Ten Ways to Lean in to your Mothering

Recently I made a statement that needs some qualification. I said that if you find staying home with your children to be boring, you haven’t leaned in hard enough. I believe this, but it sounds overly simplistic for someone who may be in the middle of the mundane daily-ness of life and unsure how to find joy with a flock of needy people who communicate in whines and drool all the time. It is a unique temptation to tally up all the sacrifices and hard things, like how many snaps I have done up in my lifetime, and how few hours of sleep I am getting. Ask me how I know that this mindset quickly and efficiently drains all the joy out of life and I will tell you that I have been there.

There is a Kingdom principle that says “Freely you have received, freely give….” Another one is “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might.” And then there is my favorite: “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” The call of God to mothers is intensely practical and spiritual all mixed together.

Of course, you can vigorously keep house and train children in right paths without really enjoying it, but what is the point? Wouldn’t you rather be all in, graceful and excited about your life-work instead of muttering in your spirit about what all you will do “once these kids grow up”? I remember the time when that hit me and I decided that I was going to stop trying to preserve my life and just dive in all the way to being a mother, sink or swim. It was a life-changing decision. Like anything else, I have been tested many times.

These are some practical ways I lean in to my work, ways I have observed other mothers  doing well without giving in to weariness, ways I have learned the hard way.

  1. Give your work to God every day. It might seem silly to pray, “I am giving you this drink, Jesus,” when you are serving your child orange juice in a sippy cup, but it is an effective way to change the way you think. “I am folding these clothes for your glory, Lord.” Eventually this attitude becomes second nature and you do not need the prompts so much.
  2. Bend down and look at your child. Really smile into his face and enjoy him. I am not talking so much about the adorable curls and dimply cheeks, delightful as they are to admire, as I am talking about noticing the person he is becoming. Watch the personality emerge. Share yourself by talking about life as though he is a real conversationalist. If you refrain from baby talk, you’ll have wonderfully stimulating conversations before you know it.
  3. Read up on your subject. When my husband was taking a course on child development during nursing school, he got me an audio course so I could follow along. Because it was what I was wading through at the time, it was fascinating stuff! Of course, these courses are written from a humanistic point of view and should be sieved through the Word of God, but it was so interesting to hear about what is happening in that two-year-old’s brain while she systematically explores every corner of her world.
  4. Write down the milestones. Take quick notes during the day so you can share with your husband what your children said or did that was so amusing that day. I look through pages of recorded conversations with my toddlers now and I know I would remember very few of them. Guess who else loves to read them? Yup, the children. Addy quotes stuff all the time that the boys said long before she was born. It all becomes part of the story tradition of a family.
  5. Keep a journal of prayers and visions for your children, even the despairing ones where you can’t see that they will ever learn. Some day you will look back at them and see that the child who was mean and grabbed toys has now learned to be generous. As the visions get bigger, you will need those reminders that it’s all a process of learning. This is going to take time, but you are in for the long haul.
  6. Learn to love great children’s literature. It is not boring to read “Make Way for Ducklings” every day once you notice how masterfully it is written and illustrated. I know it is claustrophobic to have a squash of bodies all around while you read out loud, but there is such joyfulness that springs out of sharing a hearty laugh around a story. When everything got chaotic, reading to the children for a while was one of the best resets in our day. (Naps worked great too!)
  7. Do things intentionally (that require extra effort) to delight your children. My sister told me she put whipped cream and sprinkles on her son’s pancakes one day just for fun, and he was terribly distressed by her effort because routine is a bigger deal to him than sprinkles. Obviously, you learn what is wonderful to your child by observing. Playing is always a good choice. To have Mom running around the yardplaying tag will elevate the game tremendously. If you find it trying to play Go Fish or Memory, it might become easier if you spend your energies marveling at how your child’s brain is working rather than mulling over how your own brain is floundering in boredom.
  8. Include your children in your work. My mom did this, so I had a great example, but I now know that many women do not like to let their children help them. It seems so much easier to hand the children a screen, then scurry around doing the work. Of course, there are times when they simply cannot help, but when you think about it, it doesn’t make sense to not show them how to do things. If you give little children an hour of play while you do dishes and prep supper, you will likely have another hour of clean up looming in the rest of the house. What if they would have been drying dishes, chopping lettuce with a dull knife, learning to use a peeler on potatoes, etc. instead of clearing out the games closet? Maybe your kitchen time would be prolonged, but the children would have the sense of being welcome in your life, not to mention the sense of being useful.
  9. Stop rushing. If a recreational activity requires frantic tearing around to get out the door, (unless it is a soccer game in the backyard) you will feel frayed by the effort and the tone of your voice will tell on you. Did you ever notice how harried children can take longer to put on one sock than it should take to get dressed from top to toe? It’s like they are built in “Slow Down” signs along the path of life for grown-ups.
  10. Accept the fact that anything worth doing well is going to be hard. There are charming delights to parenting, the Instagram days. Then there are days when you really wouldn’t want anybody to step into your chaos and there were no funny stories to jot down for later. It all feels like a mess and it’s hard to get up and keep going. You’re tired and there is no end in sight. This is where you run to find Jesus in the chaos and you know that this is indeed what He has given you to do. As you lean in to it gladly, yoked with Him, you feel that somehow He is doing the carrying and your burden becomes light. It is a mystery that is hard to describe, but I have experienced it countless times.

I have a bonus one for you: Learn to laugh. Laugh at yourself. Laugh with your children when they tell a funny story. Laugh when your son wears mismatched socks to church and laugh when the milk is all gone and you have to eat toast or dry cereal for breakfast. It’s well-known that a happy person doesn’t get bogged down in the details that could actually be big stuff if they stewed around in it for a long time. The more you practice being joyful about your everyday life, the more you will find you actually love it.

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The End Cap

I did not get a Christmas letter written this year, nor did I send cards, except to my mom and my grandma, so this is an attempt at a summary. Condensing a gift that is 365 days big is a difficult assignment. Thinking back over this year makes me think of elastic. The Year of Elastic? Not really the sound of wonder and music, or the kind of word one chooses for a theme for a year, but more the sound of stretching and rebounding, maybe sometimes even bungee jumping. I cannot even tell you how far down on my un-bucket list bungee jumping is, but there are other versions of plummeting and rising that give one’s innards a jolt. When all quiets down a bit, you know you might have had the courage to try this stunt when you were 20, but you probably wouldn’t have had the fortitude to stick it out and learn from it. And at 60 it might kill you, so this is the time!

For us this is the time to parent people who are finding themselves and spending a good bit of their own time beating around in the bushes beside the trail to see if there is a better trail and sometimes there is and you concede the point as graciously as you can. This is the age of also parenting people who still require a bit of training not to yell and hit when they are mad, or throw their cursive practice page into the trash can when they get frustrated. Then there is the teaching about doing random acts of kindness for someone who does not even deserve it and doing dishes when it isn’t your turn. This is also the age of vigilance to notice when the quiet people are being steamrolled and those who are less needy should be given a timely love pat on the back for work well done.

I have made a career of wifing/mothering ever since I got married and had my first baby. Granted, there were varying degrees of dedication, yet always it has been my conviction that this is my life-work because God gave me children. Let me tell you, there is a lot of scope for the imagination and plenty of use for any talent if you get over not being noticed all the time for your good work. There is just so much to keep track of and grow and learn, and anybody who thinks being a stay at home mom is boring has not leaned into it hard enough…ahem.

Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought in the toddler years, if I just felt sure I knew what I was doing? Well. Here I still am, thinking that would be nice. Still learning.

This year our last booster seat left the car and our first child turned 16. We are squarely in a season that is strange and fun and did I mention stretching? Everybody can buckle their own seat belts for the ride, but they don’t all want to go to the zoo with equal passion. Dad is driving the car, making sure the correct address is in the Google Maps so they can actually get to the zoo, navigating the traffic and the gas tank. Mom is up there in the passenger seat, passing out snacks and untangling arguments about whose water bottle the green one is, saying it’ll be fun! Just stop pestering each other and have fun… and thinking secretly that the zoo is always with her.

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Gabriel finished his bachelor’s degree in nursing this spring. He is still working in the Emergency Department in the trauma center in Altoona, although he also got his paramedic’s certification in case he ever decides to join a flight nursing team. He loves his work, but there are nights when the shift is so crammed with patients that he finds it hard to care about people anymore. One of the best stress relievers for him has been to start collecting antique woodworking tools, crafting workbenches, carving spoons, shaving curls of hardwood off planks in the methodical old ways with block planes. I have an impressive collection of wooden utensils in my kitchen, all carefully hollowed out of greenwood with spoon knives. We joke about buying stock in  Band-Aid and there have been a few suturing episodes, but the more the guys work with their sharp instruments, the less they cut themselves. Here’s a photo of his workshop in the barn loft, a happy place until the weather turns freezing.

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Aside from my usual homemaking stuff this year, I spent most of my spare hours with my hands in the clay. Slowly I have gotten to feel confident with making mugs and smaller pots on the wheel. I have endless ideas to try in the new year, but I think I will work at one new thing per month. My sister gave me a gorgeous planner where I can even write out what I want to learn each month. Shall it be teapots in February and plates in March? Hmm? It is wonderful to have my heated shed where I can work for a few hours, leave the mess, pick it up again the next day. For the duration of the winter, Gabriel has his antique tools in half of the shed, so our dream of working companionably in the same space has come true.

Over the Christmas hustle when I was trying to stock my Etsy shop, I would go outside after the girls’ bedtime story and work until Gabriel got home from work at midnight. One can only keep that up so long, though, and I am taking a goodly break. (For those who want to know: my Etsy shop is HomesteadHighlights because we all make stuff around here, so there will be listings that are not pottery related. I also have an Instagram page under (lame name alert, because I cannot pin down a name I love) deep8_ceramics where I chat about the process of learning to make pottery. I don’t know anything except what someone taught me, mostly from Youtube, but it’s fun to figure it out as I go.)

What I have not done much is read and write. I am going to have to figure out a way to juggle better. My soul shrivels when I don’t read, and I feel like I am dropping chunks of life when I don’t write. Maybe that planner… Every new year I feel hopeful about my abilities to be organized and start strong with one. I love the feel of chipping at my goals and checking off lists, then I start winging it again when life gets too busy to pick up a pen and jot a list. I have learned to keep my shopping list in GoogleKeep. It works great because I am less likely to forget my phone than my list. I can’t decide whether I should just embrace this idiosyncrasy or continue to fight it. Maybe I could develop a planner that spans January to June for people like me. It would be half the normal price and they would not have to feel guilty about the wasted blank pages at the end of the year.

This year I discovered the app Libby by Overdrive, which gives me access to library audiobooks. My favorites list of podcasts is growing as well. This is what I do to stimulate my mind while I do mug handles. Last January I deleted the Facebook app on my phone. I find that I do not miss anything except the sorts of things that everybody knows because they saw it on Facebook and I am totally clueless. It’s not really that bad. I have found plenty of things to fill those scrolling distracted minutes. Ask me how I control my Instagram habits? It takes carefulness, no matter what, to avoid falling into wormholes that have nothing to do with what God wants me to do right now.

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Alex is working on his last high school credits. With only 7 to go, he is hoping to graduate in the spring. This fall he spent a few weeks helping an uncle with a house renovation project in South Dakota. It was his first flight out of the nest for that long and we really missed him. He also did an Outdoor Emergency Course in preparation to do ski patrol with his dad. It was a fairly rigorous course, with quizzes or tests every weekend. I was amused to see how much more seriously he took those deadlines than the ones I give him for his lessons. Now that it’s time to study for a driver’s permit, he is out of ambition and taking his good old time. That’s all right by me, although I will be glad when he can drive himself to work. I keep being startled by this tall child of mine when I see him out of the corner of my eye. Most times this happens when I’m working in the kitchen and he sidles past the fridge to see if anything jumped in there since he last checked it a few minutes ago. It is a very handy thing to have such a strong young man hanging around when furniture needs to be moved, or feed bags have been hauled home from the store, or stacks of boxes need to go to the post office.

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Gregory has spent hours, days, doing research on forging methods and drooling over blacksmithing tools. The obsession lasted so long that Gabriel decided to build him a forge and buy hims some sacks of coal for his 14th birthday. He has been hammering out hooks and key rings from old porch railings. My favorite is a plant stake that looks just like a heron. His favorite is a knife he forged out of an old door hinge, then carved the handle and epoxied the two together. I hear him whistling to the tune of the hammer blows and tease him that he should start a business called Great Guns. Since Alex has a job, Gregory is our barn worker. He feeds the animals and takes care of the egg gathering/washing. It has done more to teach him focus than any other daily chore. A hungry creature doesn’t care how interesting your book is. It just wants to be fed. On time. And watered. Every day.

I try hard not to hover and be solicitous with these boy-men. I try to be suitably impressed by their accomplishments but not too gushy (aw, it’s not a big deal, Mom, nothing to it). I try not to get discouraged that they still mercilessly tease their sisters and I try to think instead about how they generously buy Pringles and candy corn to share with everybody.  I admit to bewilderment with what to do when the adult is right there around the corner, just about fully fledged, and yet the child is cavorting around in full sight. One thing I have been learning: one cannot hitch one’s wagon to the feelings and whimsies of one’s growing-up children. It just ain’t a good practice.

The girls are easier to understand. Olivia is domestic and reliable in the house. She is a peacemaker at her core, and usually asks if anyone else wants the last cookie before she takes it herself. When it’s clean-up time, it is easy for her little sisters to dawdle while she scurries around putting things away.  Occasionally I am happy to see spunk in her that won’t be taken advantage of. (See steamrolled reference above. Actually, if Gabe and I ever had a child who had no opinions, we would worry it was a foundling.) This year Olivia sewed about a dozen dolls with big ideas of selling them. Every time she has a fresh batch, she decides to give them away. The latest ones have hip-length yarn hair that can be styled, so she wants to keep them all. She struggles to keep them all decently clothed out of fabric scrap dresses.

Rita is sailing blithely through 3rd grade and I am so grateful that I waited until she was seven before she started first grade books. She is plenty smart, but not bookish at all. Her best learning comes from making stuff and observing closely what is around her. She knows the habits of individual chickens and how to make a village with acorn caps and some good ways to make soup when you feel like you might want a little something to eat. The day before Christmas I found her in the basement, stripping dried cattail fluff into a bag to stuff a pillow for our trip to Ohio. That’s Rita in a nutshell. Need a pillow? Make one. Why bother somebody else? Just use the stuff at hand. Any stuff. There is a slight conflict in that last philosophy that the discerning among you might understand.

Addy is now 7, and learning to come to terms with always being the little one. It doesn’t matter that it makes more sense for her to have the bottom dresser drawers. “It’s just because I am the shortest” and she is prepared to take offense at that. Her huge store of affection gets lavished on people and pets alike. She likes things to be fair and getting dibs on the top bunk has been her latest great happiness. Recently we were baking cookies together and I made an accidental flour mushroom that showered gently over the counter. Addy had an epiphany: “I get it from you, Mama! You make messes too!” I grinned at her and said, “Yes, you do get it from me! But we get a lot done in life, you and I.” We embraced our idiosyncrasy together and just had a good time with our cookies while I told her about my own days of scraped knees and skinned hands.

I suppose the year was fairly ordinary, but the days were full of struggle and triumph and occasional headers into mud, quite literally. Normally our area gets about 40 inches of precipitation a year and this year we had 60 inches by mid-December. It seems fitting that we had a downpour all day on this last scrap of 2018. If this keeps up, I’ll be looking toward Arizona.

Looking ahead, I know there is a lot of potential for character development and opportunities for repentance involved in daily interaction with needy humans. I don’t have any profound aspirations other than to start new every morning with coffee and those mercies that rebound daily and keep the strains of life from completely fraying me into a frazzled, useless mess. It’s a good life, after all.

How about you? Would you like another year like the one you just had, or are you grateful to move on to a fresh one?

 

 

How to Cope With More Than You Can Handle

6:17 AM. Seven years ago, right at this time, I was on the way to the hospital in the last stage of labor. The fibroid tumor alongside my chubby baby’s head was giving us problems with her position, so even though the baby wasn’t stressed, we headed to our back-up plan. (Insert my opinion here, because I know this: Home birth is amazing, but never try it without doctor backup and make sure you are close to a hospital.) It’s 20 minutes of my life I don’t ever want to do again, and I remember moaning about just wanting to die while my husband was driving. “Well, honey, that’s not an option,” he told me cheerfully. He had just finished the first semester of nursing school and as always, he was an amazingly supportive birth coach, keeping me focused on the moment. So, dying was out. I would just have to do this. Seventeen minutes after we were escorted to OB  by an orderly who talked too much in the elevator, Addy came flying into the world. It was so sudden I laughed my relief out loud in the delivery room.

A few hours later, my parents brought the rest of the children to see their baby sister, proof for the chatty orderly that no, this was not our first baby. My oldest son was 8, the next one was 6, and the girls were 3 and 2. I look back at these photos and think that they were all babies.

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My burning question was simple. How? How am I going to do this? When we bring this baby home from the hospital and my husband goes back to work/school, how will I cope? I was reminded of these feelings recently when a friend with 5 small children asked me what one thing I would say to a mom in the daily, hourly, minutely role of raising small children. “I am living the life I used to fear,” she told me, and I knew exactly what she meant. The answer that came was simple.

You do this one day at a time, faithfully doing the next thing. There is no one-size-fits-all formula for successful mothering, because our lives are all different, but this is a formula that will grow and change you in your own heart toward your children. It will give you backbone and strength when you are so tired you are cross-eyed in a tunnel lined with milky sippy cups and poo-stained onesies. Are you ready for this?

This is the time when it is okay to die. This is the time to slay the whiny, “BUT what about ME?” and just pour it out for others. You know you won’t actually die, but selfishness and grandiose ambitions and pride of accomplishments will. Just chuck them out and allow yourself to settle into a very small, hardly noticed place of service. Nobody says, “Wow, did you see how neatly she wiped up those squished peas under the highchair? Isn’t she accomplished? And just look at how amazing she was with that baby wipe.” And yet in that moment with a rag on the floor you gave your life for another. You’ll get it back someday and the more freely you give it up now, the happier you will be.

Don’t be afraid of the narrowness. I think of it like water flowing through a hose. You aren’t a river, satiating the thirst of an entire county. You are responsible for that hopping, squirming row right there in front of you clamoring for a drink. Keep them hydrated. Just concentrate on that. This is not the season to crusade for world peace. Your contribution to the world is nurtured children and it is a huge contribution even while it kills you repeatedly, day after day.

I can’t say you will always feel your “high and holy calling.” It is intense and hot and sticky and there are all these clingers-on every time you do venture away from home territory. You will fight the urge to run to a place where nobody calls you “Mama.” There will be times you feel like you simply cannot get off the couch to deal with the children who are scrapping madly in their bedroom.

But you will be all in, freely investing your talents in this hidden place. You will be lavishly working to make life happy, saying “yes” when you dread the mess your consent will create, reading the same storybook 3 times a day, listening to endless rewinds of an alleged dream, thinking endlessly about what to feed the people. You will be teaching your children how to say sorry, how to wash their hands and their dishes and their clothes, how to make life sweeter for others. Your books will languish, unread, and your prayers will be profound phrases like, “Help me, Jesus.”

You will repent and apologize when you fall, and then you will get up for another round, knowing that Grace is holding you and you are in a good place. You will find Joy in this spot, like looking through a cardboard tube at your life and when you block out all the peripherals you zero in on the loveliest vignettes in the middle of the chaos.

It is simple, but I didn’t say it is easy. “I’ll do hard things for love of you, Jesus,” I promised in my youth. Hear me. It was impossible for this impatient, goal-oriented, ambitious girl to settle into that narrow life and flourish. I wasn’t a nurturer by nature. I wanted to do big things, broad strokes that would change the world. Something had to give and it was me. I just didn’t know how hard it would be to live small, contained, in one little place, with just these same little people every day. I needed to learn the glory of small things, a little leaven, a grain of mustard seed. The dying was excruciating and it continues on. How can one person have so much selfishness?

I am currently in a season where I am able to zoom out, pick up dreams to pursue, walk in a wider place. My baby just cooked her own breakfast while I hovered anxiously in case the eggs spilled onto the stove. Wow, that happened fast, I think.

 

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If you feel stifled, smothered by neediness, afraid to let go of who you are, take it from me. Things become richer when you condense them, even souls.

A Good, Good Day

This day started in the best way I can imagine, with a child wanting to talk with us, coming to our bed and whispering a need, “I want to become a Christian.” How happy we were to leap out of the covers, get dressed, and pray with our second son as he gave his life to Jesus. Some things are too sacred to describe. It is awesome, how Jesus meets every sincere person who comes to Him, whether with impossibly complicated messes or with simple childhood faith.

I looked out the window and saw the leaden, dripping skies starting to lighten, and this day it did not affect my spirits at all.

We had our farm fresh eggs for breakfast. Rita decided to go on a hunger strike because eggs make her gag and the toast was too grainy. Addy said, “Eggs? Oh good. I thought you said oatmeal and I felt a shudder going up my spine.”

School got started early, because we had an afternoon of activity planned. Addy and I learned the letter “y”. She is the first child that I put through CLE’s K5 curriculum before beginning the Learning to Read series. It seems to have helped her to zip along with the harder concepts, but I guess I wouldn’t know how she would do without that K5 work, especially considering how determined she is to do everything the other children do. She has picked up on reading the fastest of all the children, but she still needs me to read her chapter books, of course. When she finishes her reading lesson, she settles with an audio book and her coloring pencils and book, usually in a private place where she doesn’t annoy the others. I cannot even estimate how often she has listened through The Boxcar Children.

When the middle girls were finished with Language lessons, I went down the steps to check on my seventh grader, grade math tests and quizzes from oh, probably 3 or 4 weeks up to now, and file the quantities of artwork the girls want to save. Whew! I shouldn’t ever let it pile up. My high schooler and I had a long discussion about our differing views in getting things done. He is largely self-directed this year, with a strong bent to procrastination. I am largely a scheduled teacher, with a strong bent to intolerance of skipped work. He is planning to get it done soon. I want it done last week. We work out this impasse one slow step at a time.

Lunch was late, after 3 different people reminded me that it was time to eat. We pulled out leftovers. I got the chicken soup, Alex ate sloppy joes, and the others finished the bean dip with chips. It was good to clear out the fridge before we headed to the grocery store.

Rita was in a stitching mood again today. Someone gave her patterns for beanie babies. She hand-sewed this little guy, then needed beans to stuff him. I gave her corn, which makes him a corny baby. She affectionately calls him Blobby. On his birth certificate, she listed his favorite activity as fetching. “What? Fetching curls?” Addy asked.

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That’s our red dent corn in the cookie sheet. When I got out the huge bag of shelled corn, it had a few holes, so I decided to roast some and get it ground instead of forgetting it.

Addy and I read a story, and had a short rest while Alex finished up his assignments. We pulled together all the library books, and surprisingly, they were all in the living room or on the designated library book shelf. I switched out some laundry loads quickly, then we loaded up and headed for the city.

Today’s haul was 15 books returned, 24 books checked out. We used my large 31 tote and I have to say, I love that thing. Our favorite grocery store is only a mile from the library. There is just one sad thing: no Ibotta rebates. Olivia wanted to push the cart for me, but the rest stayed in the Suburban with their books. I asked myself, “When did grocery shopping with the whole crew get so easy?” I used to get a splitting headache every time. It was just so taxing, keeping track of everybody. I do haul much bigger loads of groceries home these days! I remembered to get plenty of flour to feed my sourdough starter pet. Butter was cheap, and our favorite tortellinis were on sale, so we got piles of that too. Olivia got hungry for fruit pizza when she saw strawberries and kiwis, so we got some. I am guessing that the strawberries will rot before these rock hard kiwis are ready to eat. (Any tips on how to get them to ripen faster?) The back of the Suburban was pretty full when we loaded up, and Addy said, “WHAT TOOK SO LONG?”

I doled out nacho chips, and chocolate milk. Yes, total junk food. In the vehicle. I offered them some baby carrots, veggie straws, and banana chips, too. It was a nice gesture. No doubt my head needed to be examined, but nothing catastrophic happened, so I feel bolder about the next time. We also hit a drive-through for some fries for the girls and a chicken sandwich for the boy with the hollow leg when I realized it was going to get pretty late. Also, the next stop was a fabric store. Sometimes you take preemptive action by taking care of potentially hangry people first. Again the boys wanted to stay outside and read. The girls browsed the knick-knacks while I ordered fabric for the dresses for the choir. They only had enough for 2/3 of us ladies, so I will need to go back for more. It took so long that the boys came into the store. Gregory suddenly recalled a burning need for camouflage knit and Rita needed penny-sticks, one for each child, which she paid for herself. Olivia looked at all the pretty stuff and decided it was too expensive and that is why she always has more spending money than any of the others. Addy said, “Please, please, please, may I get pick-up sticks? May I get this dot-to-dot book? Please would you buy me this candy slime with a frog in it?” When I held firmly to a kind no, having warned her ahead of time that this was a fabric only, no knick-knacks trip, she wept large tears, but quietly. That was a huge victory for both of us.

It was dark and raining by the time we were done with our business in the store. I opened the back to put the fabric on top of the groceries, not knowing that someone had piled empty gallon jugs back there. Out they crashed, but only one broke into smithereens on the asphalt. The boys had a flashlight to help them pick up the pieces, and then we headed to the farm to pick up milk.

I should mention that we listened to a G.A. Henty audio dramatization about the Reign of Terror while we were on the road. Just as we drove into our lane, the two aristocrats and their noble protector were safely crossing the English channel. It was such a relief that they didn’t lose their heads after so many narrow escapes.

You know what is the hardest thing about hauling home groceries? Yeah, putting them away. It’s a silly thing, but often this is where it unravels for me. Some of the people drift off, having lost interest in the commonplace stowing of goods. There is always someone who wants to open packages prematurely. When we refill the flour and sugar canisters, powder puffs and granules dribble. The produce doesn’t quite all fit into the crisper drawers, ever. We are that blessed! I have tried and tried to figure out ways to streamline this process, including involving all the troops. It seems to be the sort of thing you just have to do, like going on a bear hunt. Can’t go under it, can’t go over it, have to go through it. I am so grateful for loaded pantry shelves again, and a refrigerator stuffed with all we need to eat healthfully and well. And I am glad it is all put away.

In the interest of keeping it real, this is my living room tonight.

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I decided to turn out the lights, put the girls to bed, and leave it for another day. Gabe is working all night, so I don’t have to worry about him tripping over rubble. There are  two baskets of laundry saved up for folding. Plenty of time for that tomorrow too.

I just brewed a cup of tea in a mug made by my talented friend Allison at White Hill Pottery. Often I look at this mug and aspire to achieving such graceful dimensions on my pieces. (Even just successfully attaching a handle would be okay with me.) It’s probably a few years down the road, but it sure is nice to drink tea and dream.

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That’s it. Quitting time. It was a wonderful day! How about yours?

Parenting and Pink Sugar Donuts

I observed a particularly awful sort of well-meaning parenting yesterday.

There in the aisles of the discount store where I was checking out the salad spinners and area rugs, I noticed a tiny, imperious child. Little Curly Top was ruling with a heavy hand over her parents, dictating where they could shop or not shop, picking up things they told her to leave alone, begging for snacks that duly got placed in the cart. She was such a beautiful child with such a stinky attitude. It was astonishing, the contrast. Suddenly she took off running to the far side of the store. “COME BACK,” Mom said, but Curly Top had other ideas. “I AM PUTTING YOUR SNACK BACK ON THE SHELF. SE-E-E? WE ARENT BUYING THIS BECAUSE YOU AREN’T BEING GO-O-OD.” Dad hauled a kicking, crying  child back to the cart and the shopping continued. She saw a breach in the wall and dashed off again. Meanwhile the snack had once more gotten into the cart. Mom sighed, exasperated, to Dad, “Go get her. Tell her we won’t buy her a snack if she isn’t good.”

At this point I couldn’t watch anymore.  I felt so sorry for that child. The oddest thing is that this sort of circus is considered normal and totally acceptable in society, but a mother who is peacefully shopping with a crowd of happily obedient children around her is taking up too much space on the earth. Not only that, she is also seen as being suspect to all the ones who experience children to be cumbersome brats who will embarrass their parents with their desires loudly expressed at every occasion.
It’s the self esteem movement parents now attempting to be parents themselves, and finding their own training lacking somehow. I am the last one to cast judgement on someone who is having a rough time with a cranky toddler, but when I see them trying to wheedle a child into happiness instead of being in charge- you know, a firm little nonnegotiable nap or something equally corrective- then I am afraid I do cast a bit of judgement.

The thing about mothers is that their job is to nurture and take care of their people. However, we cannot let the world’s philosophy of “the chief end of man is to feel good” rule us here. Listen. You can do your job to the best of your abilities and with every dollar available and still never be able to keep your child happy all the time by trying to manipulate circumstances so they do not have anything but happy feelings. It’s a vicious, unending, impossible cycle. It is like being lashed through life by a tiny dictator with unstable emotions and a dubious worldview. “You want some juice? Sure, here is it with a nifty little straw? Oh, you don’t like that flavor? How thoughtless of Mommy to get apple instead of mango/strawberry. Wanna play trains now? What, that’s not a real Thomas? Don’t cry. Let’s go see what they have at ToysR Us. Have a donut on the way, honey.”

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Our role as a parent is not to make every moment of the day amazing. If you feel stuck in this cycle, you can actually let that expectation go. It’s not gonna happen. There are lots of sweet, happy instances in life, sure, but there are an equal amount of un-amazing kidney beans. In acceptance lies peace.

You might say, “But don’t you want your children to be happy?” Of course we love to have happy children! It is delightful to do things that make them shine with joy. Mine light up any time the chocolate gets passed around, but I would never feed them a steady diet of chocolate, even if chicken broth doesn’t bring out the sparklers. They don’t like to pick up toys and do dishes. Jobs like cleaning out the poo in the barn make them downright glum. We aren’t unreasonable; we give them milkshakes occasionally and they get more in allowance if they do a good job on it. The requirement is simple: push through and finish, or forfeit the pay. I say the same things my mom said to us, “Why shouldn’t you help with the work? You live here like everybody else. Now get busy.” Or even better is this one, “He who does not work should not eat.”

Our parenting goals should be bigger than happiness. What is the chief end of man? It’s about glorifying and enjoying God. That bliss comes from learning to live life unselfishly, and those lessons begin when we are still little tots without the ability to direct our own lives. A two year old cannot understand the deep doctrinal truths in verses like,

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it,” but they are extremely malleable and effortlessly pick up values as they go along. Guess what- They get their values from their parents.

In the late nineties, the self-esteem rhetoric exploded, but it took almost a generation to see the troubling patterns emerge. Even secular psychologists are calling it a bad parenting model now that the results are back. Many are sadly discovering that they were not handed any favors to face life when they were handed lollipops to make everything better, with Mom and Dad doing all the struggling. These people have a gut feeling that they were created for better things, but they really don’t have much sense of purpose in the world except to feel good. They were trained carefully along this track and told the whole time how amazing they are. The only problem is: they aren’t amazing. It is much easier to see when they are grown, totally unequipped for life.

I will tell you what is amazing. I personally am friends with many millennials who were raised by parents who didn’t buy all the nonsense. These young folks have embraced the mentality of the Kingdom of Heaven, that bit about living for others, it’s not all about me, etc. They are standing upright, fighting battles for others, starting businesses, teaching children in school, raising families, doing work that will not be paid in this life. They are the fruits of wise parenting and they are much too busy to obsess over whether they will get their pink sugar donut today. They know they can be happy without it.

 

Going to the Moon

Sometimes I dress up a little on ordinary days, just because it helps me feel better than wearing old stuff. Same with washing my hair even though I will just be home. It is no fun to look into the bathroom mirror throughout the day and see that I am having an awful hair day, nor to think, “We need milk, but there is no way I can walk into a store looking like this.” I still have not figured out how the pajama-clad folks at Walmart do it. I find I can’t even look. Not very long ago you got put into asylums for stuff like that.

This morning I dressed up a little because I knew I was going to sneak in a coffee hour with my sister-in-law at some point. The children usually notice the “going away clothes” right away. “Where are you going? Huh?” and if I reply, “To the moon. Wanna come along?” that’s our code for Mama is Going Solo This Time so Just Stop Begging.

Addy got to go along this afternoon. She was done with her school. Also she seems to be going through a scrappy streak, taking many things as personal affronts because she is the smallest child. The scrappiness comes out like a spitting kitten bristling its tail, and tends to degenerate quickly into howling cat-fights if there is no mother around. She is working hard at not getting her fur so knotted up, but there is a huge temptation for big brothers to stroke it wrong, just like a little experiment, not meaning anything by it, of course. I know now why my mom would ask my siblings and I if we even love each other. We would look at each other like, “Duh. Why does she wonder such a thing?”

I know now, too, why there were times when we had to sit and read and were not allowed to say one word until the timer beeped. Sometimes children at this house who spar constantly have to work together at a job like washing the kitchen floor on hands and knees, or doing dishes by hand, one washing and the other drying. Other times I make them play a game together. Occasionally they are not allowed to be in each other’s company at all until they miss the annoying sibling enough to be civil again. I don’t know whether any of these mechanisms are more effective than others. At least it makes me feel like I am being a parent, teaching them to value their siblings, but I have a feeling they think, “Duh. Why does she wonder such a thing?”

Well, that was a meandering trail. I got my groceries, including some highly processed food for our Valentine’s Day party tomorrow. We plan to have fun with the pretty dishes and sparkling juice in goblets. There will be finger sandwiches, Little Debbies cut up in tiny pieces, and some chocolate candy for each person. I like to include the children in this one; they are, after all, the direct result of Cupid’s arrows. Gabe and I rarely go out on Valentine’s Day, but we always do something nice for just the two of us; we are, after all, where this family started and it’s good to remind ourselves of that when the dust settles after the children go to bed.

I had two hours to drink coffee, eat a muffin, and just visit about life with my sister-in-law Rhonda. Our little girls played and we talked. It was a spot of quiet happiness in the day, and on the way home I reflected on how wonderful it is to have  friendships where I can walk into a house, pull my feet up on the couch, coffee mug in hand, just say whatever it is that is currently happy or sad in my life, and be completely accepted.

I told her I think I am writing mud these days, and she said it wasn’t that bad, so I will take her word for it. It’s a little weird to push through and publish posts that I am not excited about and that I know certainly won’t change the world and just possibly you are all terribly bored. My mind isn’t the strongest in midwinter. Also I am reading Jeremiah. And the children seem to get in each other’s space a lot.

I saw three road-killed skunks today. That means they are starting to stir out of their winter torpor, looking for love. That means baby skunks on the way and that means spring. It was a good sign, although I was sorry they died on their quests across the road.

Rita and I are growing little lawns inside the house. Here is mine.

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A few adventurous sunflower seeds got mixed in with the potting soil, so they are pushing up sturdily as well. Rita has three different containers with grasses. She gives them haircuts with scissors when they get too tall. Gabe shakes his head, amused, but I told him we really can’t help it. Some of us are born with souls that need green and sprouting things. I cannot think of a worse plight than being called to live in the Arctic. I guess a cell would be worse.

Tonight was choir practice again, always a highlight in the week for me. I came back home to peaceful children, bless their hearts. They were listening to Anne of Avonlea on Librivox. Some were coloring up a storm and two of them were trying to braid as many little braids into each other’s hair as possible. Nobody had any troublesome tattles to tale, which I feel I should mention in all fairness. They really are “nice”, which is what our elderly neighbor used as the one all-purpose adjective for them. Sure, I had some kitchen cleanup to do yet, but all in all it has been a good day.

Tomorrow is the day to celebrate the people we love! Let’s pull out the stops and really bless them, how about it?

 

Tale of a Homemaker, with a Nod to Dickens

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It is the best of times, with the chicks all scratching more or less independently, capable of scrounging out of the refrigerator when they are starving, picking out a brownie recipe, cooking their own eggs if they dislike the oatmeal. It is the worst of times for the pantry, the milk jug, the cookie jar and the grocery budget, not to mention the oven where the plastic container melted into an odorous blob of anonymity during the brownie preheat.

It is an age of incredulity as an avalanche of recipe cards sifts out of the baking cupboard and I wonder how… in this enlightened age of digital help… how do I still have all these clippings out of Real Simple from the first year of my housekeeping and when will I ever rein it in and what to do, What To Do? about all these stink bugs?

Yet I do know our favorite foods when it is time to cook, and even where they are supposed to be in the binder of despair that is full of clippings, although it may take a few minutes to find the recipe, and I never thought I would have one of those stuffed messes. The stink bugs remain, but there is light and sweetness in the lemon curd (recipe after breakfast foods, written on the bottom of a page on teas) spread on yogurt scones (recipe in the section with the muffins, but loose: not inside the sheet protector). All is only temporarily lost.

It is an age of wisdom, when even the smallest is able to read simple books and find her own audios in the library of iTunes, and I have time to pick up my own books. There are the days when the grown-up-ness of the child taller than me just takes my breath away, and the short one whispers, “What is a selection?” in church, then stoutly raises her hand and picks her favorite number, “Twenty,” even though she never heard the song.

It is an age of less-than-wisdom, where tensions erupt about NOT the Moffats AGAIN, and such short lives have not yet learned the discretions of choosing carefully what goes into the mind, and yet have learned quite well how to argue a point. There are days when my careful parental oversight is a hard discipline, because can it really matter that much? These are the days where I mercifully draw the veil and pray for new mercies the next and I know not whether to laugh or cry so I do a little of both.

This is the age where we have everything before us, and yet have not proven anything: the age of rubber band flexibility, where I try to be sensitive to the small girl who likes to keep a saltshaker in her bag just in case she finds something edible, (but of course not the withered blueberries under the Suburban seats) and the big boys who are thoroughly embarrassed by the sisters. It is the time where wristwatches are the most treasured of birthday gifts, yet are never on the wrists when they are needed, and the time where the shirts and shoes that fit just fine last week are way too small and they literally have nothing to wear. It is a time of inflexibly insisting on sheets on the beds downstairs and socks on the feet when we go away, and coats, yes coats! It’s winter. It is an era of admiring rooster feathers plucked and sewn into a headband by one child, a thinly disguised plagiarized story plot written by another, accepting gratefully all seven of the loving cards made for me in the same pattern of hearts and flowers, checking out the latest carved spoon with a short handle where it snapped in construction, and praising the efforts of the egg washer, all while keeping a fishing bobber safe in my purse when it accidentally goes to church in a pocket, and keeping track of the progress in the seventh grade unit on equations.

It is the winter of despair, days stacked on days, inside four walls, with tempers growing thin in the lack of oxygen and light, when the boots will not march in straight rows beside the register, but lie kicked about in melting pools of muddy forgottenness, the library books went overdue to the tune of $15, and the baby rabbits keep dying inexplicably. Yet it is the spring of hope, because we have boots and balmy days to squelch into the slanted rays of benevolent light that stays longer every day, and we pulled a tiny radish that survived the Arctic blast in our cold frame, where very soon we will sow lettuce seeds.

 

 

 

 

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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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?