wocket in my pocket

Looking for the unexpected in the mundane.

Soul Care

Some of us have a trump card that we try not to play very often, but we would like to mention that Grandma didn’t homeschool. (Thank-you for the prompt, you commenters from the last post. ) We keep this close because when somebody whines about something that is an obvious choice they made, people think, “Duh, you didn’t have to sign up for that.” However if you homeschool, you have chosen a challenging path and set yourself up for a lot of work! All the noble reasons for doing what you are doing will not make it easy.  The best thing about homeschooling is that our children are here all the time. The worst thing about it is that our children are here all. the. time. There is no substitute and very little wiggle-room, and it definitely has a way of turning your heart to your children! Unfortunately, it also tends to overload us with anxiety about our failures and their struggles. (You cannot outsource your relationships.) Sometimes you absolutely must get perspective, which means you have to step back, out, away, alone, and think, ponder, pray, cry, figure out how to make this work, how to get the white space you need to be healthy.

It’s not only mothers who have to do this. Nurses, teachers, nannies, cart-pushers, all of us, really… we all need to care for our souls. You know all those verses about fatness and leanness in the Bible? It may sound counter-intuitive, but you want a fat soul! A skinny one won’t be able to share anything nourishing with others.

Winter is coming. In this area that means staying inside most of the time. We end up with projects stacked on projects. As I write this in the living room, there is a Jenga blocks game on the floor, piles of books on the end tables, a Monopoly card game, assorted socks and shoes from church, and spilled popcorn on the floor. Someone was sculpting on the coffee table and there is a PBJ sandwich there as well. In the corner I just noticed a basket of clean blue jeans that got missed yesterday. I expect to feel rather famished by springtime when we can move outside again, but I also have some coping mechanisms that I sprinkle into my days.

  • Take walks alone, if at all possible. When the sun shines, I like to drop non-essentials and go out right then; I need the vitamin D. Sometimes I listen to an audiobook that is above the children’s heads. I pray about the things that trouble me, and once I astonished myself and managed to not think about anything at all for a bit. That is actually a thing- ask a guy! Even if I have to take everybody along, getting out of the house is therapy.
  • Learn to run to Jesus with everyday issues. If you need a little privacy, lock the bathroom door. Nothing is too small, nothing too complicated, nothing out of bounds to pray about. Sometimes I have no words other than a desperate, “Help me, Jesus.” He always hears.
  • Figure out your signature drink, the one that makes you feel like you are going to be all right. Craft it lovingly and drink it out of a great mug or one of those cute Pioneer Woman drinking jars.
  • Keep a secret stash. I don’t care if it’s chocolate covered almonds or tofu chips, it is vastly preferable to chew on something than to chew out somebody. Not like the two are mutually exclusive, but still… I might add that I have been known to hide my chocolate so well that I couldn’t remember where I put it.
  • Make time to read even if it is just a few paragraphs before falling asleep. I love to read the Bible in a different version and study the grand theme of Glory throughout the little lives of people. It helps me to step outside my world and think about other horizons, bigger pictures. (You think you have problems, lady?)
  • Take a touch time-out. We have a few members of the family who are sensitive to others in their space. In a family setting, this is inevitable. When things start going a little bonkers, I make them sit in separate places, no talking or touching each other while I read aloud. They may color or crochet or draw. Sometimes they listen to audiobooks or I read until I am hoarse. It has a way of putting us all on the same page and we forget about the way people were getting on our nerves.
  • Cultivate gratefulness. It will put pounds on your soul, and that is a good thing, remember? My personal challenge for this year is to be truly delighted with how cozy my house is. I will not dwell on the fact that we could easily use another 900 square feet. If you hear me grousing, call me out on it.
  • Teach the children to help with the housework. Few things trigger frustration faster than irresponsible people who will not own their messes or serve others. I am not supposed to do it all for everybody. That may seem spiritual, but in the end I am putting my children at a huge disadvantage by sending them into adulthood with that mentality.
  • Have a restful space that you can retreat to when you need a break. We do not allow our children to play in our bedroom. It’s simply off limits. Sometimes I go in there and lock the door and just breathe for a few minutes until I have lightened up and gotten over myself.
  • Learn to laugh; if you can’t see the humor in life, you might as well stuff yourself into a pickle jar. I have not quite learned to say, “That was a hilarious arc your milk made on its way to the floor,” but I look for belly laughs as often as possible. Recently I read a children’s story about a little African boy who wanted to make biogas from goat droppings. I pronounced it “by-OH-gus” and couldn’t figure out why I had never heard of this alternative fuel before. It has now become part of the hilarities in our family legend, I can assure you.
  • Try grocery shopping all by yourself. I have shopped at Walmart in the wee hours while the household slumbered. It is open 24 hours, after all. This can be very fun and relaxing.
  • Be as creative as you can. The act of making something with your hands is  extremely REcreational.  I have been having it out with pumpkin pie this fall. I grew up on my Mom’s version, where the pumpkin separates slightly from the milk/egg so that the layers are perfectly defined. I can use her recipe, but I can’t make her pie. It has become a duel: the perfect pumpkin pie against me… great recreational activity. My husband bought me a pottery wheel recently, so between that and the pie, I have plenty of scope for creativity.
  • Get help. I have a friend who is willing to come do large housecleaning projects with me. The last time she was here I worked in the kitchen, cooking, while she shampooed the carpets. I recommend getting help for the big stuff.
  • Schedule down-time. Sometimes my husband would notice a certain neediness and tell me to take a break, and sometimes he wouldn’t notice, so I have learned to ask. We try to schedule in a day every month where I can do whatever I need to catch up with schoolwork and shopping.
  • Plant flowers. The girls and I just dropped 150 tulips, 30 alliums, and 30 crocuses in the ground. It’s kind of long range planning, but the anticipation will give us happy thrills all winter. In the flowering season we take joy in regularly bringing in bouquets to lift our hearts.
  • Let go of perfection. It is an unattainable and fretful place to be.

There was once this lady named Martha who was doing all the stuff! She was really reaching around and serving, but she missed the most important thing that would have given her rest in her soul. Her sister just sat there and listened to Jesus. I have often puzzled over how to be both these gals, because the world needs to be fed, and some of that is my job. I feel a kinship with Martha, to be honest. My personal solution is to work hard and rest hard, if that makes sense. Someday you may drop in at my house and be a little shocked to see me messing with yarn and knitting needles while there is a general litter of life all around. It will just be me, tending to my soul.

Your turn. I would be so tickled if someone out there told me they go fishing or hunting. What refreshes you? How do you restore your soul when life gets too busy?

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Why Grandma Didn’t Need Me-Time

 

As one thoughtful commenter mentioned in the last post, “I wonder if the women back then would have appreciated some time off now and then or not?” As I thought about the advice from women in another season, I made a few tentative conclusions.

  1. They have forgotten. Do you think there is a possibility that a woman who declares after her children are all grown, “I loved every minute of mothering!” might have a memory lapse? Maybe she is remembering the confiding cuddles, while forgetting how one child pulled the other’s hair when they couldn’t see the storybook and the dismayed clench of her heart when her sweet child told a deliberate lie. Maybe the goo and poo recede with the years and she sees better the things that really matter.

Mom tells the story of one friend of hers who had a really fussy baby, crying and crying at the school picnic. When they had an auction to benefit the school, the lady jokingly held up her cranky infant and called, “Baby for sale!” Obviously they were human as are we.

  1. They had a strong a support culture, especially among the Amish, that was a tremendous blessing to newbie moms. It was normal to have a “maid” to come do the weekly cleaning or pick up the load when there was a new baby. Anyone in trying circumstances could depend on meals being brought in to feed the family. Many lived in very tight community where they babysat each other’s children when they needed to go to an appointment or grocery shopping. This sort of network can be the difference between sinking or keeping on swimming.
  2. They were focused. Our mothers were raised with one dream, to get married and become mothers and homemakers. They didn’t really have the array of opportunities for developing their gifts that our generation does.  While I have passionate views about people using their talents, I also know that honing in on one thing is what makes one a master at it, and this is why so many excellent homemakers result from the plain people’s tradition of training their daughters to pour themselves into this art. Imagine Grandma dashing around with a pricey camera, capturing her world while the children sniffled about being hungry. Nope. She fed her people first.
  3. They had grit. Somehow they didn’t expect life to be easy, which was how a pregnant woman could get up at dawn to milk cows, then come back into the house to cook breakfast and care for toddlers, sewing all their clothes, and keeping house all day. After all, her life was a lot easier than it was for her pioneer ancestors.

Acceptance. Realistic expectations. Support. Centuries of women who picked up their load and carried it with grace and grit would likely look at us with our labor-saving devices and thoughtful husbands who occasionally take us out to eat and say, “Girl, get over yourself.” And that’s probably why Grandma never heard of me-time.

I remember a day when I confessed to my husband, “I just want to give them all away,” then I quickly added, “for a few hours anyway.” It is not helpful at such a time to feel that one is uniquely wicked among mothers, that good mothers never ever need a break. Hear me… WE DO! Even animal mothers pass off the babies to an aunt occasionally so they can stretch their limbs without a pup instantly attaching to the milk bar.

When nobody is having any fun anymore and I am not finding pleasure in my children, I need to take a step back and ask, “How can I break out of this destructive pattern?”

This is where it gets really sticky sometimes, because odds are 10 to 1 that God will start dealing with my own heart and attitudes. He will show me whether my exhaustion comes from being depleted in my soul or from rebelling against the life I have been given. Either way, something has to give.

Often the thing that wears me out is my fuss about how hard the job is rather than the job itself. There is a decay in me, a soft spot that protests every time things get hard. “Wah! somebody save me from this mess of jello on the floor. Wah! somebody take my children so I can go shop the clearance racks! Wah! somebody clean my house while I drink tea and contemplate the meaning of life!”

It is like the little girl who wailed and wept when her cheat sheet of math facts was removed from her desk, because “learning the multiplication tables is impossible!” Then, when confronted with the reality that there was no other way, she started reciting times tables and learned them at an astonishing rate. (It’s just jello, after all.)

Whether I am being entitled or whether I am depleted of resources from having given without refueling, the first step for me to become restored in my soul nearly always involves accepting the circumstances that I am struggling against.

Ideally, I stay hydrated and strong through daily nourishment, but face it, some days I don’t drink my water or feed myself adequately and the consequence is some shaky living that isn’t going to stand the tests of life very well. I prefer to call this need soul-care instead of me-time.

This post started as a list of ways to find white space, ways I can restore my soul in the middle of a busy life, but Grandma hijacked it, so I am compiling that for the next post. Give me some feedback, please; my research tends to be Dorcas-slanted. (I hope you don’t expect it to be all spiritual and meditative. My list is extremely everydayish. ) I know how to refresh myself, but I don’t know how you refresh yourself.

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Seasoned Advice

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… not my seasoned advice this time. I hoped the photo from Pexel might be a subtle hint about that, seeing as I have not quite amassed enough wrinkles to be called wise on this subject.

Having now reached the age in life where I am often reminded of how little I know, I made it a point this summer to listen carefully to some older women who have raised families and are watching their grandchildren grow up. While it sometimes seems to me that raising a family 40 years ago would be much simpler than in our current day, some things remain the same through the centuries, and these are the things I want to pass on to you from what they told me.

Let’s hear from two women who each raised 13 children. Not surprisingly, quite a bit of their advice overlapped.

  • Do what it takes to keep yourself productive. Drink coffee if you need it. Eat chocolate. Take walks.
  • Take care of your soul. You really have to do that. Pray while you work. Write verses on post-its and stick them where you often see them.
  • Keep a song in your home. Get everybody to sing together when things start feeling out of control or when the attitudes get stinky.
  • Read lots and lots of stories. ( ❤ ❤ )
  • Play with your children. Do things on their level, even if you aren’t really interested in what they want to do. Have fun together.
  • Don’t waste time feeling sorry for yourself. You really don’t have time for that.
  • Let things go. You will not be able to do everything that you think should be done. You will have to prioritize whether you value your children or your house more.

See why I listened to them? Their advice is so homely and real. They have made it through more spilled milk and sibling squabbles and teen issues than most people can imagine and they are beautiful women, strong in faith. They have things to say that I need to hear.

We recently had a panel of older women who answered questions and shared from their life experiences for the ladies at church. The questions ranged from home/family, to keeping an eternal perspective, to making friendships that are meaningful. The one that interested me the most was this, in my own words: What do you think is the reason for younger women getting “burned out” or “stressed” and needing “me-time”? How did you deal with overwhelming seasons in life?

So… what do you think they said?

Apparently me-time is a fairly modern invention. Going to the spa or to the coffee shop with friends, getting away from the kids, taking a vacation with just your husband… all these things were not commonplace for our mothers and grandmothers. It wasn’t that they didn’t have pressures and problems. Nobody can pretend that having lots of  children in the home with hungry bodies and thirsty spirits is going to be a walk in the park. I am sure I was just as needy as a child as any of my children are. But when confronted with this question, the ladies on the panel said, “We didn’t have me-time. We did the next thing, and then the next. We learned to love having our children around us.” (Again, my own words, from my impressions of the conversation.)

I got the feeling that they leaned into the harness and learned to love the work. If you love what you are doing, you do not need to be rescued from it.

There is another thing they shared that I think honesty will compel us to cringingly nod our heads in agreement. They said they didn’t have the distractions of internet and the pressures of social media. In other words, they didn’t have all their friends and all the ideas trotting through their lives every day, distracting them from their main purpose. I am still mulling over this one, because I love people and the connections that are made possible by the web. Not going to lie, it would be hard for me to give up. This is a big one that everybody has to mull through on their own, but it isn’t one we should just shrug off.

 

Speaking for myself here: I live in this century. It’s a hyper-connected world, with so much potential to touch others’ lives and my obligations extend past my home. Learning how to live restfully is so important if I am going to have any influence for good in the world. Exhaustion is a thing, and needing me-time, as much as I cringe at that term, is a thing.

I hope to have a conversation here about things that breathe life into our weariness, so if you could please start thinking about that?

 

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Glory in the Humble Arts

I made up that term for something that I find hard to describe. Let me just give you some definitions to clarify what a humble art is.

Humble, adj. : small in size, lowly, modest, not arrogant or loud

Art, n. : the production or expression of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance

Humble Art: an apparently small gesture, unpretentiously done to beautify a space or fill a need. People who practices humble arts becomes skilled at producing a sense of celebration and excellence around their craft.

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Glory, n. : eminence, luminosity, honor, distinction bestowed by common consent

To glory in the humble arts is to learn to love doing what you were created for. Do you feel that? Can you say, “This. This is what I am supposed to do right now.” If you can’t think what that might be, just be really quiet for a minute and then do what is right in front of you. If you cannot dredge up any feeling of worth for the job, pretend it is for the king.

Because it is. If you love Jesus, you know that the reason you exist is to bring Him glory, to enjoy Him forever, to serve Him willingly.  It has very little to do with how gratified you feel about your calling. You want to be happy? Practice being happy. Stop whining. Just stop.

What I just wrote is the pep talk I have given myself many times. I learn slowly, but I am learning. Did your mom ever tell you, “You can learn to enjoy doing dishes,” like mine did? I used to sigh and roll my eyes, but now I am wiser and I know she was right.

I watched a lady pinch the edges of a pie crust once, and it came to me: This is art! She really enjoys this, and her pies are beautiful. Folks, she did it for a living. She had a bakery and she produced enough pies in a day to put me into a stupor. (I have never embraced the art of pie making to the point of excellence. I do get this concept though.)

The thing about learning to love what you do is that it gives your work luminescence. There is an unmistakable glow from a piece of work done by a humble artist. The lowly is elevated and there is glory attached to it somehow.

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your father who is in heaven.” Mt. 5:16

Do you see how the glory of the ordinary, by the very nature of its ordinariness, brings glory to God? It’s not normal to sink your heart and soul into doing blah things joyfully and well, so that they are good works. It catches the attention and inspires those who get to bask in the glory. This in turn reflects glory to the Father in heaven who gives what it takes to embrace the everyday grinding, mixing, kneading, baking. So what if it’s only a crusty loaf of bread consumed in an hour?

It is not a wrong concept at all to slice that bread and whisper, “Jesus, this is my worship. Again.” Don’t worry. He will take care of the glory part.

 

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In Defense of Humble Arts

Wanna know what I did yesterday? I felt like I spent the day with either a rag, hanky, dishcloth, tea towel, washcloth, paper towel, Norwex microfiber, you-know-what-I-am-saying, in my hand. It’s what I did. I cleaned up and wiped. I did other things, too, but for the purposes of this post, here is a listing:

I swiped bread crumbs off the table before the day barely started. There was a great honey smear that got missed by the junior kitchen cleaners.

After breakfast I comforted the heartbroken little girl whose kitty got hit on the road, wiping her tears and mine on her pink hoodie while we put flowers on the grave and talked about what a glorious kitty Nimbus was.

There was a grave stone painting operation that spread acrylic paints from the craft table to the fridge door to the little girl’s cheeks, all of which I washed off before it became permanent.

A while later I discovered more acrylic blobs in the bathroom sink from the paintbrush cleanup, mingled with stray wispy hair. Of course, I owned that mess too.

At lunchtime there were bits of mac and cheese on the stovetop. There was a dribble mark of milk under the pitcher and quite a few drips.

During quiet time, while I was messing with clay in the basement, someone unwisely brought a hunk upstairs to sculpt. After their cleanup, there were still smears on all horizontal surfaces, which is where the microfiber cloth saved the day. Meanwhile downstairs the children were now attempting to throw pots on the wheel. After a while, I checked on their operations and discovered a vast, spreading puddle of grey water and a young man corralling it with towels. I have to say that was a mess I turned and slunk away from and he did eventually get it all under control.

I brushed and cleaned out the sandy crud in the laundry sink.

There was the egg cleaning job where I inspected the child’s work and wiped the stray bits of straw off the eggs before putting them into cartons.

Someone cut apples at the table for a snack, cleared away all the snitzes, but forgot the sticky. I cannot stand sticky; it gives me shivers.

After supper, there was the countertop and table again, then the hot chocolate drips from the bedtime snack.

After the children were in bed, I sat down on my chair and looked up at the ceiling, noticing again that the light fixtures were incredibly dirty. My husband was still working on a paper, so I got up and I washed four glass light shades because I didn’t feel like ever seeing them again looking so crummy.

And then I went to bed. It was a good day. None of these activities were remarkable or noble, but as I was drifting off to sleep, I thought, “Well, and how would life be if I quit wiping things?”

There would be glory missing from the world, that’s what.

 

 

Coming soon: What is glory in the humble arts?

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Move Over, October

Although it doesn’t feel necessary at all yet, we are battening down the hatches here despite the August-like feel in the middle of the days. In landlocked, rural PA, that means clearing out the gardens, planting garlic, digging sweet potatoes, maybe nurturing some lettuce in homemade cold frames.  The pigs have been set to plowing the garden, where they clearly enjoy their privileges among the dried bean stalks and tired zinnias. The black pig, Petunia, is supposed to “piggle” as we jokingly call it, but she just doesn’t have babies. I am thinking she is even looking slimmer recently, so who knows? Maybe her relationship with Brutus is platonic.

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The zinnia blooms that persist are still a-flit with monarch butterflies that should be hurrying south. We all feel a little confused by fall this year. There is no color. It’s still green here, folks. The leaves that have dropped are tan, brown, or speckled with a tinge of orange, but no brilliance. It’s an odd result of a very wet summer/abundant chlorophyll and unseasonably warm temperatures, the experts say.

This fall for the first time ever we wound our way through a corn maze, shot small pumpkins with a sling-shot, played corn hole and pumpkin checkers, and had fun in general.

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I feel the urge to clear out all the spider webs in my house, but it is a futile effort because the spiders keep diligently moving in. They aren’t fooled by unseasonable warmth. Also the stink bugs– I don’t even know if they have another more formal name, but they don’t deserve it if they do. I vacuumed 17 of them off my bedroom curtain one day. They seemed surprised and emanated their cilantro stench so strongly I smelled them every time I vacuumed for a long time afterward.

The vacuum cleaner smells like moth ball crystals at the moment. “What’s that sweet stink?” Rita asked. Upon investigation, I found that someone had spilled them in the closet after they did their sweet-stink duty in keeping yellow jackets away from our applesauce production out on the deck.

We live in deep apple territory. It’s amazing! We go to the orchard and walk along the apple crates on the porch, sometimes with as many as ten varieties of irregulars that are so cheap you can’t let them there. Then I remember what a friend who lived in the orchards said about the sprays, so I soak the apples in a white vinegar/water solution before cooking them. Whether this actually works to remove all the pesticides is open to debate, but it makes me feel better. I did the math this year to see if applesauce making is worth the effort. At Aldi, a pint of applesauce was 1.29. That’s 2.60 per quart. We did 55 quarts this fall. That’s $143 at Aldi. The apples cost us $45. Okay, so we saved $100 with just four hours of mildly strenuous effort. Even with overhead costs, a concept I just explained to Gregory this morning in his math lesson, I know it’s worth making applesauce. Also it counts as a school day, so we’re definitely in the clear here.

I am waiting for the Granny Smiths to be picked so that I can make real apple dumplings. Have you ever had them? The combination of mouth-puckering sour with flaky pastry and buttery syrup? Ohh, I sigh with delight at the thought. Once, and only once, I used whole wheat pie and pastry flour to healthify them. It was a fail that I will not repeat. If you need to healthify your apples, just eat them raw.

The boys have been working on painting the barn doors, which ended being constructed of raw wood after someone stole a pile of weathered red siding boards that would have become doors. The boys have also been making it their mission to get rid of the rats that have moved into the barn. (Shut your ears if you are squeamish.) Gregory has a string stretched between two small trees where he hangs his trophies by the tail. The count is holding at three, but there is a really big one they call Templeton that defies all their ingenious traps and steals the corn anyway.

In other news, we just finished our first quarter of school. Shew! One day at a time, they say, and they are right. The days pile up like sand in an hour glass and one day they will be all filtered through and we will understand percentages and fractions and phonics rules and it will be spring!

Gabriel is now exactly 6/11 of the way to his bachelor’s degree. He perseveres on through much trudging and some very boring assignments, to my way of thinking.

Our read-aloud book at the moment is Girl From Yamhill, Beverly Cleary’s memoir which was printed at least 20 years ago, but has seen a renewed circulation since she celebrated her 100th birthday. We love Beverly Cleary with her Klickitat Street, Henry and Ribsy, Beezus and Ramona, and a host of other unforgettable characters. The book is written about her childhood with an adult viewpoint, so there are occasional passages I edit for my small children’s sake. Our favorite line so far is her description of fourth grade: “one long quest to find the lowest common denominator.”

There isn’t a good way to conclude this kind of post, so I leave you with Addy’s Quote of the Day, after she was reprimanded by a sibling for her loud singing in the car.

“When I grow up, I am going to hum for people. For a living.”

 

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Quite Likely Events

I am a fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s books. They are such fascinating studies of human behaviors, what makes people tick when they are not even aware of it, how trends take hold, why the small people sometimes inexplicably roust the huge ones, etc.

These are the ones I have read or listened to:




I know some people hate his studies. They think he oversimplifies things, puts them into neat boxes when there really are no boxes. But there are! There are categories and predictable behaviors, but there are also boxes for the totally unexpected, and those are the best ones of all.  I like this quote:  The point isn’t necessarily to accept his conclusions, but to be jolted – even if via the improbable medium of ketchup – into seeing the whole world afresh. This galls some critics, who’d prefer it if Gladwell made smaller, more cautious, less dazzling claims.

We listened to Gladwell’s Ted talk on David and Goliath this summer, and you should too. If you don’t agree with his ideas, at least it will take your mind for a little spin of possibilities. The entire book is comprised of anecdotal evidence that giants are not as powerful as they seem. The chapter on how difficult it is to parent well when you are rich was quite affirming. Studies have shown that over 75K in annual income will make it significantly harder to raise well-adjusted children than when your income falls in a lower bracket. Whew! At least we are safe on that score!

My favorite is still The Tipping Point, probably because of my fascination with people’s behavior. When I got to spend a day at the Mother Earth News Fair, I had just as much fun watching people as I did checking out the vendors and listening to the keynote speakers. That is where I saw the impeccably flawless lady who seemed to be having a bad day. Remember her from my last post? I didn’t actually interview her, so I cannot know for sure why she was giving her husband such sour looks.

Maybe she had a sore in her mouth that was causing her to see the world as grey and hopeless and even drinking water hurt. She couldn’t eat any pretzel if she wanted to. (Ouch! the salt!)

Maybe her favorite granddaughter had just dropped out of med school in favor of joining a band of farmers living communally off the soil in the hinterlands, and she came to the fair to try to understand what her granddaughter was thinking!

Maybe her husband had an autoimmune disease that caused him agonies every time he ate gluten, and she knew he would be moaning to her all evening after he ate that pretzel.

Maybe he wasn’t even her husband, just some nettlesome guy who knew her back in highschool and still thought she was pretty.

Okay, that is getting a little far out, but you really never do know and it is just a smidge arrogant to assume that the other person’s behavior is uncomplicated. I still lean toward my first impression that she was just being catty.  At any rate, it’s interesting, which is why I suggest you give the Gladwell books a try. Check them out at the library if you feel doubtful. Tell me what you think. 🙂

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The Milk of Human Kindness

I thought about beauty quite a bit recently, seeing as this is a subject that interests us all. I may have implied in my post that I disdain all fashion, and I have to confess, that is not true. My ideas of what is attractive are very influenced by what I have been taught as a Mennonite, I know that. But I don’t live under a rock, and like all of us, I like to feel pulled together, not frumpy and straggly. That latter feeling makes it very hard to be pleasant. It is on the opposite end of the modesty spectrum, so far out as to be highly noticeable. So yes, I do care about how I look and I notice how other people look. I have a little story to illustrate what I was trying to say:

At a recent event, I noticed a lady in front of me who was strikingly beautiful. She had long, flowing, silver hair and flawless skin without even crow’s feet around the eyes. Although she looked to be 55 or 60, there was no trace of extra chin or flappy arms. She wasn’t skinny or unnatural, just exceedingly well preserved and as poised as royalty. When her husband showed up with two water bottles and a soft pretzel, I watched her reaction and observed with sudden clarity that no crow’s feet= no sense of humor. He gave her the water, but she seemed only to see the pretzel and narrowed her eyes with the merest hint of disapproval. He chuckled a bit nervously and made excuses for his lack of appropriate food choices. She said nothing, just looked at him without any expression except mild scorn. He offered her some pretzel and she turned away. At this point I wanted to say, “But he brought you nice, cold, bottled water! You could at least thank him.” Of course, I didn’t. I looked at that lovely profile and I didn’t think it was beautiful anymore. Her husband ate his pretzel with the nonchalance of a naughty little boy, then got up and left. I didn’t blame him.

So here’s the thing. If you had everything you wanted, could people stand you? I have a theory that very beautiful people tend to get away with more brattiness in life because somehow we excuse them for bad behavior. It’s called the “halo effect”. I googled it and found it quite interesting. It’s why pretty little simpletons get married to rich men with hardly any skills other than giggling. (edit: the rich men don’t giggle. That’s the girl’s job.) It’s also why overly-confident, handsome boys get hired for jobs that they are not even competent at. Gah. The injustice! So anyway, here’s to looking deeper than skin.

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Here’s story two. I heard such an inspiring thought this morning. “If you are raising a family, you are doing building work, and your home should resemble a construction zone. Don’t even try for a museum.”

Wow! That’s so true, I thought. I won’t forget that one. Then the day happened. Before supper I asked the girls to clean up the living room, since obviously they needed something to do because they were not outside in the gorgeousness that is our September. They did, and I rewarded them with tiny bits of food for a doll party on the deck before I set to pulling weeds. All day I have had a terribly painful sore on my tongue that seems to have started from eating too many tomato slices a few days ago. I could hardly talk and even drinking water made my eyes smart. Pain can make one feel ugly too, so I removed myself from society and went to the garden to set my little strawberry plants free from their weedy competition until it got too dark to see.

When I returned to the house, there they were, listening to “Little Men” on audio and the house in shambles. Again. There was a teetering pile of folded laundry that just hadn’t made it to drawers, mixed with every kind of project five active little bodies can think up, including a freshly painted plastic bucket and some sticky apple schnitzes on the computer desk. And the dishes weren’t done. I did not even once think about the museum/construction zone quote. “You guys have got. to. own. your. messes!” I said emphatically. It was bad, on the scale of messes about at Rubble but not yet at Disaster. In retrospect, it could have been a lot worse when I considered the tube of super glue on the floor, as well as a cider jug that seemed to have been the refreshment of choice. They sheepishly looked around and said, “What do you mean? You didn’t give us any instructions,” but they knew quite well and scurried around picking perler beads out of the frizzies of the carpet and putting paper snibbles into the trashcan and dishes into the dishwasher. It was probably a good thing that my tongue was too sore to say much. As I cleaned the dirt out of my fingernails (without benefit of a nailbrush, which is AWOL, probably being used on a dolly’s mop) and washed my sweaty hair, I thought about the construction zone and my fuss.

The Proverbs 31 woman speaks with “the law of kindness”. I do so aspire to be like her and it seems God is very interested in giving me lots of practice. I need to learn as much as my children to own my messes, so we had a quieter, kinder talk, and thus ended the day.

It’s still a good quote. I shall repeat it as my watchword when I work through Saturday. Anybody joining me?

Here it is again, so you don’t have to scroll back up.

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Five Beauty Tips for Every Woman

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Recently I saw an outfit selfie and the girl was saying, “I don’t know what it is, but something just seems wrong with this outfit. Help me out. Is it the cardigan? The dress? The combination of the cardigan, dress, and headband?” In her friends’ comments on the photo, someone made the illuminating observation that it was the sandals. They were too strappy and didn’t coordinate well with the horizontal lines on the dress. Okay then. I would never have thought of it. I am quite certain that I make frequent mistakes along those lines, but here’s the thing: I don’t really have time for that. When I ask my husband, “Does this look all right?” he often responds with, “You are a grown-up. You can wear what you like.” So very helpful and yet very freeing!

I have a lot of beautiful friends. Not one of them is ugly. Not one. Every woman that I know well enough to consider my friend has some beauty that I see and I rarely think about a lack of fashion sense unless they bring it up themselves. A few of them are gorgeous by any standard, but most have design flaws (yes, we think of them as design flaws and forget about the Designer) that they bug themselves about. I have good news though! These beauty tips are for everyone. It doesn’t matter if your ears stick out or your hair is flat or your face is wrinkled and liver-spotted. Seeing that I have so many lovely friends, I would like to share some beauty tips that I have gleaned from them.

  1. There really is beauty in simplicity. It is interesting to see the trends to neutral colors and simply tailored patterns come back. It seems the fewer flamboyant things you put on yourself, the less you have to worry that they clash. Granted, I have moved a fair distance from the four color options I could wear as a girl, but I do know that one should be careful about wearing plaids and floral prints together with a chevron scarf and a pile of Lilla-Rose hair accessories.
  2. The most beautiful people think about others more than themselves. You could have a triple chin and warts on every one, but if you are genuinely interested in others, they will think you are a wonderful person to be around. I have to be honest, sometimes when it seems like a person is just looking at one spot on my face, I get really nervous that I missed something obvious like a chin hair or broccoli stuck in my teeth. Sometimes I duck into the restroom to check in a mirror. This is not the self-absorption I am talking about, because I am inconsistent like that.
  3. A joyful smile shines like the best makeup you ever saw, and a whole-hearted person is lovely any way you look at her.  On the flip side, no amount of cosmetics will cover an unhappy face. You cannot paint a sour expression beautiful or color-coordinate the discontentment out of your soul.  A spirit that is not at peace just oozes out everywhere.
  4. Confidence is much more compelling than a woman who is shrinking inside herself with worry  (see 2. above ) about her weight, her hair, her flaws, and how she compares with everybody else in the immediate vicinity who is thinner, taller, shorter, blonder, more talented, etc. Elisabeth Elliot has always been one of my heroines. She had a very clear sense of purpose and she lived graciously in it. She also had a very obvious gap between her front teeth that flashed out every time she smiled. When she died, it was one of the things that people mentioned as most endearing about her.
  5. A brain is a fascinating thing; an empty head is not beautiful. Very few people like to spend time with vacuous females obsessed with selfies, shoes, boys, and bling. It is exhausting, watching the eyelid flutters and vain little airs that are supposed to be so fetching. I will confess that I have always fought an urge to stick a pin into this kind of girl. Put something worthwhile in the head: some ideas that are bigger than an Ipsy bag, some concepts that matter in the grand scheme of things, some opinions that are carefully formulated by actual thought processes, and then you start to see the woman whose worth is not tallied by the sum of her pretty features.

I have three little girls. It is a trust I take very seriously, teaching them about true beauty and values that transcend youthful charm. They are still young, sure, but I do not want them to suffer the agonies of insecurities that are a result of swallowing the idea that they are only worth as much as they are pretty.

These five things are sure-fire beauty tips that I am passing on to them. What have I missed? Do you have beautiful friends too?

 

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Bits and Bobs of Summer

August 30: I dreamed a post, brilliantly funny and true. I thought I should probably get up and write it down, but I didn’t because it was 2 AM. The title was the best part, something like “August Hits Back”, only it must not have been that because that is pretty odd. I settled instead for a title with one of my favorite British expressions, second only to “I was just chuffed to bits!” I can’t remember a single thing from the dream post except that it had something about pumping gas. There you are- you can’t trust your impressions in dreams.

I have been having so much fun! (Just chuffed!) Yes, I just said that about the craziest time of the year. It is so gorgeous in south-central Pennsylvania this year! We have not had one week of crunchy grass, hardly any sticky-hot days, and the tomatoes are out of this world! Granted, there is an element of panic about summer’s ending, for me at least. When those fall insects start droning, I squeeze a little harder to get the joy out of the days. My friend Violet called it my annual tragedy. Meanwhile Gabe gets more and more excited with every chilly, foggy morning because winter is coming! We are quite elemental here, with very strong emotions dictated by the seasons. It makes life interesting, which I think is exactly what God intended when He created a temperate zone.

We started our school classes in the first full week of August. I mentioned before that I am reclaiming my classroom this year. It felt just a little scary, because DVD instruction did help me out of a tight place where I wasn’t reaching around with the drills and flashcards, and especially the checking.  However, it was so thorough that it nearly killed me. That may be just a smidge dramatic, but I am loving having the freedom to order the school morning to my life instead of having it order me around. This is the best thing about homeschool and I have it back!

Here’s how we do it currently, with the schedule subject to tweaking as things come up: Breakfast at 8-ish, although this morning the steel-cut oats are not cooked yet, so a little later. We do Bible memory work at the breakfast table, then take about 15-30 minutes to knock out some morning chores. It often looks like this: husband either packs his lunch for work or goes to study room to work on his latest writing assignment, one boy goes to the barn to feed and water the critters, one boy starts the laundry cycle going, two girls take care of dishes, smallest girl struggles to decide what to wear and cleans up the stuff in her bedroom, one mom referees and tries not to spill her coffee.

At 9 o’clock I start our read-aloud chapter and if you dawdled with your chores, you might just miss it. It has been a great motivator for the kiddos around here that could use starting fluid in the mornings. We just finished “The Winged Watchman“, a compelling story set in WW2 Netherlands. There is a conflict between the organized resistance and loving the enemies which prompts some great conversation with children. I would hope to be the one hiding a Jewish child as part of my family, but lying about the child’s identity is a harder question. I had never read it before, so it was as fun for me as for the youngsters. When they begged for another chapter, I wanted it just as much as they did. This is what the children do while I read aloud:

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Yes, some of them do perch on those stools, because they prefer them to padded folding chairs. They wiggle and lean back and forth on one leg of the stool when the concentration is hard. Sometimes they fall off when they can’t reach a dropped pencil-  the same sort of comic relief as any school kid. Addy gets to go play for a while after reading. Her school fits in the cracks of the day, which works great because she is a child who needs concentrated bursts of mother.

We do Spelling Power first thing. I spend five minutes with each child on that, and then they spend five minutes practicing the words they missed. I love this concept; it makes spelling much less deadly for the children who struggle. Thanks to my friend Naomi for the recommendation.

The forenoon continues with a meld of arithmetic, language arts and reading practice. The two middles have arithmetic instruction that we stream, so I am still not doing fact drills. I wouldn’t mind not giving another set of flashcards, ever, but of course I will do whatever I need to do.

At this point it is usually lunchtime and everybody is clocking out because you can’t possibly retain knowledge when something as insistent as a stomach is growling. (Told you we are a bit elemental here.)

If I have been foresightful and provident, there is something in the fridge we can warm up for lunch. If not, I cook omelettes faster than I ever knew was possible, or I make a very simple pot of chicken noodle with most likely some swiss chard floating in it because we cannot seem to eat the stuff faster than it grows. Plus it is sooo pretty. Sometimes lunch is hotdogs and smoothies. Not gourmet, unless you count dicing Bell peppers for the quesadillas or serving balsamic vinegar ketchup as a condiment.

I buy huge packs of paper plates so that most times lunch is served on disposables. I don’t know what is worse, wasting trees or soap and water and energy, so I take the liberty to choose the one that makes it easier for me, like a true consumer. The same goes with grocery shopping. Taking in account all the money I save by teaching our children, not buying entire wardrobes for school, not spending on gas to transport them, I do not feel embarrassed to buy convenience foods. The thrifty side of me still protests at times, “You know, you could make bread much cheaper and better. Hey, remember that the Pioneer Woman has a great tortilla recipe? Why buy shredded cheese if you can save 20 cents a pound on the chunk? Cereal? That’s a horrible choice with all those eggs you have. Blah-blah.” I have learned to smile and wave cheerfully to that little money-saving voice and then I put the chicken nuggets in my cart.

What is most lethal? GMO’s, mechanically separated meat, a bit of food coloring, or a mom harried out of her mind with sprouting wheat and butchering organic chickens and no time to enjoy her babies? I wish I could do it all right and perfectly, find some magic bullet to seamlessly incorporate it all into the best life ever. I admire women who do this, and I hope to learn and get better at it, but I still buy microwave popcorn packs at the discount store sometimes. Just so you know.

Another thing I might mention: I really really like our principal. It’s so nice to be able to take time to discuss issues that come up, get a wider perspective when I have tunnel vision, show him the latest achievements of a child, and even flirt shamelessly sometimes.

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After lunch the middle schoolers finish up science and history assignments. They often do this during quiet time so that they can roar outside to play as soon as the noise ban is lifted.

Well. It’s September 3 now. Gabe had lunch with us before going to work, then I took a long (think 3 hour) nap this afternoon. First I read a book to Addy about where our food comes from (her choice, not mine). After the page about growing rice and before the page about dairy products, I yawned and told her I couldn’t stay awake. Now, post-coffee at suppertime, I am wide awake. We had our Sunday evening popcorn and what is also becoming tradition: homemade ice cream. (I have the easiest no-cook recipe ever. Maybe I can tell you about it someday.) Then we had bike rides and that wonderful decompressed feeling after a long day of relaxation. I am grateful for the stillness and quiet, for the renewal of rest.

I will conclude my post with cell phone photos from August, with apologies to real bloggers out there who do pretty pictures. I read this somewhere: the best camera is the one you have with you. I am afraid I wouldn’t document very much if it weren’t for the handy camera feature on my phone. I hope you can overlook the quality and enjoy the story in the captions.

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My little brother Kenny and his 3 oldest children went with us to Ag Progress Days in State College. Along one of the streets we spotted a sign that my Dad made with his fancy router machine for this landscaping company. Mom painted the letters, so we had to pose to show them how nice it looks.

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We spent eclipse day at the park with cousin-friends. This was taken when the sun was shiny again, after the weird twilight was past. We had a welding helmet and some of those NASA cereal box pinhole viewers too, so we got to see the partial eclipse.

Here we have the amount of corn the boys found when they went through the patch to pick stragglers, and then the amount I found when I went through the patch to look for stragglers they missed. They were a little miffed, but the evidence was undeniable. The last pic is Addy’s offering to me. “Here, Mama, you can share my trail mix,” she said generously. Um, yeah. I see what you did there, little girl.

 

This is an epic tea party with all the little critters and the latest doll that Olivia made. Grandma gave them each a tea set. It makes me so happy when my girls play like this. On a side note, they have a stuffed animal love that defies explanation. In recent years I have allowed them to add only miniatures to their collection, which is why you see all the tiny animals.

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This is the best book of the summer: my latest very long novel by Michael D. O’Brien. It took me months to get through it, but this book deserves its own post, so I will leave it at that for now. Also, you may notice our deck space, with chairs to lounge in while I read with my peasant feet up on a side table. We have extra chairs for friends, just so you know, and we will put drinks on the table instead of feet, should you happen to stop by.

A pleasant fall to all of you!

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