A Sane Approach to Food

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Yesterday, while returning from a family weekend in Michigan, I read my latest copy of Real Simple.

To my delight, I discovered a refreshing piece entitled “Balance: The Clean Eating Rules to Follow and to Break.” Finally. An article that handles food in a way that doesn’t heap loads of guilt on the reader and make certain foods taboo.

The main point: Mom was right. Moderation in all things. Also, food meets more than a physical need in our bodies. It has emotional and mental components to it as well.

Hello, anyone ever stress eat?

Yes, I want to eat healthy and fuel my body with foods that will keep it going for many years to come. Yes, I’m grateful to live in an age where I benefit from food-science research and know that dark leafy greens are loaded with antioxidants that fight many types of cancer. Yes, I care about the planet and want my food to come from nearby (New York for me), not Chile or California.

But, I also don’t want these desires to cause me to miss out on the pleasure of food and the enjoyment that comes when it is shared with others around a table. I don’t want to “ban” certain foods from my diet and say, “I will never eat that.”

One of the best lines in the article said, “Don’t be overly rigid.” I couldn’t agree more.  

Which was why over the weekend I ate dessert after lunch AND after dinner. I enjoyed potato chips and dips. I ate foods I don’t eat all the time. And that’s just fine. Since I don’t do this very often, these splurges don’t affect my overall eating habits and I shouldn’t look back at all.

On Monday afternoon, after most of the family had left, I sat outside with my sister-in-law and my nephew’s wife. I sipped white wine and ate potato chips at 3:30 pm. We talked and relaxed. We went for a swim. Later, we assembled a dinner from some of the leftovers.

I came away from the weekend grateful—for the making of new memories with loved ones and for the sharing of stories, for times of silliness and times of seriousness, for the beauty of God’s creation so evident on Clifford Lake. And, I’m grateful for the part food played in all of it.

 

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Dishing on Everywhere God

About a month ago, I chatted with my new friend Matt Brough. He’s a pastor and writer in Winnipeg, Canada. I met him at the Festival of Faith and Writing Conference this past April. We shared a number of similarities, including a love for young adult literature and a desire to see God in the everyday.

He invited me to be on his podcast “Spirituality for Ordinary People.” This was my first podcast and I never knew how many filler noises I make when in conversation. 🙂 Note to self for the future. Anyways, I enjoyed our conversation very much and I hope you will too.

Take a listen and let me know what you think. You can find it at: spiritualityforordinarypeople.com/alicia/

Posted in Everywhere God, Journaling, Rituals, The Christian life, Writing Conferences | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Travel Roundup Part II

Spring is in full bloom—finally! Each time I look out the window I marvel at the transformation. A few weeks ago, the trees stood brown and bare. The blooming bulbs with their vibrant colors served as the only signal that spring was on its way.

My Lily-of-the-Valley, one of my favorite blooms of spring, erupted with their fragrant, bell-shaped buds over the weekend. Heavenly!

During the cold, wintry months, when winter feels permanent and never ending, I dream of these days.

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England and February feel like a distant memory.

Soon, Anna will return home from her year abroad (where has the time gone?) and that means I need to finish Part II of this travel roundup.

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First, a book recommendation. I read At Home in the World: Reflections on Wandering the Globe While Traveling the World by Tsh Oxenreider before Brad and I left on our trip. It isn’t a book about England, per se, although the UK does receive a shout out. Instead, it’s a story of a young family embarking on a year-long trip around the world. Tsh and her husband sell their home, store their belongings, and take their three children on an incredible journey.

Anyone who has been frustrated by flight delays or long TSA lines or dashed travel plans, will find Tsh’s reflections helpful. We learn about ourselves when circumstances beyond our control impact our plans. Little did I know that when I read this book, Brad’s and my return flight to New York would be cancelled and we would spend two extra days in England before we could fly home.

But, this isn’t a book chronicling frustrating travel experiences. It’s more. Tsh explores themes of belonging and home as she wrestles to balance her own wanderlust with the need for stability and structure for her young family. This is where the book sings. As readers, we enter into the Oxenreider’s travel experiences vicariously, feeling their exhaustion after a long day of travel, their delight in an African safari, or savoring a delicious meal in Thailand. The book is beautifully written by a writer who loves travel and the larger world. I highly recommend it.  A great summer read!

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We put 1500 miles on our rental car over nine days. We saw a lot. In hindsight, we probably tried to see too much.

For us, the struggle was to balance a desire to see as much as possible without creating too exhausting of a schedule. As we planned our itinerary, we purposefully chose to visit places that Anna wouldn’t be able to see on her own in the UK. She’s done a fair bit of travel already, but most of that has been outside of England. We wanted to see places that she couldn’t reach easily by train.

I enjoyed all the places we visited, but I wish we had more time Edinburgh. We arrived on a Friday evening, grabbed some Indian takeaway recommended by our Air B&B host, and planned to get out the door Saturday morning to explore. Glorious sunshine greeted us both days we were there, but the temperatures were cold. We spent several hours exploring the Royal Mile, stopping at a few places along the way.

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The top of the Royal Mile

Around noon, we drove to St. Andrews to see friends—another lovely city, and enjoyed a delicious dinner at Forgans. The duck shepherd’s pie was amazing! We returned late to Edinburgh and fell into bed. On Sunday morning, we had a bit more time to explore before returning Anna to Ackworth.

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The rolling landscape of Edinburgh, with its castle dominating the high point, made some of my history lessons come alive. I could see the importance of this fortress and its strategic placement. I also loved the architecture of the homes—row houses with tall, shuttered windows, wrought iron embellishments and front doors with character, delighted as we rode the city bus. Definitely a city I hope to visit again.

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Lastly, some travel advice that bears repeating: embrace serendipity when you travel.

Yes, we definitely had an itinerary to follow, but one of my favorite moments on the trip was an unplanned stop in the town of Windermere, part of the Lake District. It was probably 4 pm. We knew we wanted to take a short hike, but we had no idea where a trail or path was. We walked into the local Visitor’s Centre—another piece of advice—stop at these places! The people who work here know the area and can offer suggestions. In our case, I told the woman we had about 45 minutes before sunset and we wanted to do a hike. Could she suggest something?  Of course, she could.

She pulled out a map and quickly showed us a walk that would take us to an overlook and give some amazing views of the area. In England, trails are referred to as “public footpaths.” Off we went. Moss-covered and reminiscent of scenes from The Secret Garden (think: crumbling stone along with twists and turns and you have the correct image), this particular path rewarded our senses repeatedly. It was the perfect way to end our day. And, another reminder that every day doesn’t have to be scheduled.

See what I mean about moss and stones?

An unexpected surprise on our walk

The view from the top

The last light of the day casting blue shadows

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks for reading. Hoping you have some plans to visit some new places this summer.

Leave a comment and let me know where you’re headed.

 

 

Posted in Books to Read, England, Favorites, Good Reads, Out-of-the-Ordinary, Recommended Reading, To Kill a Mockingbird, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Travel Roundup: England, Part I

An iconic symbol in Britain–the red telephone booth

If you follow me on social media, you know that Brad and I traveled to the United Kingdom the last two weeks of February.

For me, and I imagine many of you, part of the fun of traveling is the planning.

In the months and weeks leading up to our departure, I collected and researched travel recommendations. I found many helpful resources. In Part I of this “travel roundup,” I’m sharing a few of my favorites.

I’ve mentioned before how much I appreciate Rick Steves’ guidebooks. Just like I have favorite writers that I want to emulate, Steves is the kind of traveler I want to be like. He digs into a neighborhood, city, or region, going beyond the tourist traps. His recommendations are consistently good and helpful. As a result, I purchased only one book in my planning for this trip and it was his Great Britain one.

For the rest of my planning, I searched online.

What I wear on a trip is important to me.

So I was happy to discover the Travel Fashion Girl one night while I was thinking about what to pack.

The past couple of years I have been on a quest to pack less. It’s even become a bit of a joke in our family. They poke fun at me as I obsess over bringing a smaller bag, even for trips when the size of my luggage doesn’t really matter.

My goal for this trip? Carry-on luggage only. In addition to my suitcase, I brought a weekend bag, filled with reading material, some snacks, and a few toiletries I wanted on the plane.

My luggage was just right.

My wardrobe consisted of 3 pairs of pants, 5 tops, two scarves, and 3 pairs of shoes. I mainly wore my black ankle boots (not fancy boots, but warm ones I could walk and hike in), and my black slip-on Clarke tennis shoes. At the last minute, I threw in a pair of ballet flats in case I wanted something a little fancier. Given the weather, I should have left them at home. I only wore them once.

The only adjustment I would make for next time would be to pack a lightweight jacket and a hat. Towards the end of our trip, cold and snow descended on London and a casual jacket would have provided another layering option. I also wished for a knit hat. My coat came with an attached hood, but I didn’t like walking around with the hood up all the time.

As far as what to see and do on our trip, I discovered Finding the Universe, which provided ideas of where to go and how much time to spend in various spots. They actually have a two-week itinerary for the UK. Their suggestions gave us a solid starting point for planning. Steves also provides itinerary suggestions based on different lengths of stay in his book and on his website.  

I’ll say more about lodging in Part II of this post, but I discovered a new option on this trip.

Our final three days were spent in London, an expensive city to say the least. As we contemplated where to stay, a friend recommended I check out Premier Inn, specifically Hub by Premier Inn. Their unique offering to the world of lodging is small, yet stylish rooms that maximize space.

What this means for you, the traveler, is that you can stay, say, 200 yards from Westminster Abbey—a prime location—without breaking the bank. Our room and breakfast cost just under $140 dollars a night.

Westminster Abbey–right outside my hotel!

Yes, our room was tiny. But we didn’t plan to hang out there. We had a comfortable bed, a roomy shower, and for a modest charge, a delicious, full breakfast each morning. Plus, we were close to the Tube and, like I said, Westminster Abbey.

I’m standing in front of our “bathroom,” but this photo gives you a good sense of what I mean by small.

This was a happy find in terms of trip planning. Would definitely recommend.

In next post, I’ll share some specifics about the places we visited and some of the lessons I learned about traveling.

Until then, cheers!

 

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Bargain Corner!

Readers, Everywhere God is on sale at Amazon for $6.55! Roughly half its list price.

If you’re looking for a new read or a gift for a friend, now is the time to buy.

This review particularly makes me happy.

“Alicia’s book was a delight to read. I found myself incorporating many of her suggestions into my daily life. I loved her practical ideas: my daughter and I made a table centerpiece out of yard materials and we got to discuss and experience the beauty of God’s creation together. Alicia knows how to tap into the reader’s emotions – I found myself literally weeping at some parts and laughing out loud at others. I found myself picking up her book after long, hard days, looking for something to calm my mind and quiet my heart. Everywhere God has truly helped me gain a broader perspective on how to seek God in every corner of my life.” –Amazon review

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Part II: Finding the Angle of Repose in Marriage

In my last post, I ended with a promise of a Part II.

This second installment comes a bit later than I wanted, but here it is.

If you are just jumping into this post. Stop now. Go back and read Part I.

Before I dive into specifics, I am reminded of Solomon’s wise words in Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun.” The areas that Brad and I have had to wrestle with in our marriage are not unique only to us; others experience them too.

I find this comforting.

I feel less alone when a friend tells she has experienced the same situation or circumstance. It’s that immediate Me, too! moment. The power of the shared experience provides hope and a sense of connection. May this be true for you as you read.

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It shouldn’t surprise anyone, but as a young newlywed, I wasn’t prepared to handle conflict well.

My part-Irish husband did not understand why I shut down, barely saying a word, when disagreements occurred. Didn’t he know that in the face of conflict I suddenly lost my ability to articulate my thoughts and feelings? Brad thinks quickly on his feet; I need time to process what I want to say.

Sometimes it felt like it took hours to resolve a relatively minor issue. Why do you always buy a different brand of toothpaste? Can’t you buy the same kind? I’m sure my stubbornness played a role in these discussions too.

Twenty-seven years later, I still struggle, preferring to retreat and avoid rather than wrestle through the mess. But I’ve gotten better at dealing with conflict.

In Rebecca DeYoung’s book Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies (Brazos Press) she says our identity in Christ reflects the “now and not yet” reality of the Christian life. This notion applies to conflict as well. This side of heaven no couple will handle disagreements perfectly. Yet, by God’s grace, we continue to press on, with hope and perseverance that facing and dealing with conflict will bear tangible fruit in the now. Eventually, we find ourselves listening better, forgiving more readily, and admitting our mistakes more easily.

Closely linked to handling conflict was learning how to communicate.

As a naive twenty-year-old, I blithely assumed that Brad and I would handle this part of our marriage well. We were prepared because we read marriage books and talked with other married couples who impressed on us the importance of  good communication.

I know, rookie mistake.

I found learning how to talk with your spouse a bit like parenting. You have no idea what you are doing until you are in it. You can read all the books and talk to other parents, but until you are facing the screaming child in the grocery store and all eyes are watching, nothing quite prepares you for the reality of the moment.

Coupled with my naivete was my ignorance regarding how much the communication patterns I saw modeled from my parents would impact my own communication style. No surprise this affected my husband as well. Two different people bringing two different ways of communicating into a marriage.

By God’s grace and because of our commitment to each other, we stick at it, even when the progress is slow and sometimes painful.

I’ve learned that seasons of life also affect communication. Intense parenting periods—the toddler years, the teenage years—can strain a couple’s ability to relate to one another. Job changes, moves, or the loss of a loved one add stress and burden, making healthy patterns of communication a challenge.

Only in recent years have I learned that timing is everything when it comes to communication. Dumping all of my angst onto Brad at the end of a work day is a recipe for disaster. We’re both tired. Our minds are spent. Instead, we need to figure out a time to talk when we will both be at our best.

Recognizing truths such as this one takes time. This is the beauty of the long-haul view of marriage. Figuring out what works and what doesn’t often comes through trial and error.

Yet the work is worth it. A sense of true partnership develops and deepens that is only won when a couple commits to a long-term view of communication.

Finally, my twenty-year-old self was pretty selfish. Marriage (and parenthood) have revealed this to me like no other part of life.

I was unprepared for the demands marriage would make on my plans, my priorities, and my dreams as we two became one.  

How do you move forward when one spouse is happy in his or her career and the other isn’t? How do you love and forgive when your spouse’s actions have implications on your life? How do you decide who gets to pursue his or her dream and who puts theirs on hold?

These and other complex questions tug and pull at a marriage. They can’t be answered quickly or with pat responses.

For the Christian, the notion of dying to self should not be a surprise. Jesus is quite clear about the cost of discipleship. We accept that we must surrender our will to Christ’s in our walk with him; yet, we sometimes fail to recognize the bigger and broader implications of this command to the rest of life.

Dying to self affects how I relate to my spouse, my children, my colleagues, my extended family.  

This side of heaven Brad and I will never achieve the perfect angle of repose. We are sinners. At times, our selfish actions and desires win at the expense of the other person. Yet, part of the beauty of being married for all these years means that we have learned some truths along the way.

By God’s goodness and grace, some of the fruit that we enjoy in marriage is the result of persevering in conflict, establishing better communication patterns, and letting go of our own agendas.

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Finding the Angle of Repose in Marriage, Part I

angle of repose

Have you been in a Target or a CVS lately? Have you been in any store lately?

If so, you’ve encountered the onslaught of red and pink bags of candy, the Valentines, and other related trinkets greeting you as soon as you walk through the door.

Seasonal holiday displays have risen to a new height in my lifetime. A person could literally redecorate her house every couple of months based on the upcoming holiday.

Last weekend, while shopping in one store, I noticed anything Valentine-related at the front of the store, and lurking at the back was anything Easter-related. When midnight strikes on Wednesday, the store fairies will work their magic, moving the Easter baskets et al to the front, beginning the cycle all over again.

This year will mark the thirtieth Valentine’s Day that Brad and I have celebrated together. Three of them dating; the rest as a married couple. There’s been the requisite flowers, the chocolate, the occasional bottle of perfume or small piece of jewelry over the years.

When the kids were young and I longed for a date night, Valentine’s Day was a much bigger deal for me. I have fond memories of some dinners out and trips to downtown Chicago just the two of us.

Earlier in the week, I told Brad all I wanted for Valentine’s Day was a cupcake or a fancy dessert from the local bakery that we could share. We leave for England in less than a week and I would much rather save our money for our trip than on a card or flowers. A very different request from what I would have said ten years ago.

The Valentine displays in the store reminded me of a topic I’ve been thinking about for a while: marriage—my own, and marriage in general. Not in an ominous sort of way, though.

I mentioned in an earlier post that the new year puts me in reflective mood. Seeing the cards and candy in the stores pushed this topic to the front of my mind again.

A number of years ago I read Wallace Stegner’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning Angle of Repose. At over 600 pages, the book recounts the life of Oliver and Susan Ward as told by their grandson Lyman Ward.

Susan gives up her cultured life in the East to follow her husband West as he works as a mine engineer. Setting up a home in primitive conditions is hard and takes huge amounts of work. However, Susan enjoys her life in the West and the reader catches glimpses of a deepening love between the couple.

Inevitably, difficulties begin to arise in the marriage. The marital bond suffers and one spouse refuses to forgive the other for unfaithfulness.

In case you didn’t know, the term angle of repose is actually an engineering term, referring to “the angle of maximum slope at which a heap of any loose solid material (as earth) will stand without sliding.” This angle serves as a metaphor for the Ward’s marriage.

Some of you know I married young. I was 20; Brad was 23. We knew we loved God and each other, but we had much to learn about ourselves. I grew up in my twenties and so did he. Both of us would say we are different individuals than the ones who fell in love almost thirty years ago.

Throughout these years, we’ve had to learn how to flex and to bend to keep the other from sliding as the terrain changes. Together, we have created an angle that supports and holds the other person.

At times, this has meant releasing goals or plans for the time being (easier said than done). It has meant that for some seasons of life, one partner does more of the supporting, holding off a long-held dream or waiting to pursue certain opportunities.

As I have reflected on this metaphor in my marriage, I have identified three areas that have required us to adjust and recalibrate our angle of repose repeatedly over the years.

In part two of this post, I’ll share those areas and delve into them more deeply.

In the meantime, may you find moments this week to communicate your love and appreciation for those who are dear to you.

If you have read Angle of Repose, what did you think?

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