Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size   
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,   
The stride of my step,   
The curl of my lips.   
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,   
That’s me.

I was listening to an interview Oprah did with Amy Schumer, and while I'm not usually a fan of her (Amy Schumer, not Oprah. BIG Oprah fan over here), I did gain a lot of respect for her perspective on how we should treat and love ourselves. Ironically, the same evening, I found myself scrutinizing a photo that I took of myself and Brighton at the beach. WRINKLES! All around my eyes! Where did those come from?! One eyebrow sits higher than the other when I smile too big. My mouth is crooked. My teeth, are those discolored? Moles I hate, dark circles under my eyes...

I am constantly criticizing how I look. My friends and I used to call our lower abs "marsie" which was short for "marsupial pouch" because we could never get those flat tummies that "pretty girls" had. And now, post-baby, even if marsie isn't flabby, she's never going to be flat. My chin looks weird in some photos, my butt too big and boobs too small. I'm just saying, we ALL do it. How many times do you have people retake photos because you don't look right? Right?

In her interview, Oprah quoted the poem above by Maya Angelou, and it made me wish I saw myself that way. That more women saw ourselves and each other that way.

How often do we scroll through Instagram and Facebook and find the latest "flat tummy" workout, guaranteed to get you looking like the girl in the photo? I recently saw one of those, and thought, I have got to get real with myself: I will NEVER look like that. My legs will never be that long and my hips have pushed a baby through them. I keep looking at the scale desperate to see the numbers 115 (in that order) again, but I haven't seen those numbers since freshman year. It's just not reality. 

Nobody likes to talk about their insecurities, so that's why I'm talking about it. Because we all deal with it. When you become a mother people say things like "your body is a miracle", "your body created a beautiful human", or while your pregnant they say "you're making a baby, of course you're going to look different, but it's amazing" - but then a stranger will say "woah, you ready to pop?" or "you sure there aren't two in there?" **major eye rolls** But still, every day we look in the mirror and see how we don't fit into our clothes the same way or we can't get our abs to look like they used to. We see the pregnant mommy bloggers who look better than us when we aren't pregnant and then bounce back like they never carried a child for 9 months. 

The body image battle is a silent war I've been raging for a long time. Throughout junior high and high school I danced and always felt like I was in great shape. In college, I studied abroad in Italy (hello pasta + wine) and came home unable to fit in any of my clothes. Today, I seem to have some unrealistic expectation that I should still look like my 8th-grade self. Check out this crazy fact: A 1999 study of Japanese women in their 20s provided a few clues. Subcutaneous (i.e. under-skin) fat disappears slowly from the cheeks, neck, boobs and lower legs, and begins to build up at the waist, the infragluteal region (underneath the butt), and on the abdomen. The researchers, looking at women at the end of their twenties compared to the beginning, found that weight had shifted around in three different patterns that were distinct from the ways that it was distributed around the body in the early 20s. <--- even science says I'll never look like I did in high school! So why are we still trying to?!

If you're like me and you've been critical of how you look, let's make a commitment together that enough is enough. That we should strive for health, not perfection (because can anyone actually define perfect anyway?). Dr. Caroline Leaf, in her book Switch on Your Brain, discusses how our brains can be rewired and how scripture lines up with what science tells us about the brain! She says, “Our choices—the natural consequences of our thoughts and imagination—get 'under the skin' of our DNA and can turn certain genes on and off, changing the structure of the neurons in our brains. So our thoughts, imagination, and choices can change the structure and function of our brains on every level.” In Romans 12:2, when the Bible says, "...be transformed by the renewing of your mind" science actually proves that we CAN do this by practicing different thought patterns. Sorry to get all nerdy on ya for a moment, but I just needed the reminder for myself that it IS possible to quit being so critical and start being grateful. 

What about you? Is this something you struggle with? What are some of the tools you use to kick those negative thoughts to the curb and embrace the body, the face, the wrinkles, the hair, the "you" that you are today?

Simply Being Me

how do I shake this envy

when I see you doing well

sister how do I love myself enough to know

your accomplishments are not my failures

- we are not each other's competition - rupi kaur

I desperately want to matter. Don't you? I believe that at our deepest cores, no matter our personality type, where we sit on the enneagram, whether we're introverted or extroverted, no matter our background, or where we're from, we desperately want to know that our lives have made a contribution to the world around us. 

I stumbled across Rupi Kaur's poem above as I was feeling a deep sadness and longing; feeling as though my life was less than inspiring and I wasn't good enough. I'm not a good enough mom, not a good enough wife, not a good enough friend, not a good enough writer. At night when my head touches the pillow, I wonder if I have it in me to do more, better. 

Ever since high school, I knew I wanted to be a writer. It's taken me a long time to discover my voice, and what I'm passionate about (I'm still discovering that), but I always knew that writing gave me life. I worked hard for many years to learn about the craft, to fine tune my journalism skills, and to find jobs where I would always be utilizing my love for words. I am defensive of my love of writing, defensive of the career I'm still working on, defensive of my ability to matter. At my core (holla at me 6s) I want to feel supported and approved by others. I want my skills to contribute to my community and I want to belong. When I'm not chosen I feel betrayed. I feel worthless and like I must not be good at what I'm doing. When others are chosen over me I wonder what I did wrong and I become competitive, trying to figure out how to position myself to get the next opportunity. I sound like a super fun friend right? Don't worry, I'm also faithful, cooperative, disciplined, grounded, self-expressive, witty, and affectionate. (According to The Enneagram Coach.) So ya, I have my days, but let's be real, we all do. 

Rupi's poem cuts straight to the core saying that another sister's success does not mean my failure. Another sister's opportunity does not mean my lack thereof. "How do I love myself enough to know you're accomplishments are not my failures?" I have been equating other's successes and opportunities to my failure and ultimately, deciding that I must not matter much. 

Recently I became a stay-at-home mom/freelance writer and the identity struggle is real. I went from a full-time job where I was interacting with adults and creating daily - to cleaning up food off the floor (a million times a day) and trying to keep my toddler from falling off the couch. I’m learning a new world of freelance writing and home/life balance that many of the peers in my circle aren’t experiencing because they are single or without kids. Their opportunities will naturally look different because their lives look different than mine. And I’m learning that’s ok. There is enough for everyone.

Simply being me looks like remembering that my identity is not in being a writer. My (and your) identity is not in a job, a spouse, kids, or economic status either. Simply being me looks like remembering that a rising tide lifts all boats. Life is more fulfilling when I celebrate others around me and continue to work hard staying true to my voice, my calling, my purpose, and not letting the successes or failures define who I am. Simply being me looks like knowing what I believe in, what I am passionate about, and not letting other people’s beliefs and passions determine what I should believe and be passionate about.

What is stopping you from simply being you? Who are you comparing yourself to? I recently heard one of the most practical steps on a podcast, where a writer shared that she unfollowed anyone on social media that she put on a pedestal or would compare herself to and feel negatively about herself. I know I could afford to do some purging in that area, do you? In what ways do you feel like you compromise who you are to fit in, or belong? Let this be an encouragement to you that you matter. Your life is important, and your gifts and passions will bring an important contribution to the world around you at the moment the fruit is ripe and sweet. Stay true to who you are and that in itself will be rewarded because authenticity is something I believe our world is craving. Get rid of the excess, the comparison, the competition, and simply be you. 

Food is Memories

Food is memories. 

Have you seen The Hundred-Foot Journey? It is one of my favorite movies. I can watch it over and over again and it makes me feel warm and fuzzy. In the movie, the two main characters are eating by a creek in the French Countryside (yes, the movie is that dreamy) and Marguerite is sharing how certain food smells remind her of family, and Hassan replies, "Food is memories". I never forget that line because it sums up my life so perfectly. 

My dad was the first generation of his family born in America. His parents moved to New York from Sicily and eventually to Southern California because it reminded them of home. Nearly all of my memories with my Nonno and Nonna are in their kitchen or garden. Food really does have a way of taking you back to very specific moments. And for me, the majority of those memories are wrapped in Italian food. 

I was 15 the first time I went to Italy. My Nonno and Nonna wanted to take my family so we could meet our relatives and so they could show us all the places that meant so much to them. It was on that trip that I discovered my love for Stracciatella gelato. It's like a royal version of chocolate chip. Calling it chocolate chip just doesn't do it justice and I ate so much of it. It was on that trip that I tried wine for the first time. We went out to a restaurant and the waiters flipped over our glasses without checking ID's and started pouring the wine. My brother and I looked at each other, and then at my parents, wondering if someone was about to intervene. The legal drinking age is lower in Italy, and it's pretty widely accepted that teenagers will enjoy a glass of wine with dinner. We felt like bonafide adults. 

Is there a more Italian photo than this?&nbsp;

Is there a more Italian photo than this? 

 

Towards the end of the trip, we spent time in Giuliana, Sicily, where we have cousins. One of our final nights there, our cousin invited us to meet her and her friends in the piazza. At 10PM. Still in culture shock, we couldn't believe that teenagers got together at 10PM AND that our parents were going to let us go into the piazza to meet a bunch of strangers. That is Italy for you. So, we go into the piazza and a group of Italian teenagers swarms around the Americans, testing out what little English they know and asking us if we want "una coca" (Coca Cola). So we order "una coca per favore" and a can of Coke with a straw is handed to us. Angelo, the attractive Italian teen (I think) with dark, wild, curly hair on a Vespa asks me if I want to take a ride. Obviously, yes. Let's remember, I was 15 and now I was 15 and in love. And so, despite that fact that none of us could say much more than "how old are you" and "what do you like", we sat in the piazza until midnight, drinking coke and eating gelato and life was a little slice of heaven. To this day, whenever I drink Coke (which is almost never), I'm back in Giuliana, riding on Angelo's Vespa. 

The taste and smell of almond paste reminds me of Christmas and my Nonna because it's used in so many classic Sicilian cookies. Fajitas always remind me of my dad because he can turn any leftovers you have into delicious fajitas. Ritz crackers remind me of my childhood and how the only way I would eat Top Ramen was with a handful of Ritz crushed into the noodles. 

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Tonight, at Pizzeria Mozza, Jon and I were transported to our trip to Italy where we ate pizza in Campo dei Fiori (which is actually where the chef of Mozza got her inspiration for her pizza dough). Every bite was an overindulgent, greasy, memory of jazz music playing in the piazza, an entire Roman pizza in our bellies, and a drowsy walk home to our Airbnb in the Jewish Ghetto just outside some ancient ruins. 

 

This is why cooking matters to me. Cooking connects me to my family. It's my history and it's my future. It's my legacy. Food brings friends and family around a table. It connects strangers and old friends. Food is an exclamation point to a celebration, and an embrace when there is mourning. When I watch cooking shows and documentaries about chefs I am overwhelmed with a feeling I can only describe as a sort of nostalgia. A longing to be back in the kitchen with Nonna, the joy of cooking holiday meals with my mom, the excitement of one day cooking with Brighton, the satisfaction of kneading dough into the most delicious dessert. There is so much to discover in the world of food and yet, it's all so familiar. 

Writer's Block

I've been a tad absent in my blog world recently. I've been both busy and in "consume" mode. I suppose I have been feeling like I don't have much to give because I've been running on empty. I'm no stranger to the feeling since motherhood consists of many days where the empty tank warning light is blinking. Maybe I'm just in one of those writer ruts. Writer's block is hitting me hard. So, I've been consuming a bit to fill myself up.

I thought I'd share some of what I've been reading and watching recently because it's all been refreshing and inspiring me to dream some big dreams for my 30th decade. Maybe if I get the courage (and clarity) I'll share a bit about that later. 

Read

I have always loved reading. I started reading at an early age, and I've always consumed books at a rapid pace. In my adult years and especially when I became a mom, I was reading less because I decided I didn't have time. Once I decided to MAKE time, I realized what a void I had from not taking in a variety of literature. Not just Christian inspiration, but fiction, non-fiction, history, fantasy...I've been shutting off the screens and making more time for my long lost love and it's so worth it. And of course, as a writer, reading is a super important tool for me. I'm learning that I'm a multiple books at one time kind of person. That way I have something appropriate for my always changing moods ;) So without further ado, here are a few of my recent reads. 

PRO TIP: CLOUD LIBRARY! Have you heard of this? Do you have it? It's amazing. I am allll about having a physical book to smell and peruse and dog-ear and highlight, but sometimes I can't get a book quickly enough OR my shelves are full OR budget. Cloud Library connects with your local library and you can borrow digital or audio books and return when you're done. It's been such a great tool for when I'm not sure if I want to spend money on a book or if I'm not sure I'll love it. 

Four Seasons in Rome This book gave me all the feels and transported me to Italy (where I'm wishing to be right now). This book follows a year in the life of the author and his family while they lived in Rome so he could write a book. It's an easy, enjoyable, summer by the pool kind of read.

A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War Read. This. Book. If you have any interest in C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien or European History, this book is fantastic. It's a short read and gives you a really wonderful perspective on how WW1 shaped the two authors and their stories. 

Bridge to Terabithia When I was in CYT (Christian Youth Theater) one of the first shows I was in was Bridge to Terabithia. My school never read the book, but I've always known the story from being in the play. I decided to actually read the book and my goodness it's beautiful. It's children's literature, so it's an easy read, but the themes and topics are timeless and it's just a beautiful (and heartbreaking) story. 

Simplicity Parenting Take this or leave this. I'm not one to force my parenting styles or beliefs on anyone, and chances are that just by seeing the title you'll be immediately interested or immediately rolling your eyes. I was given this book by a couple whose parenting style both Jon and I really admire, so I've been diving into it and loving it. 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society This novel is being made into a movie that releases in the US soon, so I wanted to read it before seeing it on the big screen. It is so enjoyable! It's an epistolary novel (it's written in a series of letters from various characters to each other), which may not be for everyone. It's set just after WW2 and highlights some historical events from the Guernsey island during Nazi occupation and how literature has impacted the various characters. So the book nerd and Euro history nerd in me is having a party. 

Watch

Right now, I'm all about anything having to do with food. Documentaries and series about food with a good story behind it always inspire me in the kitchen. And always remind me of my Nonna and why I love cooking. Also, PBS Masterpiece Classics are my jam. Since Downton Abbey is done, I just watch anything cheesy and British that I can get my hands on (when Jon isn't home). 

Poldark (Amazon Prime) A good ol' PBS Classic. Based on novels, it's set after the American Revolution in Britain. It's not the kind of show that keeps you on the edge of your seat, binge-watching late into the night. But it's great for a quiet, slow, evening of British storytelling.

Chef's Table Season 4 (Netflix) Any season of Chef's Table is a good season of Chef's Table. This series is so great at capturing the story behind chef's. It's inspiring, it's heartbreaking, it's mouthwatering...I wish Chef's Table would never end. 

A Series of Unfortunate Events (Netflix) Both seasons have been so entertaining. Neil Patrick Harris is a genius and the story hooks you.  

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What are you consuming right now to fill you up? 

On balance and social media

Do you remember how just 10 years ago when you weren’t invited to something that you wouldn’t know until maybe weeks later? How if you were home on a Wednesday night, it didn’t matter what everyone else was doing because you had no way of knowing anyway? So who cares if you and your husband are putting the baby to bed and binge-watching Mozart in the Jungle and not staying out at that party? 

I miss that. I’ve been mulling over the fact that social media creates this FOMO atmosphere for stuff we probably don’t actually care about. Or we only feel like we missed out because that person chose one styled photo from the evening to make it look like you should’ve been there. We start wanting things and caring about things that don’t truly matter to us. 

Jon and I just watched a movie on Hulu called Ingrid Goes West. And woah. It's about social media fame, the idolatry, the illusions, the longing, the addiction, and the way it messes with our brains. It's a dark satirical comedy that is obviously portrayed with extremity, but gosh it makes you think. The story follows Ingrid who spends her days scrolling through Instagram and comparing her life to the lives of those she follows. She decides to befriend an instafamous girl in LA and bases her entire life on what this girl likes, what products she uses, where she eats, and her worth stems from this girl tagging her in photos and inviting her to parties. And that instafamous girl is just living a big lie. Just watch it and evaluate your relationship with social media.

I love social media. There’s no denying the millennial in me that loves it. It connects, it inspires, it tells stories. But man I miss the days where you had to pay per text and where I’d call my friends on my see-through neon green landline to see if they could come over to make up songs and put new O-Town posters on our walls. I miss that when you’d do something fun, you didn’t have a phone to take out and live stream the whole experience; you just had to be present and take it all in, recording all the details carefully to memory. The saying “if you didn’t post it, did it really happen?” would have never made sense because I was just an emo high school kid busy singing along to Copeland and hanging out at the top of Mt. Helix watching a boy break his ankles and giggling at my friends holding hands. 

What if we got outside, gathered with friends, or did something nice for someone and DIDN'T post it? What if we put our phones down and committed to being present, even if just for an hour, to enjoy where we’re at and not make it Instagram worthy? Our egos might take a hit, knowing we don’t get the praise of likes and comments telling us how awesome we are and how cool our life is. But is that such a bad thing? 

I feel like if we made it a priority to use social media as a tool for good, it could change us. I watched this movie and thought of Brighton and how as a Mom I hope to teach her that her value and worth and identity come from Jesus and not her followers. But our generation has to learn that too in order to teach it. We have to get off our phones and play with our kids. We have to leave our phones in the car and go for a walk. And I get it, social media is a business tool now. I'm not knocking that. Market your business! Get those gummy hair bear sponsorships and pay those bills. More power to ya. 

One girl that I follow shared in an interview how as she started gaining a following, she started seeing more comments like "Your life is amazing!" "I want to be you!" "I want your life!" and she said it made her sick because she didn't think she was posting a lie, but it was never the full story. The idea that she could make other girls feel that sense of longing didn't fuel her, it made her sad. She has lost her father, she was going through a divorce, and she was living in chronic pain from nerve damage to her spinal cord. She was just choosing joy every day and doing what she loved most. I love that Ruthie saw heartache, and responded with love and used social media to do that.  So, I guess what I’m trying to say is we could all use a little less “look at my awesome life!” and a little more “how can I love you better?”  And I’m guilty as charged; just another millennial trying to find balance in a social media world. ✌🏻

What are your thoughts on this? Do you struggle with identity and social media? Do you struggle with the FOMO? How do you think we can use social media as a tool to love others better instead of drawing more attention to ourselves?

On wanderlust

Once you've tasted the buttery sweetness of a fresh croissant from a Parisian bakery on a cobblestone corner, once you've smelt the dust in the walls of an ancient church in Lucca, or walked through the green grass in Drogheda, the craving of foreign lands never leaves you. Everything about Europe captures my heart. The streets, the motorinos ignoring traffic laws, the markets, the history, the rooftops ... when I think about it I feel like Anne of Green Gables just bursting at the seams. 

When I was going into my sophomore year of high school, my Nonno and Nonna took my family to Italy so we could meet our family and see where they grew up. To say I hated it would be an understatement. I was so upset that my parents were making me leave my friends in the middle of summer to go on a family vacation to a country where I couldn't even talk to my relatives there. I would be missing out on my touring group's performances, afternoons at Wind n Sea, and to make me feel better, the senior I had a crush on (whom, now looking back, I'm pretty sure my parents were glad to get me away from for 3 weeks) made me a mix CD of the most emo songs ever. So I took my converse, studded belt, and Jedidiah t-shirts to Italy with a scowl on my face. But not before I would pass out in the airport from the anxiety I had of flying on planes. Ya ... off to a great start. 

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About 4 years after my first Italian experience, on the last day possible (in an attempt to escape my woes of a break up) I applied to a study abroad program near Venice, Italy and about 2 months later, I was preparing to get on a plane to live in Italy for 4 months. I couldn't believe it myself. My dad flew with me and we went to visit family first. I had never felt so alone, and so free, on the day he said goodbye to me in my dorm room in Bassano del Grappa. In my 19 years of life, I had never lived away from my parents and now I was about to spend 4 months in a foreign country (where, fortunately, there was no longer a language barrier).

Bassano was a town that even most Italians didn't know existed. The stores closed at 1, opened again at 5, and were always closed on Sundays. We had to walk 20 minutes to get to anything other than the one coffee shop and pizzeria. Students in my program would walk to the nearest club where we were warned that neighboring Slovenians would come to scope out the less discrete American girls. I conveniently left those details out to my parents. Besides, I only went there once.

A few weeks into the program I was feeling more at home and my Italian was becoming so second nature, I never wanted to leave. We went to Venice for Carnevale, Amalfi for Easter, Verona, Sienna, Rome, and Florence for fun. I hiked a mountain with two of my friends and I was so out of shape from all the pizza and wine, I had to tell them to go at their own pace without me and then I proceeded to get totally lost in the mountain mist and I was pretty convinced I was going to die on the mountain. We took at $30 flight to Paris and stayed in a hostel where in the middle of one night a man was hitting our door and yelling something at us in French to which I finally yelled back "I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE SAYING". That morning when we woke up, an Austrailian girl was also sleeping in our room. Needless to say, my friend and I were ecstatic to take our next $30 flight to Dublin where we stayed with my family friends. 

In Dublin, we stayed with the Corcorans who are near and dear to my family's heart. Their son took my friend and me out and when we left the restaurant I forgot my shopping back which had my cell phone. When we went back, everything in the bag was intact except that cheap Nokia phone. My parents still think I lost it on purpose so that they couldn't call me every day to check on me. (It wasn't on purpose Mom, but hey ... we all survived with a few less Skype calls right? ;) )

On the last day, everyone parted ways, and I was at the airport in Milan alone. My flight didn't leave until the next morning and instead of getting a hotel, I slept on the airport floor on top of one bag and the others wrapped in my arms because that's what college students do. 

To this day, I am still filled with anxiety about the thought of getting on long flights (although I'm proud to say I have more self-control and resist passing out). But my longing for Europe is more reminiscent of my time spent alone there and not when I was in high school and had zero appreciation for the magic. After studying abroad, I had the opportunity to visit my best friend in Paris while she was working there and it completely redeemed my first experience in that city. We ate the best falafel, tromped around Montmartre, and hung out in famous cemetaries because why not?

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For our year anniversary, Jon and I spent 3 weeks in Europe and I was so excited to re-experience all the cities I love with my husband. We ate the most incredible food, stumbled upon jazz bands playing in the piazza, got lost looking for our Airbnb's, had massive Irish breakfasts made by Betty, sat by the Eiffel Tower in the rain and in cafes on the corner for hours. When I'm walking the streets in Europe, I feel the way I feel when I get to spend time in a bookstore alone. I feel so at rest, but so alive. It feels like I'm in a movie. All the cliches are true to me. Someday, I hope to spend a few months living in Italy with my family. Maybe I'll be lucky enough to be Frances in Under the Tuscan Sun and just buy a villa and write my days away.

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Life certainly changes with kids. I know that's not news, but the wanderlust never goes away. I also know that if we are lucky enough we'll get to explore the world with our kids! Having Brighton doesn't mean we are bound to never see a thing again, we just know it looks different now. Planning a trip requires a little more effort, a little more money, and a little more determination to deal with the downsides of traveling with kids (jet lag, strollers, that kind of stuff). Wanting to explore somewhere new sometimes means adjusting our expectations and taking a more local trip while we wait for the perfect time for that big Europe trip again. I'm learning contentment through being a mother; contentment for what we have currently been blessed with and learning to not constantly be searching for more. Present and grateful. I have so much to be grateful for and the fact that I can say I've been to Europe FOUR times in a huge blessing and if I never get to go again, I can still say I'm lucky. So for now, I'll read books and watch movies and transport myself to the most magical of cities that I have been to and have yet to see.

Need some books to read to transport you to another place? I just finished reading the first two below and goodness gracious they were refreshing, adventurous, encouraging, and both fueled and subdued my current wanderlust. The 3rd pick is one of my all-time favorites. 

At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doer

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Where are you currently dying to travel? How do you satisfy your wanderlust?

On hills and valleys

Deuteronomy 11:10-12

The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden. But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.

Recently, this verse was brought to my attention and I'll admit that I have never fully read through Deuteronomy because I just assumed there would be nothing there for me. But in typical fashion, the Lord likes to show up in unlikely ways, places, and sometimes with a little wink of surprise. 

This verse, along with Philippians 4:19 (And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus) has been on my mind since I heard them. The couple that was speaking was using these verses to speak about marriage and perseverance, but the verses were so timely to me in every other area of my life that I know that God was trying to get my attention. I had spent the entire morning completely stressed out about money, about friends, about the future, and everything else that's out of my control and I was actually losing control myself. 

My mind was in a heavy battle with itself. A raging battle where silence doesn't exist and there is no rest for the weary. As soon as these verses were spoken, the battle ceased. I felt myself take this deep breath and relief washed over me at the reminder that God will supply my every need AND that in the land I live in, His eyes are on every hill and valley from January through December. As Jon and I took the arduous trip up to LA for a concert (I mean seriously people, why does anyone live in LA? And if you live in LA, why would you ever leave your house when it takes 2 hours to get anywhere?!) we were talking about the events that had unfolded and I was realizing that since moving to Orange County it's been extremely difficult for me to truly rest my mind. Physically, I feel rested, but mentally I am in a constant state of exhaustion. And on that particular day, my mind just couldn't take it anymore. 

I touched on this briefly in a previous post, but since moving up I have been feeling this overwhelming sense of having to keep up with everything. Buy this, wear that, go on this trip, have a bigger house, get a newer this ... and it is just plain exhausting. Not only is it exhausting, but most of this stuff I'm not even in a hurry to get! (Ok, the Europe trip, I'd love to take tomorrow, but everything else, I'm cool with waiting.) My mind is constantly in a battle, which I believe is ultimately coming down to identity and trust because so much has changed for me in the last few months. My identity has been challenged because what I have known for so long has been flipped upside down. My trust in God has been challenged because we have taken a risk in moving, changing communities, and reducing to basically 1 income. It's not that anything bad has happened. Life is actually really great. But in a desperate search for control over something, anything in my life, my mind never rests.

Rest was supposed to be one of those new years goals of mine. So far, not so good. Good thing I still have 10 months to figure it out. 

This year is going to be full of hills and valleys. I already know that. That's just a part of life and there is no getting around it. But what would it look like if through the hills and valleys I trusted that God would supply my every need (emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally, monetarily etc...) and actually rested in that peace? What would it look like if I demonstrated gratitude for everything I currently have instead of constantly aching for better, more, bigger, newer? I am filled with an absolute longing for that kind of contentment. That contentment is right at my fingertips if I choose to grab it, so why is it so difficult to reach out and claim that victory? I have no idea. If you have that answer, send your advice my way. 

I guess this post doesn't have a pretty ending with a wise lesson. I suppose it was intended as a reminder to myself (and anyone else who needs it) that through the hills and the valleys, our needs will be supplied and God is still good. We have a lot to be grateful for, let's choose gratitude today and every day. One step at a time I believe that we can be an example of contentment in a world ridden with comparison and strife. 

 

A Recipe: Nonna's Cookies Redone

So, this may not seem like that big of a deal to all of you, but Nonna's Cookies are a bit of a treasure around the Picone households. My Nonna used to have bags and bags of these cookies stacked in her freezer. Dominic and I would walk to her house in the mornings to have these cookies in a bowl of chocolate milk as kids (and as we got older, a bowl of coffee). We would take these cookies to school as snacks, and when I was in high school and could eat whatever I wanted with no consquence to my thighs, I would smash these cookies up in a bowl of ice cream with a scoop of peanut butter. (Who AM I?!) I feel like I should also clarify that these aren't so much a cookie as they are a scone, but for some reason they are known around our house ascookies, so cookies they shall remain.

When Nonna passed away, it became my responsibility (and pleasure) to continue the making of these cookies and according to Nonno, I make them just like her. (And trust me, the man is sweet but hard to please, so when he's pleased with your cooking you've won.)

Recently, Brighton discovered the joy of Nonna's cookies and I couldn't help but feeling like I needed to make a healthier version. BLASPHEMY. I know. But when it comes to my baby girl, I felt like all the sugar and unhealthy oils was just a bad idea. So I decided to see if I could make these cookies healthier. Now let's be real, cookies are still cookies. And nothing will ever taste as good as something filled with refined sugars and melted butter. But hey, it's worth a shot. So as I was looking through my pantry I noticed coconut oil and flaxseed meal and I wondered if I could replace all the butter and vegetable oil with coconut oil and then remove some flour and replace with flaxseed meal. So I did, and you guys, they taste amazing! Still that wonderful, nostalgic, sweet treat, but with a little less guilt. Just a little ;) So these cookies are now officially dairy free and maybe someday I can bring myself to figure out a solid gluten-free recipe so I can eat them without regretting it. (Enter Digize.)

So here they are ladies and gents. P.s. Don't ever show these to my Nonno. This is probably just as bad as when I left Catholic Church and started going to a "non-denom". 

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cup flax seed meal
  • 1 3/4 cup flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix flaxseed meal, flour, and baking powder. Mix eggs, and pour in vanilla, melted coconut oil, and sugar. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients. The dough should be moderately stiff. So, still moist, but will hold its shape when you roll into a round cookie. 

Form cookies in round balls by hand. Bake for around 15 minutes or until bottoms are just golden. Dip that goodness in coffee for breakfast, enjoy it as a snack, take in all the glory of this yummy cookie. 

On loss

What happens when the worst that you feared, happens?

Last week, that happened. Well, to be honest, I have a lot of fears roaming around in my head, so just one of those fears came to pass. Anxiety and "worst case scenario" thinking are some of my strong suits. (No, I am not proud of that, but hey ... work in progress.) So, this week in particular, as Jon and I walked into the doctor's office, we were once again faced with the words we heard 2 years ago that our pregnancy wasn't progressing and we'd be losing our baby.

Mid-January I took a pregnancy test and couldn't wait to share the news with everyone that Brighton would be a big sister. I was apprehensive because we had been down this road before, but I learned through our last miscarriage that life is meant to be celebrated, so if I only had 6 weeks to celebrate that life, those 6 weeks were still worth celebrating. So we chose to not shy away from sharing the news with our close family and friends. These are the people we do life with, and doing life includes the highs and the lows. 

A few weeks after the pregnancy test confirmed a little brother or sister on the way, I started feeling the same way I did when the first miscarriage happened and I just knew we'd be facing it again. And I knew we'd have to tell all the people who knew the good news, the bad news. Nobody likes sharing bad news, but when I'm the subject of that bad news, I hate it even more. It's extremely humbling to be in a position of allowing the people around you to rally and say, "I'm bringing you dinner", or "Need a night out? We'll watch Brighton." Grief has humbled me and forced me to quit trying to be superwoman and have it all together because sometimes I don't. (Actually, a lot of times, but that's a different story.)

Have you ever had scenarios in your life happen where you just never thought that would be your story? Where it seems like such an out of body experience? For me, the first time I remember this happening was in college when my Nonna was diagnosed with cancer. I remember sitting in a coffee shop with my brother, trying to process what was happening and I just kept thinking, "this doesn't happen in real life", "this happens to other people". Cancer was a far away, distant, unknown scenario that I never fathomed would be a part of my story. 

Miscarriage was the same far away, "not my story" story. Except now, it is my story. Twice. Except this time, I had the sweetest, happiest, most beautiful baby girl leaving the doctor's office with me. While we grieved one life, we had another life in our arms to celebrate. We left in silence, drove home in silence, I went and grabbed a freeze from Pressed Juicery (it's like frozen yogurt, but it's all fruit and veggies, so that's a win) and then I went home and started to make dinner. That's the funny thing about getting bad news: life keeps going. Life didn't stop because of the news we received. Brighton still needed attention and dinner, Jon still needed to go to work. 

As I was trying to get dinner together for Brighton, I slumped over the kitchen sink and the tears came. A few seconds later, Brighton was hugging my leg. I got down on my knees and she looked at me like she understood, and wrapped her little arms around me. Then got up, stroked my face, and then continued to tear apart the kitchen. Kids are incredible. We don't often give them enough credit. We dismiss them for being children, and not "understanding", but when my almost two-year-old saw her mommy crying, she knew something wasn't right and she knew the appropriate response was a hug. So then I got even more emotional because the love that exists between me and that little girl is indescribable. 

Processing grief with a baby like Brighton has been overwhelming. Normally, I'd like to take a day off and lay out the couch with some coffee and Netflix. But you don't get days off when you're a stay at home mom. So through the sadness, I have had to push through and show up for my family. Showing up after grief is one of the most difficult things we can do, but it's also one of the most inspiring and courageous things we can do. My good friend Trish and I had the opportunity to speak at an event together about writing and the power of words, and she was sharing about how the people who live the most inspiring lives are the people who have overcome hardship and taken risks. My hope when I started this blog after my first miscarriage was that my pain would be used to encourage others and that continues to be my hope. My hope continues to be that this mommy blog or whatever you want to label it would be a place where you can come and be encouraged that you are not alone, that God is good, and that we are all just trying to figure life out.  I refuse to let this pain go to waste.

So what happens when the worst you feared, happens? God is still there. God was right there to meet me through the tears in my car. He was there in the hug from my toddler. He was there with me while I showed up for the event I was speaking at even though I wanted to be on my couch. As someone who is constantly fearing the worst, my miscarriage was a reminder that when the worst happens, you'll still be ok because God is there and He is good. 

Be encouraged by these verses below: 

Lamentations 3: 19-33 (The Message)
I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed.
I remember it all—oh, how well I remember— the feeling of hitting the bottom. But there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:
God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.
God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks.
It’s a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God. It’s a good thing when you’re young to stick it out through the hard times.
When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions: Wait for hope to appear. Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face. The “worst” is never the worst.
Why? Because the Master won’t ever walk out and fail to return. If he works severely, he also works tenderly. His stockpiles of loyal love are immense. He takes no pleasure in making life hard, in throwing roadblocks in the way

A Recipe: Pignoli

Yup. Another almond flavored treat. I'm telling you, they are the best. What's even better is these cookies are gluten-free! Hooray! Nonna made a MASSIVE batch of these cookies (as well as the Venetians) as the gifts for my wedding. Every place setting had a little box with her cookies. Everyone went home with a piece of Nonna and some of our families favorite treats. 

These cookies are much easier to make than Venetians and don't take as long. However, the results can vary based on the brand of ground almonds that you use. I recommend using a superfine almond flour. The finer grind of the almonds helps replicate regular flour and keeps the cookies fluffy. 

INGREDIENTS

  • 16 oz ground almonds
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 5 egg whites
  • 4 tbs almond extract
  • 8 oz pine nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 


Mix together almond meal and sugar. Beat together egg whites and almond extract until soft peaks forms. 


Gradually fold egg whites into the ground almond mix. Cover a pan with parchment paper. 
By the tsp full, drop cookies into the pan. Top with pine nuts. 


Bake for 20 minutes or until golden.