Fun news for the New Year! I had the honor of writing a post about a more “nourishing approach” to New Year’s Resolutions for Fox News this week.
Here’s the link to the article below (and a re-print of the blogpost as well), which echoes one of the themes throughout our new book, Nourished, which releases in just 5 more days!
Forget New Year’s Resolutions, Try Nourishing Compromises Instead!
By Becky Johnson
It is that time of year. Having fudged or forgotten our New Year’s Resolutions from the previous year, we open up our spiffy new planners and list the same idealistic goals all over again.
It’s amazing how we Americans spend our lives making new goals each January (with the enthusiasm of a child in a Superman cape), but tend to lose interest in actually keeping those goals by somewhere around Groundhog Day.
In our new book, “Nourished: A Search for Health, Happiness and a Full-Night’s Sleep,” my daughter Rachel and I spent a year contemplating, researching and trying to live more nourished lives.
What I love most about Nourishing Compromises vs. New Year Resolutions is that once you get the hang of it, you never have to put happiness on hold until some future goal is accomplished.
We began by looking at the top 10 everyday stressors that put a kink in our joy and a drag in our step. To our surprise, the real challenge was not figuring out what changes we needed to make to live happier, healthier lives. The problem was how to motivate ourselves to actually implement those changes and make them stick.
Enter something we came to call Nourishing Compromises.
Rachel and I found that some of the most instantly freeing changes we made had nothing to do with a physical plan of action. Instead, they were decisions to simply shift our perspective, reframe a frustrating situation, or mentally minimize the impact some toxic person had on our life.
It involved nothing more than transforming our thoughts.
In fact, once we got our heads in a better place, we often discovered that nothing more was needed.
Maybe you don’t need a new job, but a fresh attitude.
Maybe you don’t need to lose 20 pounds, you just need to love the body you are in and see it as sexy and gorgeous AS IS.
It wasn’t long before we realized we emphasized our Outer Bucket List—the ones that eat away at time we don’t have—over our Inner Bucket List much too often. A miracle shift in perspective can often bring instant inner peace without changing another thing.
Most of the time, however, nourishing change involves a compromise of both: a little shift in perspective and a little action. A change of attitude can keep you happy at your current job while still searching for a career that is a better, more enjoyable fit.
Love and embrace your body as is, see it as womanly and beautiful, curvy or voluptuous. Then treat it with healthy food and enjoyable exercise and maybe lose three or four pounds—and that could be all you need to feel happy in your own skin.
Rather than getting up an hour early to pray, perhaps you could turn your commute into time to commune with God.
Imagine two good friends, one named Loving Acceptance and one named Take Action, walking toward each other, meeting half way between their two homes for a friendly cup of coffee and conversation.
This middle place is where most of the magic takes place. Where we cut ourselves a little mental slack, even as we work toward a doable goal. We meet ourselves in the middle, adjusting our attitude some, making some realistic tweaks.
What I love most about Nourishing Compromises vs. New Year Resolutions is that once you get the hang of it, you never have to put happiness on hold until some future goal is accomplished.
It’s time to rethink resolutions. Why not make a list of Nourishing Compromises this year instead? Not only do they lead to a more nourished life, but you’ll be much happier with yourself—both within and without—come January 2015.
Becky Johnson and Rachel Randolph are co-authors of the new book, “Nourished: A Search for Health, Happiness and a Full Night’s Sleep.” (Zondervan, January 6, 2015). They blog, respectively, at www.laughcrycook.com and www.thenourishedmama.com.
(Becky, the Mama)
Because I am one of those ultra sensitive souls, I am typically “porous” for negative emotions bouncing around me (or worse, toward me). But I experienced something fascinating a few months ago when I was caught in a small room with people who had an abundance of off-kilter logic, controlling “name it and claim it” spirituality and barely disguised contempt for a couple of us who were obviously not in their rah-rah camp. With pasted-on-smiles they dished out holier-than-thou belittling, with a few passive-aggressive jabs thrown in for good measure. The exact situation that would have, in the past, triggered waves of uncontrollable shaking in me. This would could be followed by automatic fight or flight response that might hold me an emotional hostage for hours, or days. PTSD is such a joy.
Because I was in a situation where I could not leave, I sat in this tiny room, with this negative nuttiness bouncing around me for several hours. But here’s where the miracle came, where I saw that the six months of therapy with my brilliant counselor had paid off: Instead of absorbing it or going into my typical “deer in headlights” response, or worse, a full-blown meltdown, I sort of floated above the scene in my mind. And when I looked down on it, in a truly detached way… I experienced what have only been able to describe as ….benevolent amusement. I found myself actually smiling and nodding kindly, feeling as though I’d morphed into an odd combination of Mother Teresa and Tina Fey.
I saw so clearly that these folks chose their mode of thinking and behaving, and intense (aggressive?) spirituality as a desperate attempt to 1) control the uncontrollable and 2) make them feel okay about themselves. In short, they were avoiding the painful emotions of shame, fear or depression by their beliefs and behavior. And I saw this because, I too, have been there, done that. Maybe I still do. Maybe we all do this at some level. Denial is a good band-aid until genuine self-acceptance and grace take its place.
What blew me away about this experience was that I left those hours in that small room with quirky, self-righteous personalities … and not only did I leave it personally unscathed, but I left it feeling this wonderful melding of compassion and amusement. I felt as though I’d finally stumbled upon a key to something hugely important. That Benevolent Amusement is a 3rd and more healthy stance than 1) absorbing negativity and getting triggered,hurt or wounded; 2) getting flooded with toxic anger and striking back.
Later, reflecting over the scene, I thought, “Wow. This must be what people call ‘rising above’ .. ”
And, interestingly, it felt a lot like relaxed peace.
Keep busy with survival. Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember nothing stays the same for long, not even pain. Sit it out. Let it all pass. Let it go.”
― May Sarton
Nourish Your Soul
(Becky, the Mama)
If I had to sum up what this past year has taught me it is that life is like leaves on a tree. Something buds and is born, then it blossoms, flourishes, changes form and color. Then at some point, begins to fade. The hard part comes where we have no choice but to let go of “what was” — trust the wind and the soil to do “the thing they do” to the leaves given up to their care. This is followed by a time of lying dormant, fallow, at rest, no visible sign of productivity — but much is taking place within the quiet huddle of wintry hibernation.
And then, in due season, new buds, verdant green, pink blossoms … Spring. That feeling of something beginning, growing again. Bearing fruit, sharing the bounty and shade of your presence with others.
The greatest lesson in all this, for me, is that without a Letting Go, there is no room for the New Thing that wants to be born. We must not cling too tightly to yesterday least we miss what God is doing today, and the good surprises waiting for us, around the bend, in our tomorrows.
“Forget about what’s happened;
don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,
rivers in the badlands.” Isaiah 43: 19-20 The Message
Where are you in the emotional/spiritual cycle of seasons?
The Pocket Guide to Narcissism: Nourishing Recovery from Crazymakers (or Becky’s Kitchen Table Therapy)Posted: October 30, 2014
Nourishing Yourself When Recovering From Crazy-making Relationships
As the title of our first book says, sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cook, sometimes we cry. Today, I (Becky) sit at my virtual kitchen table, and turn a face of compassion and empathy to those who cry, particularly to those who’ve been a part of a crazy-making relationship with someone who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).
I spent some time this past week with several sweet souls who’d become entwined with a person who exuded what felt like genuine warmth and charm; then they woke one day to realize they had been discarded, maligned or emotionally abused by this very same friend, lover, spouse or relative. So this particular brand of pain is deep on my heart this morning. If you or someone you know has been hit and run-over by someone with NPD, this post is for you. I’ve put the kettle on, and offer you the kitchen sink: all I’ve learned and gleaned on the subject.
The fall from a Narcissist’s pedestal is often shocking, sudden, disorienting, and excruciating. If the relationship was long-term or involved a close relative, it is not an easy recovery, and nearly always leaves the victim with some form of post-traumatic stress. (It isn’t called a “crazymaking disorder” for nothing. You may question your sanity and sense of reality for awhile. Which is often the unstated goal of an NPD. )
The healing path will involve a lot of self-nourishing: surrounding yourself with the love, affirmation, caring, and space to be human as you recover. If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, you may feel as though your head is in a blender, and need help unraveling truth from fiction, reality from their fantasy.
Below is a list of NPD traits to help you get clarity whenever you feel caught in the whirl of their “special kind of logic” — in fact, you may want to print out this list and keep it handy when you need to extract yourself from their convoluted web. The list is long, but in my experience, those who are in recovery from this brand of dysfunctional relationship are hungry for all the information they can get. So here’s the whole enchilada.
1, The Narcissist’s Image is the most important thing to them.They do not have a true sense of self, only the self that appears when “on stage,” receiving fresh applause or “narcissistic fixes.” These hits of praise, from increasingly new sources are the food that keeps a narcissist alive. (Often referred to as Narcissistic Supply.)
2. They lack true empathy. However, they can mimic it when it serves their purposes for a period of time, usually while they are courting your attention. The smarter they are, the better they are at mimicking things like caring, authenticity, warmth and even vulnerability. However, they can’t keep up the act forever, and when they’ve gotten all the narcissistic supply they can squeeze from you, you’ll a) be dropped while they search for new sources of admiration or b) treat you as an “object of contempt” and possibly actively seek ways to hurt, disparage and belittle you.
3. You may notice a lack of congruency in their facial expressions and words. They may be saying, “I’m so sorry for what you are going through…” but their body language doesn’t line up. No tears in eyes, no touching, no emotive natural expression of empathy. No deep listening. Their delivery can be oddly detached. You have a feeling in your gut that you are not being truly seen or heard. (Unless it is a performance at the beginning of the courtship dance, or an act for the benefit of on-lookers.) You may feel as though they are pushing you into a mold of their own making, an image that does not resonate with the way you and others see you.
4. They value people they perceive as cool, special, successful or attractive and spend lots of time winning their notice, seeking their approval. People who they perceive to be leaders of influence, or a little hard-to-get are prime targets. They hope to gain significance by association in order to validate their own fragile sense of worth.
5. NPDs eventually show contempt for people who actually love and show authentic empathy for them. Their unconscious internal dialogue goes something like this, “If you love and accept me and treat me well, you obviously don’t know who I really am. I now despise your lack of true insight.”
6. If you make the mistake of giving unsolicited advice, or don’t believe and express that everything they do is flawless, or they perceive you as slighting them or preferring another person in any small way, you can trigger an internal “shame response” in them that is unbearable for them. (There is a lot written about narcissists and their responses to “perceived slights” and shame-based world views.) Your dismissal from their favor will thus be fast and furious.
7. You cannot win with a narcissist. Love them unconditionally and they will eventually despise and feel contempt for you. Reveal who they are (human beings with flaws), try to draw boundaries, and they will retaliate or move on to fresh sources of narcissistic supply. They hate it when their “image” is uncovered. They will do desperate, manipulative things to try to prop their image back up, and tear you down.
8. Intimacy is impossible. Intimacy requires mutual giving and receiving. Mutual caring. Mutual understanding and forgiving. You cannot create intimacy when only one person in a relationship is giving, caring, listening, admiring, understanding and patient.
9. They spend large amounts of time fantasizing about their attractiveness, power or success, significance or coolness. (Image polishing.) They construct their world to feed these fantasies
10. If you are a spouse or a child you’ll often feel as if you are walking on eggshells. Some Narcissists make surprisingly good parents to small children, because little ones can be manipulated to give almost unending supplies of affection that feed a narcissists’ need to be constantly adored. But when children grow and become independent or show affection for others, the problems begin. Narcissists see their kids as extensions of themselves, and take personal pride and kudos when their children do well or become a “mini me”. But they may over-react with contemptuous behaviors when their children show flaws, independent thinking, love others in widening circles and no longer supply the parent with unconditional admiration.
11. They are always right and fail to recognize how their actions, words and behaviors impact others. Don’t even try to argue, to explain your viewpoint or your feelings. Your feelings and impressions do not exist or matter in their world. A waste of your precious limited energy.
12. They are often articulate and sound logical, but when you step away from their conversation you realize that they are not following normal reasoning. You must “follow what they DO” and not “what they SAY” or you’ll feel lost in their alligator roll.
13. Narcissists vary in tactics but their underlying core needs are the same: to keep their image constantly propped up. Sometimes, narcissists were treated as the center of their parents’ universe. But more often they were abused, shamed or neglected as a child and got emotionally stuck there… (known as “the narcissistic or pyschic wound”). They may have begun life with an open tender heart. Therefore shame from the abuse or neglect was so painful they went emotionally numb, losing a sense of identity.Their internal life is about seeking intense feelings that help erase that sense of numbness or lack of a clear sense of self. Praise from fresh sources, or anything that gives them a rush of adrenalin, helps ease this internal state of pain or worse: no-feeling.
14. NPDs tend see politics and religion in black and white extremes. There is rarely middle ground. They can become addicted to the power-rush provided by extreme political views in media or extreme-exclusivity in their religion. They tend toward viewpoints that allow them to look down in superiority on large groups of others who don’t believe exactly as they do. Feeling superior is a big adrenalin hit to their psyche.
15. NPDs often shine in careers that put them in a one-up position. They are drawn to professions of power, are often lawyers, doctors, actors. They do best when they don’t have to submit to authority; so they are often entrepreneurs or bosses. They can also be clergy (as long as they can escape real accountability) who prefer pontificating to the masses over one-on-one ministry Some thrive in helping professions because this allows them to prop up the image of being a benevolent, though condescending, savior.
16. Some narcissists are openly grandiose. Others, usually those who are brighter, may actually know how to put on an act of humility… but watch their actions, not their words and you’ll see they are seeking a constant, nonstop flow of praise; or be attempting associate with others who they perceive as being popular, beautiful, smart and successful – as props to their own ego. (You may have once been their “trophy spouse” or “trophy friend” or “trophy child”…) Those who have often loved and given them the most often find themselves suddenly the object of their contempt.
17. They will often treat you one way in public (with an audience), another in private. They tend to be nicer to you when you are down than when you are up and happy. In fact, they will often “bring you down” when you are happy or feeling good about a job well done, in order help bring you up once you are decimated or depressed by their condescending or critical responses. Pay attention to the pattern of them “bringing you down” (putting you in your place) so they can “bring you up” (be the rescuer-hero)… happening in regular cycles.
18. Conversations tend to wind up being about them, listening to their opinions and stories and angst and insight. “That’s enough about me. Now, let’s talk about what YOU think about me.” You’ll be expected to give 100% whenever they need you. But you must not have any expectations of them.
19. Jealousy and envy are prime emotions. They are either actively jealous of others or wanting to make others envious of them.
20. Their need to always be right makes it impossible for them to step back and do self-evaluation or take an internal inventory. Therapy is seldom successful since they do not see themselves as needing any kind of real help, with such a strong need to appear already perfect.
21. Emotional Grenades — NPDs are masters at diversion. When you get close to the truth about them, they’ll throw an emotional bomb (perhaps with a hint of truth) by bringing up you’ve done in the past, or a flaw you are sensitive to, and get you to stop looking at them and start self-examining. This is a powerful technique to keep all prying eyes off of them.
22. Accusations — they will most often accuse you of doing the negative things they are actually doing. In fact, if you want to know what a narcissist is up to, ask yourself, “What bizarre thing are they accusing me of?” Therein lies what they are doing.
23. Lying is as common as breathing for many NPDs. Though they will guard their “lie” as the “truth” to the very end. Because “their truth” is THE truth. (Think Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, or Ric hard Nixon’s interviews with David Frost.)
24. Gas Lighting — this phrase comes from an old movie where a husband tricks his wife into believing she has lost her mind. If you feel your grasp on sanity is becoming more fragile when around this person, they could be “gas lighting” you. (I.E Tell you that you did not see something you saw, hear something you heard, etc. There is a book by this name that could prove helpful is this is happening to you.)
25. Intermittent Abuse/Affection – psychiatrists have found that some of the most damaging abuse is emotional abuse, where there appears to be no real pattern or rhyme or reason to someone’s sudden 180% turn away from you after a time of great affection. The carrot of your expected performance is always moving, shifting, without warning or reason. This is truly crazy-making. Lab animals can go insane or into despair when they cannot figure out a pattern to avoid mistreatment and to receive rewards. It can also make people form “trauma bonds” to their intermittent abuser. (See “Stockholm Syndrome”)
Loving a narcissistic is a tragedy for all involved. You may get windows, or glimpses of the NPDs original wound and feel deep empathy for what you see there, and put up with all manner of neglect or abuse hoping to help or save them. The tragedy is that a narcissist is often called “unfixable” because they cannot be helped by even the most loving, consistent, patient and insightful of people. The pattern is too deeply embedded and even the most skilled psychiatrists admit that these are the most hopeless of cases, psychologically speaking.
Relationships with true NPDs can be managed, but they cannot be healed. They can function in certain scenarios better than others, they may do better with some personality types than others, and they may even mellow with time. (NPD men may see lessening of anger and impulsive behaviors as testosterone wanes in later years.) They CAN show love and feel affection, but it is within strong limits. (They love you as much as they can, but it may still come very short of what a normal person needs.) Medication can be helpful to ease some of the depression and agitation that often go with the disorder, but few narcissists will seek it out or take it, as this is an assault to the pride. (Though self-medicating with drugs or alcohol is okay somehow.) Most professionals agree that, as of now, there is no known cure for someone with true Narcissistic Personality Disorder. (There is, however, improvement possible for people with narcissistic traits who don’t have a full-blown disorder.)
As a Christian, this has been a hard truth to swallow, but I believe some invisible wounds to the brain and psyche, like losing a limb, will not be restored until heaven. Loving someone who has NPD, keeping realistic expectations of their limitations (psychological handicap) and their inability to love normally, is actually freeing. You can love them with detachment; but you have to remember they cannot love you back in return, not in all the true meanings of the word “love.”
If you recognize an NPD early and can simply avoid and “Run, Forrest, Run”… do so. If they are someone you are close to, and can’t escape from, expect all of the above scenarios, and guard yourself. Stay smart with your heart. Minimize time with them if you can and most of all, minimize their influence over you.
Then surround yourself with normal, healthy, upbeat, stable people who are able to show real give and take caring and true authentic emotion. If you must be in regular contact with a narcissist be sure to get regular support from a therapist or support group trained in dealing with NPD to help you remain clear, at peace, and out of the alligator roll.
And may I just say, with all the empathy and compassion in my heart: I am so sorry for the hurt and bewilderment you’ve experienced in this relationship. You did not and you do not deserve this treatment. What you do deserve is lots of self-care as you recover from it. You did nothing wrong, the true colors of someone with NPD often don’t show themselves until you are in some sort of committed relationship. If you’d never heard of Narcissism and its traits, there is no way you could have done any better than you did to survive at the time. We do the best with what we know to do, we do better as we know more.
Three basic steps to healing from a crazymaking relationship are:
1) Educate yourself on NPDs and the effect they have on others (and techniques to minimize this effect). There are many wonderful books, but the one I recommend most is titled When the Object of Their Affection is Their Reflection.
2) Detach and minimize contact as much as possible (Al-anon literature is fabulous for this,whether or not your NPD has addiction issues. Learning how to detach-with-love is an emotional life saver. You may also find help from books on co-dependency, though sometimes these can be a bit condescending and that’s the last thing a person in recovery from NPD needs. I always recommend the book, Why Does He Do That? to women who have been severely emotionally and physically abused by a dangerous narcissist. After you heal, you will have very little if any tolerance for the slightest forms of belittling, because it can trigger painful past experiences of helplessness. (And you won’t be helpless anymore!)
3) Prioritize your own emotional nourishment; make your well-being at the top of your list. (I often recommend Lucille Zimmerman’s book, Renewed, to women who need to call a time-out and learn the art of self-care. If you can find and afford a therapist who is familiar with NPD and how to help those recovering from it, it will be a huge investment in your well-being. )
Please pass along this blog post to anyone you know who is caught in this web. It may be “Ah-ha” revelation that leads to the “Ahhhhh….” of a more healthy, happy, nourished life.
I love it when a plan comes together, when a dish in your imagination turns out as delicious as the actual experiment. This is one such meal.
Last night I put a little gourmet Italian twist on southern-style Shrimp n’ Grits, then added a serving of smoky-garlicky greens as a side. The results? Not only was the presentation gorgeous, it tasted heavenly. As in I would absolutely put a this recipe in the category of “the perfect bite” and serve it up in a spoon to Nigella Lawson and Anthony Bourdain on the show “The Taste”. Then step back and wait for them to swoon and hand me the prize without further debate.
In place of the traditional grits, I pan-fried thin slices of ready-made polenta, often used in Italian recipes. I used Trader Joe’s brand, which comes in package shelf (not refrigerated), usually near the Italian section of the store. It looks like moist, cooked cornmeal made into a log and wrapped in plastic. That is because, well, it is. It is not the most appetizing looking food when you open it up for slicing. (Think yellow corn grits that may have been left too long in a pan.) However, once you’ve pan-fried them in olive oil and butter, with a little salt and pepper…. Look out, Louise. They turn into crispy-edged, buttery disks of corny decadence.
I can’t wait for you to try this recipe, a Taste of Tuscany meets South in Your Mouth.
Bon appetito, Ya’ll!
Shrimp Alfredo with Crispy Polenta and Greens
½ log of pre-made polenta
1 T. butter
1T. olive oil
Dash salt and pepper
For Shrimp and Alfredo:
20 pieces of raw medium shrimp, cleaned, peeled, tails removed
1 T. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup cream
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
1 T. Olive oil
2 cloves garlic minced,
½ red onion, diced fine
2 slices pork or turkey bacon diced fine
4 cups loosely packed, rough chopped kale and/or other greens, thick stems mostly removed
½ cup water
1 t. smoked paprika
1 T. vinegar, your favorite
1 T. brown sugar
Salt and Pepper (or Grill Seasoning or Cajun Seasoning) to taste
Tabasco or Frank’s Red Sauce or Red Chili Pepper to taste
Start the greens first, so they can simmer on the back burner. In your largest deepest skillet, saute olive oil, garlic, red onion and bacon, until bacon crisps. Pile the greens on top of this mixture in the skillet, cover with ½ cup of water, cover, and let the greens cook down about 5 minutes over medium heat. Take lid off and stir in paprika, vinegar and brown sugar, add salt and pepper and hot sauce to taste. Cover again and simmer while you make the shrimp and sauce. (Adding water if needed to keep from scorching, but no more than necessary.)
In another skillet (I like my iron skillet) let oil and butter melt and get hot while you slice the polenta into ¼ inch or so rounds. Place the rounds in the skillet and turn heat up to medium high so that the polenta starts to pan fry. When it is golden brown in places, turn it over and brown the other side. Sprinkle the tops very lightly with salt and pepper. Remove to a paper towel to drain any excess grease, then cover with another paper town to keep warm.
Wipe out the iron skillet with a paper towel, and then put in oil and garlic and shrimp. Cook for just a minute or two until shrimp just turns pink on both sides. (You can add a little water to the pan if the shrimp starts to stick.) Add cream and parmesan cheese. Stir and heat until cheese is melted and the shrimp and sauce is heated through. Season lightly with salt to taste, if needed.
Put about 5 or 6 rounds of polenta on each plate. Pile with shrimp and sauce. Sprinkle with smoked paprika. Serve with a side of the greens.
(Becky, the Mama.)
Yesterday, Colorado was cool, misty and alive with Fall color. I snapped this picture out my upstairs bedroom window . Through the window pane and the mist, the photo came out looking like a painting, so beautiful it seemed almost unreal.
On a day like that, what else is there to do but curl up with a book and a blanket, take a long nap, then wake up, pad to the kitchen and bake pumpkin bread?
I searched for what I hoped would be the perfect recipe for pumpkin bread: I wanted it to be moist, spicy and full of tasty surprises. I narrowed it down to six recipes. In the end, I threw elements from all six recipes into the bowl and pans, adding special tweaks of my own. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I’d doubled the spices, used both brown and white sugar plus a tad of maple syrup, folded chopped pecans and dried cherries into the batter. Then I thought, “Why not?” as I plopped dollops of whipped cream cheese in the middle of the batter. Then I wondered, “What could make a nice sweet n’ salty crunchy top crust?” I reached for brown sugar and roasted salted sunflower seed kernels. Then I popped the loaves into the oven and waited. I had created either a masterpiece, or disaster. I worried I might have tweaked this recipe to death.
Well, I am pleased to announce the results are in and they are a 10. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the BEST pumpkin bread I have ever tasted, moist with deep flavor and so many treats-to-the-senses per bite: the sweet tartness of the cherries, the smooth bits of cream cheese and satisfying chew of baked-in-pecans. The crunchy crust… with a hint of salt and sugar..oh. my.
But don’t just take my word for it. Try it yourself next time the baking mood hits you on one of these cool fall days that beckon you to the kitchen. And feel free to tweak away and make the recipe even more your own– switch out the dried cherries for any dried fruit you like, or use chocolate chips (hmmm… white chocolate chips? Butterscotch chips?). Use nuts you prefer or have on hand. I never let what’s not in my pantry keep me from making a recipe. Go with what you’ve got, what sounds good… and most of all,have fun.
Becky’s Epic Pumpkin Bread
(Makes 2 loaves)
3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ginger
1/2 t. cloves
1 t. nutmeg
1 t. almond extract (optional)
1 1/2 t. salt
3 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
2 T. maple syrup
2 cans (16 oz each) pumpkin
2/3 cup light oil (I used olive oil as it was all I had on hand. Worked beautifully.)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (can use up to 2/3 cup if you love nuts)
1/2 cup roughly dried cherries or cranberries (can use up to 2/3 cup if you prefer more dried-fruit-per-bite)
whipped cream cheese ( I used a light variety that comes in a tub)… about 1/2 to 2/3 cup
1/4 to 1/3 cup brown or turbinado sugar
1/3 to 1/2 cup roasted, salted sunflower seed kernels (If you can find fresh roasted pumpkin seeds this are also delicious instead of the sunflower seed kernels, as are sliced almonds.)
Heat oven to 350 degrees
Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl with a whisk. Create a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add eggs, syrup, pumpkin, oil. Whisk the wet ingredients together as you slowly incorporate the dry ingredients as well. Finish stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula, slowly folding in pecans and dried cherries.
Grease and flour two loaf pans. Pour (or spoon) 1/4 of the batter into each pan, and spread evenly. Then dollop heaping teaspoons of whipped cream cheese across the surface of the batter in both pans. Pour the remaining batter over the top of the cream cheese, dividing it evenly between the two pans. Smooth with spatula.
Sprinkle the tops of the batter with brown or turbinado sugar and sunflower seeds.
Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until top is golden and a toothpick in the middle comes out clean.
Cool thoroughly before serving. I think the flavors of this bread get better as it sits and cools. Freezes beautifully.
Note: I made this at high altitude with no problem. Many quick breads use more baking soda, but I just hate the after-taste of baking soda. This option rises perfectly, but without that funky soda aftertaste…
Nourish Your Soul
(Becky, the mama.)
I enjoyed the most fabulous dinner last night with dear friends. The kind of conversation that lasted five hours, but the time flew so that you never noticed the ticking clock. We’ve shared our deepest wounds and struggles and, thus, our bond is deep. As Heather Kopp noted so perfectly in her book Sober Mercies, “people bond more deeply over shared brokenness than they do shared beliefs.”
I shared Heather’s quote in a small group of folks the other night. One young man, about age thirty said, “That is so true. I just can’t bond with people who are perfect or have their act together. I bond with really f-d up people.” Pause. Then he pointed my way and said, “Like Becky!”
I shrugged, did a Vanna White-style gesture of myself, and say, “Let it be duly noted that I am Exhibit A under ‘F’d- Up People’.” He just kept on talking, earnestly, as my husband Greg and I exchanged glances and struggled not to laugh. Both of us knew this guy really, sincerely meant it as a compliment. Which I am going to cherish always.
It is in this theme, the “bonding of brokenness” that I am getting a hint at why some of our troubles are not instantly healed. Many of us have long-carried a chronic ache — whether it is physical, relational, emotional or spiritual. Whether it is a depressed mood or a bad back, a lost dream or a lost child, we’ve not been able to pray or positive-think this trouble away, though Lord knows we’ve given it our all.
Thornton Wilder’s play, “The Angel Who Troubled the Waters,” is based on the biblical story of the angel who troubled the waters at the pool of Bethesda. Wilder imagines a surprising twist, however, on the familiar scene. As the original story goes, whoever gets to the water first, after the angel stirs it, gets healed. A physician who has suffered for years with a “flaw of the heart,” has been waiting for years for his chance at healing, and he finally sees and ceases the opportunity to be first in the pool!
But an angel appears to him before he can touch the water and says, “Without your wound where would your power be? It is your very sadness that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In Love’s service only the wounded soldiers can serve. Draw back.”
Later, the person who enters the pool first and was healed rejoices in his good fortune then turns to the physician before leaving and says, “But come with me first, an hour only, to my home. My son is lost in dark thoughts. I — I do not understand him, and only you have ever lifted his mood. Only an hour . . . my daughter, since her child has died, sits in the shadow. She will not listen to us but she will listen to you.”
It is strangely true that “in Love’s service” it often takes one broken person to reach another broken person. And perhaps this sheds some light on why we are not all instantly healed of our messy lives, our messy minds, our messy bodies, our messy hearts.
God can only use Wounded Soldiers in some of the most difficult missions on earth.
When we look at our life that has held its share of grief, pain, failures, struggles and wounds, it helps to know that our pain can serve a purpose; that our troubles equip us for the mission of bonding with and binding up other broken, hurting, f-d up people.
You aren’t cursed; you are called.. . to love and to comfort ever more deeply.
If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there;
if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath.
He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.
2 Cor 1:4
(Becky, the Mama)
I love this picture, below, of three generations of four of the female writers in our family tree.
The first writer in the family tree was actually my Aunt Etta, who turns 90 this year (still sharp, witty and active) . She was featured in an article below, in 2001, that describes her thus:
Lynch worked outside the home also for 21 years as a beautician, but began writing professionally in 1963. Etta Lynch, 77, a college student who has a 4-point average in courses at St. Edwards University, is living a life of freedom after spending most of her adult years as a care-giver for others. She works also as a writer and teacher.
“With faith, prayer and determination, any obstacle can be overcome,” she said in explaining why she is enrolled as a college student at 77.
“His name was Jimmy,” she said, remembering her late husband. “Cancer spread to his shoulder and his lung, and the doctors said two months, maybe six months. The man lived 33 years. He’s Chapter 2 in my book, ‘Help is Only a Prayer Away.’ I just really believe that prayer saved him.”
Many years after I watched her sign her first book, Help is Only a Prayer Away (Revell), as a 12 year old girl in 1972, Etta would host a book-signing party for Real Magnolias, a book that included a story about Etta and her influence on me.
Here’s more musings on growing up in a next of women writers, excerpted from We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook:
In addition to baking the best pies I’ve ever tasted, Aunt Etta was the first writer in the family. I’ll never forget the pride I felt as a thirteen-year-old girl, watching her sign copies of her book, Help is Only a Prayer Away, at a library book party in Sweetwater, Texas. Aunt Etta noted my mother’s talent for writing and encouraged her efforts as well. Before long my mom was pounding at the typewriter, publishing articles and collaborating on books.
Over the years, my mother passed the humor-cooking-writing torch on to me and my younger sister. Cooking and serving alongside Mother gave me the skills needed to start a part-time catering business that helped pay the bills in lean times. The writing lessons and appreciation for humor she gave me would launch what would be a full decade of speaking, entertaining and writing.
My sister, too, for whom my daughter is named, has written and published three books of humor and inspiration.
It is interesting to me how many of my writing friends, and great writers, also love to cook and have an appreciation for fine food. Ann Morrow Lindbergh once wrote, “When I cannot write a poem, I bake biscuits and feel just as pleased.” Perhaps there’s some mysterious link between the writing and cooking gene.
Now I am warmed to see my daughter pick up the legacy of laughter, love of cooking, and ability to tell and write a good story with the best of the women in our family tree. In truth, I have known that Rachel had The Gift since she was a teenager. I just didn’t know when she would be ready to see it, embrace it and share it.
The apostle Paul told his apprentice Timothy about the importance of “fanning into flame” the gift of God within him, emphasizing that this gift was passed down from his grandmother and his mother. The word picture that leaps my mind when I read these words is my Nonny putting her arm around my Aunt Etta and my mother; my mother putting her arms around me and my sister, and now, me putting my arm around my daughter to pass along whatever we have to give one another so that each individual woman may use these gifts, in her own unique way, to better enjoy and bless the world.
(Excerpted from We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook by Becky Johnson & Rachel Randolph. Zondervan 2013. Pages 21-22)
Can you tell I learned how to make Memes today? Thought you might enjoy this quote, above, too. Please feel free to pin, post or tweet! God bless you today with the comfort and joy that books bring to our lives.
I grew up in a family that adored babies and got a big kick out of the little people among us.
My grandmother Nonny kept the church nursery and when I got to help her by rocking and soothing a fussy baby… I was in heaven. From the moment I got my first child-size rocking chair, I took the care and feeding of my baby dolls seriously, all my little girl life. And when I got a real live baby sister, well, call me Little Mama.
At a typical family reunion, children were the highlight and joy, and telling stories about the cute things they did or said was our favorite form of entertainment. So perhaps it wasn’t surprising that I had four children of my own, got a degree in Early Childhood Education, wrote books for children and books for adults filled with funny stories about kids. I would rather sit, talk and play with my grandkids than get a pedicure or eat chocolate cake.
A few years ago, my cousin Jamie (now a much-in-demand professional nanny) and I were talking about kids with our typical sense of wonder, and how much comic relief they’ve given us through the years.
Jamie suddenly asked. “Can you believe there are people who aren’t bonkers over babies and little ones?”
“I know!” I said. “Just think of what they are missing…”
Last week I got to take care of a little darlin’ eight-year-old girl, my friend’s daughter, for a few hours.
Here is my Facebook Post from the end of the day:
I will tell you my secret with kids: at some point, try as they might to be shy, they cannot keep themselves from laughing when I am around. My little charge was pretty quiet this morning, a bit shy, using mostly head nods in response while I chatted away.
“I can’t find my apron!” I said, “And I just had it on. I wonder where I put it? I should probably tell you that I forget and lose things alot. I may need your help finding stuff. Oh, well, I will just put on another one. Good thing I have lots of aprons.”
Then I opened the top oven door and burst out laughing. There on the pan was about 50 baby carrots, charred beyond recognition. Carrots I put in the oven and forgot about THREE nights ago. I brought the pan over to this little girl, who was lying on the couch sweetly and said, “Look at this! I burned all these carrots.”
Her eyes got big, and then I added, “I know what you are thinking. It looks like tray of cat poop.” With this she laughed, and began chatting and making herself at home.
A few minutes later I was starting to feel suddenly over-heated so I took off my apron, and realized that I was WEARING the missing one under it, too. The whole time I’d been looking for the missing apron, I had been wearing it! These things, too, amuse small children.
A man, a lawyer friend, who had never had children commented, “Short people scare me. I am so glad there are people like you who love ‘em.”
That started me thinking…..
And so, off the top of my head, I came up with these suggestions for making friends with the short set.
Be a Hit with Kids! 6 Ideas to Help You Connect with Littles
1. Be Silly & Helpless: Laugh at yourself when you goof up – it makes them feel like you need someone to take care of you, and usually they’ll rise to the occasion to help you out.
2. Use the word “poop”: Sometime in your conversation, use the word “poop”. I don’t know why it works but kids will think you are funnier than Will Ferrell. Don’t over-do it, just say it once in a blue moon when they least expect it.
3. Learn to Make PlayDough: This stuff (recipe at end of this blog) makes a large ballof soft squishy dough in no time. Kids of all ages love to help you stir the ingredients together, and get a charge out of watching the magical way the liquid quickly turns to dough in the pan. Give them a rolling pin, some cookie cutters, some dull plastic knives and they will not only be occupied but, mesmerized. They’ll look at you as if you are the reincarnation of Julia Child and Houdini.
4. Do the Straw Trick: If you want to have a 7-year-old boy eating out of your hand, all you need is a straw. It takes a little practice but you simply insert one end of the straw into your armpit, folding your arm over it tightly, put the other end of the straw in your mouth and blow. The noises that come forth will give you Pied Piper-like power over any male under age 12.
5. Flatter Them Like Crazy. When you ask children about themselves — what they like, what they did today, what they plan to do tomorrow – act like you’ve just seen giant daises sprout from their heads. “What? Are you KIDDING me? You know how to say your COLORS? Like, ALL of them? Do you even know RED? Can you show me RED, because that is a really HARD color to find.”
Then watch them giggle, stand up straight and show off their talents as if they were the world’s greatest authority on Crayons and Rainbows. Flattery will get you everywhere. Spread it on thick.
6. Use Wild Stories to Sedate Them: If small children are upset in that way that makes them act like a rabid dog, make up a wild story to distract them. Say, you forgot to get bananas at the store and now 3-year-old world has fallen apart, life is not worth living, they are inconsolable and perhaps even face down on the floor in a fit of No-Banana-Induced Despair. As we do.
Try saying, “Hey! Did I tell you WHY we have no bananas today?!? It was because that ol’ hungry purple gorilla. Yes. That’s right. A purple gorilla was sitting in the middle of the grocery aisle yesterday, and eating ALL the bananas. He didn’t even leave ONE teeny tiny banana for any of us other shoppers..”” This should stop the fit in mid-air as their brains latch on to the magnet-like charms of an ever- escalating crazy story. Just keep going with it, making up wilder and wilder scenarios until the child is laughing and ready for re-entry to sanity again.
I have found 1) humor and 2) creativity to be the two greatest Secret Weapons to putting more fun into parenting, grand-parenting, and babysitting. Or just being a hit with your friend’s kids. No need to be afraid of Short People. They are the world’s greatest source of joy and entertainment, once you figure out what to do with them.
Best Ever Recipe for Kool-Aid Play-Dough
1 c. flour
1/2 c. salt
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tbsp. cooking oil
1 c. water
One packet of unsweetened Kool-aid any color or flavor (or a few drops of food coloring)
Put all ingredients in a saucepan, and stir it until it’s smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is a doughy lump. Put playdough on wax paper and let it cool a little bit. Then make it into a ball and keep it in a sealed container or Zip-loc bag when the kids are finished making their creations.
My husband Greg’s mother, Shirley, made him Shepherd’s Pie when he was a boy growing up in Oregon. As a girl growing up in Texas, I have had Taco Pie, Tamale Pie and Frito Pie — but Greg had to describe his mother’s Shepherd’s Pie to me. It took me a couple of tries, but it wasn’t long before I served him a slice of pie worthy of his mom’s memory. How I wish I had known her. Greg played me an old video of Shirley when she was about the age I am now, doing the Charleston to the delight of her kids and grandchildren. I am sure we would have loved each other! Shirley passed away much too soon, when Greg was still in his thirties. She would have been 82 years old… today. Happy Birthday, Shirley, I hope you can see how happy, kind and generally all-around wonderful your son has grown up to be, from your window in heaven.
You can see my husband’s feet, as he was standing like a happy, hungry little boy in the background, waiting for me to hurry up and take a picture of this Rustic-Style Shepherd’s Pie so he could carry the hot pan back in the house and enjoy it for supper:)
Over the years, I have simplified the recipe so I can make it faster and easier. By using Golden Potatoes instead of Idaho potatoes, I can simply “smash them” in the pan I cooked them in, without peeling them or using a mixer to make them smooth and fluffy. We like a few chunks of potato and bits of peel in this recipe. These potatoes also taste buttery without having to use a ton of butter. Finally, by baking the mixture in the same iron skillet where I cooked up the gravy, meat and veggies – you save having to wash yet another dish.
Re-creating your mate’s favorite childhood recipes is the closest you can get sometimes, to allowing them to filled “hugged again” by someone they loved as a little boy or girl.
If you want to wear something in a pretty shade of green, may I suggest you buy a copy of our book, below, and attach it, like a little sandwich board around your neck. It is what all the cool Irish folk will be wearing on St. Patty’s Day!
Rustic Shepherd’s Pie in an Iron Skillet
1 ½ lb ground beef
6 fresh mushrooms, chopped
¾ cup corn, frozen
2/3 cup frozen peas
5 carrots, peeled, cooked and sliced or diced (I usually microwave these in a small covered dish with a little water)
1 T. grill seasoning (or 2 t. salt, 1 t. pepper)
1 T. butter
1 T. olive oil
2 T. flour
1 clove garlic, minced
1 ½ cups beef broth (if you don’t have this on hand you can mix up some dry onion soup mix with water, or use 1/4 cup miso paste and water, or a a couple of bullion cubes and water to make 1 1/2 cups.)
½ cup red wine
2 T. half-n-half (optional)
6 Golden, thin-skinned buttery potatoes (about the size of tennis balls)
2 T. Ranch dressing prepared
1 T. butter
Half-n-half or milk – approximately anywhere from 1/3 to 1 cup
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Scrub and quarter potatoes, but no need to peel, then place in a large pot with salted water (about 2 t. salt & water about 2 inches above the potatoes).Put them on the back burner to boil and in the meantime…
In a large skillet, lightly brown the beef with grill seasoning, then drain off any extra fat. Then add the mushrooms and cook untl they are soft and have released their juices. Next add the frozen corn, frozen peas and cooked carrots. Heat through.
In a separate iron skillet, make the gravy: melt butter with olive oil on medium high heat. Sprinkle flour over the bubbling oil-butter mixture and stir with whisk to make a smooth paste. Add garlic and stir. Continue to whisk while slowing adding broth and wine, stirring and simmering until gravy has thickened. You don’t want it to be too thick… as more liquid will evaporate with baking and some will soak into veggies.
Carefully pour the meat and veggies into the gravy. Add half-n-half if you desire a creamier gravy. Taste and adjust seasonings. Turn off the heat while you smash the potatoes.
Drain the boiling water off of the potatoes when they are tender, leaving hot potatoes in the hot pan. Add Ranch dressing, butter and half-n-half or milk, ¼ cup at a time and smash (with skins on) with a potato masher. (Don’t use a mixer as there is too much gluten in golden potatoes and you’ll end up with glue.) Season potatoes with salt and pepper to taste.
Using a large spoon, gently put mounds of potatoes over the beef and veggie mixture, and spread evenly to the edges of the skillet.
Place in 350 oven for 20 minutes or until heated through and tops of potatoes begin to get a little golden.
Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes and serve. When it is fresh and hot out of the oven it is easier to serve in wide bowls, but the next day, after refrigeration, you can slice it like pie, heat up in microwave and serve.
I like to serve a few fresh slices of tomatoes with this dish and call it dinner!