A Few of My Favorite Things

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I have a lot of thoughts jumbling around my head. We just got back from celebrating our 23rd anniversary in San Antonio (such a fun city!), my middle daughter turned 18 AND got engaged last week, and I got some great news from a friend. However, none of it is coalescing to make a profound post, so I’m going with something light and giving you a list of some of my favorite things – things I enjoy in general, stuff that makes my mom life easier and items that I find it hard to live without.

Once a Month Meals

I don’t always meal plan, but when I do, this is the service I prefer. (I tried the emeals app, and it drove me crazy.) Once a Month Meals allows you to use either premade menus in a dozen categories or build your own (that’s how I use it.) You get a shopping list that you can link to delivery services, all the recipes that you can customize to your family size and a prep and cooking list so you can prepare them as freezer meals. You can pay $18/month or a discounted price if you pay for a year. I usually subscribe for a few months, print off a variety of menus and then unsub until I’m ready for more variety.

Cutco Knives

I went on a girl’s trip earlier this year and our hostess had her kitchen stocked with these. I’m a total knife snob, and I was pretty impressed. So much so that I came home and bought some at a discounted rate on Ebay because, you know, budgeting. The company sharpens/refurbishes/replaces their knives for free, so don’t be afraid to buy an older set or single pieces that are deeply discounted. Just send them in, and they’ll come back sharp and pretty.

So Sew English

I sew as one of my primary hobbies, and I like quality fabric without going broke. My most consistent and favorite supplier is So Sew English. They have a ton of super soft “legging” fabric (aka double brushed poly) as well as a wide variety of other knits. If I’m sewing a lot, I get multiple boxes from these guys a week, and I almost always have at least a few a month. Wait until the end of the month, and Bundle Chicken codes let you buy bundles up to 40% off. (Bundles are the best!) They also have an active Facebook page to show your makes and talk sewing.

PDF Patterns

I haven’t sewn with a commercial pattern for years because PDF patterns are so much more accessible and reliable for me. While small designers can be hit and miss, some of my favorites that work really well for me are Patterns for Pirates, New Horizons Designs and Halla Patterns. I print my patterns at home and transfer them onto tracing cloth, but I know a lot of people like to use PDF Plotting. If you want to see what I’m up to with my sewing, follow me on Instagram.

Diva Cup

I pretty much think that any woman not using cups for their monthly visitor is missing out on comfort and convenience. I mean, not all my readers are females, but my Diva cup legit makes my life easier. Get one. If you’re a guy, tell your wife about them. She’ll thank you. (I also have a generic brand that was 2/$10, and they’re just as good. Just look for the medical grade silicone.)

French Press

I have coffee every morning, and I love my French press. This manual coffee maker is quick and easy to use, and makes a great brew. You get a full-bodied cup with a great depth of flavor and less bitterness. I went through several coffee makers before getting this which my hard water handily clogged and killed despite careful maintenance.

Meal Delivery Services

This isn’t something I use as part of my regular meal planning or grocery budgeting, but I have tried several meal delivery services for just the reduced price trial weeks, and they’re great. It’s super convenient to have all the ingredients premeasured and packaged for your meal and delivered to your door. When I get these, I can stretch a 2-person meal to feed me and my 3 youngest kids for a lunch. We’ve tried Home Fresh, Every Plate and Hello Fresh and enjoyed them all.

Instant Pot

I’ve had a crockpot since I was married and pretty much never used it, so I was a tad skeptical about the Instant Pot. That turned out to be unfounded. I use it several times a week. It’s fast and super easy to clean. I have both the 6- and 8-quart sizes, though I use my 6 quart the most. You can throw frozen ingredients in the pot and have a hot meal within the hour – best thing ever. It’s fabulous for soup, roast and potato salad/boiled eggs.

I have a lot more I could list, I’m sure, but this is my list for this week. I’ll have to do this again in the future.

P.S. Um, I like food. Clearly.

P.P.S. None of these are affiliate links. I would have to, I don’t know, have my life organized to have that all in place. Ha!

 

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I Hope I Live Like I Am Dying

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I just could not get my thoughts together today. I have so much on my mind, and I was struggling to do it justice. I had almost a whole post written this morning, and it flat refused to coalesce. It’s still sitting there. I spent a lot of time this week really diving into relationships and exploring in my head what they mean to me. This isn’t the first time I’ve thought on this topic, but I was really chewing on what I want it to look like when I pass away. I know. That’s maybe morbid, especially considering the fact that I’m just settling into midlife at 41. But, you know, midlife crisis and all that.

I have a couple different groups of good friends that I spend a good amount of time with socially. I had two different girl’s nights close together last summer, and my 11-year-old asked who I was going out with. When I answered, “My friends,” his reply was, “Which ones? You have a ton.” I sat in that space for a minute just feeling so much gratitude for that statement. This hasn’t always been the case, but my life over the last 10 or so years has developed such a richness in this area.

This week was a good one for this to pop up. My husband spent some time helping take care of the belongings of a man from church that passed away and really had very few connections. He’s virtually a stranger to my very friendly husband, and it really struck him how sad it would be to leave this world without a full life in your wake. I spent last weekend away with some girlfriends, had a play date today with another friend and her girls and spent numerous hours connecting with a high school friend (really, more of a brother) around his writing. It isn’t necessarily common for me to engage so much in such a short amount of time, but, man, it was so good! These people and many more like them deeply enrich my life. I feel blessed beyond measure that they choose to share their journeys with me. They are all so different, and we have different things in common, but that fact is really one of the things that makes it all so meaningful to me.

So, when I die, what do I hope? I hope, first and foremost, that my kids will come together in love without drama or hard feelings or hatred. I know that can be such a hard one for families, and I hope to have raised my kids to be kind, loving and forgiving people that overlook small slights in favor of the bigger picture. I hope that they recognize how hard their father and I have worked to launch them well and carry the tools we gave them into their own successful and flourishing families. I hope they learn by example what we have fought so hard for.

I hope that I am widely missed. I’m not under the illusion that every person who crosses my path will be awestruck and heartbroken, but I hope that my character shines through and that the majority of people who met me remember me as a good person who had integrity, kindness and love.

I hope that my friends grieve me deeply. (I’m just assuming that my husband will go first. He’s 5 years older, and women live longer.) I hope that I am there for them when they need me and they know that I tried to show up as my best for the relationships that meant the most to me. I hope that I hold the confidences they trust me with as a sacred honor and never betray that. I can be careless and selfish and imperfect, but I hope that my actions reflect the fact that my love for them was stronger than that, and I truly tried to give them as much as they brought me.

I hope that even my acquaintances remember me as generous – someone who would take some time for you if I could and offer a skill or a hand or an answered question for something I had knowledge of. I hope they see me as impeccably honest.

I’m not all these things today, I’m most sure. But, I sincerely want the world, even if it’s just the small part I travel in, to feel it as a loss when I’m no longer here. I want my life to be rich and full and meaningful and to leave a hole where I once stood because I didn’t just breathe, I LIVED. Out loud. Fully. Completely. Deeply. Without apology. But, with love. Above all, with love. This is what I want to be when I grow up, and luckily, I have a good 40 more years to get there. It might be just enough time, I think. I hope.

Belief and the Color Blue

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Untangling the webs that weave together through your life is an interesting process. What do you believe? Why do you believe it? But, one of the most interesting questions that I have chewed on over the last few years is this one – “Is belief a choice?” There are dozens of talks and articles in Mormon vernacular that suggest that choosing to believe is synonymous with looking for the good in things. Doubters are painted as Negative Nellies. I have come to believe, however, that belief isn’t a choice at all.

Let me explain using an analogy (because we all know that I love them.) If you were to look at the photo that I chose today, what color would you say it is? Blue? What if I were to tell you that, historically, there is no word for blue in any ancient language? I’m not suggesting that blue did not exist. I think one would be hard pressed to prove that the sky has changed as history has progressed – it’s most likely exactly the same as it’s always been. Still, for hundreds of thousands of years, people did not distinguish blue. This is incredibly bizarre, I know. I have no idea what color people called the sky or ocean or blueberries. But, it wasn’t blue.

Imagine living in a world where blue wasn’t recognized. (For the sake of our analogy, let’s make the assertion that all other colors were known.) I suspect that some blues would get lumped in with green or purple while others might even lean grey or black. This would be the norm – the paradigm held by everyone in society. If you were to pick yourself and plop yourself down in 800-something in a community that didn’t know blue, could you cease to see it yourself? If you were persecuted for being someone who saw blue, could you make yourself fit into a paradigm that no longer saw it for the sake of conformity? (If you could, I don’t think it would be good for your mental health to be that disconnected from your actual reality.)

In my experience, belief is like the color blue. Either you do or you don’t. Either you interpret available information based upon what you know and see it one way, or you pull from other information that makes you distinguish it differently. Belief is based upon your background, the way you think, the way you see and interpret evidence and your life experience. If you don’t see blue, you don’t. If you see it, no amount of mental gymnastics can make it disappear.

I believe lots of things about lots of different subjects. Many of my beliefs have changed over time as I have learned new things or understood things differently. Some of my beliefs have not shifted much at all as my life has progressed. While I can certainly choose to not explore any new information on any particular subject and be more likely to keep my beliefs from altering, I can’t actually choose how I believe about something. My brain either sees it one way or sees it the other based upon what information I have available to me.

I’d like to take credit for this light-bulb moment like it was my own little glimmer of genius, but it turns out that this is a long-discussed question, and I’m not even particularly original in my conclusion that you can’t choose what you believe. When I did a quick search of “Is Belief a Choice” for this blog, there was a variety of perspectives that ranged from religious discussions to psychological approaches all of which are quite interesting and worth consideration.

I understand that the way we feel about belief is, well, a belief. I understand that it can be incredibly frustrating to have a loved one or friend believe differently than you about something fundamental (boy, do I ever!) In my experience, people don’t upset the apple cart on purpose, especially when they’re riding in it. If you find yourself in a situation where you just want to blow a fuse in frustration because you can’t get through to someone, I invite you to take a deep breath, look up at the sky and squint your eyes until it becomes green. Just kidding – do it until you remember that we’re all unique and understand the world differently based upon our own unique experiences, and then rejoin the conversation with fresh eyes (maybe even blue ones?)

 

A Heartwarming Holiday Tale

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Today is officially one week until Christmas!! I did a grocery run today and picked up Scotch tape, so I can avoid doing all my wrapping with packing tape. I decided to hold off on the paper and see how far my stash from last year lasts. I may or may not regret that – we’ll see. I’m mostly ready except I still have a few straggler items to sew for a few assorted gift recipients on my list. I’m getting there!

It is said that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. I hear stories in passing about random acts of kindness that happen around December like people picking up the coffee tab for the people behind them or someone paying for all the layaway orders at a store, but I’ve never experienced it myself. (Where are these magical grocery-paying-for people??!) I was raised in a fairly closed community, and there was a lot of fear around outsiders. My own life experience has effectively deprogrammed that to the point where I think that type of thinking is complete and utter hogwash. Still, you don’t expect strangers to really go out of their way for you. But, they do. They did. So, today, I get to share my own heartwarming holiday story.

My husband was out of town for most of last week. After a quiet, leisurely weekend with our kids, my youngest daughter wheedled him into taking them to the store because we were out of butter (which, in a popcorn-loving family, is akin to an emergency) and they wanted treats. It’s about a 20-minute drive to get to our closest Walmart. Upon arrival, my husband and three youngest kids proceeded to grab the butter and add some other odds and end to their cart – lunch, some mandarins, cheese and crackers, Sunny D and a box of cookies. As they made their way to the checkout, my husband realized that he didn’t have his wallet in the pants he was wearing. He ran to the car for his checkbook, only to have the teller remind him that they couldn’t take the check without ID – the ID that was also, yep, in his wallet. With his cartful of goodies for our kids, he was going to have to walk out empty handed and drive the 20 minutes home to get what he needed or go without. He would have been annoyed, my kids would have been disappointed, and it would have been an all-around bummer for nothing more than an oversight in planning.

But, that’s not what happened at all. Instead, a man behind him saw his conundrum, wished him “Merry Christmas” and handed him a $50 bill to cover the purchases, insisting that my husband take it. Instead of a grouchy, disappointed family, my husband walked in with smiling children, bags of snacks and butter! All because there are good people in the world. While we could have paid for those groceries with a bit of extra time and hassle, somebody saw a problem and stepped in to fix it.

When you watch the news or hear Internet chatter, it pays to remember that things are reported when they are out of the ordinary. It can seem that the world is a mess and that there is no community or kindness left, but I don’t believe that at all. While most good people go about their business quietly and without fanfare, the truth is that most people are good. I truly hope that I can find the opportunity at some point to pay it forward and pass on the Good Samaritan spirit myself.

The Gift of Identity

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Sometimes when I’m preparing my blog posts, I have a lot on my mind or have had a recent experience that I’ve really been ruminating on. Other times, however, the deadline is looming, and I’m chugging along in my daily life trying to figure out what in the heck I should write about. What is this blog about? What do I have to say? And, then it hits me, isn’t that just life? Who am I? What do I have to say? Who do I want to be? How does the world see me?

Even though I have an independent streak a mile wide, I’ve spent a good part of my life picking identities off the shelf. While it’s said the youth brings with it all possibilities, the fact is that it is tempered by the pressures to be the vision that others have for you. There is a lot of fear around making the “wrong choices” or letting people down. I think this carries quite a ways into adulthood, and most people push and pull against it well into their 20s and 30s – sometimes their entire life.

While I don’t want to draw lines on the basis of gender or anything (heaven forbid!), I tend to notice this being more of a thing for women. We give so much to our husbands, to our kids, to our communities. I am my husband’s wife. For decades, I’ve basically introduced myself to people as his wife, and people say, “Ah!” and there is a place for me in their head. This year has changed that dynamic a bit because I have a reputation of my own (for better or worse), and my husband has found himself, for the first time ever, introducing himself as, well, my husband.

I am my kids’ mom. I have spent 22 years largely focused on the health, growth and progress of the seven humans that I grew in my uterus. I homeschool them and don’t work outside our home, and most of my daily energy goes into their lives. In my headspace, though, my life does not revolve around my children. I don’t think I’ve ever said that I’m “just a mom.” Because I’m not.

When women (again, more our thing) lament aging and getting older, I kind of don’t understand it. Don’t get me wrong, I would prefer to still have the flat stomach of my 20s, but I take it pretty much as the tradeoff for the better gift of life experience. I turned 40 in 2017 and posted this on my Facebook page:

“Turning 40 last month has made me super thoughtful. This has been a year of huge changes for me. I’ve struggled in my personal space over the last five years, and this has been a year of resolution and finding peace, but not necessarily in the way I was “supposed to.” There have been really hard parts and days I just wasn’t sure it was going to work out. But, it mostly is, and I feel more comfortable and confident in my own skin every day. Mostly, I just love my life so much. I have a strong and resilient relationship and healthy and thriving kids whom I just adore. I’m embracing and feeling confident in building a career that I fully believe will eventually be a huge boon to our family. I know who I am deep down where all the layers are stripped away, and I’ve really come to love that strong, beautiful and passionate woman. Life is good!”

So, if this blog seems to go in a bunch of different directions, it’s because it’s a reflection of my real life. I don’t always know what direction I’m going. I don’t always know what it is that I want to say. I’m at a point where I feel like I can be and do and say what is actually a reflection of who I am. I AM my husband’s wife. I AM my kids’ mom. I’m also a woman, a friend, a writer, an advocate. I’m less afraid to say things as I see them. I’m more comfortable taking up space in the world. I don’t always know exactly what my identity is, but I do know that it is mine to determine. This, more than anything, has been the gift of this year.

 

 

The Recipe Analogy

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I’m a person who has always appreciated steps and methods. I learn incredibly quickly if I can dig into something, play around with it, see what happens and adjust. I have almost an insatiable drive to learn when I can see clearly what is expected from me and what the results of my efforts are. I’ll play around with this process indefinitely, dare I admit – obsessively, when I’m seeing results, but I have a short string of patience when something is awry. This analogy, I think, is a good explanation of how this moves in my life.

When I was young, I was raised in a family that had very specific tastes. I was fed every day from a rotating menu that didn’t vary much, and I didn’t really mind. The consistency was nice and even though it wasn’t all my favorite, I knew what to expect. As I got older, I was given the opportunity to choose a recipe of my own. My parents made sure I knew that there were other recipes but that our family recipe was the truly right one for us, and I would be making them proud to select it as my own. I trusted my family, and I did.

Soon, I had a kitchen of my own. I was excited to take out my gilded recipe card and prepare it for my own family. I carefully read, painstakingly measured and put everything in the oven to cook. When I pulled my dish out after the allotted time, my heart sunk – something was wrong. It looked soupy, mushy, not properly cooked. I tasted it; it wasn’t delicious. What had I done wrong?? Still, this initial failure didn’t set me back too much. I was inexperienced. I would try again.

And, I did. I believed in my recipe – it was a family heirloom, spanning generations in my family. So, I spent months, years, decades trying to determine why I couldn’t recreate it properly. I became frustrated with my self, frustrated with my family for not wanting to eat what I made and frustrated with cooking in general. Maybe I just wasn’t a good cook. Had the gene skipped me?

Then, I stepped back. Maybe? Maybe the recipe was off? Maybe it hadn’t been transcribed very well? Maybe the ingredients I was provided were rancid. Maybe the kitchen assistants I’d been assured were the best money could buy were actually spiking my sauce with something gross. Maybe it just wasn’t to my taste. Maybe I had been given a wonderful marinara sauce when the truth was that I actually really, really prefer Mexican cuisine. Maybe it wasn’t me at all. Could I look at other recipes? Was it okay to even ask these questions? I felt like I had to because if I didn’t serve something, we were all going to starve. Either way, that recipe was getting tucked firmly on the back of a shelf because I wasn’t going to keep wasting ingredients when I didn’t even know how to fix it. Anyone who I couldn’t solidly identify as a kitchen helper was getting fired, at least temporarily until I sussed out what or who the issue was.

It’s not that spaghetti is bad. It’s that there comes a point when it’s okay to choose to not engage in processes that clearly don’t work for you. I don’t mind when people eat spaghetti. I celebrate people who have an aromatic marinara sauce and have mastered it. I don’t need to order the same thing from a menu to love, respect and sit down to dine with my Italian-loving friends. Choosing to put away a recipe that has failed me doesn’t mean that it can’t work for you. It doesn’t mean I gave up or didn’t try hard enough. (I would venture that recipe failure makes you even more precise in following instructions to the letter.) And, the fact that spaghetti is your favorite food in all the world doesn’t mean that it will be mine. The truth is, I’m a Mexican gal, through and through. When I have the space and the freedom and the ability to play in the kitchen without the pressure to be an Italian goddess, I make very, very good food. I’ve chosen to direct my energy in the kitchen to recipes that I’m able to work with more successfully. I AM a good cook, but I’m making different dishes than what I thought I would when I was a child.

Personally, I think variety is the spice of life in and out of the kitchen to bring the analogy full circle. It’s beautiful to embrace your personal food history, but it’s also really, really nice sometimes to visit other people and try new things. And, when you’ve tried for so long to make something fit, it can be downright refreshing.

How to Make Friends With a Conservative

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I had an interesting experience the other day. It surprised me, and then I was surprised that I was surprised by it.

I was raised in a deeply conservative religious community that translated into a pretty isolated culture. There was no internet when I was a kid, so I saw only what was directly surrounding me. (I sound so old! Hey, I could still have babies if I wanted to/was nutty enough.) I got my first computer as a young, married, isolated mama starving for connection in the late 90s, and I’ve never looked back. I still have friends that I met in some of my first mom groups when my 19-year-old daughter was tiny. To say that having my world open like that was revolutionary would be an understatement. I still remember the first time I realized that someone I interacted with was a Wiccan and how that shocked me. I’m embarrassed to admit that I spent a good day actually wondering if it was morally okay to buy, sell and trade with someone who was pagan. I was that naive. (I did finally realize that it was dumb to care. It didn’t impact anyone’s honesty and certainly didn’t hurt me in any way to know someone so different than me. I know. Duh.)

I have come a long way since the me that was a 20-year-old mom. However, I am still quite conservative, despite how transformative this year has been for me. I have family and friends across all stripes of people. I’m looking at issues in new ways and trying to understand where people are coming from. Still, I find that my conservative opinions and Christian-leaning worldview are not always welcome in public commentary, despite how careful I try to be. This makes me sad. Not because I feel like I’m a super important person that everyone should listen to, but because I’ve lived in isolation myself, and I find so much value in seeing the spectrum of humanity as, well, human. I learn the most from those who are different than myself. I don’t always agree, but it challenges me to look deeper.

My quite liberal friend posed a somewhat controversial question on her Facebook feed the other day. First, I was genuinely surprised that our opinions were on the same page. (That may truly be a first. Ha ha!) What really struck me, though, was how respectful and productive the conversation was. The dialogue was kind. Open-minded. People really wanted to learn and understand. Even people who were directly affected by the issue conceded that it was difficult and that clear answers were hard to determine. Someone I don’t even know had a different perspective than what I (tentatively) expressed, and they pointed me to where I could study a bit more about the topic.  And, then they left me to do what I might with that information and stepped back. I thanked them for sharing an alternative perspective in such a kind way. I meant it.

So much of the political dialogue that I see anymore is harsh, shrill and antagonistic. I can have strong opinions, and I have been punished for expressing them. I posted a arguably controversial opinion a few years ago about how I felt that a particular political/public figure maybe wasn’t promoting the best things. I was attacked, called a bigot and had more than a handful of liberal acquaintances unfriend me. I think I was most bothered by how much space I had made for their more left-leaning opinions over the years, and that so many of them couldn’t offer me the same courtesy. But, it is what it is.

My opinion and perspective on this particular issue has actually evolved a lot more over time, and I see it as much less black and white than I have in the past. However, not a single one of those people that virtually yelled at me had anything to do with me finding more balance. In fact, I think they probably hurt this process that has come about over time. I don’t think I’m a whole lot different than other people. I observe. I think. I really do care about other people. But, I also have a history. A background. A worldview. And, those things shift with painstaking slowness. Having people disregard your right to an opinion while they claim it for themselves does nothing but create divisions and draw lines in the sand. There is no growth in that. You go back to whatever vacuum allows that idea to live safely.

They cynic is me believes that splitting people in this way is the point – that powers-that-be like to see people in neat little rows where they can be moved and used easier. But, the truth is that we don’t have to participate in this. We don’t have to be shrill or harsh or antagonistic. Like my unknown internet companion the other day, we can offer a different perspective with kindness and gentleness, and then allow the other person the space to mull it over and decide whether they want to shift their opinion or whether they will stay put.  I will probably always be conservative-leaning. However, I feel like my mind is a little more open after my exchange with my friend’s friend, and that maybe there is one more liberal-leaning person in the world that I consider my friend, regardless of our differences. I don’t care where your belief spectrum lies, that feels like a win-win to me.