I bet I can predict three of the thoughts running through your head right now: 1) Hmmm, I figured she abandoned these love shout-outs since there hasn’t been one since the 2nd week of the year; 2) The Simple Things? I can’t wait to find out what cutesy store/fine dining establishment chose that name; and 3) Seriously, Katie, where have you been for a month? I figured you gave up on the blog.
In answer to those questions: no, I haven’t given up on the love shout-outs OR on the Year of Love. There’s been love all around…I’ve just struggled in finding time to write about it. Soaking it in is better than writing about it anyway, right? No, I didn’t give up my blog either. In fact it actually surprised me how much I’ve missed writing. The short summary is I had a week of end-of-trimester/report card craziness followed by a week away with my kids at an adventure camp (yes, overnight camp with 11 year-olds…an adventure to say the least) and then…remember when I posted about illness and how those of us with autoimmune diseases just band together for cold and flu season and hope for the best? Well, this year I fell short. I came down with a double ear infection which then morphed into a fullblown sinus infection which culminated in a 102 degree fever that had the doctor debating whether I’d have to end my now-approaching-1-year-since-an-ER-visit streak for IV fluids. Fortunately my immune system figured itself out and though it’s been a long week of slowly recovering my strength, I am now happy to report I’m almost back to full health. Thank goodness for Advil, Katie-safe antibiotics, and a new corn-syrup free variety of Gatorade for getting me through.
Now onto those simple things. It was only capitalized above because it’s the title of this post. I’m not talking about a trendy boutique or a new farm-to-table café. No, I quite literally mean the simple things in life : the moments, events, objects, and yes even people, that are so simple and yet in that simplicity bring us profound joy. You know the moments I mean: when the song you’ve been waiting to hear comes on the radio just as you get in the car; when there’s time left on a meter outside the post office when you just need to run inside for stamps; when there’s a buy 1, get 1 free sale on the ingredient you need for your next baking endeavor; when an entire class of 6thgraders is fixated on a Disney movie and you actually get a moment to correct papers during indoor recess. Such moments will never inspire Oscar-worthy movies or Pulitzer-Prize-winning novels…but it is the profound joy of these simple moments which remind us that we are loved, honored,and cherished by people in this world but also by a Creator who gifted us moments such as these.
As anyone who knows me will attest, I tend to find much greater joy in the simple things than your average person. However, even I have to admit that has been exponentially magnified this week. I think it’s human nature that when any of us bounce back from an illness, we’re more appreciative of the little things. On that first morning venturing off the couch when you just can’t believe how far the walk from your front door to the car really seems to be, you swear you’ll never take your health for granted again. Of course a week later, you’re bounding out the door again and rushing to the car with a million to-do list items in your mind and you’ve already broken that promise…again, human nature.
For those of you who are calendar fiends like myself, you may remember that last year, this week was Holy Week. Easter Sunday was March 31st and I was counting down the days until I could drink coffee again. Not only that, I was in the worst health I had been since my initial diagnosis three years ago. I was weak and I was tired. My stomach hurt constantly. I could barely make it through a day of school…and on 2 different occasions, I didn’t. I was sad, I was scared, I was frustrated, and I was confused. I would arrive at school each morning envious of other teachers who walked into school with what I considered “normal problems”. They weren’t worried about feeling faint during class, having enough energy to make it to 3 PM without a rest in the nurse’s office, or a constant pain in their stomach. I remember thinking back on my healthier days as a teacher and longing for the “normal” stress of a regular day. I promised myself if they every figured out what was wrong with me, I’d never complain about those “normal” stressors again. Well, fast forward a year later…boy, did I break that promise.
Just as with a typical illness, I have fallen back into the “normalcy” of life and those little things I once dreamed of doing suddenly became expected and routine. I find myself stressing about the very things I once dreamed of being able to do. I had to teach non-stop without a break because of the schedule changes and mass. I had to go to three different meetings and a dinner in one week. I had to find time to get to the bank, the gym, and the grocery store in time for “How I Met Your Mother”. I should have been finding joy in these things: I GET to teach all day without worry about blood sugar crashes, stomachaches, or dizzy spells. I GET to attend three different meetings to offer my thoughts, share a few laughs, and make a real impact; I GET to attend a dinner (even if my plate remains mostly empty) without a contingency plan for the quickest low-key exit door and shortest route to the nearest medical office; I GET to run errands, go for a run, and cook a delicious meal before settling in on the couch without curling up in a tired, confused, pain-filled ball. And all it took was a brief bout of illness to remind me of that.
So this week I’ve been feeling a little bit like Olaf. (If you haven’t seen Frozen, do yourself a favor…go get it. And I mean now!) I’ve found the greatest joy in the simplest things: yes, the beauty of a March snowfall, a sale on gluten-free matzah (who knew Passover would bring out so many Katie-safe options in the grocery store??), the sparkle in the eye of a student (or colleague) when they share something that excites them; but it’s even simpler than that. I find joy in being able to get out of bed when my alarm goes off in the morning, in walking out the door without having to remember sugar packets in case of possible blood sugar crashes during the day, in eating a meal without the crippling anxiety of wondering if it will leave me doubled over in pain or struggling to take a deep breath. Even the simple fact of sitting on my couch in my own apartment brings me indescribable joy…because I’m lucky enough to have a home, yes, but also because there was a time when I (and several friends/health professionals) had severe reservations about the safety of my being alone for multiple hours at a time. I find joy in my prayer time before I go to sleep…because the time that was once filled with pleas for answers, health, and healing can now be spent in deeper reflection and in prayer for other people and their needs.
So today I encourage you to do the same. See the world like Olaf does…as if you’re seeing it all for the first time and each simple little thing is the most fascinating and beautiful thing you’ve ever encountered. I’ll think you’ll be surprised how much joy can fill your heart in doing so…and in turn, how much joy you can share with others around you.
And in the spirit of this simplicity, this wouldn’t be complete without a simple, allergy-friendly meal suggestion: Irish stew. Growing up, we ate this every year on St. Patrick’s Day. I asked almost every year why we didn’t have Corned Beef and Cabbage and the answer always had something to do with the fact that my grandfather (born and raised in Ireland) had never heard of such a meal until he came to America. While that may be true, I also realize now that it also probably had a lot to do with the simplicity of this dish. In a 100% Irish household, the weeks surrounding St. Patrick’s Day can be crazy ones. We were like an assembly line of Irish soda bread makers…every teacher, neighbor, and homeroom class had to have one (times 3 kids). Not to mention, my sister and I were competitive Irish Step dancers for many years. The number of performances, parades, mall exhibitions, etc. multiplied exponentially each March. And even in the years after we “retired” from dancing competitively, we still dusted off those shoes every March 17th for the remainder of our grade school/high school days to perform for various music classes at our school. With all that to keep organized (not to mention the hair curling that had to take place), I realize now that stew was a quick multi-day meal option which could easily be reheated to suit the crazy schedule that was St. Patrick’s Day time in the Burke household.
So regardless of the date on the calendar, here is a simple, go-to recipe that will leave you with easily reheatable food for days and days to come. Thank goodness I made a big batch right before my most recent illness struck. Nothing like the joy of a microwaveable meal when the journey from couch to fridge seems more like a marathon.
Simple Irish Stew
1 lb. lamb (or beef works too)
4 cups vegetable broth (GF)
potatoes, celery, carrots, onion, whatever else strikes your fancy 🙂
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tsp. thyme
2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. pepper
3-4 cabbage leaves
1) I recommend browning the meat first on a stovetop…no chance of undercooked meat!
2) Mix all ingredients in the crockpot. Top off with the cabbage leaves and cook on low for 5-6 hours.
Yep, it’s that simple!
Now go out there today and live like Olaf. Notice the simple things in your day: celebrate them, and savor them. And do yourself a favor: love like Olaf too; openly, honestly, selflessly, and joyfully. I mean, it is the Year of Love after all 🙂