Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Giveaway Winners!

I'm happy to announce the winners of our little giveaway. (There's nothing like kicking off the liturgical year with some fun new resources, right?)

The winner of Feast! by Daniel and Haley Stewart is Mary Beth Warner.

The winner of The Legend of Saint Nicholas by Demi is Cori Cave.

I will be in touch with you both to coordinate getting your prizes to you. Congratulations on being randomly chosen.

Thanks to everyone who entered!

Monday, December 2, 2013

The mad rush of Advent...?

So, Advent's the new Christmas, right? I keep feeling like we have to get started early- we need to get a jump on shopping and decorating and baking and crafting so we can hurry up and wait for Jesus to be born in as unhurried a way as possible.

"Thanksgiving was late this year," everyone keeps saying, and I hear from other friends who keep the church calendar at home that Advent has snuck up on them. One lovely friend (who shall remain anonymous for her own protection) has even been calling it "the A-word" and forbidding people to use it in polite conversation.

Don't talk about it yet- we aren't ready!

The whole "get ready for Advent" thing comes from a good place. We are making a real effort to recapture a season of preparation. We are trying to make space in our lives, hearts and homes so that we can welcome the newborn Christ when He comes. It's a good thing.

I'm not sure, though, that the mad rush is ever a good thing. 

The idea that there is a looming deadline (December 1st this year! That was yesterday! Heaven help us!) after which we must be prepared is not helping me. It makes my chest feel tight. It makes me feel like going for a really long run or adding something more festive than flavored creamer to my coffee.

I need to remember that I am the one responsible for the climate in my home. I would like to cultivate a sense of peace during this season, of quiet wonder, of prayerful expectation. If I'm running around like a madwoman trying to find my candle snuffer so we can light the wreath (or, rather, so we can put it out with due reverence after it has been lit) and barking at my kids to hurry up and finish their Advent chains so we can hang those suckers up and start counting down until Christmas, how can I possibly be creating a climate of prayerful anything? 

I think some deep breaths might help. And maybe I will go for that long run, too.

Where we are is just where we are. Thankfully, God knows where that is and is perfectly capable of finding us and meeting us there. Advent is a season of preparation...a whole season to get ready! It is nice to have some things in order beforehand, but scrambling around in a dither to make everything ready before Advent even starts isn't really good for anyone. 

How about you? Are you feeling rushed this year? Are you overwhelmed with the preparations for the season of preparation? Or are you propped up with peace in your heart and all your Christmas cards ready to send out?

We located our Advent wreath last night and put it up, and we lit it last night (although we haven't yet found our copy of O Radiant Dawn: 5-Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath, our Advent devotional). We had to wing it. Sam took the first link off our Names of Jesus chain and read it along with the corresponding verse from the Bible. We read one of our favorite Advent/Christmas books (Who is Coming to Our House? ) before bed. That was it.

Even though we aren't ready for Christmas yet, we don't need to be. I'm feeling some peace knowing that a simple, deliberate Advent will work for our family this year. Setting a gentle pace now means we will be able to sustain it. And by the time Christmas arrives, we will be ready.

And so will you...no matter how unprepared you feel today.

I'll be rounding up some of my favorite Advent resources here and on Facebook in the coming days and weeks, so you can check back if you need inspiration for your own preparations. You're warmly welcomed to join me in listening to our Advent playlist to help cultivate that sense of calm (and to avoid the Holly Jolly Sounds of Lite Ninety-Eight Point Whatever, if that kind of thing gets on your nerves).

Also, you have until midnight tonight to enter the giveaway to win a copy of Feast!, the new e-book by Haley and Daniel Stewart (which is bound to help you prepare for living along with the Church year in any season) or a copy of The Legend of Saint Nicholas by Demi (just in time for the feast of St. Nicholas this coming Friday!).

Don't forget to leave a note about your favorite Advent tradition on the Surviving Our Blessings Facebook page to enter. We will announce the winners tomorrow here and on Facebook.

Blessings during this first week of Advent. May you find exactly what you need to help you prepare your heart and your home for the coming Light of Christ.

*This post contains some Amazon affiliate links. If you click on them and end up buying something, your purchase will help support Surviving Our Blessings. If you like that idea, there's also an ad in the sidebar that you can click through when you purchase from Amazon. This blog will receive a tiny percentage of any purchases you make. Thanks for your support!*


Thursday, November 28, 2013

A tree full of thanks

There was a tree visible under there at one point.
As part of our gratitude practice this season, we have been adding leaves to a Thankful Tree. Every evening at dinner time, we each choose a leaf and write on it something for which we are grateful. After dinner, we share the leaves and add them to our tree.

Today, our tree is nearly invisible under all of the bright-colored leaves that represent our blessings. It has been a great gift to take that moment each day to talk with each other about the things that make us feel blessed...and I love how my children now ask each other, "What are you thankful for?" and "Is it time to do our leaves?"

Some of my favorites from our list this year:

Our friends (especially Katie Beth, Mark and Andrew, who are on our tree many, many times!)

A job, even when it is frustrating


Sneakers (Nora's favorites)

Ice Skating (none of my kids have ever been ice skating, but just the idea of it apparently inspires gratitude)

My family


Schlag (which is so much better than whipped cream!)

Our church


George, the best husband and dad (and we can add "best schlag maker" to that list)


Jesus and God (Sam again)


Myself (that one's from Lucy)

Our car and the fact it has heat in it (that's Sam's)

Glue sticks (Nora)

All the things (Lucy again)

My children are onto something. It is finding little, everyday things for which we are grateful and expressing thanks for them that produces a thankful heart. Our Thankful Tree has been an opportunity to practice gratitude as a family...and I'm grateful for that.

I'm planning to write down everyone's answers in a notebook and repeat this activity next year. It was easy to incorporate into our life and really set the tone for a season of grateful thinking.

I am also grateful for each of you who comes here to read my words and to share yours with me.

Happy Thanksgiving. 

And don't forget to enter the giveaway for a copy of Feast! by Daniel and Haley Stewart or a copy of The Legend of Saint Nicholas by Demi. Either one would be a wonderful addition to your library, whether you are new to celebrating the Christian year at home or have been doing it for years already. Just leave a comment on the Surviving Our Blessings Facebook page telling us about your favorite Advent tradition (or one you'd like to start).

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Defiant gratitude

I'm sharing at CatholicMom today about sitting in the dark and waiting for the light to show up. Sometimes, being grateful is not easy. Especially this time of year, when everything is all bright and color-splashed and merry-filled and holly jolly, it can be tough to coax gratitude from a heart that is burdened with sorrow.

Sometimes, sitting in the dark is our act of thanksgiving. Sometimes, sitting in the dark and confessing Jesus as Lord of all of it, even the worst parts, is revolutionary. In the dark, surrounded by our fears and worries, we are waiting for the One who can make us whole again.

If this is a tough time for you or someone you know (and chances are, you know someone who is struggling with a heavy load right now), this is the post for you.

Blessed day-before-Thanksgiving to you.

Good news for everyone (especially the liturgically-minded)

If you have been thinking about being more intentional about Advent this year...
...if you're curious about the church calendar and how it works...
...if you might want to celebrate a feast day here and there...
...if you have a sneaking suspicion that there's more to celebrate than just Christmas and Easter...

I have great news for you!

Part The First:

My friend Sarah over at Two O's Plus More has put together a lovely post with some ideas about how to begin observing the church year in your home. If you have been thinking about starting to do this, Sarah can help. She has helpful suggestions about how to move gradually into following the church calendar.

Also, Sarah is giving away a copy of A Continual Feast: A Cookbook to Celebrate the Joys of Family and Faith Throughout the Christian Year, by Evelyn Birge Vitz. (This post contains Amazon affiliate links, fyi. You'll know them because of the big old Amazon logos at the bottom, ok?)

This book is a good introduction to help you ease into celebrating bits and pieces of the church year without feeling like you are drowning in saints, martyrs and candle wax.

Part The Second: 

I'm doing a double book giveaway this week!

I have one copy of Feast! - a wonderful new e-book by my friend Haley of Carrots for Michaelmas- to give away. Haley and her husband, Daniel, have put together a collection of recipes and reflections for celebrating the liturgical year at home, complete with pictures, quotes, prayers and ideas. It doesn't end there, though. They've written a thoughtful and non-threatening introduction to the church year, inspired partly by their first encounters with it at their Baptist college in East Texas when neither of them was Catholic. The book is practical, realistic for busy families with little kids (since Haley and Daniel have three kids under 5), and down to earth. As a bonus, all the recipes can be prepared gluten-free. It is amazing work, y'all. (And you don't have to be Catholic to appreciate it.)

The book is 40% off this week (until Thanksgiving)- you can get your own copy for $4.99. The price will go up after that (as it should- this is a really fantastic book!). The food pictures alone are worth the price. (They say they aren't photographers, but the photos make my stomach growl.) Plus, there's an adorable picture of their son with kohlrabi. What's not to love?

Haley has generously offered a copy of her book for one of you, because she's fantastic. Like her book.

My second giveaway book is for St. Nicholas Day, which is coming up next week (so soon, can you believe it?) on December 6. I have one copy of my very favorite St. Nicholas book, The Legend of Saint Nicholas by Demi to send to one of my lovely readers.


The art in this book is magnificent. Even if you don't celebrate St. Nicholas Day separately from Christmas, this book is one you will want to add to your collection. (Also, you should consider celebrating St. Nicholas on his own day...it's so much fun! At least, it is if you don't do it like I did last year.)

To enter, please leave a comment on the Surviving Our Blessings Facebook page with your favorite Advent tradition (or one you'd like to start, if you haven't done so yet). If you are not on Facebook and still would like to enter, leave your comment here and I'll transfer it over for you. Two lucky winners will each receive one of the books. I wish I had enough copies for everyone.

Fine print: The winners will be randomly chosen on December 2 by one of my darling children from a basket of slips of paper. (We are fans of the old ways around here.) The e-book is a worldwide giveaway- anyone can win!- but the St. Nicholas book winner needs to be a US resident for postage reasons. 

I hope you win! :-)

Look for more posts in the coming days on Advent and what we're doing to get ready. In the meantime, tell me...how are you feeling about December's quick approach? Are you charging ahead? Are you wishing you could put on the brakes? Are you somewhere in between?

Monday, November 25, 2013

on long silences and empty spaces

One of the most difficult things about being a mother-writer is that sometimes my callings get in each other's way. Anyone who mothers and writes about it knows that it's a delicate balance...the children who share my space and my life sometimes require me to leave this space empty for a time so that I can better meet their needs.

In the last month, that's exactly what I've done- left this as an empty space. I needed to clear my head a bit and focus on my children. It was a needed break for me, but I am sorry to have been silent for so long with no explanation to you all.

The thing about empty spaces is that they are never really empty, at least not for long. They fill with thoughts that trail off when we get interrupted. They collect sentence fragments and unfinished paragraphs and ideas that pile up high like the unending jumble of life's mundane bits and pieces that collect on my countertop in front of the stand mixer: bills and catalogs and requests for money and children's art and marker caps with no markers in them and a few crumbs and a healthy amount of dust to top it all off.

(It is healthy to have a little dust around. It builds up your immune system. I'm sure I read that somewhere.)

In the time since I last wrote here, a lot has happened.

  • We had a great visit with my sister from Alaska, immediately followed by a great visit with our friend Gerald (the children's godfather) from Minnesota. It was a blessing to have both of them in our home and to watch the children get reacquainted with them. 

Nora and Aunt Laura take on the slide
  • I ran the marathon in Richmond and set a personal best time (by 37 minutes!). It was a wonderful experience...and just over a week later, I'm back to running and feeling strong. No injuries to report. 
George and me, a little excited to see my best running friend at mile 26ish...photo by best running friend

  • I sang The Star-Spangled Banner (by myself, in front of people, what's wrong with me?) for our local Turkey Trot 5K/10K race. I did a good job. It was in tune, I hit the high note and held it for an appropriate length of time, and I didn't embarrass myself. I'm glad I had the experience. All the same, next year I'll be recommending they get a "real" singer to do it. It was a bit of stretch for me, and I got anxious about it. 
  • We got a new oven...finally. I expect to be baking all the time for a little while. SuperSam was so excited, he made the oven a "welcome to our home" picture.

"It's Here" - complete with time of installation and portrait of the oven.
  • We found out that we would be adding a new baby to our family...and then, with barely enough time to adjust to the idea, we found out that we had lost the baby. This is really the main reason for my silence here. I've never been very good at pretending things are fine when they aren't fine at all. Feeling very raw, emotional and unprepared to talk about it, I just couldn't go on writing posts about homeschool projects we weren't doing and feast days we barely celebrated with take-out pizza and how our oven was still broken and how we were using disposable diapers because no one had the energy to wash the cloth ones. Grief is a strange, draining thing. It knocked me down and sucked all the life out of me, then left me to sort out the meals and the laundry and the three living children clamoring for my attention. There's definitely more to say about this journey in progress, but that is enough for now. Long silences happen when things feel too difficult to talk about, but leaving this space empty of words has given us a chance to ponder things in our hearts. I know more words will follow in due time.

As we try to move forward, I'm preparing for this Advent season and the new liturgical year with special anticipation. Advent is the darkest time of the year, where we all sit around and wait for the Light to show up in our midst, and no matter how dark it is, the Light always comes. I'll be sharing tomorrow at CatholicMom about this very thing. There will be a link posted here so you can go check it out.

Have you thought about starting to celebrate the seasons of the liturgical year but haven't known how or where to start? Do you think you might want to know more about St. Nicholas and Advent and all the other great feasts in December, but you get so involved in planning for Christmas that you never have time to think about it?

If so, I have great news for you. Tomorrow. So come back tomorrow and find out what it is.

(And if you're totally not into this liturgical year stuff, I hope you'll come back, anyway.)

It's good to be back with you.

    Friday, October 11, 2013

    Five-Minute Friday: Ordinary

    The things I look at all the time are the ones I don't even see any more- the normal, usual, typical things- the dishes in my dishwasher, the books on the living room shelves, the toothbrushes in their holders on the bathroom counters. There are toys I pick up every single day, shoes I put away, jackets I hang up, pillows I straighten. My hands touch them so often that I don't even feel them as I move them casually from floor to proper place...so ordinary.

    Time moves forward measuredly, stretching out in two directions from today's little square on the calendar. Rows of little boxes, orderly and similar, each with its unremarkable black number in the corner, march along backward to Lent and forward to Advent.

    Meanwhile, we make our way through Ordinary, cooking dinner and doing the laundry and washing little faces and arms and legs in the middle of what is, according to the calendar, no special time at all.

    Standing in the middle of it, though, looking around at the average everyday that makes up my life, what I sense is Grace everywhere, all around...marking the walls in crayon and reflected in George's smile across the dinner table and ringing off the ceiling in the laughter of my children when they're supposed to be getting ready for bed but are chasing each other around naked instead.

    It's everywhere, this Grace. It covers us in even the most ordinary moments. Sometimes, in an unexpected second-turned-extraordinary, I can feel it- a warm glow, a sweet scent, a small sigh...


    Five Minute Friday

                                           For more Five-Minute Friday, follow the link above.

    Thursday, October 10, 2013

    Theme Thursday Redux: Double


    This is from our hike yesterday. I took it with my phone as I was getting the snacks out for everyone.

    Conversation with Lucy regarding this picture:

    Lucy: Why is Lucy sadding?
    Me: Hmm. Do you remember why you were sad?
    Lucy: Yes. I am sadding because I want to have my snack right now. I sadded and sadded until Mama gived me apples, and then I stopped.

    Sometimes, the toddler's own explanation is simply the best one.

    For more Theme Thursday takes on Double, go visit Clan Donaldson.

    Wednesday, October 9, 2013

    TwinsDay Wednesday (and Theme Thursday, a day early): Double

    It's TwinsDay Wednesday, and the Theme Thursday prompt for this week's photo linkup at Clan Donaldson is Double. Double was obviously made for TwinsDay, so I'm putting my post up a day early. Look at me, breaking the rules, so cavalier! Who'd have thought I would ever

    (Oh, please, who am I kidding? Cari, please don't kick me out for posting early! I promise I never break rules! I'll never do it again!)

    Ahem. Moving on, then.

    Double. Sweeping the driveway with those brushes made for cleaning snow off the cars. Why not.

    Although I won't ever use the tired, often-heard "double trouble" to describe my twins (even on the days it is true), there is double a lot of other stuff around here: double diapers, double potties, double tiny socks, double running stroller, double rain boots (at least one of which is always missing when it's time to go), double baby dolls (we have duplicates of all of ours), double supply of those teeny tiny hair elastics that get stuck in the carpet but won't get sucked up by the vacuum cleaner no matter how hard I try.

    More importantly, we have double hugs, double giggles, and double little voices to sing with when it's time to say grace.

    They're two years old now, and I've really come to love double. It's a lot of work, but it's not impossible, and I'm truly grateful for my double blessing.

    That said, this sister rivalry thing is killing me!

    This looks sweet, but right after this, Nora grabbed the apple and hit Lucy with it.

    Sibling rivalry is new territory for us. The Sisters have officially gotten old enough to irritate each other (and their brother, too) on purpose. When Lucy is singing the ABC Song, Nora starts to sing it, too, just so Lucy will scream and yell, "Nora is singing it, too!" When Nora tries to grab Lucy's hand at dinner, Lucy wrinkles her face at Nora and says, "No, Nora!" and Nora bursts into tears. When this happened one night recently, Lucy looked up innocently at George and said, "Nora is sadding. But Lucy is eating my dinner nicely."

    I could have sworn she batted her eyes at him.

    Surely the double rivalry will be replaced with double sisterly love very soon. Right? Or are we destined to have a masking tape line down the center of every room where we expect the girls to coexist? Will they be beating each other in the head with hairdryers at age 14 and lying to get each other in trouble? Is there any hope?

    For more Theme Thursday interpretations of "double," check out Clan Donaldson. (You know...on Thursday.)

    Tuesday, October 8, 2013

    Tiny steps for Tuesday: tackling the next mess

    It's Tuesday again. A week ago, I told you that I was overwhelmed by a bunch of Big, Overwhelming Things. I told you I was going to stop procrastinating and start dealing with the stuff a tiny bit at a time.

    Well, I did something. I weeded my front flowerbed. I didn't take a "before" picture, but now it looks like this:

    Satisfying! You can see that there are actual plants in there. Amazing.

    Of course, there are still the back flowerbeds and the garden and the two side flowerbeds to worry about...but I did something toward getting things under control. Making just a little bit of progress made everything else seem more manageable.

    Last week when I talked about the Big, Overwhelming Things and how paralyzed I felt, some of you knew just what I meant. Some of you know how it feels to be tired of treading water and ready to start swimming forward. Some of you shared your own Big, Overwhelming Things and how you were going to work on them this week.

    (I'm dying to know how it went!)

    I felt encouraged by the little support group gathering in the comment box and on facebook. Ellie even suggested we call our little movement "Wading to Exhale." You know, not drowning, not diving in headfirst, definitely not treading water...just moving forward a little at a time so we can breathe easier.

    (Don't you love that?)

    Using last week's momentum, I'm going to keep wading. Here's my Tiny Step for this week:

    Small spaces can get really, really cluttered at our house. Take this one, for example. It's the top of my dresser, and it's seriously stressing me out.

    George and I each have our own dresser for clothes, but his is in the closet. It fits perfectly under a shelf in there, so it's out of the way (but still convenient when it's time to get dressed). 

    The downside of this arrangement is that he has no dresser top on which to put the stuff that one puts on top of one's dresser.
    My dresser is tall enough that none of our children can reach things that are on top of it. It is one of the few surfaces in the house that fits this description. And so, it is piled high with all kinds of stuff: Sam's drawings, old batteries, a moon nightlight that needs a bulb, some not-quite-empty cups of water and Diet Coke, a Christmas ornament we bought on vacation this summer, three children's shoes, game pieces from McDonald's Monopoly, a broken pencil, rubber bands, three bottles of nail polish, tiny girl hair accessories, George's chaplet rosary and pocket watch, my running iPod and my Garmin watch, a pink toy spatula, an elastic waistband that Sam pulled out of his shorts three weeks ago, and a (now broken) strand of Mardi Gras beads the children were fighting over this morning.

    You get the idea. It's a multi-layered mess. 

    Today, I took everything off the dresser, sorted it into piles, put the piles away, dusted the dresser, the pictures and the jewelry box that sits on top of it, and put just a few things back. It took twenty-six minutes.

    My bedroom still needs vacuuming, and the top dresser drawer is still broken, and there is a huge mess of confiscated toys in our closet (which makes it nearly impossible to walk in there)...but this is one tiny step toward getting our little sanctuary back.

    Did you take any Tiny Steps this week toward dealing with the Big, Enormous Things you've been putting off? Got any projects for this week? Please share! We want to know how it went.

    Monday, October 7, 2013

    Monday morning motivation {a playlist}

    Ah, Monday. Here you are again.

    There is no reason why we should struggle to get along. You're just a day. You don't intimidate me. And just to make sure you know who's boss, I'm kicking off the week with a brand-new Monday morning playlist. I think these songs are light enough to ease us all in to the new week but upbeat and happy enough to pull us in the direction of having a great day.

    You can play the playlist on your computer or mobile device using Spotify. (If you don't have Spotify installed, it's free and easy to do.)

    Just add coffee, and I bet your morning will be off to a good start.

    What songs get you up and going when you need a little mood boost? Feel free to add to the list that's already started on facebook or leave suggestions here in the comments.

    Friday, October 4, 2013

    Five-Minute Friday: Write

    Oh, wow, it's been a long time since I did a Five-Minute Friday. Today, I'm jumping back in again in my effort to take small steps to conquer Big, Overwhelming Things. It's easy to join in the writing fun- set a timer for five minutes, write on today's prompt without over-editing or heavy self-criticism, then share what you've got and encourage the writers around you. If you're feeling brave (or even if you aren't!), you can link up your post here at Lisa-Jo's.

    Here we go...five minutes on the clock.


    The pressure starts at the back of my neck. It stretches around the sides of my head, ending up someplace behind my eyes...and that's where the pain starts. A tension headache like this one can keep me awake all night, my head so full of whirling, churning thoughts that it might explode at any second.

    How I wish for a tiny valve on the side of my head, something I could release to let the thoughts run out my ear canal so they wouldn't be cluttering up the inside of my brain this way. They fly back and forth, crashing into each other, making me see white lights when they collide.

    There is no such valve, but there is paper and pen. The next best thing. The only way to get those thoughts out of my head and safely tucked away someplace so I can get some rest.

    I haven't been writing enough lately. I've been busy with other things. But writing, like sleeping, only seems like a luxury. When I don't take time to scribble the thoughts down, they fester and corrode and turn dark and dangerous. Letting them out into the light is the only way to stay healthy, to be strong, to be really alive.

    For more Five-Minute Friday, click the link below.

    Five Minute Friday

    Wednesday, October 2, 2013

    Five Minutes Alone...at CatholicMom

    I was so excited to hear from Sarah Reinhard yesterday that I am being featured as part of the Small Steps blog tour hosted by CatholicMom. The tour celebrates the release of Small Steps for Catholic Moms by Elizabeth Foss and Danielle Bean, the latest in the CatholicMom line of publications.
    Take a look at the post here.

    In addition to the blog tour, there's a contest to win a whole set of the books! All you have to do to enter is to fill out an entry form with how you grab five minutes alone.

    Come check out the blog tour and fill out the form...someone has to win. I'd love it to be one of my readers.

    Tuesday, October 1, 2013

    No more treading water (getting over Perfect and making Good Enough happen)

    File:Tooting Bec Lido 20080724.JPG
    Image credit: Nick Cooper at en.wikipedia via CC


    I remember clearly the summer I learned to tread water. 

    It was supposed to be easy, a way to rest and conserve energy. To my nine-year-old arms and legs, it was a special kind of torture. To pass the test, I was required to keep my head above water for ten minutes by the clock while staying still in the middle of the ten-foot-deep end of the pool. It seemed like the hardest thing I would ever have to do.

    I wasn't good at it. I hated it. But it turned out I was worse at the dead man's float (because for that one, my face had to be in the water, and that just felt like drowning).

    Image:Swim Under Water Without Holding Your Nose Step 4.jpg
    Image credit: Wikiphoto on wikiHow via CC

    Treading water is definitely better than drowning.

    I've been treading water lately. I've been doing enough laundry that we have clean clothes in baskets but not in our drawers. I've been making sure my family has adequate meals but haven't always included vegetables. I've been loading and unloading the dishwasher but also leaving dishes on the dish drainer and in the sink. I've been keeping the porch clear of toys but not pulling the weeds out front, and our whole flowerbed has been overgrown for weeks now. (Yeah, I know, it was a rainy summer and everyone's yard is overgrown...but ours is special. It's gotten to the point that when my friend's son jumped into middle of the front flowerbed and she said "Please don't jump in the flowerbed," he said, "What, you mean these weed piles?")

    Sigh. Yes. These weed piles. The piles that are not at all symbolic of how I feel about absolutely everything else around me...right? Am I convincing you?

    It might be the cooler weather or the changing leaves, but something's made me decide it is time to start taking care of some of this stuff. Not all at once. A little at a time. I'm sensing a season ahead in which I might be able to do more, where I might be able to move forward just a little bit.

    Maybe it's time to stop treading water and try actually swimming for a little while.

    Some of the jobs are Big Things. Some of them keep me up at night with their Overwhelmingness and their Complicatedness and their I-Just-Can't-Possibly-ness. The thing is, they aren't going away. They aren't going to get smaller or less challenging to tackle. At some point, I have to just decide to start doing them.

    I'm tired of their Bigness and Impossibleness looming over me all hours of the day and night. It is time to take action.

    I have decided to do Just One Little Thing. One tiny thing each day, for ten or fifteen minutes. I'm making a list of the Big Things that are bugging me, and I'm going to work on one of them for a few minutes at a time until it is better. Not perfect. Just better.

    Perfect is often the root of my problem. I like Perfect. I want as many things as possible to be as perfect as possible. Sometimes I think God gave me all of my little people so they could swarm around me in a frenzy and remind me that Perfect just Ain't Gonna Happen around here and I might as well get over it and learn to live with Pretty Much Good Enough.

    Sometimes I think I want Perfect so badly that I can't even see how to get started on Pretty Much Good Enough. So I tread water for a while and say I'm thinking about how to get started but never really get started and end up just wearing myself out with the effort it takes to make no progress.

    Enough of that for now. It's time to start moving forward.

    Want to know some of the things?

    • The giant tangle of weeds in the front flowerbed is so high, you can't see the actual plants any more. (I can't fix that all at once, but I can weed for 15 minutes.)

    • I have an overdue library book that I'm not finished with and I'm out of renewals and the fine is getting bigger every day and I feel paralyzed about it. (If I read for 15 minutes, I might just about finish the book.)

    • The girls need new sweaters for the fall. I have the yarn and the pattern but not the right size needles to do the project. I could definitely order the needles online in 15 minutes (and when they get here, I can knit for 15 minutes at a time).

    • I haven't written here nearly enough lately. I have all these ideas in my head and no time to put them down and make them coherent and share them with you.
    (This might be my biggest problem, actually. When my head gets full of backed-up words, my life seems full of chaos. I'm not sure that 15 minutes of writing is going to fix anything, but it's a place to start.)

    What are some other places I can start?

    • Setting up the sewing machine with the right thread and bobbin and laying out the pieces of fabric for those kitchen curtains
    • Cleaning out just the vegetable drawer in the refrigerator
    • Bringing in the bins of fall clothes from the shed (so I can eventually change out the summer stuff)
    • Throwing away the trash that has collected under the back seat in the van
    • Picking up the shoes and confiscated toys out of the floor of our closet so we can walk inside it again
    • Setting the timer for ten minutes and filing papers from the Giant Pile until the timer goes off

    A tiny bit at a time. Reach out an arm into the water, take a stroke and move forward a little, then reach out again for another stroke.

    It is time to make some things happen. Just not all at once.

    Do you have something you need or want to tackle that has been overwhelming you? Want to do a little project with me? I'm thinking I'll pick one thing and work on it for a week, then report back on how it's going. Do you have a Big Thing, something like cleaning out your pantry or unpacking some boxes that have been sitting around or tackling a pile of mending or organizing your garage?  

    Would you share it with me? We can support each other.

    If you want to join in, leave a comment with what project you're going to tackle. Work on it at least once for 15 minutes between now and next Tuesday. Then, check back in next Tuesday to see how we have all done. (I'd like to call it a cutesy name, but I don't have one in mind just yet.)

    I bet at least a few of us will make more progress than we would have otherwise.

    Every little bit counts. The best way to get nothing done at all is to keep treading water. Even if we take just one stroke, we'll be further along than we are right now.

    So what do you say? Ready to swim a little bit?

    Thursday, September 19, 2013

    Raw edges

    I've been wondering a lot lately.

    Does writing a blog like this mean that I'm pretending things in my life are polished nicely or finished, somehow?

    I hope not. I don't think it has to be that way, not necessarily...I know I have let you all in on some piles of dirty laundry and lapses in parenting and less-than-perfect celebrations here. Our life is just our life. It's not particularly polished, but our philosophy has always been to just invite the people that matter to join us in the middle of it, even if it's not tidy.

    Does writing a blog like this mean that I am tempted not to write when things seem very open-ended, unresolved and unraveled around the edges? 

    Probably. Most stories are better with a beginning, a middle, and an end. I'm in the middle of living this life, but I'm also curating it. If I'm being honest with myself (and with you), when I feel like things are especially unfinished, I'm likely to save those stories for a time when they are better developed.

    So why haven't I been writing lately?

    I've been busy. Reading. Running. Printing out sets of animal sorting cards for SuperSam to classify and laminating them with clear contact paper. Looking for new ways to cook lentils. Listening to the Twinkle Variations on repeat with my aspiring violinist. Playing with math manipulatives. Helping The Sisters take off and put on their baby dolls' clothes over and over again. Making rosaries.

    The thing is, I'm always busy. I started this blog when my twins were not yet four months old. It's not as if I have ever had uninterrupted time to write here.

    I think the real reason I haven't been writing is because writing is naturally reflective. It holds a mirror up in front of my life, showing me just what I look like there in the middle of it...and right now, it's a mess.

    When any family has its first Kindergartner, there is always a transition, a shift in intention. I'm not sure why I expected it would be any different for our family. Homeschooling has required a shift in my attention. We are in transition, all of us, as we work out what it means for our family to do school at home and in our community instead of in a school building. We don't know what it looks like yet. It's a new creation, something we're birthing...and just as in birth, there's a period of transition as we try to figure out how to make it work.

    Transition. Great new things coming, but not without some pain. Also piles of laundry and a chronically unswept floor.

    Any time I find myself at one of these crossroads where something entirely new is taking shape out of the previously comfortable things that came before, I'm discontent, restless, and irritable. Transition forces me to confront the less-than-perfect parts of my life. The raw seams. The unfinished, in-process, frustrating, keep-behind-closed-doors things that I'm not ready for anyone to see yet.

    And I have been writing. A little. Scrawling, really- little ideas and phrases that leak out of my brain and onto the pages of a tiny blue notebook, one which I can safely shut and fasten with an elastic band for extra security, making sure those thoughts won't escape to see the light of day until I'm ready to deal with them. 

    I can't see them in there, and neither can you.

    And until today, I thought that was for the best.

    But see, I've told you now. Now you know about the notebook and the thoughts and the mess. Now you know that I've been grumpy and tired and frustrated. Now you can imagine a whole bunch of other things I haven't told you, like how my kitchen looks with dishes stacked up on the counter and how we ran out of milk more than a day ago and how SuperSam rewore his soccer shirt this week without it having been washed and how I forgot to pay the water bill. Because that's how it is sometimes.

    I hope you know what I'm talking about.

    Maybe you don't know. Maybe you can't relate to the feeling that you are too close to the edge of spinning out of control and dropping not just the laundry but every single important thing you're responsible for holding. Maybe you haven't ever laid in bed in the morning and wished you could fast forward to the end of the day and fall asleep again because you were just that tired. Maybe you haven't felt like avoiding phone calls and social encounters because you weren't sure you had the energy to appear pulled together when you felt just the opposite. 

    But maybe you have. Maybe you do know how it feels to be in a less-than-composed place. Maybe you're even there now.

    If you are, you're not alone. I hold up my mess to you as evidence of your not-aloneness. I'm smack in the middle of it, but it won't last forever. I'm going to work my way through and come out stronger for it.

    I know you will, too.

    And while blogging is a pretty public way to work my stuff out, maybe it's not the kind of public where I must have every thought perfectly pinned down before I share it. Maybe I don't have to smooth out every rough spot before I let you in on the process.

    This blog is about practice, after all.

    It's about gratitude and struggle and family and faith and community and survival, yes- all those things- but mostly about practice. Process. How we're all working out our salvation with fear and trembling.

    So with more than a little fear and trembling, I'm letting you in on the mess. I don't have a way to connect all the dots yet. I don't know what the meaning of it all is, and I can't see the bigger picture, but I know there is one. All will be well. It will, truly, even if it isn't yet, even if today I can't see a way forward.

    You can expect to hear from me a bit more regularly in the near future. I can't promise it will be polished or insightful or inspiring, but I can promise it will be honest. And polished or not, it is always a privilege and a blessing to be able to share my thoughts with you.

    Thanks for keeping me company on the journey.

    Monday, September 9, 2013

    Thoughts on hand-me-downs and the passing of time

    This weekend, my twin girls will be two years old. Not two years old adjusted for their arrival date, which was about three and a half weeks early, but two years old...with all the glories and frustrations that come along with that milestone.

    They talk in sentences now, copying each other, trying to outdo each other with their words just as they do with their climbing, their swinging, their jumping. They try to be the first to make their brother laugh. They fight with teeth and nails over the dinosaur plate at dinner and the whale bib at snack time. Identical toys don't pacify them- they both want the same one at the same time. Tears and screams and pushes and shoves dominate our days.

    A few weeks from now, their big brother will turn five. Five years old...a big kid. He's no toddler any more. He's the one refereeing his sisters, setting the timer on the microwave to help them with their disputes over toys. He reads to them and pours his own milk from a small glass pitcher. He washes his hands now without being told.

    This is the part where I'm supposed to say that it's going by so fast, that I can't believe they are this old, that I don't know how it happened so quickly...but I'm not going to say that.

    I don't think it is going by fast.

    It seems to be taking exactly the right amount of time.

    Some days are longer than others, of course, but I always knew I'd be the kind of parent who would have more and more fun as the days and months and years went on. I enjoyed my children as babies, but they just get more interesting as they grow. They can play games. They can make jokes. They can sing and request songs they like (over and over and over again). They can say, "I love you, Mama." They can express empathy to each other and help unload the dishwasher. They can sit unsupported in the bathtub.

    SuperSam, in particular, is amazing to me. He dresses himself and reads his own books and leads his sisters in long games of pretending they are baby otters trying to save the universe from flying crocodiles. He thinks critically about things and asks big questions, some of which I defer to his dad with his degree in philosophy. He's fascinating and sometimes maddening.

    It's getting better all the time.

    No, it doesn't seem to me that I blinked and suddenly they were nearly two and nearly five. It seems to me that we laid the bricks of the path that brought us here paintstakingly, one by one, bending low over our work, making our way an inch at a time until our backs ached and our fingers were raw from scraping over the rough parts. Parenting little kids is difficult, messy work. When people tell me it flies by or that I should appreciate every single blessed little moment, I think they've forgotten what it really feels like. 

    What it feels like is a long, slow, uphill climb, where you only get tiny glimpses of the summit every now and then. Most of the time, I feel like we can't see the mountain for the trees.

    I can, however, see the mountain of hand-me-downs, because it is always in front of me.

    We are one of the younger families in our circle, so we are at the end of the hand-me-down line. I've been so grateful for the big bags of clothing that show up periodically, things I sort through and repair and put into bins for the future. We stack them in the shed out back: Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015...and then the ones I can barely imagine them wearing, put away in the bins marked Big Kid Clothes and Shoes to be saved for some far-off time.

    When I look at the stacks of clothes SuperSam will wear next year, the year after, even the one after that...the size 7 jeans and size 8-10 coat and size 9 bathing suits, I can't believe he will ever be that big. The pant legs are so long...the arms that will fill those sleeves seem double his current wingspan. How will his feet ever take up enough space to occupy those shoes?

    This has always been true for me, even back at the very beginning, with the piles of brand new, tags-still-on baby clothes that I lovingly stacked in empty drawers as we waited for Sam's arrival. Even the newborn sizes seemed hard to imagine on an actual baby (was he really going to be that big just after birth?), and when I held up the 6 month or 12-18 month sleepers, I couldn't comprehend how he'd ever be large enough to wear them.

    When I sort his outgrown things to pass them down, it's different. I don't feel especially awed at how big he is now or at how much he's grown. Somehow, he still seems to be the size he once was. I hold up onesies, little footed jammies, tiny socks, and I clearly remember his squishiness, his scrunched up face laughing, the way he fit perfectly into the curve of my left arm when I balanced him on my hip. He was mine then- I knew him. I pressed my nose into the side of his cheek and made a buzzing sound that always made him giggle. 

    He has always been the right size, in the right time.

    Now, he somehow seems to be all of his former sizes at once.

    The side of his cheek still feels the same against my nose. The top of his leg is still the most reliably ticklish place on his whole body, and squeezing it still sends him into fits of giggles and squeals, just as it always has. Yellow is still his favorite color, and he still always chooses the most wildly patterned socks available.

    But he's even more himself now than he has ever been. He accompanies his perpetual ping-pong-ball motion with beatbox-style drumbeats as he bounces through life. He notices every detail of everything, yet forgets to answer when we ask him a question if he's lost in thought about something else. He always, always has a book (or three) in his bed or in his car seat. He loves puns, outer space, dinosaurs, undersea creatures, math and science and music and poetry and knowledge for its own sake. He's endlessly curious, exhilarating and exhausting.

    I know him still, even better than I did back when he was a squishable gigglebox in a onesie...and the best part is that there is always more to know. With every year that passes, he's more complex, more fascinating, and more infuriating.

    It's not going too fast. It is unfolding at precisely the rate it is meant to unfold, and I'm along for the ride.

    I'm just running out of room to keep the clothes. And it is hard to get rid of them, because they still seem to be his things. They fit a version of him that's been swallowed up inside the increasingly long-legged, soccer-playing, violin-toting, pencil-chewing almost five-year-old. Every previous version of him is still in there someplace.

    So as I sort the big clothes for Future SuperSam, I'm hanging onto a few of his smaller things. Maybe I'm not big on the overly sentimental practice of talking about how fast time is flying by, but looking at the tiny overalls he once wore does bring a certain amount of perspective...and that's almost always a good thing.

    Friday, August 23, 2013

    7 Quick Takes: The First 7 Things I Loved About Homeschooling

    So, we officially began homeschooling with SuperSam this week. We have been easing into it for a couple of weeks, and our generally curious lifestyle (frequent google searches and trips to the library for information he HAS to have on a given day) set us up well to be successful as a homeschooling family, I think.

    The first week has gone really well. I didn't expect things to feel quite as different as they do now that we are officially "in school." I think we are both liking the change. SuperSam is excited and proudly tells people that he is in Kindergarten but doing school at home.

    Although I also didn't expect to feel so tired at the end of the day (and to fall so behind on housework!), it has been a good week.  We haven't changed much about what we are actually doing, but something about the intention of it (thinking of it as school and loosely keeping track of what we're reading and studying) has taken more energy than it did before. I know I'll figure out the balance and that the good will keep on outweighing the bad. I just can't believe I never folded the three loads of laundry that are still stacked in my bedroom.


    Here are the first seven things I have loved about homeschooling this week:

    SuperSam's quote of the week: "The best thing about homeschooling is that I can still go outside as much as I want, even after school starts."

    Our classroom has been outdoors this week more often than it has been indoors. Walking on the Greenway, observing butterflies in the backyard, watching the groundhog that has made a burrow under our neighbor's shed, sketching a praying mantis on our back deck, studying earthworms, and counting dead monarch caterpillars on a walk have all been opportunities for learning. We have freedom to study whatever is interesting where we are, and we have the flexibility to pursue those interests wherever they lead, no matter how long it takes.

    We love that.

    Staying home for school means that most days, we have no rush to be on time. On days when we have to be someplace at a certain time (like Sundays!), the extra stress of getting everyone out the door makes me tense and more likely to yell. When we can start the day in a leisurely way, I don't have to worry about how long it is taking SuperSam to get ready, and I can relax and enjoy his company. He's an awesome kid to hang out with...just don't ask him to put on his shoes quickly.

    We have been reading and reading and reading. SuperSam loves to read on his own, but he has been reading a lot to the Sisters this week, too. He and I have been working our way through The Hobbit a bit at a time. I've even been reading my own books while he reads (either the Magic Treehouse series or nonfiction books about sea creatures and ocean life) in the afternoons after his nap time while the Sisters are still sleeping. I love that reading with and to him is such a big part of our day...and since I don't have to teach him to read, some of the pressure is off for me for this year.

    Surprisingly, one of my favorite things so far is doing Bible stories with the kids. Of course, we have always told them Bible stories and read to them from Bible story books. Since we've decided to make it part of our curriculum, though, SuperSam and I have read or retold the same story of Jesus calling Simon Peter every day this week. On the second day, I remembered a little song about it from my childhood Sunday School days, so I taught it to them. They've been singing it every day since. Our story even inspired a science activity (I'll get to that in a minute).

    It's easy to forget as an adult that the stories of Jesus' life are exciting and kind of magical. They're fun to tell and fun to act out and fun to draw. We grownups get hung up on what Big Spiritual Benefit we are supposed to be getting from them. "What does this mean in my life?" we ask. To our kids, though, they are just some really cool stories. As SuperSam said, "Jesus was, like, totally awesome."

    (And Lucy responded, "Baby Jeezus tode-ly ah-suhm.")

    Kitchen sink science has got to be one of the coolest things about homeschooling. We're thinking about Simon Peter's fishing boat? Let's make a boat and see if it floats. What can we use? Oh, aluminum foil, ok. How should we design it? Hey, let's make three different designs and see which one works best. Now let's pretend these pennies are fish and count how many fish each boat can hold before it sinks. Let's draw a chart and fill in the data. Wow, these pennies look dirty. Let's wash them with soap. That didn't help? Let's try vinegar and salt and see what happens...and on and on it goes.

    I love watching SuperSam's brain work, figuring out what questions it wants to ask and how to answer them. Mostly, I just say, "Oh, okay, what do you think you need?" or "How could you fix that?" and see what he comes up with. It's never dull.

    The Sisters want to do school, too. I didn't expect this. I love that they want to be in on what SuperSam is doing every...single...minute...but it is making me a little crazy. Trying to come up with ways to keep them engaged and occupied is going to be the hardest part about this whole thing. It doesn't help that they are in a stage of constant competition with one another.

    Our best successes this week happened when I moved things outside. Taking the easel outside and letting the Sisters draw while SuperSam works in his playhouse has been a great way for him to get some space to himself.

    So this one isn't so much MY love, but SuperSam's: my kid loves math. Really, really loves math. I don't know where that came from, but it is my duty not to squash it or to in any way suggest that he should not love math. I take this responsibility seriously, even if I wonder whose genetic material caused this strange love of numbers. He certainly didn't inherit it from either of his parents.

    Much to my surprise, he has been grasping math concepts quickly and naturally and asking for more every day. I wasn't even going to really do a formal math curriculum with him, since we do so much "real life" math with cooking, measuring, telling time, counting money, playing with shapes, etc. Now I'm wondering if I should let him go ahead since he's so interested.

    That's the first week for you- so far, so good. It's not going to be easy, but there is a lot to love about homeschooling here with my family, and I'm certain that it's the right decision for us at this time.

    If you don't think so, please don't tell me this week. :-) I'm very tired now and I don't have the energy to defend our position with a smile on my face. Wait a while until I've gotten my homeschooling bearings...then I can take you on properly.

    Oh, and lest you fear for his social development, SuperSam will be on a soccer field for the first time tomorrow morning (in the cutest little cleats and shin guards I have ever, ever seen.) We'll let you know how it goes.

    For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!