Review: Starry-Eyed by Mandy Arioto

Much of early motherhood takes place in the darkness – from laboring to mid-night feedings to nightmares and glasses of water. It’s in this darkness that the light and joy of raising small humans can be found. Do I love being woken in the wee hours? Not particularly. Is there something indescribable about another person trusting me for anything – regardless of sleep deprivation? There is, indeed.

_140_245_Book.1994.cover.jpgIn Starry-Eyed: Seeing Grace in the Unfolding Constellations of Life and Motherhood, Mandy Arioto looks at this “light in darkness” model of the mothering experience. In a series of short, independent essays, Arioto leads the reader through her dark moments and those filled with light. The essays aren’t exclusively about motherhood, though that is a definite them, as Arioto is a mother of three and CEO of the organization, Mothers of Preschoolers.

It’s hard to rate a series of essays – some were wonderful and others fell a bit flat. The ones where she talks about how she and her husband live out their faith in front of their kids was a favorite. She talks about the importance of sharing stories and forming a rich family narrative. Perhaps it’s because Bea is very much into asking for stories from my childhood right now, but that resonated deeply. It’s something I should take seriously and remember that these stories form a foundation of our family.

Others fell flat – talking about being a “salty” person and surrounding herself with others who have flavor felt a bit othering. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a very salty person at all, but I wondered about those other flavors that aren’t as cool.

My only other criticism is that it wasn’t fact checked. There’s a chapter describing the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, which is where I teach. Many basic facts about the museum were incorrect, which made me wonder what other facts in the book weren’t checked. Sadly, it made me suspicious any time she quoted someone who wasn’t an expert in their field.

Overall, I’d recommend this book to a mom who is looking for encouragement in the form of short, easy chapters.

I review for BookLook Bloggers
I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.

Five Things I Learned On Whole30

Today is our last day of the Whole30 cleanse. On Day 2, I accidentally licked peanut butter off my finger while making Bea’s lunch and midway through, I had a bite of corn before realizing my breakfast side was “noncompliant.” But otherwise? We stuck to it and didn’t veer off course.

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I feel pretty proud of us. There were challenging parts – especially with extra meal prep falling right when the neighborhood kids came outside to bike. But, I learned how to anticipate and prep ahead. We weren’t the most unhealthy eaters before this month, but sticking to the routine and following the guidelines definitely made us more cognizant of what we were buying and why we were choosing to eat certain things.

Tomorrow we enter the reintroduction phase, slowly adding in “sensitive” foods to see how we feel. But for now, I thought I’d share 5 Things We Learned while doing this Whole30 plan.

1) Meal Planning is Worth It
We were loose meal planners before – targeting Monday-Thursday. This meant Fridays were often hasty, pizza driven meals. The first two weeks of Whole30, we planned every single meal, every single day. As the days went by, we slowed down to dinners (breakfasts were an egg dish and lunches were either leftovers or my uniform meal of salad.) Last week, we planned Monday-Friday but left the weekend open for leftovers or simple grilling. I see that as a sustainable plan: Weekday planning; Weekend spontaneity.

I also kept track of every single meal I ate during the month. I certainly won’t keep that up, but as I highlighted the snacks I added, looking through my days made me more aware of patterns and choices I was making. This was especially helpful as I distinguished between hunger-snacking and boredom-snacking.

2) So Much Meat
We weren’t vegetarians before this month but we didn’t eat meat every day. I am so, so tired of animal products. Eggs for breakfast. Shredded chicken in my salad at lunch. Some sort of meat (and I count chicken and fish as meat) for dinner. So much.

It probably didn’t help that I’ve been reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer during this month. Or maybe it was perfect timing. In any case, going along with meal planning, we’ve decided to be more thoughtful about what we plan. Our schedule after this will be: 1 day Vegan, 3 days Vegetarian, 3 days Meat. Hopefully this makes us think more about our eating choices.

3) Emotional Eating Isn’t Always Bad
There’s never a good time to start a diet or cleanse – Frank has been working late hours on the tax extension deadlines; I went on a retreat in the midst of this – so we knew there would be some tough moments when we wished for a glass of wine or a nibble of a lemon poppyseed cookie. For the most part, it was fine not snacking or drinking. Would a glass of wine been nice on my weekend away? Yes. Did it change the restfulness of the weekend itself? No.

We were chatting with friends about how, at the end of a long week, a beer sounds awfully good. And that’s not a bad thing. We are holistic beings – of course food is linked to emotions and memories. I guess the balance is recognizing why we choose to eat or drink certain things before doing it mindlessly.

4) Dinner Parties are Still Fun
Our supper group met twice while we were on Whole30 and we still had a wonderful time. We found food to eat and were able to converse and laugh with our friends without any adult beverages or tasty desserts. At our last meeting, two couples were doing Whole30 and one couple was doing Weight Watchers and it sparked a great conversation about food restrictions and hospitality. Eating in community. The fact that many people have restrictions that aren’t voluntary but a real allergy. It gave me a bit of empathy for people who must eat outside the mainstream.

5) Thirty Days Isn’t That Long
A couple days seemed to last an eternity, but I’m amazed that we’re already finished. All in all, this month passed quickly. It took that time to take our habits from a quick reset to (hopefully) sustainable changes. I don’t miss sugar or bread like I thought I would. I dream about plain Greek yogurt, not the creamy sugary ones we had been in the habit of getting. (Because they were local so we were being conscientious!)

We’ve already talked about other Thirty Day habits we’d like to form. Next month, I’ll be writing every day for 31 days. We want to spend the next month going to bed by 9:00 since Elle has decided to form the habit of getting up at 5:30 each morning. I like the idea of taking time to be intentional, to add good habits to our life, and to remember that if it doesn’t work out, 30 days isn’t really that long.

I’m glad we did this particular challenge. I know there are better ones for weight loss or blood pressure or environmental health, but Whole30 was what we needed in this moment. It helped us recalibrate and really look at our food choices in ways we just weren’t before. It kept us accountable and gave us an end date, which is nice.

Even though it extends the challenge by 15 days, I’m looking forward to the next two weeks of reintroduction. I’m hoping I don’t have any sensitivities but am interested to see what comes up and how we’ll readjust our eating habits in response.

Mostly, I’m glad we took the time to be intentional. It was a lifestyle reminder that it’s so easy to just go day-to-day without thinking too much about the whys behind our choices. As we move forward, whatever we keep or readjust or lose altogether from this past month, I hope the intentionality is the most sustaining part.

Have you ever done Whole30? What was your experience? What’s your favorite food recalibration? How do you best form habits?

Being Single in The Church Today

My friend, Debby Hudson is hosting a series about The Church this month. The Church being a refuge, a place to disagree, a place to find community.

Today, I’m honored to contribute an essay about something I don’t know about but see in my friends: How hard it is to be single in The Church. Here’s an excerpt, but I encourage you to head over and join the conversation!

sitting-alone-768x513Frank and I were talking about being single. How hard and lonely it iand how neither of us will ever understand what our friends deal with. Even though I wanted to be in a relationship and was often lonely while I was single, I got married at the exact average age for my demographic.

Stories of loneliness, of feeling forgotten, of not having a place have been shared about singles and the church. More and more stories are coming out – that the “singles ministry” isn’t what is needed. How do we embody the family of God for those who so desperately wish to start their own families?

It’s easy to say, We’re here for you! I’ll give you a hug on Sunday! But that doesn’t fill the day-to-day gap our single friends face. On the other side are people giving the advice of Try harder! Join more groups! You’ll feel loved if you put in more of an effort.

This has made me aware of so many groups who feel abandoned by The Church. Who feel lost or on the outside. Who feel that, no matter how hard they try, needs aren’t being met.

It reminds me of the imperfectness of The Church. The thing is, no one’s needs will ever be met by an institution. Loneliness will still be waiting at home. And yet… If we are The Church; If The Church goes beyond the institution, I wonder how I can stretch outside of my own comfort zone to help make small changes?

Head over to Debby’s to read the rest and share your stories!

Listening to Myself

I’m sitting on a blue and white striped bedspread in a sweet little room named Nantucket. Boats and fishing nets and white curtains and distressed wood decorate this small room. The window is open and I listen to the little creek running through the backyard.

View from my room

Last night, I arrived at this little bed and breakfast, just outside the city on the way to the mountains. I didn’t really know what to do with myself – Two whole nights by myself?? An entire day, just me? I was at a loss, and got a little antsy.

Unable to just stop. To breathe. To listen, I watched a movie, read some books, and went to bed so early. Perhaps by divine intervention, I left my computer charger at home and arrived here with a half-full battery. I’ll have to be more intentional about screen time tonight.

I had been asking for 24-hours to myself for a couple years now but the timing was always off – pregnancy and newborns just seemed to complicate plans for a retreat. With school underway and a free weekend on the calendar, we decided now was as good a time as any.

And so, I’m spending some time relearning how to listen to myself. With days spent listening to the needs of two small children, of listening to the needs of friends and our family dynamic, I fall into the trap so many moms seem to: I forget to listen to myself.

So, here I am in a little room. A stack of books that would take weeks to read, just in case. A dying computer for a bit of writing but nothing else. And the sound of the creek outside, reminding me that it’s ok to do all or none or some of what I imagined for this time of rest.

How do you stop and listen to yourself? What is the best way for you to find rest?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “listen.”

Do You Believe in Fairies?

Mom? Today I believe in fairies but not Jesus.

Oh? Why can’t you believe in both?

I can only believe in one thing, so I choose fairies.

For her recital in May, Bea’s class danced to the Peter, Paul, and Mary classic, Puff the Magic Dragon. As we prepared for the recital, I borrowed my parents’ CD and we listened to the song over and over in the car. After the twentieth or so listen, Bea started analyzing the lyrics.

Why do they sound sad in this part? she asked, as Paul sang about Jackie Paper growing up and Puff ceasing his fearless roar.

Hugging Totoro, the tree spirit

Tears unexpectedly came to my eyes as I explained how, as we grow older and learn more, we tend to forget how to play and believe in magic. Our conversation wound around to Peter Pan and how, for Tinkerbell to live, children needed to clap their hands and say, I do believe in fairies!

The conversation moved on and we continued to listen to Puff over and over. After the recital, our music shifted back to our various nursery rhyme and Whizpops selections. But our conversation must have stayed with Bea.

About a month later, she told me she could only believe in one thing and she chose fairies. I futilely tried to convince her that we are capable of believing in Jesus and also believing in magic – it wasn’t an either/or choice. But no. She wanted fairies.

I was reflecting on our conversation and how, it must be developmentally appropriate to lump the belief in Jesus into the mythical world of dragons and fairies. (And, I suppose my atheist friends would argue that it’s more fact than developmental stage.) It’s a lot to ask a four-year-old to believe in a man who healed people, was killed, and then somehow rose from the dead. It’s a lot to ask adults to believe this.

Last week, Bea told me she wanted to go to Temple with our neighbors, who are Jewish. She wanted to be Jewish, just like Mom-Mom (Franks mom). I texted our neighbor and she immediately invited us to their Shabbat feast and offered to take Bea next time they went to temple.

Bea goes to Sunday school every week, where she explores the Bible using Godly Play. We enrolled her in a Lutheran preschool, where she gets a more old-school version of the Bible stories and songs I knew as a child. We pray and talk about Jesus and faith at home, as it comes up.

And yet, I need to hold her spirituality with open hands. We can expose her to our own beliefs; answer any questions she has (or try to, at least) but at the end of the day, even at four, it’s her choice. Like all we do as parents, the best I can do is model and hope that somewhere along the way, how Frank and I live our lives sticks in her memory as good.

I’m glad that Bea is thinking critically about her beliefs already. I don’t want her to blindly believe something simply because that’s what we tell her. I’m thankful that she has friends who are Jewish and family who believe in fairies and magic.

Perhaps that’s what it means to have faith like a child: To trust, to question, to look at all options and paths equally. And maybe, as adults, that’s an indicator of when we’ve lost our childlike faith – when our  faith becomes right or wrong; black or white.

Do you believe in fairies? How does magic fit into your beliefs?

When A Bandaid Makes It Better

We go through a lot of bandaids in our house (a lot!) – to the point where we’ll buy the Costco size of utilitarian bandaids and keep only one small box of fun, character printed ones. Once the fun box is out, Bea is stuck with the tan-colored ones.

When the fun box is full, any perceived scrape or cut or hurt feeling needs a bandaid. When they are gone, wounds seem to heal faster and often without the help of that protective strip.

My first year of teaching, our school health advisor (do not use the title nurse!!) dropped off a large box of bandaids so that I could take care of any non-life-threatening paper cuts. I hoarded those bandaids! A kid had to be actively spurting blood to get one.

After the winter break, our health advisor came around again with a new box and was surprised to see my almost-full one still in the top drawer of my desk.

You know, we have a ton of these. Don’t worry about using them up. There’s always more, she told me.

That first year of teaching, I had a weird sense of pride about not giving out bandaids. I wasn’t going to teach kids to be overly sensitive! This is the real world!! (Did I tell you I taught first grade that year?)

Over my years of teaching, I learned the value of a bandaid. Paper cuts, boredom, playground arguments all necessitated a bandaid. I moved the box to a spot in my desk that kids still needed permission to get to but where I didn’t mind them going without my help.

I learned that a small acknowledgment of a wound – however real or imaginary – healed so much more than the cut itself.

Now, when Bea asks for a bandaid, I give her a hug and say, Wow! That looks like it hurt! What can we do to make it better?

Sometimes, a hug or a glass of cold water is all it takes. Other times, the only thing that will suffice is a pink bandaid. But ultimately, that acknowledgment is what heals the wounds the quickest.

Parents, are you generous or stingy with the bandaids? What are some ways you see beyond the immediate wound and acknowledge the hurt in others?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “heal.”

Taking the Wrong Path

When I was a novice mountain hiker, my dad and I took the wrong path up one of Colorado’s high peaks. Realizing we were out of our league, we depended on the help of a more experienced stranger to get us to the summit and back to the correct trail.

Quandary 022

At the time, it rattled me and made me contemplate mortality in a way I wasn’t expecting in my mid-twenties. Years later (and many retellings of our brush with death) we found that we were on an actual trail – others purposefully sought out this particular, more challenging way up the mountain.

It just wasn’t the right trail for us. For my ability level, it seemed out of the realm of possibility that anyone would want such a challenge!

Some things have come up lately and I’ve had to think about choices I’m making for our family. Nothing major, just reevaluations of our season and my involvement in certain commitments. The easy way out is two extremes: Keep on going, feeling resentful or just quit, without brainstorming different possibilities. A lot of me leans toward these extremes. It’s so much nicer taking the path of least resistance.

And sometimes, taking that path is absolutely the best choice. It makes sense and it’s the best for all concerned. Other times, it means messiness and hurt. The more difficult trail is sometimes the better trail.

What I’ve learned from our wayward hike is that for us, it was a wrong turn. For others, our wrong turn was the destination. And in life, I guess that’s how it goes, too. Sometimes a wrong turn can actually be the right path.

Have you ever taken a wrong turn that’s turned out to be the path you need to be on?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “path.”