Everyday Life

Light Has Come – Why Winter Can Be Bearable

Welcome to the 2016 Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year. We in the Northern Hemisphere are tilted as far away from the sun today as we ever get. In the past, I have dreaded this time of year, the dreary days of winter. Last winter was especially dreary. My husband and I spent all of our time from December to February in a drafty, smelly fixer upper, cold and cheerless. This year, we live in that fixer upper. It’s not drafty or smelly anymore–in fact, we feel it’s quite homey now–but as our first Christmas season in it approached, my feelings about it were kind of dim. After Thanksgiving, I started to look at this big white box of a house and think, “It’s so drab. How can we make look like Christmas?” I didn’t know where to start. We began our advent calendar tradition and pulled all our decorations down from the attic. Boxes of forlorn Christmas garlands and wrinkled red bows spilled over the living room and dining room, but none of it looked merry or bright. It all looked like an uninspired jumble.

The first few days of December came and went like that. The neighbors’ houses were
decorated, the pictures of friends’ beautiful holiday houses on social media flooded my news feed, the weather was cold, and I was a holiday sloth. “Maybe I’ll just hang a wreath and call it done.” I couldn’t find our wreath. But then we put up our Christmas tree. We found a beautiful one at the un-cool location of Home Depot and when we put it up, the lights shining through the deep green branches shed clarity on it all. Light.

We put lights up at Christmas because our souls need light in the winter darkness. 

Two trips to Hobby Lobby later, our front porches had garlands laced with lights and new red, cheerful bows on them. A few days and ten extension cords later, our windows had candles in them to light the night, and sometimes the rainy days. Our advent calendar ornament for that night, when all the lighting up of the house was done, was a candle.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”

This is why stringing up all these unruly strands of lights is worth it and why  lights brighten our holiday spirits without fail- The Light of the World came into the darkness. And he stayed and dwelt among us. Christmas lights will come and go, but The Light in the dark days of winter remains.

"It will all shake out, meanwhile I'm putting up more twinkle lights." You've Got Mail Quotes: Am I excited about winter now? Not at all. I hate winter. But I’m pulling out all the candles in the candle box I seldom open, and throwing wide curtains on sunny days. As Meg Ryan says in You’ve Got Mail, “It will all shake out. Meanwhile, I am putting up more twinkle lights.” Her friend Birdie calls that “a fine idea,” and it is. Candles, twinkle lights, lamps in every corner, whatever it takes, we will have light this winter. Light will remind us that the deep darkness in our souls is no more, that The Light has come and He has stayed.

May your Christmas and your winter be merry and bright, full of lights and flooded by The Light.

Everyday Life, Parenting

There’s Ovaltine in My Pantry

There’s Ovaltine in my kitchen cabinet. That can only mean one thing. It means I’m waking up like this:

Ovaltine: Wake up PERKY in the Morning! ~ My husband definitely wants me to switch to Ovaltine if I can look and feel this great in the mornings!:

And this!

Sexy Ovaltine Original 1946 Vintage Print Ad w/ by VintageAdarama:

(That image actually scares me a little bit).

Or! It could mean one other thing. I’m pregnant. Twenty-four weeks pregnant, in fact, with our fourth child. We are thrilled! But you know what I’m discovering? When you’re pregnant with your second and especially your third or fourth (or beyond, I’m guessing), all those tips in the pregnancy books about how to take care of yourself just sound like mean jokes.

“Get plenty of sleep.”

“Exercise daily.”

“Eat lots of leafy vegetables that you have to wash and chop and then somehow keep down through nausea in the beginning and heartburn for the rest of the pregnancy, all while refereeing toddlers and preschoolers.”

Thanks for those tips, thanks a lot.

Image result for vivien leighYou want a really useful tip for your fourth pregnancy? Ovaltine. Okay, so yes, these ads probably aren’t founded on very scientific data and could be at fault for false advertising. I’m guessing “false advertisement” wasn’t a thing in 1950. But even though I still wake up looking like a druggy instead of Vivien Leigh, when I am pregnant, Ovaltine becomes a staple in our pantry. I drink it about every other night because, believe it or not, it cures my restless leg syndrome that only flares up when I’m pregnant. It really does. Maybe I’m actually treating myself with the proverbial sugar water, but if tastes like chocolate and has calcium in it? I don’t really mind that I’m psyching myself out.

So, while Ovaltine isn’t giving me one red cent for saying this, Ovaltine is my only true pregnancy tip for the world in a fourth pregnancy. Oh, and maybe some water with lemon. But Ovaltine tastes way better.

Everyday Life

The Summer That Was Quiet and Hard: On Beating Self-Contempt

I’m don’t know about you, but I’m so glad to see September. Summer is my favorite, I adore summer…but I didn’t love this summer. It was a hard summer, and that came as a surprise. I thought it would be great. Remember my quest for less outside inspiration and more original thought? It began in early May, when I quit Facebook.  I thought my mind would be less clouded by outside influences and I would find my own voice and get down to reading good books, writing, and creating. It was a lovely plan. What happened?

Somehow, I assumed my own original thoughts would be, well, nice. Maybe beautiful, or enlightening, or empowering. Maybe hopeful and kind and worthy of sharing with others. Strange that I thought that was the obvious direction my brain would go if I were to stop taking in so much on the internet and start living more present in my own mind. It turns out, my own mind on its own wasn’t so friendly.

I muddled through most of the summer and made very little headway. To make a long, uninteresting story short, the more present I became, the more connected with my own thoughts, the more I stared contempt in the face.  You know contempt? “The feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn?” As I wrote, as I talked, as I pursued my own thoughts, all I found was negativity, and I didn’t like it. I was full of disdain for all sorts of things. It was ridiculous and never ending. What I began to understand is that contempt is almost always a message of self-contempt at my core.

Self-contempt is pretty easy to define: take that definition above of “contempt,” and point it at yourself. It’s feeling like you, yourself, are beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn. Yeah, not a fun feeling. Even less fun when it’s become a theme in your thought processes without your realizing it. How did I discover that outward contempt is usually a cover up for inward contempt? I was getting a lot of hints.

When I tried over and over to write a blog post about our homeschooling curriculum choices, I kept deleting everything I wrote because it all ended up sounding so defensive and a bit mean-spirited. Hint to self: I was insecure about my curriculum choices.

When I reviewed books, I criticized too harshly. Hint to self: I don’t like what I’m reading because I’m jealous that I’m not the one writing books.

image02
I greatly admire Joanna Gaines but a sign that says “Same Day Service” in my laundry room (which is actually the garage) would crush my soul to smithereens.

When I searched on Pinterest for ideas on various things, I felt loathing form firmly in my mind towards those Internet People who have Freezer Cooking and Capsule Wardrobes and Healthy School Lunches all figured out. And let’s not talk about people with pretty laundry areas or delightful school rooms.  Hint to self: I’m not so pleased with the job I’m doing at home.

 

Just like jealousy is a truth teller about your own desires, contempt is a an arrow pointing right back to something about you. “It’s so dumb to put all that effort into getting your hair highlighted just right” actually means, “I wish I had a fresh hair cut. Why don’t I ever get my hair done? I’m just not good at making myself pretty.” When I think, “What a waste of time to paint a sign that says, “Laundry” to put in your laundry area. Thank you, Captain Obvious,” what I am thinking at a deeper level is, “I am a wretched homemaker. My living room doesn’t even look as nice as that laundry area does.”

You can’t produce good things when you’re hating yourself. You can’t b20160826_204304663_iOSe a good spouse, a good mother, a good friend, or the kind of writer who can give people ideas that empower and encourage others in life when you’re full of negativity towards yourself. The reality behind this quiet summer: my thoughts were not beautiful. They were unkind towards myself and as a result, towards many things. It spilled over into everything.

I don’t want to be a negative person anymore. I don’t want to be a bully in my own thoughts, always trying to make myself feel better about myself.  So I’m focusing on kindness. It’ll have to start with kindness to myself. How can a self-directed mean spirit be so ingrained in a girl? Our culture makes it pretty easy, but I’m done blaming culture. It doesn’t get me anywhere. I know I can’t just suddenly be kind to myself. It’ll be a process. I’ve got some starting points, though, and things are already getting lighter. I’m not sharing this process because I want people to tell me I’m great, because trust me, that won’t help. As Anne Lamott says, “this will have to be an inside job.” I’m sharing this summer’s journey because I suspect a lot of us need to stop running away from our own thoughts and stand to fight them. Yes, it’s easier to find a Scary Mommy post on the very thing you feel insecure about, and sometimes that’s healing to find camaraderie, but it’s a frail fix to what’s really going on inside. We forget this fact too often: we are valuable simply because we are people. Not perfect people in any way, just people. We are created and we are loved and we must stop thinking our worth lies in anything else. This summer was hard, but if I can get that in my head and give that message back to the people around me, it will all be worth it.

Everyday Life, Reading

The Wisdom in Literature: Truths for Everyday Life

There have been many people in the past ten or so years who have either implied or straight out said that they think reading fiction is a waste of time. I don’t think they were exactly condemning fiction, just letting me know that they felt a certain level of guilt when they spent time or brain energy reading a novel. As a to-do list lover, I understand that feeling to some extent. Even so, I still confidently say, “Literature and stories have changed my life for the better.”  It could take hours to fully flesh out this statement.  I think there’s plenty of research to show how valuable reading quality novels is (like this article about readers being empathetic or this one about reading fiction to improve brain function), but I’m not going to argue on that kind of scholarly level today.  Instead, I’m going to give some concrete examples of wisdom I’ve gathered from literature. These are pieces of wisdom I’ve gleaned recently and long ago that I’m actually putting into practice in my everyday life right now.

1. Hungry boys need bread and butter.

I have a five-year-old boy. I am not lying when I say he is always hungry.  I’m not sure what I would think about this as a mom, having only grown up with girls in the house, if this conversation from Anne of Avonlea between Anne and Davy (who is six) hadn’t stuck with me:

“Anne, I’m awful hungry. You’ve no idea.”

“I’ll get you some bread and butter in a minute.

“But I ain’t bread and butter hungry, “said Davy in a disgusted tone. “I’m plum cake hungry.”

“Oh,” laughed Anne, laying down her letter and putting her arm about Davy to give him a squeeze, “that’s a kind of hunger that can be endured very comfortably, Davy-boy. You know that it’s one of Marilla’s rules that you can’t have anything but bread and butter between meals.”

Well, if even Marilla can admit that little boys must have something to eat between meals, then I guess it’s a fact. Let them eat bread and butter! (or something equally wholesome).

2. Get your work done in the morning.

D.E. Stevens has many practical and plucky characters in her books (and I like or love them all). I read The House on the Cliff a couple of weeks ago, which featured as a side character the delightful Mrs. Chowne (whom I have irreparably paired in my mind with Mrs. Patmore). At one point in the book, the main character finds Mrs. Chowne up very early and asks her why, and Mrs. Chowne replies, “I like getting up early on a nice bright morning. The work gets done much quicker if it’s done early.” So true. Anytime I make a to-do list, if I don’t get the majority of it done before lunch, it typically doesn’t get done, or if it does, it takes a dreadful amount of time. I don’t know how to explain this, except that Mrs. Chowne is simply right.

3. A little time away from children can help you love them more.

There’s nothing like feeling completely smothered from morning til, well, morning, that makes me grumpier. Especially in those years when there’s a newborn needing me all night and a toddler or two adding to the neediness all day, I feel like something in me is going to crack. But once everyone is (mostly) sleeping through the night, sanity returns. As Kelly Corrigan writes in The Middle Place“I wake up with Georgia just inches from my nose, urgently notifying me that Claire is ready to get up. I always love them best first thing in the morning, having forgotten something critical about them in the night, something gorgeous and utterly lovable.” After a good night’s sleep when nobody wakes me up, my children’s eyes seem more beautiful, their skin more exquisite, their voices like music. That’s the light at the end of the tunnel during the all night-neediness years.

4. Tidying up a sickroom will make the sick person feel better.

Near the beginning of Little Women, Jo goes to visit Laurie for the first time. He has been housebound with a bad cold for a week and needs some cheering up. When Jo comes in, she looks around and sees that the room Laurie has been confined to during his sickness is nice, but definitely in need of her help. She says to Laurie,

“I’ll right it up in two minutes, for it only needs to have the hearth brushed, so,–and the things made straight on the mantel-piece,so–and the books put here, and the bottles there, and your sofa turned from the light, and the pillows plumped up a bit. Now, then, you’re fixed.” And so he was; for, as she laughed and talked, Jo had whisked things into place, and given quite a different air to the room.

Having been under the weather myself for the last three weeks, I can tell you that this made up piece of fiction is absolute gold. Even if you are the sick person and you can only make your bed before you get back into it, just doing that will lift your mood. A few days ago, I undertook to clear all the junk out of the corners and along the walls of my bedroom in a burst of energy. Even though I had to spend more time resting later, I felt a peace about me that wasn’t there when the room was cluttered. Something to remember for the next time you or a loved one is sick. (On the other hand—I have certain loved ones who would be straight up annoyed if I came to visit and started cleaning the bedroom. Know your sick person…though sometimes it’s a risk I’m willing to take…).

5. Don’t Think Too Hard At Night

This one might be the best. It’s from a children’s book with a not-so-wise-sounding title: Bing Bong Bang and Fiddle Dee Dee. There’s a lot of good stuff in it, though, for kids and grown ups. Here’s the part I hope to remember until my dying day:

“The morning is wiser than the evening. And the light is better, too.”

How many times have you been lying awake with a problem or worry running circles in your mind, and it’s actually gotten better thanks to your nighttime thinking? Or have you had an argument at night that didn’t only get worse the more you talked? Personally, this has never happened. Problems or disagreements stretch at night like scary black shadows, but in the morning, they are once again just the size of the thing they really are and they can actually be dealt with. Maybe you’re getting the idea that I’m a morning person, but I think this is pretty much universal–problem solving and argument resolving are daytime events.

Have I made my point yet? Sure, this wisdom is always true, whether it’s put down in black and white nonfiction or told in a story. When it’s in a story, though, it has a way of etching deeper into my mind and proving its worth. That’s why I don’t think fiction can ever be called a waste of time.

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?