The History of a Mother’s Mealtimes

On a recent weeknight, I listened to a mystery on audio while preparing dinner. I peeled garlic for marinara sauce, breaded tilapia and placed it in the oven, sautéed more garlic with the bok choy, boiled water for gluten free pasta and my stepson, Clay’s, ravioli, washed lettuce and spinach for tossed salad, and chopped shallot and even more garlic for vinaigrette.

“I’ve been so hungry today,” Clay says as he sat down to eat. As I usually do, I put on a jazz playlist and lit a few candles to accompany our meal. Even on an ordinary weeknight, the music and soft light turns the mundane into memorable.

We talk about his school day, how his finger is feeling as it heals after an unfortunate accident in chemistry, and discuss possibilities for meals he could take with him this week for dinner during musical rehearsal.

My daughter, Ella, is in musical rehearsals at her school several nights a week as well. As I washed pots and cleaned the stove and counters and table, I made up a plate for her in case she is hungry when I bring her home. I respond to a text from my husband, Alan, who lets me know he loves me and asks how my day has been. And I think about my adult life in mealtimes.

When my son, Judah, was a newborn, like most mothers, I ate when he slept and meals were not at regular times. At six months and onward, I prepared and fed him whatever I was eating, meals were regularly timed and eaten together. At least I attempted to; he was an extremely fussy eater. We had the love of pasta & sauce, bread, and anything with chocolate in common, so in all his aversions, we always had common ground.

When Ella was born four years later, I carried on with mealtimes at regular times. Their father worked long hours, so it was only the kids and I most nights. The days melted into one another with me thinking they would never end. Well, I knew that wasn’t so, but it felt that way. My kids would always be small, and needy, and I would be the center of their universe.

And suddenly they were high school and middle school ages. They no longer came downstairs when I called them for dinner; I ate on my own many nights. At sixteen, my son got a job at a local grocery store and was away from home several nights a week.

Then another abrupt change came a few years ago, with my divorce. Suddenly I ate alone or with Alan, and only rarely with my kids. I didn’t even have to cook every night, as Alan is a good cook and enjoys it.

Fast forward to today, and I eat with my daughter, now in tenth grade, twice a week, when she’s not rehearsing musicals, with her friends, or with her dad. My son comes over maybe once a month. He works varying hours, almost full-time, and is in a band. Alan and I eat together two to four times per week, on nights he’s not working. So I’m more often on my own or with his son that’s still at home.

Some nights I love the solitude of eating on my own, with a book or my iPad next to my plate. Other nights solitude turns a tad lonely as I mull over my decisions that have separated my mealtimes from my kids’ a few years early.

But more often these days, I think of each mealtime as unique, as one of a fleeting seasonal collection that can change at anytime. Each meal, no matter how ordinary, how unremarkable the food on the plate, or how dull the conversation, is still a gift that should be savored.

What to Tell Yourself When You Feel Like a Failure

Let me be honest: it is a challenge to walk the wellness path I encourage others toward. It takes lots of time and dedication to the dreams I want to manifest. It takes willpower, grit, gumption, tears, motivation from many sources and plenty of failing forward. I have many areas I still want to master. In the spirit of transparency, here are some of the things I am working on this year:

I need to be dedicated to daily writing, daily meditation and yoga, daily practice of my instruments. I have an irregular schedule, so I’m thinking that the best way to make these things happen are to make appointments in my calendar app and then follow through. I am not a morning person and do not think clearly enough to write first thing, except morning pages, perhaps. But maybe yoga would work in the morning.

Here is the emotional/mental/spiritual aspect of myself I need help with the most: being grounded in my body enough that I can be calmer, less anxious. I startle easily, am a “Nervous Nellie” as Alan calls me, and am often on the verge of panic. I am taking an herbal blend and use essential oils in the diffuser to help with this, but there are more pieces of this puzzle to be found.

The relational and personal growth-type of area I most need help in: being able to stop what I’m doing and focus on the other person, whom I love, without being preoccupied with work and wishing I wasn’t interrupted. It is really hard for me to change gears, let go of my plan, and be present with someone when I think I really need to get back to whatever I was doing.

I may fake it as well as I can on the outside, but inside, I’m fuming at having to live someone else’s plan for myself. Sometimes I can tell them that now isn’t a good time, but plenty of other times, I need to let this be my life: giving my time, energy, love and attention to the other person.

After all my years serving at church, reading books on selflessness and about being more like Christ, I wonder if I’ve progressed at all? I still like what I like and although I can be a grownup and do all the responsible, giving things on the outside, on the inside I am often willful and rebellious, smart-mouthed and sarcastic. It’s a good thing we can’t hear each other’s thoughts!

So, what do I tell myself? Do your best today! That is my aim everyday, as I’m sure it is yours. We aim to be our best selves, we sometimes miss the mark, but we reassess and keep going after the goal.

How do we treat ourselves after falling on our faces? Plenty of negative, critical self-talk, right? To care for yourself, though, and to promote inner emotional and mental health, you need to be kind to yourself. If you, like me so often, tend to beat yourself up with your thoughts and inner talk, then switch it up! Be encouraging. Find things to compliment about yourself. Remind yourself that mercies are new every morning. Tell yourself “I love you and you deserve to be loved”.

For Lent this year, I gave up negative self-talk about my body and my actions. Every time I catch myself getting ready to unload the mean words gun, I am amazed at how natural it is. It feels weird saying “I love you” to the parts of my body that I’ve never liked much. It feels weird to not criticize the way my jeans fit or my face looks on live video. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s stretching me in the right direction!

So today, assess your life and be honest about where you need to grow, be more consistent, be kinder, let go, create space, or boundaries. But notice the way you talk to yourself and if it tends toward the negative, then begin to sweeten your tone, be encouraging and kind, and tell yourself you are loved and lovable. Because you are!



Lenten Resources


I look forward to Lent each year: to the hours of reflection, to the reading, the candlelight, the poetry, to the length of the season that starts in the cold, darkness of Winter and walks us into the slightly warmer and significantly brighter arms of Spring.

I’ve been on the edge of my faith for the past several years, hanging on to words such as, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” and “nothing can separate you from God’s love”.

As often happens in midlife, I have more questions than answers, am regularly upset by the patriarchal tone of the Bible, and I see more parallels in other faiths than perhaps I’d like to see. But the core story I still love for all its extravagant, unbelievable, raw and violent beauty. And that has never left me.

Bread and Wine is a collection for Lent and Easter written by various authors. There are more chapters than days leading to Easter, but as they are written by authors such as C.S.Lewis, Kathleen Norris, Oscar Wilde, Walter Wangerin, Henri Nouwen, and many more, you will want to read each one.

God is on the Cross by Deitrich Bonhoeffer has a short reading each day, followed by a prayer. Many of the selections are from his book, The Cost of Discipleship. I typically prefer longer readings, but each passage contains no fluff–it gets right to the meat of the matter and addresses the deep heart issues.

The Celebration of the Disciplines by Richard Foster is a classic which addresses the need for people to go after God with consistency, and yes, with discipline, in order for spiritual growth to occur. And as Foster says in the introduction, this book is not only for Christians, but for people who are simply seeking spiritual truth. He covers twelve disciplines including meditation, fasting, celebration, study, solitude, and confession. Although this isn’t a Lent book, per se, I think it fits with the spirit of this season. I’ve decided to re-read it.

Freedom of Simplicity by Richard Foster is again, not necessarily a book for Lent, but it might be just what many of us need. This is another book I’ve decided to re-read during this season. The first section of the book deals with the foundation of simplicity and the second section is divided into inner, outer, and corporate simplicity. 

40 Days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole is a book I purchased only this year. Each day has a reading, a reflection, a suggested fast for the day, a bit of Lenten history, and a blank section where you may write your reflection if you wish.

The Selfless Way of Christ by Henri Nouwen. If you are a Christian believer or a spiritual seeker who asks probing questions and wants to hear the honest thoughts and experiences of an intelligent and devout, yet very human person, you might pick up one of Nouwen’s books. I wish I’d been able to hear him speak in person while he was alive, but am thankful for the writings he left the world. 

Joywares Cradle-to-Cross Wreath: This wreath/labyrinth is unique and I’m so glad I found it! Ann Voskamp’s son makes these. You can use them for Advent, Lent, and then from Easter until Ascension!

Sarah Clarkson’s Vimeo recordings I’ve read Sarah’s blog posts for years now and have recently been enjoying her videos on Instagram and/or Vimeo in which she shares some of her reflections on faith and reads poetry. Some of you might enjoy her too!

Bach’s St. Matthew Passion is a must for me, especially for Passion Week, but anytime leading up to Easter. I listen to it in English, but I should make an effort to listen in German this year.

Handel’s Messiah is a must-listen for me, again, in English. If I haven’t heard it through at least once before Easter, then I have it on all afternoon on Easter Sunday.

I will leave you with another poem by Mary Oliver. Lean into love today, friends.

Making the House Ready for the Lord by Mary Oliver.

Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you. Under the sink, for example, is an
uproar of mice it is the season of their
many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves
and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances but it is the season
when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard
while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door. And still I believe you will
come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know
that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.


Links I Love

Happy International Women’s Day a day late! Here is where I share some of my favorite sources of inspiration for you to (hopefully) be inspired by as well.

Podcasts:

I love Rachel Hollis’s Rise Podcast and this episode from a month ago is one worth repeating. Rachel interviews John Maxwell on “What Success Really Means”. As I head into a new season, I want to pause for reflection and make sure personal growth is happening–because that’s where success takes place first.

If you’ve ever listened to How I Built This with Guy Raz, you know what an encouraging, interesting, and comforting show this is if you’re an entrepreneur, maker, small business owner, artist, etc. I just listened to this interview with Roxanne Quimby, co-founder of Burt’s Bees. What a fascinating and motivational story of how two hardworking people in small town Maine created a company that became a household name. Check it out!

Blog Posts:

Yes, Seth Godin, again. His post “On Feeling Incompetent” is short and on point. It’s ok if you feel incompetent–it means you’re learning something new, so get used to it!

I hope you read the blog Brain Pickings by Maria Popova! This post about “The Growth Mindset vs. The Fixed Mindset” is worth the read. The visual is what stuck with me, so at least go take a look at it.

Movies: I watched a gorgeous movie on my iPad while I was preparing food for our wedding. It’s called The Hundred Foot Journey in which Helen Mirren stars as a stuck up French restaurant owner who tries to stop an Indian family from operating a restaurant across the street from her. The other star is a young Indian man who is a gifted cook, but is hungry for training to become a chef. The scenes of food preparation and presentation, the lovely French countryside and villages, and the acting are brilliant. The story is unexpectedly heartwarming and will leave you with a smile on your face and a determination to get back into your kitchen and delight in making food. It is currently on Netflix, which is where I watched it.

Books: How did books make it last on my list? I just wanted to shake things up a bit!

A few books I’m reading and thoroughly enjoying are:

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See (a young woman growing up in the tea growing mountains of China in the 1980s-1990s, as one of a minority group. She and her people are changed forever by the modern world who seeks them out for their tea.)

The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll is more than just a how-to, it has a decent amount of why-to and life wisdom. Chapters a short and to the point and if you’re a Bujo devotee or considering this way of bringing order and intent to your days, read it!

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley is a good murder mystery in an Agatha Christie way. Told through the points of view of five different people, a group of posh London friends come up to the remote Western Highlands of Scotland for a New Year’s Eve Party. Supposedly a close-knit group, things begin unraveling and someone ends up dead. I listened to this on audio and it was very entertaining!

OK, enjoy Saturday and Sunday, everyone, and remember that, if you live in the Eastern Standard Time Zone like me, clocks “spring ahead” this weekend!

Late Winter Detox (Aromatherapy Recipe)

On Saturday I will be teaching my first self-care and aromatherapy class. This one is called Late Winter Detox and will include self-care tips, a list of essential oils, and each person will make a lovely detoxifying Salt Scrub. As a lead-in to this class, I shared a brief video on Facebook Live, made a salt scrub, and talked a bit about self-care and aromatherapy. I promised my viewers I would share the recipes and info about oils here on my blog, so here you go!


Detox Salt Scrub Recipe

  • 8 oz. glass or PET plastic wide mouth jar with lid
  • 1 cup fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup carrier oil: sesame, almond, or avocado oil
  • 10-15 drops Juniper essential oil
  • 10-15 drops Lemon essential oil
  • 1 drop Roman Chamomile oil *optional

To make: Mix sea salt and carrier oil together in a bowl, add essential oils, and blend thoroughly. Place salt scrub in jar with lid.

To use: While showering, take a small amount of salt scrub and gently massage into legs and arms, then rinse.

The tub or shower floor can become slippery when you use your salt scrub; you may want to place a small handtowel on the floor of the tub or shower as a safety precaution.

The salt scrub is good for circulation, energizing, moving lymph, nourishing to the skin, is uplifting to the emotions, anti-inflammatory, and gives the immune system aa boost.

Late Winter Wellness Diffuser Blend

3-6 drops Tulsi

2-4 drops Spike Lavender

1-2 drops Niaouli

Drop into a diffuser, with distilled water up to fill line, and turn on for 1 hour or more at a time.

This Diffuser Blend is good to give your immune system a boost, it’s decongesting and promotes healthy lung and airway function, is energizing, warming, uplifting to the mood/emotions, and is antibacterial/antiviral.

Juniper–is energizing, stimulating, great for circulation, moving lymph, reduces nerve pain, decongestant, and antiviral.

Lemon–is sweet, citrusy, fresh, and fruity in aroma, is antiviral, antibacterial, reduces pain and inflammation, is an antidepressant, boosts the immune system, is positive, and uplifting.

Roman Chamomile–has a fruity, sweet and warming aroma, is calming to the central nervous system, anti-inflammatory, good for skin, eases minor muscle or joint pain, aids digestion, is antispasmodic.

Tulsi-has a spicy aroma, eases minor pain and inflammation, antiviral, antibacterial, anti fungal, uplifting, warming, helps with anxiety & depression, an adaptogen.

Spike Lavender–has an uplifting, camphor-like aroma, is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti fungal, antidepressant, energizing, supports healthy lung function.

Niaouli-is fruity, earthy, lemony, and camphor-like in aroma boosts the immune system, is a decongestant, supports healthy lung and airway function, is warming, good for skin, eases minor tension and inflammation.

Rosemary–has a fresh, camphor-like, herbaceous aroma, strengthens the brain and memory, is good for respiratory system, stimulating, decongestant, supports healthy breathing, is sedative/calming to the nervous system, antiviral, anti fungal, antimicrobial, healing and rejuvenating to the skin.

(I am not a rep of any essential oil company, but I do recommend a few, including Aromatics International. They are committed to purity and transparency in their business and they publish GC/MS reports on all of their oils. If you plan on ordering through them, I would greatly appreciate it if you used this referral link. Thank you!)

For a helpful webinar on 10 Most Essential Oils for the Home Pharmacy, check out David Crow’s video here: https://youtu.be/T5mS1EEKR6M

Here is a blog post about Juniper Berry you might enjoy as well: https://aromaticstudies.com/essential-oil-allies-juniper-berry/


Late Winter Musings

These last few days of winter and this last day before the season of Lent begins are vibrating with change, energy, and light.

I’m struggling to sleep past six each morning because I am still used to darkness and silence and haven’t yet adjusted to the sun peeking out and birdsong lilting through the closed window.

Not that I am complaining–quite the opposite! I actually prefer change over stagnation, but this year I seem even more aware of the natural world slowly waking up and shifting toward activity and growth.

I have the privilege of living in the middle of all this glory we call the Finger Lakes Region: fields and meadows, forests, hills, valleys, lakes, and wildlife everywhere.

Much of the time, I block out what is happening on the other side of these walls and carry on with the ” more important work” of business and commerce and marketing and study. This disconnect is detrimental to myself, other people, and the earth, so I seek to take a hint from the seasonal transition we are in and change my behavior.

When my children were young and we homeschooled, I followed the Charlotte Mason method which emphasized art, literature, music, history, handcrafts, and plenty of time spent out of doors for nature study. My kids and I each had a nature study notebook. The idea was simply to spend some time outside and draw something that you observed while there: a tree, a cloud, a bird, an insect, a leaf, etc. This strengthened powers of observation while creating a habit of attention to the natural world.

My homeschooling years are behind me, but I need to reconnect myself to nature’s rhythms and be at one with the true pace of the planet. I very much need to reawaken my whole self to what has been before me and what will go on after I have lived my life here.

Mary Oliver, who passed away earlier this year, wrote all the time of nature, of her observations in nature, and of the depths of emotion she experienced in the natural world. I’ll end with her poem, “Mindful” from her book Why I Wake Early:

Mindful

Everyday
I see or hear
something
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for —
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world —
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant —
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these —
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

What I Read So Far This Year

January and February are typically months when I go into hermit-mode, as my friend Ellie calls it, and read, write, and think a lot. This year, because we were planning for our wedding, I didn’t get too much quiet unstructered time to myself. It was worth it, of course, and our wedding was a magical, joyful evening surrounded by our kids and some of our close friends.

Even in the midst of finding a dress, deciding on decorations, helping Alan find a suit, shopping for food and making the meal–as well as carrying on with everyday life, I still managed to read several good books.

The Blue Zones of Happiness by Dan Buettner didn’t bring with it many surprises: the happiest people spend plenty of their lives outdoors, with other people, doing work they find satisfying, make enough to live at least modestly on, eat healthy food, and don’t have to worry about health care access, retirement, etc. It is worth reading to hear the stories from happy people in different parts of the world. I borrowed my copy from the library.

 High Performance Habits by Brendon Burchard is full of truth to change your life, set you on a good path, challenge the heck out of you, help you develop clarity and purpose, and give you stories of real-life high performers and how they live. I first heard about him through the Rachel Hollis podcast Rise and quickly subscribed to his podcast as well. I bought my copy because I plan on reading it again and again! 

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling is, like all the Harry Potter books, a treasured favorite. I own the audio version and love the way Jim Dale narrates and brings all the characters to life. This is my second time through the series and I love it as much as ever.

 My Twenty-Five Years in Provence by Peter Mayle was the first book by this author I’ve read. It is funny, fascinating, and for someone who has never been to Provence, it helped me feel like I was there too. I borrowed it from my library.

The Courage Habit by Kate Swoboda. I heard Kate interviewed on The Unmistakeable Creative podcast last year and purchased this book because she had such a charismatic and magnetic persona that I wanted to read her book and have some of that rub off on me. Honestly, the book was a bit dull. Maybe she speaks more dynamically than she writes or maybe it just wasn’t the right time for me to read it.

The Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny. My favorite aspect of her Inspector Gamache series is the characters in Three Pines. Heartwarming, hilarious, endearing, and sparkling with humanity these people keep me coming back for more.

She could do away with the “mystery” element altogether because, at least with these last few, they tend to be rather incidental and weak. Her husband passed away a few years ago and may have something to do with the lack of attention to the mystery. But her Three Pines characters are alive and well, so I will continue reading the series as long as she writes. I borrowed this from the library.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett took me to a hot and heavy jungle in the middle of cold January and kept me interested throughout. I felt plenty of empathy for the main character who doesn’t seem to be able to hold on to happiness. She is strong, independent, and stubborn, but is also selfless and hampered by her past. It is so well written and the story is unusual and imaginative–you should definitely read this! My paperback came from a local used bookstore.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. This was my second time through this book, this time on audio. Alan and I listened to it separately and then would discuss it every few days, which was fun for me. It’s all about living a creative life, choosing curiosity over fear, being practically-minded yet holding space for the otherworldly element of inspiration that one can’t control, but can encourage. I purchased the audio version and highly recommend it!

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli. My used bookstore copy of this book has been sitting on my Unread Bookshelf for over two years, so it was definitely time to pick it up. Like State of Wonder, it is set in a hot climate–Vietnam–during the war there in the 60s and 70s.

The main characters are photographers who are there to capture the war. Two of them become obsessed with gaining notoriety with the right shot and get themselves into dangerous situations. There is a love triangle and definitely some gore and violence because it’s a war.

Her writing is beautiful and vivid, and you will be transported to the steamy Vietnamese cities and jungles where this all takes place. I didn’t like the two main characters, mostly because they’re shallow and selfish, but the fact that it is so well-written makes up for it.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Who hasn’t read this book? Well, I hadn’t up till February when I listened to it on audio. Divided into three sections, where she spends 4 months each: Italy, India, and Indonesia, it is her honest retelling of her adventures during her years’ experiment overseas.

During this year, she ate to her heart’s content in Italy and immersed herself in Italian, healed from a divorce and a breakup, learned to meditate and connect with the divine, formed new friendships, and so much more. Alan and I listened to it separately and discussed it–like we had our own book club! Definitely, if you haven’t read it yet, put it on your list.

 The Colors of All the Cattle by Alexander McCall Smith. I LOVE Mma Ramotswe, Mma Makutsi, and the other refreshing and endearing characters in this series. Like the Louise Penny books, this is supposed to be a mystery series, and it is. The author does a good job with the mystery side of things, but I love the people in the books: their day-to-day conversations, interactions, problems, entanglements, and the way they live their lives.

I relate so well to each of them in all their wonderful humanity, yet the pace of life is very different from ours. I am always thrilled when a new book is added to the series. Oh, and you must listen to this on audio. Lisette Lecat narrates and she is phenomenal with making each person’s voice and personality shine. Highly recommended!

The Last Good Paradise by Tatjana Soli. This one was a bit of a letdown and I think the reason is I do not like stories about rich, spoiled, entitled people. Rich people problems don’t interest me in the least. The writing is good and most of this book is set in a hot climate, like her debut, but I just couldn’t appreciate it. But maybe you will feel differently? I borrowed my copy from the library.

Alright, so those are the dozen I’ve read so far this year! I’ll be sharing what I’m currently reading in an upcoming blog post. So what did you read in January and February?