Day 5 – Meals and Memories

When it comes to food, people typically fall into two camps.

In the first camp, you have people who just gravitate toward food. They love it. They appreciate it. At the end of a long day, they want nothing more than to roll up their sleeves, pull out various ingredients, and build a masterpiece out of a meal. Their dishes are colorful and delectable. They speak poetry over what they’ve created with savory adjectives. Flaky, crunchy bread. Melted squares of creamy butter. Rich red wine. Food is not merely about consumption; it is about the experience. It can be a perfect way to show love and bring people together.

But in the second camp, you have people who are a bit hopeless when it comes to the whole food thing. You give them an “easy” recipe and they manage to botch it. Their handwritten recipes include detailed instructions on making hard-boiled eggs or cutting onions. There can be a lot of anxiety in this camp because all the opinions surrounding food these days make the whole process even more complicated.

And I, my friends, fall smack dab in the middle of the SECOND camp. If I had it my way, I’d eat the same things (bagels, tea, peanut butter and jelly, pickles, spaghetti) every. single. day. I can cook fine, but I need detailed instructions, and I’d much rather do any other thing with my time. So when I read that Day 5’s activity was to cook your husband’s favorite meal, my heart sank just a little. No favorite meals came to mind. Mike eats just about anything and I’m picky, so I mostly know meals that simply work for both of us. Like hot dogs. To make matters more complicated, I had plans to complete Day 5 on our anniversary. (Eight years! *Inserts all heart emojis in the world*) I didn’t really want to make one of our basic meals (like hot dogs), but trying something new sounded like a recipe for disaster (pun slightly intended) when I wanted the night to be special.

What I did:

I mulled over what to do for awhile. Tried to imagine what could make a meal simple and special. The answer came to me through the one thing I’ve come to love about food, which was something that became most instilled in me through Mike and friends he made in college.

Mike had an incredible group of friends whom he hung out with all the time, and these friends (1) loved cooking and (2) were good at it. They would bring a bunch of people together and make both meals and memories. Around the time Mike and I started dating, he moved in with two guys from this group, Josh and Josh. He was great friends with these guys, and also great friends with their girlfriends, Lauren and Bekah. And let me tell you… meals were their thing

When I entered this group, I was totally intimidated. Not only because I was the new girl and these friends were the ones whose opinions mattered – friends who cared deeply for Mike and wanted the best for him – but also because they could cook! It was amazing to watch. My best contribution to group meals was usually my string of questions about how to cut a pepper or what the green stuff was they were sprinkling on top of the tacos.* Beyond that, I was mostly quiet, trying not to make a fool of myself (ever the concern of an introvert hanging out with new people) and also soaking in the stories. Because over meals, the stories came, and stories are something I love. “Remember the time when we dunked Mike in the waterway to clear his sinuses?” Nope, please tell me more! “Remember how Bekah would leave the apartment because Josh said he was tired, but then he and Mike would end up watching West Wing?” Makes sense, West Wing is awesome! “Remember when…?”

*Cilantro, maybe…?

I couldn’t remember what they remembered at first, but the meals continued. We’d grill out. Group breakfasts became a tradition; first at the guys’ apartment, then later at any one of our homes. When Josh and Bekah got married, we’d have bonfires at their place. When Josh and Lauren moved away, we’d schedule for all of us to meet up at their home for drinks, dinners, and ridiculous dancing. Over time, I not only started to recognize the stories being told; I was also in them. “Remember that time we were playing Cranium and Mike hummed ‘Sweet Caroline’ to Kirsten confident that she’d know the answer right away, but it turned out Kirsten thought he was humming ‘Shine, Jesus, Shine’ much to the amusement of everyone in the room?” (True story.)

These friends of Mike’s became my friends too – the amazing, not-to-be-taken-for-granted kind. The ones who checked on how things were going as we dated. The ones (well, Josh and Josh) who were with Mike as he bought my ring, then were all for it when Mike did one of his Mike-things and decided to drive to my house from the jeweler’s and propose rather than wait for the trip to NYC he’d planned with the intention of proposing six days later. The ones who were either in or attended our wedding. The ones who we lived life with through themed cuisine Saturdays, rebel small groups, out-of town visits or FaceTime, and weekends at vacation homes for birthday celebrations. (Over the years, we’ve accumulated countless Group-On-The-Couch photos.) The ones who supported us when we felt overwhelmed at the news that we were pregnant. (The ones who were also nice enough to get pregnant either right before or right after us so we didn’t feel alone. Okay, so that probably wasn’t specifically for us… but it was a wonderful coincidence!) The ones who – to this day – check in on how things are going, hold us accountable in our marriage, look us straight in the eye and ask the hard questions, and who support and encourage us in the face of the unknown. They’ve made meals as the backdrop for our memories, and then stories are what we savor over meals.

And so I decided to make a group staple for our Day 5/anniversary dinner. A meal that honored the friends who (1) helped make food appealing because it was always about more than food, and (2) have had such a profound impact on our relationship, both before and after our wedding day. A meal that is both classic (automatically bringing back a rush of memories), and easy to make (even if I did have to learn, long ago, that this easy recipe can be ruined if you think baking soda is the same thing as baking powder):

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What I learned:

(1) It’s okay to take these activities and mold them a bit to play to your strengths.

(2) I’m reminded all over again of how lucky we are for the incredible friends in our lives.


(3) Mike is still the best thing that has ever happened to me.

(4) At the rate we’re going, we should finish this 31-day challenge by mid-April of 2017.

TV Challenge Update:
We began our challenge on July 24th. We made it 3 days*. After that, we saw 3 movies, many Olympic events, and the entire season of Stranger Things, which I highly recommend. 

*Mike says we probably only made it that long because we were busy.

Day 4: A Surprise Snack and Why Learning Preferences is Helpful

Hello from our 9th day out of town! We’ve been in Charlotte for the past week with my family, and are spending our last couple days with Mike’s parents before heading home.

Two things we’ve learned:

  1. It’s basically impossible to keep up with the #31creativeways challenge while on vacation.
  2. It’s basically impossible to keep up with the no-TV-watching challenge while on vacation.

It’s been 4 minutes since I last watched TV, having walked away from the Lifetime movie my mother-in-law and I were getting into so I could focus my attention on finally writing this blog entry.*

*Okay, so I’m actually listening to the Lifetime movie while I write. I have to know if this movie about a girl suspicious of dating apps is going to end up being a horror film like the movie that came before it about the babysitter who wanted to destroy the perfect family. So it’s been, like, 3.5 hours since I last wasn’t watching TV.

I also haven’t given much thought to loving and encouraging Mike intentionally as we spend time with family, visit with friends, and attend midnight release parties for “the new Harry Potter book” (having read the book, I’m of the opinion that this book feels more like fan fiction than canon). And it’s been a rather unique week in which lots of discussions and prayers* revolve around the future. This means there is less loving Mike intentionally and more Mike loving me unconditionally as I occasionally fall into emotional black holes. Another blog entry for another day, am I right?

*I haven’t kept up with praying daily, but we’ve prayed together a couple times this past week. That’s something! It’s hard for me to pray when Mike and I are working through things together and I don’t see his point of view. Perhaps that’s another reason why praying for him daily is important. I think it’ll help me to consider things from his perspective and for his best interest instead of just my own. 

Although we’ve taken a break on activities over vacation, I was able to complete Day 4 the Wednesday before we left. I’d actually read about this activity in advance, so I was ready to respond when inspiration struck. Noah and I were at the church. I’d had a meeting, so Mike had agreed to watch Noah for me. After the meeting, I’d loaded Noah up in the car and pulled up to the stop sign at the parking lot exit. It was then that I remembered Day 4’s activity: make a snack for your hubs.

What I did:

Here’s the deal. I’m not a big “make food” kind of person. Mike isn’t home during ideal snack times. I don’t pack his lunch. (He hardly packs his lunch, either. The fact that we need to eat somehow takes both of us by surprise three times a day, every day. It’s a miracle Noah is still alive.) But there is something I know he loves, so I decided to improvise. Instead of turning right toward home, I turned left toward the nearest Starbucks.

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If you want Mike Paschal to know you love him, you buy him his latest favorite Starbucks beverage and a warmed blueberry muffin. The man was ecstatic. His face lit up when I showed up outside the door where he was meeting, S’mores Frappuccino and muffin in hand.

What I learned:

It’s easier to come up with ways to surprise Mike like this when I know what he enjoys! And one quick way to know what he enjoys is by familiarizing myself with a few of his favorite things. I’d texted him a couple days before this activity so I could be prepared (without him catching on to what exactly would be coming). Here are the few questions I asked:

What’s your…

  • Favorite breakfast?
  • Favorite lunch?
  • Favorite dinner?
  • Favorite snack?*
  • Favorite beverage?
  • Favorite candy or travel snack?

Simple. 🙂 I feel like I’m getting to know Mike all over again when I get updates on things like this.  And there’s nothing more exhilarating than seeing the excitement on his face when I surprise him with a little something I know he loves. With that said, I totally suggest you take this idea and run with it this week. Ask one of your people about their faves. Spouse, significant other, friend, family member. Do something for them. Make their day. It’ll be fun. 🙂

*Confession: Mike didn’t actually have the Starbucks drink & pastry down as his favorite snack. His response to that question was spinach dip, but ain’t nobody got time for that I know how much he loves his Starbucks in the afternoon, so I went with that instead.

Next time: a spontaneous evening that was not part of the #31creativeways challenge, but might as well have been.

Day 2: A Lesson in Communication

It was a sunny, peaceful morning. Noah was napping. Mike was enjoying a cup of coffee and reading a book. I was heating up my cup of tea and had just finished praying for my husband again.

Day 2’s activity was similar to Day 1. And today’s prayers for Mike transitioned to prayers for our future. However, in my prayers for the future, I focused more on the impact they’d have on Mike and prayed for specific opportunities for him to draw closer to God. Usually, and especially in seasons of scarce prayers, I find myself mostly throwing out prayers for my own growth and spiritual walk. Today’s prayer felt refreshingly less self-focused, and having Mike at the forefront once again brought to mind how wonderful he is in so many ways.Read More »

31 Creative Ways to Love and Encourage Him: Day 1 – Prayer

Mike and I are big fans of Jefferson and Alyssa Bethke. Jeff is a speaker, and both are authors and have a youtube channel. They have two children, live in Hawaii, and Mike and I have a lot of fun following their vlogs and podcasts.

Recently, Jeff and Alyssa wrote short his-and-hers books called “31 Creative Ways to Love and Encourage Her” and “31 Creative Ways to Love and Encourage Him” that are meant to help bring intentionality (and its accompanying joy, fun, and life) back into dating or married relationships. I’m going to be COMPLETELY honest right now… I knew about them, but didn’t take the leap to buy them until I learned about this contest they were holding to win a trip to Hawaii. Buying the books was one way to increase your chances, so… yeah… ulterior motives. 😉Read More »