Minimalism, meet reality

November 8, 2017

I moved the furniture in my youngest’s room this morning; moved the posters on her walls around.  Got everything rearranged, cleaned out just a bit, and it’s beautiful.  So empty and peaceful.

I worked in the basement for five minutes, going through a bin of stuffed animals (the old “out of sight, out of mind” trick).  I pulled five to keep–I’m still a sucker for sentimental stuff–and filled a 13-gallon trash bag with loveys to pass on.

I weeded kids’ books yesterday and kept only the much-loved favorites.  This was met almost immediately with a request to read A Pocket for Corduroy.  Funny how favorite books can be found when you get rid of the junky stuff.

I got in the laundry room closet today…..and it was still a laundry room closet.

But here’s the thing:  the only items in that closet right now that don’t really belong are some picture frames that I want t buy mats for.  Everything else, regardless of how un-minimalist it looks, is something we use.  Not every single day, but easily every month, and absolutely every few months.

I’ve finally come to the realization that every home is going to have a bin of extra light bulbs.

Truly….I think this is something the glossy magazines don’t ever spotlight, and it’s stuff that no one likes to think about.  But I daresay that even the most minimalist home is going to have a stash of bulbs somewhere.  If they don’t, they’re going to be hanging out in the dark at some point, because bulbs don’t burn out when it’s convenient–much like smoke alarm batteries only running out at 3:00 AM.

So that closet full of “stuff” isn’t going anywhere.  It is a testament to the reality of living this life.  We use detergent, and have an iron and ironing pad.  We need a place to keep things like string and screwdrivers and my secret stash of chocolate.  I’ll do my best to keep it organized, and keep it cleaned out, but some “stuff” you just need to keep.

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She keeps me young

October 27, 2017

We made our annual trip to the Cider Mill this past week.  The weather was absolutely perfect for the fall trek, cool and crisp with plenty of sunshine to keep us warm.  We wandered the grounds, ate our doughnuts, and drank our cider, and then (of course) I took pictures like a crazy person.

Hide and seek at the Cider Mill….because, why not?

I started innocently, following the kids around and snapping occasional pics. Then it was goofy poses, to get them willing for the follow-up attempt at nice poses.  The beauty of digital photography is that you can take literally a hundred pictures and know that somewhere in there are two or three keepers.  Pic after pic of my kids on hay bales and rock walls, being crazy, being silly, and finally being “smiley for the camera.”

When I finished and turned them loose, I turned to see an older woman smiling and holding out her phone.  “Would you mind taking a photo of us?” she asked with a smile, gesturing toward two young-adult daughters and her husband.  “We  never manage to get all together like this.”  I agreed–who wouldn’t!?–and snapped a handful of pics of the four of them.  As I handed the phone back, she complimented me on my “beautiful family” and my four-year-old’s darling dress.

I smiled sheepishly.  “That was a hand-me-down from sister,” I admitted.  “We didn’t save hardly anything between my older daughter and the surprise, but we saved that.”

She laughed.  “I wondered about that!  That was me, you know.  I was the surprise.”  She was smiling mischievously.  “My mom always said–she’s ninety-seven now–my mom always said, ‘She keeps me young.'”

I burst out laughing.  “That needs to be my phrase!  I’m always looking at her saying, ‘Oh, baby girl, Mama’s so old….”

“NO!” The woman was beaming.  “She keeps you young!!”

I sincerely hope I can adopt that attitude.  A shift in mindset of that magnitude changes everything.  I wonder what adventures she’ll lead us on; what paths we’re going to walk down because she exists.  I know that the past two years of depression with my oldest would have been incredibly more difficult for me, without this little one’s unrelenting joy and sunshine to wrap myself in.  Snuggling with an inquisitive, cheerful preschooler has been a blessed antidote to many of my days.

Maybe the “keeps you young” has already been happening.  Maybe she, with her sweet spirit and loving nature and concern for others, has been keeping me from being beaten down prematurely as we walk the dark, ugly path of depression with our son.  And how blessed we are now, to have him healing and returning–almost always–to his tenderhearted, sweet self (with that sly sense of humor).  She was, somehow, always thoroughly untainted by her brother’s moods; now that unceasing joy allows us to rejoice more deeply in the healing that is taking place.

Our lives were changed dramatically with her arrival.  But as my husband and I were discussing last night, there hasn’t been a single change for the worse.  God knew exactly what we were going to need at this point in our lives.  We can’t imagine life without her.

Yes, she keeps me young.

 

 

 

A little bit different

October 27, 2017

I think, if you sat our family down on the front steps of our home and took a photo, we would look like the perfect microcosm of average suburban America.  Three kids, two dogs, 2,300-square-foot home….it all screams “average.”

I forget in how many ways we are different, and are living life in a simpler way. We haven’t gotten too off-course from my goal of “enough” (in spite of birthday season), and we really aren’t quite “average.”  The past few days reinforced that idea for me.

In a way, it started Monday night; the last night of a four-week Bible study I was attending.  We usually have very quiet evenings, and me being gone four Mondays in a row was a serious shock to the family system.  (Obviously, they all did fine.)  Bedtime hugs and kisses were doled out at 6:40pm since I wouldn’t see kids until morning…..

…and the next morning we hit the ground running a bit harder than usual.  I dropped my youngest off at her preschool, then stopped by the library on my way to a chiropractor appointment.  I had a bit of time at home (long enough to flip laundry) and then collected my older daughter to tag along as we picked up the youngest from preschool and headed straight to Target for a quick lunch (um…ick) and a shopping trip involving birthday gifts for their brother.  We were having all sorts of fun, wandering and smelling candles, when I literally gasped so loud it scared the girls.

“I’m supposed to get your brother to his appointment at 2:00!” I hastily explained, and once I checked my phone I realized we were fine. There was no more moseying through the aisles, however, and we headed straight for the checkout line.  As I pushed the cart towards the door, my youngest reminded me, “Don’t forget his treat!”

Oh, yeah.  We stopped back by the deli and grabbed an Icee.

Headed for home, unloaded stuff, loaded boy, sat in a waiting room for an hour, and tried to breathe.

Back home I collected the girls and RETURNED to Target WITH the Redcard to get our 5% off all that stuff we just bought earlier.  (Sigh.)  One last gift for brother.  A few clothing items for my older girl, who is rapidly (again) running out of clothes to wear, regardless of how often she does laundry.  Got home and started dinner and ate together--on days like today, I consider the fact that we still managed to eat together a HUGE win.

While my husband and older daughter cleaned up dinner, my son and I jumped back in the car so I could drop him off at a homeschool group event.  I hung out to talk a bit, then headed home to put my youngest to bed while my husband ran to the grocery store.  Once both girls were down, I headed back out to make sure I was there to pick my son up at 9:00; only to check my messages in the parking lot and realize the group was running late and maybe push pick-up back to 9:30?

Well…..guess I’ll gas the car now.

Returned for pick-up and more talking.  Home by ten.  Completely sacked out by 10:45.

I knew going into the week that Tuesday would be the worst, Wednesday would be a bit better, and by Thursday, the end was in sight.  At some point mid-Tuesday, I stopped and looked around and had a sudden, deep awareness that some people live like this all the time.

Mine were a crazy few days, but for many, that is everyday.

That is how countless people are going through their lives:  a bit like pinballs, bouncing from one thing to another in an endless–and sometimes mindless–run.  That is what an average day looks like, for an average person.  And thankfully, SO thankfully, that is one way we’re different.

Today we are home.  Home for an entire day.  The bigs are at the kitchen table with me, coloring while I write.  The four-year-old is camped out in the living room with her My Little Ponies  My laundry for the day is done and my daughter has started hers.  The kitchen is clean and the coffee is fresh.  We have discussed a library run, and put it on the back burner.  All the kids are still in pajamas.  It is the best kind of day–especially after the week we’ve had.  I’m so, so grateful that this is our normal; that we are, actually, a little bit different.

I picked up my phone one morning to find I’d been tagged in a Facebook comment in a homeschool group.

Huh….What’s up?  That’s weird.

It got weirder.

The original poster had questioned, Anyone unschool older kids?

My daughter’s preschool teacher had promptly tagged me.

I just about dropped my teeth.

Unexpected milestones in life: getting tagged in an unschooling post.

Which is exactly what I replied to her teacher.  (Her response:  “Well, I know your kids are awesome, so you’re doing something right!”)

As I thought about it, it struck me:  what are we, exactly?  We are absolutely not open-and-go, curriculum-in-a-box, structured schedules with desks in a corner.  We are not School At Home.  But as I explained in my comment, we really don’t fall into the “full-fledged, hard-core unschooling tribe,” with everyone doing their own thing and following their interests 24/7.  We are VERY….relaxed and eclectic.  But we are not Unschoolers.

Do we really need these labels to define us?  Honestly, are they helpful?  Maybe, possibly, for some truly dedicated people.  (I now have the phrase “die-hard Charlotte Mason” running through my head, which I think is hilarious.)  And it does make perfect sense to say, “We use ‘Sonlight,'” or “We use ‘My Father’s World.'”

But surely there are more of us wandering around in the middle?

In label-less homeschools?

Our own homeschool has had a very gradual shift over the past five years.  This year, each of my older kids has a spiral notebook, and every Monday there’s a note inside for that week of school, telling them what their “must-do’s” are. We start slowly and ease in to the school year, but a normal, average week involves a few constants; I think of it as the “spine” that everything else hangs from, or the foundation everything else builds on. Each child reads everyday from their “book for school” (I have a book list for each child, but they choose from it what they want to read).  They each have daily math (my 11-year-old daughter is in Teaching Textbooks 6, and my 13-year-old son is working on Horizons Pre-Algebra with a tutor). Science is also daily; this is effortless with my daughter, so she’s on her own with library books/an astronomy textbook; this is NOT effortless with my son, so he’s working through Apologia Physical Science bit by bit.  They also write at least once a week (this is effortless with my son, but even my daughter is willing to do a Friday Free-Write with a good attitude).  We do other things, of course, but this is our base.  Over the course of the week I jot down anything else school-related in a long list under Monday’s note.

And that makes us…..(what kind of ?) schoolers?

Our days look different for each child.  My son is very structured. He gets up between 7-8, starts his personal morning routine, and then jumps straight into school, to “knock it out” and “get it out of the way,” so he can do what HE wants to do. (Definitely no full-on unschooling here.)  What he “wants to do” is write.  A lot.  One of his current obsessions is The Ranking of Music….he’ll listen to every album by (insert band name here) and then do mini-reviews, ranking them, best to worst. We’ve got the Beatles albums ranked, the Muse albums ranked; right now he’s working through U2.  I’ve seen him knock out a 3000+ word essay reviewing every movie in the Marvel cinematic universe (that he’s seen).  The dude loves to write.

My daughter’s day looks (ahem) a little less focused.  She’ll wander down, eventually (I let my kids sleep as late as they want–no demanding a schedule here, either); and she’ll curl up with her math book over breakfast; then take off and go play with her preschool sister for an hour and a half; then suddenly get serious and say, “No, I HAVE to do my reading now,” and work on her reading….get lunch, play piano, rearrange her room, throw in a load of laundry, read a book, and suddenly say, “OH! I forgot about science!” and go attack something science-y with a vengeance….you get the idea.

What label do I apply to all this?

We have our routines.  We also have a huge amount of freedom, and I admit that each time I hear a school bus rumble down our street, I’m a little more thankful everyday.  I’m thrilled that my girls get a chance to play and get to know each other, and not be separated for over eight hours a day.  I love that my kids can get the sleep they need, and not leave the house at the crack of dawn.  I love that they can spend so much time doing what they love, while still learning what they need, and can do it in the comfort of our own home.  My “school pictures” tend to be kids curled up in nests of blankets reading, or sitting in the large swing in the backyard with a notebook, or cuddled with a dog while they work on their math…..

There’s really no label for all that.

Our lying brains

June 14, 2017

I sat at the kitchen table at 9:30 this morning and thought with a sigh, I’ve done nothing today.

Um…wait.

Dealing with my son’s depression has led us to a lot of “that’s your brain lying to you” discussions.  I suddenly realized I could apply that lesson to me.

Okay….I must have done something this morning.  What have I done?  (Not counting coffee and quiet time first thing, because that’s not really “work….”)

I got a shower, and got dressed and got my hair done.  (I’m a mom.  That totally counts.)

I fed both dogs, got them outside, and started a load of laundry.

I ate breakfast, and hung out with my son while he ate breakfast.

I took care of my breakfast dishes and the few other dishes/recycling in the sink.

I wrestled the patio umbrella/patio table back into proper position after the thunderstorm that blew through this morning.

I made an appointment to get my recall-issues car in to be repaired.  (That, in itself, involved an unfortunate amount of time online, plus a trip to the car to get the registration with the VIN number/replace the registration with the VIN number.  Go me for putting things back.)

I made a fresh pot of coffee and prepped some half-caf in my coffee canister.

I flipped the laundry and started a new load.

I did a quick sweep of the kitchen floor (since the new load was dog towels and I stirred up fur everywhere).

I dealt with a dirty pull-up.  (Yes, she’s four.  Prayers appreciated.)

I got my littlest breakfast and sat with both my girls while they ate breakfast.

And that, that moment of sitting, of (gasp!) sitting and drinking coffee and enjoying being with my girls, that is when my lying brain snuck in to feed me garbage.  She’s having fun!  NOW!

For once, I’m not buying it.

PS And now I’ve written a blog post.  So there, you lying brain.

Welcome to weird….

March 17, 2017

It’s been a long, slow path towards the “weird, unsocialized homeschooler” finish line, but I think we might have crossed it.  Granted, it was the three-year-old, and she hasn’t actually been in school yet; she has no schoolish habits to unlearn or certain ways of thinking to redo.  I suspect it counts, however.

I got ambitious with a side salad recently and introduced the kids to avocado.  (For the record, it was not a hit.)  Once the salad was made, I was left with the pit.  Washed and dried, an avocado seed is a beautiful thing:  smooth, round, just the right size to hold in your hand.  I called the little one over to show her–out of all the kids, I knew she’d be the one to appreciate it the most.

I wasn’t wrong.  “Ohhhhh…..” She was in awe.  Then she looked at me.  “Can I have it?”

“Sure!”  This is my child who is forever bringing home rocks, sticks, pine cones, you name it–we refer to them as her “pretties.”  It didn’t surprise me at all that she asked to keep it.

Then it got a little….quirky:  she carried it around talking to it until dinner.  Still, again, not that out-of-the ordinary for her.  Everything is a living creature in her world; I’ve seen her play with my measuring cups and turn them into a family.  All the stuff in the nail file kit is also fair game.  So “Baby Avocado” didn’t seem out of the realm of possibility.

And then after dinner she asked me to draw a face on it.  At that point I had to admit we’d crossed a line:  my kid is carrying around an avocado seed with a face drawn on it, snuggled into a cotton-filled box with a fabric scrap blanket.

Welcome to weird.  I have to admit it’s kind of fun here.

When my first daughter was born eleven years ago, she was very slightly jaundiced. The doctors asked us to bring her back in to the hospital just a few days after birth, to do blood tests and make sure all her levels were acceptable.  I still remember laying my little bundle down on the table for the sweet nurse to prick her tiny heel and gather the blood necessary for the lab work.  She held my little one’s struggling foot in her hand…then asked me to help hold the baby….and once she finally managed to get the sample, she looked at me with wide eyes.  “She is strong,” the nurse informed me.

Little did we know….

At four months, I was so exhausted from simply surviving her presence that I chose to take her to the Mom’s Day Out where I was taking my two-year-old son once a week. Looking back, I’m slightly horrified–she was four months old!  But I remember my desperation for any kind of break from the crying.  There was the colic; you could set your watch by her: at 5PM, everything fell apart and it didn’t stop until around 9:30. But there was also, simply, the crying.  The “I’m never happy….what will you do to keep me happy….that worked for ten minutes but now I want something new” crying. Her first day at Mom’s Day Out, she came home with a note from her caregiver:  “She certainly knows her mind!”  That’s an understatement.

The tantrums of her toddlerhood.  The violent frustration that might show up unexpectedly, at any moment.  Scrolling through “Your memories on Facebook” recently, it revealed that at age four we had a conversation:  “Are you going to go upstairs now, get dressed, and get out the door at a reasonable time?  Or are you going to have a screaming fit, spend all your time crying hysterically, and finally give up and get dressed?”  Her response?  “Yeah, let’s do that.”  Sigh.

I don’t need to go on, do I?  Because if you have a strong-willed child, you know.  You have your own stories, probably even bigger and larger-than-life, that you’re dealing with daily.  The draining, depleting kinds of stories.

Can I tell you something?  A strong-willed child looks quite different at eleven.

It looks like a kid who sings in six choir performances during the Christmas season….with undiagnosed bronchitis.

It looks like a kid who is teaching herself to play the piano.  Each time she turns the page to a new song, she struggles a bit, and growls a bit, and each time she sets her jaw and works until she’s got it.

It looks like a kid who plugs along, doing the things that need to be done, until she finally admits that her ear hurts a bit….and is informed by the doctor that she has a double ear-infection and a blister on one eardrum.

It looks like a kid who, in fifth grade, is wrestling with questions I only took on in high school and college.  What do people mean when they say God spoke to them?  What does it mean to follow Jesus with all my heart?  What does “giving all my life to God” look like?  (A small sampling of our conversation over my coffee this morning….)

It looks like a kid who will find a way to make things happen, instead of rolling over and playing dead when she’s told they can’t.

I remember joking, when she was tiny, that someday this stubbornness might be a good thing. I think, maybe, we may have reached that point.

So to all the parents of strong-willed little ones who are pulling their hair out with frustration and exhaustion:  it gets better.

These kids of ours may very well end up doing something magnificent.

Why I left Facebook

February 19, 2017

Last Thanksgiving I decided I was pulling the plug on Facebook for awhile.  The holidays were underway and I thought, for my own sanity’s sake, that I didn’t really want to see all the picture-perfect photos of everyone’s picture-perfect celebrations when there were still occasional days in our house where my child’s depression won, and everyone would fall apart, like a domino run, one after the other.  Obviously, the election played a part in my decision, too, but at the time my choice was less politically motivated and more out of self-care.  I had enough on my plate without having my nose rubbed in everyone else’s apparent happiness.  Our days were improving, and I wanted to enjoy that to the fullest, instead of getting pulled into the comparison trap.

I still logged in once each morning to clean up notifications and to check the “Your Memories on Facebook” page.  As a homeschooling mama, I belong to a ridiculous number of groups, who are always hosting a ridiculous number of events; I did feel the need to check in occasionally there.  And as someone who tends to use FB to chronicle the fairly mundane day-to-day life taking place under our roof, the memories were wonderful to look through and laugh at and sometimes share with the kids (and to remind myself that happiness wasn’t always this tenuous).

No news feed.  No sorting by most recent.  No so-and-so liked this or so-and-so shared this or random ads for….why would you think I’d want an ad for this?

Can I tell you something?  It’s been really pleasant.

Fast-forward to now, about three months later.  As I’m reading in Psalms, I come across verse 14 in Psalm 34:  “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.”  I stopped to really consider those words, and it occurred to me that they summed up what had been happening over this past accumulation of weeks.

Depart from evil.  No, I’m not saying Facebook is evil.  But the feelings that get stirred up in me, from the political posts or the comments or the “shares” that haven’t been fact-checked; or the envy that crops up when I see someone else doing or getting something wonderful…..those feelings can be pretty ugly.  And I’ve been gradually leaving those behind.

Do good.  Guess what?  When you aren’t sitting and scrolling through your news feed constantly, you can get more done.  Add that to how much better I feel since I’ve left, and more of what is “getting done” is full of good.  (Please also note:  “getting done,” with a three-year-old in the house, sometimes looks like “playing kitty dollhouse.” That’s allowed.  I’m not talking about business productivity here.)

Seek peace and pursue it.  That’s exactly why I left in the first place.  Facebook did nothing to help my peace.  All it did, in various ways, was stir up stress and anxiousness in me.  It’s not in the business of creating peace; that’s not its job.  (Now, that’s an interesting question: what exactly is its job?)  Turning away from it has helped increase my peace dramatically, and allowed me to pursue things that contribute to peace even more.

Let’s be honest….now more than ever we are a people in need of peace.

 

 

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.

February springtime

February 11, 2017

This happens every year, where we live.  Truly, I promise it does, and one day I’m going to look up past data to confirm it.  There are always a few days in February–sometimes January–where it’s sixty-five degrees and sunny, and it feels like spring has sprung; even though all the weather forecasts promise a change in two days.

My son had a youth group outing at a big new arcade place, so I dropped him off and took my daughters (plus a friend) to our neighborhood park.  They played all morning together, with the sun occasionally disappearing behind thin clouds only to reappear again, warming the playground even through the still-cool breeze.  We watched geese wander across the park to the pond.  They discovered a hollowed-out tree perfect for animals to hide in.  My youngest was surprised by the arrival of her neighbor friend, and they played house and tag and hide-and-seek and all the dozens of things that short-attention-span three-year-old’s can play in an hour.  It was so warm all the girls shed shoes and ran barefoot.  Then we wandered to the school playground next door to spend the rest of the morning, until we had to load up and collect brother.

Is disconcerting the word I want? Maybe disjointed?  There was something about taking three grubby girls, all windblown and pink-cheeked and dusty, into the sleek new bowling/arcade/zip-line/food court…..a collision of two different worlds. (Disturbing, maybe?  That seems a little extreme….)  My son’s event was scheduled months before, so I wasn’t bothered too much by him spending the morning there: nobody expects pleasant weather in mid-February.  But the idea that families were arriving that day to shell out their dollars in a cavern that overwhelmed with flash and spin when it was sixty-five degrees out in February.

Don’t you see?  You grab those days. You take those when they come and you revel in them, outside, in the fresh air.  There’s plenty of time to hole up and breathe manufactured HVAC.  We get quite a few opportunities for that where we live, on either extreme.  But when you get springtime in February, you tell the kids let’s go outside.  And guess what? It’s free!  No, there’s no video monitors or strobe lights or generic pop music at full volume, but I bet you can live without that for a day.

Go enjoy a spring day!  It’s winter.  And tomorrow’s forecast is cloudy with a high of 45.