Pausing the Chatter

After being ill, and struggling last fall, I really didn’t want the fast of Advent upon me. I felt as though I’d already been through an intensified Lent, and wasn’t strong enough for another period of fasting on any level.

Yet somehow I made it through Advent, with joy, certainly with the aid and help of my family, friends and community.

And here I come again to another time of stretching myself, and again, my reaction is to recoil. That is the old habit, the old man inside of me, the man who wants ease, and the kicking up of his heals, the comfortable couch with the chocolates and cheesepuffs at the ready. (I don’t really like cheesepuffs, but they just sound so frivolous, don’t they?!) As much as I like to be comfortable and cozy, I want change, and I want my heart open to receive what God has prepared for me. I was open last November–raw, and hurting, but open.

So, my resolve is two things. To do, and to be. I’m hoping not to chat, and explain, and sermonize much over these next weeks. I’m hoping to just get off the couch and bake, and pray, and sleep, and eat, and give, and garden, and marvel at God and his creation. I’ll be posting, God willing, lots of photos, but I want to stay clear of lectures. I’m too good at them, and they’re not always that good for your heart or mine.

So, in that vein, these last few days have looked a bit like this.

And hopefully the next few weeks will look a whole lot like this!

Blessed Lent, my friends!

Giving and Gratitude

People can tell you all sorts of things about living, about what to read, or say, or do… But being the one who actually does the doing, that’s why this experiment in giving has been a profitable one for both me and my family.

Not profits–as in money. No, there’s very little financial gain in giving away bread, but I believe our souls have benefited from the stretching out of our hands and hearts. And it’s not just our hearts that are being changed.

Often, not always, not even half of the time, but often enough to notice, I will bring bread to someone and they will immediately want to give me something in return.

  • When I took a loaf of bread to a new neighbor, little Owen’s mommy, she wouldn’t let me leave until she had loaded me down with peppers and parsley and lettuce from her garden.
  • And the time John Ronan chose to give pumpkin bread to our neighbors, Mia and Noe, and we returned home with two fresh eggs.
  • Nataliya, who still needs so much as she recovers from her awful illness, but she wouldn’t let us out of her home empty handed…
  • And then there’s little Ben. Every time I try to offer him something, he wants to split it in sixes or sevens and take it home to his family.

Giving.

And just last week, when John Ronan was touring the neighborhood giving away Valentines, we received a return visit from Dolores, a neighbor who loves to garden. She surprised my son with a beautiful bird book, hoping to inspire him to study all those birds that make their way into our backyards.

All these movements of sharing, of giving, of love, must help to hold up the universe and keep the sun shining. These small acts of kindness, and even prayer, mean more than we imagine. That’s what I believe.

So her bird book sparked an afternoon outing. Well, it really was midday, and we decided to take our schooling on the road. We headed to Douglas Family Preserve to birdwatch, and we weren’t disappointed.

Gratitude. Thankful for the gift. Thankful for the Giver. One little book spurred all this?

Lovely, what a little giving can do…

Valentine Love

The kids woke up to cards, and went to school armed with goodies to share.

Last year I made a loaf of bread in the shape of a heart for my goddaughter. It was ridiculous, but fun. This year, I mixed up some dough and experimented with the shaping and scoring.

As soon as I had scored the loaves, I knew last years’ idea fitted the theme a wee bit better.

We couldn’t quite figure out what this loaf looked like…

But this one certainly had a wide and somewhat evil grin! My, my. Not really the look I was going for.

So, I doubled up my baking efforts and churned out some chocolate shortbread cookies. One of my favorite recipes, (and destined for the recipe tab at some point,) I knew these would make every Valentine celebrator love me just a little bit more!

And then came the giving. John Ronan is obsessed with the fact that the dentist told him that gummy bears are much better for your teeth than lollipops. (He was a lollipop aficionado, and that landed him in cavity land.) So we loaded up on gummy bears and hit the neighborhood!

Isn’t that the cutest little bag? John Ronan “borrowed” it, since it’s destined for a niece’s birthday. (Ssshhh, don’t tell!)

Almost no one was home. But did that deter us Working-on-Being-Better-Giver Givers?!

We dropped packets in the oddest places and thought it was fun that most of our neighbors wouldn’t even know where the treats had come from. (I really wanted to write from whence the treats had come--isn’t that fun? but a little too Downton Abbeyish for this blog…)

Almost lastly, we took one of the odd-shaped loaves of bread–plus more packets of gummy bears– to the swim instructors to eat in between lessons. (John Ronan is finally water safe!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

And lastly, my parents showed up on the front doorstep with a BOX full of bread from my awesome baker brothers (and chocolate, of course).

Soup on the stove, and five loaves of bread in the kitchen, we held my parents prisoners for the evening to help us eat all the goodies,

and share the love!

Share :: Love.

Hope you had a lovely Valentine’s Day, my friends!

How a Bread Eater Stays Thin :: Knowing YOU

I’ve always been active. I grew up on a block with thirty kids, mostly boys, and spent my afternoons climbing trees, playing kick ball, throwing frisbees and jumping from rooftops. I’ve always been a mover, and I know this gives me a big advantage over some other “types,” like my book-reader son, who can sit in a corner chair for hours, even days, without so much as walking across the house. (We boot him out of the chair from time to time to make sure he stays alive!) I’m sure my natural tendency to move has helped me stay trim over the years.

I think it’s safe to say: Knowing yourself, knowing your body is a great help to staying thin.  (And goodness knows, there are all sorts of thin! Your doctor–not visions of you being a print model– is the one who should point you in the direction of your optimum weight.) Knowing how to balance your life between how active you are, how much food you need to consume, and how much sleep helps you recover and remain healthy is harder than it used to be. Food is so blessedly plentiful in this age, but that means we need more self control than ever. Last year I thought it’d be interesting to actually test myself and quantify that balance. I signed up for an online health application that helped get me started, then over two weeks I catalogued every single thing I ate and recorded the activity of my daily life.

The application asked me all sorts of questions. My age, my weight, my goals, etc… I popped that app onto my phone to make sure I didn’t miss one thing that passed my lips. The app told me that in order to maintain my weight, no gaining or losing, at my activity level, I should be eating just a tad over 1500 calories each day. Wow. Not much.

I also utilized another program that helped calculate calories from my own recipes. This was a great tool that gave me real data, showing the difference between a simple rosemary roll (110 calories per slice), and how many more calories are in that delicious pumpkin bread (256 calories) that I like to make!

I embarked on the two weeks and here’s what I learned.

  • I shouldn’t eat chips and salsa for lunch quite so often :). The calories in chips add up way too quickly!
  • We eat fairly well, thanks to my husband and his lean meat/lots of veggies formula. It’s good that my cupboard is often bare of bread.
  • Herbal tea after dinner is the best. No second glasses of wine, no soda, no fruit juices or other drinkable calories when I’ve already eaten a days’ fill.
  • Good fat and protein help me eat less in the long run.
  • Don’t ever buy potato chips. I will eat them.
  • Even a short walk during the day is better than no walk at all.
  • I should keep up my five minute strength training that I do every other day. Push ups, knee bends, sit ups. All good! 🙂
  • Just because I’m thin, and active, doesn’t mean I still don’t have things to change.

At 1500 calories a day over those two weeks I lost weight. I figure the program simply doesn’t know that I run to the mailbox instead of walk–or that I have a John Ronan in the house. Even if I didn’t match up exactly to how they thought I should eat, it allowed me to see, in black and white words, exactly what I put into my body and how I spend my days. It was revealing.

Not only have I always been active, but I also lived in Europe for a string of years when I was young and impressionable. Folks in France, Italy and Switzerland, the three countries I was blessed to be in, truly don’t have a problem with obesity. They love to eat well, but they’ve learned over the centuries how to balance their love of food with the desire to be healthy, vital, and active. French Women Don’t Get Fat, a book written several years ago now, speaks to the cultural differences between French and American eaters. I enjoyed and learned from that book, and if you’ve struggled with weight loss, it might give you a new view of food that could help you turn a corner…

And the Japanese have much to teach us. My husband talks now and again of their 80% full principle. “Eat like a crane,” they say.

But I think the best models of eating come from the church. In the Orthodox Church we fast from meat and dairy almost half of the year. There is a consistent reminder to fill our minds and hearts with prayer, and not stuff our bellies full of food. I love this recent post on fasting from my friend, Katherine. And this article by Rita Madden, a program director for wellness, makes some very practical suggestions on eating and living well. Ms Madden also has a podcast on Ancient Faith Radio titled Food, Faith and Fasting. You can listen and/or download all of her podcasts that touch on various aspects of healthful eating (such as Sacred Eating, Managing Stress, Seasonal Fasting, and The Temptation to Misuse Food). I recommend starting with the first podcast Eating in a Spiritually Minded Manner, and listening to them in order.

So, that’s about ALL I have to say on this subject. From making changes in our home life and living at a slower tempo, to being watchful of how much bread is in our cupboard, to balancing my life between work, food, and activities… I am not an expert at all of this, but I pray some of these thoughts have been helpful.

Sending you all love., and now, back to the bread kneading board!

February First Giving

The Eve of Saint Brigid was all about it being a Tuesday. Phew! How many times have we missed out on corned beef and cabbage because Saint Patrick’s Day lands during Lent? Well, we solved that problem. Our yearly dose of the Irish came on January 31st, and what fun! Irish ale, and eating corned beef and cabbage, weaving crosses, reading and telling stories, and celebrating with Irish (-ish) friends. Very fun. Truly fun. I think my husband even stirred up a batch of Irish coffees while I built a marble track with the munchkins.

But on the actual feast day, on this Wednesday, February 1st, we tossed all the festivities aside and made it a day of giving.

Well, first we had prayers, and a bit of school.

Then, while the little one did some chores, some cleaning, some getting dressed and all, I got to mixing. Look at this be-uuuuu-tiful dough.

And from the risen dough came the shaped loaves

and while the dough slowly rose

I wove two more small crosses. Just little ones, for little hands.

We baked the bread, pulled the five packages of gummy bears from the drawer (we bought them the other day at Vices and Spices), and took to the streets.

Two loaves of bread, five bags of gummy bears and two crosses–all for giving.

Here’s the rundown.

  • My husband gave a cross and gummy bears to our goddaughter at church this evening
  • Andrew gave a loaf of bread to RJ
  • Mad gave gummy bears to Ashley
  • I gave gummy bears to Austin on our ride home
  • John Ronan and I gave gummy bears and a cross to the Keller boys while in the school parking lot
  • And John Ronan gave one loaf of bread to a homeless woman and her baby at the library. That was the hardest. That one.

And that’s probably where Saint Brigid would have stayed. There, at the library, in the corner where the woman and her baby were ensconced. We didn’t stay, we couldn’t–we had gads of kids to pack into our car for the drive home–but I’m hoping that our prayer for her, that the bread with the prayers kneaded in, added something better to her day.

May holy Brigid pray for us.

Blessed feast, Everyone!