Thursday, December 16, 2010

Snow and lights

Today...a memory.

When I was 16 I left school (the typical age in England at that time) and began to work my first full-time job. It was with Home and Overseas Insurance, a division of the Eagle Star Insurance Company. They provided travel insurance for dozens, probably hundreds, of travel agencies throughout the UK. For each agency, a document of coverage had to be printed, altering the specific names, amounts of coverage, etc. for each agency. Well, it was my illustrious position to proof read each and every document that came from the printers (among other menial filing tasks). Each "cover note" was a legal sized paper filled with minute insurance jargon. The vast bulk of the document remained the same, however, my somewhat cruel and power-hungry supervisor told me I must proof read EVERY WORD of EVERY document. Day after day I compared the newly printed proofs to a master document. I could have recited that policy to the letter. I hated it. I remember one day struggling so hard to focus on this driest of tasks that I began to nod off. I held the paper straight out in front of me, shaking my head, desperately attempting to stay awake and do the job I so wanted to excel in. I failed. I awoke to the snickers of my supervisor and her assistant at the time. I am sure the entire job was given to me purely for their entertainment.

The head honcho was a large man, and not a very kind one. One day I took the day off sick. I'm sure I was ill, but the fact that I despised my job, I am certain, encouraged me to stay home. The following day the boss called me into his office and accused me of taking the day off to be with my boyfriend. I held steadfast my ethics and told him emphatically that it was not true. Later, after he'd been to the pub for lunch and become quite drunk, he called me into his office again. He yelled at me until I finally broke down and cried, at which point he finally softened and released me.

When I told my stepdad, Baz, all of this and explained how thoroughly miserable I was, he told me to quit. Right then and there. He agreed to support me until I could find another job. He was my hero that day! And I did find another job, with Barclays Bank, before my two week notice was up. It was there that I gained many friends, including the best friend in the whole world, and my efforts were recognized.

However, it wasn't all bad. You see, the office I'd worked at was on the famous Regent Street in London. I would catch the train to the Oxford Street station and walk the rest of the way. I would have awesome sausage sandwiches from a tiny shop on Carnaby Street for lunch. And best of all was Christmastime. It would be dark when I left work, and I recall heavy snowfall, amazing patterns of Christmas lights in the streets, and fantastical window displays in the Hamleys Toy Store right across from where I worked. There was barely room to walk on the sidewalks for the masses of people, but it warmed my heart to feel like such a grown up girl in such an exciting place.

Photograph: This is the first photo I've used on my blog that is not my own. I truly wish I had photos from this time and place, but someday I hope to return with my own girls and show them this beautiful country. It is of Regent Street, London, at Christmastime.

Side note: So I apparently picked the wrong time to attempt getting up on schedule. Several sleepless nights disrupted my routine, and now this week I will be working around the clock on Nativity Ballet photos. However, I am starting the second thing on my list anyway - drink two full glasses of water upon rising, before I eat or drink anything else. I've found if I start my day this way, I will drink a lot more water overall.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Brain Cell Reduction

In my early twenties, I used to think I was pretty sharp. I seemed to be able to think quickly, make snap decisions, knew what I thought I wanted. In my early thirties I felt even more confident in my mental processing. Now, in my early forties, I'm beginning to see what aging is all about. It is humility. It is taking what you knew, and proving that nothing on this earth is to be taken for granted, nothing is permanent, and nothing is reliable.

My mind is failing me. I am becoming more forgetful, more cluttered in my thinking and far less decisive. And I find myself giving up. Rather than put myself out there and let people down, including myself, I'd rather just not. If you don't make a promise, you will never break one. My "flying by the seat of my pants" lifestyle is failing me, and I'm seriously afraid that one day I'll forget to don the essential said pants.

I believe the answer is a routine. A set schedule that I follow with the complete self discipline that I apparently lack. But I don't know where to start, or if I even want to. A find myself speaking the words of a depressed woman, "Is there a point?". And yet I only need to look at my kids and know there is a point, for I owe it to them. And of course, I owe it to my God, who has gifted me with breath this day.

So, tomorrow I will follow the theory of The Fly Lady by taking baby steps, and I will ride on the coat tails of determination of my friend Heather. I will begin with one new habit - getting up at 7:30. Each week I will build in one more new habit until I reach a life that is structured, healthy, and productive. And I will report it here for accountability. Either that, or I'll forget, in which case you can assume my brain has indeed turn to mush.

Photograph: Lavender

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Place in Which We Grow

It occurred to me the other day, that life was like Kindergarten. God sits us all down and gives us each a blank piece of paper, which are our lives. Then He says, "I have have created you. Extend my creation. Let's see what you can do."

We are all assigned different art teachers. These are our parents. Some are better equipped than others, usually dependent on those who taught them. But they are our first and most powerful example of what we can make of our task. Later we get to choose other influences and the level of impact they have in our project. Some of us also get to teach as well, but we have the ability to continually learn, continually grow in the craft of life.

We kids are also given different tools. Some of us start with nothing. We have to find or make our medium. Others start with much - so many crayons, paints, markers, pencils and chalk - all that is imaginable. There are some who learn to share their pencils. There are some who steal chalk. There are others who try to keep all of their possessions to themselves, never trusting that they will have enough to finish their work if they give any away. And then there are those who eat the crayons - using what they have been given in a way God never intended. For those of us who never have any other tools, the work is harder, but our actions can still create something amazing. Mother Teresa would have given away all of her markers and made beautiful origami.

Some kids learn to admire the work of others, trying to imitate the strokes and patterns that produce pleasing results. Some kids rush forward, using all they have very quickly, making a big old mess on not only their own paper, but on the paper of all who are near them. Some kids intentionally ruin the work of others, jealous that their own is not turning out as well. Some kids sulk in a corner, refusing to do anything productive at all.

God is the one who decides when each piece is finished. For some, only the tiniest speck is made before He says, "That's perfect. You are done. You may come home." Others create large, varied pieces, a tapestry in it's own right. However, most of us create an average piece of work, never seeing anything particularly remarkable in what we've done. And yet, if we enjoyed the process and made it just for God, we can be assured that He will see it as a masterpiece. He will hang it on His refrigerator with a smile, saying, "Well done!". And you see, God doesn't see any of our lives as garbage. He will use each one and place it just so, fitting it perfectly into His mosaic master plan.
Artwork: Van Gogh knock off for homeschool art lesson (by me)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Such Joy

I do not think I will ever be able to express how much joy these children bring to me. Our days are filled with laughter, some bickering, occasional tears, good conversations and always surprises. I truly hate few things in life, but being away from my girls for very long is one of them. I am so honored to be able to watch every minute milestone, experience every addition to their vocabulary, see how their minds work similarly and very differently, and silently observe how they interact in their own relationship with each other. I do believe that I would have missed out on the majority of these opportunities to appreciate these awesome people, whom God created and loaned to me, if I had not chosen to homeschool. I am so thankful for every day that we have this lifestyle.

Yes, I do have my own interests in life and keep up with them to a limited degree. There are many things that I would like to do, but don't, in order to be with my children. It's not all roses every day, but I figure soon enough they'll be grown and making their own way in this world. I can save my ever growing bucket list for that time when they are no longer young and think their mommy is fun and cool. There will be a day when they stop begging for cuddles, I can no longer hold them in my arms, I can never tickle them again just to hear their giggles. There will never be another opportunity to experience this phase of life with them, so I call it what it is -unique, amazing, challenging, bittersweet and still

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I Do...

Women marry men expecting them to change, and they don't. Men marry women expecting them not to change, and they do. How true is that?

It could just be my observance of a minute portion of the population, but it does appear that men marry the woman of their dreams based on the woman they got to know through courtship. Let's face it, we're all typically on our best behavior through that dating phase. Even if you live together, you know it's not a "done deal", and you continue to react in ways that you know present yourself in the best light. Then you get married.

After the honeymoon phase, the first year or so, our expectations become somewhat altered. Men quite reasonably expect their woman to be the same smart, sexy, funny person she was when they were dating and so they "settle in" for the long haul. They become relaxed, just knowing she will love him because she vowed to. No need to woo any more, the job is done. Now he focuses on being provider. That typically means work harder, longer, better. He notices she changes, especially if a child is born and her attention begins to become less focused on him. He doesn't care for this much. Some men even act up, pouting or retaliating, attempting to gain the attention back. Others just assume it's a phase and she will become her regular self again eventually and they do their best to lay low.

Women are emotional creatures. They crave emotion, and at times, a bit of drama. Every woman wants security, she wants to know she is loved unconditionally and will be cared for always. However, that does not mean once she marries that she expects to sit back and just assume these things are, and will always be. We are most definitely designed to switch the bulk of our attentions from our man to our child once it is born. This ensures the survival of the infant. I have heard many men preach that a woman should always put her husband before her children. However, it irks me to think that any person would reasonably expect this to mean that she should love him more, or make him a bigger priority than her children. Marriages are designed for to people to compliment each other, make up for each others differences, support each other and learn life-long lessons from. Should she make sure she remains a suitable helper for him? Sure. She should do her best to save some energy to give him attention at the end of each day? Absolutely. But what if the energy just isn't there? What if there isn't enough to go around? Does guilting her into feeling inadequate really solve the issue?

At this point, women expect men to change and step up to the plate. To help out with the family they've created, to listen to her stresses, to do chores without having to be asked like she must with the children on a daily basis. This is when men can shine - become her knight in shining armor. But what if their stresses and energies spent at work are all they can handle? What if they have nothing left at the end of the day to offer their wife and kids? Does guilting them into feeling inadequate really solve the issue? It is a difficult problem to solve.

Eventually, once the children get a little older, she begins to feel like a woman again. And she wants to be treated like one. She may even feel the need to be wooed, chased a little, pursued as though just because she birthed your children doesn't mean she's a sure thing from then on. She is a different person than she was when you first met, and you may need to get to know her again.
If there is distance in your relationships, try recalling your dating days. What were those things you did to try and impress each other? Ask her out on a date? Fix your hair how he likes it? Cuddle in bed and talk for a few hours? Surprise each other with little love notes? Yes, I am talking about putting romance back in your marriage. Guys, get her to giggle a little. Gals, get him to go gaga every now and then. Through the diapers, the breastfeeding, the scolding, the beautiful yet exhausting demands of children, she may not want to have to even think about the marriage. But someday she will come around to wanting to know she is still the woman of her man's dreams. And he will always want to know that she respects and desires him. And in all things, pray. Invite God to rule your marriage. It is amazing how the Creator will touch your hearts and repair the bridges if you only acknowledge that you need Him. It takes effort and time, but if you constantly reevaluate your relationship, making shifts and balances as necessary, you will find the rewards are there to last a lifetime through. And when the energy just isn't kind to each other. There's a heap of happiness in just knowing that your life partner understands where you are at.
Photograph: Amicalola
Note: This blog post is dedicated to my husband - my best friend, lover, and knight in shining armor. He amazes me with his patience and desire to understand his woman, and give her all her heart requires.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Real Cream in my Coffee...

Today I will have real full cream and real sugar in my coffee.

Such a simple statement to start the day with, but it makes a clear point to my frame of mind for the day. How many mornings do we jump (or limp, slither, or crawl on our hands and knees internally screaming "Nooooo!") out of bed, to be met with a self-induced mental list of things we have to do, shouldn't do, or ought to do. That becomes our mindset for the next 16-18 hours or so. I need to eat right today, I have to run errands, I must make my appointment on time, I really ought to be exercising. We so often frame ourselves with guilt from the moment we arise. Sure, it's great to be motivated to do things we know are good for us, but not because of guilt.

What if I start my day with praise for our Creator, then move on to focus on a simple pleasure, something to look forward to. I mean, after all, God didn't say to Adam and Eve "I made this world for you, you screwed up so you now have troubles. Go, don't enjoy any of it, and then you die." God is an AWESOME creator. He made this world for His pleasure, and for ours. How dishonoring to Him is it to not appreciate what He has made as we care for it?

I am speaking of moderation, of course. If I said ,"I will have full cream in my coffee, real butter on my toast, lay outside and watch the grass grow and listen to birds sing, chat with my friends on the phone for two hours, then indulge in shrimp with real Alfredo sauce followed by a chocolate lava cake, and I shall do this every day!" obviously that is not honoring to God. He has given us work to do, and He has given us life that we cannot earn, and rewards we are not worthy of. I long to wake up every morning seeing and knowing the true beauty that is life. Today I have it so good, great health and few worries. Tomorrow may not be that way. Rather than worry about what curve ball life may throw me in a day I may or may not have, I will appreciate today. I will laugh with my kids, cuddle with my husband, listen to some good music, see the beauty in the rain, and yes, I will have real cream and real sugar in my coffee.

Photo: Reflections

Friday, October 15, 2010

Homeschooling My Way

I have had to re-evaluate my curriculum multiple times this year - meaning just in the last month and a half. That can be more than slightly frustrating.

I've found that homeschooling can be compared to learning about photography. The more you do it, the more insight you gain and the better your results, and yet the more questions arise. You suddenly start seeing all of the possibilities with their various outcomes and are constantly questioning if you're making the right choice. If I use this curriculum, they will get a great education, but will it be as fun as this other one? Or will it even be as rich as that one? Will they be introduced to enough classic literature, allowed to be creative, or enabled to self-explore their curiosity adequately? It is known that a child who is allowed freedom to explore will learn to love learning and will be far more successful in their education than those who are told to sit still and listen to rote.

Along with the options of curriculum, I am constantly readjusting to my child's capability at that time. What is their attention span? What are their interests? How can I make required subjects interesting if that doesn't naturally fall into their realm of fascination? I have tried the route of "You will sit down and learn this because that's what you'd have to do in school", only to be met with eyes and an attitude that explicitly tell me they consider that time with me miserable torture. It is an expression that reminds me so well of my own time spent in public school, and not of the reasons I so willingly embraced the decision to homeschool. I can do better than making our every day a power struggle. I can make it fun, and interesting, and something we all want to engage in. And I can do it without going insane.

That last denominator being said, I must also realize how much energy it takes to teach my children in this way. It is a matter of shifts and balances, constantly. You can have a plan, but you better be flexible. And realize what a full-time job it is.

Yesterday morning we awoke, I thought of my curriculum plan for the day, mentally tossed it in the trash can and said "Let's go to the zoo!". Met with excited happy faces, we hopped in the car and drove to Chattanooga Zoo. They played their Leapsters all the way up (which do actually have educational value). Through the zoo we read where every animal came from, discussing the continents and the animals' eating habits. We then went for lunch at a mall, which was a new experience for them since the youngest could only ever recall having been in a mall once. Following that, we went to McKay's Used Book Store where they both sat and read books for over an hour while I searched for books on my list for an upcoming school project on Caldecott Medal winners. After that we travelled home, having found several used Leapster games at McKay's and they continued math and language arts practice using those. It was an amazingly fun day filled with wonderful memories, perfect weather, and good, quality education. And the best part was, they had no idea that we were "doing school" at all. :)

Photograph: My Girls

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What's in Your Yard?

Recently I have realized (for the 50th time) that my plate is too full. This time is different, however. I have gotten to the root of why I keep over-filling my plate. In an effort to gain approval and acceptance, I so often take on jobs that are asked of me, or even just offered. There has been a great empty space in me that I keep attempting to fill. A chasm of inadequacy, a continual desire to be told I am worthy of breathing air on this planet.

Most of my relationships, I realize now, have been based on this emptiness. I have used friends and family constantly to make me feel valuable, and I am always open to a serious decline in value should I not receive a quantifying response. I have used other people as a measuring stick of my worth.

Recently I have reassessed my gauges. I have reorganized my yard and begun to set clear boundaries as to what I allow to affect that yard. I am building stronger fences in between those relationships which leave me the most vulnerable, and in the process, I am able to more clearly see the beauty of what God has given me to care for. He created a garden just for me to tend and I am learning to not allow my energies to be drained by others, whether by their doing or my own. For that only leaves me with an empty cup at the end of the day from which to pull my resources.

Any projects that I take on should be done joyfully out of an abundance of wholeness, rather than an attempt to fill an emptiness. I am learning to open up these dark, empty spaces in myself so that the Spirit may enter and work me toward fullness. He is the only way to a whole and healthy place, the only truth and the only life.
Photograph: The Boathouse

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Wholeness, not Hole-ness

In the bible it states on several occasions that God will punish those who turn away from him to the 3rd and 4th generations. I have wondered, in the past, how this was fair.

I now believe that God may have been saying that if we turn away from him, we will consequently punish our children for several generations to come. Take for example, a man who turns to drink, beats his wife and abuses his daughter. This daughter then seeks destructive relationships as she matures, constantly seeking approval from father-like figures. Her son, grows up in insecure environments with no good example for relationships turns to drugs as a means of escapism from the pain he cannot describe, let alone talk about. Sounds like something purely for Geraldo? Hardly. While these extremes may not be the norm, more subtle variations exist in almost every family, and the progression can only be halted by the one invariable truth. And that is in discovering who we are in Christ Jesus. When we are able to deeply and fully understand what we are to God, in spite of what we were to our parents, that is when true healing and wholeness take place. It may seem like a slow process, but when you become obedient to God, following the teachings of Jesus, following his counsel, something amazing happens. You come to a point when you can let go of the choking entanglement of untruths that held you away from God, that led you to believe you are worthless. When you can ignore the calls of humans declaring what must be done to be better, live successfully, find happiness, and follow the Word, you suddenly begin to understand scripture. You know in your very soul what it means to declare that the Truth has set you free.

There is nothing I can say to explain this fully. It is faith, pure and simple. You can't ask for proof to believe it. You have to begin with believing it, and then the proof begins to be small step at a time.

Photograph: Innocence