Wednesday, June 27, 2012

How the Bare Bones Can Set You Free

I am highly distractible. Call it ADD, daydreaming, spontaneity, or is both the death and life of me. 

Distractibility allows me to create and make art but often keeps me from getting the laundry done. It enables me to express myself but sometimes keeps me from being present with those who need me. 

Way back in January, I declared 2012 the "Year of Simplicity." It would be a year of rest, healing, prioritizing the bare bones, and did I mention rest? It's why we sent our kids to school and why we plan to send them back in the fall. 

Simplicity snaked its way into all of our goals for the year. My husband took me out for a breakfast date during the first week of the new year and we discussed what he thought our spiritual focus for 2012 should be: God's Love. That may sound overly simplistic to you but I'm learning that it's actually foundational. 

So one might think that all of this focus on simplicity would magically line up my priorities in soldier-like precision and that I would never again depart from the bare bones. 

But there's that distractibility bit. Dang it. 

Thankfully I have a husband who protects me from myself. I'd love to tell you that I always see this as a virtue. For someone as ridiculously self-aware as me, I'm still prone to blind spots. Putting simplicity into practice is one of them.

The two of us never really sat down and made a list of what, exactly, I would prioritize. It was just a general understanding. And sometimes general understandings are generally understood by one person in ways that are different from how the other one generally understands them. Generally speaking of course. {Can I get a witness?}

So last week we had a wee bit of conflict because I was excited about this new content writing site I'd been referred to and it really wouldn't take much time at all except that it did because I had a technical glitch that should have been easily resolved except that it wasn't and next thing you know I've wasted 3 hours on the technical part of a project that really wasn't part of anyone's plan and certainly didn't fall under the umbrella of simplicity and was just something I found out about that very day and decided to jump head-first into in grand hopes that I could easily develop a writing portfolio and make a little extra money on the side. 

That night my husband came home and I told him what I'd been up to that day and he asked me how, exactly, that was simplifying my life and I may or may not have taken great offense and melted into a hot, teary mess, accusing someone of not loving me for who I am and how that someone should have married a 1950s housewife instead. 

{This, my friends, is what my counselor refers to as a flawed "interpretive grid." Hormones may or may not further askew one's interpretive grid.}

You'll be happy to know that the conflict is now resolved and we've both learned even more about communication as a result. You see, that wasn't the first time-sucking distraction I'd chased down in the midst of a busy couple of weeks. My husband was right: I was blind to the ways in which this tiny detour {and all of the others} had derailed me from what I needed to focus on, thereby draining me of the precious little emotional and physical energy I have these days. 

It was the necessary wake-up call. My priorities now flash in my mind with bold, giant, all-caps blinking letters: MARRIAGE, CHILDREN, HOME, REST {spiritual quiet and physical rest}, and a LITTLE BIT OF WRITING. 

Though I love my friends, I cannot prioritize them right now. Though I love my blog, I cannot obsess over and try to figure out how to redesign or rework it. And even though writing technically counts as one of my priorities, "extra" writing things {like Jeff Goins' 15-day writing challenge or Zujava content writing site} all get the ax right now. 

It's summer. My kids are home. There are cookies to bake, crafts to make, trips to take, and swimsuits to launder. These sweet, steamy days are a flash in the pan. Other stuff can wait, regular blog posts and a redesign included. Come fall, the bare bones will likely shift a bit. We'll rethink priorities at that point and try to live the everyday accordingly.

It's so freeing. Instead of feeling frustrated that I can't do some things I'd love to do, I feel empowered to zero in on the bare bones. I accept this season of my life. I know that there is a time for everything but that there will never be one time when we can do everything. Some women just naturally live this more easily than others; it's frustrating to acknowledge that I'm not one of them.  

Clinging to the bare bones makes saying "no" to good things so much easier. Even though I've written about the concept of opportunity cost a lot, I'm slow to learn. Repeat after me {or have someone else remind you}: Every "yes" is also a "no." 

So here's to a summer of priorities and freedom. Say "yes" to the bare bones and lay aside the guilt for saying "no" to the distractions and opportunities that may give you good and momentary indulgence but leave you a bit emptier for the things that matter most. 

While this is the "Year of Simplicity," it also feels like the "Year of Being Refined, Pruned, and Humbled." Or "The Year of Being Really Slow to Learn."

The bare bones aren't the same for all of us. But it may be worth it to jot down your own "bones" and eschew the distractions that lead you in other directions. It's not restrictive, it's life-giving--not only for you but for those around you. I promise.

Live simply. Be free. Embrace the season. And drink grace {because occasionally that detour will be impossible to resist and sometimes that's as it should be. I blame Pinterest.}

Oh and one more thing. Don't take offense from the one who has the guts {and love} to speak the hard truth and urges you to revisit the bare bones from time to time. He loves you. And you just may need to hear what he has to say. Also? He doesn't wish he was married a 1950s housewife. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

"Mom, What Can I Do?" {aka The Lazy Mom's Guide to Supervising Children}

This post and my last are an obvious departure from my typical posts. Having kids at home during the summer has forced my brain into everyday problem-solving instead of everyday philosophizing.

Now that my kids are older, it seems they're a bit more prone to uttering the b-word {"boredom"}, which has long been a banned word in our house. And though I am enjoying having them around sans homework and busyness, I still have to keep them occupied with pursuits that are somewhat fruitful.

Because I know myself, I recognize that I will go stark raving mad if I'm the one engaging with them 24 / 7. My approach to parenting is a bit laissez-faire: It's not my job to entertain my kids; it's my job to teach them how to entertain themselves. I'm all about kids being independent, not because I'm virtuous that way but because I am lazy tired. I need a bit of space, not to mention time and energy to do laundry and fix dinner.

So in the spirit of the Summer Snack List, I compiled a "Mom, What Can I Do?" list. Obviously, this only works with kids who can read. If you're really industrious, you can take pictures of activities and paste them on a list for preschoolers. Honestly, I'm not that ambitious. My preschooler does a pretty good job of entertaining himself by playing with his BFF neighbor buddy or dumping out the recycling bin.

The concept of the list is easy. Think of simple stuff your kids can do without your help. There are great things you can do with your kids like cooking, crafting, and painting. And I plan to do some of that during the summer. But I'm more interested in giving them ideas for independent play and creativity. Do what works for you. You know your kids and you know yourself. Keep those things in mind.

So without further adieu, here's our list. I'm sure we'll add to it over the summer but this at least gets us started:

How about you? Any brilliant ideas for keeping the littles busy this summer?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Let the Snack List Do the Bossing {aka The Lazy Mom's Guide to Keeping Kids Fed}

Summer brings out the lazy in me. As if that was a stretch. 

I love having my kids home. But I'm beginning to feel like a short-order snack chef. It seems as though someone is asking for food or popsicles or a four-course meal every ding-dang second. 

Only one week into summer and I'm tired of saying, 

You can't have that right now. 
Quit pillaging the pantry. {It's phrases like this that certainly have my kids wishing their mom was not a former History teacher.} 
Didn't you just get a snack 2 seconds ago?
Starving children would be grateful for the food we have. 

So in a rare flurry of brain power, I came up with this idea...

Behold, the Summer Snack List.

I stuck the list on the door of the pantry in a clear top-loader. Whenever I'm out of one of the designated snacks, I just cross it out until I can get to the store and "replenish the coffers." {Ugh. History teacher speak again.}

Instead of feeling like the Snack Nazi, I just refer hungry kids to the pantry door and let the list do the bossing for me.

Just one more way I'm {not} working hard to do the bare minimum this summer. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

A New Kind of Summer

It's my very first summer to have my kids at home from school. When you homeschool, you transition from days spent with your kids to...days spent with your kids. The only thing different is not having schoolwork in the mornings. It's a nice break, to be sure. But the day to day from homeschool to summer break doesn't feel radically different.

But now? Summer feels positively like a holiday. I can't remember being this excited for summer since I was a student myself. I've missed my kids in a good way. We've had enough space from one another to truly desire togetherness. My melancholy, quiet-ish daughter has been all hugs and quality time and chatter. By contrast, my sunshiney, extroverted son is still grieving the end of school but slowly coming around. As for the Cupcake, well, he's delighted to have his big brother and sister around a bit more. There's been a lot of fort-building and lego-creating since school got out.

As for me, I feel more intentional as a parent than I've ever felt. I ache to love them well and I pray for the grace that will enable me to do it. 

This season of transition as a mother has made me terribly emotional. Terribly. I'm just perpetually undone. I cried at the end-of-the-year preschool program, 2nd-grade awards day, and 5th-grade graduation. 

My daughter and I cleaned out her room on Friday and we bagged up {oh my word, I can barely type this}...the Barbies. But that's not all. The American Girl dolls that had been on display were tucked safely in a box at the top of her closet. She's not acting like a teenager yet; she's just not acting as much like a little girl. {The whole process reminding me a bit of boxing up the bows.} I was pretty much a wreck over the packing away. I'm still pretty much a wreck.

It's all going by so quickly and I want to boss time around and make it stand still. But we all know that's not possible. It's hard to make the most of the moments we do have but this season of rest has enabled some soul-searching, healing, and proper prioritization. I'm so thankful for it. And I'll never cease to marvel at how real life re-routes us in ways that feel like failure but are actually grace.

Trust and grace are gradually replacing fear and regret. It's slow but sure and I cling white-knuckled to the newfound hope I've glimpsed as we do life differently.

So here's to a summer of long days, listening, and grabbing up the small gifts wherever they may be found. Here's to lightening bug catching, playing wiffle ball well into the dark and reading good books 'til even later.

Sip slowness, experience rest, and love well. 

May Grace be your guide, and mine, through these lovely, lazy days of summer. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Summer House Love

My house has a tendency to look summery all year long. I can't help it. I'm a lover of all things light, clean, and breezy. If I could pick anywhere in the world to live, it would be by the ocean. It's no surprise that my coastal love not so subtley finds its way into our home.  

Therefore when it actually is summer, the season for all things beachy and light, my home is in its heyday. Come Christmas it will look like summer is awkwardly trying to make small talk with tinsel and ornaments but June has it saying, Awww, yeah.

So in the spirit of my little house that is all summer all the time, here's a few homey updates and practices that keep me calm{ish} in my home. Which is where I look to stay. Way too much of the time. 

Yep, I'm trying out new paint colors. 

I swiped them on the walls weeks ago and we're just living with them for a while while we let the right color speak to us. 

Sweet succulents.

These plants make me smile. And because they are hard to kill {or perhaps just slow to die}, I can have them around for a while.


I planted a hydrangea bush last summer. It died. But my neighbor's hydrangeas are loaded with blossoms and she let me snip some of her lovely blooms. {Thanks CA!} They make me so happy. If I don't have hydrangeas, I just cut the branches and leaves off of anything I can find and stick it in a vase. 

This new thing. 

The TV has new digs. We ventured to IKEA to get a small Expedit bookcase to turn on its side and came out with this monstrosity instead. It was on clearance, has great storage, and it fits the TV just perfectly. But it's large. Really large. That's the downside of looking at furniture in a store the size of a city. The scale of things is all wonky. 

And because it's large and it sits besides the mantle, there is no focal point for this room. I'm still not sure how I feel about the set-up but we'll just live with it for a while. 

"New" chairs.

Because I just can't have enough white and bright, I'm painting the kitchen chairs. Three down, three to go. I'm just spraying them with Rustoleum's Heirloom White. It's amazing what happens when you take out the dark and replace it with white. At $2.50 a can, it's a super cheap redo. 

Clean surfaces. 

When two-thirds of the square footage of your home is one giant room, there are some practices that help the space feel tidier. Clutter in one part of the room has a way of feeling like clutter in the rest of the room. The absence of walls will do that. I remember The Nester talking about clearing the surfaces and I think it's the best decorating advice ever, especially for open spaces. 

I don't have picture frames or candles or other tchotchkes sitting around and I'm ruthless about trashing paper and the rest of the junk that a family of five seems to breed so effortlessly. For me, clear surfaces = calm mama. And I'm in the need of all the serenity I can get. 

So where do I put my little "set-arounds?" I house them in this hutch...

Or assemble them in a seashell "village" on the mantle.

Keeping collections of little things together allows you to enjoy them without feeling overtaken by the tyranny of the tiny.

Our great room will probably only look this clean for another hour. The only reason I could even do this post is because we had out-of-town guests passing through last night and the place is unusually tidy. It's a lovely feeling even if it does only last for one day. 

So that's the summer vibe in this place...seashells, succulents, creamy whites, and cleared-off countertops. 


The Lettered Cottage

Monday, June 11, 2012

Everyday Grace: Gifts

When life feels heavy...

When the rain, rain won't go away...

When nothing is fixed or tidy or stacked up neatly...

When the soul is weary and the body follows suit...

When relationships are burdensome and acceptance seems out of reach...

Find the beauty in your world and gaze upon the gifts. 

Know that the Creator of the Universe is lavish with his unfailing love, He who did not spare even his own son for you. 

All good gifts point to the ultimate good gift: Christ Himself

Related Verses
Ephesians 3:16-19


"Everyday Grace" is a regular{ish} post I've recently begun. In January I started praying this simple but regular petition: Father, make the Gospel of Grace real to me in tangible, everyday ways. These posts record the ways in which God is answering that prayer. Getting to share these vignettes with you is simply an added gift, one I am so grateful for. My hope is that you may also be encouraged by Everyday Grace. {To read more in this series, click on the "Everyday Grace" label in the right sidebar.} 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

From Homeschool to Public School: What I've Learned About My Kids and Myself

Sharing our journey from homeschool to public school is a scary topic for me. First of all, the way each family chooses to educate children is a deeply personal decision. We toss around words like "conviction" and "calling" because our deeply-held desires for our children flow out of our values and beliefs. And that's as it should be. 

The second reason I'm scared is because I am so all over the map on any given day. One of my closest friends {who homeschools} knows I can't really talk about homeschooling right now. I can't dish about curriculum like I used to. I'm still a bit fragile over the whole thing. Homeschooling was more of my identity than I'd realized.

My own convictions are not that cemented anymore, which makes feel wishy-washy. I'm afraid that if I write about how public school has been great for my kids {and for me} and then we bring one or all of them back home in the future, I'll have to eat my words. And my big fat pride just hates that. 

The third reason I tread very lightly on this topic is because when one person's conviction is not another person's, well, things can become dicey. Sometimes educational choices can feel like religion or politics. We can become cliquish, dogmatic, self-righteous, and graceless. It doesn't always start out that way but it's easy to understand why this happens.

When you homeschool, you're in the minority and you desperately need community and encouragement. It's hard, it's still sort of unchartered territory, it's not "normal." You need your people. And in some circles or certain churches, public schooling {or private schooling} can place you in the minority. You need community and encouragement too. Because it's also hard and you need your people.

For nearly five years, I had my people. Oh I still had plenty of friends and acquaintances who were doing public school. But for very practical reasons, our lives did not overlap as much. So now I have my people who are still homeschooling and my people who are public schooling. I know what it's like to do both. And because my family's "way" is very much in flux and that is so uncomfortable, I cannot even begin to tell you how unsettled I feel.

My homeschooling community was amazing. I actually had friends in various homeschooling communities but we all did that weird thing of not sending our kids to school. Being "weird" is what bonded us all. I went to practicums and conferences. I read lots of books. I researched. I felt inspired. But in retrospect I'm realizing that I was also indoctrinated. Yes, that last sentence is passive. The truth is, I indoctrinated myself. 

There is a fine line between inspiration and indoctrination. It's not always one or the other but we need to be wise in recognizing when it shifts from the former to the latter. I try to be wise. I am a natural-born skeptic. I tend to be analytical and discerning. But sometimes our emotions trump our brains. I think that happened to me a little bit with homeschooling. 

I still love the idea of it. Love. I know {and envy} homeschool families who do it beautifully and who have raised the most amazing, equipped kids. And because my husband and I reserve the right to change our minds, I may be a homeschool mom again. 

But I won't be the same homeschool mom.

First of all, I know myself better. Second, I'd take my own advice and get paid. Third, I'm now more able to recognize when inspiration shifts to indoctrination and I will run the other direction. Fast. 

But I don't just know myself better. I know my kids better too. And do you know why?

Because I sent them to school.

That sounds counterintuitive. In fact, plenty of homeschool families told me that homeschooling allows you to know your kids better. And it does. But moms and kids can also fall into ruts when they're together all the time. Familiarity can breed contempt {or at least annoyance} but it can also create blind spots. At least it did for me.

I've learned that my son is infinitely more motivated when he's surrounded by lots of people. A true extrovert, he is inspired by social energy. At home, he was smart but sometimes sluggish, capable but distracted. Going to school brings out the best in him and he has a way of bringing out the best in others. 

He loves his classmates and his teacher and they love him. He is full of compassion, near tears when he tells me about the kid who gets in trouble the most. He has an uncanny ability to see past kids' behavior and analyze the ways in which home or academic struggles influence poor decisions and leave certain kids at risk. It's almost unnerving. He's only 8. 

But in most every other way he's just a normal second-grader. When he comes home from school, he gives me the run-down of what he's doing in class but more importantly, how many interceptions he caught during recess. 

Today he informed me that he's #5 on the Heisman watch. Who knew that 2nd graders have a parallel football universe? We spent last week at the beach and when we returned on Saturday, he told me that he couldn't wait for Monday. What's Monday? I asked. School! I can't wait to see everybody, he replied enthusiastically. I've no doubt he'll be a puddle of tears on the last day of second grade. 

I've learned that my daughter is crazy about science, a subject I did great disservice to when we were doing school at home. She recently declared that she will one day get a PhD in Biology plus a Master's degree in teaching. And she'll be an artist on the side. Though she will likely change her mind 17 times before she has to formally make those decisions, it's exciting to see her so inspired. 

She has become more enthusiastic and driven, thriving on the social and academic culture of school. She loves having different teachers who teach their subjects well and passionately. And here's another quirky thing I've learned about her. She studies for tests by recruiting a willing family member to be her "student" and then she teaches the hapless victim her test material for as long as he or she will sit. It seems to work.  

Though she can be quiet and appears shy, she's demonstrated that she can be assertive when she needs to be, both with kids and with adults. She's confronted meanness, frustrating group assignments, and stolen chocolates from her lunch box. 

And through all of this she's learned that plenty of kids have home situations that don't afford them the luxuries of two parents, intentional discipline, protection from things that 11-year-olds shouldn't have to face, and a truffle or two in one's lunchbox. 

We've been able to process frustrating and unfair situations through the lens of grace. And this has been such a gift for both of us. In the words of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, 

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view - until you climb into his skin and walk around in it. 

Sharing these observations about my kids perhaps sounds braggy and indulgent. That's not my intent. Truly it's not. I'm simply bringing to light the qualities I couldn't see so well when they were at home. 

Juggling meals and math, laundry and language, and doing it all day can blur one's vision just a bit. I know my children have got their issues. I'm their mama and I see their mess in all of its glory. Sometimes their mess overwhelms me and like any other mama, I worry about them. I fight fear, I fret over grades, I desperately want them to do well. But that is no longer the primary goal.

Learning to climb into others' skin. 

This is more important than learning math in just the right way or understanding history from a classical perspective. It's more important than reading the greatest of books or being a National Merit Scholar. 

Don't get me wrong, they are learning math and history and science in ways that are engaging and effective. But they're learning so much more. And so am I. The irony is that this sort of learning, this exposure to certain influences and unsavory topics, this is the stuff I wanted to protect them from. 

I still do. 

But this is the world they will one day navigate without parental supervision and tutelage. So every day they get to practice being brave and true, loving and discerning. They will fail. They have failed. We all do. But every day they come home to us and we revisit the day. We "walk around in skin" and their father and I try to point them to truth and reaffirm our values. 

In many ways, we've become more intentional about these sorts of things since they went to school. 

You see, we are still homeschooling but in a way that feels surprisingly richer and, I daresay, right. For us. At least for now. And I do know that come August, I may turn tail and run headlong back into homeschooling and want to delete this whole post. It's possible. But this is where we are today and I've quit trying to predict the future.

One year at a time, one kid at a time, seeking God's face all the time. That's the motto my husband and I have adopted.

God gave us these kids years ago and we dedicated them back to Him, recognizing that we are mere stewards. He goes with them every single day. 

I had not planned it this way. I thought I knew best. I don't regret a single day of homeschooling and the lovely, messy days of togetherness we experienced. Writing about it in the past tense makes me cry each and every time.  

It's just that sometimes real life re-routes us in ways that feel like failure but are actually grace. 


Monday, June 4, 2012


We were at the beach last week with my entire family, 22 of us to be exact. It was lovely and loud and I feasted on hush puppies, fish tacos, and my baby nieces' chubby deliciousness. 

I had lots of time in the car to think and no great opportunities to write. {My thinking time was also my driving time and that makes holding pens and balancing keyboards a bit tricky. Not to mention illegal.}

This morning I sat down to write and I did indeed write a whole post. Sometimes the words flow like a mighty rushing river and at other times, they drip. drip. drip. like a rusty faucet.  This morning it was the latter. And when I finished? I didn't even like it. 

So here I sit, 8 days without a post and nostalgic for the ocean air I breathed in and out for 7 days.

But in the spirit of sharing something, anything, I submit a few favorite photos from the week. 

Oh I have plenty to write about life and school, God and grace. I even have a story or two to share but I'll save all of that for the days that are less, um, drippy.

In the meantime, I give you snapshots of our lovely time on the Carolina coast.

{sister-in-law Michelle, sister Emily, sister-in-law Liz, my mom, me...all out for my birthday lunch. And why does my hair look like a mullet with a bun? Weird.}

{the 5 boy cousins}

{the 7 girl cousins}

{Poppy, Nana and the 12 grands}

{I just love this kite photo of Poppy and sweet Marlowe.}

And these 3 belong to me. Oh what a blessed mama I am. Photos like these remind me that the years are going by way too quickly...

So raise your glass to summer! May you find sun, sand, and water aplenty. 


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