Monday, September 12, 2011

Sassy Blueberry Spice Muffins

My big brother texted yesterday, a rare event.  "I'm so over this whole TX thing."  By that he meant he misses us!
The momentousness of the occasion caused a familiar feeling of homesickness to well up and somehow I found myself googling homes for sale in St. Charles.  I guess it wasn't serious, at least not for right now.  God seems to have us where he wants us right now, and as many guesses as I may have to his reasons, I don't really know why or until when. 
So, stuffing down my desire to plan and conspire, I embraced my feelings by making my favorite treat from home, that I used to beg my mom to make for me, with my own personal kick.  And I had help from my favorite person ever!

These muffins are made with lots of whole grains and get a brown nutty flavor from the almond meal.  Instead of white sugar I went with brown rice syrup, which provides the sweetness you need but its low glycemic value means you skip the sugar rush (a very important factor for a baker with a devoted sweet tooth and with a family history of diabetes!) My very special helper ate almost all the blueberries, but fortunately I had some fresh blackberries on hand, so I deviated from your traditional blueberry muffins by going for extra tangy.  I then played around with lemon juice and sour cream.  Ezra loved the topping made with dry milk powder (added calcium) and real maple sugar.  Sweet enough to conquer your cravings but savory enough to enjoy as a warm breakfast with a nice slab of butter. Mmm.  Oh, and for my gluten-intolerant friends, go ahead and substitute 1 cup of your favorite all-purpose flour mix for the whole wheat and all-purpose portions. 

Sassy Blueberry Spice Muffins:
(adapted from Good to the Grain)

Nut Topping (opt):
1c walnuts
1/4  c unsulphured molasses
1 TBSP sugar
Pinch kosher salt

Sweet Topping (opt in place of nut topping):
1 c dry milk powder
1/4 c maple sugar

Dry Mix:
1 c Almond flour
1/2 c quinoa flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/8 c sugar
1 TBSP baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1 TBSP cinnamon
2 tsp ginger
1 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp cloves
4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

Wet Mix:
1/2 c whole milk
1/2 c unsweetened applesauce
1/2 c rice syrup
1/4 c sour cream
2 TBSP lemon juice
2 eggs
1/2 pint blueberries
1/2 pint blackberries

Preheat oven to 350 and toast walnuts 10-15 minutes until golden.  Mix together dry ingredients and beat in butter until it has a cornmeal texture.  In a separate bowl, combine wet ingredients, then beat in with the flour mixture until just mixed.  Add berries and scoop into muffin tins until even with the top of the pan. If using nut topping, chop walnuts and combine with molasses, sugar, and salt.  Top each muffin and press gently into the batter.  If using the sweet topping, sprinkle each ingredient lightly over top of the batter.  Place in oven and bake for 24-26 minutes, rotating half way.  Allow to cool slightly before removing and enjoy!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

No Friend to Fear

Who is this person?  I don't know, can't think, because I am paralyzed by my own fear.  Fear--a relatively new and shockingly frequent emotion for me these days.  What happened to the girl who valued boldness and excitement?  The one who lived to be matched against a bigger, stronger forward in basketball, or for the soccer games that required constant dives and 1-on-1 confrontations and ended in shoot-outs?  Who could not imagine a better life than one filled with globetrotting, bungee jumping, and sky diving.  Broken bones, mono, lack of money, terrorist activities, and scary mysterious lung illnesses--none of this prevented me from continuing with life or caused me to worry at all.

But now, everything is different.  One touch from the tiny, burning little fists, accompanied by the slightest exhausted and uncomfortable whimper, and I am totally gripped by this alien emotion, fear.  Anxiety makes its complete hostile takeover.  I am out of my depth, out of control, out of ideas.

I had noticed the night before that something was off.  But there was no accompanying fever or other symptoms.  In the morning there was a low-grade fever, but otherwise he was back to his normal self.  Then that afternoon, after babysitting Rachel told me he'd fallen asleep on the couch while listening to music.  What?  It sounds like a whisper to me, because my thoughts are whirling furiously, anxiously seeking to bring order to what is happening, while concern bumps gently against the corners of my mind . For my son to fall asleep in the middle of the day, in the middle of a room, unaided...that is just completely unheard of.  Something is going on here.  When I pick him up his skin feels hot.  He is clingy.  I am grateful it was Rachel that was with him while I was gone.

I do my best to comfort him, nurse him for a few minutes, although he's recently been weaned from daytime feedings.  He is straining towards me physically, mentally, emotionally, needing me to DO something.  Our bodies are fused as one, and I move us to the living room.  His fever feels out of control, so I give him ibuprofen.  Before it hits the back of his throat, its up.  And out, and all over me, the floor, the couch, the dog.  He is vomiting up more than I thought possible for his small body to hold, and he's trying again to bury himself into me, protect himself from these violent convulsions.  I have a moment's clarity to think I'm so glad we don't have carpets and then its coming again and I'm holding both of us over the sink, trying to comfort him as he heaves and whimpers.

It's the whimper that forces a crack in my reserves and allows the fear to come sweeping in.  It is tiny and powerless and barely there.  Since the moment my son burst onto the scene a year and nearly 2 months ago, his vocal prowess was there with him, round, full, and LOUD.  Even as an infant he was short on cutesy gurgles and big on grunts, deep belly laughs, and all out cries that were powerful enough to shatter a few windows.

So, I find us sitting in the tub, fully clothed, my normally aqua-crazed son only mildly interested in the warm stream.  The dog walks in casually, clearly having done her part to clear up the mess on the floor, and my own desire to heave has me wondering if whatever germ is attacking Ezra is in my system as well. This is the state my husband finds us in.  My wonderful husband who lovingly shoulders the burden of care, sharing this moment with me, cleaning and dressing our slightly less feverish son while I wash the sickness from me.

The night does not include much sleep for any of us.  Ezra finds the fever left his lungs unaffected, and having rediscovered his voice is determined that his father and uncle share in his wakefulness in spite of my best efforts.  It is hours of battle, but at some point in the early morning hours, his fever finally breaks, and his sweat-drenched body instantly gives in to a restful sleep in my arms.

I am not so lucky, as my mind is racing and spirit heavy.  I alternately pray and soul-search, feeling guilty any time my focus slips to my own soul, rather than steadily interceding on behalf of the helpless one in my care.  Finally, because my brain insists and will not receive sleep until I give it what it wants, I allow myself to dwell on what is in my mind.  Who is this person?  Fear is not a reaction I enjoy or condone.  But while I have never feared for myself, I cannot seem to shake my terror for this little child that I love so much.  That I love so much.  The voice nudges me.  I try to ignore it, but it persists, louder.  That I love so much.  That I love more than you.  That I created.  That I delight in.  That I have a perfect plan for.  Finally I let it wash over me.  God, who loves Ezra more than even his own mother is able, has a perfect plan for him.  But is it one that I trust?  Intellectually, yes.  But emotionally?  Not because I don't believe God to be good, or that his plan for Ezra is good.  I could never doubt that.  But because I do not want to relinquish the semblance of control I have over this child's life.  Because I fear that God's perfect plan could also include pain or separation for me.  I choose safety and comfort over goodness over and over, every day.  You forget, that steady voice interrupts my thoughts.  I love you as much as I love him.  I delight in you.  I have a plan for you, and it too is good.  Trust me.  

 I find myself relieved at the reminder of this very basic truth.  And I realize that for God to have trusted me with the care of this tiny, finite being, Ezra must not be so fragile as I think.  And at the very end of every day, God is always good.  If I let myself be ruled by apprehension about fevers and falls and every possible evil in this world, I will miss out on all the bounteous goodness this life has to offer.  And, as my mother loves to remind me, if there is any justice in the world one day my son will probably run off to Africa anyway.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Weight of Glory

Frustrated.  Joel and I pick up our protesting almost-one-year-old and hop in the car out of parental desperation.  I'm not frustrated at my son, necessarily.  Frustrated that he woke up at 5 this morning, yes.  Frustrated that he refused to nap anywhere near his normal schedule or close to the amount he needs, definitely.  And frustrated that he can't communicate whatever it is that is bothering him, not hurting him but making his day ever-so-off until we are clamoring to find something within a 50-mile radius that will distract him for a few hours. 
On my way out the door, on a whim, I grab my book, Sacred Parenting.  Not sure if I want to hear what it has to say today, but pretty sure I need it!

The tagline: How Raising Children Shapes Our Souls.  On many days, I feel like raising a child has made my soul worse.  On other days, it tears it to shreds.  And on still other days I see reflections of glory.  In reality, raising a child shows my soul in its unaltered state, in all its ugliness and vulnerability, and of is greatest potential to love.

Chapter 12: Sacrifice. "In many ways, sacrifice defines love."  Regularly parents and children have conflicting wants.  Often, they have conflicting needs.  In these situations, whose needs prevail?  It is the right of the child to receive more than just the leftovers.  To an extent, my life ended when my child was born. On these days, where Ezra is straining me to my core to care for him and love him fully, I have faith that God is buffing away the ugly parts of my soul, those tarnished bits and pieces that have never been touched by anyone else!  And he does it all through the most precious of gifts, that I love more than I ever thought imaginable, while at the same time see my own extreme selfishness as I resent lack of time, sleep, energy, privacy, stimulation, list could go on.  Then God reminds me, he's entrusted this small soul to me.  The eternal significance of my work now at times buries me under the weight of glory.  But I persevere.  I raise my child.  I love my child.  And trust that in my weakness He is strong!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Think you are Eating Smart? Maybe Not!

For a long time I've been eating organically (when possible) and trying to limit processed foods. Ever since I found out there was possibilities of pus and blood to be found in mainstream milk, I was set on a path to really examine what is really in my food and where it comes from. Robyn O'Brien addresses another concern that I had never even thought about as she looks into why certain chronic illnesses wrack Americans at a higher rate than any other nation when we also have access to some of the best healthcare professionals in the world! Since my son and 2 of his cousins have been dealing with food allergies since infancy, none of whom have a family history of food allergies, I was really interested and concerned by her research into the food industries and some very dangerous trends that are affecting our families.  Take a couple minutes and check it out!  Also, her website is here, and it has a lot of very simple first steps, and takes a very overwhelming and complicated topic and breaks it down to a very managable lifestyle for the average consumer.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Clean Water for Elirose

For 2 years Joel and I pumped our own water into old 20 liter oil containers that we had first scoured clean.  After waiting most of the day, we lugged them 200 yards or so to our home.  Fortunately for us, our village had a working (most of the time) foot pump that accessed water from deep within the water table, and went straight into our buckets without being contaminated.  This pump was located fairly close to our house,and still by the time we made it home we were huffing and puffing and covered in sweat and grime.  

Buuut....On the occasions where the pumps broke, this is what the alternative water source looked like:


Lets just say it was not the cleanest water.  And at least a 20-30 minute walk from our house (with empty water containers!) Fortunately for the Americans, back home we had fancy shmancy water filters!  Not so for everyone else in our village. Which is why a big part of my training included water purification and prevention/treatment of diarrheal disease. 

This type of situation and worse goes on all over the world.  Clean water is going to be THE defining humanitarian issue throughout this century.  But its also a relatively simple problem to solve.

Which is why I'm backing this awesome initiative to train our children how to live right, and help others live well.  Check it out at: Clean Water for Elirose.  This is not your normal children's book, and it is guaranteed to not only raise awareness but also promote simple yet effective action. 

Please take a few minutes and check it out!  I happen to know the author and he is one of the most passionate and well-informed guys out there (You can check him out at Trying to Follow: Thoughts on the Journey).  Just give the book a look, and if you don't feel like participating, at the very least you can read it for free online and share it with your own family!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Another Weird Thought

Along the same lines, I was thinking today about formula.  Giving Ezra formula was never an option, because he displayed allergies to cow's milk protein, and possibly soy, the 2 main options for formula (unless you want to spend thousands on chemically created hypoallergenic formula made of God-knows what--no thank you!). His tummy could only handle mommy's milk.  So I was thinking, what if we had formula modified from actual humans' milk?  I got an image of hard-working women at an assembly line donating their milk.  And my thought was--gross!!  Just like I know everyone else's would be.  My mind went to their diet, health, medications, chemical exposure, vitamins, possible contamination, and so on.

I offer you this strange image because it sparked a thought--why don't we have the same concern for the actual formulas that we buy for our babies?  What is the diet of those cows?  How is their health?  What kind of medications are they given?  How sanitary are the facilities?  And why would it be so gross to have formula processed from our intended source?

I know I don't know much about baby formula or how it is created, except that it has a base of cow's milk.  And while I'm sure I would have looked for an organic option, it still doesn't answer any of those questions.  Here are the ingredients on an organic label: Organic Reduced Minerals Whey, Organic Non-Fat Milk, Organic Lactose, Organic Glucose Syrup Solids, Organic Palm Oil Or Organic Palm Olein, Organic Coconut Oil, Organic High Oleic (Safflower Or Sunflower Oil), Organic Soy Oil, Organic Whey Protein Concentrate.  Then of course they are fortified with vitamins.

I'm not really making a statement here.  Just thinking publicly.  

A Weird Thought

I've been thinking a lot about boobs lately.  Weird, I know.  But our society has such a twisted focus on anatomy.  While I lived in Mauritania I saw enough boobs to last a lifetime.  They were functional, like an arm or a leg, and about as sexual as my big toe.  They weren't a topic of conversation or of lust.  They just were.

A couple nights ago on the news they were talking about this doll.
It is a doll that makes the motions of breastfeeding.  It comes with an apron for the little girl to wear, so there is no physical contact and nothing indecent about it.  However, Americans are in an uproar and have decided it is completely inappropriate!  Apparently we are supposed to let little kids "remain children," and that it is gross and weird.  But why are people really so disturbed by this?  Surely my niece, who is 3, would enjoy this doll.  She has a little brother and mimics all aspects of his care with her own baby doll, and I have witnessed part of that includes nursing!  Isn't that part of being children?  There is nothing sexual about this doll, but I get the feeling that our hyper-sexual culture is as uncomfortable as they would be if it was a little stripper doll--maybe even more so!

Does anyone have any thoughts about this?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Raspberry Avocado Truffle Pie

My 5 1/2 year old niece may not have fully appreciated it, but this delicious treat is a delightful way to celebrate the return of spring--or the birth of amazing sister-in-laws!  It is super easy to make, only 6 ingredients and its dairy-free and gluten-free!  What more could you ask for?  I made this for Elise's birthday, because here in Texas we ring in the spring as early as February (lest you think I'm gloating, our spring is also tragically short-lived; last year it shriveled up in the heat by April!).

-2 large avocados, mashed
-3 T orange juice (more or less to taste)
-14 oz baking chocolate or chocolate chips (or Enjoy Life chocolate chips for dairy free!)
-1 T vanilla extract
-1/3 cup rice milk (or regular milk)
-16 oz fresh raspberries

Mix avocados with orange juice.  Meanwhile slowly melt chocolate over double boiler and add vanilla extract and milk option.  If using bittersweet chocolate, add maple syrup or sugar to lightly sweeten.  Once the mixture is smooth and evenly dissolved, remove from heat and combine with avocado mixture. Pour over fresh raspberries and add a final layer of berries on top.  Refridgerate until firm, and then enjoy in small, decadent slices! 

Eva wishes she could have some!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Love Keeps No Record of Wrongs

Wow. Read that title again.  I mean, really, read it.  Then let it sink it (and repeat if necessary).

That phrase comes from the classic description of true love found in 1 Corinthians 13.  I have had this passage memorize for years.  In two different languages. 

And yet...

Lying in bed tonight I found myself doing it.  As I have so often done it.  Going through my list.  That mental list of times I've been wronged.  Of things that I am owed.  Of what I should have said.  Of what I would say now.  The dishes--left undone--again.  Broken headphones.  Empty gas tank.  Rude jokes.  Experiences denied.  Hurtful words.  Times left out.     

And I was interrupted by a whisper.

Love keeps no record of wrongs.

The wind went rushing out of my gut as that gentle whisper wrapped itself around my head like a fog.  A simple phrase.  A well-known verse.  Pounded into my brain for years, but I never once had the thought that I thought tonight:

If that is love, who do I love?  Do I really love anyone at all?

I don't want to be that person.  I refuse to be that person.  I refuse to live in bitterness or regret.  I refuse to relish the mental replay of what I could have said to cut a person to size. I refuse to wallow in self-pity or martyrdom.  I choose love.  Forget the dishes.  Lose the record.

Take a moment.  Who do you love?  And then answer this: how well do you love them?  Are you willing to truly love and lose any record of wrongs?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Being an Environmentally Conscious Mama

Is it possible to be an environmentally conscious global citizen as well as an overwhelmed mama?  I think I've found the answer:


I read somewhere that mothers are the champions at harboring guilt.  House is never clean enough, child is never nurtured enough, husband is never cared for enough, etc, etc.  So, as a result I've decided to simplify my life and take a 30 day paper challenge. 

For the next 30 days, I am using all disposable dishes.  I've hidden our dishes from the menfolk and bought paper products (except for silverware--I draw the line at forks that break off while trying to eat!).  I am no longer adding to the mound of recycling that piles up so high we cannot open our back door (Houston is located in the heart of oil country and therefore does not encourage recycling...wannabe green consumers have to drive to the nearest center in order to recycle!).  And guess what.  I am refusing to feel guilty about it!  And maybe, just maybe, during the next 30 days I'll get a handle on my inferiority complex about how I'll never be as good of a mom as my own mother.  And maybe I'll quit feeling guilty about spending time with  my son or checking my email without having to avoid the kitchen all day long because of my guilt about the dishes that have piled up.

The earth is important, but so is my family and my mental health.  I've prided myself on being "green" since college when I first learned that non-organic milk can be full of pus.  But now I've realized there is a balance to be maintained.  And a family living within that balance is both a happy family and a responsible family.  No, I don't think living on paper products is the answer.  But I do think it is ok to allow this time to help my family find that answer.  And in the meantime I'm going to play with my son and not tap my foot anxiously waiting for naptime so that I can do work, because that is no way to live!

Don't worry, once I find out how to live green AND sane, I will let you all know.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Are You as Money Savvy as You Think? (Public Service Announcement)

I read somewhere sometime that people lose an average of $1,000 YEARLY in medical and insurance billing errors.  The article said you should always be vigilant about checking over your bills and keeping records.  Insurance companies can be lazy or downright corrupt in the amounts they bill.  Doctors offices sort through lots of payments, confusing and elusive insurance agents.  Often, bills come back with errors or incomplete payments.  But since its usually been months since the actually visit, and the language itself can be so confusing, and service reps hours so inconvenient that even if you notice an inconsistency its easier to just pay the bill! 

I'm sure I've overpaid my fair share.  But this past year with Ezra I knew money would be tight for us, and bills would be coming in from many different places so I decided to be vigilant.  Despite the inconvenience of checking bills, calling offices, calling companies all the while dealing with a newborn, I persevered.  The results are still pending for further savings (or I guess I should say overall less spendings), but so far I have avoided paying $702 in false charges! 

Some things I caught:
-incorrect treatment date billed by doctors and subsequently denied by my insurance
-wrong member ID number (dr office duplicated a digit in the middle of while coding)
-incorrect coding of services by dr's office
-random duplicate bill indicating additional (accidental) charges

Basically, I had to wade through a lot of technical language and ended up frequently calling my insurance and doctors' and labs.  Anytime a bill looked too high, or if it didn't have an insurance payment I called.  It took an average of 3 calls to get each bill resolved.  I received several "final notices" that threatened collection agencies while I was working to get the payments worked out.  Currently, I am even appealing my bill from Ezra's delivery back in June, which I think was grossly underpaid!  Hopefully I'll get another couple hundred dollars knocked off, which will bring us right up to that $1,000 marker for the year!  Guess whoever wrote that estimate was right!

So, word to the wise--read your bills before you pay them!  Call your insurance companies (the 800 number on the back of your card) and ask them about it.  Often they will go through the bill with you and itemize how much they paid and why.  Or, if it is a mistake on the end of your dr's office, your rep can call with you on the line to get it resolved.  It may be a lot of time and effort, but definitely worth it for the money saved!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Precious

"My Precious..." The whisper echoes through the air as a hand gently strokes its most precious object of desire. The caress is loving, possessive.  Another voice breaks into the stillness.  It is commanding, authoritative, yet full of compassion.  "It's been called that before..."

All of a sudden I am brought jarringly back to the present, and look down at those dumpling cheeks that I love so much to kiss with a new perspective.  The journey that I am right now on is not so different than that our beloved little hobbit friends took many years ago through Middle Earth.

**Please don't picture me now as a withered drooling bug-eyed shell of a person, hunched over my baby (for those of you that aren't LotR fans, just ignore that image)**

Take a moment.  Hear me out.  For those of you that are mothers, or parents, this is not a difficult stretch of imagination.  As I sat today, rocking my little munchkin to sleep I realized with startling clarity that no matter what I may think, the precious little bundle in my lap was not mine.  In spite of the numerous pronouns and adjectives that I may use to describe him, my son, Ezra, has only been entrusted to me for a short while.  On this journey, similar to the one embarked upon by 9 friends from a different world, I am responsible for the well-being of something small and infinitely valuable.  He is mine to protect and carry along the same path until I return him to whence he came (which is where the analogy loses steam-the implications of the end of this journey is far less ominous as I have no intention of tossing him into a fire pit now or ever!). 

However, I don't have the ultimate say on what he does, who he becomes, or what happens to him.  I am ushering a fellow soul towards his destiny, but I am not in control, nor dare I attempt to possess him.  Frodo was not to wear the ring, and could not wield its power. And while for now Ezra may need to be cared for physically as a child, he has a soul that will be eternal. 

It is both reassuring and terrifying.  Reassuring that my failings are not the end-all in his development.  Reassuring that if I do not exact complete control over his surroundings (obsess over the car seat, stuffed animals in his crib, food allergies, germs, cold weather, hot weather, peers, role models, etc etc...) he is not automatically doomed.  And yet it is terrifying.  Terrifying to leave him in the hands of an almighty God.  Terrifying to realize that I cannot exact complete control over his surroundings.  Terrifying that in spite of desperate prayers for safety, health, wise decisions, and infinite happiness, he may end up with something completely different. 

But I have faith.  I choose reassurance over terror.  I recognize that unlike Lord of the Rings, my Lord seeks set us free from the darkness rather than bind us.  And as his mother, my duty is to usher Ezra into His presence and raise him into the man he is supposed to be.  "The ring yearns to go home, to return to the hand of its Master."  So my son, already since the day he was born has been yearning to return to his Master.