This is The Work.

A number of years ago, a friend of mine was going through a bad breakup (turns out most breakups are bad in some way; people don’t usually break up if things are going well…but I digress). At the time, I was working for her out of her house. I showed up assuming we would work on some administrative tasks we had planned, but neither of us could really focus. So we watched Zoolander instead.

At one point in the movie, she turned to me and said, “You know, I get caught up in thinking I have to be doing work with people, or we are just wasting time.”

“I know that about you,” I replied. “That’s why I started working for you. I wanted to be friends.” See what I did there? I was as subtle back then as I am now.

“But R keeps trying to tell me that really being with people, right in their stuff, is the work. That it’s the important part.”

“He is right about that.”

“I needed to be watching Zoolander. This is The Work.”

~~~~~

Several ladies at the Jewish preschool daycare center where I worked shortly after moving to Cleveland used to tell me I was a “balaboosta.” I liked it then; I like it even more now. I’m growing into it as a major part of my identity. For those of you like me who don’t speak yiddish, a balaboosta is a woman who makes her home and her life a safe and welcoming space for those around her. In prefeminist terms, it meant a sort of super-housewife, who can pull off dinner for 20 at the drop of a hat without mussing her pearls or starched apron. Believe me when I tell you this is not me (well, maybe the dinner part). But underneath the pearls and the endless laundry and vacuuming is the idea that really being with people and creating space for them to really be with each other is The Work.

One of my favorite things about being married to J is that he really, really gets this about me. He understands that my plan to bring dinner to a friend in the hospital is not ancillary to my day; it is a small outpouring of me doing what I feel in my bones that I’m on the planet to do.

I doubt I’ll make much of a career out of it. I have yet to find a university that offers a master’s degree in having a friend over for coffee, or in watching an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer because that is the best way to be present with someone in a particular moment (doing The Work is not always about talking). Sometimes I think it sounds silly to describe such simple gestures as my calling in life. But I think when it sounds silly to me, it’s really because I am underestimating the usefulness and value of meaningful emotional connection.

TPM’s

New measure of thought quality: Thoughts Per Minute (TPM’S). Thinking a lot isn’t always bad. I like the way my brain works most of the time. But as my brain revs up when I get stressed, I think about something until I get stuck and can’t figure it out, then jump tracks and think about something else. The more the stress, the quicker my brain switches from item to item, without really ever finishing a thought. Too many TPM’S.

There are a variety of ways to address this, I think. Part of the solution is to do the work of thinking about hard things past the point that feels comfortable. I should probably come up with a list of the more productive…what’s that? Sure, I’ll get you a glass of water. Drinking a whole glass of water is good for refocusing, theoretically. Yes, and a snack. Yes, we can play Chutes and Ladders. Goodness the living room’s a mess. Are those bobby pins on the floor? My hair itches. I’m hungry. What are we having for dinner? Hey, groups of people cook dinner at the Ronald MacDonald House. That’s so cool. Wait, what was I doing…?

p.s.- I’ve been told by someone whose opinion I trust that this doesn’t even cover the half of it. “More isn’t always better Linus. Sometimes it’s just more.”

S at age 4

After spending time with us, people sometimes say things like, “You’re writing these things down somewhere, right? He’s HILARIOUS.” (Lest you think I would portray my children as perfect, I also feel compelled to share that after spending time with us, other people sometimes say things like, “We’re waiting a LONG TIME to have kids.” Nobody is just one thing.)

S is lots of things. He’s funny. He’s crazy. He’s serious and thoughtful. He’s wild and doesn’t think things through. He doesn’t like large groups (until he really, really does).  He still doesn’t really like to wear pants. He’s strong and shy and little and big and I love him. Here are a few examples of why.

 

8:30 p.m.

K: You just stay here and calm your body. I’m going to go check on something and I’ll be right back.

S: You’ll be right back?

K: Yes, I’ll be right back. You stay in bed.

S: What are you going to do?

K: I’m just going to check on some boring mama things.

****

5:30 a.m.

K: zzzzzzzzzz

S: MAMA?

K: Ahh…huh?

S: You stay right here.

K: Ahh…huh?

S: I’m going to go check on some boring kiddo things.

****

Dinner time

K: Thank you for this food. Please use it to nourish our bodies so we can do your words. Amen.

****

Dinner time, a few moments later

S: Thank you for this food. Thank you for this day. Thank you for Mama’s body, so we can do Jesus’ amen.

****

S: When we die we see God. Do we go to heaven? Where is it? Like the one in ‘…and heaven and nature sing?’ That one?

****

S: When I’m in the bathroom, and someone knocks on the door, I say “octopi!” Because they will think that I said “occupied!” Isn’t that funny?

****

S: Can you make me a hot cocoa, but make it with coconut oil? Because I can’t have dairy.

****

S: Look at all the beautiful butterflies! They are so, so beautiful!

K: Yes, they sure are! I see them.

S: Let’s see more! Over this big dam river!

K: What river?

S: This one! This big dam river! Let’s cross the big dam river and we can see all the butterflies over there!

****

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Homemade Mondays: Dandelion Blossom Cookies

I should really rename this series. It’s been weeks since I posted a recipe and I feel like “Homemade Mondays” implies that I’ll write something up each week and share it with you. I make things from scratch most Mondays (even some other days which are not Mondays!), but I don’t seem to be finding the space to blog about it.
Oh, well. Here I am, today at least.

My kids showed up in the house with a pailful of dandelion flowers the other day and said, “Mom! Let’s make something!”

Since I have great friends who give me thoughtful and fun presents like cookbooks full of nothing but dandelion recipes (The Dandelion Celebration by Peter Gail, in case you’re wondering), I had a ready resource to find some ideas for how to make…something.

We looked through the book for awhile and landed on a cookie recipe we had all the ingredients for and a simple syrup to add to sodas and things. Warning! if you are helping a kiddo with potty learning, maybe avoid concentrated dandelions in things like teas or syrups. They are a strong diuretic. Learned this the hard way a few years ago. I found a recipe for dandelion flower cookies, but I changed enough ingredients to suit my kitchen that the recipe is mostly my own at this point.

Dandelion Blossom Cookies

Ingredients:

1/2 cup cooking fat of your choice (coconut oil was mine)

1/2 cup honey

2 eggs or egg equivalents (1 tbsp ground chia or flax plus 3 tbsp water per egg)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups whole grain spelt flour (1 cup or so of regular wheat flour would be fine too)

1 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup dandelion blossoms, peeled

 

Method:

“Peel” the dandelions by removing the green part. Hold the base of the flower firmly between a finger and thumb, then grab as many of the petals as possible and pull them out gently but firmly. This is the most time consuming part of dandelion cooking.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Mix oil, honey, and vanilla. Beat in 2 eggs until well combined. Stir in the flour, oatmeal, and blossoms.
Drop by spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes or until the cookies begin to look a little bit golden brown (honey doesn’t brown as much as sugar, so they won’t be quite as golden-brown, but if you cook them a little too long, you can always put them in an airtight container with some fresh bread and they’ll soften up).

Allow to cool, and eat or store as you see fit.

 

If you have kids around you, they might dance around saying repeatedly, “Are they cool yet? Are they cool yet?” Eventually you might cave and say, “They’re still hot, but you can try one if you’re so excited you really feel you can’t wait any more.” If they burn their mouths a little bit, it’s not your fault. Just saying. Ahem.

Also, if the friend who gave you the cookbook with the original cookie recipe will be coming over in a couple of days, you should really try to save her one. It’s the polite thing to do.

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Míliath: on Kindness and the People Nearest to Us

I’m tired of reading children’s books that endorse that idea that brothers and sisters being awful to each other all the time is just a fact of life.

I’m realistic enough to be clear that they need to learn to work things out with one another, and that the friction between siblings is a useful and important part of the process. But within that reality, I think I can help my children to learn to disagree (discuss, argue, and yes, fight…) well. It’s tricky, but I think it’s possible. In fact, I think the skill of working out differences graciously is one of the most important relational tools I can give them.

Family relationships ought to be a safe space for children and grown-ups to be other than their best, to have their big feelings, and to feel accepted for who they are. However, I think this is often conflated with a somewhat lazy approach to relationships “I can be a jerk to them, they have to love me anway.” There is some basis for this belief. That doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do things. I also don’t like the implied, “so I don’t even have to try to be kind,” that too naturally follows on that train of thinking.

What if our daily family life together can be the very setting for us to practice all the virtues we read about or hear about? Peace, love, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control….keeping these abstracted away as ideas reserved for “out in the world” makes them much more likely to be practiced only occasionally. But what if our close relationships are the exact places we should be using as a safe space to practice being good to other people? What if my children are, in fact, capable of receiving and growing kindness within them, if I can just sow it carefully?

We are not perfect people. Weeds like selfishness, angry shouting, and other unkindnesses are a fact of life. That doesn’t mean they should be ignored. That’s how you end up with a garden choked with weeds.

With that in view, we are studying kindness this week. We’re making trips to the library to learn about it. We’re studying what wise people have said about it. We’re defining what it means to us personally, and how we can recognize and practice it in our lives. As an attempt to highlight kind actions when we recognize them, we are exclaiming “míliath!” whenever we witness a kind action. Míliath means “kindnesses” (in Sindarin, because why not?).

What has worked to help you to promote kindness within your home or important relationships?

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One of us

“If God didn’t do this to us, then what? Who’s in charge here?”

Some version of this has been rattling around in my heart for months.

I can’t read accounts of Jesus healing people right now. It hurts too much. When I read about Jesus raising the little girl from the dead, I feel deep anger and confusion.

But I went to an Evensong service last weekend, because I am not prepared to give up on the idea that God is there, God cares about me (us), and that God is involved in our lives in significant and meaningful ways.

The first lesson was from Zechariah and said, among other things, “I will turn my hand against the little ones.”

What the Hell? What. The. Hell?

 

And then in the sermon, she spoke about Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers because he didn’t want people to think about interacting with God as a transaction. We give so many pieces of silver in exchange for our safety, or for that of our loved ones. Part of me still wishes it worked that way. It would be so much less confusing.

In Evangelical Christianity, there is a rampant idea that if we

do the right things,

say the right things,

agree with the right things…then God will approve of us and our life will look a certain way.

 

It’s not usually said in so many words. And if that’s not the way your life looks, there is always a ready explanation.

“God is teaching you ________________.”

“God is protecting you from ______________.”

“God needed another angel.”

 

But really, behind all of that, when nothing bad is present that needs explaining, the idea is that if you

do the right things,

say the right things,

agree with the right things…then God will approve of you and your life will look a certain way.

 

The other thing she mentioned in the sermon was that the night before being crucified, Jesus asked not to have to go through it. I think we tend to focus on the “but not my will” part because it sounds more noble or because we are unable to deal with negative emotion or something. But you know what? Jesus was scared. He felt, and verbalized, “I don’t want to have to do this.”

And it still happened.

 

That changes God from someone who Does Things to us into someone who has Been Through Things with us.

 

And some part of me deep down, which feels very tired, thinks that is very good news.

Homemade Mondays: Lemon Balm Tincture. I mean Extract. I mean Bitters.

Happy discovery of the week: tictures, extracts, and bitters, are all very close to the same thing. They have different names depending on the application. This is good news, and makes for a wider range of options in certain areas. Obviously you would want to be careful and always do research before using an herbal tincture as a bitter or extract to make sure it’s safe (White willow bark tincture, for example, is lovely for headaches but is not recommended during pregnancy as it contains salicylates similar to those in aspirin which is not really recommended for pregnant women).

I’ll share the recipe for Lemon Balm tincture, because I have some bottled up now, but you can do many different herbal tinctures this way. In my house right now I have tinctures of elderberry, peppermint, white willow bark, and lavender.

Note: Lemon balm may interact with some SSRI’s and other anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications. Please check with your health care provider and/or do your research to make sure it’s safe before taking a medicinal dose of any herb.

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Lemon Balm Tincture

Ingredients:

Dried lemon balm

pint or quart sized mason jar with a tight fitting lid

vodka, everclear, or other high-proof alcohol (some sources said 40% is enough, other sources said higher, still others said higher proof is necessary but added water…I have had good luck with 80 proof vodka)

Method:

Fill the jar no more than 2/3 of the way with dried lemon balm (if using fresh herbs, consider letting them wilt for a while first–you fit more in the jar that way and will get a stronger product). Cover with alcohol by at least 2 inches. Shake well, and leave sitting in a warm bright place. Check the next day to see if the liquid is still covering the herbs. If not, add more liquid. Shake about once a day. After 4-6 weeks, strain all liquid into a bowl using cheesecloth, a wire mesh strainer, a nutmilk bag, or something similar (press herbs to get out as much as possible), bottle up, and use just as you would the tiny bottles that are very expensive at a health food store. There are many schools of thought about tincture dosing, and I don’t claim to be an expert so please do your own research. For many tinctures, a “standard suggested adult dosage for tinctures is 2 droppersful two to three times a day.” If you’re going for maximum quick absorption of the herb, put it under your tongue. For maximum flavor, add it to a hot tea. For maximum old-timey fun, add it to a hot toddy ;-)