Thursday, October 31, 2013

5 favorites: Discipline edition

The irony is not lost on me that I'm writing a post about self-discipline for a link-up that occurred yesterday in a state of exhaustion from having stayed up WAY past my bedtime for two nights running.

But - just because I haven't completely figured out how to implement all of the self-discipline into my life, that doesn't negate the many "a-ha" moments I've had recently about how discipline - in all areas - really is the key to growing in happiness and holiness.


Vintage Household Chores Kitchen Towel Set
Image source

Daily chore assignments (and sweet vintage embroidery patterns).  I've had a theoretical schedule for the last year or more, but it has typically fallen apart around starting the laundry on Monday, and most other things have gotten back-burnered until some company was coming.  For the past three weeks, I've been sticking (more closely) to my schedule, and it's both freeing and motivating.  I wake up in the morning knowing what actually needs to be done, I don't feel overwhelmed by everything all at once (den is really dusty?  that's OK, I'll get to it Thursday), and - because there's a set list of things to accomplish each day - I can, at least theoretically, finish working for the day and transition into more relaxing activities in the evening without feeling guilty.  I'm starting to see why those vintage day-of-the-week embroidery patterns were so popular!  I want to work on the set above because I think they're pretty charming.


Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred work-out video.  I've seen a lot of people mention that they've done Jillian's videos (usually with oh-my-gosh-I-can't-move-today disclaimers), so I decided to try one (with some trepidation about my next day's mobility) - and I really liked it!  I've done a moderate amount of running over the summer (plus repetitive lifting of a squirming 23-pounder), but I needed something to fill the gap as the weather gets colder, as well as a little cross-training action.  I appreciate that it is very efficient - strength, cardio, and abs (and warm-up and cool-down), all in only 30 minutes of precious nap time!  Also, I appreciate that you don't have to do any one exercise for more than maybe 90 seconds.  (Does that sound weird coming from someone whose exercise has been exclusively running for the last several months??)  


Image source

Daily prayer.  My mom gave me a copy of the October edition of Magnificat, and I have enjoyed it enough that I purchased a subscription.  I've attempted to do the daily readings in the past, but (this is shameful) having to flip around between one book and then to different pages in the Bible ended up being a barrier to doing it as regularly as I wanted to or should have.  The Magnificat has morning prayer, the daily Mass parts and readings, evening prayer, a daily reflection, and saint-of-the-day biographies.  And I can read it all in one little book without any flipping, which has translated into me doing it much more often, and (naturally) more prayer time is always a good thing.


This will come as a surprise to everyone who knows me, but MORNINGS!  Obviously this doesn't apply to days like the past few when I've stayed up way too late, but I've started to get up much earlier, and I've been loving it.  Anna often wants to eat around 5:30 or 6:00 and then go back to sleep for a few hours, so that's been a good alarm clock for me to stay up.  My whole life, I've thought that I was a night owl, but it turns out I'm just a morning person with poor self-control and who doesn't want to miss anything (thus staying up far later).  But I have discovered that I'm significantly more productive, optimistic, and less grumpy in the morning, and not only then but throughout the whole day when I get up early.  Of course the challenge is to then also go to bed on time so that I can keep the cycle going.  It's a work in progress.


Inspiring reading.  Has it ever happened to you where you learn a new word, and then suddenly you read & hear it 3 times in the next day?  I feel like that is happening to me now that I've realized discipline is such an important concept for me to focus on right now.  I'm sure that's why it was my key take-away from the Light of Love movie.  

At any one time, I have six or eight books on my nightstand that I am reading - not necessarily from front to back.  I sort of flip through and read snippets each night before bed.  Here's two that stuck out recently as I flipped around:

From Gretchen Rubin's Happier at Home:  

Routine doesn't deserve its bad reputation.  It's true that novelty and challenge bring happiness, and that people who break their routines, try new things, and go to new places are happier, but routine can also bring happiness  The pleasure of doing the same thing, in the same way, every day, shouldn't be overlooked.  The things I do every day take on a certain beauty and provide a kind of invisible architecture to my life.  Andy Warhol wrote, "Either once only, or every day.  If you do something once it's exciting, and if you do it every days it's exciting.  But if you do it, say, twice or just almost every day, it's not good any more."

This resonated with me in relation to the routine-setting I've been doing.  In addition to the weekly repetitions, I've been trying to instill more daily routine, as well, like sweeping the entranceway rug each night after tidying the toys, and it's been surprisingly satisfying - both in that there's less outside dirt being perpetually tracked into the rest of the house, but also in a comforting "this is how we close-up shop" night-time routine sense - exciting, as the quote says.  I'm still at a-few-times-a-week, not every-single-night, but it's still been a positive improvement!

From Matthew Kelly's Rediscover Catholicism:

The philosophy of Christ is based on discipline, and it is discipline that our modern culture abhors and has rejected with all its strength.


Discipline is the faithful friend who will introduce you to your true self.  Discipline is the worthy protector who will defend you from your lesser self.  And discipline is the extraordinary mentor who will challenge you to become the-best-version-of-yourself and all God created you to be.

If that's not a call to action to keep on keeping-on with the things I've listed above, I don't know what is!

I hope that in reading this, you realize how much of a work-in-progress I still am.  I've learned these things intellectually - but as we all know "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak."  (Matthew 26:40).  I put them out there on the blog, though, because of the incredible encouragement I've received from reading other people's writings on all sorts of subjects.  I always hope that someone reading my posts will have a little "me too" moment and somehow find it useful.

Linking up (a day late and a dollar short) with Jenny for this week's 5 Favorites.  Oh, and as a bonus, read her post HERE.  Her blog is new-to-me, and when I read through her most recent posts, I thought this one was just fabulous.  A good reminder that it's not just about self-discipline...sacrifice is necessary!

P.S. Don't worry, part three of the sewing series is coming...(and parts 4, 5, etc, if the collective you has things you want to know.  Leave me comments with sewing questions and I'll answer them if I can).

Monday, October 28, 2013

Lessons in joy

Over the weekend, Justin and I watched Light of Love:

It was so absolutely beautiful, and the sisters are just so absolutely beautiful.

When you watch it (which you absolutely should), there's something inside that (Catholic or not, woman or not) makes you say "I WANT THAT!"  Not, necessarily, the life of poverty and celibacy, but the overwhelming peace, joy, and love that these women exude.

I was thinking about it again this afternoon, and I got to thinking that we should want that - and not in a lofty, oh-that-would-be-nice way, but in a I'm-going-to-fight-for-it-because-I'm-made-for-it way.  God didn't say, "OK, you few that I designed to be really joyful and peaceful, you all go to the convent - and, well, the rest of you, just muddle through in the real world, alright?"  I don't want to belittle the differences in the various vocations - single, married, religious life - but I want to address the idea that true peace and joy is exclusive to just one.  There are obvious differences in the lifestyles (I wryly thought "the sisters don't have this problem" when I got up with Anna for the third time in the middle of the night after watching the film - but then I also got to sleep through their 5 AM prayers) that mean there are unique challenges and unique blessings for each.  I don't know that it's necessarily easier for the sisters to be joyful (they've given up so many of the things that - at least theoretically - bring the rest of us happiness) - but they have (sweeping generalization here) found it more consistently than the rest of us.

So why is that?  And how can we get some of the joy?

Here are some of the aspects of their lifestyle that I think can be adopted to any vocation (without denying the unique beauty of each vocation and general enough to be applied within each varied context).  I know they're all things I hope to foster in myself and in our home with a renewed vigor after seeing the film.

1) Discipline.  There's the big, obvious examples of self-control and discipline (e.g., vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience), but I was struck even more by the discipline of schedule.  They wake with regularity, pray with regularity, and eat and work with regularity.  Granted, they don't have toddlers - but I've found that routine and schedule are anecdote to some of the stay-at-home-mom malaise.  Constantly worrying about what has to be done or when you can possibly do it (or being stressed that it wasn't done) can steal your joy - but just doing it when it's time to be done ends a lot of turmoil, both internally and externally.

2) Prayer.  The sisters spend more time in prayer - partly because they have more time to spend, but also because they make more time to spend (see above point: discipline!).  I catch myself and others blaming lack of time on the demands of life with little kids without giving the fair share of the blame to the Internet.  By design, parents will never have as much time for prayer as the sisters - but I bet almost all of us have more time than the amount we're currently devoting.

3) Full presence in the moment.  Whatever the sisters were doing, they seemed to be doing with their full heart and full mind; not forgetting, of course, the constant lifeline of prayer that underscores every moment.  This points back, I think, to the discipline - they don't worry about washing dishes or making dinner while they're in chapel or working in their ministry because they washed the dishes and made dinner when it was time to do each of these things.  Note in particular the scene of the sisters playing games and working on crafts - they are free to wholeheartedly enjoy this moment.  I crave that carefree fun for our family, especially on Sunday afternoons (presumably when that scene occurred in the film, too).  I find that typical lifestyle now is more about simultaneously doing six things (of varying importance and productivity - ahem, checking Facebook) than it is about working when its time to work and playing when its time to play.

4) Service.  Everything the sisters do is in service - to God and to His people.  For many of them, their daily work is as messy and mundane and back-breaking - or perhaps more so - as being a homemaker, but they view it in the proper light.  They see the people they serve and God's mercy they help share, not the work of the task at hand.  Changing diapers, cleaning bathrooms, cooking dinner, doing laundry all feel awfully mundane and don't provide much joy - until they're viewed as acts of love.

I'm not making the case that family life can - or should - adhere to a schedule as neat as a convent, or that we should try to remove the unique aspects of each vocation and meld them into a one-size-fits-all lifestyle.  There are different vocations specifically because there are different people - and each of us grows in holiness and is called to serve in very different ways.  However, we are ALL called to have joy in loving God and knowing His love.  The four things above aren't the source of that joy, but the tools we can use to find it - tools demonstrated so beautifully by the joy-filled sisters.

Update, 5/30/2015, I've updated this post slightly and linked it to the Blessed Is She "Joy" link-up.

If you're interested in some of my more recent writings about finding joy through simplicity and discipline, go here and here.

Also, perks of living in Steubenville: we met one of the sisters in this film after Mass one day :)  It was a sort of full-circle moment for us, as we watched this initially a few days before Justin's interview, and we kept wondering if we'd soon recognize some of the places shown in the movie (we do!)

Friday, October 25, 2013

Quick Takes: Edition 9

Quicker than quick takes because I already wrote a long post tonight and it's past my bedtime (and yet feel the need to collect my thoughts once a week in this format!)

1) Writing my how-to sewing posts has been a lot of fun - I think the most fun I've had writing on the blog.  Apparently I enjoy telling people what to do.  (No surprise to my siblings!)

2) Rosie was the one who requested I write the series - but then she went and learned to sew without me.  Check out the awesome skirt she made!

3) The giveaway for my (new favorite, I-think-it-changed-my-life book) Keeping House by Margaret Kim Peterson ended last night - congratulations to Ellen!

4) If you did not win the giveaway, get thee to a library or a bookstore or Amazon and make sure you read it ASAP.  You won't regret it, especially if you have found yourself overwhelmed by the monotony of cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc.

5) We missed story hour today because Justin & I (and apparently most of Ithaca) were getting flu shots beforehand and we thought we'd be done in time.  It turned out to be a good thing we missed it because my sweet girl woke up from her nap quite feverish, and we ended up taking her in for her first sick visit.  Thankfully, she perked up after a dose of ibuprofen, and it's just a virus (compounded by her incoming upper molars).  Seeing her sick made me incredibly grateful for her great health so far!

6) You'll have to wait until next week for the photos of the new skirt I made Anna (using one of the tutorials I recommend in the learn-to-sew post).  I made it last night in hopes of wearing it to the library today (after the whale dress, I've remained inclined to dress her up for story hour), but the story-hour runway debut will have to be next week.  You know, because all the little girls go to the library just to see what Anna's wearing.

7) I'm losing steam...bed time.  Goodnight!  Check out my learn-to-sew posts for more coherent thoughts (or other bloggers at Cari's today for the link-up!)

So, you want to sew...Beginner Lessons Part 2 (Choosing a Project)

Today's lesson: choosing a project.  If you missed the previous tutorial, check out part 1, gathering supplies.  Part 3, basic stitches, can be found HERE.

I think there's a decent number of people out there who have tried sewing before, but finding themselves with a jumbled mess of fabric, knotted threads - and nothing near the Pinterest picture they were attempting - have sworn off sewing forever.  Now there may be some people who are less naturally inclined to crafty type things, but it is not an impossible task, and I wouldn't buy a "I can't sew" line.  You can't sew, yet.  And the past projects?  I highly suspect that it was the projects, not you.

This time of year is notorious for people to want to learn to sew.  People are scared off by the price tags at those Halloween stores, and think "how hard could it possibly be to make this?"  Unless the costume is a ghost, it's probably not a beginner sewing project.  And here's another hint - by the time you buy the satin and the tulle and the thread and the trim and everything else to make a Tinkerbell costume, you'll have spent far more than whatever Party City - and gotten a free helping of frustration to boot.  Buy the costume, this year.  Start with a small project now, and you'll be ready to outfit an entire Disney cast next Halloween (although that won't make it any less expensive!)

When you choose your first project, keep the following in mind:


1) Save high-stakes projects for down the road. (e.g., living room curtains from expensive fabric, a dress for your sister's wedding, clothes for your upcoming family photos, a zipper repair for your favorite skirt).  If there's too much emotional investment in the outcome, any snafus while you're learning will be amplified, and you'll be more likely to swear off ever sewing again.

2) Don't pick something that is designed to fit well.  Chances are, as long as you choose the right size pattern for pajama pants, you'll be able to wear (and enjoy!) your finished project no matter what.  This will not be the case if you go for a skirt or a jacket or something else fitted.  Just like everything in a store won't necessarily fit your body type, every pattern won't necessarily fit you, either.  It's annoying to have spent the time making something only to learn that you can't wear it (and don't know how to alter it!)  Note that kid's clothes are more forgiving (think elastic) in the fit category than adult, so something for your kids could be a good first project.  Loose-fitting garments, given that they're less structured, are also more simple to make, making them better for beginners.

3) Straight seams only!!  In other words, start simple.  Nothing with ruffles, curved seams (like setting sleeves), and definitely no zippers.

4) COTTON, COTTON, COTTON.  I should have listed this first, because I think it's the number one key to having a successful first sewing experience.  Currently (with many years of sewing experience), I will start a project involving certain types of fabric (silky, stretchy, or furry, for example) only very reluctantly because it can be so frustrating to handle.  Cotton fabrics do not slide around when you're cutting the pattern, they crease neatly with the iron when you are hemming, and they're unlikely to make your machine jam.  Also - added bonus - they come in so many beautiful patterns that you're bound to find a fun print that you love AND the style of fabric is conducive to the types of projects that are appropriate for a beginner.

Most fabric stores have a "wall" of cotton (typically arranged by color) - it may be called "quilter's cotton" or "calicos."  I suspect you'll know it when you see it.  Flannel would also be an appropriate first fabric, depending on your project (it's 100% cotton as well, just a bit thicker) - you may have to look around a bit, but chances are there's a lot of patterns - often baby prints - to chose from in that section as well.

So many great fabrics, how will you ever choose?
Fabric is sold by the yard (that's 36 inches if your English conversions are rusty).  After you choose your fabric, you'll take it to a cutting counter (often at the center of the store) to have your selected amount cut before proceeding to the check-out register.  Some stores will let you buy in any fraction - .028 of a yard (1 inch) for example - but you can typically just stick to normal fractions.  1 yard.  1/2 yard.  1/4 yard.  Maybe 1/3 yard, and your pattern or tutorial should tell you how much you need.  The other dimension is standard, based on the bolt size.  Most cottons are on 45 inch bolts (which are realistically more like 42", so confusing), and then most "apparel" fabric is on 60 inch (again, 56", 58", it depends) bolts.

You may also see the little folded squares of fabric near the patterned cotton.  They're pre-cut and very tempting to add to your cart (typically $1 or $2).  They're called "fat quarters."  A typically quarter-yard cut would be 9 inches (1/4 of 36) by 45 inches (standard bolt width).  That's a long and skinny strip.  Imagine if you took that strip and cut it in half (2 pieces, 9" by 22"), and then put the pieces on top of each other - instead of a long strip, now it's more of a rectangle (18" by 22") that's a lot more useful than the strip.  Buying one or two of these would be great for the practice stitches & seams I'm going to have in part 3 of my tutorials.

But back to your project.  Here are a few suggestions of projects that meet my criteria for beginners, as well as links to some tutorials that I've found.  Note that I haven't tried all of the tutorials I'm linking to, so I can't guarantee anything, but they look good on my quick read-through.


- A pillow case.

- Drawstring bags.  (My mom made a ton of these when we were little to corral our various sets of toys.  I'm due to make Anna several soon!)

- Pajama pants.

Here's one you can download online, although it's probably easier to buy a simple pattern at the fabric store if you want to go this route.

- An elastic waist skirt for a little girl.
(I have made these for Anna - as well as other tutorials from this site, they're great!

- A simple apron.

- A tote bag.

- A table runner.

Note - if you want to see these projects, I created a Pinterest board "Beginner Sewing Project Suggestions" and pinned all of the listed tutorials there.  Check it out HERE.

Stay tuned for part three of the series - practicing basic stitches, and let me know if you have questions in the meantime!  UPDATE: Part 3 is now posted HERE

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

So, you want to sew...Beginner Lessons Part 1 (Supplies)

My mom, who is an avid and extremely talented seamstress, immersed me early in the love for all things crafty - particularly those related to the sewing machine.  The next time I am visiting my parents' house, I am going to raid their photo albums and find the pictures of cute 5 year-old me sitting at the sewing machine and add them to this post.  I don't know what I was making at age 5, but I do remember sewing my own clothes in upper elementary school, so I've been at this for a while!  I often thought that it would be fun to teach sewing classes, and I certainly look forward to teaching Anna in a few years.  In the meantime, I wanted to write some posts for some friends (most recently, Rosie) who have mentioned that they wanted me to teach them to sew.  I will try my best to capture all of the lessons I learned from my mom, from my time spent working at a fabric store, and from the miles and miles I've put on my sewing machine over the years!

Today's lesson: collecting your supplies.  The following items are my essential "must haves" for beginners (and beyond - I used everything on Sunday when I made the pillows).  I've also added a few "nice to haves" on the list that a beginner could likely do without, but will make your experience more enjoyable/easier - especially as projects get more complex.


- A machine in good working order.  This doesn't necessarily mean a new machine; in fact, a few years ago I replaced my "old" brand-new machine with a "new" old one from eBay because I preferred the operation and sound of the older models with all metal parts.  The key - new or old - is that it does basic stitches and that it does them reliably (nothing is more frustrating - especially to a beginner - than tension that is all out of whack).  If you have an older machine, I'd recommend taking it to a repair shop for a tune-up, or at the very least have a friend who knows how to sew test it for you.  A new machine shouldn't give you trouble out-of-the-box, provided you've followed (with precision) the threading instructions.

- Extra sewing machine needles.  Believe me, you will not be happy when you're part way through a project and your ONLY needle unexpectedly breaks.

Thread (good thread).  Sewing kits (and sometimes even sewing machines) often come with cheap spools of thread that break easily and otherwise cause a lot of headaches.  I always buy Coats and Clark, which is a standard brand that most stores carry.  It's not the highest-end thread, but it always works well for me.  Look closely and be sure that you're buying general purpose thread (I believe their line is called Dual Duty) and not quilting thread or heavy duty thread, which are often sold on the same rack (but in fewer colors).  To start, I'd buy white, off-white, tan, and black - with those four colors, you might not have the ideal for every fabric, but you'd at least have something passable.  Thread can be expensive, so it's best to slowly build a collection as you need colors for specific projects.  The multi-color packs that I've seen usually have the cheaper thread in them, so stay away from those.

- Extra bobbins.  In almost all cases, you'll want your bobbin thread to match your top thread - so you'll need a bobbin for each color of thread that you use.  NOTE - there are different types of bobbins, and although they look interchangeable, not all of them are - there are more differences than just metal or plastic!!  Check your manual or ask at the store if you aren't sure what type your machine needs.

- Scissors (3 types!).  I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that my Gingher dressmaker's shears are my favorite possession.  You don't need to start with that brand necessarily, but it is extremely important to have a nice pair of dedicated fabric scissors.  Then it is equally important to warn everyone you live with of the severe repercussions of using your fabric scissors to cut anything else, especially paper (it dulls them, which then makes cutting fabric super frustrating).  In your sewing basket, you'll also want a pair of regular paper scissors (to cut patterns and things, and because if you don't have them handy you'll be tempted to grab your fabric scissors and need to subject yourself to aforementioned severe repercussions).  Also, I highly recommend a pair of small thread snips.  They're less unwieldy than the bigger pair to cut threads and things, but I also prefer them to a seam ripper when (notice I said when, not if) you need to take things out.  I find that little snips to the stitches is overall less destructive than yanking at it with a seam ripper.

- An iron.  Ironing is essential to sewing.  Do yourself a favor and set it up when you start sewing, because otherwise you will be tempted to skip that step.  And, when you skip it, you'll be more frustrated while you sew (because it's just more difficult if things aren't pressed) and afterwards (because things won't turn out as well).

- Pins - straight & safety.  Straight pins are important for laying out patterns and for holding seams together before/while you sew.  Safety pins are just useful to have around - most specifically for pulling elastic through casings.

- A (non-retractable) measuring tape.  For, well, measuring.  I think that the few dollars (or maybe even cents?) for a tape measure intended for sewing is worth it, rather than grabbing a ruler or other random measuring tape you have at home.

**Updated, because this was on my mental list and didn't make it to the post yesterday:
- A pack of regular (hand) sewing needles.  Although most of your projects will likely be done by machine, there will be little parts (sewing on buttons, for example) that are done by hand.


- Pinking shears.  A fourth pair of scissors!  They're not essential, but helpful to have - for example, you can cut the raw edges of the seam allowances inside a garment to reduce the amount of fraying that happens in the wash.

- A turner / creaser.  I saw these near the quilting supplies at the fabric store the other day, and they were only $3 I think.  They're really useful if you're making something with corners (for example, a pillow case) and you need to turn it right-side out after sewing.  I use mine a lot.

- A cutting mat.  The essential part of this is that you have a large (ish) flat (no ish here!) surface to lay out fabric when cutting.  I used to always do this on the carpet, until I recently realized that it's much less frustrating to use the kitchen table or the peninsula.  The cutting mat provides a more firm surface (if you're working on the floor) or prevents scratches from pins and scissors (if you're working in the kitchen).  Bonus, it will become even more valuable when you break into quilting!

- Dritz measuring gauge.  This is a super handy-dandy tool that has a side measuring from 1/4" up to 2".  It's really helpful, say, if your instructions say to press something 3/8" and you don't want to deal with the big measuring tape while you iron.  (Warning, this little metal thing can heat up quickly!)

- A task light.  If you aren't in a brightly lit room (or even if you are), it's helpful to have a desk lamp pointed right at your work surface to help you see what you're doing.  If you don't have a dedicated space to leave your sewing machine set-up, this is obviously a hassle (one more thing to move in addition to the machine and the iron and everything else), so we'll just call it incentive to create a sewing room or a sewing corner where you can leave things set-up!


All of these supplies are pretty basic - you should be able to easily find all at a fabric store - or even in the sewing section of a Wal-Mart.  Particularly for the bigger ticket items (and the nice-to-haves), wait for a sale or a coupon.  Most craft stores are the type of places where you shouldn't ever buy something full price because their sales & coupons are frequent enough!

You will, of course need project-specific items (like fabric, elastic, buttons, etc.) but those are dependent on what you are making.  I will cover that in my next post - choosing your first project!  *Update, that post is now up HERE, and Part 3 (basic stitches) is now HERE.

If you have questions, feel free to contact me!  I'm also curious to hear from others who like to sew - what are your must-have items?  Anything I missed?

7 points for me!

I've realized that the blog has recently become a lot more "tell" than "show," even though it was originally created to be an update of our home renovations.  I'm enjoying my opportunities to be an armchair philosopher and dive into some of the other posts, but - you need pictures!

The visual updates have been lacking, in part, because the completed projects have been lacking.  With a limit to the number of hours per day that I can do something that requires both hands and more than 50% of my attention, blogging and crafting sometimes are at odds for my attention.  But, on Sunday, Justin took Anna to the park, and I had a lovely afternoon sewing (given that I don't do any housework on Sundays, I also got to devote her entire naptime to craftiness!  Woo!)

It turns out that when I am fully awake (as opposed to quite tired, after Anna's bedtime, when I usually sit down to sew), I'm much more willing to start projects that require thinking or deciding.  And so I finally made myself some letter templates and, voila:

Scrabble pillows for our bed:

Although we don't play much anymore, Scrabble was a big part of our early dating relationship, so I thought this was a cute nod to that memory.  I saw similar pillows (I think spelling HOME) online a long time ago, and that inspiration was literally the first thing I ever pinned.  I'm not even sure how many years ago that was, and I know I bought the fabric at least 6 months ago.

So, while it wouldn't be a high-scoring move on the board, FINALLY completing these feels like a huge crafting 7-point win!

Speaking of sewing, I've had several friends over the years tell me that they wanted me to teach them to sew, and so with the most recent request, I decided that I would write a few brief "so you want to sew" posts about gathering materials, getting started, choosing a beginner project, etc.  I'm hoping to get the first one up this week, so if you've been meaning to learn, now's your chance!

P.S. Apparently my mid-afternoon brain isn't as sharp as I thought - I just published the initial version of this post giving myself 6 points.  Basic math skills are always helpful...

Friday, October 18, 2013

Quick Takes: Edition 8

Linking up with Jen as usual for Friday quick takes - and I am holding myself to making them truly quick tonight.  It's 10:10, and I am walking upstairs no later than 10:25!  Ready....go!

1) An adorable picture is always a great way to kick things off, right?

We took her to a fall festival at a pumpkin farm (Iron Kettle for locals) last weekend as part of an incredible quintessential fall weekend (pumpkin farm & leaf raking on Saturday, apple picking Sunday).  I've got a camera full of great pictures (grandparents, standby for copies!) but this is perhaps my favorite.  Her joy is contagious!

2) We got pretty serious with the apple picking, and I have almost a full bushel...operation can applesauce will begin tomorrow morning, and I'm accepting other ideas for apple preservation.  I've heard rumors of canning apple pie filling (rather than freezing complete pies, which I've done in the past).  Any opinions/advice anybody would like to share about that? 

3) I went to a presentation last night at church (Strong Catholic Families, Strong Catholic Youth), and among the statistics they shared about the trends of faith among teenagers was this shocking fact:  On average, US parents spend fewer than 3 minutes of non-directive communication with children per day (meaning things other than "do this, stop that, etc."  3 minutes.  Per day.  Isn't that crazy!?!  (And doesn't it explain a lot about the state of our world?!)  

4) The entire presentation reminded me of a quote, which I actually have on an electronic sticky note on my computer desktop:  "Your children will become who you are, so be who you want them to be."  It's been amazing to watch how many of my mannerisms Anna has already picked up at 13 months, so I think this is always a valuable reminder - particularly on modeling things that really matter.  If she notices (and copies) the way I hold my hands when I ask a question, she will certainly notice and mimic the way I deal with stress, the way I treat people, and the time I spend on things that are important (and those that are not).

5) In addition to the reflections I shared in my post on Monday, I feel like I've recently had several break-throughs in the way that I think about things, which have resulted in me accomplishing far more around the house and doing so with a far more joyful heart.  More to come on my observations in the coming weeks...

6) Does anyone else experience the paradox where the more you get done, the more you see that you want & need to accomplish?  Perhaps I accentuated my own problem this week by "accomplishing" an organization of my Pinterest boards, which only reminded me of the hundreds (literally, hundreds) of projects that I have pinned that I want to accomplish.  Going through all of my boards was actually a good reminder and bumped a few things towards the top of my to-do list again.  We'll see if I find the time to actually do them (and then actually blog about them).  In the meantime, if you want to see all of my inspiration, check me out on Pinterest HERE.

7) Don't forget to enter my very first giveaway!  (Which is totally not sponsored at all, just a book that has impacted me so deeply that I felt compelled to buy an extra copy and give it away to someone here on the blog!)  Your chances are still pretty good at this point :)

5 minutes behind my prescribed time, not terrible (considering I had to get a drink of water, run to find my notes from last night, and fight with the photo uploader to get the picture in the correct orientation!)  Talk to you next week!

P.S. I appreciate the comments - thanks & keep 'em coming :)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Keeping House: A Giveaway

I recently discovered Margaret Kim Peterson's book Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life.  I borrowed it from our library, and then proceeded to purchase a copy for myself, send a copy to a good friend for her birthday, loan out my newly purchased copy to another friend, and recommend it to at least 4's that good.  I love this book because it beautifully puts into words something that I felt deep within me, but had trouble articulating (and, honestly, trouble remembering some days) - that the work of caring for a home, and more importantly, for the people who live there and visit there, is not just a nice ideal, but something that is vitally important.

Take, for instance, one of my favorite quotes:

"There is a tendency, I think [...] to imagine that the needy people to whom Jesus refers in Matthew 25 are people we don't know--the sort of people who are served at homeless shelters and soup kitchens, at which we ought therefore to volunteer at least occasionally.  But housework is all about feeding and clothing and sheltering people who, in the absence of that daily work, would otherwise be hungry and ill-clad and ill-housed.

There is undoubtedly more to the merciful service that Jesus describes in Matthew 25 than caring for the daily needs of our own households.  Housework is a beginning, not an end.  But it is a beginning - not a sidetrack, not a distraction, but a beginning, and an essential one at that - in the properly Christian work of, among other things, meeting the everyday needs of others, whether those others be our fellow household members, our near neighbors, or people more sociologically or geographically distant from ourselves."

In looking at housework from a Christian perspective, it has deep theological observations, but has an approachable, very readable style.  It is also full of astute cultural observations and some historical background that explains our society's complex relationship with the idea of home and of caring for (or, in frequent reality, of not caring for it).

While the book is perhaps most appreciated by a full-time homemaker like myself, I think it is a valuable read for anyone, whether a stay-at-home-mom or a working mom - or someone without children - who in any way takes part in the homemaking tasks (cooking, cleaning, laundry) that can easily feel mundane and pointless.  While valuing emphatically the work of keeping house, the author is careful not to prescribe a one-size-fits-all approach in how that housekeeping "should" play out in daily life (she values someone who is able to dedicate full-time to the tasks, but doesn't do so in such a way that judges those who - by choice or necessity - have responsibilities outside of the home as well).  It's simply a reflection on the intrinsic importance of the work, and encouragement for whoever is doing these jobs, whether full-time or not (because, as Colleen says, they don't magically get done - or become less necessary - just because you're at work all day).

"Keeping house can be a very mundane activity.  It is certainly repetitive, and the kinds of work that it involves are varied enough that few people enjoy all of them equally.  But at the very same time, housekeeping is about practicing sacred disciplines and creating sacred space, for the sake of Christ as we encounter him in our fellow household members and in neighbors, strangers, and guests."

This book has provided such significant encouragement for me that I want to share it with as many people as possible.  I wish I could do that Oprah style and have one for everybody.  But since that's clearly not in the budget, I decided to purchase one more (gently used, because that's how I roll) and give it away to a reader here on the blog.  This is not sponsored by (or in any way affiliated with) the author, the publisher, or any other entity - it's just something I'm doing because I liked the book that much and because I value the family and friends (real and electronic!) who take the time to stop by and hear what I have to say.

You can enter the contest using the Rafflecopter below.  This is my first time doing a giveaway, so if there are problems, let me know.  You get one "free" entry, and can earn a bonus entry if you leave a comment on this post with suggestion(s) of other books I should read (bonus entry AND a gold star if it's a book that's as encouraging as this one!)  The giveaway will close 10/25, and I will ship the book to the winner the following week.  Good luck!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

5 Favorites: Board Books!

Less you think I'm incapable of writing anything if it doesn't involve over-thinking my daily life, let's talk about something light today: board books!  (Also, I promised this post a few weeks ago in my quick takes, and one of my ongoing resolutions is to do the things I say I will - something that is very difficult for someone who is more of a dreamer than a doer and for someone who frequently plans 48 hours of activities for a 24 hour window).  Linking up with Hallie for 5 favorites, although I suspect you'll get a few more than 5 because we love our literacy!

I'm starting my list with Anna's favorites (because, let's be honest, I don't read a whole lot of board books without her) - although I do have to say that I also like her favorites, which is helpful, because there's only so many times you can read annoying books in one sitting.  All of these books also pass my stringent poetry test (WHY is IT so HARD for BOOKS to FOLlow NORmal MEter?)

Each of the pictures link to Amazon in case you are a baby, have a baby, or know a baby and are looking to add to your library!


The gold standard in our home.  No other book has held her interest for so long.  When she was teeny tiny, I'd get ready in the morning by lying her on a blanket on the floor with this book propped open, and would run across the hall, brush my teeth, run back, turn the page, go wash my face, etc.  She still chooses it 9 times out of 10 when I tell her to pick a book from her book basket.

Age 3 months, cozy Saturday morning with Dad and some classic literature.


JUNGLE BABIES  by Charles Reasoner 
(apparently not sold new on Amazon)

This book is Anna's upstairs go-to when I send her to the shelf before story time.  I picked it up in the check-out line at Jo-Ann fabrics when our old store was closing, and it has been well worth its 60 cent clearance price!  It's lilting and fun to read recite.


Worth reading and re-reading just to prompt Anna to make all of her cute animal sounds.



We appreciate llama literature.  


Same author as some of the llama books.  She's got poetry down.

Honorable mentions:

- You Are My I Love You and Sleep, Baby, Sleep by Maryann Cusimano Love - both of these are so sweet that I teared up the first time I read them.

- Moo Baa La La La by Sandra Boynton 

- Mama, Mama by Jean Marzollo

- A good book to keep in the diaper bag on Sundays: Baby, Come to Church! by Virginia Esquinaldo

What are other favorites that I'm missing?  Friday is library day :)

Monday, October 14, 2013

(How not to be) Desperate Housewives

As a disclaimer, I've never seen the show Desperate Housewives (nor do I care to), so I could be totally off on my analysis, but I think the bigger picture is still true, even if I've got the show wrong.  Anyway, when Anna and I accompanied Justin to his conference last week, I was living a life of luxury at the hotel - any semblance of work was being done for me, down to making the bed.  (Confession: I did make it, but then the hotel staff came in and made it even nicer than I had).  The only responsibility I had all day long was to take care of Anna.  We found new playgrounds, we walked around the hotel lobby and looked at the fountain, we read lots of books, we had leisurely meals.  I also got to meet up with a few friends from college who live in the area for lunch and for coffee.  By the world's standard, I should have been really happy.  And I was happy to spend a vacation day with my girl.  But I couldn't help but notice that the day felt somewhat unfulfilling.

I get the sense that the Desperate Housewives have a similar sort of life - glamorous stay-at-home mom types without any of the hard work traditionally associated with being an actual housewife.  Restaurant meals, professional cleaning services, and a closet of dry-clean-only clothes can allow someone to get away with that lifestyle provided that they can afford to sustain it beyond a three-day conference.  I understand that the show is a reflection of the societal trend in general to buck the system of the 1950's June Cleaver.  And there are things about the 1950's women's role in society that deserved to be bucked, but I've noticed that change nearly always comes as a pendulum swing that overcompensates rather than effectively correcting a problem.

It's rare to hear someone define their role as a "housewife" these days.  Usually, it's a "stay-at-home mom" - when I'm asked by a new acquaintance what I do, I always answer "I'm at home with Anna" in an almost sheepish way, as if I exclusively chase Anna around the house, in the same way that I was "in the hotel with Anna" last week.  To be clear, Anna's needs are my first priority, but I'm learning to serve those needs in a more holistic home-making type way.

Our self definition of "stay-at-home-moms" instead of "homemakers" likely stems from the fact that almost all of us were previously professional women who did the homemaking chores (cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc) in the evenings or on weekends.  The only change in life that warranted no longer working out of the home was the arrival of baby, and so I think there's a lingering mentality that the homemaking is just a side job that should be squeezed in around the edges.  I've realized it in myself - and it may be true for others - that I haven't completely embrace the housekeeping responsibilities as part of my "job" persay, but just as annoying things that happened to fall to my plate since I happened to be home all day with Anna (and society certainly hasn't accepted that there's more to do than childcare, given the (yes, real-life and totally off-base) comments like, "oh, Anna, I bet your Mommy gets to take a nap every day when you do!").

Our society also pressures us to be constantly on the go with kids and giving them untiring stimulation, education, and enrichment.  I've long held that elementary school kids are over-scheduled and over-committed to activities (particularly sports), but I didn't realize until I became a mom that the trend also holds for babies!  You could - I and think people do - go from music class to story hour to the playground to baby yoga, followed by a trip to the grocery store and three other errands.  All of this is in the name of educating, developing, and nurturing the babies - which I'm sure it accomplishes, at least before diminishing returns sets in.  But besides trying to be super mom with kids in lots and lots of activities, I think modern moms on the go are also running away from home.  Particularly in Anna's early months, I often wanted to go out.  I wanted to be out running errands or meeting friends or otherwise getting out of the house.  But beyond the healthy need to get out a bit and to have some additional adult interaction (and stimulation for Anna), I think that part of me wanted an escape.  Thinking that your next 6 or 8 or maybe even 10 hours will be filled exclusively with keeping a temperamental and non-verbal tiny little human happy can make you want to run away, too, especially if this is to be done in a place that is supposed to be your refuge but is, in reality, a perpetually messy place filled with reminders of what you "should" be able to fit in the cracks of your day.  And so, off I'd go to Target, returning to a still-messy house and feeling still overwhelmed, if not slightly placated by whatever purchase I had made.

As I spend more time giving analytical thought to my role and reading books on the subject, I've realized that thinking of myself as a "stay-at-home-mom" isn't only inaccurate, but self-defeating, particularly when juxtaposed socially with a "working mom."  I'm coming to embrace that title I once hated - homemaker.  In making a home - and giving proper place to the tasks it requires, I am effectively nurturing, educating, and loving Anna, but in a broader spectrum.  The tendency is to think that cooking or cleaning or doing laundry (in essence, providing for the family's basic needs) comes at the expense of being a good mom (ironically) because of the drive to maximize the amount of quality time reviewing the colors and the alphabet in hopes of raising a child who doesn't enter kindergarten woefully behind.  It really hit me though, when I realized - at the end of the day at the hotel - that I hadn't spent any more quality time with her during a day of leisure than I would have at home.  I had expected that I would have felt like I got the chance to teach her more, cuddle her more, and in effect be a better mom in that day, but in reality I did not.

At home,I tell her about the colors of shirts while I fold them (and she unfolds them).  We sing and dance together while I cook (and she empties the kitchen cabinets).  I give her a dry rag and she loves to wipe things while I clean, and we pause every few minutes for some tickles and kisses.  And in this way, she's learning by the things I tell her, but also by the things I show her - that home is comfortable and a place we want to be, that cleanliness and order are valuable, that hard work in important, and that loving someone requires action.  These lessons are ones that prevail, and ones she wouldn't necessarily learn if I didn't view my job in the broad spectrum of homemaking rather than with the narrow lens of just being a mom.

Of course, all that I've described is on a good day.  There are certainly days with a toddler (and I can't even imagine with multiple kids) that it is literally impossible to get basic things accomplished, even if I want to do them and value them as vitally important.  But, my overall outlook has improved greatly in light of these realizations.  As I spend more time organizing, cleaning, and making nice meals (and learning how to juggle these responsibilities as complimentary tasks to caring for Anna, rather than as opposing ones), our home becomes a place that makes me want to be here all the more, and when I'm spending less time running off to Target, I'm finding more time both to enjoy the home and to keep it up.  Even trips out of the home (like our Friday story-hours) are more fulfilling because I can enjoy them with Anna without the nagging feeling of chores undone.  And (I hope and pray) this approach will also lead Anna to grow up simultaneously less spoiled, yet more cared for and loved.

Perhaps its in losing sight of what being a housewife is all about that those poor TV ladies feel so desperate.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Quick Takes: Edition 7

1) I usually loose steam by the end of a quick takes post, so I'll dive right in and count any introductory remarks as #1.  It's Friday again...already!  I feel like I have a bonus weekend, since we just got back late Wednesday from a long weekend away.  We visited family in Pennsylvania over the weekend, then went on to Newark, Delaware, where Justin had a conference.  Even though he had meetings during the day, we counted it as a bit of a get-away and had a nice time relaxing with Anna in the hotel pool and having room service dinners after she went to sleep.

2) I kept thinking of Eloise, the storybook character who lives in a hotel as I chased Anna around the lobby and she made friends with the hotel employees.  I also had an (unrelated) revelation during the week in which I thought "this must be why the Desperate Housewives are so desperate!"  I started explaining that here, but after I wasn't done explaining in 3 paragraphs, I realized it would be best as a stand-alone post, so check back later this week if that's piqued your curiosity.

3) We just got home from story hour.  I think Anna enjoyed it more this week because she had a better idea of what to expect.  Last week, she seemed like she didn't know what to make of the other kids, the singing, the sitting still, etc.  My favorite part today was watching her participate.  They used little egg shakers with one of the songs, and when the librarian got out the bucket of the shakers, Anna walked up, picked up an egg from the bucket, and came back to sit on my lap.  I love seeing her comprehend what was happening and act accordingly.  She also jumped up at one point to walk over and pick up one of the stuffed animals that had been used for a previous song.  She brought it back, held it while we sang the next song, then stood up and returned it to the librarian before the next song started.

4) Last week, all of my quick takes were about Anna's fashion, so indulge me while I devote one today to my own story-hour fashion.

In writing the post about my challenges as a stay-at-home mom, I had hoped that by identifying the root causes of my frustrations, I could address them and make improvements.  When I put everything on paper screen in that post, it did help me clarify some areas where a relatively simple chance could bring big improvements in terms of my outlook.  Feeling pulled-together is one of those areas, for sure.  In addition to looking nice, I'm realizing that feeling feminine is also important - to me, at least - because it helps remind me of the importance of this nurturing vocation (both as a mother and as a wife).  With encouragement from my blog-friend Rosie, I've been defining my own mom-style.  I just ordered this tunic dress from Old Navy, and I absolutely love it.  It's probably the most comfortable thing I own, and yet it makes me feel significantly more feminine and less frumpy than sweat pants.  My only complaint is that I'd love an extra inch or two - even though I ordered the tall size - but that's nothing new for me and my awkwardly long legs!

5) Speaking of being all self-analytical, last night I finally started reading this book, which has been on my bookshelf for at least two years.  Only two chapters in, I feel like I have a whole new understanding of both myself and every important relationship in my life (Justin, my family, close friends, etc).  I kept reading snippets to Justin, and he is equally intrigued.  Besides identifying what temperament you (and others) are, it also talks about the challenges of certain pairings, as well as tips for avoiding conflict between the various types.  So, I highly recommend it!

When I went to amazon to get that link, it had a little reminder that said "you purchased this item on November 14, 2011."  It really has been a while that I've been meaning to read this - so glad I finally did!

6) I'm not usually one of those it-goes-so-fast people (I try really hard to enjoy every day), but I had one of those moments where it hit me yesterday:

A few days old...

Just 13 months later...

Those are the moments that remind me that the challenges are fleeting, and this opportunity to be at home is priceless.

7) I give a lot of credit to those bloggers who post often - this takes so much more time than it seems (and this was just a quick list!)  Hopefully it won't be another full week until I post again....but I've got places to go and people to see (loosely interpreted ... the laundry room and a sweet little girl!)

Until then, check out more quick takes at Jen's.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Quick Takes: Edition 6

For all of you who have been so patiently awaiting the reveal of the whale dress, today is your day!  As suspected, announcing here that I wanted to have it done by today's story hour was an effective motivator - deadlines do help, after all :)  I won't mention that I was hemming it at 10:15 (story hour started at 11) - although, to be fair, it was completely finished last night, but when I held it up to her this morning I decided to let the hem out an inch so that it was more of a dress and less of a tunic.

And because I'm limited on both time and ideas today, these are going to be exceptionally quick takes (and very whale-centric!)  Linking up with Jen as usual - happy weekend, all!


Pre-library reading photo shoot.


Incidentally, she was more into reading the books we have at home than any we saw at the library.


Every time I try to pick a favorite shot after a photoshoot I say, "um, all of them?"  
Her cuteness manages to outweigh my incredible lack of photography skills.


I went with the plain ol' ribbon-in-hair approach because the headband I finished last night does not fit.  (Second too-small project finished this week.  The other was a crocheted hat.  Maybe I should measure her head).


I'm far less reckless than this photo would suggest.
(But even standing on the rocking chair seemed like a good idea for a few seconds to capture the back of the dress!)


Checking out books, pre-story hour.


I will never get tired of profile shots that show off those cheeks!

Looking forward to going back to story-hour next week (with considerably less pomp regarding her attire).

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

SAHM: My five biggest challenges

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about my 5 favorite things about being a stay-at-home mom.  I stand by those things and I'm still confident that this is the best situation for our family right now, and I'm thankful that I have the opportunity to do so.  However, it would be lying if I said it was all rainbows and butterflies (or, if you went by the blog history, candles and decorations).  There are plenty of challenges in this lifestyle - particularly in contrast to academic study and a professional job, which had consumed the majority of my time since childhood.

I want to be clear about two things before I dive into this post.  First, I'm aware that these are all #firstworldproblems.  Although there are things that are challenging and frustrating, comparatively (compared  to people of all sorts who are facing disease, poverty, and other real challenges) I have it really easy.  Second, in writing the first 5 favorites post and this one, I'm not trying to make a statement about other women who are in other situations - or even about those who are in similar situations.  I'm not pretending that my lifestyle is the hardest ever.  I've worked in two very demanding professions, and so I know there are plenty of challenges for full-time employees.  I haven't had a job outside the home since Anna was born, but I don't need to do so to know that being a working mom is immensely challenging.  And I'm certainly not pretending that my life is as difficult as other moms who have multiple kids, or sick kids, or absent husbands, or really anything other than one easy, happy little girl.

But - I think there's a fallacy that if whatever we're doing is not the hardest thing that anyone in the world is doing, it cannot be hard at all.  On the contrary, there are aspects of my life that are challenging at least to me.  Are they as challenging as what many other people face (with much more grace) everyday?  No.  But they are still challenging.  This post is intended to be an analysis, not a complaint, so I hope you will read it in that light.  I think by identifying the source of frustration, I can more adequately address those same frustrations.  For any stay-at-home mom friends who are reading, I would hope that you might have a "me too" moment and feel a small relief knowing that you're not the only one....but in general this is just meant to be a reflection on myself and my situation right now.

Also, I was going to post this a while ago, but then didn't because I came across Haley's post "I'm a Mother, Not the CEO of My Household,"  which touches on a lot of the same challenges, and it's better written than anything I produce.  I was afraid that people would think I was just regurgitating what she wrote given that it was circling the blog-world around the same time I happened to be thinking through things on my end.  But, I've realized that in general I'll never have anything so totally earth-shattering to say that no one has ever thought it or written about it before - and my own experience of my life is still unique and those of you still faithfully checking the blog (hi, Dad!) care about what I have to say, so I'll just go for it.

And so, without further ado, the five challenges of being a stay-at-home mom (or, why it's harder than it looks!)

1) I don't have any coworkers.  Anna's stint as sous-chef doesn't exactly count.

 We humans are communal creatures, and women especially crave the interaction with others - particularly others who are in a similar situation.  It's not uncommon for a day to pass where I don't speak to another adult from the time Justin leaves until he comes home.  Other days, there's not much more than a brief interaction with a store clerk.  There's a reason that people love congregating around a water cooler at work - it's refreshing and revitalizing to compare notes with someone else, to know that you're not the only one who's stressed out by the looming deadline or worried about the boss's recent email.  In the absence of someone to exchange a "look" with during an tense or crazy moment, stress mounts and invariably you (I) can feel like you're going nuts.  I experienced that in a job once, feeling isolated; and before I found others experiencing similar stressors in that office, I began to think that maybe the problem was me, or that I was only just imagining the situation to be stressful.  I think the same can be true as a stay-at-home mom.  Until you run into friends at a park and find that the latest antics of someone else's toddler are also driving her mother easily feels like you're the only one.  I can get down on myself, thinking that I shouldn't be stressed out by one easy kid - but the reality is that chasing a toddler all day long is exhausting - if not physically, at least intellectually.  It can be more of a mind game than anything.

2) I don't get to wear heels.  Or, perhaps more tragically, I don't have an excuse to buy more.

It's not that I'm actually genuinely missing dressing up everyday (in true grass-is-always-greener fashion, didn't we all LOVE dress-down day while working?!), but I think it's symbolic of the transition from a professional setting to working at home.  Even on boring days at work, there was a little bit of glamour (at least in the world's view) in being dressed like a professional, being out in the world.  Going to work made me feel like I was contributing to something big and important, even if the day's tasks weren't particularly noteworthy.  Raising Anna is infinitely more important than anything I did before, but it doesn't really feel like  it in the middle of the day's fourth diaper change.

Mothering and homemaking is far more physical than a desk job, and a whole lot messier, too.  I'm a girly-girl who likes to dress-up, but I'm too afraid to ruin my good clothes to wear them to clean the bathroom or make dinner or change Anna's diapers.  The physical demands of the job (including - among other things - supervising the "let's see how many things I can throw into the bathtub while mom gets ready" game) combined with the fact that I don't have to wear anything nice (or necessarily change out of my pajamas) contributes to feeling like I fall into the whole frumpy stay-at-home mom stereotype.  The self-esteem boost you get from feeling like you look good (or, at a minimum, feeling freshly showered) goes a long way towards overall outlook and productivity, but too often the day-to-day lifestyle around here doesn't contribute to that end goal.

3)  There aren't any deadlines.  Unless you count the race to finish cooking dinner before Anna takes every single canned good out of the pantry.

We need to eat dinner every day, and we need to have clean clothes ready by the time we've worn everything else in our closets, but those don't compare to the type of hard and fast deadlines that I was used to in both academia and my career.  I'm a procrastinator at heart who works best under pressure (remember my company's coming post??) so the open-ended nature of homemaking can be a challenge.  The house needs to be cleaned but nothing necessitates that being done Tuesday versus Wednesday.  Incidentally, the flexibility of schedule is one of the things I cited as a good thing to this vocation - and it is.  But I need to constantly compete against my natural tendencies to put things off until later, while simultaneously dealing with my inability to set reasonable expectations of how much can be accomplished in a day, period, let alone accomplished in a day while simultaneously being the full-time caregiver for a one-year old.

4) The to-do list remains the same.  Change diaper.  Check.  Change diaper.  Check.  Change diaper...

I will admit to being one of those people who has added something already completed to a to-do list just to be able to check it off (although this has only occurred when I was also writing down many many undone items as well!)  Whether it's a good, bad, or neutral character trait, I'm not sure, but I thrive on a sense of accomplishment.  I like to know I'm getting things done.  At work, I had recurring tasks, but there were also plenty of big projects that I could check off and feel a sense of completion.  In my day-to-day, I may do many things, but few - if any - remain done for longer than twenty-four hours.  Food gets eaten as soon as its cooked, clean laundry is worn and back in the hamper shortly after it's put in the closet, and those darn dirty diapers sometimes pack a one-two punch that has you changing another fifteen minutes after the first.  The monotony of (often mundane) tasks is frustrating in and of itself, but it also feeds into the questions planted in a stay-at-home mom's mind by the societal pressures that say "shouldn't I be doing something MORE?"

5) I don't get an annual review or a performance evaluation.  Anna is vocal if I do something she doesn't like (most recently, not allowing her to play with the pepper grinder at dinner), but has yet to say "great job, Mom!"

I don't miss the process of completing a self-evaluation or the nervousness that precedes a performance evaluation meeting, but once that was all over and done, it was nice to know where I stood.  I was - and am - driven to be a high-performer.  At the end of a semester or after an evaluation at work, I knew whether or not I was reaching specific objectives - whether or not I was accomplishing the goals of the position, and ultimately, whether or not my hard work was in vain.  Most days I think that I'm a good mom, but I ultimately have no way of knowing.  Given the infinitely larger responsibility of this position, the desire to know that I'm on the right track is even more appealing - and the inability to feel concretely evaluated all the more frustrating.  As much as we try to fight it, women of my generation are chronically plagued with not feeling "good enough," and working continually without external validation (aside from the loving praise from a wonderful husband, which is not to be minimized) doesn't help that situation.


Simply writing this post has given me a lot of encouragement.  By forcing myself to think through what is challenging to me, I've internally validated that there are real, specific things that can cause me stress.   The things that make me upset or frustrated are not completely imagined.  When I've had a bad day, it's not for "no reason," as I find myself telling Justin when those days do occur.  Also, admitting that it's challenging, and that it's OK that it's challenging is also a relief.  I think that we sometimes fool ourselves into thinking that because we've chosen something as the better path, it can not or should not have any negative associated with it.

As real as the challenges may be, re-reading what I've written, it seems that there are many simple solutions to my problems.  Get with the program, Emily!  Just be more motivated, more disciplined, less worried, and your life will be better - not only happier, but better able to serve Anna and Justin. Chances are, that would be true, but we all know we can't just snap our fingers and arrive magically at a new and improved self.  The human condition is one of continual improvement, constant struggle to fight against our selfish and lazy tendencies, to find the former glory of the person God created us to be.  As I continue on in this vocation as a mother and a wife, I'll continue to course-correct to steer closer to that ideal.

But you know what?  Despite it all, I wouldn't choose to go back to work.  Not even if you paid me.