Friday, January 31, 2014

let the small things speak

The thing I am learning about writing a story, about life or January, anything requiring a bit of endurance, a little long suffering, is letting the small things speak. To fall in love with the small things, again and again. 

And it is always the small things.

I am in love with the way the sun slants at seven-thirty every morning, and again at five-thirty in the evening. I am in love with the few more minutes of daylight every day, however cold, spring is coming.

Oh man, I am so in love with this girl. Do you know she stops what she is doing at least six times a day to come and and kiss me? Do you know she hugs her sisters and tells them I love you for no reason at all, out of the blue? She spent her first three years on my hip and fussed all of that time and I learned to lean in, made gentleness my goal and oh, it was so worth it, there is so much sweetness in one little soul.

We have a kitchen table. I am so in love with our kitchen table; our painted-upon craft table I finally convinced Jim could fit in our kitchen. I asked him to move it in (it has to be taken apart to fit through the doors) for company one night, and we decided it fits just right in the space, I think it's going to stay. I have always wanted a table in the kitchen, and I no longer need to clear off our dining table three times a day. Evidence:

(I love being her teacher).

I am still in love with my Florida retirement-home blue kitchen.
(There is the issue of chairs for our table- that is a problem. hmm).

Is it tea or sugar she is sipping? We will never know.

Eight. Oh, eight. The watch. The socks. The rainbow band. The hole in the jeans. I love eight.

Lunch at our kitchen table. Missing Annie.

My feelings toward most toys range from ambivalent to torment, but there is one set of toys which I absolutely love: Calico Critters, or the Target version, Little Woodzeez. They are the most delightful little animal families and little sets of general store or treehouse or bakery. Each set comes with dozens and dozens of the tiniest clever pieces: itty bitty baskets of apples, teeny tiny jars of candy, a little shovel, little sets of tea cups. Our kids love these and oh, they are the sweetest little pieces, and I find myself walking always with an eye to the ground, searching for these tiny things because I don't want them to be lost.

I keep falling in love with the little things. They are always underfoot, so small they are easy to miss, easily swept up and tossed away if we aren't watching.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Small smaller smallest: productivity for mothers


At the beginning of the year every blogger was writing on productivity. I read all kinds of advice on productivity. I suppose I have spent the past eight and a half years trying to figure out how to be more productive with young children, and being constantly, unendingly tormented by guilt that I couldn't manage to be more productive.

Finally one day I began to look around, to think back about what I have been doing all of this time, and I realized . . . only a mother would prepare, serve, and clean-up three healthy meals; keep all of her little people healthy, safe, content; do six loads of laundry; make a trip to the grocery store with kids in tow; have the children all bathed, brushed, read to, prayed over, tucked warmly into bed and house picked-up . . . and at the end of the day feel guilty for being so unproductive.*

Stop it.

I had to stop the constant stream of self-criticism. 

For a while it seemed that every time I opened my blog reader, another blogger was announcing her new book. Another stay at home mommy blogger was being published. And although I was and am sincerely thrilled for them and honestly believing the world. needs. her. art.; at the end of the day what I heard was- you are so unproductive.

But I wasn't unproductive! There were years when I didn't sit down! I forgot to eat meals! Every day my alarm was set for five- and then four- and still, inevitably, always, my kids would wake when I woke, or be just going back to sleep for some unknowable reason. I have no idea why some kids sleep and some don't.

I was simply making different choices, with a different set of circumstances. I had to make peace with my non-book-writing, differently productive life.

The problem wasn't that I had no time, it's that I didn't have predictable, uninterrupted time. I can do a lot of things with kids underfoot, but writing needs a space free of interruption. And because my kids gave up napping long ago, there wasn't that guaranteed quiet hour. 

And so when I found myself with a sliver of time- a few quiet minutes- what did I do? I wasted it. Because I knew I would only be frustrated if I attempted anything serious. 

This is every mother's life with young children. Any mother of young children is very familiar with what I am writing here, and so this is simply a long, long introduction to something I am finally learning about productivity with little ones: small. smaller. smallest.

I used to write things like this on my to-do list: 
work on book
blog post
write article

These things did not get done. Of course they didn't. 

I am finally learning the key to productivity with only small scoops of time, is to set smaller goals. I mean smaaaaaaaaaalller. Really small.

And this has everything to do with those itty bitty post-its you see there.

Somehow these post-its have given me a new lease on productivity this year. Because you see, not much can fit on a tiny post-it.

Now my to-do list looks like this: 
write intro sentence for article. 
find link for homeschool page. 
find facts about goat farming. Change that: find website about goat farming. The second post-it underneath will say- find fact or two about goat farming.

This has changed everything for me.
Now, when the kids are quiet for five minutes, I have a five-minute task waiting for me. No more wasting time.

Also, my kids are older now. I have so, so much more time than I did a year ago. But I wish I'd have learned this sooner.

The smaller your children, the smaller your post-it. 

As your children grow, so does your post-it.

I am finding I get more done this way AND at the end of the day I can see how much I have done- no more guilt. (or, less anyway- wink)

Which guilt, by the way, is a whole other subject and mamas, we just need to stop. Your kids are fed. They are safe. They are loved. Pat yourself on the back. You are productive. Go have some ice cream.

*(note- my husband does help, plenty, but his job also demands that he frequently work out of town or long hours- as many husbands do, thus granting this mom the gift of being at home with my kids, which I wouldn't trade).

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Three art projects for kids

We along with a lot of the country have been snowed in, a lot, this month. The other day it occurred to me that I've hardly left the house this year. Honestly, in January I am glad for an excuse to hibernate. I think it is because there are so many indoor things that I enjoy, and I am so happy to finally have the space and time to do them. Also, I am blessed with children who love to do these things too. I'm not sure what I would do with kids who wanted to do excruciating things like play sports? ;-)

Here are some of the craft projects we have done on these cold days . ..

Family art collage

I had kind of hoped this would take a sillier form, but they went with realism . . .
The frame is a repurposed Melissa & Doug package . . . I adore M&D anything and never throw out the wooden packaging- useful for so many many things. Use old magazines and photos of each family member, with scrapbook paper for the background.

. . . and if they choose to make you way thinner and more stylish than you actually are, that is just fine too.

Next up: letters on canvas

I've had these 3-dimensional cardboard letters from a craft store for a year or longer, never quite sure what to do with them. We also have a dozen or more canvas which we paint and paint over. One morning, it all came together . . .

We glued scrapbook paper over the used square canvas (which conveniently happened to be the same size). Each child decorated her letter however she chose (although I did limit the paint choices).

If I had it to do over, I'd have given them the colored tape to use on their letters, but I didn't think of it until the letters were already glued down.

Use tape around the edges to finish it off. It ended up being a very quick and simple project, and I love how their personalities show through in the way they chose to decorate their letters. They are cute hanging over each of their beds.

Micah 6:8
Finally- a Pinterest idea linked from This Glorious Day, though I can't find the actual post.

Again, square canvas that we already had. Fortunately I had prepped them a while ago by painting over whatever was beneath with dark blue paint. (We use acrylic craft paint). The rest is pretty self-explanatory. The kids loved having their feet painted- I did it in the bathroom so they could step directly into the tub.

Stay warm and make art!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

renovations and eleven years at the Cleveland Museum of Art

we visited the museum, a snowy day, our second date and the very next day the third, a Russian film where you held my hand and i pretended to read subtitles while i wanted you to kiss me wanted to crawl into your lap and kiss you and

plans for renovation were already being made by our next visit entire sections had closed

and when i was green on that beige couch for weeks with our third child we fled for the museum needing proof of life and color and

then remember the long years and all of those visits with strollers and squirming kids and- why? everything under construction deconstructing
the way black plastic draped along corridors stairs leading to nowhere and we could not imagine anything beautiful beneath

a gallery opened in front only for the children and it's true, for a time we visited only for them you know?

often you went alone to think
once in a cold courtyard a stone seemed to breathe you said

today your birthday and a sitter- four hours- in the middle of a winter snowstorm we made the afternoon tour, finally visiting the galleries we've hoped for all of these years and
we sat in the new atrium drinking coffee
beneath the snow the renovations and
all of this new art
acquired as
in the window white fell and fell and fell

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Reading Update

We are loving this season of the year, this season of life. Nothing out of the ordinary, just the beautiful mundane.

Here is a little of what is happening in our neck of the woods . ..

Long puzzles.

Slow foods.

Snowy days.

Good books. 

Eventide Kent Haruf
I love a book which leaves me both more a believer in the courage and kindness of people, and more aware of hurt and injustice, humanity's propensity for evil and cowardice. Haruf tells the story of both. The simplest person- a lonely aging farmer, a widowed social worker, a silent and ignored eleven year-old boy-- I find myself rooting for, believing in. And grieving, at the same time, for the terrible ways people ache and are mistreated or alone. I don't know how Haruf's sparse prose and simple characters can be so heart-wrenching and captivating. I love his simple style and the ordinary human events he chooses to describe. This book makes me want to be a better person.

The Writing Life Annie Dillard
A re-read. Poetic, metaphoric, humorous, eccentric, exhausting- an autobiography of the Writer's life. Full of brilliant advice and warning; "This is why many experienced writers urge young men and women to learn a useful trade."

Bread & Wine Shauna Neiquist 
Part memoir part food writing, all of my favorite subjects: food, friendship, community, faith, and the way these heal and carry us through life. My first introduction to Shauna Neiquiest, I found her writing relatable, candid, funny and poignant. 

Cold Tangerines by Shauna Neiquiest 
This collection of stories was her first book, once again relatable, honest, funny. She writes like a blogger, in brief, energetic chapters about everyday life. I appreciate her self-deprecating and honesty about her imperfections.

Honestly, sometimes her writing left me a little bit empty. She seems to be the type of person who attracts a crowd; can orchestrate, administrate, multi-task, get what she needs . . . she writes books, speaks, travels everywhere, has friends friends friends, hosts a multitude of dinner parties, along with being a mother of young children. Maybe it is because I am not at all like this, and only now slowly learning how to set boundaries and ask for what I need . . . I think I was jealous. Which is not an attractive quality and is much more a sign of something needing changed in myself.

Another re-read. One of my favorite parenting books.

. . . there is more to blog, but another day . . . now the kids are playing playing playing, and another book sits waiting for me, and I am overcome with a need for hot chocolate. 

"He is a sane man who can have tragedy in his heart 
and comedy in his head."

Be brave, friends. Cheerful and brave.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

things that wait in the air

January is our bravest month
stir, knead, kindle, brew
head down
start again

January I'll believe anything-
if you wait long enough
(dough rising maple syrup
-what are the chances?)
there, you see
my cactus blossoms

Books stack waiting
there is nowhere to be

I want to live cheaply on lentils and rice
things that deepen
affection and

memory too
and color

I want to write novels
who knows
blame the cactus

In January I wake
when the sky is black
turn the hip  listen
was there snow fall?
you will know by the hush
that waits in the air
this is the sound you are
paying for

I like secrets especially
hidden in the eyes
almost smiles
like snow
like things that wait in the air
to be born
cactus blossoms

(photo courtesty of daughter who did not read this poem)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Best of 2013

It was a lovely, long season of food and rest and being with people we love. I enjoyed every dark morning turning on sparkly lights, and every cozy evening and all of the chaotic crafty papery days. It was a most peaceful and joyful Christmas.

Almost as magical to me was coming home yesterday to space. Clear surfaces, clean floors, ordered rooms again. I love the clutter and joyful wreck of the season, and then I suddenly am ready to put it all away and clean house.

Looking back at 2013 I am struck by how much can happen in a year, anybody's year; the way that we weep and rejoice and hope and love, our heart breaks, we wander and get lost and think at moments we have found our way, we are in exile and we are at home, lost and found, all while we aren't looking, all in the span of fifty-two dull Tuesdays. It is a wide and sweeping story, this little life we live. This one wild and precious life.

In 2013 I chose to Pay Attention

To pay attention seems to sum up whatever it is I want to improve or change. I hope this will be my life word. I do not want to ever stop paying attention.

To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.
-Mary Oliver

Best books of 2013:

I have three new favorite authors this year. Two have written non-fiction: Brene Brown and Shauna Niequist. The third is Kent Haruf who wrote Plainsong.

I read a lot of Frederick Buechner too.

It has been a while and I need to do a reading update. My last two books of 2013 were Bread and Wine and Cold Tangerines by Shauna Naiquist.  I absolutely loved both of these books. Her blog is great, too. Ruth wrote a great review of Bread and Wine, with a really good description of Shauna and what her books are like.

In many ways the theme of both Shauna Neiquist and Brene Brown are the same: having the courage to be vulnerable, to accept your imperfections, to connect with others, to live with your whole heart.

Word of the year for 2014

I chose the word wholehearted to be my one little word for 2014. This word is a lot thanks to both of these authors, and I realize with some degree of dread that wholehearted goes hand in hand with vulnerability. This seems to be the theme of what I am learning, and the older I get, what I am avoiding. The older I get the more I find myself guarding against vulnerability, and the more I avoid vulnerability the smaller my world; the more I try to protect myself the harder I become, the less alive I feel.
Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” ― BrenĂ© Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Some of the best of 2013 . . .

An excellent babysitter who can find? . . . We did!
Is it terrible that when I think of our blessings this year, the very first that comes to mind is our babysitter? No! Here's why:
Bridget is my gift from God this year. I believe she is a confirmation to keep writing and trying to figure out how to make it all work. She loves our kids and our kids love her. I advertised what I was looking for and how much I could pay, which was on the low end, and she responded right away and is happy for the hours. She has been the brightest blessing to our family this year, a sweet and enthusiastic friend to the kids, and a great help to give me a few (six) hours a week dedicated to writing. Finding a few uninterrupted hours to write has been a necessary piece of the puzzle.

Annie and kindergarten
It is a blessing to watch her thrive. I did not anticipate the way Annie would wholeheartedly make friends- everyone is her friend. I'm afraid she hugs and kisses her entire class.

Josie. Just Josie.
So you know how some babies could be described as maybe highly sensitive or high needs or even a little fussy? Josie was all of the above her first three years. And then magically, she wasn't. It's like she used up all of her negativity in three years, and is now the happiest, hoppiest, most affectionate and pleasant little one. She brings so much delight to our home!

There are many more, of course, but I am running out of time and this post is long overdue.

So many many blessings, so much life, so much grace grace grace. God is gracious. And there is exile, too. We are always waiting, always a little bit lost in this in-between place, far from home. Our hearts are always a little bit broken, maybe a lot broken. And this is where God meets us, where we learn to long for Him, the desert is how we know Him, He saves us. And He does.

Lord, be gracious to us;
we long for you.
Be our strength every morning,
our salvation in time of distress.
Isaiah 33:2