Holidays, Mass, and Memories

The holidays are here and that means it’s time for me to write about my most favorite subject ever – My mama! 🙂

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So holidays for my Mom and my family were simply the best. My Mom could be described as “Festive to the Extreme.” To give you an idea, she decorated our house for Fourth of July and Memorial Day and Labor Day with little flags everywhere. I mean, lets face it, most people will celebrate by enjoying the day off work but my Mom would get out her flags and put them in the potted plants outside and in the yard, she’d get on her Flag sweatshirt and grab her Flag Tote bag and would just LIVE for stuff like that.

Christmas was always a bit over the top, and Mom just made it really special. Her last Christmas was no exception. In fact, we considered it a miracle (and looking back, I think Mom just WILLED herself to get enough of her strength back) to be released from the hospital in time to celebrate Christmas.

One of my last memories of that final Christmas was walking down the stairs to the kitchen and stopping on the landing halfway, to just take in the smell of baked cookies and her famous sweet bread baking in the oven and thinking, “This is the last time this house will smell like this. It won’t be the same anymore. I’ll never hear her fiddling in the kitchen, I’ll never hear her playing her favorite Christmas CD’s, I’ll never see her smiling to present her bread.” And I don’t remember crying or anything, but I remember just inhaling that smell before I walked all the way downstairs into the kitchen. And just saying to myself,

“Damn. That was it. This won’t ever be this again.”

And you know what? That first Christmas was really rough. I won’t say it was awful but it was really hard. We tried to decorate the house like she would have but I had zero desire to even put up the tree or anything.

One day in the fall of the year that she passed, I think around Thanksgiving, I just decided to pick up her digital camera and see what was on it.

And the first picture I see is of the interior of our house…at Christmas…the year before. And then another. And another. And another. She took about 20 photos of the entire house with the Christmas decorations because she knew we wouldn’t know how to decorate quite like her. It was basically a Tutorial of How To Do Christmas Like Mom.

I pretty much lost it and called my sister to tell her about Mom’s picture-by-picture guide and she came over and we began to unpack the boxes and started to decorate the house.

And we found a note in one of them. I can’t recall what it said, but something like “Take care of each other.” Mom wrote it apparently when she was feeling well, in remission. We thought “How neat! Mom left us notes!”

We kinda forgot about it until Christmas time and started to unpack those decorations and found..you guessed it – more notes! (I wrote about this whole thing in greater detail in a blog post here). <—Get the Kleenex ready if you start to read that one.

My point with today’s post was to give some sort of solidarity to those who are about to experience their “first” holiday post-loss of a loved one. The first holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, Mothers Day/Fathers Day, etc are not really…enjoyable.

I mean, let’s just be real  – they suck.

I hate that word, but it’s just so true. You’re always thinking about THEIR last holiday and how they looked, what they said, what they wore, what they made, where you went with them. And it’s just not the same. Nothing is ever the same.

And people will always try their hardest to make you feel better by saying, “Their memory lives on forever.”

Gag me.

That’s straight out of a Hallmark Channel Movie! So lame. Yeah yeah, their memory lives on. In our minds. Yes.

But that’s not good enough – we want our loved ones here in the flesh. I want to be able to hug my Mom right now, ya know? I can’t hug a memory. (I had the BEST dream about her the other day where I DID hug her and it was so great!)

I want to smell that bread again (IT’S THAT GOOD okay? Trust me, everyone RAVED about my Mom’s sweet bread. Thank God my sister bakes it now and it’s just as good although she’ll read this and say “No, it’s not as good as Mom’s. No one made it like Mom.”)

I want to hear her play her favorite Christmas music and hear her wrapping gifts and complaining that she had to scour the internet looking for that one obscure rare gift my brother always asked for every year, and couldn’t find (but she always found it! Sometimes at the last minute, but she did.)

I want to see her, in her recliner, reading her little devotional books, ask her how she’s feeling, and hear her voice and talk to her.

Last week we celebrated All Saints Day and All Souls Day. All Saints Day is a Holy Day of Obligation but All Souls Day is not. I feel like they both should be obligatory.  All Saints Day mass was exactly what I needed. The incense, the chanting, the lighting…it was incredible. All Souls Day had the same feel and although it’s a solemn mass and lots of tears are shed, the homily filled me with hope.

I LOVE going to the mass and feeling my Mom there with me.

After all, mass itself is heaven on earth. It’s where we encounter Jesus and it’s where we pray to the Saints and to Mary and it’s where I feel closest to my Mom and all of my relatives and friends who have passed on. They are where I want to be someday (hopefully not soon) but I know it’s where I’ll see her again and hear her laugh and see her smile and give her the biggest hug ever!

And when I’m on my knees in prayer after the Sanctus (the Holy Holy Holy…) I really try to envision all of the saints right there and my Mom too, hovered around the altar, kneeling with us before God on His throne.

I know it can be a chore and really tough to picture this when you’re at mass where there’s crying babies, fidgeting kids, people’s cell phones going off (come on people, it’s been 10 years can we please learn how to turn them off!?) or an off-key singer in the choir or just distracted by your random thoughts, but if you shut your eyes and just listen to the priest, you CAN do this.

Even if it’s just 10 seconds of being truly present at mass, it’s a game-changer. It may be the most peaceful moment you’ll have that day. And if you keep experiencing that peace, I would be willing to bet you’ll want to keep coming back to get those peaceful experiences again.

My prayers are with all of my friends and family members who are experiencing their “first” holidays without your favorite person in your life there with you this year. But you’ll see them again. And it won’t be from a memory.

It’ll be real. 

Can’t wait to see you again, Mom! Save a slice of that bread for me will ya? 😉

Stop circling this mountain…

Deuteronomy 2:3

Then at last the Lord said to me, “You have been wandering around in this hill country long enough; now turn to the north.”

Different translations read: “You have circled this mountain long enough; now turn north.”

The point is clear either way you translate it – God doesn’t like us to play the victim. He’d like us to stop with the self-pity, the fear, the pride, the negativity that can paralyze us. He’d like us to stop circling whatever mountain it is we are on, and go in a different direction.

From the book “Made to Crave” by Lysa Terkeurst – the author quotes a friend named Ruth Graham who has this to say:

Either we ca be victimized and become victims, or we can be victimized and rise above it. Often it is easier to play the victim than take off our masks and ask for help. We get comfortable with our victim status. It becomes our identity and is hard to give up. The Israelites often played the the victim card, and I love what God finally tells them: Turn North! It’s time to move on! Taking off our masks takes courage, but if we don’t do it, we will remain in our victim status and end up stunted.

Do you find yourself claiming to be a victim of your circumstances?

Social Status: I’m too nice to people so I allow friends to take advantage of me. Why do they do this to me?

Health Status: I’m overweight because I have bad genetics. It’s not fair that other people can eat whatever they want and never gain a pound!

Financial Status: I have so much debt that I accumulated over the years. I don’t get paid enough by my job to pay it off!

Marriage/Single Status: I lost so much in the divorce, I have to start at square one! It’s not my fault that it happened! Or, I don’t understand why I’m still single when all my friends are married with kids. Why is it so for me to meet the right person?

Fit in your Faith Today: God is telling you to stop toiling the mountain that your on and start in a NEW direction. It’s a new year. The start of a new chapter in your book of 365 pages. Are you going to stay wandering in the desert of self pity and victimization? Or are you going to heed God’s word and start a new path?

The Word is Alive

John 1: 1-5, 9-14

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
but the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him.

But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation
nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision
but of God.
And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth.

Merry Christmas to all the children of God on this most blessed day, the day our savior was born!

 

Fit in your Faith Today:  Be sure to spend some quiet time after the gifts have been unwrapped, after the last sip of egg nog, after the final goodbye to relatives. Spend time in quiet prayer in awe and wonderment at the true meaning of what this day signifies to all of us and to you.

Anxiously Awaiting during Advent

Some might think of the “holidays” as a time to be impatient. Some might want to get them over and done with, while others love to enjoy every single day and take it all in because they think it goes by way too fast.

How do you view Advent and Christmastime? Do you get sucked into the materialistic world and think of all the gifts you need to buy or all the gifts you are anxious to receive? Do you ever stop to think about what this time of year is really about?

Although it was just a cartoon, Charlie Brown’s Christmas special is remembered as one of the most popular tv specials of it’s time. It’s repeated on the air at this time of year and I would be willing to bet most people don’t even think about how it is completely centered around Jesus.

Who knew Linus’ closing soliloquy would have such an impact!? All ages can relate. We can all find some comfort in his simple message of the nativity scene.

So don’t be in such a hurry to get this time of year over with. Take each day to wait, anxiously. It’s okay to NOT be patient.

What’s there to be so excited and anxious about, you might ask?! It’s not the anticipation of opening gifts, it’s not the hustle and bustle of standing in shopping lines or even remembering all the cooking you have to do for relatives or the holiday parties you committed to going to.  Those are all exciting and great things. But they have very little to do with the true meaning of Christmas. Remember what Linus said.

It’s the coming of our Savior.  Anxiously await in anticipation of his birth. That’s the best way to fit in your faith this and every Advent season.

Finding the Spirit

A few weeks after my bodybuilding competition, around Halloween, my sister Nicole and my nephews, Matthew age 11 and Sean age 5, came over to hang out.  My sister all of a sudden had a desire to decorate the house like our Mom used to.

My mom was beyond festive.  She decorated the house for every holiday.  It was adorable and sweet and so fun to walk into the house, even around St. Patrick’s Day, and see little shamrocks everywhere and the house decorated in green decorations.  You know how most people just have boxes in their basement labeled “Christmas”?  Yeah, we have ones labeled “Easter” Valentine’s Day” “Memorial Day” “Halloween.”  You get the drift.

So Nicole started bringing up boxes from the basement and in the closets that were labeled “Halloween/Thanksgiving.”

She opens up the first box, reaches in…and sees a little note with my Mom’s handwriting on it.  “Take care of each other, Love Mom” was written on it.

We were just in awe.   It was of course a bit of a shock to see my Mom’s writing on something in a decoration box of all places.  But we assume she must have thought “Well, they’ll have to go through this box at some point” to ensure that we found it.  It was such a last-minute decision to even decorate the house, knowing we couldn’t do it justice like Mom did, that I almost thought it was luck that we even found it.

Nicole took the note home and rightfully so.  None of us thought we would find any more…until…

Fast forward to just after Thanksgiving.

My sister and I decide we are going to try to bake my Mom’s dessert bread.  This bread is very special.  It’s a recipe my Mom found years ago when we were little and she made it for her friends for Christmas and she made it for Easter too.  This was HER bread.  And it tasted amazing!

Nicole and I baked 4 loaves and they turned out just like Mom’s!!! They are a little gummy in the middle but I recall she had that problem too sometimes.  No big deal.  Slap some butter on that and you don’t even notice.  My nephews tasted it too and they agreed: “Just like G used to make.”

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While we waited for the bread to rise, I asked my sister if she and the boys would help me put ornaments on the Christmas tree.  It’s been kind of hard to get in the festive spirit but we put on some Christmas music and started opening up the ornament boxes.

Guess what we found in the first box?  Yes, another note from Mom!!  She actually wrote it in 2011, just a quick little line about “I’ll always be near you.”  Then she wrote underneath that note in 2012.  “I miss all of you.”  At first I thought she just got the years wrong but Nicole and I think she just wanted to write notes even when she wasn’t sick, just in case.

We hung up the ornaments and I went through some other boxes of decorations to see if I could start to put things up around the house.

I immediately started looking for this mailbox she had.  It has a snowman on it and it’s pretty big but small enough that she kept it on our island in the kitchen.  She would put little toys or pieces of candy in there for the boys.  So everytime they came over, she’d say “Check the mailbox!”  She always had two of everything she bought – one for Matthew one for Sean.

Well, I found the mailbox.  And you know of course I thought to myself “There’s gonna be a note in here.”

Of course there was.  🙂

And it was intended for Matthew and Sean.  It was dated January 16th of this year and it says “I’ll always love you.  “G”

I quickly put the mailbox on the island so the boys wouldn’t see and I went back into the family room and said “I found the mailbox, why don’t you guys see what’s inside?”

So they walked over and opened it up expecting to find candy or something from me…Sean can’t read of course but Matthew saw it and started to smile.  I told them “Go show your Mom.”  So they went over to Nicole who didn’t even know I had found the mailbox and they showed it to her.

Poor Sean asked “What does it say??”  None of us, not even Matthew, could get the words out, we were so choked up.  I finally blurted  out “Do you recognize that letter?”  And he said “Yeah it’s a G.”  I said “That’s right, that’s from G.  It says that she’ll always love you.”

And of course my sister just kind of cried and I started to tear up but I didn’t want Sean to think I was sad and it was interesting because his reaction was sort of joyful.  Almost as if he thinks “Well duh of course she misses me.”  My mom’s big concern was that Sean would not remember her and I assured her he would.

He probably mentions her more than any of us at really random times. I think my Mom speaks to him through him.  I wouldn’t doubt it.  He dreams about her a lot too.

Since that night I have found one more note in a wreath box that was dated in 2011 as well.

It was so nice having this little treasure hunt of sorts around this time of year.  It’s obviously the first Christmas without her so it’s been a little difficult. But knowing she left these notes for us to find after she was gone has helped ease the pain.

This Christmas, as my family and I sit down to dinner, we’ll attempt to make it as festive as we can.  It won’t be the same but now we can tuck these notes away and take a look at them when we miss her the most, and see that she’s still here.

Watching, making sure we’re taking care of each other, knowing that she will always love us.

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Holiday Treats Healthified & Survival Guide

During my nutrition lecture I hosted yesterday, I baked a few recipes for my clients to try and these were all big hits.  I literally just searched for these on Pinterest.

Interesting things to note:

  • I made my own almond flour in my Vitamix blender by putting a little over a cup of almonds in there.  Just had to be careful to make sure I didn’t put it up too high or else turn it into almond butter. 🙂
  • I purchased coconut flour ages ago and finally found recipes to try them out on.
  • This was the first time I purchased and used coconut sugar – I will definitely be using it again.
  • The roasted banana and sweet potato mash tastes better the day after and tastes good cold OR steamy hot.  I spoke to someone who said they used orange peel and orange juice instead of the banana to make “mashed” sweet potatoes.

All the attendants of the nutritional lecture walked away with a “Survival Guide” for the day before, day of, and day after a holiday celebration.  It’s a great way to be held accountable, you can even email me afterwards to let me know how you did!  If you’d like to purchase this 3 -day plan you may email me at FromFitToFigure@gmail.com for a price for this download.  I’m always happy to share the knowledge!

In the meantime – enjoy these recipes!

Roasted Banana and Sweet Potato Mash – SkinnyMom.com

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Ingredients

  • • 3 medium sweet potatoes – cooked and peeled
  • • 2 large bananas, ripe
  • • 3/4 cup coconut milk
  • • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Roast bananas for 10 minutes–then let cool.
  3. Mix together the potatoes, bananas, spices, coconut milk and mash until desired consistency.
  4. Serve immediately. (This is also great for baby food!)

Apple Coconut CrispDeliciousByDre.com

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Ingredients

  • 2 lbs of apples (i used 2 honeycrisps–yep, one pound each…now that’s a real apple!)
  • 1/2 cup (56 grams) organic coconut flour
  • 1/2 cup (50 grams) almond flour (make your own!)
  • 1/2 cup gluten free oats (*paleo substitution* use 1/2 c chopped pecans or slivered almonds)
  • 2/3 cup coconut sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp all spice
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/3 cup organic coconut oil
  • 2 tbsp organic flax seed
  • 2 tbsp egg whites
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp agave (optional)

Instructions

  1. preheat oven to 375
  2. core and slice apples (i used an apple corer, peeler, slicer i found for 10 bucks!)
  3. toss apples with a light sprinkle of cinnamon before placing in 8×11 (ish) glass dish
  4. optional lightly drizzle 1 tbsp organic agave over the apples in the dish (gives a more caramelized taste/effect without using brown sugar!)
  5. separately, mix the egg whites and the flax seed together and let sit until needed
  6. add all remaining dry ingredients together in a bowl and mix up with a fork
  7. next add melted coconut oil and vanilla along with the egg white & flax mixture
  8. mix together with fork until it creates a nice crumble
  9. spread evenly across the apples in the dish until completely covered and put in the oven to bake for 30 minutes.
  10. once finished, let cool for at least another 30 minutes or so.

Notes

**i recommend covering this dish lightly and storing in the refrigerator (if there’s any left over!) sealing it tightly will cause the crumble to absorb the moisture of the apples and it will no longer be crispy!

The World’s Healthiest Cookie – FoodieFiasco.com

These are bite sized! Teeny tiny bites!
These are bite sized! Teeny tiny bites!

Nutritional Info

*Update: There has been some question about the nutritional info, and for clarification, these having only 6 calories each is based upon a bite-sized cookie. If you only make 8 cookies out of this recipe to make them more traditional sized, they will have about 15 calories each.

Per bite based on 16 bites

Calories: 6 (about 8 or 9 with chocolate chips)

Fat: <0.5 grams

Ingredients

2 Tablespoon coconut flour

2 Tablespoon mashed banana or applesauce (I prefer banana. Personally, I think applesauce gives them too much of an apple-y taste. That’s just me.)

pinch salt

stevia or other sweetener, to taste

1/8 teaspoon baking powder

3 Tablespoon almond milk, or milk of choice

chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a small bowl, mix coconut flour, baking powder, and salt. Add in masked banana or applesauce and stir. Add in almond milk, one tablespoon at a time until fully incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop dough by tablespoon or teaspoon, depending on how big you want them, on a parchment lined baking sheet.  I used a silicone mat. Flatten the dough into cookie shapes.Bake in the oven at 350F for 10 minutes. Let cool before scarfing them all down.

Crustless Pumpkin Pie – Food.com

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Ingredients

    • 1 1/2 cups fresh pumpkin or 1 (15 ounce) cans pumpkin puree
    • 3 eggs
    • 3/4 cup Splenda Sugar Blend for Baking ( see NOTE)
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1/4 teaspoon cloves or 1 3/4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
    • 3/4 cup heavy cream or 3/4 cup light cream

Directions

  1. Mix all ingredients together.
  2. Pour into a well sprayed pie pan.
  3. Bake at 350′ for 30 to 40 minutes.
  4. NOTE: DO NOT use Splenda packets

Coconut Flour Chocolate Chip Banana Cookies – DitchtheWheat.com

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Yield: Makes 18 medium sized cookies.

Ingredients

  • 1 fresh ripe large banana, (200 grams)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil, (slightly warmed for easier mixing. Room temperature)
  • 3 tbsp coconut flour, sifted
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt
  • 1/8 -1/4 cup of chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper.
  2. Using a mixing machine combine the banana and the egg. Slowly add the coconut oil (coconut oil must not be hot or it will cook the egg. You just need to the coconut oil slightly warmed enough to mix smoothly). Add the coconut flour, vanilla, cream of tartar, baking soda and sea salt. Mix until smooth. Lastly add the chocolate chips.
  3. Using a spoon, drop 1 inch balls of batter onto the baking tray leaving space between each cookie. Use the back of the spoon to smooth the cookies to a flat cookie shape. *The cookies will not naturally flatten, you must do this manually.
  4. Bake for 40 minutes.