On the heels of reading “Settle for More” by Megyn Kelly, I was in the mood for a book with some elements of Washington politics. When I heard on a podcast about “The Hopefuls” by Jennifer Close, I quickly reserved it from my library. The […]
On the heels of reading “Settle for More” by Megyn Kelly, I was in the mood for a book with some elements of Washington politics. When I heard on a podcast about “The Hopefuls” by Jennifer Close, I quickly reserved it from my library.
The story is about a young married couple, Matt and Beth Kelly (ironically!), who move from New York to Washington D.C. so Matt can pursue a career in politics. Beth is not so sure she will warm up to this new state and its culture of politics. Soon enough they meet another couple close in age and aspirations, Jimmy, a White House staffer, and his wife Ash, and they become fast friends.
I’ve always loved books and reading, thanks to my parents who encouraged my siblings and me to read. I will never forget the weekly trips to the library of my childhood, where my sister and I pored over shelves to find new biographies to read. (Always true stories). It was always an exciting “trip to town” when our mom announced it would include a stop at the library. We read dozens of books, including all the Little House on the Prairie books. (more…)
As the years fly by, I realize that I still have so many things I want to do, but haven’t done. This very simple equation has become increasingly clear:
Results = time + attention
I can dream about a business endlessly, I can imagine drawings and paintings I wish I could make, I can wish to be a published author… but if the only place these things occur are in my head, there they will stay. (more…)
Still looking for a few last minute Christmas gifts for a child in your life? Today I am sharing some of our family’s most-loved children’s books. (more…)
Hanging ornaments on the Christmas tree always puts me in a reflective mood. Between the purely decorative ornaments, I pull out symbols of my most treasured memories. An ornament my in-laws gave us after we were first married, and another after we moved into the first home we built together. There’s the Precious Moments “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament that my sister-in-law gave us after our first child was born, and souvenir ornaments from many fun trips to Disneyland. Even more sentimental are the mini-framed pictures of our daughter Ellianna – one of her first Christmas, and nearly every year till now (she is 5) – reminders of the years ticking by all too quickly.
On silent nights after the kids have gone to bed, I sit by the Christmas tree, seeing its lights and reminders of the past, and I ponder. I think about the coming year, and what thoughts and events will fill my mind the next time I decorate the tree. It’s a time to hope and dream for what’s next, and reflect with gratitude on the prior year.
This year, my reflections are on events I could not have dreamed of last year at Christmas.
It all started near Christmas of 2014, when my sister invited me to a ladies’ Christmas Candlelight Dessert event at her church. The topic was something like “How to Have Peace Through the Holidays.” That night, Brenna Stull, the guest speaker, shared some fun holiday tips as we enjoyed our hot cocoa and cookies. Then the evening took an unexpected turn when she began sharing her story of how God moved her and her family’s hearts toward adoption. She shared so genuinely about this experience and how her family came to adopt two children from Africa, I was moved to tears.
That Christmas, my daughter, our only child, was three years old. She is our miracle baby. Before she was born, I had experienced three early-term miscarriages. Two years after she was born, I had a fourth miscarriage. We hoped to have another child – I grew up with three siblings and my husband grew up with two. Yet we did not know if it would ever be a possibility for our family.
The Christmas Candlelight event was the first nudge that led us to filling out an adoption application. I was a little nervous, but finally decided to start by contacting an agency several friends had used. My first contact at the agency was very friendly and helpful and gave me the first step: fill out a brief application and send in a $50 check. I thought, “I can do that!” That simple first step led to the year of 2015 being punctuated with filling out paperwork and taking adoption classes.
By December of last year, I completed our “match letter,” which birth parents would review and use to select prospective adoptive parents for their child. We went into the matchbook right after the New Year, January of this year. We had no idea how long it would be before we’d have a baby in our arms – I told my boss at work it could take a year or more. Three weeks after we submitted our match letter, I was taking a nap and woke up to find a voicemail on my phone from the adoption agency. My husband was sure it was a request to complete more paperwork. Much to our surprise and joy, we had been selected by a birth mom who was due any day.
When God decides it’s time, things can happen very quickly. Late January, our precious son was born. We had a few harrowing moments when we weren’t sure if consents by the birth parents would be signed, but after many prayers and a few anxious days, Weston became ours.
Weston is now 10 months old – a very sweet, happy boy who has given our family immeasurable joy. This Christmas, as I trace back the memories of this year, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for what God has wrought. There is a new ornament on the tree this year, and with it, reflection on the incredible story of Weston’s adoption.
Life is filled with challenges and some great sorrows – infertility, death of loved ones, and just daily stresses. In these times of reflection, I see that God is good through it all. And as I look at the ornaments, these little “stones of remembrance1,” I see His hand on our lives.
I love these lyrics from Christy Nockels’ Silent Night (Holding Us Now) from her album The Thrill of Hope:
On a starlit wonder of the night
You came so all would be made right
And the baby that all beheld
The same baby Mary held, is the same God
Who is holding us now
The ornaments on the tree tell this story. God is with us, He is holding us; walking with us through all of life. I can’t think of a better time to remember this than Christmas.
1See Joshua 4:4-6, 20-24
Can the “magic of gin and orange juice” and one kiss change the trajectory of two families’ lives? This is the question Ann Patchett answers in her newest book, “Commonwealth.”
Commonwealth is about two families in the aftermath of the husband from one family (Bert) and the wife from the other family (Beverly) leaving their marriages to wed each other. Shortly thereafter, Bert and Beverly leave Los Angeles and move to Virginia. It is the late 60’s/early 70’s, well before the age of helicopter parenting. The collective six children from the two families are left to entertain themselves during lazy and wild summers in Virgina.
The book goes back and forth in time to tell the stories of the two families, weaving stories of when the children are young between stories of their adulthood. Periodically, it flashes back to a family tragedy that happens during one of the childhood Virginia summers and overshadows the lives of all. As happens in many families, the children grow into adulthood with good memories and some scars.
The book culminates in gatherings – one at the beginning of the book, the christening party at Fix and Beverly’s Los Angeles home for their new baby daughter Frannie. Later in adulthood, Frannie, whose character is one of the most developed in the book, dates a well-known author, Leo Posen. Near the middle of the book, Leo Posen rents an actress’s house in Amagansett and gatherings and events there shape Frannie’s future. The book ends in a Christmas gathering at Beverly’s house in later years. Patchett capitalizes on the power of people getting together and the things that can happen, almost like a scientist would experiment with putting chemical elements together and observing and documenting the ensuing reactions.
The experience of reading Commonwealth for me was like peering over the shoulder of a friend who is flipping through her family’s photograph album. It was like looking at snapshots and listening as a friend points to people and highlights of events that happened over the span of many years of time. It felt realistic, not like a fictional tale that had a neat beginning, middle and end, but a continual narrative of the highs and lows of life.
One thing I liked about this book is that it didn’t focus on the romance of the affair that led to the two fractured families. Beyond that first kiss, nothing was mentioned about how the relationship developed, only the events afterward and the effect it had on the kids.
The story draws out the fact that life is messy, but it is good. It shows that family ties and relationships we hold, whether tenuous or strong, are the fibers of our lives and who we are.
According to the author, Ann Patchett, Commonwealth is the most autobiographical novel she’s written. She said in a recent interview, “Most of the things in this book didn’t actually happen, but the feelings are very close to home. Or, as my mother said, ‘None of it happened and all of it’s true.’”
Commonwealth is an enjoyable read that may make you reflect on some of your own childhood and family dynamics. The book for me was not super engaging, as it is not relatable to my own experiences and it was not plot driven. It was easy to put down and I felt about as much emotion at the end as I did at the middle of the book. I think someone who has had more relatable experiences to the story would find it more engaging.
On a 5 star scale:
General rating: 4 stars
My personal enjoyment rating: 3 stars
Making food changes in the home can be pretty overwhelming, especially in very busy households. I just remind myself that little steps can make a big difference, and every good choice makes a difference. Also, even though healthy habits are so important, I don’t stress over everything my family eats (That wouldn’t be healthy!)
Here are ten simple things that I’ve done that help lead to better moods and healthier immune systems:
- Start reading labels. Even if you don’t make any other changes at first, this one can be an eye-opener and can increase your awareness of what’s in your foods. The old adage “If you can’t pronounce it, you probably shouldn’t eat it” is true. If you have to choose between two items, look for the one that has fewer ingredients and additives.Look at the sugar and sodium content in labels. You will be shocked. Be careful to look at how many servings are in an item – nutritional labels are per serving. If there are three servings in a bottle, you have to multiply the sugar and sodium times 3 to know how much is in the bottle. (This is especially important when looking at juice and drinks like teas and lemonade).
- Watch out for artificial sweeteners. The brilliant marketing for artificially sweetened drinks calls them “Zero”, but this doesn’t mean zero side effects. Artificial sweeteners not only fuel sugar cravings, they can contribute to neurological issues (for more on this read Russell Blaylock’s eye opening book “Excitotoxins”) and according to one study can increase risk for type 2 diabetes.
- Buy more organically grown foods. Organic foods have much fewer chemicals and pesticides which can lead to fewer sensitivities. They are also typically grown with more humane and environmentally friendly practices than commercial foods. Organic food is becoming more affordable and available than ever. Try your local farmers market or even Costco – I get quite a bit of my organic foods from Costco.
- Look at the quantity of sugars and carbs in your grocery bags – things like breads, chips, bagels, crackers, muffins, breakfast cereals. Our American diet is supersized with SUGAR. It’s everywhere, even in health foods. Refined flours from wheat and corn are everywhere as well, which are so stripped of nutrients and fibers that they hit our system nearly like sugar does and cause a spike. A diet high in sugars and refined carbohydrates leads to poor emotional balance, cardiovascular issues, poor immunity, higher stress levels, and lots of cravings for more. Sage advice is to buy most of your foods around the perimeter of the grocery store and less of the bags, bottles and cans.
- Buy less juice and sodas. Drink more water.
- Buy lots of salad makings and veggies. Try eating them with hummus or an olive oil based dressing. One great hack from a friend: She buys a veggie tray every week for her family to snack on. (Remove the dip and replace it with something healthier!) This is a ready-to-go set of veggies, quick to grab from the fridge.
- Buy whole wheat and whole grains. If your child is like mine, she LOVES mac n’ cheese, so I buy Annie’s “Ancient Grains” or whole wheat varieties. We also buy whole grain breads and buns.
- Stock up on good fats – a low fat diet is one of the worst for mental health. Our brains need healthy fats. Take a high quality fish oil supplement, eat salmon (wild caught is better than farm raised), eat coconut and olive oil, and cut down on fried foods. Your brain will thank you.
- Buy healthy forms of protein. For many (including myself) a diet rich in lean, minimally processed meats and lots of vegetables makes me feel best. Look for growth-hormone free, ideally organic beef, chicken, turkey and eggs. Grass-fed / free- range is best. If you do buy processed meats (like pastrami or lunch meat), make sure it is nitrate and nitrite-free.If you buy dairy products, buy hormone-free (BGH-free), preferably organic as well. But do watch out for dairy sensitivities, as dairy can contribute to seasonal allergies, sinus issues, and digestive problems for some.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare. Take a few hours on the weekend to plan and prep meals for the week. Wash and cut-up fruits and vegetables. Make a soup or a meatloaf that you can warm up in 5 minutes during the week. When the week gets going, it can be really hard to squeeze in healthy food prep, and making some things ahead can prevent a desperate stop at a drive-through. (been there, done that many times!)
Buying healthy groceries and making healthy steps takes some extra planning, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Best of all, it pays you back many times by reducing stress, boosting energy and building immunity against illness.
In making my home a haven, providing healthy food is one of the most important things I can do. Health is one of the very most precious things I have. It allows me to have energy to care for and play with my kids. It allows me to function with emotional stability. Loss of health for a period of time can be one of the biggest setbacks a person can experience in life. It’s so very critical for me to take care of my health and to teach my children to care for their health too.
While eating whole foods is just one piece of the puzzle for maintaining health, it is a big piece. The investment of time and energy on health is never wasted, never regretted. Little steps make big wins.
The relationships between food, mood and CALM are one big reason I make sure I’m bringing home whole foods in my grocery bags (if you missed this post, click here). Another huge reason to buy healthy groceries is to build immunity.
Have you ever been in the middle of work, frantically prepping for an afternoon meeting, or working on a project deadline and had your phone ring with the dreaded call?: “Hi, your child is sick – can you come pick her up?” Few things derail a busy day or week than illness in the family. If you’re lucky enough, just one child will get sick. Unlucky enough, the illness will spread through the family like the black plague.
Not all sickness can be avoided, in fact, to some degree, it builds immunity. But if there is something I can do to help prevent it from happening frequently, it will take a ton of stress off my family (and save tons of dollars on disinfectant wipes!).
One of the worst offenders for tearing down immunity is SUGAR. Research has shown that consumption of sugar depresses white blood cell activity, the fighters against foreign organisms and infectious disease. This the equivalent of having your house on fire and having all the firefighters show up drunk.
According to Kenneth Bock, M.D., an expert in nutritional and environmental health,
Just 24 teaspoons of sugar, or half the sugar the average American consumes everyday, decreases immune system efficiency by 92%.
The average American eats 150 lbs. of sugar per year, or approximately 48 teaspoons per day. How do we accomplish this?
- One 12 oz. soft drink contains 9 or more teaspoons of sugar.
- One Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup contains 4.8 teaspoons of sugar.
- One ounce of Fruit Loops contains 3.3 teaspoons of sugar.
- One 4.6 ounce serving of pecan pie contains 12 teaspoons of sugar.
Sugar is in everything. When you read labels, you will find it in many savory items like ketchup, pasta sauce, Worcestershire sauce, crackers and chips. One of the best ways to cut down on sugar is to cut out sweetened beverages. And don’t replace them with artificially sweetened beverages – artificial sweeteners come with their own set of problems. More on this later.
Building immunity through controllable factors like diet, stress reduction and exercise is so important to well-being, because there are so many uncontrollable factors that already have our immune systems working overtime. Our bodies weren’t designed to constantly cope with the toxins that fill our environment. Synthetic chemicals are in everything from our cars to our carpets, we have smog in our air, radio frequency energy from our wireless technology, and superbugs that antibiotics can’t fight that we didn’t have even a decade ago. Chemicals and pesticides are in our groundwater. We may never know the full effects of some of these factors in our environment until several years from now.
Now more than ever, we need to keep our immune systems strong by fueling them with health-giving foods, and avoiding the foods that tear them down.
Next up …. Grocery shopping tips for healthy foods.
One of the most important action items to make home a haven is to evaluate what’s coming through the door in our grocery bags.
The food I bring into my kitchen can either provide energy and health, building little healthy bodies and healthy immune systems, or it can work against our biology, resulting in allergies, irritability, hyperactive behavior, fatigue and general moodiness.
I want to talk about a big end-goal for my home and family when I make my grocery lists.
My goal is to have more calm in our home.
If you ever watch a child who is overtired or has just had a very sugary treat, you will see some pretty drastic changes in his/her behavior… all kinds of acting up. This is a great window into how much physiological factors can influence behavior.
So many books have been written about how to manage our children’s and even our own behaviors…. But evaluating physiology is just as important as psychology when it comes to behavior management. Let me explain: in the heat of the moment, I may not realize that my child’s behavior is the result of a physiological response to something I fed her. No amount of the latest child rearing techniques will fix a brain that has been momentarily broken by a food sensitivity. In fact, there have been times when I’ve been in the thick of setting boundaries and implementing time outs with my daughter when I’ve finally realized I let her have too many “treats” – too much sugar – for her to stay within boundaries.
Dr. Doris Rapp, author of the groundbreaking book “Is this Your Child?” observed that some environmental and food allergies in children caused their behavior to be altered drastically, causing everything from ADHD to tantrums; even violent behaviors for some. But in certain cases, when the allergens were identified and removed, the children were able to behave normally, to focus, and to maintain calm. The brain is just as much a part of our biology as any other organ, and can be greatly impacted by our environment and our foods.
Beyond food sensitivities, nutritional deficiencies can also impact mood. The American diet includes refined starches, caffeine, sugar and sodas, which are nutrient poor. Even though we live in the land of plenty, a diet that is too heavy in processed, refined foods (aka, food out of a package or a can) can be lacking some essential nutrients to nourish the brain. The brain requires B vitamins and healthy fats to function properly (the fats found in nuts and seeds, avocados, coconut and olive oil), nutrients that are devoid in most processed foods.
A nutrient-low diet can lead to low serotonin levels. We have a self-esteem crisis in the youth of our nation. I can’t help but wonder if some of this is linked to the foods our youth is eating. Psychologist Julia Ross in her book “The Mood Cure” noted:
“Like most psychotherapists, I have spent many long hours struggling to help people with shyness and low self-esteem…. The trouble was that psychotherapy didn’t always help. Self-critical thoughts and feelings often continued to dog my clients, no matter how hard we worked. I couldn’t understand it.
“But when those same clients changed their diets and began using pro-serotonin supplements, something amazing happened – as their serotonin levels rose, so did their self-confidence.”
The evidence is clear: food can affect the brain and behavior. Where does this leave us as parents?
It’s important to monitor kids for any patterns that may indicate a food sensitivity. If you notice every time your child eats or drinks a certain food, she starts acting out or gets a tummy ache, that’s a signal to try eliminating that food to see if it makes a difference. We noticed that too much dairy bothers Ellianna’s tummy, so we switched her to almond milk. Too much sugar and food dyes make her start bouncing off the walls (no surprise here). Many parents have found that by avoiding food dyes (as much as possible!) and other foods their children are sensitive to can turn around some behavioral issues.
It’s hard to say “no” sometimes. Kids don’t always understand why everyone else can eat something but they can’t. But the hard truth is that it’s even more unfair for me to allow my child to eat something that impacts her brain and I spend the rest of the day riding her case because she can’t behave.
Beyond eliminating food allergens, including lots of fruits and veggies, nuts, seeds and whole grains is also key. I’ll be the first to say this is tough. Everywhere my daughter goes (school, soccer games, events), sugary and starchy snacks are freely available. On holidays and birthdays, we love to celebrate with special treats. My daughter doesn’t have specific grain allergies, so I go with the 80/20 rule: as long as she is getting nutritious foods the majority of the time – at least 80% of the time- that’s a win. The key here is to pack lunches and eat healthy food at home. – it goes back to looking at what’s in the grocery bags I’m bringing in the door.
A calm household starts with mom and dad as well. The old adage is true: “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” I’ve found some things that can trigger undesirable behavior in myself: Too much caffeine in the morning leaves me overanxious during the day and cranky and irritable at night. Too much sugar makes me suddenly more frustrated with smaller things. Not enough sleep or rest leads to anxiety and melancholy. Eating dairy causes chronic stomachaches which leave me short-fused and irritable. Certainly I have filters on my behavior, but filters wear down eventually. One of the best remedies to help me be patient and kind is to take care of myself so my emotional well is filled for my family.
To take good care of my family, I must take good care of myself.
Nourishing myself with whole foods can help my marriage too. Gary Smalley wrote a book called “Food and Love” that explores the link between food, mood and marital relationships. He hypothesized that poor health habits can cause irritability and other poor moods, which can then lead to marital dysfunction (and alternately, marital dysfunction can lead to unhealthy eating habits, so it is a continual cycle). Failing to nourish our bodies and thus our brain can lead to a short fuse and irritability, which in turn can starve a marriage of essential affection.
Certainly not all behavioral issues stem from food sensitivies and nutrient deficiency. The subject of behavior is complex, and many sociological, psychological, other physiological, and spiritual elements contribute as well.
I’ve simply seen first-hand the impact of nutrition on mood and behavior and on the emotional tone of our home. It’s such a simple thing to adjust, it should not be missed.
Tomorrow I’ll share another important reason to stock the kitchen with healthy foods, as well as some grocery shopping tips.