Thursday, May 16, 2019

Our List of Summer Hopefuls


Last summer our family was finally settling into our newly rebuilt home after Hurricane Harvey. Our adrenaline had carried us through the previous fall and spring. With summer came the exhaustion that had built up over the previous 9 months. Last summer was a lazy hammock season for us. We just wanted "to be" for a while. Get used to our home and just be. We threw together a last minute get away to Galveston, but that was it. Otherwise it was swimming lessons and picking up all the things that had been left undone since Harvey.

This summer is the last one before we have a kid in full time school (kindergarten!) and will be tied to a serious five days a week school schedule. I want to soak it up! Now, my idea of soaking up a summer would be to read a million books by the pool. Note, I don't want to get in the pool. I just want to read by it. That's all I ask.

But with the carefree ability to read by the pool comes the passing of all the sweet pre-k kisses and innocent wonder and awe at the world, so I'm going to put aside the books and soak up this time instead. This summer I want to be intentional with our kids. It's not necessarily going to be about big vacations, but more about small and meaningful experiences. Some new to our kids and some just plain 'ol fun things that kids need to do as much as possible. And if I'm honest, there are a lot of things on this bucket list that will be good for mom and dad too. I don't know how many of these we will actually check off the list, but we're going to try our best! And don't worry, there will be plenty of space for summer reading!
  • Eat a really cold watermelon (Keats' request)
  • Make popsicles
  • Make ice cream
  • Hit all the Cinco pools
  • Participate in the Summer Reading Program
  • Chalk the driveway
  • Puddle jump in the rain wearing our rain boots
  • Go to the beach
  • Have a water balloon fight
  • Go to the zoo
  • Go to the museum (Keats' request to see the dino's)
  • Go to the movies
  • Family bike ride on the bayou (see below)
  • Learn how to ride bikes
  • Watch fireworks
  • Fly kites
  • Build a sandcastle
  • Go on individual kid dates
  • Run a lemonade stand (Claire has been begging to do this)
  • Family hike
  • Family game night
  • Craft Day (aka, Mommy Takes One for the Team Day)
  • Feed ducks
  • Go on a picnic
  • Make your own pizza night
  • Go fishing
  • Blow dandelion seeds and make a wish
  • Write a thank you note
  • Have a tea party
  • Visit the pet store (do not come home with pet)
  • Skip rocks
  • Learn a new helping skill
  • Popcorn and movie night
  • Do a science experiment
  • Try a new fruit
  • Try a new veggie
  • Puzzlemania (put together all the puzzles we own)
  • See how many new libraries we can visit
  • Go to a baseball game
  • Give away a toy
  • Family car wash
  • Bake cookies
  • Play in the sprinkler
  • Write a letter to a friend
  • Build a blanket fort
  • Eat corn on the cob
  • Memorize a Bible verse
  • Find a sunflower
  • Blow bubbles
  • Visit a water park
  • Climb a tree
  • Have a pillow fight
  • Go on a road trip
  • Make pickles
  • Watch the sunset
  • Jump over a wave
  • Press wildflowers and make leaf rubbings
  • Picture scavenger hunt (take pictures with their Kindles)
  • Spot a rainbow
  • Do something nice for someone else
  • Make a fairy garden
  • Visit grandparents
  • Go on a family walk
  • Collect seashells
  • Catch a bug (a lizard will do as well)
  • Dance party
  • Visit the rock shop
  • Make something for a friend
  • Visit a splash pad
  • Lots of playdates (My "I Live For the Social Life" Kid's specific request)
  • Two family read-aloud chapter books
My daughter loves a good fuss and drama. She also appreciates beauty, so practical me is trying to make more of an effort to reach that part of her. As such, the Summer Bucket List was revealed after the last day of school and rolled out with pomp and circumstance. I tend to be the practical type that would write a list on a piece of notebook paper, fold it a couple of times and put it in my bag. However, I've learned that delivery is everything with kids. I took a look online and like most things on Pinterest, the bucket lists were above my skill level. I put in a valiant effort anyway and even included drawings which I really regretted committing to halfway through the list. Also, halfway through the list I wished I had made a shorter list.

It was worth it! The kids were beyond excited. Claire especially appreciated the bright and varied Sharpie usage. They didn't care that my drawings are laughable or that the letter spacing poor. They didn't notice that I got the wrong kind of paper that is dry-erasable on the reverse side and will most likely roll up like a scroll in a day or two. They're not on Pinterest so they don't know that they could have had customized bucket list posters in their full-sized silhouettes with puff paint and jewels. Or that "Disney" was an option. They're just thrilled to make popsicles and puddle jump.

I'm also allowing space for "write-in's". Claire has already asked that hopscotch be put on the list. This sounds reasonable. I don't know how to play hopscotch so it's probably a good idea to add this skill to my repertoire as well.

Is this "50 Things to Do This Summer with your Preschoolers" or "100 Items for Your Kids' Summer Bucket List"? Wouldn't know, didn't count them. It's just a bunch of fun stuff that we can do together intentionally. Watermelon is on tap for the day one!






Friday, February 8, 2019

Our So Called Plant Based Life

Our weekly local veggie co-op haul

It has been four months since our family embraced a plant based lifestyle. The month prior to that we loosely followed Paleo/Whole 30 guidelines. As you know from my the previous post, the reasons were mostly due to my husband's recently diagnosed and urgent health concerns surrounding heart health. We have learned so much during this short period, yet I feel like we have so much more to learn. We're in that spot where we have now seen so many health benefits that unless something radically changes, we will continue forward in this lifestyle. Throw in that a plant based diet gut punches so many other risks for disease such as cancer and diabetes? We're pretty bought in.

I know there are those of you who have questions as we've both had many approach us asking about the details of this lifestyle, whether it's for personal reasons or just out of curiosity. I've tried to break down this post a bit to address these questions. Also, because reading about other's personal journeys in transitioning to a plant based diet was so helpful to me, I want to help others do the same. Although this may not be the eating lifestyle for everyone, if you're interested and are committed to learning and making changes, anyone can do it. I think it's important to realize this because so many blogs, books and social media accounts make it look like you have to already have an out of the box crunchy lifestyle to embrace plant based eating. You do not have to live in Hawaii or Bali. You don't have to be a yogi. You don't have to be an animal or environmental activist. You don't to have certain political views. I do have a fair bit of experience in health and wellness, but I'm learning new things every day. Our family of four lives in the Houston area suburbs. We're from small conservative towns in Texas and Louisiana. We're conservative Christians. We all struggle with the risk of diseases such as atherosclerosis, cancer and diabetes. You can add more fruits and veggies to your diet no matter your political, religious or porch view and cut your risk for disease. So if you're interested in this for health reasons, take heart, you don't have to have a certain background or interest to go plant based. If you want to follow our journey just because it seems so stinking weird? Go right ahead! This could be said about so many things that have happened in our life, but if you would have ever told me our family (specifically my husband) would be whole food plant based? No meat? I wouldn't have believed you and would've laughed my head off at the thought. And yet, here we are.  A meatless, eggless, dairyless household and enjoying it. Life's funny isn't it?

Enough with my musings, let's get to the stuff that you want to know.

The Results

Let's start with the noticeable benefits specifically related to my husband's health goals. Since September he is down 60 pounds (this has been a maintained weight), his triglycerides have dropped from six times over the norm to within the normal to lower range. His cholesterol, which was also insanely high, dropped to within the normal range as well as his blood pressure. He is not on any cholesterol lowering drugs or blood pressure medication. This is all without exercise and in fact, the suspension of most physical activity over the last four months. He will have another CT scan with calcium scoring in the near future to see if any of the previous damage has been reversed by this radical lifestyle change. We are hoping and praying for great things! His cardiologist, who promotes a plant based lifestyle and practices in Houston, is more than pleased with his results and will continue to monitor his progress.

I too have dropped a size and feel the healthiest I have felt in some time. We both added back in exercise almost four weeks ago, nervous for our first "plant based workouts". That sounds so silly, but truly our bodies have gone through a radical change and we were curious to see how we would handle a strenuous workout on a plant diet. Joey has a bit of a road before him to regain his strength back completely after such a bodily about face, but with three weeks under his belt he is beginning to get his gym legs back. I went to workout classes at our gym fully expecting to be weak, however I was surprised that I was able to hang throughout the workouts. This was a different result than I would have expected from a long period of physical inactivity, not to mention on a diet of plants.

In fact, both of us have noticed stamina, energy and a feeling of vitality that has truly taken us by surprise. Waking up in the morning isn't as much of a struggle. I honestly feel like I could go for a run each morning (note: I'm not a runner, nor have I taken advantage of this feeling). We both have quiet time before our kids get up and have found that focusing super early in the morning isn't as difficult as it normally is. I'm also not dead at 8:00 PM. That's a benefit, don't you think? Another strange thing is that we can easily miss our coffee and not realize it. We went off coffee for 28 days in October and I guess we broke the habit. We were excited to add it back in around December only to find that we often forget about it and look forward to our lemon water and smoothies instead. So weird. I love to love coffee.

Note: Joey and I have both had regular bloodwork done during this period and our numbers are great.

It's not like we've turned into unicorns, but there is definitely a vitality that we haven't felt on any other eating program.

The Food Stuff

Simple meal of quinoa, lentils, sweet potato, green beans & salad

You can read the previous post linked above for the details as to what a whole food plant based diet entails, but think no animal products and keeping food as close to its original form as possible. Also, Joey's heart healthy diet is limited to no oils along with a few other nuances. So no olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, etc. And of course, no butter. He stuck with a cleansing raw vegan diet for 28 days and finished up just after Thanksgiving. Not one bit of cooked or processed food for 28 days. The food was mostly provided by the medical facility as part of the plant based cardiology program he has subscribed to and he rocked it! He did not cheat once. I don't think I could have done it. 

I had really hoped to do more recipe experimenting while he was on this part of the program, but it was tough! He had his food and the kids and I would have our food. Our kids were getting used to things and I didn't know what would be a hit and what wouldn't so half the time I would end up eating alone and left with massive leftovers. We were also dealing with extra health issues during this time that compounded with all of the changes we were undergoing as a family. So I scrapped my grand plans and kept it pretty simple. By simple, I mean foods as they are such as whole sweet potatoes, lentils and steamed veggies. I didn't start too much experimenting until we were able to eat as a family again. This is something that I have discovered along the way: eating plant based can be as simple or as complex as you make it. You can eat the foods as they are in their whole form: steamed, baked, sautéed or raw. Or you can veganize beloved recipes and soak cashews and make your own apple butter. It's up to you.

I have mentioned that cooking plant based has been a learning curve for me. Namely, just the little tricks that I've needed to learn to cook without oil and eggs as well as ways to make our food as nutrient dense as possible. I've learned to make flax eggs, cashew cream, sauerkraut (still learning) and a million other vegan substitutions. Learning about nutrition has also been a camp out for me. I'm learning how much protein, fat and nutrients are in certain plant foods and being mindful of the day's nutrient density for all four of us. Google and I are companions and I'm constantly saying to myself "Huh, who would have thought?" or "Wait, what?" with 7 seven tabs open in my browser.

We do eat out occasionally and have our go-to restaurants where we know we can find options. Except for barbecue restaurants, we can often find something to eat at most restaurants (so don't be afraid to invite us out). It's helpful to know ahead of time so we can menu scan and be prepared. It's truly not the best option health-wise as we can't be as certain about the quality of the food and sodium, sugar, additives and oil can be hidden in the dishes, but it's nice for a bit of normalcy and convenience. Some of our favorites include Fadi's Mediterranean, Zoe's Kitchen, Chipotle and Nikko Nikko's. Imagine the waiter's surprise when my strapping husband orders lentil soup and a salad with no cheese and dressing...it's priceless.

One thing I'm still working on is our grocery shopping rhythm. I need the equivalent of a milkman. A vegan milkman, who delivers speckled bananas and perfectly ripe avocados on my doorstep each morning. In the beginning, it seemed like I was going to the grocery store daily. A lot of this was just part of the learning curve, but I'm still trying to work out the details. I would have to go to several stores before I figured out which stores had which items and sometimes I would be looking for certain organic produce and the store where I was shopping would be randomly out of it that day. If I were on my own I wouldn't mind another store drop, but when you're toting two kids AND need to read labels and inspect product...it's tough. We joined a CSA co-op a month ago and it's been awesome. We get organically and locally grown veggies on a weekly basis which ensure that it's both seasonal and picked when perfectly ripe. I get so excited when they announce the options for  next week's basket. This is all new, but I think we're slowly getting it.

Does plant based eating break the bank?

It can be as cheap or as expensive as you make it. Before I say much on this topic, it must be said that for our family and our budget we put a priority on the food that we consume. It was important to us before a heart disease diagnosis, but now it is of tantamount importance. The food you eat truly is an investment in your future health. It's worth it.

In the beginning, it may seem like it's more expensive because you do need to build your plant based pantry staples. Things like nutritional yeast, vinegars, spices, flours, etc. You may also make mistakes and need to prepare things twice (guilty!) or you may find that while every other plant based foodie loves "ingredient X", you're not a fan and you've wasted money. Once we figured out the basics of what we needed, expenses because much more predictable.

Here's the thing with plant based eating and specifically our lifestyle to reverse heart disease: we're not buying meat, dairy, eggs or oil which can be some of the most expensive line items on a grocery bill. Lentils, brown rice, oats, potatoes and other legumes are cheap and they are some of our meal staples. Also, and this is where there may be a difference between a whole food plant based diet and a vegan diet, we buy less processed and packaged foods. We do buy the best produce and cleanest products which are often more expensive than their standard counterparts. So it may be a wash in our case. I haven't analyzed the numbers in detail, but as I've mentioned this is a budget priority for us so even if it was more expensive we would continue to make concessions in other areas to make this lifestyle possible (except in the event of zombie apocalypse and then we'll eat Spam if we have to).

We try to eat in season as much as possible so that means we're buying produce when it's priced the lowest. Berries we buy frozen when not in season for this reason because I'm not paying $5.97 for a pint of blueberries in January.

We also tend to eat at home more often, which is a no brainer in the money-saving department. When we do eat out it's hit or miss on price. Sometimes it's cheaper because the items are meatless and then other times, they make you pay a premium for healthier or custom items. We also drink water always, so that helps! They kill you on the drinks.

One thing that may be an extra expense... if you have extra weight, you may need to buy new clothes!

Do you miss meat...and cheese...and butter...and BACON

The quick answer is no, neither one of us truly miss or crave it. But let me elaborate. I was never a huge meat person in the first place with the exception of bacon. I do like a lot of meat dishes, but truly I like them because they're fried in yummy batter, covered in a cream sauce or to be combined with cheese in some way. If it's grilled I don't get as excited about it, but I have always thought that I needed to eat meat for the protein. Now cheese on the other hand... I have learned that the casein in the cheese is highly addictive and it makes sense because the longer it's been since I've had cheese, the easier it gets. Cheese was always the tough thing to go without when we did Paleo or Whole 30. I could still easily go for a jalapeño popper with cream cheese, pizza or queso, but truly I don't crave it. I remain relatively unphased by the Domino's commercials which is something to be said of a cheese lover.

As surprising as it might seem, my carnivorous ribs lovin' husband also says that he doesn't miss meat much. This is shocking for a guy whose favorite pastime is grilling and smoking meat. He says that it's truly a gift from God. I am constantly amazed by his ability to morph into a plant based eater. His beloved grill and smokers on the back patio are probably developing a complex. Sometimes I got out and give them a pep talk. "It's not y'all, it's us." And yet, they continue to silently brood.

One thing we don't do much of is "mock meat". So far we have found that things get tough when you try to make something that's supposed to taste like meat or cheese. Comparison truly is the thief of joy. It's better that we don't compare the two or try to make a food into something it isn't. Maybe we just haven't found the secret recipes yet in this department or maybe my vegan cooking skills are subpar, but so far we aren't trying to veganize steak. We may do a Beyond Burger in the future out of curiosity and for a hat tip to past pleasures, but the processed piece of these kinds of products means that it can't be the norm when we're trying to reverse disease.

The thing that I miss is probably just the convenience when we're in a pinch of getting a meal out. We both keep waiting to really miss meat and we just don't. I keep checking in with Joey from time to time. Do you still want to do this? Maybe some of it is due to the fact that we are always pretty satisfied and rarely ravenously hungry. I can't say the same when I've eaten Paleo/Whole 30. A truckload of veggies fill up a tummy more than a piece of chicken. Our meals really fill us up. This has truly been surprising!



What about protein? What about fat?

This is probably the most common question I get from folks. Oh and I'll throw in there, the calcium question. First off, our country is obsessed with protein. We're probably eating a lot more than we truly need, not to mention that the protein often comes in the form of something fried or covered in sodium laden sauces or cheese. Secondly, and this was a surprise to me, you can get all the protein you need from plants. Shocker, right? It turns out that protein (and fat and calcium) isn't just found in the traditional American sources of meat and dairy. Many fruits and vegetables have various amounts of protein, not to mention whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. In the beginning I was concerned with monitoring the amount of protein in our food, but then I realized that we always got enough when we were eating for nutrient density and diversity of plants. But you don't have to take my word for it (I feel like I pirated that line from Reading Rainbow) and shouldn't. Here are two resources that sum it up, but you can find a zillion:

Dr. Neal Barnard on protein and a plant based diet
Ultra Athlete Rich Roll in Forks Over Knives on being an athlete and the protein question

We supplement B12 and vitamin D, which most omnivores are low in as well.

Are your kids plant based?

I would say our kids eat about 80% plant based. We do not have any animal products in our home so when we're home, they're eating plant based. When we are out, we allow them to eat for the most part as they normally would. If it's a birthday party or we're at someone else's house or a restaurant, we let them eat the snacks provided. They've been through a lot of changes the past couple of months. I don't want them to resent eating healthy because they feel left out or different. For instance, I made Claire a plant based lunch for school that I was really proud of (I have a tough time with nut-free plant based kid lunches). When she came home from school she told me all about her day and how they had the most delicious hot chocolate. She isn't a chocolate fan (I know, how is this possible?) so I was surprised she liked it. Then I discovered the recipe in her backpack. I laughed so hard!


 I mean, who wouldn't like this hot chocolate? You can't win 'em all! We have soul heart issues we're working on that are far more important than a perfect diet. I also will relax the rules for myself if I will be putting a host under too much stress. Case in point, a super kind and elderly Chinese friend made homemade cookies for my kids and brought chocolates to our house a few weeks ago. I let them eat both because our friendship with her is more important than a little dairy and eggs. With that being said, the early stages of heart disease can begin in kids as young as junior high. Just because you have the gene for something doesn't mean the switch has to get flipped. Our goal is to minimize the opportunities to flip this switch. These lifestyle changes aren't just for my husband's health. They're just as much for our kids who have our genes. It may not seem like it matters when they're so young and healthy, but our perspective is to focus on setting them up for good health when they're in their thirties and beyond.

We've started educating the kids on food. Not in an obsessive way, but in way that looks at food as fuel. We talk about where food comes from and how it's grown. When we're eating oranges we will talk about Vitamin C and how it helps our immune system. Eating guacamole, we may mention how it has healthy fats which are great for our brain. Drinking water we'll talk about how good it is for our body to keep hydrated. I'm hoping this will set them up for making wise decisions in the future about their own health. They may not choose to eat this way as teenagers when they're out of the house, but at least they'll be armed with information regarding how healthy food is fuel for their bodies.

Maybe forty year old Claire and Keaton will thank us? Who knows! Ooh, if they're forty then that will make us...I'm just going stop this train of thought right here.

Resources

Along our journey I have read many books and the resource from websites, listened to podcasts and watched YouTube videos. The books were helpful to provide the science behind eating plant based. The podcasts and YouTube videos have been invaluable for providing practical ideas, tips and tricks. Here are a few resources that have helped me along the way:

The China Study by T. Colin Campbell
Reversing Heart Disease by Dean Ornish
Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Caldwell Esselstyn
How Not to Die by Michael Greger

I still have so many plant based books on my list including Ornish's brand new book Undo It.

Podcasts have been a wonderful resource. I listen while I'm doing laundry or the dishes (which means there is plenty of opportunity) In the beginning I was trying get up to speed fast because we needed to know how to do this plant based thing well and quickly. My hands may have been tied up with loads of chores, but my brain was free to absorb information. If the kids were occupied and I was in the middle of household stuff, I listened. In the beginning, I would find podcasts such as those below and look for episodes that had physicians discussing plant based eating, specifically those specializing in cardiovascular disease. The more stable my footing became in plant based education, the more I branched out. In the process I learned way more about the benefits of plant based eating on numerous disease fronts, but also about the positive impact it has on our planet and sustainability. You may not agree with everyone's politics or may not be a fan of their personality, but if you're interested in plant based eating, these are filled with little nuggets:

Veggie MD
Rich Roll Podcast
Plant Proof
Lean Green Dad
Party in My Plants
The Plantiful Podcast

You can search for each one of these in Podcasts. Many doctors do not have podcasts themselves, but you can search for the doctor and find all the podcasts where he has been a guest. Cardiologist, Dr. Rob Ostfeld is an example. I follow many plant based doctors on Instagram, especially those with a cardiology focus. Just as with the podcasts, I also followed a bunch of whole food plant based influencers to learn about the day to day basics which has been invaluable in stepping our plant based game. So many of these influencers are incredibly knowledgeable and have done their research,  but it they don't have a medical or nutrition background, I give the medical info the side eye until I see it backed up by a medical professional with research. They provide wonderful tips for plant based cooking and can help to generate nutritional trails that you can research further. This is precisely the reason for this detailed post as well as setting up a separate Instagram, @plantedfamily. Hearing others' experience in making the change to a plant based lifestyle is encouraging when you're walking through it yourself!

The things that are tough

Is it all roses? The actual eating part of plant based eating is great. We truly enjoy it and the benefits that have come with it. Areas that are tough can be preparation, convenience and eating socially. The preparation difficulty can actually come from the latter two points.

Making a "flax egg"
If you have an active family with a routine that often changes, you have to be prepared ahead of time to eat on the run. Fast food and ordering pizza aren't on the table if you're really going after a change in health. You can still go to Taco Bell and order a bean burrito while being on the vegan train, but again we're looking for meals that are nutrient dense with veggies and with clean ingredients. You need to look at your calendar and find the areas that might put you in a bind for the week, then prepare accordingly. Winging it can get you into trouble. You've got to set yourself up for success and have your fridge stocked with all the good stuff, chopped and ready to go. If you're going out to dinner, you'll probably want to find the digital menu first and map out your choices. If there isn't anything on the menu, come with a tummy full of veggies and enjoy the conversation with friends. We're getting better at the preparation part and like anything it takes practice and practice turns into habit.

I'm in the kitchen a lot which I actually love, however the amount of dishes can be overwhelming. We cook or prepare most of our three meals a day at home plus snacks and smoothies. I've mentioned the grocery store runs. I wash dish towels every other day! This kind of stuff definitely can pile up but...

Is this extreme?

Any inconvenience has been worth it. Our experience so far has been pretty awesome. We don't feel deprived. We look forward to our smoothies and snacks and whole food plant based meals. We're not calorie counting and pretty much eat out of abundance. I want to be very clear about this point, this journey has not been about weight loss. It's about reversing disease. So many diets out there are just focusing on your waist line measurements as the determining factor as to whether an eating plan is successful. Yup, you're going to feel better when you're at a healthy weight, but our goal is this and some. How about your insides? How are your arteries looking? How's your gut health? Are you lowering your risk for disease? I feel good about what we're eating and where it comes from. I love that it's awesome for sustaining our planet and the people on it. We certainly still have a long way to go and a lot to learn, but like many pursuits it's about progress not perfection. This isn't a diet, it's a lifestyle. It's as complex or as simple as you want to make it.

In the beginning I thought, yup, this is extreme. Now I don't really feel that way. It doesn't feel like we're doing anything crazy. We're just eating plants. I like what cardiologist Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn says about plant based eating being labeled as extreme: "Some people think the 'plant-based, whole food diet' is extreme. Half a million people a year will have their chests opened up and a vein taken from their leg and sewn onto their coronary artery. Some people would call that extreme.

You can be so fearful of losing your life, that you don't live it. You can also know you need to change your lifestyle because your well-being and vitality are at risk, but decide that you're not going make changes because you don't want to live "in fear". These are extremes. It's not about what you give up. It's about what you gain. So far, we're living in the gain!

Monday, January 21, 2019

Girl, Jesus is Enough

This post has been a long time coming. Frankly, I'm thankful for a little meme going around social media right now, because it speaks so much truth. You know, this one?


It sums up conversations with girlfriends and my own thoughts on this subject. By subject, I mean self-help, personal development, self-improvement, New Year/New Me, this constant hum to be more...the labels go on. In the words of James Brown, "Papa's got a brand new bag". Why not leave it at the meme if it sums everything up? Oh, you know I can't do that. You're funny. I'm an explainer. I can't help it.

So let's unpack. My husband and I are not trendy people. If you know us, this is fairly obvious. I was eating kale in the professional world of alternative healthcare and nutrition many moons ago, way before kale was cool and people wore shirts saying "kale yeah". I've read stacks of personal development books for work and enjoyed many of them. We Marie Kondo'd our house three years ago before Facebook and Netflix introduced Marie to the masses. Now, we're plant-based for health reasons and I'm reading that 2019 has been dubbed by some as "The Year of the Vegan". Ha!

Many of these things have been awesome changes for our family, namely simplifying our possessions/life (hats off to Hurricane Harvey for speeding the process up) and going whole food plant-based. Kale is now practically a celebrated member of the family. I am also a goal-setter and can be be fairly driven when I've got my eye on a goal. This is part personality, but also part of the learning process brought to me by personal development books on setting goals and going after them. In fact, this blog was the result of a goal I pursued ten years ago.

All of these things can be awesome!

However, every one of these endeavors provide only temporal relief if you're trying to fill the gaping hole that can only be filled by Jesus. Over the years I've read books, articles and blog posts by thought leaders in each of these areas and learned much from them, but so often they fell flat. Why? Because most were missing the only thing that matters: Jesus.

Our hope can be placed in so many other places.

The guy or girl you're hoping to date. For that matter, your spouse. The house that has the perfect square footage, amount of possessions, all in beautiful order. The body and makeup that's magazine perfect. The ride or die friends and tribe. The successes of your children (ouch). The big career that you've been dreaming of, if you can only just get up one more rung on the ladder. Esteem and a reputation. Enough money to be comfortable, to take this or that vacation and provide a certain lifestyle for our kids. And then a little more just to be safe. Security. I can list a million different things that we interchangeably chase after depending on the season. Putting my hope in each one a little at a time. Gaining a little short-term happiness boost and then as it wanes, moving on to the next thing.

It seems like the current message when life gets hard is "Well you're just doing it wrong, try my way." or "try harder". Yet when it comes to the only thing that matters, it's not about working harder. Can we all just breathe with this? You're enough, because He is enough. Can I get a Braveheart cry of "Freedom!

I'll say it again, these can all be awesome endeavors! When they're used to know and serve Jesus. If they help you do the assignment that God has given you more wholeheartedly and effectively? Go for it! Does better nutrition and exercise make you more capable of being a better mom or dad and increase your ability to pour more energy out and into others? It's worth a little time! Does order and simplifying your life make you more efficient and less distracted? Free some time up to pour into Scripture? Yes? Marie Kondo it up, my friend.

But put your hope and trust in Jesus. Marie has a few great answers for tidying up your sock drawer, which trust me, is a beautiful thing. But Jesus? He has answers that bring you abundant LIFE. (see the Bible)

It's not about controlling our environment to the nth degree so that everything is perfect.With Jesus, we can have everlasting joy, no matter the circumstance. When our health is failing. When our people are being people and failing us. When we forget to drink 8 glasses of water because we were busy trying to clean up the 10 glasses our toddler spilled that morning. When we make mistakes. When we fail. When our efforts aren't noticed. When our efforts aren't working.

It's about being at peace in the chaos and disorder, not necessarily about removing the chaos and disorder. You might as well say being at peace in life. Life is the mess because it includes the world. "But take heart, I have overcome the world."

We can do all the right things, the good things...yet miss the only thing that matters. Jesus is enough.

And it's ok if you don't like kale. Girl, just wash the spinach.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Home for Christmas




It felt right to be in our little home for Christmas. Kids waking up to presents under the tree in the dining room. Reading the Luke account of Jesus' birth in the living room. Christmas breakfast and dinner around our table. Playing with new toys and games and reading books on the rug together.

Claire has always been a Santa Skeptic. In fact, last year she tricked us. She declared that she didn't believe in Santa and we thought, well there you go. No need to worry about Santa. Then on Christmas Eve at about 11 PM on the drive back to Houston from Louisiana she woke up briefly in the carseat and said something like "I can't wait to see what Santa brings tomorrow." Joey and I both looked at each other in a panic. I think I found some random items at the rent house at midnight that qualified as potential Santa gifts the next morning. This year she goes back and forth. Doesn't really think he's real and then goes through all the logical reasons why he doesn't exist while giving us the side eye.

Keats believes with all his little heart. He defends Santa vehemently against his sister's anti-Santa points.

His strong belief is precious. And also funny, because we really don't "do" the Santa thing. What they know about Santa comes from Christmas movies like the Santa Clause, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and snippets of Elf. Oh and the big one. He saw him in the flesh at the Mall. Joey told me that Keats tugged on his arm and said "Dad, look! It's Santa!" He was in complete awe. So for this reason, we followed Keats' lead on Christmas Eve night because he was so excited about it. He insisted we put out milk and cookies for Santa. Did you know that Santa likes vegan sugar cookies? He doesn't like almond milk though. He may have poured that one down the sink just to be kind.

We also made a Happy Birthday Jesus cake vegan style. Was it healthy? Nope, just no animal products. I used vegan butter for the first time. Did you know that that's a thing? Yup. Vegan butter, it exists. More real than Santa. We talked about the meaning of Christmas and and the kids and I ate cake. I'm pretty sure I ate half the cake one fork sized centimeter sliver at a time over the holiday.

The next morning, two unwrapped gifts were in bags with their names on it and both kids were Santa fans for at least an hour or so before Claire started to question the Santa fundamentals again. Keats asked me if we could ask Santa to come back again that night.

~

On the plant based eating front, holidays have been interesting. Joey is now finished with his raw vegan 28 day cleanse. He finished it a week or two after Thanksgiving. I'll share more about this at some point, but in summation...he rocked it. Didn't cheat once, not even on Thanksgiving and it is one of the strictest eating plans I've ever seen. For holidays we have decided that it is worth a "cheat day", but cheating looks really different. For us, it may mean that a little oil is in some of the dishes as we do not cook with oil at home. Or it may mean whole wheat flour or sugar may be in the food. But it's all still vegan even if it's a cheat.

Since we were going to be in our home for Christmas, I wanted to try a few plant based holiday dishes. Was it good? Yup, pretty good for the most part! Was I exhausted and did I cook all day? Also, a big fat yes.

For breakfast I made chocolate chip pancakes. Had to meet the following standards: high quality whole grain flour and no eggs, oil or butter. I know, it sounds like a sad pancake but truly they were a great treat. This was Joey's first baked good since October.

Christmas lunch turned into Christmas dinner. It became quite the undertaking. Between four burners, two oven racks, a blender, food processor and an Instant Pot, I still had trouble juggling all the cooking times. We had lentils, quinoa, Mac and "cheese", green bean casserole and sweet potato casserole. We were supposed to have a green salad, but I was done. Plant based cooking isn't necessarily hard, it's just different and standard cooking techniques don't always apply. Instead of using an egg, you may need to make a "flax egg" which means that once again I have to Google "how to make a flax egg". Google and I are close friends and we have 100 conversations going on at a time (which is probably killing my battery life, but ironically could be extending my real life....hmm).

By the time dinner was on the table I looked and felt like the crew from Apollo 13 following re-entry. However the ground crew wasn't quite getting the message. Someone get this lady a chair. And some water.

But it was finished and on the table.

The biggest hit was the sweet potato casserole. My kids are still asking for it. It had maple sugar in it, so not surprising! The only outlier was the Mac and cheese. I used chickpea flour noodles and I'm not a huge fan of their flavor.

Our first Christmas back home in our newly rebuilt home post flood. Our first Christmas after going plant based and gut punching heart disease. So thankful for God's continued provision for our family in all seasons. Hello 2019!


Thursday, December 6, 2018

Our Ebenezer Christmas Tree

I haven't seen most of our Christmas decorations in two years. When I boxed them up the last week of December 2016, I probably wasn't thinking twice about what I assumed was the inevitable - their unboxing in December 2017. This is one of those funny questions that I get a lot from people following the flooding of our home, "Oh, your Christmas decorations! Do you have any?" The answer is yes, all of our precious ornaments were high and dry in the attic, along with our Fall decorations. I'm sure my husband would happily and personally have set a few pumpkins from my excessive Hobby Lobby pumpkin hoard downstream, but they all survived. Might I add, that I have a list of a few items of his that I too wish had made it to the curb. While I have a surviving cheap pumpkin patch, he has a t-shirt collection circa 2001 that still exists holes and all. Sometimes you have to laugh at what remains, but we are thankful that our Christmas memories have survived.

We've added at least one ornament intentionally to our tree every year. This year as I pulled out the ornaments, I was struck by how much they tell the stories of the seasons that have unfolded since we became a family. Ten ornaments. Seasons of varying length and scope. I'm reminded of the song Come Thou Fount and of the prophet Samuel and the Israelites as they faced battle after battle with the Philistines. "Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called it's name Ebenezer, for he said "Till now the Lord has helped us." - 1 Samuel 7:12.


There is the wedding cake. We put this on our tree as newlyweds bright with hope of a beautiful future and a lot of expectations. I laugh at the expectations part. Some would prove true, along with many that wouldn't and were found to not be set in reality or wisdom. The expectations of two imperfect people who didn't quite know what marriage was about yet or what the years would hold. When your marriage begins with the postponement of your wedding for two weeks because of a hurricane, you would think we would have learned a bit about expectations. In fact, we're still learning about what's important and what isn't to this day. I suppose we'll be students for life in this lesson. Thank the Lord for expectations that were not met.

After our newlywed year, the first few years' ornaments are nondescript. Picked out by two people working on their careers and learning how to become one. I can't even tell which ornaments are from which years.


Then there is the ornament from our trip to Sedona. I remember hoping I was pregnant for the umpteenth time and finding out again that our hopes were delayed.

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light


The ornament nestled between the Spider Man and Buzz Lightyear is a reminder of both loss and also of joy not yet realized. It was at this point that I thought maybe the ornaments on our tree would go on as they had in the years before, picked out by a family of two.

I had no idea we would putting this ornament on our tree the following Christmas. A family of three.


Or that the next year we would be adding this one. Surprise! A family of three became four.


The following year we would lose two beautiful women, our grandmothers. My grandmother, a few days before Christmas.


Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one

Last year, we didn't even continue our tradition of getting a family milestone ornament. It was four months after we flooded. We were in our rent house, our decorations in the attic of our home. I bought a few things to make the rent house cheery, put up a tree with some of our ornaments, set out the nativity scene for the kids and called it a day. We were weary of hard work and loss and so ready to be home. Thankfully, I have a friend who came over one day so Joey and I could work on the house together. She and her girls brought craft supplies to entertain our kids and to make ornaments. One survived. (Sorry, Miss Crispy, we did our best.). It's really the perfect ornament for the year. A reminder of our family being held up so many times by our village. He'll hang the ornament even when you can't.


Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise
Thou mine inheritance, now and always
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art

Here's the thing about these ornaments. Some joy, some sadness. I wouldn't trade one of them for an ornament without purpose or meaning. You never know what next year's ornament may be. It may be one of loss or one of joy or a mix of both, but it is never without purpose. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." - Romans 8:28. Our good, his glory. It is through this that we find joy and hope, no matter the ornament that's hanging on this year's tree.

We have yet to pick out 2018's ornament. I'm waiting until we come across the perfect one that explains where we have been this year. Our tree is next to our dining room table. At least three times a day, we can look at these ornaments and remember God's faithfulness. Our Ebenezer Christmas tree. Sometimes God gives us a glimpse of his purposes in the middle of the hard stuff and that is a precious gift. Maybe it's not until years later. Or we may not understand it in our lifetime. It may not be until we have a perfect mind on the other side of eternity that we will finally be able to grasp the full meaning of both the small and big things that have happened outside of Eden. The beautiful complexity too much for our finite minds to comprehend. So until then, we hang the ornament. We remember his faithfulness. We trust for our good and His glory. We wait with expectation.

High King of Heaven, my victory won
May I reach Heaven's joys, O bright Heav'n's Sun
Heart of my own heart, whate-er befall
Still be my vision, O Ruler of all









Thursday, November 8, 2018

Winner Winner Lentil Dinner

You're looking at an empty butter dish, a sad little butter dish.

We're officially weird. (Oh wait, you already thought we were strange? It's ok, we can still be friends). Our family has been through a bit of a shake up that began in August leading us to completely overhaul our diet out of necessity. No, really. We're going whole food plant based. If you're familiar with this term, you may think 'vegan' and you would be right. Except, with the nuance that all whole food plant based eaters are vegan, but not all vegans are whole food plant based eaters. That's a mouthful! After all, an Oreo is technically vegan, but not considered whole food. I'm getting ahead of myself. But see, I told you...weird.

If there is one thing that seems to raise an eyebrow, it is when people starting eating outside of the conventional box. Don't mess with the food. Especially not the bacon. We've been on and off again Paleo/Whole30/Yeast-free people for a long time. I would say before it was cool. People don't blink an eye when you use these terms anymore. It used to be "Say whaaa?" when you told them you were eating Paleo. I worked in alternative healthcare for several years on the marketing/education side of things, advocating this very lifestyle so we're pretty familiar with this way of eating. While I was a professional in this arena I also followed the plan fairly well personally. Years later when I took a new job outside of the wellness world I did allow more things to slide, but a lot stuck. Most importantly, I had an understanding of the Standard American Diet versus a whole foods diet. Once you learn something, you can't unlearn it. However, you can purposefully choose to repress it and eat Mexican food and queso (can I get an 'amen'?) for dinner every night because yum, but you're at least aware of the consequences. Don't ask me how I know this.

Now here we are again, learning new things.

But why are you doing this? I know that's what you're asking. But cheese...but meat...but bacon? I'm asking it too as I'm looking at my empty butter dish. I ask myself this question a lot and then I look at my husband and my kids. We've had a significant health scare. I'm not going to go into all the details here because it's my husband's medical history. He doesn't mind me sharing truly, but for now we can have that conversation about details in person rather than on this blog. We received several test results that were startling for his age. The options were few and not great. We were looking at medications with loads of side effects for the rest of his life and a poor prognosis even with those. While we went to doctors and figured out the best course of action, everything else has pretty much been on the back burner. There is also a certain amount of grief that comes with knowing such things.

Now, why plant based? First may I say, the Paleo/Whole 30 diet is vastly better than the Standard American Diet. It eliminates a lot of simple carbs, processed foods and dairy. In fact, when we first knew that things needed to change after receiving preliminary results back in early August, he started back on Paleo/Whole 30. But as additional test results came in and the seriousness became apparent, we began looking for something that would not only prevent more damage to the heart from occurring, but also one that could actually REVERSE some of the existing damage. Modern medicine told us that it was irreversible. A plant based diet has had some success with actually reversing the disease. We're hoping to trigger the body into beginning to heal itself.

As with so many other times in our life, God prepared us in unexpected ways for this new journey. While we were in the rent house during the Harvey Affair (I think I'm going to start calling it this as it has a certain dramatic ring to it) I just happened to come across the book The China Study by T. Colin Campbell on my library app. I was familiar with this book because back when I worked in alternative healthcare, after reading it my steak-eating boss went raw vegan. References to the China Study came up often during my time working in the wellness world. Not exactly the historical fiction that I gravitate toward, but I downloaded it. The research on the plant based diet was fascinating. After reading this book, we watched Forks Over Knives among other documentaries on Netflix and I was surprised to see so many names that I was familiar with from my days in alternative healthcare. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Rip Esselstyn, Neal Barnard...all these people I was familiar with were proponents of a plant based diet. I don't know how I missed this 15 years ago! What was most interesting to me was the diet's impact on heart disease specifically. Personally, I began to eat less meat and increased my veggie intake, but for the most part I filed it away.

Fast forward eight months and here we are. I asked the first cardiologist we visited what he thought about the plant based diet and his eyes lit up. He said it would certainly be the best plan if you could follow it and gave me a few more titles to look up including Reversing Heart Disease by Dean Ornish, Michael Greger's How Not to Die and Caldwell Esselstyn's Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. We thought, what the heck it's worth a shot.

Thus began our trek into figuring out what this whole food plant based diet is all about. It has been a learning curve for sure. We've watched loads of YouTube videos from plant based conferences, subscribed to so many podcasts and have read a ton both on and offline. I still feel like I have so much to learn!

What does 'plant based' mean? No animal products - meaning no meat, dairy or eggs. This is vegan as well. However, we are focusing on this diet for health so the goal is to make our food as nutrient dense as possible. This means lots and lots of fruits and vegetables. Nuts, seeds and some grains, but they must be whole and as close to the original form as possible. This is where the 'whole food' emphasis comes in.

I've learned more about food in the last month and a half than I ever expected. I've had to totally throw out my old ways of cooking and learn new methods. In the case of plant based folks who are eating for heart health, they typically do not use oils. No olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, etc. I've become a professional label reader and I'm also that annoying person who asks people a bunch of questions before purchasing food items. My grocery basket cracks me up every time I leave the store. I buy strange things like medjool dates, bulgur, and swiss chard along with the entire produce section. Also odd, I don't even venture into the meat or dairy sections (sigh, cheese).

Joey has been eating plant based since the day he received the offending test results. He threw away the Blue Bell and the beer that very evening. Not one cheat this whole time. If you know my barbecue and ribs lovin' husband, this is shocking. But he has truly amazed me. I am so proud of him. His friends have been great and have met him at places where he can stick to his plan. He's become a connoisseur of lentil soup. One can only laugh. When I've asked if he's sure he wants to do this, he responds that he loves spending time with me and the kids more than he loves steak. I love this guy.

We found a board certified cardiologist who is a proponent of plant based eating and Joey has been under his care for two weeks. He's a little over a week into a 28 day raw plant based detox among other therapies.  Thankfully, you have the option to get the food from the facility so the burden is not on us to figure out suddenly how to eat raw vegan for 28 days. By 'raw', I mean no cooking or real processing. Oh, and no coffee during the detox either. Where's a sad and horrified emoji when you need one? It is a tough regimen no doubt, but at the end of the 28 days he'll transition to a "regular" plant based diet. Lentil soup will be like Turkish Delight at this point. So far, he's ten pounds away from the goal weight that the first cardiologist gave him. His blood pressure is awesome and his cholesterol and triglycerides are now within the normal range. This is amazing considering where they were in August.

In the meantime, I'm testing out recipes on myself and the kids. Joey and I ate plant based last month and the kids ate maybe 70% plant based. Y'all, my kids are eating so many veggies! They try almost everything. I've had some homeruns and a few strikeouts, but I'm proud of them too for being so adventurous. We've been talking a lot about eating foods to fuel our bodies.

We're taking it week by week, result by result. In the end it will be about works for Joey. Does this mean we won't eat meat for the rest of our lives? Probably not to that extreme, but at this point it looks like it will be more of the trend for our family as we're a team. This isn't a decision based on fear, it's based on hope. It's taking a lot of stuff out, but putting a whole more of the good stuff in. I think we can get used to that. Now, what to do with all my butter paraphernalia?

Oh and before I forget please, please still invite us to dinner and parties! We'll either let you know what we can eat or we will bring our own stuff. It's not a big deal. We're not your vegan friends, we're just your friends and we still want to hang out.

Sincerely,
Hiding in the Closet Eating Bacon (just kidding...sort of)














Friday, September 7, 2018

Faith Floats

Before you read this post, I want to acknowledge that everyone experienced Harvey in a different way. Often in hardship there are varying degrees of past and present suffering which color and shape each experience. There are the first responders and their families who sacrificed so much. There are the families who calmed little ones throughout the storm.  And then there are those that lost some. Some that lost all. Bits and pieces of these things may be parts of your experience too. This is just part of our story.

Our version of American Gothic
I read my last few posts below after not having blogged in a year and a half. Sometimes you just have to laugh...and marvel. At the time, we had finished the first round or two of simplifying our life. Drastically minimizing belongings (the word 'drastically' is so funny to me now, but at the time it was a drastic change), shoring up finances and changing our mindset and priorities to that of less for the sake of more. 

If you would have told me that within the next six months we would lose our home along with about 95% of our possessions, I could never have imagined it. Minimalist Dabblers would become by circumstance, Minimalist Extremists in a few short months. The 'me' on August 24, 2017 that went to sleep in our bed underneath my favorite fluffy duvet could have never imagined that in two weeks we would be in an unfamiliar rental house while our home dried out from holding several feet of sewage water for a week. The contents of our life and the physical memories of the past nine years rotting on the curb in wreaking, head-high heaps of garbage.

Different house. Different clothes. Different toys. Different bed. Different comforter. Different pillows.

Same husband. Same children. Same faithful God.

This is where I begin to marvel at the ways in which God prepares each us for the trials that we will face. And we will encounter them, believers or not.
As Peter affirms "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed." 1 Peter 4:12-13
Christians don't suffer less because we believe, but as believers God uses every bit of our suffering and pain for his glory and our good. Nothing is wasted. To look back and see his hand in our lives is overwhelming.

I could tell you many stories from this season. The words of an entire year have been building up and are too big. Sometimes the words are so many, that they can't make it to paper until they're processed through a bit. The story that I will share today is more about the thread that connects all the stories. It's not really about a flood or a hurricane. It's not an account or timeline of our journey.

It's about God's faithfulness. Here are a few of the pieces of faithfulness that have surfaced for us over the last year...

Almost a year and a half before the weary part of the journey began (read "the wet part"), God gave me a desire to simplify our life. I didn't know why, but I felt like our family needed to get light. By "light", I mean to shed the excess. I thought, 'Maybe we are supposed to adopt or go into ministry or move to Africa or I don't know...prepare for something drastic?' - there's that word again.

Something that we needed to be light for.

You can look back at my previous posts, but basically we got rid of a bunch of stuff and pared down. Yes, that freed us up a lot, but the bigger result of this process of "getting light" was the refocusing of our mindset to storing up treasure in heaven versus things of the earth. Do we enjoy things? Absolutely. But, it's a matter of enjoying earthly things without a white knuckled grip. Holding loosely. It was only the beginning of this lesson that I'm still learning, but I am so thankful that God began loosening my grip when he did. It's one thing to pry your own fingers away from something and quite another to have it wrenched away while holding fast. God was teaching me these things for something and it was...drastic.

In an effort to simplify overall, we had tightened our finances and made several decisions that would eventually help to ease the financial burden of what was to come. One of these decisions was to purchase flood insurance...in July. It takes 30 days for a flood policy to take effect. Harvey came at the end of August. Yeah, I know.

I just thought we were saving money to pay off our house and make room for whatever was coming. and in truth we were, but I certainly never earmarked anything in our budget with 'in case of flood'. Typically when I think of Emergency Funds (i.e. Dave Ramsey), I'm thinking more like a car breaks down or an appliance goes out, not your home and belongings being under a couple of feet of sewage water. I've said it so many times, I couldn't have imagined this narrative for our family. We were like squirrels storing away nuts, yet oblivious to the coming winter.

In the wee hours of Friday morning, the night before Harvey's dimensions were really becoming apparent, my husband woke up at 3AM. I didn't know this until 5AM when I walked into the living room to find him watching the news. He told me he thought we needed to go to Louisiana. He felt it in his gut. At the time and much to my discredit, I balked. Really? We're Houstonians, we hunker down. We don't leave. Furthermore, no one was telling us to leave. Yet he felt really strongly about it. So I said ok, thinking we would avoid a few days without power with two toddlers. It couldn't hurt. We left around 7AM with four suitcases, two kids and our dog. Oh, and the kids' lovies, pillows and special blankets (thank you, Lord!). One more thing, an unflooded car! This was an unbelievable grace as rentals would be hard to get in the coming weeks. We weren't here for the incessant tornado sirens over the course of several days, seeing rising water in our home or eventually being boated out. We were spared this trauma and spent the whole time in Louisiana dry and being loved on by family. Yes, the trauma of change and loss is a lot, but we were insulated from the actual storm. And by insulated, I also mean that we gained a few pounds from two weeks of my father-in-law's cajun cooking.

On our way back to Katy

After we learned our home was certainly flooded and when we got back to Katy, God's provision really blew us away.

A family from Denham Springs, Louisiana drove with a trailer load of supplies to help our community. Their entire city had been through devastating floods the previous year. They wanted to help and happened to know our pastor and his wife, who we ended up staying with during the interim between arriving in Katy and finding a place to live. I can't tell you the blessing that they were to us during the whirlwind of the next week. They had the experience to prepare us for what was to come as part of the rebuilding process. He was a builder and had mucked out and rebuilt many homes in their community. This was invaluable. His wife and sister-in-law are so dear to me because they personally cleaned out my closet before the crew was able to get to it. There's something about people tossing your stuff without you that is deeply personal. Such a kindness.

Generous people supplied money for tools and necessities. We were able to find a rental home (we searched for apartments nearby to no avail) in the same neighborhood as some of our best friends and pastor. Also on that note, I made a new friend with three little precious kids that lived on the same street. A sweet friendship thanks to Harvey. Our church family made sure our rental house was fully outfitted with all the necessities as well as extra comforts. I was so worried about the kids' abrupt transition to the rental house lacking anything familiar, but it had a spacious backyard with a play structure (win!). The kids' rooms were respectively purple (to my daughter's happy surprise) and green. Beds and furniture were provided. Duplicates of previous owned toys were purchased for the comfort of our kids. Food was brought to us every day. Childcare was made available as mom and dad had lots of decisions to make. Remaining clothing washed for us. People helped disinfect anything that made it out of the house. Over the entire six months not one need went unmet.

The Lord even provided on the day that we were finally able to muck out our house. (maybe 7-8 days after Harvey? It's a blur.) The National Guard had closed off entry to our neighborhood for many days after the rain subsided for high water, sewage contamination and electrical concerns. Our homes sat for days in nasty water and sweltering heat. My husband and a friend were finally able to kayak into the neighborhood and get a look at our house. They brought back some of our most important salvaged possessions.

Because we left our home without a clue that it would flood, we didn't put anything up high. It's also a one-story home. How many times can I say this, we could have never imagine this would happen! I've mentioned the lovies, but a neighbor pulled bins from under our bed and put them up high before the water entered which contained treasured items such as baby blankets, Joey's A&M stuff, etc. I remember opening each bin on our pastors' porch and being overwhelmed emotionally by each item that was saved. Our Bibles, journals that I have kept since I was young, sweet baby items and a few of my husbands' sentimental family heirlooms were all included. Because we had eliminated so much stuff the previous year, we had little to go through. Picking through the pieces that remain is overwhelming. We were so grateful for the sweet things that made it out, but also the fewer the pieces, the sooner you can move on. Being light on stuff ended up being such a grace for us.

The following day we were able to get to our block with an F250 and a crew of guys from our church, my sweet friend Tara and myself. Tara and I piggybacked in from the truck. I'm not going to say this day was a blast, but it was the perfect blend of people to walk with you through it. The threat of tears turned into laughter and the humor was easy to find. I quite enjoyed asking people to wipe their feet at the door. This day should have been horrible, but it wasn't. Laughter brings such healing.

It's one thing to have physical provision, but another to be given internal provision. I'm talking peace. It's something we truly can't manufacture on our own. Were we at peace every day? Nope. There was much to be sad about and a lot of loss. The physical and emotional weariness knocked me over many days in the eight months following Harvey. If you know me you know that decisions in the Luby's line can stress me out! Making large-scale to itty bitty decisions on the rebuilding and outfitting our home from top to bottom, totally spent me. I'm still tired!

Two mental images stick out to me.

Picture one. The first time I saw our home since we had left it several days before. We were in Louisiana glued to the TV as we watched nationally famous journalists giving reports from across our street at Creech Elementary. It was a video a friend sent me of a boat being pulled by a jet ski through our neighborhood while the passenger was videoing the devastation. I caught the smallest glimpse of our house as they passed by, the boat making ripples in the water by our house as it passed by. Surreal. The home that Joey and I came home to as newlyweds nine years ago. The home to which we introduced both our babies and grieved the loss of another. The home where I left a half-folded basket of laundry on the couch and dishes in the sink. It's a funny thing...after days of wondering, it was both devastating and comforting all at once to see our little house. I broke down, yet I watched it over and over again just to see it.

Claire's room looking into Keats' room

Our street many weeks after Harvey
Picture number two. Seeing your family's ordinary items of daily life all on the curb is shocking and quite the gut punch. Stuff we bought when we were married, kids' birthday gifts picked out with love, my beloved KitchenAid mixer, my daughter's Melissa & Doug princess dress dotted with mold, furniture piled high, black trash bags lining the street. Nine years worth of stuff and life, all there in a rotting pile on the curb. The same picture, block after block.

This was hard. Very hard. But here's the thing with this stuff. Although a lot of memories were attached to these things, they were all destined to this end eventually.
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." - Matthew 6:19-21
This verse has never been more real to me than in the last year. , I still struggle with it daily!

Getting ready to move back in
First night back home
We moved back into our almost completely rebuilt home six months later. My husband worked nearly every day during that time to get our family back home. So thankful for him and the numerous other people that helped to get our family back home. It was a sweet day.


Remembrance of loss still catches me by surprise even a year later when I'm reminded of something that no longer exists but in my memory. While in the garage I stumbled across a little jewel from the crown my daughter wore every day for two years. I keep it on the kitchen window sill. It's more than a memory. It's a touchstone serving as a reminder that God is faithful through it all. No flood insurance, he is still faithful. Boated out, he is still faithful. No lovies, he is still faithful.

"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." - Lamentations 3:22-23