Everyday Life

Downton Abbey Has Ruined Me For Everyday Life

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t watch much TV. If I’m honest, what I should say is I don’t watch much TV when Downton Abbey isn’t running. I am one of the millions who have been sucked into this show’s never ending plot line, stunning scenery, and tantalizing costuming. The show’s strengths to me are the always interesting characters and the way it takes viewers right back into a different time and place. I really do enjoy it. Well, I did, through the second half of the third season. After that, I began to make critical remarks like “This is just a dressed up soap opera with talented actors,” and desperate remarks like “I just want some resolution at the end of a season!” Even so, I’m still watching it and my imagination still enters into that world. By the end of each season, I vow I am done with the show forever. But I always end up watching the next season. Even before it comes out in America, I’m watching it. Either I’m a liar, or I simply can’t stick with my resolutions. (Yes, I’ve already seen Season 4). But this time, I think am for real. Because Downton Abbey has ruined me for everyday  life.

I knew I had a problem when I started imagining what it would be like to walk into that spacious living room (or any room!) that was always clean in the morning. And not because I cleaned it or even gave a thought to whether it was clean or not. Those house servants are more like house elves, taken for granted and striving to be invisible. That very first episode of Season 1, when the servants are scurrying around cleaning before the family awakes…sigh. I walk into a living room that looks the same as it did the night before. I look around my bedroom and think, “What in the world would Lady Mary say if her room looked like this?” She’d probably raise cane if her PERfumes were slightly disarrayed on her dressing table. We all know the Dowager Countess (whom I can never refer to as just ‘Violet’) would slay her entire household staff with her tongue if her bedroom contained so much as a stray book. What about a box of strewn Legos and three baskets of unfolded laundry?

And what would it be like to order the menu and then not given it another thought? No cooking, no cleaning, no shopping. Luxurious, that’s what it would be.

Of course, I longed for a spotless house before Downton Abbey was a show. But somehow, my sense of entitlement has grown through watching those revered Crawleys. I have no idea why I think I would be upstairs and not downstairs in the great house if I were actually transposed into the life of Downton Abbey. Probably because of those stupid and irresistible “Which Downton Character Are You?” quizzes, in which I am either Lady Sybil or Cousin Isobel. Yes, clearly, I am worthy of all that luxury. Why do I think like that? Why am I not giving a thought to the very real possibility that I’d be a scullery maid?

What saves me from this Downton inspired pity party is the scenes when Lady Mary or Tom Branson are with their children. Tom is alright, but Lady Mary is terribly stiff. She somehow finds time to give her son his supper between her day of social engagements and estate management and dressing for dinner, but it’s a rarity. That small amount of interaction with my own children would kill me. The actual life that the upper class had to maintain in that time period would kill me.

The reality? Chances are slim I would be part of the upstairs family. I’d like to think I’d be a nanny. Not the nasty one, but a fun one who lets the future lords and ladies run around in grassy fields and tells them silly stories. I’d dress them and send them down after their tea to see the family for a few minutes before the adult dinner, and be so glad to get them back in the nursery afterwards because those adults are simply terrifying. I’d be filled with relief not to have to think of inane dinner chatter, or remember how to address every earl and his extended family in the county, or choose a husband from these suave, well-trained suitors. I’d never do anything jolly to my hair. I’d be relieved not to be in the humming, performance driven, high society family. And I’d be lonely. Just like almost every other Downton Abbey character.

This messy, middle class house that I’m mistress of in reality is looking pretty beautiful right now.

Still, I wouldn’t mind an Edwardian dress or two. And yes, I will be watching Season 5. But I’ll remember to be glad for who I really am and who I’m not. Lady Mary can keep her maid, her jewels, her cutting wit, her stunning estate, and her corset. I’ll take these jeans and sweaters and my gorgeous family tumbling around me over all that any day.

Everyday Life, Parenting

The Unquestioned Burdens

One of the most valuable, practical mothering lessons I’ve learned came from a book for teenage girls. In The Second Summer of the Sisterhood, one of the four main characters named Carmen is babysitting two little boys for the summer. Her insight into mothering is probably supposed to be snarky, but it struck me as wisdom in disguise.

“Carmen walked straight back to the kitchen, where Mrs. Morgan was cleaning Rice Krispies off the floor with one hand and holding Joe, the nine-month-old, with the other.

Carmen had already learned not to give the kids Rice Krispies, because they were harder to clean up than, say, Kix. That was something an outsider could figure out in a day and a mother would never think of. Wet, walked-on Rice Krispies were part of Mrs. Morgan’s unquestioned burden.”

I doubt my kids would actually eat Rice Krispies if I offered them. But on days when the sink stays full of dirty dishes, the sibling bickering never stops, the errands multiply, and the tiredness only deepens, it’s time to figure some things out. When I feel weary of every single little thing about every day life, and I am saddened by how I feel, I remember the “unquestioned burden” line and ponder. “What are my unquestioned burdens?” As moms, we need to stay aware and ask “what are the things I put up with every day that I really shouldn’t deal with?”

The answers when you finally question the unquestioned burdens can vary greatly. Maybe it’s deciding that no, you will not make three different lunches for three picky eaters–you’ll have the same thing that everyone (mostly) likes every day and that’s just all for now. Or maybe you really will follow through with the threats of “no TV if…” or “no going to your friend’s house if…” and spend a few hard days proving to your kids that you mean what you say. Maybe you won’t answer the phone for a few days when that person who drains all your energy calls. Maybe you’ll say “no” to being on another committee.  I have a friend who told me about a year ago “we don’t do play dough right now. It gets left out and dries up every time we use it.”

For me, my unquestioned burden lately has been letting my kids eat snacks on the couch. When I have to vacuum and wipe down the couch cushions every time someone says “can I stop by today?” it’s probably time for something to change.  I’m also done with unplanned snacks. In order for our days to go smoothly, we need snacks to sustain our high metabolisms, but we also need times when mommy can say “Sorry, the kitchen is closed.” These aren’t big deal burdens, but it’s the little troubles that can add up to make the days hard.

Saying “no” to our children can be hard. But for the sake of your whole family’s sanity, there are times when it’s right to say (calmly and rationally, of course), “I have had enough.” Chances are, it’s not really as big of a deal as you think it is and they’ll get over it pretty quick.

Of course there are necessary burdens. Potty training, for example. Still there are times in life when we need to figure out what’s draining us and minimize those things.

 

 

Everyday Life, Parenting

Crazy Craft Days

I am not a crafter. I am a do it yourself-er when it comes to home renovations and repairs, but not a crafter. My mom is a great craft maker, but almost every craft I try has a 50/50 chance between Doom and Halfway Decent.

But somehow, in the last week, we have been on a crafting frenzy. First, we actually did the wax leaf craft I posted on about a month ago. We wrapped up in our sweaters early one morning when rain was threatening and loaded into the double stroller to walk the neighborhood and pilfer pretty leaves from other people’s yards. We do not have a single tree that produces autumnal beauty in our own yard. Thankfully, no one set their dogs on us and we stayed right next to the road to pick some colorful leaves off the ground. That’s not exactly stealing, is it? Our garland was pretty, but it didn’t stay pretty for long before it turned brownish. I’m not sure where we went wrong because it was supposed to last forever. But it was still fun and pretty for a couple of days. So that craft falls into the Halfway Decent result category.

Then yesterday we went hog wild. My friend Megan gave me a good idea for a variation of this gorgeous Thanksgiving tree featured on Ann Voskamp’s blog.

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Our craft is a little more tiny people friendly and not nearly as lovely. photo 4

Well, you know what, I think it is as lovely because when I asked my little girl what she was thankful for, she said, “I’m thankful that Jesus took away our sins and I’m thankful that Ryland is in heaven.” It was encouraging to know that what comes to her mind when she thinks of something to be thankful for are the things we try to focus on. We’ll add some thanksgiving leaves to it until Thanksgiving Day.

I felt pretty pleased with getting one craft done, but that was only the beginning. While the kids were napping, I spray painted some black dollar store frames and built on the craft we did at MOPS last week. I now have sort of matching dry erase menu and cleaning schedule boards.

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Also Halfway Decent. I was on a roll.

But then I went for Mother Of The Year Award and made homemade play dough. Pink homemade play dough. It was a hit. And very easy! I followed the tutorial on Musings From A Stay At Home Mom.

Pink Play Dough

 

We also made some blue play dough for Isaac. I would go so far to as to say that this craft actually went beyond Halfway Decent and turned out Great. Maybe my crafting curse is over! Now, if I could just get rid of my Cake Curse and Black Thumb. Because if you’re really going to win Mother of The Year, you have to fill your home with healthful houseplants (living, preferably) and make gorgeous birthday cakes.

Maybe next year.

 

 

 

 

Children's Books, Reading

Two Beautiful Book Discoveries

I have two new gorgeous books sitting in our library book basket that I must share with you today. If you’ve been around this blog in the last month, you know we love picture books. We enjoy all kinds, but I like most the ones whose illustrations make me want to drink them in.

The first lovely book is The Baker’s Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale, written by Aaron Shepherd and illustrated by Wendy Edelson. I’ve been trying to figure out how to approach the Santa Claus issue with my children as the Christmas season approaches. We want them to know that when we tell them something is truth, it really is. Baby Jesus is not a myth. But Santa Claus is. And so we are the parents who tell their children the truth but also tell them if they want to pretend Santa is real, that’s fine. Pretending is fun and it doesn’t bring so much confusion later on! One of the ways we can help them understand the Santa Claus legend is to tell them about the real man, Saint Nicholas. So while I was scanning the shelves for the story of Saint Nicholas, I came upon The Baker’s Dozen. What a beautiful book about giving beyond what we think we should or can give. The illustrations are richly colorful and expressive. I am still looking for the story about how Saint Nicholas began his tradition, but this one is great for teaching children that giving is the important thing at Christmas and in life. And did I mention it’s beautiful?

All the Places to LoveSecondly, I finally checked out the highly recommended All The Places to Love written by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Mike Wimmer. I don’t know if my children liked this book as much as I did; it’s one of those “for the parents” picture books that gives you a lump in your throat for the country home you didn’t actually grow up in but still long for. Or maybe that’s just me. The love laced through the words and drawings in this book  about a farming family is so tame yet so touching. I’m adding this book to the list of books whose pages I would like to live in.

These books are my latest editions to the Mia The Reader Pinterest boards. I’m adding new stuff all the time. Check it out here.

As always, chime in on your favorite beautifully illustrated books in the comments. Happy reading!

 

 

 

Reading, Top Ten Tuesday

Top Six Book Turnoffs

It’s Tuesday, and I’m once again participating in Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. This week’s topic of Top Ten Book Covers You’d Like To Design did not bring any thoughts into my head. Not one. But the topic from October 1st that I missed, Top Ten Book Turnoffs, definitely brings some thoughts to mind. It’s like an excuse to talk about book pet peeves. Who doesn’t like to rant occasionally? If you find any of my book dislike match your own, say so in the comments. Together we can change the book world. Or maybe not, but at least we can commiserate.

#1 Book Turnoff

When a main character does something so completely out of character, you can tell the purpose of the character’s action was solely to move the plot along. I understand people have flaws, and it’s only right that book characters have flaws, too. But flaws should be part of the character, not only part of the plot. For example, I’m okay with Lydia running off with Wickham in Pride and Prejudice. I’m not okay with an upstanding Quaker lady suddenly having an affair with a runaway slave with no hint that such a thing could be part of either character’s’make up. No, that just doesn’t work for me.

#2 Book Turnoff

The word “ablutions.” as in “When Eloina finished her morning ablutions…” Has anyone ever said this word outloud? It’s archaic. It was probably archaic as soon as it was invented. Please, leave it out of mostly plain English books.

#3 Book Turnoff

Female characters becoming pregnant the moment they lose their virginity. I know this happens in real life, but it is so over done in books. Please, be sensitive to your craft and think of a more original plot twist. Or be sensitive to all the women out there going through miscarriages or infertility.

#4 Book Turnoff

Dashing rogues. Ugh.

#5 Book Turnoff

Pride and Prejudice spin offsPride and Prejudice is a perfect novel and it does not require further imaginings from present day writers. I would love to read a book similar to it, with completely new characters and matching wit and human interpretation. But lets leave perfection alone.

#6 Book Turnoff

Explicit love scenes. I don’t read erotica and I don’t appreciate its inclusion in literary or historical fiction.

Of course, these are all personal preferences. Everyone has their likes and dislikes when it comes to books, heavily affected by their own lives. Those are some of mine. What are yours?

Reading, Reviews, Young Adult

My Fall Fantasy Binge, and The Classics Recovery

I’ve been taking a little breather from blogging after 31 Days of posting every day, so things have been a little quiet around here lately. But I haven’t stopped reading!

As I mentioned in a previous post, something about the fall season coming on makes me gravitate toward adventure or fantasy stories. It’s so great to read about danger and courage while sitting cozily under a fuzzy blanket in your warm house. I read Alanna: The First Adventure  in October and thought it was okay, though I didn’t love it. I then read the second book in the series and strongly disliked it. Looks like I’m done with Alanna. I hate it when writers imply that female characters have to be sexually active at age 17 to be complete. Alanna is told by a goddess that to truly achieve her goals, she will have to do three things, one of which is “learn to love.” The definition of love certainly is cloudy. I’d definitely vote Harry Crewe from The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley over Alanna in the strong female character category. It seems to me Alanna does a lot of selfish thinking. But I realize that there are a ton of Alanna fans out there, so judge for yourself.

A fun fantasy story I did enjoy was Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff. It started out a little trite: poor mountain people who supply the King’s city with gold in the medieval time period. I was reminded of Princess Academy or many recent fantasy books set in the medieval days. However, I was intrigued by the importance of names, the nature of magic in the story, and the totally different portrayal of the character of Rumpelstiltskin. I always considered him a sinister person, but this very imaginative re-telling will change your mind. Though I would have liked the plot to tie up some lose ends it left out, it was a mostly satisfying fairy tale novel. If you like Shannon Hale, Jessica Day George, or Gail Levine, I recommend Rump. Thanks to Mary for recommending and lending it to me! This is a good book to read with children about 8-12.

A Lost LadyNow that I’ve drenched myself in fantasy and fairy tale, I feel like one who has eaten cake for every meal for three days straight. I want classics! I read Willa Cather’s novella A Lost Lady in one sitting last Sunday afternoon when both of my children decided to take a nap at the same time. It always surprises me how enthralled I become in Cather’s works when they hardly ever have a very strong plot (O’ Pioneers being the exception). Cather’s work is driven by characters, settings, and overarching themes. A Lost Lady is about Marrian Forrester, a high society woman who marries a railroad man and lives in a pioneer railroad town in Colorado in the early 1900s. I loved it.  There was symbolism, beautiful descriptions, multi-faceted characters, and rich historical background. After all those “fun” books (which were really did enjoy!) I drank in A Lost Lady like I hadn’t had water in days. I’m so glad my dad found it in a thrift store, bought it, read it one Saturday afternoon, and then passed it on to me.

Next up for me is the Great English Classic, Brideshead Revisited. I’m only 40 pages into it, so it’s too early to judge if I actually like it. I can tell it’s a novel that I could read two or three times and still miss something. It’s complex. I love British lit, but I’ve started this book three times over the last five years, and this is the furthest I’ve gotten. I think it’s caught me this time, though, and I’ll finish it in the next couple of weeks.

What are you reading this month?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nonfiction, Reading, Reviews

Sharing Darkness and Shedding Light

I’ve been thinking a lot about memoirs lately. Memoirs, by definition, are simply an account of personal experience. And they are growing in popularity. Some memoirs share little known worlds, such as Frank McCourt’s Irish village in Angela’s Ashes, which was published in the 1990s and opened the flood gates for the waves of memoirs we see now. (If you’re wondering what the difference is between a memoir and an autobiography, they can be exactly the same. However, a memoir can also focus on just one aspect or phase in a person’s life). Some share unique perspectives on common life experiences, like mothering or losing a lot of weight. Some are funny, some are tragic. Actually, a lot of them are tragic.

The Glass CastleJeanette Walls started her illustrious writing career with the internationally bestselling memoir, The Glass Castle. It tells of the author’s eccentric and often negligent parents and her experiences with them. If you haven’t read it, it’s well written and quite fascinating… but I’m not sure why. I’m not sure why the memoir genre is so strong. Why is reading about a four-year-old girl who cooks her own hot dogs addicting? Of the top five nonfiction books on the NY Times Best Sellers list this week, three are memoirs. And I’m only feeding the frenzy–I’ve read more memoirs in the last couple of years than I had in the previous years of my life combined. But I’m starting to wonder: why? It may be inspiring to see a victim of abusive parents rise above and become a resilient person. I sure learned a lot about Irish poverty in Angela’s Ashes. Sometimes, I just don’t know what to do with the knowledge memoirs give me.  Yesterday, I finished The Silver Star, Jeanette Walls’s second novel. It was not a memoir, but it read like one and had many similarities to Walls’s own memoir. Knowing the past Walls came from as she wrote the book, this quote stands out to me:

“‘Don’t be afraid of your dark places,’ Mom told her. ‘If you can shine light on them, you’ll find treasure there.”

This idea that there is treasure in the blackest circumstances, that strength can be built into people as they struggle, that hardships are creating perfection, is a pretty darn old idea. In fact, it’s in the Bible. But I don’t think Walls was making a biblical reference. I think she was summarizing what the rush for memoirs is all about: people want something good to come out of the bad in life. Even if it’s just by reading a memoir that proves the human spirit can overcome, people have an innate desire for their experiences to be meaningful, or at least shared. Memoirs can do that. They can make the writer feel like they’re encouraging people, or bringing to light a neglected topic. Memoirs can be good.  I know there is value in honesty, shared experiences, and exposing ongoing injustices. I’ve been confused by why people are drawn to these hard stories, why I’m reading them, but I’ve come to this: I like to think that reading memoirs about hard times helps me when I find myself in a position that requires me to simply sit with someone else in the dark times and understand their need to share it with someone.

So by reading certain memoirs and just experiencing life, we know there is darkness all around and memoirs are often honest accounts of real life that can be enriching or informative. However…as I read memoirs, I start to appreciate more and more those authors that pushed away the darkness and chose to shed light. The truth is there are few authors (or people) who don’t have dark experiences lurking in their pasts. There are certain authors whose work has been so central to my development as a person since childhood, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia, #1)they’re almost like patron saints in my life. (I’m not Catholic- just go with me on this). People like Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, C.S. Lewis, L.M. Montgomery, and Frances Hodgson Burnett. These writers wrote beautiful, rich, original works that are full of the joy of living and the magic in every day imagination. I knew their works through and through long before I learned about their lives. I was in shock when I grew up and learned that they lived stories not at all like the books they wrote. Most literature fans know Jane Austen was a poor spinster who never married, and lived under the thumb of her father. Louisa May Alcott could have written a riveting account of her eccentric father’s spartan style of living and raising children. Alcott was poor for most of her life, and at one point as an adult considered suicide. C.S. Lewis’s mother died when he was a child, he had a distant father and grew up in boarding schools, and when he finally found love in life, it was through terminal illness. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s father died when she was three and her family moved around England until they finally left for Tennessee when Burnett was age 15. During their move, Burnett’s usually sympathetic and loving mother made Burnett burn her early writings. And, most disheartening of all to me, L.M. Montgomery struggled with depression and had a mostly loveless marriage.

These authors could have chosen to write some very shocking accounts of the brutal reality in this world. But what did they choose to write? They wrote books filled with light. How did these people decide to push aside the darkness around them and bring light through their works? Are we to think that they were just extremely dishonest? That they cause their readers to lose their grip on reality? You’re entitled to that opinion if you want it, but I am extremely thankful that they created exquisite characters and settings. They wrote about older folks who adopt orphans, sisters who are best friends, friendships that turn into pure love, and a Lion who is not safe but good. Maybe their worlds are more fantastic than rFeal, but I don’t think so. I think they chose to focus on the good things. Their books put me in a frame of mind to seek out loveliness in life. God created beauty in this world, and authors can bring that to readers’ attention through words.

There is always beauty and ugliness coexisting here. We can ignore the ugly, but we shouldn’t belittle the beauty or scoff at it as if it’s not real. It is real. Sometimes the beauty and the ugly are so tangled, it’s hard to really see. The memoirs I’ve been reading lately do a lot of focusing on the ugly. That can tend to get me down. I’m learning to be thankful for the reminder to share in someone’s darkness and help him or her through hard times, but to keep striving to stand in the light.  Some memoirs make it easy to wade around over and over again in our deep and murky waters. Other books are the literary equivalent of  keeping the lights on all night and shying away from any trace of shadow. As readers, we are able to take in both kinds of books and all the ones in between. We read, and we are able to see both the beauty and pain, light and darkness, funny and tragic, and accept that it is all real and present around us.

Acknowledge the darkness, but shed light. That’s what memoirs and are teaching me.

Read any good memoirs lately? Here are the ones I’ve liked in the last couple of years:

One Thousand Gifts – Awesome book for everyone. Five stars, and then five more.

Kisses from KatieHighly recommend if you want to change the world, or if you enjoyed Three Cups of Tea

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess – a real life changer for me

Sparkly Green EarringsLighthearted, laugh out loud mom-memoir with some deep thoughts mixed in

DesperateSo good for mothers of young children

Surprised by OxfordTold by an atheist intellectual who found Jesus when she didn’t want to

The Hiding Place – Timeless

The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels – Just girly and funny

 

Everyday Life

My Kids Are Glad It’s November

“Yay, Mom’s finally putting all those books down and letting us watch a movie!”

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Some Fall days unquestionably call for Mary Poppins. And it doesn’t take much to talk me into playing a Julie Andrews movie. Happy November!