Back in October I contracted a nasty bout of bacterial pneumonia. The first lot of antibiotics I was prescribed did nothing, and – along with a script for different antibiotics – I was given a full blood test just in case I had something other than pneumonia.
My blood work came back showing that my cholesterol was high, high enough for the GP to start making noises about statins. Now, high cholesterol is a symptom of Hashimoto’s (which I have), and to me was merely a sign that all is not well with my thyroid.
I said to the GP, ‘Nope, no way. Give me six months to get my cholesterol down’.
I was so ill I didn’t have the headspace to go AIP, but due to other Hashi warriors reporting they felt much better on a gluten free diet, I immediately gave up gluten. To my surprise, I didn’t find this hard. Mr G and I also started to have vegan or vegetarian dinners most nights a week to help up our veggie intake.
I’m sure these measures helped, but nothing has gotten me dramatic results like AIP.
Three weeks into AIP I had to have a routine blood test to check my thyroid levels and my cholesterol. They had not been checked since October. The nurse called me up to tell me my thyroid function had improved so much I was now hyperthyroid in stead of hypothyroid, and I needed to reduce my medication dose.
She was about to ring off when I said “What about my cholesterol?’
‘Oh, it’s perfect. A really, really healthy level. People would kill for that level….What are you doing?’
Cue long discussion about AIP after which she said “Can I send some people your way?’
Folks, I am stunned.
Not only am I feeling much better than I have in ages, my blood work proves that AIP is working.
I was hoping my cholesterol levels had gone down, but I never hoped for perfect. I’ve been doing a lot of happy dances over here, I tell ya.
I know many of you have been wondering how I’m getting on with my ‘diet’.
Well, I am officially living proof that miracles can happen – I’ve just notched up Day 21 sticking to the Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP). Woot, woot!
How much longer I will need to be doing the elimination phase for, I’m not sure. I’m going to give it at least six weeks.
If you missed my last post about why I’m doing AIP, and what it’s all about, you can find it here. What a ride it’s been so far!
Here’s a glimpse into my AIP-addled brain:
Woohoo! I got this! Meat, veggies, fruit, easy-peasy. I’ve got my stash of AIP recipes on my Pinterest board. I’ve ordered some obscure flours and ingredients to make all the yummy things I want. Let’s do this!
Day One, later
I am already sick of coconut oil.
What the heck are tigernuts???
What on earth will I use as salad dressing?
This ‘garlic mayo’ in no way resembles mayo…
Oh my Lord, I have SUCH a headache.
I miss mayo.
If I so much as see a coconut, I’m going to lose my sh*t.
Why I am doing this? It’s so hard!
I miss bread. Even my gluten free bread which tastes like particle board.
Mr G and children enjoy icecreams, while I cry into my silverbeet.
Holy Moly, I actually did it. A whole week!
*furiously scours Pinterest for AIP salad dressings and drinks*
Nearly cries with joy to discover an AIP compliant jam (which makes for a good cranberry sauce substitute), and AIP compliant sparkling water infused with fruit.
Nearly cries again when aforementioned water tastes like it’s the place where fruit goes to die. Drinks it anyway.
Holy Moly it’s hot out today!!!
Day Eleven, later:
Oh.My.Goodness. It’s hot as Hades today, but I have not swollen up like I usually do in the heat. I do not have canckles! * hears angels singing hallelujah*.
Due to slight increase in my energy levels I decide it’s safe to resume exercising again (my adrenals are pretty stuffed so I have to be careful). Walks over 13,000 steps, most of those before breakfast.
Discovers really delicious AIP recipe. A+++ trader, would recommend.
Day Thirteen, later
Walks over 13,00 steps. Hits the wall at 4pm. Brain and body decide to quit on me. Mr G makes dinner.
Walks over 12,000 steps
I am so damn sick of cooking!
Ponders moving to America where they have AIP delivery services….but then I remember that I loathe Donald Trump, so decide against it…it is tempting though.
Walks over 13,00 steps. Hits the wall at 3:30pm. Mr G cooks dinner again. Could I be overdoing it? I feel totally fine when I’m exercising.
Decide to cut my hour of walking to half an hour as I think my adrenals aren’t coping with my newfound energy. My strategy works, I am able to keep going all day.
My top is falling off me. Realise I have lost almost two dress sizes.
Lest you think ‘ooh, I’m going to try that diet!’ let me point out that AIP is about healing, not weight loss. I suspect most of my weight loss is due to a reduction in inflammation. I take it as a good sign my body is healing. I would not attempt a food elimination diet as a weight loss strategy – there are easier ways to go about that!
Decide it might be cheaper just to take out shares in a spinach company, because I eat so much of it.
Out with my MiL and kids, we discover a place that sells AIP compliant fruit frappes. They are heavenly.
Day Twenty One
Abridged walking regime seems to be working, so I add in a couple of steep hills, just to see.
My long time readers will be aware that I have an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s. It slowly destroys your thyroid and comes with some extremely un-fun symptoms (you can read all about it here).
When I caught pneumonia last year I decided enough was enough.
Whilst catching a bacterial flu had nothing to do with Hashimoto’s, I believe that my compromised immune system is the reason the flu developed into pneumonia – which took well over two months to shake off! Two months is a long time for anyone to be ill, and it was impossible to parent well throughout much of my recovery. Fortunately my MiL (a retired nurse) came to help out for a few weeks.
During my recovery I made the decision to go gluten-free. There seems to be a connection between gluten and autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s. Quite why that is, I don’t think science can fully explain yet, although if you’re interested you can have a look here at these
studies. But studies have shown that people with Hashimoto’s are more likely to also have celiac disease, and are significantly more likely to have non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
I was so sick from the pneumonia that I thought I would give GF a go as a way of helping myself, even though I didn’t think gluten was a problem for me. I certainly thought I had nothing to lose! I often felt tired after eating bread – but that can be normal reaction when digesting bread – and I never had any stomach cramps or other symptoms associated with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
I could not have been more wrong.
It turns out I am VERY intolerant to gluten.
After being GF for about 3 months I accidentally glutened myself by mindlessly eating something made of wheat. A few hours later all my joints were aching, I felt so tired – like sleep-walking through quicksand is the only way I can describe it – and my skin broke out.
The same thing happened a month later after I accidentally ate a small piece of sausage (with gluten in it) at my daughter’s birthday party. A few hours later I felt awful, and it took me two days to come right.
Discovering that gluten does me no favours has spurred me on to really give the Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP) a good try. I did the AIP diet a few years ago when my Hashimoto’s really began to flare up. I only lasted a few days. I found it too overwhelming.
But life then was more difficult. My children were small, and only one child was was in kindy at the time. I just didn’t have the headspace to give it a fair go.
This time around is different.
I have one child at school, and one at kindy most mornings so I get time to myself. This has helped me enormously in being able to tackle the AIP, because it really requires a bit of brain power; at least at first. I’m already gluten free. Mr G and I also made the decision several months ago to increase our vegetable intake by having vegetarian or vegan dinners five nights a week, so eating copious amounts of vegetables at every meal doesn’t seem like a bridge too far for me. I’ve been eating strange things for breakfast (usually eggs with veggies) for about a decade, as I can’t face the thought of anything sweet first thing in the morning.
So what is the AIP Diet?
Basically it’s the Paleo diet on steroids. But like, if steroids were actually good for you.
Though not invented by her, medical biophysicist Dr Sarah Ballentyne has refined the AIP diet. Dr Ballentyne suffered from several autoimmune diseases herself (once you have one, it’s not unusual to develop more) and was able to greatly reduce or eliminate her symptoms by adopting the AIP diet. You can read her story here. Dr Ballentyne is an award-winning expert on autoimmune diseases, and what I really love about her blog The Paleo Mom, is that she doesn’t shy away from explaining the science behind the link between autoimmune diseases and diet.
Some exciting findings are coming out from clinical trials using the AIP diet as a method to treat patients, and I certainly feel confident that it is a robust, scientifically-backed diet protocol. Unlike taking advice from Freely the banana girl…
The AIP diet focuses on nutrient dense foods and eliminates foods that commonly cause allergies, intolerances, and inflammation. The idea is by eliminating all problematic foods, your gut has a chance to heal, and then you can slowly introduce foods back to see which ones are causing problems for you. Many people report a huge reduction in their symptoms, and in some cases their AI disease has gone into remission!
On the AIP Diet you eliminate all grains, all dairy, eggs, all nuts, all seeds, all seed-based spices, all nightshades (tomatoes/potatoes/eggplant/peppers), sugar, alcohol, NSAIDs, sweeteners and food additives.
Instead, you focus on quality meats, healthy fats, leafy and root veggies, fruit, fermented foods and bone broths. For a full list of yes and no foods, see here.
Nightshades in particular, seem to be bad news for people with autoimmune diseases. See here for a run down as to why.
I absolutely love tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes. I never met a hot potato chip I didn’t want to eat! But I do suspect they will turn out to be problematic for me, as when I prepare nightshades they all make the skin on my hands hurt. My dad is very allergic to raw tomatoes and nuts, and has recently developed an intolerance to egg whites. My grandfather was very allergic to egg whites. So I won’t be surprised if egg whites or nuts are not really my friend.
I’m not gonna lie. I will probably cry if I discover I can’t eat peanut butter anymore. I love the stuff.
With all those ‘no’ foods, I know that the AIP diet seems overwhelming. Impossible, even.
For now, food elimination diets really are the ONLY way to know what foods you might be reacting to. I know there are a myriad of tests out there like hair follicle testing etc, but the science just doesn’t support their claims. An elimination diet will unequivocally tell you what foods are harmful to your own unique body. It is this knowledge that is driving me to stick with the AIP diet for the next few months.
Quite simply, I HAVE to know.
The AIP diet isn’t forever. Once you start to feel significantly better and see an improvement of your symptoms, then you begin a slow reintroduction of the ‘no’ foods. There are strict guidelines around the reintroduction, which is why the P in AIP stands for protocol.
Many folks find they can safely consume some of the ‘no’ foods, and can, most importantly, know for sure which foods are a problem for them. Even these foods may not be off the menu forever. Some people report that certain foods they couldn’t tolerate at first (like dairy, for example) can later be safely eaten after the gut has healed some more.
It’s not a typical diet, as in a weight loss diet. There’s no calorie counting, no points system. Just eating when you’re hungry.
One week in
I wish I could say I have already seen a miraculous reduction in my symptoms (some people do!), but I haven’t yet. I have lived with Hashimoto’s for several decades now, so I imagine that will greatly impact on how long it may take my gut to start healing.
I found putting together my week’s meal plan very overwhelming, but having eaten AIP for several days, I now feel like I have a handle on it. I’ve even freestyled my meals a couple of times.
I have the excellent book “The Autoimmune Paleo Protocol Cookbook” by Mickey Trescott, which I highly recommend to anyone considering giving AIP a go. Mickey spells out the what’s and why’s of AIP, and has delicious recipes to make the transition to an AIP diet much easier than winging it. She has meal plans to follow and ideas for batch cooking to reduce time spent in the kitchen.
What I really liked about the book is that Trescott has advice for AI sufferers who are too damn sick to cook. While I have only had that happen to me a few times, I know many chronically ill people who would struggle to prepare these healing recipes. If that’s you, check this book out for her tips.
I have also spent several hours scouring Pinterest for AIP compliant recipes, and have, oh, about 260 recipes at my fingertips. But who’s counting?
While I’ve really missed my peanut butter on toast, I haven’t found this week to be that bad. It helps that the food is delicious. Mr G is joining me for lunches and dinners (and I really appreciate his support!), and he’s rates Trescott’s Curried Chicken Salad, Kumara Chips, and Caulifower ‘Rice’ recipes quite highly.
I bought some of the expensive flours, which though aren’t necessary to eat well on AIP, will help me to feel less deprived and likely to quit – so I think they are a good investment. I made this lovely sticky ginger pudding by Healing Family Eats that I found via Pinterest, with banana ‘icecream’ (frozen bananas blended with a little coconut cream). Yum!
I don’t plan to make habit of baking AIP treats too often, but I feel better knowing the ingredients are all there should I need them.
As I said, I won’t be on the diet forever. I’m hoping to reintroduce some of my favourite foods in the future. But most importantly, I’m hoping to kick Hashimoto’s butt and feel better soon. Wish me luck!
Although it seems like it was an age ago already – instead of two weeks – we welcomed 2019 in with a wonderful holiday to Australia.
When you have small children, holidays aren’t really holidays. They’re just a change of scenery, as the hard work of caring for young ones still has to continue. (Unless you’re smart and booked yourselves in at Club Med where you get nannies.)
Mr G and I reckon our trip to Australia was the first one that felt like a proper holiday since having kids. Our two kids no longer have to be watched like hawks, plus they’re good travellers who take it all in their stride. There’s no nappies to change, naps to fret over, or prams to lug around. Most importantly – they know how to operate Netflix so Mr G and I can sleep in.
The flight from Christchurch is a mere 3 1/2 hours. Mr G rigged up our portable DVD player with a double headset, so the kids were entertained nicely for most the flight. We were even complimented on how well behaved they were on the plane! So, thanks Mr G.
The purpose of the trip was to attend my BFF’s wedding in NSW. I was her bridesmaid and E was her flower girl. We tacked several days on either side of the wedding, with no real plans other than to lie on a beach somewhere in the Gold Coast, and see the Aussie animals up close. But like, from behind the safety of glass at a zoo.
We spent a couple of nights at Ballina, which FYI is pronounced ‘Bal-in-uh’, not ‘Ba-lee-na’, as Mr G and I discovered and were mocked mercilessly for. It’s a lovely spot, away from the hustle and bustle of the GC, with plenty to do.
While there, we swam at Lake Ainsworth (over the road from Lennox Head beach). It is a fresh water lake, surrounded by tea trees which infuse their goodness into the water. The water is much darker as a result, but makes for a rejuvenating swim, and has even been known to help people with their skin conditions. My own skin felt fantastic after a dip there!
Then it was on to Armidale for the wedding.
I don’t have a photo of the bride for privacy, but she looked like a screen siren from the 30’s – just gorgeous. It was a privilege to see her marry her lovely fella ( I *may* have shed tears at the ceremony, and *possibly* sobbed buckets as they danced to Etta James’ “At Last”).
After the wedding we headed back to the Gold Coast, stopping at Dorrigo National Rainforest and Woolgoolga Beach along the way.
We spent the rest of time staying at Southport on the Gold Coast. The GC wasn’t high on my list of places to visit. I expected to hate it, as it has a rather brash and tacky image over here in New Zealand. To my surprise, I found it rather beautiful.
We kept costs down by shunning most tourist attractions. Our kids are quite content happy with going to the beach or a playground, so we’ll save the theme parks for when they’re older.
We were only a few minutes from The Rockpools and Broadwater Beach. The Rockpools is a great splash pad area for younger children and toddlers to cool off; complete with squirting octopuses, crabs and even a waterfall. A minute’s walk from The Rockpools is the beach and a really cool playground. We had a marvellous time and it’s all free.
My beautiful friend D, who lives in Adelaide, came over especially to see us. I cannot tell you how much that meant to me! I met D in London, and she and I and our friends had many, many adventures together. D brought her adorable baby with her, which is no mean feat. Travellers with babies, I salute you! It did my soul good to hang out with them both for a couple of days.
We all went to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, which I was dying to visit. Wow, what an incredible place! My kids are animal mad, and thanks to a great kids tv show called The Wild Kratts, they have become quite knowledgeable about all sorts of animals – especially Aussie animals. Seeing their faces as they looked (and even held!) at crocodiles, snakes, Tasmanian devils, koalas, and kangaroos in real life was something I won’t forget. My children are STILL talking about it, weeks later.
It was definitely a highlight for me, and I’d recommend the sanctuary to anyone visiting the area. I learnt a lot about the care and conservation of the animals, and the animals certainly looked well cared for, in good facilities.
We had a great day chilling out at Burleigh Heads beach, and enjoyed a good meal out at the local RSL club – a very Aussie experience.
We enjoyed the wonderful beaches and warm weather so much that we are already plotting to return. I can finally understand the pull of the GC for many kiwis. There’s plenty to do, the beaches are gorgeous, and the water isn’t freezing like it is back home!
Long-time readers of mine will know that I love, love, love Christmas. While I’m not quite Buddy from ‘Elf’, I I enjoy Christmas as much as my children do, only I’m not motivated by presents. It’s not just the day itself, but all the little things spread throughout December that add to my sense of anticipation and joy.
Things like decorating the tree, prepping the advent calendar for my kids, singing Christmas carols, making gifts – and my all-time favourite, looking at the Christmas lights.
I also enjoy revisiting the story of Jesus’ birth. The weird, fantastical, miraculous birth that changed everything.
As evident in the shops where the nativity is all but swept away in a tsunami of Santas, reindeer, and elves, it can be difficult for Christians to find time for quiet contemplation in a culture that tells us to shop ’til we drop; and that we absolutely MUST end the year with some sort of Christmas party if you are a part of any sort of group at all.
Terrible things will happen if we don’t have a Christmas work do! The world will cease to exist if Little Johnny doesn’t get to sit on Santa’s knee at his third Crimbo party of the season! Have you even lived if you haven’t handmade your own ugly Christmas sweater?
I go on about this every year. I’m essentially Gollum at Christmas time: I loves it, and I hates it. It is a deeply meaningful religious celebration for me, and I hate what it has become in my culture.
This year I have gone into Advent even more mindfully than before.
This is our first Christmas as a ministry family.
While you and your kin are enjoying a leisurely day, my husband will be conducting two services on Christmas Day, and is expected to put in an appearance at a combined church Christmas Eve service. We’re also supporting friends who are hosting a community lunch for locals here in Point. We will have family staying with us. Christmas Day will be anything but quiet.
Knowing this, I am more careful than usual with what I say YES to. Mr G was away at his studies when we put up the tree and danced like lunatics to carols (The upbeat ones, obviously. One cannot boogie to Silent Night).
He missed out on the excitement on our children’s faces as they came down to breakfast and saw our Advent Calendar was up and ready.
Actually, our kids are lucky – they get two advent calendars this year. The one above was made by me a few years back. The children get a chocolate and a piece of paper with something they will do that day – which is always stuff we would do anyway: like choosing things to donate, making a gift for their teacher etc.
Normally we wold keep things simple with one calendar, but then we found this beauty put out by @home&church.org.nz this year. We gave one to all our Sunday school families, and I hope they are enjoying it as much as we are.
The detail is incredible, the characters friendly-looking, and it includes simple devotions the whole family can do together. What could be more simple for harried parents? Made from thick cardboard, this will be a family taonga for many years to come. You can buy them at The Warehouse, but the trees are all sold out on the @home&church.org website.
I myself, start off the day with a short devotional, snatching a few minutes of quiet time to think and pray.
Prior to Advent my kids (and Sunday school) made these simple Advent Candle wreaths I found on Pinterest. Even a group of older boys took time and care making theirs. Each Sunday in Advent they flip a flame up to light the candle of peace etc. You can find them here.
We’ve been to see The Grinch at the movies, and believe it or not, a real family highlight has been the four of us watching the Christmas season of Nailed It on Netflix!
Still to come is going to see a pantomime, and driving around to see the lights.
As the ‘Minister’s Wife’ I have repeatedly had several church people come up to me and say ‘we should do x event for Christmas’ and try and leave it with me! Nuh-uh. I’m always happy to support events, but if people really want to do something, they need to make it happen, not me.
Simple Advent. Say yes to the things that bring you joy, and biff all the rest.
Wishing you a very merry – and hopefully peaceful – Christmas.
I’ve been silent on here for a while, at first because I was busy with E’s school production, and then with a holiday to see our friends and family in Whanganui.
Our holiday took a nasty turn when the kids and I all came down with a horrible bug that seems to have affected half of Whanganui. I was down for the count for five days with a fever, and was too ill to travel back on the day we were supposed to leave. Fortunately we were able to extend our stay, but as the bug was bacterial and highly contagious, I stayed away from others so as not to pass it on. I was quite upset not to be able to see many of my friends and family – which was the purpose of our getaway – but no way was I going to risk giving it to anyone else.
Mr G managed to avoid the bug entirely, praise God! D was okay, but E’s bug developed into pneumonia. Antibiotics sorted her out and she’s almost back to normal now. Me, I was left wiped out, but otherwise seemed to be on the mend. Until we got home to Pleasant Point. The first day back was fine, but the next day I woke up feeling terrible and couldn’t get out of bed for several days. I still didn’t think it was pneumonia as I had no cough, but eventually I was well enough to shuffle off to the medical centre where pneumonia was confirmed. One course of antibiotics did nothing, so I’m on a different sort, and crossing my fingers that they work. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know I have an autoimmune disease called Hashimotos; and one of the really crappy things about having an AI disease is that illnesses hit you harder and take you longer to recover from than folks with robust immune systems. So I’ll be out of action for a while yet.
My MiL dropped everything to fly down to help with the kids, as pretty much all you can do with pneumonia is rest. And rest some more. I’ve watched a LOT of Netflix and have run out of books to read. If you’re one of my friends, do drop me a line to help alleviate the boredom. 🙂
It’s not all doom and gloom. I managed to make it out out the house to attend Pets Day at school, which was epic, and I did get to catch up several of my favourite people while I was on holiday. I’ve read some good books, and holy moly – go watch Bodyguard on Netflix. What a twisty-turny show! We’ve had a cold snap here, so I have been ramping up the hygge, with copious cups of tea, warm scarves, and snuggling under our we-could-definitely-use-this-in-Antarctica-duvet.
One of the best things about living in a small town like Pleasant Point, is that it’s so easy to get together with friends. Everywhere is a 5 -10 minute walk away, and the roads are safe enough for older children to bike or walk on their own.
After school and at weekends our house is usually overflowing with children, as our kids play with their friends from school or church.
I love it.
When we had children, I said to Mr G that I wanted an open house when our children’s friends felt welcome – just like my family house was when I was growing up.
Well, we’ve definitely got that sort of house!
All those children (it’s not unusual for us to have five or more) mean there’s extra bellies to fill, and that can really take a chunk out of your budget if you’re not careful. I do a lot of baking, and that helps to cut costs down considerably.
Here are my go-to snacks for feeding a tribe of ravenous children on a budget:
Some genius came up with the 100 biscuit recipe (cookies, for my American readers) which you can find here. It makes a large bowl of biscuit dough to which you can then add whatever you like. I use chocolate chips, sprinkles (aka hundreds and thousands/nonpareils), cocoa and cornflakes, raisins, lemon zest, m&m’s etc. It tends to be whatever I have lying around! The dough freezes well, so you can make a huge batch of basic dough, divide it into whatever flavours you want to add, and pop some in the freezer for another day. Biscuits obviously aren’t the healthiest choice, but for an active child, one or two with their afternoon tea won’t hurt them. This recipe really does make 100. Because the mixture spreads out a lot while cooking, a teaspoon of mixture is all that’s needed per biscuit.
Popcorn. We have one of those air popper machine thingees, and a little goes a long, long way. I can get a big bowl of popcorn for about 25 cents. I’ve never met a child who doesn’t go crazy for popcorn.
Tiny cheese muffins. I use a recipe from New Zealand’s famous Edmond’s Cookbook, but there is a similar recipe over at Just A Mum. I use tasty cheese because a little goes a long way when it comes to flavour. I use the same when I make…
Cheese scones. My kids go nuts for scones. I have made scones so many times I have the recipe committed to memory, and I can churn out a batch in 15 minutes.
Seasonal fruit. My daughter eats a lot of fruit. My son is picky about which kind of fruit he likes, but even he will chow down on anything when he’s got to fight four of his friends for the last slice of apple. Peer pressure can be a good thing! I’ve also found that children will eat pretty much anything if it’s put into a cool shape or design.
Real fruit or juice popsicles. If you have some juice leftover from a party, you can put into straight into popsicle moulds or blend berries with banana for a creamy, frozen treat. Popsicle moulds cost about $2 at stores here in New Zealand, and are worth this very modest outlay, as one single popsicle can cost upwards from $2 at the shops. Plus you can make yummy treats that are actually healthy too.
Carrot and cheese sticks (I go easy on the cheese, it’s so expensive these days). My children turn up their nose at hummus, but I live for the day when they’ll embrace it like some of their friends do.
Pikelets. If you don’t know what a pikelet is, it’s basically a small, sweet, fluffy pancake. I don’t make these often, but pikelets are great if you have a big crowd of children. A little jam on top of the pikelet = happy children. Generally I put out a plate of pikelets, things quickly resembles a school of piranhas in a feeding frenzy.
Crackers. I stash away boxes of ‘company’ crackers when they’re on special at the supermarket.
Lastly, I find the key to feeding a gaggle of children is portion control. If I leave them with a box of crackers it will be gone in 1 minute. If I plate up a snack for each child, then I’m rarely eaten out of house and home, and the children still seem satisfied.
It’s been a whirlwind of activity here in the Pleasant Point Manse: birthdays, visitors, fashion parades and more.
First it was my birthday, which I celebrated a little early by having three nights away at Lake Hawea, BY MYSELF. It was a very restorative break, both in terms of getting rest and in doing things-that-make-Angela-happy. “Oh, there’s a museum!’ ‘Oh, there’s some historic buildings!’ ‘Oh, there’s a Mexican restaurant!’ ‘Oh, there’s some gobsmackingly beautiful scenery!’.
I read two books, pottered around Wanaka, and explored Cromwell.
I almost cried when I came home to this lovely gift that friends had made for our house/my birthday…
Before I could blink it was my beautiful boy’s fourth birthday! He had a simple, frugal, and fun Star Wars party. We borrowed my brother’s precious Star Wars figures to use as cake toppers, and had an obstacle course and a pinata.
For the first time in my life I am a bit lost as to what to do with myself for work in the distant future, and exploring options is taking a lot of time and headspace. But I find myself regularly loving on the children at our church. It’s not hard, as they are a nice bunch of kids, and I genuinely enjoy their friendship and look forward to catching up with them each week. The beauty of living somewhere small like Pleasant Point is that everywhere is walkable. We find our house overrun with children most Sundays after church as our kids and the church kids continue their play. I have quite a ministry in providing copious amounts of baking to the hungry hoards, and judging various magic tricks and fashion parades that unfold. I grew up doing the same stuff, so I love, love, love seeing the kids playing like this.
Life is not all sunshine and roses (and lakes). Mr G is really feeling the pressure of his internship now. Balancing study with the demands of the parish is stressful and the study often takes a back seat, only to loom large when assignments are due. All four of us have been sick a lot with little bugs that don’t last long but are annoying to deal with all the same. I’ve been missing my friends, family and ‘life’ we had in Whanganui. I’m not usually a person who looks back, but this move has been difficult to process – I suspect simply because it was not my own choice to come here. It’s not that I don’t like it here! I do, and I am grateful for the friendships I’ve made here; I think it’s more that I feel at a bit of a loose end here as this move was for Mr G to learn the ropes of ministry which has meant putting my own plans on the back burner. My aunt passed away, which has naturally been extremely hard for my cousins, and the only silver lining in that dark cloud is that while I am here in Pleasant Point, I am only an hour away from them and therefore am close enough to provide support.
Once I committed myself to Jesus, and decided that if I was going to be serious about this Christianity stuff, I’d better get serious at going to church. I didn’t grow up going to church – at least not regularly. But to me, the Bible is pretty clear that you can’t live out your faith on your own – you need the fellowship of other believers to encourage, stretch and even enrage you. God knows that by getting alongside a bunch of imperfect people you can’t help but to grow and mature in your faith.
I can be a bit of a boots-and-all kind of girl, and I’ve long been quite involved in the life of the various churches I’ve gone to. I’ve sung in the band, read scripture and led prayers during the service, helped with the kid’s ministry, led bible studies, prepared devotionals, been part of the church leadership team, and preached; as well as welcomed strangers, poured copious cups of tea, cleaned the toilets and vacuumed up the morning tea crumbs. So I was not completely unprepared for the life of a ‘not-quite-Minister’s wife’, and for how busy it can be.
As in the rest of life, sexism abounds in the church. I’ve had expectations of my new role – both said and unsaid – that are simply not aimed at the male spouses of female ministers. The minister of my last church was a woman, and while her husband is a wonderful, wonderful guy, I’m pretty sure no one expects him to make meals for the sick, go visiting, go on the morning tea roster or be on the kid’s ministry team (he actually is, by the way). Men who do these things are applauded. Women who don’t do these things can find themselves the target of bitter resentment – usually by the women who do.
I’m a card-carrying feminist, and whilst I’m certainly not above scrubbing toilets or pouring cups of tea or anything like that(!), I am trying to forge my own Angela-shaped role, and not do things out of a sense of obligation or because ‘that’s what minister’s wives do’. What has surprised me is the depth of my own feelings of responsibility for the church as the ‘minister’s spouse’. When Mr G worked for an emerging IT company, I didn’t lie awake at night pondering the future of his company. I didn’t ask after the welfare of his colleagues in any more than a desultory way. I didn’t even pray for the success of his company! But now I am enmeshed in my husband’s workplace. His employers/clients are my friends. I want this church to thrive and grow. I want to see lives transformed in this community. I pray for this church all the time.
I’ve always had an overblown sense of responsibility for others, which means I have to enforce good boundaries in my life as they don’t come naturally to me. “Oh, you have a problem? Let me help you with that,” is generally my first reaction until Wise-Angela kicks in. When we got to Pleasant Point, both volunteer children’s workers needed to step down for personal reasons. I stepped up because no one else would (there’s that boots-and-all thing), and I felt responsible for the continuing success of the church because kid’s ministry matters. I really felt that mantle of responsibility. Like I’m the minister. Like I’m God.
I found myself spending hours on the children’s ministry in the lead up to Easter: so many hours that I had no time to reflect on the most important event in the church calendar myself. I had no time to just be with Jesus.
It was only after I managed to get a team on board with the children’s ministry, and got some breathing space that was I able to see the ridiculousness of my situation. Which was of my own making. Wise-Angela had lots to say to boots-and-all-Angela. I’ve learnt my lesson.
Church can be a wonderous thing. A refuge, a sanctuary. A family, a safe place to land. But it’s not going to fall over if you’re not there. Even if you’re the minister.
Frantically ‘doing’, even if it’s for the church, can stop you from ‘being’.
I can’t lead or mentor others in Christ if I’m not spending time in prayer or reading scripture myself. I’m not giving glory to God if I’m doing His work with a resentful heart. I’m certainly not doing His work if I haven’t even taken the time to discern if He wants me to do it in the first place!
When church gets in the way
If you’re a churchgoer, there will most likely be the odd season where church takes over your life due to an event you’re helping with, or perhaps there’s a crisis with a church member. Sometimes stuff just needs to be done. Bills need to be paid, rosters need to be drawn up, someone needs to write a sermon. But if it’s more than a season, then it’s time to make a change.
1. Take responsibility for your actions. If you are so busy that your personal devotion time is non-existent, or your church family sees your more than your own family, it’s time to take stock and figure out how you got yourself in this mess. Was it because you can’t say no? Were you pressured into it? Guilt tripped into it? Do you think that your ministry will fail if you step back? Is it time to ask for help from others? Is it time to let that role go? Ask God to reveal the truth of your particular situation.
2. Ask yourself – is this MY responsibility? When we don’t have good boundaries, sometimes we take on things that aren’t our responsibility in the first place. This is especially true of roles that are inherited from others, and where there is a culture of ‘that’s the way it’s always been done’. For example, some ministers find they are expected to do all sorts of things unrelated to their actual calling because ‘the last minister did it’. If some of your tasks aren’t actually yours to do, it’s time to either hand them back to the person who should be doing it, or discuss it with the church leadership to find a less busy way forward.
3. Am I doing this solo because I need control? If you find yourself swamped with an event or ministry and you’re the one doing all the leg work – why haven’t you asked for help? Do you find working with others too irritating? Are you able to take suggestions or advice if others want to run things in a slightly different way? Or is it your way or the highway? I’ve seen this many times in churches, where someone has a very definite vision of how an event or outreach ‘should’ run. They don’t listen to others – instead they take offence or think these people are just trying to rain on their parade, so they soldier on by themselves. Most folks don’t want to rain on your parade, they just might see pitfalls that you don’t, and we all need to be humble about stuff like that. Other people can be micro-managers, unable to fully let others take on responsibility in case something goes wrong/it’s not done properly/I don’t trust them. Do you need to let go of your need to control others?
4. Is this event necessary? Just because your church has ALWAYS had three services over Easter, plus a stations of the cross installation, a prayer vigil and a hot cross bun outreach, doesn’t mean you have to do all those things this year. Or indeed, ever again. Each congregation should approach the year afresh, acknowledging changes in its makeup and capacity. If it all just seems too much, then let some things go.
5. Does this event have to be done to this standard? Sure, last year’s women’s night was epic; with a guest speaker, home made nibbles, and fancy handouts and worksheets. But if this year seems too stretched, there’s nothing wrong with simply watching a DVD and discussing it over some store-bought crackers and cheese.
6. Am I in a hard season of life? Have you had a baby? An illness? A chronic illness or disability? Your personal life has imploded? You’ve switched to a more demanding job? Old age has caught up with you? IT”S OKAY TO GIVE UP YOUR MINISTRIES. IT’S OKAY IF ALL YOU CAN DO IS PRAY. PRAYING IS PLENTY! There’s not a single person alive who hasn’t endured a busy season of life. Most of the time it’s not forever. And you know what, if it is forever, God’s got other things in store for you. It’s okay.
7. Is this life-giving? Do you enjoy this ministry or this role? Do you look forward to it, or is it something you grit your teeth and suffer through? Have you lost your passion for it? If it’s not giving you joy, or you feel obligated, resentful or angry about doing it, then make like Elsa and LET.IT.GO.
8. Am I self-soothing with unhelpful things like TV, food because I’m so stressed and busy? Again, examine your motives for doing what you are doing. If it’s because you feel obligated, or guilty, or resentful because no one else is helping you, then start over at question 1 and dig deep. What changes can you make to your schedule? What can be let go? Who can I bring on board to help?
9. Have I discerned if I’m called to do this? Have you prayed about how you should use your time? Or asked for God’s direction? I love listening to Joyce Meyers on the radio. A few weeks ago, I caught a talk where she said she was called to be a teacher, but is often asked to do other things that take her away from her purpose. So she says NO to those things. What would life be like if you were fulfilling your purpose?
10. Let things fall over. I know several beautiful people who hung on and on and on with a particular ministry because no one else was willing to take it over. Sometimes you just need to let it fall over. To end. Yes, it’s going to be really sad. But if it’s time for you to step down, then step down. If I’ve noticed anything about church life, it’s that they have seasons. Perhaps in your church people reminisce about the once-thriving youth group you had, or that really awesome home group that petered out, or the Friday night dances that bought many couples together. Your church might simply be in slower season, or have no young and energetic folks to run things anymore. GOD IS DOING A NEW THING. Let Him. It’s not up to you.
11. If you are a churchgoer, contribute! In just about every church the bulk of the work is done by a few. If you have the capacity to help out in some way – big or small – don’t just be a consumer. Bless your church with your gifts and maybe help lighten the load of the few.
There are many reasons to embrace a frugal lifestyle: necessity, to get out of debt and build savings, to be a better steward of your resources, to minimise your impact on the environment, to reduce the stress that living outside your means can bring, or because you love the challenge of finding ways to live well on less.
All of these reasons and more led me to start my Dollar Dietback in 2015. Apart from the odd times where life got crazy and some frugal habits were temporarily ditched, frugality is a way of life for our family.
The biggest factor in why I choose to live frugally is so that I have the money to spend on the things that are important to me.
For me it’s travel and experiences. I would rather see a Broadway-type show than buy a latte every day. I’d rather explore a new place than have a designer wardrobe, and I’d rather introduce my children to different cultures than give them an expensive device.
Frugal living allows my family to have some money in the bank for fun stuff. It gives me peace to know that money is there when we need it, even if that need is just to save my sanity.
Mr G went away for a week recently, as part of his learning-to-be-a-minister requirements, leaving me home alone for seven days with my 3 year-old and 5 year-old. Apart from one day where I’m pretty sure I tore out a clump of hair, the kids were fine and things went smoothly. What was hard for me is that I sleep very, very, very badly when Mr G isn’t around. It’s ridiculous because rationally I know the kids and I are perfectly safe, but the reptilian part of my brain goes on high alert when he’s away because now I’m the one who is responsible for the safety of my kids if an intruder breaks in. Again, this is totally silly because anyone who knows Mr G and I, knows that I’m the one who’d be up for a fight, whereas Mr G would probably offer to make them a nice cup of tea and talk to them about making better life choices.
In short, I was extremely tired by the time Mr G got back home.
When Mr G goes away I run the house with military-like precision. But I made sure I went into self-care mode too and made myself sit down and relax as soon as all the jobs were done. I watched something mindless on Netflix most nights (House Doctor, love it), and took every opportunity to rest. I sat in a cafe a couple of times, people-watching and enjoying food I didn’t have to cook, plus I took the kids out for dinner one night. There was definitely nothing frugal about the week.
Mr G was also exhausted by the time he got home from all that learning and socialising. While the kids were in kindy and school, we shot off to Tekapo and soaked for hours in the Tekapo Springs hot pools. It was AMAZING. We both found the hot pools worked wonders – so much so that we are already plotting our return.
I undoubtedly would have survived without all of those little extras that week, but oh my word, they helped. I was grateful that our past frugality meant we had the money to splurge a little.
I know for many people there is zero room in their budget for the tiniest of splurges. If you know someone in this situation and are able – give them a treat. It helps so much mentally. If there is wiggle room in your budget, set a little aside for the times when you need to indulge in some self-care. You may not have a million bucks, but a wee sprinkle of indulgence can certainly make you feel like a million bucks.