Life as SAHM is (More Than) Enough

I praise my King, that He and His grace are sufficient
(which means not only enough, but completely and totally filling it up to all the corners!)
even for the moments where I muse about the following…
where I wonder about myself and my work…
where I ask Him, is it enough?
and am I enough?

I can feel like I run around all day trying to just keep little people alive, fed, clothed, and moderately happy.

And is that enough?
Sometimes it doesn’t feel like enough.
There are moments where my brain says, “I’ve HAD enough.”
And there are moments where my heart screams, “This is enough to fill me up for six lifetimes!”
But there is a tug of war going on inside myself.

Is it enough? What I do? Who I am? How I do it?
I spend all day every day just trying to keep our world going. To keep bellies filled, house clean, home havenly, children tended, errands run, bills paid, prayers said, minds educated.

“Just.”

As if there were anything JUST about it.

For today, while yet another ellipses claims my thoughts and my time, I will leave you with a wonderfully long missive that G.K. Chesterton said about the massive duty of motherhood, for which it could never be said to have “just” as its adjective.

Supposing it to be conceded that humanity has acted at least not unnaturally in dividing itself into two halves, respectively typifying the ideals of special talent and of general sanity (since they are genuinely difficult to combine completely in one mind), it is not difficult to see why the line of cleavage has followed the line of sex, or why the female became the emblem of the universal and the male of the special and superior.

Two gigantic facts of nature fixed it thus: first, that the woman who frequently fulfilled her functions literally could not be specially prominent in experiment and adventure; and second, that the same natural operation surrounded her with very young children, who require to be taught not so much anything as everything. Babies need not to be taught a trade, but to be introduced to a world. To put the matter shortly, woman is generally shut up in a house with a human being at the time when he asks all the questions that there are, and some that there aren’t. It would be odd if she retained any of the narrowness of a specialist.

Now if anyone says that this duty of general enlightenment (even when freed from modern rules and hours, and exercised more spontaneously by a more protected person) is in itself too exacting and oppressive, I can understand the view. I can only answer that our race has thought it worth while to cast this burden on women in order to keep common-sense in the world.

But when people begin to talk about this domestic duty as not merely difficult but trivial and dreary, I simply give up the question. For I cannot with the utmost energy of imagination conceive what they mean. When domesticity, for instance, is called drudgery, all the difficulty arises from a double meaning in the word. If drudgery only means dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman drudges in the home, as a man might drudge at the Cathedral of Amiens or drudge behind a gun at Trafalgar. But if it means that the hard work is more heavy because it is trifling, colorless and of small import to the soul, then as I say, I give it up; I do not know what the words mean.

To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets, cakes and books, to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it.

How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.

-What’s Wrong with the World by G.K. Chesterton

Life in Ellipses

I know there are lots of jobs that dictate a life and routine with a rinse & repeat nature. Truly, that is how God created the world. Even He seems to live within a refrain ~ times and seasons, which are necessarily repetitious. It clearly does not mean that a repetitious, cyclical job is not fully useful. Just because something is cyclical does not mean it is futile. Read Ecclesiastes to see that truth right in front of your eyes from the incomparable wisdom of Solomon.

But it does mean that I can only live so linearly. Even a description of “two steps forward, one step back” doesn’t always prove true when one’s vocation is cyclical by nature. Round and round I go. The nature of my cyclical jobs are domestic, but I realize that it is not the only one that has a cyclical form.

But I don’t think it is simply the repetition that has forced me to go without a checklist.

It is my vocation. Motherhood has caused me, little by little, to give it up.
To have open hands for each day.
To live in a moment-by-moment mindframe.
To accept that my entire world right now is controlled by the tyranny of the urgent.

For example, in the forty minutes it took me to write the simple, short thoughts above… I have changed a diaper, switched the laundry, refilled a cup of milk, taught an English lesson, stoked the fire, sipped my coffee, and nursed the baby.

Whew. No wonder my thoughts rarely seem to flow smoothly anymore. My life is filled with punctuation. But it isn’t always periods or commas. It is most often ellipses. What we describe as dot dot dot. Meaning, to be continued. Or this is a lapse. Or fill in the blank.

I try to multitask, for sure. Just ask me about the crazy things I have done lately while breastfeeding my son. I may have sat in the rocker to nurse and a read a book with my firstborn son and called it multitasking. But that is nothing compared with talking on the phone, wiping a 3 year old’s bum, teaching a piano lesson, and nursing the infant… and no, I’m not making that scenario up. Ask many a mom, and they will tell you the same. A big part of our career is multitasking, definitely & no question about it.

But more often and more definitely than even multitasking is my life of ellipses. Stopping and starting. Fits and spurts. Interruptions of all kinds, sizes, lengths, reasons.

Whoever coined the phrase (it seems to be a man named Charles Hummel in 1967, at first glance google), “tyranny of the urgent” had to have some major inside scoop on motherhood.

I can start sixty things from a checklist in one day, but I don’t know how many months it would take to check them all off as “complete.”

And that has been a big struggle for me, in all honesty.
It is a new thing for me (eight years into my motherhood journey!) to embrace life without a checklist.
It’s only recently that Mommy decided I live life better, more fully, more joyfully, more completely, more God-honoringly when I am not beholden to a piece of paper covered in bullet points.

And it is amazing to me that things are still getting done.
They are even getting done on time and in a routine way.
And when things don’t get done (or done on time, or done in a predictably routine way), none of us are worse for the wear.

The things that really matter in my vocation can not be described or defined on a checklist anyway.
Most of the things that happen in my day to day life can not be predicted or put on a timeline.
The people that I manage, and those who I report to, do not adhere to checklists.

So I am learning joy in flexibility.
I am learning to embrace the ellipses rather than clinging to a desire for checkmarks.
I am learning to find encouragement and fulfillment without relying on a completed checklist for my sense of value in God’s world.

Life Without a Checklist

If you know me very well, you probably know that I am often classified as type-A, verging on OCD, very list oriented. I love to know what is expected of me, to perform to my utmost, to achieve success, and to cross things off my to-do list. As a child, I even wrote down my daily to-do lists with a schedule down to the minute. That’s right. At nine years old, I was scheduling my days like a corporate CEO. I don’t know why or where that tendency came from. But there it is.

College life suited me well. Being told before classes even started what books I needed was fantastic. Getting a syllabus for the whole semester on the very first day of class was like opening a gift. I always kept ahead of the game. No last-minute late night cramming sessions unless it was completely and totally unavoidable. I was never honestly surprised by good grades; not because I thought I was super smart or overly clever, but because I knew that I was planning and following through. Organizational skills and a dedication to checking things off my list was serving me well.

And then life happened. I graduated with my bachelor’s degree and got married seven days later. While I was working as a medical secretary and piano teacher part time, I quickly headed down the avenue to motherhood ~ my son Gabriel being due on my first wedding anniversary.

The whirlwind of married life, motherhood, homemaking, and housekeeping has never slowed down ~ in fact, as you probably well know, it never will. Life doesn’t slow down, and I find it doesn’t even seem to maintain speed. It picks up momentum as we go along, and before we know it, we will be realizing we have to turn off the cruise control because our exit to heaven seems to be glinting down there on the horizon, and I just don’t feel like I am done with the here & now.

The checklist continues to grow.
But I hardly have time to keep an eye on the checklist now.
And if the truth be told, I don’t even think my life is conducive to crossing things off a checklist anymore!!

Have you ever tried to be finished with the laundry? the ironing? the dishes? the meals? the housecleaning? the diapers? the bums to wipe? the boo-boos to bandage? the books to read? the times tables to repeat? the pudgy bodies to snuggle? the situps to crunch? the bills to pay?
Not to mention the music to play, the photos to take, the scrapbooks to make, the things to sew and craft, the gifts to buy and wrap and give, the coffee dates to have, the friendships to pursue, the little souls to nurture, the people to prioritize?

It never actually finishes.
None of it.
I can’t ever actually check anything off.
As soon as I do, it gets put back right on at the end of the list again.

So how do I live my life without a checklist?
How do I love living in a rinse&repeat career?
How do I learn to encourage myself when I don’t have quarterly school grades or managers giving me yearly reviews?

Stay tuned. I have more thoughts coming.
But for today, maybe I will just go ahead and check “blog something” off my to-do list!

Pregnant with a Rainbow, Part IV

Let me preface this by saying with my physical, medical, immunological problems, we have learned that we have to be proactive about either pursuing or preventing pregnancy. (This is obviously a big can of worms to open up in such a public place as a blog on the worldwide web. But I guess I’m feeling no holds barred these days or something.) We have had to learn this the hard way, and there is a big part of me that has long wished I could just be one of those women who could “have a surprise” ~ I did have a surprise once, with my very first little darling, and it was truly magnificent. I will always be thankful that God gave me that gift.

Now that we know some of the intricacies and eccentricities of my body, and particularly how it connects to my womb, we know that part of what the Lord has entrusted to us is a responsibility to be particularly proactive about hedging our procreation with wisdom & diligence. My husband is called to be our protector, and God has given him some unique places where he needs to protect his wife and his children, and we continue to seek the Lord’s wisdom in how to follow Him in this.

But this all does actually tie back into where I was planning to go… which is to my freezer. Funny but true.

When I know there is pregnancy as a possibility on the horizon, I go out of my way to pack my freezer full of freezer meals. (I do like to have 6 to 12 freezer meals in there regardless, though, because it is always nice to have a buffer for myself or also in case someone I know suddenly needs a meal. But since this is a PAL post, I will leave my focus there.) I figure one way or the other, the Lord will be giving me an opportunity to stay away from the kitchen ~ either I will miscarry, and the heavy burden of grief and the physical ramifications of that will keep me from cooking for a few weeks, or I will be facing morning sickness, and the glories of that blessing will keep me from cooking well for a few weeks or months as well.

I can’t really explain what a gift it was to have filled my freezer last winter, and to drain its supply this year due to months of morning sickness. What a humbling gift and amazing blessing!

This time, my thick blanket of morning sickness lifted by about 17 weeks or so, and I was able to be back in the kitchen much of the time. But then restricted activity was prescribed at 19 weeks, and now well into my third trimester I have had to remain on partial bedrest. This has been quite the journey. A couple weeks ago we even stocked up on premade freezer meals from Costco! Which says a lot about how far God has brought me on the tough journey of letting go and lowering my usual standard of things that are so majorly tied into my line of work ~ cleaning, cooking, homeschooling, showing hospitality… wow, the Lord has given me some great challenges, and I have kicked at the goads of letting go, but He is so wise and tender and has really shown me just how sweet it is to actually do what He is asking of me.

But using fresh ingredients and making meals from scratch has long been a huge part of my career as well as my passion & love.
So a couple days ago, I found some recipes online geared specifically toward ziploc-to-freezer-to-crockpot meals, and just after I had chosen half a dozen or so recipes and was about to put together a grocery list to fill in some gaps (although I mostly did try to find recipes that would utilize things already in my pantry and freezer stashes of staple ingredients), I checked my email… and there was a note from a sweet friend of mine who wanted to know if she could stop by for a visit after work one day this week ~ including an offer to help with something practical around my home… and my heart swelled & my eyes filled with happy tears. It was the perfect timing, and an obvious gift from God.

Tuesday evening brought some additional ingredients which were piled onto the kitchen island, and Wednesday afternoon brought a delightful visit from a friend who shared in encouraging conversation and put her hands to diligent work to bless my family. I stayed mostly parked on a stool in the kitchen while she did the hard work on her feet of doing the chopping, the washing, the brunt of it all ~ I did the little piddly parts like labeling, measuring spices, etc.

And now my freezer has 14 new freezer meals packed onto a shelf!

What a gift that God works out details in such sweet ways. Food is one of the best ways we serve our families and love one another. Feeding my husband and my children well is a passion of mine. And feeding myself is one way that I am feeding Sweet Teen, and one of the best ways to help him grow. Having all the prep for these meals done without physically demanding anything of my body during a time where my feet need to be up for the majority of the days is such a blessing.

So let me share the seven recipes with you that my friend Laura and I put together yesterday in about 2 1/2 hours while we talked and laughed together. I just might have to rope her into coming and doing it again with me in another month, if my family goes through this shelf of freezer meals before the baby comes. Or maybe we’ll do it again after he’s born, because honestly I don’t plan on doing much of anything except snuggling my rainbow baby for two months after he is in my arms!!

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Veggie Beef Stew

1lb cubed stew meat 1 diced onion, 1 cup sliced carrots, 1 can green beans, 1 cup frozen peas, 1 sliced parsnip, 1 cubed rutabaga, 1 cup red wine, 2 beef bouillon cubes.
Combine all ingredients in gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low 8-10 hours. Serve over mashed potatoes and/or with rolls.”

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Asian Orange Beef

2 1/2lb chuck roast, zest & juice from one large orange, 2 Tblsp brown sugar, 3 Tblsp rice wine vinegar, 2 Tblsp soy sauce, 1 1/2 Tblsp minced garlic, 1 Tblsp grated ginger root, 1/4 cup chopped green onion.
Combine all ingredients in a gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low 10-12 hours. Shred, and serve over steamed rice with broccoli.”

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Cranberry Mustard Pork

2 1/2lb pork butt, 2 cups cranberries, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2 Tblsp dijon mustard 1 diced onion, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1/4 tsp cloves, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground ginger, zest & juice from one large orange.
Combine all ingredients in a gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low 8-10 hours. Serve with roasted potatoes and veg.”

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Ginger Peach Chicken

1lb chicken thighs, 1 cup peach jam, 2 Tblsp soy sauce, 1 inch ginger freshly grated, 1 1/2 tsps minced garlic.
Combine all ingredients in a gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low for 4-6 hours. Shred chicken, and serve over brown rice with salad or snow peas.”

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Honey Sesame Chicken

1 1/2lb chicken thighs, 1 diced onion, 1 Tblsp minced garlic, 1/2 cup honey, 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup ketchup, 2 Tblsp oil, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper.
Combine all ingredients in a gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low for 4-6 hours. Shred, and serve over steamed rice & peas.
Top with chopped green onions, sesame seeds, and sliced almonds.”

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BBQ Chicken

1lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, 1 cup ketchup, 2 Tblsp worcestershire sauce, 1 1/2 Tblsp brown sugar, 1 Tblsp chili powder, 1 tsp red pepper flakes, 1 tsp yellow mustard, 1 tsp apple cider vinegar, 1 1/2 tsp curry powder.
Combine all ingredients in a gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low 8 hours. Shred chicken, and serve over rolls or rice with green salad and fruit.”

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Chicken Chili

1lb diced chicken, 1 chopped onion, 1 can black beans, 1 can white beans, 1 can Rotel, 1 can diced tomatoes, 1 cup sliced frozen peppers, 2 cups frozen corn, 1 Tblsp minced garlic, 1 Tblsp paprika, 2 Tblsp chili powder, 1 Tblsp cumin, 2 tsp oregano, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes.
Combine all ingredients in a gallon ziploc freezer bag.
Label: “Thaw overnight in fridge. Dump bag contents into crockpot.
Cook on low 10-12 hours. Serve with sour cream, shredded cheese, and tortilla chips.”

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Yesterday, we made two of each of the above recipes. I also have two dinners’ worth of beef chili, one pan of enchiladas, one gluten free cheese pizza, and a couple other “surprise” dishes (that apparently I forgot to label…) on my freezer meal shelf. My sister in law gave us a freezer meal of pulled pork sandwiches, half of which is still in there.

Never underestimate the power of food, and the blessing it is to a family in need to surprise them with something for their freezer for that “rainy day.” Sometimes even rainbow pregnancies have their own host of rainy days where nothing blesses quite like a meal ~ whether hot or in the freezer.

If you have recipes (or links to recipes) that would fit the easy-freezer-meal bill, please share them in the comments!

It’s about what works for your guests, your family,
the people you love and have welcomed around your table.
It’s not about what will look great on Pinterest or Instagram later.
It’s about loving the people in your life
by gathering them close into the private space of your home,
about giving them soft places to land in hard seasons,
about meeting their needs for food, for listening, for peace, for rest.

~Shauna Niequist, Bread & Wine, p278~

Creating Memories, V

CREATING MEMORIES, V
looking forward & back

It’s Mother’s Day! And I am in the blessed scenario of both having a mother and being a mother. Do you know, when I was a young child, my grandma had the pretty unique blessing of both being a grandma and having a grandma?! Yes, we had five generations alive at one time—all the way until right before my ninth birthday, when my Great Great Grandma died, still sharp as a whip. A lot of my childhood memories hold a lot of old people—my great granddaddy James (who lived with us for a while, right before he died), my great great grandma Martha, my great grandpa Willard, my great grandma Van, and all four grandparents (two of whom lived with us for a while) for a good bit of my childhood. And oh, how I wish there were some way to harness more of those memories—there is just nothing like generational blessing, and I so desperately wish I could cling to those times with my older relatives with more detail in my memory. It is one thing that makes me long—on the other side of the coin—to give my children as many opportunities with their grandparents and great grandparents as possible. It’s one piece of why my heart breaks at the thought that my children may never see my grandfather again—and their great grandparents on their paternal side never really knew them—and even their paternal grandparents are so far away… Knitting generations together is a beautiful tapestry, and sometimes it is hard to weave (sometimes impossible, because heaven is a long way away…), but it is so worth every effort. Every memory I have of my parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and great great grandma are treasures. True treasures.

My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle…
Remember that my life is a breath…
Job 7:6-7

Peek around at our intro, part I, part II, part III, part IV, quotes and Scriptures and thoughts of grace.

And now as we finish up our conversation on creating memories, I am looking forward as well as looking backward. I am recalling some more little things from my own childhood. I am thinking of some more little things that I wonder if my children will remember when they are grown. And ultimately, I pray that my children will have the incredible blessing of knowing faithful generations on both sides of their own stories, and have treasure troves full of memories that these relationships weave through their lifetimes.

Remember how short my time is!
For what vanity You have created all the children of man!
Psalm 89:47

 

Looking Back

~I remember my childhood church, and filling a really long pew in the balcony every week with five generations. I remember the Sunday School building, and how Pastor Flood had a gumball machine filled with jellybeans where we could spend pennies for the goodies, and a couple of my friends didn’t like the black ones so I always got extra. I remember going to Thursday School in a far back building on the church campus, where we did neat projects and I felt like a big kid because one day I week I got to “go to school.” I remember the children’s choir—originally called the New Creature Choir, where I learned how to play recorder. I remember musicals, dying to play a lead part, and singing with all my heart. My family didn’t do Awanas, but sometimes I got to go with a friend—we didn’t regularly do VBS either, but I remember going with friends one summer and being totally overwhelmed by the puppet show. I remember weddings and funerals there. I remember the big grass field where we played games, and the area of trees that bees flocked to and stickinesss covered the ground—I’ve long wondered what kind of trees those were. I fell in love with Jesus there, I fell in love with singing there, I fell in love with piano there, I made some of the best friends a girl could ever ask for there. I have very fond memories of my childhood church.

~I remember my childhood home, where I lived & loved from 4 to 14. I don’t really remember the little house we lived in before that, except for little snippets that have been largely aided by photographs I have seen throughout my life. But I remember my bright pink bedroom in our big house on the hill. I remember loving the swimming pool in the middle of the hill and the creek at the very foot of the hill. I remember the horse corral, and wishing it were not a dilapidated fence just to play around but rather a real paddock where I could run my own real (rather than imaginary) horses. I remember the blackberry bushes and the poison oak. I remember the tall grasses. I remember my brother finding pinecones to harvest pinenuts from like an Indian. I remember learning to dive in our pool. I remember friends staying in the poolhouse, which was our guesthouse. I remember my mom sponge painting the two changing rooms on the side of the poolhouse. I remember having a hot tub that never got used, until it was removed one year so my dad & brother could build a crazy computer room in its place. I remember where the little old television was set up downstairs, and the ceiling-high set of shelves covered in VHS tapes. I remember my brother sat in the oversized chair on the left, and I would sit with my dog Goldie on the grungy couch on the right. I remember having friends over to “play prairie” with me in the backyard (especially after my dad and brother built me my prairie house with the triple bunks, the window with shutters, and the fold-down table), and then we would eat mac & cheese and drink Diet Coke for special lunch treats.

I looked on child rearing not only as a work of love & duty
but as a profession that was fully as interesting & challenging
as any honorable profession in the world
and one that demanded the best that I could bring to it.
~Rose Kennedy~

~I remember going to classes. I remember ballet—I remember loving Miss Tammy to pieces, and wanting to be a ballerina forever. Later I remember another teacher, Mrs. H, poking my tummy and telling me I was getting pudgy—and how that has plagued me for over twenty years now. I remember going to art class, and adopting my teacher, Miss Carmel, as another grandma. I remember doing a writing class. I remember a group of us homeschooled kids getting together to put on a production of Anne of Green Gables. I remember literature classes, logic classes, a class on the Civil War. I remember piano lessons—I had three teachers in California, one teacher in Washington.

~I remember falling in love with writing. I remember creating my Little Women’s Society magazine, and meeting hundreds of young ladies across the country (and a couple internationally as well) through my publication. I remember spending hours writing, compiling, typing, formatting, honing computer skills, printing & collating & stapling & addressing publications month after month (every other month for a long time, eventually quarterly, and then by the time I was in college, I had to give it up altogether). I remember sharing my life on paper with friends and strangers alike.

~I remember having fifty penpals at one time, and I regularly corresponded by hand with each one. I loved these long distance friends keenly. A few, I got to meet in person when traveling, and some I actually moved to live near. I still know many of them. And there are a couple (Joanna in the midwest and Samantha in sunny Cal!!) who I still communicate with long-distance but have never (yet) met in person.

~I remember Sunday evenings at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Five generations, usually at least a dozen people in attendance, gathered in my grandma’s house every Sunday evening. I remember Grandma and Mama cooking, Aunt Wendy washing dishes. I remember watching America’s Funniest Home Videos after it was all cleaned up. I remember helping my little cousins take baths, playing Duplos together, teaching a cousin to play Go Fish.

You were and are mother to my father—
the tree from which apples fell and grew
from which apples fell and grew
from which apples now fall and grow.
You are gone from this orchard, but [we] […] will grow on,
pointing toward the Son you showed us.
We will live—and we will die—in Christ,
thankful that He placed us downstream in the river of your human grace.

~N.D. Wilson, Death by Living, p169~

~I remember my parents dressing up to go the Civic Light Opera, dropping us off at Grandma and Grandpa’s house for dinner and sometimes a sleepover. I remember trying to spin in the leather-plastic chairs at the dining room table with my brother (they must have been from the 70s but they were spinny and fantastic fun when nobody was looking!), but getting Grandpa’s stern eyes—the same eyes we’d get if we put our elbows on the table or got too wild. I remember Grandma’s frog cookie jar. I remember spending nights at my grandparents’ house sometimes—I would sleep on the floor next to my grandma, and my brother would sleep in their walk-in closet. I remember an entire shelf of cereals in their cupboard, and how my grandparents would mix different cereals and then pile a mountain of various fruit on the very top before drizzling a little milk over it all. I remember Great Grandpa’s woodpile and workshop. I remember how he built me a Victorian dollhouse by hand after he cut off all the fingers on his right hand with an electric saw (when he was about 90). I remember Great Great Grandma’s stiff chair with the doily on the top. I remember my noisy uncles always causing one raucous or another. I remember Grandpa and his avid gardening, especially the tomatoes and the roses. I remember making chocolate chip cookies with Grandma, and playing board game after board game after board game. I remember her trying to convince me that math was fun because it was just like a game, and the right answers were always “the win.”

~I remember going square dancing with my grandparents, their weekly date night out. I remember hearing about how my parents met at ten years old at a square dance in my other grandparents’ basement across the country. (I regret that I have never learned to square dance, and I hope better for my kids somehow.)

~I remember the parties my mom threw—St. Patty’s, July 4th, swimming parties, tea parties, Thanksgiving extravaganzas, Christmas parties of all sorts—kid parties where we made things with painted macaroni, or elegant evening parties with candlelight and classical music. I remember the food and the decorations. I remember how she worked hard but how she lived it up. She may not have had sparkly high heels on, but she wore aprons with pearls.

Oh, Marilla, I thought I was happy before.
Now I know that I just dreamed a pleasant dream of happiness.
This is the reality.
~L.M. Montgomery, Anne’s House of Dreams~

~I remember trips. I remember spending Halloween weekends at Disneyland because all the costumes were fun princesses and silly characters. I remember going away for three weeks at a time with my parents and my brother on road trips around various corners of the United States, with our maroon minivan packed full and our grey plywood car top carrier full of suitcases. I remember little tiny bits about going to Michigan when I was five, with both sets of my grandparents. I remember my granddad buying me a purple bike at a garage sale so that I could ride around Mackinac Island with everyone else. I remember my grandmother’s basement—the way it smelled, the cement floor and the fun toys, and imagining the square dances they used to host there. I remember the hot air balloon festival in New Mexico, and buying my own pair of moccasins near the Grand Canyon in Arizona. I remember staying in Las Vegas, all the bright lights and the fancy hotels, and my parents having fun with nickel slots one night. I remember traveling back east with our best friends, going through all the Colonial hot spots we had studied together in history, seeing it all face to face and reenacted. I remember driving around in a rented motorhome one time, falling in love with people and places, lying on the bed in the back with my dad while we drew pictures of future dreams while Mama drove us around and Colin manned the maps.

~I remember uprooting and starting over with my family, moving from city to country. I remember watching my dad put pieces back together. I remember him starting churches. I remember God’s hand at work in my parents. I remember testing their faith. I remember old dreams and new dreams. I remember my dog dying in my arms. I remember knowing what joy was. I remember learning what grief was.

You make the best choices you can at the time with the information you have,
and then you deal with the consequences,
and that’s the part where your life happens.
Every major decision we’ve made involved prayer and advice from wise people,
but that was no guarantee that it would turn out the way I wanted,
with a little white house and a picket fence.
~Myquillyn Smith, The Nesting Place, p39~

~I remember so many little snippets, just little sprinkles on the icing on the cake… and I don’t want to forget. But I do, and I will. So I want to enjoy the memories while I have them.

 

Looking Forward

~I wonder if my children will remember how hard we worked to grow our family, how we prayed and cried and kept trying again. I wonder if they will remember standing in the bathroom with me while I put shots in my tummy and they take turns counting to ten for me while I inject. I wonder if they will remember life before and without one another, if Gabriel will remember his years as an only child when he cried & begged & prayed fervently for a little brother or sister.

~I wonder if my children will remember the schooling we give them—if the books, facts, lessons, tests, fieldtrips, and experiences will sink in deeply and take root. I wonder if they will have loved their educations as much as I did mine.

~I wonder what my children will remember about their grandparents and their great grandparents. I wonder whether it is the big memories like the family vacations or the big holidays they will remember most, or the daily ins and outs of living life together that will be the monuments in their minds.

The childhood shows the man
As morning shows the day.
~John Milton, Paradise Regained~

~I wonder if they will remember me asking their forgiveness when I have lost my temper or otherwise sinned against them. I wonder if they will remember me saying yes more often than no. I wonder if they will look back on their childhoods with delight instead of regret.

~I wonder what trips will stick strongest in their memories, and which birthday celebrations or holiday traditions will maintain monuments in their minds. What will be the traditions that our kids, once grown, will want to cling to and come back home for? Will any of our kids remember their lives here in the country so fondly that they too want to build on the family land? Will I have grandchildren who know me, love me, remember me?

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not;
remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.
~Epicurus~

~I want my children too to remember little snippets that will be the sprinkles on the icing on the cake. I want them to enjoy the memories they keep, and I want us all to enjoy making the memories in the meanwhile—by God’s grace and for His Kingdom.

Creating Memories, IV

As we approach the end of our conversation on creating memories for our children, (see the intro, part I, part II, and part III, as well as quotes and Scriptures on the matter) I will share some specific ways that we pursue particular routines & events to create memories for our children which we hope & pray will solidify the family culture we seek to create in our home & family.

CREATING MEMORIES, IV
how we pursue creating specific memories through
routines & events to solidify that family culture

~bedtime serenades~
Last summer during some power outages (two weeks’ worth, ten days apart from one another), I picked up piano playing again. My pretty little baby grand had been gathering country dust (which honestly is unavoidable where we live) but had also been largely unplayed and unloved in recent years. During those weeks with no cd player, no internet, no videos, no electronic anything… I returned to making music. I pulled out Beethoven, Debussy, Bach, Mozart, Rachmaninoff… along with some collections of other random composers both historical & contemporary… and I simply began to play. But it is hard to play during the day when other things call me… like children… or chores of all various & sundry types. Especially once the electricity returned, and I could cook and clean and launder and internet (can I please use that as a verb? thankyouverymuch) normally again, I found that finding uninterrupted time for music making is really quite difficult.
But the children begged me to play for them, and my husband is more than delighted when I play as well. I do desperately want my children to remember their mother as partly musician, and definitely as a true lover of music.
So it happened: bedtime serenades were born.
Now, after tucking them in, kissing them, praying for them, and blessing them, I scoot myself over to the piano. I play for roughly thirty minutes, and the children love falling asleep in the midst of it. I guess it’s been a habit for over nine months now, and it is definitely rooted in the evening routine at this point.
Recently, they have begun requesting harp in addition to piano. Sometimes I play one instrument per night, other times I play a little of each. There have also been occasions recently where I simply am too exhausted to play at all, and I beg their forgiveness even as their little pouty lips show me their true disappointment.
So I do my best to keep up with the tradition, and all three of my kids nightly remind me of my musical commitment to serenade them in their beds. It’s funny how such a joy for all five of us has become a habit, part of our evening routine, and now something I hope we will all remember in years to come as something which filled our home with joy, beauty, and melody while the crickets sang and the stars twinkled outside and little ones’ bodies fell into slumber in the comfort of their own little beds.

We don’t risk because it’s easy;
we risk because of hope,
because we see the promise of something better.
~Myquillyn Smith, The Nesting Place, p85~

 

~joy at the table~
We need to keep working on this one, I’ll just say honestly from the get-go. 🙂 I long for my children to look back at mealtimes not just as opportunities to fill our mouths and bellies with food, but to love one another and spend time with one another… especially the dinner table where all of us sit down together. Breakfast and lunch, at this point in our family’s life, are meals the three kids share together, but Steven is at work and I am bustling around doing multiple other things. So evening dinnertime is our daily hallmark to sit together, speak together, laugh together, and spend time in one place together. The dinner table is not a time and place to focus on ourselves or to suddenly become introverted and quiet while we stuff forkfuls of chicken and rice in our mouths. This is a time to feast together not only on food, but on one another. As the kids grow, I know our conversations will also grow… at this point, it can obviously still be pretty tricky to carry on much of a real conversation. But conversation, even if in fits and spurts, is better than all quietly munching on our food side by side. I try to pass questions off to each of the kids (preferably not when they have just filled their mouths with a big bite… but my timing is not always stellar…), and encourage them to tell their daddy about their day. We also try to teach the kids to ask questions of others, too, and encourage conversations that way. Sometimes jokes and giggles and silly sounds make their way into the dinner routine, and I can’t help but throw my hands up in laughter and let it go. Manners are definitely a work in progress, but joy is a more important work at this point, and we are eager to continue growing in this daily time together at the table, and hope that as our children look back on their life in our home, that it will be a blessing they count in their memories, and a place they long to return to for more feasting on all the best kinds of fat things together.

Get advice from people who are doing the thing
the way you want to be doing that thing.
It’s a universal law that can be applied to almost any situation.
~Myquillyn Smith, The Nesting Place, p92~

~Sabbath as a joy & monument, Christ everyday & in our everyday~
Have you ever read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Farmer Boy” and been taken aback at the description of Sundays? As I recall, it’s the same in “Little House in the Big Woods,” and I don’t think the legalism and harsh realities of what “Sabbath” meant to people is really very far-fetched for most of us. But my boys, who are old enough to pick up on the nuances of these details we read about, find it absolutely unimaginable. They love Sundays! They happen to love dressing up, so wearing their Sunday best is anything but a chore (and I think that took some training, both habitually and watching their father learn to enjoy dressing up as well ~ because of course the boys really just want to be like their daddy!). They get leftover pancakes or waffles (because Steven has a tradition of making breakfast on Saturdays, and he always makes leftovers so the kids can have sweet goodness on Sunday morning that won’t take me a lot of time or work to prepare), and I often give the kids each a special treat like a piece of candy and say, “whose day is this?” The Lord’s Day! “and what do we do?” Be Glad In It! “and remember that it is sweet!” Then we head off for an hour of Sunday school before going to worship together. Our children learn from infancy about liturgy and participating in worship: they recite creeds and other liturgical phrases, they sing (at the top of their lungs when they know the words!), they kneel & pray, they pass the peace of Christ with the brethren around them, they partake of communion (and teach us adults so much through their attitudes of peace and abandoned delight as they kneel at the altar). We fellowship with other believers: whether in the church building or in homes, we love another with hugs and handshakes, over plates of food and cups of coffee, we seek the good of others, we ask questions and answer questions, we converse and seek to delve ever further into sharing life with these people who are our brethren. We encourage our kids even as little people that spurring one another on to love and good deeds is what church life really boils down to, and glorifying God through our fellowship, worship, learning, growing, sharpening, and sharing the Good News. We encourage multi-generational worship & fellowship, delighting in filling a pew with three generations as well as often going out to eat with my parents after church (which is monumentally exciting for the kids week after week!) if we don’t have people over or have not been invited elsewhere. We love to pray in public, and the kids frequently ask to do it. They never mince words or turn down the volume, and it’s winsome. If we aren’t spending the afternoon with other folks, we generally head home to read and play and rest and sometimes nap. We love reading by the fire in wintertime, sprawling on the grass in the summertime.
Then there is our Sunday evening family fun night, detailed under the next heading.
And after the kids go to bed on Sunday nights, it’s time for my husband and me to have our own little restful date night, usually with wine, cheese, olives, & chocolate.
We seek to grow continually in our Lord’s Day practices, and to engage the children in the process, so that our Sabbaths are simply joy-filled days of resting in the Lord & delighting in His world. We long for a truly robust habit of Sundays, which joy oozes out into the other six days we spend cultivating the world God made and loving the people He created for it.

So we don’t draw the line there, leaving our pursuit of Christ and His holiness on Sundays, of course. We pursue God’s Kingdom every day of the week, and seek by our words and our actions to lead our children in this way. We pray out loud numerous times throughout the day (we take turns doing it—the children love to lead in prayer, to speak to their Father in specifics), we read Scripture (I have Scriptures around the house in various art forms or presentations, and I try to read with the kids going straight through books of the Bible in conjunction with learning catechism together—we’re finishing Genesis right now before jumping to one of Paul’s epistles again), we praise God for both big and little things (like finding a baby’s heartbeat on the doppler! or finding a parking spot right next to the shopping cart return…), we talk of the fruits of the Spirit and sing of God’s grace and faithfulness. We discipline and disciple as diligently as we can, and grace with forgiveness are emphasized again and again throughout the days. We use catechisms and Scriptures the kids know to “hold them by their baptism” as one of our pastors would say. There is never a moment where they are not bound up in Christ, filled with His Spirit, and heard by the Father—so there is never a moment where we should not seek to act like His children, in thought, word, and deed. That is our endeavor, our pursuit, our hope, our prayer, our privilege, our delight.

 

~weekly family fun night~
As I said above, part of our merrymaking on the Lord’s Day is how we wrap up the day with family fun night: the intent being to do something fun and to eat something fun. At this season of our little family’s life, that means watching movies in Mommy & Daddy’s room while eating popcorn and ice cream. Someday, we look forward to developing it further with board games and blended drinks, for instance! We hope this weekly tradition (which the children adore) will grow and deepen as our kids do, and that its fun will continue to reflect our family relationships and the joys we find in one another.

Living is the same thing as dying.
Living well is the same thing as dying for others.
~N.D. Wilson, Death by Living, p84~

~love of learning, delight in playing, embracing of all we call neighbor~
Especially as a homeschooling family, but regardless of it just the same, we seek to daily inculcate a love of curiosity and creativity and learning. We emphasize that education is all around us, and that we should enjoy reading, uncovering, discovering, and continually attaining knew heights in our education all the time, every day ~ all of us, not just those who qualify as K-12. We love books, and try to give countless opportunities for reading fiction and non-fiction and Scripture and schoolbooks throughout the days. Trips to the library require muscles these days, as we bring home dozens of books filling a large basket, and we often renew them as many times as we can in order to best glean from them and love them. Our oldest son now often begs to go to bed right after dinner, just so he can read by flashlight for hours in the evening!
We encourage a delight in playing, especially playing together. Our kids do love toys (don’t all kids?), but they love their imaginations more. When the playing is no longer fun, the salt has lost its savor… so we encourage them to move on to new fun and different playing. They learn, they grow, they rejoice, they love life when they play together delightedly, so we try to have plenty of time each day where they can nurture their imaginations and play together with joy.
We also seek to embrace our neighbor in these things, especially as learning and playing coincide. When bringing cookies or Christmas poinsettias or loaves of fresh bread to literal neighbors, we remind our kids that we love in action in addition to our words. When we meet new families on fieldtrips or at the library, we remind our kids that these people too are our neighbors. In our church home, we teach our kids to embrace all of these people with all of these stories in all of these generations because they too are our neighbors. We try to help our kids come up with creative (or not) ways to embrace people: with handwritten or hand colored notes, with gifts of homemade foods, with various forms of opening our home & sharing hospitality, with smiles or handshakes, with grace and forgiveness.

If you were suddenly given more than you could count,
and you couldn’t keep any of it for yourself,
what would you do?
That is, after all, our current situation.
Grabbing will always fail.
Giving will always succeed.
Bestow.
Our children, our friends, and our neighbors will all be better off
if we work to accumulate for their sakes.
If God has given you a widow’s mite, let it go.
Set it on the altar.
If God has given you a great banquet than you can possibly eat, let it go.
Set it on the altar.
~N.D. Wilson, Death by Living, p110~

Creating Memories, III

Another installment in the conversation on creating memories for our children, see the intro, part I, and part II, as well as memory quotes & a sidebar on grace. And now I will tell you briefly a little of some hows & whys behind a few of the overarching qualities that we seek to pursue in our family culture. A lot of them are interwoven, with joy and grace being the essential threads tying them all into one tapestry ~ the tapestry that we call our home & family life.
Don’t forget to share your own thoughts on the subject in the comments, so we can make it a real conversation!

CREATING MEMORIES, III
how we pursue creating a general family culture
of music, fun, joy, laughter, delight, grace & forgiveness

~music~
As a musical person myself, I have sought to teach my kids about music and singing from the womb. I have grand visions of incorporating music and singing into every meal, like a regular liturgy. 🙂 Not sure that is actually realistic, which is probably why I have only managed to accomplish such things in short spurting seasons thus far. I have dreams of our children all learning various instruments, and someday having a little family folk band together. They will all learn piano first (well, they learn singing first! then piano is their first non-organic instrument…), and then have access to our other stash of instruments (harps, Irish hand drum, guitar, handbells), and then eventually would be able to choose instruments of their own (once they are old enough to be diligent, and have a good foundation with piano and singing, we will love to hire teachers and rent instruments of each child’s choosing). Beginning this year, we get the pleasure of introducing our children to a week-long summer day camp of music camp, and we could not be more delighted at being able to give our kids this opportunity! (Only one is old enough so far to actually attend, but they’ll each get there with time…)
We always have music playing on the cd player throughout the day, and what we call our bedtime serenades is something I will share with you soon. We sing when we tuck the kids in, too, and I try to work with the kids on other songs during the days (when I remember to do it).
It would be an enormous blessing (and honestly a huge success in my eyes) if my children were to look back on their childhoods as being regularly seasoned with music.

 

The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located
will betray us if we trust to them;
it was not in them, it only came through them,
and what came through them was longing.
These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—
are good images of what we really desire;
but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols,
breaking the hearts of their worshipers.
For they are not the thing itself;
they are only the scent of a flower we have not found,
the echo of a tune we have not heard,
news from a country we have never yet visited.

~C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory~

 

~words~
Our children love singing, reading, writing, & of course (oh do they ever!) talking. I hope our children remember words in their childhoods being seasoned with grace. I long for them to remember our conversations being filled with kindness and humility (and yes, I hope they will forget the times when my words are flavored with harshness, cynicism, and selfishness). I want them to remember singing amazing songs and reading fantastic books and writing to wonderful people. One of my great desires for my little bibliophiles is that words would continue to grow them, shape them, mold them, give them delight, increase their wisdom, and create memories of stories—both their own and otherworldly. I want them to love words, understand words, and use words for building kingdoms and building up of souls.

 

I want my kids to learn firsthand and up close that different isn’t bad,
but instead that different is exciting and wonderful
and worth taking the time to understand.
I want them to see themselves as bit players,
in a huge, sweeping, beautiful play,
not as the main characters in the drama of our living room.
~Shauna Niequist, Bread & Wine, p98~

~laughter~
I want my children to remember their childhoods as filled with laughter. The carillon that comes from an absolute overflow of utter delight!
Our rooms are literally ringing with it throughout the day, and as the kids get older, I don’t want that evidence of joy to diminish but to grow and deepen. I would love for laughter to be a hallmark of our family’s love for one another and delight in being together. It doesn’t take much to get these little people rolling with chuckles on the floor, but I confess that I have a long way to go in growing in my own laughter. I am far too serious, and I hope that the Lord will have mercy upon me in giving me more laughter as time goes on—so that my children will see my wrinkles someday as laughter lines rather than stern lines. This is my hope, and I need to make it my prayer.

 

Parenting in grace is not parenting on the basis
of your own consistent gospel-centeredness.
It is just the opposite.
Parenting in grace is parenting on the basis
of Christ’s consistent perfections alone.
~Elyse Fitzpatrick & Jessica Thompson, Give Them Grace, p163~

~forgiveness~
I suppose above all else, even above an atmosphere of utter joy itself, is that I want my children to remember their home as a place where forgiveness was both sought and given wholeheartedly. There is nothing that is too big for God’s grace and forgiveness, because as His children Jesus paid the ransom for it all. I want that to ultimately permeate and override everything else in our home, family, routine, desires. Only by God’s grace can that happen, so that is what I pray for, yearn for, endeavor to inculcate in our home & in our people. From the fount of forgiveness all other graces can then pour, for without the peace that flows from forgiveness, joy and laughter and music and grace-filled words would just be empty shells.

Only humility, only transparent confession of our great need,
will result in the grace we so desperately need
to parent the little fellow sinners in our home.
~Elyse Fitzpatrick & Jessica Thompson, Give Them Grace, p165~

Sharp Regard

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At the root of many a woman’s failure to become a great cook
lies her failure to develop of a workmanlike regard for knives.
~Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: a Culinary Reflection, p56~

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Properly edged and skillfully used,
a cleaver will prepare whole meals without the assistance of another knife.
But it does more.
It bolsters your ego as a cook.
Parting chickens with aplomb, you begin to believe you really might make it.
And so does everyone else.
A woman with cleaver in mid-swing is no mere woman.
She breaks upon the eye of the beholder as an epiphany of power,
as mistress of a house in which only trifles may be trifled with—
and in which she defines the trifles.
A man who has seen women only as gentle arrangers of flowers
has not seen all that women have to offer.
Unsuspected majesties await him.
~Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: a Culinary Reflection, p61~

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Blessed is the woman whose husband surreptitiously touches up her knives
It may cost her a few surprise cuts now and then, but they are a small price for perfection.
Thrice blessed, though, is the woman who does the job herself.
~Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: a Culinary Reflection, p61~

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enjoying life & its offerings

[M]ake the most of dinner time in particular by creating an event of it.
Don’t allow it to be just throwing food down the hatch.
Enjoy the time, enjoy the food, and
enjoy our fellowship together as a family.
~Kim Brenneman, Large Family Logistics, pg215~

There are one thousand ninety-five meals a year that we as home managers are responsible for…
For those one thousand ninety-five mealtimes that your family sits down together to enjoy,
be encouraged that God will help you in your efforts.
Food, presentation, etiquette, and conversation direction are responsibilities
we need to take seriously as the matrons of our homes.
We must give thought and plan for these times during the day.
In planning meals, it is important to realize that these are times that the
family is gathered together around the table sharing, talking, and enjoying each other
and the food set before them.
~Kim Brenneman, Large Family Logistics, pg282~

 If you’ve never been able to summon fervent interest in nutritional breakdowns,
you will find a companion here.
And if you are one of those who has dined with such enthusiasm
that nothing could stand in the way of sheer enjoyment,
you may find that you’ve enjoyed not gluttony,
but the fullness of life and its offerings.

~Deborah Madison, in her preface to Supper of the Lamb~

Keeping our home, Together

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Do not sigh while you are washing the dishes. Do not have a pity party, and do not teach your children to act this way, because they will learn from your example. If you work cheerfully and use the time well, you will teach them to enjoy their work too!
~Kim Brenneman, Large Family Logistics, pg215~

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Some find the idea of working with children impossible. This is a wrong perspective to have. Children do not need constant entertainment and play. They need to be learning from you. Even on big project days, they can and should be learning from you. With the right attitude from you, they will learn that work is satisfying and fun. You just need to plan carefully to make the process conducive to learning and fun.
~Kim Brenneman, Large Family Logistics, pg291~

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Managing the kitchen well makes everyone’s time in the kitchen more productive and enjoyable. When the kitchen is well-kept, creativity flourishes.
~Kim Brenneman, Large Family Logistics, pg282~

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Lower your expectations and realize that as long as we all choose to walk around clothed, the laundry will never really be finished. If we live fully in a home, there will be messes. Why does that surprise us and make us feel guilty? As long as we eat, walk, and need places to sit down, the kitchen sink will have a few dirty dishes in it and the living room will never be clutter-free for long.
~Myquillyn Smith, The Nesting Place, p50~

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