When the ties that bind bend but don’t break

My dad’s side of the family–the Frye side–is notoriously bad about getting together as a whole big group. Funerals and weddings, we joke, ha ha, and at each of these events we vow to not let it be so long until we’re all together again.

I grew up in close physical proximity to my aunts, uncles and cousins on this side of the family, but it really hasn’t been until we’ve entered adulthood that we’re gotten to know each other better. (It doesn’t help, I tell myself, that I’m one of the oldest of the cousins and the gap between oldest and youngest is almost two decades.)

My cousin Mandy and I represented both coasts: she flew in from California; I came in from Pennsylvania

My cousin Mandy and I represented both coasts: she flew in from California; I came in from Pennsylvania

We haven’t always been close but we’ve always been family, and this is clearer every time we’re together, no matter the reason.

Most recently, it was for a funeral. (You can read the back story here and here.)

The man who died was not my grandfather by blood, but he loved my grandmother well. He was her third husband, but I believe she found her soul mate in him. Their 18-plus years together were not nearly enough, but I know she is grateful to have been blessed with the love of a good man.

Her four sons, my dad and his brothers, gathered in rural southern Missouri where their mother lives. One of them lives there, too; the other three drove the 8-plus hours from our hometown to be with her.

frye boys with mom

They are like the northern Illinois version of Duck Dynasty only cooler because they’re my family.

dad & dave with grandmaAnd I watched as these men, who I’m sure will always be boys to their mom, supported her and their families, sharing and bearing the burden of grief.

A few months ago, I was rolling my maiden name around in my mind because it sounded foreign to me. For 29 years I was known as Lisa Frye, and it was always familiar. I’ve been a Bartelt for only 7 1/2 years, but that name is more comfortable for me. Maybe because my kids share it or because a lot of my writing is under that name now or because I live among people who only know me by that name.

But as I’ve had the chance to spend time with my Frye relatives, I’ve realized that my name may have changed but I’m still a Frye.

And I have too long separated myself from the Frye women, who are either Frye by marriage or are children of a Frye boy and his wife.

frye boys and wives

There is a rebellious streak that comes alive in me when we are together, a bond that may be bent but has not broken. (My dad remarked that I’m more like my brother when my kids aren’t around because I was a bit sassier than normal, I guess. I think it’s more because I’m accepting my true self and throwing off the expectations of what I think other people think I should be.)

This is a trait of my family. You might not like us but we don’t care what you think. (Okay, maybe we care a little, but it’s not going to change who we are.)

Last fall my husband and kids and I went home for two weddings, back-to-back nights of family celebrations. Until that weekend, I hadn’t seen my extended family much in person, but they all knew about my kids and my life because of Facebook (see, social media is not all bad). Still, it was good to have that in-person interaction. To hear voices and shake hands and hug. Facebook is limited by its two-dimensional-ness. Some things can only be fully experienced by three-dimensional-in-the-flesh life.

And that’s part of the reason I flew out for this funeral. I love my grandma and the last time I saw her in person was more than six years ago. My daughter was a baby then and our son was not in mind yet. We have written to each other and talked on the phone, but like Facebook, those interactions can’t replace the feeling of wrapping your arms around someone you love and giving them a long hug, or the soft press of lips on a wrinkled cheek to convey your love and care.

My grandma with the granddaughters who attended the funeral

My grandma with the granddaughters who attended the funeral

For some experiences to be really lived, you have to not only see but feel and hear.

We crowded into a couple of pews around my grandma, her boys lined up in the front row like I imagine they might have been once upon time in a church, the rest of us squeezed into a row or two behind. Moments before the service started, as people we didn’t know trickled in to pay their respects and share their condolences (including our waitress from breakfast that morning because it’s that kind of a small town), we joked and laughed about nothing in particular.

Not long after, we shed tears as the song “Wind Beneath My Wings” filled the funeral home and we considered the great loss of love. We held each other and cried and prayed together, and I learned another thing about grief that I had forgotten: sorrow and laughter can share the same space and who better to share it with than family.

I am grateful to have these family ties and though I haven’t seen some of them for years or kept in touch, we are still bonded by our common name, our shared experiences. By more than 30 years of marriages and presence in each other’s lives.

And this, I understand, is not limited to blood relations.

My stepgrandfather had been in the Navy and served in Korea, so his burial was to be in a nearby military cemetery, with military honors. (I’m not sure if that’s the right term.)

It was 18 degrees and windy, unreasonably cold for southern Missouri, even in winter, yet honor guard members and military personnel and a bagpiper converged on the site to pay tribute to a man none of them knew but was considered a brother because of his service.

flag presentation to grandmaThis is a moment I will never forget. We were huddled and shivering in the cold, and I could hardly believe that strangers would endure this discomfort out of duty. I had seen scenes like this in pictures, widows or mothers being presented with a folded flag that had covered the loved one’s casket, but never had I heard the words.

I can’t recite them for you, but I know their sentiment will never leave me. Even though my grandmother didn’t know her husband when he was a Navy man, she was there at his passing, to receive the honor of him having served his country. I was overcome by the magnitude, humbled to be a witness to such an emotional event.

The playing of Taps, the honor guard salute that made us all jump on the first round of firing, the sound of “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes carrying across the field on a chilly afternoon.

It, too, is a tie that binds. As the wife of a veteran, I feel the smallest connection to others who have served and supported, who have lived through separations, who have died answering the call to protect. It’s a connection that also bends in my day-to-day. We are no longer a military family, so sometimes it’s easy to forget those years. Again, experience in person affirms that connection.

We live too far from family. We hear it again and again. But I suspect that I wouldn’t appreciate them as much if I had never moved away. Maybe I wouldn’t even consider what I had. Or maybe everybody realizes this when they grow up and have kids and get older, and celebrate and grieve together.

All I know is I’m grateful to have been born a Frye, and to be counted among them even when I’m far away. I would love to make a vow that I’ll keep in better touch but I know myself too well. I might not send cards or letters, but my heart will be full of memories and gratitude. And the next time we’re together, I might find that the bonds aren’t as stretched as I thought.

The ties that bind us are like thick rubber bands–they might stretch but eventually they’ll bring us back together.

I grew up with a strong sense of family duty, and I often beat myself up that I can’t be there for them more often. But I will be there when I can, and when it counts.

This is what it means to be bound by love or honor or duty.

Nothing, really, can keep us apart. At least, not for long.

What happens when you’re not the one in control {Part 2}

Looking for part 1 of the story? Click here. Then read on for more stories about my recent travels.

I was not near the front of the plane, and I was in a window seat. But my seatmates, the cruise couple, graciously let me out with my carry-on bag, and the flight attendants asked nicely that anyone who didn’t have a connecting flight stay seated and let others off the plane who needed to make a connection. I held my phone and checked the clock numerous times. Theoretically, I should make it.

The aisle cleared and I thanked the crew, who had professionally and graciously handled a plane full of grumblers, and I quickly scanned the terminal for directions to my gate. A friend who travels frequently told me the Charlotte airport is bigger than it needs to be, and his assessment was not wrong.

Samuel Sosina | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Samuel Sosina | Creative Commons | via unsplash

I did not run or sprint because I also hadn’t eaten anything more than my pastry from the early morning and a nutty Larabar (huge shoutout to Larabar! They sustained my hunger needs!) and I didn’t think passing out in the airport would aid my travel situation.

I weaved my way through travelers moving in all directions. I fast-walked on the moving sidewalk things to make my way to the farthest reaches of the farthest terminal. (Really?) I kept checking my clock and kept casting a quick glance at the posted schedules, worried that because the flight was already late that it might take off earlier than I was anticipating.

Sweating through my clothes, my calves screaming, (because it was also in the teens in Philadelphia and I was wearing layers and it was not that cold in Charlotte; also boots), I pulled up to the agent at the gate.

Breathless, I told him, “I just got an e-mail that told me I was on this flight.”

He took my name and looked it up.

“I’ve been waiting for you to check in.”

“I literally just got off the plane.”

“Oh, where’d you fly from?”

I couldn’t even answer his question.

“Philly?” he suggested.

“Yes,” I said.

And then I had a boarding ticket in hand for a flight that was just about to board. I could hardly contain my joy. I was hungry and tired but I would get to Memphis before dark, like I’d planned. Because I still had 2 1/2 hours of driving when I landed in Memphis and I wasn’t excited about driving through Arkansas and rural Missouri in the dark.

The flight to Memphis was uneventful, save for my seat mate who fell asleep and almost landed in my lap as her head drooped lower and lower. I had to tap her on the shoulder for our final descent so she could put her laptop away.

Once I’d left the plane in Memphis, it was another long walk to the rental car area. And part of that walk was outside, which probably isn’t a problem most of the time in Memphis, but it was somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 degrees. I had frozen fingers by the time I got into the rental.

With the keyless key to a Nissan Sentra in hand, I pulled out of the Memphis airport and cruised toward Missouri via Arkansas. I thought about stopping for a bite to eat, but I had the Larabars and a little bit of water and I wanted to get there. To see my family and just stop moving for a few minutes.

It was a long, straight drive through a state I can only assume is beautiful in another season. Brown stretches of land surrounded me, though its state motto boasted “the natural state.” My radio choices for much of the trip were “country” and “more country.” But I made do.

I pulled into the motel where my parents were staying at a little after 5:30 p.m. central time, a long day not over yet but the traveling part was done. I ate my fill of grief food at my grandma’s house and headed to bed earlier than usual. I had made it, and I’d had little to do with the timing.

Two days later when the time came to travel back, the weather threatened to disrupt my plans again. And not long after I woke up, my husband texted me asking what he needed to do to call our daughter off of school because she’d woke up puking. Talk about being not in control. I was hundreds of miles away and I couldn’t get home any faster to help out. Or so I thought. But we’ll get there.

I left my family at 7:30 a.m., giving myself plenty of time to get back to Memphis, to stop to fill the rental car with gas, to get through security and print my boarding pass, and maybe get a bite to eat before my 12:50 p.m. flight back to Charlotte.

The drive was not any more interesting the second time, though I did have to make two stops this time, which broke up the monotony some. And then there was the added weekday traffic.

I sighed with relief when I pulled the rental car into its spot. There’s something about completing the first leg of a journey that makes the rest of the journey seem possible.

Then it was back to the long walk to the terminal and a visit to the kiosk, which told me that I could not print my boarding pass because my flight had a delay. I hadn’t even had time to check because I was so early. I’d hoped to make it through security and grab some lunch. (Are you sensing a theme here?) The US Airways agent waved me over and asked for my name and flight. Then she said some magic words.

“I can get you on a direct flight to Philly, landing at 2:55, getcha home about 3 hours early.”

I paused before saying “yes” because in the original plan, my husband wouldn’t be able to leave to get me until after school, so I was calculating the number of hours I would have to sit in the Philly airport.

“You’ll be waiting for a ride?” she said. I nodded. “Well, at least you’ll be there.”

“Let’s do it,” I said.

Then she printed me a pass, and I looked at the time, and once again, I had about 30 minutes until boarding time and still needed to go through security. (An aside: going through security is not really as grueling a process as I imagine it is. It takes time, but it’s not awful.) I did, then I found my gate and maybe even pinched myself to make sure this was real. I was on a completely different flight leaving and arriving earlier than I’d thought. I texted my husband and my mom and then thought I better call my husband before I got on the plane because I wouldn’t be available for a couple of hours.

He was wrangling children at the grocery store buying supplies for a stomach bug: crackers and ginger ale and the like. He promised to get there as soon as they could.

I settled in for the flight. I had no seat mate but my Kindle, and I finished the book I’d started a few days before on the trip. It was a smooth and relaxing flight.

Until we landed.

Then we sat at the gate for 20 minutes waiting for I don’t know what. Something to do with the ground crew. Then we waited in the jetway for our larger carry-on bags (this was a small plane, only 13 rows of seats) for another 20 minutes because of a short-staffed airport crew or something. My plan to get something to eat while waiting for my family to arrive was again thwarted as they made it to the cell phone lot before I could leave with my bag.

So, hungry, tired and grateful to be home, I made my way through the terminals to the pick-up point and eased into the passenger seat of our van. I was home before I was supposed to leave Charlotte. It was daylight, and though my husband and I both showed signs of exhaustion, we were together and could help each other through till bedtime.

Before this trip, it had been a long time since I’d done something like this on my own. Probably 10 years or more ago. I think I found a part of myself again, and maybe those are thoughts for another post on another day.

I think I lost a little bit of myself, too. That part that says if I don’t plan everything out to the last detail, then it will all go wrong. That I don’t have to be in control of all the details. I learned, or re-learned, I can trust other people. I can trust God. (I’m not saying God showed me any more favor than any other traveler. I don’t think I’m that special. But I do know I can trust Him to work things out, even without my help.)

I found out that when I’m not in control, it’s not the end of the world.

It might even be a beginning.

What happens when you’re not the one in control {Part 1}

When you’re a writer and you set out on an unplanned adventure and then return to your regular life full of schedules and sickness and responsibilities, where do you even start with all the stories about what you saw and experienced?

This was my dilemma in the van on the way home from the airport. I’d talked to my husband by phone each day but I hadn’t told the kids much about my trip while I was on it. They sat in the back seats, one of them battling a stomach bug, the other one buzzing on a blue slushy high, and I asked if they wanted to hear stories of my trip. Of course, they said, “Yes!” because they love stories, both the telling and the hearing.

And I couldn’t decide where to start. (Also, I’m not a great “out loud” storyteller. I’m better with words on a page, or a screen.)

I had so many things to tell them. I have so many things to tell you. And to tell them all at once would be overwhelming, so we’ll take it one step at a time.

When I decided to take this trip to the Midwest to be with my grandma and family for my step-grandpa’s funeral, I thought it was because I wanted to do it for them. As it turns out, I needed this trip for me.

I suspected when I booked this trip that I would have little control over how it all worked out.

And if I hadn’t suspected it, the snow on Saturday would have confirmed it. The day before I was to leave, our area experienced a smallish snowstorm, but it was big enough to mess with a bunch of flights. I would discover this on Sunday when I arrived at the airport.

We woke up super early on Sunday morning. My flight still said it was scheduled on time and we didn’t know what the roads would be like, so we dragged our kids out of bed at 4 a.m., loaded up the car and began the slow journey to Philadelphia. The roads weren’t impassable, but they weren’t in good condition, so our trip took a bit longer than expected. We pulled up to the departures drop-off and I kissed my family good-bye while holding back tears. Because if I had started crying then, I might not have stopped.

I walked into the airport with purpose and some semblance of confidence though I think I was still shaking a little on the inside. There was no turning back, and I didn’t want to, so I spurred myself forward, first to the bathroom because you know, two-hour drive, and then up the stairs to the security line, the one place that makes me most anxious in an airport.

It was a breeze, really. And before I knew it, I was rolling through the terminal, looking for my gate, then off to find coffee and breakfast. I was plenty early for my flight.

As boarding time drew near, there was little activity at the gate. I wasn’t in an extreme hurry, but I did have only an hour layover in Charlotte to catch a connecting flight to Memphis. And that was if everything ran on time. It soon became clear that we weren’t going to board on time. Eventually, we filled the plane and waited for the ground crew to remove some fuel from our airplane, which had been ready to fly to Denver the night before. While they were doing that, the flight attendants discovered that the bathrooms on the plane weren’t working, so we waited for someone to fix that. I settled in with my book because frankly, even if I didn’t make it to my destination, I was enjoying multiple hours in a row away from my house without responsibility to little people. I was already on vacation.

Chris Brignola | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Chris Brignola | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Unlike the couple next to me who were desperately trying to get to Florida to catch their cruise ship before it left port. They had already had a flight canceled the night before and they, too, had a tight connection in Charlotte.

The waiting dragged on. And then we were told that we were going to have to re-board on a different airplane because this one wasn’t ready to fly. Everyone off this plane, back out to the gate, line up at the gate next door and board a different plane. It was now almost two hours after our scheduled departure and we still hadn’t left the ground. I was going to miss my connecting flight. But there wasn’t much I could do about it, and I didn’t see the point of trying to call the airline. Everyone else on the plane was trying to do that and couldn’t get through.

I decided to wait. And trust. (Believe me when I say this is so unlike me.)

While we sat on the second plane waiting to be cleared for takeoff, I got an e-mail that said I’d been “re-accommodated” on a flight that would leave the next morning. No way was that accommodating for me, but I decided to wait till I got to Charlotte to talk to someone about finding another flight to the Midwest that would leave the same day.

Finally, we pushed away from the gate and headed to the de-icing pad.

Have you ever seen this before? I took a picture just to show my son. He would totally love this job. Someday. As a grownup.

deicer

And then we were airborne, on our way to Charlotte and beyond. Few of us on the plane knew what would be waiting for us in Charlotte. Another flight. Another delay. Another snag in the planning.

The couple next to me was upset. They’d paid for a week-long cruise. They were going to miss some of it, if not all of it. They wanted to get off the plane. They wanted to stay on. They had so many options and none of them were good. The male half of the couple described the last two days as “the worst two days of my life.” I thought maybe he’d had a pretty good life, then, if this was as bad as it ever got. I kept my mouth shut, though, because no one likes a smart aleck when they’re already stressed.

I almost felt guilty that I wasn’t as crazy stressed or complaining like the rest of the passengers. But, seriously, what could I do? I couldn’t control the weather or the ground crew’s efficiency or the safety of the plane. I couldn’t make it fly any faster, though our pilot assured us he had the airplane equivalent of the “pedal to the metal” to get us to Charlotte.

We landed, and immediately we all turned our phones back on. To my surprise, I had a new message from the airline telling me my flight out of Charlotte was delayed. A flight I had no idea I was even on. We had landed at just a few minutes before 1 p.m., about 2 1/2 hours after our scheduled arrival. The next flight out of Charlotte was scheduled for a 1:08 departure, now delayed until 1:38. I had roughly 40 minutes to get off this plane and make it to a gate two terminals away to catch an afternoon flight out of Charlotte.

Unaware that my flight plans had changed while I was in the air, I could have spent the time worrying or trying to figure out a solution. Instead, I let the airline do their job.

At a few minutes after 1 p.m., it was time for me to do my part. I had another plane to catch.

To be continued tomorrow.

A story that teaches: Review of Remember the Lilies by Liz Tolsma

liliesEither World War II fiction is hot right now or I’m just more drawn to those stories than I ever have been. Whatever the reason, Liz Tolsma’s Remember the Lilies is another strong offering in the World War II fiction genre. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the author in exchange for my review.)

Unlike her first two books, Snow on the Tulips and Daisies are Forever, which take place in Europe, her latest focuses on the Santo Tomas Internment Camp in the Philippines, an area of World War II history about which I am under-educated. I would expect I’m not alone. American civilians were held there for a good chunk of the war and Tolsma’s book portrays what conditions were like for those who experienced it.

The story focuses on Rand Sterling, who, before the war, was a successful American businessman in Manila, and Irene Reynolds, who was raised among missionaries in the Phillipine jungle. Both are prisoners at the camp. After a failed escape attempt by Rand, their paths cross more often and the two become friends trying to make the best of the worst circumstances.

Of Tolsma’s three books, this was my least favorite. It covers a large chunk of time in which the two main characters are prisoners. Months and years pass, noted by a paragraph, and the “action” is limited to the activities of prisoners in the camp. It wasn’t boring, not in the least, but the journey the characters were on was more of an internal one. The danger was more subtle and psychological than in the other books.

Still, it’s a great story, and I’m so grateful for the untold stories Tolsma is telling with her books. Tolsma’s research and attention to detail are so good I feel like I’ve been in a history class. The scenes depict realistic suffering–violent punishment, starvation–so if that bothers you, just be forewarned.

I’d encourage you to check out any of Tolsma’s books for a better idea of what it was like to live through World War II. I’m always more thankful for the sacrifices of the people who lived during that time period after I read one of Tolsma’s books.

When maybe my life is too safe

I didn’t plan it. I never do. Planning to do something spontaneous and out of my comfort zone is some kind of oxymoron, right? Is it even possible to plan to be spontaneous? Probably not.

But my grandma lost her husband, my stepgrandfather, this week, and I felt a restless stirring in my soul to try to go to her for the funeral. I searched travel websites for flights to all the major cities within a couple of hundred miles of her home in rural southern Missouri. It didn’t look like it would work. And then it did. A delay in funeral plans because of weather meant that our schedule would be a little freer and I could leave my family in Pennsylvania for a few days and go to my family in the Midwest.

The trip starts tomorrow, and I am part excited, part fearful. Adventure is not my middle name. Comfortable. Predictable. Safe. Those are more my style.

And yet something about the planning of this trip has reminded me that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Life comes with no guarantees, and a safe life is not immune to trouble or hardship. Nor is it a pathway to life.

“A ship in harbor is safe but that is not what ships are built for.” — John A. Shedd

Nick Diamantidis | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Nick Diamantidis | Creative Commons | via unsplash

“I am tired of living a safe and predictable life.”

I said those words. Out loud. To my husband. As if I needed to defend my decision to make this trip, which includes three airports, four airplanes, varying weather patterns, and 300 miles (round trip) of driving solo. He hardly blinked when I suggested the trip.

My mother, on the other hand, is understandably worried. Before I’d even hit “purchase” on the airplane tickets, she was asking me all the questions I’d asked myself. She’s my mother, and she worries about me. I worry about me, too.

But I’m learning to ask myself some different questions.

Like, “What is the goal of my life?” Is it to get out of here alive? Because I will fail at that. And if it’s to live as safe and comfortably as possible, I will die a premature death from trying to protect all the things and people I care about from harm. There are only so many burdens my shoulders can carry, only so many things I can control. (I do not live this out perfectly. I’m already preparing for the possibility of flight delays and missed connections.)

Leaving my household for a few days not only means disrupting my level of comfort but also puts me in an extreme position of trust. I cannot control the weather, the airplanes, the timing of flights. I cannot oversee my husband’s care of the children while I’m gone. I cannot ensure that everything runs smoothly while I’m gone. I can’t even guarantee I’ll make it to the funeral on Monday. But I’m sure going to try.

Does this leave me anxious?

Yes.

But sometimes so does going to the grocery store.

Living a safe life doesn’t give me life. Often the opposite is true. <Click to tweet>

The times I’ve felt most alive, most in tune with purpose and fulfillment, are the times I wouldn’t have chosen for myself, the times that forced me to learn and grow and fight.

Drifting wherever the current of my day leads may give me a false sense of security, the idea that everything is fine and always will be, that this is life. But the moment I have to paddle to keep from plunging over the waterfall, or kick with everything I have to swim for shore when my boat capsizes, that’s the moment I realize that I want to live.

Monika Majkowska | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Monika Majkowska | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Yes, the harbor is safe. It’s predictable (mostly). It’s protected.

The open sea is wild. Full of unknowns. And great beauty.

It’s okay to put out to sea once in a while. And it’s okay to come back to the harbor. I don’t think our lives can be lived all one way or the other. We need safe places of rest and recuperation. But we also need an adventure now and then. If for no other reason than to remind us of how much life we have in us.

So, my solo adventure awaits. It is small in comparison to others, but for me, it is big. And I’m of the mind that one small adventure leads to increasingly greater ones. (Have I mentioned that we’re going to Kenya later this year?)

One of my favorite quotes, of late, is this one from a book I recently read: “Fear does not start to fade until you take the step that you think you can’t.” So, until I step out of the car at Airport #1, I will have fear. And it won’t totally leave, I am sure, until I step back into my car a few days later.

Can you relate? What was the last adventurous thing you did? Is there a step you need to take for fear to fade? 

Help for making nutritious food for families: Review of Supermarket Healthy cookbook

I became a fan of Melissa D’Arabian years ago when she was a contestant on Next Food Network Star, and though I never got a chance to catch her show, I appreciated her food philosophy: healthy, affordable meals for a family. (D’Arabian has four kids!)

supermarketHer new cookbook, Supermarket Healthy, is a handy resource for families who want to make the most of their grocery budget without resorting to the nutritionally lacking pre-packaged meals that are often cheaper but not necessarily better. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the cookbook from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my review.)

D’Arabian offers practical tips for both the shopping and cooking phases of preparing a meal, and those tips are scattered throughout the recipes. I remember her offering these sorts of shortcut tips and tricks on the show, too. One of my favorites from the book is to always add the liquid first in the blender when making a smoothie because it creates a vortex. Previously, I would add the chunkiest ingredient, thinking it needed to be closest to the blades.

And let’s talk about the recipes. While some are a bit out of reach (and maybe more do-able in an area like California, where D’Arabian lives, because of more access to fresh produce year-round), I’ve already found some new favorites.

I’m not much of a smoothie person when it comes to breakfast but the Caffeinated Coffee-Oat Smoothie was a delicious and satisfying start to my day. I wasn’t sure it would fill me up for a morning, but it did! Super easy to make (as long as the blender is clean!) and filling. With a little do-ahead prep (cooked oatmeal), it’s pretty much a snap.

For breakfast, I also tried to Healthy Breakfast Benedict, a twist on one of my favorite breakfast dishes, eggs Benedict. This one uses spinach and a basil-cream sauce. I think this one could have been better because I didn’t properly execute the poached eggs. I usually fry my eggs, so my poaching skills are a little rusty.

Tuna Noodle Bowls was probably my favorite of the ones I’ve made so far. Our family is a big fan of tuna noodle casserole, especially on dreary winter days. It’s a comfort food that warms you from the inside out. The recipe we typically use is heavy and full of processed cheese and canned soups. So, I was eager to try D’Arabian’s take, which uses reduced-fat cream cheese, a leek and fresh lemon juice, among other ingredients. It’s a refreshing twist on the comfort food I love. Still comforting but with flavorful bursts of citrus that lighten it up. Like sunshine breaking through on a cloudy day.

I notice this trend in D’Arabian’s recipes: fresh ingredients full of flavor. And that’s part of what excites me about her recipes. I look forward to using even more of them as we move into spring and start to see more fresh produce at the farmer’s market and in the stores.

Other recipes I tried were the Poached Chicken Puttanesca, which used an olives, capers and tomatoes sauce, and Spicy Honey-Mustard Chicken, which was a last-minute dinner idea one night not long after I got the book. Both were satisfying dinners the family enjoyed.

I’ve yet to try any of the snacks, soups or desserts, but this cookbook will continue to be in my rotation for meal planning. I also hope to make more use of the pantry list at the beginning of the book so that some of these recipes are more accessible on short notice.

Overall, another winning cookbook from the Food Network folks.

You can read an excerpt here.

—-

Melissa d’Arabian was a corporate finance executive before becoming the host of Food Network’s Ten Dollar Dinners and Cooking Channel’s Drop 5 Lbs with Good Housekeeping. She also developed the FoodNetwork.com seriesThe Picky Eaters Project, serves as lead judge on Guy’s Grocery Games, and is the author of the New York Times bestselling cookbook Ten Dollar Dinners. Melissa has an MBA from Georgetown University, and lives with her husband and their four daughters in San Diego.

A guide to surviving Valentine’s Day

I love a good fairytale. A happily-ever-after romance. Pretty sure I always have.

But life is not always happily-ever-after. Even great marriages have their low points. And all relationships have flaws.

I haven’t been the hugest fan of Valentine’s Day, although it has its charms. (Conversation hearts, anyone?)

love

I’ve been single, separated by war, and married on Valentine’s Day, and none of those statuses made it any easier to stomach. Because sometimes Valentine’s Day makes us think that love has to be perfect to be worth it. Or that romantic love is all there is to life.

That it falls on a weekend this year somehow intensifies the feelings about this holiday. (I use the term loosely.) Whether you’re single and happy, single and miserable, attached and blissful, attached and unhappy, married with or without children, living your marriage dreams or slogging through a nightmare, I want you to survive Valentine’s Day. I want you to know that love is work and relationships are hard and it’s okay.

A few years ago I blogged a list of realistic love songs about marriage.

I want to add to that list with songs, books and articles that will make your situation, whatever it is, feel normal on Valentine’s Day. Few of us live a fairytale every day, and especially on Valentine’s Day, it’s good to be reminded of love in all seasons of life. Feel free to add your own.

My friend Courtney wrote this book called Paper Hearts. And while it might look like a lovey-dovey Valentine’s Day romance, it is so much more. You can read my full review, and I think you’ll be encouraged by the story. It is what real love is like. (Also, check out the video that goes with it.)

Grab a tissue to watch this Casting Crowns video of their song, “Broken Together.” That whole idea of “you complete me” is good for the movies, but this song tells a much more realistic story.

Specific to Valentine’s Day, here’s a great reminder that our day doesn’t have to be perfect to be good: The One True Thing About the Perfect Valentine’s Date by Kelly Flanagan.

Still have those tissues? Check out the story of Ian & Larissa Murphy in their book Eight Twenty Eight or you can watch some videos and read some articles about them here. A humbling story of sacrificial love and the goodness of God.

And if you have a lot of garbage in your relationship or your past, check out this post by Gary Thomas, which encourages us that our broken pieces can turn into beautiful windows.

So, there you have it. My guide to surviving Valentine’s Day. Let me know what you think if you check out any of these resources. And please, add others in the comments section!

What happened when I started talking about depression

I almost didn’t write it.

I have a tendency to over-share in the spirit of openness, especially on Facebook. The introvert in me doesn’t always filter my posts and because I don’t have to look anyone in the face to gauge their reaction, I often post first, think later. And sometimes, if I’m honest, I’m looking for people to back me up in my opinions.

“Oh, yeah?” I think when I’m trying to defend a position. “Let’s see what Facebook has to say about that.”

But I don’t want to talk to you today about social media etiquette or common sense rules for online relationships.

I want to talk to you today about what happened when I started talking about depression. Specifically, what happened when I started talking about my depression.

First, a disclaimer: I’ve only recently started accepting my diagnosis. And there are people who have had longer, more brutal struggles with mental illness than me and they are far more qualified to talk about it. And I am not advocating a one-size-fits-all solution for depression or any other mental illness. This is not a debate about medication or the spiritual side of depression and anxiety. This is simply one story from one person.

Continue reading this post, my monthly contribution, at Putting on the New.

You don’t have to love Valentine’s Day to love this story: Review of Paper Hearts by Courtney Walsh

I sometimes have a love-hate relationship with Valentine’s Day, even as a married woman. There’s a lot of pressure on that one day, and not every February 14 has been memorable or spectacular in my history. Though I still love a good happily-ever-after story, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found myself drawn more to songs and stories that present a more realistic version of love and relationships.

Stuff like this:

But the very best love stories are the ones that are flawed and full of forgiveness and pain and joy and challenges and happiness. All these things make up a love story.

paper heartsThat’s a line from Paper Hearts by Courtney Walsh, which is–and isn’t–a Valentine’s Day story. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for my review.)

Here’s a summary:

Abigail Pressman lives in a town that is fascinated by love. Founded by a her ancestors whose love story is legendary, Loves Park, Colorado, capitalizes on its name, drawing tourists year-round, all in the name of love. Abigail runs a local bookstore and, to her mother’s disappointment, is single with a waning interest in dating. Reluctantly resolved to remain single and expand her business, Abigail’s plans are thrown into disarray when Dr. Jacob Willoughby arrives in town and buys the building that houses her bookstore. With his own plans to rebuild his life and practice in the other half of the building, Jacob is unprepared for the conflict his plans bring to the town. When Abigail is drafted into a club that gathers in her store and stamps mail with the town’s romantic postmark, she discovers a love story that is both touching and tragic in the form of paper hearts a couple writes to each other each Valentine’s Day. As she uncovers their story through the hearts, her beliefs about love are challenged and her own chance at happily ever after emerges.

This is a story about love, yes, but it’s also a story about dreams, and it’s a novel forged from the author’s own journey of dreams crushed and dreams realized. (You can find that story on her blog.) It’s about happily ever after, in a way, but about how sometimes you have to walk through some not-so-happy days to get there.

It’s a realistic picture of love in real life–not always pretty or tidy but ugly and messy and beautiful all at the same time. Abigail and Jacob were such realistic characters I could picture their actions and words as if they were flesh and blood people. I could see this as a Hallmark or Lifetime movie (please-oh-please producer type people, check this one out!).

And the whole angle of the paper hearts–of creating a tradition where you write what you love about the other person on hearts throughout the year and then reveal them to each other on Valentine’s Day–is such a sweet and creative idea. It’s the kind of thing you can take from this book and apply to life. (Fiction can do that!)

So, if you aren’t yet in love with the idea of this book, then check out this video, which is all kinds of adorable (and real):

And catch up with Courtney on her website or on Facebook.

If this is your introduction to her work, then you also should check out her three previous books: A Sweethaven Summer, A Sweethaven Homecoming, and A Sweethaven Christmas.

When you just need a firm place to stand

We inch along like turtles in a rabbit race, two small hands gripping mine. Back and forth, back and forth as the music blares and the rainbow of lights swirls around us and the more experienced skaters weave around us like we are part of an obstacle course.

The two hands gripped tighter as their feet failed them and gravity pulled them toward the floor. Me, the only sure-footed, non-roller skating one, held them up as best I could. They giggled as their butts hit the floor again and again.

Eventually the older one, our girl child, who had been invited to the skating party, found a rhythm that worked for her. She and a friend stuck to each other and circled the inside of the rink at their beginner’s pace. They fell. They got back up. They kept skating.

Meanwhile, the boy and I stuck to the inside ring set aside for beginning skaters. I walked. He moved his feet back and forth while wobbling and trying to fall. I think he liked the falling more than the skating. I gripped his hand, pulled him up and kept walking. If we’d had another hour, he would have gotten the hang of it.

I watched as other parents laced up their own skates before taking their kids onto the roller rink floor. Part of me wanted to skate, too. But mostly I was glad to be in control of my own feet so I could help the kids learn.

“I waited patiently upon the Lord; he stopped to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the mire and clay; he set my feet upon a high cliff and made my footing sure.” — Psalm 40:1-2

It is winter and the weather is finally showing it. Some mornings we wake to snow or ice on the roads, the driveway, the sidewalks. Some days, it sneaks up on us, like yesterday when we stepped outside at 4 in the afternoon to find icy patches on the walk leading up to our house, on the driveway and the road. We slipped and slid as we searched for footing to cross to the parking lot where we’d pick up our daughter from school. There were patches, here and there, of grass or snow that helped us along on the path.

But our steps were cautious.

We held onto each other, to trees, to the car.

Falling was possible. And we had each other.

“How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?”

I feel, sometimes, that there is no such thing as a firm place to stand. Literally or figuratively. That all of life is changing, shifting, flowing, moving. And me, along with it.

Luca Zanon | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Luca Zanon | Creative Commons | via unsplash

This does not bother me as much as I think it should. I’m not big on change. I like things predictable. Planned. Expectations to be met. (I don’t ask for much, right?) I don’t mind new things or innovation or creative solutions, but I often take my time getting used to them. And then something else changes and I have to get used to that all over again.

I’m certainly not quick to change, but I am changing. That’s not bad.

But sometimes in the changing, I feel like I’m falling. Or slipping. Or being un-done.

There’s a sifting as well as a shifting and I’m not sure what will remain when it’s finished. (Is it ever finished?)

“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.”

I do not easily ask for help. This is most recently illustrated by a middle-of-the-night episode last week.

It is 2 a.m. I have just made a trip to the bathroom. My stomach started feeling queasy so I went to the kitchen for a drink of water. I set the water cup down and my vision got dark and spotty, a sure sign that I was lightheaded or about to pass out. I sat down, hoping it would pass. Then I decided I’d rather lie down, so I started walking down the hallway back to the bedroom. I didn’t make it.

When I came to, my husband was yelling, “Are you okay?” I was on the floor in the doorway, and my head hurt. I tried to get up. He told me to stay down. “Did I pass out?” I said. I lay there for a few minutes trying to make sense of what happened. When I finally got up, he checked my head for a bump. He found paint chips in my hair from where I hit the doorway. He helped me up, and I had to go back to the bathroom. I passed out a second time while on the toilet. (Sorry if that’s TMI.) My husband said my name several times before I heard him. I made it back to bed. We stayed awake a little longer. I didn’t sleep much that night, probably for good reason. (Long story short: I reacted to some medication. All other tests came back normal.)

“Not to add to your pain,” my husband said, “but next time, just call for me.”

Help.

Why is it so hard to say? I could have stayed in the kitchen. I could have sat or lay on the floor. I could have called my husband’s name. But I didn’t. I tried to take care of myself and not bother his sleep. And because of that, he took a day off of work the next day so he could be with me in case it happened again. (And so he could drive me to the doctor.) I suffered the effects of that fall for days afterward, and my head still has a tender spot on it.

Maybe things would have been different if I’d asked for help.

Asking for helping is admitting that your footing isn’t sure. That the ground you are standing on is shaky, at best.

Nicholas Swanson | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Nicholas Swanson | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Whether you’re in need of a physical hand to help you learn how to roller skate or walk across an icy driveway, or a figurative hand to help you learn how to walk through a trying time or learn a new of way doing life, ask for help.

It’s advice I need to take more often. I’m learning, I am. But still I think I can hold on just a little longer without inconveniencing anyone.

“You’re worth it,” my therapist tells me when I need to do things in my life to take care of me.

So are you, you know?

We’re all stumbling around in some way or another, looking for a firm place to stand. Don’t be afraid to reach out for a nearby hand to steady yourself until you’re able to walk again.

We are here for each other. I believe that more and more. And we are not meant to walk alone.