Everyday Life

31 Days to Clean

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This is the least of our messes.

Yeah, I’m one of those people who looks up from a book one January day and sort of wakes up to the house around her and says, “How did this happen?” And then “How can this un-happen?”

Sometimes life gets messy in bad and ugly ways, but most of the time, life is messy in good ways.  Blue, glittery toothpaste caked on the sinks. Unique, wonderfully made finger prints on everything.  Craft supplies still spread on the table that would make a month’s wages for someone in Uganda, but we just play with for fun. The amazing amount of lovely, clean clothes in laundry baskets all over the house. The mess is actually a blessing, and it’s not my intent to complain about having it. But…the goodness still needs to be managed or it will get us down! For me, the Realization of Mess Day usually happens on a rainy day. The clouds make the clutter seem that much more consuming, the kids are spreading things out all over the house, and the only words that come to mind are from Dr. Seuss and play over and over in my crazed stream of consciousness:

“And this mess is so big
And so deep and so tall,
We cannot pick it up.
There is no way at all!”

I know I’m not alone. I’ve talked with several women in the past few days are in the same post-holiday rut.

But maybe there is a way to pick it all up! And it’s not even a machine like The Cat in the Hat had (though if those are available, I’ll take one).  I’m following along with Sarah Mae’s 31 Days to Clean challenge over at her blog. It started yesterday, but I’m telling you, if you just do your dishes, you’ll be done with Day 1. It’s that basic and bite-sized. And I sure hope it works. Because I have a pile of library books due in 10 days that still must be read.

31 Days to Better Priorities will happen next month.

Ha ha.

Children's Books, Friday Favorites - Children's Books

Random Fun Kids Books: Friday Favorites, Ed. 7

This is a very random group of picture books this week. Nevertheless, these are our favorites to snuggle up under a blanket with on these frightfully gloomy days. They each cheer us up in their own way.

20501416Julia’s House For Lost Creatures is the perfect combination of cute and wild and classic and zany. I don’t usually use the word “cute” because, well, it gets on my nerves, but I have to use it for Julia. She’s adorable. The rest of the book is an imaginative conglomeration of magical creatures and a house on the back of a giant turtle.  Sometimes I am in the middle of reading this book to my kids and I get lost in the drawings. “Read, Mommy, read!” brings me back into my living room, but I would really like to just stare at the pictures for a while. Julia is by Ben Hatke, whose blog is a pretty fun glimpse into the life of someone who lives and breathes drawing and writing while working from home with three young daughters. The only drawback to this book in my opinion is the mermaid in it whose attire is….questionable. But otherwise, I love this book.

My Special One and OnlyAnother fun book in our library basket this week is My Special One and Only, which sounds like it is something about “Love you to the moon and back” or one of those touch-feely books, but is really very comic and off the wall. It’s about Bridget Fidget and Captain Cat. and their adventure in Dinglebang’s Universe of Toys. The illustrations and the words together are quirky and amusing, and because I’m the type who laughs out loud at stuff the kids in Daddy Day Care and Junie B. Jones, this book had me guffawing a few times. We were delighted to discover that there are many other books by Joe Berger featuring the character Bridget Fidget, and plan to pick a few more on our next library trip.

LentilLentil by Robert McCloskey is our more classic favorite of the weekIt features a boy in small-town Ohio, who is completely unable to pucker his lips and, therefore, cannot whistle. He is devastated by his inability to make music, until he gets a harmonica. Lentil’s town is sponsored almost solely by one rich man, Colonel Carter. When the town grump, Old Sneep, tries to ruin a reception for Colonel Carter’s homecoming, Lentil saves the day with his harmonica. Besides being a wonderfully illustrated book with a rolicking, this book can spark some pretty interesting conversations. I was surprised at how much my young children picked up on the themes of jealousy and spite in this book. There’s not much back story to why Sneep dislikes Colonel Carter, but we had a good conversation about how feeling like you’re not as good as someone else can lead to all kinds of problems. The book subtly contrasts Lentil with Sneep. Lentil can’t be like the other kids and whistle, but he can still do something great. He takes action, while Sneep just sits on a park bench and wallows in self pity, clearly jealous that Colonel Carter has made a name for himself. I’m sure my five-year-old and three-year-old won’t remember a thing from the conversation we had about comparisons, but I got a lot of good reminders out of it.

The Adventures of George WashingtonOur read aloud chapter book for the month has been Mr. Popper’s Penguins. Isaac (3) didn’t really get into it, but Ella was pretty amused. Any thoughts on if the movie is a good companion to the book? We’re now in the midst of The Adventures of George Washington. Isaac thinks this one is pretty cool because it’s all about wars and horses, and the chapters are only four or five pages, with several pictures. I very nearly cracked up when Isaac picked up a dollar bill a few days ago and said, “Hey! This looks just like George Washington!” Sometimes I forget how perceptive and smart he is behind his all-action, all the time personality.

So those are some of the books that are keeping us from going absolutely insane in the brain this winter. We’ve also done a bunch of stuff on our Happier in Winter list this past week. What books have you been enjoying with (or without) your children this winter?

Everyday Life, Parenting

To The Mom Whose Toddler Is Always Sick

It starts in October, November if you’re lucky, and it doesn’t stop until April.

If you have a little person in your house, you know about the common colds that come and go and come and stay during the winter months of your small child’s life.

The snot. How it flows.

And you know it’s not really about the snot. I can tell, because you’re not grossed out one iota by the word “snot.” No, what it’s really about is your child’s inability to breathe at night, the lack of sleep your whole family experiences, the resulting ear infections, maybe bronchitis, or worse. It’s about how many events or days of work you’ve missed, how much time and money you’ve spent at The Minute Clinic, or maybe just how guilty you feel that your beloved small one is under the weather again.

Believe me, I’ve been there. The effects of the common cold in children under two or three are far reaching –no one sleeps, everyone is exposed to the germs because what little child knows how to contain their own germs?, and the total inability to effectively blow his or her nose is just really discouraging. Not to mention the effects on your furniture…but let’s not go there. And I am the last person who would make light of 3:00 a.m. worry fests. I’ve gotten up at odd hours of the night just to make sure my baby was still breathing about a million times now. Sometimes I go in and listen to my three-year-old and five-year-old breathe, even though SKDS (Sudden Kid Death Syndrome) is not a thing. It’s just the way moms are. We like to know our children are okay. And seeing them sick is hard.

But, there is hope, dear mother of a constantly sick toddler. Here are two things for you to remember today as you cuddle that snotty tot and read Goodnight Gorilla five more times today.

#1 It’s not your fault.

Repeat after me: “It’s not my fault.” And I’m serious. I’m not trying to pad your inner psyche with down feathers and soften reality. Your little children are being exposed to a world of germs for the first time ever. They are getting sick because their bodies haven’t built up immunity to certain common germs. I’m not a doctor, but it stands to reason that sometimes you have to get sick first to build up immunity. It stinks, but it’s the way it goes. And maybe there are some ways to boost their immunity a bit, but whether you’re using crazy awesome vitamins or hitting the essential oils harder, those little children are probably still going to get their fair share of viruses. Sure, it’s possible that day care or preschool is causing your child to be more exposed to germs than is really good for him or her. I would encourage you to consider your options there, but the main thing I’m trying to communicate here is all children get sick at this age, and they get sick way more often than we as moms think they should. It’s pretty natural in this messed up world of sicknesses. End your guilt trip and come home to this reality: you’re a good mom, even if your child gets sick.

#2 It will get better.

A recent sick day at our house

A few years ago, I had a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. We didn’t go anywhere but church, ballet class, and the occasional play date, but somehow we were still sick off-and-on for a large part of the winter. Now I have a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a baby. And you know what? The 5-year-old is hardly ever sick. The 3-year-old is sometimes sick. But it is so different than when there was a toddler in the mix. Toddlers just pick up everything! They still put stuff in their mouths more often than is appropriate or necessary. And the affectionate ones, while particularly heartwarming, sure do give a lot more hugs and kisses than is absolutely necessary! But when those toddlers become preschoolers, it actually does get better. They don’t get sick with every single thing they come in contact with, and when they do get sick, they can do amazing things like blow their noses, take cold medicine, sleep on a pillow…the list could go on and on. In a few years, sicknesses will still come and go in your household, but it won’t put a hex on the whole family’s ability to function as normal human beings like it does when you have a sick toddler.

So now that you know It’s Not Your Fault and It Will Get Better, here’s the important thing. It’s temping to just shut it down and not go anywhere. Amazon groceries, anyone? Maybe that’s a good option for certain situations. But for the vast majority of us parents, keeping our children from life to protect them from sickness has much worse consequences than the sicknesses themselves. For one thing, you’ll all go stir crazy. I’m an introvert to the core, and I still go crazy after a while of not interacting with other adults. For another thing, holing up in your home may be a good idea for short periods of time, but I’ve found it really squashes our ability to care for our friends. You know, to say, “yes, we are totally up for a play date today” or “sure, I can watch your child for a couple of hours.” I would much rather my children learn to care for people than stay completely healthy all the time. It’s hard to swallow my desire to control as much as I can about my children’s wellness, but building long lasting character in our families is way more important than preventing fleeting illnesses (I know, I know, they sure don’t feel fleeting sometimes, but back to Point #2…).

And you know now that I’ve written this down my whole family will be down with the flu tomorrow. It’s pretty much a done deal. So I’ll say to myself, “I am still a good mom and sickness is inevitable. This will get better.  And friendships still matter.” Even in January/February/March.

This post is featured on the blog carnival “Works For Me Wednesday” over at Giving Up On Perfect.  It’s a great place to get some ideas or perspective on life. 

Works for Me Wednesday :: Giving Up on Perfect

Everyday Life, Parenting

Happier In Winter Project

Hello, fellow winter haters. What, you don’t hate winter? I wish I were more like you! I’m getting a tiny bit better at seeing the beauty in it. The stark lines of tall trees against a pale blue sky, the dramatic sunsets, the frosty white grass…I’m not immune to these gifts of the season. But I still could do without winter for many, many years.

Three years ago, my winter hatred was running at an all time high. We had just downsized into our current house, I had a baby and a two-year-old, and I felt like I just couldn’t handle the cold weather season. For better or worse, the weather always affects my outlook on life. At the time, the book on my nightstand was Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin. Inspired by her attitude and her title, I invented a Happier in Winter Project. I wrote out a list of things I could do to make winter bearable, and maybe, maybe even enjoyable, and I pinned it to my wall calendar in the kitchen. That winter of 2012-2013 turned out to be blessedly mild, but this winter doesn’t seem to be following suit. So I’m pulling out my Happier in Winter list and sharing it today. Add your ideas and help us all endure!

~Happier in Winter ~

  1. Plant lots of pansies, or indoor houseplants.  I always, always kill houseplants. But pansies are pretty hardy outdoor flowers where I live.
  2. Remember: exercise is the best way to stay warm. And exercise always comes with nice perks, like a little less winter weight gain. One can dream, right?
  3. Hold lots of household dance parties. Also counts for #2.
  4. Take your vitamins! 
  5. Play some instruments . I will hand out the recorder and harmonica and have a marching band around the house with the kids, or have them play their instruments while I play the piano. I’m not going to lie–I don’t do this often. There’s a good chance the “fun” ends in a headache for mom. =)
  6. Make paper snowflakes. Two years ago we glued them on one of our windows. Looking back, it was like we warded off snow with them. Not a flake fell on our house that season! I’m planning on making these with Ella soon.
  7. Pick a room to paint a nice, light color. This year, I’ll probably do our bathroom. It’s currently a garish yellow, and it’s the last room that needs painting in the house.
  8. If you’re a parent with small children, designate a child-free time to make busy bags for your children. 
  9. Graham crackers and frosting
    Photo: mommytools.blogspot.com

    Have indoor picnics and tea parties. Get out some cheerful dishes and turn graham crackers into fine, teatime delicacies with some leftover frosting or cinnamon and sugar.

  10. Plan library days and museum days.
  11. Pin a whole bunch of soup recipes and then actually make one or two of them.
  12. Rearrange a room. Sometimes a different perspective is all it takes to lift a mood.
  13. Drink more smoothies.
  14. Drink more water. 
  15. Drink more wine. Just kidding. 
  16. Bake some healthy (and not so healthy) snacks and don’t worry about the mess.
  17. Splurge on a lunchtime restaurant with an indoor playground once in a while.
  18. Load shelves and e-readers with cheerful books. The definition of “cheerful” books varies from reader to reader. Winter is the best time for whatever type of book you consider a comfort read for you.
  19. My jolly winter guy (2012)

    Put hats, scarves, and gloves in an easily accessible place so it’s easy to bundle up and enjoy what sunshine there is.

  20. Read wintry poetry and find some favorite winter quotes. Here’s one that puts things into perspective for me: “The wind was blowing, but not too hard, and everyone was so happy and gay for it was only twenty degrees below zero and the sun shone.” -Laura Ingalls Wilder. Only!?! Robert Frost is also a good winter poet (for real, no pun on the name intended).
  21. Be crafty. Sew something, paint something, knit something…whatever kind of creativity floats your boat.
  22. And finally….sometimes you just have to make it a movie day. 

We’re looking at a cold week here in the southeast, so I’ll be hitting the “Happier in Winter” list pretty heavily in the next few days. Share your ideas to help us all out!

Parenting, Reviews

For The Children’s Sake

I saw For The Children’s Sake often around my house as I grew up. I remember it clearly Cover art (Penguin Classics Edition/1989; The Illustrated Children's Library Edition/2002): <i>Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy</i> by Jessie Willcox Smith.because the cover illustration is by Jessie Wilcox Smith, who has been my favorite illustrator since I read her version of Little Women. The cover was the only part of the book that interested me until just a couple of months ago, when my mom held it up and asked, “Do you want this book?”

“Is it good?” I asked.

“I think so.”

“Okay, I’ll take it.”

Well. To say that “it is good” is an egregious understatement. It is very good. In fact, it is the best book I’ve read on educating children so far. It has already become instrumental in forming my home educating philosophy. And it’s really not only for parents who solely homeschool, but for anyone who has children or works with children.

For the Children's SakeIn For The Children’s Sake, Susan Schaeffer Maculay (daughter of Francis and Edith Schaeffer) gives a basic of overview of Charlotte Mason’s thinking on what children need. She has ideas that go far beyond the three R’s. Here’s my favorite: Children are actually little people.

Some of you are going, “…and?” Yes, this seems like it should be very obvious, but it seems like children are so often treated like their intellectual skills are nonexistent.  I recently had a conversation with a someone whose granddaughter’s teacher told her that her granddaughter is so smart. She told this grandmother, “I couldn’t believe I was actually having a conversation with a six-year-old!” I’m sure most of you already are well aware of how conversational six-year-olds are.

Another one of my favorite Charlotte Mason points is that children do not desire or need “twaddle.” What is “twaddle?” You know those books that say things like, “I see Spot. Spot is brown. Spot has a tail”…those books? Well, those may serve some purposes, but mostly they are twaddle. Maculay points out that Mason is right when she says children need “living books,” books that will capture their imaginations and live on in their minds after the story is over. These are the kinds of books that will instill a love of learning and literature in children.

Another highlight of the book is the importance of reaching out to the heart and soul of a child. Education is not about just feeding children’s brains knowledge. They need to play. They need to be surrounded by nature as often as possible. And above all, they need to know love and a sense of being well cared for. This isn’t an environment that can only be found in homeschooling environments, but it is a far cry from most public schools. Because the majority of our nation’s children are in public school, it becomes even more important for parents to take their role in their children’s fully rounded education very seriously. I currently have my children at home with me, but I can see how important it may someday be for me to guard their time at home from educational TV, computer games, and whatever else may seem good but cannot replace the real-ness of experiencing the world around them. I also need to be more proactive, even now when my kids are always at home, about looking into their faces and truly listening to their thoughts. We can all get so preoccupied with our own activities. Mason believed children need to know that their value is inherent because they are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and are “image bearers,” in body, mind, and soul.

There’s a lot more to this book, but those are the highlights for me on this read-through. It will be a book I’ll return to as my children grow. Charlotte Mason is a pretty popular person these days in home education circles. Maculay published this book about her ideas before Mason came back into vogue. There is a ton of resources for people who want to delve deeper into the Charlotte Mason method (which I’m not entirely sure Charlotte Mason actually invented…it’s more based on her ideas, if I’m not mistaken). Whatever you and your children do in the education realm, the questions Maculay raises and the ideas she presents in For The Children’s Sake are well worth considering.

If you’ve read it, post a comment! I’d love to know what you think. 

Reading, Reviews

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

I recently picked up Gilead by Marilynne Robinson and was stunned by the artistry of it. Robinson can weave together a tale and truth, grace and reality, love and hardship so well! I force myself to read her work slowly, to take in each word and try to truly Lila (Gilead, #3)realize what she means. She is that kind of writer. This year she released a new book, Lila. It is a different perspective of the marriage detailed in Gilead. Lila is the wife of John Ames, the main character of Gilead, and this book named for her is about her back story and how she came to the town of Gilead and proposed to the elderly pastor. Lila faces lots of hardships before coming to Gilead, none told in too much detail but the full weight of them is there between the lines. The theme of homelessness returns in this book, which seems to be a topic that’s on Robinson’s mind a lot. Lila starts reading a Bible when she comes to Gilead. She grapples with the fact of what happens on earth coexisting with the truths about a good and just God. I wouldn’t say she draws very clear conclusions, but she makes progress as the book goes along. The story line is amazing, and the way it weaves perfectly with Gilead is mind blowing, kind of like the 2nd and 3rd Bourne Trilogy movies, when you realize it’s all happening at the same time.

Beyond the plot and all its nuances and important themes, there are passages that stay with me for their beauty. Maybe it’s because I’m a sleep deprived mom of three children age 5 and under, but this one was my favorite:

That sound of settling into the sheets and the covers has to be one of the best things in the world. Sleep is a mercy. You can feel it coming on, like being swept up in something…You had to trust sleep when it came or it would just leave you there, waiting.

Well, isn’t that the truth.

If you haven’t read Robinson before, start with Gilead.  I haven’t read Home, but I plan to very soon!

Everyday Life

A Piece of White Paper

It seems like there has been an out and out frenzy in the blogging world for months. All the writers feel the need to post something profound about the same topics: first Thanksgiving, then Christmas, and now New Year’s. Don’t get me wrong! There have been some awesome posts that I have really benefited from. But I’m starting to feel like there is a thought overload in my life. My brain needs some calm, still space, completely empty of other people’s thoughts. How about yours? I love resolutions (LOOOOVE). Thinking and planning to live intentionally is one of my favorite things in the world. But if I could give you one thing on this New Year’s Day, it would be a blank piece of white paper.

Here it is:

paper

You can just stare at it if you want, and soak in the emptiness of it. I imagine this is the kind of cathartic gazing a person could do who lives in a snowy climate. All that white, clean landscape surrounding you…ahhh. But the rest of us have to resort to a piece of white paper.

The best thing about this piece of paper is you can do whatever you want with it. Listmakers can get out a pen and write a list. Resolution makers can make some resolutions. Ranters can write out how badly 2014 went and just get it out of their systems. Artsy folks can make a snowflake to remind them of the beauty of white space, and then paint the snowflake black and frame it on white lace and enjoy the funky simplicity of all their handmade decor (I’m jealous of you, if you can’t tell). Painters can paint on it, sketchers can sketch on it, sports junkies can make a paper football…the possibilities are endless.

Or you can just throw it away. More power to you.

If you really, really must know, my New Year’s resolution this year is just that: white space. I want more emptiness on my calendar, in my home, on my counter tops, on my to-do lists. I want more empty white journal pages staring at me in the morning and I want time to fill them. I want to spend less time reading other people’s blogs (though they are really wonderful!) and more time writing on my own. I hope I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings when I say ‘no’ to some things so I can say ‘yes’ to other things that are less obvious to the world but just as important. I am desperate for calm places in my life, and space for the true fullness of love and friendship to overflow into.

Hey, is it okay if I just frame a white piece of paper? It would be super symbolic! Okay, yes, that’s dumb. I’m hopeless when it comes to textural art. But there it is, your white piece of paper from me. Do what you will with it. Either way, I can’t thank you enough for reading my blog in 2014 and I am honored that you choose to read my words in this world of so many thoughts competing for the space in your life. I wish you a joyful 2015 and I hope you will be able to claim some white space of your very own to enjoy the blessings that the year will bring.

“For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” John 1:16