faith · family · homemaking · homeschooling · kids · learning · marriage · motherhood · parenting · teenagers

How to Not Be Empty

Beware of the barrenness of a busy life. -Socrates

I really don’t know when I got it in my head that I desperately needed to outsource in our homeschool to be successful.  After Samuel was born I think I was determined not to let another baby hold my older children back from their goals (my goals is more like it). It was a great plan, so I thought… just let someone else teach them, hold them accountable.

What followed was a year of schooling outside the home, in co-ops and online.  How I reasoned that packing this gang of five up in a car and traveling an hour one way was an easier way to educate my upper level students is kinda foggy…but I do vaguely remember my husband warning me, counseling me, shaking his head at me.

At first we were cooking with gas…getting lots of educational stuff done, making friends, going to fun activities, and in general just enjoying the new day to day.  We were busy, and in the beginning that felt as if we were thriving.  However, after a little while I noticed that our lives were becoming less and less centered at home. My cooking became weird, our prayers too sparse, everyone was going in different directions, the littles were being cared for but not cared for, I was growing more and more discontent, and in general just feeling disconnected with myself and my family, especially my husband.

And then a few weeks ago I hit a wall, circumstances collided and my choices became clear…all that is left now is to correct course.  My mom commented, “Mandy, thank goodness you have things you can cut without hurting anyone…the activity and busyness of your life can be easily remedied.”  Her comments are those of a woman who knows what it is like to have responsibilities that cannot be remedied.

The ability to correct busyness is a blessing, almost like a gift, and I am very grateful for the freedom to choose the life I desire and need.

I see now that my outsourcing was about fear and pride…it was me believing that our home life was not enough…that I was not enough.  Ironically, it is the outsourcing that is causing a true emptiness, an exhaustion and distraction that makes me unavailable. It also refocuses our life on things that are not bad in themselves, but result in a deep and true distraction nonetheless.

So, here is my remedy for emptiness…how to not be empty…Go Home!

Women leave home for many reasons, and I only judge myself, we all have stories.   Sometimes home seems the most empty place on earth and outsourcing presents itself as a remedy, and for some this may be true.  However, for me my home is a fountain of grace, a constant outlet of energy, and a nourishing refuge.  Home is my remedy for emptiness, my journey has taught me this.

cleaning · cooking · faith · family · homeschooling · kids · learning · marriage · nutrition · organizing · projects

Daily Docket

Special Day– Birthday, Name day, Feast day, Holiday, Saint.
Pace- What speed do I have to go today?  Do I really need to be running like a hare, or can I take it slow like a turtle?  Knowing the pace of the day is good for me.
Priorities- What are the top 5 things I have to get done today?  Did Slade ask me to do something for him?  Do we have appointments?  Do I need to pay a bill or make a phone call?
Parenting- A mommy focus for the day.  A special lunch for Elinor.  A walk with Sophia. Be patient and speak softly today.  Play airplane with Sam.  Talk with Addy late tonight.  Practice piano with Caroline.
Partner- Something sweet, something small, something kind, something for Slade.
The Plan- A skeleton for the day…when I will do what’s on the docket.
Daily Readings- One sentence that captures something inspirational from my readings.
Prayers- Just a reminder, a little circle to remind me to make prayer a priority.
Pantry to Pot- Start dinner at breakfast.  Make meal times intentional and nutritious.
Project- If I have time what is one project I can tackle today?
Professor- What are the school goals for today?
  Water- Remember to stay hydrated.

baby · books · cleaning · faith · family · food · · kids · learning · marriage · motherhood · organizing · Orthodoxy · parenting

Christ in Our Midst

Tonight I headed out to the art shed to look for a set of Logic books that I need for a class I am thinking about teaching in the spring.  When I opened the door to this small space I was aghast at it’s condition.  My two oldest daughters use this space the most, and it was amazing to me that such little care is taken with all the very expensive art supplies in their room.  This space is intended to be an artist’s retreat…a renovated plant shed fully furnished with oils, canvases, watercolors, chalks, charcoal, drawing pencils, instruction books, etc.  I left the little wreck of a room quite angry.  Before prayers I had a chat with the girls about caring for our home and respecting the things in it as objects of great value.  Because things do have value…and not just monetary value. They have value in themselves.

In a world that has gone spiritually mad it is often difficult to understand the material world…to value it in such a way that elevates it as holy.  And yes, I believe paint and pencils and books are holy things, along with everything else in the created world.  One of my favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle, sums it up quite nicely in her wonderful book Walking on Water

 “There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation.” (And if you love the subjects of art and faith this is a must read…a must purchase.)

When I first read that book in my early twenties it was like a butterfly effect in my life…a small change that created an earthquake later down the road.  And since, I have been utterly undone by the knowledge of the Incarnation and its implications.  A simple shift, yet so profound…no longer must the material world be subject to the murderous accusation of being evil, or worse, mundane. No longer must men decide if some thing is good…if some thing is evil.  Everything God created is good!

Christ became man, taking on flesh, showing that man can become by grace what Christ is by nature…we become the body of Christ.  Christ showed us that the material world is good, and real, and valuable.  It’s all very deep, and I do not intend to get in over my head in theology.  But, at the same time I know that this knowledge, however limited and shallow, has changed my life. This knowledge can change one’s entire inner posture and experience.  Because of Christ man has the power to redeem his world….to live the incarnation.  Every good work is essentially an incarnational work.  And what we would deem as bad works, or sin, have no material value because evil cannot create anything.

But, I am a common housewife…busy with so-called mundane tasks…tasks that go unnoticed and undervalued by a world that is high on ideological promises and rhetoric.  A world that believes ideas change the world, not home cooked meals and prayers before bed.  How can this common housewife be anything more than the one saddled with all the unpleasant necessaries…the stuff that has to be done so we can get on with the real business of the world?  Is my work really valuable…the work of my hands?  Is it incarnational…dirty diapers, really?  

And yet, here I am tonight thinking about art supplies and how they are holy and how if my children will value them it will grow in them a heart after God.  And how lately I have been in a modern mood…not really valuing things…and barely tolerating people.  A momentary lapse of heart…that’s what it really is.

After I came in from the art shed I opened the altar cabinet doors, and I decided to take care of something valuable…something I have been neglecting…the liturgical supplies.  Incense has permeated the wood along with the earthy smell of beeswax.  It is a wonderful smell, and it did my heart good to touch the things in the cabinet, holy things.  I looked across my living room and an interesting thought crossed my mind…everything in this room is holy. This is the antidote for my modern mood…for my lack of enthusiasm.  Every thing and every person in this home has value…in and of itself.  And I am the keeper…the keeper at home…the keeper of home.

My work is holy.  And every thing I encounter in my day; the laundry, the crying, the dishes, the food, the neighbor, the phone call…every demand, every interruption, every failure, every trill of laughter is…

Christ in our midst.

Most days these kinds of thoughts do not pass through my mind. Most days I just get up and put my work boots on…one at a time.  But sometimes it is good to remember, especially when life begins to stretch me thin and and I feel like my work is drudgery.  Sometimes we keepers at home can get in a bad way.

Tomorrow I am going to help the girls make things right in the art shed.  I plan on cooking a nice dinner and finishing up the laundry.  I hope to steal away for a bit and finish my Journey to Nativity calendar.  There’s always school that needs doin’, and babies that need rockin’, and dishes that need washin’.  And I am going to read this post again in the morning…and remind myself that all of this…this big life that wears me out…it’s holy…it’s valuable…it’s incarnational.

It’s Christ in our midst.

cooking · faith · family · food · · marriage · motherhood · Orthodoxy

Bright Week

We made it!  That’s what I keep thinking as I am cleaning out the fridge..all the leftover fasting dishes going to the scraps.  (We have a septic system which means no garbage disposal.)  I hope the neighborhood dogs like veggies in the scrap pile…hehe!

 I emptied containers of bean salad, coleslaw, a bit of refried beans, orzo pasta with artichokes and capers, and I was doing pretty good until I came upon a container of hummus.  The site of that evoked an emotional response.  I am sick of hummus!  And then a few minutes later I was half tempted to eat the last little bit for lunch.  I guess in a way it’s hard for this to be over.  So much of Lent revolves around the kitchen, and an Orthodox kitchen is truly a spiritual place.  So much of the Christian faith is centered in the home.

And on that thought…

Lisa A shared a series of talks on her blog entitled  The Good Wife: Five Lectures on the Christian Ideal.
The first lecture is free, and the remaining are only $10 for the complete download.  Well worth the donation!

The Christian ideal of womanhood is beautiful.  I have been thinking this week about brightening up my home, and then I saw this over at OCN… 

BRIGHT WEEK- the week after Lent in which we continue to practice the spiritual values we gained over the last 40 days.

I thought, “What spiritual values did I gain over the last forty days?”  What values must I practice to brighten our lives…our home? I can think of several.

Humility that calms anger
Less talking
and most of all…

I hope your Bright Week is exceptional.  How are you recouping, feasting, and practicing?  
Our Bright Week has been good so far.
Monday we had steaks from the grill.  Tuesday we went to vespers at the hermitage and shared a meal with the small community that is forming there. (So excited about that.)  Today we went to the park, and I am grilling hamburgers for dinner.  Thursday I hope I can get in my garden and plant a few things.  Friday Addy is going to a homeschool prom party!  Caroline is spending the night with her best friend.  Slade, the littles, and I are having ice cream sundaes.  The weekend is full with piano recital practice and St. Thomas Sunday.  
What are your plans for Bright Week?  Anything special?

faith · family · fun · learning · marriage · motherhood · parenting

The Good Life

This weekend my husband and I had a come to Jesus talk.  Here in Texas come to Jesus is synonymous with getting down to the real stuff…confessing and purposing.  It all started with my daughter Elinor.  I was on the computer writing a post for this blog.  Slade was cleaning the kitchen, and in walks Whirlwind (that is what we like to call our little buzz saw).  She asked me to come outside and swing her, all of her sisters had refused.  It was a gorgeous day, plenty of sunshine and just the right temperature.  Well, I told her no.  Slade kept right on cleaning.  And she left dejected, tears in her eyes.

Now, I am not the mother that always says “yes.”  I do not always play with my kids when they ask.  So, it was not the “no” in particular that bothered me.  It is a pile of nos, a big lazy pile of not nows, and in a minutes and not tonights and maybe laters that got the conversation started, the one where my husband and I vowed together to do better, to give it a little more gas.  We both feel the overwhelming demands of five children, and their needs are always before us, always stretching us.

No matter your circumstance, you have a great opportunity for holiness.  That’s what I heard a priest say once.  That little sentence is stuck in my head like a bad song.  I play it over and over.

My circumstance is always about my salvation.  If I saw that I am in need, just as much as those I am called to serve, well maybe I could get this whole upside-down mothering thing.

So this morning instead of feeling like I had to get out of bed super early and pray, I just said my prayers in the dark while Sam nursed.  Instead of scheduling and going about in a tizzy, maybe I can manage today with just doing the next thing, what my husband calls living organically.  (He intervened last night as I attempted a written schedule.  His words, “Honey, it won’t work.  Just get up and hit it, live organically. Don’t waste your time.”) He’s right. I have tried micromanagement a thousand times…it always ends the same.  Isn’t that the definition of insanity…trying the same thing over and over again expecting different results?

And so today I am just reflecting, and just hitting it.

The bulk of my emotional energy as a mother is spent on prioritizing and then making decisions.  It is a hard task to juggle the needs of a family.  And that does not even include outside relationships with extended family and friends.  I can feel my heart as I choose one thing over the other, or say no to something important so I can say yes to something that I deem is more important. Sometimes the decisions I make are extremely difficult, decisions that from the outside may look small or insignificant, like who gets to go to the store with me, or if we go to see grandparents for the weekend or stay home and rest, or if I serve beans or fish for supper.  You see, behind these decisions is a driving force, something that speaks of what I think makes a good life.  It is the good life that I am in pursuit of, that I hope I am living.  And so I push hard to get some things done.

And sometimes my choices cause disappointment, and I have to let those around me adjust.  This is the hard part.  And when I fail at the good life, I have to live with the regret.  I find that a large part of the mother experience is learning to work through regret, and growing through guilt.

Evidently I believe that swinging my Whirlwind in her swing under a big Oak tree on a warm sunny day is the good life.  Otherwise why would I feel regret at missing that moment? This weekend’s conversation was all about the good life, what my husband and I think makes a good life, and examining if are living the good life.

We chose it…this good life.  It was all a choice.  It is still a choice…one determined and purposeful choice at a time.                  

Just for Fun!
I found a few quotes on BrainyQuote that I thought were fun.  Read through them and pick which one you most identify with.  Just for fun I will give my guess at what your choice says about you.

A.  Not life, but good life, is to be chiefly valued. Socrates.

B.  The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge. Bertrand Russell

C. Thank you, God, for this good life and forgive us if we do not love it enough.Garrison Keillor              

D. I have a very good life, so I have nothing to complain about. Sometimes, I just have existential angst.  Meg Ryan

If you Chose…
A.  You are a very principled person.  You make decisions based primarily on what your principles dictate.  Some may call you a “black and white” person.  This makes you  very dutiful and responsible.  You are very comfortable with leadership, and you are highly respected.  You are a go to kind of person.
B.  You are a very sensitive soul, feeling you way around this earth.  You are kind and introspective.  You enjoy quiet contemplation and making decisions based on what feels right to you.  Some may describe you as an “old soul.”  You make a very good friend, but tend to crave solitude.
C.  You are a burden bearer.  Your decisions are made based on what you think will make those around you happy.  This is not a weakness, just the way you interact with your world.  You are a very hard worker, and people rely on your expertise.  Your perception of yourself never matches the compliments you receive.  People often call you a good person.
D.  You are quirky.  You see the world differently than most of your peers and this causes you to be misunderstood in many cases.  You make decisions based on your own beliefs, and are not easily swayed.  Some may call you an eccentric, and you poses a kind of earthy wisdom. You are free-spirited and love to try new things. 

Did I get it right?  If not, it was fun anyway. 

 I like to study people.  Which one do you think I chose?  

Welcome Home Wednesdays
family · · marriage · parenting

Where’s Daddy?

Searching for Daddy on a Mommy blog is a little like searching for Waldo.  He’s in there somewhere, it just takes a keen eye and some time to find him.  I have been reading mommy blogs for years, and I can say that daddy is rarely featured.  A few DH’s here and there, sometimes you see him in pictures, or he gets thrown into a funny story.  Occasionally we wives tell horror stories that include our husbands and redemption…survival stories. But for the most part the Daddy remains in the background, we never really get to know him.

This is unfortunate really.  My husband is a behind the scenes kind of guy, and is very comfortable being the strong silent type that gives lots of support.  All the pictures and posts and fun and stuff…all that fills this blog…he works hard for it just like I do… it’s hard work building a life.  So, I decided I would write a post to introduce you to my husband – the man behind the scenes.  The man who eats at my table, sleeps next to me, aggravates the daylights out of me sometimes, talks to me and listens to me, prays with me and for me, and works hard to provide for me and the kids.  He is our daddy, and a very good daddy.

Below are a few things I think make my husband and our daddy special.  I hope you enjoy getting to know us better.  Maybe you too will post a Where’s Daddy to introduce your – man behind the scenes.

 Introducing our Daddy.

  • His name is Slade.  I love that name, so manly and handsome…like a cowboy.
  • He is a Mr. Steady.
  • He loves to plan our vacations and insists we take them.
  • He likes to explore and try new things.
  • He wears glasses, the frameless kind.
  • He is the baby of his family.
  • He has traveled all over the world. 
  • He is an information junkie – he knows a lot about a lot of different subjects.
  • He has a mild case of OCD. (At least that’s my diagnoses.  He disagrees.)
  • He does not like tomatoes. 
  • He loves Dr. Pepper.
  • He has a photographic memory.
  • He works in finance.
  • He plays the guitar.
  • He sings beautifully.
  • He loves to aggravate me and the girls.
  • He is moody sometimes.
  • His favorite meal is red beans, cornbread, sliced onions, fried potatoes, and sweet iced tea.  
  • He is a great shopper and gift giver.
  • He gets angry and says things he does not mean sometimes.
  • He loves my mother…he really does.
  • He is spiritual.
  • He is funny and giggles when he laughs.
  • He pays close attention to his children and knows them very well.
  • He is always pushing forward and looking ahead.
  • He can be very hard on people.
  • He can be very generous with people.
  • He is not easily surprised or shocked.
  • He secretly wants to mow lawns for a living. (Not a secret anymore.)
  • He likes to work in the yard.

Slade is a wonderful person, husband, and daddy.  He is normal, not a saint or anything, just Slade, just ours.  Slade and I married when I was eighteen years old. Technically we have been together since I was sixteen.  He has been there to watch me grow up.  We have sort of grown up together.  I like it that way.

 He has mentioned before that I do not have a picture of him anywhere on this blog.  I do not think he cares that much to be seen, he just likes to give me a hard time, to pester me.  So here it is, a new picture and an introduction, lest anyone assume that I am a loner.  Hehe.

faith · fall · family · food · homeschooling · · learning · marriage · motherhood · parenting · projects · seasons

How to Get Your Life Together In a Day

Sometimes I make things so complicated, and truly that is unnecessary.  I realize there are circumstances that require extreme measures, but my life is not one of them.  Why do I get so stressed and anxious…wound up like an eight day clock?  I suspect it is because I am tired, just plain tired.  Being tired is not a sign that my life is falling apart.  Maybe it is a sign that my life is good, that I have a full and wonderful life…so much to be thankful for.

However, when things start piling up, pressing in, and coming undone I know it is time to do something different, settle in and refocus…just tweak things a bit.  There is no need for me to take a magic eraser to my whole life or to go through everything with a fine toothed comb.  Just a gentle redirection is all that is needed.  Gentle, but thorough.  You see, the bones are good, the underneath is still in tact, the anchor is what holds this ship in times of crazy schedules and busy days.  In times past I would begin a complete overhaul when I felt this way, but I have learned that extreme makeovers are most often the acting out of obsessions.  You know…that running dialogue in your head that makes you feel thin and shaky, nervous and irritable.  We moms have to learn to be gentle, even with ourselves.  

A very dear friend asked me the other day if I believed that sometimes there are cases where a person who was once whole could now be broken, with no hope of being whole again.  I listened to the question and took my friend seriously. I told this friend that, yes, I think it is possible, and that she did not have to be whole.  As I have thought about our conversation I have come to the conclusion that we are all broken in some way, and that it is most likely that we always will be.  Being whole is not about being completely put together…there is a reason that all the King’s horses and all the King’s men could not put Humpty together again.  Life comes down on us, it presses us, it breaks us, and we fall apart.  Once we have been broken there is no way to be whole again…not the kind of whole that we desire.  Being whole often times means we do not want to suffer this life and its trials, we long for naivety and simplicity.  But, those who get out in the world and bare burdens, get hands dirty, work hard, walk with damaged people, befriend the unfriendly, and try to be a part of the world will always be is inevitable.  The only way I ever imagine that I can avoid this is by shutting the world and people out.  In the end, I would rather be broken.

And this can apply to practical areas of my life as well.  If I desire to be out in the world living and learning with my kids, if I value relationship over everything else, if I put people on the top of my priority list, well then other things suffer…my house, my laundry, my body, my put togetherness.  I always feel that my life is a little undone, a little unkept.  But, in a way this is intentional.  I have chosen other things, to me they are more important things.  When criticisms come, and they will, I must be prepared to OWN my own life and choices.  I must be rooted and grounded in my heart.  I must also be willing to be honest, truthful with myself most of all.  This is the way that I face my life head on and how I deal with brokenness.

Today, as I was dealing with all of the emotions and stress that obsessions cause I waited for the panic to pass.  I got still and a wonderful thought came to me.  It does not take much to Get Your Life Together, Mandy.  In fact I am confident that it only takes one day of gentle internal work to feel better. This is because I am not expecting too much from myself or anyone around me…we are all broken. It is easy to be gentle when I recognize this.  Here are a few things I am doing today to regain a sense of confidence and beauty…how I am getting it together.

I Am…

  • Recognizing the dialogue in my head.  I am not trying to change it, just being aware of the Editor in Chief, the voice that keeps bossing me around, criticizing me.
  • Writing this post to share my thoughts, getting them out in the open.
  • Talking to my mom on the phone and enjoying our friendship.
  • Putting on a fresh face and a nice outfit.
  • Planning a trip to the pumpkin patch near our house.
  • Lighting candles.
  • Letting my kids be tired as well, we have been very busy.  No drill sergeant barking or correction.  
  • Taking a survey of my pantry and planning the meals I want to cook this week.
  • Doing a few loads of laundry.
  • Taking care of a speeding ticket that I got a few months back.  I made it through my probation period, and a big stress is off. 
  • Opening windows and doors to let the cool fresh breeze in.
  • Drinking Ceylon Tea..a new favorite and a wonderful gift from my husband.
  • Being quiet and just doing the next thing…gently walking through this house…room by room… accepting and being very thankful.
  • Praying the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.” Over, and over again.
  • Accepting the financial stresses of a large family lifestyle and owning my spending choices.
  • Letting my kids be who they are…not requiring that they be caught up, on target, or ahead. 
  • Washing dishes in warm soapy water.
  • Listening to sounds…a lawn mower, Mockingbirds, eggs boiling on the stove.  Just listen.
  • Smelling the things cooking, the fresh autumn air, Samuel’s little head, Elinor’s sweaty puppy dog yumminess, out of the dryer laundry.
  • Waiting for my husband to come home so I can give him a hug.

This is what my day is shaping up to be…a wonderful day, a blessed day, another day to be a mom, wife, daughter, friend.