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Off the Menu

There are two things that will be off the menu for a while starting tomorrow. We didn’t just give things up… we made substitutions. And those substitutions need to be re-replaced for a while:

Nuts:  Nuts were always one of our preferred snacks even before the fast. They taste good, they are healthy and they satisfy little hunger attacks pretty fast. They are also ideal to take with you. You don’t need to cool them or heat them up and you don’t even have to fear any messes eating them. But there is too much of a good thing… Cashews, pecans, and walnuts became our main snack during lent. And this means we are probably going to stay away from them for a while.

Banana bread: I would say that we mastered banana bread making in the last 40 days. We probably came up with 38 varieties – most of them really yummy. We baked banana breads with cocoa, carob, nuts, raisins, banana chips, applesauce, almonds, homemade granola, etc. – to list just a few. So we should almost be able to write a cook book that only contains banana bread recipes. And I’m very thankful for all of them. They got us through the tough times where we really wanted to have just a little cookie or a piece of nice coffee cake. Still, I think we need to take a little banana bread break.

So it looks like we need a little fast from some of our “fast foods”. I’m sure they’ll make a comeback pretty soon.

Change

We are in a period of change. A lot is happening in our house right now. It’s really not the right time for a fast, I have to say. This is a time of convenience. A time where things have to go fast at times. A time where planning is hard.

Yet I believe there is a reason for why these times overlap. It seems that stressful times test us. Who can make a meal from scratch when they have all the time in the world? Probably most of us. It’s a special treat for me to spend some quiet time in the kitchen preparing a wholesome meal for my family. It’s a joy.

Who can make a meal from scratch when they have about 25 minutes left and the kitchen needs to be cleaned and ready for show-time an hour later? There might be still many of us who can do it, but the enjoyment shrinks noticeably. These are the times where we want to believe in advertisements that tell us that this quick meal takes the stress out of our hectic lifestyle. We wish to disregard our commitment and give into the “quick fix”.

Yet these are the times where it is most important to take the time. To eat well, for once. And to make room for some quiet family time.

There is a reason why we are fasting right now. There is a very good reason why we are forced to slow down in a time where we are tempted to go, go, go. I hope I will remember this in the stressful times to come.

Check in

So here we are. Almost done. Only two more weeks to go. And it’s starting to get hard. That’s not what we expected. Many of our predictions didn’t really happen:

  1. The beginning will be really hard! – not so much… it was actually much easier than we expected. We didn’t have to change too many of our eating habits and we actually discovered some really yummy alternatives.
  2. We will feel totally different! – not so much… although I have to say that the results from the first weeks are completely skewed because we were so sleep deprived. Ken insists that without the fast we would have felt even worse…
  3. Something wonderful and unexpected will happen because of the fast! – many wonderful things happen every day and continue to do so. Hard to tell if they are at all related to the fast.
  4. We will crave certain food items! – at the beginning: No. – Now: Yes! We are starting to crave food that has a more intense flavor. More salt, more sweet, more something. Hard to tell what exactly it is but things start to taste a little bit the same. My favorite things to have: A piece of dark chocolate and barbecue sauce (not together, though). Ken’s cravings: chocolate, potato chips, string cheese.
  5. We will have to cut the children some slack. – Not really. At the beginning I let Marlena eat “processed” crackers, for example, when we would get together with other kids and they would share.  I realized after a short while; however, that she truly didn’t care if I said, “No, let’s eat what I brought.” So I stopped making exceptions. It didn’t seem to bother her one bit.
  6. We will miss the “convenient” helpers in the kitchen! – Yes. There is one product I miss terribly…. Drum roll…. It’s PAM cooking spray. That’s sounds almost embarrassing but I hate buttering every baking dish. PAM will definitely come back into this kitchen!
  7. We will save some money. – I wish. We cut out a lot of food and that definitely saved some money. But we also added certain foods – and they were rather on the expensive side. For example, instead of other treats, we treated ourselves to special indulgencies, e.g. pure organic pear juice and organic cocoa powder… things that are rather expensive.
  8. This fast will lead to some long term changes. – Definitely. Hard to tell what exactly will happen and to what degree but our habits have changed so much that it is hard to imagine we would go back all the way. I doubt soda will ever find its way back into our kitchen, sugar and white flour will be sparse   (besides that dark chocolate…), we will continue to make our own stock, etc.

We are in the final sprint. I’m very curious what those last days are about to bring…

Accepting Help

I sometimes find myself in a dilemma. On the one hand, I’m hoping to get some help. Wouldn’t it be great sometimes to have somebody clean your house, grade your papers, work in the garden, entertain your kids… It sounds pretty enticing to me.

Of course, it doesn’t happen every day that somebody shows up on my footstep and offers to take something off my plate. But it does happen occasionally. And it’s wonderful. Or isn’t it? It amazes me every time how hard it actually is to accept help. How hard it is to “confess” that I truly could use another hand. How much easier life would sometimes be if somebody else offers another pair of hands. I wonder why this is so difficult. I think in part it has to do with not wanting to “look like” somebody who can’t do it all. So here’s a typical dialogue that starts in my head every so often…

A:            Your kids are sick? – let me come over and help you out for a while. I have time.

B:            Oh that’s wonderful. Are you sure you have time for this?

A:            Of course, not a problem.

B:            Well, wait, are you implying that I can’t handle this by myself?

A:            No, I just want to be nice.

B:            MMhhh, okay.

A:            I’ll be there in a little bit.

B:            Mhhhh, do you think it might look to others like I can’t handle it?

A:            Geez, you are starting to get on my nerves.

B:            Well, that’s my job. I’m here to question everything and try to turn something great into something partly dubious.

A:            Suit yourself. I’ll be over anyway. But I won’t talk about this. I’ll just play with your kids for a while. And then I’ll go home. Because I’m pretty sure you’ll do just fine by yourself. Even though it’s often just nice to have another person there.

B:            So true. Could you please bring something to quiet that nagging voice in the back of my head?

A:            Honey, you are on a fast. I’ll bring some red wine after Easter…

Time

It’s funny how this often goes. You are waiting for something. You check often. After a while, you start to forget about it. And all the sudden it’s there:

Marta’s first tooth came out today! Two weeks ago we started wondering. We tried to figure out why she wouldn’t sleep. We wondered about teething… but there was no tooth. So we gave up and forgot about the tooth. And now it’s here!

I often feel like time can play real tricks on your mind. We might have things going on parallel yet one just speeds along and the other one drags its feet. But we experience both on the same Monday…

Time can play tricks on you. And these tricks are sometimes very helpful in figuring out what you really want to focus on. What changes you need to make to get everything out of those moments that go too fast (which is in general a sign that it’s something really cool) and to better deal with the times that go too slow (meaning there are probably not that great).

But no matter how wisely you allocate your time. The anticipation of something great will never go fast – until you forget you’re waiting…

Lighting the Candle

We recently visited the local Waldorf School. A warm and wonderful place that is very inspiring. One of the many things I took away from our visit was the fact that when we (a handful of parents and children) sat down together for the morning snack, a candle was lit. “When the candle is lit, we all sit”. That is the rule – which is gently but firmly enforced. And it seems that all the 2-4 year old children are somewhat entranced by the candle and truly sit (most of the time, that is).

So I decided to start this ritual at home. When we sit down for dinner now, we light a candle. It seemed to be a really good ritual for the children – or so we thought. Turns out, it’s also a very good reminder for the adults. It almost went unnoticed how often Ken or I would get up during dinner. Just to quickly check something, get something, take care of something. Becoming uncomfortably aware of this, we felt like little hypocrites. We might be the ones that need the candle more than our toddler…

When the candle is lit – we ALL sit. A powerful exercise that leads to a beautiful family dinner.

Keeping It Simple

I have a preference for simple food. I like to limit my ingredients and to see and taste everything that goes into a meal. I like to eat good food that has enough taste in itself and doesn’t need to be covered in a heavy sauce.

 I noticed, however, that I don’t seem to have a preference for simple thoughts. Quite to the contrary, I seem to get simple potatoes but sink them into a big pot of dark brown sauce. What am I trying to say here? I have a tendency to read into things. People are in a bad mood – I wonder if I did something wrong. People need to leave earlier than originally planned – I try to figure out if they didn’t want to spend more time with me. People don’t include me in an email – I guess they don’t want me to be part of it.

 As it turns out, ninety nine percent of the time, people are just in a bad mood and it has nothing to do with me. People need to leave early because they need to pick their kids up.  And they don’t include me in the email because they don’t want to clutter my mailbox with emails that are really not important to me.

 But why is it so difficult to just accept that something that looks like a potato and tastes like a potato might actually be a potato? Why do we sometimes read so much into things? I think one of the many answers is that simple is actually often harder to do. Cooking with fewer ingredients is often harder. Nothing can be covered up. Making sense of situations without all the contextual information is harder, too. But the question still remains. Why do we so often resort to think the answer has something to do with us. We wouldn’t blame ourselves if the potato we just bought turns out to be rotten or tasteless…

Clearness

I’m not really sure why this story is sticking in my head; but it has been ever since Ken and I read it. 

The story discussed the Quaker tradition to have a “clearness committee” whenever one has to make an important, life-altering decision. The committee is not there to discuss a decision or to give advice; it is there to ask questions.

A man was offered a new job. More money, more status, more influence – a seemingly no-brainer. Yet he couldn’t answer the question “Why do you want this job?” First, he started to list everything he didn’t like about it. After repeating the question several times, the committee members urged him more. Ashamed, he said he would like to see his picture in the paper. That was the only reason he really had for taking this job. And, of course, the fact that to everybody else this seemed like the greatest opportunity.

I feel like we should all have a clearness committee once in a while. Obvious answers are not necessarily right ones. And what’s right for everybody else doesn’t need to be right for you.

More importantly, I feel that we should sometimes consider ourselves to be a member of the committee. Asking the right questions is often harder than distributing advice.

Everybody deserves good questions. The answers often need some time to ripen… I’m still trying to figure out the exact answer to why this story stuck with me. I’ll let it ripen a little bit longer…

And So It Begins

Unspectacular. I have to say. I even waited to write this post until the morning to see if something “appropriate” for the beginning of our fast would happen. It didn’t. We ate good and healthy food. We had a good day. We didn’t really miss anything.

It makes me think about how most things really start very quietly. It makes me think of when I met my husband for the first time. We were standing at the copier. I sure didn’t see at that moment that we would be married a year later. It makes me look back on giving birth. It started quietly, it even slowed down. But it for sure changed the pace very quickly. Not that I expect any fast to have even a slight comparison to finding your soul mate or giving birth, but it just reminds me that things go a certain way. A way we don’t get to choose. Just wait and see.

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