Dairy-Free Lemon Blueberry Muffins

Recently we discovered that one of my daughters is lactose-intolerant, and have been modifying our cooking and baking to accommodate her. Avoiding the stomach aches, headaches, and general bad moods that follow her consuming dairy make the extra effort worth it. This morning we turned a classic lemon loaf recipe by Jean Paré (author of the Company’s Coming series) into moist dairy-free muffins that were great for breakfast. 


Ingredients:

Wet:

1/2 cup Vegan Becel margarine

2/3 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup original almond milk

2 tbsp lemon juice 

Dry:

1 cup sprouted whole wheat flour 

1/2 cup white flour

1 tsp baking soda

 1/2 tsp salt

Grated rind of one lemon

Optional: a handful of blueberries. 



Instructions: Mix wet, mix dry, mix together gently until flour just blended in. Spray muffins tins with oil and scoop in the 12 muffins. Since half my kids like blueberries, and half not, I just stuck about 5-7 blueberries in the top of half the muffins, and left the others just lemon. 

Bake at 350 C for 18 minutes or until golden brown. 

Mix juice of one lemon with 2tbsp white sugar until dissolved. Slowly pour a little lemon glaze on each muffin and let sit a few minutes.

The muffins were nice and tender, and had a bit the texture of cornmeal muffins, likely due to the sprouted whole wheat flour. Enjoy for breakfast or afternoon snack with coffee, tea or juice! 

The Importance of Emotional Connection in Marriage

I started reading a fascinating new book called Created for Connection: The “Hold Me Tight” Guide for Christian Couples, which explains the importance of authentic emotional connection in marriage. Maybe this sounds obvious, but what makes it interesting is the application of ideas from attachment parenting to attachment in marriage. Studies found that orphans and widows after World War Two both exemplified similar symptoms of trauma, and had similar needs. Things like emotional connection, stability, warmth, and affection. They needed a reliable, emotionally accessible person to attach to in order to feel safe and able to flourish. Come to think of it, don’t we all?

Absolutely, yes! We were indeed created for connection. We are social beings–made in, for, and to love. We aren’t solitary snow tigers who are happiest prowling the mountain tops alone, glorious in our defiant independence. While we all have a strong need to be ourselves, few of us are called to be ourselves, by ourselves alone…as hermits for example. So while we may value independence and self-reliance as signs of maturity or being “grown-up,” we should question whether they are the sole indicators of true maturity. Well-developed emotional intelligence should reflect our true nature as communal beings, and value connection, empathy and understanding as equally valid signs of maturity. In this view, “to turn to others for emotional support is a sign and source of strength.”

So how does this apply to marriage? The writers of the book, psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson and Emotionally Focussed Therapy trainer Kenneth Sanderfer, who both work as marriage counselors, say that their clients often get trapped in negative cycles of communication…attack and withdraw, verbal dumping and retreating into silence, etc. They call these negative speech patterns the “Demon Dialogues.” Conventional therapy tends to focus on clearing up communication issues and resolving conflict. Although valuable, this approach is actually dealing with the symptoms of marriage crisis (nagging, fighting, withdrawal into silence), rather than the source (lack of emotional connection and fear of abandonment). The authors found that the key to real progress in therapy was getting the spouses to stop accusing and attacking, and open up emotionally to explain how they really felt and what they needed. In short, letting their guard down and being vulnerable.

So instead of a woman accusing:

John always ignores me and goes to his office when he comes home! That’s why I have to nag him…or he won’t do anything to help. I have to do it all.

She could express her fragility:

I am lonely after a long day alone with the kids. What I really need when John comes home is a big hug. I want to feel we are a team and that I am not alone.

And instead of a man complaining:

It’s so stressful coming home. The second I get in the door I am barraged with demands. She does nothing but yell at me. No wonder I try to  escape.

He could admit:

I am tired after work and don’t want to lose my temper and get into a fight. I feel like I can’t do anything right, so I just try to get out of the way. I feel useless and unloved.

This vulnerability allows the other spouse to approach without fear of being pushed away. They are moved to mercy. Once they have the opportunity to comfort and reassure their spouse, they can begin reconnecting emotionally. Spouses who are able to be vulnerable with each other can start strengthening their marriages, and healing their wounds to work towards “emotional and spiritual wholeness.” They can work as friends and not as competitors in a contest of ‘who is the worst spouse.’

Even if you’re not in a marriage crisis, a greater awareness of emotional needs and insecurities underlying common marital tensions can help you draw closer to your spouse. How many times have we projected negative thoughts on our spouse when asking for a favour? How easy is it to not ask for help and then be resentful, or to be afraid to help out in case we do it ‘wrong’? How much drama do we live out in our heads, not realizing that so many negative interactions are the result of misunderstandings? Keeping silent is not always the best way to keep the peace…rather finding good moments to gently and honestly share how we feel or what we need can help us deepen our relationships and give our spouse a better chance to respond to those authentic needs.

I think it’s useful to use the tools from attachment parenting in marriage. When a child is acting up, you assess circumstances (tiredness, overstimulation, hunger, need for reassurance, etc) before responding. We can do the same for our spouse who is grumpy…look at the facts of the situation: “Are they tired or hungry? Are they stressed after a long day of meetings at the office? Or of caring for sick kids? Are they suffering from illness, or grieving a loss of a loved one?” Keeping these things in mind can hopefully help us respond in a way that will help us reassure and reconnect. Perhaps a snack, hug or friendly joke will do more to improve things than entering into their grumpiness or punishing them with silence.

When we feel supported and understood, we are better able to cope with difficult circumstances. Created For Connection mentions studies which find spouses who are well-connected emotionally can cope better with stress and even physical pain. Happy marriages also effect our health by lowering our blood pressure and making us more resilient in recovering from serious health crises like heart attacks. On the flip side, blood tests reveal that the stress of fighting with our spouse has been found to lower our immune system for up to a whole day! So it’s worth it to work on our marriages in little ways every day, and to offer our spouse the same grace and understanding we offer our kids. Instead of wanting our spouse to “grow up and get over it” when they are struggling, we can honour their need for connection and try to provide emotional closeness and affection. We will all be happier for it!

Coffee and Anger: Is there a link?

Have you ever noticed in the morning, after stumbling out of bed and hanging onto your steaming coffee cup as if it were a life saver, that this warm creature comfort has the undesired side effect of making you excessively irritable? I find this is especially the case if I get busy serving the kids breakfast and drink coffee before eating myself. What was meant to help me get going (a big adult soother really) can often make me much more wired and jangley than I would like, and about half hour after coffee, I find myself short-tempered and wound up, especially of we are trying to head out the door.

“Mom!” the kids complain, “Why are you being so grumpy? We are not even being bad!” It’s true…my reactions become disproportionate, and it’s hard to calm down and be cheerful. Why is this?

In his article Why does coffee make some people irritable and others not? Will Wister explains the stress-inducing effects of caffeine.

By stimulating your adrenal glands to produce adrenalin, caffeine puts your body in this “fight-or-flight” state, which is useless while you’re just sitting at your desk. When this adrenal high wears off later, you feel the drop in terms of fatigue, irritability, headache or confusion.

How many of us in our busy world push ourselves beyond our natural abilities by using stimulants like caffeine? “Oh, I’m exhausted but gotta keep truckin’. Guess I’ll have another coffee.” It’s a quick fix…but at what cost? Rather than trying to take a power nap, or eat a healthy meal to give us long-term energy, we grab a cuppa joe and keep racing around. We ignore exhaustion and mask fatigue, ramping up our adrenals as if to deal with constant emergencies.

If I fail to take little breaks to read, pray or put my feet up, I end up frazzled and impatient. Having another coffee to “make it until bedtime” is just a bandaide solution. Real self-care takes more work and more discipline. It is hard to stop and rest when your revolving to-do list is endless. You feel you can’t. The world might fall apart! Or at least the house!

I guess the important question is, do we really get more done by constantly multitasking– never stopping for a break? Or would we benefit from quiet moments of reflection, where we can calmly plan our day, reflect on our life, and redirect it when we are veering off course? I remember a famous doctor saying that his productivity trick was taking quick cat-naps between patients. He knew the magic of doing one thing at a time. There is such a peaceful feeling in focussing on just one thing…and as a mom this is rare unless you’re really intentional about it. Yet it is so necessary to slow down, and get out of panic mode.

Wister’s article describes the long-term effects of stress:

When you are exposed to long periods of stress, your body gives warning signs that something is wrong. These physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral signs of stress should not be ignored. They tell you that you need to slow down. If you continue to be stressed and you don’t give your body a break, you are likely to develop health problems. You could also worsen an existing illness. Below are some common warning signs of stress….Anger, anxiety, crying, depression, feeling powerless, frequent mood swings, irritability, loneliness, negative thinking, nervousness, sadness[7]

These are pretty serious!! We are talking crisis level emotions…constantly!

4-up-on-2016-09-02-at-10-19-am-3

If we don’t break down the stress chemicals (e.g. through physical activity) they stay in the blood, preventing us from relaxing. Eventually this results in a permanent state of stress. That initial buzz turns to worry, irritability or panic. Challenges become threats; we doubt our ability to do even simple things and problems appear insurmountable. [8]

My Dad, who is a master herbalist, reminded me that caffeine depletes B vitamins, which are essential for stress management, brain function and a hormone regulation. So we had better replace them! This morning I drank Oasis Green Smoothie (full of B vitamins) and ate my porridge before I had a cup of coffee. Perhaps for long-term depletion, a B vitamin supplement could help, or adding more B vitamin rich foods to your diet. I also like to take the omega-three Evening Primrose oil, which contains fatty acids helpful for mood regulation.

But my Irish temper still matches my red hair far too well! So I think–shocking as this may be for coffee lovers–that I should try to switch to tea for a bit, and see if it helps. My kids are worth it…I don’t want to snap at them so much. Someone said that having a house full of young kids is like living in a constant state of emergency, but I don’t need to make my body think its an even greater emergency than it is by pumping up my adrenals with too much coffee!4-up-on-2016-11-07-at-9-53-am-5-compiled

The other day I got my favorite ever penance in confession. I was mentioning how I get too busy running after the kids sometimes to eat enough, and I know it makes me more prone to grumpiness. So Father advised me to make a point of eating a good lunch, and offering up the sacrifice of taking time to do so. Hurrah! what a great resolution, and one that will benefit everyone. When my step-dad visits and we have a nice early afternoon coffee with real cream, after a solid lunch, I am so much more calm than after a morning coffee with watery almond milk on an empty stomach. Yuck! Eating well makes a difference, and we have to be humble enough to acknowledge our basic needs, and to take care of them. Nobody else can–nobody else can eat, rest, take a nice bath or relax for us. All you moms out there, are you with me? No more surviving on coffee and peanut butter sandwich crusts the kids left behind!

The four stages of happiness

“The Happiness Project” author Gretchen Rubin identifies four stages of happiness. According to her research, “the key to happiness is squeezing out as much happiness as possible from a happy event.” “To eke out the most happiness from an experience,” she explains, ” we must anticipate it, savor it as it unfolds, express happiness, and recall a happy memory.”

Anticipate, savour, express and recall. It is worth asking ourselves how much we do these things. Do we really enjoy our blessings, or do we allow happy moments or pleasant events to slip by without acknowledging them? Rubin feels that the awareness of being happy contributes greatly to our overall level of happiness. This is a good reminder to practice gratitude and to express it. It’s a good way to be happy and to share our joy.

The other night the younger kids fell asleep a little bit early (hallelujah!), so I got to snuggle my 8-year-old while my eldest read us Harry Potter. It was a cosy, relaxing moment and I made sure to really savour it. And then to tell people about it, and write about it…and so to make that simple happiness stretch from moments to days.

One of the beautiful things about childhood is making happy memories, and storing them up in our souls the way a dragon hoards gold…to bring us warmth and glimmer on rainy days. What is your favourite childhood memory? Have you told anyone about it recently? What is your favourite new memory? Recall and express it, and watch your happiness grow.

Happy New Year and hurrah for “The Happiness Project”!

Lovely readers! How I have missed you all! One New Year’s resolution….to write more often!! To not hesitate to post…to follow inspirations and forget perfectionism. Who knows what good can come from words conceived in joy or sorrow…they are better shared.

There was a gorgeous black and white card I saw when shopping for stocking-stuffers. It was of a little girl wearing fairy wings, standing at the edge of a small precipice. The card read: “But, Mother, what if I fall?” and on the inside, “Oh, my darling, what if you fly?” It almost moved me to tears.  The idea of this daring vulnerability, this willingness to take a creative leap and reach for one’s dreams, despite fear, is to me both brave and beautiful.

I am so excited for the new year–a fresh start and new projects. I have a new poetry book in the works, thanks to the warm encouragement of my mother and sister-in-law who asked me, “So, what’s next?” I realize it gives me great joy to have a project…something to ponder dream about while I am doing the dishes and housework–something to reflect on in quiet moments when I hear the Holy Spirit whispering.So I want to encourage you all to dream big and take lots of little steps each say this year to achieve your dreams…and may this process bring you much happiness!

I am thinking lots about habits and happiness because of a wonderful book my awesome husband got me for Christmas called “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin. She is a hilarious and warm-hearted New York writer, fiery red-head and mom, so of course I love her! She realized one day that while she was basically content, she could still be snappy, irritable and impatient at times, and didn’t always savour the beautiful moments as they came. How, she wondered, could she be more happy, not by making any dramatic life changes, because she already loved her family and career, but by reflecting on what brought her happiness, what brought her stress and grief, and then trying to build habits that were more conducive to joy. She does this by seeking to change her own habits and attitudes, rather than blaming or resenting others for things she finds hard.

She describes her journey of researching happiness, consulting everyone from psychologists to saints to friends in a café, and then testing out their theories by working on important areas of her life each month, like her home, marriage, parenting and career. This might sound intimidating, but it is quite the opposite. Her frank and funny descriptions of trying out her different monthly resolutions are as fun to read as a novel, and really helpful, too. For example, in February, the month she focussed on her marriage, she tried for a week of “Extreme Nice.” No snapping, dumping, nagging, etc. After describing how positively it affected things at home, she jokes about her relief when the week was up, as her tongue was sore from biting it so often!

She found that personal stories and examples do more for inspiring growth that vague stats and studies. Personally, even reading about her happiness project has made me more aware of savouring my own happiness, and seeking to make it grow. As Rubin reminds us, happier people make those around them happier, so being happy is really the best gift we can give to those around us, because joy is infectious. I so recommend this book to help inspire you to seek happiness this year by building habits of happiness and changing your heart so you can find it more easily. Her blog has tonnes of helpful resources, too. Here is the link: Gretchen Rubin

Happy reading! And have fun with your resolutions…I will write more about that another day!