Homemade Baby Food for Dummies

Homemade Baby Food for Dummies

Disclaimer #1- I am not an expert on baby food. I'm not a dietician. I'm not a nurse or a doctor. I just do what I think is best for my baby and what her pediatrician agrees with. If your baby is already eating four-course meals or still nurses 10 times a day, good for you and your well-fed baby. These are just some things that work for me right now. Carry on.

Disclaimer #2- Some of these are mind-numbingly simple instructions. Don't take them as an insult to your intelligence; when I started making baby food I literally had no idea what I was doing and I would have loved a post that told me how to prepare her food. If you're smarter than that (probably) I'm so happy for you. 

Disclaimer #3- If you buy baby food and have never pureed a single vegetable, that's great. I make my baby food because it's cheaper for us and because I am home 90% of the time with nothing better to do. =) And, strangely enough, I find it kind of fun.

I've decided in the past ten months (since Alice was born) that parenting is basically working really hard to adapt to a certain phase and master it only to have it pass by while a new one begins (and the process starts again.) The newborn stage of sleepless nights and painful feedings seemed to be never-ending, but it did, in fact, end (much too quickly, I might add. Well, the tiny little baby part ended quickly. I was not sorry to see the sleepless nights go.)

Just when I felt like I had conquered nursing (which was incredibly difficult and painful for me for several weeks) and we had gotten in a great routine, it was time to start thinking about solid food. For some reason, I was extremely intimidated by the idea of introducing solids and very overwhelmed by all the information (the blessing/curse of the internet) that is available on the subject. I knew I wanted to do some version of baby-led weaning (this post was helpful and pretty much sold me on the idea) but beyond that I was fairly clueless about my plans.

We tried rice cereal like one time (she was not a fan) and even though the actual Baby-Led Weaning plan doesn't recommend spoon-feeding (because you delay solids until they're able to mostly feed themselves with their fingers), we only waited until about six months and I am just too OCD just to let her make a mess for 45 minutes every single meal-time. Therefore, my version of feeding her regular food that we eat (versus buying baby food) was just preparing my own baby food. (This isn't every food we prepare or that she's ever eaten, just the ones we have most often.) 

Also, for reference, I started preparing most of these when she was about seven months old and she would have solids about twice a day- usually applesauce for breakfast and a vegetable around supper time. She was nursing five times a day at that point. Now that she's almost eleven months old (what?) she is nursing three times a day and eating solids (usually two at a time, sometimes three) about three times a day, and we are slowly phasing out into actual finger foods and fewer purees. However, we're not giving them up completely (and still only doing very, very soft foods) because Alice is still toothless and chewing without teeth, as you can imagine, is difficult. For a long time we thinned out thicker foods with a little water when we served them, but now she does fine with the thicker textures. 

Green beans- I cook them until they're softened, then puree in the blender with about half the liquid. (I feel like I always end up with too much liquid, so use even less if you're inclined.)

Carrots- I cover them with water or low-sodium chicken broth (usually a mixture of both) and cook on high for a few minutes before simmering them until they're soft (about 30 minutes) then pureeing in the blender. Make sure to cook them for a good while because I have been dumb and tried to blend hard carrot chunks- no bueno. 

Squash- peel, slice in half length-wise, scoop out the seeds, and cut into chunks. I've covered them with just water and also a mixture of water and low-sodium chicken broth. Then cook to soften (not too long, about ten minutes) and puree. These get really thin and watery so I've actually thrown in a can of green beans to thicken the mixture. 

Avocado- mash with a fork. Ta-da, you're done! (Same with a banana. So easy.)

Black beans (canned)- heat to soften, puree. Nothing extra needed; their own liquid is just enough. Alice loves black beans!

Sweet potato- poke holes with a fork; bake at 400 for at least an hour (sometimes an hour and fifteen minutes.) Split it open and scoop out the insides. Mash them up. Done! (I've mixed applesauce in before too.)

Hard-boiled egg- boil the egg as usual; remove the yolks and mix into whatever food you choose (since you really can't taste them, I've mixed them into all kinds of things, but most often sweet potato and black beans. Protein!) You can save the yolks in the fridge for a few days to use as needed.

Grilled chicken- just add a few chunks to whatever vegetables you're pureeing. Another good protein source.

Any spices or anything are totally up to you; at her 9-month appointment her doctor said that she could have more spices and flavors so we've added garlic to her black beans, cinnamon to her sweet potato, and teensy bits of butter to a few vegetables. (If you think I'm a terrible person, I'm sorry. We are southern people and we eat butter on our vegetables. If my Mamaw were making her green beans they'd probably have bacon grease in them so these are practically grass in comparison.) And we've also blended some entire meals (chicken, rice and vegetables, for example) that she loved too. 

We also love unsweetened applesauce (I buy the individual packs because I'm lazy but the big jars are great too) and also GoGo Squeez pouches for when we're out. (Why is purposely misspelling a marketing thing? Why?) They're organic with no crazy ingredients and super cheap in bulk (we buy them at Sam's.) When she's a little more coordinated and able to handle a pouch by herself without missing her mouth more often than not =) I'll probably invest in some reusable pouches. And even though lots of people freeze portions of their baby food, I've never made it that far in advance; I do about 5-6 days' worth at a time and store it in the fridge. (That sounds really time-consuming but it's not, especially now that I know what I'm doing. Last Saturday I did her food for the week in well under an hour. It would be even less time if I weren't such a spaz with a knife.) 

Just a little black bean lipstick action going on. And this silicone bib is the best. They sell them at Walmart and Target. Go get one! (Also this picture belies her over-the-top enthusiasm for eating, usually displayed by wild clapping whenever I approach with her food. I'm not exaggerating. Ha!)

There you have it! Like I said, this is incredibly basic (even obvious) information, but if you're like me and feel overwhelmed by all the options out there, you may find it helpful. Of course, at the end of the day, what's important is that your baby is healthy and FED. But I do like knowing exactly what my baby's eating, and I enjoy preparing her food for her. It's what works for us right now! Anyway, may your baby eat everything you prepare and never blow a mouthful of black beans directly onto your white jeans. (Not that I would know anything about that. #troll) 

Happy eating and feeding, everyone!

What I've Learned This Summer

What I've Learned This Summer

I've been following Anne's blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy (greatest blog name ever, right?) for a couple of years now and I always enjoy her "What I Learned" posts. I knew she wrote them as part of a link-up but it wasn't until this week, while reading Simply Tuesday, that I made the connection that the author is the same person who hosts the linkup! (Sometimes I'm a little slow on the draw...) Anyway, I love the idea of jotting down things throughout the month (or season) that I've learned or discovered or just realized about myself. And Emily has definitely won me over as a reader with her awesome book mentioned above (plus the Kindle version is $2.99 right now- highly recommend!) so here we are.

When you live in Texas, "summer" takes on a different meaning when you consider a) triple-digit temperatures for weeks on end and b) heat that lasts much longer than the standard three month break from school (for reference, Alice was born in October and it was about 95 degrees when we left the hospital to bring her home.) But since I a born-and-bred teacher and will always consider summer "June/July/August" no matter how melt-your-face-off hot it is outside, that's what I'll be using as my framework. =)

Fun fact: I took one look at this picture, changed my outfit, and promptly returned this shirt because I look about six months pregnant in it. Ah! You win some; you lose some. 

1. I've still got it when it comes to bulletin boards. There are a lot of things I don't miss about teaching, but one thing I do miss is decorating my classroom. My friend Jessica is teaching kindergarten and switched districts this year... since she had a lot of other things to deal with (like organizing a new classroom!) I volunteered to help with her boards. I didn't get to do as much as I would have liked since having Alice around, while delightful, isn't always super productive. =) But I knocked out three boards in about two hours the other night and it made me feel so, so good to work with border and letters and all that good stuff. (Maybe I should get out more.)

2. What "they" say is true- once you cut something out for long enough, you stop craving it. This happened for me the other day- I'm doing Weight Watchers (again!) because I'm a total Obliger and need accountability- and since I only have so many points a day I don't use them on my typical beloved Dr. Pepper or Mountain Dew. (My Mountain Dew addiction dates back to high school and was pretty legendary. I blame Amanda.) Anyway, on Sunday I was sick (the worst time to be dieting!) and asked Jonathan to please bring me a Mountain Dew (why yes, sugary soft drinks are the best medicine, didn't you know?) So he brings it to me and I kid you not, I took a sip and almost gagged. I took one more sip just to prove to myself I wasn't crazy... I didn't even want it! I have never turned a Mountain Dew down in my life. But after three weeks of cutting it out, it really has lost its appeal. I'm not saying I'll never drink it again (let's not get crazy!) but that moment in itself was somewhat of a miracle.

3. You only need one(ish) pair of shoes if it's the right pair of shoes. Now that I am a mom and my job's dress standard is "try to keep your pajamas clean," I not only struggle to get dressed in real clothes but also to avoid looking like a frump in the small section of my closet that is both comfortable for being up and down with a baby all day and casual enough not to mind a little drool (or, ahem... other fluids.) Since I usually reach for the same few things all the time, those few things need to be cute! I bought these red slides a while back and I think they just add a cute little "something" to my momiform of bermuda shorts or t-shirt dresses. (Also Jonathan calls them my Gigi sandals after my mom, which is totally fine because she has cute style. Ha!)

4. I need to write. My blogging has dropped off significantly in the past two years, and especially in the months since Alice has been born, but earlier this summer I resolved to get back to posting more regularly. Since I'm home all day, I usually feel like I don't have much to say and that I need to wait for some kind of profound thought to strike... but as Gretchen Rubin says, "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." It turns out that writing, even if it's just about my current reading list or things I'm enjoying, is good for me. It makes me feel slightly productive, it keeps me (sort of) sharp, and I just enjoy sharing my thoughts now and then. It's not that they're super deep or inspiring, but I can't really call myself a writer if I never write, now can I? And every single time I hear from one of you about how you enjoy a post, it prompts me to keep going, so thanks for that.

5. We all spend way too much time on our phones (totally guilty myself!) and it's not doing society any favors. I read this book in June and it made me feel terrible (dare I say convicted?) about how often I'm checking my phone during a face-to-face conversation. Often I excuse myself because all my family and most of my friends live far away, so I'm keeping up with them throughout texting or pictures or whatever, but it's still a bad habit. Of course we all know that it's bad to ignore your kids in favor of looking at your phone, but there are actual physical and psychological reasons why we shouldn't. The author does paint a very convincing picture of the damage that our digital obsessions have done to our culture, and how important it is to have real conversations at home, work and everywhere else. I'm working (imperfectly, of course) at it but am definitely making an effort! 

6. Eating bad and eating less are not the same. I'll lose weight either way (down ten pounds- whoop whoop!) but eating smaller portions of junk is still junk. I'm trying to to break my bad habits of reaching for processed snacks, chocolate (but I waaaant it) or carbs all the time. (Thank goodness for grape tomatoes- I'm downing like two cartons a week.) Anyway, I wouldn't say I'm doing a complete overhaul of our diets just yet but having a baby has really made me conscious of the food I eat and how I model eating for her. "You don't want that salad, Alice... we're bread people." I mean, we are, but everything in moderation. =) 

7. Speaking of weight loss... it's easier for me to exercise every day. Ugh, what a sad lesson learn, right? But it's true. I do better working out seven days a week and knowing it's just going to be a part of my day than to try to skip days (because I know myself and how easily one day turns into two and before you know it Alice is off to kindergarten and I haven't worked out in four years. Oops!) So, every day it is. Skipping just makes it harder to come back, even if it's only once. This week I've been sick but I've still done a shorter version of my regular workout (Tae Bo- don't hate! haha) and even at that I know doing the longer one is going to be rough when I start it back, hopefully tomorrow. (Also, even the "long" one is only like 25 minutes, lest you're picturing me puffing through a two-hour Zumba class or something. No, ma'am.) 

8. Target has a new baby/kids line and I want it all. Well, actually they have a new line called Cat & Jack and it's 100% adorable (I already bought this onesie because has there ever been anything more perfect for my child?)... I want half of it for myself. But there's also a collection in the Osh Kosh line that has a Little Red Riding Hood theme. I basically drool over it every time I'm there but I'll be waiting for clearance because a) it's me, duh, and b) it's all fall stuff so it's going to be too hot for Alice right now anyway. But you better believe when the time comes I'll be snatching up this sweater, possibly in multiple sizes. (Bonus thing I learned: the term "onesie" is trademarked by Gerber and that's why everywhere else has to call them "bodysuits," which sounds creepy and similar to a straitjacket- which is kind of appropriate for babies and toddlers. Ha!) 

9. Our Houston Astros stadium will give you a "baby's first baseball game" certificate. Obviously it's never been on my radar before this year but I'm thinking other professional ball parks do this too? It's a cute idea. And there's a little "family center" with a nursing room that sounded kind of sketchy to me (and I wouldn't have eaten off the floor or anything) but it was a nice place to hang out and watch the game while Alice had a bottle. If you'd rather sit in front of a big screen on a couch with a squirming baby than sweat to death in the stands, it's pretty great. (Plus anything with AC is better than being outside, hello.) Plus the certificate was a cool little memento for Alice's (not yet created, oops) baby book.

10. Making my own baby food is a lot easier than I thought it would be. Actually, I didn't really plan on making baby food. I've planned on doing baby-led weaning- basically you delay giving solids for a while and then just feed the baby small pieces of regular food- and that's kind of what we're doing but I'm still making "baby food" in the blender with green beans, black beans, avocado, peaches, sweet potato, carrots, etc. I'll probably dedicate a post to this soon because seriously if I can do it, anyone can. It's kind of funny because I'm not at all a "crunchy" mom so it makes me laugh at myself a little that I've ended up doing this and even enjoying it. It's oddly fun/gratifying plus I do like knowing exactly what she's eating since I made it myself! 

Bonus! 11. The line that I've never been able to figure out in "Iowa Stubborn" from "The Music Man" is "We can be cold as our falling thermometers in December when you ask about the weather in July." It's bugged me for years that I had no idea what they were saying (does anyone else just make up lyrics for parts like that?) but finally the other day I looked it up. It's great how two-second Google search can answer a question that's plagued me forever. (Yes, I sit up at night pondering the lyrics to old musicals. Don't you wish you were that cool?) 

There you have it. Maybe it's stretching it a little to say I "learned" these things since they're not particularly earth-shattering but hey, they're new to me! And I'm ready to close out this summer chapter and head into the fall (in name only, silly Texas) armed with all this knowledge. Only 11 days until September, which means my pumpkin stuff comes out and my Christmas tunes come on. I am SO ready. Sorry, summer, I'm kicking you out. =) 

Easy Like Monday Morning (Um, Not Really)

Easy Like Monday Morning (Um, Not Really)

Okay, I know that's not how the song goes... and plus, let's talk about those lyrics. Has anyone who attends church ever had an "easy" Sunday morning, especially when children are involved? I would venture to say that the answer is no. And Monday is even worse, especially for you people with actual "I must wear real clothes" j-o-b-s out there. (A perk of staying home is that no one cares if I'm wearing athletic shorts every day. Especially since I'm not particularly athletic.) Anyway, Mondays are not easy for any of us, but this recipe might make yours a little better.

I realize that my "food photography" leaves much to be desires but I think you'll forgive my iPhone pictures when you make this and realize how amazing it is. My mom used to make it when we were growing up and... confession time... I never really cared for it. I don't know why; I would eat it so it wasn't like I just couldn't stand the taste, but it definitely wasn't a favorite. Then when she came to visit in April she made it one night and I fell in love and have made it about half a dozen times since then, including last night. I decided to jot down the "recipe" (so easy that it deserves quotation marks) and share with y'all because it's so good and so simple. 

All you need is chicken, vegetables (onion, roma tomatoes, and peppers) and one special, nonnegotiable ingredient, which shall be revealed below.

Cut everything into chunks and put it in a large baking dish. I love the pretty colors of bell peppers!

This is the golden ticket right here. My mom insists that there is no substitute. I used to be able to find it in more stores but now there is literally one grocery store around here that sells it and we have to make a special trip, but it's so worth it. 

I used three chicken breasts, four roma tomatoes, one onion, and one each of red, yellow, and green peppers. Then mix the marinade according to the instructions on the package (I use olive oil and apple cider vinegar and I think it helps the flavor a lot.) Stir to coat all everything and bake at 350 for one hour. 

Serve with rice and enjoy! (The marinade makes a yummy sauce to pour over the rice.) We've also started eating the leftovers on tortillas kind of like a fajita. So good! This makes a great meal to throw in right when you get home and have ready by the time homework/play time is done. I actually put a little rice, chicken, and vegetables in the blender so Alice got to have some too. =) My next step is to try it in the crockpot. If you prep the chicken and vegetables the night before it's even faster! There you go! An easy meal with yummy leftovers. (Oh, and it's only 3 weight watchers points, for anyone playing along at home. Yay! =) 

Happy, easier Monday, everyone! Have a great week!

A Day in the Life of Alice Juliet

A Day in the Life of Alice Juliet

Hello, adoring fans. I'll be taking over for my mama today; she works hard and deserves a break. And who better to tell you about me than... me?? Ready for a look at what goes on in the life of a 10-month-old (that's right- 10 months today!)? Now you can find out.

6:30 AM- Wake up. Look around, a little bewildered (for some reason I get very disoriented while I'm sleeping. Must be the dream where I'm eating unlimited handfuls of Puffs.) Anyway, I reach for the monitor (my new favorite toy) but... DENIED. Mama swoops in to snatch it away. But I forgive her because she picks me up too and kisses me all the way back to her room.

6:45 AM- Snuggle between Mama and Daddy. Daddy looks like he's still sleeping, so just to be nice I give his hair a good yank. I know he couldn't ask for a better wake up than that. He politely thanks me with a smile and rolls over (not so polite.) Mama's hair is longer and easier to grab, so I'll yank that next. Sharing is caring.

7:15 AM- Daddy takes me to change my diaper. It makes me sad that he has to go to work, but at least I'll be able to keep Mama awake for the next couple of hours! I know that's what she wants, NOT more sleep. In order to help her, I'll scratch her nose and shriek every few seconds for good measure. She looks more rested already.

8:26 AM- Wait a second, was I asleep all that time?? How did they trick me into that? Very clever, Mama, very clever. Unfortunately, it's too late for our breakfast plans (Chick-fil-a) but at least now I don't have to watch my parents eat chicken minis and long for the day when I can have some too. Instead, Daddy feeds me some applesauce (which I have every day- would it kill them to switch it up?) and some sweet potatoes. Then Mama feeds me and we jump in the car (still in my pajamas- I hope I don't see anyone I know!)

9:30 AM- Nap time. Mama knows I really hate naps but she is nice enough to rock me to sleep. I cry quite a bit because why sleep when you can play? But we listen to "Cheer Up Charlie" on repeat and I get really tired and zzzz.....

11 AM- Did I doze off again? So sorry. I'm back! Time to sit in the pack ''n' play while Mama reads. I've invented a game where I throw all my toys out on the floor and wait for her to put them back! It's so fun! And I win every time! That game doesn't get me in trouble like my other favorite, where I scrape my toys against the wall which I'm apparently "not allowed to do" because it could "scratch the paint."

12 PM- Lunch time. Mama feeds me squash and green beans, which are pretty tasty. I tell Mama that I'm done by spraying green spit all over the place. It's a way to communicate and make my favorite noise at the same time, but she doesn't seem to love it. Hmm. Maybe I'll try again later and see if she catches on. Sometimes it takes her a while...

12:30 PM- Back in the car to pick up Daddy. This time we make it to Chick-fil-A for lunch, which is pure torture. Mama and Daddy are chowing down on chicken that looks absolutely heavenly; meanwhile, I just ate what looked like snot for lunch. I mean, sure, it tasted good, and I know I don't have any teeth to chew the chicken up, but they could at least offer. Sometimes this baby thing is for the birds.

I'm smiling but I'm really wishing I could have a waffle fry.

1:30 PM- Back home. Mama nurses me and I play a little more. We FaceTime Papa and show him all my latest tricks (I don't want to brag, but I'm really good at clapping!) and I play with Mama for a little while. I have a few minutes of freedom (aka crawling in the living room- it's basically my Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil... forbidden fruit which makes it soooo tempting. All those surfaces to climb and explore and chew?!) She senses that I'm in a great mood and decided to take my 10-month-pictures. That's fine, but getting changed makes me really mad, so....

2:00 PM- We pretty much go through this every month. How can she expect me to pose for a picture and just IGNORE the incredibly fascinating sticker she sticks on my shirt? I mean, I'm not a robot. Not to mention I have to leave my hair bow alone too? These expectations are just too much.

A little sympathy, please.

3:00 PM- After a long, emotional process, I finally fall asleep in my favorite place (on Mama, of course.) Basically I'm like Goldilocks and she is "just right." I know she feels bad about letting me fall asleep on her but I say if it ain't broke, don't fix it? Amirite?

Excuse my shirtlessness!

5:00 PM- Woah, crazy long nap! I never sleep that long but all that photo shoot drama really wore me out. Mama takes me into the kitchen for a little pre-dinner snack (a banana- meh, it's okay. I only spit out a little.) Then she nurses me before getting supper ready.

5:30/6:00 PM- Mama's fixing supper but she walks over to talk to me every little bit. We play with some Snapchat filters and play Peek-a-Boo. We sing "Be My Little Baby Bumblebee" which is HILARIOUS. I'm cracking up. Oh, and she keeps on "telling me a secret" which is really just blowing my ear but I fall for it EVERY time. Seriously, that woman is hilarious. She also gives me a book to read chew on and I get it good and soaked.

I look confused but I love this filter!

6:30 PM- Mama eats something that looks dreadful- for once I'm not jealous. (I heard her say that it's "whole wheat pasta" and that it's "healthier" but to me it looks like brown grass so no thanks.) My black beans with chicken mixed in is much more appealing. Spraying it out of my mouth does create quite an impressive display of tar-colored spit, though.

6:45 PM- Daddy's home! Yay! No offense to Mama, but I really miss him all day. He eats some of the brown grass too (poor guy) and then takes me to play- we bounce on the bed and wrestle a little. Unfortunately, I quickly find myself "wrestled" back into my outfit from earlier. Are you kidding me, Dad? Pictures again?? #betrayal They must be pretty desperate for a good picture, because they are acting like crazy people trying to get me to smile. I love them, but really... have some respect for yourselves, folks.
7:00 PM- Ugh, glad that's over. Even if I have to be back in my car seat, at least I'm not having to pose for a picture and once more have that sticker kept out of my reach. All I want is to give it one good crumple. Anyway, we're on our way to Costco, so I'm sure I'll see some fascinating things there.

8:00 PM- Eh, Costco was okay, I guess. Mama looked at a bunch more "healthy" foods- I guess she's doing something called a "diet." I don't know what that is but I think it makes her hungry and a little grumpy. And I haven't seen her with a Dr. Pepper in like two weeks, which would explain her sadness. (I've never had any, but I hear Dr. Pepper is amazing.) The best part about the Costco run is that Daddy gave me some bites of chocolate frozen yogurt. Yum!

8:30 PM- I'm really tired and hungry (those black beans are a distant memory) so Daddy puts my pajamas on (isn't he sweet!) and we watch the Olympics for a few minutes while Mama gets ready to feed me. Daddy is pretty obsessed with the Olympics; I'm not really sure I get it, but it seems like the appropriate time to show off my clapping skills so that's cool.

9:00 PM- All fed, read to, and prayed with- so Mama says, "lights out, Alice!" And it's time for bed. I'm full, dry, warm, happy, and loved- what a time to be alive!  =)

Happy Wednesday, everyone! I hope you've enjoyed this look at my day. Thanks for being friends with my Mama and reading her blog! =)

Giving More Grace

Giving More Grace

Sometimes, I'll see or hear or read something that just sticks. Often it's because I've read or listened to or watched something over and over- for example, I've been listening to Patch the Pirate with Alice and the songs and even entire chunks of dialogue come back to me, word for word. But every now and then it will be something so profound or funny or pithy (to use one of my college English professor's favorite words) that I can't seem to get it off my mind.

I was reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown a few months ago (I talked about another meaningful quote from the same book recently) and even though the broken alliteration of the subtitle bugs me (ha!) I was struck again by a story of hers and one line in particular. She talks about going to her counselor/therapist (I can't remember which title she gives) and telling her all about this horrible weekend she had at a conference where her roommate was truly awful. The other woman was rude, messy, and just sounded gross overall. Obviously the author wanted some validation for her story, but her therapist listened calmly and then said, "Well, most people are doing the best they can."

She sputtered in anger at the idea that her roommate, who had gone out of her way to be unpleasant, had trashed their hotel suite, and acted very selfishly, could be "doing the best she could." They discussed it further and she finally relented to the idea that maybe, despite so much evidence to the contrary, this woman could very well be doing her best.

That thought hit me like a ton of bricks. Most people would definitely say that about themselves- "Oh, I'm doing the best I can!"- but how often do we think the same about other people? The rude cashier? The person who cuts us off on the highway? (Don't get me started on these Texas drivers!) The kid who is a jerk to our kid? The "mean mom" yelling at her little girl at the mall? (I can't handle that.)

It's worth inserting here that I'm not talking about truly violent, dangerous, hateful people. Brene Brown says that there's a difference between doing wrong and being a sociopath; the latter group belongs in a separate category. And your neighbors with the dog who lets their dog bark at two in the morning and wake up your baby probably don't fall into that category. Unfortunately.) 

But seriously- do we take the time to give people the benefit of the doubt? To give them grace? To sit and wonder what is going on behind the scenes that would possibly explain, if not excuse, their behavior? A rude cashier may have just lost a family member or be facing a diagnosis or any number of difficult situations. A "mean mom" may actually be a very nice mom and you just caught the tip of the iceberg on a very bad day. The possibilities are pretty much endless, and even though some people seem ignorant, or spiteful, or disgusting, or [insert negative adjective here]- they are probably doing the best they can.

Recently I was in a Walgreens grabbing some medicine for Alice and I saw two women who had several children between them. They were obviously related but I couldn't tell if they were both moms or one was a grandma or what. Anyway, in the time I waited behind them in line they had slapped two of the little girls (hard), cussed at them, and jerked them around by the arm. The cashier and I looked at each other in disgust (and pity for the kids) and as I started to think very ugly thoughts about both of them, I heard a little voice in my head: "Maybe they're doing the best they can."

Now, I don't really think it should be anyone's "best" to be abusive, verbally or physically. It's certainly not right to act that way. But I have the good fortune of having been raised by two loving parents who disciplined me the right way and weren't slapping me around or cussing at me. There's no telling what kind of background those women had that would foster such awful behavior. Another quote from a Chicken Soup for the Soul story comes to mind too- as the author was feeling extremely judgmental and superior toward (and ready to fight) a drunken stranger, an elderly man gently took the drunk by the hand and calmed him down kindly and without any violence. The author wrote, "As I stood there in my well-scrubbed youthful innocence, my make-this-world-safe-for-democracy righteousness, I felt dirtier than he was."

I read that story for the first time probably fifteen years ago and I've thought about it many times. I'm not saying feeling judgmental or superior is "as bad as" the same kind of behavior I witnessed that day. But I am enormously privileged to have been taught right and wrong; I was loved; I didn't witness violence or mental illness or poverty or whatever. And there are days when I'm certainly not at MY best, and I would hate for someone to get a glimpse of one page out of the entire "book" of my day and judge me for that. As our former President George W. Bush said recently, "Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples- while judging ourselves by our best intentions." 

Ugh- again, so convicting! It's easy to want or ask for or even (yikes) demand grace for ourselves, but it's much, much harder to dole it out (especially when the person who needs grace the most is probably the one we want to give it to the least.) But if, before we snap back, or give a dirty look, or completely lose it, could we take a second and ask ourselves, "Is this person doing the best they can?"  Maybe they're not, but in the past few months I've found that simply thinking about it usually changes my perspective to one of compassion. And, judging from the news and Facebook (shudder!), the world could use a little more perspective and compassion right now. (Election arguments, anyone?!)

Oh yeah, and you know who gives us grace every single time, whether or not we deserve it? God does! He doesn't even have to ask if we're doing our best (He already knows.) He knows our worst examples AND our best intentions and gives grace for both! My BFF Sara posted the words to the beautiful old song the other day and they are such a great reminder:

What do we do with our choices? Do we look down from our self-righteous positions toward those who couldn't possibly be on "our level" as a parent, student, spouse, or Christian (knowing full well our own weaknesses and limitations)? Do we assume and hope that others are doing their best just like we are and that what we all need is grace instead of scorn? Like our greatest example, let's try to give grace, and then give and give and give it again.