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Second-Grader in a Tux

I’ve been overwhelmed lately. I know I’m not supposed to admit that, but now it’s out there, and I’m not taking it back.

 My good friend Stacey pulled out of her Houston home Friday morning, to settle with her family in North Carolina. My head for so long had been telling me how lovely and bright this was. When it actually happened though, my heart screamed a bit. Stacey is such an inspiration, teacher, and friend to me. I never quite felt deserving of her friendship, but her quiet grace paved the way to many, many long conversations. I’m delighted about the course of this change – and I will miss her terribly.

 I’ve been feeling isolated from my church lately. Wow, there’s another one I’m probably not supposed to admit. On one hand, it’s my fault: Jared works Saturday and Sunday very late (I write this at 12:16a.m., while he’s showering, and will serve him dinner in a short while). So while we do have Sunday mornings available, it’s difficult to get our family moving. When we do go to church, I don’t have that sense of belonging anymore that I enjoyed deeply in years past. This isn’t the place for me to pin details up, and I know the members are supposed to be the instruments of change if indeed there’s to be change… but I also wonder if the Lord is allowing this to be a dislodging for our family, if there’s indeed to be a job-related move for us in the semi-near future.

 I’m still having trouble with another close relationship. I sense personal direction from scripture, and I’m massively grateful for that, though it doesn’t make it easy whatsoever.

 Oh, and I’m also grateful for a secondary car. I’ve been driving that while learning a huge hunk of what it means to buy a used car, a privately-sourced one, and what all these different makes and models and mileages and maintenances and prices are supposed to mean, pertaining to wisdom for our family.

Noah was asked to be the ring-bearer in my friend Erika’s wedding, to her new husband Anthony. She was a good friend to me in high school and beyond. It was an absolute delight to share the glowing celebration with her. Here’s a little eye-candy of my fellow!

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Happenings, September 2012:

– relocating to a different part of town, to begin residing with a good friend of our family. Downsizing accordingly.

– Jared’s dissertation research accepted for publication. Woo-hoo! He’s a few pounds lighter, just by stress lifted, and polishing the resume.

– a few weeks in, and beginning to feel comfortable facilitating Noah’s weekly class of home-schoolers.

– a few weeks in, and weighing my home-school goals against a month’s implementation. Consider what stays, what goes, what adjusts.

– corresponding with my mom. Not pretty. There are difficult spiritual themes, and I’m struggling to understand how to balance, indeed if there’s capacity at all to balance, my roles of wife/mother with adult daughter. I’m also struggling to hold fast to my identity and my virtues when they’re abruptly challenged by a lady I’ll always feel connection and loyalty to.

Someone who I’m sure will read this asked me today about stress management. That was kind. But I hadn’t thought about it before, or even that I qualified to be asked such a question. I said truthfully that I try to maximize enjoyment in small pleasures like my new favored cuppow. Here’s my official stress-management list:

– enjoy those small pleasures. Work with gusto, as towards a God-given assignment, and find something to delight in. If there’s a convenience I enjoy, I try to really enjoy it, and be thankful.

– friends. God has given me beautiful women as companions this season of life. Some I see irregularly, but with effortless come-together moments; some weekly, when we tackle our issues — uplifting, challenging, teaching, and affirming one another.

– marriage. I hold on to my mister. I want to be a blessing to him rather than a hindrance, and he’s good at seeing me for what may be an ounce of good, rather than a pint of bad. Over our years, I’ve learned that issues are nowhere near as important as supporting one another personally, and that blessing my husband and home is one of the most important works I can do.

– get smarter. This is easy with home-schooling, because one can’t ethically enforce learning for someone else without gaining a few things along the way also. But I also mean scriptural: I’ve been captivated by the wisdom books lately, and I’m trying to let scripture be my compass. I’m reading Proverbs, I often listen to Mark Driscoll podcasts, and I try to engage in some kind of study, be it group-oriented or just quality non-fiction. I weigh everything against what I’ve already seen true, which simply is my self-permission to toss out worldly expertise that’s incongruent with scripture.

– take a step away from reality. When things get really intense, I escape into another character’s heart and mind for a moment. My mom thinks this is a terrible idea. I think it refreshes me, and prepares me to step back into my own relationships with renewed grace and thought. I terribly enjoy live theater (free, because Houston rocks that way), I’ll admit to a TV show while Jared’s working late on weekends, and, when things are really tricky, I pick up a novel.

Today is  Sunday. We’re moving furniture on Tuesday!

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If you’ve stopped by this month, you may have heard:

I’m learning the art of yogurt-making.

I made laundry detergent. It makes me happy, I cannot deny.

I’ve been trying ice cream! Ice cream makes people happy, who can deny?

Here’s something I won’t make. So I’ll brag about someone who does…

Nail Polish. By Scotch Naturals.

I read a book last summer, No More Dirty Looks. It rocked my world. Basically, the two authors were young single roomies, also journalists. They treated themselves to the Brazilian Blowout, an expensive hair treatment. It looked great… until it wore off, leaving their hair in the poorest condition it’d ever been. They were motivated to start some research, the research became a book about the U.S. cosmetic industry, especially in regards to toxicity. The first half is an expose regarding consumer information and regulatory insufficiency. There’s a helpful break-down of ingredients, so this girl here could start reading labels for herself (thank you!). The second half is packed with suggestions for alternatives, both commercial and home-sourced. It’s all written in a conversational, girlfriend style.

One thing I learned is that nearly everything we put on our skin is absorbed into the bloodstream. (Rabbit trail alert… Mineral oil, a.k.a. petroleum oil, a.k.a. baby oil, is an exception. It performs as a barrier on the skin. Both my boys’ pediatricians, unprompted, advised me never to apply baby oil or baby lotion [made of mineral oil] to a baby. I’d recommend something instead with olive, coconut, jojoba, safflower, almond, or pretty much any edible oil.)

I used to think nails were the no-bother of cosmetic alarm. They’re dead protein, right? They’re tough. Well, nails are actually porous. They do receive the dressings we women give them. And most nail polish is a mess of toxicity. That’s why it literally stinks. Start with the formaldehyde (which often isn’t on the label, as it’s an existing by-product, rather than an ingredient). I don’t want formaldehyde in my body. I’ve heard it’s a principle embalming fluid.

After pitching my odorous OPI and Essie bottles despite their adorable color names, I discovered a few makers of “3-free” polishes, three referring to dibutyl phthalate, toluene, and formaldehyde — commonly called the ”toxic trio.” A few polishes, additionally, are water-based and vegan: the brand I chose is Scotch. They started off as Hopscotch, a line for girls. Little girls and nail polish these days often seem to go hand-in-hand. Next came Scotch, a line for grown-ups. I have some. I enjoy them. They are near-odorless (my cat sits next to me while I apply), they wear durably when you follow the prompts, and the colors are sophisticated. The application process takes longer than the drugstore counterpart, but I feel positively about the product, so I don’t mind a bit.

Take a look!

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I’ve happened upon a few articles recently about Mommy Wars. They churned up around Mother’s Day.

First, I learned something wonderful about Mother’s Day. In it’s intended form, the day’s title is singular. I’ve always wondered about that, and I’ve often written it in plural possessive. The thought was that it’s a set-aside day in which each honors his/her mother; not a day in which we as society honor collective mothers. I find the intention  refreshing.

Back to the articles: At first glance, I expected to agree with the commentary about socially competitive mothering. Then the authors started talking about me. Mothers who homeschool, serve organic food, take photos of their kids, have creative enterprise, maintain a trim budget, keep blogs. What? I was defensive. I don’t have a creative enterprise, but that’d be cool; I’ve certainly enjoyed learning to think more creatively than I did five years ago. As for the other ventures, I’m two feet in. All of them. What did I do to merit this author’s wrath?

Frankly, I’m glad there’s a current wave of home-oriented thinking among women. A generation before mine, I understand it was very uncouth to set sights on benefiting home and husband. Children of that day needed a mom to be a confident contributor in the adult world; anyone could change diapers and serve after-school cookies. So I hear. I wasn’t a mom then.

I am a mom now. My being at home raises a few eyebrows, but not so many. Really, I think at-home mothering has become somewhat of a status symbol. That aside, for women to turn the trend and reinvest themselves in child-rearing, to whatever degree, is good and necessary. Our kids need an accessible mom and a secure home-base. And what’s wrong with eating organically?

Then a different-but-similar article suggested: The problem isn’t so much these habits, but the anger with which we condemn other mothers who aren’t doing as we do. It’s when we pride ourselves for having figured things out, and condemn the less-qualified:

Two mothers woke up and opened their Bibles to pray, one a perfect mother and the other a not-so-perfect mother.

The perfect mother prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am Mom enough, not like other mothers who have no clue what they’re doing, or even like those whose children disobey and don’t achieve as much as mine do.’

But the not-so-perfect mother prayed, ‘God, help me, a grace-dependent mother whose faith is so small but whose God is so great!’

The fruit within Eden wasn’t itself evil: it’s we who were. Internet, wine, city-living, sex: it’s not these which are not inherently toxic; it’s what we do that contorts them so. Mothering can be yet another dirty, barren rag on the pile of fig-leaves and shame.

And so I will write. Not because I wish to prove that I am better. (Though some days I might, I confess and repent.) But because these great ideas I share were never mine. They were things I discovered — many by surprise, some by search, and quite a few despite resistance. I wish to capture them for my own memory, and launch them forward for whatever benefit they may be to you. I do love my kids. I do like the things I’m learning and becoming. I don’t care how you feed your children, as long as you hold your baby close. If anything, we need each other: I bottle-fed, I appreciate that choice, and I also would have been helped to have known an experienced woman to show me an alternative method.

Most of all, I want to be better. I really, really need to learn more about grace.

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Hello, blog. It’s been awhile.

I am reading a book entitled Organic Housekeeping. My friend Janie read it years ago, and I esteem her such that I’m sure I’d read anything she recommended. My bought copy is an old library edition, which I think is cute.

For the last year, I’ve shifted in my efforts of homemaking. I’ve drawn inspiration from Song of Solomon’s Engedi, itself a place of military refuge, and of beauty and providence in terms of landscape and flora. Marriage is to fit right into that picture. So. When I consider my husband’s home-comings, I try to do a heart and ambiance check, especially if he’s had a rough day at work. (Is there healthy, aromatic food? Is it visually appealing, low on clutter? Maybe some music, or at least a hospitable voice from me, as opposed to a grouchy one? Are my kids running wild, or are they pleasant and ready?) I want to have a nourishing home. For husband, kids, guests, and myself alike.

Reading merely the intro to this book, however, caused me to realize: I’ve become a better homemaker, but I am a pitiful housekeeper! If homemaking is in creating a restful and energizing space, housekeeping is about practical, systematic maintenance. I don’t clean enough, and I am not organized enough. It’s a fact. But I’m ready to learn. My sister-in-law Joyce was an inspiration, too. We four got to visit her and her husband for a weekend. Joyce is a lovely homemaker and housekeeper. Her inviting space made me want to re-examine my approach.

I’ve put a few experimental efforts into new basics, and I’ll share with you what I’m learning. Yesterday, I made laundry detergent. Today, I used it… on the sheets and ‘jammies Braeden happened to have peed upon. I’m a believer! This is easy, a huge money saver, and good for our clothes. Yes!

Here’s my recipe:

1 small (4.5 oz) bar Ivory soap

1 cup washing soda

1/2 cup borax

Instructions:

Grate soap with a cheese grater. Combine it with washing soda and borax. That’s it! Store in a bin. When it’s laundry time, dilute one heaping tablespoon of the mix into a cup or two of hot tap water. Toss that into your machine, and wash as usual. I often add about 1/4 cup vinegar into the rinse cycle. The vinegar is a natural fabric softener, as it removes leftover residue off clothing (I learned the vinegar trick when cloth diapering: commercial detergents, and especially softeners, leave residue on clothes, which in diapering impairs the cloth from its absorption capacities).

Info:

Washing soda (sodium carbonate) is different from baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). Several of our local Kroger stores carry it. You can call 1-800-524-1328 with UPC code 33200-03020 to receive your local retailers. They were quick and friendly.

I haven’t used Ivory soap yet. For my first batch, I tried Fels-Naptha. I understand Fels-Naptha is a true soap, meaning it’s made of animal byproduct. It’s a hundred-year old brand. People seem to swear by it as a stain pre-treatment. From my use, it seems effective, but has a strong chemical smell. I’ve also heard of using Zote, or Dr. Bronner’s. I’ll try the Zote, since I bought a bar for a dollar, though it also has artificial fragrance, something I dislike. And though I love Dr. Bronner’s for home use (I use the liquid form as body wash, dish soap, and heavily diluted as a surface spray), and it’s castile, meaning vegetable rather than animal origin, I’ve seen complaints that it can fade clothes.

I buy borax at Target. It has many applications for general cleaning.

So there you have my recipe. I’ll let you know if it changes. Cheers to cleaner, cheaper, healthier laundering!

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Truth

Today I am not feeling patient.  :{

This time, it’s not because of the student, it’s because of the teacher. Impatience indicates a problem: I know where the problem is, it’s totally unrelated, and processing it has me stressed and tired. So. Noah is familiar with his lesson formats. He’s done several subjects this morning, with me checking-in, rather than hands-on teaching. I feel a little guilty. Today could be a Zoo Day, if I were interactive and had my game together. It’s a Zoo Day for my friend who is in private school. But, I also feel fortunate. I can afford a down day to recuperate. Noah’s practicing vocabulary, penmanship, and spelling just fine at the table. I’ll read with him in about an hour, and take him out to play this afternoon. We have a field trip planned for next week, and I’ll have my energy then.

I had a helpful talk with a lady two days ago. She’s concerned for her first-grader’s progress. He’s in public school, and she’s seeking recommendations for resources she can use with him, in what some call after-schooling. I perceived that she’s concerned she doesn’t know how to best help him.

That helped me to be more sensitive. I have two secrets.

1.) Noah would not be at home if it weren’t for the materials formed by people much smarter and more experienced than I. I’m enormously thankful for the recent boom of quality resources. There are options for various budgets, learning styles, availabilities, and ideologies. Options for parents who want to be the primary teacher, and for those who don’t. There are packages that bundle the entire curriculum, making planning a breeze; or you can develop a general approach and pull from different sources, which I do. It’s so cool. I’d be nowhere without my shelf of great books, both for formulating ideas, and for hands-on schoolwork. And we’d be a mess if not for the extracurricular and play activities shared with other kids and adults.

2.) Growing up, my secret desire was to someday be a teacher. I’m not sure that counts for much, but it’s only fair to mention. This parents are teachers business, I stick to it, even with bad parenting (yes, I think it exists). But maybe teaching is an inclination I’ve taken for granted.

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School-style Valentines

Tuesday mornings we’re  often hanging out with a homeschool play group. I’m so happy to be part of this group of families; it fills a gap that this teacher/mom would never be able to on her own. We go on field trips, have once-per-week playground sessions, and have been exploring group swim lessons. It’s great  for the kids to act up with other kids, and for the moms to swap ideas and camaraderie. Tomorrow, of course, is our valentine exchange!

Our latest project at home has been creating a time-line. After considering a wall-style, I settled on a binder with pre-printed pages. I love it, and anticipate we’ll be using it through eighth grade, if not longer. I wanted a tool to help Noah remember the stories we’ve been learning, and conceptualize how they relate to one another. If you’re interested, the figures (I have them on CD-Rom) are produced by the same company as the binder, purchased separately. I did quite a bit of research beforehand, and considered making my own binder or drawing a time-line onto a large sketch pad. In the end, I decided this would take us the full distance with style and precision, which is a motivator for me. Either way, I absolutely recommend the figures!

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