What’s Cooking?

I did something I haven’t done in ages.

It’s been so long, in fact, when I started doing it again I thought I might wither and die from the stress and strain.

My head was spinning, my breathing was labored, and by the end of it all I was pretty worn out.

I created… (drumroll) …a menu.

Hubs had made a Costco run to get our first stash of food for the month, and came home with the biggest pork loin I’ve seen in my life. I’m pretty sure it came from some unknown breed of dachshund pig, for how long it was. There were other groceries as well, but they weren’t near as impressive as the giant slab of meat.

Looking at my countertop covered with fresh bounty, I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility. How could I be entirely responsible, efficient, and effective, with all this food? We’re battening down the hatches with regards to our budget, so keeping a strict reign on our groceries is imperative.

“I know,” I thought. “I’ll make a menu to get us through the next couple of weeks, working around the food we’ve got on hand.”

Brilliant! … Right?

Probably, yes. But also very time consuming. And requiring my brain to function at full-capacity at the end of the day. Brilliant, but dangerous.

I sat down and started to make a list of everything I knew we had on-hand. My initial mistake was thinking we didn’t have much. When I started making a list of all the meat we had (including a pork loin as big as Little Man), the list kept growing. And growing. And growing.

We have so much meat.

It turns out, though I’ve spoken against it for so long, I was approaching my food with a scarcity mindset. Though we had cupboards, freezers, and a fridge full of food, I always told myself we “didn’t have anything to eat”. I’d think of something I wanted to eat, we’d make another run to the store for that meal’s ingredients, and each month we were spending inordinate amounts of money on inordinate amounts of food, and all the while I was thinking we didn’t have any, didn’t have enough, or needed different foods from what we had.

I was wasting my time, wasting my family’s resources, and blowing beyond our budget.

With a list in hand of what we currently had in stock, I started writing down meals I wanted to eat and knew I could make. Before I knew it, I had 10-days worth of dinners planned out.

Since school started last August, my daily routine has been something like this: Around 3:30, I think to myself, “Oh crap. What are we going to have for dinner tonight?” I walk to the kitchen, open a cupboard, and stare. This staring lasts for several minutes. I then close the cupboard and message my husband something like, “Anything in mind for dinner tonight?” to which he rarely provides a helpful answer. By 4:00 I’m in crunch-mode to get something thrown together so we can all eat a hot meal once he gets home from work.

It’s a stressful routine. Most often, we end up having only a main dish with no sides, because I haven’t thought that far ahead in my panic to put food on the table that night.

Hubs has been suggesting for a while we go back to planning a menu, to which I always scoffed in reply. I always manage to get dinner on the table one way or another. I don’t need anyone telling me what to cook my family! Except, I absolutely need someone telling me what to cook my family.

We used to subscribe to a menu service which provided the week’s menu and the accompanying shopping list. Some meals were hits. Some were total disasters. It did save us money each month, though, only buying what we needed for the planned menus.

I had a fresh Costco haul before me, though, with half the month’s budget spent, so I needed to get creative in a hurry. It was an exhausting process, but when I was done, I felt powerful! Capable! Superhuman!

Yesterday was the first day of putting my menu to use. I had dinner ready by 9:10 a.m. God bless the crock pot. We had beef roast, carrots, potatoes, and mushroom gravy. It was delicious. It wasn’t the least bit stressful. We polished our plates in no time.

For the next several days, dinner will be so much simpler. Why didn’t I think of this sooner?

When Living Simply Is Complicated

[ insert giant sigh here ]

Oh, friends.

I’ve shared a few times my love for sleep. How when I was younger, my family was afraid to rouse me from slumber, because it was like waking a bear from hibernation. Someone might die.

Then I had babies and didn’t sleep all that great for a while, but this past summer, Little Man finally started sleeping through the night! So my life was almost perfect again.

Until the wee hours of Monday morning.

A visitor decided to call on his friend around 2:30 in the morning. This visitor was carrying on lengthy conversations, and from all I could hear, it sounded like he was conversing with himself.

In the entrance of our apartment building.

If you’re wondering how I would even know someone was talking to themselves in the entrance of our building at 2:30 in the morning, I’ll let you in on a little secret: our bedroom wall is adjacent to the entrance. Because, #apartmentlife.

This visitor was out there for a long time, dropping many an f-bomb, and Mama Val was growing more and more irate. I pounded on the wall. No change. Brent went out to advise him to quiet down. It helped only barely.

The situation (allegedly) was he was supposed to be getting into someone’s apartment on 3rd floor, but the intercom was dialing straight to the person’s voicemail. Mr. Visitor was then leaving lengthy, profanity-laced threats on the voicemail message through the intercom.

Because that’s how you talk to your “Buddy” as he kept referring to him.

Folks.

If you’re trying to get into someone else’s home at 3 in the morning, and the intercom isn’t allowing their phone to ring to let you in, leave.

For nearly 90 minutes this guy left message after message on his “buddy”‘s voicemail. Let me just say, if that’s how he talks to his friends, I don’t want to know how he talks to people he doesn’t like. We called the cops; we have no idea if they ever arrived. The issue appeared to have resolved itself before any enforcement came. I was kind of looking forward to hearing a handcuffing scuffle, but no such luck.

I was preparing to go out and confront Mr. Buddy myself, but Hubs wouldn’t allow it. In my sleep-deprived state, it was most likely in the best interest of the safety of the visiting stranger.

After the great visitor debacle of 2017, I was wide awake, and so was hubs. Our day started before 3:00 a.m.

God forgive me, please, for what I’m about to say: I hate this apartment.

Our desire is, and has been, to live a simpler life. Get a home away from city limits, get our chickens and a rooster, grow our own food in the biggest garden we could manage, put my aprons to work while I can all the foods in between baking loaves of bread… The simpler life.

But it’s complicated.

It’s complicated because until we find the place that suits our needs and our budget, we’re stuck here. Stuck hearing everyone’s footsteps, conversations, f-bombs, no matter the time of day or night.

Stuck where our kids can’t just run outside and hop on their bikes, because people drive through the parking lot like it’s a Daytona track.

Stuck where I can only see to the east, and only the sliver of sky above the garage rooftops.

Stuck in a herd of people who forget they’re living with an entire herd of other people.

I adopted the #littleapartmentontheprairie tag last year in an effort to embrace our situation and make the best of it. Now… I’m so over it.

I don’t know what’s next for us. I don’t know if we’re staying local or uprooting and replanting hundreds of miles away. I’d love for there to be mountains in my near future.

All we want is the simple life.

But it’s complicated.

Yes, I’m complaining. Yes, I’m discontent. Tagging on to a conversation we had with friends this past weekend – discontent does not mean ungrateful! I’m thankful we have this place, and it has filled our needs from the time we moved in. We’re warm, we’re more organized than we were (as far as stuff and possessions go, because we’ve downsized so much), we’re on the first floor so at least the kids can run inside and not drive anyone beneath us crazy – – – we’re very grateful!

I’m not content to stay here, though. I don’t believe we were intended to rent forever, let alone in an apartment building. I don’t believe this is where God intends us to stay long-term. I believe my discontent is healthy, and motivating us to take those steps in faith to get out of here and move to where God DOES intend for us.

I only wish I knew right where that was, and it could have happened four days ago.

Deep breath. I have the aftermath of making fresh applesauce to clean up from, so I’d best get to it. I’m praying for the complicated to become clear, and for the simple to be achieved. May the #littleapartmentontheprairie tag rest in peace in our very near future.

Ma vs. Mama: A Comparison

We have a longstanding rule in our home, and for the almost-14 years we’ve been married, I believe it has helped our marriage.

But now I’m questioning the rule. And my degree of personal selfishness.

The rule is: whoever cooks dinner does not have to clean up after dinner. This translates to: Hubs does the dishes.

As I stated already, I believe it’s done a great deal in helping alleviate potential intense fellowship (read: fighting) in our marriage. For years, I was working full-time, outside of the home, cleaning the home (except for the bathroom because Hubs doesn’t like the job I do in there, and I’m okay with passing that baton…er, wand, as it were…), cooking the meals, managing our checkbook, organizing our social calendar, etc. etc.

Yesterday, as we were driving home from church, I finally verbalized a thought I’ve been having for the last few weeks. “I’m a selfish, entitled brat.”

To take our Little House on the Prairie revelations to another level, I realized there are so many things I do (and have) Ma Ingalls wouldn’t have known what to do with.

My husband works full-time, outside of the home, and I expect him to do the dishes every night because I cooked. If he doesn’t do the dishes, they don’t get done. They get stacked on the counter. EVEN THOUGH WE HAVE A MACHINE THAT WASHES THEM FOR US. If Hubs doesn’t put the dishes into the machine that washes them and turn it on, the dishes don’t get done.

Granted, we have more dishes than Ma Ingalls ever imagined having. But simply because we use more doesn’t give us credit in washing them less often. We have to push a button to clean our dishes, and I deemed myself spent in order to relieve myself of that responsibility. I mean, really.

We also have more outfits than any member of the Ingalls family could have imagined wearing, so we have the luxury of utilizing a clothes hamper to collect our dirty clothes. And collect, and collect, and collect. Until someone needs something in said hamper, and I have to put the clothes INTO A MACHINE THAT WASHES THEM FOR US.

I’ve griped for years about putting clothes away once they’re folded because (stamps foot) I don’t want to! I have never minded washing, drying, or folding clothes, but when it comes to putting them away, it’s something I only do when I absolutely have to.

Ma had to get a tub of water from the creek, use a washboard and a clothesline, and take extra care of the few clothes they had in order to make them last longer. The girls got a new dress each year if they were lucky. And I am griping about taking my clothes out of a basket and putting them into a drawer or onto a hanger.

Ma baked her own bread, made her own hominy, sewed their own clothes, homeschooled her girls when they couldn’t go to school, taught them from the Bible, cleaned her home, fed her chickens, raised her girls, and took care of her husband every day and the only buttons she had to push were the ones she sewed on to her own hand-made garments. (She also buried a son, by the way. That isn’t talked about in Laura’s books, but baby boy Charles died as an infant. As if Ma didn’t  have enough to deal with already.)

The ridiculousness of it all struck me pretty intensely the other day.

I work my share, to be sure. I have a client I work for, and I’m building my own business in addition. I help keep Harlynn’s Heart running, I co-facilitate a support group for bereaved parents, and I write for my blog, our local paper, and any freelancing I can acquire.

Granted – we live in different times. Our responsibilities are different. Our conveniences are far greater. Our demands are more and our skills are niche-based compared to 200 years ago. I know. I get it.

But still.

Hey Hubs? You’re off dishes duty. I promise I’ll fold the clothes I dumped out on our bed today, and I’ll even put them away. Dinner’s in the oven, and I’ll even try my hand with the toilet wand later if you need me to.

I will not be remembered for teaching my kids to be stubborn enough to get your way when you don’t want to do something. I refuse to be remembered for endorsing a lack of willpower to roll up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty.

I can’t expect everything to be done for me, simply because I’d rather be doing anything else. 

Thanks, Ma. I’m hiking up my big girl bloomers, and owning my Mamahood.

Why I Didn’t Make Resolutions (And What I’m Doing Instead)

It’s been an annual tradition of mine for as long as I can remember. When the new year arrives, I bring a list of new aspirations along with me. Things I want to achieve. To change. Do differently. Do better.

Until it just isn’t worth it for me anymore to put forth the effort. And I wait until the next year to start fresh.

Last year, I didn’t make resolutions – I set goals. Date specific and all kinds of stuff. I went through Michael Hyatt’s Best Year Ever program and it shed some light on some things and got me really excited to go out there and make 2016 different from all the years before it. And it was!

But not because I stuck to my guns, necessarily.

As 2016 drew to a close, a lot had changed. A lot I thought I was going to do, I ended up shutting down completely. The areas of life I thought I was going to grow, I felt a strong sense I needed to let them rest instead.

It didn’t go as I planned. But it wasn’t because I failed, or because I didn’t follow through on anything. It didn’t go as planned because I took a lot of steps in obedience, versus in my usual stubborn-heel-dragging.

The revelations of last year showed an entirely different path to take this year. In (super short) summary, I’m running two businesses now. One being my own independent contracting as a virtual assistant, and another I’ll be launching shortly, still very much involved in the virtual assistant world. I never thought I’d be my own boss – in TWO businesses! This is exciting!

In October, when Little Miss was home from school an entire week with a fever, I felt a nudge to pursue something I swore I would never pursue. (Sound familiar? Remember when I swore I would never live in North Dakota? January 1st marked 11 years since we moved here…) I wrestled and fought and argued, but now I’m all gung-ho for the upcoming year… Gah, do I even share it? Gulp. I think I’m going to homeschool Little Miss.

I winced a little just then. It’s a thing I never thought I’d do! Or be! Or whatever! And here we are, making plans for just that.

A third thing. Last year when we started going through the Little House On The Prairie books, I became obsessed inspired by simpler living. I taught myself to can, I started knitting like …, I don’t know, like what? What knits like crazy that isn’t a reference to a grandmother? Anyway – simpler living.

Also, I was made for the mountains. I’m not sure how familiar you are with the geography of North Dakota, specifically the Fargo area… but there are no mountains. None. Nada.

I adopted the #littleapartmentontheprairie to attempt to keep my sanity for having my family in an apartment that only sees east, and only whatever is above the garages. I almost forgot what a sunset was, I haven’t been able to see to the west for so long.

A recent tale for you. We made one of the quickest trips yet as a family home to Wyoming for Christmas. We basically were there for Christmas Eve and Christmas day, then headed back home. As we pulled away from my parents’ town, Little Miss was sobbing in her seat for how she would miss her cousins, auntie, uncle, and grandparents. I was choking back tears myself, but not because of our family. I was choking up because the mountains were getting further and further away. Again.

So the third thing. A move. A big one. We want to move. We feel like we’re supposed to move. We have an idea of where we’d like to move to. Now comes the big question: “But is it what we’re supposed to do?” And I’m reminded of sitting in Pastor Montey’s office, 12 years ago now, and him saying, “Trust God to lead you in the NEXT step, even if it isn’t the FINAL step.”

I’m trusting. And I’m stepping. Light-footed yet, but stepping all the same.

So I didn’t make resolutions this year. I’m not going to go on a diet or go to the gym or stop watching documentaries. I’m simply going to keep following the nudges.

Also (and this post is already longer than I imagined it would be), I’m going to move toward some super-radical, crazy, what-on-earth-is-she-thinking? type of lifestyle changes. Are you even ready for this?

  1. I want us to stop using/buying/depending on paper towels. No more. All cloth from now on. (As soon as we use up what we’ve got left, because one time at Costco, we bought paper towels and it took us ten years to go through them all…)
  2. I want us to stop using/depending on our microwave. (Right now I’m guessing my Mom just read that, rolled her eyes, and called my Dad in the room to tell him I’ve lost my mind.)
  3. I want to make whatever I can and buy less and less. Soaps. Detergents. Food (obviously). Clothes (one day. I know nothing about sewing.) Entertainment, even!
    1. This leads to another fun story. Today, hubs and I had a day-date. I, unbeknownst to him, declared Friday our date day until the end of time. Since we won’t always get a sitter for the night, we will have day-dates whenever possible. So long as the two of us can spend time together, it counts. Today we went to lunch (and the food was good but our waitress was amazing). In between bites, Hubs and I played a game where I named a band and he named the first song of theirs that came to mind. This is a game I stink at, but it was still a lot of fun. I even was able to name some songs (correctly) by singer/band when he turned the tables on me. We paid for lunch, but the game was totally free, and a lot of fun!

All that to say, I didn’t make resolutions this year. All I did was commit to following His ways instead of my own. And I can already tell this year is going to be way better than anything I could have set out to do myself.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. ~ Proverbs 3:5-6

Happy New Everything

Another year is fresh before us, full of excitement, anticipation, hope, and motivation. For what, though?

Yesterday I had to be at church early to sing. A late night in combination with a head cold and an early morning had me sounding a little like Jack Nicholson after a long drag of a cigarette. I didn’t think I could pull off a morning of singing.

I drove to church, continuously trying to clear my throat, and watching the peaceful frozen, frosty flakes of morning falling to the ground. I had arrived early, so admired the morning flurry and the strange beauty it gave the bare trees. I started praying an earnest, overflowing prayer.

I sense it, y’all. This is the year. This is the year I didn’t even know I’ve been waiting for. I have no idea what it holds, but I know I’m ready. I have to be. Happy new everything.

After rehearsal and some coffee, my voice started to turn around and I sounded like myself again. I made it through church and as Hubs took the kids home to get them fed, I detoured to the cemetery.

I wasn’t going to go. It’s a hard line to walk sometimes, wondering if I’m doing the right thing by going. If I go too long between visits, I’m pained with guilt. If I go too often, I feel like I’m a bit needy. So I try to balance my time there, to where I won’t feel anything other than like a loving mother.

I wasn’t going to start my year with the mental battle of what a visit after church would make me feel like, though. So I wasn’t going to go. But I felt this urgent need that could only be met by a cemetery visit. I made the drive down the snow-covered street, turning in through the looming iron gate, and down the path to her spot.

I sat there, silently wishing her a happy new year. “Get out of the car.” I felt my spirit nudging me. But I was wearing church shoes, and nothing at all appropriate for snow-traipsing.

“Get out of the car.”

I hesitated. Eventually, I got out of the car and walked gingerly over the snow to her spot. Her angel solar light and purple metal flower were marking her headstone beneath the snow. I stood there, unsure of why I felt such a need to go visit, then to get out of the car.

“It’s your year, Mama.”

My stomach fluttered. I know, I feel it, too. But Harlynn… We might move. Far away, even. It’s a possibility.

Tears stung my face as the wind hit them rolling down my cheeks. This was why I was supposed to come. I had to reconcile the possibilities of our future with the events of our past, and the reality of our present.

I can’t take it all with me. And that has to be okay.

I wrestled with that, standing there at her gravesite. It’s become a comfortable spot – a place where I know I’m allowed to let any overflow grief work itself out. No one can judge me if I cry while standing at her headstone.

But it’s a new season. It’s a new year. It’s a new everything.

I have to find a new way.

“Happy new year, baby girl.” I blew her a kiss before carefully making my way back to the car. I drove through the cemetery, feeling less weighty. I wished the deer a happy new year, as they bedded in the trees. I wished the turkeys a happy new year as they strutted across the lanes. I wished the squirrels a happy new year as they scampered around.

Back through the iron gates, I drove away in a state of wonder.

What does it mean? When will it happen? How will we know?

I don’t know what this year holds. I know what I want to happen. I know what could happen. I know what might not happen, or what we might have to do instead.

I don’t have a single answer, and I don’t have even the slightest semblance of a plan.

But I know the start of this year means the start of a new everything.

Whether we move away, or stay nearby… whether we pursue big dreams or baby steps… whether my business succeeds a lot or only a little… nothing this year will stay the same as it always was.

The thief comes only to kill, steal, and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. ~ John 10:10


See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland. ~ Isaiah 43:19

I’m trusting the Lord in a way I haven’t before, and in a way I can’t rightly put words to explain. He’s going to make all things new. This year especially. I feel it.

Happy new year. Happy new everything.

Closing The Books On 2016

Somehow, without my planning or permission, another year has flown by. This year, like every other, was filled with ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies. It’s always bittersweet to see another year come to an end.

Before we close out the year, I thought I’d talk about books. Because…reading. Reading has always been a love of mine. I still have a few of my favorite books I read (over and over again) as a kid, and I hope Little Miss enjoys them as much as I did.

This year, I didn’t do anywhere near the amount of reading I wanted to. I started a few books and never finished them. I have several half-read books lying about, that I need to finish. And I will. Some day.

For now, though, I thought I’d share the books I did finish this year and what they meant for me.

Crucial Conversations:

This book was loaned to me by some friends, then carefully placed in my kitchen cupboard where I promptly forgot about it. I read it as soon as I rediscovered it, though, and was excited to do so – especially after seeing testimony after testimony of how it transformed relationships and encounters for so many others who had read it.

I experienced no such transformation. The book is chock-full of powerful anecdotes for engaging in meaningful, productive conversation. I learned a lot, and even employed several of its tactics. I’m still very much an emotional responder, however, and my words (and facial reactions)  betray me far faster than I’m able to crucially converse. I would absolutely recommend this book, though, and I’m sure the average reader is a more even-keel conversationalist than myself.

4 Cornerstones For Strategic Living:

This is the book my client wrote and published this year. I read it multiple times from the editing phase to final production, and am grateful to have a hard-print copy of it myself. If you’re looking for a way to organize the chaos of your past and propel into a well-thought-out future, this quick read packs a powerful punch for your problem solving needs. Absolutely recommend it, and not just because I invested my own blood, sweat, and tears into its publication.

Start With Why:

This was a tough one for me. I was “assigned” to read it by my mastermind group, and eagerly began. While the content is pure gold, the chapters were so lengthy, I found myself struggling to complete one chapter at a time. I’d get halfway through a chapter, need a three day nap, and then be able to finish it before placing my bookmark. It took me a L O N G time to get through, because it was – what I call – a strenuous read. The chapters are ultimately wordy, and my patience and retention capabilities simply didn’t allow for it to be enjoyable for me. Great info, not ideal delivery. Would I recommend it? Yes. Fantastic principles on discovering the purpose behind your passions and visa versa. But be prepared to be in for the long-haul once you crack the cover.

Essentialism:

This book was a favorite for sure. I love McKeown’s writing style and some of the points he made changed my life. Not kidding. This is a powerful read for anyone – especially those who have too much going on, tend to be people pleasers, and can’t keep a handle on their priorities. A must-must-must read. Just go get it and thank me later.

#struggles:

Short aside story: One of my life dreams was to host my own radio show. I could never do it, though, because I can’t handle the majority of people who call in to radio shows. My eyes simply can’t roll hard enough for the ill-informed, long-winded, one-sided stories they spew. Knowing this, you’ll find it entertaining to note I got this book by calling in to a radio show. Heaven help us.

I loved this book. Start to finish, it was a harsh wake-up call for how we’re living our lives today in technology and selfie-centered social media, while trying (unsuccessfully) to demonstrate and walk out our faith. It was eye-opening, and I’d recommend it in a heartbeat. I hope to do this one as a giveaway at some point. Loved, loved, loved this book. Go read it, and prepare to be challenged.

Finding Hope: Rediscovering Life After Tragedy:

This was a tough one for me. It was one I needed to read, and I’m glad I read it. I’m also glad I waited to read it until I was a few years beyond Harlynn’s death. This book was full of tough love, and most of it was very hard for me to swallow. But it was necessary, and definitely imparted wisdom I had been seeking. I will caution you, however, if you decide to read this book, prepare yourself. You will be challenged, you will be stretched, and you will have to face things you may not have had the energy to face before. Prepare yourself, but go confidently from page to page.

Seeing The Voice Of God:

This was a book by the same author of the 30-Day-Faith-Detox we did in February of this year. It was about dreams, and I’ve always had an interest in learning more about how the Lord uses dreams to communicate. I still remember dreams I had as a child, and there was one very special dream I had as an adult that I’ve blogged about before. I appreciated so much of this book, and if you’re curious about the Lord speaking through dreams, what dreams mean, why we have them, etc. then Laura’s book is the place to start.

Wake Up! for Heavens Sake:

This was such a treat for me to read. The author was the worship pastor at our church in Wyoming, and I had the privilege of singing alongside him each week during the service. He was also the pastor who told us, as we were seeking answers in where to move, to just trust God was leading us on the right NEXT step, even if it wasn’t our FINAL step. Boom.

This book unpacks the principles of worship, debunks the lies we’ve come to believe as church-goers, and is a no-bull, hard-hitting explanation of what it means to have an intimate relationship with God. I was “amen!”ing along with every page, and it made me miss Montey and his wife, Sharie, all that much more. Jam-packed, yet quick read if you’re looking for something to light your fire for the Lord!

Moving Mountains:

I begged my husband to read this book because it was completely life-changing for me. When he was halfway through, he looked up and said, “I can see why you loved this book.” Blown away, I asked, “Really?” Then I followed up with, “Wait, because you love it, or because you can see why I would love it?” He didn’t love it for himself – he simply understood why his wife was crazy about it. Well.

It’s not for everyone, but if you’re a believer in the power of prayer and the critical importance of praying, do not go another day without reading this book. This is one I will read again and again, and have made it a personal goal to read it at least once a year. Powerful stuff in here. I cried, I sat with my mouth dropped open, I praised – incredible read, and incredible conviction in the power of prayer.

The Ultimate Guide To Natural Farming and Sustainable Living:

Yes. I hear that song from Sesame Street, “One of these things is not like the other…” in my head, too. But this is me, this is who I am, and this is the life I long to live. I bought this book as a birthday present to myself and read through it in a matter of a few days. It’s pretty much a homesteader’s handbook, and will be one I reference a multitude of times over the next several years as we pursue our homestead dreams. The author spelled things out so simply, so interestingly, and so thoughtfully – I would take a class from her in a heartbeat. If you have an interest in permaculture and planning, start with this book. You won’t regret it.

I of course am not mentioning the many cookbooks I read about Little House cooking, canning, preserving, etc. That’s another post for another day. But what a treat for me to learn the skill of canning! I have more books on deck to read for 2017. I love to read, and I love learning from reading. I can’t wait to share the next year’s book treasures with you!

What about you? What did you read and would you recommend to others?

Struck Down But Not Destroyed

Sigh.

Back in September, Little Man and I had to stay home while Little Miss and Hubs attended the wedding of our dear “Cousin Uncle Travis”. (No, it’s not a backwoods relationship – just a funny story with a name that stuck.)

Once we got well, I got sick again. Once I got well, Little Miss got sick. Then I got sick again. Then Little Man got sick. Then Hubs got sick. Then I got sick. Then Little Man got sick again. And on. And on. And on it’s gone.

I’m sitting here today, behind my keyboard, nursing a horribly sore throat, and a bit of a bruised ego.

Physical illness wears on me mentally in ways I can’t aptly express. On top of the physical aches and ailments, I feel helpless, vulnerable, weak, and useless.

Since I’ve been sick more times than both my hands can count within the span of only a few months, you can imagine the emotional toll it has taken on me.

I’ve got lots of things going on and brewing and coming into light for the year ahead. The more momentum these things gets behind them, the more I feel we’re derailed. This morning in the shower, I was reciting – through incredible frustration – “I am His. He is for me. Sickness is not His will.”

I believe it. I proclaim it and share it and receive it and all those other religious phrases. But I believe it.

Y’all, I am being very transparent here. I am worn. down. I feel like a big pile of doo. Because I’m sick, yes, but because I feel like no matter what I do, I can’t shake these ailments. It has worn me out. Completely. Done. Exhausted. Spent.

I am struck down.

But I am not destroyed.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Though I’m so tired of this hamster wheel of illness, I’m not going to be stuck here.

The “rat race” so to speak is no longer part of my routine. Planning for my life outside of the rat-race is a big part of my year ahead (and I’m excited to share all of it with you in the days and weeks ahead) and I can promise you a hamster wheel is not part of my decor!

We’re going to move into more of a tortoise race. Slow-going, but purposeful. Then, when we’re healthy and further along than we were the day before, we’ll kick it into whatever gear we need to for the time and purpose we need to.

So right now, I’m going to focus on getting healthy. Then I’m going to focus on staying healthy. As a family. Then, we can focus on staying healthy and doing everything we want and need to do, one thing at a time.

Our plans are changing next year. My blog is changing next year. Our focus is shifting in the year ahead. And it’s all awesome.

I am being renewed, even the midst of my cyclical illness. What I’ve got going on today is all part of the bigger picture. What’s most important is I look at it all through the lens of eternity.

Take that, sore throat. Take that, weary mind. Take that, embattled spirit.

I do not lose heart. I might lose my voice – for the third time in four months – but I do not lose heart.

The Dirty Truth About PMDD

Many moons ago when I was away at college, I called my parents in the middle of the night, crying. Dad answered, obviously still half-asleep. I asked to talk to Mom and as he handed her the phone, he sleepily told her it was my sister. After I made sure she knew which child she was speaking to, I told her I hadn’t been able to sleep at night, but always wanted to sleep during the day. I was sad and crying all the time, and I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I alternated between having no appetite and eating all the things, and I just wanted to be normal again.

“Well, it sounds to me like you’re depressed. I’ll make an appointment for when you’re home at Christmas.”

Fast forward a couple of weeks, I sat in front of our family practitioner who asked me several questions and looked me over. After listening to my answers and spending some time in deep thought, he gave me a formal diagnosis of “PMDD.” Pre Menstrual Depression Dysphoria, or as I call it, Heavy hitting hormonal hell. He wrote up a prescription for an anti-depressant and that was that.

I understood it to be “just like PMS” only “a bit more extreme”. Not a big deal, I thought, but I looked forward to getting back to my old self. It took a little while, but I did notice slight changes. Everything revolved around my cycle. I was able to sleep at night again, though still slept heavily during the day. As time went on, I knew it would get better.

Except it didn’t.

Bear in mind this isn’t a post I want to write. Sharing this deep dark secret wasn’t on my agenda this week. Or ever. For some reason, however, I feel compelled to share my story.

While my sleep regulated and I was breaking into sobbing puddles far less frequently, I was – what we’ll call – “subdued in my anger”. I was mad, always, but not to the point of acting out. A followup appointment increased the dosage of the medication.

What I noticed with the medicinal increase was a decreased desire for most anything. I was waking up, doing what I had to do, and being miserable through most of it. I wasn’t crying every day, and I wasn’t shifting my appetite. I was simply existing in the subdued, angry state. Acceptable, right?

Eventually, the subdued anger grew over time and gave way to fits of rage.

I’m not talking about yelling. I’m talking about having an out-of-body-experience, watching myself fly off the rails in total fits of RAGE. One morning after my shower, I walked out to find one of our cats was chewing YET AGAIN on my clothes in the laundry basket. I don’t remember exactly what ensued afterward, but I know if I had caught her, I would have killed her.

That is not okay.

As I walked to the top of the stairs, Hubs gently cupped my shoulders and asked, “Do you think…. maybe…. it’s that time?” He meant PMS. But PMDD is PMS to the 100th power. This is something not a lot of people understand.

Irritability during PMS is one thing. I desired to roundhouse kick people in the face. For any reason. Or no reason. That’s not irritability; that’s rage. I would blow up at the smallest of things, and the more others tried to calm me down, the angrier and more defensive I became. I was more than irate, and it didn’t matter that I realized how out of control I was. There was no reigning it in.

Something had to change.

What makes PMDD worse?

In my experience, sugar is PMDD’s best friend. It feeds the crazy. When I eat foods high in sugar, and processed foods at that, my ability to manage my PMDD erodes significantly. Along those lines, fast food and fried food exacerbate PMDD’s symptoms as well. This is tricky, because the only thing I want before good ol’ Auntie Flo comes each month are foods high in sugar, the faster the better, and dropped in a vat of Canola oil is icing on the cake, so to speak.

Food is medicine. Or poison. These kinds of food absolutely feed the severity of my PMDD, and it’s to everyone’s best interests when I steer clear of them.

Also on Team PMDD, lack of movement. You’ll be hard-pressed to find people who hate exercise more than I do, but it’s an incredible detriment to me (and those I live with) when I don’t exercise. My mind stays clouded and hindered, and my body works to process what I won’t stop eating rather than to clear my mind.

Lack of sleep is a big one, too. I’ve always loved sleep. My sister has some funny stories about what it was like to try to rouse me from slumber. No one wanted that job. If I don’t get proper rest, everyone suffers, but my mind and body especially. It adds fuel to the PMDD fire, and a perfect storm begins to brew.

What makes PMDD better?

Obviously, proper diet and exercise make PMDD far easier to manage. When your body is being cared for, it cares for you in return. It may seem insignificant, but how we feed our body determines how our body treats us in return. Crap food produces crap ‘tude. Garbage in, garbage out.

Believe me when I tell you, everyone notices when I’ve been eating right. I look good, feel good, and I’m not trying to chase down any precious kitties.

Consistent, regular chiropractic care is critical to my PMDD management. When I go more than two weeks between chiropractic adjustments, it’s bad news. If I did better with my food and exercise, I’m sure I could scale back on my chiropractic visits. For now, though, they are my saving grace. I’m a strong believer in chiropractic care, and can tell you my PMDD treatment depends on it.

I also use a few essential oils to help mellow things out. I have a daily regimen I use, and definitely have my favorites. I use Young Living oils, (or as Hubs calls it, my “hippie voodoo”) and though I was skeptical at first, 18 months after starting using them, I’m a firm believer in their benefits as well.

I’ve not been on anti-depressant medication since 2008. While I didn’t stop it in the wisest way, my doctor agrees with me I don’t need it now. That may not be the case for everyone, however. Absolutely adjust your diet and exercise, and schedule some chiropractor visits (and a few sprinkles of oils here and there), but keep your doctor’s recommendations close at heart.

I’m not “cured”. It’s important to note this is a management regimen I have to stay consistent with. After delivering three babies in five years, my body started doing weird things, and for that matter, so did my brain. Being in my mid-30s, experiencing the trauma of our daughter dying, and having my body go through an intense restructuring three times in five years, all started to work against me.

Why am I writing about this now? It’s been on my mind a lot lately. I turned 36 this year, and while I’m not in the best shape of my life, I’m far more keen on the steps I need to be taking to make sure my family doesn’t suffer for having to live with me – but also, so I don’t have to suffer.

I’ve noticed this holiday season I’ve turned to more and more sugar and used gatherings and events as excuses to fall off the food wagon. As a result, PMDD is standing at attention.

I share all of this to offer encouragement. If you’re a woman, and your PMS seems a little tricker than most, I feel you. PMDD is a treacherous condition and another betrayal by our own body. I’m thankful for a doctor who recognized my situation all those years ago. I’m more thankful for having found treatment options I trust and have benefits far beyond managing my PMDD.

I’m especially thankful I didn’t kill my sweet (though naughty) cat.

I’ll be more mindful of what I’m eating, how I’m moving, and the appointments on my calendar. My mind, body, and especially my family, will thank me for it.

The Son He Never Had

elk-hunting

My whole life, I felt the pressure to fulfill the role of the son my dad never had. I put that pressure on myself, of course, but I felt it nonetheless. He had me and my sister, but he was totally a man’s man. He needed someone to play catch with, so I donned my mitt. He needed someone to fish with, so I begged for a pole. I made tool belts look good, and learned how to put up a tent before I learned how to paint my nails.

Lucky for him (but really, for me) I turned out to really enjoy those things. I love playing catch. And fishing. And hunting. I used to joke and say I was the girliest tomboy to ever exist. Even as a joke, I’m sure there’s a lot of truth to it.


It was the second year we had gone hunting together. The first time I went hunting with him, I told him I had no problem shooting an elk, but I wasn’t so keen on field dressing it. He expected to hear that. I was the same way with fish. I’d catch them and cook them, but I had no interest cleaning them. He agreed to take me hunting anyway.

Just before 5:30 one particular morning, while it was dark and mysterious outside, Dad’s headlights showed up in my driveway. I grabbed my gear, all our food I had prepared, walked out the door, and we drove to our spot.

I remember sitting in the cab of the truck until it was legal for us to shoot. With the window cracked, we heard the howls and yips of coyotes. Dad was convinced they had come upon a gut pile of a successful elk hunt. I didn’t care what they had found… they sounded evil.

Before first light, we began our hike. A few switchbacks over a dusting of snow led us into the tree line, crunching through some pretty solid snowpack.

Here is where I should mention, hiking with my Dad is like hiking with an unleashed Labrador. He walks (quickly) all over the place, and in order to travel two miles, you have to walk six with his meandering. He gets on a trail of prints or scat, and he follows every. single. hoof. print. Even if you can see where it picks up a few feet away, he’ll follow it as it winds, rather than heading straight on.

If you’re not in any kind of shape, you won’t survive while hiking with him. I know this, because he almost killed me with his merciless meandering.

As the sun came up, we made it to the top of a hill where we sat under cover of some pine trees, and hoped the elk would cross the valley before us. Just as the light peeked over the horizon, we saw a coyote – most likely one we heard earlier – make his way through the clearing below. We watched for a while as he walked away, and rabbits began to appear in the valley after he had passed.

Sitting still on the hillside in the early morning cold, I started to shiver. A lot. I was wearing a few layers – thermal underwear, jeans, t-shirt, sweatshirt, sweat pants, and snow pants, all topped off with my bulky hunting coat. With no more movement, however, I started to cool off quickly.

I turned to my dad and whispered through my chatters, “D-d-d-did you kn-kn-kn-know sh-sh-shivering is your b-b-b-b-ody’s way of st-st-st-st-staying warm?”

Without taking his eyes off the valley below, and without missing a beat, Dad whispered back, “So is wearing more layers.” Steam rolled out of my mouth as I let out a silent laugh. Easy for him to say.

We made a lot of memories hunting together. I never did get my elk. For the record, I would have field dressed it…

The thrill of the hunt was enough to get me out there, but that time with Dad was worth every unfilled elk tag. I live 700 miles away from Dad now. There are no early morning hunting trips together. No fits of laughter on the hillsides. No lengthy wandering on the hot trail of the herd.

Every year during hunting season, I think about our trips up the mountain. It wasn’t warranted, but I’m glad I put the extra pressure on myself to do those “manly” things. It turns out I’m a far better cook than I am a huntress, but I wouldn’t trade those little adventures in the big woods for any kind of fancy shoes or manicures.

I do really want some elk steaks now, however…

Too Many Leftover Mashed Potatoes?

One of my favorite coffee shops in town gives you a little donut on top of your cup when you order a hot coffee. One day (soon… I can feel it!) when the Lord moves us out into the middle of nowhere (and manages to provide high speed internet, I feel that, too!) , I won’t be able to make the trek to my coffee shop for coffee and donuts.

But that’s okay. I have a Nespresso Virtuoline coffee maker, and it has changed my coffee world for the better. And now? Well you’re not going to believe this, but I’ve found another reason to love the internet. I made donuts.

From leftover mashed potatoes.

mashed potatoes

Yep. I’m sitting here at my keyboard, getting all kinds of sugar granules in the keyboard as I sip my Nespresso (Melozio is my favorite blend) and shove my face full of donuts.

On Thanksgiving day, I asked my husband, “How many leftover mashed potatoes do you want?” to which he replied “Not many.” I set aside, then peeled the amount I would need. Then I forgot about those, and peeled and diced other potatoes. Then I found the ones I had already peeled.

We ended up with a ridiculous supply of leftover mashed potatoes.

After two meals with them, and using them in a leftovers-version shepherd’s pie, we still had an entire large bowl.

“Now what?”

Times like this are when the internet really comes through for me, and I fall in love with the wonders of the world. I found a recipe to make donuts from leftover mashed potatoes.

Up front – I added garlic, salt, butter, and milk to my mashed potatoes when I made them. Butter and milk (and even salt) are great donut ingredients. But… garlic?

Well, the recipe assumes you mash potatoes specifically for the donuts. That’s crazy.

I went ahead and used my garlicky mashed potatoes anyway, and they ARE AMAZING. I don’t ever have to leave home again. I accidentally-on-purpose didn’t measure the vanilla, put in a little too much, and that covered up the garlic for sure. These are sweet little bites of breakfast to be sure!

Back when Brent and I started Financial Peace University the first time and we were committed to eating healthier and making beans and rice all the time, we bought a Presto combo vegetable steamer and rice cooker. But we were tired of fishing rice from both the basket and the cooker, so we eventually converted it to our deep fat fryer. Because… health.

steamer fryer

These donuts are totally gluten free, if you do it like I did. And I fried them in coconut oil (which I was scared to do, because I do not like the flavor of coconut – but you cannot taste it AT ALL.) which means these are the healthiest donuts you will ever make, right? Maybe.

The recipe calls for: (as found here)

1/2 c mashed potatoes
1/2 c sour cream
1/2 c sugar
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla
—— mix all of these together in one bowl
In another bowl, mix
1 1/2 c flour (I used a gluten free blend I picked up at Costco)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
—– add the flour mixture to the potato mixture and mix well.
Fry (in coconut oil! Trust me!) in oil heated to 375* until golden brown. Roll in sugar and set to dry on paper towel. Then watch them mysteriously disappear.

mashed potato donuts

Coconut oil is easily the best oil on the face of the planet – it’s good for skin, good for immunity, good for joint health, good for regularity, people use it to swish around in their mouth (I’m going to try it, because, why not?), and YOU CAN USE IT TO FRY DONUTS. I mean, if that doesn’t tell you coconut oil is a gift from God, I don’t know what else to say to convince you He loves us.

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” ~ Nehemiah 8:10