Encouragement for the Job That’s Never Done

 

I spend my days doing the same work, over and over again. (See: sweeping crumbs, feeding children, folding clothes, et. al.) For years I’ve told myself this is my cross to bear; the aspect of my vocation that makes me deserving of extra sympathy and/or commendation. I’ve looked forward to some far-off future season when I can get some work that is less open-ended.

I’m beginning to realize I’ve been thinking about it all wrong.

Here is what (I think) is actually true: No one’s work is ever done, and satisfied people are the ones who have learned to embrace this reality. They don’t fight against the recurring aspects of their daily work, they enjoy the cycles and rhythms, they find pleasure in the doing, not just the having done.

I’m a million miles from mastery when it comes to actually putting this theory into practice. But I’ve been trying to keep this perspective in mind as I approach my own daily work, and now that I have this concept in my head, I find that I’m running into it everywhere. (I take this as a sign that it’s really, really time for me to learn this.)

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Exhibit A: Laundry, Liturgy, and Women’s Work

It began almost a year ago when I read Kathleen Norris’s small book entitled The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and ‘Women’s Work.’ In it, Norris pointed out that repetition of mundane tasks is not the particular bane of mothers and homemakers, it’s the work of being human. We make our beds, we brush our teeth, we wash our faces, we fill our stomachs. To neglect these basic tasks merely because they keep needing to be done is not a sign of liberation, it’s a sign of depression. A healthy perspective embraces these tasks as the liturgy of the everyday, as daily opportunities to develop habits of worship, diligence, humility, graciousness, service.

Exhibit B: The OB/GYN

Early in my pregnancy with Nathaniel, I sat in the exam room for an extra twenty minutes or so. The doctor finally arrived, delayed because he’d been attending another patient who was having her baby. “You just caught a baby five minutes ago?” I marveled. “Well, I didn’t do the catching, but I was there,” he clarified. “So, sixteen weeks! How has your nausea been?”

What better end product than helping a woman deliver a healthy baby after nine months of careful care and attention? And yet, there was no time to revel in the job well done; for every woman delivered of a baby, there were ten more lumbering down the corridors waiting for their turn. In this moment, I began to realize maybe I wasn’t the only one whose job kept resetting to zero all day long.

Exhibit C: Learning to Love What Must Be Done

I’ve just recently discovered Mystie Winckler’s work (thanks, Catie!), and it’s been resonating with me in a major way:

Perhaps there is actually glory in repetition, if we had the eyes to see it…Life is not only full of, but built with and upon, repeated actions and processes, change upon change.

The fact that housework is repetitious, then, is actually an opportunity. If we are what we regularly do, then every day we have the opportunity to become a person who cares for her possessions, a person who serves others cheerfully, a person who offers hospitality to herself, her family, and her community by such simple acts as making beds, doing dishes, and cleaning bathrooms.

Learning to love what must be done is not only 1) knowing what must be done, and 2) learning why it must be done, but also 3) feeling affection for and delight in the what and the why.

Exhibit C: The Greatest Chef in America

Just yesterday I (finally!) finished an audio book called The Soul of a Chef, which ended with a long profile of Thomas Keller, widely regarded as the greatest American chef at work today. Here’s a man on the top of his world, still finding great satisfaction in the tasks that we’d assume are now far beneath him.

At the bottom of Thomas Keller was a capacity to absorb himself absolutely in the mundane tasks he performed daily. It began, apparently, at the Palm Beach Yacht Club under the watch of his mom, Betty, as he made hollandaise sauce daily…Every working day, for two years, he never tired of it. On the contrary, he reveled in it; it was the high point of each day. He never took the Hollandaise sauce for granted.

It was never perfect, he never mastered it; if he ever had, the task would have become monotonous, if not unbearable. But instead, he pursued the perfect Hollandaise sauce with relentless intensity, and to this day, he will tell you that he still derives great pleasure from classical emulsion sauces…and that he likewise derives great pleasure from all the tasks he repeats daily.

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I love that last idea from Thomas Keller because it is such a reversal of what I’ve been trying to do. Joy is found in the pursuit of perfection, but not in the attaining of it. As long as you’re in process, there’s room for improvement, for creativity, for innovation. There’s something inspiring about the idea that even when I am doing a good job, there’s always a way to make it a little better.

I’ve been writing about the same goals since I started blogging: hoping to be more organized, more healthy, a better mom, a better homemaker. But I’m starting to realize that the fact that I’m still striving in all these areas isn’t a mark of failure; it’s a sign of life.

Guilt Free Kid TV for the Summer: revised & updated for 2017!

I love pinning those “Screen Free Summer Fun” lists as much as the next person. I know all about audio books, library baskets, sensory play, 48 things to do with masking tape, letting your kids be bored, playdates, water play, kid chores, and busy bags, and all the things. But some most days it seems like we can do all of the above, and it’s only 2:30 and the hottest part of the day is still looming before us. I’m raising the white flag of surrender: summer screens are just going to happen in our house. But that doesn’t make me like the idea of my kids sitting in front of the TV watching Ninjago until their brains are literally oozing out of their ears. (Because, of course, there is no middle ground.)

But wait! I’ve found a new system, though, that has helped to redeem TV time in my eyes. If you’re a conflicted, guilty TV mom like me, maybe this will be helpful to you, too:

guilt-free kid TV for your summer

Here’s the simple rule: weekday TV is Mom’s choice. There are so many things available online that are educational, or that can broaden my kids’ horizons in some way. (It can be expensive to travel or buy tickets to cultural events, but kids can taste these other worlds through videos and television!)

On their own, my kids wouldn’t usually make these wholesome choices, but when it’s Mom’s pick or nothing, they will usually cooperate. Sometimes they are not interested in what I’ve picked and they’ll drift into the other room (which is fine), but 98% of the time, they stay to watch… AND they like it!

(On the weekends, they get to pick what they watch. It keeps us all happy!)

Obviously, your quality picks will vary based on the ages of your kids (mine are 0-7) and the interests of your family. But to get you started, here are some of the titles that are in my regular rotation. I’ve labeled where we find them: (Y) YouTube, (N) Netflix, (P) Amazon Prime. I have only included things that my kids really enjoyed, unless otherwise noted.

Special Mentions: These began as my wholesome picks, but my kids loved them so much they became year-long obsessions with our whole family.

The Okee Dokee Brothers: Two fun-loving buddies go on adventures and write songs along the way. Joe and Justin travel down the Mississippi River (Can You Canoe?), hike the Appalachian Trail (Through the Woods), and ride horses along the Continental Divide (Saddle Up). For each adventure, you can watch the movie AND listen to the CD, which features all the songs from the video in full tracks, plus a few more. (DVD specials are available on Netflix, individual music videos can be found on YouTube, and CDs are free to listen through Amazon Prime music.)

The Piano Guys YouTube Channel: We actually discovered this duo in the fall, but they deserve a mention here. Like the Okee Dokee Brothers, the Piano Guys produce both video and audio content– each a delight in its own way. The music videos are beautiful and artfully produced, and many of them (kid favorites, all) are really funny as well. Top requests in our house: Cello Wars (a Star Wars parody), It’s Gonna Be Okay, Me and My Cello: So Happy Together, and Mission Impossible (Piano/Cello/Violin) ft. Lindsey Stirling. (Videos available on YouTube, CDs free to listen through Amazon Prime. Check out Jon Schmidt and Steven Sharp Nelson solo albums as well!)

(30 minutes later, I’m coming back from my YouTube tab because I couldn’t stop clicking through all. the. videos. Seriously, these guys are so good!)

The Arts:

Cooking:

  • America’s Test Kitchen (P)- straightforward recipe preparation, equipment reviews, and explanations of the science behind cooking. Only one season is free to stream on Amazon, but the DVDs of all seasons are great if you can get your hands on them at the library!
  • Weelicious cooking channel (Y)
  • The Great British Baking Show (N)- a family-friendly competition show with no yelling and low emotional intensity.
  • The Great British Baking Show Masterclass (N)- After you’ve enjoyed watching the contestants on the regular show, watch Paul and Mary show you how it’s really done.

Science/Nature:

  • Zooboomafoo (P)- this earlier show by the Kratt Brothers is the one my kids prefer.
  • Bindi’s Boot Camp (N)- I’ve only watched a few minutes of the first episode, but this competition show hosted by Steve Irwin’s daughter looks like it might be cute!
  • Magic School Bus (N)
  • Moody Science Videos (Y)- These entertained my friends and I through many rainy-day recesses at our little Christian school. They’re a little slow-moving, but full of interesting visuals and information and told from a Christian perspective.
  • Rock the Park (N)- two friends explore various National Parks
  • There are TONS of animal/nature-themed documentaries available on Netflix and Prime, depending on your kids’ particular interests and sensitivity level. (Many have ratings, which is helpful.) A few we have enjoyed recently on Netflix are Growing Up Wild, Baby Animals in the Wild, and 72 Cutest Animals. These can be a bit anthropomorphic, but otherwise cute.

Classic/Educational Kids’ TV:

  • Silly Symphonies (Y) – classic Disney animation with classical music scores
  • Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood (N) (P- more seasons available here)- the Neighborhood of Make-Believe is creepier than you remember, but your kids won’t mind, and everything else is super educational! This might also give you new ideas for topics to pursue further– my kids loved the Stomp episode and we watched tons more footage of their performances on Youtube another day.
  • Reading Rainbow (P)- I started my kids on Season 1 and it was too retro, even for their tastes. I’m going to try again this year with more current episodes and see how it goes.
  • Tom and Jerry, Donald Duck, et. al. (Y)- my kids go bananas for these classic cartoons, in all their non-PC glory.

Miscellaneous/Just for Fun:

  • The Boxcar Children (N)- a sweet animated version that is very faithful to the book
  • Going on a Bear Hunt (P)- animated version of the book
  • Wallace and Gromit Complete Collection (P)- this cheese-loving clay man and his faithful dog won’t teach your kids much, but it’s very low-tech and slow moving: good, calm TV fun!
  • The Busy World of Richard Scarry (P)- old school and gentle
  • Exercise: when your kids need to move but it’s hot outside, try YouTube- search “how to dance”, “yoga instruction”, “ballet class”, or “exercise” and see what comes up! Adding “for kids” will also help refine your search and (hopefully!) keep it appropriate. (My kids also enjoy dancing along to all the dance videos I mentioned above, so try that, too.)

(Obvious note, just in case it needs to be said: I recommend closely supervised use of YouTube, even YouTube Kids! Many videos require you to watch ads before the video will begin. Our Apple TV automatically plays the “next video” after the video we’ve chosen is completed; a computer will usually display recommendations for “related” content. These can expose your kids to content that is not appropriate, or that is Just Plain Weird.)

There are several maybe-interesting titles that I’m planning to try out, so I’ll try to update this list as we explore new things throughout the summer. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear YOUR suggestions!

Texas Hygge: Danish Wisdom for Summer Survival

I’ve read it on the Internet in at least three places, so it must be true: one secret to why Danes are so happy is the concept of hygge (say it: HOO-gah). Loosely (and inadequately) translated “coziness,” this idea evokes images of nubby blankets, hearty soup, a crackling fire, candlelight, and long conversations with family and friends. Rather than gritting their teeth and seeking merely to endure the long, frigid winter, hygge enables Danes to “lean in” to winter, turning it on its head and making it a season of warmth, light, and joy.

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(Google image search)

Here in Central Texas, we have very little need for hygge of the nubby blanket variety. However, I’ve been thinking about the concept a lot lately as we approach summer, which is our own never-ending season where Nature does its best to kill off the human population by way of extreme weather.

Everyone here loves summer right now, when we’re ready for school to get out, when it’s warm enough to go to the splash pad but not so hot that your eyeballs hurt when you get into your parked car. But in about three weeks, local sentiments will shift and everyone will settle into hating summer, hating the heat, hating Texas, and dreaming of the mountains. The hostility typically lasts until after Christmas, and this is the point where I think we could use a little hygge, because half a year is too long to live with that kind of negativity.

What would hygge look like in the Texas summer? Don’t even think about blankets or hot chocolate or you’ll get a heat stroke. But there are plenty of ways to lean in to the simple pleasures of summer time–enjoying the season not just in spite of the heat, but because of it.

Principle #1: Don’t fight the limitations of the season

Danes don’t bike to work in February; Texans don’t in August. There are other times of the year that are MADE for hiking, picnics, garden weddings, zoo visits, music festivals, and outdoor recreation of any kind. But unless your enthusiasm for jogging is coupled with an enthusiasm for waking up at 5 AM, you’re just not going to enjoy it in the summer. STOP TRYING.

Summer days are for staying indoors, so plan accordingly. Join an air conditioned gym, get a season pass to local museums, invest in some board games and art supplies, plan to organize all your junky closets. It’s hard to want to stay inside during the balmy winter and spring, so shut-in summer is a great time to get around to all the work and fun to be found inside your four climate-controlled walls.

Principle #2: Indulge the senses

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Wake your senses out of their summer lethargy with some simple sensory pleasures. Summer tastes like popsicles, grilled corn on the cob, peaches, watermelon, ice cream, margaritas, fresh salsa, and iced tea. Train yourself to notice the sensory delights that come with the heat: smells of sunscreen and citronella, cool water during an evening swim, bright colors of beach towels and pedicured toes, sounds of happy shrieking children playing in the sprinkler. There is much to enjoy in the summer (and fall) months if we can only look beyond the obvious sensation of “I’m hot.”

Principle #3: Escape

In Denmark, everyone who can escapes for weeks at a time to various Mediterranean destinations during the winter. Similarly, summer vacation is a great time to chillax in Wisconsin, Siberia, or other cooler climates, if your budget and work schedule allow.

Not everyone can escape in the literal sense, and this is where your local library comes in. “There’s no frigate like a book,” says Emily Dickinson, “to take us lands away.” And what better place to camp out and read than a building that your tax dollars pay to keep at frigid temperatures?

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Any book that captures your imagination will do the trick (Check out the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide or follow Leslie and me on Instagram at @windowsandmirrorsblog for ideas).  But if you’re especially oppressed by the summer heat, try picking books that help you escape to the cold! Here are some titles to get you started:

  • The Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny. These cozy mysteries are set in Three Pines, Quebec, which is the perfect small town except for all the murders.
  • The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Keep reading through These Happy Golden Years and you’ll get to the scene where Almanzo and Laura take weekly rides in his cutter in temperatures as low as eighty below zero.
  • Anything by Jack London if you’re looking for something cool and gritty
  • In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe it’s always winter but never Christmas, until Aslan shows up!
  • The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell. A British couple moves to rural Denmark so he can take his dream job working at Lego. She’s a freelance writer who spends the year trying to figure out why the Danes are the happiest people on earth.
  • Take your kids along for the ride with anything from this list of snowy day picture books from Read Aloud Revival.

Principle #4: Stick together

It can be tempting to get so hunkered down into your own survival that you forget about the community around you. But essential to the concept of hygge is not just being cozy, but being cozy together.

So when you take a day trip to the children’s museum, ask some friends to come along. Organize a snow-themed summer book club. Sign up to participate in a local VBS. Go hang out at the splash pad immediately after an early breakfast. Chat with your spouse on the back porch after the kids are in bed. And the best bonding happens through shared suffering. So if you must tour the Dallas Arboretum with your kids at 3 PM in August, at least do it with a friend, and you will have a vivid shared memory that you can laugh at together for years to come.

Summer is coming, and you know the heat will be here to stay, so you might as well cozy up to the idea and go all in.

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SIDEBAR: As I talked about this idea with Stephen, we agreed that since “hygge” is a thoroughly Danish term for this cold-weather concept, we needed to come up with an American English word for the summertime version. Stephen suggested using the word CHILL. I think it’s brilliant, because it is a term that already includes both the physical and emotional components of this attitude. So there you have it!

Introducing Baby Nat

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Hooray, Caboose is here at last!

A few weeks after Jem was born (this was four years ago, in case you’ve lost count), I realized that for the first time since I was seventeen years old, I had no names in the queue for a future boy baby. It had been so long since I had come up with a name from scratch that I feared I wouldn’t be able to do it, and I’d be one of those desperate moms in the postpartum unit flipping through the baby name book for last-minute inspiration.

(Yes, you read this correctly…these thoughts came to me while I was holding a newborn. What can I say, I like to think ahead.)

We’ve fallen into a pattern as we’ve named our children: Stephen likes names from the Bible, I like names from literature or history.  It’s been a helpful set of parameters to help us narrow down our choices and pick names that are full of meaning for both of us.

So although I was searching for a new boy name with some intention, my final inspiration came unexpectedly, as I was in the middle of reading a mediocre novel about twin brothers separated at birth.  The only important detail about this book is that one of the boys was named Nat, and about halfway through the book it was as if a light from heaven illuminated the name on the page.  Seriously, it was as magical and as certain as the moment that Jacob Black laid eyes on Renesmee for the first time.

Nathaniel, of course!  But not because of that silly book, which shall not be named, but (How had I not thought of this earlier!?!??) after one of my longest-standing literary crushes in one of my most beloved books of all time: Nathaniel Eaton from The Witch of Blackbird Pond.  And even more specifically, this line, which makes me swoon every time I read it:

(SPOILER ALERT)

It had been Nat from the beginning, she admitted now, and with that knowledge came a sureness that she had never known in all the last bewildering year.

It was not escape that she had dreamed of, it was love. And love was Nat.

Stephen was not convinced at first (he couldn’t get over the Nat/gnat homophone), but he came around eventually.  How could he argue, after all, when I had imprinted on the name, AND when there is a Nathanael in the Bible?  (He’s a good namesake, too: he is the disciple “in whom there is no guile” who demonstrates humility, repentance, and faith in just a few verses.)

For Nathaniel’s middle name, we wanted something strong and theological, naturally. We settled on Owen, after the English Puritan John Owen. (Since the one flaw of The Witch of Blackbird Pond is its unsympathetic portrayal of Puritans, I felt like this was a good way to make amends.)

Among people who care about such things, Owen is regarded as a great thinker and passionate theologian, relentless in his pursuit of spiritual growth and understanding (His most famous work is entitled The Mortification of Sin.). So, not a bad role model at all.

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At the Gospel Coalition conference in April, we found this first-edition copy of Owen’s Works at a rare books display.

Nathaniel was born on March 2, which is Texas Independence Day, and in 2017, which is the year we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. All in all, we couldn’t be more pleased about all the symbolic weight piled on our last-born.

To be a guileless sin-slayer, Texas proud, committed to the ideals of the Reformation, whose cornflower blue eyes sparkle with mischief and humor. That’s all we ask, Baby Nat; the rest is totally up to you.

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He’s tired just thinking about it.

(Baby name junkies: You might also enjoy Why Her Name is Abigail, the last question in Baby Sam FAQs, As in Finch, not as in Halpert (why we named him Jem),  and It’s a Girl! And Why We Named Her Leah)

Taking note: life-givers

I’ve been feeling pretty grouchy lately, so Anne Bogel’s annual midwinter linkup has been especially timely. “Most of us know what’s killing us,” she writes, “but few of us pay attention to what’s giving us life.”

This was an exercise I needed today, when my grievances were ready on my tongue, but thoughts of my (many!) blessings were on the back burner. So, without further ado:

Stephen. I’m so thankful for his flexible schedule and his willingness to pick up my slack around the house. He plays with the kids, gives me chances to put my feet up, makes my ice cream and coffee, and generally tolerates my late-pregnancy complaints without comment.img_2201

 

Parents. I know that I COULD get by without having my parents and in-laws close by, but it’s so nice having them in and out of our regular routines. My mom and dad pop in and out, giving me company and diverting the banshees, and Stephen’s parents have been especially helpful to help watch the kids while I go to my frequent doctor visits.img_2475

 

The kids. So this one is tricky, because they’re also the ones driving me to the brink of insanity most days, but it would be completely dishonest not to put them on this list as well. Just when I’m starting to unravel completely, I’ll catch Abby and Jem deep in some imagined game together, I’ll overhear Leah singing to her baby doll, or I’ll spend time with some other kids that make me realize how much I DO adore my three the best of all!

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Now, much less significant, but noteworthy just the same:

Bitmoji. Leslie introduced me to this personalized emoji keyboard– since I am no longer capable of expressing myself with actual words when I’m engaged in text conversations, I appreciate the breadth of emotions that are now at my fingertips. My favorites are the ones that are grumpy and snarky (as you can tell), and somehow using these to vent my frustrations DOES make me feel better.537c5254-2a40-40c4-ac68-3679863b9084

 

Bedtime. You know what’s amazing about bedtime? It comes around, even on the hardest days. Just knowing that 7:00 WILL arrive helps me to persevere through midday slumps. (7:00 is when the kids go to bed, which is the start of my relaxing hours, and then 10:00 is my OWN bedtime, which is also a moment when I hear the angels sing.)img_3114

 

Instagram. I have had conversations about this, so I know I’m not the only one who does this. When I’m grouchy I like to scroll through my own pictures, to help me remember how sweet my life really is.img_3115

 

The Boppy wedge. I could never deal with those giant wraparound pillows that some people swear by, but this tiny wonder makes all the difference between an amazing and backbreaking night’s sleep. It’s small enough to carry with me at all times, whether I’m just going from right side to left side, or all the way to Wisconsin.

 

Leah’s new obsession with “doing the dishes.” Not only is this one of those moments that reminds me how cute she is, it’s a way for her to be happy in the kitchen while NOT being in my arms. And she only dumps giant cupfuls of water all over the floor *some* of the time.img_3116

 

Weekly non-stress tests and doctor visits. Once a week, I’m instructed by a medical professional to sit alone in a room with a book and swooshing ambient noise for thirty minutes. Yes, please!  I just wish I could figure out a way to maintain my luxurious prenatal care regimen even after Caboose is born so I could keep up with the relaxing and also not be pregnant any more.

 

Getting dressed. I went into detail about this in a previous post, so I won’t belabor the point again, except to say this: the pleasure of facing the day in a thoughtfully chosen outfit is matched only by the pleasure of changing into (my husband’s) soft pajamas in the evening.

 

(Like time hops? Check out my January lifesavers from last year!)

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Winter Shorts

I know I told you I was seeking space for quiet contemplation and soul-serenity this January, but last week I did the opposite of that: I went on vacation with my family. As in, Stephen and I took all three of our kids on an airplane, and we flew to Wisconsin for a long weekend with my family to meet my newborn nephew. It was not restful, but it was loads of fun! And it gave me new appreciation for our balmy Texas weather and for the convenience of a single-story home. (Seriously. Just putting up with the cold is one thing. But the gear! Keeping up with all those hats and gloves and boots would make me lose my ever-loving mind. Hats off–or on– to you insane people who live in places with more than three days of winter!)

But did I mention we had a great time? The kids played in the snow, danced to live polka music at a restaurant, took in the kid-friendly signs of Milwaukee, and doted on their little cousins. I soaked up time with my family together; as more kids come along, it’s harder for us all to get together, and even keeping up by chatting on the phone is challenging. (Does anyone else have this trouble? How do people keep in touch??)

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We’re in the final-weeks countdown of waiting for Caboose. This has so many implications for me right now, it’s hard to wrap my mind around it all, but here is one: I feel exhausted and whiny all the time. Here is my best defense against being a completely useless blob on the couch: Dress in real clothes. Feeling especially tired or listless? Dress up even more (leggings and dresses or skirts look great and are as comfortable as pajamas). Every day, without fail, I put on fresh clothes (jeans or dresses–not yoga pants, at least not for me), and put on makeup and jewelry. This sends a very powerful signal to my body and my brain that this is a day to be a person, not a potato.

Not only does this simple practice guarantee an improved mental state for myself, it sends a nice message of respect and kindness to the people who have to look at me all day. I have never, ever forgotten this story I read years ago in Almost French (a highly recommended memoir):

Rushing to the bakery to get a baguette and croissants, I chuck on an old, shapeless jumper and my warmup pants, which I’d rediscovered at the bottom of a wardrobe when we were packing up our place at Levallois. Catching sight of me, Frederic was appalled.

“Warmup pants?” He’s never seen me wearing them before.

“What’s wrong with that? I’m only going to the bakery.”

There is a second’s pause. Frederic’s eyes implore me. Finally, he manages to speak. “But it’s not nice for the baker!”

I know that many, many people can pull off athleisure apparel and a great mental attitude at the same time. Carry on, friends! But if you struggle with feeling dumpy and unmotivated, you might give jeans and lipstick a try.

***

Here’s a little snapshot of some other pertinent trivia:

What I’m reading: The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice  Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts by Julian Rubinstein. I’m literally on page one, so I can’t say much about it except that with a title like that, how can it NOT be amazing?

The Glory of Christ by John Owen. Full confession: I am reading a revised and abridged version and it’s still plenty challenging for me.

(ICYMI, bookish friends, Leslie and I have slowed down with posting on our book blog, but we’ve kept our Instagram account hopping! Check us out @windowsandmirrorsblog if you like to talk books!)

What I’m watching: Stephen and I are watching The West Wing while we fold laundry at nights these days. We’re only in season one, but we’re hooked! It’s unashamedly partisan, but if you can get past that, the story and characters are interesting.

My kids are drifting aimlessly in their TV watching now that Jake and the Neverland Pirates has been taken off of Netflix. TBD on where they’ll land next, although I’ve nixed several of their suggestions.

What I’m listening to: My non-contemplative home leaves me on sensory overload most of the time, and I’ve found that most music only adds to the noise for me. I’m gravitating toward very simple instrumental arrangements, which fortunately I can find in pretty good quantity on Amazon music.

Just in the past few days I’ve enjoyed a few episodes of the podcast Off Camera, which I’ve heard recommended a number of times. They are long, in-depth interviews with celebrities. Quite interesting, although your kids might learn some new words if they happen into the kitchen at the wrong moment.

I’m trying to listen to Daily Audio Psalm every morning. I’ve tried lots of daily Bible podcasts, and so far none have stuck. There are several things I like about this one, but the host/reader closes out every episode by saying “I love you.” I haven’t decided if I can live with that or not.

And, of course, I remain a devoted consumer of anything produced by or featuring Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy.

***

What have YOU been up to, lately?

January: Time to Rest

When I was seventeen, I heard a talk on rest that I think about every year around this time. The speaker celebrated the busyness and beauty of the Christmas season, with all its decorations and activity and sights and sounds. But after all that fun, she argued for the importance of giving our eyes and minds and souls a time of rest. So in her home, the garlands, the festive dishes, the mini villages of fake snow, the tinsel and the trees give way to a spare, clean atmosphere: white dishes, jelly jar drinkware, white candles, empty shelves and mantels, simple melodies played quietly.

After a festive December, January can feel slow and cold and boring. But, like all seasons, it comes with its own special (although less flashy) gifts: time and space. Those dark, cold evenings are perfect for long conversations, self-reflection, reading good books by a crackling fire. January is for soup and deep thoughts, slowly simmering.

I’ve always loved this idea, in theory. But.

“Rest” and “quiet” are lovely ideas, but I’m finding it harder to make them materialize in a space that is also home to three children– I’ve got a big girl making laps around the house in her roller skates, tiny Playmobil and Lego pieces strewn around like confetti, and a two-year-old permanently affixed around my neck like a heavy scarf that I can’t take off. And before I can set the table with my simple dishes, and cozy candles, I must first remove a day’s worth of school supplies, art work, water bottles, and goldfish crumbs.

And yet, I am not ready to throw in the crisp, white towel on the notion of a January of rest and peace. Because I know that as much as I love the idea of rest for my physical senses, all the white plates and piano tunes in the world will not calm a soul that is in turmoil. And this soul-peace is really what I am craving.

So of course I’m doing my best to keep the house in order. But just as importantly, I’m trying to cultivate deeper habits of peace: spiritual disciplines, mindful media consumption, a few optimistic new routines, responsible bedtime.

Anyone else have tips for finding peace amid the Playmobil?

Food for Thought

We’re down to the final weeks of 2016, which always gets me in the mood to have deep thoughts– thoughtful reflections on the year that is passing, hopeful plans for the year to come (although with another baby on the way, I’m definitely continuing my “non-resolutions” approach to the new semester).

The big theme I’ve kept coming back to over the past few months, and the practice I hope to develop even more thoughtfully in this new year the habit of mindful input.

As a culture, we’re very in tune with the connection between our physical input and output– when I eat X, I feel Y; when I avoid X, I can accomplish Y. We wear our food preferences as proud badges of identity: I’m a foodie, I’m paleo, I’m gluten-free.Our “splurges” on a piece of holiday fudge or a festive cocktail are carefully considered and compensated for accordingly in the next day’s workout. We make no apologies for snobbery- who wants to be the one on the record defending processed, non-organic, artificially flavored so-called food?

Striving for purity in my food intake is not actually high on my priority list (because, Dr Pepper, among many other things). But I’ve found the comparisons helpful as I’ve grown increasingly convinced of the importance of taking more responsibility for the diet of my mind.

Information is so readily available, it’s easy to go days and weeks without ever having to feel “hungry” mentally- I’ve snacked on social media feeds, clicked on articles about parenting and politics, listened to that podcast that everyone was buzzing about, watched that show that Netflix recommended, skimmed the headlines on my news app, read the book I snagged on a Kindle deal, glanced through thousands of pins and photos like so many handfuls of M&Ms. Having a smartphone in my hot little hands is like being at a 24-7 party buffet for my mind. (There are nourishing options on the table, of course, but who ever gets past the Chex Mix and mini sausages?)

If I think about it that way, it’s no wonder my brain is simultaneously overstimulated and unsatisfied. One of the most influential things I read this past year was Alan Jacobs’ article “Habits of Mind in an Age of Distraction,” which, ironically, I stumbled upon in my Facebook news feed.

Jacobs cautions: “[The church] cannot allow our habits and practices to be determined by the massive multinational corporations that control our technologies, and have their own agendas for how we use them, agendas that care nothing for the development of true personhood in Christ.”

Related is the admonition of Paul in Philippians 4: “Whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy– think about these things…practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Peace. Wholeness. A mind– well nourished, thoughtfully fed, is a mind at peace, just like a body fueled by a moderate, healthy diet.

It’s not as simple as saying, “I need to read my Bible more, get a dumb phone, and not watch the nasty stuff on Netflix.” It means paying attention to the balance of everything I take in, and monitoring my own reaction to each element.

What kinds of articles are encouraging and uplifting to me, and which make me feel discontent, unsatisfied, or perpetually guilty? (Sometimes it’s Christian writers talking about contentment that make me feel the worst!)

What podcasts, feeds, or playlists energize my creativity or calm my mind, and which ones just add to the noise in my  house and in my head?

Am I taking time to read long articles that challenge my thinking and my practices?

Am I making space for reading books–not just easy fluff, but a good variety of ideas, styles, and themes?

And while everything I consume will not be not overtly “spiritual” in nature, am I keeping a balance, and filtering everything through the lens of truth?

And when I do want to veg out, do the shows or apps I spend time with leave me feeling truly rested, or kind of gross and hung over?

The goal of all this is lofty– continuing “the development of true personhood in Christ,” as Jacobs put it, remembering that I am not just a consumer and screen-watcher, but a whole person with a soul to be fed.

So now I’m praying and planning for 2017 to be a year of nourishing, rich soul food. And I’m trying to start right away– I’ve got a stack of good books waiting for me beside my favorite chair (and I’ve found they’re especially delightful with a bowl of ice cream in hand!).

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Merry Christmas, Baby: Behind the Music

I thought I’d celebrate the most nostalgic time of the year by sharing a little snapshot of one of my favorite moments from Christmas past.

It’s October of 2000. I’m a freshman in college, and riding high on my heady new identity as a member of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Class of ’04. I’m especially triumphant today; I’ve survived six weeks of college-hood and aced my first round of exams. Even more importantly, I’ve just taken the first steps to extract myself from a romantic relationship that has run its course, and it’s like a weight lifting from my shoulders.  I have plans to go home for the weekend to attend a homecoming game and meet up with some old friends, and I’m looking forward to being the New Me in my old stomping grounds.

It’s a Friday afternoon, and it’s the first really cold day of the fall. I’m feeling totes cute in my dark green corduroy pants with my new Aggie t-shirt layered over maroon long sleeves. I finish my important business around campus, pack up my Jeep Cherokee, and hit the road.

The windows are so cold they’re foggy.
I’m pushing the speed limit as I drive down the back roads.
I turn on Snowed In and crank up the volume, and the upbeat, playful, strains of Christmas music give voice to my own excitement and exuberance.

This loud, cold drive away from Aggieland has crystalized in my memory as one of the most joyful, optimistic moments of my life, a time when I felt brimming with confidence and hope for whatever the future would bring.

Every year since, when the air bites with cold for the first time, I kick off the Christmas music season by listening to Snowed In. And when I hear those first few notes from Taylor’s magical keyboard, I’m eighteen again, speeding down a narrow road in my cords and college tee, heart overflowing with joy and hope and expectation.

It’s my favorite way to begin my Christmas season, even if it doesn’t take me long to come back to being thirty-four and actually more at home with the Piano Guys and Wee Sing for Christmas.

Happy Holidays, friends, from me and my optimistic ghost of Christmas past. Hoping the memories that fill your mind this season are the ones that make your heart smile.

A (Good) Day in the Life

A few weeks ago there was a social media project where people were invited to post a picture every hour in order to document (and, ostensibly, celebrate) everyday living. As it turned out, that exact day was not really one that I’d want to preserve for all posterity anyway– it’s a kindness to everyone involved to let some days kind of fade away, don’t you agree?

But I do love the idea of capturing a day like a snapshot. And as it turned out, this ended up being a perfect day to document: a normal enough day to be representative of our stage of life, but a good day, a day of sweetness and productivity and togetherness. This is the kind of day I’ll be glad to remember and savor from the vantage point of another life stage.

So…let’s go!

(I actually have this post ready to publish exactly a month from the day I documented. That should tell you something about how long it takes me to get anything done online, these days!)

Friday, November 4, 2016

6:45- Wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast. Stephen is around on Friday mornings, which always makes things run more smoothly. The kids and I are on a cereal kick, but Stephen makes a hot breakfast for himself.

Getting dressed

21 weeks pregnant, and I don’t know why my bumps always look pointy in pictures. This is a “pretending that it’s fall” outfit– shorts because it’s actually hot, long sleeves to help me imagine that it’s getting cooler.

It’s raining today for the first time in forever, which figures because I’d planned to lay all the couch cushions in the sunshine to air them out today. They’re clean, but a little musty smelling after an unfortunate throw-up incident earlier in the week. Oh well, another day! I’m loving the rain because it make it feel fallish, despite the lingering warm temperatures.

8:15- Here’s my secret to homeschooling with a toddler underfoot: I don’t. Stephen takes Leah and Jem to run errands (haircut for Jem, walk around Target to kill time) while Abby and I settle in at the dining table and start on math. One characteristic of a good day: math is finished before the little kids get home.

We get detailed lesson plans from the school to guide us on our home days. I LOVE being told what to do.

While Abby works at the table, I sneak away to start what is the first of many loads of laundry that needs to be done today.

Laundry, Part I

Laundry hack: the orange “SPECIAL” magnet is my reminder that there’s something in the wash that can’t go into the dryer.

9:30- Little kids come home and bring me a special treat: Starbucks! (Did I mention that this was a GOOD day?) Jem and Leah are happy to join us at the table with some crayons and coloring books for a while. I can’t count on this lasting for a super-long time, but we keep working as long as we can.  Stephen leaves to teach his class and go to a lunch meeting.

Coloring

10:00- Coloring gets old, and Jem and Leah move into the living room and begin to play one of their favorite games, Ant Bed. This means that they pull all the cushions off of the couch and jump around on them. This buys Abby still more time to keep working–woohoo! Ant Bed is not my favorite activity because it’s not a game that the kids can clean up by themselves. BUT, the cost/benefit payoff of independent play and bonus homeschool time is worth it.

Ant hill

11:00- Somewhere along the way I’ve released Abby to take a break and join the game with her siblings. Today’s lunch theme is “leftovers.” That pitcher with the yellow stuff in it contains the last of my butternut squash soup– I made some last weekend and have been eating it for lunch all week. Guilt-free and yum-o.

Leftover lunch

After lunch, the stars align and all three children play harmoniously, which gives me the opportunity to clean up the kitchen. It doesn’t always time out this way, but I do love it when I have a chance to clean up lunch promptly.

Here is my second hack of the day: I don’t try to load the dishwasher if Leah is nearby (she can unload faster than I can load, and I HATE doing dreaded chores more than once). I rinse all of our dishes but keep them in the sink. When the counters are clear and wiped down, the kitchen still looks clean, and it’s easy-peasy to throw theoe rinsed dishes into the dishwasher when I’m in the kitchen later working on dinner.Lunch dishes

The kids are still playing sweetly and Abby is even picking up some kid clutter as they go, so I postpone the afternoon agenda in order to knock out a few more house chores and keep the laundry going. The house looks pretty tidy, all things considered, which is a major morale boost for me.

 

Laundry, Part II

1:00- Leah goes down for a nap, which means we begin School, Round II. We’ve gotten the hard brain work done in the morning so we finish up what’s left: handwriting, history, reading. Bless him, Jem is great at entertaining himself while Abby and I work at the table.

Especially in the afternoons, Abby needs me close to keep her on task, but she doesn’t require my full attention. So this is a nice time for me to chip away at some mindless work of my own (catching up on my question-a-day journal and Bullet Journal calendar-updating).

School

Bookworm

He tied up his own ankles, for reasons that I never totally understood.

2:15- Leah wakes up, and so Abby finishes up at the table on her own. I sit on the (partly reassembled) couch and read to the littles. Sometimes we do read quality literature, but not always; today’s picks are unremarkable . It’s all about balance, right?

Read-aloud

3:00- I get out the glue gun and we attach googly eyeballs to some gourds that we painted yesterday. Stephen is home now and has decided that the break in the rain is his perfect opportunity to build a fire in the back yard. Eventually this entices all the children outside, leaving me alone. It’s perfect timing, because I’ve just remembered that I’m scheduled to teach at Bible study next week and I need to start working on a talk. I sit down at the table and start brainstorming.

The smoky smell from the back yard drifts in through the open door and windows, further contributing to my happy fall mood. I’m making slow progress on my work, because I keep getting up: Move the clothes over! Print that recipe while I’m thinking about it! Take artsy picture of workspace! Turn on some relaxing music!

study prep

4:00- The fire is still burning but the kids are in and out. However, they’re still playing really nicely together, so I’m able to keep working. Also I’m still doing laundry.

They painted these gourds yesterday and today they're pretending the gourds are a little family.

Playing with their homemade gourd family like good little pioneer children.

Laundry, Part III

5:00- Time to get started on dinner. I actually had some plans underway, thanks to {a successful but short-lived experiment with} PrepDish, but late in the afternoon I’d gotten a call from my mom asking if we wanted to share some soup with them so she could use up some chicken out of her fridge. I’m contributing a bag of salad and cornbread, so dinner is even easier than I’d planned.

If you're not cooking cornbread from the Jiffy mix, you're doing it wrong.

If you’re not cooking cornbread from the Jiffy mix, you’re doing it wrong.

6:00- Mom and Dad come over with chicken soup, and we eat together. My folks stick around through dinner cleanup, kid baths, and family worship time.

Dinner

8:30- The kids have been in bed and quiet for a while, so we’re well into “date time.” We’ve had a bowl of ice cream and some quiet working time, and we are ready to tackle our chores: Stephen folds the mountains of laundry I’ve created during the day, and I settle in at the ironing board. I NEVER iron, but earlier in the week I had thought it would be a good idea to wash my living room curtains. (I can’t explain this mysterious impulse, unless it’s related to some early-onset nesting?) Anyway, it was a big mistake: the curtains are now wrinkled, too short, and the stitch tape hems have come out. So I’m trying to get them presentable enough to hang back up.

Fortunately, The Office makes boring chores fun.

Date night

10:00- The day is done, and there’s nothing left but to go to bed.