This little girl’s parents, Brandon and Hannah, were good friends of mine in college and now live overseas. We had so much fun reconnecting at Chick Fil A for a couple hours this afternoon and our girls became fast friends.
So it’s March 5th and clearly I’m already dropping the ball regarding my daily photo. Rain and sudden 30-degree weather are not an inspiring setting for practicing photography.
Ugh. Now it sounds like I’m making excuses, which I am.
Also. This week I’m attempting to quit drinking English Breakfast tea. Oh it’s so hard, people!!!
Not as hard as coffee, I keep reminding myself of that. Remember when I quit drinking coffee last year? It is difficult to put into words what that first horrid week felt like.
But it worked!
I drink virtually no coffee today. The most I’ll do is a very occasional espresso shot in a latte or soy chai, or a half-cup at church Sunday morning. Although even that will set my heart to racing and sometimes upset my stomach so it’s practically ceased to be worth it.
Did you ever think I would quit drinking coffee?
My brother-in-law Alex was my inspiration and I’ll forever be grateful to him, because it’s been so good for me. It’s helped with stress/anxiety and helped me sleep better. I won’t say it took away my anxiety disorder or removed my need for medication, but I’ve been able to reduce meds and now the first question I ask someone when they tell me they struggle with anxiety is: How much caffeine are you drinking?
Well my habit-forming-personality self immediately subbed English Breakfast tea mixed with two spoons of raw sugar and milk, two-to-three times a day. I think that was fine, for this year. I needed a gentle transition.
But I really need to be off dairy. I’ve known that since my first gluten-free experiment. It upsets my stomach and exacerbates my allergies and I have a rash on my upper arms and I’m almost positive dairy is the culprit because I had none of that when I was dairy-free.
I also suspect I should be off sugar. Because I have weird blood sugar reactions when I eat a lot of it. Also mood swings. Also low energy in general lately.
And I’d like to reduce my caffeine consumption even more.
I know all this sounds extreme. When people ask me about health and diet choices I tell them to just make small changes. It’s a process. Don’t go overboard with this whole lifestyle overhaul that you can’t sustain.
This is how it looks for me right now. Instead of saying “I will no longer consume any dairy or sugar,” I’m saying, “I will stop drinking black tea with milk and sugar every day.”
A small change, but this week at least it feels like a big change. It may or may not be making me sleepy and restless and a little grouchy (sorry, family).
I’m experimenting with Bigelow green tea. With a scant spoonful of raw honey. What do you think?
I really struggle with tea I’ve decided. I love, love black tea because it’s full and strong and dark. But all the herbal and fruity stuff — even rooibos tea — just aren’t cutting it. I’d rather drink nothing (which is not an option at the moment. i know, i told you i have a habit-forming personality.).
So I brewed myself a cup of green tea on Tuesday morning and was surprised to find that it wasn’t terrible. I drank the whole mug and another in the afternoon. I don’t love it but the earthiness is pleasant. I think I could maybe learn to enjoy it.
I can envision myself making pitchers of iced green tea all summer, sipping from my mason jar with a sprig or two of mint fresh from our garden.
Any other words of wisdom or inspiration about kicking the black tea habit?
And I’ll return with some daily photos!
Yesterday was my two hour beginner photography class with Ashley from Joyful Images Photography and it was everything I hoped it would be. We spent the first hour going over photography basics and the second hour shooting photos in her studio. She is a great teacher and I felt so many things start to make sense by the end of the morning.
If you’ve considered a photography class I’d say: Go for it! I have no desire to do anything with photography beyond taking photos for this blog, but I am so energized to put the things I learned into practice and keep improving.
I would add (and this is just my opinion) that I feel like I got even more out of the class because I had learned some things on my own first. I’ve studied our DSLR camera’s manual and also went through the Pioneer Woman’s beginner photography blog series, then tried to practice what I learned through the January photo project. Oh, and my new lens has helped a ton. It’s made my efforts much more rewarding (and David actually got it for me at Ashley’s recommendation).
All of that to say, I felt like by the time I went to the class yesterday all the terms were at least familiar to me and I had a good sense of what I’m struggling with, exposure-wise, and the questions I wanted to get answered.
Now my camera dial is set to “Manual” mode which is terrifying and exhilarating.
And so I begin the March Photo Project.
Remember how I told you I gave myself the birthday gift of a new hobby this year? (which I’m enjoying immensely by the way).
Well I wanted to tell you about the other birthday gift I decided to give myself now that I’m 32 and securely “in my thirties.” A conversation I had with some girl friends this weekend reminded me of it and it’s this:
I’m giving myself permission to stop worrying about what people think of me.
You may be chuckling right now. You may be thinking, Oh that’s all!? Well good luck with that one!
I know, I know. But here’s the thing:
I’ve felt this gradual shift in the last couple years. And an even bigger shift in the last few months. The new thought process goes something like this: I’m getting older. My life is full — not “crazy busy,” just very full. And either my energy level is waning or maybe I’m just becoming more realistic about my limitations.
But whatever the reason, I do not have extra energy to worry about what people think of me.
Or maybe a better way to say it is, I’m losing the desire to spend the energy I have worrying what people think.
Does it sound like I got this from some empowering mom blog? Nope. I actually got it from Jesus.
David said something in a sermon a couple weeks ago that I can’t get out of my head: he said, “Have you ever noticed how little time and energy Jesus gave to worrying about people’s opinions of Him? He was constantly being misunderstood and criticized, and often by the kinds of people you and I most want to please: His church leaders, His family, His best friends.”
But Jesus didn’t let those opinions govern His decisions. He just moved on with the mission God gave Him, and there was such a peace and a settled-ness about Him (not that He didn’t get hurt or emotional or angry). He didn’t get rattled to His core by what people thought. That wasn’t ever His motivation.
I’m a born people-pleaser. I’m sensitive. I’m empathetic. I’m a rule-follower. I can feel the moods of people around me. That can be a strength because it makes me a compassionate person who feels joy and pain with people.
It can also be my prison and my idol.
I find so many excuses to elevate other people’s feelings and their opinion of me over God.
I think us people-pleasers are always going to be tempted by this idol. But do you know who I think is tempted by it even more? Those of us who are people-pleasers in ministry.
We love God and love people. We feel honored to be apart of God’s work in the world. But it’s subtly tempting to think ministry equals pleasing people. We’re supposed to be serving them, right? We’re supposed to deny ourselves and pour out our lives for others.
So we excuse the obsessive people-pleasing and obsessive guarding of our image/reputation. We encourage it even — in our own lives and in the lives of others in ministry. We don’t say no. We don’t set boundaries. We say, “Be careful not to offend.” We let our day rise or fall on a comment someone makes. We do what it takes to not let that family down. Or if we do let them down, we feel like failures. We think, God is using me as an example to others, and let that govern our decision-making.
Well guess what? That’s not the ministry God is calling anyone to and certainly not the ministry Jesus had. He’s been showing me a different way, slowly but surely, these last few years. And this year, my thirty-second year, is still brand new, and I want to learn it even more.
A new friend asked on Friday night what my desire is for Columbia Presbyterian Church. And I told her the passion I’ve known for many months now, that my desire — especially for the women — is for our church to be a safe place. I want a group of people with differences on everything from parenting to education to diet to politics to income to spiritual gifts to be able to gather together and feel accepted and encouraged. I want to be a safe place both for people in our church and for people outside of it.
I don’t want other women to be like me, I want them to be exactly who God created them to be. I want them to learn a little more of who they are created to be as a result of being at Columbia Pres.
I want them to feel, “Here’s a group of people who have my back. Even if they don’t understand every decision I make, I don’t worry about what they say when I’m not in the room. They let me be free to be me. They’re cheering me on and cheering on the work God’s doing in my life.”
And I’m realizing more and more that this vision for the ladies of Columbia Pres will ring hollow inasmuch as I’m consumed with worry about my own image.
I’m learning that it’s inspiring for people around me to watch God freeing me from this worry, just as I’ve grown by watching that process in others. It lets them breathe a sigh of relief and think, Maybe I don’t have to worry either. It lets them understand that they’ll say “no” to some things so they can say “yes” to others, that people won’t understand all of their family’s decisions, that they’ll disappoint people (even perhaps David and me) and we will disappoint them and that’s okay.
God will use this to grow us all up together in Him and to bring us more freedom to love and worship Him rather than idolize each other. It lets us begin extending grace to others around us, to offer them permission not to worry about what we think either.
So this is the year I let go of the the endless questions:
. . . Do people stereotype me as a homeschooling mom?
. . . Are they offended that my kids don’t say ‘yes ma’am’ and ‘yes sir?’
. . . What if they find out I don’t buy organic milk?
. . . Are they shocked that I only pray five minutes a day?
. . . Did I totally disappoint them by saying no to their invitation?
. . . Did I totally disappoint them by getting off Facebook?
. . . Do they think I have too much fun and should be doing more ministry?
. . . Do they think I’m a bad friend?
. . . Do they think I’m a bad mom?
. . . What will they think of this blog post?
Etc. Etc. Etc.
I don’t want to spend the energy I have asking those questions. I want to spend it loving hard and enjoying life and getting to know Jesus better, thinking about Him and not so much about myself.
You may need to remind me of my birthday gift. Because these things don’t happen overnight. But I’ve tasted enough to have great hopes for the next 32 years.
Want to join me?
I’m discovering that the older I get the more “minimal” I want our living space. Which is strange because I definitely don’t define myself as a minimalist when I comes to decor (that word conjures visions of sleek, monochrome, zen-like loft apartments with a single bamboo plant), but more and more I feel like clutter in my home — whether its from piles of papers or too many knick knacks or too much furniture — makes my skin itch.
David is breathing a sigh of relief at this, because our whole marriage he’s tried to tell me that “less is more” (except when it came to the unframed college posters he wanted to hang in our first home).
Lately I’ve been having that itchy feeling about our living room, more specifically about our bookcases. We’ve always wanted big, tall bookcases — mostly just because we need a place to keep our books. But also because we feel like they add color and character to our home, and say a lot about what we love as a family.
But for awhile now our bookshelves have been stressing me out.
So Saturday while David was working all day I did something really drastic — I organized our books by color.
I got the inspiration from this Apartment Therapy post.
The project took hours and hours. Because we have so. many. books. Does that sound like I’m bragging? I promise I’m not. I think (like with any collection) there are “cool” bookish people, and then there are “borderline-scary” bookish people, and we definitely fall into the latter category (when you have so many books that those displayed are just the tip of the iceberg — books are also stashed in your cabinets and china hutch and linen closet — then that is a problem).
What if when David and I are old we seem normal on the outside, but it turns out we are book hoarders? What if our grandkids can’t even walk through our living room to come check on us because of the mazes and mazes of books? I worry about this.
So on Saturday I got to work and there was dust flying and teetering stacks all over the living room and about a hundred nonstop questions from Amie, and in the middle of the afternoon my sister-in-law came to rescue us.
I had started my project but I couldn’t carry out the idea that was in my head. I was stuck. Enter Shari, who’s got a great eye and immediately whipped me into shape and made it all look better (I think it helped that I presented her with a slice of chocolate cake).
You’ll be relieved to hear that I set aside a very big pile of books To Be Purged (for instance, do we really need not one but two copies of the Quran?).
I also found my Kindle! Which has been lost for months. And was able to use a gift card someone gave me (was that a helpful hint, perhaps?).
Finally but perhaps most importantly I was reminded that we really have to stop acquiring books. We’ve toned it way down in recent years. But still. I think we should instill a rule that no book comes permanently into our home unless another one leaves (the jury is still out on whether David agrees with this).
Anyway. After the whole ordeal I felt about one hundred percent better about our living room, without spending a dime.
It turns out less really is more. That’s a recurring tip from design pros: edit, edit, edit. If you want to draw attention to the nice things you have, you need space for them to stand out.
For instance my dad turns really beautiful wooden bowls and I’ve been wanting to find a better way to display them in our home. Now instead of crammed in between stacks of books they have their own place. And that pottery jug that remains one of my favorite pieces from South Asia because it was the first pretty thing I bought for our home.
The best part was that David came home Saturday night and absolutely loved the bookshelves. We both agree that the whole room feels much more peaceful.
Now if I can just do something about the piles of books on the floor of the school room.
I thought I’d tell you why.
I’m pretty sure I first started craving salads in South Asia — when actually creating something like the photo above was an all-morning affair. We were supposed to avoid raw vegetables that hadn’t been treated with some sort of disinfecting rinse. So every vegetable purchased at the market had to be soaked for 15 minutes and rinsed for 15 minutes and dried.
Sound simple? Try doing this with every component of your salad: lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers. Then do it with all your fruit. But you can’t use your tap water – so be sure to fill up big plastic bins with the impossibly slow drip of your water filter. Every time you come home from shopping (which, in and of itself, is an exhausting process).
Very soon you lose the will to make that salad.
When we moved back home my nutritionist urged me to get as many raw fruits and vegetables into my diet as possible since we were focusing on rebuilding my immune system, and she suggested a daily salad for lunch as a great habit.
Over the last year and a half of practicing this habit, I’ve begun to sing its praises for two reasons: 1. My daily salad tastes great, and 2. I feel great afterward.
Here’s what I suggest: start with your greens. Please, please do not ever buy Iceberg lettuce again. It is a sure guarantee to make you hate your salad (unless you slather it with tons of Ranch dressing, in which case you are eating Ranch dressing and not a salad). I like Romaine, but prefer Red Leaf or Bibb lettuce. Or a combination. I also add spinach as often as possible (or just use spinach as the whole base as shown above).
Side note: I’ve learned to chop and wash my greens in a salad spinner when I get home, dry on cloth or paper towels on the counter, then roll up in the damp towel and store in the fridge in a ziplock bag. My lettuce has kept for up to two weeks this way.
Next, chop your veggies: Carrots and radishes, cucumbers, tomatoes in the summer. Raw broccoli. Grated beets. Grated sweet potatoes or cabbage.
And now, here’s where it gets fun. Leftover roasted veggies from last night’s dinner in the fridge? Go ahead and throw them on there (roasted sweet potatoes. yum.). Leftover brown rice or quinoa? Yup.
I always like a handful of something crunchy: chopped nuts or sunflower seeds.
Definitely, definitely olives if you have them (but please not canned, please buy the nice jarred olives or the package in the Publix cold imports section). It’s okay if you don’t like olives though.
Want to know something weird about me? I hated olives my entire life. As in, they made me shudder. David’s family always served them for appetizers with cheese and crackers and I never touched the things. Then, in South Asia I was diagnosed with low blood pressure and told to consume more salt. And at about exactly this time I began to adore and crave olives. And ever since I can’t get enough of them. Now at Gentino family gatherings I’m always looking for the olives.
Anyway, back to our salad.
Cheese is optional. I try to limit dairy, but I seem to be fine with it in moderation — especially with hard cheese like Parmesan, or goat cheese. Get a really good-quality Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and add a couple shavings to your salad (or soup. or scrambled eggs. or anything really). I learned this from Mark Bittman and it’s been a revelation. It’s more expensive of course. But because it’s so much more flavorful you only need a tiny bit.
At this point I usually chop a hard-boiled egg to sprinkle on top because for me the extra protein helps the salad to last longer in the afternoon (although I always need a snack before dinner).
Another revelation: learning from my friend Erika how to properly cook an egg (submerge in a pan of water, heat to boil, turn heat off and set timer for 9 minutes, immediately drain and rinse in very cold water to stop the egg from cooking). Your egg will taste soft and flavorful — rather than like something you could drop on the floor and watch bounce.
Once everything is assembled it’s time to season and dress your salad. How did I make it almost 32 years of life without learning to put salt and pepper on my salad? I don’t know, but fresh-ground sea salt and black pepper make all the difference.
Finally, I’m going to suggest something that may be hard for you to hear: I want you to try to stop using store-bought salad dressing. I know. That’s shocking. Maybe going too far. Once my friend Josh said his wife Sarah refused to ever eat bottled salad dressing and I thought she was crazy (sorry, Sarah!).
Alas. Now I’m converted.
In my opinion (and I’m sure Sarah’s too), you never get to enjoy the actual taste of your salad with those dressings. I should know: the only way you could get me to eat a salad before was to cover it with Ranch. I loved the stuff. But now I realize what I said before: it kind of just makes everything on your plate taste like Ranch.
I had to give up almost all bottled salad dressings when I went gluten-free (which should be your first hint: Why do you need wheat in something like a salad dressing? Because it’s a preservative, that’s why. It’s what makes your dressing last for
months weeks in the fridge).
It was hard at first. But my nutritionist gave me some great suggestions: extra virgin olive oil is wonderful (again, for salads you really need to buy nice olive oil in the dark green bottle). With a drizzle of good-quality Balsamic vinegar. Or, my personal favorite: a generous squeeze of lemon juice.
I’ve looked up lots of recipes and made homemade salad dressings several times. They were always simple and delicious. And don’t get me wrong: a made-in-house Caesar salad dressing is one of my all-time favorite things. But I think creamy, heavy dressings like that are better saved for special occasions. You just don’t need them to make your daily salad good.
The velvety smoothness of extra virgin olive oil and the bright tang of lemon juice are the perfect accompaniment to a salad. David and I like this combination so much we rarely use anything else.
And there you have it. Your daily salad. I never get tired of it, because you can always switch things up here and there, based on what’s in season or what you have in your fridge.
And like I said, the very best part about my salad is the way I feel afterward — light, energized. Rather than sluggish and sleepy like if I eat a big, heavy lunch.
I know, I know, you may be thinking: That’s all well and good for you, Julie. But you stay home. You get to make your lunch every day. But I have to go to work.
I hear you. However, my mom has been taking salads to work for years and certainly way before I ever considered salad as something I’d want to eat. I pack my and the kids’ lunches for Classical Conversations each Monday and find a salad is a great portable lunch (it just takes a tad more foresight. but it’s worth it, i promise!).
Okay, enough from me. Now it’s your turn: what, in your opinion, makes a good salad?
So I totally flaked out there at the end of my January photo project. But I made through almost the whole month, so I’m pleased. I did actually learn some things, namely that lots of practice really is the key to getting better (at just about anything, right?).
I still can’t shoot in full manual mode but I can tweak my exposure a little better at this point. Also, I learned that one of my big weaknesses is that I just don’t take my camera out and about with me. So in the end you can only take so many interesting shots of your own house/yard/kids.
Thanks for bearing with me and encouraging me in the process.
I’m excited because I’ll be taking a beginner two-hour photography class March 1st. I’m going to take February off of my daily photo posts, and then have another try in March when I have some new skills to practice.
In the meantime, my birthday present to myself is a new hobby.
Not involving books.
I’m learning to crochet!
I’m teaching myself using blogs and youtube videos (okay so yes, this hobby does involve screens for now), and I’m surprised by how much I’m enjoying it. Also, learning to do anything crafty with a little girl in the house is the best: she ooh’s and ahh’s over every wobbly-stitched creation and begs, “Mom, make me another doll blanket!”
Why crochet, you ask? Simply because I tried knitting a few years ago and didn’t love it. I can’t promise I’ll ever become passionate about crochet either, but so far one needle is a lot easier to cope with than two.
Also because David has taken to puzzles lately and in my imagination we’re sitting together in these cozy winter evenings, happily absorbed in our old-fashioned hobbies. Also I hate doing puzzles.
You never know, you may be getting a washcloth from me before it’s all over.
This weekend my cousin Brad got married in Orlando. The wedding was perfect, and I hadn’t seen some of my extended family since before we moved overseas. We realized this is the first time all nine girl cousins have been together in as long as we can remember.
It rained all day Friday and we had a houseful of six kids who were bouncing off the walls, so Allison, Shari and I made an emergency trip to Ikea to let the kids play (okay, we did some shopping too).
As many of you know, I grew up very close to all my aunts, uncles, and cousins, and grandparents. My birthday was on Friday and I could think of no better way to celebrate than being with my family. I’m so happy Lindsey’s getting married in just a few weeks so we can do it all again!