Mothers, Daughters, Subversive Tea Towels and Being “Seen”

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Last fall, I had made plans to hear Nadia Bolz-Weber speak in Dubuque, IA. This just happened to coincide with a trip my mom was making to see us in Iowa. At the risk of wondering what she might think, I invited her along. I guess I worried how mom might fare with Nadia – her expansive, sometimes unorthodox, theology, her radical, post-modern imagining of the church, and, you know, her embrace of the F-bomb. But then I thought of other things I’ve asked mom to take me to, and I relaxed.

As a kid I was excited about The Nightmare Before Christmas, an animated Tim Burton musical about a bunch of ghouls and ghosts who are always prepared for Halloween but then one day become fascinated with Christmas. Mom didn’t get it, but she took me to see it anyway. When I turned seventeen, my sister got me tickets to Tori Amos for my birthday, but then she couldn’t go. Once again, not her thing, but mom took me. And now, here I was embarking on a mini road trip with my mom and a carload of UCC clergywomen, to hear my favorite writer and theologian talk about her journey from recovering addict and stand-up comedian to being called by God to become an ELCA Pastor.

Despite my unnecessary anxieties, mom enjoyed herself; the company, the presentation, the theology. And when it was over, she bought two books and got them signed.

A few weeks passed, and my mom was busy creating things in her sewing room; truly, her sanctuary and prayer chamber. “I’d like to embroider you some towels that say ‘Kendra’s Kitchen,’ or something like that.” It was a kind gesture, but I admitted to mom that that sentiment wasn’t really my thing. “What if they said things like: ‘But First, Coffee’ or ‘I Mom So Hard’? Or ‘Speak Truth to Stupid’?” — a saying we both heard for the first time at Nadia Bolz-Weber’s lecture.

I could almost hear her bewilderment over the phone, but being a mom who loves her unusual daughter, to my sheer delight she fulfilled my request. She sent me four of the plushest towels I’ll ever dry dishes with, embroidered beautifully with those phrases. And yes. Even Nadia Bolz-Weber’s: “Speak Truth to Stupid.”

A few more weeks passed and I learned that Nadia Bolz-Weber would be here, in our own Quad Cities, speaking as a part of Augustana College’s “Symposium Day.” Knowing I already had all her books signed, I knew just what to do. After Nadia’s riveting presentation on our need for a sexual reformation in the church, I hightailed it to the book-signing line, with no book in hand. Instead, I had my “Speak Truth to Stupid” tea towel, trimmed with leopard print and lace, tucked away in a Ziplock bag under my arm.

My body buzzed with adrenaline and espresso as I approached Nadia’s place at the book-signing table where she was sitting with an intense look on her face. I almost got skipped in line because I didn’t have a book, but I pushed myself forward and thrust my parcel at her. I told her the story of how my mom wanted to embroider me towels that said ‘Kendra’s Kitchen,’ but that that wasn’t really my jam. I asked her to inscribe something else on the towels, and that’s when Nadia looked down to see her own words, craftily adorning my kitchen linens.

I stood back and watched as the intense writer and pastor flung her head back and let out the most joyful laugh. (My friend Stephanie captured the above picture.) As I walked away from the table, Nadia waved to me and said, “See ya, Kendra.”

You know, it is a deeply holy experience when you feel like you’ve actually been “seen.” That’s what that day was for me. Not just that a theologian-writer-pastor “saw” me or even that my friends understood this wacky desire to have a towel signed. But truly, it was the trifecta of those two encounters and my mom taking the time to accompany me to hear Nadia Bolz-Weber, one hundred miles from home, and then investing time and energy into making me some deeply meaningful tea towels, one that is now even autographed.

Yes, it is a joy to be known and to be seen. Thanks, mom.


Kendra Thompson is a part-time minister and full-time mom living in Davenport, Iowa. In her spare time, when she's not at the mall, she blogs at Cry Laugh Snort.

Top 12 things to do in the New Year to get you healthier and fitter that don’t include deprivation or hours in the gym

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As a personal trainer and group fitness instructor I get excited for January. Every year I see new faces and meet great new people excited about taking their health into their own hands. The energy in the gym is palpable, even the annoyance of the veteran gym goers can’t overpower it.

And then April comes, or sometimes even March, and the energy has died. Most of the January rush has disappeared with only a few strong-willed health seekers continuing on. On social media my new clients or participants in my classes have gone from posting their accomplishments in the gym or in the kitchen to posting pictures of their nightly cocktail or their Netflix binge.

Having been in the industry for over a decade, none of this surprises me. Even in high school and college when I didn’t know any of this academically but just had a legit metabolism and participated in year-round sports, I had friends come to me for advice on how to get active and lose weight. I’ve wrestled with getting healthy, eating healthy and losing weight just like everyone else on planet Earth it seems so some of this advice is stuff I’ve learned personally and others are what I’ve observed from being in the fitness industry.

So here are some secrets to getting healthy in the new year. Some of these you’ve heard and some of these you haven’t because personal trainers keep them to themselves unless you pay the premium to work with us. None of these tips will seem like rocket science and that’s because finding health that’s sustainable is actually not rocket science (training for a fitness competition-rocket science. Training for professional sports-rocket science. Learning how to find and sustain a healthy weight — NOT rocket science.) Accept these with the no judgement and no expectations with which they were written.

Learn Self Love

There’s a reason this is #1 y’all. If you’re starting the new year in the gym because you hate your belly or you hate your flabby arms you will never, ever, ever make it to April. Very few people hate parts of their bodies enough to push through the pain and discomfort that comes with a new exercise routine. If, however, you are starting the new year in the gym because you realize your life is worth more than getting winded going up stairs or sitting on the couch while your kids play basketball outside-you will stick with it. I promise. This rule might require you seeing a therapist or developing a daily journal reminding you of what you mean to the world but it’s essential if you want to genuinely find health in the new year. Even if I don’t know you personally I’m here to tell you that you are loved beyond reason. And that anytime spent exercising or cooking healthier foods is not selfish. I can guarantee you, your family will get more from you when you feel good mind, body and spirit than when you don’t. You are worth it, promise.

Develop a Mindfulness Routine

I’ve already lost some of you, right? I don’t mean this has to involve you sitting on a meditation pillow for 20 minutes in the morning (but take it from me-that’s the very best way to start your day!) This can be taking two minutes while your coffee is made to just sit in silence and breathe. You don’t have to chant or block out mental distractions if you don’t want to but just become aware of your breath for a few minutes. Try to do it first thing in the morning otherwise it’ll continue to be pushed back to make room for seemingly more pressing to-do items. How does this little few minutes make you healthier? It’s scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, boost immune function, decrease pain and decrease inflammation at the cellular level, amongst many other reasons. Go here for some of the studies. The biggest thing that has come from my meditation practice is compassion for myself and for those around me. Remember #1? Meditation has been the biggest thing to teach me how to do #1 relatively effortlessly. Try it. (If you’re looking for help, try the app Headspace. It’s a 10 minute daily practice but I love the guy’s voice and his direct approach to mindfulness.)

Eat More Fiber

Want to lose weight? There you go. This is a little secret I usually reserve for clients. There has been some push back on the benefits of fiber but for me the proof is in the pudding-or in this case-the weight loss. All of my clients who make a pointed effort to incorporate more fiber in their diets lose more weight than the ones who don’t make such a concerted effort. Fiber feeds the good bacteria in the gut in a way that carbs, proteins and fats can’t because they are absorbed by the bloodstream before making it to the large intestines. Changing gut flora is a big deal, one in which I’ll go into next, but for now focus on fiber. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes is where you’ll find your fiber. Try to go by the 1, 2, 3 Rule if you can. One fruit and veg for breakfast, two for lunch and three for dinner. Most days I add a few for my morning and evening snack just for good measure.

Get Your Gut Flora

Perhaps the least sexiest thing to discuss when talking about weight loss and health for the new year but more and more science is coming out on this so it’s got me all kinds of excited. First, I want to urge you to listen to this podcast about gut flora with Doctor Robynne Chutkan, MD. Or check out her book at your local library. There was a study that took the feces from an overweight mouse and deposited it in a normal weight mouse and vice versa. Changing nothing else, the overweight mouse became normal weight and the normal weight mouse became overweight. Why? The gut flora. You may think that your brain controls your sugar cravings and your salt cravings but science proves it’s actually your gut flora. If you want to lose weight-you need to start with changing that. How do you do it? By feeding the gut flora nutrient dense foods as often as you can. The more you feed it healthy, nutrient rich foods the more it craves those and not foods that are bad for you. This doesn’t require you to stop eating sugar or salty foods altogether-though that would make the gut flora change quicker to be sure-this just requires small adjustments on your plate. A quick personal note: I used to be a huge sugar addict. Since learning about the gut flora and making small adjustments to our meals-I no longer crave the stuff at all. And since I cook the majority of the meals, that means I’ve changed the gut flora in my kids and guess what? We made batches and batches of cookies and breads for Christmas and I currently have a few bags left in the pantry as well as chocolates people had gifted to us. My kids don’t even ask for it. Gut flora may be unsexy to talk about but their ain’t nothin' sexier than healthy gut flora. You heard it here first.

Move

If your goal is to get a six pack and deltoids like LeBron it’s going to require more movement than if your goal is to get down to a healthy weight and be able to play with your kids on the regular. Let’s first address movement for health. Start with walking 15 minutes every day. I live in Michigan where the temps can get down to single digits so I understand how you might think this isn’t possible. Well it is. Bundle up and do it. Make it a family event and go after dinner to stimulate digestion. Also, stop making your house so convenient. If you’re enjoying coffee on the porch or at the table, don’t bring the pot to you. Make yourself get up to grab another cup. Same thing for dinner. Don’t bring everything to the table where you can help yourselves to seconds and thirds, keep it at the stove so that you have to physically get up. This small act can be enough to make you realize you aren’t actually hungry for another round. The reason so many of the fitness trackers (FitBit, Jawbone, etc) have a programmable alarm to remind you to get up is because it’s been proven that the people who live the longest just move more. Most of the time these people aren’t doing any kind of exercise routine but they live in areas that require them to get up and out to the garden to bring in their meals. They’ve DE-convienienced their lives. We Americans could take a lessen from them.

Find a Workout You Like Doing

This is for those of you who might want to find some kind of muscle definition in 2018. I’ve put this at 6 because if you don’t do the previous 5, I can almost guarantee that you won’t find any abs or triceps by the end of 2018. Harsh? Maybe. But if you’ve listened to me on the podcast or ever had me as a trainer, a friend, a partner or a mother you know that I’m not great at holding back knowledge when you’ve come to me for advice. You will read articles in the coming weeks that tell you CrossFit is the only way to get fit in 2018, you will also read articles that tell you that running will be the key to unveiling the abs you’ve always desired. You have heard me go on and on about Les Mills fitness classes and how they’ve gotten me in the best shape of my life (which is true). None of that matters if you don’t like doing it. Les Mills classes have gotten me in the best shape of my life because I freaking love doing them. I love the music, I love the moves and I love the people I’ve met through the classes who do them all the time too. This is why CrossFit works for some folks and why people will talk your ear off about their run group. But do not listen to anyone. You need to find what works for you which means trying everything under the darn sun. Spend a little money and time to discover it. And give them time, a few weeks a least to grow on you. You’ll need to push past the soreness and the awkwardness that comes with developing muscle memory to be able to actually gauge if you like the activity or not. NOTHING will be 100% fun at first because it will probably hurt and be too confusing initially. Give yourself a little grace and get back in the saddle as quickly as possible. Once you find what you love doing, stopping no longer really feels like an option.

Be Patient

For God’s sake be patient. Nothing is harder to hear than “I don’t think it’s working, I haven’t seen results.” after 2 weeks of trying something. You guys, it can take 8-12 weeks. You might feel your jeans loosen by week 2 or get a few comments by week 3 but for the real “ah ha” kind of physical results, settle in for a grip. Here’s what I want you to do differently in 2018 than you ever have before. Notice how you feel. You will feel differently right away. The first day you feed your body nourishing foods instead of pre-packaged junk, you will feel so good. Check your energy levels, do you notice how easily you got up and out of bed? Notice how much easier it was to go to sleep? What’s going on with your poop? Yup, check that too. Maybe you’ll notice your constipation is gone and your BMs take that ever-lusted after S shape. Good on ya buddy, that right there is results. This is another secret to sustainable weight loss and health-if you can start to feel good mentally and emotionally, the physical takes care of itself. Why? Because you have the energy to try new things and for longer. Plus, you start to notice that when you don’t exercise or move-you feel pretty dumpy mentally too. Once you’ve hooked into that mind/body connection you are good as gold. Welcome to the healthiest you have ever been.

Stare at yourself in the mirror. Naked.

The first time I told a client to do this she started crying. She told me that it was her very worst nightmare. And look, I get it. I spent far too many years avoiding the mirror myself. But you know when you’re laying in bed and have this weird fear that you left the door unlocked and are convinced someone is going to come in and do something terrible to your family? You know how if you continue to stay in bed because the sheets are warm and it’s bedtime how you can’t go to sleep because you convince yourself it’s legit going to happen and then you’re going to never forgive yourself because you knew it and did nothing to stop it? But if you go and check the door you’ll realize that 1) it’s locked or 2) it’s not locked but hasn’t been all week and you’ve all been just fine. It’s the same with the mirror. You need to just face the music, sister. I promise if you do you’ll notice your belly isn’t nearly as big as you imagined it was in your head. You’ll also probably notice your breasts are quite beautiful and that you actually have a pretty well defined quad. So just do it today after your shower. Take 5 minutes to just check every inch of you out. I will no longer allow you to be your own monster lurking in the corner. If you tell me you want to lose belly fat I want you to be able to describe in vivid detail what your belly looks like because if you don’t know then you’re just running from the imaginary monster. Running from anything won’t get you the health you seek, running towards something will. So instead of losing fat around our triceps we are going to chase arms that allow us to throw up our grandkids when we’re well into our 60s. Instead of losing weight in your thighs so that they stop rubbing together (thighs are meant to rub together. Just enough already with that nonsense.) we’re going to chase legs that have us going on hikes or walking the streets of Paris for hours without complaint. We’re going to face who we are head on so that we can have a better picture of what we actually want to change and not what we think needs to change just because we’ve been too scared to look.

Stop Dieting

I have no earthly understanding of why we are still doing this when every bit of science and anecdotal evidence proves it does nothing in the way of sustainable health and weight loss. Here’s what you do instead: throw away all the crap in your cupboards. Commit to not buying chips, cookies or processed food for 1 week. Your kids do not need macaroni and cheese. Your kids do not need chicken nuggets. There is not a human on earth who needs that so just get rid of it. Buy bread for sandwiches (Ezekiel bread is my personal recommendation. My kids eat it too. Don’t make excuses for your kids. Have them eat it and change their gut flora too. Soon enough they won’t like the sugary, processed breads they were used to eating. Promise.) and as much fruit as you possible can fit in your cart. This way when you’re tempted for something quick and easy the only thing at your disposal is fruit and sandwiches. Once you’ve successfully made it to one week without processed foods in the house, stretch it to two weeks and so on. I don’t care how dedicated you are-we all have days when we’ve been working, the kids are crazy and we’ve been fighting with our spouse and the last thing we want to do is cook a healthy, nutritious meal for us all so we throw in a few frozen pizzas and call it a day. This doesn’t make you weak or lazy it makes you human. If you don’t have access to frozen pizzas, however, you have no choice but to make something healthier. Want to know what I do? I make large batches of rice and quinoa and keep them in the fridge. On days when I have 0 effs to give I make it a “Chipotle” night and throw some black beans in a pan and some cilantro in the rice. I grab our salsa and guacamole and done. It takes me all of 4 minutes which if you’re keeping track is actually quicker than frozen pizzas anyway. Don’t buy the crap food and you can’t eat the crap food. See? Not rocket science.

Make the Commitment for Your Whole Family

Here’s a little secret I’ve learned in my time as a personal trainer: I can tell you with 100% certainty whether you’ll reach your goals or not with one question. How does your family feels about you getting healthier? If the significant other “is supportive but wants no part of it him/herself” Nope. If the kids “will keep eating what they always do and I’ll make myself the healthier meals.” Nope. I don’t know how else to say this-if getting healthier is important to you this year then you need to make it important to your significant others as well. Because otherwise no matter how sweet, caring and kind your family is they will end up becoming saboteurs. They will take a family vote one night and go out for pizza. And then the night after that they’ll all decide that what you cooked just wasn’t enough and they’ll go out for ice cream. This doesn’t make them terrible people, it makes them human. But I know you, mama, because you are me and I am you. You want your kids to outlive you and you want to be doing fun and adventurous stuff with your partner well into your 80s. You cannot do that if you’re all unhealthy. Oh. Heartbreaking words to hear. But true words. So have a family meeting or sit down with your partner. Don’t make the conversation about weight because who gives an eff about the weight on your scale. Tell them your goals for the future and ask them theirs. Really evaluate if those are possible with the way you’re currently going. If they are-awesome, if not-time to change as a family. This generation of kids is the first generation predicted to have a shorter life span than their parent’s generation because of obesity. What a horrifying truth. You getting healthy isn’t selfish anymore-it’s a gift to your family and to your friends. We can do hard things. And for our families? We can do seemingly impossible things. I believe in you.

Engulf Yourself in the Health and Wellness Community

Don’t buy Shape magazine or any magazine that even hints that your self worth is at all tied to your waistline. Instead invest in magazines and books that encourage you to learn more about your passion or your mindfulness practice. My husband is obsessed with Outside magazine. He went on his own health journey in 2015 and I’m so proud of him. His excitement about Outside magazine is one of the things to which I attribute his success. There are so many great articles on movement and health in general that have peaked his curiosity and led him to try new and different ways of getting healthy. I’m a big podcast listener and I’ve found that when I’m feeling “eh” about eating healthy or exercising, listening to one of my health and wellness podcasts always re-inspires me. The reason I like magazines is because it’s a monthly dose of inspiration that often comes just when you need it. Most libraries have a decent amount of magazines you can peruse before you commit to the monthly subscription so try a few out first. Or even better, once you’ve found the workout that’s got you feeling some kind of way-google “magazines great for runners, weight lifters, cyclers, dancers”, etc and go from there. Even though my day job is literally to exercise, I still have days or weeks that I just don’t feel up to it-cough, all of November-cough. Immersing myself in these knowledge-based communities is easily the best way to re-invigorate me.

Don’t Wait Until You Find a “Workout Buddy” to Start

I guarantee this is a piece of advice you will hear every day for the next few months but I’ve found it to be wholly untrue. Here’s more typically what happens: a few women or men come to the gym together. Typically one is more passionate about being there than the other. After a few weeks, the less passionate one stops coming and a few weeks after that so does the one who was so ready for a change. Here’s what you do instead: just begin. If you’re joining a new gym just head on into that weight room or group fitness room. If you’re wanting to try running, try joining an already established running group. Every run group I know has runners from novice to expert so you won’t be the only newbie. Instead of starting with a gym buddy, just start! Your workout buddy will be found when you are doing what you love doing. They will hold you accountable and be there to encourage you when you feel like giving up. The people you find once you’ve already started are also already committed so you won’t have to be convincing yourself and your best friend. This way you can just focus on you-the rest takes care of itself. I just did some quick math in my head and realized that every great friend I’ve made after college has been made in the gym. There might be a few exceptions to that but not many. We aren’t some hulking, roided out group of protein shakin' women—we come in all shapes, sizes and abilities. You will find your people when you start to get healthy. And they will be awesome. Just like you.

A quick hard truth about your health journey: Not all of your friends or family members are going to be supportive. Man, this is tough. If you continue to allow negative thought patterns and negative friends to have a say in your life your life will be exactly the same as it is now. This doesn’t mean you have to write nasty notes or say hurtful things to any friends that don’t support you. The further you get in your journey, the more you will see there’s nothing wrong with them, they are just at a different place. If you are serious about your health, make sure you evaluate who you are letting into your heart space just as much as you are evaluating what you are letting onto your plate. It can have an even bigger impact so this little piece is a vital step. It’s a hard step and will feel impossible at times. But anyone who doesn’t embrace, support and encourage you when you’re trying to be better than you were yesterday just isn’t ready to handle your light. Find the ones who are wielding their own light instead of hiding in the darkness, they’ll be the ones who will celebrate your success and remind you that your failures don’t define you. That’s exactly what you need always, but now even more so.

I come to you as someone who vividly remembers being unhealthy and unmotivated. I can’t believe how much better of a mom, wife, friend and human I am when I’m healthy (still acknowledging I muck it up on the daily). At times I’ve been fit enough to see my abs and quads but I can tell you honestly that it didn’t make me any happier than I am when I’m simply at a healthy weight eating healthy food and associating with positive people. I totally get it if your goal is shredded arms but my hope is that you hook into health first. Because being in the fitness industry I’ve seen my fair share of shredded arms and abs on people who are just unhappy and unhealthy.

My wish for you in 2018 is that you find that sweet spot where you like how you look in your jeans but you love how you feel even more. Get in touch if you have any questions or just need someone to give you that initial “You can do it!” Because you can, and you will. I totally believe in you.

Stuff Your Own Stocking

Photo and Post by Erin Ferris

Photo and Post by Erin Ferris

Nearly every Mama Bear I know approaches the holiday season energized and inspired. In the weeks leading up to the big day, she gives 110% of herself as she decorates her home to make Joanna Gaines proud; selects and wraps gifts perfect for the 713 family members, friends, neighbors, teachers, and community helpers (as my daughter would call them) on her list; and carries on traditions started decades earlier. She schedules family photos, assembles holiday cards, coordinates travel plans, and prepares for out-of-town guests. She throws parties, bakes cookies, and somehow remembers to move “The Elf” every single day. In short, she creates the magic.

But when the holiday itself finally arrives, nearly every Mama Bear I know drags herself across the finish line exhausted and empty.

Now before you label me a curmudgeon, you should know that I absolutely LOVE this time of year. I adore decorating and shopping and wrapping and baking. I look forward to losing myself in the magic of Christmas every December, so much so that I have considered creating a pre-advent calendar counting down to when I can finally start using my actual advent calendar. That doesn’t mean, however, that when December 25th arrives I don’t feel a little like the title character in Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.

Mama Bears deserve to enjoy the season as much as everyone else in their family, and I have learned – the hard way – throughout the last few years that at least two ways to accomplish this exist. The first is to keep the season simple. Embrace only a few important traditions, start shopping early and shop online for gifts (or just shop less and give fewer gifts), and say “no” to the events, activities, and relationships that don’t enhance the holidays.

The second is to, on occasion, indulge. To “stuff your own stocking”, if you will. When you start to feel your spirits or holiday cheer wane, treat yourself to a small pick-me-up, whether it’s a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, time with friends, a quick workout at the gym, or something fun from the list of pampering goodies below.

Apply this rosemary mint foot cream and tuck your feet into these cozy socks before bed and wake up the following morning with soft, smooth, and hydrated feet.

Indulge in these chocolate, candy, and sprinkle-covered pretzel rods when you find yourself in need of a sweet treat. From toffee and gingerbread to birthday cake and PB&J, there are flavors to suit every craving.

Diffuse natural and pure essential oils throughout your home – or add a drop or two to bath water – to support healthy immune systems and a healthy home. Essential oils can also, depending on your mood and emotional state, help increase energy, calm nerves, improve concentration, and lessen anxiety.

Pour yourself a steaming mug of this delectable peppermint hot chocolate, or if you’d prefer to skip the calories, wash away the day’s stresses with these adorable homemade hot chocolate soaps.

Draw yourself a hot bath and add one of these natural, organic, vegan bath bombs; the set includes Grapefruit, Lemon, Coconut, Lavender, Red Rose, Peppermint, Chamomile, Jasmine, and Vanilla, all of which can offer a luxurious escape from the hustle and bustle.

Sit back, relax, and let the beautifully fresh scents of these candles whisk you away to somewhere other than your living room. The Teakwood Currant and Sugared Birch are particularly unique and delicious.

Fend off those chilly temperatures and biting winds – or just snuggle up on the couch – in a cozy blanket scarf or fringe wrap. This multicolored plaid version is on sale and would layer beautifully over a long-sleeved tee, sweater, or vest.

Mama Bears, I see you. I see you creating the magic. I see you singing the same three holiday songs over and over and over again. I see you climbing out of bed at 2am to move that ridiculous elf. And so this holiday season, I’d love to also see you taking a few minutes to stuff your own stocking.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, Happy Holidays, Happy Winter, and Happy New Year, Mama Bears!

Practicing Thanks

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When I found out I was pregnant with my second, I immediately waged a preemptive strike on the postpartum depression that flattened me after my first was born. In an attempt to keep the fear, anxiety, and despair from once again taking over my life and driving a wedge between me and my baby, I started seeing a therapist and writing in a gratitude journal.

I "journaled" periodically throughout my tween, teen, and college years, and while reading through these journals offers up a walk down memory lane, the walk is anything but pleasant – nearly all of my journal entries center around angst and heartbreak. 

The goal of a gratitude journal, however, falls at the opposite end of the spectrum. In each entry, you are required to write about something – anything, big or small – for which you are thankful. Instead of dwelling on how many times you put your toddler in timeout, you focus on how thankful you are that your partner came home from work 20 minutes early to relieve you. Instead of dwelling on how you spent an entire morning cleaning someone else's bodily fluids off the bathroom floor, you focus on how thankful you are that your baby’s afternoon nap lasted just long enough for you to take a shower.

According to researchers at UC-Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center, the benefits of practicing gratitude span nearly every aspect of life. Study results show that people who take time to notice and reflect on the good in their lives experience more positive emotions like happiness and optimism, fewer negative emotions like loneliness and isolation, and less depression. These people also sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and have stronger immune systems.

Taking a moment at the end of every day to acknowledge and say thank you for a moment, experience, or person who made the day just a little bit brighter - even when the best you can come up with is "coffee" or "bedtime" - is one of the most positive coping mechanisms around.

By the grace of God, I never experienced a single symptom of postpartum depression - or even the baby blues, for that matter - after Hallie was born. I'll never know if the steps I took while pregnant or the way Hallie came into the world (Will's birth was pretty traumatic, while Hallie's birth was pretty perfect) made a difference, or if I was just given a pass the second time around. Either way, after writing throughout my pregnancy with Hallie and the first few months of her life, I was hooked on gratitude journals. Nine years later, I still keep one every November and every Lenten season.

As we embark on this season of Thanksgiving, I invite you, my fellow Mama Bears, to join me in keeping a gratitude journal. You certainly need not write in your journal every day throughout the month of November; instead try just writing every Sunday in November, or every day during the week of Thanksgiving. Whatever the case, I hope keeping a gratitude journal helps you stay strong and faithful and grateful for the simple gifts in life, just as it does me.  

#momtheology: Jael the Kenite and the ‘Me Too’ Hashtag

In the days of Jael, caravans ceased

and travelers kept to the byways…

Most blessed of women be Jael …

She put her hand to the tent peg

and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet;

she struck Sisera a blow, she crushed his head,

she shattered and pierced his temple.

~Judges 5:6,24,26

Several years ago, at the suggestion of a spiritual guide, I got back into jogging. I woke early every morning and went out on the Spring Creek bike path near our condo and I ran until I was tired, then came back home. More than just exercise, it was a way to sort through what was in my head; to deal with my anxieties, worries, fears. And it worked. I would say that it turned out to be sound advice to run.

But I noticed something every morning. I’d get about a quarter mile from my front door, accelerate up a berm on the trail, and then, struck with some sense of fear, I’d turn around and look behind me, expecting to find someone there. And not just anyone, but an assailant – someone who might push me down and harm me.

I’d think it was just a fluke deal, except it happened every day, and always at that same spot on the trail. I put the image out of my head each day when I got home figuring I was just paranoid or being too sensitive.

But at some point, after weeks of this sensation, I told a clergy friend. “Am I crazy?” I asked, after telling her my story. No, she affirmed. She, too, had experienced this fear and dread when walking alone.

I’m not going to assume this experience is universal, but it seems common enough. To walk or run alone as a woman is to tango with the risk of harm to one’s well-being.

I hadn’t thought about that visceral experience on the bike trail, nor the scripture from the Old Testament book of Judges that I quoted above, in quite some time. But something triggered those recollections. And it is something that has maybe triggered other women’s memories this week, too.

If you hadn’t guessed it, “me too” is trending on social media. This originated after allegations were made that Harvey Weinstein, cofounder of Miramax, had sexually harassed countless women and raped several others, including prominent actresses like Gwyneth Paltrow.

To further exacerbate this recent news, recorded footage of Weinstein harassing women was released and subsequently denied by the accused.

This possibly could be overlooked, explained away as the everyday debauchery of Hollywood, but unfortunately it is a narrative that sounds eerily familiar to another misogynist harasser with power and money. That’s right, I’m talking about President Donald Trump.

So many of us are raising our voices to say it is not okay. It wasn’t then, it isn’t now, and it should not be a part of our narrative in my daughter’s future.

Some of us, you might say, are praying for a reversal.

And for me, all day yesterday, as I read my friends’ "me toos" I thought of a lesser known scripture from the Old Testament.

If you aren’t familiar, during the time of ancient Israel when a Prophetess named Deborah served as judge, the Israelites were being oppressed by the Canaanites in Hazor. Deborah learned that King Jabin’s men, led by a soldier named Sisera, would be heading her way, so she alerted Barak from Kedesh to be ready with more arms, more men, more horses. Sisera was surprised when he advanced Mount Tabor and found his enemy prepared for his arrival. His fleet was destroyed, and the mighty oppressor fled the battlefield on foot, hoping for safety with a neutral family of peasants in the tribe of Heber. Instead, he met his end. Asking Jael, the wife of Heber, for water, instead he was given a warm cocktail. Hoping to rest on his sojourn back home, instead he meets a swift death, his brain penetrated by a humble tent peg. Who could have seen that coming?

Jael_tuant_Sisera_01.jpg

I’m not a man-hater. It’s probably silly that I even have to make that disclaimer. Because highlighting unacceptable behavior on the behalf of some men does not indict all. But it does open eyes that might deny that such a reality exists. I mean, what would cause millions of women to share the two words “me too” publicly, in a flood of Facebook posts?

Here’s what I recall from my own historical narrative of compromised safety and sexual harassment.

I remember hanging around a campfire at the Lake of the Ozarks with my boy cousins and my grandparents’ hired hand, a man who went by the name ‘Dody.’ I thought nothing of it. We kicked logs into the fire and he told a few jokes. But later, when I went into the house, my grandmother was overly concerned. “I don’t want you alone with him,” she said firmly. “He’s not family, he works for us.” I puzzled at her fear. Why were my boy cousins allowed at the fire and I wasn’t? Why was an untrustworthy man allowed to be around the house – if his presence around her granddaughters scared my grandma so much?

I was maybe eleven years old then.

I remember my first supervisor, or one of them, when I was in high school. He was a middle-aged pool salesman, who jokingly suggested one day that I wear something more “low cut” to work.

I was fifteen.

I remember a peer my junior year in high school calling me over to the lockers so he could make a lewd comment about what I was wearing. That day, as per my punky-usual attire, I was dressed in thrift store Levis and a vintage polo shirt. I remember feeling like no matter what you do, as a young woman, you are at the mercy of objectification. I fell to tears in my classroom across the hall.

I was sixteen.

There are other stories, too. In my early twenties, I left an iconic bar in Austin where I had anticipated seeing a quintessential Austin performer, Toni Price, because an overly intoxicated man was squeezing through the crowd simply to brush up against all the women gathered there. I sacrificed that fun night out because I did not want to be harassed.

We may not live in a world of ancient Prophetesses, desert tent-dwellers, and songs heralding the deadly tent peg of a peasant woman.  But I do think for some of us when we proclaim “me too” we are actually praying for a reversal of power. We are tired of expecting compromised safety is the norm, and like Jael’s tent peg, our enumerated “me toos” say: it’s time to listen - we mean it this time.

#momtheology: My Soul Proclaims Your Greatness, O God! (And My Hands Prepare PBJ Sandwiches)

"Madonna of the Laptop" by Ashley Norwood Cooper

"Madonna of the Laptop" by Ashley Norwood Cooper

 A Mom’s Daily Office

It’s nine o’clock p.m., so I wonder: what prayer of the daily office goes with putting my one-year-old to bed, for the third time?

This is the way my mind works, at least lately, as I try and groove with interruptions that are just the normal parts of mom life. I could be mad about them, and sometimes I am, but when I am able to chill and roll with it, I try to see these moments as sacred pauses, holy in and of themselves.

If I were a Benedictine nun, part of my calling would involve pausing throughout the day to pray, to sit in silence, read scripture, and worship God with my sisters. If I were a Trappist monk, maybe I’d up the ante and sleep on a cushionless board on the floor or wear a humble habit to remind me of my commitment to servitude.

But I am neither of these. I am a mom.

Even so, I am trying to see a connection between the sacred calling of the cloistered life and the blessed vocation of motherhood. When I can remain here, in this healthy and calm perspective, I engage in something the monks and nuns do: I pray the daily office.

What is it exactly?

For those in sacred orders, they rehearse the “liturgy of the hours” pausing to pray six or seven times throughout the day.

I have yet to complete the full schedule in the span of twenty-four hours, but find myself asking throughout the day—especially times of stress or challenge, but also moments of joy—"I wonder which prayer is happening right now?"

And then, thanks to the lovely internet, I look them up so I can pray with my monastic brothers and sisters even as I sit here at my own dining room table.

And because I am who I am—a millennial pastor who can’t seem to keep her fidgety fingers off social media—sometimes I tweet my prayers. Here are some examples:

(Early A.M.)          “May what is false within us

                               Before your truth give way

                               That we may live untroubled

                               With quiet hearts this day.”

                               -Stanbrook Abbey Hymnal #morningprayer

 

(Morning)              My soul proclaims your greatness, O God!

(And my hands prepare pbj sandwiches.)

#feastofascension #morning prayer

 

(Afternoon)           In the spirit of Psalm 119 & in

thanksgiving for a nap: Revive me, O God,

& restore this fridge full of decay,

too, please. #afternoonprayer

 

(Evening)               Great River Nut Brown, Psalm 91,

& Today’s Hottest Country, WLLR.

#nightprayer

 

(Dawn)                   Baby back to sleep, Psalm 51, silent house.

#dawnprayer

As a mother, life is going to include interruptions. Disturbances of sleep, for me, are the hardest. So when I have to rise at dawn to console a restless child, I also try to calm my own restless mind with prayer.

 


Kendra Thompson is a part-time minister and full-time mom living in Davenport, Iowa. In her spare time, when she's not at the mall, she blogs at Cry Laugh Snort.

Mama Bear Books: Graphic Novels and Mysteries

Hello again, Mama Bears!

I spend most of my time reading literary fiction and nonfiction, but sometimes it’s great to take a break from that and sink your teeth into some good genre reads. Summer feels like the perfect time for a departure from the standard reads. Though I certainly don’t limit myself to these books just in the summer, I have a couple of my favorite mystery series to share with you. And I’m even more excited to share some graphic novel suggestions with you! They are a relatively new discovery for me and I am thoroughly enjoying exploring this genre. I am hoping this post will inspire you to try something that maybe you haven’t tried before. Happy reading!

Graphic Novels

March by John Lewis: This three-book series allows readers to see the Civil Rights movement through the eyes of Congressman John Lewis.

Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman: The life of Polish Jews during WWII, both before and after their internment. (Two-book series)

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi: If you don’t know anything about the revolution in Iran in the 80s and early 90s, this is a lesson to be learned.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel: A memoir where Bechdel wrestles with her father’s death and secret sexuality while also coming to grips with her own sexuality.

My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris: This is a dark and gritty tale about a girl who imagines herself like a monster found in horror movies. She tasks herself with figuring out what really happened in the suspicious death of her neighbor, a WWII survivor. Themes include sexuality, suicide, cancer, death and poverty among other things. Not for the faint of heart, but if you’re up for it, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. P.S. Ferris began work on this graphic novel as she recovered from paralysis caused by West Nile.

Mysteries

The Cormoran Strike Series by Robert Galbraith: Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling. The series starts with The Cuckoo’s Calling. I may be biased because I love J.K., but I thoroughly enjoy the character of Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin.

The Flavia de Luce Series by Alan Bradley: The first book in the series is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Flavia is a teen girl full of spunk and a passion for chemistry who has a knack for solving mysteries. She is an absolute delight.

Lindsey Sinnwell is a married mother of four living in the suburbs in Iowa and will be contributing a monthly literary reflection on the Mama Bear Blog. After spending 12 years as a stay-at-home mom, she is returning to her alma mater to pursue her teaching certification in English. She is much cooler than she sounds and is always looking for new book-loving friends. You can find her on Instagram at @mrssinnwellreads.

Mama Bear Self Care: Bake for the Health of It

Photos and baking wizardry by Erin Ferris.

Photos and baking wizardry by Erin Ferris.

I learned my way around the kitchen under my mother’s wing. Wearing an apron that hung nearly to my ankles and standing precariously on a wooden stool, I inched closer and closer until I all but crowded her out of the head chef’s place at the counter. As we created salads, soups, and casseroles, she taught me the formal techniques I would one day use to feed my family as well how to express my creativity in the kitchen and the art of preparing and presenting food with love.

Fifteen years later and as a newly-relocated (read: friendless) newlywed whose other half worked 14 hours a day, I decided to build on what my mother taught me and improve my baking skills. I told myself I took on the project for the sake of our future children, who would of course someday need me to contribute to their schools’ bake sales … honestly, I really just wanted an excuse to lick the bowl and indulge in a few sweet treats myself.

As I whipped up banana bread, brownies, lemon bars, and carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, I realized that each recipe – even halved – produced more than my little family could consume. Rather than dump the extras into the trash, I started sending them to work with my husband or taking them to my office. My husband’s graduate students sent thank-you emails for the homemade cookies. My coworkers’ faces lit up when they found trays of cupcakes on the break room counter. And with that, a cycle began: I baked, my baked goods made other people happy, I felt happy, and I baked again.

I didn’t always love the process, or the cleanup, or the frustration that crept in when I attempted to tweak recipes with disastrous results, but I kept baking because it made me feel good about myself.

The cycle continues today, another 15 years later. Despite my family doubling in size and my time commitments doubling in number, I still bake for my husband, kids, friends, and friends’ kids. For sporting events. For school functions. For Fridays. At times my inability to turn down a request for baked goods – no matter how full my schedule – baffles me.

And then last month I came across this article. As the choir sang “Alleluia,” the heavens parted and a beam of light illuminated my stove like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Suddenly it all became clear.

Should your busy schedule keep you from reading the article in its entirety, here’s a summary: making other people happy makes us happy, and when we care for others, we care for ourselves.

  • Baking provides a creative outlet. Research has found an inverse relationship between creative expression and stress, meaning the more we express ourselves creatively, the lower our stress levels.
  • Baking provides a way to communicate feelings and emotions. When we struggle to express how we feel, food can help us share our message. Explains Julie Ohana, a licensed medical social worker and culinary art therapist, “In many cultures, and in many countries, food…is an expression of love, and it’s actually beautiful because it’s something we can all relate to.”
  • Baking promotes mindfulness, which has been connected to increased happiness and decreased stress. Because baking requires physical and mental focus and attention to detail, it requires us to be present in the moment. Ohana also explains that baking promotes balancing the moment against the bigger picture, something that can be difficult to master.
  • Baking with the intent to gift the finished product is altruistic. Donna Pincus, an Associate Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, describes the cycle I mentioned above in more detail: “Baking for others can increase a feeling of wellbeing, contribute to stress relief and make you feel like you’ve done something good for the world, which perhaps increases your meaning in life and connection with other people.”

Of course these benefits to baking apply only if you feel comfortable in the kitchen. If baking causes you stress, steer clear…but then find your gift and put it to use in the same way many of us use baking. A friend of mine is an incredible knitter and she loves to make scarves and hats and mittens for friends. Another friend creates beautiful leather bookmarks and pops them into books when she lends her favorites. These Mama Bears enjoy their personal creative outlets and appreciate the feelings of accomplishment and happiness that come from caring for others.

Though I didn’t realize it until last month, for 30+ years I have measured, mixed, and decorated as a way to work out my creative energy, let others know how I feel, and spend time alone with my thoughts. Now that I know the benefits, I anticipate another 30+ years of the same.

Perhaps we should talk about exercise next month…


Mama Bear contributor Erin Ferris is a wife, mother, and writer living in College Station, Texas. She loves snow, tulips, donuts, cowboy boots, kittens, musical theater, college football, crime dramas, young adult fiction, and the color red. After working for the American Red Cross for nearly 10 years, she stepped away from the nonprofit world to focus on her favorite part of that job: telling meaningful and impactful stories. She contributes a monthly “Mama Bear Self Care” post to the Mama Bear Dares Blog, and you can find her at Chasing Roots.

#momtheology: Mother's Day and the Myth of St. Mom

 Mother with Thorns and Turkey from  Mother  by  Judy Olausen

 Mother with Thorns and Turkey from Mother by  Judy Olausen

When I was growing up, there weren’t many women from the Bible elevated in sermons. Yet I could always count on the Mother’s Day service to include a reading from Proverbs Chapter 31 followed by an oration praising the noble wife presented and extolling her domestic perfection.

Because of this yearly tradition, there was a season of my young adulthood in which I resented the proverbial “perfect woman.” She seemed to have all the qualities I lacked. She was an early riser, a tidy housekeeper, and the bearer of many children. She mystified me, I guess. Was she a spokeswoman to represent the important work of womanhood? Or was she an unrealistic figure of excellence who would haunt me forever?

I have since come to see her as both. She is at once an exemplary, model woman and an exaggerated, mythical creature.

When I say "myth" I am not disrespecting sacred scripture, nor downplaying this figure’s power. Karen Armstrong, author and religious scholar, calls something a "myth" if it happened once and also happens all the time. [1] I find this definition fitting for our heroine, the Proverbs 31 Wife, because she was likely a composite made up of real traits that existed long ago … and her characteristics also echo now into our contemporary day and age.

This “myth” language gives me permission to accept our ancient Wonder Woman not by dismissing her qualities, but by holding her lightly—playing, even, with the imagination of her, contemporized. I invite you to join me as I lift up motherhood with the help of biblical wisdom.

For instance, the writer of Proverbs praises "the capable wife" (verse 15) because she “rises while it is still night.” But I say unto you, Modern Mom: “Blessed are you who wakes at 3 a.m., 5 a.m., 5:30, 6:30 (and so on…), yet still adorns her fussy infant with affection come morning.”

Or as the biblical writer in verse 16 extols the woman who “considers a field and buys it” and “who plants a vineyard with her own hands.” Lo, I say unto you, Mom of 2017: “Praised be your name when, though you are ragged, you miraculously remember to pay your mortgage each month!” And, likewise: “Blessed are thy hands that succeed at feeding your toddler food of nutritional value!”

As I revisit Proverbs 31 now, I’ve noticed some things that didn’t stand out before. For example, it seems that the woman introduced is a woman of means. She considers investments, she has support staff to carry out her household chores. However, these are not the root of her fulfillment.  Instead, verses 26-28 remind us what gives mama her true wealth, her real power. The writer says of this amazing woman: “She opens her mouth with wisdom … her children rise up and call her happy.” What is her wisdom? What makes her happy? The answer stems from the things that cannot be bought or brokered; it rests in the realm of home and hearth, the community of wise women, and the support of a loving, faithful marriage.

And so, I second those words and I say unto you: Mothers, wherever you are, glory to you for the wisdom you share with one another, for the ways you tend to your children’s hearts so that they feel loved, safe, and secure, and for the times they catch you truly delighting in them, in yourself, and in your life ... and they rise to regard you as happy.                

[1] Karen Armstrong, The Case for God (New York, 2009) p. xi.

Kendra Thompson is a part-time minister and full-time mom living in Davenport, Iowa. In her spare time, when she's not at the mall, she blogs at Cry Laugh Snort.

Mother’s Day Gifts: Eight Ideas for the Mama Bear in Your Life

Mama Bear. She’s strong, she’s sensitive, she’s socially minded. If you’re lucky enough to have a Mama Bear in your life, we know you’ll want to honor her on Mother’s Day. Check out these thoughtful, big-hearted gifts sure to make even the fiercest Mama Bear swoon.

1. Beaded Earrings from Tanzania

Because of the sponsorship of mom-artist, Mama-Bear, and #girlboss Jen VanOort of Onion Grove Mercantile, 100% of the purchase of a pair of red beaded earrings ($30) made by Maasai women in Tanzania will go to women’s empowerment programming in poor, rural areas of Tanzania. Empower Tanzania works to prepare women for success in sub-Saharan Africa through education and specialized training in healthcare, agriculture, and small business. Learn more about their work at www.empowertz.org and purchase a set of earrings HERE.

2. Uprising Apparel

A “Be the Light” tank ($28) is a double win. Uprising Apparel is a Mama Bear company in that they offer stylish, inspiring apparel that shares a message of hope while helping to raise vulnerable children out of poverty. The purchase of this tank will help bring light and hope to vulnerable children in Uganda through educational initiatives and will provoke goodness in anyone who reads the message.

3. FashionABLE Bag

We love this leather bag ($148) handcrafted in Ethiopia almost as much as we love the philosophy behind the company who produces it. FashionABLE believes in creating jobs for those lacking opportunity and that those jobs should be held by women. This Mama Bear mission is one we want to support: to end generational poverty, we must empower people to provide for themselves.

4. Minivan Makeover

American moms with children of a certain age tend to spend an astonishing amount of time in their minivans. Concentrate your efforts on pampering her where she’s at! In other words, clean that baby until it sparkles. If you’re detail-oriented and not afraid of elbow-grease, you can perform the task yourself ($0). If you supervise and demand a certain level of excellence, the kids can do it ($0). Otherwise, the local full-service car wash will get the job done ($49-$249). (If you choose to hire someone, find a black, female, or immigrant-owned business to support for bonus Mama Bear points.)

5. Mama Bear’s Manifesto

Mama Bear’s Manifesto: A Moms’ Group Guide to Changing the World ($14) is a book that honors moms and asks women of all ages to poke at the power they hold within. It’s a celebration of women, of friendship, and of the incredible power of motherhood. This book will inspire and reassure moms of all ages and is perfect for Mother’s Day. Ten percent of all sales is donated to The Adventure Project. Available at Target, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other major bookstores.

6. LSTN Earbuds

If she loves listening to podcasts, she’ll probably love listening to her favorite shows (ahem, Mama Bear Dares!) on these zebra wood earbuds ($49). Not only are they gorgeous and do they produce great sound, but every LSTN purchase helps give hearing aids to someone in need. (Also, we’re drooling over LSTN’s wireless, over-ear Troubadors ($179). They’re a bit pricier but MUCH harder to lose!)

7. Spa Treatment

Encourage her self-care routine by giving the Mama Bear in your life a gift certificate for a spa service (massage, facial, mani/pedi; $30 and up) ... and then make sure she makes time to use it. And remember, Mama Bears love lifting their sisters up—enhance the meaning of this gift by spending your dollars at a local, female-owned business. Pair the gift with vegan, non-GMO bath bombs for complete thoughtfulness.

8. Sustainable Shades

If she has a kid or two, she’s probably responsible enough to hold on to a pair of quality, sustainable shades, right? Invest in a pair of Woodwear eco-friendly, sustainable sunglasses and the Mama Bear in your life will feel fancy and in good conscience all summer long. Woodwear Sunglasses are handmade out of sustainable bamboo in the U.S.A. Favorites: Breck Woods ($90) and classic tortoise Malibus ($60).

5 LESSONS A MIDWESTERN MOM CAN LEARN FROM HER EAST AFRICAN SISTER

5 LESSONS A MIDWESTERN MOM CAN LEARN FROM HER EAST AFRICAN SISTER

"Just as it’s essential to acknowledge what’s broken and do what we can to help relieve suffering, even if it’s a world away, it’s also important to pay attention to the beauty present as well. As I’ve traveled through East Africa for both work and pleasure, I’ve grown to admire much about the way women cultivate community and raise their sons and daughters. In fact, I believe a Midwestern mama can learn a lot about motherhood in the cradle of humanity."

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Confessions of a Thirty-Five-Year-Old Mallrat

35yrmallrat.jpg

In 1995, there was a movie. Granted, it wasn’t a great movie, but at least it was crass and juvenile. I’m talking about Mallrats. Food court debates, break ups and of course, Jay and Silent Bob doing their thing – whatever that is.

I’m not saying this movie sums up my life or anything, but lately I do spend an inordinate amount of time at the mall. I guess you could say: I’m a thirty-five-year-old mallrat.

I blame my children. And the Midwest.

I had my first child at the tail end of a polar vortex which struck Iowa in the first part of 2014. Being hospitalized, becoming a new mother, these things already cam make you feel stir crazy. But when you can’t even go outside because, with wind chill, it’s twenty degrees below zero? You figure out some way to get out of the house.

For me, I took my tiny baby to the mall.

I prided myself on a practice I call “Exploiting the Mall.” I discovered the free coffee sample, which varies daily, at the kitchen store, I located bathroom stalls big enough to contain a mom, a baby, and a stroller, I scouted out quiet places to feed my son and I often left my shopping experience having spent ten dollars or less.

As he’s gotten older, I’ve passed on “Exploiting the Mall” to my son. We visit Build-a-Bear, which may as well be a bear museum, because we never buy anything. We ‘ride’ the trains -feeding no quarters to the mechanical amusements that go nowhere. And after these rounds, we often feast on a low-budget, shared kid’s meal of nuggets, fries, and diet lemonade in the food court.

Now I am the mother of two small children and the mall remains our routine companion. In fact, my son even recognizes it from the road. When he sees the Northwest Bank building looming at the top of Brady and Kimberly he asks, “Mom, is that the mall?” He overlooks Toys-R-Us completely, perhaps because we never go there. But he knows the mall.

I’m not entirely proud of this recognition. Perhaps at some point I will be held responsible for my son’s consumeristic leanings; his own mallrat tendencies.

This pangs me a bit. But it’s not just about shopping.

I regularly have conversations with store owners, managers and baristas.  Yes, I’ve spent enough time at the mall that I’ve made friends. I know that Jim, owner of Cotopaxi, famous for Bob Marley posters and ten cent incense sticks, lives out of state but runs his franchise from a far. I’ve met the Pastor’s son who runs the Christian coffee shop that keeps me coming back with potent espresso and ten percent off coupons. (I even got a tour of their worship space and recording studio once.) I also enjoy running into my friends from church who are mall-walkers, frequenting North Park as much as I do.

Being a mallrat is about loitering and infrequently buying things, but I’d argue it’s also about finding community. Sometimes I go to the mall to shop. But sometimes I go just so I can be around people, nodding at the other moms navigating stores with bulky diaper bags and cumbersome strollers. And in the meantime, I’ve met a few people and now we are in each other’s narratives. Funny how that happens.

When my husband and I lived in college towns like Lawrence, Kansas and Fort Collins, Colorado, my mercantile wanderings took me to Mass Street and Old Town; hip districts containing shops, breweries, and bordered by bodies of water. I’m older now, I have children, and I live in Davenport, Iowa. I suppose we could go downtown to wander along the Mississippi River. I could do that, and infrequently, I do. But more likely than not, when I need to get out of the house, go for a little walk, buy some stickers, and eat a salty snack — I go to the mall


*Special thanks to Joyce Paustian who took this picture at North Park Mall and Woody Perkins who made it so closely resemble the movie poster for Mallrats.

I’m also thankful for my friends and family featured: Joe (my son), Louise (my mother in law), Bob (friend, church member, and faithful mall-walker), Andi (my daughter), John (my husband), Woody, Sarah and Matthew (friends and remarkably adventuresome collaborators).

Oh, and Danielle Parker, Owner and Stylist at Studio 714 salon who asked, “So you want me to style your hair for a blog?” But then did it anyway.


Kendra Thompson is a part-time minister and full-time mom living in Davenport, Iowa. In her spare time, when she's not at the mall, she blogs at Cry Laugh Snort.

Mama Bear Self Care: Tea Time, Me Time

IMG_8445.JPG

We’ve seen the mugs, t-shirts, and tote bags bearing phrases like “I run on coffee and chaos”, “but first, coffee”, and my personal favorite, “first I drink the coffee, then I do the things”. (Confession: I am drinking a cup of coffee as I write this blog post…)

As Mama Bears, many of us wake long before our spouses, our children, and the sun, not necessarily because we love early mornings but because we know the day ahead requires us to be prepared. We stumble to the kitchen, turn on the coffeemaker, and wait for that liquid gold to fill both our literal and our figurative cups. Soon we feel ready to conquer the day; from drop-offs and pick-ups to practices and lessons to homework and dinner, we know we can accomplish it all when buoyed by coffee.

Coffee has become our not-so-secret weapon in the battle for ultimate productivity, and while there is a time and a place for coffee-fueled busy, there is also a time and place to slow down.

Allow me to introduce you to the new drink in town: tea.

“If you are cold, tea will warm you. If you are heated, it will cool you. If you are depressed, it will cheer you. If you are excited, it will calm you.”

Consider William Gladstone’s words as you picture yourself drinking a cup of tea. You look relaxed, don’t you? Perhaps you’re sitting on your back porch on a sunny morning, feeling a light breeze on your face and listening to the birds chirp. Maybe you’re curled up in a comfortable chair in front of the fireplace, reading a deliciously good book. When coffee encourages us to get moving, tea encourages us to slow down. Where coffee reminds us to tackle that lengthy to-do list, tea reminds us that less is more. Tea is not just a beverage, but a ticket to living a more balanced, peaceful life.

Unbeknownst to many, after water, tea is the most widely consumed drink in the world: an astounding 3 billion cups are savored daily. And when you consider the long list of health and wellness benefits associated with tea – and that it can be enjoyed hot or cold in any season – it’s no wonder tea has gained such a massive following.

At the very least, tea offers a flavorful way to stay hydrated. Tea is simple and inexpensive to brew at home, and the options are almost endless. Some prefer orthodox tea – from luscious greens to robust blacks and the full-bodied oolongs in between – while others fancy herbal teas made by infusing herbs, spices, and other plant components in hot water. Whatever the case, almost everyone can find a cup of tea to please the taste buds.

More importantly, tea is high in antioxidants, has no calories, increases metabolism, improves skin, soothes the digestive system, calms the nervous system, and boosts the immune system. Some studies have even found a connection between drinking tea and a lower occurrence of cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Though used medicinally elsewhere in the world for thousands of years, the health benefits of tea are only recently making headlines in the United States.

As Mama Bears, we need to care for ourselves in order to care for our families. So the next time you feel stressed, overwhelmed, tired, grumpy, or even just uninspired, brew yourself a cup of the finest solution to life’s challenges. Both your mental and physical health will thank you for the treat.

Source #1 | Source #2


Mama Bear contributor Erin Ferris is a wife, mother, and writer living in College Station, Texas. She loves snow, tulips, donuts, cowboy boots, kittens, musical theater, college football, crime dramas, young adult fiction, and the color red. After working for the American Red Cross for nearly 10 years, she stepped away from the nonprofit world to focus on her favorite part of that job: telling meaningful and impactful stories. She will contribute a monthly “Mama Bear Self Care” post to the Mama Bear Dares blog, and you can find her at Chasing Roots.

Lessons Learned From My First Months As Podcast Host

I was doing a little editing on the podcast that we will drop on Monday and I just was kind of stopped in my tracks a little bit. Tabitha, our guest, is full of wisdom and kindness and fierceness. She shares these traits with our other guests. It occurred to me that though 2016 has been a really hard year in many different ways (or maybe just a hard few final months—it’s hard to gain the perspective when it still feels like we are in it) I have learned and grown because of this podcast and the women I’ve been blessed to spend time with every week.

We’ve said it before on the podcast but it’s true, our culture tries telling us that as women we are to be in a constant state of competition with one another. That there is some destination that only allows one woman to have it all, this woman will of course reach this destination with the best style and most flawless face, hair, and nails. What a total bill of goods we are sold. Though the last handful of years have been full of examples in my own personal life about the actual truth being that when we help another woman succeed we are in turn paving the way for our own success—this podcast has proved it to be true every Monday and every Wednesday.

Leslie and I hope that by giving our guests a bigger platform we can help them succeed, whether it’s by selling more books or by garnering more donations for their non profit or whatever their pursuit. We also hope we can just make them feel successful for an hour at the very least. That we can give them the little confidence boost that comes when someone says, “You are worthy of our time.” And in turn our guests help the podcast. They tell their friends and family that they’ve recently sat down with a few women—one of whom laughs maybe a little too hard and too often (that’s me) and the other who is the epitome of style, class, and perfect English (that’s Leslie). Women helping women helping women.

For a long time I pictured the glass ceiling shattering around one woman with her fist raised, bold enough to climb the ladder and just crazy enough to believe she was worthy of constant ascension. Now I know better. Now I know that wherever a glass ceiling is shattered there too are the hundreds of women who made the moment possible. The ones who silently did more work than her male counterparts just to look competent. The ones who boldly stood up for herself against sexism and misogyny. The ones who promoted other women to higher echelons within the company or who pushed the ideas of women to the front of the business model. The moms who raised these women to believe in themselves, to stand up for themselves,and to nurture their female friendships. This podcast is a microcosm of that truth—we get where we’re going because of the millions before us and the millions still to come.

Thank you so much for joining this tribe of glass shatterers in 2016. My resolution for 2017 is to continue to bring you the stories of women who are inspiring a tide of other women to live joyfully and with great compassion, knowing that behind every great woman is a hundred more encouraging her and holding her accountable to her very best self.

Happy New Year, friends.

-Tesi