7QT: the benefits of Food Stamps

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I used to struggle with spending my food stamps for anything other than the bare necessities. After a while, though, it became too much of a hassle to scrupulously separate my shopping, and I began to realize that it was all right to spend my food stamps on anything the system allowed. Here are 7 wonderful things food stamps provide, besides just nutrition:

  1. Easy meals. Some people can make healthy stuff from scratch every day; I can’t. From frozen burritos to things like pizza dough, deli meat, and bagged salads, convenience food can mean the difference between me throwing something in the oven and taking a little nap before suppertime, and me freaking out, yelling at the kids, and going out for McDonald’s.
  2. Healthy convenience foods. If you don’t have to worry about your budget so much, you can buy better stuff. Instead of the cheapest frozen pizza, you can buy bake-at-home stuff with real vegetables on it. Instead of fruit cups in heavy syrup, you can afford the stuff packed in real fruit juice. Instead of spaghettio’s, you can get the good canned soup. For your husband who always forgets to pack a lunch, there’s Clif bars and V-8.
  3. Stuff your kids will actually eat. Cherry tomatoes! Gogurts! Instant oatmeal! Cheese sticks! Clementines!
  4. Stuff you really don’t need, but every kid should have once in a while. Lunchables, goldfish crackers, those little breadsticks-and-fake-cheese-dip things.
  5. Things you can stuff in your kids’ lunchboxes. Juice boxes, granola bars, fruit snacks. These double as ways to keep your kid from screaming in the car, and ways to pack for an unexpected outing. That’s pretty darn close to a necessity.
  6. Fancy ingredients. Feta cheese, olives, artichokes, hummus, avocados, fresh herbs…all kinds of things that didn’t usually make it onto my list until I had food stamps. It’s nice to be able to vary your diet more and make any recipes you want!
  7. Ice cream.

See the rest of the 7 Quick Takes at Kelly’s!

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7QT: Why I love Magnificat

Happy Friday! Have you ever seen an issue of Magnificat Magazine at the back of the Church and wondered if it was worth the price? It’s so worth it. One year I used part of my birthday money to subscribe and I’m on my third year as a loyal reader. (I wasn’t asked or paid to endorse this, by the way, but if they want to send me some freebies that’s okay with me!) Here’s 7 reasons I love it:

      1. It has everything in one place. For me, it’s very helpful to have prayer written down, because I have a very hard time focusing on unguided mental prayer; and having a set of prayers for the day in one handy little book makes it much more likely that I’ll pray that day. It’s pathetic, but it can be overwhelming for me to look up the daily Mass readings, look up the saint of the day, find my Divine Office and find the right prayers for the week, and so on.
      2. There’s enough that you can pick and choose your favorite devotions, but not so much that it’s overwhelming: a shortened version of morning and evening prayer, night prayer, and the daily Mass readings. In addition, there are saints’ stories, reflections from various authors, special devotions for holy days and seasons, and special sections on Christian art, history, conversion stories, and more. Everything is short, and introduced with quotes, context, or biography when necessary, to help you grasp the theme of the day.
      3. I love the “Saint Who?” section. There’s a different saint almost every day, aside from whoever’s feastday it is, under a different theme each month: saints who were parents, saints who cared for the imprisoned, saints who did great work in their old age, etc. I find out about so many new people this way, including St. Benedict Menni, a man who cared for the mentally ill and suffered dementia himself at the end of his life. I’ve taken him as a special patron for my mother.
      4. It’s gentle but timely. I’m sure there is a lot of grace involved in the editors’ selection of excerpts for daily reflection, because they speak directly to me so often. They’re usually very practical, relevant to modern life, and encouraging. There’s also a wide variety of authors quoted, from saints, Church fathers, and popes to contemporaries like Dorothy Day, Caryll Houselander, Fulton Sheen, Fr. Walter Ciszek, even Ann Voskamp. I’ve discovered so many new authors to look into. I’ve especially loved everything I’ve read by Fr. Alfred Delp, and I want to read more.
      5. Hymns! A hymn for each morning and evening, usually ones I’ve never heard of that are directly connected to the readings or the saint of the day. Again, another place to make great discoveries, if your parish sings the same few hymns over and over again
      6. Each issue is carefully themed to the liturgical seasons, as well as devotions like the year of mercy, month of Mary, and so on. It feels so good to stay in tune with the Church around the world, even if you can’t get out of the house.
      7. I have some cheap trial subscriptions if you want them! For $5, (which I’d be glad to cover for you), you get three free months to try it out. If you’re comfortable sending me your address (you can send it privately to sunsetblog@aol.com), I’ll sign you up–I’d love to share the blessings this magazine has brought me. I’ve done this trial offer before and it works great, my friends didn’t report any difficulty with discontinuing after the 3 months.

Head on over to Kelly’s for the rest of the 7 Quick Takes!

 

7QT–Things That Help

Seven Quick Takes
I’m back! Welcome to visitors from This Ain’t the Lyceum. I’m hoping to begin blogging regularly again this week, at least until baby #4 comes along in August. I hadn’t really intended to write mainly about mental health, but I guess that’s the biggest thing occupying my mind these days. So here are a few practical things I have figured out, read about, or learned from therapists that have helped significantly with my depression and anxiety.

Dont Panic, Panic, Button, Stress, Worry, Fear, Stop

1.  Mood charting. I’m sure there’s an app for this, but I do best with pen on paper, so here’s a handy chart you can print out. This particular one includes categories for depression, anxiety, irritability, sleep duration, weight and medication. I alter mine to include whether or not I’ve had a nap (see #5), and specifically how much trouble I’ve had being patient with the kids. I found it very helpful to have the different categories separated, rather then under one big “was I depressed today” box to check. When I differentiated between anxiety and depression, I discovered that anxiety was a bigger problem than I thought, and began working on that. Another chart to help you identify trends in your routine: The Well Mom Checklist asks some basic questions to help you take control of your day, like “have I eaten nutritious food today? Have I let others help me today?” It’s aimed at postpartum moms, but you can easily alter it to fit your situation.

2. Self-esteem exercises. I know, it sounds awful. But it works. I’ve written about these before, but it bears repeating: you believe it more if you say it in so many words, especially out loud. I’m also supposed to be starting each morning by saying “yippee!  Another day with Rosie!” but I confess that I haven’t worked my way up to that yet.

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It helps when you have a nice brother who adds his own note at the bottom.

3. Make a list of everything you accomplished today–and don’t forget the little details! For example, don’t just write “took care of the kids;” write “fed the kids breakfast, changed their clothes, read books to them, brought M. to school, made sure he had his backpack and lunch, put the baby down for a nap, washed her face, said night prayers with them.” This is a really wonderful exercise to do at the end of a long day when you feel like you’ve accomplished nothing.

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4. Make a little list of small tasks you can do in your spare minutes throughout the day, to give you little boosts of satisfaction in your accomplishments. With 3 small kids, I found that my free time comes in 5-minute portions, which I generally spent (a) wasting on Facebook, (b) running around thinking “what should I do? Should I cook? Should I pray? Should I clean? Should I nap?” until the kids demanded my attention, or (c) starting some big project, and then inevitably being frustrated when I had to stop it two minutes later to take care of the kids. My therapist suggested a way to make the best of these moments without stressing out:

  •  Do something small, something you know you can get done in a few minutes, so you can feel like you accomplished something. Make a phone call, sort the socks, take the meat out of the freezer, answer a quick email, hang up all the jackets, etc.
  • Do something big, but start out with the understanding that you’ll do it one step at a time, so you won’t get frustrated when the interruptions start.. First I’ll take out my dinner recipe. Next time I have five minutes, I’ll get the ingredients out. Next time, I’ll chop the vegetables. Next time, I’ll grate the cheese….
  • Just sit and be present. Give yourself permission to rest for a couple of minutes, and focus your mind on the information your senses present to you, without judgement or analysis. This takes a little practice, but it works.

5. Naps. At various times in my life, a daily nap has been a necessity, not a luxury. I sleep for about two hours every day while the baby and the 3-year-old nap, and guess what? I don’t feel guilty about it! I used to, but that was before I started paying attention and noticing that every day I didn’t take a nap was a day I was cranky, mean, weepy, and depressed to the point of despair by the end of the day. When I started thinking of a nap as a mental health necessity, it became easier to make it part of my daily routine. Now I take a nap even when I don’t feel particularly tired, or when there’s something else I’d rather be doing, because I know it’s not being lazy, it’s essential self-care.

6. Bare Minimum Mode. I got this idea from the wonderful Jennifer Fulwiler. The idea is that you’re not just sliding into chaos, but purposefully choosing to cut out some non-essentials during certain seasons of your life. As Jen says,

I found it helpful to articulate those activities that were just too much for me right now, cut them out, and embrace that as a proactive strategy, rather than walking around feeling stressed about what wasn’t getting done.

Here’s a post she did with some more details. My version of Bare Minimum Mode includes using paper plates and plastic cups, and not worrying too much about having three, distinct balanced meals–as long as we’ve eaten something healthy today, and no one’s hungry, we’ll call it good.

7. A nightly routine. Every night for the last week, as soon as the kids are in bed, I go through this routine:

  • chart my mood for the day
  • check the “Well Mom Checklist”
  • take five minutes for quiet mindfulness/being present

This has surprised me in two ways: (1) it feels wonderful and really helps me relax, and yet (2) each successive day it becomes harder to do. So many excuses!

Bonus: don’t skip your nightly routine in favor of staying up past midnight to argue about gay marriage on Facebook. That would be bad.

Please see Kelly at http://www.thisaintthelyceum.org for the rest of the Seven Quick Takes! I missed you, and I’m going to do my best to begin blogging regularly again.

7QT: Seven Mystery Writers Worth Reading

When I’m tired I enjoy a good pulpy mystery or a predictable Agatha Christie, but here are a few writers worth checking out for their literary merits as well as their ability to write page-turners.

1. Tarquin Hall

Hall has the impressive ability to portray India in all its complexity, its tragedy, and its squalor, without burdening the reader.  Instead of reading like a travelogue or a caricature, the novels plunge you into the contradictions of modern Indian life, immersing you in enjoyable details of food and drink, endearing dialect and nicknames, and detective Vish Puri’s own family life.  Hall manages to touch on subjects like the corrupting influence of Western technology and culture without being preachy, and without making the story too heavy.  Instead of using uncanny hunches or dazzling armchair detection, Puri gets his man by sheer willpower and determination.  He gets his answers any way he can, including bribery and worming his way into people’s confidences, because that’s the way the system works.  His second novel, The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, is probably his best–it’s a hilarious, slightly dark send-up of fake gurus who take advantage of the superstitious.  The third novel, The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken, delicately handles the subject of the partition of Pakistan and India by focusing on the heartbreaking story of the women caught in the middle.  I’m looking forward to reading Hall’s nonfiction next–my husband bought me his memoir, Salaam Brick Lane, for Christmas.

2. Georges Simenon

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Simenon’s Inspector Maigret is so fatherly, so human, so tired, so doggedly persistent.  It’s a pleasure to follow him around, from home to bar to police station, patiently asking every question he can think of until he finds the truth–not just a solution to the crime, but an answer that makes sense to him based on the psychology of the criminals.  Simenon touches very delicately on Maigret’s tender relationship with his wife, their happy but routine life at home, and their regret at their childlessness.  The Maigret novels and short stories are a great cozy read when you’re in the mood for a slow, thoughtful story with a lot of atmosphere.  “Maigret Pursues” is a wonderful short story about the relationship between Maigret and the suspect he is trailing, and “Maigret’s Christmas” is sweet and gentle.

3. Ross Macdonald

I wrote a bit about Macdonald’s writing style here.  His stories are dark, but so human.  The detective, Lew Archer, is streetwise but not corrupted, flawed but not dissolute, wise-cracking but not overly cynical.  His hope for the young people who get tangled up in the Los Angeles underworld, and his understanding of how the villains, even the most purely evil ones, became who they are, makes the darkness bearable.

4. Josephine Tey

I’ve written a little about Tey as well.  I enjoy the way her characters’ observations are filtered through their scruples and their conscientiousness; the reader travels along with the protagonist, suspecting the innocent, feeling sympathy for the obnoxious, suffering with the guilty.  I really enjoyed the novels A Shilling for Candles and The Franchise Affair .  I had high hopes for The Daughter of Time, in which a bed-ridden Inspector tries to solve a historical mystery about British royalty, but my knowledge of English history wasn’t up to it.

5.  Julie Hyzy

I first picked up Hyzy’s White House Chef series for throw-away light reading, but I enjoyed them enough to hunt down every single one in the series.  They’re not high literature, but they’re a head above the rest of the pulp fiction mysteries you’ll find at the library, and the setting is fascinating.  There are a lot of well-researched details about the inner functioning of the White House and the struggles to provide world-class cuisine while catering to the first family’s tastes, the security requirements, and the delicate protocols required for visiting foreign diplomats.  It’s also interesting to see the relationship between the White House staff and the first family, whose mutual loyalty and respect  sometimes clashes with their political beliefs.  The politics and diplomacy are interesting, but so are the kitchen details!  Well, to me, anyway.  Hail to the Chef is not the first one in the series, but it’s a good one to start with. Her Manor House Mysteries are not as good, but they’re enjoyable.

6. Oh boy, I’m running out!  I guess I’ll have to put some fun ones here.  I wouldn’t call Ellery Queen high literature either, but he’s a lot of fun.  I’d recommend the novel Calamity Town, which happens to be based on my hometown, Claremont, NH!  Isaac Asimov’s Black Widowers series of short stories are delightful.  Each one presents a little thought puzzle, not cerebral enough to be heavy going, but enough to give you satisfaction or a pleasant bit of surprise at the end.

7. If you’re in the mood for something cold and chilling, look for the short stories of Stanley Ellin or Patrick Quentin in The Penguin Classic Crime Omnibus, which is an outstanding collection.  If I remember, every single story in this anthology is strikingly good.  Enjoy!  Visit the rest of the Seven Quick Takes crowd at This Ain’t the Lyceum.

Simenon photo:  Erling Mandelmann / photo©ErlingMandelmann.chCC-BY-SA-3.0

7QT: Self-deprecation Contest

1.  Here’s what my living room looks like, right now:

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2. Every once in a while, I post a picture like this on facebook, and ask my friends to post pictures of their living rooms–not after they’ve been cleaned, or after the kids trashed it, but just as it looks right now.

3. The idea is to remind yourself that other people’s houses look a lot like yours.  Normally we only see people’s houses when they’ve cleaned up to take a picture, cleaned up for visitors, or cleaned and organized and decorated to display on Pinterest.  Some people find pictures of lovely houses inspiring–nothing wrong with that.  But it’s easy to forget that even those perfect houses look different when they’ve been lived in, and to think you’re the only one whose house looks like this.

4. A few years ago, I showed my husband an article from the Onion called “Female Friends Spend Raucous Night Validating the Living Sh** Out of Each Other.”  He half-jokingly asked me if that was what went on at my weekly Moms’ Group. I realized that actually it was kind of the opposite: one of us will confess something we’re struggling with, and the others will empathize and assure her that they are much worse.  “So…” said my husband, “it’s more like ‘You’re OK, I’m not OK?”  Hmm.  He’s on to something there.

5. When I originally started posting the pictures of my living room, I saw another example of how easy it is to get into this kind of self-deprecating contest, at least for me.  If someone confesses to me that they cheated and had extra dessert the other night, I’m likely to respond, “oh, that’s not so bad!  I had cake for breakfast today!”  And if someone posts a picture of a messy living room, I’m likely to jump right in and comment “hey, at least your chairs all have cushions on them and there’s not food all over your floor!  Look at MY house!”  I’m not sure how it happens, but somehow it turns into something you’re almost proud of: look at me, I’m the one who really deserves pity.  I’m the biggest slob!

6. So go ahead and leave your pictures in the comments! Just remember that it’s not about whose is worse, or who’s detached from worldly things enough to have a messy living room, or who spends enough time playing with her kids that she doesn’t have time left for cleaning.  You can even take a picture if you happen to have just cleaned!  It’s all about what a real, lived-in living room looks like–not an artificial Pinterest one.

7. Head over to Kelly’s at This Ain’t the Lyceum for more Seven Quick Takes!

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Seven Quick Takes: Bollywood!

If the only Bollywood movie you’ve ever seen is Bride and Prejudice, you’re in for a treat!  Seven quick film reviews, from the epic and heart-breaking to the aliens/mentally disabled/Singin’ in the Rain mash-ups.  Okay, there’s only one of those.

1. My Name is Khan

A portrayal of a man (played by the fantastic Shah Rukh Khan) with Aspergers, struggling to adjust to life as an immigrant in California, that manages to be charming and moving without being condescending.  This movie successfully deals with the tensions between Kahn’s devout Muslim family and his Hindu wife, who is also a single mother; the biases and fears of a society recovering from September 11th; and the gamut of responses run by parents suffering the loss of a child–all while keeping a sense of humor.  The second half of the movie portrays Kahn’s impetuous trek across America, half the pilgrimage of an innocent fool and half the romantic hobo’s rambling of O Brother Where Art Thou.  This movie requires less suspension of disbelief than most Bollywoods, but it does require quite an emotional commitment.  Underneath the dramatic events, it’s really just a beautiful story of love and crisis in marriage, patience, prejudice, and forgiveness.

2. Lage Raho Munna Bhai

A hapless small-time thug pretends to be a Gandhi expert to impress a girl, and gets predictably involved in a Wodehousian tangle of lies and mistaken identities.  Things get more complicated when Munna begins getting apparitions of Gandhi, who urges him to tell the girl who he really is.  Starring the marvelous comic face of Sanjay Dutt, and featuring some very catchy songs, Lage Raho Munna Bhai weaves together together reality, fantasy, slapstick humor, high ideals, sappy melodrama, and musical routines the way only a Bollywood movie can.

3. Johda Akbar

This movie is a feast for the eyes–rampaging battle elephants, royal palaces, ornate historical costumes, whirling dervishes, and color-soaked, sari-swirling dance routines.  Hindu princess Jodha is forced into a political marriage with Akbar, a Muslim ruler reminiscent of an Old Testament king: pious and righteous, but also prone to impulsive violence and revenge.  Lots of classic fairy-tale elements, including the king’s treacherous old nurse who is the power-behind-the-throne.  Underneath the historical and martial drama runs the story of a marriage beginning in convenience and distrust that gradually grows into respect and mature love.  (Warning: several scenes of disturbing violence)

4. Singh is Kingg

A really sweet, Roberto Benigni-type comedy about a naïve, small-town Sikh who mistakenly inherits a mafia dynasty in Australia and sends his henchmen out to do boy scout-style good deeds.  (Warning: some sexy club scenes)

5. I Have Found It (Kandukondain Kandukondain)

The lesser-known but more authentic cousin of Bride and Prejudice, this is a well-cast retelling of Sense and Sensibility.  Austen’s themes of class prejudice and city vs. country culture shock translate very believably into an Indian setting, with its busybody relatives, arranged marriages, stiff-upper-lip Englishmen, and tradition-defying youth.

6. Lagaan

Set in 1893, Lagaan is a drama about a cricket contest between a drought-plagued village and the local British forces.  The wager is three years worth of the exorbitant lagaan tax.  The villagers’ team includes an untouchable, and they are aided by the British captain’s sister, who is in love with one of them.  One of the most bittersweet scenes is her painfully awkward and unexotic love song, unable to compete with the lively dancing of the village girls.  A really satisfying and enjoyable movie even if (like me) you know very little about Indian history or cricket.

7. Koi Mil Gaya (“I’ve found someone”)

This is the most amazingly weird movie.  It stars the impressively versatile Hrithik, who played the king in Jodha Akbar, as a sweet, mentally disabled man who makes accidental contact with an alien.  Ripping elements and whole scenes from E.T. and (really!) Singin’ in the Rain, it also includes a few good songs.  I…don’t even know what else to say about this movie.  But I’m glad I saw it, I guess.

Check out the rest of the 7 Quick Takes, hosted at http://www.thisaintthelyceum.org  Thanks for letting me play, guys!