Saturday, December 29, 2012

Letting Go of Stuff

As we prepared to move, my husband and I were rather ruthless when it came to getting rid of stuff. A friend, who is a mom to eight, once shared that when they moved, she threw away seven garbage bags full of stuff. I've always kept that in the back of my mind and aimed to do the same. We not only pitched seven huge trash bags (the big, black kind you use for raking leaves), we exceeded it. I think we ended up with at least nine big black bags, plus lots of smaller ones.

What were in those bags? Lots of odds and ends. Lotion bottles less than half full, partially burned candles and ones I didn't like the scent of, broken toys, toys that we no longer needed (and no one else would want), lots of papers, magazines, mismatched linens, dusty decorations, clothes not suitable for donating (or not worth going to the trouble of donating), books (being a book lover, this was hard for me, but at some point, some of it--in the words of Charlotte Mason--is just twaddle and can go), and on and on.

I realized that I didn't want the clutter that was at home in my home to go with us to our new home. We wanted a clean, fresh slate, surrounded only by the things we love the most. (I've blogged about paring down to what you love the most here).

Now that we are moved in and busy unpacking, the culling continues. Call this the second round of cuts. We're still finding things that we don't want or need. We'd rather have the space and the uncluttered look. Today, we worked on going through toys again. Some will be donated, others discarded.

Here's an organizing tip that's guiding me right now:
Pretend your home has a doorman out front, guarding who (in this case what) is allowed to enter. You are that doorman.

You've got to decide, before something ever enters your house, if it's worth it to you. It will take up valuable space and require effort on your part to find a spot for it, use or read it, maintain it, etc. So do you really want to let it get passed the door?

Here's an example:
Your friend asks you if you want a stash of her cooking magazines. Do you really want them to come into your home? Do you have time to go through them? Do you have a spot to put them? Are you really going to use them?

Be ruthless when it comes to acquiring and then letting go of stuff!

Another couple of tips that are helping me immensely come from Raising Olives. Kimberly wrote that when her children are given toys, they assume that the giver did not intend for them to keep them forever and pass them onto their children. Rather, the gift was meant to be used and enjoyed for a season.  When it has lost its charm or usefulness for that child or children, it can happily be passed onto some other child who will, in turn, love and appreciate it. (I can't find the exact post, but here is another good one).

In another post about keeping up with keepsakes, Kimberly offers great advice concerning those special things that have been passed down or kept from your own childhood: Use them, and, in her words, "as things wear out we throw them away, happy that our children were able to enjoy something that we loved when we were young."

That even goes for fragile items. Kimberly writes, "I figure that something that belonged to my great grandmother, but is stored in a box in the attic throughout my kid’s childhood will have little meaning to my children. The things that we’ve chosen to keep, we’ve also chosen to display and enjoy. (Yes, with 10 children sometimes things get broken, but my children have many happy memories of playing with and listening to the music box that played with and listened to at my great-grandmother’s home when I was a girl.)"

So, in my zest to pare down, I kept that advice in my head as I went through toys and stuffed animals today. The little yellow bunny I apparently had as a child? It didn't make the cut. I don't remember it; it means nothing to me, and my kids have other stuffed animals they like more that are filling our bin for stuffed animals. The bear the OB/GYN gave one of our children at birth? It didn't make the cut either. They've never played with it, it isn't as cute as others we have, and is it going to be like my yellow bunny when they're grown? They'll take it out of a box, look at it, wonder why Mom kept it for them, and wonder if they should get rid of it, or keep it "just because." We're sparing them that guilt by making the decision now. (A word of caution--we are letting them make decisions about stuff we know is important to them. I know this bear is not one of those things, so I am making the decision).

As the new year approaches and many of us make resolutions to become more organized, I encourage you to go through your stuff as if you're moving, and let it go!

A final thought...isn't it interesting that when we, as believers in Christ, die and go to heaven, we don't take anything with us. What is truly important is already there. We don't need to say, "Hey, can I just grab this one thing real quick to take with me?" We won't miss it. So why is it so hard to let go now?

Look toward heaven, our true home. Keep in this life the things you love the very most. Let go of the rest. You'll experience less stress, more peace, and time to enjoy your husband and children to the full.

Sharing With:
The Better Mom

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Messy Monday: Routine Maintenance or Lack Thereof

If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you may remember that about a year ago, I mentioned that our local school district wanted to buy our home (and others on our street) to expand the high school we live next to. Well, that time has finally come, and we have slightly over two weeks to pack up and move out. (I have seen so many answers to really specific prayers through this time that I feel peaceful. The testimony of this time is a great subject for another post).

(not my desk! Photo Credit)

One of the biggest things I've realized is--why did I not carve out time along the way for routine maintenance of certain tasks? Instead, I let them go, choosing to spend my time with the more urgent instead of what appeared optional. And now, that is biting me in the behind.

Today, I spent an hour finally sorting my desk. I put things away that have been waiting to return to their proper home for...(I'm embarrassed to say) months.  The whole process didn't take as long as I thought it would, making me wonder why I avoided it for so long.

Lesson: in the new house, take 15-20 minutes a week (perhaps Sunday afternoon?) to order my desk.

My other big project today: sorting through magazines that have accumulated, waiting to be flipped through.

First, I don't receive many magazines to begin with because I can't keep up, but I like Better Homes & Gardens, and Taste of Home. I also have some Family Circle and Everyday Food issues I've wanted to thumb through. But, as most moms know, when you're busy with kids and dinner and dishes, taking time in the evening to flip through a magazine is a luxury that never presents itself. The magazine doesn't scream, "Pay attention to me!"; the baby does.

So I quickly went through a stack, ripping out pages of recipes to try and decorating ideas to file. Now to finish doing that before it remains undone and catches up with me...

Lesson: If you're busy, limit (or eliminate) your magazines.  Carve out time once a week (or month) to look through the latest issue. File what you want to keep. Throw the rest away, or give the whole thing away to a hospital, library, etc.

Overall lesson: no task becomes unbearable if we carve out time regularly and routinely (such as the same time every week or month) to just get it done. 

What is your worst one that you consistently put off, and how can you make a plan to tackle it this week? The ones I've dreaded the most have taken less than an hour (I thought they would take hours!)

Sharing With:
We are That Family (Works for Me Wednesday)
Women Living Well
Raising Homemakers
Deep Roots at Home

Modest Mom

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Bulls-Eye Day

Some homeschool days can be rough. But then there's the ones that make us say, "Ah-ha! This is why we do this!" 

I am happy to report we had one of those bulls-eye days a few weeks ago, and we've had some pretty good days since. Each morning after breakfast and chores, we read a chapter of Leading Little Ones to God: A Child's Book of Bible Teachings, followed by a chapter of Missionary Stories with the Millers.
 On this particular day, the reading discussed how the Holy Spirit helps us bravely tell others about Christ. The missionary story featured a brave missionary in Egypt who risked his life to share the Gospel. 

This happened just a few days after our ambassador was killed in Libya and unrest spread throughout the Middle East (not that it's stopped...).

The kids and I had a great discussion about Christianity and current events. We talked about how the difference between Islam and Christianity and how Muslims in the Middle-East persecute Christians, to the point of death. The boys wondered if they were in Egypt and were asked by a militant Muslim if they believed in Christ, if they should say no, and tell a lie that they believe in "Ohama" (a cross they accidentally coined between Obama and Mohammed, ha ha ha) to save their life.That led into another hugely important talk about persevering in faith in Christ, even if it means our lives on this earth, because we know this is simply a shadow of what is to come. 

We read and talked about what Jesus said:
"Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.
 “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven."
--Matthew 10:28-33

As we were discussing, I felt so thankful for the time to be able to sit outside with the world map and the Bible and our books, and share life-altering truths with my children. Every day is such an impressionable, formative time in their lives. As a friend of mine said when I interviewed her about why she homeschooled (back in my reporter days), she looked at her daughter learning to read in school and thought, "I want to be the one to do that. I want to be the one to teach her to read." So she took her out of 1st grade and homeschooled her--and then their seven other children--ever since.

Our children's futures are so important. I'm blessed to be able to have the time through homeschooling to lay a solid biblical (and academic) foundation to prepare them for a successful, influential life, where they can engage with current events from a Christian worldview. And that is one of the biggest reasons why we homeschool. 

Sharing With:
Gratituesday @ Heavenly Homemakers
Women Living Well
Works for Me Wednesday

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Broken Day

I last blogged about homeschooling, which is a lifestyle my husband and I are committed to. Some days are the picture of perfect, happy family life and learning--the cozy kind one might imagine when they picture how homeschool goes in some people's homes (particularly those who blog about it).

But some days are not beautiful at all. Some days we're just stumbling through, grateful for grace and mercy, that the day will end and there will be a new (hopefully better) one tomorrow.

A few weeks ago, my husband was out of town for the week. The. entire. week. I was here with four small children. Three energetic young boys, 7, 5, 3. A teething (four molars) toddler that cried and clung to my leg most days. Most fun I've had in a long time.

Here's part of a raw journal entry (names have been removed):

"[Child] is going through an awful attitude phase, snapping at me over just about everything...
[Child] was rudely complaining about how the letters looked in his Italic handwriting book. I asked him to make just one letter a to try it the italic way, and he just snapped. I walked away teary-eyed...

Here's the list of things the boys broke or otherwise damaged today--
1) Broke the orchid pot. [Child] climbed on the counter [rule violation] to get the bungee cords they've been hooking to their belt loops to go bungee-jumping off the railing outside. They already tore their pants once, so that's off-limits, yet they did it again, and I took them away and put them up high.
2) [Child] threw something at [other child] and hit him in the head hard.
3) [Child] threw something at the lightbulb in his bedroom during quiet time  and broke it.
4) Apparently, [child] threw something at my Ansel Adams picture from Justin [my husband] and it broke the glass.
5) [Child] took everything out of the alcove upstairs to see what it looked like empty [we have a storage area going up our stairs]. I couldn't even get out of the hallway of our room to the stairs. He put some stuff back and was supposed to be putting more stuff back, but was actually taking it out again. A big tub of baby clothes fell and the clothes tumbled out, all over the stairs below.
6) [Child] punched [child] in the eye, which gave him a blood blister, then proceeded to scratch him several times. This made him look like he ran into a barbed wire fence (as someone commented church).
7) Not to mention all the food crumbs, water spills, other fights during the day
8) [Child] woke [grumpy, teething baby] from morning nap so she only slept a half hour. Then she cried and clung to my leg all morning.
What a day. Taking a shower and going to bed."
So this was a bad day. I wondered why I choose to keep my kids home with me day after day after day. I was looking up the number for the school district to inquire into where they had enrollments for kindergarten and second grade. Yet, I knew this lifestyle--even on its worst days--was something we were committed to. So I didn't make the call.

We're a family. We're learning to live together and love each other, through thick and thin. The bad days test our resolve, and dare I say, our love for one another. On the bad days, we go to bed, grateful the day is over, and pray for a more hopeful day to come.

And then we receive the answer to our prayers. A good day comes. We learn side by side and have great discussions about things that matter, and we're so thankful we're doing this, that our children are home with us for these talks, for these moments.

If you had a bad day, a better one's coming. It's like the waves on the sea. Bad days, good days, they all roll together to form our story, our homeschooling experience. I'm grateful for what the bad days show us and they ways they help us grow; I'm more thankful, though, for the good days!

Sharing with:
Women Living Well
Raising Homemakers
The Better Mom
Heavenly Homemakers


Monday, September 10, 2012

Public School, Homeschool, and Socialization

My 98-year old great-aunt eyed my children a few weeks ago and asked what school they attend. When I told her we homeschool, she said adamantly, “You shouldn’t do that. Kids need to be around other kids.”

So as children pack up their backpacks and lunchboxes and head off to school for the next 170 days, no one ever asks, “Your kids are in public school. Aren’t you concerned about socialization?”

Yet, I believe, there is reason to be concerned.

In response to a study about the college class of 2016, community college freshmen talked to our local NBC station about their social skills. Startingly, one student admitted she’d rather text than talk to someone in person, and another girl said that in a group of new people, they all just pull out their phones and start texting  friends they know because they don’t know how to handle the social awkwardness of the situation.

That is what I call not being socialized.

And yet, they’ve been in the public school system for 12 years.
So they’re supposed to be “socialized,” right?

When it comes to socialization--the very argument that people use as a catch-phrase against homeschooling—it seems as though graduates of the public school system are not all that properly socialized.

How do we define socialization? As a homeschool parent, I think of it as being able to relate to not only their peers, but people of all age groups (and not through texting, but face-to-face communication). Merriam Webster defines socialization as :
1 to make social; especially : to fit or train for a social environment
2 a : to constitute on a socialistic basis <socialize industry> b : to adapt to social needs or uses
3: to organize group participation in <socialize a recitation>
: to participate actively in a social group

Let’s look again at what that college freshman said. In a social situation with new people, they all just pull out their phones, because it’s less awkward that way. That is not participating actively in a social group. By definition, they are not properly socialized.

Contrast homeschoolers.

The socialization argument always makes me laugh, because—while it may be well-meaning— it is so ignorant.  One would have to lock a child in a dark room all day, every day to keep him from having social interactions with others. Kids are around other kids (and other adults), at church activities, at playgrounds, through sports, homeschool groups, and more (not to mention in our home, they each have three siblings to socialize with).

Not only are they learning how to relate to kids of all ages (without a cell phone, I might add), because they accompany me on errands and to various civic functions, they also learn how to socialize with people of all ages.  

Meanwhile, public school students are learning how to fit into a group, or how to not fit in. Some parents cite this as a necessary skill for life. But is it really?

When has a co-worker or a friend cattily made fun of your clothing choices, hairstyle, makeup, teeth? Picked on you mercilessly? Or when have you done these things to someone else? It just doesn’t happen as we grow up and learn how to properly socialize in the real world. Yet it happens daily in schools, to the point that children have commited suicide over it. Is this really the kind of socialization we want for our kids?

I remember when I was in fifth grade (in public school). A girl sat outside, against the brick wall of the school, crying during every recess, because the other kids were so mean to her. They picked on her because her teeth were crooked; they picked on her because she was a bit overweight compared to some classmates (but probably of normal weight for an 11 year old girl); they picked on her for her hair and for her name. 

Feeling badly for her, I used to sit by her and try to make her feel better. She started to hate the other kids, because “they were so mean,” she cried. I still remember this, years later.

Was this a necessary part of “socialization?” Does this experience mirror the real-world of adult life? Did it do any good for her? Absolutely not. I bet she may still have self-esteem issues to this day, due to the damage caused by these peers. I’m sure it also distracted her from learning.

Yet, if she would have been home, no one would have been making fun of her. She would be learning in a safe environment and growing up with a healthy sense of self-esteem. She would have been practicing normal communication skills with people of all ages, which would not have included belittling and heavy texting.

So when it comes to socialization, do my children really need to be in classrooms filled with their peers, as my great aunt and so many others think? Or is home where it's really at?

 More links on homeschoolers and socialization:
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Women Living Well
We are That Family
Raising Homemakers

    Tuesday, August 28, 2012

    Disconnected, yet Connected to the Ones Who Matter Most

    I've obviously been on a bit of an Internet fast, some of it self-imposed and some of it through circumstances. We took a two-week trip to visit my family and camped along the way. While I brought my lap-top with me, most places didn't have wireless, and when we did have it, I just realized I would rather make the most of my time with my family.

    Some things I noticed while being disconnected from the world wide web:
    • Social media creates clutter. It is amazing how quickly my inbox fills with junk! As we talk about clearing the clutter from our homes, social media creates a huge amount of clutter that I don't think we're aware of on a daily basis. But when you step away from it for nearly 20 days, and come back to hundreds of messages--mostly status updates and notifications from Facebook (and I can't imagine if I was on Twitter)--you realize how massively it all adds up. All of this requires an investment of daily maintenance to keep it from piling up. Is it really worth it? Do I really need to know that an acquaintance is drinking lemonade down by the river on a 100-degree day? (not a real update). 
    • Those moments when we just pop on the computer real quick--what is the motivation behind that? Are we a little bit bored? Are we looking for a little spark to liven things up in a monotonous day? What would we do in that moment if we didn't have the Internet to turn to? Would that be a better use of our time? Would our children appreciate a moment with Mom? (Yes).
    • Slowing down, and taking those moments to fully engage with my kids, brought us all closer in a way. Getting away from the busy daily routine gave me some time to appreciate and enjoy my children more. I wasn't nagging them, ahem, reminding them, to clean up their breakfast plates and take them to the dishwasher, do their chores, pick up their clothes... We just had fun together. And while vacation is downtime, in the even more downtime moments, I wasn't turning to the computer, I was turning to them. (By the way, I notice some of the problem behaviors we've been dealing with are vastly improved. I think in large part, it's due to the extra attention they received). 
    • After the first few days of breaking that magnetic draw to the computer, I find I really didn't miss it. When I could get on the Internet, I didn't really want to anymore. I had witnessed all of the positive effects of not being plugged in.
    So while I was disconnected from friends' status-updates, blog posts, online news and more, I was connected to the ones who matter most: my family members. Now that we're home, I'm trying to keep in the forefront of my mind: disconnect to connect. I'm grateful for the time away to realize this lesson.

    Sharing with:
    Women Living Well
    We are that Family
    Heavenly Homemakers
    Raising Homemakers

    Thursday, July 19, 2012

    Making A House a Home

    This post so encouraged me, I had to share it with you. It is a Facebook devotion from Nancy Campbell of Above Rubies. You can like the Above Rubies FB page to get mini-motivational messages each morning.
    (I am sharing it in its entirety). 
    --Dear lovely wives and mothers, Thank you for your lovely comments regarding yesterday’s post, I LOVE HOME. Would you mind if I took the next few days to comment on some of the comments? I think it will be encouraging for all.

    One precious mother writes, “I’m struggling with this as my home doesn't feel like home. I’m so grateful that God has given this place but it needs so much work doing to it and money spent that we don't have.”

    Dear mother, and so many other mothers in similar circumstances, can I encourage you to not get bogged down with all the problems and what needs fixing and repairing, and instead enjoy what you do have? You are so blessed to have a roof over your head, a place of shelter for you and your children, and a place to raise them for the glory of God. You don’t have to have everything perfect to do the great job of raising godly and effective children for the kingdom of God. You just have to have the right attitude.

    It all comes back to our attitude. It’s certainly not hard to get depressed when things are not as they should be. I know. But, it is amazing what you can do even in the most primitive and imperfect situations. I could even complain myself. My fridge is falling to pieces and the drawers fall out every time I open the fridge. The stove is ready for the dump! But, hallelujah, I can still cook, and I can still put some things in the fridge! So I keep praising the Lord until we can one day afford new appliances.

    I think of my daughter, Serene. Currently, her husband is fulfilling contracts in different states in the country. Serene and the children go to be with him as they are able. His last contract was in Mississippi and he and his brother rented a tiny home for them to sleep when not working—no homely things for a woman! But, Serene couldn’t be parted and she and the eight children spent a few months with him in this little home. The children had to keep quiet all day while the men slept as they worked night shift. She couldn’t let them outside because it was next to a quarry with sheer cliffs a few feet from the house! And she was at the end of her pregnancy!

    We arrived to bring her and the children home so she could have her new baby in Tennessee. Instead, she had the baby on the day we arrived in Mississippi. That night Colin and I slept on their blow-up mattress and it was so uncomfortable we couldn’t sleep all night! Serene slept on it every night in her last weeks of pregnancy.

    I asked her, “How on earth did you do it?” With a big smile, she said, “God gave me grace. I loved our time in that place.” You see, it’s not the circumstances, but our attitude!

    I think of my daughter, Evangeline. They live in their tiny home with their 10 children. They are building on bedrooms, but they are still not completed. The children have never had beds and have slept on the floor all their lives! But, no one complains. They all love their life and you couldn’t find happier children. The boys all want to be tough and train for the Delta Force anyway!

    How does Evangeline homeschool and run a home in such tiny circumstances? It’s her attitude! Ask her how she is doing today. She’ll reply, “I’m great. In fact, I’m God’s pet! God is so good and I have a wonderful life.” Evangeline also loves to say, “I’m caring for children, not stuff!”

    Please, dear mothers, get your eyes off your circumstances and put your eyes upon the Lord. Thank the Lord for what you do have. Rejoice in what He has given you. Make the most of what He has given you and make it the most beautiful place in the world even if everything is half-finished and falling down around you.

    One of the challenges of homemaking is to make something that maybe ugly into something that is beautiful. Isn’t that exciting? As another mother commented, “I used to live in a basement apartment where pipes were coming out of the ceiling, but it was our home at the time and I loved being there with my growing family.” If you have pipes coming out of the roof, decorate the pipes and make them an amazing feature! Who wants to have a boring house anyway? Make every negative into a creative and beautiful thing.

    It’s the atmosphere of your home that counts. You can have joy, fun, laughter, and most of all, the presence of the Lord in a tiny unfinished home. You can have coldness and complaining and discontented children in a large and beautiful home.

    It’s not the building, it’s the atmosphere. Have you got it?

    Me again. Doesn't that just jazz you in regard to your attitude toward your home? What can we do today to make it more special, to spread more love, more joy? And as I prepare for a new day, I'm also thinking about what I can do to help my husband to have a good start to his day: grinding coffee and setting the coffee timer, making granola (his favorite breakfast over Greek yogurt) so he has something to eat if he has to leave early.

    Here's to a great day ahead!

    Sunday, July 15, 2012

    Own Less, Laugh More?

    Hope everyone is having a great summer! I am trying to be present less on the computer these days so that I can be more fully present with my kids during the day (and be more focused at home). That said, I will commit to at least one post a week, written when they're in bed (whether that be early in the morning or late in the evening). So here's a thought I've been mulling over lately...
     Photo Credit  
    (not my neighbors, just a Flickr picture I found)

    A Mexican family moved in next door recently. From all appearances, they don't seem to have much in the way of material possessions. The kids' favorite toys seem to be their bikes, and they ride them gleefully for hours in the afternoon and in the evening. Their dad works construction and worked nearly non-stop to build a deck this weekend. And their mom--I haven't seen her much, but the aroma wafting toward our house from her cooking smells delicious and makes me feel like an imaginary cook-off on who can make the best smelling food for their families is on! (Kidding).

    A few days ago, as I was working busily inside on catching up on my to-do list, my son came in and said, "Mom, the mom next door is pretty laughy [he meant giggly]. I've heard her laugh 10 times already today," (and it was barely noon when he told me this).

    He went back outside to play, and I stayed inside to mop the floor or wipe out the fridge or whatever it was that I was busy doing. That day, I hadn't laughed at all. Even worse, I couldn't think of anything to laugh at. My sense of humor was hidden under my work load.

    With four kids under seven, it is so easy to be buried with stuff to do. Despite my best attempts at scheduling, I am always behind. The work always seems to pile up. It's like the saying--"Cleaning house while children are small is like shoveling snow while it's still snowing." I don't expect a spotless house--sure, that would be great--but I am aiming for a manageable one. And I feel like a woman trying to climb a snowy hill, where you make some progress and then slide back down. I can't seem to get on top of it.

    So I got to thinking:
    What is the difference between me and the mom next door?

    Could it be that owning less makes it easier to laugh more? There's less to do, less to manage, less stuff to care for. In that simplicity, perhaps one is freer to slow down and enjoy life more, laugh more.

    My son's comment was a wake-up call to me to slow down a little, take some of the stress off and laugh a little more. But where do you start to find funny stuff to laugh at?
    • Pray about it and ask for a spirit of laughter. (After doing this, the next day, my youngest son pushed his face against our glass door and made the silliest faces. We all laughed hysterically.)
    •  Capitalize on silly moments. Savor them. And laugh!
    • Sometimes, I think you may have to force a fake giggle, if it's not coming naturally at first. Practice makes perfect, and the spontaneous laughs will soon follow. 
    • Find clean jokes and tell them. Laughter is contagious (remember getting the giggles in class or at church?), and if someone starts laughing, you'll soon be laughing, too.
    • Here's a link to another article on the topic, and you could always do an Internet search for more tips.
    In my quest to laugh more, I'm adding one more thing to my to-do list: go through the house and declutter.
    I'm aiming to own less so I can laugh more.

    Sharing With:
    The Better Mom
    Women Living Well
    Raising Homemakers

    Tuesday, June 12, 2012

    What Do We Want Them to Remember?

    A few weeks ago, a dear friend of mine who lived across the street growing up and is now a mother of four (soon-to-be five) suffered a stroke. People all over the world have been praying for her, and those prayers are powerfully working! She was moved out of ICU, into rehab, and is now home, where she is working to regain full mobility. Please keep her (Amanda) and her young family in your prayers.

    Her stroke happened at night, while she and husband were talking before bed.

    I wondered if something like that should happen to me, where there was no guarantee I would ever be the same again, what would I want my children and my husband to remember of me? How would I have spent the last day as me, as I am now?

    Would I want the kids to remember that, while they were outside playing, Mom was in the house, doing chores and (gasp) spending time on the computer? That perhaps many of my interactions with them involved scolding and impatience?
    Or would I want them to remember that, even though dishes and laundry had to be washed, dried, and put away, Mom kept a playful, light-hearted spirit? That, whenever possible and practical, they were involved in the work and made to feel special and valuable for being such great helpers? And that we had plenty of fun times together, too?

    Sure, work has to be done to keep our families functioning smoothly. But I want to be sure I'm taking time to hit the bull's eye of their heart with a special connection each day. That's what I would want them to remember if tomorrow I should not be quite the same as today. May I commit to live tomorrow as I would want to have lived today.

    Sharing with:
    Women Living Well
    Raising Homemakers

    Wednesday, June 6, 2012

    From The Looney Comes The Deep

    It's been quiet here on the blog for a bit; quiet on the computer, but full of life at home, as I think it should be for this season of raising littles. But more on that in a future post! 
    Monday, after dropping off our mini-van at the body shop for some repair work due to a parking lot dent that no one claimed responsibility for, we fit four car seats in a tan courtesy-rental Ford Taurus (which one son calls the "Ford Tortoise," and another nicknamed the "Tan-tan-tangerina") and stopped quickly at the grocery store on the way home. As any mom knows, a "quick" trip with kids, just to get a few things for dinner, is really never quick. (One of my friends has a seven-minute guideline that I think is great: if you're taking your crew in a store, she aims to be in and out in seven minutes).

    One of the first displays was the fireworks--which aren't really fireworks in our county, but rather, popping things that release tons of tiny bits of paper. Tried it once. Never again. Yet, my sons yearned for them throughout the store. It went something like this,
    "Mom, please? I'll use my own money. I'll pay you back at home."
    "Please, Mom?"
    "Mom, I promise I'll do all my chores for a whole week. Could I get them, then?"
    "Mom, I promise I'll pick up all the paper that comes out. Can I please get them?"
    "No, put them back."
    "Do you think Dad would get them for me?"
    Finally, the "fire"-works were put back. Except one son opened a package and tried to stuff two poppers down his pants. He was caught (by his brother, who told me), corrected, and apologized to an assistant store manager.

    As I was fielding fireworks questions, one son said, "Mom, I have to go poo-". (I am trying to train them to simply announce that they need to use the bathroom--not announce what they need to do in it!). Off to the family restroom we went, where I waited outside the door with the baby asleep in her carseat in the cart, and where one son kept running over to drool at the fireworks display.
    "Are you done yet?"
    "Nope." (Repeat several times).
     "Mom, I'm done!"
     Helped him, washed hands, and off we went...or so I thought.

    Another son exclaimed, "Mom, I have to go poo- too!" Repeat same scenario.

    Made it out of the store without much further fanfare.

    That evening, after the kids were in bed and my husband was home, I headed to another store. In the check-out lane, a woman in her sixties, I'd say, wearing a long, gray wool coat (even though it was in the 90s outside) and best fitting the description of the witch in Looney Tunes but minus the green face and pointy nose, came right up to me, got a foot from my face, pointed her finger at me and said,
    "If you're related to Fred and Jerry, you tell them..."
    "Mam," I interrupted, "I have no idea who you're talking about. I don't know those people."
    Unfazed, she continued in a worked-up voice,
    "You tell them they're exiled! Exiled! You all need to get the [expletive] out of town--every last one of you. I don't want anything to do with anyone of you." (and on and on she went, while I politely reasserted she had the wrong person and then began to tune her out).

    As she decided maybe I didn't know Fred or Jerry after all and started to walk back to her check-out lane, she turned, and very loudly for all the other customers to hear, shouted, "Well, your NOSE JOB looks real good, by the way."

    I just started laughing and said, "I've never had plastic surgery in my life. This is the same nose I was born with, thanks!"

    What an event... The cashier next to my lane was quite upset about the ordeal and wanted to reassure me that Albertson's protects its customers. She walked me out to my vehicle. I called the manager to talk to him the next day about it, because if a customer is that unstable, who knows what she might do to someone else?

    At home, after unloading groceries, I pondered through what all had happened. It was somewhat unsettling. And who were Fred and Jerry, and why was she so upset at them? Was she schizophrenic, and they were imaginary? Was she under the influence of something? Were they real people who had hurt her terribly?
    I don't know.

    But I did know that, however uncomfortable I felt, she went home and probably felt worse. It seems like she battles some real problems. Big problems. I wondered why her path crossed mine and why she unloaded on me like that.

    Then it hit me--

    Could it be I was supposed to pray for her? Could it be I was the only one in this crazy circle of Fred and Jerry (and whoever else was exiled?) that would actually care about her spiritual condition and pray for her?

    So often, whether it's training our children and correcting them as they do wrong, or meeting messed-up people, rather than feeling wronged by them, what if we took them to the throne of grace, instead? It's there we all find mercy and receive grace to help in our time of need.

    Sharing with:
    Raising Homemakers
    Women Living Well

    Tuesday, May 22, 2012

    Mom Connection Winner

    Thanks, everyone, for the kind comments on the Mom Connection post. picked #4, Theresa, as the winner for the giveaway copy. Thanks for entering!

    If you are interested in ordering a copy, you can get one here:
    (or check if you can put in a purchase-order request at your local library!).

    Religion (Faith) IS For Children: A Response to an Athiest Who Doesn't Want Her Child Invited to Church

    I realize that I am preaching to the choir here, for my regular readers. This post is my response to a post I read called “Stop Inviting My Kid to Church: Religion is Not for Children.” I hope that sharing my thoughts will help us become more confident in shining as a light in an increasingly relativistic culture.

    The vibrant hues of sunsets and sunrises, the intricate beauty of flowers like irises, lilies and orchids, the melody of birds chirping, the complex structure of a cell and the total failure of brilliant scientists to create “even the most basic chemicals used as building blocks for the larger chemicals of living cells” all attest that nothing is here by accident, but rather by the work of a brilliant and benevolent Creator.  [1]

    As I sat outside, reading with my children, and marveling at the sheer glory of the early summer day, it all evidenced to me, as philosopher Blaise Pascal has written, that one has only to look outside in nature to believe there must be a Creator.  Considering the wonder of all living things and how everything fits together so perfectly, it seems absolutely absurd to believe—as many do—that this is all the result of freak of nature, a big bang.

    Even my seven-year old son sees holes in evolutionary logic. “What caused a big bang?”, and “How do people get their ideas to make and build stuff? And how are there ants and bumblebees and hornets and flies?” 

    This conversation commenced after I told him about an article I read this weekend, called “Stop Inviting My Kid to Church: Religion is Not for Children.” In it, the author—Ms Joy FG, an atheist—expresses her angst for people who invite her children to church. She believes that children are easily impressionable and will believe whatever they are taught, so she aims to stay neutral (or so she says) on the “big beliefs” and not steer her children toward any belief, but rather let them arrive at their own beliefs.

    She writes: “There are a lot of things I believe in. Love. Family. Honesty. Gravity. Kindness. Nature. Science.”

    But where do virtues like love, honesty, and kindness originate? Where does one’s conscience come from? The big bang?

    She goes on,
    “I understand why these children feel it is imperative to invite Miss N to church. It is a fun place where they sing songs, eat a snack and talk about the underlying fear of what happens after you die. These children love Miss N and even though they can't quite articulate it in this way, they think we're failing Miss N and her brother by not taking them to church.
    This part will be touchy for people who do not believe the same as we do and I respect that; I'll raise my kids and you can raise yours. I do not think religion is for children. I think that they should be exposed to the beliefs of all people, and while I will tell my children "this is what Mommy and Daddy believe," I do not expect her to believe the same thing…
    Ms JoyFG is sadly mistaken, in my opinion.

    “Religion” (although I would prefer to use the term faith, as it involves the mind and the heart, rather than a weekly ritual) is absolutely for children. Here’s why.

    If we were made, not by a chance explosion (which just happened to be the most brilliant accident ever) but by a Creator, then wouldn’t it make sense to introduce the children the Creator has made to their Creator at an early age? Wouldn’t you want to teach them about the Creator who created them? Yes, going to church (“religion”) is part of that process, but there’s so much more. And it doesn’t involve a treat-bag “bribe,” as Ms Joy FG states. (But isn’t she for acts of kindness?).

    It’s like this: If I was invited to a famous movie-star’s house for dinner, one of whom I was, and I could invite a friend, I would want you to go with me. Simply because you’re my friend. I care about you, and I want you to meet him, too. I want you in on the experience.

    Ms Joy FG writes that there are many “right ways in the world”, but what happens if my right way clashes with your right way? Whose is wrong? The flaw in this logic can be seen in something as simple as streets. In America, the right way to drive is on the right side of the road. In England, you drive on the left. If you both try to follow your right way in the other’s country, you will have a head-on collision). People cannot always be right, at the same time. Absolutes are necessary (although they’re getting much harder to find in culture today).

    I am unapologetically a Christian, just as Ms Joy FG is unapologetically an atheist. My right way is Jesus, and yes, I believe there is enough proof from both history and written texts to make that an absolute. But I also understand that many do not believe the same. We can debate ideas, while respecting people and treating them kindly.

    No matter what we believe, I think we can all agree that Jesus was an actual historical figure. And he was quoted as saying, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14).

    That’s what we’re doing when we’re taking our children to church, and inviting other children to church. We’re extending an invitation for them to meet the one we believe created all that is seen and unseen. We want to get to know Him better and follow His ways. And yes, sadly, not all churches or Christians are great examples. But we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    While Ms Joy FG defends her view that religion is off-limits for children because we shouldn’t talk with them in absolutes, does her absolutes-are-out-of-style approach to child-rearing extend to other beliefs, such as what foods they eat at meals and snacks, what kind of shows they watch, what kinds of behaviors her children engage in? Or are setting, and sticking to, absolutes there as parents ok?

     Despite her efforts to keep her daughter from any sort of religion (because she’s too impressionable), she has indeed done what she set out not to do: gained a follower in her atheism, which is—ironically--a religion. “I am very proud of Miss N,” she writes, “that she tells her friends that she has her own beliefs and their church is not the place for her -- it's like school for people who believe in their god, it's not really our place.”

    Ms Joy FG says she doesn’t judge us and asks us not to judge her, but yet, her statement about church—“It is a fun place where they sing songs, eat a snack and talk about the underlying fear of what happens after you die”—sounds pretty judgemental to me.

    What if Ms Joy FG is wrong in her assessment that the invitations are motivated by fear?

    Could it all be motivated by love (and truth)? Everything. The creation we see—nature, like trees, flowers, stars, and people—our beautiful children, friends, family, neighbors; and the things we do, like learning about God, and even, inviting others to church.

    As you go to church, read your Bible, and learn about Jesus, you realize there is no fear of what happens after death. We’ll all come to know the absolute truth of what he said in the end. In the meantime, I’m taking my kids to church, and we might even invite some kids to come with us…
    Although I would not normally quote the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), our state's ACLU director was quoted as saying (paraphrased): when we disagree on issues, we don't silent discussion. We have more discussion. That's what I'm aiming to do with this post.

    Sharing With:
    Women Living Well
    We Are That Family
    Raising Homemakers

    [1] Institute of Creation Research (

    Monday, May 14, 2012

    Mom Connection: Creating Vibrant Relationships in the Midst of Motherhood

    Some days, I feel like I stepped on an Amtrak Express train going 100 miles per hour. I zoom past stops, that I really should exit for--basic tasks, such as putting away the laundry in baskets all over the house, sorting through out-of-season clothing, and the like; as well as more relational tasks, such as stopping to go outside and watch my sons climb trees, catch butterflies, ride bikes, or play baseball, or make time for a messy indoor activity, such as finger-painting. The hectic pace of my day just never seems like I can jump from the train to enjoy the little side-stops. I fear I'd get run over by the stuff I'm already behind on and desperately trying to catch up with.

    Ever been there?

    Tracey Bianchi, author of the new book Mom Connection: Creating Vibrant Relationships in the Midst of Motherhood, has. A busy mom, like us, of three, she understands how packed our days can be, and how detrimental this busyness is to relationships, which she argues are absolutely essential to our well-being. Without them, we wither in isolation, amidst "heaps of poop-stained Onesies," she writes. I received a copy of Mom Connection: Creating Vibrant Relationships in the Midst of Motherhood to review from MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers).

    "I want to be the mom who drenches her children with time rather than hurry. The mom whose presence signals rest and peace rather than activity and chores. This is how I want my whole family to be known--a people of rest and grace."  

    In Mom Connection,Bianchi shows us how creating the right rhythm to our days affords us the time to create these vital connections with others. Chapters focus on connecting with our spouses, children, extended family, female friends, neighbors and communities--both locally and globally.  Good things take time, she reminds us, but the main premise I took away is that we need to slow down to savor (or start) relationships!

    "Task lists do not have to be barriers to relationships; instead they can be the very source of our connections. If I keep telling myself that I'll call a certain friend or forge a special connection once things slow down a bit, the reality is that it may be a very long time before that happens. Perhaps calling that particular person is what it will take to actually slow down!" (page 44). 

    Bianchi's writing style is highly-energetic and conversational. You'll feel like you're sitting down with an upbeat friend who has a perky perspective, which will leave you feeling inspired. But I had to laugh when she used the word "spaziness" in a sentence, because it's conversational to our culture, but it isn't technically a word. (Because I worked as a writer and an editor, I tend to read books with an eye to details such as that. I found a few small typos, but that's not her fault, and it doesn't detract from the book as a whole).

    However, I should note that reading this book requires some understanding of current pop-culture, otherwise you won't get some of the jokes. For example, Bianchi references Tyra (model Tyra Banks) without explanation (assuming most readers will get it) and "McManus's son." Maybe I've been orbiting in outer space, but I had absolutely no clue what the story of McManus' son was all about (so I googled it, and I'm still lost).

    Technical criticism aside (which, again, is geared more to her editor), this is a fabulous book.  It really has me thinking about some simple changes I can make in my life, such as being more willing to ask for help from others (even though it feels scary), buying Popsicles from the store to live an invitational life for friends and neighbors (creating that front porch culture), and mostly, slowing down enough so I can exit gracefully from the train to take time to connect with my kids. Through her book, I think I'm finding a better rhythm to my days. And I'm grateful for it.

    MOPS generously sent me a copy to give away to one of you. If you would like to check it out, please leave a comment on this post, and I will pick a name randomly next Tuesday and post the winner. 

    Sharing with:
    The Better Mom Mondays
    Gratituesday @ Heavenly Homemakers
    Raising Homemakers 
    Women Living Well

    Tuesday, May 8, 2012

    Sugar Ants & Pesky Habits

    Sugar ants (technically pavement ants), which are tiny--only about a millimeter in length--decided to check out what kind of yummy morsels they could find on my kitchen counters. The only problem--they're not welcome in my house. Try telling them that.

    When I discovered them, I sprayed them with 409 and wiped them away. The rascals (well, new ones) came back. Repeat spray-and-wipe procedure. They repeated their return. My husband put an ant trap on the counter. That helped a little, but more showed up later. This was all starting to really gross me out.

    Fast-forward to the next day, lunch-time.

    The scene: making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for my kids.
    The drama: I thought the counter was clean enough, so I laid the bread right on the counter without a cutting board, and began to spread the peanut butter, then the jelly, on the sandwiches. I put the sandwiches on paper plates and discovered a few tiny little ants crawling on the sandwiches. Yuck, yuck, yuck. Checked the knife I used for the peanut butter. They were on it. Checked the peanut butter. They were in it. More yuck. Threw the peanut butter away.

    Decided to investigate where these ants were coming from, and where else they were in my kitchen. Looked in our main food cabinet. Yep. They were not only on the shelves, they were climbing vertically up the sides of the cabinet to reach other shelves. Yuck, yuck, yuck.

    At this point, I had a royal freak-out. I started throwing things out of the cabinets, spraying the shelves down, and trying to figure out where the ants were getting in at. (Sometimes spring cleaning is more out of necessity than desire).

    I went over to the computer to search for ways to eliminate sugar ants once and for all. Found some helpful tips, but this information only added to my anxiety. Here's how you wipe out and control a sugar ant invasion:
    • Keep your counter tops immaculate. Spray with bleach water, or vinegar water after every meal or snack.
    • Sweep and mop your floor with either bleach or vinegar water after every meal.
    • Apparently, the ants will follow pheromone trails, so the bleach or vinegar will destroy their scent trails.
     Easy advice for a naturally neat person to follow, but for me?

    What so overwhelmed me about this was:
    1) my kitchen counters are nowhere near immaculate. Getting them spotless in the next fifteen minutes (which was the urgency I felt) caused me to panic, along with questions of how would I ever keep them spotless if I succeeded in getting them spotless in the first place?
    2) Mop your floor after every meal? I am lucky if I can mop once a week.

    Right then, it felt like all the issues that have been causing some tension for some time (the kids leaving toys on the floor—which I needed to mop NOW, not confining their eating only to the table, etc.) exploded. I had a major rant-and-rave session, which included comments, like, “You all need to help more with chores”, “There is too much for me to do by myself!”, “We have way too many toys!”, “I’m sick of always picking up your toys. I’m just going to start throwing them away” and on and on. At one point, my son said, “Oh no. This is just getting way too serious. We’re still only kids, Mom.” Hilarious!

    I realized then, as I have realized in times before, than I fall back on a pattern I was raised with of trying to spur my children to action through using guilt and shame. It’s terrible, I know, but like any bad habit that rears its ugly head, it can be hard to break.

    Ironically, while mopping the floor, a Christian radio broadcast was discussing the topic of anger. How do you handle it when it’s gotten out of control and is hurting your family? One woman called in to say that she learned to recognize her triggers and then take appropriate actions to address her stress without losing her composure.

    I realized then that the sugar ants were a metaphor for my own spiritual condition. My struggle is how I react when stressed to the max. But for someone else, it may be a different problem. Am I going to keep spraying and wiping the ants I see on the counter each day, or am I going to take the necessary (although difficult) steps to defeat the problem for good?

    We can keep spraying and keep wiping (dealing only with the surface problem), but if we don’t target the source, the ants will keep coming back. Sometimes, we’re forced to deal with our “ants.”  The pesticide for eliminating the “ants” we struggle with is repentance, prayer, and walking in the Spirit.

    We cannot change any bad habit or sinful pattern of behavior without first recognizing that it is a problem and then confessing our shortcomings and need for help to our Maker and Savior. We pray, as King David prayed in Psalm 51:
    "Have mercy on me, O God,
        according to your unfailing love;
    according to your great compassion
        blot out my transgressions.
    Wash away all my iniquity
        and cleanse me from my sin.
    For I know my transgressions,
        and my sin is always before me.
    Against you, you only, have I sinned
        and done what is evil in your sight…
    Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
        wash me, and I will be whiter than snow…
    10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
        and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 
    11 Do not cast me from your presence
        or take your Holy Spirit from me.
    12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
        and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
    17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
        a broken and contrite heart
        you, God, will not despise.”
    Once we’ve prayed, we walk in the Spirit. Christ’s presence with us will give us everything we need to overcome our sinful temptations and falling back into old patterns of behavior. We need to turn our minds to Him and ask for His mercy and grace.

    (By the way, the counters managed to stay pretty clean for a few days—I wouldn’t say spotless, but close! And the ants are not coming back to the same places. I’m still struggling with maintaining the high level of cleanliness required to keep them at bay--it takes a lot of discipline, which can be difficult, especially with a sick baby who wants to be held all the time--but I’m growing. I’m growing spiritually, too. I'm grateful that God cares enough about me that He wants me to grow to become more like Him, and He'll help me do it--and you, too!)