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Reflections on Eating Vegetarian: A Week in Review

I recently embarked on a crazy journey. My goal was to eat vegetarian for one whole week. I was out of town at a professional Summer Seminar in Rhetoric and Composition at Michigan State University and was able to eat five days worth of meals at a five-star cafeteria (see this article for more), and the other two days in airports. The food in the cafeteria was especially good. Not what I had in The World Famous Bean at ACU back in the day (over 15 years ago–wow!). The students donned chef coats and cooked the food right in front of you. Amazing!

Many of you followed along during the journey, but if you did not (or if you just want to re-visit some of the pages), you might be interested to see with your eyes the variety of food I ate and the many different options of eating vegetarian. It isn’t all steamed cauliflower and roasted peppers (although those are good!). The pictures are also really pretty! I have included links to each day’s food, including verbal descriptions and visual photos of what I ate at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Background of Experiment, Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four, Day Five, Day Six, Day Seven

Phyllo and Zucchini Strudel with Summer Squash Saute

Though short, this journey opened my eyes to a variety of issues about food, eating, mealtime, fellowship, and myself. I share some of these with you in today’s post. Since it’s Tuesday, let’s just make it part of the Tuesday 12 Series.

1. Eating vegetarian reduces the number of food options available, which simplifies the process of ordering food.

When I go to a restaurant, I scour the menu looking for something to eat. I am not one who orders the same thing each time. I actually order a different meal each time. Even when I cook at home, I rarely make the same thing twice. I like to cook and eat a variety of foods. Sometimes, it takes me at least 15 minutes to decide on something to eat.

But eating vegetarian meant that I was typically given two main meal choices along with soup, salad, and veggies. I didn’t even look what else was being served. I saw the vegetarian options and decided what I wanted. It was so simple. And since I’m trying to simply my life and my mantra is becoming “less is more,” I think simplification is a good thing.

2.    Eating vegetarian does not equal healthy eating.

This may not come as a surprise to vegetarians, but I guess it did to me. I assumed that a vegetarian diet meant a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables and legumes. And it does. But it also includes the oh-so-yummy dairy food group of butter, cheese, and milk, oils (even healthy ones still are high in fat), and desserts. I do think, though, that eating vegetarian means that you can enjoy these foods more often since you aren’t eating high-fat meats and maybe fewer calories. Although I can’t point to any “real” data to back these points up, I can say that I didn’t gain any weight this week–even though I had more dessert than I have had in a very long time.

3.    Meat substitutes taste good (at least most of the ones I ate).

The vegan hot dog wasn’t my favorite, but the ground meat substitutes and the tofu were both tasty and served their respective purposes in the dish.

4.    When you don’t eat meat, people assume you are a vegetarian.

The people at the Seminar assumed I was a vegetarian. I never ate any meat, so, of course, I was a vegetarian (really, this makes logical sense). But what’s interesting is that I never told anyone I was a vegetarian. They just inferred, after looking at my plate, that I was a vegetarian. My suitemate, Karen, knew about my “experiment,” but I didn’t tell anyone else until much later in the week, and only if they asked. I found it really interesting that after the first or second day, many of these colleagues even pointed out vegetarian dishes that they thought tasted (or looked) good. They often directed me to a certain station to make sure I tried one of the vegetarian dishes being served there. I found this quite endearing.

I also noticed that the cafeteria staff made assumptions about me when I ordered the vegetarian option from their station. These assumptions weren’t bad; I just noticed it, that’s all. Vegetarians are typically a certain type of person (more health-conscious, more environmentally-friendly, more liberal, etc.). I could tell this in the questions they asked me and in their friendly smiles and eye contact. This generation of college students (the people working the food stations) seems very aware of the impact, the difference, one person’s personal choices can have on the larger society. To me, they seem more socially aware than my generation, which, I think, is a good shift.

5.    Individuals and restaurants can be very accommodating to vegetarians, vegans, gluten-freers, or others with dietary food requests and restrictions.

Many restaurants these days are conscious of the wide variety of eaters coming in their doors. Many now have a wide variety of options for all kinds of people, and the food is quite comparable. Even when we went over to one person’s house for dinner (who is not a vegetarian or vegan and has no known food allergies), she thought in advance and made vegan hot dogs, gluten-free dishes, dairy-free dips, and many other dishes that people with specialty requests could eat. I find this to be extremely thoughtful.

6.    Eating a vegetarian diet can cause massive problems on your intestines.

Not eating meat can constipate you. It happened to me on Day 2 and lasted until Day 6 (Friday). One colleague at the conference told me to eat more fruits, so that’s what I did. I don’t know if the relief on Friday was the result of eating more fruits or if my body adjusted to a plant-based diet. Either way, I was thankful.

In the same vein, I did notice that bowel movements are not the same (If this topic grosses you out, embarrasses you, or makes you uncomfortable, proceed to #7. If you read on, remember that YOU WERE WARNED!).  Instead of the long, S-shaped pieces of poop Dr. Oz once told Oprah were ideal, my poops were shaped like small round pellets. This happened the entire week, every time.

One interesting benefit/side effect of not eating meat is that your poop smells different; it doesn’t stink quite so bad. I hadn’t really considered this point–that not eating meat would impact the smell of my poop–which is odd considering I have a 9-month baby who doesn’t eat meat yet and whose diaper does not smell near as bad as it will in a few months when we introduce meat into his diet. I’m wondering if this rings true for any vegetarians out there??

7.    Eating less meat is a really good idea.

Eating less meat can be good for your health, as much research on eating a plant-based diet suggests, even if you primarily eat low-fat meats. It can also be good for the environment. I’ve heard it can be more cost-effective and cheaper (Have you noticed how expensive meat is?). It can make you think more reflectively about food and eating and mealtime. It can get you to change normal routines and be more thankful for what you do eat. I could go on and on here, but I firmly believe that eating vegetarian, even if it’s only once in a while–is a good idea.

8.    Eating vegetarian encouraged me to slow down, talk more, listen more, and really pay attention to each and every bite, to savor the flavor and ponder the taste.

I was shocked to see how my eating habits changed when eating vegetarian food. Granted, I was not eating these meals with small children, where the words slow, savor, and ponder don’t often show up. However, I do think it was more than the fact that I was eating with adults. The food I was eating was on my mind the entire time. I studied it. I pondered the food combinations in a dish. I analyzed how I thought the dish was cooked. I questioned what spice was used. I tasted the food, I mean, really tasted the food. I didn’t just eat with my eyes, but I also ate with my mouth…in a deep way that I often miss when eating before. This habit could have been because I was doing an experiment about food. I’ll grant that. But even at other times, I think about food all the time–what I’ll cook, what I need from the grocery store, which food is the healthiest, etc. This time, however, I thought about food while I was eating it. This is a new thing for me–to be conscious of every single bite that goes in my mouth. It was a neat discovery, and I thank this vegetarian experiment for it.

9.    I had more energy throughout the day.

Usually after lunch, I experience what I like to call–“the afternoon crash.” Right after lunch, I suddenly become so sleepy that I can do nothing but think about getting in bed and going to sleep. This feeling of exhaustion is overwhelming. If I am home, I may go take a nap. If not, I just try to make it through the next couple of hours. Either way, this sensation comes almost every day (depending on what I ate at lunch).

Interestingly, I did not experience “the afternoon crash” one time during the entire week, even though we went immediately back into the Seminar for another half day of work. I didn’t get sleepy. I didn’t get tired. I was able to concentrate.

What’s more is that after the Seminar ended for the day, between 5:15 and 5:30, I exercised. I either went to the gym or jogged around campus (all but one of these days when we went over to a colleague’s house for dinner one evening). One might think I would have wanted to lie in bed and read or just rest (this was actually my plan), but I had more than enough energy to work out for well over 45 minutes each day I was there. THIS IS HUGE. And it felt great. My energy level was amazing, and this alone is making me consider being a vegetarian, at least for breakfast and lunch.

10.   I slept better at night.

I am a person who gets up at least twice a night to go to the bathroom. During my time eating vegetarian, I did not get up ONE SINGLE TIME to use the bathroom. I drank just as much and drank it just as late. But I never had to go during the middle of the night. I don’t know if it’s connected or not, but it was an observation so I put this here. I have decided that I probably still needed to go (I had to go badly when I woke up in the morning), but I was sleeping better and was not awakened by the need to go. I’m interested to hear from others: Does this ring true to your experiences?

11.   I felt full and was always satisfied after finishing a meal.

Eating vegetarian can be quite filling. You’re not just eating “rabbit food.” Rather, the meals were satisfying and delightful. And because I ate slower, I was full faster, oftentimes, before I had even finished my plate. It’s interesting how all this works together. I even noticed that I was focusing on what I could eat, rather than what I couldn’t eat. I didn’t even glance at the meat dishes served. I didn’t even miss them–in looks and desire or in taste.

12.   Eating vegetarianism brought me closer to God, the creator of all things.

I have been taught my whole life that, “in the beginning,” humans and animals were vegetarians (Genesis 1:29-30). Even though meat was available, only a plant-based diet was ordained by God. It wasn’t until the flood that God told people they could eat meat (Genesis 9:1-3).

This week reminded me that God is the creator of all food, meat, grains, fruit, vegetables, and other wonderful delicacies. And I thank God for all the food supplied to me. As an American, I recognized how blessed (some would say cursed) I am (we are) to even have the choice to do something like this. Others in the world–too many people–are starving, literally, and here I am able to eat with so much to choose from. I have learned that food is a gift. Eating food is a a git. And being thankful for it should be part of our daily lives…whatever you consider yourself.


Overall, this was an interesting experience. I learned a lot and I’m left with even more questions than with which I began this journey. I hope my experiences have shown you that it isn’t too hard to eat vegetarian once in a while. Even if you would never eat vegetarian for an entire week, I do encourage you to challenge yourself for one meal, probably dinner. I think it’s worth it. Maybe it will make you appreciate where you food comes from. Maybe you already appreciate that. Perhaps you want to see how it impacts your budget, or what a complete vegetarian meal tastes like. Or maybe you just want to pull an April Fool’s Joke on your loved one. Going vegetarian just might be for you.

If you’re interested in this topic or in trying it out for yourself (even one day a week), check out these sources for more information:


One final note, this experiment did not involve me cooking vegetarian food, which would be a different thing entirely. I am so used to cooking food with meat, and I have become quite good at it, and cooking vegetarian “main” meals seems like it would be a challenge. Although I cook vegetables with almost every meal, they are the “side,” the appendage to the meal, the part that my husband could do without. It seems to me that cooking vegetarian would take this challenge to the next level. Maybe that’s what’s next.

Here are some questions I’m considering now:

  • What would “going vegetarian” look like if I actually had to cook all the food? How would the food taste? How would I feel preparing it? What would the food taste like? Would I like it? Is it more difficult to prepare vegetarian foods?
  • How does eating vegetarian impact a food budget?
  • How does eating vegetarian impact my children? Would they go for it? Would they express “not feeling full” or “still being hungry”? How does one move a family toward a vegetarian diet?
  • What would my church family say if I brought a vegetarian dish to the weekly potluck, especially something more “exotic,” like edamame, lentils, and quinoa (yes, these are exotic around here)? Would anyone but me even try it?


Thanks for journeying with me. As always, I love hearing from you (even if you disagree—just be constructive, not rude, demeaning, or mean).

What is your response to this experiment? Would you ever try to eat vegetarian? Why or why not? What are you favorite vegetarian recipes? What is something you have learned about eating vegetarian? What have you noticed? What resources (documentaries, movies, books, cookbooks, etc.) do you recommend that I (or my readers) take a look at? What assumptions do you have about vegetarians?

Twelve Tips for Saving Money

I am a saver. I like to save money. I like a bargain.

When I was growing up, my dad required my three siblings and I to keep three jars: one labeled Saving, one labeled Spending, and the third labeled God. When we received money of any kind, Three Money Jarswhether it be our meager allowance ($1.00-$3.00) or birthday or Christmas money, we were required to divide the money evenly between the three jars. He wanted us to know how important it was to save, only spend what was available, and give away a large portion of our money as well (33%).

Two of my jars were always full. Can you guess which ones? If you guessed Saving and Spending, you would be correct. I even saved my spending money.

I guess my dad discovered I was a saver early on because by the time I was eight, he put me in charge of balancing the family checkbook (some of you young people don’t even know what that means!). This was a big responsibility and I took it seriously. My husband thinks it is hilarious that I balanced the checkbook because of how poor my math skills are. Balancing the checkbook taught me some things about money. I learned the true value of a buck. I learned how important it is to only spend what you have. I learned the importance of organization.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve become even more of a saver. I especially like it when I can save money in one place (electricity, gas, housing, groceries, etc.) so I can either save it or spend it on something I really like spending my money on, such as traveling with my husband or kids.

For today’s 12 Series, I give you twelve tips for saving money.

1. Cook (and eat) at home. Buying food, cooking it, and eating it–at home–is much cheaper than eating out, especially when you have more than two people to feed. Eating out drains the budget and you will save money if you eat at home. The more people you have to feed, the more expensive it gets to eat out.

Eating at home may not save a single person much money (I can’t speak to this anymore). But I do know that it can be quite cheap (even for one). If you’re scared by cooking, just try it. Begin with a recipe that takes 15 minutes. You’ll be amazed how quick you pick it up. After ten years, I now like to cook and feel confident in my skills. Plus, the food I make at home is much healthier than the food in restaurants around here. There are many reasons to eat at home.

People often say it’s more expensive to cook healthy food. I don’t really agree with this assumption, especially when you compare how full you get when you eat healthy food versus how much more you eat when you eat junk food. But, even if you think healthy food is more expensive (which I don’t), I think it’s one area worth spending the extra money on. Good food equals good health, and paying extra for things that are good for my body and my spirit and my family is fine with me.

2. Don’t be enticed by marketing ploys that promise “the best sale ever.” Seriously, don’t. Resist the temptation to sign up for emails from Pottery Barn, Ann Taylor Loft, Pier One, Children’s Place, Old Navy, and all those other stores that offer big sales and discounts.

The goal of these emails is not to save you money, contrary to the subject line in the email. Their goal is to get you in their store so you will spend money.

If you hadn’t gotten that email saying, “Everything at the store is 40% off!!”, you wouldn’t have gone to the store anyway! Unsubscribe from these email alerts. Even when places offer coupons through email (like Bealls or Target), you can often find them on their websites, or, when you are at the counter checking out, just ask if they have any coupons you can use and they will most likely give it to you or just apply the discount to your purchase.

Emails aren’t the only place retailers get you, though. TV commercials are another way they do it, especially with our children. If you have DVR, skip through the commercials. If you don’t, tell your children to get up and go do something during the commercials so they aren’t manipulated into wanting more “stuff” that just clutters your house and your life.

Do not be enticed. Resist temptation. Flee from it…quickly. When we give in, we always end up spending more money than we would have had we not known about these “sales” in the first place. Less is more.

3. Buy from Amazon. I have a lot of friends who refuse to buy from Amazon (or Wal-Mart) for moral reasons or for fear these big companies will destroy small, local businesses. I respect those positions. I have thought them at one time or another.

But, ever since moving to a small country town, I have become Amazon-obsessed. Here’s why. Their stuff is competitively priced. I can get new and used stuff for low prices, probably the cheapest on the planet. I also live in a small town that doesn’t always have what I need, which means that I would have to drive 45 minutes to one hour to get what I need. Gas is expensive and driving that far takes up a lot of my time. So, I use Amazon. They deliver right to my door.

I also have a Prime membership, which one of my college roommates convinced me to get, and I’m so glad I listened to her advice. Prime offers free two-day shipping on almost everything (even big, expensive things like playground equipment and furniture), free returns, and free streaming on thousands of movies and TV shows (saves rental fees). I encourage you to check it out.

I also shop at Amazon because of “Amazon Mom” (they also have Amazon student for college students) and “Subscribe and Save.” I use Subscribe and Save to buy diapers, wipes, oatmeal, paper towels, and many other household items. With the Amazon Mom discount added to the Subscribe and Save discount, you end up saving a lot of money.

One last reason I use Amazon is because they are tax-free in Texas. I feel a bit guilty admitting this as a reason because I think we all have a responsibility to pay taxes to live here, but I also want to save money, so I still buy from them. This will all be changing soon, though, because starting July 1, Amazon will no longer be tax-free in Texas. We can thank the Lone Star State for that! (Note the sarcasm.) They sued Amazon over back-taxes and reached a settlement, so now we all have to pay taxes. I guess I’ll be buying a lot of items at our state’s annual tax-free weekend.

4. Buy in bulk. I try to avoid eating a lot of non-perishable food items (see #2 above), and I eat food that is fresh, refrigerated, or frozen as much as possible (food located in the U-shape of the grocery store). However, there are some items located in the center aisles that I do buy, and I try to buy in bulk whenever possible. I buy bigger bags of cereals, canned goods, snack foods, pasta, beans, and household items like toothpaste, shampoo, and paper towels. We don’t have a Costco nearby, but there is a Sam’s Club in Waco where I buy most of my bulk items. I also buy a lot of these bulk goods at Amazon through Subscribe and Save.

5. Conserve in your home. Turn out the lights in rooms you are not using (better yet, use natural light). Adjust the thermostat according to your comings and goings (and don’t forget to do it!). Buy a programmable thermostat that won’t let you forget. Weatherproof your home. Don’t use as much water. Wash dishes by hand. Use more cold water.

6. Set a budget. Setting a budget and sticking to it has helped our family immensely. It also keeps me sane and lets me know where our money is going.

7. Don’t purchase books (printed or digital) unless absolutely necessary and, if necessary, buy used. I’m sure this advice seems odd, given I’m an English professor, but I believe spending less on books is an important way to save, and it’s an easy expense to drop when you want to save money. Instead, check out books from the library. Most libraries now offer digital lending services where you can download books to your Kindle. And all of this is free. LibraryIf you have an Amazon Prime account (and a Kindle), you can check out Amazon’s Lending Library where you can check out a variety of books. They also have a variety of free Kindle books for purchases–new ones are added all the time.

You can also ask your local library if they have an Interlibrary Loan (ILL) department.

If you live near a university, see if you can get a library card there. You’ll have an even greater selection to choose from and most of them have wonderful ILL Departments where you can order any book you want from other libraries (and it’s free!). You can also borrow books from friends or buy used books.

I am somewhat hypocritical when it comes to children’s books and scholarly books for my work. Although I use the library extensively in both of these cases, there are some books that I must own.

8. Shop consignment stores. I buy my children clothes from consignment stores (The only new clothes they get is given to them by their grandparents.). I’m not at all ashamed of this because not only does it save money but it is also good for the environment. I also shop in the off-season when everything is on clearance. It’s getting a bit harder to find used clothes for Elizabeth. She’s in a size 7/Medium and most clothes in her size are worn out because of how long children stay in one size. I can still find dresses and jeans, but t-shirts and shorts are much more difficult.

There are places that sell cheap kids’ clothes (i.e., Target, Wal-Mart, Kohls, Ross, Marshalls), but I am somewhat hesitant to buy from these places because if it is THAT cheap to consumers, then most likely the person who made it was not paid a fair wage and that bothers me (but that’s for a different post).

9. Spend less. Spending less doesn’t seem like it should be an entry on ways to save money because it’s so obvious, but I think it’s an important one. If you spend less, you will save money. We live in a materialistic, competitive culture that tells us to find our identity in material things and stuff, but this doesn’t bring true fulfillment or happiness. Spend less. Just do it.

10. Garden. Our garden is beginning to produce vegetables, and we are so excited. We’ve already eaten cucumbers, zucchini, squash, and peppers from the garden and tomatoes, onions, and watermelon are almost ready. Last year, our garden produced so many tomatoes that I was able to make marinara and pasta sauce for the entire year. We just ran out in March. That saved us a lot of money.

11. Pay bills online. I was a latecomer to online bill pay, but I’ve been doing it for over 3 years now, and I find it fast, convenient, cheap, and easy. No stamps. No envelopes. And it’s free (if you’re paying for it, find a different bank).

12. Spend only what you have. Here at Casa de Alexander, we use the Cash System to help us spend only what we have. We take cash out each month (it’s all electronic, so we don’t have all that cash lying around in our house, but it’s the theory). We have been able to get out of almost all of our debt by spending only what we have in the bank.

These are just a few of my tips. I know there are hundreds of other ways to save money. I’d love to hear ideas of how you save money or spend less.

We Were Swinging

Some family visited us this weekend. City folks. My mom and younger sister Kellee and her adorable daughter Olivia.

Olivia at 17 months

Sweet Olivia

My mom is from Houston and my sister is from Dallas. We live about halfway in between the two cities, so they met in the middle at my house for the weekend. We enjoyed ourselves. We didn’t “do” much–not as much as we would have had we gone to one of their homes, or to my other sister Kim’s house in Austin. There, we probably would have taken the kids somewhere to do some activity (i.e., a museum, a splash pad, a well-known park, a great restaurant, the movies, shopping). The activity would have been a lot of fun, but it would probably have cost a lot of money and we would have been on-the-go the whole time.

In this small town, we don’t have as much access to these kinds of experiences. Sure, we could have driven to Waco, which is about an hour away, but Kellee’s house is only an hour and fifteen minutes away. Why would we do that? And our small town does have some enticing places to eat as well as a wonderful state park just a few miles away.

But, they didn’t really come here to spend more time in the car. They came here knowing we probably wouldn’t do very much. They came to rest. To relax. To take things slow. To get away. To enjoy the slow pace.

And it was the simplicity of our weekend that they seemed to enjoy the most. This says a lot coming from my mom who likes to be busy and “doing” things. She is constantly on the go and likes it that way. But not this weekend. She was the one who kept insisting that we just take things slow.

Friday night, we did have one event. We went to Elizabeth’s t-ball game. She played the best game of her (3-year!) career, and it was a lot of fun.

Elizabeth at t-ball game

My mom with Levi

Nana with Levi

Saturday morning, we watched the kids swim in the kiddie pool and play on the jungle gym.

My mom, Kellee, and I sat in one of our porch swings for much of the day, drinking our Sonic drinks and talking.

Kellee and Olivia

My sister Kellee and niece OliviaLevi (9 months) playing in the pool

Swinging awaySaturday afternoon we walked over to our church to attend a Fish Fry. None of us really knew what to expect and, to be honest, we were a bit skeptical of how the food would taste or what it would be like.

I guess some people from my church are reading my blog because one woman was very surprised that I had never attended one before because “it isn’t a country thing; it’s a lake thing.” My family went camping two to three times a year when I was younger, and we would fish. We caught perch and catfish, but we always threw it back. Even if we were to catch something worth eating, my dad didn’t have the supplies to clean and fry the fish, so we always threw it back.

But there’s just something about fresh fish. It is scrumptious. The fish we ate was breaded with flour and coated with a delicious mix of spices. It was flaky, yet crispy and so very tasty. We also ate our fill of hushpuppies (which Peyton kept calling “cheese balls” because they were so soft in the middle), cole slaw, potato salad, baked beans, and all kinds of desserts. I hope I can attend many more fish fries while I’m in the country (And it was really nice not to have to cook it but to enjoy someone else cooking for me for a change!).

After the fish fry, we went back home, put the kids to bed and sat in the backyard on the swing for the rest of the evening. The breeze rustled the trees. The birds tweeted and chirped. Our dog Shiloh ran around and licked our feet (they did not like that). It was even cool enough that my mom wore a lightweight jacket. We enjoyed the smell of the night air and the cooler weather, knowing it would not last much longer. Summer heat and humidity would be coming soon.

And we kept swinging. Even long after it got dark. We were swinging, back and forth. Enjoying the quiet of the country.

This was a relaxing weekend for us all. It was peaceful, restful, and simple. If you were to ask us what we did all weekend, I would say, “We were swinging.” I was glad that my family got to experience a little bit of my life, to see why this city girl likes the country.


12 Reasons I Like Living in the Country

I did not choose to live in the country.

My husband took a ministry job in a small town outside of Waco, and I followed him here (just as he followed me when I went to graduate school). I was skeptical of moving to the country. I grew up in Houston, the 4th largest city in the United States. And I liked it.

When I left Houston for college, I moved to Abilene, a small West Texas town. I thought it was a small town (about 150,000 people). It was small. And, when I moved to Central Texas to work at Baylor, I thought Waco was a small town.

But my definition of “small” has changed since living where I live now.

I live in a town of about 7,500. I still consider myself a “city girl,” but I do like some things about the country. For today’s Twelve Series, I’m going to write about reasons I like the country.

1. The wide, open spaces. I love the Dixie Chicks song, “Wide Open Spaces,” but this has new meaning to me living here. Most people here, even those who live in town, have large yards (front and back) and quite a bit of space between homes. Many people own acres and acres of land.  I like having my own space; it doesn’t feel like people always know when I’m coming and going or what I’m doing (I do live in a parsonage, though, but that’s a different story). If I ever do move back to the city, I would like to have some land, if possible. Not much, just some. 

Even the idea that things are slower here really appeals to me. Even though I still run around like a crazy woman, I also slow down. Sit on the front porch, watch my children play in the background, and enjoy life.

2. We don’t need a Farmer’s Market; we have the farms! I love going to the Farmer’s Market, and one concern I had moving to a small town was that I would no longer have access to the Farmer’s Market I had visited for years. Come to find out, one of the farms represented at this Farmer’s Market was from the town I now live in! So, I can now drive 3 miles to the farm and pick out all the produce I want. And, unlike the Farmer’s Market I visited before, which was only open from May through September, this one had a year-round farm stand. Buying my food from them makes me happy. I also like that my children are learning where food comes from, how it’s grown, and what it means to buy local produce.

3. The close-knit community. In some ways it feels like the bar in Cheers where everybody knows your name. Shane and I have gotten to know so many people, far more than run in our “typical” circles. People who (in some ways) are different from us but who are living life and trying to do the best they can. We love this community. No, it’s not perfect, but the people here will always be very close to our hearts.

4. The stars. The wide open spaces allow for us to see so many stars at night. “The stars at night. Are big and bright. [clap, clap, clap, clap]. Deep in the heart of Texas.”

5. No traffic. I grew up in traffic. I went through 32 (red) lights on my daily commute to school. Traffic was a part of life. Sometimes it took an hour to go to a friend’s house. When we traveled for junior high and high school sports, the trip could take an hour and a half, each way. My dad worked Downtown, 19 miles from our house. It took him well over an hour each way. Driving long distances and and waiting in traffic was a part of life. I didn’t know any different.

Even though several major highways (both state and national) go through our town, traffic is not much of an issue. It’s easy to get around and there isn’t much waiting. Now, when I go back to Houston to visit my parents or to Austin to visit my sister or Shane’s parents, I dread the traffic. It takes 20 minutes to go two miles (and that’s good!). Shane and I comment each time we go that we are glad we don’t have to experience traffic like this on a regular basis. It’s a perk.

6. The opportunities to be involved in many aspects of the community. Getting involved is easy. There are so many ways to help this community, and we like getting involved, serving others, and making our community a better place. I like to feel like my life matters, that there is a purpose greater than myself, that I can use my gifts to help others.

7. My big backyard. Having a huge garden and still enough space to run around and play games with the kids is amazing. We don’t have neighbors beside us (on either side) or behind us. It’s quiet (when the neighbor down the street isn’t playing the drums!) and relaxing.My Backyard

8. The ecumenical nature of the churches here. We have a great diversity of churches here–all types of denominations. We even have a Mormon church. In large cities, people often get together with other churches from their same tribe (Baptists with Baptists; Presbyterians with Presbyterians; etc.). Here, though, since there is typically only one church for each denomination, the churches work together, play together, and serve together. Recently, we had an ecumenical prayer walk. It was so neat to see all these people coming together to pray to our one God.

We do have people from other religions living here, but I do not know of synagogues or mosques in the area; the great majority of people here are Hispanic, and most of them are Catholic. 

9. The diversity. Even though I come from a big city where people from all walks of life live, I also live in a town that is extremely diverse. Approximately 80% of the population are racial minorities (45% Hispanic, 30% African-American; 25% White). This is a very, very poor town, and my kids go to schools with other children they never would have been exposed to in the suburbs or in private schools (at least not at the same percentage–Elizabeth is one of 3 White kids in her entire class). The rate of people with college degrees is very low, but it does allow for us all to learn from each other and to see how to live together even though we come from different backgrounds and places.

10. Our church. I love the church community of which we are a part. Our church is at the top of our list on things I like best about this town. Great people with servant hearts. I’m glad to be a member here. 

11. The teachers and principals and counselors and nurses and administrators and paraprofessionals and janitors at my daughter’s school who know our children and us very well. Attending a small school has its perks, especially how “everyone knows your name.” These people care for the children and know where they come from, which, I think, makes a difference in being able to meet (and exceed) each individual child’s needs.

12. The numerous small businesses in the area. Many people who live here decide to open small businesses. Retail stores. Quaint boutiques. Delicious restaurants. Consignment shops. And other unique places. This entrepreneur mentality helps our community in many ways.

If you live in the country, what do you like about it?
If you don’t live in the country, what do you think you would like the most? The least?

Screens at Bedtime

At our house, we have a bedtime routine (bath, brush teeth, reading and storytime, and prayers).

After all that is done, we also have a “transition time.” Transition Time began a few years ago after we discovered how long it took for Elizabeth to fall asleep once we finished this nighttime routine. She couldn’t fall asleep. Nothing we told her to try worked. Counting sheep. Saying a prayer. Shutting her eyes. Thinking about something. No matter what we tried, she couldn’t fall asleep.

And it was a lot of work for her parents!

So, we instituted Transition Time, a 30-minute period in which she was allowed to play in her room before we turned the lights out. We hoped this time would allow her to unwind before lights out. This transition period has helped her fall asleep faster and sleep better (she used to wake up in the middle of the night, too) than she used to when we did not do such a thing. She is happy; we are happy.

Last year, we decided to institute a similar transition period for Peyton. His bedtime is 30 minutes earlier than Elizabeth’s (he just turned four; she’s almost seven) and he is required to stay in bed, but otherwise it’s the same as his sister’s. Peyton typically reads, stands on his bed, makes faces at himself in the mirror, rolls around, talks to himself (he is ALWAYS talking), plays with his cars, or destroys things.

A few nights ago, Peyton asked me if he could play his Leapster (a gaming system) in bed. I said yes. He played it for 30 minutes until I went and turned off his light.

It took him two hours to go to sleep that night.

He rolled around the bed, whined that he couldn’t go to sleep, got in and out of bed, went to the bathroom, played in the sink, played with his toys, looked out the window, talked to us, asked for more hugs and kisses, went to the bathroom (again), and did just about anything else available at the time in the dark.

After what seemed like forever (!), he finally fell asleep. My husband and I breathed a sigh of relief that we could now spend some time together (and then Levi woke up. Ha!).

The next night, Peyton wanted to play the Leapster again, and I said he could. The same thing happened. The same little blond-headed boy couldn’t fall asleep.

(I still had not figured out what was going on.)

Several days later, I read an article discussing how screens (computer, TV, iPhone) should not be used right before bedtime. They stimulate you. Duh. That was the reason he wasn’t sleeping. He was too wired mentally. The technology had activated his mind. Instead, of providing the winding down for which this time is meant, Peyton was wired.

Now, no more screens during this transition time.No iPhones, Leapsters, LeapPads, computers, or TVs at bedtime. They provide too much stimulation. I don’t know how long we can keep this rule up (our children are young), but I do think our generation (as parents and children) has to consider this much more than previous ones. Yes, we’ve had TV and computers for years, but handheld devices such as mobile phones and gaming systems are much more vivid, bright, and colorful than the Gameboy of my generation.

Today, these devices provide even greater stimulation, over-stimulation to be exact, than previous devices did. It will be interesting to see what some of the effects will be–not just on sleep but on maturity, development, socialization, learning, education, emotions, and so many other areas as well.

What screen rules have you set? What advice do you have?

Don’t Patronize My Pantry!: A Rhetorical Analysis of Organization Images on Pinterest

Several months ago, I was perusing Pinterest and saw this image of a pantry (we’ll call it Image A). Many, many people were pinning this picture at the time, and it soon became a very popular pin on the entire site.

An organized pantry

Image courtesy of bhg.com

User comments about this pantry ranged from “The most organized pantry ever!” and “My dream pantry,” to “I love all the canisters!” and “I wish my pantry looked like this!!”

Last week, I came across this image of another organized pantry/cupboard (Image B). It, too, was popular with Pinterest users.

Organized pantry

Image courtesy of thesocialhome.blogsot.ca

I did not pin either of these images. (I do have an Organization board, though.)

I was not enticed by the beauty or seeming simplicity or amazing organization (complete with labels, no less) of these spaces. No clutter. No mess. I was not jealous of these pantries. Nor do I want my pantry to look this way.

Here’s why:

1. These pantries do not operate under the “Less Is More” mentality.

They, instead, scream, “Buy more! Use more!” “Then, once you buy all this stuff, buy bins and canisters and containers and baskets to hold all of your stuff.” “Buy, buy, buy! Then, organize everything in neat, tidy containers so that you will feel better about all the stuff that you have.” (Is that too cynical?)

2. These pantries (especially Image A) emphasize a paradox: Most of the items in the canisters contain food for children, but anyone with kids would not have GLASS containers in their pantry, and definitely not where kids could reach them.

It is an understatement to say that obviously no kids live in this house, yet the message being sent is that this pantry is perfect for parents with kids (just look at the gum balls, the graham crackers, and all the individually-wrapped snacks).

Children make messes of things. Children get in the pantry and take things out of it. Children crawl on the shelves to get things down. Children would BREAK these glass canisters. Every single one of them. And then they would get hurt.

3. These pantries are too unrealistic and make good people–organized people–feel guilty about their own pantry, their home, and perhaps even their lives.

These images communicate that having an organized pantry is a moral issue. A disorganized pantry (or home, or life) means that you are morally inferior, morally reprehensible, morally disgusting because you may have live your life in more of an organized chaos (like I do). That you don’t take care of your things. That you don’t care about your home, or your family, or the tone you want to set.

4. These pantries do not foster the same mentality about food that I do. First, these images say, “Buy junk food and processed food and food that will last on your shelf for years. Buy all kinds of food that is not necessarily good for your children.” In fact, it’s most likely bad for your children to have so much processed flour and sugar. I do see the whole grains and nuts in Image B. That’s good food for the family.

Second, these images communicate that you should hoard food. Instead of buying food when you need it, you should store up for yourself “treasures on earth.” This pantry really is a hoarder’s dream (of course, it wouldn’t be this organized).

Finally, these images say that you shouldn’t feed your family fresh, local produce (many pantries do contain such foods).  You shouldn’t offer your kids apples, pears, onions, or potatoes. No, only prepackaged, highly refined foods are the way to go…at least if you are going to keep your house organized.

5. The pantry in Image A is enormous, unrealistically big, and it makes people without oversized pantries wish for more: more stuff, better organization skills, less clutter, better taste.

Most people I know do not have a pantry this large. I know many people with pantries larger than Image A (I do not judge you), but, let’s be honest, the vast majority of people are quite limited in their pantry space (just think of your typical single-family home, loft, or apartment). Some places don’t even have a pantry. Instead, people use the kitchen cupboards. Even Image B, though it is in a small space doesn’t seem like this is the only pantry in this person’s kitchen (Where are the opened bags of chips, pretzels, or cereal?).

6. These images imply that the people living in these homes do not cook, which bothers me because of the implication that they do. 

If you are a cook, you know how messy kitchens get. Three meals a day = messy! And if both parents work or if one parent stays home, you know that the kitchen doesn’t always get cleaned up right away. Perhaps not even the next day…or the next (should I admit this?). Cooking is messy. It is not as tidy, neat, and clean as these images imply.

7. Finally, the worse part is that trying to live up to the standard set in these images, for order and cleanliness (and godliness), can make you depressed, anxious, and lonely. It can even lead to self-loathing and self-hatred.

  • When your house does not look perfect, you (I) get stressed and overwhelmed. cannot function.
  • When your house looks lived in and well loved but not neat and tidy, you (I) get frustrated, angry, and mean.
  • When our houses don’t t look brand new in mint condition, we don’t want people to come over. Our home doesn’t look like those Pinterest images.
  • Our friends don’t want us to come to their home because they think you expect their home to be in such mint condition.
  • We stay secluded because we don’t think we can live up to societal expectations of order and organization and we don’t want to experience the negative judgments people might make about us.

No good can come from promoting images like these. I’ll take my pantry over these any day. My well used and not-so-neat (but still organized) pantry could out-cook theirs every time.

My Pantry

Anxiety Abatement: 12 Ways to Simplify Your Home

Today is the first post in my 12 series.

I write today about simplifying your home by clearing out the clutter–physical clutter, such as toys, books, and decor; environmental clutter that increases anxiety; and emotional clutter like distraction.

I have my own issues with clutter. Last fall, I stayed home with my new baby. I work outside of the home, but my wonderful university gave me a semester-long maternity leave when I had my baby at the beginning of the term. During this time at home–almost every single day–I came to realize that I did not like being at home. I was shocked by this revelation. I really thought I would like staying at home.

I have a nice home. And I like my stuff. But I disliked being at home because of the constant mess. I didn’t like looking at the junk, and I mostly stayed in one or two rooms so that I didn’t have to see the rest of the house. Too much clutter.

I decided to do something about it.

Today, I present to you 12 ways to simplify your home, to de-clutter your home so that you can find the emotional sanity you need and truly live your life in focus. These items are not ranked in order of most important, but I chose to number them to make it easier to skim the list.

1. Consign, sell, or donate at least 2/3s of your toys. Seriously, do it. Over the past several months, I have been cleaning out the toys. It’s been easy to get rid of the ones my kids have outgrown. If we don’t need it anymore, I’ve gotten rid of it. I also tried to get rid of toys that limit creativity or originality, toys that come in such a pre-form package that they do not allow children to use their imagination. My daughter’s Barbie dolls are the only things that I have yet to throw out in this vein. She has about 10 of them. I told her she can keep 2. She’s deciding which ones and then they are gone.

The hardest part for me has been to dwindle down the toys to a very small stack. But I have tried. I only have one more room to do. The results? It’s been freeing for my children. Their rooms are neater. Cleaning up is not quite as big of a task. They don’t seem so stressed out or overwhelmed when I ask them to clean up. I’ve also noticed that they are playing more. They aren’t coming to me saying their bored. They know where their toys are, and they want to play with them and then pick them up. As I was separating the toys into consignment or donation piles, I also added one more pile–a rotating pile. I put the rotating pile into one storage bin and moved it to our garage. Eventually, I will rotate the toys in the bin out with the toys in their room. My kids are enjoying their clutter-free spaces. And I am enjoying their better attitudes and their renewed interest in the toys they have.

2. Cook the same meals (or types of meals) each week. I like to cook gourmet meals. I like to eat good food. I like to watch cooking shows and discover new recipes. And I must admit, I’m still trying to put this one into practice. We have simplified our weekly menu by instituting Pizza Night, a tradition going strong for several years now. The problem here is that I’m the only one who’s known about this weekly event. I cook and plan the menus and having one weekly meal on my list has made meal-planning and grocery-shopping easier. My kids know that we have pizza a lot (it’s my daughter’s favorite food), but until recently, I didn’t call it Pizza Night. I am learning, however, that children need to experience anticipation, so I plan on communicating meals like “Pizza Night” to my children. Over the summer, I plan to institute “Meatless Monday,” “Pasta Night,” and a “Mystery Dinner.”

If you were to take this tip one step further, you might even designate the exact meal: chicken spaghetti, soup, chicken tenders, breakfast-for-dinner, lasagna, etc., so that the meals are simplified even further. I don’t think this would work for me because of my own interests as a cook, but if it works for you, great. Go for it. The goal here is to simplify meal-planning, cooking, and eating and for all to experience joy at the dinner table.

3. Get rid of all those extra cookbooks on the shelf. Admit it, you probably don’t use half the cookbooks you have on the shelf. I just went and counted my cookbooks. I have at least 50 (and I just got rid of about 30–still working on the others!). I probably only use 8 of them. But the others are special to me, so I’ve kept them. I still have too many, though. My sign should be that they don’t all fit on the bookshelf I have in my kitchen. Still trying…

4. Play a game. Indoor or outdoor. As a family. With your child. By yourself. Play a pick-up game of basketball. Play Horse or Knock-Out (I recently played this with my 7-year-old nephew and my brother-in-law Derek, and it brought back so many memories of playing these games in middle school and high school. I loved it!). Play a baseball game where the trees in your backyard are your bases. Play board games like Candy Land, Chess, Monopoly, or Checkers. Play Double 9 dominoes, Uno, Spades, or Memory. Anything your kid likes. Or, make up your own game, complete with materials and rules.

5. Try to filter out the adult world from your children. Try this for one week: No fights with your spouse. No negative comments about other adults (friends, teachers, church people, the president, politicians, relatives, in-laws). No inappropriate content coming to your children through the TV (especially the morning and evening news or certain video games that can desensitize us to violence). Instead, be present with your children. Talk to them at the dinner table or when they come inside from the backyard. Listen to them. Learn about their world, their interests. And let me know how it goes.

6. Donate all those books on your bookshelf to your library. My husband and I both went to graduate school, where we were required to buy hundreds of books for our courses and our research. Most of those are at our respective offices, but many have entered our home. If you don’t use it or think you will use it, get rid of it.

But graduate school books are the least of our worries when it comes to books in the home. Novels, Christian books, self-help books, biographies, and children’s books are of much greater concern. I must admit that I am cheap when it comes to books. I don’t like to spend money on books. I go to the library at least once a week. Any book my local library doesn’t have I can get through my university’s interlibrary loan service (which is awesome). That being said, I still have a lot of books. People give books to me because I am an English teacher, and, hey, I like books. But I don’t like books to clutter my shelves. I used to think having books in your home was a sign of intelligence and brilliance and being smart. Just think of all those movies where smart, rich people have these amazing libraries with the movable ladder. But now I don’t really care to live up to that standard. Books and bookshelves lead to clutter. So, get rid of your books. Getting rid of the children’s books has been the hardest part for me. I put some of them in the rotating pile and got rid of at least three shelves’ worth. I now have three shelves of books–one shelf for each kid. That’s still a lot, I know. But we do read a lot and we read a lot of the same books, so I’ve kept a few.

7. Consign or donate your unworn clothes. Seriously, do it. It is liberating. Go through your clothes, your spouse’s clothes, your kids clothes. Consign clothes that don’t fit or that are out of style. If you have gained or lost a lot of weight recently, get rid of the clothes in the different size. Even if you lose that weight (or gain it back), those clothes will be out of style. And it will make you feel better when you are getting dressed each day not to be staring at those other sizes.

8. Turn off the TV. At least 2 days a week, no TV allowed. Try it. It’s amazing how much more time you have to do things you love to do–and things that will make you feel so much better about yourself than watching 4 hours of TV every night. Read, write, cook, eat, talk, scrapbook, exercise. Find a passion and turn off that screen.

9. When you feel yourself getting overwhelmed at the mess, take 15 minutes to do a quick pick-up of the house. Toys and mess can be overwhelming for adults, too, and setting a limit on how much time you spend picking up is good for you, too. Get the kids involved. Make it a game. We did this recently and it was the fastest, most fun clean-up we’ve ever had. I set the timer and provided an incremental countdown of how much time we had left. The older kids were so excited. They kept coming back to ask, “How much more time?!!” Fun will be had by all.

10. Read more. Take the time to read that mountain of books on your nightstand. You will have more to contribute to discussions with your husband or your friends. You will learn something. You will feel good about yourself. You will grow as a person.

11. Make it a goal to have 2 entire days or evenings of unstructured time at home. Nothing planned. Nothing scheduled. Except being with your family and letting your kids run free. They can know you are there and come to you when they need you, but don’t plan an activity–even in the home. If your kids get bored, tell them, “Well, then, something amazing is about to happen.” Just be. Your kids will appreciate it in the long run. And you will, too.

12. Pray more, and dwell in the presence of the Lord as often as possible. In the rush of my busy life, I must admit that personal time with God often gets lost first. I used to have quiet time in the morning. But with young children, such a goal is idealistic rather than realistic, and I won’t beat myself up over not being able to have this peaceful time the same way I did as a single woman. Instead, I have learned–through the gentle love of some older, wiser women–how to integrate prayer and God into my day rather than save a single time or space for it. I like this idea. I’m still not very good at it, though. I am trying, though.

This list is far from comprehensive. These changes take time. Change is a process, not a one-time fix. I merely offer some things that have worked for me. They’ve helped make our family closer. They’ve allowed my kids to open up to me in ways they hadn’t before. They’ve decreased my own anxiety and have helped me deal with the feelings I have being in my own home.

What tips do you have to make your home a peaceful place?

Crazy Woman, Part II

In my last post about running around like a crazy woman, I discussed how parents tend to over-schedule and over-extend their kids. Between sports, music, dance, and all sorts of other lessons, our children are not allowed enough time for unstructured play, or free play time. According to the author of Simplicity Parenting such lack of free time is harmful to our kids.

Why? Many reasons, but one that resonated with me had to do with sports. I played team sports as a young child. In sports, rules are already created. Children playing structured sports (whether team or individual) must adapt to the rules. In unstructured play, however, children make up their own rules. They use their imagination. They are creative. They work with others to problem-solve how they can play a pick up game of basketball. What will the rules be? What is acceptable behavior and play?

Today, I give a brief anecdote. Saturday, my oldest two children had t-ball games. They had team pictures hours before their games. My husband is coaching both teams so he had to be there early for both pictures. They came home after the pictures to pick me and the baby up.

I woke up around 6:30 that morning. I packed a bag for my baby Levi (food for lunch, 2 bottles, diapers, wipes, and all the other stuff babies need–except sunscreen, I forgot that). I packed a lunch for both kids to eat before or after their game, depending on which kid it was. I packed drinks and snacks for them and me during the games. I found my chair and a kid’s chair and set it out to be loaded in the car, along with the stroller for Levi. It was my turn to bring snacks for the girls’ game, so I also packed snacks and drinks for the team. I got the camera and the video camera and the baseball and softball bags and on and on and on.

I was busy loading and packing and getting myself ready for over 2 hours (yes, it didn’t take this long). What I haven’t yet mentioned–and the main point of this story–is that while the kids were taking team pictures at the fields with their daddy and I was packing and preparing for the games, 8-month-old Levi–poor Levi– sat on the floor crying uncontrollably. Not just crying, but screaming. With his head bent over on the floor. From 6:30-9:15 am, except when he was drinking his bottle, the little guy was crying.

You see, what my words up there did not express in the telling of the details of my morning were the emotions going on–the feeling of my home at that moment. I was tense. I was stressed. I was trying hard not to forget anything.

I was running around the house like a crazy woman. I was not setting a good tone or rhythm or pace to my life.

And little Levi was the one telling me how much my schedule–our schedule–was impacting his little life.You see, even though I was having to do a lot of preparation for the games, Levi was the one most impacted by his siblings’ schedules. He was the one missing out on mommy-and-me time. Right when he wanted it the most. Levi wanted me to stop what I was doing–to pause for a moment. He was begging me to STOP. To sit on the floor with him. To make faces. To play peek-a-book. To tickle him. To do all those things I love to do but didn’t have the time for that day because of our plan.

Levi wanted his mom, and I was not there.

He also wanted a peaceful home. A home free of anxiety and tension. A home full of spontaneous moments.

When Elizabeth was 8-months-old, we didn’t have t-ball games. There were no older siblings. The same is true for Peyton. But Levi, he just wanted some time to play on his own or with me and experience a carefree day, but instead his whole day–even long before the game started–was spent crying because no one was paying attention to him. Because the house he lived in was full of one busy queen bee running around and stinging all those who stood in her path.

My mommy heart ached seeing this child so upset. I wanted more than anything to hold him and soothe him (I tried, of course, but he could read my motives, which said, “Please stop crying so that I can finish what I need to get done.”). But I needed to finish my tasks (due to a complicated schedule we created). So, Levi’s needs were not met. The schedules of his older siblings determined his day and set the tone for him. And he did not like it.

As they age, younger children must get more used to being carted around to practices and performances and games because they do not throw the same type of fit that Levi threw on Saturday. But Levi’s 8-month-old self was speaking to the very depths of my soul when he told me, “Slow down. Hold me. Pay attention to me. The other stuff is not as important.”

I am learning lessons from my babes. What lesson have you learned lately?