The Best-Laid Plans …

The kids are on spring break this week. I was going to let them play outside every day while I wrote, and wrote, and WROTE, and finally made more than crawling progress on Magic in Disguise. I was going to serve the easiest possible meals, and forget about housework, and be antisocial. Carl is working on his final papers for the semester, so we could have been hermit writers together.

It’s Thursday. I have not written ONE WORD in the MS all week.

Sigh. And Alas.

But on Monday we did get to do this, so it’s not all bad.

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Just, you know, not productive.

And now I’d better get back to all the chores that are calling my name and, inexplicably, must be taken care of instead of writing. Why DO dishes need to get washed and laundry done so frequently, anyway?

(Carl, needless to say, is almost finished with HIS paper.)

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Taking the Time

I’ve been reading through Louise DeSalvo’s The Art of Slow Writing, and while some of it strikes me as more than a little pretentious (what can I say, I come from good, practical, farmer stock), I do very much appreciate the reminder to be mindful, to be aware, to not be so overly focused on the result that one misses the beauty of the here and now.

With all that in mind, when we went out for a family walk yesterday afternoon, enjoying the late February sunshine even amid the biting wind, I took my big camera instead of just my phone, and enjoyed taking pictures for the sake of the photography, rather than in order to post them on Instagram (don’t get me wrong, I snapped one or two with my phone camera as well, and posted THOSE on Instagram, because Instagram is my happy place). And while they might not be the finest photos in all of creation, they made me satisfied. I’m glad I took the time to see things from a different angle, and take the photos even if it meant I didn’t get the instant rush of posting them online at once.

It’s the same feeling I get when I write anything by hand, especially something in my journal, using cursive. It takes more time, it won’t be seen by anyone else, there’s no practical value in it – and yet there is something about it that satisfies.

I have tendencies toward dawdling (those did not come from my practical farming forebears), so it is important for me to not get lost in my daydreams and never accomplish anything. On the other hand, it is also tremendously important to not be so wrapped up in the end goal and “getting things done” that I forget to savor the slower things in life, the things that aren’t necessarily tangible or goal-oriented. A tricky balancing act, and one I know I’ve blogged about before, but one of which I always need reminding, and at which I will always need to keep practicing.

Lord, Have Mercy

Saw a snide comment today on Twitter about how “all people who aren’t talking about Ferguson are contributing to the problem” and it enraged me. Enraged me to the point that I am having to do something I expressly don’t want to do, which is engage on social media about this.

There is a lot of horrible stuff going on the world right now. Ferguson, Irag, Ukraine, two Amish girls kidnapped from my old stomping grounds (thankfully they are now back home with their parents, but the media is still exploiting their story for all it’s worth), a group of kids and adults, short-term missionaries from the North Shore here brutally attacked on their way to the airport after completing a week of working overseas, atrocities still committed regularly in Nigeria …

It’s horrible. The world presses in heavily. And I don’t see that Twittering about it is going to make it any better.

If it comforts you to express your thoughts and emotions in 140 characters, by all means, do so. I can’t. I have tried to do so in the past, and it leaves me feeling more frustrated and helpless than before.

Instead, I am praying. Lord, have mercy. It’s a lot less than 140 characters, but it’s going straight to the throne of grace instead of getting lost in a sea of banality and empty outrage on the internet. Lord, have mercy.

I am acting. I am sharing food from our garden with our neighbors. I am reading to my children and giving them hugs. I am speaking words of encouragement and love to those I see.

I am living. Living as though life is worth something. Living with joy, because that is so much more powerful than shouting in anger.

I am creating. Making art, making music, writing stories. Because the act of creation trumps acts of destruction any day of the week.

Hatred doesn’t fix hatred. Darkness cannot defeat darkness. Only light can defeat the darkness. And for me, personally, spouting off on Twitter or Facebook is not contributing to the light in this world.

So, angry person on Twitter criticizing people you don’t even know, sweeping everyone under one comprehensive judgement: I understand, because there have been times when I have felt that other people’s silence equaled a lack of care. I hope I know better now, and understand that sometimes silence means a person cares too deeply to be able to say anything at all.

Sometimes it isn’t that something isn’t important enough to be tweeted. It’s that it is too important for such a useless exercise.

Homeschool Dilemma

Warning: homeschool talk, and nothing else, ahead. If that topic bores you, feel free to skip this post. I won’t be offended. This is mostly to help me sort out my own confused thoughts.

When we are on for homeschooling, I love it. The kids love it. They are learning well, not getting overwhelmed, I am organized and know what we’re doing, we have enough flexibility to roll with a particular topic of interest or go over something that isn’t making sense until it does … it’s the best. It’s fantastic.

Those times don’t happen as frequently as I’d like, though. Most of the time I’m floundering. And I feel like the kids, not to mention their education, suffer from that. I have issues with adrenal fatigue (yes, I know that’s not a “proven medical condition,” but nothing else at all describes my condition even a little, so that’s what I’m going with), and as soon as something happens to throw me off the rails even a little, school and organization and everything else go out the window (I know I’m mixing metaphors, sorry), because it takes all I’ve got just to put one foot in front of the other and meet my family’s most basic needs.

So I’ve been wondering lately if I ought to put the kids in school next year. I don’t want to—I firmly believe that the best home education tops the best public school education by a mile. But am I giving them the best home education? It hasn’t been too bad this year, with Joy in first grade and Grace in preschool/kindergarten … but what about next year? Or the year after? What happens if I slip down into a firmly mediocre home education, what then? Can I still justify keeping them home, especially when the main reason we began homeschooling them in the first place was so they could receive a better education than they’d get in an American public school?

Joy’s HSP-ness (yes, another not-proven designation. Hey, modern western medicine isn’t the be-all and end-all, all right?) was another factor. I was concerned that she would be misdiagnosed as ADD or ADHD if she went to school, or that she’d be so overwhelmed by the controlled chaos that is elementary school that she would just shut down, both very real problems and not (as some of my fears tend to be) simply caused by me over-thinking things.

But she has made huge, huge strides in learning to deal properly with her world this year. I mean, huge. Playing easily with other kids, interacting with other people without prompting, being aware of and responding to the world around her in a healthy way, handling change without melting down … it’s been incredible. And it’s confirmed that my decision to keep her home this year and last year was the right one. But with the strides she’s made, maybe public school wouldn’t be so bad for her next year? Or maybe it would set her back, I don’t know. But she kind of thinks she’d like to try it, which is worth something in my book.

(So does Grace, but I was never worried about Grace’s ability to handle the interpersonal aspects of public school. Gracie is sensitive, but not highly sensitive, and she is much better equipped by nature to deal with controlled chaos: she mostly ignores it.)

All of this seems to be leaning in favor of public school next year. And yet, and yet …

Gosh, we had an awesome day today. Reading, grammar, math, social, science, art, piano … all before noon. (Considerably less than that for Grace, obviously.) Then we went outside and played on the playground after lunch, and Joy conquered all five monkey bars at last, and then came back inside with still loads of time for playing, reading, drawing, doing whatever they want. Chores, even! If every day went like this, there’d be no question in my mind. And what if, instead of things getting worse as time goes by, things get better? Will I be robbing my kids of their best possible education by giving up on homeschooling just because we’ve had a rough couple of years at the start?

Gah. So many questions.

I’m not exactly sure I’ve managed to sort out any thoughts (“Then why have you inflicted this post on us, Louise?” I hear you howl). Except to clarify that I really shouldn’t make any decisions right now.

For any of you who do homeschool or did – do you/did you have these sorts of crises ever? And if so, how do you/did you resolve them? This is one of the worst parts of not having a homeschooling network here. There are plenty of opportunities for the kids to interact with other kids outside of school/homeschool activities. Not so much encouragement for Mom when she starts feeling overwhelmed. So here I am, reaching out to my online network, in hopes of some perspective.

Far From Ideal

You guys might or might not be good for me. I spent a ridiculous amount of time this weekend coming up with the perfect combination of first and middle names for the third-daughter-we’re-never-going-to-have. All the talk on here about names … Carl laughed himself silly when I saw me scribbling out the list.

*blushes*

Anyway. On to this post.

I have this ideal family life, in my head. It’s not even so unreasonable. It doesn’t involve children wearing white dresses and running through fields of wildflowers with nary a grass stain to be seen, or me standing at the sink washing my glassware to sparkling cleanliness with a chipper smile on my perfectly-made-up face. It’s actually pretty simple. It is this …

I read stories – many of them – out loud to the children every day. Some are picture books, some are longer chapter books.

We go on walks outside every day. On days when it’s warm enough to hold a pencil without your fingers falling off, we take drawing supplies so the girls can draw any bits of nature that catch their eye.

We don’t necessarily do art projects every day, but when we do them, they inspire great bursts of creativity and the girls revel in them. Mamma does not grit her teeth and wince over the mess.

We do school according to schedule, and it’s never haphazard, or forgotten because Mamma got distracted.

The kids work with me in the kitchen when making food, and it does not drive me to distraction. I can assign them clean-up chores, and not forget to remind them to keep up with it.

Our home is filled with music and laughter and friendship all the time.

And I am not so dog-weary tired all the time that it’s all I can do to plod through my day.

It doesn’t sound that impossibly, does it? OK, maybe the bit about me not losing it over the inevitable mess that comes with any kind of art project. But the rest of it? It’s simple. It doesn’t require any Herculean bursts of strength to accomplish. Lots of other families do it (I know, I know, comparison is the thief of joy and all that … but it’s true). So why is it so hard for me, for us as a family, to live that sort of ordinary, peaceful, simple, happy life? What is it about me that makes me so tired all the time that I can’t seem to get much more than the basics of life done in a day? I get almost-enough sleep these days. I’ve eliminated as many outside stressors as possible from my life, which were what used to suck all my energy from me. I eat mostly-right, and while I don’t specifically exercise, I do my best to stay somewhat active. I’m not depressed, thank God, anymore. The kids are 4 and 6, a pretty awesome age, past the baby-and-toddler stage, not requiring my attention every second of the day, requiring all I’ve got just to keep them and me alive.

When I was eighteen, I started feeling the aimlessness of my life. One day, as I was grumbling to God about the fact that I had all these great ambitions and yet all I was doing was working in the hardware store and not doing anything about those ambitions, it felt like he hit me upside the head with a 2×4.

“Then do something.”

I got home from work that day and immediately started researching colleges with good English programs. I knew that I couldn’t just sit around and expect life to change me, that if I wanted to achieve my dreams I at least had to start down that path myself.

I thought of that experience this weekend, as I was grumbling once again about my inability to get anywhere with my very basic daily life goals. Living with someone like Carl, who sees what he wants and then figures out how to make it work, and then does it, is very exhausting for someone whose natural inclination is to wait for God to drop life changes into her lap without her lifting a finger.

This isn’t the same situation as my decision to go to college instead of twiddling my thumbs waiting to be discovered by someone who would want to publish my wonderful books, though. I wish I could just do it, just go ahead and make the changes. But the problem here is that I just don’t have the energy to change. When I talk about being tired all the time … even forcing my brain to deviate enough to think about sitting down in the middle of the day and read a story to the kids is an effort, much less doing it.

I have a great schedule written up and posted on the fridge. It’s flexible, and basic, and pretty much the best daily schedule I’ve created since I started making schedules for myself however many years ago. And have I been able to stick with it once since the day I wrote it?

No.

I’ve written this entire post, and now I’m not even sure if I’m going to publish it or not. Because what’s the point? To have people metaphorically pat my head and say “there, there”? In hopes that someone will give me a magic cure, something that will make me suddenly able to do everything I want to do? Neither of those are what I want.

But I guess maybe I will publish it, not in hopes of being soothed, but because I strongly suspect there are others out there in the same boat as I am, and maybe knowing that they aren’t the only one floundering will bring them a small measure of comfort. And because sometimes, the very act of sharing one’s struggles can give one strength.

And because, frankly, if I’ve sat here for an hour typing out my frustrations, I don’t just want to hit “delete.” I have little enough to show for my days as it is, I don’t need to lose the few things that I do get done!

Brief Thoughts on Advertisements

I’ve been watching the Olympics for less than one week, and I’m already convinced that I never want to see another commercial. My thoughts are more disjointed, my head is filled with annoying jingles instead of real music, I am more snappish and on edge than usual. I hadn’t even realized how much calmer and more grounded of a person I am without advertisements until I started seeing them again. I love the Olympics, but I will be glad when they are done and I can go back to my (mostly) TV-free life.

And so will my husband, who is even more anti-TV than I am.

My kids are crankier these days too, but as much as I would love to place that blame squarely on commercials, I suspect it has more to do with the fact that it’s February, it’s cold, and we haven’t been able to spend much time outside for about three months.

If the weather cooperates and stays snow instead of ice, we’re taking a break this afternoon and going for a winter walk. I’m hoping it does us all some good.

Thankful

We had a lovely Thanksgiving yesterday. Quiet and peaceful, just the four of us here at home. We had invited some friends to share the meal with us, but all plans fell through, and in the end, that was okay.

I roasted a turkey for the first time ever, and it was delicious. The gravy also turned out perfectly, which pretty much never happens for me. Every component of the meal fell into place, and my only bit of stress came about Wednesday afternoon as I was working on the second pie (which stress resulted in me forgetting to put foil around the edges, and the crust getting burnt a little).

The pumpkin pie turned out perfectly. We had to trim the burnt crust off the apple.

The pumpkin pie turned out perfectly. We had to trim the burnt crust off the apple.

Next year, I’m only making one pie.

At dinner, the girls started sharing, unprompted, everything they are thankful for. Top of Gracie’s list were the homemade doughnuts we’d had for breakfast. The goof.

It was awfully precious to sit there and listen to them rattle off thanks … thankful for their new cousin, thankful for our new home, thankful for our old home, thankful for grandparents, thankful for each other, thankful for the ocean (“and tides!” Gracie clarified. “And REALLY BIG WAVES.”), finally winding up with Joy declaring she’s thankful for the whole world.

Well, really, how can you top that?

As I sat and listened, my chief thanks was that I was able to be thankful at all. I spent so many years numb, not able to be unhappy or happy, thankful or miserable, or anything at all except exhausted and overwhelmed, that to be able to sit with my family and really delight in them, and be utterly thankful for them, was so beautiful.

One question Christians are asked frequently – and it’s a valid question, a really good one – is that if God is so good, and so powerful, why did he allow evil to come into the world at all? There isn’t one simple answer for that. One facet of one possible answer, however, is that in a world where all is light, the light isn’t known; it’s taken for granted. But against the dark, we see the light, and we love it. The contrast makes it stand out so much brighter.

I had a really happy childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. And I’m just now starting to grasp why, possibly, God took me through so many years of darkness after I hit adulthood. Because the joy I have now at actually having joy again is so much richer, so much better, than the simple unthinking happiness I had back when I had known nothing else.

So this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for thankfulness.

And I suppose, like Gracie, I’m also thankful for homemade doughnuts. They were really good.

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