Beautiful Productivity


I’m a procrastinator, which means I have pretty lengthy list of “to-do’s” that I’m trying to make a dent in during my current “sabbatical.” Partly inspired by Entirely Adequate‘s “Do One Thing“, I’m making a point to accomplish at least one thing a day. And not like laundry or dishes or other daily/weekly chores, but things needing to be done for a while now that I’ve pretty much just put off indefinitely. Things like … one day this past week I finally shipped to the Navy some course materials of John’s that needed to be returned. I also inquired about getting some damage to the fence repaired and some repair and painting on my back and front doors scheduled. There’s a box of nickels in the closet that needs to be taken to the coin collector’s, some furniture rearranging I’d like to do, quilts and bedskirts I’d like to get for the boys’ beds, and all kinds of things in closets that need to cleaned out, gone through, stored better, etc.

My “do one thing” for today was cleaning the boys’ rooms, including clean bed sheets, vacuuming and making their beds. I guess that’s kinda like a daily/weekly/monthly chore but it’s also one I procrastinate. I’m so proud of how clean their rooms look. Wonder how long it will stay that way?

Keeping House

A hand-painted sign in my kitchen (a gift from my mom a few years ago) says

“This house was clean yesterday, I’m sorry you missed it.”

I came home yesterday to a clean house, and it was sooo nice. (And glad to report that unlike the sign in my kitchen reads, it’s still clean today.) The floors were swept and mopped, the toilets and showers and tubs were clean, the tables and ceiling fans dusted, the stovetop and microwave wiped clean. Fresh, cozy, clean sheets on the bed. Ahhh.

I’ve had a housekeeper off and on for about five years. Way back then my lunch group at work was talking about their housekeeping services and going on and on about how great it was to come home to a clean house, and it sounded sooo nice. I was nearly nine months pregnant with a 2 1/2 year old and working full-time — the idea of someone else bending over and cleaning the bath tub, of crumb-free floors, of clean sheets on the bed — sounded like heaven! So I indulged myself. And just as my friends described it was great, especially after the baby was born and time and energy was even more scarce.

One of the first things you’ll read if you want to boost happiness or de-stress your life is to keep your house cleaner. After a busy day shuttling the kids and working and running errands, coming home to a house that needs to be worked on just adds to the mayhem. Coming home to a house that is straightened up and clean, though, provides a refreshing, rejuvenating and relaxing respite from this crazy life.

Until someone goes and makes it dirty again. :)

Book Review: When Did I Get Like This

I finished a book! Woohoo! And this time not writing one but reading one. (Although lately reading a book has taken just about as long as writing one.)

Having already seen the Amy Wilson’s one-woman play “Mother Load” about the goofy things we moms and society make mothering out to be, her book When Did I Get Like This?: The Screamer, the Worrier, the Dinosaur-Chicken-Nugget-Buyer, and Other Mothers I Swore I’d Never Be felt like an extension of the play with even more humorous vignettes from motherhood. I like that Wilson’s humorous approach in both the play and the book gives moms permission to laugh at themselves but also debunks some of the theories of what “good” mothering is “supposed” to be. Kudos to Wison for not only writing a funny, light and enjoyable book that any mother can relate to but for exposing the many fallacies out there, that a lot of us subscribe to, of what it means to be a good mom. That goes a long way at helping those of us in the mothering trenches see just what’s important — and what’s not.

I saw “Mother Load” a few years ago at a local theatre with a few girlfriends, and it was hilarious. (Check out my Mother Load review here.) At several points the three of us were laughing till we cried or nearly wet ourselves. The hilarity, though, is that Wilson and all of us moms were laughing at ourselves for taking this whole “mothering” thing too seriously and squeezing the fun out of it for all of us — us and the kids we’re mothering. Society and psychologists and magazines and books and talk shows, etc., have created this culture of “perfect” mothering, and the measure for that is of course your kids. If they act out at a restaurant, their mother is somehow failing them. If they aren’t involved in enough activities (or if they’re involved in too many), if they have a temper tantrum, if they don’t share well enough with others, if they talk back to you, and so on, then it’s the fault of the woman who birthed them for not doing her job well enough.

All that blame and guilt from not measuring up to expectations only adds more pressure and more stress. What ensues is a snowball affect, I think. An uptight, over-stressed mom enables misbehaving, cranky kids, which makes mom more uptight and stressed and kids more cranky etc. If moms could stop worrying about so much about doing things the “right” way and living up to societal expectations then maybe a cycle could be created where moms produce kids having fun and moms have more fun, etc.

The saddest part of it all is that we moms are our own worst enemy. Wilson says,

“We are sure other mothers are judging us because, well, they must be, when we suck so exceptionally. But we are our own worst enemies. If nearly all of us have these daily moments of doubt, these nagging fears of failure, the ones we are hardest on are ourselves.”

We need to stop worrying about what other moms think. I need to stop worrying about what other moms think. 1) It doesn’t matter what they think and 2) they probably aren’t even thinking it! It’s all in our my head.

I’ve gotta share one more excerpt, because it’s totally me, about stressing over birthday party goody bags.

“I found myself consumed by the Backyardigans-themed gift bags I was creating for my son’s fourth birthday party, suddenly certain they would be deemed without merit by his thirty-five tiny guests. Kazoos, bubbles, and assorted organic fruit leathers were hardly sufficient parting gifts. What was in the bags at the other kid’s party last weekend? Should I run back out to the all-night drugstore for thirty-five packs of washable markers and three dozen Super Balls?”

Been there, done that, plenty of times.

This motherhood thing can be quite maddening at times.

An excellent, light read that can be read in between all the “Mo-om! He took my (whatever)” interruptions, meals, messes, laundry and bathtimes. Read an excerpt from the book and check out Wilson’s website and blog too.

What Does It Take to Live Happily Ever After?

I wrote this post in April but I never published it. It’s interesting to me as insight into what was going on with me then, to what I was thinking and dealing with three months before John died, three months before my breaking point, three months before something had to give (or rather something gave), three months before that fateful weekend where I was a sick and nervous wreck and I just couldn’t take anymore, three months before I told John “I’m scared I don’t want to be married anymore.” I didn’t want to break my vows, I didn’t want my marriage to break up, I didn’t want any of it, but it was happening and something had to be done. I wanted to go to counseling, separately at first, to figure out what I needed to do to get to the point where I could commit to counseling together, because my heart was so hurt and hard I couldn’t do it right then. I needed time. But we never got to that point. John obviously didn’t take any of this well, and in less than two weeks it was all over but not in any way, shape, or form like I could have ever imagined.

April 26, 2010 — A co-worker was recently interviewed for a book, and one of the questions asked in the interview was how this person — married more than 20 years — “made it work.” It’s the question everyone wants the answer to, doesn’t matter if you’re single, divorced or married. What is it that makes a marriage “work.” Why do some marriages succeed and others fail? How can more of us end up on the successful side of that line? What’s the trick?

I hate to disappoint, but there’s not one. On the most basic level, marriages that are still together are together because each person continually chooses to be there. However, that speaks not to the joy in the marriage just to its sheer existence. Plenty of people choose to stay in unhappy marriages, or marriages that are “happy enough.” Does staying together out of obligation count as “making it work”? Maybe. I wouldn’t think so. I’m pretty sure that’s not the ending we all have in mind on our wedding days.

Days after talking about this question, I found this quote by Max Lucado:

“Marriage is both a done deal and a daily development, something you did and something you do.”

Our pastor is doing a sermon series on marriage called “Happily Ever After,” and it couldn’t have come at a better time since I was already pondering these questions. Just two weeks into the series and he’s already taught some simple yet profound principles that have improved my perspective a bit. For one, the Biblical principle that marriage is a covenant not a contract. Contracts are negotiable with set terms and a way out if those terms are broken. Covenants are permanent and irrevocable. I think modern marriages function more like contracts because divorce has become so commonplace nowadays. Most couples don’t really go into marriage that way — I think some couples still truly intend to mean “til death do us part” — but our culture and society has made it easy and desirable and almost expected even for couples to divorce. The statistic my pastor used was 65 percent — I remember not that long ago it was 50 — but now 65 percent of marriages end in divorce. That’s 2 out of 3. According to his stats, another 10 percent will stay together but won’t be happy, they’re just together for the kids or because it’s “the right thing,” etc.

It crushed me the first time a friend of mine went through divorce. I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. They vowed and they said til death, just like I did, and they didn’t follow through. Why not? How could they give up? Did they not mean those words? Did they mean them but meaning them actually means nothing? If we both said we meant our vows but then they backed out on theirs, what does that mean about what I said? I thought I meant it too, but did I? I’m an overly rational person, so to make this make sense I rationalized that the only way divorce could be legit is if you didn’t mean those words when you said them.  You may have intended to mean them but you didn’t really because if you had meant them you’d still be there, the “til death” part would still be binding. So in the same way if you did mean them then you’re still married, still bound by the covenant, regardless of what our legal system allows you to do. It’s about the commitment or covenant you made with your heart, not all just a legal transaction recorded by the state.

I’m sure that’s a flawed way of looking at things but it’s the best I could do to make sense of it. Our pastor jokes that in today’s weddings “til death do us part” really means “til you make me mad” or “til you stop meeting my needs.” In “The Invention of Lying,” a movie in which people can’t lie and therefore everything out of their mouth is exactly the way they see things, the question asked of the bride and groom at a wedding is, “Do you promise to stay with (name) for as long as you want to and to protect your offspring for as long as you can?”

Personally, my biggest fear in my own marriage is not that we’ll be the couple who divorces — I think John and I are both committed to each other and the marriage and our family, we both want to be together and we have been married long enough that the divorce risk for us, now, is relatively low. According to Divorcecalculator theres’s an 8% chance people like me (who married at a similar age, who have been married the same amount of time and who have children) will divorce in the next five years. But my biggest fear for us is being the ten percent who stay together but aren’t as happy they could be or as they used to be. We’re so busy right now with our careers and the boys and our hobbies and friends that sometimes it all just seems to be going by too fast. I’m scared we’ll be that couple who, after the kids have moved out, looks at each other and doesn’t know who the other one is; whose interests and personalities have morphed without the other knowing or realizing it because they were both too busy to notice. I hope not. I know it doesn’t have to be that way. We’re working on not letting that happen by continuing to make time for each other, by continuing to date each other (when we can), by working on our issues when they come up. Because it’s just like Lucado said: it’s a daily development, not something to be put on autopilot or cruise control.

Happily Ever After sermon series

Summer Nights

We got home last night from a friend’s son’s birthday party, and it was that strange time of the evening where if I looked west there was a deep shade of rust orange along the horizon, and if I looked east it was pitch black with a few stars already showing up. In the western sky was an object so bright I knew it had to be a planet, although John and I disagreed on which one. I wondered if any of my space-related iPhone apps came with a star map. They didn’t. So I bought the StarMap 3D app (only $1.99). I had so much fun for 15 or 20 minutes finding and identifying stars and constellations and planets. John was right, by the way; the really bright one was Venus. (I also found Saturn and Mars.)

While I was stargazing the boys were riding their scooters, squeezing out what little bit of daylight was left and then riding in the dark. Several neighbors were taking walks. I could hear other kids down the street talking and laughing, much like my own were. John was mixing and spraying weedkiller and a lawn mower was running in the distance. It was a summer night in the country, a rare thing for me to appreciate in today’s busy world. It was bedtime and I should’ve been rushing the kids in to the house for baths and bed. But it was nice to not, nice to appreciate the stars and the quiet and the little sounds of a summer night.

Similarly this morning, I left early for work, just after sunrise and before most people in my neighborhood were stirring. My own family was inside asleep. In the exact same place where I had seen Saturn the night before was the bright peach hues of the rising sun. Birds were chirping. It was quiet except for that and just beautifully peaceful. The sounds of a summer morning.

Crazy Busy

The last few weeks have been crazy busy. I’m two weeks behind on my ReFresh blogging — I need to write posts on foreign missionaries and the rite of communion, and this week’s topic is people who beg for money. Last week I made a last-minute work trip to Atlanta for the FIRST Robotics National competition, and I’m leaving this week for another work trip to Ohio. I’m blogging now for NASA, a project in the work for six months, so between that and planning travel, the workdays have been swamped. The boys’ baseball seasons are in full swing with games several nights a week and Saturdays. Throw in church and a baby shower, moonbuggy races and rocket launches, and the calendar has left little room to breathe. I have a long list of things I want to blog, some of which are starting to become “old news” so I need to get to those soon. It’s nice to be busy but I’m looking forward to a break. Soon. I hope.

Home Sweet Home

My co-worker and fellow blogger shared this article with me in which the columnist challenged people, in the new year and the new decade, to look at a few things through fresh eyes. The writer listed 52 suggestions, one for every week of the year. This week’s topic is Your House.

We built our house  3 1/2 years ago. Before that we had moved six times in six years. We were ready to put down roots, find the community that would be “home” for longer than a year or two, and settle in to the place where our kids would go to school and grow up. We loved the area where we were living at the time, in a quiet, older neighborhood just minutes from restaurants, shops, movies and Target. To build in that area was out of our price range — we learned the meaning of the words “slope development” — and the things in our price range were either too small or needed a lot of work.

The location we chose doesn’t have several of the things we liked about living in the old area. For starters it wasn’t in town, which meant access to restaurants, shops, movies and Target was not as easy as it had been before. We essentially live in “the country” as they call it down south, so the commutes to work are a little longer.

But there are several things we gained by choosing the area that we did. One — my parents live two streets over. That wasn’t necessarily intentional, although we knew it when we made our choice. That has worked out to be a blessing to all of us, I believe. Mom and dad are close enough that the kids see them several times a week, and if either mom or I need eggs or brown sugar or some other ingredient in the middle of baking we can help each other out.

We’re not as close as we used to be to the brand name, fancier restaurants, but there are several locally owned, down-home-cooking restaurants that serve original-recipe barbeque, fried foods and homemade pies.

We’re away from the city lights so it gets dark enough we can see the stars nearly every night.

The sense of community seems greater to me in a rural area — the fire department is all volunteer so they come around once a year for fund drives and have community days at the firehouse. The schools have old-timey carnivals and everyone gathers at the high school for Friday night football. You see your neighbors at the corner store and go to the drive-in for coney dogs and ice cream. I guess you can do all those same things in the city but those things seem more like country living to me.

Another benefit to building out here was it allowed us to get more house for our dollar. Each of the boys have their own, good-sized bedrooms. The whole house is quite roomy so we can spread out a little. It’s not huge by any means but we’re blessed to have all the room we have.

The one pet peeve about my house is keeping it clean. I constantly feel like there’s stuff to be picked up, put away, thrown away, cleared out. There’s always toys to step over, dirty laundry piling up, dishes to wash load in the dishwasher, mail to go through, etc. I’m horrible at creating clutter because I either don’t have time to put stuff away right then or I don’t know where to put it. I love the phrase “every thing in it’s place and a place for every thing” but I’m not so good at implementing it. I try. I’m trying even harder this year, so there’s hope.

Our house is the place where we sleep, where we keep our stuff, where we sometimes eat. But bigger than that, our house is what brought us to the place we call home. Because home is more than just the physical building. It’s the neighbors, my parents two streets over, the school, the homemade barbecue down the road. Our house is the place we sit while we’re at home.