It is not the strength of your faith but the object of your faith that actually saves you.

Tim Keller

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Teriyaki Marinade

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Last night, Charlie and I hosted my sweet cousin and her husband for dinner. Rachel and I (pictured at left visiting the Tennessee Brewery a few years ago) share a bond that is hard to describe, and we have waded through some tough life mess together. I am so thankful that she and Clay live close by so that we can spend more time together. They are welcoming their first child in the next couple of weeks, so Charlie and I were anxious to get a little more time with them before a new season of their life begins.

When hosting friends and family for mealtime, I like to keep things as simple as possible. Usually, that means that I make a big casserole or lasagna, throw in a vegetable side and garlic bread and call it a day. Over the past few weeks, though, I’ve been looking for ways to clean up our meals while also not making my kids and husband hate me. It can be difficult to do when you’re cooking for more than four or five people and don’t want to spend all day in the kitchen. My answer? Delicious grilled chicken thighs, garlic sticky rice and roasted broccoli with lemon and parmesan. (Recipes for those last two in posts to come.)

Screen Shot 2018-10-14 at 1.32.42 PMI don’t know about your family, but Charlie, the boys and myself can throw down on some Asian food. This teriyaki marinade takes about 2 minutes to assemble and is a healthier stand-in for the bottled stuff since you can control exactly what’s going into the recipe. The dark brown sugar in the marinade turns to a delicious glaze as the chicken grills over an open flame, making this one of Charlie’s favorite chicken preparations. It also features lime vitality essential oil, giving a burst of refreshing citrus flavor without the prep of juicing or zesting the fruit. This recipe can also be used as a sauce base if you go the vegetable stir-fry route. So many options with this one! Try it out and let me know what you think.

Teriyaki Marinade | Adapted from this recipe at Epicurious.com

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons ginger paste (available in the produce section of most grocery stores)
  • 3 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 drops lime vitality essential oil

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients into a large bowl or gallon-sized resealable bag.
  2. Add your choice of protein, making sure to coat evenly in the marinade.
  3. Refrigerate for at least twenty minutes (up to two hours).

Notes: This can be made ahead of time and refrigerated in a larger mason jar. If you don’t use essential oils in your cooking yet, 2 tablespoons of fresh-squeezed lime juice can be subbed for the vitality oil.

Our Wellness Story

We are all traveling on a wellness journey whether we realize it or not. From eating habits to the cleaners we use in our homes, what we consume and how we consume it matters.

Before

For most of my adult life, I didn’t pay close attention to what my family was consuming. I guess I figured if it was legal to sell in our local supermarket, then it was okay for us to use. I didn’t read labels of cleaning supplies and I definitely didn’t look outside of our local store for other products that could improve my family’s health and wellness… Not because I didn’t care about my family but because I didn’t think it was necessary.

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Over the past several years, people in my family (myself included) have faced their own health challenges. And I don’t know about you, but when I see someone I love in pain or struggling to become well, it gives me pause. I want to fix what is broken; I want to bring a solution to their problem. And sometimes, that’s not always possible.

But sometimes, fixing what broken and finding a solution to a problem is possible.

The Beginning

A year ago, I ditched my skincare routine for something more natural, organic and plant-based at the suggestion of my sister. She had been using a certain brand of sustainably-produced skincare and cosmetic products and when I tried them while we were on vacation together, I was hooked.

There’s something empowering about taking control over even the smallest decision like what daily face moisturizer to use. Breaking out of an habitual mindset into one of information-seeking and purposeful product use was my first step onto a healthier path of wellness for not just myself but my entire family.

Breaking out of an habitual mindset into one of information-seeking and purposeful product use was my first step onto a healthier path of wellness for not just myself but my entire family.

Know Better, Do Better

Once I made a change in products I was using for skincare, I started to pay closer attention to other things we bought for our home – cleaning supplies, laundry soap, bath soap and on and on. And I realized just how many harmful products I was using in our daily lives.

It didn’t occur to me that there was antibacterial cleaning spray or laundry detergent out there that didn’t come with a poison warning. Or that there was an alternative to candles that could make our house smell amazing and provide innumerable health benefits to our minds and bodies.

Charlie and I keep ourselves on a fairly strict budget, so we are still in the process of transferring to healthier products for our home. The goal is for us to continually be more mindful and intentional about how we care for ourselves and our environment so that by the end of this calendar year, we will have replaced all of our cleaning supplies and personal hygiene products with plant-based, healthier alternatives.

Good Things Take Time

If you’re interested in getting your home onto a stronger path towards wellness, know that it. is. possible. And you don’t have to bust your budget to make it happen. There are so many ways to make the shift to a more mindful, wellness-based path of living without sacrificing your financial goals as well.

The first step? Jump into essential oils with me by investing in a premium starter kit. This will kick-start your wellness journey by providing you not only therapeutic-grade essential oils and a gorgeous diffuser but samples of other plant-based, chemical-free products and access to wholesale prices (25% off, y’all!) for all the good stuff you need to create a safer, healthier home environment for you and those you love.

Since every household has different needs and priorities, there’s no one-size-fits-all plan. With your premium starter kit, you’ll also get a personalized 3-month wellness plan to help you maximize the 25% discount on goodies that will most benefit you and your home.

For a limited time, I’m throwing in my two favorite vitality oils – clove and orange – that are not included in the premium starter kit so that you can enjoy all the fall smells on me!

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Next Steps

  1. Purchase a premium essential oils starter kit (link).
  2. Email me at danielledchristian@gmail.com to get started on your personalized wellness plan.
  3. Brace yoself for all the amazing benefits that are about to overflow into your life by replacing icky chemicals with all-natural, plant-based goods!

 

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Fostering Self-Confidence In Our Children

As a history teacher at a middle school that serves nearly 1,000 students and their families, I have the privilege of being surrounded by middle schoolers all day long during the week. I’m also raising two middle schoolers – 6th and 7th graders respectively – so my current day-in, day-out is Middle School City. And I love nearly every single bit of it.

While many of us were probably traumatized at least once or twelve times during this awkward phase (myself included), middle school children are my favorite. My absolute favorite. And one reason why is because there is so much opportunity for them to learn and grow before they enter the challenging years of high school.

No matter how physically well our children are, if their self-confidence and self-esteem are lacking, they will struggle.

One of the struggles I see middle school students facing is a lack of self-confidence. Because students between the ages of 11 and 14 are just now starting to get a sense of themselves as individuals, they often don’t know or trust their own value and abilities. Studies show that self-confidence plays a strong role in the mental and physical health of youth. No matter how physically well our children are, if their self-confidence and self-esteem are lacking, they will struggle. A lot. With friends and family members. In their academics. In virtually every area of their lives.

I know that’s a pretty heavy thought to consider, but there is good news, y’all. As parents and leaders of youth all around us, there is a lot we can do to help our children grow and flourish in this area.

Earlier this year, I had the honor of speaking to parents of entering sixth graders in our community about how they could set their child up for success in middle school. As I am working now to implement these tricks of the trade with my own children, I have been encouraged by how my sons are growing into independent, strong-minded and caring young men.

Four Ways to Build Your Child’s Self-Confidence

Let your child make choices. We can stifle our kids by telling them what to do and when to do it. Giving  choices doesn’t mean my sons can do anything they want, but it helps them develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

Encourage your child’s efforts. I have a tendency to praise my kid’s talents instead of encouraging his effort. In her article, “The Secret to Raising Smart Kids,” Carol Dweck ruminates on the idea that if we want to propel our children to success, we should focus on their effort, not their intelligence or talent. If I’m hyper-focused on how smart my kid is or how well he plays the trombone, then I am probably setting him up for failure and a fear of taking on challenges. So instead of saying, “Luke, you’re a great trombone player!” I might say something like, “I’m really proud of how you dedicate yourself to practicing trombone every night. I think that’s awesome.” Shifting our perspective from our kid’s talent to their work ethic can make all the difference in the world.

Keep communication lines open. Middle school students are known for giving one-word answers to questions. Does any of this sound familiar?

“How was your day?”

“Fine.”

“Did you learn anything today?”

“Kinda.”

“Do you want a snack?”

“Yep.”

“Is there anything you want to tell me about your day?”

“Nope.”

I know it can be frustrating, so try more open-ended questions like these instead: What do you like about your classes? Which teacher are you learning the most from? What’s happening this week that you’re excited about?

No matter how tight-lipped your child might be, keep showing up. Keep asking thoughtful questions. And when your child is talking to you, make sure you’re paying attention.

Don’t rescue your kids from their mistakes. This is one of the biggest parenting failures I see. And it might be the most detrimental. When we bail our kids out of their consequences, we’re communicating a lot of hidden messages to them.

We’re communicating that we don’t think they have what it takes to solve a problem. We’re communicating that our kids don’t have to be responsible for their decisions. We’re communicating that we will fix every problem in their lives.

In order to develop grit and determination, our kids need to experience tough times.

In order to develop grit and determination, our kids need to experience tough times. They need to encounter problems, navigate them (with our help as needed) and come out on the other side stronger and better prepared for life than before. If you allow your child to experience failure, you are empowering them to embrace life with a growth mindset that is open to change.


If you have a middle schooler or will at any point in the future, consider how these quick tips can help you build up your child’s self-confidence levels and set them up for success in many other areas in their life. And know that while the middle school years are most definitely challenging at times, but we can do this, mamas and daddies.

May you dream you are dreaming, in a warm soft bed / And may the voices inside you that fill you with dread / Make the sound of thousands of angels instead / Tonight where you might be laying your head / But darling, I wish you well / On your way to the wishing well

Patty Griffin

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Chicken & Rice

This afternoon, Charlie and I hosted our first Sunday supper at Crangle Hall. For this meal, I needed a quick, easy recipe that I could throw together, pop in the oven just before leaving for church and have piping hot when we arrived home a couple hours later.

Enter every Southerner’s favorite: chicken and rice. There’s something about fluffy rice and melt-in-your-mouth chicken in a savory but not too heavy sauce that fits the Sunday supper bill. This is a great casserole to prepare for pot lucks because it travels well (i.e. no sloshy juices or sauces getting all over the car). Try it soon and let me know what you think!

Chicken and rice casserole

Photo courtesy Allrecipes.com

Chicken & Rice (adapted from Allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:

  • 1 can cream of celery soup
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • i can cream of chicken soup
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 cups long-grain rice, uncooked
  • 3 uncooked chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
  • dash of rubbed sage
  • 1/2 stick of butter, evenly cut into pats

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Combine the first 5 ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add in cheddar cheese, rice and chicken breasts. Stir to combine. Season with last three ingredients.
  3. Grease a large casserole dish and pour in mixture. Spread evenly. Top with pats of butter.
  4. Bake uncovered for 60 to 75 minutes, until chicken is cooked through and the sides are bubbly. Allow to stand for 5-10 minutes before serving. Steamed green beans and crescent rolls are our family’s favorite accompaniments for this meal. And don’t forget the sweet tea! Or, in my case, sweet tea with a splash of lemonade. ;-)

{Total cooking time – 85 minutes | Serves 6-8 as entree}

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Rest For the Weary

Since the spring, my plate has been overflowing with obligations and to-do lists. From home renovations and inspections and mortgage applications to the daily drain that is life, I’ve found myself nearly completely overwhelmed at the end of every day. And for me, with all of that comes frustration, anxiety and an overall feeling of hopelessness. Since we moved into our sweet new home last Thursday, I have taken the past week to rest and relax and simply enjoy time with my family. It has been a balm for my tired soul.

Front porch sitting, talks with the kids in the kitchen while I cook dinner, snuggle-ups with Polly in my bed while I drink morning coffee, lazy drives down country roads with no music on the radio so that I can just be.

I haven’t looked at course curriculum or lesson plans or classroom ideas once this summer. Up until last week, I simply had no room in my life for it. And while the empty space on my plate opened up a bit this week, I made a conscious decision to keep school in its box until my first scheduled day of work for the upcoming school year.

Sure, I start to feel a little panicky when I think about how my classroom is still literally packed up in boxes and milk crates in one corner of Room 110. And how by now, I usually have two week’s worth of lesson plans and class activities already written and ready to go.

But you know what?

[insert deep breath here]

It’s all going to be okay. The school things will get done in the time that it takes. And if not every single thing is finished by August 6th, then life will still go on and my students will not suffer.

If I have learned anything from this crazy season of life, it’s that rest is worth it. It is worth saying no and risking disappointing people. It is worth shutting down social media and missing out on the latest happenings. It is worth disconnecting from people who take and take and don’t give back in return. It is worth declining invitations just so I can stay home with my boys and be together.

As this summer starts to wrap up, I want to encourage you to think about where you can create space for rest in your life. Even if it’s simply 10 minutes a day sitting in quiet to start, I think you’ll find yourself where I am – thankful, rested and that much more ready to embrace and invest in the things and the people that mean the most to me.

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Embracing Our Children Through the Tween and Teenage Seasons

IMG_0752Today is my younger boy’s birthday. He’s turning eleven and I am so excited about the man he’s becoming. Parents talk often about cringing and bracing themselves for the middle school and high school years with their kids, and I get that. But several years ago, I read a post by Jen Hatmaker on parenting teens and it gave me so much hope about what life could be like with my two sweeties as they are growing into men.

In her thoughtful and insightful essay, Jen writes about how parenting teens is the “best Mom gig yet.” She encourages parents to “stop imagining that aliens will take over” their children when they turn 13 and instead embrace the idea that as our children grow into their teenage years, there is SO much about them that still remains the same – their humor, their personality, their talents and proclivities… all of these things that are so special and treasured simply start to take on deeper roots.

IMG_1334Naturally, I’ve been thinking about Luke today and what makes him special. All his life, Luke has been enthralled with animals and nature. From hunting for bugs with his brother in our backyard and petting every.single.animal he comes into contact with at the park to caring so well for our rescue dog, Ollie, and researching leopard geckos for literally months in preparation for getting his own, Luke thrives on being around and caring for creatures (humans included). As he’s getting older and dreaming about his future, my boy is thinking very seriously about pursuing work in the field of veterinary medicine. He has plans to become a veterinarian and one day own his own practice. And I’m telling y’all right now, if that’s the path he chooses, Luke will rock it out. (And also, maybe he’ll help me pay off my student loans once he hits the big dolla bills, ’cause I’m fairly certain I’ll still be paying on them.)

As a mother, it’s special for me to see his childlike love of animals grow and bloom into a tremendous life calling to care for animals and their families. And this is one reason why parenting tweens and teenagers is so special: I get a front row seat to my child’s flourishing.

But here’s the catch: This front row seat means nothing if I’m not paying attention.

I read yesterday (in a Cooking Light magazine of all places) that, according to a paper in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, “people who documented and shared their experience on social media formed less precise memories of those events.” That is, the more I try to capture special memories with my phone and share them with others, the less I’m actually going to remember them. Further, the study also showed that taking photos and videos for social media actually lessens a person’s enjoyment and engagement in the moment.

As I reflect on this, it makes sense. If what I care about most is getting the best shot from the most flattering angle while my kids grin and bear it, am I really engaging with them and enjoying them? Probably not.

On the flip side, if I’m just grinding through life and not making an effort to spend intentional time with my kids apart from church, school and extra-curricular events, I’m not paying attention either.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not gonna stop taking pictures of and with my kids and our experiences. I’m also not going to pack our schedules so full of events that we don’t have time to rest and just be. But I think it’s important to strike a balance.

As my boys make their way into a new season of life, I’m making changes in an effort to be more present and to show up and engage in a more meaningful and intentional way. For me, that means putting my phone aside and letting the memories in my mind and heart be enough. It means taking the long way home to see something out of the ordinary just because. It means saying no to some really fun and exciting things so that we can say yes to time with each other.

There are things about my sons getting older that scare the crap out of me, if I’m being completely honest. But the thing I want to remind myself of and really live into is this idea of embracing my sons in their teenage years instead of rolling my eyes and bracing myself for the difficult things that are sure to come.

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So today, on Luke’s eleventh birthday, I look forward to the middle school and high school years in our future, praying that we continue to grow in our relationship with each other, that I continue to build transparency and honesty in how we communicate, that I continue to apologize when I’m wrong and offer grace and understanding when he is, too.

To me, these are some of the hallmarks of a healthy mother-son relationship, and I’m so honored that I get the chance to do this life with my two boys. Knowing that they are growing and maturing makes me want to soak up every minute I can.

Tolerance isn’t about not having beliefs. It’s about how your beliefs lead you to treat people who disagree with you.

Tim Killer

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#12: Solving the Summertime Boredom Dilemma

Dear Ellie,

My children are out of school for the summer and it’s only been a week, but I am ready to scream. What are some practical ways that I can save my sanity while also helping my kids enjoy their summer break? We are a one-income family, so I don’t have a lot of money to spend on extra trips or expensive entertainment outside of our regular budget planning. I know you have fun with your kids without spending a lot of money, so I thought I’d ask for your advice. Thank you!

Save My Summertime Sanity


Dear Save My Summertime Sanity,

Isn’t it frustrating? If your kids are anything like mine, they can’t WAIT to get out of school for the summer and yet, two days into the summer break I hear them complaining about being bored and having nothing to do.

When my children tell me they’re bored, my immediate response is, “Oh, good! This morning, I’ve been cleaning the house and I would love your help!” with a big ole smile on my face. And then I promptly write out a few chores they can work on to save them from boredom. My children get busy, I don’t have to hear the complaining anymore and they learn not to come to me with the phrase, “I’m bored” anymore that summer ’cause Mama ain’t got time.

Sure, family outings during the summertime are fun, but they usually can’t happen every day. And I don’t know about you, but I refuse to be the mother with an itinerary of all the activities I’m going to engage in with my child from wakey-wakey to night-night.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Don’t get me wrong. I love spending time with my children. And they know that. But I think one of the biggest problems facing our youth today is their lack of two particular life skills: self-sufficiency and time management.

Helping our children navigate unstructured time is an important part of the parenting job.

Helping our children navigate unstructured time is an important part of the parenting job. If we are consistently creating itineraries and planning out their every minute, kids will not build important life skills they will need to live productive lives as adults.

As a middle school teacher, self-sufficiency and time management are two of the biggest deficits I see in my students, and I think one reason they present so often in the classroom is because these students’ well-meaning parents have not intentionally taught their children how to live without every single second being planned to their satisfaction.

If you want to save your sanity this summer, mama, it’s going to require something a little bit deeper than planning cheap or free activities to do with your kids. But the amazing thing about going a bit deeper is that you’re getting to the root of the issue instead of smacking on a band-aid that will be falling off in a matter of minutes – especially in this summertime humidity!

Here are three things I do to tackle the summertime boredom problem and help my children build significant skills that will carry them well into adulthood:

Work from a place of mutual understanding

water-863053_1920Your kids need to know that your number one job in life is not to make them happy or keep them entertained. My mother did a great job of instilling this important value in me and my sisters when we were growing up. Yes, she loved me. Yes, she provided for me. Yes, she wanted me to have a happy life. But she was not the one in charge of my happiness and fun. I was. Because we all knew and understood this, I was not looking to my mother to lead the circus of summertime fun.

Help your child think mindfully about his or her life

boy-2074662_1920If I really was having a tough time coming up with something to do for free time in the summer, my mom helped me brainstorm. Together, we’d make a list of all the things I enjoyed that I could do at home right then without much parental assistance. Reading books, making crafts, playing outside, playing pretend with my sisters and on and on. I kept the list in my bedroom, so that when I got bored, I could run through my options and find something to do. And if none of those things seemed appealing, then I usually had the option to join my mother in whatever she was doing in the yard or the home. By walking your child through this process, you are teaching them how to think mindfully about themselves and their interests. This is something that will help them as they grow into adults.

Hold your child accountable

Lay out consequences for complaining about boredom and stick to them. The chores response is an example of that. It’s a natural consequence and one that works! Every time our children bump up against expectations of behavior, it’s an opportunity to speak to their hearts and help them understand how to live within boundaries. And as Brene Brown teaches us, boundaries are a healthy part of life. They teach us how to respect and take care of ourselves and others. And ultimately, they set us free to live and love open-heartedly.
sunset-1097898_1920Summertime Sanity, I know that being a parent is the toughest thing there is. I also know that it’s one of the most beautiful things there is. And where you sit right now, with this heavy weight on your chest about providing a fun, engaging childhood for your children, is a familiar place for all parents out there who give a damn. What I’m saying is, you’re in good company and you’re not alone.

I hope you’ll lean into this season with your children and help them develop some important skills and qualities while also running through sprinklers and eating freezer pops on the patio in the backyard. Balance is important, but it starts with a firm foundation.

Truly yours,

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On Love and Belonging

This past week, I had the honor and true privilege to train at the Ron Clark Academy (RCA) in Atlanta, Georgia. For you non-educators out there, RCA is a non-profit private school that mostly serves students from low-income households. Co-founded by Ron Clark and Kim Bearden, the school also actively trains educators from all over the world on how to build a learning community bursting with light and student engagement and a family-like connectedness that I’ve never seen before. I heard about Ron Clark eight years ago during my first year of teaching, and it has been a dream of mine ever since to see this special school and learn from some of the best educators in the world.

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Students at the Ron Clark Academy | Photo by Teach Me, Teacher

As I spoke with RCA teachers and students over the course of two days, the thing that stood out to me most was the true love they had for each other. And as I started to pull back that truth a bit, I noticed something else: the adults at RCA exude this humble self-assurance that is downright intoxicating.

They are not perfect, nor are they proud. They are not stuck up or high-and-mighty, as we used to say in my family. But RCA educators know themselves. They are assured of who they are and what they are capable of and what they are there to do.

In this moment of realization, something clicked in my mind. I learned from Brene Brown years ago that in order to truly belong anywhere, I must first belong to myself.

The truth is: Belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect.

Brene Brown

I’ve known for a long time that those who know themselves in deep and abiding ways are able to better love others with the same depth. But I never transposed that same thinking to my career as an educator.

If I am not working from a place of strong self-acceptance and mindfulness, then I am going to crash and burn.

As I reflected on myself, I started to lean a bit closer to the proverbial mirror for a closer look. Who am I? What are my gifts as an educator? What are some ways that I can bring who I am into the classroom and allow those special qualities in me inspire students every day as they learn? These are questions I’ve never really asked of myself before. I’ve used hundreds of teaching strategies and methods. I’ve gone outside the box more times than I can count to get my students engaged and motivated to learn over the past eight years. But in all of that, I wasn’t considering myself and my gifts at all. And I think that’s really where it should start.

I can pour all of myself entirely into my work as a teacher, but if I am not working from a place of strong self-acceptance and mindfulness, then I am going to crash and burn.

And I have. Year after year after year, I find myself crawling to the end of May like my life depends on it. This might be your experience, too.

Seeing this error is not enough, I know. In order for me to get out of this all-too-common rut, I must be willing to make some changes.

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Photo by Burak Kebapci on Pexels.com

1. I need to re-examine my gifts and talents. What things bring me joy? What am I good at? What about me blesses and encourages others? These are all questions I need to lean into and ask – not just of myself, but also of those who know me well.

2. I need to find my tool. Brandon Fleming, a former educator at the Ron Clark Academy, shared with us on Friday about finding our tool to engage students and bring the classroom to life. For him, it’s debate. For Wade King, Social Studies and Current Events teacher at RCA, it’s music. Each teacher at the Ron Clark Academy has a go-to tool that empowers them to draw students in and actively participate in the learning process. As I rest and recuperate this summer, I will be exploring what tool I need to develop in order to do the same.

3. I need to put relationships at the center. At the Ron Clark Academy, none of the chants and songs and dances and engaging class activities would work without the family-like community they have. I’ve written before about the significance of a positive classroom culture and strong student-teacher relationships. After visiting RCA, I’m an even bigger believer in the transforming power that love and care can have in the classroom.

Several years ago, when I found myself in the midst of a devastating divorce, I found rock bottom. And it was in that place of profound darkness and fear and desperation that I came to truly know and love myself for the first time in my entire life. With the help of a few close friends and family members and my therapist, I worked for years to build a new life, one that is authentically real. I know the power that comes with finding oneself and living in that new light. And I can’t wait to see the changes that take place in my classroom now that I am learning to apply that same life-changing perspective in my role as an educator.

Thank you, Kim, and all of the the other incredible RCA faculty and staff. You have given me a gift that will impact my life and the lives of thousands of students for years to come.

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Resurfacing

The past several months have been a whirlwind at our home. From trudging through the assessment season in March and April at school to preparing our home for the real estate market, life has been hectic to say the least.

Today marks my first Monday of summer break, and I kicked it off by gleaning insight from Tim Keller on sloth and living intentionally, helping my boys resolve conflict between the two of them in a healthier way, sipping a cup or two of hot, strong coffee and teaching Chapman how to play solitaire. Mornings like these are complete bliss.

I’m setting some priorities for this summer, and at the top of the list is R-E-S-T. And I don’t mean the head-on-my-pillow kind. I mean a state of quiet and calm in my soul that allows me to breathe deeper and pay attention to the life around me instead of getting caught up in distracting things that don’t serve me well.

I want to lean into time with my family, to be intentional with my relationships, to be a better steward of what God has so graciously given me. I want to have some tough but necessary conversations with my boys to prepare them for the teenage years coming soon. I want to sneak time away with Charlie to reconnect and grow our marriage.

Being a teacher is truly a gift, and I’m very thankful for a couple of months to recharge so that I can be that much more awake and invested in my students next year.

If you’re reading this, thanks for hanging with me, for being patient while life pulled me away from this sweet space. Here’s to a slower summertime.

Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.

Brene Brown

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Berry Coconut Smoothie

I don’t know about you, but between helping my kids get ready and trying to leave on time every morning during the week (6:45am), it’s darn near impossible to find time for a healthy breakfast that isn’t in the form of a snack bar or pastry.

Enter the Berry Coconut Smoothie. This deliciousness is ready in a minute or two, and there’s hardly any clean-up. Plus, it’s full of strawberries, blueberries and raspberries which are known for their high levels of Vitamin C and ability to lower one’s risk of cardiovascular disease and increase metabolism in our fat cells. So, for someone like me who’s looking for ways to make better food choices without spending a half hour in the kitchen every morning, this quick and nutrient-dense smoothie is a great option.

What You’ll Need

  • A blender
  • 1 cup frozen berries (I use the tri-berry blend at my local grocery store)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice (I cheat here and use Simply Orange Juice)

What You’ll Do

Combine all ingredients in the blender using the “pulse” or ice breaker option for 5-10 pulses. Then, blend on smoothie setting (or other higher setting) for 45-60 seconds until its reached your preferred consistency. And viola! Breakfast!

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Aunt Karen’s Lasagna

Growing up, my family would share a Sunday dinner after church with my dad’s sister, Aunt Karen, and her husband, my Uncle Jerry. Over the years, this family (including my cousins Rachel and Ben) has taken up a place in my heart that is hard to describe. The relationships I share with these four people mean a lot to me, and when I think about Sundays growing up, their faces immediately come to mind.

I’m thankful to have an aunt who is really more like a sister and best friend and aunt and motherly figure all rolled into one. She is one of the most cherished women in my life, and every time I make this lasagna, my mind drifts to all of the special memories we share together. I’m sure you have women like my Aunt Karen in your life, too. Women who are fiercely loyal and protective of their people, who are reliable and unafraid to tell you the truth even when it’s going to break your heart to bits, who stand with you unflinchingly through all that life brings.


Today, I want to share with you a recipe that my Aunt Karen passed down to me years ago. She is a fantastic cook known for hosting dinners for lots of people, and I still squeal with delight when she serves up food (and maybe a glass of wine or two) for me on her sun porch. I have adapted this recipe a bit, but it still rings true to the lasagna my Aunt Karen made for years of Sunday dinners. Enjoy!

Aunt Karen’s Lasagna (adapted)

What You’ll Need

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 24-oz. jars of marinara (I use Prego’s Fresh Mushroom Italian sauce)
  • 1 9-oz. package Barilla Oven-Ready Lasagna noodles
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 8 oz. package cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella
  • salt and pepper to taste

What You’ll Do

  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and spray a 9×13 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. In a large saute pan over medium heat, brown the beef, seasoning with oregano, garlic powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Once browned, add the marinara sauce, stir to combine, and turn off the heat.
  3. In a medium-sized bowl, combine sour cream, cream cheese, and shredded cheddar. Set aside.
  4. Spread 1 1/2 cups of spaghetti sauce in the bottom of the pan. Lay three sheets of Barilla noodles in one later, making sure not to overlaw. Cover with 1 cup of marinara (just enough to cover all sheets of noodles). Then, dollop about 1/2 cup of cheese mixture on top of each noodle. Lay another three sheets of Barilla noodles on top and press down.
  5. Repeat step four until you’ve used all of the Barilla noodles, sauce, and cheese mixture. Make sure the last layer is pasta sauce to cover the noodles. This will ensure that everything bakes evenly. If time permits, allow lasagna to refrigerate for 15-20 minutes before baking.
  6. Finally, sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top of your beautifully constructed lasagna, and bake for 25-30 minutes, until mozzarella cheese is bubbly.
  7. Serve with garlic bread, salad, and lots of parmesan cheese. :)

This recipe serves a crowd, so feel free to refrigerate leftovers for up to five days or bring them by my house if you can’t find room in your fridge!

Here’s to strong women like my Aunt Karen. May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.

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3 Spring Break Secrets for Parents

During the Snow Day Debacle of 2018 in January, I came upon this hilarious video of a mother pleading with Atlanta schools to open up so her child could get back in the classroom and get out of her hair. I have probably watched this video a couple dozen times and I am laughing right now thinking about the frustration and desperation and all-out fear in her voice as she shamelessly begged school officials to give her a break.

And here we are, on the Saturday of Spring Break. I envision mamas and daddies all over the state bracing themselves for nine straight days with their children. Even if you’ve got a fun vacation planned, there’s usually a lot of stress involved when it comes to 24/7 face time with your child for more than a couple days in a row.

As a teacher and a mama myself, I feel you. I get it. So today I’m bringing you a few secrets to make your life a little bit easier over the next few days. Lean in and listen up, y’all!

Secret #1. It is okay for your child to be bored. My children know that it is not my job to entertain them. Even when they were little bitty and less self-sufficient, I provided them opportunities to entertain themselves. Don’t feel like you have to plan out or fill up every minute of your child’s waking hours. Part of growing and developing is learning how to self-soothe and self-entertain! If your child complains of boredom, say, “Oh wow, really! That means it’s either time for chores or creativity. You choose!” If my sons can’t find something creative to do, then I’ve got a good long list of chores for them to tackle so they won’t be so bored. Works every time!

Secret #2. It is okay for you to need alone time. My planning period is from 9:55-10:45am every day. I cling to every single second like my life depended on it. It’s not because I don’t like my job or my students. It’s because everyone needs a few minutes of peace and quiet all by their lonesome self. I’m surrounded by hundreds of people every single day. I interface one-one-one with nearly two hundred students every. single. day. I THINK it’s okay for me to need a minute by myself in the midst of all that.

The truth is, being a parent is draining. And being a parent when your kids are on spring break… Lawd. Give yourself grace. Give yourself permission to find some quiet time, even if it’s during nap time or five minutes locked in the bathroom eating a Snickers bar.

Secret #3. This too shall pass. In just a few days’ time, your schedule will return to normal. Your child will go back to school or day care or weekly programs that give your schedule a bit more flexibility. When you are knee-deep in parenthood this week, remember that come next week, you’ll be back to the daily grind. It’s easy to miss the magical moments when we’re so focused on what’s coming in the days ahead. Try to slow down and lean into family time this week. I know it’s not always easy. I know you probably have a hard time finding two minutes to brush your teeth in the morning let alone celebrating all the madness that Spring Break can bring. But even in the midst of all the crazy, there is beauty to be found. Look for it. Call it out. Celebrate it. You and your sweet family will be better for it.

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God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

C.S. Lewis

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Dear Lilly Mae, On Daughter’s Day

I lost my first child, Lilly Mae, to miscarriage at thirteen weeks gestation on February 13, 2005. This letter was originally written to her on Saturday, May 14, 2016.

It has been thirteen years since I lost my girl, and while the pain eases with time, it never leaves. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss her. The ache of Lilly’s loss is something I carry with me every day. Her short life changed me in ways I never thought possible, and I am profoundly grateful to be her mama.

Lilly Mae, your name means “Beautiful Beloved” and you are with me always.


Dear Lilly Mae,

I saw a little girl two days ago that looked just the way I picture you in my mind.  Dark brown hair in natural curls, olive skin, and dark eyes just like me. She was around 11 years old, wearing a ruffled khaki skirt and white collared shirt with sweet brown sandals, and I thought my heart was going to drop to the broken concrete beneath my feet.  Her eyes caught mine as she ran to catch up to her mother in the school parking lot where I pick up your brothers every day.  She quickly smiled at me, slipped her hand into her mother’s, and together they walked to their car with the evening sun warming their faces. And I wanted to bawl my head off.

Not one day goes by that I don’t feel the ache of missing you.  It is something that I will carry with me every day for the rest of my life, reminding me of the bitterness of loss but also the beauty of becoming a mother for the first time and the special ways that you have changed our family. Your memory is written into our lives in many ways… From lilies on the dining room table in August to celebrate what would have been your birthday to prayers I whisper at night, asking God to hold you close and snuggle you up like I would.

We remember you, my sweet girl.

Each year, we celebrate Daughter’s Day the Sunday after Mother’s Day in honor of the daughters in our family. It is hard for me to write about the sting I feel every year on this day knowing that I cannot scoop you into my arms and pull you into my chest and whisper, “I am so glad God made me your mommy.  Do you know?” into your ear like I do your brothers every year on their special day, Son’s Day. I wonder what gift you would pick and what home-cooked meal you would choose for your Daughter’s Day dinner. Most of all, I will miss being able to look across the table at your sweet face and tell you just how precious you are to me, how much I cherish your beautiful heart, and how honored I am that God would choose me to be the one you call mama.

Tomorrow we will celebrate your life and the beautiful ways that your memory brings light to our family. There will be tears, but my heart will be overflowing with gratitude for all that you have taught me and for the promise that I will hold you one day. What a beautiful day that will be.  Happy Daughter’s Day to you, my sweet girl.

I love you always,

Mama

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On Empathy and Consent

Empathy is the starting point for creating a community and taking action. It’s the impetus for creating change.” Max Carver

As more people come forward with their #metoo and #churchtoo stories, their courage and bravery is being put to the test by people who are questioning and victim-blaming and choosing to stand alongside perpetrators instead of those who survived horrific abuse.

Show me a comment or a statement that fits one of the above categories and I’ll show you someone who lacks empathy. Their inability or downright refusal to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and have compassion for the survivor’s experience allows them the convenience of ignoring what these bold and heroic truth-tellers have lived through.
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At the heart of this lack of empathy is fear and – dare I say it – cowardice. I believe these words from Dr. Maya Angelou to the depth of my soul: I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.

I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.

As parents, it is our job to raise children who are able and willing to live empathetic, open-hearted lives. These skills do not come naturally, particularly in our self-obsessed culture. But there is hope for all of us. There are things we can do as parents and as adults who love the children in our lives to instill a deep sense of compassion and understanding in the hearts of the little ones around us. If you want your child or niece or nephew or godson or goddaughter or student to be one who stands up for the marginalized and victimized and ostracized and “others” in our society, read on. Let’s prepare ourselves to do this important work together.

What is empathy?

Richard Weissbourd and Stephanie Jones of the Making Caring Common Project say it best:

Empathy begins with the capacity to take another perspective, to walk in another’s shoes. But it is not just that capacity… Empathy includes valuing other perspectives and people. It’s about perspective-taking and compassion.

At the heart of empathy is a life-changing marrying of others-centered perspective and compassion. Without these two essential ingredients, a person’s heart is void of the ability to empathize.

Imagine that your best friend collapses onto your couch in heaving sobs, telling you that her husband has just filed for divorce. She’s blindsided and grief-stricken. What’s your initial response? If it’s to pat her on the shoulder and say, “This must be really hard for you,” then you need some practice in the empathy department.

Empathy is entering the pain of another person instead of hovering around on the outside talking about how bad it all must feel.

Empathy looks like you drawing your friend into your chest and bawling your head off with her and listening to her pain and directing your energy at feeling what she’s feeling as best you can. It looks like you sitting with her until she is ready to move and not a minute earlier. Empathy is entering the pain of another person instead of hovering around on the outside talking about how bad it all must feel.

Empathy is not easy and it is not always convenient, but it is brave and loving and completely necessary in the life of a human being.

Why is empathy necessary?

Because it the foundational skill of ethical, honest and true relationships. You cannot show up for the people around you if you do not have empathy muscles. This important skill enables us to truly connect with the people in our lives.

I believe one reason why abuse is so widely accepted and unpunished in our society is because people who have never been abused are afraid of empathizing with someone who has lived through such a traumatic experience. It requires them to get uncomfortable, to admit that this world is a really messed up place sometimes. Empathy requires a person to relinquish their preconceived notions about abuse victims (they asked for it, they deserved it, if only they hadn’t x-y-z) and instead consider that these survivors actually did nothing wrong and their perpetrators are the ones to blame.

girls-1031538_1920Empathy is particularly necessary in the life of your child because as kids develop the skills to walk in someone else’s shoes, they are being prepared to flip the tables on the safe haven our society gives abusers and perpetrators. As our children learn how to recognize and understand and feel what someone else is feeling, they will be empowered to stand up against victimization and exploitation of people around them.

What does empathy have to do with consent?

child-1871104_1920The ability to empathize prepares kids to engage in real conversations and real life situations when it comes to consent. Because empathy forces us to appreciate and value others, it frames relationships in a very different way. To someone who is empathetic, people don’t exist to serve them or give them what they want. People exist to be known and loved and cared for. This unselfish and others-focused perspective grows in a child and results in a whole human being who is capable of building deep connections with others.

If you examine the roots of abuse and assault, there is an element of off-the-charts self-centeredness. Perpetrators are blinded by their own wants and desires to the point that they can’t see the other person as an actual human being. By developing a strong sense of empathy in our children, we are helping them understand from an early age that every person is valuable and worthy of respect.

So when the time comes for them to engage in one-on-one relationships with people to whom they are attracted, they will have the tools to see that person as far more than just an object of their desire.

people-2943065_1920Teaching empathy isn’t the only thing a parent must do to raise a mindful person who respects others’ boundaries, but it’s a good place to start.

A final word…

To the mamas and daddies out there who find themselves paralyzed with fear sometimes at the world we are raising our children in, I want you to know you’re not alone. As a mama of two pre-adolescent boys, I’m right there with you.

Another thing I want you to know is that we have a glorious opportunity to empower our children and prepare them for many of the challenges they will face. It takes courage and bravery and a willingness to have awkward conversations sometimes, but I know that it will be worth it.

For some practical ways to build empathy in your child, check out “How Parents Can Cultivate Empathy in Children” by Richard Weissbourd and Stephanie Jones. Thank you for caring about this important topic. I’m glad to know that we are all walking this road together.

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#11: The Storm

Dear Ellie,

I recently ended a relationship with someone I loved very much. Things were really good between us for a good while – almost five years – but over the past several months, somehow we stopped being happy together. In every way, he was exactly what I needed. Except this: he’s married.

I know, I know. I know what you’re thinking. He’s not married like everyone else I see is married. He’s married in the “we live in the same house but haven’t touched in years” way. He and his wife even sleep in separate bedrooms, for crying out loud. They haven’t been happy together for a long time, if ever.

What started as a really great friendship between us has evolved into a complete clusterf*ck and now I’m afraid I’ll never talk to him again. 

I’m writing you now because I woke up to an email from him this morning. Promising that he was going to see an attorney and get the ball rolling on a divorce. Begging me to reconsider. Telling me all the things I already know – that we are perfect together except for this small detail.

I’m afraid that I’m not strong enough to end this relationship and move on with my life. I have given him five years of my life and looking back it seems as if it’s all been a complete waste. I’m also afraid that I’ll never find this kind of love again, that every other man I meet after this will pale in comparison to him.

Am I a complete asshole for wanting him to leave his wife for a relationship with me? How do I move on with my life without constantly looking in the rear-view mirror at what I’m leaving behind?

Love,

Dead End Road


Dear Dead End Road,

I am so sorry for your heartache. Ending a relationship with someone you love is one of the most gut-wrenching choices to make. When I think of the five most traumatic experiences of my life, the end of a relationship in one way or another fills the top three spots.

When I was in the middle of my divorce, friends surrounded me in ways I didn’t know friends could. I had no idea how many people really cared about me until I started walking through the fire and they joined me on the road of coals.

One of these people I had known since college. We were just acquaintances for years, but even then there had always been an intense attraction between the two of us. He was super handsome, but more than that, I was drawn to his intellect, the thoughtful way he moved about his life, the love he had for his child, and, if I’m being honest, how much he seemed to like me. He was married, too. But much like your mister. Over the years, we developed a strong friendship based on mutual respect and care.

As my divorce was finalized, I found myself becoming more and more drawn to this man. In many ways, he was the complete opposite of my ex-husband, and I felt safe with him. It was probably the first time in all my life that I’d felt sheltered by a man who was not a family member. Reeling from a terrible marriage, this feeling of safety and security was like a drug. And I got hooked.

The thing about having a relationship with a married man, even one who is separated in every practical sense, is that no matter how you spin it, no matter what excuses you make for them, the truth remains that they are still legally, and I would argue spiritually, connected to another person. I knew this, but I justified my feelings because of how seemingly terrible my friend’s marriage was and how much we cared for each other. Kind of like how a drug addict justifies getting their next fix.

It took me a long time, but I finally came to understand the huge mistake I was making by investing so much of my time and emotional capacity in someone who was still at least one foot in his marriage.

What was so difficult about this realization was that it came way too late. In the process of trying to figure out what the hell to do with the mess we created, this man and I destroyed the friendship that we had enjoyed for over a decade. To date, it is one of the deepest, most profound losses of my life. We will probably never be friends again, and that is a heartbreaking, understandable truth I have had to accept.

Love is something that moves freely between two people. It is not forced, and it is not compelled.

Dead End Road, you are not an asshole for wanting this man to leave his wreck of a marriage for you. But it doesn’t really matter what you want for him. What matters is what he wants for himself. You could be the perfect woman, everything he needs, but you will never be able to convince him to love you fully. Love is something that moves freely between two people. It is not forced, and it is not compelled.

So I would encourage you to shift your focus to the second question you ask: How do I move on with my life without constantly looking in the rear-view mirror at what I’m leaving behind?

At the heart of your letter, Dead End Road, is a profound need to be loved. I can say that because I know exactly what that feels and looks like. This man – and any other man for that matter – will never be able to love you the way you must love yourself first. For me, it meant that I started some intense self-care practices that I used during my divorce. I made a list of all the things that brought me joy or calmed me or made me happy, and I committed to doing at least one of those things every day. By taking care of myself, I was able to shift my focus from the man I cared about to what mattered more than any other relationship – the relationship I had with myself.

I also reached out to safe female friends who loved me and who had earned the right to hear my shame story. I knew that these “move a body” friends would not judge me, that they would look me in the eyeballs and be willing to hear every guilt-filled detail without wincing or rolling their eyes. I knew that they would walk with me down the path to my own healing, and that we would all be better for it.

I’m now almost four years down this path, and while it has not been easy, I have learned so much about myself and about what an authentic, loving relationship should look like.

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Photo courtesy Erin Alaine Photography

I am now married to a man who is one of the most devoted, sacrificing, forgiving people I have ever known. The love we share is rich and full and imperfectly perfect. He sees my flaws and loves me all the more. And you know what? He is 100% dialed in to our relationship. He’s not tied up in anyone else’s apron strings. I trust him completely.

The work that lies before you is worth it, my dear. It is grueling and will make you want to bawl your head off every now and then. But on the other side of that hill is a whole life full of whole love, and it’s waiting for you.

During that broken-hearted season in my life, these lyrics from a song by Mumford & Sons entitled “After the Storm” were a soothing balm for me. I hope they will be for you as well.

But there will come a time, you’ll see,
with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart,
but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart
and flowers in your hair.

I believe that all of our past experiences come together to create the people that we are – beautiful and broken and altogether breathtaking. As I’ve grown in my understanding of failures in life, I’ve learned that the only true way to be restored is to embrace them, to hold them tightly to our chest and let them shape us into stronger, softer, deeper feeling people.

You see, Dead End Road, you’re not on a dead end road at all. While the path you’re on might not be clear right now, there is so much more life and love in front of you. One step in front of the other, I’m sure you’ll find your way. And women like me who have walked this same road are standing on the sidelines cheering you on.

On my wedding day a little over a year ago, I wore a flower clasp in my hair to honor that difficult season, to pay homage to the woman who was broken and hurting and trying to find her way to a healthier, more love-filled life. Now, when I see that clasp resting among my other bridal jewelry on our dresser, I will think of you, too. I’m rooting for you, my sister.

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