Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Decisions & School Daze {Part 2}: Know Thyself

Now here's a fella who knows who he is, stripes, plaids, black cape and all.

It's a Tuesday morning in January and I am all alone, writing this post and watching Kelly Ripa and Mary J. Blige host Live With Kelly. It's pretty much my dream. 

Do you know why I get to do this? Because I sent my kids to public school this semester. It's an abrupt departure from my life as a homeschool mom, a life in which I perfected the art of spinning plates all day long. Well, that's not actually true. I never came close to perfecting that art. Figuratively, I swept up shards of poorly-spun plates all day long. 

But still, that has been my life for the past four and a half years and this change has taken some fierce negotiating. Yesterday I was in tears. Today I am in bliss. And so it goes... 

Since making the decision six weeks ago, I've had a lot of time to think. Too often these thoughts hijack my brain at 2 in the morning and I cannot go back to sleep until I have made a teensy bit of peace with the problems of humanity. Or at least with the problems of my own tiny slice of the world. 

I don't know if I'll homeschool again in the fall or ever. I'm certainly open to the idea. My heart still beats as the heart of a homeschool mom and I will forever be grateful for the years we had together, living and learning at home. Part of me sincerely hopes we will get that opportunity again and part of me is scared about it.

Because if I go back to homeschooling one day, be it sooner or later, there are some things we'll need to change. 

I've had some thoughts about all this and I have come to grip them hard, these 2 am ruminations turning quickly into convictions that won't let me go. 

So I'm breaking this one into two separate posts. Here's part one of a series within a series that I am now breaking into sub-sections. {Help me. I am having visions of middle-school English class and how Roman Numeral I always needs an A. and that A. needs a tiny 1. and that tiny 1. needs a lower case a. I'm hopelessly lost within my own bloggy outline.} Just know that this post has a second part so you have to come back.


Nothing has taught me more about myself than having my kids with me 24 / 7. 

First of all, it's taught me that I am an introvert {disguised in an outgoing personality.} My Myers Briggs is INFJ. I'm barely an I but I'm an I nonetheless. I've learned that my words {when I'm homeschooling} typically run out by early afternoon and any conversation after that, with anyone, is doubly taxing. 

Quiet and solitude are my greatest luxuries. I would trade money for them. A lot of money. If I had it.

No amount of praying and hoping and tweaking has changed this fundamental thing. I know that part of it is just motherhood. Three years ago I read this post of Emily's and wanted to scream, Yes! That's it. That's exactly it. In Emily's words, The pressures of motherhood smoked the introvert right out of me. 

Me too, girl. Smoked it right on out of me.

I also learned that no matter how hard I pray and hope and self-talk, I am edgy and frazzled without some semblance of order. Because children are by nature rather disorderly, being a mom means I will never have the order I truly crave and that's a good thing. Learning to be flexible and live a beautiful life in the midst of supreme mess is one of the best things that's happened to me. 

But when it's all falling apart day after day after day, I'm also falling apart. God has surely seen me through and He continues to bathe my soul in peace, momentarily at least, when my surroundings look as though every inhabitant has gone stark-raving mad. Still, after four and a half years of having littles at home all the time, I've learned that a constant level of mess and disorder is beyond my threshold. 

And last but not least, I've learned that I want my kids to be independent learners as much as possible. In my early days of homeschooling I had visions of us doing crafts together and sitting around the table working out our math and writing and such, me as the mother hen and my sweet little chickies happily clucking about my apron strings. {Because in my vision, a chicken can wear an apron if she wants to.}

I did not know myself. Not at all.

I've learned that I love being creative and I love my kids but I do not love being creative with my kids. Not usually. That sounds awful but it's the truth. 

Also? Because I run out of words after lunchtime, I don't want to answer questions or dialogue much about anything, even when it's something I love like history or good books. 

Being peppered with countless questions and "help!" and "I can't find a pencil" and "She made a mean face at me" has a cumulative effect pretty quickly, squashing my passion to teach the kids about the American Revolution and to have meaningful conversations with them. I can more easily and lovingly teach them well when they are able to do a good bit of their work {sort of mostly} independently.

Confessing these not so virtuous traits about myself is humbling and a bit embarrassing. But I can't help but wonder if quite a lot of our frustrations as moms, homeschool moms or otherwise, stem from the fact that we're trying to reconcile who we want to be {and who we want our kids to be} with who we really are {and who our kids really are.}

I'm not saying you should simply throw off any notions of change and glory in your shortcomings. There is always hope for change. In so many ways, I'm not the person I once was. Thank goodness. God is so patient to continually work in my life. He shows me my junk, loves me in the midst of it all, and slowly but surely brings about change for the better.

And part of this change for the better has been acceptance. Accepting the frustrating uniqueness that is me, for better or for worse. 

It's silly for us to strive to be someone we're not. Silly and counter-productive and a total waste of time. Because the real you will always sneak down the chimney and hold you at gunpoint until you relinquish your fraudulent ways. Okay well that's a tad dramatic but you get the picture.

Knowing who you are and who you're not makes a huge difference. Huge. 

It's huge for lots of reasons but for the sake of these posts, it's important to know yourself before you can pay yourself. 

Yep, you need to get paid. What am I talking about? Tune in for the next post and you'll find out. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Let's Dish: Gifts from Readers, Organized Earrings, for the Love of Beatrix Potter, and a Thank You

I need more random on my blog. I feel the need to share an array of disconnected, rather irrelevant things but my tendency to write tidy, thematic posts precludes the miscellany bursting within. 

I'd like to mix things up a bit more. No need to always be so tidy and themey. 

So I may start doing a now-and-then post like this one called, "Let's Dish." What do you think?

Here goes. 

First off, I've decided that the best way to get what I want is to just write about it. Let me explain. 

Last week's Guilty Pleasures posted yielded a Montel Williams blender, compliments of my mother-in-law who read that my blender broke.  She and my father-in-law didn't really use their fancy Montel blender so now it is ours. God bless the informercial...and my father-in-law who loves to watch them. We had smoothies for breakfast this morning and they were magical. I'm still on a smoothie high.

My Year of Simplicity Home Goals post yielded an evening with a sweet friend who LOVES to organize. She helped me clean out my bathroom cabinets. Y'all it is embarrassing. We purged a full trash bag of extra make-up, hair product, tweezers, jewelry, and other items that reveal the extent of my vanity. {Thanks Amanda! Everyone needs a friend who helps rummage through toiletry excess, holds up the 4th pair of tweezers she's come across and ask, "So what's this guy's story?" } 

Look! All of my earrings down to one ice-cube tray. The quest for simplicity is sweeping through my jewelry stash. 

And December's Favorite Things post yielded a Say Yes to Carrots Body Butter, compliments of a precious reader. I'm still in shock. {Thank you Precious Reader. I cried. Oh yes I did. I cried hot tears over that Body Butter and most of all over the most beautiful note that accompanied it.}

So you know what all of this means, don't you? I have a Fairy Blogmother. She lives in my url's with her magic wand and lines up the universe in my favor. Who knew?

Next up, can we discuss Beatrix Potter? Cupcake is 4 and now that he's such a big boy I don't think I should call him Cupcake anymore. It's sort of emasculating even though he will always be my dessert-like baby and have swirly, icing hair. 

Anyway, he is loving Beatrix Potter stories right now {which he calls "My Harry Potter books"} and I have an abiding love for Beatrix Potter. I think she must have had a wicked sense of humor with the way she dressed tiny animals in stacked-heel clogs and tam-o-shanters. 

But let me tell you, if Beatrix Potter were alive today her books would be banned. And burned. Farmers are the bad guys. Oh they are downright evil and terrifying. Tiny bunnies roll up their own tobacco and enjoy a good smoke. Old Mr. Benjamin Bunny beats his son and nephew with a switch, and Peter's mother frequently leaves her babies at home unattended. All of these reasons are why I will forever love old children's literature over the new stuff. {Not because I'm a fan of beating bunnies with switches though.} 

I did, however, contemplate the use of some switchery on my own children Wednesday night. It was an evening of pure mayhem when Cupcake flooded the bathroom during his bath, the dinner I fixed was gross, Blondie lost Jetta outside in the dark twice, and my oven caught on fire due to the excessive butter that had oozed up out of the pan earlier in the day when I baked fattening cinnamon rolls. {Which I made out of 5-minute artisan bread dough...the rolls were worth the flames licking the ceiling and terrifying me.} 

I reminded myself that if these things had transpired at the end of a homeschooling day {like they used to}, I would be locked away somewhere. The everyday is no picnic folks. Though I'm enjoying a season of relative rest and ease, motherhood is not for the faint of heart.

And last but not least, thank you. Tuesday's post was a tough one to write and oh my goodness, the love that poured my way from the blogosphere and email-sphere....it overwhelmed my scared and vulnerable heart. Also, if you wrote a comment, I REPLIED! That's right, I published the post and noticed that Blogger has inserted some sort of reply feature in the comments section. Oh this thrilled me! 

But I need some feedback. When I reply do you get an email or do you have to check back and see that I replied? Do you love that I have to ask my readers how my own archaic, low-tech Blogger blog works? 

So thank you all for just being so kind and thoughtful and encouraging as I transition and struggle and share our story along the way. You're a gift to me.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Year of Simplicity: Decisions & School Daze {Part 1}

My kids entered public school a few weeks ago. If you know me or have read my blog, you'll know that I've been homeschooling for the past four and a half years.

We had not been planning to put them in school. None of us had much time to prepare and as it turns out, that was for the best. No time to over-think, no time to over-stress, no time to work myself into more of a twisted mess of nerves than I already was.

Here's how it all went down.

Thursday, December 8th we entered the office for our regularly-scheduled counseling appointment. I spoke honestly about my unraveling and the "symptoms" thereof. The counselor listened and asked questions and shared a few observations. And then he said, I think you need to consider taking homeschooling off your plate for now. You need space in your life.

I spent quite a lot of time telling him and my husband why that wouldn't work, why it wouldn't be best for the kids, how I needed time to get them ready, and so on. I cried and fought but as I looked at my teary-eyed husband nodding his head and listened to my counselor's gentle, sincere words, I knew deep down that they were both right. 

I just needed permission to let a good thing go. 

Through a series of quick and miraculous events, my kids started at the public school of our choice just four days after that meeting. Instead of beginning in January, they began during one of the most fun weeks of the year: Christmas party week. The principal invited them to come early, make some friends, meet their teachers, and have some fun. So they did. 

Though I've remained open to my kids one day going to school, I assumed I'd spend the entire year prior to their "re-entry" getting them ready and getting myself ready. An entire year to fill in curricula gaps, do the appropriate testing, ask a bazillion questions, etc. 

I had four days. As it turns out, there was no reason for all of that stress and preparation. They have friends and love their teachers and get right on their homework {most days}. In the words of my daughter, Mommy, they teach stuff so good there. 

Clearly I have been a fine and upstanding homeschool mom with grammatically brilliant sentences like that one coming out of my 5th-grader's mouth. 

Because all of this happened so quickly, I couldn't really process it in the moment. So I've been swinging like an emotional pendulum ever since then and while the kids have adjusted just fine, dear ol' mom is still trying to get her wits about her.

But here's what it all boils down to. Sometimes the best thing is not the best thing if it's just not realistic. A method or model or system, no matter how noble or ideal, is only as good as the ones {or "one" in my case} carrying it out. 

Homeschooling, as beautiful as it still is in my mind and in my memories over the last four and a half years, is not worth one's physical health, marriage, or sanity. 

Sometimes we have to put a stake in the ground and pin down the bare bones priorities. Everything else is negotiable. 

For me, it wasn't so much the carrying out of the homeschool responsibilities. My kids were becoming fairly independent and relatively compliant learners. But we were with one another all the time. I was constantly overseeing something and being needed either directly or indirectly. My days hinged upon my productivity and the productivity of my student-children. 

While I think I could have managed all of that during a season of relative stability, the stress of the previous year(s) had begun to weigh heavily until I was edgy and breathless from the dangerous combination of baggage and busyness.

My counselor and my husband were wise. I needed space. Space to rest and space to heal. 

After season upon season of steady unraveling, we declared this the season of being knit. And so I am more still than I've ever been, more able to do business with the undealt-with emotions that lurk beneath the surface and undo me when I least expect it.

It is a balancing act and I am teetering at best. Too much introspection and reflection can become indulgent, narcissistic even. Not enough can lead to a desperate, dried-up, unhealthy shell of a person. 

I know this but still, I'm struggling against the guilt of doing so much less than I ever have. 

There is a difference between productivity and fruitfulness, another nugget of truth provided by my counselor and reinforced by my husband. Sometimes stillness is the most fruitful thing a person can do. This notion is obviously rocking my world and I'd be lying if I said I had it all figured out. 

But I do know this. I had become a mommy martyr, determined to keep doing the "right thing" for my kids even if it killed me. And while there may one day be a season in which we return to living and learning at home, for this season we are all getting a bit of space as I come up for air. 

For some reason, this decision is a tough one to write about. I have fought the urge to just sit on it and wait until things are a bit more crystallized in my mind. But I am nothing if not honest in this space I share with all of you precious readers. So I've decided to just share our story as it unfolds and we'll take this journey together. 

Thank you for coming with me. I have more to share about this topic of simplicity and schooling and tough decisions, so stay tuned for Part II, coming....sometime.  


Friday, January 13, 2012

On Guilty Pleasures, the Golden Globes, and Licking One's Arms

I take a break from my regularly scheduled series on simplicity {see here and here} and throw off the shackles of seriousness. 

It's Friday and I'm anticipating the Golden Globes entirely too much and my brain has checked out. Current thoughts are simply a glittery stew of Ricky Gervais, sequins, and fake eyelashes. So you can imagine my delight when Flower Patch Farmgirl's "Current Snapshot" post showed up in my Reader, complete with an invitation to join in. 

I'm a joiner, so here it goes:

current guilty pleasure: Lindt Dark Chocolate with a hint of Sea Salt bar

current nail color: Bare {because that's the way they stay}

current playlist: Sara Groves Add to the Beauty {It's the soundtrack of my life right now.}

current read(s): Gospel by J.D. Greear, Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider, Miniature Schnauzers: A Complete Pet Owner's Manual {complete with the scariest dog ever on the cover!}, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets {reading to my older two kids} and The Tale of Peter Rabbit {every. single. day. to my 4-year-old. He's terrified of Mr. McGregor.}

current drink: Starbucks Italian Roast

current food: tricked-out salads {spinach with black beans, cheddar, avocado, tomatillo salsa, sour cream, and crunched-up tortillas or this one that FPFG posted about earlier this week. I've made it twice this week and it rocks the palate.}

current favorite show: Live with Kelly. 

current wish list: a sectional from Costco, a Kitchen Aid blender {My blender broke and while I'm lovin' on a Blendtec, it costs half as much as the sectional!}, an Orla Kiely purse {I've wanted one for years but I think it's just not meant to be. Still, that funky-print matte laminate calls to me.}

current needs: energy

current triumphs: running at 5:45 a.m. If it didn't keep me sane-ish I wouldn't do it. Also? Eating at least 4 times a day for the last 6 days. Who knew that food could make you less tired? It's a miracle. 

current bane of my existence: taking the dog out in the rain. 

current celebrity crush: Kelly Ripa {we can have a BFF crush, right?}

current indulgence: Body Shop's Morrocan Rose Body Butter. I want to lick my arms. 

current blessing: solitude and quiet

current outfit: running pants and an Old Navy fleece from the thrift store

current excitement: Golden Globes this Sunday, y'all. Giddy up.

current mood: headachey {Is that a mood?}

current link: My igoogle homepage. It's configured with little boxes that show my e-mail, my Google Reader, news, celebrity pics, word of the day, etc. You can customize the background and gadgets and everything. I love it! It's all my favorite stuff at a glance.

So there you go. How glamourous and riveting am I with the thrifted Old Navy fleece and Costco furniture dreams? You can see why a girl like me needs some Golden Globes in her life. 

Who else out there is just a tad bit excited about the Globes? It's okay, you can tell me. This is a safe place.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Year of Simplicity: Home Goals

In my quest toward rest and simplicity, I'd like to have less. 

There are lots of way to keep a neat and tidy, organized home. I'm not here to tell you how to do that because I'm really not all that good at it. 

But here's what I do know. For me, a simple home starts with a pared-down home. We live in a smallish house {by American standards} and while smallish spaces have their pros and cons, I do appreciate the way it limits accumulation and forces me to have furnishings that do "double-duty." 

Don't get me wrong, we have accumulated way too much, but not nearly as much as we would have if we enjoyed double the square footage. {I'm not hatin' on the big houses. I just don't know if I could handle one.}

Still, what to do about the "too much" we've somehow managed to pile up, smallish space and all? 

Goal #1: In my effort to simplify, I've decided to purge on a massive scale, to reduce some of the "managing." Moms typically manage the home, laundry, meals, kids, library books, schedules, and a million other things. Management is taxing and time-consuming. And too much keeping-track-of gives me a rash. 

I've realized that every item in my home is yet another thing to manage. Every extra spatula, every blouse, every picture frame, every plastic Spiderman. Things requires a place and a purpose and may additionally require washing, dusting, and other types of maintenance.

Just thinking about it makes me want to ship my family away for the weekend and rent a dump truck. 

The attic. Shameful.

So my number one home goal is to get rid of the excess. We'll have less to manage and hopefully a bit more peace. For me, reducing the clutter in my space reduces the clutter in my mind...though I don't think that's true for the others in my family. I love them anyway.

A wonderful quote by 19th-century artist / designer / philosopher William Morris has recently been popularized as more and more of us are resisting our culture's tendency toward excess. 

If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.

I need to tattoo this quote on my wrist. 

Another discipline I'm trying to practice is this: for everything that comes in, something must go out. I keep a garbage bag in my garage to collect cast-offs I come across on an almost daily basis. When the bag gets full, I throw it in my trunk and drop it off at the local thrift store. 

If I'm just not sure whether to keep or toss, I ask myself a question that seems to work for me: If the house burned down today, would I actually miss this? 

We're hoping to partner with some friends for a massive yard sale and then we'll donate what's left. I've got a crush on a sectional at Costco so I'm trying to sell some stuff to pay for it. {Is it just me or does "sectional from Costco" seem to fly in the face of a post about the evils of excess? Somebody help me.}

Also, because I'm weird and like to keep track of stuff, I plan to actually record the number of bags / van-loads, etc. we get rid of in 2012. I've got a notepad on the fridge with tally marks. Hopefully the sheer volume of it all will serve as a great deterrent for future excess.

Goal #2: Paint. My bedroom still has builder beige paint from 6 years ago when we moved in. {And a thousand nail holes.} My hallway features Sharpie-inspired abstract art, compliments of my 4-year-old. 

My great room has been pleading with me to finish the trim that was left unfinished over 4 years ago. I don't even like the color anymore so the walls are getting painted too.

Other paint projects include my kitchen chairs, garage-door trim, and a bookcase. It sounds like a lot for a year in which I'm trying to rest and simplify but I do have a whole year. Baby steps.

Besides, there aren't any "home-goals police" tapping their feet and looking over my shoulder. Doing even one thing is better than avoiding the goals altogether.

Goal #3: Art. More art in the house. Art that we make ourselves. Art that it meaningful and amateur and lovely. Because what we make with our hands and our hearts is beautiful. In the midst of clutter and mess, I can look at the wall photos I've taken over the years or the bold paintstrokes of my children's creativity and smile. 

Let's face it, the paint could be peeling and the closets bursting with chaos and all for good reason. We live here. Five people and a dog who run and play and live full and loud and with abandon in this house. 

Though I long for spruced-up and cleaned-out, daily I have to be reminded that kids and creativity and life lived authentically will forever be messy in the best way.


Linking up with The Nester's Home Goals Linky Party.


A great resource for me is Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider. I bought it last year and am going through it again. She writes in a way that's inspiring and practical instead of guilt-inducing and over-the-top. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Year of Simplicity

I know. This is SO not a picture of simplicity. It is quite the opposite. But Elvis and his junky flea market entourage were just begging to make a cameo in the post.  

I love the idea of resolutions. A new year provides the perfect opportunity for start-overs, makeovers, and do-overs. Whether you're a resolution-ish person or not, I think most of us crave an invitation to embark on an adventure in change. 

Fresh starts and clean slates, whether an everyday new morning or a crazy new opportunity, have a way of refocusing and revitalizing our tired and mired-down selves.  

This year I didn't make any formal resolutions. Oh I have a few loose plans and goals but I don't want to be held hostage to them. Instead I came up with a word that encompasses all the {loosely-held} goals I have swimming around in my head.


As I mentally surveyed the tasks and changes I hope to work out in this new year, I realized that they all fall under the umbrella of life lived more simply.

So I thought I'd spend the next few posts running with this theme. I hope to talk about the ways in which simple living is being cultivated in the everyday, how it's affecting everything from home to motherhood, from making rest a priority to how I think about God. 

There are lots of simple gurus out there. I'm not one of them. I'm just an average woman who's been through a year {many years actually} of too much.

I'd like to change that. {Get thee behind me, flea-market Elvis.}

So I'm letting go, paring down, sitting still, and making space in the overcrowded margins of my life. And I look forward to sharing my hopes and adventures with you.

So what about you? Any plans to simplify in 2012?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Being Knit in the New Year

2011 was not my best year. I'm quite happy to see her go. 

It was, in fact, my hardest year. But I never cease to be amazed by beauty's stubbornness, her ability to shine bright and make herself known even through the darkest nights. 

I've learned that life never gets bad enough to shut her down altogether. Beauty, in her many forms, has become my steadfast muse.

Still, there are seasons of life that leave us a bit unraveled. As a sweet friend just said to me in an email, May God knit you tight this year. Perfectly said. 

But I think He'll have trouble knitting me tight if I don't stay still. My husband and I have taken some fairly extreme measures to allow for stillness, space and rest...all in hopes that some much-needed healing will come about. {More on the extreme measures later.}

So it seems a bit silly to resolve to do anything this year. Doing takes effort and effort may seem counterintuitive to rest. But there are some things I do to fuel rest in my life: reading, writing, simplicity. I plan to incorporate a few of these life-giving disciplines in hopes that I may come out a bit more whole on the other side. 

Because to me, wholeness means fullness and fullness overflows into the lives of others, specifically into my husband and children. Having space and quiet, it feels indulgent and selfish. But the wise few who speak truth into my life, they tell me that it's necessary right now, that it will have a trickle-down effect. 

I pray they're right. 

As I type this, my "reserve battery power" message reminds me that I better plug in soon or the laptop will go dead. I smile at the irony. I've been running on reserve battery power for a long time. 

It's a year to plug in and power up. 

What about you? What is it The Year Of for you?


Blog Widget by LinkWithin