Don’t call us, we’ll call you

April 21, 2014

March: Work

I organized; I cooked. Two months in a row sticking to my plan isn’t too shabby! Alas, no research happened in March. But lots of work nonetheless. If I had known at the start of this year that I would be taking on another job, I probably would have changed 2014′s theme from Do ALL THE THINGS! to Just Stay Alive. I know working Monday through Wednesday from 8:30-3:15 doesn’t sound like a ton, but oh goodness, this has been a hard change!

I managed it pretty well in March, but April has been another story. I’ve been sick almost every day in April, even missing a whole week of work. I think I have taken for granted my relative good health these last couple of years and forgotten how grinding more intense chronic pain, sickness, and insomnia gets.  It has been a struggle to not slip into a depression after the last two and a half weeks. (I should probably reread this post.) Working out of my house, which I haven’t done in a rigid way since probably 2005, certainly adds an extra layer of stress when I’m feeling ill. At 4:30 am it really doesn’t help to keep telling myself, “You have to sleep. You have to get up in 3 hours . . . 2 hours . . . 1 hour.”

Despite all that, my new job is a good combination of great coworkers (I think that has all but solved my need for a social outlet in our town), direct service, and repetitive paperwork. I know some people hate paperwork, but for me, the paperwork is essential. I love the precision element of it — my paperwork can be nearly perfect with effort, even if the lives of my clients (and all humans, obviously) are always messy. And I love the space it offers to decompress after those difficult meetings. But even in those difficult meetings — like the one with someone whose husband had abandoned her after a particularly messy fight several days before, in which I had to find a way to gently express that breaking things throughout the house is in fact a sign of domestic violence even if he didn’t break her — there is something refreshing in comparison to prison work. Because I can always help them, somehow. Even if it’s just a bag of food from our Food Pantry or a pack of diapers or a small gift card to the local market, I know I can always send them away with a tangible thing that will make them feel a little more hopeful about the future. Not to mention a hug or supportive touch on the arm. Human touch is valuable; it’s only in replaying all these meetings, first with my incarcerated men and now with these men and women, that I see how different a meeting is in which we often could not even shake hands.

I need to go back to work tomorrow despite still not being in the best shape physically. Writing this out made that prospect feel just a little bit easier.

April 20, 2014

Easter wrestlings

Filed under: Books, Personal — Tags: , , , , , , — llcall @ 10:21 pm

Can you believe I finally had the wherewithal to post about Halloween and it is apparently another holiday that I’m supposed to have candy and baskets for? Who can keep up?

Although we didn’t manage anything resembling egg dying or Easter baskets — unless you count the fact that Neal put a couple of pieces of candy in some of her bath toys and buried them in the backyard for her to dig up — I have been thinking about the meaning of Easter. Perhaps it’s largely a reflection of my state of mind right now (which has been a bit depressed as of late), but I’ve been a little troubled about it.

Rather than go into detail on all that, I want your opinion on something, mostly context-free of my own thoughts. It is this:

Derek Flood model

(A table from this book chapter by evangelical theologian Derek Flood) 

If you have any exposure to Christianity or the New Testament, regardless of your religious status now, I’d love to hear what you think about this. Does one of these more closely represent your concept of justice and mercy? What do you think your own religion or the New Testament teaches on this subject? (As you may be able to gather, Flood, in his book Healing the Gospel, contends that most people see Christianity through the lens of the Criminal Model when in fact he believes the New Testament presents it another way.)

Feel free to hit me up with a private email if you’re not comfortable posting a public comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts or relevant experiences!

April 19, 2014

Happy Halloween!

Filed under: Family, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , , — llcall @ 9:29 pm

Wait, what? You don’t celebrate Halloween in March? Can I at least get credit for buying the pumpkin in October?

I had been promising Addison that we would paint her pumpkin, so I thought it was high time after 5 months and some major pumpkin wiltage. I know some people prefer carving but (1) yuck and (2) you can’t carve a pumpkin that’s probably molded right out internally.

DSCN9870 resizeDSCN9877 resize

 We don’t paint very often around here, but when we do, we don’t mess around!

March 28, 2014

Be still, my soul

Filed under: Chronic illness, History, Personal — Tags: , , , — llcall @ 8:56 am

I’ve had the strangest day today. Not in terms of anything remarkable happening — in fact, I was only out of bed for a combined 3 hours — but in the way I’ve felt. It had something to do with this:

Not David Archuleta (though I’m sure he’s perfectly lovely, I think I’ve heard him sing about twice in my life), but the song. I’ve written before about some songs that loom large in my life, but this is the most important one. I think I might have killed myself* a time or two if not for these words, this music that seeped into my soul at just the right moments.

I never turn down an opportunity to listen to this hymn, so when this video came across my newsfeed, I had to click on it. In the process I revisit a thousand moments: I’m on the floor in the bathroom too weak to move; I’m singing to Addison while she cries through her growing pains (she used to request “still my soul” but of course, I thought she was spelling it “steal my soul” and never could figure out who would teach her such a terrible song); I’m at the tragically beautiful funeral of one of the dearest little ones ever to grace the earth. This song simultaneously takes me back to the moments that I was giving up completely and the ones where I decided to never give up.

Each lyric has been important to me in its own time and way, but today it’s this one: “Be still, my soul: Thy God doth undertake to guide the future as he has the past.” These last several years have been a tumultuous time in my church. And these last several months have been a tumultuous time in my ward. And these last several weeks have been a tumultuous time in my life as I’m trying to figure out how to get out of bed every morning and sit upright for 7 hours a day (and then sleep afterward – it’s currently 2:00 am). But today I feel no fear. My God has delivered me and so many others from much worse than this, and I know He does undertake to guide the future just as He has the past.

Be still, my soul: The Lord is on thy side;

With patience bear thy cross of grief or pain.

Leave to thy God to order and provide;

In ev’ry change he faithful will remain.

Be still, my soul: Thy best, thy heav’nly Friend

Thru thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

 

Be still, my soul: Thy God doth undertake

To guide the future as he has the past.

Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;

All now mysterious shall be bright at last.

Be still, my soul: The waves and winds still know

His voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.

 

Be still, my soul: The hour is hast’ning on

When we shall be forever with the Lord,

When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,

Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.

Be still, my soul: When change and tears are past,

All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

 

*Have I talked about being seriously suicidal on here before? Because I’m going to. There’s no other way to explain my life. (I’ve been a little scared to do it, though I’ve danced around the topic enough that I’m sure most of you have picked up on the subtext.)

March 23, 2014

What Need Looks Like

Filed under: Personal, Personal Finance — Tags: , , , , , — llcall @ 8:52 pm

In the days after Neal and I finally agreed to raise our grocery budget from $145 to $200 per month, I was feeling flush with yummier things to eat. I bought a loaf of french bread to eat with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I bought a can of freeze-dried mushrooms (my friend sells these and can get reduced rates if you’re ever in the market for shelf-stable food) to rehydrate and add to some of my meals (SO much better than those water-logged canned mushrooms). Best of all, I probably went at least a week without eating any beans at all!

So I was a little surprised when I clicked on a friend’s Facebook link about a photography exhibit of “Picturing Hunger in America” and found this picture front and center:

Hunger

The photos are, of course, meant to increase awareness of and empathy for the plight of low-income American families. But I couldn’t feel immediate empathy for this family, similar in size and budget, because I was too busy thinking about how Neal and I would negotiate this particular grocery list. Him crossing roast beef right off the list, while I opine about how juice is just frivolous and has too much sugar; water is so refreshing, anyway!

When I saw that picture I had to pause and contemplate whether the people I interact with, my friends and family (who sometimes joke about us starving Addison — lunch is still our Achilles’ heel), actually think that we, eating off of $50 per week, are hungry. They couldn’t possibly think that we’re going to bed with unbearably empty stomachs, right? I don’t want to downplay real pain that Americans are experiencing, but this is what hunger actually looks like, isn’t it?

This is such a complex topic. To really give context to my own reaction, I would have to talk about some of my previous work with those in poverty, my own experience on food stamps (10 or so years ago), the debate about “food deserts,” and some of the differences between being low-income vs. being in poverty (because we’re obviously low-income, but we’re nowhere near poverty-stricken). But time is my scarcest resource right now, since I started my second job almost a month ago.

In addition to teaching online, I’m now a case manager (part-time) for the family resource center in our town. I work primarily with low-income families with young children, visiting them at home, teaching parenting classes, and connecting them with whatever types of resources they need (food, shelter, insurance, government programs, legal assistance, domestic violence counseling, etc.). As much as I have felt that compassion and empathy are among my strong suits, I have to admit that I’ve already encountered situations, like the one above, in which my judgmental voice was activated far more quickly than my empathic one. It’s hard to suppress my pathological frugality when I’m daily examining others’ income and bank statements, and trying to resist asking for their projected line-item budget for the year. Someone says, We NEED this and my personal finance voice says, Are you sure that’s a need and not a want? Are you sure you’ve prioritized that need over your other wants? I think back to the first time I saw that picture above and the thoughts that ran through my head: This is not what hunger looks like; THIS is what hunger looks like. This is not what need looks like; THIS is what need looks like.

I’ve spent so long looking at incarcerated men — their needs and all the things they’ve lacked or lost — that my heart is soft for them, even without a word. I work with a different group now and I can see that my heart needs to get softer. Is it more difficult because there’s more of a resemblance there? And how to soften my heart in just the right way, so that I can still go home and leave my work at work (as if that’s ever happened!) or say no, in the kindest way possible, when that’s the only appropriate answer?

So talk to me. What helps you to activate your empathic voice, even if you have to do so in conjunction with one of judgment? I’ve found this video from Dr. Brene Brown (and her other work) very insightful . . . but what else?

March 16, 2014

February: Cook

Does it count if my mom cooked — at my house, mind you? (So I was totally surrounded by things being cooked . . . )

Does it count if I gathered a lot of terrific recipes into a spreadsheet? (Camilla’s blog was invaluable in that process!)

What about scrawling incomplete meal plans on various scraps of paper when I had nothing else to do (or at Church; shhh, don’t tell)?

Are you guys gonna stop giving me suggestions (like I asked for here and here and here) if I never seem to put them into practice?

Part of me feels like I owe a public apology here. Especially to Kristin since she not only provided me with recipes  but also spent hours walking me through easy recipes and freezer meals several years ago! I should have been a pro after that!

Alas, the goal for February of having a workable meal plan was a bust. But I don’t want you to think there was no progress. We did manage to:

  • Spend several hours discussing grocery shopping strategies so that Neal stops coming home with only 50% of the groceries I need for any particular recipe
  • Agree to increase our grocery budget to $200/month — this is a pretty big deal if you know that for several years Neal was on a quest to spend only $100/month on groceries
  • Reorganize the kitchen cupboards into a more intuitive arrangement — also, a big deal if you know that with my love/hate relationship with food if a food item is hard to reach or the pan I need is stacked under three heavier pans, I’ll usually just head back to bed and forgo eating altogether rather than mess around with it. Sad, but true.
  • Stock our freezer with about 40 pre-cooked single serving meals so that I have a quick lunch waiting for me on my lunch break; thanks, Mom; where would I be without you? (The answer: dead from hunger several years ago — clearly, this is not the first time she’s saved the day with freezer meals.)

While Neal and I didn’t get to much cooking in February, in March we got one of our rare nights away from Addison (cousin slumber party, yay!) and chose to make a double batch of salmon patties to eat and freeze for later. I still haven’t decided if that was sensible or stupid.

So the good news: we have food in our freezer and cupboards! And I haven’t had to eat beans more than two to three times a week.

The bad news: with no ongoing meal plan, I’ll probably eventually revert back to daily tacos and then freak out when I can’t take it anymore. Stay tuned. :)

March 3, 2014

Dearest Addison, you turned four!

How do I know? Because you’ve mentioned it every ten minutes since it happened.

“I was brave when I got that cut because I’m four now.”

“I had my birthday, so I’m four.”

“I’m a preschooler since I turned four.”

“I can do a lot of hard things now, because I’m four.”

The thing is, this isn’t all just talk. A couple of weeks after you started going to Primary, they asked you to give a scripture at the podium. We practiced at home the week before, but when you stood up and looked out at all the older children, you froze. (I, on the other hand, sparkled under the pressure! Just sayin’.) But the day of your birthday you eagerly explained that you wanted to give the scripture again. You assured me, “I’m four now, so I’m brave. And I’ll just stand right up there and say it!” Sure enough, the next week, you showed no nerves at all.

There’s been other promising developments, too. Earlier this week, you interrupted your coloring to come ask dad, “Is coloring a right or a privilege?” I was so thrilled I about bounded out of bed to do the Perfect Strangers dance of joy!! (But you know, the whole getting out of bed thing, not my strong suit.) Because you’re getting it! All these concepts that some people (including strangers at the playground) have told me are a lost cause at this age are finally starting to sink in. And now you know, you better toe the line if you want crayons!

I’m also starting to see the first glimmer of hope that all my painstaking “growth mindset” talk is having an impact. On the way to the storytime this week, you said your little legs were SO tired. You didn’t know if you could make it. But then, you looked up at me and earnestly explained,  “But when something’s hard for a kid, we just have to do it. And keep doing it!” as you broke out in a run. You still run EVERYWHERE, by the way. Just today at church someone told me that they didn’t recognize you standing still because you’re always a blurry streak. (Your Primary teacher probably agrees, considering that you once fled the building without her noticing.)

Back to the growth mindset (because at least 85% of my parenting thoughts revolve around it). I’ve been worried about all the people that tell you you’re smart and how that may derail all my careful teaching about how smart isn’t what matters. But this week, when a mom at Mommy & Me proclaimed how smart you were, you wagged your instructive pointer finger at her and said,

“Smart isn’t what’s important.”

She was taken aback and confused: “It isn’t?!”

“NO! Working hard is the most important thing.”

We’ve gotta work on your approach — because wagging index fingers aren’t gonna win you any friends in the long run — but oh, my heart swelled! Thank you for listening to me despite my very obvious inability to communicate in age-appropriate ways!

And as if that weren’t enough, we had a lovely little grocery trip this week. You held the list and scribbled out each item as we put it in the cart. I’ve tried to make the point that we only buy things on our list (no impulse buys in this family!) but I had forgotten to add bread to the list. And you noticed when I picked it up. I know because about 20 minutes later as we were headed home in the car, you remarked, “You know, Mom, it’s not frugal to buy things that aren’t on the list.” I tried to explain that I had forgotten to write it, that happens sometimes, we just don’t want to make it a habit . . . but you interrupted me, “But it was only one thing so we can still be frugal.” Phew.

Rights vs. privileges — check.

Growth mindset — check.

Frugality — check.

I’m pretty sure my work here is done! And I’m pretty sure you’re one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Love to my baby girl, who is “NOT A BABY ANYMORE” (so you say),

Mama

Dearest Addison: age 1, age 2, and now 4. See daddy’s blog for reflections on age 3 (I guess I was napping that year).

February 25, 2014

The 50-cent knife

Filed under: Family, Personal, Personal Finance — Tags: , , , — llcall @ 5:15 am

“Hey Neal, what was that 73-cent charge for?”

“It looks like you spent $1.35 yesterday. What did you buy?”

“I can’t account for about 29 cents — have you bought anything lately?”

Seven years later, it’s almost hard to believe how frequently I asked Neal to account for 73 cents here and 8 cents there in the first few months of our marriage. I had been tracking every penny I earned and spent since I was 17 years old, and I didn’t see why that had to change just because I was adding another designated user to all my accounts. He’d usually chuckle a bit, but still patiently answer my questions. I was sure we were on our way to minimizing the seemingly mindless 89-cent purchases that were showing up every 5 or 6 days.

Until the day.

He’d dropped by D. I. (a thrift store) after work, as he always did (read: he must have stopped by there after work at least 7 or 8 times in the 4 years we lived in Utah — that’s like twice a year, guys!). Minutes after he walked through the door I gathered up the receipts as I always did. D. I. receipts were particularly cryptic and maddening:

  • Merchandise — small         $0.70
  • Merchandise — large         $4.00

Small merchandise. Large merchandise. That seemed to be all the specificity D. I. was equipped to provide, which is totally useless when you’re trying to figure out which budgeting category each charge should be most accurately assigned to.

Was the latest purchase a dish rack? Household — Cleaning Supplies — Durable 

A new pair of church shoes for Neal? Personal Care — Clothing — Neal

A skirt that I would begrudgingly try on? Gifts — Clothing — Attempts to Make Lindsay More Presentable

Between D. I.’s vague labels and Neal’s spotty memory, it was almost impossible to keep useful records. It was as if D. I. was purposely trying to create confusion and ambiguity so that you would feel the need to buy more things just to reestablish some sense of control in a chaotic world. (I never did buy anything there, though; I won’t play their sick game.)

On this particular day, there wasn’t much to puzzle over on the receipt. “What small merchandise did you buy for 50 cents?” I asked.

Neal, totally nonchalant: “Just a knife”

“But we already have knives. Where is it?” I started looking around, less nonchalant.

“I put it by the dishwasher.”

I picked up the knife for examination. It looked average enough. Short. Black handle. Decently sharp for a thrift store find.

“We have knives just like this. We don’t need another knife.” I opened the knife drawer just to verify. One, two, three . . .  yep, at least three nearly identical knives.

Neal, bored with the knife interrogation conversation, had casually walked back to his bedroom and was checking email. I followed.

“Why did you buy that knife when we have others just like it?”

“I just thought we could use it,” he replied, eyes still fixed on his computer.

“Well, we don’t need it. You should return it.”

“Well, D. I. doesn’t do returns. “

“WHAT?! You’re going shopping and making impulse buys at a store that doesn’t even take returns?” I step closer just to make sure he can hear my disgust, since his back is still turned toward me.

He finally cranes his neck to look at me. “Seriously? It cost 50 cents. It’s not a big deal.”

“But 50 cents spent on something we don’t need is still a waste of 50 cents! If you spent 50 cents needlessly every time you went to the store that would add up . . . “

“To like 50 dollars a year! Gasp!”

“Do you know what 50 dollars per year FOR THE REST OF OUR MARRIAGE would add up to?”

“You seriously need to get a grip,” he concluded as he turns back to his computer.

After the incident, I knew I had to curb my obsessive financial tracking. It seemed the rest of our marriage might not be as long as I was planning if I kept asking him to account for every penny that left our account. Some men might find it emasculating; he just found it freaking annoying.

Initially the realization that I couldn’t track every cent was so depressing that I stopped monitoring our finances altogether for several months. (Crazy, I know!) It was strange that one of my favorite pastimes (financial monitoring! with spreadsheets!) had so quickly lost any pleasure for me. Neal, feeling for my frustration, even helpfully offered to take over the finances: “I’ll do it, as long as you’re okay with imperfection and losing track of a couple hundred dollars here and there.” (Um . . . thanks? as I dry-heave at the thought.) No, I had to find a middle ground. I had to accept that marriage means giving up obsessive control over many things, not the least of which is cheap knife purchases. Peace was once again restored to our home and financial planning.

Until the summer of “WE’RE BLEEDING MONEY,” of course . . .

February 24, 2014

January: Organize

Filed under: Personal — Tags: , , , , — llcall @ 1:45 am

Despite Neal’s continual claims that we need at least 2 or 3 more months devoted to organizing, I’m quite pleased with what I accomplished in January. Often after we put Addison to bed, I head right back to my bed. But for most of the month I resisted that urge and stayed up. Talk about the heart of a champion!

Over the course of the month, I organized:

  • the car — don’t worry, it’s filthy again already!
  • Cub Scout awards, plans, achievement charts — have I mentioned Neal and I are Cub Scout leaders in our new town? The organizing = the easy part.
  • the closet at my parents’ house — that we basically shoved a whole lotta stuff into as we were moving out.
  • 3 untouched boxes from our move — 3 probably doesn’t sound like a lot, but it yielded us at least 4 or 5 more square feet of usable space, so that was nice.

But by far my greatest accomplishment was a flash of inspiration I had to both Organize and close out my year of Thanks in a big way. I had just thousands of pictures scattered through various boxes and I thought, What if I go through each one and send prints or doubles to the friends and family in them? I sent off no less that 30 envelopes and small packages with copies of photos that were at least a decade or more old. I have 10 more still at home (some of these will need to wait for in-person visits because, dang, postage gets expensive!), along with loads of pictures I hope to scan, but it felt great to make so much progress. And while I didn’t write “Thank you” on each one, I hope that the message came through:

Thanks for being a part of my life. You still have a place in my heart.

Oh yeah, and thanks for overlooking those hideous bangs I used to have. That means a lot.

Hideous Bangs: Exhibit A

Hideous Bangs: Exhibit A

Hideous Bangs: Exhibit B (this pic may not represent an exclusively bangs issue)

Hideous Bangs: Exhibit B (though this pic may not represent an exclusively bangs issue)

February 10, 2014

It’s that time . . . HELP!

Filed under: Personal — Tags: , , , , — llcall @ 6:01 am

February. Time to Cook.

I still need to write about Stronger. And Thanks. And January’s Organize theme. But there’s no time now! It’s already the 9th! And I’ve got people coming for dinner on Saturday! And I’m starting a second job in less than 2 weeks! And . . . this is the real kicker . . . I’m beginning to tire of tacos, which I’ve been eating for about 85% of my meals since August. Never thought that day would come. *wipes away tears*

Based on Neal’s and my initial conversations, coming up with a mutually agreeable meal plan is going to be tough. He wants it to be cheap. I want it to be tasty and somewhat varying. I’ve made some compromises over the last few months — for example, replacing all ground beef I used to eat, which wasn’t much, with cheaper black beans — but if I have to continue to rotate through the same 4 cheap meals every week (3 of them containing black beans), I’m pretty sure I’m going to lose the will to live.

This is where you come in with your great ideas! What are your easiest go-to meals? If they have 5 ingredients or less, you’ll get a gold star. I’m especially interested in:

  • Freezer meals, especially ones that don’t require meat
  • Crockpot meals, especially ones that don’t require meat
  • Recipes with quinoa  or sticky rice (we bought both of these in bulk)
  • Recipes in a jar (that’s a thing, right? Something that could be mixed up ahead of time . . . )
  • Add-ins to add variety to salads

One thing: I’m not a big soup/stew fan. Neal bemoans this fact every. single. day. as if all our problems would be solved by me liking soup more. Alas, it has to be pretty spectacular soup (like Safeway’s Loaded Baked Potato) to interest me.

Help a sister out over here!

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