Blessed with Help

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I’m not great at asking for help. It makes me feel like a burden. I know people are busy–they don’t need my neediness on top of that. But that’s not really a great/healthy perspective to have. Cause we’re all going to need help–eventually. Some more often than others.

In the last few weeks or so I’ve been working up a major eczema flare up on my hands. So much so, that for the last several days, I haven’t been able to use them for much of anything other than very light housekeeping and very minimal food prep. I seem to have turned the corner on it (hopefully) and I’ll share my strategies for recovery and management in another post.

But in the meantime, things needed done. The weeds had waged a major takeover in the garden. The house needed cleaning. Dishes needed done. And half my time has been spent soaking my hands in something or trying to catch up on the sleep I wasn’t getting from the unbearable itch all night long.

And then the helping began. I did ask my older kids to help wash up anything that couldn’t go into the dishwasher. For once they didn’t complain. Everyone pitched in to prep their own meals over the weekend, when my situation was the worst. My mom came over and started cleaning things, and then decorating things in a flurry–just cause she knew it was bugging me and I had been in the middle of a project to spruce things up that I was forced to abandon. My dad popped his head in first thing in the morning to ask me if I needed help with anything.

Monday, I came home from running my son somewhere, and my oldest daughter had emptied the dishwasher and folded the towels–without my asking–because she felt so badly about my hands. I nearly cried.

And most of this wonderful help came without my asking. I’m incredibly grateful for a family that is so giving and thoughtful.

It can be hard for a mom when she can’t be the mom she needs to be. Self pity takes over. I may have engaged in some serious whining. But I’m learning lessons about graciously receiving the help that’s offered to me. Learning that I don’t have to be at top performance all the time. Or that it’s okay if my youngest only knows how to fix herself ONE thing to eat and has it several days in a row.

My kids learn to serve. I learn to receive. We’re reminded to poke our heads up from our projects or plans and team up for one another.

Is it hard for you to receive or ask for help?


Summer Conspiracy

throne

Haven’t been here much. Summer (and a broken camera) have conspired against me. Well, mostly summer. I just can’t seem to talk myself into sitting at this computer. I figure that’s bound to get worse when the beans are ready to can.  And I think I’m okay with that, I really am. As my husband would say, there’s so much going on in real life (irl).

Good stuff. And I find myself committing over and over–day by day–to be present in it. To slow down and take it in fully, not half halfheartedly from the corner of my eye while I type or check Facebook.

Cause summer is full…

  • lazy afternoons playing lifeguard while my kids swim
  • tending the garden and herb beds
  • picking flowers for inside
  • watching the family of ducks that have taken residence here
  • home improvement projects indoors and out
  • lots of meals outside
  • long evening walks
  • kids’ sleepovers and playdates

Of course there’s lots more. (Plus all the laundry and dirt that all that fun makes.)

So I guess this is my “excuse” post. But really, I don’t need an excuse. None of us do. Because it’s good to remember to keep the right balance. To not exchange “good” for what’s really best for our time. I don’t want this expensive box of plastic and circuits to be my master.

Cause I’m gonna enjoy my summer!

What summer fun is going on in your life?


Make Ahead Father’s Day Menu

Father’s Day is just on the horizon! In my family, we have a string of mom’s birthday, Mother’s Day, Dad’s birthday, Father’s Day. It’s a whole spring of special days! And I don’t know about you, but at our house, Sunday’s can be a little bit crazy–or at least Sunday mornings. My husband and I get up early to be at worship rehearsal (thankfully the kids are old enough to dress and feed themselves), I co-lead the first half of the service, we visit with folks a bit, and by the time we make it home we’re beat.

The LAST thing I want to do is make a giant meal.

So throughout the winter months, I got into the habit of crockpot Sunday dinners or make ahead meals like this one. Just find a day when you have a moment to put a few things together and pop them in the freezer for Sunday. Take a freezer meal out to thaw before you leave for church or overnight in the frig. I even use my programmable oven (LOVE this thing) to come on at a set time and gently warm our food so it’s ready when we walk through the door!

Since I didn’t want to be stuck in the kitchen all Saturday or Sunday, I put the majority of our Father’s Day meal together on Thursday this week. BBQ meatloaf (cause it’s a man’s meal–and there must be much meat), twice baked cheddar bacon potatoes and green beans (which I’ll just pop out of their jars and season up right before we eat).

meatloaf and potatoes

In the interest of helping us all work smarter in the kitchen, I thought I’d share my strategies for getting it done quickly, easily and with as many layers of flavor as possible.

  • Always start with the bacon. If ANY part of your meal includes the need to brown up some bacon, do that first. I diced up a bit and browned it in my big cast iron pan. After I removed the brown pieces with a slotted spoon, I used that same pan to soften and brown the onion, pepper and garlic for the meatloaf. That equals extra savory bacon flavor in the meatloaf without adding any actual bacon (cause it’s expensive and I’ve got to make it stretch). To get even more mileage from that nicely seasoned pan, I made that night’s dinner frittata in it as well.
  • Make your oven do double (or triple) duty. Whenever it’s possible, I try to condense the time my oven is on. It’s energy and money that I’m saving, not to mention heating up the house in the summer. That means I’ll bake up an entire week of muffins at once. Or I’ll do two loaves of sourdough at the same time. For this meal, it was as easy as popping the baked potatoes on the top rack and the meatloaf on the lower. Another tip–if you’re using two or more racks at once, especially for baked goods like cookies or muffins, set your timer for just half the baking time and switch the trays half way through to get more even results. 
  • Use the “flash freeze” method for individual items. For the twice baked potatoes, I scooped out the baked potato skins, seasoned them and mixed them with butter and cheddar and bacon, spooned the filling back into the shells and put them on a flexible mat in the freezer–uncovered and with space between them. A couple hours later, they were hard and ready to put into a freezer bag. So Sunday I can easily pull them out and warm them in the oven. Flash freezing keeps things from sticking together (like berries) and keeps ice crystals from building up.

If you have the time and ingredients today, why not get ahead for your weekend? Here’s some other easy make ahead meals that Dad is sure to love…

  • Lasagna or other pasta bake
  • Chicken fried steak strips
  • Spinach bacon quiche (yes, men do eat quiche!)
  • Spaghetti (prep the sauce today and just boil pasta on Sunday)
  • Pulled BBQ chicken or pork (can even let the slow cooker do all the work!)
  • Steak hoagies (brown the meat, peppers and onions today and just assemble later)

I’m sure there’s a slew of others. I’ll also be making my dad a special dessert and my daughter and I will be baking up some treats for my husband. But Sunday’s dinner is out of the way and tucked in the freezer!

What special treats are YOU making this weekend?


Inspired to Simplify

sods

This past weekend, my family spent 3 days camping in the mountains of WV. Canaan Valley, Blackwater Falls, Dolly Sods. I have a few stories to share later on, but there is something about a few days spent unplugged, in nature, that makes me think a bit. It’s like all the cobwebs and noise and stress that clutter my mind all melt off. And I can see a little more clearly.

For us, camping is in itself an exercise of freedom and simplicity. We tent camp. We cook over the fire or a little propane stove. We pack 5 plates, 5 metal cups, 1 pan and one pot. Dishes are washed up quickly in a tub of water warmed over the stove while we eat, ready to use for the next meal. Coffee (the best coffee I’ve had in a while) is brewed in a French Press–no coffee pot beeping at us. And we brew tea in the sun while we hike.

There are few clothes and fewer shoes. A couple of games and books during down time. We talk. We play boccie ball. We go for walks.

I find myself resisting the return to reality.

Not that my reality is in any way bad. But it is hurried sometimes. It is full of stuff. Stuff I have to organize and clean and maintain. And clean some more. Stuff that costs money to buy and eventually replace. We may not notice it, but all our stuff easily becomes a thief that robs our time and energy and resources.

I think about that little campsite and the few things we brought. I didn’t miss anything. And then I think about this spacious house and garage that’s full of STUFF. How half the time, I can find the stuff I’m looking for. And I know something’s gotta give–or better still, GO.

Oh, the all-or-nothing side of me would like to mercilessly tear through the house and eliminate great piles of it. But I’ve got kids. And the kids come with lots of things, it seems. They’re busy with it all the time. And I’m not going to be the great purging ogre. I have encouraged them, little by little to go through their things and see what they love, what they need and what can go. It’s a process.

But then there’s me. I took a look at my closet. Too many items that barely (if ever) see the light of day. So a couple of large bags are headed for donation. I’ve got 3 or 4 skillets that do basically the same thing. Saving the beloved cast iron, sending the rest out the door. And I think it’s time to let go of some jewelry, some dishes, some knickknacks and decorations (not that I have too many of those to begin with).

And on the flip side, the getting side of things, it’s time to begin asking, “Does this add to our lives? Is it a need? Or is it just a trifle that eats up our money and then takes up space?” We already do some serious thinking about the bigger purchases, but it seems that those little pieces of clutter and junk converge on the house in the most stealthy way. And I’m ready to put a stop to it.

I want to get creative when we have a need instead of spending and consuming. I want to enjoy open spaces and simple surroundings. I’m ready to live with significantly less so I can live a little more. 

So share with me…

What do you do to simplify your life?


My Verdict on Whole 30

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was starting out on a food challenge known as Whole30. A quick recap–it’s an elimination diet that excludes most inflammatory foods like grains, dairy, sugar and most starches. It’s very Paleo-like.

The whole point of this (for me) was to overcome some tummy upset I had developed after a necessary round of meds, lose that bloated feeling and hopefully improve a few areas like energy, PMS and skin health.

So how did it go?

Overall, I was really happy with the program and results for me. I had two major improvements. First, the tummy issues went away rather quickly. I had been dealing with the fallout of antibiotics and my belly was grumbling at everything. So taking out foods like gluten and sugar and uncultured dairy for a time, while enjoying my probiotic rich coconut milk kefir, did wonders for digestion.

kefir

Second, I had a ton more energy. Which was especially helpful since we were in that time of year when you’re trying to wrap up school, there are a thousand performances to attend, and there’s a ton to do outside.

But to give you the nitty gritty of my humble opinion, I thought I’d do a little pro and con list for you.

The Pros of Whole30

If I had to pick the biggest perk of this eating plan, it would have to be the veggies. If you’re doing it right (and not having bacon as the center piece of every meal) then the bulk of what you’re eating involves vegetables. I had veggie fritters and salads and slaw. I ate seared cauliflower and sauteed zucchini with pasta sauce and grilled peppers and onions. I made sweet potato hash and butternut squash fries.

I ate a LOAD more veggies than what might normally cross my plate. Lots of vegetables that deliver a ton of benefits. More vitamins and minerals from real food sources. More fiber. Less bloating bulk. And I begin to think that some of the results that I (and others) have on this diet aren’t so much from the things you don’t eat, but from all the new things you are eating.

I also believe that the uptake in energy had a lot to do with the increase in vegetables. Usually, if I go without my beloved multi vitamin for more than a few days, I feel a significant decrease in my energy. But while I was on this eating plan, I frequently forgot, with no loss at all.

slaw prep

Other positive things I noticed:

  • The skin on my face cleared up
  • I slept a good bit better
  • My moods were more even, probably because the meals kept me fuller, longer and evened out my blood sugar.
  • My sugar cravings went significantly down.
  • I lost a few pounds (and I didn’t really have the time to exercise much)
  • Some PMS symptoms were a little better (though I’m figuring you’d have to do a whole lot more than a month to see long term changes there)
  • I was a lot more mindful about what I was eating. No mindless noshing on whatever is closest, whether I’m hungry or not.

 

The Cons

But to be completely honest, there were a few drawbacks for me.

  • Having to plan, plan and plan some more. It became a little mentally draining to have to think that hard about what I ate constantly. I suppose for folks who eat this way all the time, it become second nature.
  • Making separate food for me. The entire family was not eating this way. And although I tried to plan dinners that were easy for me to adapt, I was still doing an extra step a lot of the time.
  • The detox period. You have to weather the first few days when your body is crying out for sugar or wheat or whatever. I had a non-stop splitting headache for about four days. Now, I think a detox is good for all of us every now and then. None of us need to be addicted to certain foods. But you should just be aware that it can be rough at first.
  • Not baking! I LOVE to bake, and the Whole30 program discourages you from baking even Paleo versions of your favorite baked goods. The idea is to have you stop associating a certain treat with the way you feel. So even if it’s a brownie sweetened with honey and made with almond flour, it’s still out for a time. Fortunately, I was still baking for customers who ordered bread and for my kiddos. Cause yes, I have a NEED to bake. (And no, I didn’t sample.)
  • The price tag. I know there are people out there who say that healthy diets don’t have to cost more. But in reality, they usually do. Coconut milk costs more than regular dairy. Meat costs more than beans and rice. And a cart full of veggies (even in season ones) will usually run more than pasta or sacks of flour. I did a number on my grocery budget that month, and it was only one of us eating this way. Yes, your health and quality food is worth the investment. But the bottom line is the bottom line. And if you only have so much in the bank, then that’s what you’ve got to work with. (To that end, I’m putting together a little post of the biggest bang for your buck veggies.)

dinner

So, was it worth it? I’d say, yes. Yes it was. It was very good to break the sugar cycle, remind myself to eat mindfully and to increase my veggie intake. And everyone loves it when their jeans are a little roomier.

What I’ll keep in my back pocket are lots more meals of grilled veggies (after all, grilling season is in full swing!), salads from the garden and saving the sweets for special occasions. (Unfortunately, getting the kids in bed does NOT constitute a special occasion.)

What about you?

Ever done an elimination diet? What was your verdict on the experience?

 

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Putting Myself on a Mandatory Vacation

A mandatory vacation you ask? Yes. You see, I’ve let myself get a little overloaded lately. I’ve worked and worked and for a while I quite loved it. (I’m a little messed up that way.) But just like any other mere mortal, my tank started to run low. Very, very low. I was losing the joy in my daily duties. I was tired. And some might say I was just a tad grumpy. Just a tad. 

This week, I’m off at the church. We have a weekend in the mountains camping trip planned. Getting ready for camping (especially tent camping) can be quite an ordeal for a family of 5. I was actually starting to dread that as well. But then I decided–the buzz words for this week will be easy, simple and relaxed.

Easy camping menu to plan for. Slower pace. More sitting on the porch. More reading on my own and with my youngest. Walks down the country road. A little more peace.

throne

Where I plan on spending a little more time this week.

I think, for moms, it can be quite difficult to take a time off or give ourselves some rest. Because even if we have a break from work outside the house, our families still need food and laundry. Kids still need guidance and discipline. Bills still need paid. The daily life at your house (or even your vacation spot) never stops and some of us feel like we still need to keep spinning a hundred plates in the air at all times.

If it’s not always physically demanding, it sure is mentally.

That’s the reason for the mandatory vacation. I don’t get to escape from the daily stuff. (And that’s okay.) But I was carrying far too much of a burden in my little mind. The activities building up, the to do lists I was trying to cross off–they led to a stressed mind. The stressed mind led to anxiety. The anxiety saps energy. And then the grumpies move in.

So it’s time for a little reset. Time to remind myself that I don’t have to make it all happen. I don’t have to get it perfectly done. I never was anyway. And I needed the reminder to give the burdens to God and just give my mind some rest.

And if I can end those few days with a trip to one of my most favorite places, surrounded by the people I love, then even better. 

So if you want to take your cues from me, I hereby give you permission to give yourself some sort of a little vacation this week as well. May we all find a little rest and joy on the way.

 

Other rest related posts:


Lemon Blueberry Muffins (with gluten and dairy free options)

*This post is linked up with Gluten Free & DIY Tuesdays at Allergy Free Alaska and Jeanie of the Baking Beauties. Check it out!

I was having a bit of a diva in the kitchen fit that Saturday. I had declared the night before, in no uncertain terms, that I was NOT going to bake anything in the morning. I was tired. My feet hurt. And it was time (I again declared with great flare) that the children learn to do for themselves a bit more at meal times.

So there. I sure told them. (Hangs head in shame.)

I got up the next morning and made my coffee. I threw together a pan of scrambled eggs (cause I was hungry, mind you–and note there was still no baking).

But then the blueberries in the frig caught my eye. And the wheels started spinning. I remembered the leftover lemon glaze in the frig from a scone order I’d made. The NEED started building. Cause sometimes a girl needs warm fluffy muffins studded with fresh blueberries and lemon zest. Yes need.

So I looked up a few recipes and found one that I had all the ingredients for (Yay!) and I could adapt for my daughter’s food allergies. (It wasn’t totally about me.)

 

blueberry muffins 1

 

This is the gluten/dairy free version I made that morning. For the fluffiest and yummiest texture, I really recommend the flour ratio I used. If you have some other gf mix you’d like to use, feel free, just note that I can’t say for sure what it will be like.

(This recipe is adapted from this one at Heavenly Homemakers. While I’m at it, I’d highly recommend you check out this blog. Super encouraging, practical, and everything Laura makes is real food and tasty!)

blueberry muffins 2

Lemon Blueberry Muffins (gluten and dairy free)

blueberry muffin thumbnail

  • 1 1/2 cups flour (I used a mix of 1/2 cup almond flour, 1/2 cup sorghum flour–millet would work well too–and 1/2 cup tapioca starch. Couldn’t even tell it was gluten free!)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 melted coconut oil (or butter)
  • 3/4 cup coconut milk (I buy this brand) + TB lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup blueberries
  • Zest 1 Lemon, plus the juice
  • powdered sugar (enough to make a glaze, about 1 cup)

In a large mixing bowl, whisk all the dry ingredients (including the lemon zest) together until well blended. In another, smaller bowl, whisk together egg, melted oil (make sure it’s not too hot) and coconut milk plus the TB lemon juice. Add the wet into the dry and mix well. Gently fold in the blueberries. Divide the batter among the muffin tins (makes 10-12 muffins). Make sure they are well greased or use paper liners. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until tops begin to brown slightly and a toothpick comes out clean. (Keep in mind that gf baked goods don’t often brown as much as wheat.)

Carefully remove the muffins to a cooling rack after they’ve baked. Juice your lemon into a small bowl and whisk in enough powdered sugar to get a thick, but pour-able glaze. Once the muffins have cooled completely, drizzle with the glaze. Allow the glaze to harden up a bit before serving–but I have to confess I didn’t posses the self control to wait that long!

So, yeah, I ended up baking anyway. Which no one was really all that shocked about. And now we will enjoy these muffins repeatedly while the fresh blueberries are in season. And I promise I’ll try to be a little nicer :)

 

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