Thursday, December 20, 2012

Teaching Her to Pray

As soon as Valerie was old enough to understand and participate in her bedtime prayers, my mind went through a million conflicting thoughts and ideas about prayer and children. I'm an overthinker; I can't help it. I try to find a good balance between giving thanks and making requests, and encourage her to come up with things she wants to pray for. But it goes deeper than that.

She only has the attention span to cover a few topics, and sometimes, it's tempting to "help" God look good by praying for vague things, like "blessings" on family members, or easy things that will probably happen anyhow (a good night's sleep, recovery from a cold or minor injury). But what about the hard stuff? Like the cousin who has been suffering from chronic illness for several years?

I made a deliberate decision to keep some of the hard stuff in our bedtime prayers. If I want to model a realistic prayer life for her, it's going to have to include the hard prayers, too. Sometimes, we pray for the same thing for months or even years, without seeing any change. Sometimes, it feels like God's not listening at all. But it's not up to us to pray only for the things that would be easy for God to answer. It's up to us to lift up all of our concerns, and trust him to take care of them, one way or another.

Valerie has a very vivid imagination, and I remember a while back when she started asking me to pray for a unicorn. I tried to explain to her that unicorns weren't real, but she insisted that God could make them real if He wanted to. Touché, kid. You're right, He totally could. And I found myself wondering: Who am I to tell her to only pray for realistic things, while at the same time encouraging her to pray for a miracle in her sick cousin's life? Sure there's a valid distinction in my mind, but to a little girl who is just starting to learn about a God who created the whole world and all the animals from nothing? What's one more animal? I felt a bit silly, but I prayed for her unicorn. Every night for weeks, I prayed for her unicorn.

I know prayer isn't about just getting the things you want, and that's a concept we're working on, too. I pray that we will learn to want the things that God wants for us. But these things take time. I've been a Christian for over 30 years, and probably half of my prayers are still selfish. It's a long process.

A few months ago, we found out that some church friends were expecting a baby. Valerie, who loves all things baby, was very excited. Then our friends found out that their baby had a life-threatening lung condition, and wouldn't be able to survive outside of the womb. Their only hope was a miracle. This wasn't one of those "Please guide the doctor's hands" kinds of prayer requests. The doctors had already said that there was nothing they could do. What this baby needed was a bona fide miracle.

So we prayed for a miracle. Every night for two months, we prayed for a miracle. But God didn't choose to do a miracle. This past weekend, that baby was born, and ten minutes later, she died.

I knew what I was getting into when I decided to make the hard things part of our nightly prayers. But that didn't make it any easier to deliver the news to my four-year-old. That sometimes terrible things happen, and God doesn't do miracles. That sometimes, God says no, and we have no idea why. That even though God can do anything, sometimes he chooses not to.

She accepted the news better than I had, hugged me (probably more because I was crying than for any other reason), and went about her play. And my heart broke a little bit more, knowing that one more thing had been added to the growing column of "Things God won't do."

I don't know if I've chosen the right tactic for teaching her to pray. Everyone needs to come face-to-face with the "Why doesn't God _______?" questions at some point in their lives. Some people choose to reject God, or not to believe in God, in the face of all those question marks, and I understand that. I've been through my share of questioning, and I came out the other side learning to trust God more than my own logic. But I was older when I went through those hard nights. At least a teenager, maybe even in college. Is a four-year-old even equipped to deal with those types of things? Maybe I should have just let her have a God who blesses her family members, heals colds, and gives us good nights' sleep; rather than a God who can, but won't, make unicorns or heal babies.

I do take comfort in the fact that my children's faith is ultimately in God's hands, not mine. I am so very imperfect. All I can do is model my faith as honestly and openly as I can, and trust that God will draw her to Him; in spite of me, if need be.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Excerpt from one of the most entertaining car rides in recent history

V: Can we get some decorations like that and put them up in front of our house?
JA: Well, we don't really have a yard, and our house isn't on a road, so no one would see them. Maybe when we get another house, we can get one with a yard on a street and put up some fun Christmas decorations.
V: All I want when we get a new house is a kitten, and a grown-up cat, and a puppy, and a grown-up dog. And a goldfish. But not a zebra fish, because they are poison, and I don't want it to poison my goldfish. Did you know that zebra fish can kill sharks? But not in Kenya, there are no sharks in Kenya. Do you know why there are no sharks in Kenya?
JA: Because there are no oceans?
V: No, because the dolphins in Kenya are braver than the sharks.
JA: Ah, of course.
V: Aren't you glad I know so much about Kenya?
JA: Yes, very glad.
V: Do you want me to tell you more things about Kenya?
JA: Definitely.
V: Well, the people on the left side of Kenya have dreams about zombies. And the people on the - which side did I just do?
JA: Left side.
V: And the people on the right side dream about butterflies. But sometimes the people on the left side, dream about butterflies, to kill the zombies.
JA: Butterflies kill zombies?
V: Yes, if they are grown-up butterflies. But grown-up zombies kill butterflies. Hey! I just cut my own fingernail! Isn't that great that I cut my own fingernail?
JA: How did you cut it? With your teeth?
V: No, with my finger! Did I just do a miracle?
JA: I don't know that I would call that a miracle...
V: I just remembered one more pet I want to have when we get a bigger house.
JA: I don't know, you already want five pets. You'll have to feed them all, and take care of them all, and that's going to be a lot of work.
V: Just ONE more pet! A chameleon. Actually, a whole family of chameleons.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Muggins! (Muffin in a Mug)

2012-12-08 09.01.21

This is my new favorite breakfast. It's hearty, filling, tasty, quick, and easy. Win-win-win-win-win! I found the original Muggin recipe at Nana Clare's Kitchen. I haven't changed it much, but I have tweaked it a bit, and summarized the variants into one base recipe, so I'm sharing it again, here. I can't take credit for the original idea, though.

It all started a few weeks ago when Valerie asked if we could make chocolate cake in a mug for breakfast. We occasionally make chocolate cake in a mug together as a fun dessert (using this recipe), and I got to thinking, hmm, maybe we could make something healthier, like an oatmeal muffin, in a mug for breakfast? I whipped up a batch of Nana Clare's Muggins, and we were sold! I brought the jar of mix with me on our recent trip to WNY, and I've already passed it along to several people. It's Muggin Mania!

Without further ado, here's the recipe:

1 cup whole wheat flour (I used white wheat flour)
1 cup rolled oats (I used old fashioned oats, but you can use quick oats)
1/2 cup ground flax meal
1/2 cup wheat germ OR oat bran (I've been using oat bran)
3 Tbsp baking powder

Put mix ingredients in a quart-sized mason jar and shake until combined. Store for 2-3 months (if it lasts that long). Mix makes about 17 muggins.

Basic Muggin:
1 egg (I've been using large eggs, but small eggs might make it less spongey)
2 Tbsp plain yogurt OR unsweetened applesauce OR half a banana (All 3 are delicious, and very different)
1-3 tsp honey OR maple syrup OR other sweetener (I've been using 1/2 Tbsp or 1.5 tsp of honey)
3 Tbsp mix
*flavor variants*
*2 Tbsp of mix-ins* (opt.)

Put liquid ingredients in a large mug (at least 12-16 oz). Mix well with a fork or spoon. Add mix, and stir until combined. Fold in any mix-ins like fruits/nuts/candy at the end.

Microwave on high for 1.5 to 2 minutes. It's okay if the muffin rises above the top of the mug while cooking, it will shrink back down a bit when it's done. Jiggle mug a bit to loosen sides, and transfer immediately to a plate (if you leave it in the mug, it gets slimy from the steam).

A note on texture: Muggins have a slightly different texture from a regular muffin. They are extremely fluffy, since they contain an entire egg. It's almost like a cross between a muffin and a soufflé. Or maybe like a very fluffy baked oatmeal. I think of this as a good thing, since it means I am getting a whole egg's worth of protein, but I just wanted to give you a heads up, because it is different. It shouldn't be rubbery, however. If your muggin is coming out rubbery, you are probably cooking it too long. Try shaving 10 seconds or so off of your cooking time.

Most mornings, I am lazy, and I honestly just make the basic muggin as described above, with nothing added other than a dash of vanilla or a spoonful of peanut butter (which is not easy to mix in completely, and has me seriously considering investing in some PB2 to see if I can get that peanut butter flavor without investing all of that stirring energy). But here are a few variations to try:

  • Apple cinnamon: Use applesauce instead of yogurt, and add a dash of cinnamon and lemon juice. Maybe a few pieces of chopped apple, or some walnuts.
  • Chocolate chip: Add a dash of vanilla and 2 Tbsp chocolate chips.
  • Chocolate: Use the full 1 Tbsp of honey and add 1 Tbsp of cocoa and a dash of vanilla. You could even go crazy and also stir in 2 Tbsp chocolate chips or M&Ms.
  • Lazy-flavored: Instead of adding flavor, just use flavored yogurt. Increase the yogurt to 3 Tbsp and omit the honey.
  • Pumpkin muffin. I haven't tried this one yet, but it's at the top of my list as soon as I remember to buy some pumpkin purée.
  • Meat/cheese: I just made my first savory muggin with leftover ham and shredded sharp cheddar cheese. So good! (You'll probably want to reduce the honey, and I had to cook mine for almost double the normal time, because I added way more than 2 Tbsp of ham and cheese.)
  • Any combination of nuts, frozen berries, dried fruit, candy, spices and/or flavor extracts that sounds good to you. Like cinnamon-raisin, or blueberry-almond, or pumpkin-spice-pecan. Just use a dash of flavors/spices, and 2 Tbsp (cumulative) of the mix-ins.
I punched the recipe into My Fitness Pal, and it's a nice, healthy breakfast option. When prepared using the basic recipe (oat bran version of the mix, nonfat yogurt and 1/2 Tbsp honey), it has 192 calories, 21g of carbs, 7g of fat, 11g of protein, and 2g of fiber. You can increase the protein even more by mixing in some nuts. One muggin for breakfast tides me over easily until lunch.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Conversation with a toddler

JA: Dorothy, will you go tell Valerie that it's time to clean up and go home?
D: Okay! (running to find Valerie) Valerie! Val-val! (pauses) It's (pauses again, thinking hard) it's play time!

Saturday, December 01, 2012

A Christmas Shopping Guide for All of the Jule Anns on Your List

Things not to get for a Jule Ann for Christmas:

  1. Earrings. My ears aren't pierced, and I like them that way. Buying me earrings makes me think that you don't pay very much attention to me.
  2. Scented lotions, perfume sprays, body washes, etc. I'm a very utilitarian bathroom user. I use one kind of unscented lotion, which I buy in huge bottles, I use one kind of soap, and my only "perfume" is the baby powder scent of my deodorant. I rarely take baths, and when I do, I prefer my bath water un-scented and un-bubbled. I already have a shelf full of miscellaneous scented beauty products from past gift-giving occasions, used two or three times each. I try to use them, to honor the spirit of the gift, knowing that someone was trying to do a nice thing for me and make me feel pampered. But I'm just not the pampering type, and instead, all they do is make me feel guilty about good money that was wasted on something I won't use.
  3. Gift cards. I get it, I do. You want to give me something, but you don't want to choose something I won't use, like earrings or strawberry body lotion. A gift card lets me pick whatever gift I want! But gift cards stress me out. I'm not the most organized person in the world, and having gift cards sitting in a box by the door, taunting me with a certain amount money that I need to spend in a certain way, at a certain place, on certain things, adds an irrational extra stressor to my life. I hate shopping as it is, and adding that extra element of having to worry about which stores I have gift cards for makes the whole prospect of shopping that much more daunting. That might sound crazy, and maybe it is, but it's how I feel.
    Not to mention the fact that I think the whole gift card industry is a scam. You're giving your money to corporations now, which they get to hold onto (interest-free!) for an indeterminate amount of time without giving you any goods or services until the following tax year. Plus, you can't get change from a gift card, so they are either making sure that you leave them with a few unspent dollars on the tail end of the card, or they are making sure that you buy a little something extra that you probably didn't need to use up the card.
  4. Clothes that you think I should like. I actually like getting clothing as a gift, but I'm kinda set in my ways style-wise. I've tried to break out of my clothing comfort zone a few times, but I usually end up sidelining those articles of clothing for the old stand-bys. And if someone gets me a sweater vest for Christmas, I will probably look at it and say, "Well, it's not really my style, but maybe I should give it a chance!" And I won't return it, because I always feel bad returning things that people put time and effort and thought into choosing for me, but I'll probably only wear it twice before I forget about it and it falls to the back of my closet.
Things to get for a Jule Ann for Christmas:

  1. Things that you have lying around that you think I would use. I am not one of those people who cares about original packaging. Repurposed gifts please my frugal heart. Some of the best gifts for me are things like:
    • "I heard you like to crochet, would you like this big bag of yarn that I'm never going to use?"
    • "You still use a VCR, right? Do you want these old VHS tapes?"
    • "I was going to give this bag of dresses to Goodwill, do you want to go through them first and see if you want any of them?"
  2. Do something for me. My Love Language, without question, is Acts of Service. Nothing makes me happier, or makes me feel more loved, than having people do things for me. And best of all, it costs you nothing! A few ideas, if you want to put an Act of Service on your not-shopping list:
    • Come over for an hour sometime and help me clean. My house always needs cleaning.
    • Pull apart the dashboard of my car and take the pennies out of my CD player. It probably won't take more than an hour or two (I actually have no idea - I've never done anything like that myself), and I'll get a working car CD player at no cost to either of us!
    • Babysit the kids sometime, so I can have some solitary time, or so Jeremy and I can go on a date.
  3. Cash. I know, I know. Cash is a lame gift. But it's SO much better than gift cards! I get to put it in my bank account and spend it at any store I want. If you want to direct my spending, you can stick a little note to the cash saying, "This is for you to buy a new coat," or, "This is for you to go to the movies with Jeremy," or, "Buy some deodorant, hippie, you stink!" I'll tell you what: If you give me cash for Christmas with a note, I will take a picture of me holding/wearing/doing whatever I spent your money on, and send it to you. Everybody gets something fun out of it!
  4. Anything with a shared story or a memory attached. Two of my favorite gifts ever were presented with the following introductions:
    • "You know how you always make big pot of kettle corn for us when we watch LOST every week? I just saw this stove-top popcorn popper at a garage sale, and I thought it would be easier than using your big pot."
    • "You remember when we were at that cabin together, and we were always fighting over the awesome lap duvet? I finally found a place to buy them! (I got one for myself, too.)"
  5. Clothes that jump off of the rack screaming my name at you. As I said above, I do like getting clothing as a gift. And some people really excel at buying me clothes that fall straight from the box into daily rotation. If you are one of those people, go for it! I love fun clothes.
  6. Photos of you and your family. I love pictures! And I love having your face smiling at me from the fridge or the door or the photo ledges. Photo gifts are one of my favorite things to receive.
  7. Nothing at all. You don't have to get me anything, really. Not even if I got you something; I don't keep score. (If I did keep score, I would be humbled at how deeply in gift debt I really am, and I would feel even more guilty about all of the wonderful gifts I receive every year.) I believe that gift-giving should come from the heart, not out of a sense of obligation. I try to practice what I preach, too, and give gifts myself in a deliberately unequal manner. If I see something I think you will love, I might just get it for you for no reason at all, and if I don't find the right gift, I might not get you anything for Christmas this year. I think gifts are a lot more fun when they come unexpectedly as inspiration strikes, rather than when the calendar says they must.