Freedom from fear, or life outside the bubble

What’s the purpose of living? Is it to wrap myself up in a little bubble, insulated from the dangers and troubles of the world? In college, we used to refer to the “Wheaton bubble”, the Christian college environment that seemed to protect us from some of the realities of life. I know we were naive, but there were some perks within that sheltered cocoon.

Sometimes I honestly wish I could be in that kind of bubble.

Comfortable.

Safe.

Secure.

But does that kind of security even exist?

Senseless death and unfathomable loss seem rampant these days…although it’s really nothing new. It just feels fresher lately, with the most recent crop of tragic news in our area. Police officers slain in cold blood. Bullied teens seeing no way out but suicide. Foolish driving leading to deadly crashes.

At times, it’s all I can do not to give in to fear.

Thoughts of “what if” plague my mind all too often. The worries over hundreds of things that could go wrong on any given day, changing my life and others’ permanently. Stories of real heartbreak and loss abound, giving me more reason to be afraid.

Sometimes it’s absolutely petrifying to get behind the wheel every morning. Driving the same roads I’ve taken a thousand times before, wondering if this may be the day when my vehicle meets one whose driver is texting rather than watching the road. Listening to my sweet babies prattling from the backseat, praying constantly for their safety and protection.

Pangs of fear struck me from time to time before I had children, but never as deeply as they do now. As a mother, every heartbreaking news story takes my mind to this land of terrible possibilities. I picture the most dreadful situations and while I thank God that none of them are true for me, I can’t help but remember that I am not impervious to the horrible events that can happen.

The thing is, I know that my current state of relative happiness and comfort is not necessarily likely to continue undisturbed. Being a Christian does not mean I won’t experience loss, heartache, or pain. In fact, one might argue that suffering is even more likely because of my faith. Everyone suffers, and believers are not exempt from that aspect of life.

But the Bible promises that God will meet us in our suffering and give unspeakable comfort and peace. “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” -Romans 8:18

While I won’t venture so far as to hope for suffering in order to grow closer to God, I can hope and pray that when trials arise, I will find solace in Christ and not waver in my faith.

“Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,

Let this blest assurance control,

That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,

And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

it is well…it is well with my soul.”

Those words, penned by Horatio G. Spafford following the deaths of his four daughters, grant me comfort and a sense of greater purpose. It’s strange, but somehow, something about my utter helplessness to predict or control the future actually gives…peace.

Living is dangerous. It’s risky. It’s filled with uncertainties. However, it’s also filled with immeasurable joy and beauty.

If I hide out in my cocoon, my bubble, afraid to seek adventure and really LIVE…then what’s the point?

I may not fully conquer the fear anytime soon. I know I’ll continue to worry about my husband, my kids, all of my loved ones. But I’ll seek to walk with God, trusting Him to lead me, even when I can’t see the path or the destination clearly.

“Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” –Isaiah 46:4

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” –Philippians 4:7

It is well with my soul.

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On the eve of maternity leave’s end

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There is deep sadness. Sadness over having to leave my babies with someone else to go to work. Sadness at the thought of not seeing their sweet faces all day long.

There is fear. Fear of failure at my job as a teacher. Fear of missing out on priceless moments of my children’s early years while trying to educate teenagers who could NOT care less.

There is anxiety. Anxiety over whether my littlest will take bottles at daycare. Anxiety over how the sitter will cope with his constant crying that is only soothed by walking him around. Anxiety because of the distinct  possibility of him crying ALL night long during our first week with both of us back at school (teething is no fun, people).

I wonder, have I adequately cherished these months of mothering? Was I wrong on the days I wanted nothing more than to get away from my kids for a few hours? Did those moments mean I’m undeserving of these sweet little kiddos?

Now that my time as a SAHM is ending, I find myself trying to hold my children even tighter and keep them up later, letting them read the dino book “one more time” (translation: three more times minimum).  I don’t want to let them go. When we finally put the baby to bed after seemingly endless rocking and nursing, I find myself still wanting to hold on longer, admiring the curves of his sweet chubby face, peaceful in sleep.

I am grateful. Grateful for nearly six full months immersed in mothering my two-year-old and his new baby brother. Grateful for the countless afternoon naps with a baby in my arms. Grateful for the wakeful nights when sleep eluded us. Grateful for the deepened bond I’ve gained with my firstborn son. Grateful for the way his relationship with his brother is blossoming. Grateful for the trips to the playground, the visits with family, the lazy afternoons splashing in the kiddie pool. Grateful for my husband having the summer off as well, so we could all be together.

Yes, I am grateful, but I will shed more than a few tears tonight, tomorrow, and in the days to come. How could anyone not, when saying goodbye to these precious little guys?

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-one of my little dudes

I love, love, love being a mom. Wouldn’t trade it for anything else in this world.

But man, sometimes parenting feels just plain relentless.

It never ends. From morning till night (and throughout the night, getting up with the baby), minute by minute, it never feels like there’s any true break. Sure, there is the occasional kids’ nap, when I theoretically can get things done, but really that doesn’t happen. The younger one doesn’t nap nearly as long as the older, nor at the same time.

There’s always somebody around. Touching you, asking for food, asking you to play cars or race or animals, asking to play with the I-pad, following you around all over the place.

There’s always somebody needing you. There is no escape. And you love them to pieces, so of course you can’t say no when they look at you with those big doe-eyes and beg you to spin them around again, again, again!

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“Will you fly with me?”

And if you have pets, forget about it. Your lap is never free. Man, our three cats are needy. Begging for attention. The instant the children are laid down or occupied somewhere else, the cats are all over you. Their purr and snuggles used to provide comfort and stress relief. Now they’re just three additional energy-suckers. Even at bedtime, when the boys sleep reasonably well, the kitties take over noise duty–meowing, fighting, growling, puking, grooming.

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~one child with one of the frustrating cats

I miss sleeping in my bed, all night long. I miss getting in the car to run to Target and not having it be a big deal. I miss leaving the house without sixteen different snack and toy options. I miss spontaneous hangouts with my friends. I miss eating slowly, with utensils, with both arms free. I miss the luxury of focusing on one task for as long as it takes to complete it, rather than in fifteen- or five- or one-minute increments. I miss being able to do ANYTHING, no matter how simple, without thinking of what to do with the kids.

I don’t need a week in Paris. (Although I would not turn it down!) I just need a day to recuperate from life as a parent. One day when I can just be me, without worrying about my kids nonstop.

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~sweet baby smile!

I know, I’m lucky. I have awesome kids and an awesome husband to partner with. But I just sometimes could use a break from it all. Parenting is really hard. I signed up for it, and I don’t regret it one bit. But yeah, sometimes a pause button for life would be dreamy.

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~a peaceful moment

Easter (a little late)

I found this Easter to be filled with disappointments.  I hate to say this because of course Easter is not about me.  It’s about the resurrection of Jesus, and I do rejoice in that.  But I found myself today, Easter Sunday, feeling really down about the whole thing.

To begin with, our plans to visit my husband’s family fell through when the kids and I were not feeling well on Good Friday, and we weren’t sure if it was the kind of thing that would get worse or better throughout the weekend.  The kids were super crabby all morning as we finished packing and prepping to leave. It was one of those days when both kids are fussing at the same times, and it’s like they’re competing to be heard, so they cry extra loudly.  The older one was whining and crying about the silliest, littlest things, so we knew something was up.

I decided I could handle the trip by early afternoon and the hubs figured we should at least give the trip a real shot before giving up.  After changing both kids’ diapers about seventeen times in the hour before leaving, a bath became necessary for the older child (don’t ask).  Thank the Lord we hadn’t left our house yet–dealing with that in a dingy gas-station bathroom would have been awful.

We finally got going three hours after we’d hoped to leave our house.  The longest car ride we had taken the newborn on was an hour long each way, and on that return trip, he’d cried a LOT.  So we weren’t too optimistic about a four-hour drive (which we knew could easily become six or more with two children).  Sure enough, less than half an hour in, the little one burst out wailing.  Since our first child was a remarkably good traveler, usually sleeping soundly until hungry, this second kid’s fussiness in the car is uncharted territory.  After the stress of the morning, dealing with crying kids at home and packing our tiny car to bursting at the seams, we already felt as though we’d been traveling all day.

We turned around right away.  Nope, not gonna attempt that long of a trip yet.  Imagining dealing with sickness and crying and crabbiness in a tiny Vibe and then being a guest in someone else’s house on top of that was too much. (Illness is always a bit easier in your own home and your own bed.)

Anyway, some more disappointments: I feel like a lame-o mom with holidays so far.  Case in point: Liam’s first birthday, we decided on a simple cookout with a few neighbor friends instead of a big themed party with all our relatives (no way all sides of the family could fit in our house for a party anyway, and no one lives locally).  We ended up having to cancel even that casual gathering when Liam turned up sick that day.  Score -1 in the mommy game.  Other holidays–well, we have managed to get Liam’s picture with Santa both Christmases, so that’s a win.  However, we didn’t even have a Christmas tree this year because he kept pulling the lights off.  I never decorate for Valentine’s Day or Easter or St. Patrick’s or 4th of July.  About all I do is maybe bake some cookies.

This Easter, I have not done a whole lot with creating traditions for our kids to cherish.  We missed out on all the fun we could have had with Nate’s sisters and their families (they always do tons of cute crafts and treats and activities).  We then found out about all the local Easter egg hunts about an hour too late.  I didn’t buy presents or make up cutesy Easter baskets for the boys, nor did I dress them in matching pastel outfits.  I didn’t hide plastic eggs with candy all over the house and yard for Liam to find first thing this morning.

The worst part was missing out on Easter worship services.  The past few years, we’ve been absent for this Sunday anyway, since we’re usually visiting with relatives we rarely see.  We don’t feel like missing out on the limited time we have to spend with loved ones just for the sake of visiting some random church.  This year, for once, we were home, but now we have a six-week-old who is extremely fussy at times, usually including church times.  So we couldn’t make services on Good Friday or Easter morning.  I don’t see the point of going through all the hassle of getting all of us dressed and out the door only to spend the whole service hiding out in the foyer because the baby is crying.  (Kudos to you parents who deal with the hassle anyway! I salute you.)

I was very grieved to not be present with the body of believers for worship today.  I longed to sing along with the congregation my old familiar hymns, like “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”.

However, I learned a lesson today.  The resurrection is not about me.  Easter is not about the perfect Pinterest-y holiday filled with dozens of cutely-posed photo ops.  I felt jealous as I scrolled my facebook news feed, seeing the parade of adorable children in coordinated ensembles, hunting for eggs, visiting the Easter bunny, and whatnot.  But you know what?  All the trappings of this holiday, as sweet and fun as they may be, do not make Easter what it is meant to be.  If I can rejoice today in the fact that I am a sinner, filled with sinful thoughts, guilty of sinful actions, yet Christ died to bring me back to God, then that’s ALL that matters.  I’m alive in Christ.  He has risen, and one day I will rise with him.

Leap Frog Lyrics…or Musical Torture

When it’s quiet around here, it’s never really silent.  My son’s favorite television shows are replete with songs, and since I’ve heard them all approximately 7,497 times, I’ve got them memorized and burned into my brain.

Naturally, being the model mom that I am, I am well aware that screens are bad.  Children under two years of age should not have any screen time at all.  I totally agree with that recommendation–in theory. I hate what technology is doing to our ability to interact with each other.  I hate looking around everywhere I go and seeing people’s faces buried in their smartphones and tablets, ignoring one another.  I hate that it seems more of my conversations are centered around things I read on social media or see on a TV and movies than on actual, real-life experiences.

All this being said, I am human and I do own a TV, I-Pad, and laptop, and yes, my 22-month-old son knows how to use all of them.  He can do things with them that leave my husband and I befuddled, wondering how on earth to change the settings back to what they were.  Let’s just admit that it can be really hard to keep kids from screens.  It doesn’t help that we adults are so attached to our devices.  Heck, I’m typing this very sentence as my toddler watches George the monkey teach his friend Bill how to dance .  Might as well multi-task a little, right?

Now that I’m on maternity leave, I get to be a stay-at-home mom for several months, which is awesome.  I love having so much time off to bond with my new baby as well as my older child.   However, it’s really hard to leave the television off ALL day.  Especially when it’s the end of March and snowing.  Of course I would prefer my toddler to spend all his time playing interactively, reading books, learning new skills.  But he does watch TV.  He sometimes gets a couple of hours straight, in fact.  My justification for that is that I have a newborn to care for as well, so I obviously can’t devote every single minute to my older son.  Plus, many of the more “educational” activities, he simply can’t do on his own.  So there are times when I let Curious George and Mickey Mouse entertain my kid.  Judge if you want.  I do my best.

Every parent knows that what really sucks about kids’ shows is that kids will watch the same thing over and over and over.  They don’t mind seeing the same episode of Wild Kratts 12 days in a row.  And it sounds like every little girl has watched Frozen eleven jillion times (“Let It Go” is one of the reasons I’m so thankful to have boys!).  And parents, you know that the worst part about watching the same kids’ show repeatedly is the songs. Even ones that are not that bad are still horrible when you hear them playing in your dreams and in your waking hours too.  It didn’t take long for LeapFrog’s Numberland and Phonics Farm songs to become permanently lodged in my mind.  I could recite and sing every line from those shows, because I’ve heard them so. Many. Times.  “Letter sound hoedown…” “Ten is the biggest number from one to ten…” “You can count things faster if you go by twos…”  Riveting lyrics, I tell ya.

At least if it’s an educational show, I don’t feel so guilty about parking my kid in front of a screen for awhile.  He’s become so much better at the numbers and alphabet in the past few weeks.  I just wish I could get some other music to take hold in my mind.  It’s like my brain has only sufficient room for inane children’s music and has pushed out every other band and soundtrack I’ve ever heard.  My husband let the Mickey short videos keep playing even after our son had fallen asleep yesterday, and I thought I was going to lose it.  Somehow he was able to tune it out.  Not so for me. I thought teaching the same class three times was bad enough–repeating the same instructions, the same activities, the same songs ad nauseum.  Nope, this is way worse–I get to watch the same shows ten, twenty, fifty-plus times.

“Everything is so glorious, everything is so wondrous..when you’re curious, like curious George.” These lines just keep repeating.  I even woke up this morning with a song Curious George’s friend Marco sings with his family band in my head :”Hurray for George!”  Why am I writing about this?  To try and somehow cement these songs even more firmly in my brain?  Why, oh why?

Writer’s block?

I’m in a sort of writing limbo these days. I feel this urge to write all the time, every day, like a craving for chocolate.  The difference is that writing requires too much effort on my part, whereas eating chocolate is just easy and divine.

I’m not sure why this has become such a struggle for me. I blame it partly on the fact that the magazine I usually try to submit devotions to every couple of months still has not released their theme questions, which makes it really hard to write pointedly about any of their scheduled topics.  Every time I check their website, I hope those questions will be there to spark some inspiration. But alas, only the theme titles are given, which are sometimes rather vague.  And so, when I have these good intentions of starting a draft, I let myself go back to Facebook and recipe browsing and don’t get any writing done at all.

Then there’s the obvious problem: time.  As a mom of a toddler, I don’t have an abundance of free time like I used to.  I can’t binge-watch Gilmore Girls for six hours anymore.  I can’t lounge in a recliner reading chick lit for long.  I can’t spend half the day shopping for nothing in particular.  The days I’m not working are dictated mainly by my son’s schedule and needs.  Yes, my husband is there too, but even with the two of us, there’s still no shortage of things to be done at any given moment.  The two hours or so when he naps each afternoon are a godsend, but they fly by too quickly.  Do I spend that time working out?  Do I make some healthy freezer meals ahead of time (something on my mind with a new baby on the way in just a few weeks)?  Do I take a nap? Do I run errands, clean house, do laundry, call my mom?

All of these are valid reasons not to do something, but not really excuses. Yes, I am pretty busy every day, but there is still time left over when I could be writing.  Even twenty minutes a day would be beneficial, and I would feel like I’m getting somewhere.  I tend to choose exercise, or cooking, or reading, or just watching zombie movies and Doctor Who with the hubs, rather than writing.

The other major reason for my laziness is that I can’t seem to narrow down what I want to write about.  My blog isn’t for income, it doesn’t have to follow any set format or quotas, it’s just for me.  Yet, I always wonder what would grab the most interest for readers.  Even though I only have a handful of followers, and a few Facebook friends who sometimes read what I share, I definitely care what they think.  I care what you think, if you’re kind enough to be reading this right now.

I want to write something that matters.  Maybe not to a lot of people.  I’m okay with that.  I’m okay with reaching a small audience, but I still want my words to matter to people in it.  I want to take the time necessary to home the right words for what I try to convey.

The thing that paralyzes me the most is this insecurity about what I have to say.  Daily, thoughts flit through my head, ideas for new blog posts, but then I second-guess myself.  Who really needs another article about gaining patience with toddlers?  Or another complaint about the state of public education today?  Or another commentary on the weather, or another devotion on perseverance through trials, or another recipe for zucchini-carrot-flaxseed muffins?  Who cares about my memories of my two brothers as we grew up?  Who needs to read about my son’s milestones, or how nervous I am getting about baby #2’s impending arrival?

Yep, I don’t quite have a handle on where I want to fit in the blogging world.  It shouldn’t matter to me this much; I should stick to writing what I know and if I feel led to share it, to do so.  But the little voice in my head keeps holding me back.

Who knows? Perhaps I will get up the nerve to publish this piece, despite its rambling nature.  I think I’m not alone in this struggle.  Regardless of how insignificant our work as creative people may be, we still yearn for meaning and purpose in what we create.

Wishing each of you a safe space in which to express whatever your creative little hearts desire…

Kobe

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My brother’s dog provided the inspiration for this post.  He’s everything you want in a dog–fun, playfulness, friendship.  Mike takes him out on his ultra-marathon training runs in the mountains and parks near Denver, where he lives these days.

This dog has no shortage of energy.  He loves to run.  He loves to play and get dirty.  He especially looooooovvvveesss  fetch, but there’s one catch. (Ha, ha…get it?)

Kobe, like many other dogs (so I hear), absolutely despises letting go of his frisbee for his master to pick up and throw for him.  He will run like the wind when his frisbee or other toy is tossed into the distance, dutifully bring it back to his master, but then…does he simply drop the toy so his master can throw it again and keep the game going?

Of course not!  Kobe has to hang on, clutching that frisbee between his big, sharp teeth so tightly, I don’t know who other than my brother can dare try to wrench it away.  (Although I’ve been fairly impressed at my parents’ audacity and courage–even at their age, with four replaced limbs between the two of them, they play wholeheartedly with Kobe).

I guess it is all part of the game, to a dog.  Part of their excitement is directly tied to the epic battle between dog and human.  Who will emerge the victor, holding the frisbee?  It’s clearly not all about the throwing and retrieving.

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Kobe in action

Unfortunately for the dog, many humans will grow frustrated/nervous/tired of the battle to get the frisbee away from him to throw again.  Thus the game ends all too soon.

I wonder if  Kobe realizes in his little doggie brain that he’s shooting himself in the foot.  Does he inwardly understand that the more he struggles, the less likely he is to get what he wants–another toss of the frisbee and another chance to run and fetch it?

I feel like the answer must be no…otherwise, why wouldn’t he catch on and realize he has to play by human rules (and their pesky need to keep all limbs intact)?  Then again, perhaps it’s more an issue of wanting two things at once.  Kobe wants to run and fetch the toy.  Kobe wants to hold on to the toy, triumphantly.  Both of these goals are singularly important to a dog.  Thus, he refuses to back down.  He is tough.  He is strong.  He is playing with his master.

The only problem is, Kobe can’t run and fetch the frisbee if he continues refusing to drop it.

You are probably wondering, why am I rambling on and on about someone else’s dog?  Cute as he is, Kobe is not the point of this blog post.

No, Kobe is a creature that shows me something God may have been wanting to teach me for some time now.

Kobe is much like me.  I, too, want what I want, when I want it.  I, too, find it hard to focus on anything else at the moment I want something.  And I, too, stubbornly cling to MY way of doing things, even when it doesn’t lead to what I wanted in the first place.  Even when what I thought I wanted turns out to be unsatisfying.

Sound familiar to you, perhaps? No? Please, don’t tell me I’m the only one who hovers in the land of selfishness.

I hold on to my Frisbee, whether it may be a relationship, a sense of security, a financial gift, whatever, thinking that eventually, I will get everything I want.  Perhaps, while I’m waiting, so utterly frustrated that God isn’t acting to bring me something else I desperately desire, He is simply waiting for me to drop whatever it is I’ve been clinging to.  Perhaps he just needs me to let go, so he can be free to give me the other blessings that have been available all along.

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Mike and Kobe

 

Cheesy Ham-and-Potato Casserole

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I’m not a “food blogger”, but here is a great recipe I wanted to share anyway.  If what you’re craving is a simple, homey, soul-warming meal on a chilly fall evening, then look no further!  This cheesy ham casserole is the very definition of comfort food.  It can fill up the hungriest bellies, ease the worst of days, and maybe even provide some great leftovers for the rest of the week (that is, if you can manage to leave any for tomorrow!).  I usually can’t stop at any fewer than two big helpings of this stuff, and not just because I’m pregnant, although I’d love to use that as an excuse.

The great thing about this recipe (besides the awesome stick-to-your-ribs taste) is that it uses fairly common ingredients that many of us keep stocked up all the time.  Ham, potatoes, onion, milk, cheese…pretty much staples in our house, anyway!  I use the thick pre-cooked ham steaks for this recipe.  For potatoes, whatever type you have or like, although I’m partial to the red ones.  Most people probably prefer them to be peeled, but whatever your crowd likes is allllllright.

Probably the most time-consuming part of this recipe is the chopping of ingredients and making the cream sauce.  Hey, busy folks, no judgment here—if you want to sub in a couple of cans of cream-of-onion-or-whatever-soup you have in the pantry, I imagine it would taste just about as good!  I do adore the way this creamy from-scratch mixture blends in and soaks the potatoes in its yummy flavor, so if you have the time, I’d highly recommend trying it.  It really only adds about ten extra minutes onto the total prep time.

Once your creamy onion sauce has a nice thick texture, you’re ready to layer everything how you like it, then bake!

Here’s what you’ll need:

3 tbsp butter

1 c minced onion

3 tbsp all-purpose flour (or cornstarch for gluten-free prep)

1 tsp salt

Few twists freshly ground black pepper

1 ½ cups milk

4 medium potatoes, sliced thin

2-3 c cooked, diced ham

1-2 cups chopped fresh or frozen spinach, kale or broccoli (or vegetable of choice)

1 c shredded cheddar cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375. (Many commenters on cooks.com suggested 425 degrees instead, so the potatoes will fully cook in the time suggested.) Melt butter in medium saucepan.  Add onion and cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes.  Stir in flour, salt and pepper until blended.  (Be careful not to scorch.)  Gradually stir in milk.  Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture boils and thickens.  (It should eventually resemble a creamy soup.)
  1. If using fresh greens, simply chop or tear them and sprinkle in among the layers. If using frozen veggies, let them thaw a bit at room temp (or microwave a minute or so) and pat dry. *This is an easy ingredient to omit if you are feeding pickier eaters; however, if you can sneak even a little bit in there, you’ll feel a lot better about the nutritional value of the dish!  Even my toddler, who shuns almost everything green, gobbled this up, broccoli included.   There’s so much creamy cheesiness that they’ll hardly mind the healthy stuff!
  1. In a 2-quart casserole dish, layer half the potatoes, vegetables, ham cubes, and sauce. Repeat layers and sprinkle with cheese. Bake, covered with foil, for 45 minutes.  Uncover and bake 15-20 minutes longer or until potatoes are tender and top is golden brown.  Makes 4-6 servings.

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I forgot to include a picture of the pan right out of the oven, so try to picture it with a nice golden-brown cheesy crust!

*Feel free to use different varieties of cheese to change up the flavor.  We’re partial to Cabot extra-sharp cheddar at our house!

*Lower-fat options: use reduced-fat cheese (or less of it), lessen the amount of butter in the onion mix, use skim or lower-fat milk.  I can’t vouch for the taste results, but play with the ingredients and quantities and see what fits your needs.

This recipe has been adapted from cooks.com.

Seeking the applause

I’m a pretty shy person.  When I tell students that, they always look a little shocked and say, “But you’re a teacher!”  I know, as a teacher I have to stand up in front of groups of people every single day and speak and lead.  This is why I was so hesitant to go into teaching in the first place.  Fortunately, I eventually discovered that once you know your students, teaching is not the same as public speaking.  It’s building relationships with students through the material, so once I get beyond those initial days of new classes each fall, the fear and shyness usually subside.

Being an introvert, I don’t particularly enjoy the spotlight.  I don’t want people looking at me for any prolonged amount of time.  I don’t like talking on a loudspeaker, for instance, or dancing in a silly video of all the teachers that the whole school will see.  I read some verses once at my church one Sunday, and the entire week prior to that day, I felt so anxious about it, worrying over what I would wear and whether my voice would sound weird. (I know, right?  As if anyone there would care.)

However, I’m starting to realize that there are certain situations in which I actually want to be recognized.  When it comes to an area where I feel skilled or qualified, I crave some attention.  While I don’t necessarily handle praise very well at times, I still desire that recognition.  I grew up doing all kinds of music–piano, flute, and singing–and I sometimes miss the praise I would receive after a successful performance.

There aren’t so many opportunities for me to sing for an audience anymore.  I sang many national anthems at the high school where I teach, kicking off their basketball games each winter.  Hearing my voice ring out powerfully through the gym gave me a sort of thrill.  I also used to sing solos at my old church, and even though my body trembled with fear each time, it was always one of those “glad-I-did-it-now-that-it’s over” situations.  I liked it when fellow congregants came up to me and told me they loved my song or that it moved them to worship.  I loved it when my then-boyfriend (now husband) said my voice gave him goosebumps and made him want to cry.  I loved feeling like I was truly good at something.

Being a grown-up with a more realistically attainable job than that of professional musician, I find myself missing the days when I could have my own tiny piece of the spotlight.  Yes, nerves were always a factor, but that anxiety was tempered by the confidence in my ability to sing, along with the pure joy it brought me.

Nowadays I feel a bit left out when I’m not asked to sing for events or groups.  I feel like I’ve lost that part of who I am, and the people who don’t know that I sing and play the piano have an incomplete picture of me.  It’s like they don’t really know me.  Even though my performing days are gone for now (other than singing silly songs for my son), I still think of myself as a singer.  Just the other day, the song “Someone to Watch Over Me” popped into my head, and nostalgia hit as I recalled how many times I used that piece for local theater auditions.

Music isn’t the only arena where I feel like I’ve lost a piece of myself over the years.  Maybe it’s partly because our society is set up to praise youth and their accomplishments.  Just take a look at the constant awards ceremonies that parents today are asked to attend for their kids.  You get a trophy for practically everything when you’re young.  (Kindergarten graduation?  Okay, I know the kids must look super-cute in their caps and gowns, but still.  Really?)

I always felt accomplished in running, in music, in writing, and let those things provide me with a false sense of who I was.  I was special because I was good at those things.  Yeah, I did work hard at times, but much of the time, I just enjoyed cultivating my natural abilities.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the pride and satisfaction of a job well done.  Yet, how dangerous it can be when we let our abilities and accomplishments cloud our perceptions of who we truly are.  Yeah, this is where I’m going to get “spiritual”.  I think that gradually,  I’m learning again to rest in who I am in Christ.  It’s an ongoing process, one that can be painfully eye-opening.  I remember a similar adjustment as a freshman in college, and again as I entered the workforce.  We all search desperately for a place to belong, a place to feel talented and valuable and significant.  Perhaps the saddest part of this is that so many are trapped in that never-ending cycle of strive, strive, strive to be the best, which apart from God, doesn’t lead to satisfaction at all.  It leads to disillusionment.  I do believe that only in Christ can we find our true identity.

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.  Neither death, nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow–not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below–indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” –Romans 8:38-39, NLT

“But now, this is what the Lord says–he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”–Isaiah 43:1, NIV

What an awesome reassurance!  Even if I built up an incredible list of accomplishments throughout my life, the euphoria wouldn’t last.  It wouldn’t be enough.  It wouldn’t bring lasting peace and joy.  What I need is to know whose I am.  I don’t deserve anyone’s applause, but I’ll take what Jesus is offering–perfect, unconditional love that will never fade or disappear.

Sugar fast–birthday

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Let’s just start this post off with the happy truth: I’m most definitely NOT giving up sugar for my birthday.

My so-called sugar fast has been going great (it’s not even an actual sugar fast, just a buying-candy fast).  I started it back in mid-April and have only bought candy twice since then.  If you are my friend Taryn or if you’ve known me for more than, like, five minutes, you recognize this as a tremendous improvement.  I love candy so much and was known to be crazy obsessed with it at times.

But I’ve been much better about it.  Occasionally I get a few pieces of candy from someone (such as my boss at our monthly faculty meetings), but overall I have been avoiding it.  Out of sight, out of mind.  Out of my house, stays out of my tummy.

So here I am to say that this week, I’m taking a little hiatus from my candy-purchasing embargo.  My birthday is this Tuesday, so I’m going to be a little extra indulgent towards my sweet tooth.  Some say that’s one of the keys to sticking with many diet or lifestyle changes–allow yourself the occasional controlled “cheat” day or meal, and then keeping to your improved lifestyle will be much easier.

Thank you to the Foreign Candy Company for supplying my school’s foreign-language club with Bon-Bons, these delightful little chewy fruit candies that the students just go nuts over.  They arrived on Friday, just in time for my birthday week, and yep, I broke my rule that day to get myself a bag of strawberry-flavored treats!  I honestly worried that they might sell out by midweek, as popular as they are with the kids here.  That package was tasty, and I don’t feel the need to stock up on bags and bags of it or anything.

Anyway, I am looking forward to enjoying a little break from my rule, and just enjoyed a delectable Ghirardelli chocolate…mmm! I will gladly return to abstaining from candy-buying by the end of this week, though.  (My hubby asked, only partly in jest, if I’m also going to drop my rule for Halloween week, Thanksgiving week, Christmas, etc.).  Ha!  Nope!  I really don’t think I will.   Maybe once a month I’ll give myself a free pass, but no more than that.  I’m excited by how much less I crave the stuff compared to before, and how much more I savor the candy treats I get now that they’re so much rarer.  Now, they are an actual treat!  Plus, once the other school-group candy fundraisers begin, I have an excuse for saying no!

Good luck to you with whatever your goals may be, readers.  Keep on pluggin’ away!