Thursday, October 30, 2008

My blind date

What you would have heard if you'd listened to my phone conversation earlier this week: "I had a great morning, thanks! I had a blind date at Starbucks... Actually, I did meet this person online...They listed something for sale, it wasn't a chat room or anything...No, don't worry, it was perfectly safe...We met in a public space, and I suggested the meeting...Don't be silly, we just had some coffee...Mom, she had her one-year old son, "Mr. Wriggles", with her for Pete's sake."

Yes, it's true. I finally found a local mom willing to take me up on one of my frequent invitations to take a coffee break together. And when we found time to meet up at the itsy-bitsy local mall for Starbucks, it really did feel like a first date! Many of the same thoughts went through my head - "What should I wear? What if she doesn't like me? Should I bring [fill in the blank] up, or should that wait until we know each other better?" Silly, but there you have it.

Now, my "blind date" might seem a little desperate for those of you have a full quiver of mom friends, but out here in the rolling wheat fields finding someone close to your age with similar interests and young children is like finding a needle in know the rest. I think it's safe to say that most of my graduate student colleagues still think I'm insane to not only be married, but to have had a child. There are some wonderful ladies in my church, but none close to my age or with a baby in the house. We don't have anything like "stroller striders" or "Mommy and me" playgroups around here (although after seeing how much they cost - yikes! - I'm not sure I'd join anyway). So I'll just about pass out my phone number or e-mail address to anyone wearing jeans or sweats, with hair hastily tied back, and lugging an overflowing diaperbag. Or in this case, a nice, normal-sounding mother who listed some toddler clothes on Craigslist. Let's hope it's the start of a beautiful thing. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Letting go of expectations

My dear friend Ruth at a messy life wrote last week about being unhappy. She had recently come to a place where she realized, as we SG-1 fans might put it, that she is never going to be Colonel Samantha Carter. I think we all reach a point (perhaps several times) in life when acceptance dawns us, willing or no, that this may be as good as it gets, and we have to let go of some of the dreams we had for a time. Fortunately, God generally has better things planned for us than we did. As Ruth discovered in a moment of epiphany, she is the most important person in the world to her beautiful children -- in her family's eyes, Colonel Carter could never come close to filling her shoes! 

In considering Ruth's words and reflecting on my own periods of unhappiness, I've come to believe that a large portion of the unhappiness we run into in life is due to expectations we embrace that we perhaps shouldn't have. I can spend so much time trying to figure out what life is about or what I'm "supposed" to be doing (scientist, stay-at-homemaker, editor, writer, entrepeneur???) that I lose sight of the fact that God loves me just because I am His daughter. There's nothing I can do to make Him love me more or less. As Dave Ramsey put it on his radio show the other day (when questioned by a new Christian about tithing), God lays out what we should do to have a good life, but even if we completely mess up He still loves us just as much as his other children -- we're just one of the "dumb" ones! I like that. It's liberating. 

There's a blog I recently discovered that has some wonderful homemaking advice. Skimming through the topics that interested me, I ran across one of many posts encouraging wives to stay at home. Well, that's putting it mildly and politely. You can read the full post here, but all I could think of after reading it was, "Oh my! God's going to pop down here for a surprise visit and discover that my secondary bathroom is sorely neglected and my bedroom is a disaster! How disappointed He'll be that I wasn't a better caretaker of my home!" You know what? We (humans, women, mothers, Christians) need to stop being so hard on each other, and especially stop being so hard on ourselves, as if life is some great big test. 

Oswald Chambers had something to say along these lines in Tuesday's "My Utmost for His Highest":
The impregnable safety of justification and sanctification is God Himself. We have not to work out these things ourselves; they have been worked out by the Atonement. The supernatural becomes natural by the miracle of God; there is a realization of what Jesus Christ has already done -- "It is finished."
Just rest in your Daddy's arms and enjoy the beauty He's given us (trusting He will take care of us through the ugly). 

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Get out the novocaine - it's election time

Without further ado, here it is: my first political post. I am extremely hesitant about bringing politics into this blog, because there are so many things that are more important to me than a person's political beliefs or affiliations, and I don't want anyone to close their ears to what I have to say just because we disagree on politics. But the election is only a week away, and I find myself compelled to write this post. I will do my utmost to keep my statements simple, civil and friendly.

I am not a huge supporter of either of the two big presidential candidates. I do, however, have great respect, admiration, and (perhaps most importantly) trust for Sarah Palin. Senator McCain's choice of Sarah as VP secured my vote, despite my many disagreements with the Senator's policies. In her personal life and as governor of Alaska, she has demonstrated good judgment, a strong spine, and tremendous respect for the sanctity of individual life. I can relate to her in a way I've never been able to relate to a politician, man or woman. So that's what I have on the positive side.

Now here is why I cannot vote for Senator Obama, and there is one reason that trumps all other considerations. I won't need to go into his economic plan, foreign policy, or social values, because they don't matter in comparison. I could agree with him on all other points and still not be able to vote for him. The reason is simple: it is clear from his actions and words that he does not value the sanctity of life. I was first troubled along these lines when he uttered the (in)famous statement that he would not want his daughters "punished" with a baby if they were to make a mistake. Yet I will not judge someone based on a single statement, which can be so easily taken out of context or may represent poor communication of an idea. So I kept listening and watching.

When I read about his statements on the floor of the Illinois senate, I was even more troubled. SB1095 stated that a baby alive after “complete expulsion or extraction from its mother” would be considered a "person, human being, child and individual." In other words, it would be not only wrong but illegal to leave such an entity in a linen closet until it finished dying. Here is what Senator Obama had to say about the bill (March 31, 2001):

"...whenever we define a pre-viable fetus as a person that is protected by the equal protection clause or other elements of the Constitution, what we’re really saying is, in fact, that they are persons that are entitled to the kinds of protections that would be provided to a—a child, a nine-month-old—child that was delivered to term.”

In other words, a delivered 22-week term child would have the same rights as a full 40-week term child.

“I mean, it—it would essentially bar abortions,” said Obama, “because the equal protection clause does not allow somebody to kill a child, and if this is a child, then this would be an antiabortion statute.”

This statement unambiguously demonstrates that Senator Obama is willing to ignore the moral logic of any bill that might oppose abortion statutes. It doesn't matter to him whether or not a baby surviving an abortion deserves the rights due any person, accorded by our Constitution. What matters to him is whether or not the right to "choice" is violated by such a baby's right to life. Or, from another angle, he didn't care whether or not "this" is a child, because if it was an antiabortion statute he wouldn't vote for it.

One commentator summed this up elegantly:
For Senator Obama, whether or not a temporarily-alive-outside-the-womb little girl is a “person” entitled to constitutional rights is not determined by her humanity, her age or even her place in space relative to her mother’s uterus. It is determined by a whether a doctor has been trying to kill her.

I cannot in good conscience vote for someone who holds such a blatant disregard for human life.

Okay, that's all for politics. We'll be returning to my regular blog shortly...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

More on budgeting

Let me start out with a sidenote. Yesterday I posted a little bit about how we started having monthly budget meetings in my household. I want to stress the importance of doing this on a monthly (or more frequently!) basis. One of the reasons a budget never really worked for us before is that we couldn't account for the usual variations in spending needs using just a general budget outline. By spending every dollar on paper, on purpose, before the month begins, we've done a much better job of sticking to the plan. Now on to the main event...

I recently read a "Moneywise" article in Real Simple magazine, which I normally enjoy and has some wonderful tips, offering advice to a lady on how to trim her monthly budget. This woman's household is very similar to mine: two adults and one young child. They bring home approximately $4000/month. The financial adviser recommended that 1) they get rid of their storage unit ($88), Tivo ($12), and Netflix ($15), 2) swap babysitting duties to lower child-care costs ($610, Mom works part-time), and 3) apply for a credit card so they can build a solid credit history to get a mortgage (they just finished paying off all of their credit card debt). 

Here's why I freaked out over the article. Cutting back unnecessary expenses is clearly a good idea if you're running a tight budget, so #1 should be acceptable to me. However...the adviser did not even mention the $600 monthly budget for groceries (for 2 adults!), or the $220 for "self care and incidentals" or the $150 for "Gifts". Maybe I've adopted a miserly mindset, but that seems over the top. I feed our family for $250 a month, and that includes cooking once a week for a needy family at church and trying to make sure we have a lot of fresh veggies and fruit. And if I had student loans to pay off and childcare expenses, I would slash that gift category back a bit until we were totally debt-free with a full emergency fund. 

To be fair, I have no complaints with the second bit of advice. I'm fortunate to have "Grandma care" for our little one while I'm at work. I have no idea how anyone affords childcare.

#3 makes my blood boil and constitutes a challenge to my communication makeover. Let me take a deep breath so I can try to explain my position with grace and thoughtfulness. This couple just recently dug themselves out of credit card debt, and apparently closed all of their accounts and cut up the cards. This was wise. Aside from student loan debt ($350/month), they are financially free. Why would they give that up? Or even tempt themselves by having another card around? On top of that, did you know that studies have shown that people spend 20% more on average when they use "plastic" instead of cash? The financial adviser, as well intentioned as she seems to be, simply could not be more wrong on this account. If a person has zero debt and a steady income with a solid history of work, he/she does not need a good credit score to get a good mortgage. All they need to do is ask for "manual underwriting" when they go to the bank or credit union. There is absolutely no reason to have a credit card, and a multitude of reasons to refuse to touch one even if with a ten foot pole. 

Okay, my freak out is now over. Here's a humorous "plasectomy" for your enjoyment:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Budget Meeting - Oh my!

Six months ago my husband asked me when I'd like to get together and have a "budget meeting". You can guess what my response was... "Say what?! Are we a corporation now?". That's not what I said out loud, of course. Or maybe it was. I don't remember. Anyway, I was quick to agree when he told me that he would take me out to lunch once a month to a place of my choosing. In fact, my hesitation instantly evaporated. 

Curious as to why we were suddenly having formal meetings to plan our spending, I decided to check out the book that kicked it all off: The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. In less than a day I finished it, and my eyes were opened. How could we have been so blind about our personal finances? We had used budgets before, and neither of us would even remotely be considered big spenders. For the first few years of our marriage we had been entirely debt free without really thinking about it. It was just natural to pay off our credit cards every month. Somehow, when we moved to our current home, we started carrying a balance here and a balance there, until we took stock last April and realized things had gotten out of control. By normal standards, we were doing fine -- we had a nice house, a nice car, and we could make all of our payments every month. We could make all of our payments every month?! What kind of standard is that?? Ridiculous. 

Since that fateful day last spring, when we wholeheartedly accepted the idea that we should tell our money where to go (and we didn't want all of it to keep going to Bank of America or AmEx or Citibank or Wachovia...), we've met on the 25th of each month to write a monthly cash flow plan. We sold the car that we had purchased on the grounds that we could afford the monthly payments (regardless of the total price tag), even though we were considerably "upside down" on it, and scraped together the cash for a 1992 Subaru wagon with 200,000 miles on it. We will never get another car loan. I'm giddy at the thought that in 6 months we've kept faithfully to our budget, and when emergencies arose we could use our "emergency fund" to take care of it. So far, we've paid off over $16,000 in debt. We bring home $3000/month. We have a long way to go, but we're excited about living like no one else today, so later we can live like no one else. And I don't mean just having nice, fancy things. Neither of us really cares much about that. But we'll be able to make decisions for our family without worrying about whether or not we can pay our creditors or afford food. Just think of the good we can do with the money that's currently going towards debt! 

An unanticipated side effect of getting our rears in gear financially is that our marriage is stronger than ever. We have a goal we can work towards together, and there are no fights, regrets, secrets, or fears about money in our house. Read that last line again. When I pull cash out of one of my marked envelopes to pay for something, I know it's okay to spend the money. That's what it's been designated for. We have enough. 

Oh, and lunch is good too.

Daily acts of kindness

Terry at Ornaments of Grace has a wonderful post up today about being thankful for husbands instead of counting up things they should be doing. You can read the post here: Tales of a Stay At Home Feminist

I have a different perspective than Terry, since my husband and I both work outside the home. Nevertheless, I agree completely that, as a wife, I need to spend more time concentrating on how to show my husband love and support than I do making mental notes of what he owes me. As much as it pains me to admit it, I find myself actually using that phrase ("he owes...") both in my head and out loud. And it's true. Really. Why should my husband get to spend one weekend hanging out with his brother and the next weekend with friends visiting from out of town, while I'm at home desperately trying to keep my house in order and wondering if I'll ever have time to even make a friend in the area, much less go do something fun with her? By any definition, he owes me a day "off". 

What's wrong with this thinking? Am I selfish to want a day to myself? No. In fact, for the sake of my marriage and my daughter, I need to have a break, and not just every once in a while. Sheila has some great insight into this in her post today at To Love, Honor and Vacuum . What's wrong is that the thought is envious and thus, unloving. Jon was just discussing envy with me the other day. He read recently that the difference between jealousy and envy is that jealousy means you want what someone else has, while envy means you don't think you can have what someone else has so you don't want them to have it either. I know I need a break when I feel envy that my husband goes to the bathroom whenever he feels the urge (only moms understand what I'm talking about here!). 

If I step back and consider for a minute, I realize that I want my husband to have time to enjoy being with friends, time to have a leisurely bath in the evening, without feeling like he is stealing some precious treasure from me. And I know that he wants me to feel loved and refreshed and rested. I have to trust that if I give him my full support and love, he's going to do the same for me. I also have to be careful to recognize that I'm running on fumes and ask, with kindness and love, for a break. 

To help me keep this perspective, I've made a list of specific things I can do to show my husband I love him. Little things that serve not only to remind him of my love, but also to remind me that I want the best for him. Yesterday I gave him a pack of gum. This was a special pack of gum. I unwrapped each piece and wrapped a note around it, then replaced all the sticks in the package, so he would have 14 "Reasons you're my hero". While I was doing this, I couldn't help but smile as I chose which memories to use. Now I can't wait until he opens each piece (even though his gum chewing usually bugs me).

I hesitated to share this, because it was a special gift and memory. I'm not trying to pat myself on the back here. I just thought the example might help someone else out with ideas, so there it is. I plan on including a "daily act of kindness" to try out at home in each of my posts. Let's see what happens when we stop carefully measuring the love we hand out to make sure it's in proportion to the love we receive (as beloved Lottie from Enchanted April puts it).

Monday, October 20, 2008

Golden Silence: an update on my communication makeover

A few weeks ago I posted about some changes I wanted to make in how I communicate (you can read that post here). I'm doing a lot better with saying what I mean, but I've found that sarcasm has deep roots and puts out a lot of "suckers". Every time I think I've eradicated it, somehow it pops up again. So the struggle continues.

In the meantime, I've discovered a new tool in my quest to make over my speech: silence. Simply holding my tongue, although definitely not easy, has proven extremely useful. Sometimes I just need to stay silent until I've sorted out my feelings -- in place of my previous non-strategy of spilling out whatever I'm thinking and then sorting it out later, usually after tears have been involved. If I stop first and put myself in the other person's shoes, or give the other person a chance to clarify what they really mean, a lot of unnecessary hurt and tension can be avoided. I've found that if I give it enough time, the other person may realize their own mistake and come to me to resolve it, without my saying anything about how they've hurt me. Even if they don't, a little bit of time and distance are a wonderful aid to gaining perspective and regaining calm. I just need to be sure that I'm not choosing to be silent as a means of punishment, or cutting myself off.

I've also been thinking a lot about gossip. I'm not really a gossiper by nature, and I've always tried to be very careful about watching my tongue in this department. But it's not always clear what the difference is between gossip and simply "catching up" or sharing news about friends. Strangely enough, a comment by Dave Ramsey (the financial adviser) helped clarify this for me. In his company, the employees are told "Postive Up, Negative Down" when it comes to communication at work. For example, if an employee doesn't like how the network functions, they are only allowed to tell someone who can actually do something about it -- otherwise it's just negative gossip. If they're talking to someone below them in the hierarchy of authority, they need to use positive comments and praises. So I'm trying to apply a similar policy to my life: before I pass on anything negative, I ask myself if the person I'm talking to can help the situation at all. If they can't, I'd better not pass it along. On the flip side, when I am with my officemates, who have strong negative tendencies, I only talk about positive things -- like our dodgeball tournament that's coming up!

I've already felt the strain of not sharing burdens of "negative" knowledge. Generally, the one exception I make to the rule is my husband. We both strongly agree that spouses should openly share everything together, being "one flesh". But there are occasions where knowledge given in confidence can't even be shared with a spouse, at least for a period of time. In this case, the only place to send the burden is "up" -- to God. Learning to leave it there...that's going to take more practice.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Leaving the nest (more college musings)

Yesterday I wrote a little bit about why fresh, brand-new adults shouldn't just rush off to college because that's what they're expected to do. Today I'm going to take a different tack and discuss why young adults should leave home and go far, far away for a time (even if it's not to college). My departure from home to head across the country was once described by someone who had no idea what they were talking about as "getting away as soon as she could." It's true that I was eager to head off to college, but I was running towards something new, not away from what I had known. And while I am very glad that I live closer to my family again (and hope to be much closer someday), I cherish the time I had to find myself, away from anyone with preconceived notions about me.

Please forgive me for being cliche, but I belive I gained much from leaving the nest that would have been difficult to achieve if I had remained in my comfort zone, surrounded by my beloved friends and family. My abilities, my confidence, and my beliefs were tested -- and held true. Of course, support was only a phone call or IM away (remember when you learned how to IM, Mom? You were a pro!). But I knew that how I responded to "life tests" truly reflected me and my choices, because nobody around me had any idea what to expect. So I learned a lot about myself, my strengths and my weaknesses. I learned that sometimes it was better to skip a movie and study my notes, and sometimes it was better to skip class and sit with my back to a tree, thinking. There was a level of freedom from expectations and outside obligations that is somewhat unique to that phase of life, and should be embraced. Any dream was possible, and no one would crush it simply because they thought they knew who I was.

Maybe a lot of these lessons could be learned just as easily from moving somewhere not quite so "far, far" away. I have friends who remained closer to home and I don't think they have an identity crisis or anything like that. I can only relate my experience, and I know that I will encourage my children to test their wings somewhere "new" for at least a year when their time comes -- all the while fervently hoping they will return and stay close for the rest of their lives!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Unnecessary college

I am coming to believe that far too many people go to college. I almost feel like I was lied to as I finished high school and college (I am sure it was unintentional). I remember getting the message from many sources that if you just finish high school, you can get a better job...and then, if you just finish college, you can get the job of your dreams... You know what, I'm now on the other side of high school, college, and hopefully before long, graduate school -- and it's not true.

Don't get me wrong. I think a college education can be a valuable and wonderful thing. I do not even remotely regret the years I've spent in "higher" education. But I believe you should absolutely not go unless 1) you can do it debt-free, and 2) it can help you fulfill your passionate purpose in life in a direct and deliberate manner. I no longer believe that an "undeclared" major is acceptable, and while I must concede that I was undeclared for the first year, it was only because I couldn't choose between Physics and Biology. If you don't know what you're doing in college, get a job where you can meet people (preferably related to something you enjoy doing) and read, read, read until you find out what makes you come alive. If you can't stand reading, then get out and learn everything you can, hands-on, about something you love doing (and find a way to enjoy reading, while you're at it, but that's a post for another day).

Do you know what I did for the first year after obtaining my 3.99 GPA B.Sc. in Biology? I managed a Subway. This was a, shall we say, character-building experience, but it was hardly the dream job I had been promised if only I did well in college. The problem was, I didn't need a piece of paper that proved I could store and regurgitate a massive amount of information about immunology, ecology, evolution, microbiology, and molecular and cellular biology. I needed to know what I wanted to do with that information. A vision for your life is vastly more important than a college education, and cannot be replaced by a degree, no matter how fancy the scrollwork or heavy the paper. Some goals in life do require a college-level understanding and vocabulary, but it is a mistake to expect that simply having the degree will get you anywhere.

Tune in later this week for more college thoughts and reflections...(if my cold doesn't continue to beat me into a pulp, that is!)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Problem? Or Adventure?

Last night Aurelia had her first candlelit dinner at the table. Now, at 10 months and 2 weeks of age, I'm not sure how much she appreciated the experience. But considering the electricity was out when we walked in the door at 6:15, we didn't have many options! Fortunately I had cooked some hearty chicken and rice soup the night before, and my husband's quick thinking made it possible for us to heat up leftovers on our campstove. I chopped up some frozen avocado slices for Aurelia, warmed them in my hands, and we were ready to dine in style! We even lit the candle sconces on the wall that I haven't done anything with in ages (except dust them).

Shortly before baby's bedtime, the lights came back on -- so Jon and I were able to wind down and eat some brownies while watching an episode of Stargate: Atlantis on dvd instead of breaking out the cards. But it reminded me of the excitement of electricity going out when I was a child -- everyone getting together to play games around candles and oil lamps, wondering how long the dark would last, turning it all into a grand adventure. Or even in college, sitting in the dorm watching an unexpected snowstorm coming down outside the windows and hoping for an unplanned day of freedom from classes. Of course, in that last instance, my roommates and I ended up staying up until the wee hours eating delivered pepperoni pizza paid for with $5 of scrounged up laundry change and watching the news to see if campus was closed...only to fall asleep of exhaustion during Calculus 3 the next morning (okay, that last part was just me).

One of the greatest joys of my marriage is that Jon and I still turn "problems" into adventures. I trust that when our trailer tire blows out in the middle of nowhere (and trust me, Kahlotus is the middle of nowhere) and our 5-hour drive turns into a 24-hour journey involving an old gentleman who has had 5 heart attacks, his blind wife, an angle grinder, a second near-blow-out, and sleeping under the stars in the back of our 1974 truck...I trust that my husband can find a solution. I know that together, working as a team, we'll make it through whatever Murphy throws our way. And won't it be more interesting to tell this story to our grandchildren than if we had just had a simple drive to my parent's house? Of course! (Although we always check our tires diligently before heading out on the road now). 

The point is, all of our "adventures" together as husband and wife could have been horrible memories. But mutual trust and respect allowed us to meet each problem head-on as a team, and now we cherish those times together. Were we frustrated? You betcha. But we were frustrated together and could lean on each other and say "well, what are we going to do about it?". So next time you find yourself facing a curveball from Mister Murphy, stop for a moment and take a deep breath and know you're going to make it through -- and it may even turn into a fond recollection. You have a choice: allow the problem to tear down your relationship, or allow the adventure to build your marriage up. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Why I want to have (several) children

I considered titling this post "Why Christian couples should want to have children", but I don't want to make it sound like I have it all figured out for everyone. Because I surely do not. Yet I've been thinking about this topic a lot, as I've come across so many women lately who say they've decided not to have children (while I'm standing there holding my wonderful, beloved daughter). So I decided to figure out exactly why I want children, and I've come to the conclusion that a desire for children is a natural result of being in a loving relationship with God. There, that didn't sound law-like, right? Let me explain.

My "epiphany" came, strangely enough, when I was reading The Shack. I had a hard time getting past the first few chapters of this book. Actually, I had decided to quit and put it off for another time because I couldn't handle the pain of Mack's loss -- at least not so close to the birth of my own daughter. But my mom told me it was worthwhile to continue, so I picked it up again. Without giving too much away, I'll say that one of the main themes of the story is the importance of relationship to God. Why did He create us, after all? Because He wants to live in relationship with us. His desire for this relationship with free-willed beings is so great that He allows sin and pain (consequences of bad choices) in the world. And for us humans, the greatest, deepest, most satisfying joy in life is to love God. I want to bring new life into this world because each child is one more person who will have the opportunity to know the wonder of that relationship, to know that God is good and marvelous and beautiful. 

Yes, I also want to share this gospel, this good news, with the people who already exist around me. But there is a special joy in the creation of a brand new life to share this knowledge with, and I personally can't imagine deliberately choosing a life without children. Does God sometimes call people to a life without marriage or children? Yes. At least, I believe so. Are those couples who are physically incapable of bearing children doomed to a life that is somehow less fulfilling? I believe not -- God has special graces for each of us. Or as Papa says in The Shack, He is "especially fond" of each of His children. Each life is entirely unique, and in a reflection of God's nature, I look forward to getting to know each of my children, even through the pain and sorrow that are bound to come along with the joys. 

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Get out of context

I've always loved reading books. Even before I could read, I loved reading books. I'm told that one early birthday I had a pile of beautifully wrapped presents and a new (to me) little school desk with a short stack of books tied with a ribbon -- I ignored the presents completely and sat and turned the pages of my new books. So it's an affair that goes way back.

In middle school I discovered the small classic book section at my local library. Dumas' gallant heroes quickly became some of my favorite old friends. When I came to Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, however, I was greatly disappointed. I have never been able to get past my severe annoyance with the main characters. I felt that 1) they needed a good spanking, and 2) they needed to get out of the house! If Hindley, Heathcliff and Catherine just got away from Yorkshire for a few weeks and sat in the sun for a while, I'm convinced all would have ended well. And the book would have been vastly improved.

If you don't believe me, read The Enchanted April. (Or watch the movie, it's also wonderful!) One of the many lessons I'm drawing from the story this time through is that sometimes we need to take ourselves "out of context". The first morning after arriving at San Salvatore (an old Italian castle with wisteria and sunshine), Lottie remembers not wanting Lady Caroline to come because she thought she might be shy of her, or Mrs. Fisher because she seemed "lofty"...once she refreshed her perspective, she thought "what an odd reason to want to shut someone out of heaven! So funny to worry about such little things, making them important."

I don't know about you, but I catch myself making mountains out of molehills on a daily basis. Okay, make that an hourly basis. Sometimes I recognize my over-reaction before it gets out of hand (or even better, out of my mouth). Sometimes I don't. But I think that it's easier to give things their proper perspective when you take a vacation from your normal routine (even if the only vacation you can rustle up involves ten minutes closed up in a room with a vase of flowers and a cup of tea). Again in Lottie's words -- "...just think how much nicer we'll be when we come back!"

Of course, sometimes we put too little importance on the small things of life. Here's an excerpt from one of my favorite scenes from the same chapter of The Enchanted April:

She noticed things she had not noticed in years. When she was doing her hair in front of the mirror, she noticed it - and thought, "why, what pretty stuff!" For years she had forgotten she had such a thing as hair.
When was the last time you noticed your hair?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Just 15 minutes

I think today must be "Moms Feel (especially) Overwhelmed Day". I noticed several of my friends have set their facebook status to something along the lines of "needing a vacation", and many of the moms whose blogs I follow have been discussing how tired or overwhelmed they are - Brenda at The Family Revised described it well in her post earlier today. Being a mother involves quite the juggling act.

I know that while I was growing up, my mother was definitely the glue that held the family together (for that matter, she still is). When someone commented on that to her, it made her feel happy and appreciated -- and rightly so. I wish I had told her that more often. The problem with being glue, however, is that sometimes you get pulled and stretched in too many directions! And as Brenda mentioned in her post, while it's important to spend time doing things other than housework there are things that simply have to get done.

During the week, I leave the house at 7:45am (if we're not running about 10% of the time) and don't get home until 6:15 or so in the evening. Even those who are mathematically challenged can see that there's not much time left in the day to manage my home (especially after you factor in the time I spend expressing milk). Just the everyday maintenance -- laundry, dishes, vacuuming, picking up -- can be overwhelming! But something strange happens when you finally realize and accept that you can't get everything done. There's freedom in understanding that you just do what you can at the moment and then forget about the rest.

So here's how I approach housework: I have a magnetic dry erase board with a slot for each day of the week except Sunday. I made a magnet for each room in the house, plus a few miscellaneous house chores (like "meal prep"). At the beginning of each week, I write major events on the board, set up my meal schedule (I cook once every other night and have leftovers the next night), and then place the magnets on the days that have the most open space left. After dinner, dishes and laundry are done for the evening (often with my husband's invaluable help), I have to spend 15 minutes in each room listed on the schedule before I can relax. If for some reason I'm not done by 8:30pm, the magnet gets moved to the next open slot.

Oh, and Sundays are left off the board for a reason! All you can do is all you can do...and you can't give everything you have every day of the week. Sunday is for rest.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Wisdom for women, through the decades

Last weekend I broke down and spent $50 on an mp3 player for myself. I've been wanting one for a while, and not simply so I could have a cool new gadget (although that's fun too). I'm finishing up the first half of my research project at work/school right now, and unfortunately this is the most tedious portion of my work -- it involves a few hours every day of sitting and diluting cattle sera into about 100 little tubes and cutting tiny little strips out of the blot paper that has my protein in it. I honestly get so bored doing this that I forget to breathe. And even though there's no other way to get the data I need, and the end results will be interesting, it feels like wasted time to me. I've tried and tried to have a good attitude about this, to find a new perspective that will help me enjoy the work, because I believe we choose joy. But I haven't found a way to do that...until I got the mp3 player. (Note: This is in no way meant as an advertisement for mp3 players. Just wanted to clarify.)

I resisted the urge to immediately subscribe to and instead searched for free recordings of audiobooks and found I now have several classic books on my Sansa, along with the Dave Ramsey Show podcast, Sheila's new podcast at To Love, Honor and Vacuum, and perhaps the best find of all - the 1938 Good Housekeeping Marriage Book. I downloaded this recording partly out of curiosity and partly out of an expectation that it would be humorously out of date. Instead I found that it was shockingly relevant for the modern wife. Admittedly, there are some amusing ideas and references in the book, but in just a day of listening to the recording my marriage has improved. Seriously. The advice offered in these 70-year-old articles is frank, specific, useful and wise. 

I skipped the first few chapters, as they were for the courtship and engagement period, and started with a chapter written by Eleanor Roosevelt, entitled "Should Wives Work?". Of course, the first thing Eleanor stated was that the real question she was addressing was "should wives work outside the home," since being a wife is work! It's interesting to note that this was a question of interest even in the early part of the last century, as I tend to think this is a modern issue, and it is a pretty hot topic on "mom" blogs. There is much wisdom in the answer Eleanor offers, and I suggest you listen to the chapter yourself. I would like to note my reaction to her statement that a wife who works outside the home has two careers. 

First, I felt...relief. Relief at the outside recogntion that what I am attempting to do as a mom, wife, and graduate student, is hard. If I feel overwhelmed at times, it is not because I'm not good enough or energetic enough or efficient's because I'm really working two careers at the same time. Sometimes I just need someone to acknowledge that for me. 

Secondly, viewing "wife" as a career position altered my overall perspective of marriage. I hadn't really considered it in that light before. Motherhood, even homemaking in general, I had seen as fully satisfying (and demanding) career choices before, but not so for simply being a wife. How amazing might my marriage be if I put as much study and effort into it as I did for my PhD preliminary examination? What if I deliberately put time aside to study my husband -- his motivations, desires, weaknesses, strengths? And then acted on what I learned to support him in reaching his goals and dreams? 

Not that I want to view my marriage as a test to study for. I've had more than enough exams in my life and I can't tell you how happy I was when I finally finished my last formal class. But I think I've taken my wife career too casually. And the truth is, just like any other career where work and proper devotion will lead to promotions and greater benefits, so will being a better wife lead to greater joy and fulfillment in marriage -- for both of us.