Sunday, January 30, 2011

Respecting Motherhood

At the bank, I am often required to obtain employment information from my customers.  Yesterday, a handsome young couple with two gorgeous little boys came in with some questions, and I pulled up the wife's information from my files.  "You're still a homemaker?" I confirmed.  She made a face.  "Yes.  But that sounds so silly and old fashioned."  I agreed, and we laughed.  Such a word puts into your head an image of June Cleaver with fresh red lipstick, heels and a ruffly apron, carving a huge roast for dinner.  So quaint and charming.  So out-dated.  (And although I am so glad those high heels are back in style again, I definitely do not wear them when I iron or chop tomatoes.)

In reality, I have learned that a "homemaker" or "stay-at-home mom" is, like any mother: a nurse, a counselor, a coach, a taxi-driver, a maid, a cook, a punching bag, an accountant, a referee, a cheerleader, an innkeeper, a zookeeper, a gardener, a historian, an interior designer, a hostess, and a soldier - full time.

When I think of the things a mom has to do, I realize why so many ancient cultures encouraged extended families to live together.  Sisters, cousins and neighbors would take care of all their children together, teaching them and raising them as a community.  Who could blame them?  To grind the wheat, and weave the cloth, and pay the servants, and measure the oil, and dye the linen, and harvest the barley, and slaughter the lamb, and bake the bread took up so much of the day that raising the children had to be a shared task as well, or it may never happen!
Of course, women back then didn't have to worry about getting child #1 to soccer practice, child # 3 to the pediatrician and speaking with the principal about child # 2 - all in the same day.  I guess it all evens out, since most of us aren't threshing wheat and baking clay pottery all day.

What I am trying to say is that I have a deep respect for women who eschew a career in order to raise children.  I have as much respect for the husbands who provide financially for them to do so, because I know very few stay-at-home moms who are so financially secure that they don't have to make serious budget cuts in order to stay with their children.

It is surprising (and pleasing!) to me to see more and more young women - even my friends! - who are walking away from jobs, careers and their livelihood because they do not want their children to go to day care.  Is day care a bad place?  I have heard stories, of course, same as anybody, but if your children are being raised with morals and beliefs different than your own, whatever they may be, then yes, it is a bad place.  I work with women whose hearts get broken every day when they have to drop off their children at day-care, or who are pulled away from work because a child is sick or disruptive.  It is a difficult life.

By no means do I intend disrespect to any women who need or choose careers in tandem with motherhood.  They have struggles of their own.  Their lives are equally hectic, but in different ways.  My good friend Jaime, in fact, is balancing beautiful twin girls and the recent return to her job as a stylist - which she loves, which she is very good at, and which fulfills her.  From what I see, the lady is doing a fabulous job, and it's actually helping her appreciate her babies more (plus, Matt gets quality Daddy time with them)!  Now, as for us, it's just that both Ross and I were raised by stay-at-home moms, with Ross even being home-schooled for several years, and we deeply appreciate our mothers being there for us (even when, as kids, we totally did not want them around).

Either way, raising children in this world is no easy task. 

It scares me to think of the kind of world in which Ross and I will eventually be raising our kids.  I just have to believe that God did indeed put within us the potential to be God-fearing, loving, wise parents who will put our kids on the path to His face, seeking His will for their lives...and eventually, appreciating our sacrifices for them as we have learned to appreciate the sacrifices our parents made for us.

Thanks, Mom and Step-Mom.  I love you!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Heading to the Enemy's Camp...

For you to understand what I am about to say, you need to understand a little bit about my faith.  I am a person who solidly believes in the whole Bible, beginning to end and everything in between.  I know not everything in it seems to make sense, and I may catch hell for it, but that doesn't really bother me.  What is important is that I have no doubts at all that Jesus is the Son of God, born of a virgin, Who took on the sins of the world and died on the cross that men could see Heaven.  

Whether or not you agree with that is, of course, entirely up to you.

But you have to understand that I fully believe it, if what I am to say will make any sense.
For the past three weeks, my church and many, many others across the world have been engaging in a fast.  The purpose has been to draw nearer to God by "putting the flesh under" - in some way, ruling over our bodies and not giving in to them.  Romans 11:16 states that "If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches."  We are giving the first portion of our year to Him.  You get a little more sensitive to things when  you're denying your body something it tells you it wants.  You hear God more clearly, you think things through more completely.  You are the better for it.  Cleaner, more receptive.  Like a spiritual detox.

Ross and I felt that we needed to be a part of this journey.  We felt that God was leading us not on a "Daniel fast" of fruits and vegetables, but we did feel that God was asking us to lay aside some of our favorite foods and snacks, as well as things in other areas of our lives.  The funny thing is, though, that giving up cheese (my all-time favorite food), popcorn, pop ("soda", Ross calls it; how droll), processed sweets and video games wasn't the challenge for me.  What is a challenge is what has been happening in all the other areas of our lives!

Last year, at the same time the fast started, Ross and I were honeymooning in San Antonio, Texas.  We were having a wonderful time...eating too much, exploring, having adventures, and spending every single second wrapped in each others' arms.  This year,  it was a different story.  Both our vehicles needed extensive repairs within a day of each other...Ross was turned down for both positions he applied for...we nearly got into a car accident...I am having difficulty in launching my Bible study group...and I was rushed to the doctor with dizziness and chest pain to learn that I have seriously, dangerously high blood pressure...and they cannot yet determine why.  

You can imagine that we're a little discouraged and confused right now!

If all these things had happened at almost any other time, I don't know that I would have felt so seriously attacked.  But this is what I believe: there is something waiting for me in just a few days that the devil absolutely does not want me to have.  
When I saw the letter stating that Ross was turned down for the job he really, truly wanted, I was about ready to leave for work.  I got into the car and just broke down in tears.  I was so hurt for him.  I knew how much effort he had put into his interviews and how excited he was to work for the company.  I felt like the whole thing was a slap in the face.  And I heard the devil smirking: "See?  This is what you get for trusting your God.  How little he values your worship!"  

And then I got mad.  I realized that the only thing to do was to praise the Lord, and I turned up the music and sang before Him.  It was the one thing I could do to smash my heels into the devil's face.  And immediately, God spoke to me, promising me that the perfect position was opening up for Ross...and that we should not mourn at this "defeat".
While we are still waiting to see that position open, we are standing fast in our faith.  For now, though, both Ross and I have decent-paying jobs with cushy hours and good benefits.  Which we will need, considering the recent attack against my body.
Other than my childhood, which was wracked with allergies, anxiety attacks, and annual pneumonia, I am a fairly healthy person.   In fact, if you follow my blogs at all, you can see that I am what my loving step-mother calls a "food Nazi".  Processed soup has no place in my pantry.  Canned veggies had better say "no sodium" on the label.  All dairy is fat-free or reduced fat.  Eggs are reserved for special occasions (egg substitute is preferred).  While I am not the "gym-nut" that I someday hope to be, I am very conscious of eating as healthy as I can for the majority of the time.  In addition, I don't smoke and very, very rarely drink any alcohol.  I have cut back substantially on my coffee intake.  I have cut a lot of sugar from my diet.

Then why is my blood pressure 180/120?  That's...that's just crazy.  The nurse who took it looked at me like she was about to throw up.  "Um...did you know you have high blood pressure?" she gagged.

Basic blood tests and a physical exam haven't revealed anything yet.  I'll be honest.  It's pretty scary.  I told my dad that I felt guilty, like I did something wrong, or that I deserve I am a time bomb and at any moment, something may tip my blood pressure just a bit too high and something really, really bad will happen.

Fortunately for me, I have a whole legion of prayer warriors on my side, and I am not allowing the twin serpents of doubt and fear to speak too loudly in my ear.  
I didn't share any of this for pity's sake.  I shared it because I firmly believe that, very soon, I will have a victorious tale to tell, and I wanted to use a format such as this to proclaim what I feel to be true.

Stay tuned, dear readers, dear friends.  There is a part two to this story, and I cannot wait to experience it!

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Year of Hits and "Missus"

One year of marriage came and went without loads of fanfare (although we did enjoy a delicious late lunch at Benihana).  As I reflect on the past 365 days or so, I am struck at how much marriage has changed me - but not in the ways that I had anticipated.

Although I would never trade marital bliss for anything else in the world (after all, it had been at the tops of my prayer request list for, oh, about 15 years or so), I am feeling the burden of how much more there is to learn about being a wife...being a good wife...and being a good Christian wife.

Please don't assume, that when I mention a "good Christian wife", I mean to refer to a pretty, fresh faced stay-at-home mother of four beautiful, athletic and intelligent children, who always sorts her whites from her darks in the wash, and who has dinner planned out for every night of the week, whose family never, ever consumes trans fats, whose budget is supplemented with coupon-clipping wisdom, who actually, somehow, benefits from Macy's One-Day Sales, who keeps in touch with all her girlfriends, who brings perfectly frosted homemade cupcakes to every bake sale, who manages to attend her youngest child's dance recital and her oldest one's softball game in the same evening, and who never "has a headache" when her husband wants to spend time with her.

This woman?  I have never met her.  Have you?  I think I once saw her on America's Most Wanted, but she's never been located.

I am still trying to figure out how to be a decent wife.  I assumed everything would somehow just miraculously work itself out.  For example, I assumed that, after getting married, I would never again feel unattractive.  Truth is, no matter how often Ross tells me he loves me (which is, on the average, 8-10 times a day), or that I am beautiful (same), I still sometimes feel ugly or useless.  Even in spending time with Ross, I can feel lonely.  Isolated.  Is it his fault?  Certainly not.  The blame rests with me, for attempting to find in Ross the affirmation I need from God.

I thought I knew better than to do that.

Things just happen.

I also had read, prior to my marriage, that a common trap for both sexes, but primarily for women, is to withdraw from same-sex friendships.  Of course, your spouse should indeed be your best friend, but - as much as Ross loves me - he doesn't get the same thrill out of shoe-shopping as my girls do.  I made this mistake, too.  After a year of leading a small group of three lovely women - two of whom later became my bridesmaids - I took time off.  A lot of time off.  I still attended church, but slowly became less and less likely to attend other social events.  Especially if Ross would not or could not attend with me.  What was going on?  

I realized I wasn't alone.  On the relatively infrequent occasions when I did meet with other, married girlfriends, we found ourselves enjoying each others' company, catching up like we had never missed a beat...and lamenting that we never hung out anymore.  In fact, we never hung out with anyone anymore.  It was like our social lives had been swallowed up by our marriages.  Some of my friends got new houses this past year...some got married...some had (a-dor-able!) babies...some changed jobs...but all of us are busy.  Keeping house, making dinner, participating in church events and working full or part-time, it seems, keep most of us occupied permanently.  And, of course, on those nights off...all we feel like do is zonking out in front of the TV.  Even if it's off.

So what do I do?

Well, right now, I fast.

In fact, my church, and many others in America, are in the middle of a 21-day fast for spiritual guidance.  Now, most of us aren't fasting all food.  Some of us are abstaining from things in addition to certain types of food.  That's not the point.  The point is that we're all trying to hear from God in different, but important, areas of our lives.  As for me, I am fasting for guidance and direction from the Lord.  I want to learn to put others first, and to be less selfish.  I am fasting on behalf of my small group, which is re-launching in just a few days.  I am fasting because I want to be more like Jesus...and, in some ways, less like me.
I am fasting so I can learn how to control my selfish desires.  I am fasting so I can be a better wife.  That good Christian wife I mentioned earlier?  She's not necessarily a stay-at-home mom.  She's not necessarily even a mom.  She doesn't always keep a clean home or say the right things at the right time to her friends.  She doesn't always dress well.  Heck, she may spend all day in her pajamas.  What she does do is put God first, her husband and marriage second, and her family third.  She makes a decision, every day, to be selfless in every area of her life.

I will keep trying.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year, New Food!

In spite of the recent trauma in my kitchen, I am pleased to report that there have been some successful dishes as well!  In fact, some may become future holiday traditions.  The first three recipes below are slightly modified versions of Chex Mix recipes that you can typically find online or on cereal boxes.  My sister-in-law, Rachel, has picked the Buffalo-Ranch as her favorite.  Ross likes anything he can get his hands on.  Which works out well, considering that one of the four food groups in our home is "Crunchy".  The kraut recipe was also a surprising hit with my parents, who came over for New Year's dinner.  I didn't know if my dad would like it, because he's pretty traditional with his kraut expectations, but he and Deana loved it and took the leftovers with them!

 Buffalo-Ranch Chex Mix

In a large microwavable bowl, combine 4 or so cups each of Rice Chex and Wheat Chex cereal with 4 cups of White Cheddar Cheez-its, 4 cups of small soda crackers, and 2 cups of pretzel sticks.   In another, smaller microwavable bowl, melt 6 tablespoons of butter for about 40 seconds or until melted.  Stir in 2 tablespoons of your favorite hot sauce (use less if you want a milder flavor), 1 packet of ranch dressing mix (ranch dip mix will make the end product a little more garlicky, if you prefer that) and 2 teaspoons of celery seed.  Once well-stirred, pour over cereal mixture.  Stir until evenly coated.  Microwave, uncovered, on high for 4-5 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes.  Spread on paper towels or wax paper to cool.  Store in airtight container.

Honey-Nut Cereal Mix

In a large microwavable bowl, combine 8 cups of Crispix cereal with 2 cups cashews (whole or pieces are both fine).  In a separate microwavable bowl, combine 1/4 cup packed brown sugar, 1/4 cup butter and 1/4 cup honey.  Microwave on high for 1 minute or until mixture begins to boil.  Pour over cereal mixture.  Stir until evenly coated.  Microwave the cereal mixture, uncovered, on high for about 4 minutes, stirring every minute.  Stir in 1 cup of dried cranberries and 1/4 toasted sesame seeds or flaxseed.  Microwave an additional 3 minutes, stirring each minute.  Spread of wax paper to cool.  Once completely cooled, add 3/4 cup of white chocolate chips, mix and store in an airtight container.

Hot Cocoa Snack Mix

 In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1 tablespoon hot chocolate drink mix or mocha powder.  In a large, microwavable bowl, mix 4 cups popped popcorn, 2 cups Chocolate Cheerios and 3 cups Rice Chex.  Microwave 1/4 cup butter on high about 40 seconds until melted.  Pour over cereal, stirring until coated.  Microwave cereals mixture, uncovered, on high for 2 minutes, stirring once.  Sprinkle half the sugar mixture on top, stir.  Sprinkle with the rest of the mixture.  Stir again and microwave for 1 more minute.  Spread on wax paper.  Once completely cooled, add 2 cups of miniature marshmallows and 1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips.  Store in an airtight container.

Cider Kraut

Core and coarsely chop 1 large Granny Smith apple.  Drain 1 large and 1 small can of sauerkraut.  Rise, set aside.  In a separate bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups of apple cider*, a few dashes of black pepper, 1/2  cup minced onion, 1 teaspoon garlic, and 2 teaspoons celery seed.  Mix very well.  Combine with sauerkraut.  If you desire, place pork loin or Polish sausage* (or both!) in crockpot.  Top with apples and sauerkraut mixture.  Cooking time depends on the meat you're using.  A general rule is 7 hours on low.  Serve with hard rolls, a leafy salad and applesauce.  Happy New Year!

*Buy local if you can!  Trax Farms, near Pittsburgh, made for a tasty dish.  I also use Hillshire Farms turkey sausage.  Go Meat!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Spoonful of Sugar and a Grain of Salt

Having received a new pie dish and my father-in-law's grandmother's rolling pin for Christmas, I was eager to try my hand at baking again.  I've mentioned on this blog, quite frequently, that I love to cook, but I have never been a particularly good baker.  Here are the reasons why:

1. You can taste pasta sauce or stew as you're cooking it to make sure it is turning out well.  You cannot, however, test-nibble on half-baked cookie dough as you're baking it.  Well, you shouldn't, anyway.

2. I don't like following recipes, and the science of baking strictly requires it. 

3. Baking is potentially messy.  I am reliably messy.  Therefore, flour gets everywhere. 

4. Baking usually needs specific ingredients that I never seem to have.  I didn't know what cream of tartar even was until maybe six months ago.

Still, the addition of the beautiful new tools to my arsenal encouraged me.  Instead of a pie, though, I thought I would start simple, with banana muffins.  I had recently downloaded an app for my phone that listed hundreds of recipes in a clear, concise format, and many of them looked really great!  I found a simple one for the muffins, and I checked to ensure I had everything on hand to make them.  I cleared the kitchen table off, prepared bowls for the wet and dry ingredients, and got to work, proud of myself for trying something new, and hoping to be able to present Ross with a delicious, homemade treat for dessert that night.

Not being a baker, I wasn't entirely sure what each ingredient was for.  I also didn't realize that the recipe calling for two tablespoons of baking soda was, clearly an error in translation, because that night I baked banana muffin-shaped pretzels.  As I was pouring the batter into the tins, I had the sinking sensation that things weren't right, but I hoped that the baking process would bring out the sweetness of the bananas and dates.  To no avail.  When I reluctantly tasted one of the dense biscuit-like horrors that emerged from the oven, it practically fizzed on my tongue like Alka-Seltzer.  Not even butter could help.  Into the trash every last muffin went.

I was irate.  I read and re-read the recipe to make sure that the mistake was not in my interpretation.  Nope, there is was, clear as day.  Two tablespoons of baking soda.  Foul.

Ross ended up with Rice Chex for dessert that night.

I know I can use this "life lesson" like many Christian authors do, and neatly tie it up with an applicable scripture, or go on to talk about how sometimes we blindly "follow the recipe" for a perfect life and still end up feeling like failures, but I am not doing that here today.  I am still angry that I wasted flour, sugar, bananas and an hour of my evening and ended up with only frustration and a full trash bag.  Plus, I got made fun of at work when I tried to get some pity from my co-workers the next day.

I'm not giving up on baking entirely, but I will surely be relying only on time-tested family recipes from now on, thanks very much.

(Note: the above muffins are fantasy muffins.  In my mind, I made them.  In reality, I found them on a random website.)