New Favorite

My new favorite time of the day is around 5:30 or 6pm… I’m just getting home from wherever I’ve been for the day (work, school, interning, errands, etc.), and Tony and I take a walk around our neighborhood and talk. It only happens 2-3 times per week, because I’m in Nashville most evenings for class. I think we’ve had some of our best conversations lately during those walks. It’s as if everything around us stops for a few minutes and we get to enjoy a fresh moment outside, and alone with each other. And, it helps me in adding more activity to my days… win/win! So although tonight will not be one of those special days, the time will be missed… and I look forward to when it gets to happen again.

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Ratatouille

To ring in the new year of 2009, Tony and I traveled to Paris (the one in France, not Tennessee). It was fab-u-lous! I would go again in a heartbeat. Not that I didn’t already love great food… but it made me fall in love with food all the more. The night that we were supposed to leave Nashville, however, the flight to Philadelphia was delayed… which meant we could have never made the departing flight for Paris. So, we had to return home and postpone our trip until the next morning. It was devastating, but nothing we could do about it. We came home with some take-out for dinner and decided to watch Ratatouille (Tony had given it to me for Christmas that year) to at least feel as though we were in Paris. Silly, I know, but it was fun.

We have watched the movie several times since then, always wondering what actual ratatouille might taste like. In the spring of this year, we visited Napa. After falling in love with Paris and French food so many years ago, we love trying French restaurants wherever we are in the country. Our first night, we ate at Bouchon (in Yountville). We started with Rillettes aux Deux Saumons… and let’s just say that everything else was so fantastic that we had to purchase the cookbook. Maybe one day we will attempt to recreate some dishes, but it will serve more as a memory. On our last day (in our most beloved city of Napa), we had dinner at Bistro Jeanty. We simply couldn’t pass up another opportunity for French food! It was there that we tried ratatouille for the first time. We had even already ordered our food and then realized they offered it as a side. We were half-way through with our main dish when it came out, and it was better than I could have imagined. I think it’s like tiramisu, everyone makes it a little differently; so, we may just have to try it everywhere we see it. Last night we tried to make a version of our own, based on a recipe by Martha Stewart.

How we made it… Making use of our grill basket: we chopped squash, zucchini, mushrooms, onion and eggplant, and tossed them in the basket with olive oil, salt and pepper. Tony grilled them for about 15 minutes or so while the cavatappi was cooking. Tomatoes are important in ratatouille, and we remember the dish at Bistro Jeanty as being rich and hearty. But, in trying to make a lighter version than the restaurant and more saucy version than Martha’s recipe, we decided to create our own use of the tomatoes. I melted about 1.5 Tbsp butter in a saucepan and then added 2 roughly chopped tomatoes, chopped roasted red pepper and 2 cloves of garlic. I added salt and pepper, italian seasoning and a dash of white wine, and let it simmer for a little while. Just a few minutes before we were ready to prepare our plates, I added in some ricotta cheese (because I happened to have some in the fridge that needed to be eaten) and a small spoonful of sugar. I’m not quite sure how it compares with traditional ratatouille, but it sure was delicious! Here’s the finished product:

Tony and I are not very good at taking pictures… we really like them, but get caught up in experiencing the moment that we often forget to take a picture. We have traveled to some really wonderful places, and seem to disappoint friends and family by bringing back (1) pictures of everything we ate  or (2) only having 2 or 3 random pictures of very odd things, haha. So I thought I’d share one of our 3 pics from Paris and one of our 3 pics from this last trip to Napa…

Take 2 of Meatless “Burgers”…

Last night we mixed two recipes: Whole Living’s Greek-Style Quinoa Burgers and Zucchini Patty Sandwiches from an earlier post. Basically, we used:

  • 1/2 cup quinoa cooked in 3/4 cup white wine
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 1/2 can chick peas
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped roasted red pepper
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • salt and pepper (and whatever other seasonings you like)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten (I found I needed to add 1/2 of another egg)
  • 1/3 cup panko

We formed the patties and then grilled them, of course. Then served them in/on pita pockets with lettuce, cucumbers and black olives. I also had some leftover herb mixture from the night before (basil, parsley, fresh garlic, sea salt, pepper, tomato/garlic seasoning, red pepper flakes) that I mixed with a few Tbsp of sour cream to add a little extra something. Here’s a pic of the finished product… I forgot to take a picture until after I had eaten about half of it… it was just too good to stop myself, haha.

On the menu for tonight: Grilled Ratatouille Pasta.

Organs…

This semester one of my classes if Grief and Crisis Counseling. It’s an elective, but I thought it would be beneficial for me to take. I’m hoping it’s a time for me to learn appropriate and beneficial responses to clients in times of deep suffering and sadness and also a time for me to work through my own fears and issues. It’s been interesting so far… last week we took a field trip to a local funeral home to learn about how different cultures mourn and/or celebrate the life of a loved one who is gone. I know it may not seem like a “fun” class to take, but it’s interesting nonetheless. And, something I feel like I need.

One of our assignments is to research some form of grief in order to write a paper and give a presentation. I decided to do mine on the sorrow associated with organ transplants. It may not be something that everyone might think of, but it is on the forefront of my mind since it’s a journey my family has walked for the past three plus years. In a short version, here’s the basics of our story…

I’ve grown up with an extremely healthy, overachieving, motivated, passionate mother. She never took “no” for an answer and there never seemed to be anything she couldn’t do. She was an algebra/geometry teacher for middle and high school students from August to May, and our summers were filled with yard work, house cleaning, waxing cabinets, field trips, and so much more. She has always had a busy, fast-paced life filled with joy and purpose. When she finally reached her time for retirement, she already had a list of things she wanted to do and pursue. Only a few months into her new/retired life, she found herself growing tired with each new day and she was beginning to experience difficulty with minor things, like climbing the stairs in her home. A doctor’s visit (to get tips on how to get in better shape) revealed a rare, fast-acting heart disease. It wasn’t long before her only option for improving her quality of life was a heart transplant. Many patients spend their time waiting for a heart in the hospital; but not her… she was determined to stay home and fight to continue life as normal. That still included stays in the hospital every couple of months and lots and lots and even a little bit more of medication. Her wait time was almost two years exactly. Two years of ups and downs, hope and discouragement… all the while battling the idea that a transplant was actually going to happen. Valentine’s weekend 2011, she got a call that they had found a match… in the middle of a huge snow and ice storm. The next 24 hours leading up to the actual surgery is a story within itself – at one point thinking that it was merely going to be a “dry run.” It’s been a year and a half since her transplant, and doctors have said that the transplant isn’t a cure, but an opportunity for a better life. She will always operate at about 80 percent of what she used to be/feel, and that’s on her good days. But we are thankful… I am thankful… She is an amazing woman with a miracle story. Ups and downs may continue, but she will always be a fighter… always a hoper… always a believer in joy… always living each day to serve someone other than herself.

I asked my mom to visit my class this week and take some time to share her story… it’s not one you hear every day. It was raw and true with several tears, she too remains a work in progress. The things that have helped her get through each day and press on into the unknown: a strong support system of friends and family, a strong team of doctors, nurses, psychiatrist, social worker, pharmacist, insurance rep, etc., tasks/activities/responsibilities that continue to help her feel valuable and purposeful, and admirable faith. She will always be one of my heroes… as a mother, a wife, a teacher, a Christian leader, a friend, and Godly woman.

So no matter your grief/loss/sadness story and/or journey… I’ve learned that it is difficult to face and overcome. It is deeply personal, and it impacts more than just you. We can’t ignore it or run away. But, it can be better when someone is walking the journey with you… make a courageous decision

My Outdoor Space

I love flowers… but, I haven’t been a huge fan of gardening. I have found, though, that digging and planting and watering is worth the work for the results. So each spring and fall Tony and I take one day/weekend to gather some new flowers, plants, mulch, etc. and work on the maintenance and adding to our our yard/flower beds. We are pretty low maintenance, so whatever loves lots of heat and little water is what we go with. Weeding is often a low priority on our to-do list, so my dad will often pull what he sees and leave a pile on our front steps whenever he comes to visit. The leaving of the pile on the front steps is important because he wants to be sure we know what he’s done, haha… what a good man. Our goal this spring for our planting day was to create a more cozy space on our deck by adding more plants/flowers. I think we did a great job; and, I’ve been working really hard to water them most every morning to prepare them for our 90 plus degree Tennessee days. We also tried pots of strawberries, blueberries and herbs (basil, parsley, dill, cilantro) this year. We’ve had a handful of berries to eat, but the herbs have been out of control. We pretty much eat basil and parsley with every meal. I can’t express how great it’s been to be able to grab some herbs from the backyard while I’m cooking! And, so much cheaper than buying them at the store. Maybe next year we’ll add some peppers or green beans… whatever we can plant, forget about and cross our fingers will turn out fantastic! 🙂

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This is the stuff that dr…

This is the stuff that drives me crazy
This is the stuff that’s getting to me lately
In the middle of my little mess
I forget how big I’m blessed
This is the stuff that gets under my skin
But I gotta trust You know exactly what You’re doing
It might not be what I would choose
But this is the stuff You use

So break me of impatience
Conquer my frustrations
I’ve got a new appreciation
It’s not the end of the world

…some of the lyrics from Francesca Battistelli’s song, “This Is The Stuff…” It helped me to let go a little this morning and remember that I’m made for God’s glory (yesterday’s podcast: “A Weird Purpose” by Brad Cooper from New Spring Church).

Obsessions

…ideas or thoughts that continually preoccupy or INTRUDE on a person’s mind… the things I over-think and think about for way too long, way too often…

  • My to-do list – I can often spend more time creating, listing and organizing my tasks than actually accomplishing them…
  • Plans – this sort-of fits within the to-do list category… but includes dates that go on the calendar that I have to fit my to-do’s around…
  • Times I mess up – I can replay embarrassing moments or word-mishaps over and over, wishing I could take things back or have a second chance to stay things stronger, funnier, more graceful, more patiently or simply not at all…

Because these are “intruders” of my thoughts, they are often difficult to ignore. However, with each day I realize more and more how I have to be careful to reign them in. Here’s why:

  1. My to-do list can become an idol directing my life. It causes me to spend time organizing tasks over spending special time in prayer or with people who need quality time. It can consume me with the idea that I can control or fix everything around me… it can cause me to become overwhelmed with duties, expectations and ultimately… “small stuff”. The biggest challenge to this struggle was April 1’s devotion in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young. She writes, “You yearn for a simplified lifestyle, so that your communication with me can be uninterrupted. But I challenge you to relinquish the fantasy of an uncluttered world. Accept each day as it comes, and find [Jesus] in the midst of it all… your ultimate goal is not to control or fix everything around you; it is to keep communing with [Jesus]. A successful day is one in which you have stayed in touch with [Jesus], even if many things remain undone at the end of the day.”
  2. I think planning is good… it helps you to set goals and be prepared for what is comingHowever, obsessing about planning limits my spontaneity and ability to “roll with it.” I have also come to realize that it can be overwhelming for other people. Whereas having a plan decreases my anxiety by allowing me to have clear expectations of what will happen, too many questions/details can cause stress in other people. It causes me to be unfairly frustrated with another’s low interest in planning when some instances are actually no big deal. This tension causes me to go against my goal to be approachable, relaxed and fun to be around.
  3. Focusing on my weaknesses, insecurities and mistakes negates the grace that God has lavished upon me (2 Corinthians 12:9). It also allows mindless things to occupy too much space in my mind.

So, I’m learning to let go of control and work on the things that I can change… I’m learning to obsess a little bit less and choose to focus on/discern what are more important things… I’m learning to be more comfortable in the moment and experience the freedom of accepting the things I cannot do anything about.

As we spend focused time …

As we spend focused time with the Lord in the Book of Nehemiah, my prayer is that we will hear His voice and see His path for our lives with finer clarity. I know we all have more to do than we can fit in daylight’s hours, but TRY NOT TO RUSH. Sit with Him long enough for the treasures of His Word to emerge like rainforest creatures sneaking out of their protective logs or leaping from their nests in plain enough view for you to be pin awe of their splendor… So many surprises are waiting.

… from the introduction of Session One of Kelly Minter’s study on Nehemiah: A Heart That Can Break…. I’m looking forward to it already. And am reminded that although spending time in prayer and reading Scripture is a discipline… it is NOT TO BE RUSHED.

BFF Trip

I’ve had the same best friends since middle school. I’m realizing more and more how rare of a feat this is… Sure, we’ve had some ups and downs, and some phases of life that caused us to be more distant than others… but we have stuck it through… we’re going on 20 years together! They have been who I have depended on in good times and bad, with no fear of their loyalty or honesty. Good friends are supportive and fun to be around and often times come and go… but best friends are willing to challenge you, spur you on and make sacrifices to show you how much they care. They really are forever, and they are hard to find.

Lots of people have said that three’s a crowd, especially in the girl-world. But somehow we have made it work… it’s been great for us. As we have gotten older, the three of us have had to be intentional about keeping in contact and further building our relationship with one another. One now lives in northern Indiana, the other in Ohio… and me, I’m here in Tennessee. Thankfully, they humor my hours of driving throughout the week with phone calls. When they come to town to visit family, we try to plan at least a lunch or dinner or something. The last visit from both of them meant that I joined a family BBQ with one and a grocery trip with the other. We’ll take what we can get, haha.

When we graduated from high school, we took a senior trip to the beach. In some form, we have tried to take some sort of trip together every year since then. It hasn’t always worked out… they were both married 7 years before me and have children, so some years were hit or miss. And, like I said, some phases were a little more distant than others. But, it’s a tradition that we strive to continue. You see, these two friends also introduced me to Tony. He had joined their small group through church (before they moved to different states) and they had gotten to know one another pretty well. He had built pretty good friendships with their husbands. I didn’t live in the same city at the time, but am so thankful that he spent some time on his own with my friends to fall in love with them (almost as much) as I have. So now… we take yearly trips as couples! We’ve just finalized dates for this year’s trip in August and I can hardly wait! Tony and I also try to go to where they are to visit and spend some time with the kids at least once a year as well. Last trip to Indiana was in the fall… next trip to Ohio is in July! Here’s a pic from one of our past times together – New Years 2011 in Ohio…

Tony…

What I love about my husband? His gentle kindness and loving accountability. I reached a point in the fall of 2010 that I couldn’t fit into over 3/4 of the clothes that I owned. Side story: we had just moved that spring and a friend who had helped us move made the comment while we were bringing in/hanging all my clothes in my new closet, “Melanie, I’ve never seen you wear half of these things!” Little did she know that it was because I had become lazy in taking care of myself (enjoying a few too many burgers, fried and cheesy things) and simply couldn’t fit into them anymore. Like most women, I keep everything thinking that one day I’d get around to wearing them again… So, frustrated with the disappointment in how I was looking and shocked at several pictures I had seen of myself, I signed up for Weight Watchers online. My wonderful husband has been patient with my insecurities and yet gentle in reminding me of my goals. I’ve often wanted to give up, but he has held strong to pushing me along.

I have been a dancer for the greater portion of my life. My degree in college is in dance, and I continued teaching ballet through my first couple of years of marriage. When that stopped, my body somehow rebelled. I’ve always been a curvy girl, but it’s amazing how cutting out that weekly activity magically increased those curves and even added on a few more… 25 pounds were lost in the first year (Sept. 2010 – Sept. 2011). I’ve remained pretty stagnant since last September, though. I think my body has resumed it’s “comfort weight” and so shedding any more will take even more work and focus. I have to accept the fact that I need more activity in my life, no matter how challenging it is to think about adding something else to my daily routine. So, I’ll start small and be intentional with the free time I do have. Tony and I got up a little earlier than normal (for my one day off of work/interning to use for studying) and went for a walk around our neighborhood. When we got back, I finished my little am activity with  30 minutes of yoga. It was still difficult to get myself motivated to get out of bed… but I have already felt more energized for the day and week ahead. Hopefully I’ll hang on to and remember this feeling to encourage myself to do the same tomorrow – even if it will have to be a little earlier so I can still make it into the office on time.

Although there is a particular weight that I’m shooting for, my ultimate goal is to reshape the way we live. I’m not looking at a diet, but a new way to eat that will be this way for the rest of my life. Smaller portions, more fruits and veggies, lean proteins, and one day a week splurge meals (with dessert)… Ultimately, how I take care of my body is how I show my Creator how thankful I am for the life I’ve been given. Take the practical (all the research on health) and take my experience (increased mood, energy and self-esteem) and add it to the spiritual element… and why wouldn’t I do all that I can to keep taking healthy steps forward? No matter how big or small they might be that day… I want to keep moving forward. AND, accountability is key. It’s so nice to have someone doing this with me. I couldn’t be more thankful for a husband who loves me enough to care about helping me make wise choices and pushes me to become the best version of myself.

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