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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Permission to Want It


I am a mother of three young children, a wife, a homemaker. And in my spare time, I'm getting a PhD in English.

I've had such complicated feelings about this PhD. It was not part of my original life plan. It was never a goal. It was not something I wanted.

I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I wanted to be the good little Mormon housewife. I was content with that life, and getting this PhD feels like telling the world I wasn't content with that life. That I wanted more, that I have goals and ambitions for a career outside the home. Which is why, to other Mormons, I'm always so quick to explain, "This is revelation! God basically told me to do this! I don't know why, please don't judge!"

The whole lead-up to this program has been so emotionally fraught for me, so full of second-guessing, and so much anxiety. Mostly, anxiety about child-care. So many nights I've woken up in the middle of the night, unable to fall back asleep over the anxiety of child-care. We struggled to find a nanny, a child-care facility, a situation that felt good to us. I laid awake in bed those nights praying and pleading with the Lord: Please, help us find someone good! Help us find someone who will love and care for my children the way I love and care for them! And tell me again why it won't be me? Why can't I just stay home with my kids? Why is this so hard?

The answers didn't come immediately, but they came firmly and unmistakably, the way all the answers have seemed to come through this whole miraculous process of having the Lord turn my life around. I felt the words, "I have prepared angels to take care of your children. Please stop worrying."

But I couldn't stop worrying. It took weeks of struggle and stress, and even when we finally found a nanny I was comfortable with, even after she visited our home and showered love on my children and expressed enthusiasm and gratitude for the job, I still couldn't stop worrying. What if she quits? What if someone gets sick? What if the baby won't nap for her? What if? What if? What if?

I'm missing my son's first day of kindergarten. His father will be able to take him to school that day, and his grandmother will be there to pick him up at the end, but I will be thirty miles away attending my third day of mandatory orientation, and when I realized this is where I would be on my first child's first day of school, I nearly cried. I wanted to drop out right there. No PhD, no anything, is worth not being there on the biggest moment of my child's life to this point. He knows I won't be there, and he keeps asking who will be there. Who will be there to pick him up? Who will be there to help him find his classroom? Someone will be, but it won't be me.

It should be me.

Will I ever live the guilt of this down?

I have been so distracted by the logistics, so consumed by the worry and the anxiety and the stress and the guilt, that I haven't actually done that much thinking about school itself. I will be teaching this time, two sections of freshman writing. Finally, this past week, when I realized it would be catastrophic to put it off any longer, I started preparing for class.

And...

I got excited. I got interested. I forgot how much I love teaching. I forgot how much I enjoy this subject I'm studying. I forgot that there is something about this whole academia world that brings me a lot of satisfaction. I've been so focused on letting people know that I did not choose this path, so focused on stressing about how hard this is to figure out, how crazy it is to be a mother of three and go to school, so conflicted about asking someone else to watch/love/raise my children for thirty hours a week(!), that I forgot to actually want it.

As I prayed that night, the spirit filled me with these words again, "I have prepared angels to watch over your children. Do not worry about them. I will take care of them, for they are mine. But you are mine too. You are my child too, and I have given you gifts and opportunities, and I need you to make use of your gifts. You have my permission to enjoy this. You have my permission to want this."

I think this time I will listen. I am still working on letting go of the worry. I'm still snuggling my baby a little bit extra, still relishing in the last slow moments home with the boys, still anxious about meeting all their needs. I'm still full of confusion about why this is my life path, still so full of conflicting emotions.

But I'm also excited. And I'm giving myself permission to enjoy it.

To want a PhD.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Books + Flowers = All the Good Things

Guys! I've been meaning to talk about this book for ages, ever since I won a copy of it (squeee!) from Linnae's giveaway back in March (Linnae is an inspiration to me, and along with her excellent book reviews, she blogs all about her impressive gardening efforts, she's amazing). But with the move and all, it got packed up before I had a chance to really dig into it. When I unpacked it last month, I swooned all over again at what a gorgeous book this is. Cut Flower Garden is by Erin Benzakein, who owns a small but extremely productive professional flower farm in Washington, and contains all her best advice for how to "grow, harvest, and arrange stunning seasonal blooms" (subtitle).

Okay, I love flowers. I love gardens. And I love books. And bookstagram has shown all of us how wonderful it is when you combine books and flowers. Right? Match made in heaven.

So a beautiful (and I mean, BEAUTIFUL, the photographs are stunning) book about growing said flowers? It's got me all heart eyes and becoming really aspirational. Now that I've got a yard with room for a garden, I have every intention of growing me some beautiful flowers (for photographing with my beautiful books, natch).

But here's the thing. I'm like, super, super novice level when it comes to gardening. I grew up in St. George, Utah (red sand + hot hot hot = no garden) and then lived in a series of apartments (no yards), and so this is the first time in my life where I feasibly can grow a garden, but I have no idea what to do or how to start or anything. Like, I am completely clueless.

Enter, this book into my life! Such providential timing I must say. While Erin Benzakein is obviously a professional and some of her expertise/advice is way beyond my level, in this book she really breaks things down to the very basics so that even novices can find a place to start. I'm sure more experience gardeners can skip over her first section on the basics and get to the fun parts of all the pretty flowers, but I've been pouring over that section recently trying to figure out just where I need to start when it comes to growing my own garden (hint, apparently it's the soil).

Now, this book is obviously all about flowers, and there isn't much in the way of advice for planting food. My husband and I have often talked about growing a salsa garden someday, and I still want to plant some food varieties, but one of the awesome things about our move here is that we live really close to my in-laws who happen to have this amazing food garden, and we have been reaping the delicious rewards of that garden all summer long (tomatoes! cucumbers! lettuce! kale! beets! blackberries! I don't even know what else!). So, with the bounty from their garden, I'm feeling a little less motivated to pursue vegetables in our own, smaller space, and a lot more motivated to plant flowers. So although this book is pretty enough to sit on a coffee table and just be looked at, I'm planning on using it heavily as my how-to manual for the next few years.

It's August right now, and with the move and starting school, I'm just not going to get around to any heavy gardening this summer. But this book is giving me all sorts of ideas, and I'm making big plans for what I want to do over the winter and especially next spring (and by big plans, I mean, making any plans at all). In an attempt to keep myself somewhat focused and motivated on my gardening goals, I've decided to post pictures here and give occasional updates (yay for you!) Our "garden" as it stands right now is rather... suburban. Our home was very nicely landscaped, there are good trees, a nice-sized lawns in fairly good condition, and beds full of plants that seem designed for minimal upkeep. There is also one garden box bed on our side yard. I am so clueless that I'm not actually sure exactly what's even growing in our yard. I've got a lot of figuring out to do. But here are a few pictures of some of what's going on in my yard.

First, we have our little garden box. Guys, I have no clue what these plants are growing here. When my husband and I got around to clearing out the weeds in this box after we moved in, these plants were taller and evenly spaced, and looked like they had been intentionally planted, so we left them in and tended to the them hoping we'd be able to figure out what they were (my husband guessed they might be a variety of sunflower).

They are not sunflowers. They have produced these pathetic little yellow flowers (you can see some starting to bud), and these giant seed pods, but so far nothing else. It's entirely possible that we have been carefully tending nothing but giant weeds this whole summer. I'm still not sure. Anyway, I am sure that these are going to be ripped out this fall to make room for something much prettier next year.

Ah, here on the other side of our little garden box, we have the two small but still fighting for life tomato plants we planted early last month. My in-laws gave us a box of tomato plants they had seeded, but considering how we didn't even get into our house until the end of June (and didn't get these planted until July), it was a long shot of getting any fruit out of them. Most of the plants died during a hot spell a few weeks ago, but these two little troopers are still alive (barely). Needless to say, we will not be enjoying any fruit from them (doesn't matter, we've had more than enough tomatoes from my in-law's garden).

You guys! I have a hydrangea bush! When we moved in this was just an unassuming little plant in the corner of the back yard, but then a few weeks ago it suddenly started blooming and I realized they were hydrangeas! This is so, so, so happy. I love hydrangeas so much. So far there is only the one bush, but if I get my way, more will be joining in the future.

Aren't they the prettiest?

Here, we have straggly looking rose bush of some kind (at least, the tag on the plant says it's a rose variety, it has not produced any flowers) and some variety of lily that is past it's prime (they looked lovely in June). The rose bush was nearly dead when we moved in, but with some watering has seemed to find the will to live. Whether it will ever produce flowers remains to be seen. I'll have to do some research on how to care for it.

And this overgrown monstrosity of a bush actually has me the most excited, because there was a tag on it that identified it as a Jane Magnolia, so I'm hoping for some pretty pink flowers next spring (we shall see, I'm hoping the tag really belonged to this plant). I'm trying to decide if we need to prune this at all, I've no idea. Lots to learn! This was just one corner of the backyard flower beds, but all the other beds contain filler bushes, not flowers (which is something I'd like to remedy). Anyway, not much right now, but hopefully I'll be able to get something going for next spring.

One of my cute little garden helpers inspecting the blooms. So grateful to finally have a yard these boys can play in!

If you've any advice or expertise, I'd love to hear it! Any other books worth looking in to?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Thoughts on Food Addictions and a Sugar Detox

sugar detox, flour detox, food addiction, bright line eating

I feel like I've generally got a pretty good relationship with food going on in my life (except for the times when I'm pregnant, because when I'm pregnant, everything about my relationship with food is horrible and nasty and emotional and complicated). Generally, I love food. I mostly eat healthy (because it feels good), but also never pass up a dessert when it's offered, and never beat myself up about it.

But apparently, things can change. Apparently, when things get stressful enough, I can eat my emotions.

Most of 2017 has been rather stressful for me. It seems that accepting a spot in a PhD program, going through a job hunt, buying a house, and moving states (with a baby who hasn't let me get eight straight hours of sleep one single night this whole year), is a bit stressful. Actually, incredibly stressful.

May especially (the month we bought the house, packed up, and moved) was super stressful. My first clue that the stress was getting to me was when I tweaked my neck during my routine yoga practice, and was unable to move it/sleep on it/function the whole week we were packing. The last time I tweaked my neck like that was the month before my wedding, and it took four visits to a chiropractor to get me back to mobility. Apparently, this whole move has been as stressful for me as getting married.

My second clue that the stress was getting to me was the alarming number of bags of chocolate chips I was eating my way through. I don't know exactly how many bags it was, but it was a lot. In fact, I found myself planning off-schedule grocery shopping trips because I needed more chocolate, and if you know me at all, you know that means things were desperate. I HATE going to the grocery store, and NEVER go more than once a week with my strict meal plan in place. So the fact that I was heading to the grocery store mid-week to get more chocolate was kind of a huge red flag.

Then I heard a friend mention a program she was trying called Bright Line Eating to help her manage her food addictions and lose weight. I was intrigued, not because I needed to lose weight, but because as soon as she said "food addiction" little bells went off in my head. So I came home and took the food addiction quiz, and came back with a score of 5 out of 10. While this wasn't necessarily a terrible score, it was higher than I thought I should be, so I started doing some thinking about how to fix this.

Basically, I decided to do a revised version of the Bright Line Eating program, my own little sugar detox. To sum up this program, there are four rules that adherents are supposed to follow for the rest of their lives (four bright lines): 1.) No sugar 2.) No flour 3.) Measure/weigh food (crap load of vegetables) and 4.) Eat only at meal times (no snacking). Since I'm nursing, and also not interested in losing weight (actually the opposite), I decided to ignore that last rule, and snacked as much as I wanted to. I also didn't worry about weighing my food (once again, not trying to lose weight), but simply tried to eat as much as I possibly could (especially veggies). But I did decide to cut sugar and flour as much as possible. I didn't go gluten free or hardcore (like, I didn't worry about sugar in salad dressings and stuff), but I cut as much sugar and flour from my diet as I conveniently could.

I waited until we actually moved into our house in June (and thus had full control over grocery shopping/meal planning), and then plunged into the detox for two weeks. The first few days were hard. Like, way harder than I expected. I was SO HUNGRY, despite the fact that I was still eating as much as I possibly could. This made me super nervous, because I'm always terrified about my milk supply dropping (it's been a problem before) and hunger is the enemy. But I decided to stick it out, and magically, after a few days, the hunger went away and I was able to stick it out without any problems with my milk supply.

While I only did two weeks of dedicated no sugar/no flour, I learned a lot of things and did some deep reflecting. These may or may not be of interest to anyone else out there, but in no particular order, here are my random thoughts about a sugar detox in case you are considering one.

-If you want to lose weight, this is absolutely the way to go. I lost weight (and I was trying desperately NOT to lose weight). One of the reasons I didn't go longer than two weeks was so that I wouldn't lose any more weight.

-Once I got past those first few days of hunger, I was actually surprised at how much energy I had, how full I felt after meals, and how good my body felt. Apparently, sugar and refined flour are actually huge energy drains on your system. And there's all this science about how sugar tricks your body into not being able to feel satiated. By the end, I felt really, really good. I mean, I felt like my old self, the self I haven't felt like since before I got pregnant last year. It was a super rough pregnancy, and my recovery was much slower than with my first two pregnancies. After this sugar detox, I felt like me again. It's like everything just snapped back into place (except for those stomach muscles, those still need some work...). This was awesome.

-It is possible, even for me, to get very, very tired of salads. Luckily I only need a couple of days, and then I'm back to my salad-loving self.

- It is HARD to cut sugar and flour and participate socially in food. I think this would be the hardest part about doing this program long term. Everything, and I mean practically everything, has sugar and/or flour in it. Also didn't help that my husband and I binge watched some Great British Baking Show while building Ikea furniture during this period, and it made me feel so, so sad that all that food was off-limits to me (even though I wouldn't have been baking/eating stuff like that anyway).

-When it comes to food addiction, I don't think I have a particular problem with flour, or even a lot of sugar. My real addiction is chocolate. I found that I wasn't sad at all to skip out on bread or other desserts, but oh! How I missed my chocolate! The only thing that kept me going was knowing that I was not going to be doing this detox forever, and eventually I would let myself eat chocolate again. It would be sad to go the rest of my life without ever eating bread, but I simply CANNOT live in a world without chocolate.

-It takes a lot of will power to eat this way. Two weeks was not long enough for it to become an automatic habit, and so I found myself exercising a concerted amount of will power every day to keep this up... and it was not healthy for my relationship with my kids. Especially those first few days when I was super hungry, I found myself snapping at my kids over very little things that I usually have the self-control to let slide. Science tells us that when we are exerting a concerted amount of will power in one area, we don't have any left over for other areas, and this was super true for me. I am a MUCH nicer mom when I can self medicate with chocolate.

-On that note, I realized that I use chocolate as a reward, a small treat, for getting through the hard parts of every day. I would tell myself things like "Once you get the dishes done, you can have some chocolate" and so I'd get the dishes done. Or "Once you get through bedtime, you can have some chocolate" so it was my little reward for surviving the bedtime routine. When that reward was taken away, life got just a little bit more depressing. I tried to come up with other little treats for myself, but most of them weren't practically possible or took more time than I had (like taking a nap, or reading a book, or taking a bath, etc.). It's so much quicker to just scarf a handful of chocolate chips.

-If you are an abstainer and/or have serious issues with food addiction, I highly recommend the Bright Line Eating program. I, however, am completely a moderator. I really enjoy life so much more when I can have my treats in moderation. I do feel like things got out of control in May when my stress and anxiety levels peaked, but all I needed was the two week detox to get back on a moderate track. Things may get out of hand again (I am, after all, starting a PhD program in a couple of weeks, and that baby is still not letting me sleep through the night), but I feel like I've gained some awareness and can monitor myself, and if need be, do another detox any time I need to.

Anyway, that was a lot of thoughts. To sum up, my sugar/flour detox was overall a really positive experience for me (except for the negative influence on my parenting), and I learned a lot about myself. While I've gone back to allowing myself a few chocolate treats, I've found myself with a hyper awareness of all the refined flour and sugar in food, and I'm still trying to avoid as much of it as I conveniently can. My body just feels so much better this way. I'm not a doctor or a nutrition person or anything, but I can pretty confidently say that everyone ought to try a sugar detox. I highly recommend the experience.

(P.S. If you have any questions about specifics of my sugar detox, feel free to ask!)

(P.P.S. I wrote more about body/food stuff last year in posts here, here, and here.)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Books I Read in July

For a while there, I thought July was going to be a bust of a reading month for me. I think by July 14th, I'd yet to finish a single book. But then somehow I kicked it into high gear during the second half of the month and made it through six books in just over two weeks (that's pretty good for me). I think it was a combination of getting a nasty cold (spent a whole weekend in bed, but unable to sleep, so all I did was read) and some painting time that allowed me to burn through some audio books. Anyway, here they are.

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

I haven't read Room yet (maybe will someday), but the premise of this book intrigued me so much. I was really curious to see how Donoghue was going to tackle the issue of religious miracles. While I will give the book credit for being engrossing and, especially toward the end, quite thrilling, this was not the book I wanted it to be. I was hoping for a discussion of faith and miracles a little more akin to what I found in Owen Meany, and not to be too spoilery, this was simply not that. Basically, Donoghue has no love for the Catholic church. Also, I wanted her writing to be a little more true to the time period (Dickensian), but alas, it was modern in both tone and thematic development. Still a strong recommend, just not what I wanted it to be.

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

This book is delightful, thoughtful, beautiful, sweet, and just all around lovely in every way. It is experimental in format, but I loved it so much. Parts of it made me cry, knowing how Amy passed away this past March (her midterm essay is all about calculating how much time she has left to enjoy life, and knowing it was so much shorter than she imagined while writing those words was just heartbreaking). I came away feeling that the world had lost a true gem. I would love to read this again, maybe even own it. It was just so wonderful. If you haven't already, read her tear-jerker of a love letter that was published in The New York Times before she passed. Then read this book. I highly, highly recommend it.

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes

This was a fun little soap-opery romp, very reminiscent of the type of drama Fellowes produced with Downton Abbey, but with a much tighter story-line that resolved very predictably and happily. It takes place about a century earlier than Downton, beginning at Waterloo and ending during the Victoria era. A nice light read, very engaging, good fun.





Warleggan by Winston Graham

It took me a while to get around to this fourth book in the Poldark series (I think I finished the third one back in February). I have not seen the second season of the BBC/PBS production, and I was enjoying reading the books without the benefit of foresight, but after this one I'm not sure if I will continue. I'm just so, so, angry. So can't even handle it angry. If you've seen the second season or read the books, you probably know what upset me, but I'll try to avoid spoilers. I'm hoping the show handled it differently than the book did, because Ross is just completely unforgivable in every way, but I'm not sure I care to watch this season to find out. Any other Poldark fans out there? What do you think? The writing and story really are quite fun, is it worth going on with?

Citizen by Claudia Rankine

I'd actually not heard of this one before my university sent it me as the required text all incoming Freshman need to read this year, and since I will be teaching said Freshman, figured I ought to read it as well. It has a unique format which I quite enjoyed, a mix of poetry and essay and other media, and which made for quick reading. But the content was quite a bit heavy. Basically it explores current racial tensions in America using some of Rankine's own personal experiences, and her exploration of the experiences of higher profile people (like Serena Williams). It was interesting and eye-opening and heart-breaking. Some of the incidences were big (police shootings), but others were just the small, everyday experiences Rankine must endure, and I found those to be the even more unfathomable. People really say things like that to her? Really?

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

Well, after some unfortunate library due date timing, it took me two months to finish this one, but that wasn't for a lack of interest. You can read some more of my thoughts here, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I don't think everyone would love it, there's something of the contemporary literary depressiveness to it (where all the character's lives are messed up in some way), but I was just so fascinated by the premise. The story is based on a real rare book, but Brooks dreamed up the backstory of all the people who helped create, script, bind, and protect this book through a tumultuous 500 year history. It tickled the nerdy part of me that's really into books as objects of art.


Okay, have you read any of these? Thoughts? I'd love to hear!