Girl time

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.

Why we will not downsize (probably)

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?

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.

“His eye is on the sparrow….”

This has absolutely nothing to do with simplifying or organizing….just really felt the need to share.

My two kiddos started swimming lessons today, which has been THE dreaded event of the summer.  Every week or so, someone would murmur about having to go, and I would say yes, you’re going, and the grumbles would begin.  Normally my kids love to be in a pool, but this was the first year (out of four) that they haven’t been in the same class, together, offering each other the unspoken support that only a sibling can provide.  Last year my son moved on, while my daughter didn’t.  So this year, the threat of  impending lessons has caused nothing but misery.

They woke up this morning having completely forgotten about it.  All morning they played, until about 10:00, when I called them up from the basement for snack and told them they’d need to get their suits on so we’d be ready to go….the whole time, praying that the word “swimsuit” wouldn’t result in a total meltdown.  (Usually they are quite thoughtful and take turns having fits; this was one instance I could have had them both explode at once.)  God provided peace; they seemed resigned to their fate instead of rebellious, and we had a good talk about nervous feelings and being brave trying something new and alone.

Thirty minutes later we were headed to the pool, and I was praying thanks to God for giving me fairly peaceful kids in what could have been a really difficult situation, when….wait…there was a familiar car up ahead.  It couldn’t be…. The car turned.  We turned.  No way…..  The car turned into the parking lot, and we followed.  Not possible!!!

Yes.  Friends.  The very first friends my husband and I had here; the friends who were in this city even before we were; friends from my husband’s grad school days who we’ve known for….wow, a long time….two boys piling out of the car and me yelling at their mom “You have got to be kidding me!”  Not a joke…the boys were all in the same class.

Shortly after, my daughter discovered a friend from school in her class.  (Not quite as surprising as the previous discovery….my little social butterfly can’t not find a friend somewhere.)

Leaving the pool, my daughter looked at me with a huge smile and announced, “I can’t wait to come back tomorrow!!”

Proof, yet again, that God really does care about the littlest of things….even nervous kids and swimming lessons….and will provide “even more than we can ask or imagine.”

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  (Luke 12:6-7)

All-American Girl

Back in April or May, I got an e-mail notifying me that the studio where my daughter used to take dance lessons was offering a special:  half-off on their summer camps.  She decided it might be fun; it had been a year since she’d been to dance and apparently she was missing it.  I looked over the age-appropriate options and asked if she’d rather go to the morning or afternoon class; after much thought, morning was her final verdict.  I then told my daughter about the theme:  by choosing the morning session, “American Girl” was the topic, which meant that all the girls could bring their dolls and take their dance lessons together.  Ever since that moment July 9th couldn’t get here fast enough for her.

I really do think the camp was a sweet idea, but I have to admit that “American Girl” dolls bother me.  There’s something disconcerting–to say the least–about dolls that come with more possessions than many people in the world own.  (One of my favorite “Arthur” episodes on PBS is all about “World Girl” dolls, and one of the characters is surprised to learn that her favorite doll is no longer being made.  “She’s from Tibet,” explains the saleslady.  “It’s a Buddhist country….it didn’t generate enough accessories.”)  Clothes, bedroom sets, pets…..That doesn’t even get into the prices, of both the dolls and all their “stuff.”  And, of course, there’s always more; now there’s a “girl of the year” each year, with her own interests and “stuff.”  And I haven’t even talked about the books.

So while I was excited to see how excited my daughter was, I admit I was a little concerned about how the actual week would go over.  Would there be a lot of they all have the real thing and I don’t?  They had a different doll every day and I only had one?  They had matching outfits for each day of the week and I didn’t? 

Nope.  We just finished day three, and I’m so pleased with how it’s gone.  She came home the first day telling me “who” each of her new friends had, without bitterness or complaint; not only that, but she wasn’t the only girl without “a real one.”  Each day she tells me about a new friend she’s made.  I’ve heard a total of one whole comment about a girl who dressed to match her doll, and it was stated in eagerness, not in jealousy.  Four of them huddled around an American Girl catalog this morning, before class started, and I caught a bit of her part of the conversation:  “I don’t have many clothes to match my doll.  But we do have matching ‘Kit’ pajamas!”  Way to focus on the positive, kiddo.

I wish I could bottle her attitude; keep it for a time in the future when she gets caught up in what others have and she doesn’t.  So far, she seems to have been gifted with an amazingly grateful heart.  I hope that doesn’t change too much.

Summertime…

Summer is my least favorite season.  Just as I’m not a “beach person,” like everyone else around me seems to be, I’m also not a “summer person.”  I know that makes me weird, and I’m okay with that.  But I’ve been really irritated with myself lately for dreading summer’s arrival, when there’s actually only one thing I really dislike about it:  the heat.  (Which, yes, can be completely unreasonable at times….but I’m putting that thought away for right now.)

The thing is, there are lots of things I truly like about summer, and I am determined to focus on those this year; to focus on the present and the now and to “fill my summer with summer things.”  (Many thanks to the “My Men and Me” blog for this final bit of inspiration: http://mymenandme.wordpress.com/2011/11/04/not-enough-picnics/ )

Summer blessings:

Quiet, no-rush mornings where we don’t have to scramble to get out the door on time.

Mornings spent in our glider swing:  two kids, one mom, books.

Grilling for dinner.  (Double points for this, since that means my husband is doing the cooking.)

Sitting in the shade chatting with friends at playgroup while the kids run wild…and coming home from playgroup, with sweaty, rosy-cheeked kids, walking into the sweet relief of air-conditioning.

Leaving the library with piles of books.  Often.

Waking up in the sunlight instead of the dark.

Kids running through the sprinkler.

Sidewalk chalk.

The birds enjoying the bounty of our mulberry tree.

Visits to Sylas & Maddy’s ice cream parlor.

Not having to set my daughter’s alarm clock.

Staying home on scorching afternoons with the lights off and the blinds opened just enough to let in some light.  (The kids asked to keep the lights off recently:  “It just feels cooler.”)

Art projects with the kids.

Watching parent birds feeding baby birds, seemingly in every tree in our backyard.

I have until the start of school on August 15th to enjoy these things as much as possible.  I plan on it.