I love our house.  God blessed us with a home that has met needs we didn’t even know we were going to have when we moved in.  It has been flexible enough to allow my husband to work from home, and still had space enough to welcome our third child.  Somehow its four walls managed to expand and allow two foster children to move in, and now it’s relaxed back down to contain a more comfortable three-kids-and-two-dogs family. But I admit to stalking houses not even a mile south of us.

Mere blocks away there are houses that back up onto a forested creek.  I’ve said, repeatedly, “I love our house….if I could only pick it up and set it down in the middle of the woods!”  (Which is, frankly, ridiculous.  Part of the appeal of this house when we bought it was the yard full of mature trees.)

But if you drive home “the back way” there are rows of homes surrounded by trees, with no real backyard neighbors but the creek.  A range of homes, too:  yes, there are a few cul-de-sacs of high-end pricey ones we could never afford, but there are also some really reasonable ones that we could.  If, by chance, we ever decided to move again.  And yes, I was frequently stalking those houses, thinking about moving.  (Because now that things have settled down, let’s stir things up, right?)

It turned out that our Sunday School class’s annual Super Bowl party was in one of those houses.  This couple was newer to our class, and when the address was sent out I almost burst out laughing:  we’re practically neighbors!  (Truly:  my husband and son walked home that night.)  I was going to get a little taste of what it might be like to live in one of Those Houses.  I wondered if I’d end up envious.  Or maybe if I’d end up with a lead on a potential home for sale?

Instead, I ended up with a near panic-attack.  A truly beautiful home, with a small, scenic backyard…that dropped off sharply into the creek.  My evening was mostly spent keeping tabs on the three-year-old:  Where’s the baby?*  Is she back outside?  I need to go check.  Wait. No.  She’s here.  Where is she now?  I think she’s downstairs.  Maybe I need to check?  There she is. Etc.

For three hours.

I joked with my husband later how glad I was that we had that experience.  I could just see us, led on by my glorious rustic imaginings of barefoot big kids playing in the woods and wading in the creek, moving into one of those homes, and then immediately being hit by the reality of a three-year-old who doesn’t swim.  Oh, my word….what have we done?

I hereby choose to shift my focus onto gratefulness:  for a home that I love, for a (relatively) large yard the kids and dogs enjoy, and for the fact that when my youngest wanders out back unattended I don’t think twice.

 

*Yes, we still refer to her as “the baby.”  I think it has to do with the age difference in the kids:  we have “the bigs” and we have “the baby.”  Please bear with me…surely at some point we’ll decide on a new nickname.

A belated Thanksgiving

December 15, 2013

I feel bad for my lack of Thanksgiving posts.  The entire month of November, when everyone on Facebook is posting all the things they’re thankful for, I stayed quiet.  Then I didn’t even blog Thanksgiving week at all; when I get busy, writing is the first thing to go (in spite of the fact that it helps me stay sane).  Topping things off, my latest post was a bit of a rant.  That’s what happens, though, when I dwell on something for such a ridiculously long time that it finally just bursts out that way.

But I am thankful.  I think, if I posted thirty days worth of “I’m thankful for…”, two things would stand out.  One is how thankful I am for really petty things.  That first cup of coffee in the morning?  Unbelievably thankful for it.  (I’ve noticed my thankfulness for that particular cup rises in direct proportion to how early I get up.)  A temperamental hot water heater means I’m thankful for a hot shower in the morning, as compared to the warm-ish ones we often get.  Lacking a garage for much of our married life means I still, ten years after getting one, think how grateful I am that I don’t have to scrape a windshield on a bitter morning.  A baby who leans toward thirty-minute naps means I’m beyond grateful when she sleeps for an hour and a half.  We had dinner with friends last Sunday after church, and managed to drive around to see some neighborhood Christmas lights last night, and most importantly, the baby TOOK A BOTTLE in the nursery at church this morning, all of which point to a turning point in babyhood:  the Ability to Have a Life again.  I’m incredibly thankful for that.

See?  Petty.

The other thing that would stand out is how repetitive my thanks would be.  Family, current and extended, would feature prominently and often.  I’m so grateful for growing up in a loving home, in a two-parent family that even now has two parents.  I’m thankful for my sweet husband, who puts up with my quirks (ahem….understatement) and loves me anyway; who is a great dad with all our kids, including the baby.  I’m really thankful for that; when he walks upstairs after work and I essentially throw the baby at him and say here….your turn, and he takes over with a smile.

I’m thankful for my oldest.  I’m thankful for the sense of humor he’s developing; people ooh and ahh over the toddler and preschool days (me included) and talk about paying attention and savoring every moment, and now I’m looking at this ten year old and thinking, they don’t tell you this is fun, too.  Having a kid with a real sense of humor–who not only gets your jokes, but can make you truly laugh, too–it’s amazing to watch what these little ones turn into.

I’m not thankful for his anxiety, but I’m thankful that those problems led us to homeschooling.  I’m thankful for watching him relax a little and enjoy life again.

I’m thankful for my oldest daughter, for her energy and enthusiasm and constant motion.  I’m thankful for the sheer joy she brings to her schooling, for the moments like when she learned about why trees change color in the fall and she looked at me with eyes shining and said, “It’s like the trees are keeping a secret all year!”  (Admittedly, the pendulum can swing quite extremely the other way, also….)

I’m thankful for her silliness; she was the one who taught her brother to laugh, all those years ago.

And I’m so thankful for the baby.  I’m thankful that she’s a happy baby, that she sleeps as well as she does, that she is usually so mellow….I’m thankful that I finally understand what it means to have an “easy baby.”  I’m grateful and beyond surprised at how much “the bigs” love this baby.  I knew my daughter would do well, her mothering instinct is strong; but watching my son fawn over her was so unexpected I still–seven and a half months in–whisper prayers of thankfulness when I see them together.

I will never forget the photographer taking pictures of my sister’s family with ours.  She very carefully kept trying to position the baby with my sister.  It made sense:  ten and eight year old together, two-ish little one (my niece) with the baby.  My sister briefly explained the situation and then, leaning in to the photographer, laughingly announced, “Surprise!!”  The photographer shook her head and did her hands in a motion that was half “Praise the Lord” and half “Raise the Roof”:  “No,” she stated firmly, “Blessings.  BLESSINGS.”

And she is right.  That baby has been the most unexpected blessing of all.

So, yes, I’m thankful.  And I’m happy for this thankfulness to carry through Christmas.

Over the course of the last year I’ve had the opportunity to peek into at least three different nurseries of three different mothers, whether in real life or through photos on Facebook.  It wasn’t until the third that I really noticed it:  this vaguely familiar feeling; the I think I’ve been here before…but no… moment; the why does this ring a bell?  thoughts.  It all clicked when I complimented one of the moms on a wall hanging and she said, “Thanks!  I found the idea on Pinterest!”

Aha!  That’s it.  Everyone had taken all the same ideas and made them their own:  each room was different; and yet, each room was sort of the same.

Well, I’m not on Pinterest.  I waste enough time online without needing to get sucked in to something that I fully recognize could take over my life.  So the baby’s room fails to meet the “shared on Pinterest” criteria.  But….the baby’s room is done.  It’s actually completed (even though it didn’t get painted until she was three months old).  Back in January I wouldn’t have guaranteed any of that.  And last fall I was a basket case, because, as I kept having to tell people, we have nothing.

“Wow!  Your other two are really old!  Do you even have any baby stuff left?”  That was pretty much the response of pretty much anyone who talked to me about our little surprise blessing.  And my response, to each of them, was always the same:

No, we moved when my daughter was two and didn’t want to move all the baby stuff since were weren’t having any more…..all we have are two umbrella strollers.  We don’t even have a crib–it broke in the move.

Then my response started to change.

It started with a sweet friend from church asking me if I had any maternity clothes.  No, and I was loathe to buy them, knowing I’d never wear them again.  So in came three bins of clothing for me to use, completely free; originally on loan but (after some thoughtful consideration 😉 ) simply given.  My entire maternity purchases were a few pairs of jeans from Goodwill.  (I hadn’t even known there was a maternity section at Goodwill.)

Next up:  dinner with my college roommate and her husband.  She asked about our adoption plans, and when we told her–as we’d told our caseworker–that we had a “situation,” she got it immediately.

“A growing situation?” she asked. Yep.

“Do you even have any baby stuff?”  Nope.

She then offered us all of her baby stuff, left from her now-preschool son; after coming to the conclusion that they wouldn’t be having any more, she was trying to figure out how to get rid of it all.  (I believe her actual words were, “Back up the truck, baby….it’s all yours!”)

So a few weeks later, when another friend asked “Do you even have any baby stuff?”  I got to try out a new response:  Funny story…. By the end, I said something like, …and all we need to buy is a crib!  We have everything else we need!

To which she responded, “Do you want a crib?”

Are you kidding me?

We have acquired, to date, a crib, changing table, two changing pads (with covers), a bassinet, a car seat (plus two bases), a stroller (that works with the car seat), two baby bathtubs, one bouncy seat, one infant “seat,” one floor play mat, one swing, and numerous toys and blankets.  This doesn’t take into account the amazing amount of clothes loaned to me by my sister; from my niece, who is just over a year older than our baby girl.  And it turns out we didn’t actually have “nothing:”  I had my older daughter’s crib bedding, which I’d listed on Craigslist twice and which–somehow–never sold.  (Thank goodness it was a girl!)

I could spin this and talk about how budget-friendly our nursery is.  Or how “green” I am, with all this used stuff.  The reality, though, is that when we had a need, God provided.  When I was completely overwhelmed with the thought of starting over, especially since we weren’t planning on doing the whole baby thing again, God took care of the “stuff” situation, and helped me realize how He was present in the entire “baby” situation.

I am so unbelievably thankful to all the people who made my little one’s room.  Each and every day I see these things, and am reminded of God’s provision and friends’ willingness to help.  I can’t imagine a better way to decorate a nursery.

A quick note…..

May 20, 2013

On April 19th we were blessed with a 9-pound, 10.7-ounce bundle of little-girl joy.  I’ve spent the past month primarily snuggling a baby, homeschooling a son, and just. barely. keeping up with the house.  (I’m incredibly grateful for a Sunday School class–and a husband–that cook.)  No blogging for me, thanks.

I had a friend post something on Facebook, though, that I wanted to share.  It really hit home for me for two reasons:  first, the incredibly obvious idea–how did I miss it?–that “gluttony” doesn’t just apply to food.  (Duh.)  Secondly, the incredibly convicting idea that it’s not just about getting rid of stuff.  It’s about putting Him first, making sure He is our priority, finding out what He wants from us….letting Him fill us, so we don’t feel the need to be filled with all the other “stuff.”

I’m working on it….

The Socially Acceptable Sin, by Jason Todd

Thankfulness on a snow day

February 26, 2013

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I have seen my husband get up at 4:30 to make the 45-minute drive that turned into an hour-and-a-half in the snow and ice, trying to get to work.  (So thankful we moved.)  I’ve seen him spend the night in a hotel room, provided by his job to ensure they would be staffed for the following day.  Thoughtful, no?  I’ve seen him have to dig his car out of a car-eating-snowbank down the street, and go in really late; which just means he works later to make up for it.

But today was a real snow day.  We were incredibly blessed to not lose power.  The kids are still in pajamas at almost five o’clock.  It’s been a very….quiet….day of staying warm and watching the snow fall.  And now, after a lull, it’s falling again.

And even my husband didn’t go to work.

 

Or, “Pursuing Enough” pursues more than enough….

 

It’s been awhile.  It’s been so long and I’m still so off-kilter that I’m not even sure I’m quite ready to start writing again…but I felt the need to check in after such a long absence.  Our family got back Monday night from an eleven-day (road) trip to Disneyworld and Legoland, sponsored very generously by my parents.  Six people in a twelve-passenger van; three days down, two days home (you know it’s a long trip when driving through five states is a good day).  Monday through Saturday we spent at all the different parks.

Overwhelming?  Yes.  Wonderful?  Absolutely.

The drive didn’t go nearly as badly as I anticipated; portable DVD players are beautiful things…and bringing along all the kids schoolwork they were missing out on helped, too.  (Full disclosure:  due to our school district’s quirky calendar, we were able to take an eleven day trip with the kids only missing three days of school.  We were NOT the only people to jump on that opportunity.)  My dad and husband sat up front and took turns driving, continually arguing with the GPS system and making her angry (“Recalculating!”).  The rest of us spread out in back, switching places when needed, since siblings can only sit together for so long.

Our time in the parks was great…my daughter met everyone she wanted to meet, including Tinkerbell, and my son rode all the coasters he wanted to ride.  My husband quickly learned how to work the Fast-Pass system (and I mean really work it), which meant that we didn’t have to wait in line more than twenty minutes for any ride we did.  (It also meant blisters for my poor husband as he ran the parks to collect the things…)

And then….Monday night at 7:30 home, Tuesday morning at 8:00 back to school.  There’s a nice jolt of reality for you.

I think, three days later, I’m just now starting to feel like things are getting a little back to normal; although with my son’s birthday plans this weekend (9 years old today!  Happy birthday, sweet boy!) and the relentless talk of getting a new dog now that we’re home, I’m still not quite feeling settled.  October is one of my favorite months of the year.  I think it’s time I slowed down a minute and tried to enjoy it.

One last thought on vacations and returning home:  I know that technically, what we come “home” to is just a bunch of wood and siding and insulation and metal, etc.  I know that really, it’s just a bunch of “stuff” that shouldn’t really matter all that much.  But after you’ve been gone for eleven days, it becomes much more than that.  It’s what it represents:  home base, safety, the comfort of the familiar, the “normal,” Home.  Night after night of sleeping in hotel beds gives you a new appreciation for your own bed; night after night of sleeping in hotel rooms gives you a new appreciation for your own room, which my children disappeared into the moment they got home, introducing their new stuffed animals to their old ones.  Right now I’m so grateful for this house, this home, and for the comfort of (slowly) getting back into a routine.

It’s good to be back.

“And the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning.  So all the skilled craftsmen who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left their work and said to Moses, ‘The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the Lord commanded to be done.’  Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp:  ‘No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.’  And so the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work.”  –Exodus 36:3-7

I was overwhelmed by these words in Exodus recently, as Moses led the building of the tabernacle.  Can you imagine being a part of a group who just kept giving?  Who had to be restrained from continuing to give?  Who wanted so much to be a blessing to the Lord that they gave, morning after morning?

My Bible commentary reminded me:  Exodus 35:5 states “From what you have, take an offering for the Lord” (emphasis mine).  “We sometimes dream of what we would give to God if we were wealthy.  Moses’ instructions to Israel are a healthy reminder.  We can give only from what we have.  When we give willingly, we please God and find joy in giving…Today too, if all would give of what they have, there would be more than enough to do all God commands” (The Bible Reader’s Companion, by Lawrence O. Richards).

More than enough, if we all would give of what we had.

Girl time

August 6, 2012

I had the opportunity to spend the afternoon with just my girl recently.  Since my son was out and about for special time with my husband, I offered to take her out and about for a snack; anywhere she wanted to go.  Where would she like to go for a treat?  Her choice.

Her choice?  “Starbucks.”

(Gah!!  I’ve completely corrupted my child!!  She’s only six, for crying out loud!)

So….to Starbucks we went.  It’s right around the corner from our house (wait….can’t pretty much everyone say that?) and as we pulled into the parking lot she asked if we could go to the girly-girl store that was in the strip mall behind the coffeeshop.  I bargained:  a trip to the home-stuff store for me, and I’d take her to her store.

Deal.

After thoroughly enjoying her raspberry truffle cake pop (“Mommy!  This is the best food I have ever eaten in my entire life!!”) we went to look at “her” store, one of those tween shops that’s really too old for her, with cute (expensive) clothes and a gazillion (pricey) accessories.  As we pulled up, she announced that “just looking in the window makes me happy.”  My stomach turned….am I raising some materialistic little brat?  “Why does that store make you happy?”

“Because it’s all pink and purple!  It’s just happy colors!”

Whew…

We strolled the store, and she looked at everything, her enthusiasm unbounded.  Not once did she ask for anything.  Not once did she request, beseech, inquire, suggest, or demand.  She was beyond happy just to look, to see all the fun stuff, and then, when we were done, to walk out empty-handed; chattering away about her favorite finds.

I’m still in awe of her attitude.  Her willingness to deeply enjoy everything around her (especially the food), and her willingness to walk away from all of it with a smile on her face:  she’d enjoyed it, and she’d have lovely memories of it, and now she was done.  No greed, no ugliness in her heart; just a sincere joy in everything we did together.

Joyful gratefulness?  Grateful joyfulness?  I don’t know what to call it, but I want it.

I’ve been reading minimalist blogs for a while, and it seems to have been a very trendy topic for young singles or young marrieds.  I often found myself rolling my eyes and muttering but wait until you have kids.

Well, now I’m being challenged by a new discovery:  blogs written by families, with children (sometimes lots of children), and their stories of simplifying and downsizing (sometimes really downsizing).  Finding out a family of four can thrive in a one-bedroom apartment is a bit of a shock to the system.  All my blathering on about decluttering loses something when I face the fact that we still have a stinkin’ big house.  I’ve wondered often in the past if the size of our home made those who knew me gag:  what a hypocrite!  what kind of simple living is she talking about?

[Full disclosure:  our home is, according to 2010 numbers (all I’m finding at this point), a totally American average 2300 square feet, with its finished basement.  I think it’s huge, but the homes 2 1/2 times the size of ours to our immediate east tend to put a different perspective on things.]

I’ve thought a lot lately about our home, about moving, about really downsizing and what that would look like.  Some things I’m mulling over:

First of all, there’s the very basic cost analysis.  The work we would need to do to sell this house, for what we would get for the house, to then buy (nope, not renting, sorry–there’s another reason I’ll never be a “true” minimalist) another house….the math doesn’t add up.  And I’m selfish:  even though I like the idea of downsizing, I tend to look at home prices and say “but our house is so much nicer for the price!”  Paying more for less house (a very real possibility in our location, especially with what we have left on the mortgage) doesn’t really appeal to me.  Paying less for less house seems to mean copious amounts of renovation…. defeating the purpose of paying less in the first place.

Secondly, I’m incredibly blessed to have the space we have, and am reminded of it each and every time we go on vacation.  Any time we stay in a hotel, I spend 95% of my time there in high-stress mode, constantly reminding the kids to be quiet:  there are people next door; there are people downstairs; there are people sleeping…. I turn into monster-mommy, trying to clamp a lid on my little ones normal noise level.  The same thing happens at home, too, on Saturday mornings:  shhh… Daddy’s still sleeping.  But wait:  at home, on those Saturday mornings, I get to say go to the basement; you can be as loud as you want down there.  Stress level:  zero.  That, for me, is a wonderful blessing.

Also:  we host.  A lot.  Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, birthdays….our families rotate hosting duties, and we have people over, often.  Having that space to spread out after a holiday meal is wonderful.  Even on Saturdays, if my family comes over, we spread out:  my dad might be reading in the relative quiet of the front room, my mom and sister and I chat in the kitchen while my son plays with Legos at the kitchen table, my daughter “does gymnastics” in the living room, and baby cousin bounces in her seat in the living room/kitchen doorway.  We have room to host, in a comfortable way.  And if all the people get to be too much for someone, they can hide upstairs or in the basement when needed.

Which brings me to my last point; my most important point.  We are currently planning to adopt from the foster care system.  Having that space–that ability to be away from someone–is something that I want to hold on to at all costs.  When and if we have more siblings in this house, I want to be able to have the kids separate when necessary:  Sweet boy, head to the basement for awhile; you need some time alone.  I know that there will probably be shared bedrooms in our future, which makes having extra space all that more precious.  I think of our front room our “away room,” an idea from The Not So Big House, and I joke that the big blue chair in the corner is the “alone chair,” where you go when you want to be alone.  So far I’m the only one in this house that uses it (haha), but I think that idea is going to be important when we start meshing who-knows-how-many new personalities into this home.

I know, absolutely, that my intentions of not moving don’t really matter.  We’ve “moved for the last time” three times now, and I fully recognize that my plans are not always God’s plans.  A job loss, a fire, a tornado….all sorts of things could happen to force my hand.  And I’ll take that as it comes.  But right now, I’m going to focus on simplifying and decluttering, and continue being content and incredibly grateful……but not downsizing.

What’s next?

July 25, 2012

It’s a strange feeling to look outside right now.  The grass is browning.  Some leaves are actually falling; there’s a carpet of brown leaves lying under the maple tree right outside our kitchen window.  If I let myself, I can almost pretend it’s fall, since this is essentially what our yard should look like in late September or early October.  But it’s not fall; it’s July.  Which makes the view that much more surreal.

I wish it was fall….day after day of 100+ degrees and drought is wearing thin.  I discovered advertisers are quite ready to grant my wish:  a catalog arrived in the mail recently with a “Christmas preview,” and I admit I looked through each and every page; not actually wanting to buy anything, just wanting to be reminded that it wouldn’t always be miserably hot; that fall and winter were right around the corner.

Stores and advertisers are always happy to help us move on, aren’t they?  They spin it as letting us “plan” and “prepare.”  My most recent example was trying to buy a lawn chair the day before the Fourth of July….but the lawn and garden section had already turned into the lawn and garden aisle, and employees were unloading school supplies in the empty space left behind.  It happened to me last Christmas, too:  finally on break, finally ready to find a craft for the kids to do as gifts, and aisle upon aisle of Christmas craziness had turned to just two; with no projects my children had any interest in doing.  I’ve tried to explain to my kids that stores don’t carry snow boots in January, or swimsuits in August; but it really does seem a little ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Right about the time we get settled in to enjoy, when we can finally really get into a season, advertisers take off:  on to the next big thing!  It’s always the next celebration or season we need to prepare for; it’s always what’s coming up, what’s approaching, what’s next, leaving us no time to enjoy where we are.  No room for contentment and gratefulness for the now.  No peacefulness in our present.

Our family has less than three weeks until school starts again.  We have swimming lessons and vacation days still in front of us.  I plan on enjoying–to the best of my “I hate heat” ability–these last few days of summer break.  I’m going to sit right in the middle of it, to make sure we do as many summer things as we possibly can, to savor (to use my kids’ favorite word) every last minute of it.  I know I will have to take a moment to acknowledge the future and buy school supplies….but outside of that shopping trip, I’m choosing to live in the present.  Even if it is presently 103 degrees.