus on what I want to do?! The second I walked in the door, I downloaded the book -- and I read it on the plane on my way to and from Denver later that week. I can't say that this book told me a whole lot that I didn't know, but the message was clear and invaluable. My eyes opened to decisions that I had to start to making for myself and my family.



(3) My pastor and dear friend recommended a book a few months ago titled 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, by Jen Hatmaker. As the website blurb states, "7 is the true story of how Jen took seven months, identified seven areas of excess, and made seven simple choices to fight
back against the modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence." Hatmaker focused month by month on food, clothing, possessions, screen time, waste, spending, and stress. While I didn't agree with her methodology, the message rings loudly into my head and heart. Simplify. Pay attention to and be grateful for the abundance around you; give away what you don't need to those who do. Breathe. Turn off the television/smart phone/video games and go outside to look for worms in the garden. Pray. Don't be a slave to your possessions, but focus more intently on spiritual growth and strengthening your relationships with family and friends. Live. 

(4) A friend's Facebook page led me to the "Becoming Minimalist" blog, as well as some of the short ebooks by blogger Joshua Becker. This guy makes sense, y'all. Minimalism doesn't have to mean throwing away all your furniture and sitting on the floor cross-legged in your hand-woven hemp tunic sipping on herbal tea while pondering the meaning of life. Maybe for some people it does, but not for me. What appeals to me about Becker's words is the encouragement to choose what's important to you and your family, then making conscious decisions about how to enhance those elements -- and how to leave behind others. This message coincides with the heart of Hatmaker's 7 Experiment. Instead of possessions and consumerist ideals controlling our decision making, we control what's essential for our own lives. That's it. Opening up space for joy and wonder and deliciousness. Simply living. 

I've long felt a pull toward some of these notions -- most of you know I have hippie tendencies, after all -- but it's only been in the past few weeks that I've paused and prayed and let it all soak in. It seems like a really good time for my family, with children who are growing more and more focused on possessing things -- toys, books, games -- but who are also old enough to start understanding why we make the choices that we do and how our choices affect our lives, other people, and the world around us. 

And my guiding star word -- grace -- is not insignificant. I'm not making decisions out of guilt or stress, but out of mindfulness and gratitude. I'm seeking joy instead of just ticking down the to-do list. This means the floors haven't been mopped in weeks, but I listened to Zippy cooing to the baby squash plants that we planted last week, then had a wicked water gun battle with him and Happy in the yard. This means I'm only accomplishing 8 hours worth of work each weekday, but I'm also discovering new books with Zippy and watching Happy draw his comic books -- then having actual conversations with my husband after the kids go to bed. It's hard for me to even express how beautiful this feels. And it's hard for me to communicate this with people who only know me superficially; it's possible I sound like a lunatic, or it's possible they think this is a passing phase. That's okay. I have grace about all of that, shedding that insecurity over what people think about me. I danced in the middle of the elementary school gym last week, for goodness sake. Joyfully in the moment. 

The truth is there's a real shift happening in me. It's been happening since Honey lost his job just before Zippy was born -- that was four years ago -- when I realized we may lose our home and our furniture and our cars, and we might have to eat nothing but Ramen and peanut butter sandwiches, but I was okay with all of that because I had my family and we were safe and healthy. In fact, Honey and I discussed more than once just walking away from all of it, leaving the house keys under the mat and heading to the airport with the last of our savings. I have a vision of us standing in front of the airport departures board -- with just the possessions in our backpacks, a kid's hand in one hand and a cat carrier in the other -- deciding where to start over. That daydream recurs often.

Even though now we are financially better off than we ever have been, I still feel this pull to simplify. This spring, as the trees turn green again, the pull is strong. I'm noticing it sharply, in fact, like when I walk through the Christmas Tree Shops and feel physically uncomfortable surrounded by so much throw-away junk -- and people filling grocery carts with it. Or when I tear into the coffee pod wrapper at work and realize how horribly wasteful all these little plastic baggies are and decide to brew coffee in the pot upstairs instead (because I can use those grounds for compost, too -- bonus!). Or when my stomach turns over at the smell of the meat counter at the grocery store because, oh my word, I know where that stuff came from. 

This pull to simplify is not just for simplification's sake, though. It's a recognition of just how much we have, and a need to give more back to the world. Gratefully. Graciously. 

A few of my church family have been moved by Hatmaker's book and have felt the pull recently, so we have started our own 7 experiment. (Ours is called "7+ for 7" because there are more than 7 of us, and we've included families, and we just may extend it beyond seven months). The first month in Hatmaker's journey centered on food, so we have started there too. Each family is doing something different, which I love, because we're all making decisions based on our own needs -- again, mindfully and without guilt. 

My family has decided to be vegetarians for the month of June, in an attempt to focus on making healthy choices, saving money, and living in a more sustainable, earth-friendly manner. We want to pay attention to the food we eat because we often take it for granted, stopping at Wawa for a sub or hopping to the grocery market for milk and random snacks. This shift to meatlessness won't be easy, but I'm excited that all four of us agreed to it together and we're learning together. We'll probably be hungry for a few days as we adjust, and we'll probably mourn the grilled hamburger at least a handful of times as our neighbors fire up their grills. And we'll surely slip up -- or even make conscious decisions to eat meat in certain situations. But we're giving ourselves the grace to slip and keep going. 

I have a feeling this month of food-focused simplification will be way easier, too, than the coming months, when we'll focus on clothing, possessions, screen time, and waste. I just breathed deeply as I typed that sentence. One step at a time, as this is truly about the journey.



Friday, May 2, 2014

Potty brain

I know important things are going on in the big world today, but major things are happening in my little world: Zippy is on day two of wearing underpants to preschool. Oh. My. Heart. Big boy underpants! I'm giddy with excitement. 

He told us Monday “When it’s a new calendar, I’m going to wear big boy pants.” So yesterday, May 1, was the start of the new calendar, and Honey put him in his Batman undies (with a bag full of clothes for preschool). He made it to 4:00 without any incidents…then well, accidents happen and I’ll spare you the details. But the point is, he did it. And even better: The accident at the end of the day didn't upset him. My little trooper will not be deterred! This morning he got out of bed, peed in the pot, and put on his Ninjago undies. He also shook his tushy for each of his family members, giggling about the red ninja on his butt.

Friends, I'll be honest: Potty training has brought me to the brink. Right up to the edge of my tolerance, my temper, and my confidence as a parent. It was hard with Happy, but the process with Zippy has been excruciating. I naively thought that having an older brother to model would make him an early pottier. Not so much. Then I thought maybe some of the peer pressure at school would help. Nope. Zippy is his own man. The doctor assures me that's a good thing, that it means he won't be as susceptible to peer pressure as a teen; I think this is akin to telling a bride that the torrential rain on her wedding day is actually good luck. Malarkey, I say, malarkey.

We let Zippy set the pace because we knew with Happy it happened when it happened. Well. No. That's not really how it goes with every child, despite what all the friends and pediatricians and online parenting sites will have you believe. Some children are stubborn. Some children hit and scream when you try to put them on the toilet. Some children cry huge crocodile tears and shriek about how terrified they are when you mention the P word. Some children have no idea that you have to use the toilet every single time. Some children show progress for a few days, then have major set-backs that make their mommies holler and rant from frustration...then those children know exactly what buttons to push and push them often. My child was all of these children. In turns defiant, sad, willful, confused, and downright scared. 

And some mommies are pretty laid back in their parenting, mostly, and realize that if potty training is the biggest problem, then life is good. But even those laid back mommies reach their breaking point when the preschool starts putting deadlines on (but does nothing to really support the process). Or when the preschool teacher suggests that perhaps the child has a neurological problem that prevents him from realizing he's wet. WHUCK? Even laid-back mommies start to lose it when they are in year four of buying diapers; sometimes they even choke up at the Rite Aid counter when the clerk says "How old is your son, now? He's getting so big." 

I'm ashamed to think of the times I've yelled at Zippy in the last few months. I have yelled at my sweet baby about pooping. For goodness sake. Pooping! The threatening, bribing, countdowns, all-out pleading that I've done. He looks at me with those big blue eyes -- as I'm wiping his bottom and asking him why, oh, why didn't you sit on the potty when I asked you to? -- and he says things like, "I know you're not really mad, mommy, just 'suppointed." Oh, my lovebug, I'm not disappointed in you. Not ever. I'm just stressed out and angry at myself for being so damn inept at this particular aspect of parenting! I'm sure I have other true talents. Potty training is not on that list. 

But all that, I hope, is in the past. A memory bank that he'll tap in therapy when he's a fully pottying adult. And I know this is probably the easiest of the challenges ahead with my smart, headstrong boy. And sure, we're only on day two of underpants and probably have a long way ahead still. I don't really care if he pees all over himself today. I'm just so damn happy that he's wearing undies! I’m taking a deep breath this morning, drinking a celebratory latte in the bright spring sunshine. And praying for a successful potty day again today, because the good Lord knows how important this is, even with all the other big things going on in the world.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

On my workiversary

An email went out to my entire organization today, congratulating me for 15 years of service.

[Let's pause. Let that number sink in.]

15 years?! Oh, no. How is this possible? I cringed. I contemplated running to the mirror to pluck gray hairs. I pictured 23-year-old me walking through the doors of that building, thinking it was temporary, because after all, who pursues a publishing career in Delaware? I thought of all the missed opportunities at other companies, mourned all those books I was going to write, imagined my younger colleagues pointing and laughing at my complacency and old-timey thinking. My stomach flipped. I spiraled.

Then my friend -- with whom I've worked for almost 13 years, and who has agreed to stick it out with me until they pick up the building and shake us out -- sent me this article. It's so darn perfectly, beautifully appropriate for this very moment. No regrets, no lamenting. Only learning and growing and becoming.

I certainly would not be the person I am today without these 15 years at one organization. I started as an assistant editor earning $18,000 a year (which was a jump from the $16,000 salary at my previous job), and I have worked my way through editorial, marketing, product development, and acquisitions. I've been riotously happy and dejectedly sad, sometimes in the same day. I have always been challenged, encouraged, and surrounded by really smart people. I have learned how to think strategically, how to negotiate, how to communicate with people from all backgrounds and experience levels. Most of all, I have learned perseverance -- I have learned that I can persevere, even when I am in a deep, dark professional valley full of pointy-toothed monsters.

And I hope that a few (hundred? thousand?) teachers have learned a bit from the work that I've done, and in turn, perhaps some kids have learned to read -- or even better, gotten excited about reading. That would be nice. In fact, it's possible that in the time that I've worked here, a few kids have graduated high school who wouldn't have done so otherwise. That would be really nice.

Without this full-time job, I would not be able to enjoy this comfy middle-class suburban lifestyle, driving my two blond babies around to their various activities in our gas-guzzling minivan. More important, this job has allowed me the flexibility to attend to the needs of my family -- to work from home when there's a Halloween parade at preschool or from the hospital when my husband was sick. I don't know many people who have the same luxurious holiday schedule or generous vacation time, either.When I started this job, I was just a girlfriend, not yet a wife or mother; I had no idea how crucial the flexibility would be to helping me find balance between work and home, but it is. Crucial. Absolutely and without question.

"Work is not supposed to be fun; if it was, they wouldn't call it work." My mom used to say that a lot when I was a kid, but I think that was mostly in reference to cleaning bathrooms and other house chores. My mother loved her job; she was an award-winning teacher who was passionate about her students and always an advocate for her colleagues. (She had been dead just over a year when I started this job; my father had just started dating the woman who is now my stepmother. I was not yet married. I was so very young.) I think of my mom every day, over and over, because it's for people like her that I'm sticking it out, even through the last few rocky years.

My mom also said that only boring people get bored, and you make your own experiences what you want them to be. In these past 15 years, I have learned that all these things are true. And I have learned that work does not define me; work is part of me, but more importantly, my work helps me to enjoy my real life -- the life outside of the office.

Over these years, I have made deep and lasting friendships, I have traveled to new cities, I have met some of my favorite authors, and I have connected to hundreds of people all over the world. Also, even though 15 years seems like an extraordinarily long time, I still have about 30 years of working life ahead of me...so there's a lot of time to keep growing and setting new goals and pursuing new opportunities.

So I've stopped spiraling. For now, anyway. Instead I'll be grateful for all of these 15 bumpy, sometimes ridiculous, occasionally rewarding, always interesting years. I don't know that 23-year-old me would appreciate this sentiment -- in fact she'd probably roll her eyes -- but what does she know? As the blogger wrote in the article above, "Lamenting my age, at this point, even in jest, feels ungrateful. It's sort of an insult to the integrity of my intact life, without which I would not be sitting here. You pull out any of the pieces, however much I may have hated them at the time, and the results would be unpredictable. This is where I am, this is how long it took."