Monday, September 22, 2014

You Should Get a Cat {or Why I Shouldn't Be a Mother}

I'll admit it. I'm a sucker for online quizzes. "Which Disney Princess Are You?" -- "What City Should You Live In?" -- "Which Hogwarts House Would the Sorting Hat Put You In?"

I don't know what it is about them. Maybe I'm just egocentric and I like answering questions about myself? I hope not. Actually, I think it has more to do with me testing the test. I like to see what kinds of questions they'll ask. Will they be obvious to the point where I can skew the result simply by plugging in the answer I know the test writer was looking for? Will they just be silly? Or will they be probing enough that the results are, in fact, scarily accurate?

So, the other day, I took this quiz: "How Many Children Should You Have?"

My friend posted it on Facebook. It told her she should have 11 children. I couldn't resist. So far, she's only on her second kid. I've got four! I figure if she got 11, I should wind up with 22, right? Wrong.

This is the result I got. And I quote.

You should get a cat.
Trust us, you should not reproduce.

Well, shucks. (And sorry, quiz writers, but too late x 4!!! Booyah.)

Honestly, I was a little surprised by the result, but mostly I laughed about it. I mean, it's true. I should have a cat. I do have a cat. I have a cat because I think a dog is too much work. (Is that horrible?) In Seattle, this is tantamount to saying I like clubbing baby seals with mutilated elephant trunks for kicks. Seattlites love and I mean luuuuuurve their dogs. (Sorry, Seattlites. I'm just keeping it real.)

Now, if this is how I feel about dogs, what does it say regarding my suitability to produce and care for children? You see where the quiz writers were going with this, right?

The truth is, by their standards, I'm not just not "mom material." I don't like carrying 20-30 lb. weights around all day. I don't do well on starvation rations of sleep. And, as one quiz question put it, I have only two arms and am not, in fact, an octopus.

But humorous as the quiz was, and as easily as I could have dismissed it, it got me thinking: What qualities do you need to be a good parent?

According to the quiz, you need to enjoy hard labor, drudgery, discomfort, vomit-spattered clothes, and driving an enviably fashionable and yet functional frumpy minivan. That's it! If you answered yes to any and all of these, you win the chance to be deemed worthy of reproduction!

If you answered no, don't worry. You're just like the rest of us. (Except maybe my friend who go that 11 kid rating.)

The truth is, you don't have to be a "kid person" or in any way extraordinary (like a mutant octopus-woman with an extra set of eyes in the back of her head) to have children. You don't need to excel at handicrafts or relish changing diapers. You don't have to like wearing yoga pants and ponytails every day of the week (although, if that's your thing, that's cool).

You like a good political debate with someone of your own intellectual capacity? Cool! You don't enjoy listening to Raffi on repeat for 12 hours straight? Me neither! You actually prefer having at least one straight hour a day where no person, art supply, toy, bodily fluid or other ooey-gooey substance is touching your body without your permission? Join the club!

You don't need to be perfect parent material (whatever that is) to be open to life and let God work wonders. Need proof? Look right here. I'm your case in point.

I'm lazy. I'm overly sensitive, and I don't like being touched when I'm stressed out. Speaking of which, I get stressed out. A lot. I'm easily stressed. I'm not very aware of what's going on around me (which is why I never take my children to a playground that has open water or is located near a road.) I like to sleep. Also a lot. I like quiet. I like calm. I derive not only a great deal of pleasure but also a large portion of my sanity from having a clean house. I don't like playing peek-a-boo for more than 60 seconds at a time. I'll admit, I enjoy the occasional Sandra Boynton book, but not the five hundred and seventy-first time.

I am not wonder mom. I wasn't born good at this stuff. (Though I like to think I'm getting better with each passing year and each new kiddo.) There are plenty of things I do in a day that I don't particularly enjoy. So does everyone. That's life. There are lots more things that I do enjoy, and I write plenty of posts and take boatloads of pretty pictures of that stuff, but that's not what I'm talking about right now. Right now, I'm admitting that this mom thing isn't only for the "kid people."

Somehow, somewhere along the contraception express, we forgot that having kids isn't a "choice" reserved only for the gifted, the martyrs, or the insane. Parenthood is grace. It's an undeserved gift, but too many times, we are so preoccupied worrying about whether the gift is our "thing" or whether we're "ready" for it that we forgot it's a gift at all. We're like Sally Brown in A Charlie Brown Christmas, so fixated on getting exactly what we want out of life that we give up on the gift thing all together: "Just send money."

Can I tell you something? If I planned my life just the way I wanted it, I would be living in New York City right now. I'd be a {struggling} actress. In all likelihood, I would be single. I definitely wouldn't be hitting up Mass every Sunday, and I'm not sure I'd think too much about God, except when things inevitably get tough. I'd think about Him a little then. I would have taken the quiz's advice. I'd own a cat (not a dog, as previously discussed). I would not be a mother.

Can I tell you something else? I am so, so, so infinitely, immeasurably, awestruck-stupid glad that God had other plans for me.

I adore my husband. I love my children to the ends of the earth and beyond. I love Seattle, and I love being a homemaker and a homeschooler and a sometimes-writer. And don't even get me started on where I'd be without this amazing God who conceived of crazy, beautiful plans for me and delights in turning my life on it's head.

Don't get me wrong: it's hard. Because I'm not naturally good at most of the things I'm called to do. Selflessness, generosity, forgiveness, humility, hard work, discipline...? These are not virtues I was born with. Yet every day, I'm asked to doll them out in spades. I'm asked to be these things that I am not, that I would not have chosen on my own. And can I tell you something?

I am better--infinitely, immeasurably, awestruck-stupid better--because of my "choice" to let God take control and work wonders in this less-than-perfect woman.

I'm not saying that every woman is called to motherhood. Or marriage. Or any particular walk of life.

I am saying that every single woman is known and loved by a God who does have awesome, hand-crafted, so-far-from-cookie-cutter-it's-unbelievable plans for her life. And it's by living into those plans, no matter how insanely different they might look from the ones she started out with, that she will find her truest peace, joy, and purpose.

I am saying that if motherhood is in those plans, don't be afraid. You don't have to be anything specific or spectacular to do this and do it well. You just have to accept the gift with open hands and a willingness to learn and be led by the One who gave it to you.

* One final note, because I think the situation warrants it: I am also not saying that any woman who wants to be a mother and isn't (or isn't yet) is somehow lacking. Quite the opposite. What I'm saying is that there is no list of skills that makes one worthy or unworthy of motherhood. God is the Creator of all life. He is the gift giver. His ways are not our ways, and his plans are not our plans, but all his plans are for our good

He is not a genie in a bottle, and none of us can know which wishes He will grant, but we can all be assured that He is and ever will be the lover and sanctifier of our souls. That's what every vocation--religious life, marriage, parenthood, or consecrated single life--is about: relationship with a loving, sanctifying God. It's not about being worthy--it's about joyfully following the One who is.

Friday, September 19, 2014

{Being Present} Sugar + Spice Nuts

Looking not-too-far back on my not-so-former life as an actress, I am reminded of a summer I spent in the Hamptons. No, not those Hamptons. I lived for two months in a Junebug-infested college campus in South Hampton. We did spend one weekend spying people-watching for a project in East Hampton and even got to snoop around explore a famous playwright's summer home, but that's beside the point.

What I wanted to talk about is BEING PRESENT. I write it all in capitals like that because, to this day, that is how I see it. In my mind and on my heart, those words are writ large, just as Jim, my old theater professor once offered them to me.

We were studying Stanislavsky and the profound grace of being.

A lot of people think acting is all about "faking it," when in reality, the greatest actors are simply being truthful. Living truth, simply. 

That summer in South Hampton, we began every Stanislavsky class in the same way: by GETTING PRESENT. We took quiet moments, the bright July sun pouring through the window glass across the hardwood floor, to check in, recognize, and own where we were. Who we were in that moment.

"Wherever you're at," Jim would say, "that's what you bring to the work. I don't care that your character is supposed to be sad. If you're happy, you're happy. Bring it with you. Let it inform the work. BE PRESENT. Otherwise, it's just lies."

Now what does Stanislavsky technique have to do with motherhood and keeping house? More than you might think at first glance.

So many times as moms, as homemakers (let's be honest: as women!), we are acting. Not in the high-brow Stanislavsky-esque sense, either. We're talking B-rated chick flick lousy acting. Not always, but on the bad days--the ones we keep praying will magically transform into something they're not. Those are the days we don the mask. We're up on stage, footlights blaring for an audience of none, and we are on. We are "faking it." 

We're trying to fit three weeks of tasks into 24 hours. We're stuffing our vision chockablock with Pinterest crafts and recipes, and we're trying to hold it all together with Duct tape, Band Aids, and sheer will. We clean the house in vain as the kids undo every iota of effort in our wake. We wipe the faces, straighten the buttons, and smile through. Sit, stand, wash, rinse, repeat.

We want to do it all. But if we take a moment to check in, to GET PRESENT, the truth is: we just want rest.

If I take the time to slow down, I have noticed there is a cadence to the day. It sings a song, unfolding with the sunlight, crescendo through the craziness, and then...if I've been following the dance, there comes a lull. In the afternoon, with baby and toddler napping, with much of the chores and all the school work done, and two meals out of the way, the sun sinks past it's zenith. If I'm listening, if I'm PRESENT, I feel the breath of the day exhale.

I love this lull. This peace time in the midst of the day-to-day. But it is fragile. A biting word, an errant whine, and it dissolves.

I've found that food helps to eke the moment full and wide. To preserve that breath of peace. An afternoon snack. So prosaic, and yet so precious. It helps to turn off the hurry that is always pounding at the door. For some sacred moments, we gather. We share sweet and warm. We insulate.


Together. Sweetly. Warmly.

And then we breathe again, and the day carries on.

Sugar + Spice Nuts
adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Elizabeth Karmel of Hill Country

I am not joking when I say that these things are too. die. for. I said it, my husband said it, each of the kids said it. If that's not ringing endorsement enough, I don't know what is. Irresistibly crunchy, sweet but not too sweet with just a hint of spice, and packed with protein, this is the perfect snack to give you staying power until the witching hour just before dinner. You know what I'm talking about - that moment when you're in the middle of stirring the risotto and the kids inevitably melt down. Don't worry, sneak a few more nuts their way; that should tide them over. If not, pop one in your own mouth, and notice how the din just fades into the background.


1 c. sugar (I used evaporated cane syrup, which has more depth than standard white sugar)
1/2 t. sea salt
1/4 t. ancho chile powder
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 lb. pecan halves (you could mix in walnuts, almonds, or hazelnuts as well - in fact, I think a mix would only improve the homey quality)
1 egg white


Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix sugar, salt, chile powder, and cinnamon together in a small bowl. In a large bowl, whisk the egg white until frothy. Add the nuts to the egg white and stir evenly to coat. Sprinkle nuts with sugar mixture and toss until evenly coated. Spread the sugared nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet fitted with parchment paper. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven and separate nuts as they cool. 

Serve warm or cool, in salads, on desserts or oatmeal, or simply out of hand. We enjoyed ours with steaming mugs of Mexican cocoa. Store for up to 2 weeks in airtight mason jars - if you can keep them around that long.

P.S. If you've been following our family's progress, you'll know that this is Day 17 of the Great Elimination Diet. You may have also noticed the egg white in this recipe. Eggs are our latest "challenge" food. So far, so good. I'm very much looking forward to adding eggs back into my life on a regular basis again. Not least of which for these crunchy, crispy nuts. AD-DIC-TIVE.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Will {Elimination Diet: Day 14}

2 weeks, folks. 2 weeks of quinoa breakfast bakes and zucchini foibles.

We are now entering the "challenge" phase of the Elimination Diet. This is where we reintroduce food groups 1 by 1 and see if any of our symptoms (*ahem*) return. I say *ahem* because we have yet to see any real change on this diet. Per my last post. But I digress.

What we all really need, in my honest opinion, is a break from all this diet nonsense. And so, I give you pictures of my littlest cuddle bug. I may be a bit biased, but those cheeks! That smile! The bubbles! Could he be any cuter? Methinks not.

I wish I could post a recording of the coos and gurgles that accompanied this impromptu photo shoot. If there's anything sweeter than this boy's smile, it's his voice.

Don't let the smiles fool you, though. Most of the time, he keeps them hidden. Not because he's crying. (Actually, he rarely cries.) He's just a seriously mellow baby. Sometimes, he'll furrow up his little brow until his forehead is all covered in wrinkles (so cute!), and then he just looks seriously serious. Reminds me of his daddy. But with a lot less hair.

Unless I'm looking at old photos of Sophia. Then there's no contest. Will looks just like her.