Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Point, Click, Purchase

Black Friday was rather unconventional for me this year. Normally, I’m hopping out of bed at 4:00, putting on my Christmas sweater and heading to Cutters Point for my first 24 oz. quad shot rice milk peppermint white mocha of the season. Why? Because I’m headed to Fred Meyer, Kohl’s and (if I’m feeling especially brave) Wal-Mart, of course! My mommy, sisters and I head out and shop till we drop, hoping to have all our Christmas presents (plus our families’ holiday clothes, winter jammies, socks and underthings for the year) purchased at rock-bottom prices by lunch time. This year, however, was fairly unconventional.

First of all, I wasn’t in my neck of the woods—I was chillin’ with my parents in Ocean Shores! I had intended to possibly drive thirty minutes to Aberdeen (the closest chain-shopping area), but that didn’t happen. After a full day of cooking, I was exhausted. At seven weeks post-surgery, my energy level, while leaps and bounds higher than it was in the hospital, is still not at 100%. I woke up a good four hours later than I usually do on Black Friday and only purchased 7 gifts. My money may not have all been spent—but I sure was! The rest of my shopping was done in my parents’ living room online. Point, click and purchase.

This year, I needed the simplicity that online shopping offers, and I’m glad I did it. However, I’ll be happy when next year rolls around and I’m in ship-(shopping) shape! I don’t mind grabbing the odd specialty item on amazon.com, but doing the majority of my purchasing in front of a screen left me feeling hollow. After a few days of reflecting, I understand why …

Even if I’m sitting next to my sisters on “Laptop Island” (otherwise known as my parents’ living room couch), I’m looking at a blaring monitor, not them. Having someone send you a link from four feet away doesn’t feel the same as Laura holding up an article of clothing and squealing, “Sissy, look at this!”

I missed the greeters at Fred Meyer, who offer a smile, hot cider, coffee and doughnuts to all the shoppers. I missed talking to strangers in the sock aisle. Even the simple act of being handed a receipt feels better to this extrovert than a confirmation email— clearly, I NEED face time!

Purchasing the gifts themselves felt less like shopping and more like paying a bill. My transaction doesn’t feel “real,” because I don’t have anything in my hands. When I leave a store, I have presents in my pretty holiday bags. Online gifts, however, arrive a week later in ugly cardboard boxes. It feels cold and impersonal.

Even if I know precisely what I’m looking for, there’s something about going down the aisle and choosing the gift myself. Even if there are dozens of identical items, the object I hold in my hand is exclusively for someone I love. How do I know that someone in a warehouse isn’t going to grab a scratched, dented box? I don’t. Even if inspector #29 really cares about his/her job, I know they don’t care like I do. After four thousand dolls cross their conveyer belt, will they notice that this particular specimen is having a really bad hair day? Probably not—after all, they only see a toy. As an auntie, however, I see a precious playmate for my niece, which I would prefer not to look as though she has had an unfortunate episode with a light socket.

So much of the communication in our lives today feels terribly impersonal. Facebook with my family is a blast, but it doesn’t compare with our genuine time together. There is no emoticon that adequately captures Janet’s “snerd face.” LOL does not truly express Laura’s infectious, doubled-over laughter. “*Hug*” cannot possibly encourage, comfort or express my mother’s love. While technology has its place in my life, it will never replace my need to be with family and friends.

As I say this, my list of things to do is already reeling in my head. This time of year, when my schedule becomes crazier than usual, it’s so easy to miss out on time with people in the name of preparing their gifts, food and cards. Perhaps I’ll put a sticky note on my monitor to remind me of the importance of scheduling genuine “face time.”

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Keepin’ It Real

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
John 8:32

My niece Heidi was Christmas-crazy, as most kids are. Even into her young adult life, she was passionate about my Mother-In-Law’s sugar cookies (they are LIFE-CHANGING), festive hair accessories and Christmas music. However, NOTHING outshone her seasonal soapbox: the necessity of a real, cut from the tree farm, pine-smelling, needle-dropping, water-requiring Christmas tree. Oh, how she threw a fit when my in-laws joined the artificial bandwagon!

“It’s not a Christmas tree if it’s not real! I will never have a fake tree in my house!” she quipped, as her blond ponytail bobbed up and down with conviction. As Grandma Munson playfully shoved a sugar cookie in her mouth, she wrinkled her nose and bit down. As the molecules of carbohydrate and fat nirvana entered her blood stream, she seemed to subdue a bit. However, the fiery glimmer in her eyes warned, “I will continue this discussion after the sugar coma wears off!”

I don’t suppose you would see a melancholy turn to this story, unless you knew Heidi’s story. Be forewarned, it’s about to go there …

We lost Heidi before she ever had her own “house.” On April 9, 2002-- just before her twentieth birthday, she was killed in an accident. I had expected that Easter to be a struggle, but Christmas hit me like a ton of bricks that year.

There were so many reasons to find joy that Christmas; little Alan was nearly three, and genuinely understood what was going on for the first time. We had four stockings beneath our tree (we didn’t have a mantle) for the first time; the smallest of which would have baby food and board books for little Wyatt. Our little nuclear family felt complete for the first time, but the gaping hole in our extended family was painfully evident.

It came to me in waves, splashing cold reality on my face. The present she’d asked for last year was on the cover of a catalog. I couldn’t look at candy without thinking of my little sugar fiend. The tree sales … well, I’m sure that don’t have to tell you that it’s awkward to explain why you’re crying about cub scouts selling fresh trees. But I was fine—I had my little family, lots of friends and by golly, I was going to make this a fantastic year!

Embracing the season with all that I could muster, I over-spent on presents, baked more cookies than usual, drank enough peppermint mochas and eggnog fraps to sustain a coffee franchise and blared Christmas music. It seemed to be working … until Christmas day, when I was greeted by my brother-in-law, Eric. As he hugged me, his hollow eyes expressed what made this year different. There would no tiny-framed blondie sticking her head in the door, explaining why she was late. The floral couch in my in-law’s living room would not have Heidi sprawled across it, taking a nap. (Heidi was always either bouncing off the walls or tired—there was no in between!) There would be one less grandchild checking for Hershey kisses tucked into Grandma Munson’s Santa ornaments. There was no hiding how Christmas morning had gone for their family.

While we were opening presents, Eric mentioned that Heidi’s Christmas music box had gone around just one time that morning—as if she was sending a little “hello” on her favorite holiday. That bittersweet moment seemed to weave in and out of Christmas day, signifying the dreams to come that night …

I dreamt that Heidi was in the family room, talking to me. When I reached out to hug her, she disappeared. I awakened with hot tears stinging my cheeks, clinging to my husband’s arm for comfort. It made me feel less alone, but it didn’t make me feel better. For the next few days, feelings of anger, sadness and betrayal stewed inside me, until the dam broke.

While hanging up my festive red sweater in my closet, I started yelling, screaming and crying out to God about how betrayed, robbed and empty I had felt that year. For the first time, I chose to shed the artificiality of filling the season with “stuff” and got “real” about our first Christmas without Heidi. My soapbox moment was simply between myself and God, in the awkward, yet private solitude of my walk-in closet. Yes, she was in a better place, but we were still here. And that, for lack of a better word, completely sucked. When I admitted the true confines of my heart, God was not surprised. Surprisingly, after I’d blamed, demanded and shouted at the Ruler of the Universe, I felt Him comforting me. I wasn’t “better,” but I was honest.

On this, my seventh holiday season without her, I don’t have to “force” the Christmas spirit. I genuinely enjoy this season, but Christmas isn’t my favorite holiday, like it used to be. Christmas makes me miss my Heidi. It also reminds me that between now and Easter, I’m going to have another anniversary of that terrible day. I think it’s okay to be real about that. You can love Christmas and still struggle with depression this time of year. I also know that some of you have lost someone so close to you that it causes you to dread the entire season. (Read my friend Elizabeth Grant’s blog post on this subject— she inspired me to write this post: http://www.lifeinpencil.com/wp/) While well-meaning people may want you to “move on,” it’s okay to respectfully, but unapologetically say that you’re not ready.

In her short life, Heidi unintentionally caused me contemplate the importance of a genuine life. Just as real trees drop needles, dry out, cause allergies to flare up and make cleaning up Christmas more complicated, honesty can complicate things. While the truth is not always easy to admit to ourselves (or accept from others), there is nothing more freeing. When extending honesty, The Father will guide our words, providing both clarity and sensitivity, if only we ask Him.

Whether you embrace fresh trees or the artificial variety, a light-up nativity scene on the front lawn or a simple ceramic table display this season, my hope and prayer is that we would “keep it real” where it really counts—within the confines of our hearts.

*Thanks to kokoloveguam on flicker for the non-commercial use of this lovely tree photo :)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Lord, change my life-- but make it familiar and easy ...

The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.
Prov. 12:15

I want to try new things … but I want them to come with all the knowledge and experience of someone who’s been doing it all their lives, so I don’t look like an idiot. Isn’t that what we all want? A change that feels completely comfortable and familiar? That would be fantastic, but sadly, it’s not the world we live in.

I have been upheld by some as a gluten-free magician who touches rice flour and it turns to ambrosia. First of all, there are a lot of failures that continue to take place in my kitchen. (One of the perks of having dogs and chickens is disposing of the evidence without guilt!) While I can rattle all my allergens off my tongue with the greatest of ease (and cook accordingly) now, there was a time when the grocery store was the most frightening place on earth …

Even in the health food stores, I was terrified to shop alone. I simply could not avoid all of the allergens on my list without an extra pair of eyes. Besides, I needed emotional support for the frequent letdowns I experienced. I’d find a cereal that looked safe, when suddenly; I would see one of THOSE words in teensy letters on the ingredient list: cornstarch, nonfat milk powder, soy, coconut flour, quinoa… There I was, in the “gluten-free” aisle, and I still couldn’t find a thing to eat. I have literally cried in every local grocery store within a fifteen mile radius—in fact, I actually threw a full-blown tantrum in Fred Meyer!

No, I don’t mean I read the manager the riot act, stormed off in a huff or shouted that I’d never shop there again, I mean I stomped my feet, put my head in my hands and let out a primal scream in the natural foods section! I had been going up and down every aisle of the store for an hour, and I had almonds, lettuce and raspberries in my cart. That was it. I was so hungry, so exhausted and so afraid to embark on changing every recipe that I knew and loved, that I desperately wanted to find something in a box, bag or frozen container to eat. I couldn’t bake from scratch; I didn’t know how to bake! That required measuring, and I always lost count of how many cups of flour I’d dumped into a bowl. Now, I had been told that I had to use all these combined flours, which were expensive, confusing and hard to pronounce! No gluten. No peanuts. No dairy. No soy. No corn. No cranberries! It just wasn’t fair! And I decided in that moment, that Fred. G. Meyer (May he rest in peace) was to blame.

I called my husband and told him that I just couldn’t shop that day. He understood, and told me to come home. I fell apart into his arms the moment I walked in the door, and all over groceries! This was insanity!

That night, I decided that I was done attempting to live out of a box, bag or frozen container for the rest of my life. There had to be food that would be good for me, not too complicated, and maybe—just maybe, the whole family could eat, so I wouldn’t have to make multiple meals every night. The more I googled, the more I found hope for a delicious future! I called all my gluten-free friends and asked them what they ate, where they got it and how much it cost. Because my friends are amazing, my friend Karyl invited me to her house, virtually emptied an entire shelf of her pantry and urged me to take it all home. Knowledgeable staff at Nature’s Market looked at my loooooong list of allergies (unphased) and showed me where “safe” brands were on their shelves. I bonded with strangers in the frozen food aisle, as we marveled at gluten-free bagels and Hemp ice cream.
Through this adventure, my family really stood by me. My children cheered when I found cereal that was “mommy friendly.” When my husband and I saw a commercial for food that I could eat, we instantly high-fived one another. I continued to grumble about corn starch and hydrogenated soybean oil (we may or may not use them as faux-curse words in our home) under my breath, but the toddleresque display of shopping visits past no longer haunted me.

Over a year and a half later, I LOVE to grocery shop! I thoroughly enjoy baking (by weight—something I never would have learned, had it not been for my new life!) and I now look for people in PCC with that “deer in the headlights” look and a piece of paper with allergen levels on it. I tell them it’s going to be okay—not because I’ve always been a GF rock star, but because I have gone through the struggles of family gatherings, parties and restaurants with no gluten-free menu, and learned from them. If I had skated through this ordeal, what would I have to offer them? How would I know which cookies to feed my son—whom we discovered also has food allergies?

It’s truly amazing what we learn when we realize how little we know …

Father, thank you for the moments of uncertainty, frailty and yes, even insanity! Though I’d love to bury my past at times, allow me to remember it, that I might help others and not forget from whence I came and who brought me here!


About Me

I'm not your average housewife; but then, neither is any other housewife I've met! My life is a constant blur of kids, animals, hunting down and testing allergy-friendly recipes, shopping, LOTS of coffee, yarn crafting, nannying, singing and writing. I married my highschool sweetheart (the introvert who is a type-A, shy, organized, loves hunting, hiking and mountain climbing. He lives for pizza, burgers and cookies and doesn't like coffee). We are polar opposites, but Love, grace and a whole lotta Jesus can overcome anything! :) We have two boys who fill this house with lots of excitement, love, laughter and lunacy! Alan (9) is a happy-go-lucky, inventive, dramatic, eager-to-please kid who loves being dad's shadow and mom's shopping companion. He's the snuggliest kid I've ever met! Wyatt is extremely bright, inquisitive, entertaining and endearing. He lives for routine, Wii games, pixar films and writing stories. Alan is typically-developing, Wyatt has high-functioning autism. We live on an acre in the Pacific Northwest with our two aussies and 5 chickens. It's not the Waltons, but it works! :)