Birthday Healing

I get sentimental around Desta’s birthday each year.  Thanks to Facebook, I have an album of photos reminding of past birthday celebrations.

We had the amazing privilege of adopting Desta when she was 5 months old. Aside from her birth, we have spent EVERY.SINGLE.BIRTHDAY with our sweet Gracie girl.

Desta first birthdayOn Desta’s first birthday, I thought I’d introduce her to ice cream.  After spending an arm and a leg for Coldstone Creamery ice cream cupcakes, it turned out Desta hated anything cold. She was nonplussed with those cupcakes, preferring Cheerios!

Desta 2 birthdayBy the time Desta’s second birthday arrived, we were in Florida and enjoying spectacular pool days in April.

Desta third birthday

Desta’s third birthday was still in Florida, a family celebration with a trip to Disney World a month later.

Desta 4th birthdayWhen Desta turned four, we were back in Colorado.  I made a pink M&M cake and Desta was hopped up on artificial coloring for days!

Desta 5th birthdayIn our house, you get a BIG party when you turn 5.  Desta invited her entire class to an afternoon at the YMCA–bounce houses, scooters, cake, ice cream and presents galore.  It took us all a few days to recover from this birthday.

Desta 6th birthdayLast year, Desta’s 6th birthday, was run entirely by Caroline.  It was Caroline’s 13th year and she had a list of 13 tasks to complete within the year.  Caroline did a stellar job creating the best Fancy Nancy Party.

This year, as Desta’s 7th birthday approached, I noticed a lot of uncertainty in Desta’s demeanor.  About a month ago, we had a mini pow wow in her room.  It came to light that everyone in her class was competitive with their parties–trying to outdo the other.  I suggested a small celebration with one of her favorite people – Tess.  We ended up with a weekend of Chick Fil A, Build a Bear and Dairy Queen Ice cream.

Why all this birthday memory lane journeying?  Because this birthday, this 7th birthday of our sweet Desta Grace was a monumental event for Matt and I.

Each of our kids come to us with wounds.  Whether we give birth to them or they come via adoption.  For some of our kids, the wounds run VERY deep. Their scars are visible and remind them of where they came from.  Birthdays, for Desta, have been very hard days.

The week leading up to her birthday each year, I’d brace myself.  Thoughtless remarks, cruel words, angry stomps and shutting out everyone masked the deep pain in her little heart.  Birthdays, for Desta, I believe, brought up pain of all the unknown questions she has in her young life.

It’s been a long haul this year.  While I won’t share all of Desta’s story, I will say that we’ve invested HOURS of time in therapy and at the doctor’s office learning how to manage these deep rivers of wounds.  It’s been a very challenging year for Matt and me.  We have struggled with understanding our role and how to parent a hurting child.

When this birthday came around, I found myself breathing hard.  I worried that this celebration would dredge up deep wounds.  I worried that Desta wouldn’t think she was special enough.

20160422_122546334_iOSThis picture says it all to me.  The smile on this girl’s face is genuine.  When Desta came down the stairs the morning of her birthday, she had on the best face. While I didn’t have my camera out, I will NEVER forget that expression.  It was a “Wow, this is all for me? I am so special and loved.”

This birthday Desta was a completely different child.  She was authentically happy.  Everything we did, she would say, “thank you.”  When she’d listen to family member’s birthday messages on my phone, her smile was from ear to ear.

If you’d ask me last year about Desta’s 7th birthday, I would not have known this would be the outcome.  Last year I was weary, oh so very weary, and angry. I was bitter that I wasn’t able to “fix” the scars my daughter has to bear.  I was convinced that we’d never see her be truly joyful and content.

For those in the muck right now, don’t despair. We’ve been on this journey for 7 years.  It’s not been easy at times.  It’s been so rewarding other times.  It’s been mundane and volcanic.

But one foot in front of the other is all you need to do.

God has been so gracious to lead us to people who’ve provided healing for our daughter.  We are still on the journey–it doesn’t just all magically disappear.  However, these highlights are such gifts in the midst of the climb!

Springtime Refrigerator Pickles

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In Colorado, springtime is a hot mess.  One day we’ll have amazing 70 degree weather and the next day, 3 feet of snow. We live near the Palmer Divide which means even more erratic weather.

Yesterday we had the perfect spring day complete with sun and 65+degrees!  When it’s so nice outside, I get an itch to make all things spring, especially in the kitchen. Our local grocery store, King Soopers, had a great deal on cucumbers – 3 for 99 cents!  I scooped up 9 and decided that pickles were in order.

If you’ve never had a homemade pickle, you have been missing out!  They are so crispy, fresh and delicious, plus super easy to make.  In fact, pickles have been a part of my life since birth.  My dad’s family is from a small town in northern North Dakota called Munich. When we would live there, the total population was around 300.

A strong farm community, the ladies planted HUGE gardens each summer.  My grandmother, Mathilda, had a superb garden and was an amazing canner.  With 13 children to feed (my dad is the oldest), it was important and necessary to grow as much food as she could.

Each Sunday afternoon, we’d gather at my grandparent’s for “lunch.” It was a time to play board games, watch a game or two on the tv and have an amazing spread of bars, sandwiches, chips and lemonade.  Pickles were a staple at each lunch.  The recipe I use is a take on my Grandma Tilly’s pickles.  I wish I’d asked her for the recipe before she died.  To this day, when I bite into a pickle, I think of her!

The internet has MANY refrigerator pickle recipes. I’ve found that most of them are loaded with sugar. In my eternal quest to limit refined sugar in this household, I took several recipes including my grandmother’s, combined them into this master.

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If you like sweet things, feel free to dump in more sugar.  However, I’m telling you it’s not necessary.  Fresh cucumbers, organic is best, combined with a few things from your pantry will guarantee a perfect combination.

Tilly’s Refrigerator Pickles

6 cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

2 cups vinegar

1 cup sugar (I use coconut sugar)

1/3 cup salt (kosher salt is best)

1 Tbls turmeric, ground

1 Tbls mustard seed

2 tsp dill (if dried) , 2 sprigs of fresh dill (or one per  mason quart jar)

Mix everything together EXCEPT the cucumbers and onion.  Place half of cut cucumbers and onions in each mason quart jar.  Cover with liquid mixture.  Cap the jar and stick in your refrigerator.  Leave for two days. After that, happily consume.

Pickles can stay in the fridge for a month.

 

 

Gluten Free Middle East Meal – whipped feta, chicken meatballs and quinoa tabbouleh

Last night I made the BEST dinner ever.  In fact, many of you asked for the recipe so here it is….but first a brief walk down memory lane….

elwa beach robin shea mcgee photo

*ELWA beach, about 1/2 mile from our house. Photo credit:  Robin Shea McGee

As a kid, I grew up surrounded by all kinds of wonderful cultures and food.  From the age of 5-13, I lived in Monrovia, Liberia, West Africa.  In the 1980s, Lebanon was not prime real estate for many people.  As a result, thousands of Lebanese moved to Liberia to set up restaurants, shops and businesses.  Many of my childhood friends were Lebanese and I was exposed to some of the GREATEST food on earth. Hummus, Kebbe (meat mixed with crushed wheat and meat soaked in vinegar), Shish Berak (dough balls stuffed with ground beef and cooked in yoghurt) and Fatet (yoghurt, fried bread and nuts) just to name a few.

lebanese food

I tried, for years, to find authentic Lebanese restaurants in the towns we’ve lived in. Unfortunately it’s been impossible.  Persian? Yes.  Greek? Yes.  Lebanese?  Nope!

I’ve had to create my own recipes of dishes I dream of from my youth.  This tabbouleh came from that effort.  Traditional tabbouleh is a finely cut parsley salad with bulgar wheat.  Not gluten friendly at all!  Served with gluten laden pita bread and hummus, this salad is not something I could eat.

As I was looking in my pantry yesterday, I thought…hmmm, I know I can make this gluten free with a few substitutions.  Below is my version of Lebanese Tabbouleh salad.

I served the tabbouleh salad with chicken spinach meatballs (see link below for the original recipe from Spoonful of Flavor and a Dash of Life blog with my substitutions) and whipped feta (link here for recipe).

quinoa dinner

No need for any other carbs with this mix.  It’s filling, super yummy and makes THE BEST leftovers!  Hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Lebanese Tabbouleh with Quinoa

2 large bunches of Parsley (not the decorative type–please get the real organic stuff!), rinsed and finely chopped (super small cuts…you don’t want pieces of parsley stuck in your teeth!)

1/2 red onion, finely diced

2 tomatoes, finely diced

2 limes, juiced

salt and pepper

1 cup cooked quinoa, cooled slightly

Mix it all together and let it sit, covered, in the fridge for at least an hour.  The salad is best when all the flavors have melded.  Feel free to add 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint in the summer. Also, you can substitute the lime for lemon.

Spinach Chicken Meatballs (Original recipe can be found here)  *See my changes below.  I’ve made this recipe with the sauce before. I didn’t this time as I didn’t have any tomatoes in my pantry!

For the meatballs:
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground chicken
  • 1 cup baby spinach chopped into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup oatmeal, gluten-free
  • 1/4 cup diced onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 ounces shredded gouda cheese

Mix all ingredients together.  Form into small-sized ball shapes.  Heat a skillet with 1-2 Tbls olive oil.  Add meatballs to pan and fry until brown.

These can be made ahead of time, cooked and frozen.  I often will do this on a  Sunday, doubling the recipe so I have some I can pull out for a last-minute meal.

Last night Tobin declined eating the tabbouleh and instead, put two meatballs in a bun with the whipped feta for a middle eastern take on the sub sandwich!

 

 

Three Meal Tips

When I started working several years ago, I found myself frantic by Wednesday–unsure what I could pull out of the fridge that was healthy and good that my kids would still eat.  The fridge became an abyss of leftovers that no one wanted to touch.  I will straight out admit that we did chicken nuggets and frozen fries at least two or three times a week.  (We still have one family member who really has not given up this habit–baby steps, I tell myself)

This was pre Pinterest times so I headed to Google.  I began to read blogs in earnest, desperate for some sort of order in our chaotic life.  (Thank heavens this crisis came before competitive sports entered our lives!)

I landed on a few things that I’ve stuck with all these years later. Super simple steps but if you do them, I guarantee you’ll have a stress free week.  However I am not responsible for making your family eat the meals.  I also thought you might enjoy seeing what I do each week.  Even though I no longer work outside the home, I find my time just as busy with errands and tasks.

Week Changer #1:  On Friday, I sit down with a pen, paper, my phone and the house calendar.  AND…I make a weekly menu.  I took a picture of our menu for this coming week.  I write down what’s happening at night and who is headed where.  I love pinning and have found that I tend to hit the same blogs over and over.

menu list

Below are a few of my new favorite food blogs. (These are mostly gluten-free and vegan)  With all kinds of food preferences and allergies in this house, I’ve had to be creative with food options. I will print out the recipe and as I make changes (because who ever has ALL the ingredients for a recipe in their pantry/fridge?) I will add them in for next time. I also find my family is really great at letting me know there should be a next time!

Minimalist Baker

Blueberry Tales

Oh She Glows

How Sweet It Is

Week Changer #2:  Make a grocery list based on the meals I’ve planned.  I always have staples that I buy each week (blog post about this coming soon).  Once I have the list, I head to my online apps — Sprouts and King Soopers. So many stores have incredible digital coupons.  (Did you know that each Friday King Soopers actually gives away something for FREE?  I’ve scored all kinds of fund things including a new favorite chocolate bar.)

I get the Sunday paper and clip those coupons as well.  I have found that most stores will price match.  Having it all on my phone makes everything accessible and handy.

Week Changer #3:  Prep all food when I get home from the store.  I have bowls of berries and kale soaking in water (with 1 Tbls white vinegar).  I chop my green beans and bag my cut peppers. Everything is accessible and prepped.  I have invested in Pyrex–glass containers are so much better for longer term food storage.

Any salad dressings or special recipes (like this whipped feta cheese from How Sweet It Is–which is AMAZING!) I make on Sunday too.

I go to Costco about once/month.  I have favorites there as well (another blog post….)  I never buy shredded cheese (they coat cheese with all kinds of wrong including gluten filled crap) so I pull out my handy-dandy 1980’s food processor and shred up the entire 5 lbs.  (Freeze in quart packets).  I do the same for chicken breasts, berries, sauces and other goodies.

Week Changer #4: Each morning I look at the night’s meal, prep anything I can that morning.  Some recipes are simply a warm up that night.  Other times I load the slow cooker and head on my way.

This might seem like a very labor intensive plan.  It’s actually not at all. I find I spend about 10 minutes writing out schedule/menu (which also helps me realize what the week has ahead of us!) Grocery shopping WITH A LIST is actually a very fast process–you don’t get sidetracked with extras as well as staying on budget.  Food prep is actually fun.  I put on Netflix on the iPad, clean and chop and one show later, everything is in the fridge.

I’m working on blogging my food. If you want to see recipes and some of the meals I make (and my kids actually eat!), see me on Instagram @Melodie111

Today I’ll leave you with a new favorite recipe.  It’s from OhSheGlows.  Blueberry Banana Muffins (gluten-free, vegan, low sugar) Cute cupcake wrappers from my sister, Mindy.  I love how they make the muffins look so springy!

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Click here for the recipe.  (I did make a few changes as I didn’t have all the ingredients on hand. I used Pamela’s Gluten Free flour mix instead of spelt flour.  I used an extra banana and omitted the coconut sugar.  I also used sweetened almond milk.)  Tobin had two for breakfast this morning so I count these as winners!

 

Stress points

leaves in transtion

As a kid, I remember hearing snippets about stress points.  Missionaries, at least ones in our mission, were given Re-Entry training.  Basically they were told what to expect when moving in and out of cultures.  Whenever we were leaving Africa or the US, I remember my mom saying that our stress points were super high–like that of someone dealing with a death in the family.

It kind of made sense to me as a kid but I wasn’t the one packing boxes to be exactly 50 lbs or making sure we had everything we needed for that time.  As soon as we were actively in transition,  we were quickly ushered into the joys of Heinz ketchup, new clothes and seeing relatives making transition seem like Disney World.  Same went for returning back to Africa. After a year in the USA, it was great coming home and being back in the familiar smells and sounds of every day life.

I do remember it taking time to acclimatize to the new environment.  We’d have boxes unpacked and the rooms decorated and organized within a few weeks of arrival.  One of the best ways of creating sanity is getting the boxes out! It took a while to adjust to the “new” food, the home layout and the routine.

20160414_010040690_iOSOn Wednesday, Matt and I had a real date night.  You know the kind I’m talking about –where you actually get dressed in clothes other than jeans and a t-shirt, pick a restaurant, sit for a few hours, drink a few great drinks and have good conversation.

He told me this, “Melody, you have just arrived on furlough and you need time to adjust.”

What you might ask, does that mean?  For me, as a missionary kid, I knew exactly what he meant.  My job was my work for the past 7 years.  As I’ve moved into this new role as stay at home mom, it’s been a huge mental shift for me.

I find myself constantly moving back and forth between extreme exhaustion (I just need to sleep) to hyper mode (I just need to get all my list done NOW).  I’ve been unpacking those figurative boxes and realizing I brought home more crap than I needed to.  I’m having to purge some of the habits I formed.  Those habits came from necessity–survival mode to sustain the pace–are no longer needed. I’m having to bring back some good habits–intentional listening, putting aside a task to focus on the person at hand because I do have time, later, to get back to it.

It’s hard to transition well.  My stress points feel like giant claws that have me in a grasp that I can’t get out of.  Little things bother me because I see them all the time now.  As I sit here typing, I see dirt under the kitchen table that is begging to be swept. I hear a dog who is driving me mad because her spay surgery requires two weeks of complete rest (For a dog used to walking 8 miles/day, this is hell on earth!)

After our date night conversation, I revisited how to transition well and stress points.  I’m working on a few simple things.

  1. Grieve my losses.  I chose to leave work.  I chose to accept less pay (stay at home mom doesn’t really have a weekly paycheck attached to it!).  My worth doesn’t rest in the accolades of outsiders.  My kids, love them to death, don’t give daily compliments. I have to be okay with all this.
  2. Be honest about some of the things I left at work.  I have anger at how things were handled at the job I left.  I realized this morning that I’m wrestling with seeing how people “got away” with things.  I am not their judge.  In my years of life, rarely do people get away with things for long.  I have to trust that’s the case here.
  3. Reach out to people.  I’ve found myself doing lunches more with friends.  I’m working hard to connect and be honest.  I find myself hearing podcasts and reading books and thinking, “Oh, this person would really love this…”  For an introvert, this has been perhaps one of the most intimidating pieces in my transition.

transition quote

 

 

Urgent need for change

One of my favorite things to do is score a deal.  I LOVE consignment stores and Good Will. I am a sucker for a tag that says “50% off” or more.  I constantly find myself wanting a change.

I’ve been thinking about where this need for rotation/change/”out with the old, in with the new” came from.  I am married to the exact opposite of “constant change.”  Matt was born and raised in the same house, the same town, the same everything.  Over the course of our married life, he’s put up with my constant cleaning out, organizing and reinventing.  He’d much prefer to just let it all stay put–in fact, when we moved to Florida for two years, living in his childhood home, we gave away about 10 bags of stuff from his bedroom alone!  Things that he’d collected over the years that were there for safekeeping.

There is nothing wrong with either way of doing things.  For Matt, he is able to dig up some great treasures from the past, quickly recalling a story of some incident.  For me, I’m able to move through my house with ease, knowing exactly where everything is as I’ve just cleaned it out about a week ago.

My need for constant change comes from living a life of moving. As a missionary kid, we moved every three years. For a lot of missionary kids, that’s long-term people!  Some of my friends moved annually. When I went to boarding school, we had to pack up our entire room, store it all and move to a new room every three months!  I am a pro at packing–just saying!

For me, it’s easy to feel discontent when life settles down to a steady, predictable pace.  I look at my closet and immediately start taking apart what I wear and don’t wear, selling it and getting new stuff.  Same goes for furniture rearrangement.  In fact, on Saturday I had our entire bedroom in disarray when Matt returned from Denver after a day of soccer.

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When discontent hits, I immediately want to change and fix and move and discard. Sometimes that’s what needs to be done. If it’s a bad habit or a negative relationship, immediate attention is required!  However, most of my issues stem from an urgent need to just do something different.

 

As I work through the WHY behind the WHAT, I have to give myself permission to sit in the moment.

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I’m learning is that there are times to sit quietly with what I have, and times to strive and work towards something else.  The key, I believe, to this whole thing is to be thankful for where I’m at.

 

“The bubble is gonna burst” philosphy

mama bird

I think it started in high school. Things were going really well. I had my first real relationship–in boarding school terms that meant a boy who I could exclusively pass notes to, see during “studi” time (6:45-7:30 at the gym) and sometimes sneak holding hands.  I really liked this sweat smelling, covered with cologne boy.

For five weeks we were an item.  It felt great and I was on top of the world.  I remember meeting his parents during a midterm break and his mom said to him, “Oh, this is our Melody.”  I floated on clouds the rest of the day after hearing that!

Then the world stopped.  He’d find another girl, an upperclassman who wanted his attention. I felt discarded and unattractive.  What did she have that I didn’t?

That’s the day I adopted a philosophy of life that I’ve been plagued with ever since. This idea that I live in a bubble and at any point in time, it can burst and I will be left all alone, picking up the pieces.

For someone who has claimed to live with a deep faith in God and his love for over 30 years, this statement is not congruent with that belief.  How can a loving God at whim burst happy bubbles of life?

And there lies the tension I’ve lived with since 14 years of age.  As I’ve grown older and ahem, wiser, I’ve been able to reconcile most of the happenings of my life with my core belief that “God is love.”  However, just as an addict is never healed, just recovering, I’m a recovering “bubble bursting” philosopher.  And at times, those old sayings created on an endless feed start circling through my head again.

Heading back to stay at home mom status vs. working has been a dream of mine for a long time.  Now that I’m here, I sit in this tension of waiting for the bubble to burst.  My recordings go something like this.

“This is too good to last for long.  Someone is going to get sick.  Maybe tonight will be the night that Matt and Caroline will have a car accident on the way home from soccer.  My kids are doing so great in school–next year is going to be the year from hell, I know it.  Something is going to break and we won’t have the money to fix it.  I’m not going to wake up and be able to walk. People will see the real me and decide I’m not worth it.  I’m not a good mom.”

The tape reel goes around and around–speaking bubble bursting absurdities that really are so crazy to speak let alone believe.  However, that recording  and belief that good can’t possible be mine for any length of time overrides reason.

destroy qyote

Today as the reel begins to play in my head, I do the only thing I know to do–I tell it “no!” Instead I audibly tell myself, oftentimes during a run, that I am worth all that I have.  I tell myself that there is no bubble bursting God.  I remind myself that I’m on this planet for a reason–and my responsibility is to do the best I can with each breath I’m given.

I love the picture of the bird family–it reminds me that I’m not alone.  Just as these three birds are sitting on the branch, the mama watching over them, so I am.  When those thoughts of all the bad stuff crashing my life begins to weave a web in my mind, I come back to this picture. I have a protector whose not out to get me but rather, to protect and watch over me.