Everyday Life

Balance is a Myth

Last week, I was sitting around the table with some ladies in a coffee house, talking about the thing all five of us want to do well more than any other thing: be excellent spouses and parents and friends. We talked about how important this is and how important that is, and it was so good to hear from real women whom I really admire as they honestly talked about our struggles and our triumphs. As we talked,  the word “balance” came up. I recoiled.

Balance.

It’s not a bad word. There was a time when I thought it was a great word and I used it a lot. My friends and I have been striving for “balance” for years, We want to balance time with close friends and time with new friends. We try (and mostly fail, on my part) to balance time focused on our husbands with time focused on our kids. We think longingly of a a time when we can  balance time spent on laundry and dishes with time spent pursuing our passions.

It’s just too bad we don’t live life in the middle of a scale. Jumping back and forth from one side of the scale to another to make it even out? We aren’t born to do that.

IMG_6096We are born with two hands. Two hands to pick something up, and two hands to put something down. It turns out, we have to put something down before we pick up something else. Our hands can only hold so much. If we try to pick up too much at once, we end up dropping things. We can’t afford to drop things, because what we hold is too important and precious. Our children’s upbringing. Our husbands’ love. Our friends’ trust. The care of our own souls. The world.

It turns out, there’s no such thing as balance. There is picking up one thing, and putting down another. There is holding close and there is dropping. I don’t know much about how to live well, but I’m learning that I have been given only two hands and I must decide what I can hold and what I cannot, when to put something down so I can pick up something else. I’m not worrying about walking on a wire in a balancing act anymore. That leads to frenzied unfocus, trying to figure out too many things at one time. With lots of prayer, lots of mistakes, I’m trying to live life with my hands holding what’s important and gently letting go of what is not for me at this time. A person can go through life putting down and picking up many things. There is no shame in not picking up everything at once. Figuring out what is for us and what is not is never a simple equation…but it may be simpler than we have been told thus far.

Because we only have two hands.

Everyday Life

Why I’m Quitting Facebook: A Quest for Less Inspiration, More Action and True Connection

I love Facebook. In fact, I drafted a post a few months ago titled, “How to Make Facebook Awesome for You.” I follow some pretty great friends and public figures, and I have benefited from the community, especially for young mothers. Yet, here I am, becoming more and more convinced that I need to step away from FB. My reasons are probably not be the ones you would think. I’m not suffering from comparison problems. After all, it’s not Pinterest I’m quitting. I’m not overly fed up with the election year posts. I’m not hating the haters (much). But I’m quitting Facebook for personal use, and here’s why.

The Inspiration Overload

playwithrocks
Play with rocks more, make rainbow sensory bins less. Win, win.

I like new ideas and reading all sorts of words and thoughts, which is why I’ve told people I prefer Facebook over Instagram. I can’t even count how many awesome articles and posts I’ve found through my friend’s posts on Facebook. I mean, wow. So many great thoughts and ideas, or funny antecdotes, or highly practical tips on how to cut up veggies to look like mermaid tails. Seriously, I am a sucker for inspiration to do great things and plan delicious meals and conquer clutter, or what have you. And that has become a problem. Ironically, Kat Lee, the author and podcaster at InspiredtoAction.com pointed this out on an early podcast I went back to listen to while doing the dishes last night. I already had the sense that I was thinking other people’s thoughts too often instead of my own, but then, ironically, Kat Lee said, “We need to be inspired less and do more.” Yes. I should stop looking around and do exactly what I already know I want to or need to do. When I feel the least bit bored, I don’t need to turn to my phone. I need to stay in my own head, think my thoughts through completely, turn ideas into action. I need less outside inspiration, and more of my own creativity and action.

Passive Consumption Gets Me Down

If you think you’re ever going to be a creative person and/or a true learner of new skills or pursuits, you probably aren’t the kind of person who spends a ton of time taking in other people’s ideas and opinions on everything under the sun. I mean, yes, everyone needs inspiration and to surround themselves with greatness in order to achieve greatness. But I’m learning that the best way to gain inspiration and glean wisdom is to intentionally pursue it in one place – not in absorbing short snippets of all kinds through Facebook posts and links. The sad news is, Facebook is not always so full of greatness. Facebook is a passive experience, wherein you are fed whatever your friends post. Yes, you can choose who and what to follow, so you get some say on what you’re going to see, but only some. Even though I truly enjoy most of what I see from my friends, in the end, I come away from a Facebook viewing feeling like I just opened my brain to whatever brain food any poster I follow felt like pouring in, junk or wholesome. I need to turn to books or specific websites if I’m serious about gaining information or inspiration.

Only Connect

It’s true, Facebook makes it easy to connect. When I think about Facebook connections, though, I think of thin, fragile threads. A comment on a post or a “like” can connect you to someone , yes, but it’s a tenuous connection, easily snapped off and forgotten about in an instant. An email or a text is a stronger thread of connection, and a face to face conversation is like a rope. People get to know each other and build relationships through the stronger threads of connection, not through the fragile threads of social media.

sistersOf course, social media threads can be a beginning! I think many people, especially those who are on the extrovert side of personalities, excel in using social media to form real life friendships. I’m finding my tendency as an introvert is to turn to social media when I feel a little tug inside that I need to connect with somebody, and then actually feel like the social media connection was enough. I don’t go deeper. Facebook should be an appetizer in the meal of forming friendships, but it’s all I eat some days. That’s not the case for everyone, but for me, I know I need to quit the chips and salsa appetizer and go for something meatier – a text to a specific person, an email, or (gasp) a phone call.

Mostly, it comes down to this: I’m leaving Facebook because I like it too much. Sad, but true. It is clouding my original thoughts, filling my mind, and keeping me from connecting well with people because I don’t seem to have the discipline to only check it every now and then. That’s the true bottom line, isn’t it?  So I’m starting now and planning on a Facebook free summer.  I’m excited to see what comes of it.

[The Mia The Reader FB page will still be up and I’m on Instagram, too.  Instagram doesn’t suck me in, so I’m calling it safe for now. =)]

Cocoa Cashew Truffles, Everyday Life, Saturday Cooking, Whole30

Cocoa Cashew Truffles {Whole30 Survival Food}

I’m on Day 16 of my second Whole30. (Because I am insane, thanks for asking). Honestly, after many months of eating whatever was easiest amidst our home renovations, I needed a reset. And it has been awesome! Except for the chocolate cravings. Enter these little guys. I know, I know, this is totally “not in the spirit” of the Whole30.  Seriously, though, these can be the difference between falling off the wagon and making it to Day 14. Besides, the logic here is skewed. The  Whole30 book gives us recipes for sodas to help fight our soda cravings, but when it comes to chocolate cravings, we’re left out in the cold? Well. That just doesn’t seem fair.

When I did the Whole30 the first time, a friend warned me about the chocolate withdrawals and sent me this recipe in case of an emergency. It didn’t really work for me, but I thought it was a great idea, so I made up my own.

 5a37baca7d52322814961d4cd9745261Cocoa Cashew Truffles

1 cup pitted dates

1 cup cashews

1/2 cup almond butter

4-5 Tbsps. cocoa (no sugar added, remember!)

Put all of the ingredients in a food processor. Process for about 1 minute, or until you can take a pinch of the mixture and it holds together. Scoop out little bits at a time and mold them into balls. Make yourself only eat one or two and put the rest in the ‘fridge or freezer. Go on with your Whole30 without biting anyone’s head off or weeping incessantly.

I have no idea if these are any good when you’re not doing a Whole30, but I’m guessing they are since two out of three of my children devoured the one each I allowed them. Not because I’m a good mom who limits sweets, but because they have Tootsie Rolls and I have nothing but these things.

Still worried you might gorge yourself too much and awaken your “sugar dragon?” This recipe is easily halved. And the freezer is your friend.

Happy Chocolating!

Need more Saturday Coooking posts? Click here! Because a person cannot live on books alone. 

Everyday Life, Home Renovation, Reading, Reviews

Why I Loved The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

So have you heard of this book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up? A few months ago it seemed like all my friends were telling me about. Apparently, it’s become all the rage since its release in 2014. In it, Marie Kondo outlines her KonMari method of tidying up your home once and for all. I didn’t want to hear about that, though. When this book came up in conversation, I would smile and nod, but I was thinking, “I don’t need to read another book about housekeeping, I just need to buckle down and keep house.” So I tried the Buckle Down Method. For months.  It worked terribly. When we moved into our fixer upper, I told myself it would be different. I would have more space and we would have a place for everything. But here’s the thing: if you’re not willing to confront all the things you have, you’re not willing to put them away. 

Moving after ten years of marriage and three children was eye opening. I was floored by all the boxes we pulled out of the attic only t to move them to another attic. They were out of sight, but they were weighing on my mind—what is in all those boxes? I always thought I was a ruthless de-clutterer! And it wasn’t just the attic. All my mental images of peaceful rooms were replaced with mounds of stuff.  I know I could say, “give yourself a break, you just moved in,” but that would not have been the truth. The truth was I liked our house better before we moved our belongings into it, which seems the opposite of how it should be.

Then came Spring in the midst of it all. The week after Easter feels like the true New Year. January is just a joke, when we’re still wanting to hibernate in the winter season of rest.  I don’t remember consciously deciding to, but I guess all this fresh air got to me, and I took the plunge and read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up cover to cover last week. Surprisingly, I loved it.  Okay, yes, there was a bit too much treating inanimate objects like they are living beings, but ignore all that and what you have is a whole new way to declutter and manage your home that actually works.

Before I tell you the five kinds of items I got rid of after reading this book, let me tell you a tiny bit about the KonMari method. The first step is going through your belongings by item type, not by room. You handle your things and ask “Does it spark joy?” Now, you don’t have to ask this about things like your toothbrush, but its a valid question for just about everything else. You may be shocked how many things in your house actually spark feelings of guilt or worse that you never even realized. I’m not trying to get all touchy-feely or assign life to inanimate objects, but Kondo’s point that our possessions have an effect on us is, strangely enough, true. So you go through this process for your clothes, your books, and progress through all the different kinds of items in your house, ending with your keepsakes and photos. Then, and only then, do you work on putting things away. Because every single thing in your house needs a home. Sound overwhelming? It’s not a process you can do in one week, for sure. Kondo recommends getting it all done in six months. I promise you, though, once you start, you’re going to want to get it all done right away!

Still curious about how this could actually be different from other methods of house cleaning? Let me share some unexpected results from my experience. Here are the five kinds things I got rid of after reading this book.

  1. Things I could use but I don’t want to use anymore. Perfectly good clothes fall in this category. I got rid of two canvas grocery bags of clothes. All of these clothes fit fine. They weren’t in bad shape. But they did not make me feel joy at all. For whatever reason, a certain blouse can make me feel like an uptight grump, and a specific dress can make me remember how inadequate I felt when I wore it to a wedding. I won’t ever put those clothes on and feel joy, no matter how serviceable or stylish they are. Beyond clothes, I got rid of scads of toiletries. Why in the world did I have 11 different bottles of lotion, with barely any used up? Six, yes six, of those bottles were expired. I threw all but one away because, newsflash to myself, I don’t even like using lotion! I now have one bottle of lotion and judging by previous lotion use, it will probably expire before I use it up.
  2. Things I’ve been meaning to use but haven’t. I.e. most of my craft supplies. I am not very crafty, yet when craft supplies come my way, I have trouble discarding them. I had in my stash glass painting supplies that I used when I was sixteen. I have been collecting odd yards of fabric for a decade, thinking I’ll someday sew something new and great with it….but I don’t really sew. Ever. The truth is if I am going to make something, I’m probably going to need new supplies. It turns out I only actually liked one piece out of the twenty pieces of fabric that have been taking up space in my home for ten years. All my glass paint was dried up. The only things I kept in my crafting stash were paints I’ve used in the last year, the one piece of fabric I liked, and my sewing kit I use for mending. I know if I really want to make something I’m going to want to use or display in my house, I’m need to pick the materials based what I like now, not what I had before. This category also could apply to books that glare at you with disdain from your bookshelf because you haven’t read them yet. Okay, so I find it pretty easy to personify books. But seriously. If you haven’t read it yet, you probably aren’t going to. And that’s what a library is for anyway!
  3. Things I thought made me who I am. Well, this is a tough one. Mementos and keepsakes come in all shapes and sizes. Weirdly enough, I’d been holding onto all my college papers. My mental hang up? I will probably never be in a situation again where the merit of my work was measured and found to be pretty great. I was good at college, and I liked to write academically. However, when I started re-reading the papers I pulled out of the attic, I realized I didn’t enjoy them at all. I am too far removed from that world to even know what I was talking about most of the time! It was something I was good at, but it’s not something I do anymore. Also, I still had all kinds of mementos from my wedding day. The sweat-stained satin shoes, the hundreds of greeting cards from friends and family, the dried boutonniere my husband wore. That’s what a wedding photographer is for, right?  It’s in this category that I found the most valuable principle I pulled out of Kondo’s book: “It is not our memories but the person we have become because of those past experiences that we should treasure. This is the lesson these keepsakes teach us when we sort them. The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.” It’s okay to get rid of the clock you really loved six years ago. If you find yourself resentful of all the mugs you’ve collected from your travels, get rid of some! The you in the here and now needs more space to breathe and think than items to pull you from the present back to where you’ve been (on the flipside, if those mugs/candles/what-have-you spark joy, keep them!).
  4. Things I didn’t know I hoarded. Did you know that almost everyone hoards something? Kondo declares this to be true in her book. Before going through my things, I said to a friend who was telling me about her particular stockpile, “I don’t think I hoard anything. I am a terrible planner and have never had the foresight to maintain a stockpile, much to my chagrin sometimes!” Oh, but I was wrong. I counted over 250 sheet protectors from various places in my house. #whatanerdhoards. I vaguely remember this time when I seriously needed a sheet protector and didn’t have one in college…that fear has morphed into packages all around my home. Dumb? Well, I bet if you started pulling out all the you-name-its in your home, you’d be surprised at all the ballpoint pens or packages of unopened socks or bags of tortilla chips, or what have you. It only takes one time of not having what you need to make you feel like you must buy that item on a regular basis to avoid dire straits. I’m starting to wonder about my love of the name Avery…
  5. PhotosOkay, okay, before you shutter and walk away, I just want to declare this truth: Just because a moment is captured and frozen in time in a photo does not mean it’s worth keeping. I really did not need to move boxes from house to house with hundreds of photos in them of my high school missions trips, college beach trips, or even a trip to Europe. Seriously, if you go through photos (especially from back in the film era when every photo snapped was a photo developed), Kondo says you will probably only want to keep 1 in 5. This was definitely true for me. I kept plenty of photos to give a more than ample overview of my life and my favorite moments and people, and that’s all anyone needs.

The bottom line is this: having a cluttered home makes me feel like all my problems are just that- having a cluttered home. Kondo shares story after story of how after clients tidy up, they are left with that delusion stripped away and get down to working on the real issues in their lives. Some of her clients changed jobs, some lost a ton of weight, others mended relationships. A cluttered home is not a life or death matter, but it can keep us from confronting all sorts of things because we hide behind the fact that we can’t deal with anything else, our homes are too much of a mess. Best to get that in order first. Yes…if you actually do it. This is the life changing part. Get your house in order once and for all and get on with your life. Have I done that yet? Noooooo. I’ve still got a lot of work to do. But I really hope that by the end of this summer, my home will be in order.

Image result for oak island beach houseMy goal is the feeling you get when you walk into a beach house you’ve rented for the week. The corners are empty. The floor doesn’t have stacks of anything on it. There is no laundry piled up on the beds. The air seems clearer and cleaner. Am I aiming too high? After reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I really don’t think so. I want to live with just what I need and just what makes our home beautiful to us.

I’m also looking forward to Kondo’s next book, Spark JoyBut first, more tidying!

Everyday Life

The Pink Dress That Stole Joy

When I was a little girl, there was this dress. It was so deliciously light pink. It came down to the ground, and it had ruffles around the bottom and the neckline and the sleeves.  It was my favorite dress ever.

But it didn’t belong to me. It belonged to a girl who was in my Sunday school class for all my growing up years named Joy. Joy, the girl who hardly ever smiled. But that dress she had! She was often late to class, and she flounced in wearing that dress and a sullen expression. To me, it said, “I am so above the rules and all of you. I have The Dress.” I don’t know if all the other girls had looks of pure envy mixed with defeat at the same time, but I know my face did. And Joy wore that dress every single week. Every week! Not once, in all my days of going to church in various dresses, did I have the nicest dress on in the class. Joy always won.

Needless to say, Joy and I weren’t friends. She had some older brothers I was scared of and she had The Dress, so there was pretty much no chance. Also, she was a lot taller and stronger looking than me; I was thoroughly cowed by her in all respects.

Why am I spend any time at all as an adult thinking about Joy and her dress? Well, the desire and struggle for true friendship is a big deal right now. It’s a topic on social media- how social media isn’t a good substitute or how it destroys good friendships. It’s been  coming up at MOPS meetings and in books. And it’s been coming up in mothering a six-year-old girl who is experiencing the up and down emotions of being a friend and making friends.  Authentic friendship is a work of art, and it does take work. Mostly, it takes working on ourselves and how we view others.

One of my friends from our home church spoke at MOPS last week, and it jogged my childhood memories of feeling less than and unworthy. She spoke about the way comparison knocks women off their feet. She asked what it would look like if women stood strong in who God created them to be, as individuals, with different strengths and weaknesses. All of us in that room were moved. We heard the familiar quote from Theodore Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and for some reason, it struck me in a new way. It made me think about the person Joy and her dress from long ago. And all of a sudden, I’m realizing quite a few things that are striking me pretty hard now about Joy. In fact, they are almost slapping my face raw.

Joy wore the same dress every week. I interpreted that as a refusal to wear anything but The Dress. But what if, actually, she only had one church dress??? I had about ten every given year of my life, and there were some especially lovely ones. This was the deep South in the 90s, after all. Did I completely lose the delight I had in my own dresses just because Joy had the perfect dress for a year or two?

More importantly, though, I never even considered that Joy could actually be a friend. I already had some pretty great friends, but Joy’s dress made me feel demeaned, less than, and so I decided in my little girl brain that she probably wanted nothing to do with me. She didn’t need or want me, clearly. She never smiled and she never talked to me and she had the dress.

But what if I had smiled at her? What if I had said, “I like your dress.”?

Comparison is more than the thief of joy. Comparison is a wall blocking the path to true friendship. I completely missed out on being Joy’s friend when I was a little girl. I completely missed out on being thankful and delighted in my own dresses. I completely missed out on sharing love (at church!) with someone else, all because I let a dress make me feel unworthy.

I still see Joy pop up sometimes on social media, and she looks like such a fun, delightful person. It makes me wonder how many other people I think could never want to be my friend because they have [fill in the blank]– a nicer house, a perfect wardrobe, well-behaved and calm children, you name it. And then I think of another thing my friend said at MOPS: “Why would you want all your friends to be just like you?”

How boring. How stagnant. How impossible.

May we be people who see the good things in others and speak words of encouragement when we see it, not words of “I wish I could” or “I am so bad at that.” May we be people who admit when we could use some help. “You are so good at meal planning! Tell me your secrets!” May we be people who will accept encouragement when we receive it ourselves!

May we be true friends.

Everyday Life, Home Renovation

The Six Emotional Stages of Home Renovation

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Our 4th Fixer Upper

I may have mentioned a few times lately that we’re in the midst of fixing up a house. It’s our fifth go round with a fixer upper. I guess deep down inside, we really like it, but right now we’re in Stage 4 of the Six Emotional Stages of Home Renovation. What are these emotional stages I speak of? Well, in case you’re considering buying a fixer upper, or in case you’re smack in the middle of one, here are the six stages we go through each time. Let it be a warning or encouragement to you, whichever the case may be.

Stage 1 ~ Euphoria

You bought a fixer upper! Congratulations! You can’t wait to get in there and make it awesome. Now’s when you get out a notebook and make a bunch of lists, including a timeline for when you’ll be done. (Go ahead and add five to ten weeks to that now). Let’s do this!

Stage 2  ~ Super Human Strength

The day after the sale is final,  you are pumped. On the show Fixer Upper, they call this “demo day,”  which in reality it takes at least a week or four. This is when you feel all manly or strong-womanly and you riiiip all of that old flooring out and sa
y “to heck!” with icky sinks and wallpaper. “None of this is cool enough for our house. Get it outta here!”

Stage 3 ~ Reality Check

Here’s what the reality check stage sounds like: “Oh, that’s what’s under the carpet? Eesh.” The gas line to the gas stove is broken? Ergh. It’ll cost how much to fix??? The expenses are piling up and there is even more work to be done than you realized. But it’s okay! You’re not afraid of hard work and it’ll all be worth it. Right?

Stage 4 ~ The Depths of Despair

Thoughts such as this pour through your brain like a ticker on Sports Center: “We are never going to be done with this reno!” “We haven’t had a free Saturday in months!” “Our marriage is in shambles, our kids hate us, and this stupid floor is still buckled!” It’s a dark time. But up next is…

Stage 5 ~ The Dawn of a New Day

One day you walk into your fixer upper, and it hits you that things are looking fairly lovely. The new floors bring a lightness to the environment, the fresh paint is like a breath of glorious mountain air. Sure, the light fixtures are still ghastly, but you’ll get around to that. You start thinking about how nice your family photo will look on the living room wall, and how cozy you’ll be around the fireplace in winter. Maybe your Christmas tree could go in that corner over there next to the window. Hmm. You’re almost done. Just four more full days of painting to go. (Also, this is when you realize you should probably start packing up your current house. Cue the coffee maker.)

Stage 6 ~ Relief and Renewal

It’s moving in day! The sinks work, the floor is (mostly) level, and you’re putting up curtains and finally tasting the fruits of your labor. This stage is kind of like a second round of Home Renovation Euphoria, but it’s a bit tireder, more subdued emotion. Still, there’s a deep satisfaction of a job well done that lets you sleep like a champ your first night in your finally finished fixer upper.

And for some home renovators, there’s also a seventh emotional stage. It usually strikes the dreamers and/or particularly robust home renovators, and it’s one that you should avoid at all costs. It crops up a year or two after you’re done, when you see this nice but run down, totally killer deal that’s actually closer to the office/school/church/what-have-you. It may have a bigger yard, or more square footage.  Maybe it has that porch you always wanted but didn’t get out of your last fixer upper. Whatever it is, something about it makes you get that look in your eye and think “We could totally fix that place up.” This is called Insanity, my friends, and it is The Seventh Stage of Home Renovation. Go buy a new car or a trip to Tahiti, but DO NOT buy another fixer upper. Trust a girl who has been sucked in five times. Tahiti sounds really nice, doesn’t it?

Everyday Life, Home Renovation

Renovation Before and Between Photos (and What Should I Do With A Badly Placed Wetbar?)

Time for a Home Renovation # 5 update! We are finally at the stage of fixing up a house when the house begins to take shape and it doesn’t all look like doom, doom, insanity, and doom anymore. I can now share some before and between photos. They’re not before and afters, because, well, it isn’t after yet. We’re still in the middle of everything. Our Before and Between photos aren’t HGTV worthy or anything, but I thought I’d show you just the same.

Hallway before:

hallway

Hallway with floors ripped out and new paint:

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We’re currently putting in hardwoods and refinishing them, sanding down and refinishing the staircase, and I’m hoping we’ll get around to replacing that light fixture soon…

Girls Bedroom before:

girlsbedroom

And between…

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Cutest wallpaper remover ever, right down to the pink cowgirl boots…

And almost done (new carpet goes in next week!):

IMG_20160113_074101

 

Family room before:

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Family Room between with new paint and new but unfinished hardwood floors:

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Which brings me to my biggest conundrum about this house – I love the stone fireplace and the cool floating cedar mantle, but what is with the odd bookcase on the right? And, worst of all, the horrendous wet bar as the focal point of the room? I’ve seen some great transformations of wet bars into cloffices or craft desks and storage, but when it’s right next to your fireplace in the room you’ll live in and entertain in the most, what do you do? I’m thinking either rip out the cabinetry and closet doors and put in shelves to make it a bookcase, or just rip out the upper cabinets and put the TV in there. It does contain an electrical outlet, so maybe it’s meant to be. Any ideas? Send them on.

I probably should have never started watching Fixer Upper, because now I think “What would Chip and Joanna do?” and then I think, “Stop it. They have a whole crew. And hundreds of thousands of dollars.” The house we’re fixing up is going to take years to be beautiful top to bottom, and will never, ever be perfect. Happily, perfection isn’t my goal. I just want it to feel like a home for my family.  We have a ways to go, for sure, but now that I can see the end in sight, I’m quite pleased with our progress.

Thinking of doing your own home project? Check back tomorrow for The Six Emotional Stages of Home Renovation.

Everyday Life

All to Welcome Him

It’s three days before Christmas. I wake to pouring rain. There are visions in my head of my children and I baking merrily together and happily wrapping presents, surrounded by peace and warmth and filled with joy. I see this vision in my head, and IMG_4946[1]then I say to myself, “Temper your expectations, lady.” I may want peace and joy, but someone will be grumpy. Someone will be quarrelsome. Someone will be disobedient and make a huge mess. The cookies will not look pretty. Someone (ahem) will be stressed.  To top it all of, I still have to go to the grocery store to get cookie supplies. Horrors. Someone might yell at her children to get their seat belts on already, and that someone might be me.

And all of this is why Jesus came. He came because beauty on t his earth was marred, perfection unattainable, and perfect joy impossible to create. But then He came. He dwelled. He saved. And light is here and hope is all around. His coming is why joy is possible even when the cookies look wacky and the quarrels outplay the carols.

What if all my Christmas preparations were to actually celebrate His coming? What if
IMG_4832what I do today is done all to welcome Him? These cookies are made to celebrate His coming. This wreath is decorating our door to tell Him we’re glad He came. These gifts are wrapped in pretty paper to display our joy in Jesus’ love for us and our love for each other. Even in Christmas, not unto man, but unto Him? That could change our Christmas days, couldn’t it? Maybe I wouldn’t yell. Maybe I wouldn’t care if my daughter’s wrapping skills aren’t what I would like them to be. Maybe

He came for us. May what we do in preparation for Christmas Day be welcoming to Him.

Other Christmas-y posts at Miathereader.com:

It’s Not Too Late For Christmas

What Christmas Looks Like Sometimes

Everyday Life, Parenting

Babies And Technology – My Favorite Blogs and Podcasts

Every time I have added a baby to my life, I have also added a new technology to save my sanity. You may be thinking of baby monitors or food grinders, which are good for maintaining sanity in our work loads, but there’s another kind of sanity that needs maintaining underneath all the ins and outs of caring 24/7 for a baby. I’m talking about brains here, folks. There is nothing I hate more than the term “mommy brain” (okay, yes there is, things like terrorism I hate more, but let’s go with it as a figure of speech). Sure, moms have a lot to think about and keep track of, but the idea that we get dumber as we have children is so insulting and wrong and we actually embrace it is an idea. Why do we do that to ourselves? Granted, we do have to face the fact that lots of mothering, especially with newborns, is monotonous. I think that’s why I felt a need for something to change up my routine and add a way for my brain to be active while also nurturing the new life I was responsible for.  Maybe that’s why every time I added a baby, I found myself adding a new technology, as well.

Blogs

With my first child, I discovered the blog world. People were writing blogs about everything and I never knew it before 2009! My favorite blogs at the time were ones that made me laugh or that were sympathetic to the new mother plight. Here are the ones that are still my favorites:

Memories on Clover Lane – I respect this blogger’s opinions on raising children so much! And we have similar tastes in books…

Modern Mrs. Darcy – Anne is a way more sophisticated book blogger than I’ll ever be!

Wenzel Photography – I love her photos. Especially since sometimes my kids show up in them, and almost always my nieces and nephews. #familyperks

Shauna Niequist – Her writing is so vivid and convincing, she makes me imagine I could actually be a “foodie” or “a creative” or all kinds of other crazy things that I’m not. =) No, I’ll never be a foodie, but one of her books really changed my perspective on life.

The Big Mama Blog – I find I have less and less in common with her, but she still makes me laugh.

E-Books

When my second-born was a few weeks old, we moved what felt like a long way away from any library. It was a temporary move, but I still thought it was pretty thoughtful that my husband decided it would be a good time for me to get an e-reader. He presented me with a Nook, and I honestly thought “He doesn’t even know me. I am a BOOK lover! How can he think I’d like one of these things?” But oh, how well he really does know me. Because suddenly, with a few clicks, I had a new book at my finger tips.. I didn’t have to drive 45 minutes to the library and I didn’t have to take my little children anywhere! What’s more, I could hold that book in one hand while holding a baby in the other, and I could read it in the dark, all night long if need be! Yes, yes, I still prefer paper books, but I am a fan of the e-reader. I now use a Kindle because the books are usually a bit more affordable and it’s easier to borrow books through my library’s website.

Podcasts

The birth of my third child found me in way over my head. I had a five-year-old who was a wonderful big sister, very thoughtful and good at taking care of others. She was also precocious, and her highest love language has always been quality time, so it’s easy for me to feel like I can’t give her the attention her intellect and heart need from me. Then there was my then three-year-old, a delightful boy and brimming over with raw, unending energy. I had no idea to harness it into anything good in his life. And then there was this baby who was so different than my other two. She cried. A lot. I needed help. I needed constant wisdom drumming into my head. By chance one day, I saw a friend post on Facebook that she loved to listen to podcasts while she went on walks. I checked out a few she recommended, and I kid you not when I say they have been a game changer in my mothering. The perspective they offer on all kinds of issues is invaluable. I realize that the podcast genre is wide and there are all kinds of topics – I’ve even listened to some of them – but what I come back to in this stage of my life are these blogs that speak to the struggles and joys of life in the trenches as a mom:

God Centered Mom – Heather is raising four boys and the questions she asks her guests are exactly the kind of questions I have in my mothering journey.

Inspired to Action – Kat is full of practical wisdom and so are her guests

Read Aloud Revival – This podcast centers on the topic of reading aloud to your kids – what to read, when to read, how it looks in different families…it’s just a fun book gab, really.

Sally Clarkson – Sally Clarkson is the mentor I don’t personally know. I love her book Mission of Motherhood and her podcast reminds me of the big picture and the ultimate goals I have for my children.

I don’t know where I’m going to turn for brain food if we add another child. Video games? Netflix? Just kidding. Still, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I was looking for brain food each time I was in the very demanding but very basic phase of newborn mothering. Mothers need brain food! We are not dummies! [Okay, I’ll get off my soap box now]. I’d love to know if any moms out there felt similar needs when they’re babies were little. And I’d love to know if you have any favorite podcasts or blogs I should check out!

Everyday Life, Saturday Cooking

Simple and Creamy Blueberry Baked Oatmeal

This is absolutely the recipe I have missed the most during our Whole30. It’s the easiest hot breakfast ever, my whole family gobbles it up, and it’s healthy! I’ll be making this Saturday morning when our Whole30 is over (with almond milk, so as not to throw our systems into shock just yet…). I’m sharing it today in honor of National Oatmeal Day (is that really a thing? apparently it is).

A lot of baked oatmeal recipes will give you a drier, more bread-like pan of oatmeal that you can cut into bars. This is a creamy recipe that you will want to scoop into a bowl, which is more comforting somehow. It’s awesome for winter, but we make it all year round. My kids love to take their bowls of creamy oatmeal to the play house on bright summer mornings.

Ingredients:

2 cups of old fashioned oats

1.5 cups of milk

1.5 cups of water

1 cup of fresh or frozen blueberries

3-4 Tbsps of brown sugar

1 tsp of cinnamon

Here’s all you do: dump all the ingredients into your 9×9 or thereabouts baking dish, stir it all together, bake it for 15-20 minutes at 350. Seriously, you don’t even have to wait for the oven to preheat, though it’s a good idea to turn it on first thing. I check on mine around the ten minute mark and add a little more milk or water if it’s looking too dry for our liking.

And that’s it! Creamy blueberry oatmeal for everyone. This recipe serves our family of two adults and three small children with no leftovers. I need to start doubling it! It’s pretty good leftover, too, heated in the microwave with just a little extra milk to keep it moist. Mmmm….I can’t wait til Saturday.