Tuesday, May 29, 2018

It Takes Time

We'll ignore momentarily, the lapse of 10 months since my last post.  Or - perhaps - celebrate it in the vein of this post: it takes time (for my ideas to peculate?)  Although if I claim I've been thinking about writing this for ten months, that would be a lie....because I just went on a scavenger hunt for the photos and found them in my December folder.  December 2013.  I also can't claim that thinking about this topic for 4 1/2 years has made this post particularly eloquent or even coherent, but I've thought about writing it for that long, so let's just take this as a lesson in just how long things can linger on my mental to-do list, and move on.


On to a topic of homemaking that I think is a frustration for many of us in the age of Pinterest, HGTV, and decor blogs.  We are inundated with images of homes full of perfect furniture, styled bookshelves, and picture frame vignettes - in short, picture perfection. 

And then, looking around our own homes, with the yard sale dining table, and the off-shade of paint in the kitchen, and that awkward corner we have no idea how to furnish, we feel defeated.  Or, we get trapped in an oscillating cycle of inspiration and desperation; seeing ALL of the possibilities and ALL of the projects and not knowing where or how to start, we throw up our hands at the lack of funds for a full kitchen renovation, and fail to take ten minutes to rearrange the cabinets so the ugly coffeemaker can move off the countertop.

I don't think the challenge is so much being exposed to these pictures of lovely homes, or that the problem is aspiring to having coordinating throw pillows and ideal furniture layouts.  The problem is wanting it all NOW.  Our instant gratification culture has us convinced that a makeover is a weekend project, and that you can go from "before" to "after" in the blink of a camera shutter.  We believe that the "after" is the "finished," the "final," the "perfect."

I am typing this up tonight in the midst of trying to find the magic bullet that will turn our large "back room" office/family room/play room into the cozy and stylish room I have in my head slash Pinterest board.  I want to be able to make a few quick changes and suddenly have it ready for a photo shoot.  More realistically, it will be a process of tweaks.  It has been a process of tweaks, if I remind myself that last fall the couch was still in the corner, or that two years ago I still had two tiny and mismatched area rugs, or that three years ago we hadn't yet drywalled the ceiling or painted the awful paneling.  Baby steps, each gradual improvement getting us closer to a room I love.

As a home rightfully grows over time, slowly improved with realizations about how spaces are best utilized and accented with collections opened on decades worth of Christmas mornings, a homemaker also develops.  Academic and corporate settings have a hierarchy that clearly reminds us how much we know or how much experience we have (and, most often, rewards commensurate responsibilities).  For better or worse, homemaking and motherhood carries a whole lot of (important) responsibilities that are heaped on all at once, and it's not a secret that young wives and mothers can feel overwhelmed under the pressure to do everything well. 

We perhaps tend to forget that there's a reason that grandma and the partner in the firm can perfectly juggle the timing of the turkey and all the sides, or the difficult client call (mutually exclusive examples, although probably there's some grandma out there who is somehow handling both).  Experience begets mastery.

Lack of mastery should not and can not be the cause for throwing in the towel.  It must be the motivation to continue trying, continue gaining experience.  To continue tweaking rooms, continue repainting when you hate the wall color.  To continue figuring out how to respond with charity and patience to tantruming children, continue trying new ways to structure the week's cleaning and laundry routines. 

The way to be satisfied in the current state is to recognize it as such - the current state, a path towards the ideal.  We are (or should be) in constant growth, becoming more and more of the people we want (and God wants!) us to be.  We can't expect to reach that state tomorrow, but we also can't stop trying.  Each day has to bring a step towards that ideal.  Better everyday, but not perfect yet.


Pictural evidence of lovely spaces that grow over time, in my parent's beautiful home with my sister for reference.  (And - the room has continued to improve over the last 5 years since I snapped this shot and originally thought about writing this).

Mom's living room, circa early 2000s


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

How I'm getting things done these days

For the last few weeks, I've been checking more than usual off both my daily chores and my house project lists.  A big part of this, of course, is that Peter has a regular nap and bedtime routine that gives me some free evenings (and free hands during the day) and that we've gone almost two months without anyone needing antibiotics (!).  So there are certainly circumstantial reasons why the clean clothes are all currently folded and not in a heap on my bedroom floor.  

But even though it's easier to get things done, it still requires effort on my part.  I'm still prone to all my crazy reasons of procrastination (more here), but I've been repeating two mantras to myself, and those shifts in mindset have seemed to be a big help.

1) Don't wait until it can be completed perfectly to start.

This applies to both upkeep chores and renovation/crafty projects.  I was out in the backyard last week with the kids and felt annoyed that our back porch was still painted bright red, that the furniture was haphazardly placed there, and that it was so far from my mental (and Pinterest) image.  I knew there was a lot to be done, some of which probably won't be done this season.  But I finally decided to just trim the bush.  One tangible step towards the space being tamed and beautiful.  I immediately felt better about the whole area and more committed to making it more like my vision.

Within a few hours of my first clip, we were at Lowe's buying porch paint.  Credit for that trip to Anna, who caught wind of the project (and her mother's improvement enthusiasm) and asked to go to Lowe's "right now, mommy!"

Fast forward to the pretty pictures, and the porch is a much prettier, happier space.  I enjoy looking out my kitchen window.  We have had lovely mornings with our breakfast and library books out there.  Sure, there is more to be done.  But it was an important lesson in taking the first step towards a goal, and in recognizing that a space that is halfway towards what you want it is far more enjoyable than a space that is 0% of the way there.  

I'm trying to train myself to look at everything else this way.  We are planning to do a major kitchen renovation in a few years.  I used to resign myself to being dissatisfied with its form and function until then, but I've recently identified a few small things I can do to make it prettier and more operational.  I haven't even done these projects yet, but just knowing I can already makes me like my current kitchen more.

I've also tried to remember this rule in the typical day-to-day jobs, too.  I don't have to wait for a block of time sufficient to iron all the shirts to do one or two.  And, bite by bite, the elephant is eaten.

(reminiscent of the "use the moments" observation from this old post)

2) Obedience to the circumstances of my life.

We were listening to a Catholic radio broadcast in the car the other day, and the host was talking about obedience in daily life.  Many of us are familiar with the vows of priests and sisters, to poverty, chastity, and obedience.  This broadcast was talking about how these virtues are not exclusive to those in religious life, but rather are a calling for all Christians.  These virtues are, of course, manifest in different ways depending on ones state in life (celibacy for the religious and exclusivity for the married), but are not to be ignored by the laity.

I am not called to obedient to a bishop or superior in the same way that a priest or sister would be, but I am reminded of the story of St. Therese, who would drop her pencil mid-sentence (not even pausing to dot an i) when the bell chimed for prayer.  She was obedient to her obligations and responded promptly, even to the schedule.

The radio host was talking about the weather, and how we can be cheerfully obedient to whatever comes our way, accepting it without grumble.  I've extended this to my daily chores.  There is work to be done, and it is my responsibility to do it.  I'm working on silencing my inner grumble and doing whatever needs done promptly and cheerfully.  

As I was making my way through my copious ironing back-log today, I realized I would typically dig through the basket, looking for the things I enjoy doing to do first, leaving a pile of polo shirts at the end.  It became a bit of a game today, picking up what was on top and doing that immediately.  The whole process today was both quicker and happier.  This of course, is a simple and silly way of practicing obedience, but I'm hopeful that in emptying the training potty without interior complaint, I will learn to be obedient and accepting of actual challenge or suffering.


I think there's a Nike "Just Do It" hidden in both of these mindsets, and in both cases, it's requiring me to focus on the process and the progress over the end result.  I read last night that for effective goal setting, one should focus on the activity rather than the accomplishment (e.g., I will exercise everyday instead of I will lose 10 pounds).  I think that my most recent copy of my resume describes me as "results-oriented," but perhaps the new "progress oriented" version of myself will get me happily closer to those results than ever before.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Instagram effect

Back in late October, I spent a week at my parent's house with my brother and sister and my three kiddos.  Most of us adults are still recovering from the lack of sleep that entailed (this was one of Julia's first ear infections, and before we knew that screaming all the time was her #1 symptom...), so it wasn't exactly the fun and relaxing visit we had imagined.  BUT during that visit my siblings introduced me to Instagram, and then we got my fabulous mom to join, too.

Of course, given my propensity to over-analyze my (sometimes excessive) technology use, I've gone back and forth about this new development, wondering if it's really worth my time.

Then recently, with our travels and otherwise busy schedule, I unintentionally took a multi-week hiatus.

The thing that I missed, in retrospect, was an excuse to look for the positive and sweet moments of my day.  Posting to Instagram makes me stop, smile, and appreciate the silly and the precious that's mixed in with the crazy and the frustrating of every day.  Should I admit publicly that posting more regularly has helped improve my overall outlook?

My re-commitment to posting on the blog has had a similar effect, and I found myself over the weekend making mental notes about things the girls said, wanting to remember them and write them out here.  I wish I was better at keeping nice, written baby books for the kids, but in this case, the perfect is the enemy of the good.  My ideal of having physical records prevents me from even keeping track at all, and then time passes and I have nothing saved.  Poor Julia's year of milestones was such a blur that I have little to no recollection of her first rolls, steps, or words.

With all that said, today Pete got himself from laying down to sitting up for the first time.  And his top tooth - which has been coming in for two months now - finally broke through.

And this weekend, I was reminded over and over of the sweet mis-pronunciations that both girls use:

They love to play the "pe-nano."  And they were thrilled to attend a "festi-bull" at the school.

I'll probably always wrestle with the role of technology in our lives, but for now I'm giving myself permission to enjoy having an excuse to appreciate and remember the sweet spots of my day!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

baby plants, baby people

Any posts I put together in the near future are very likely to revolve around my garden.  I've dubbed it my 4th baby for the summer (although maybe we should call it my 5th, because I always said that our Ithaca house was my first baby).

I never had a particularly green thumb before, although I think that was more for lack of attention (so many other projects!) and so there may have been some discussions in our house this spring as to whether or not I'd actually follow-through with weeding and watering and whatnot if we build the beds.

If anything kills my garden this year, it's not going to be neglect.  (Actually, the biggest problem I had so far was seeds that didn't sprout due to too much love, err, water).

The gardening season has coincided nicely with the development of Peter's reliable evening sleep habits, as well as with the girls new no-nap-early-bedtime schedule, and so I have a nice little chunk of time to spend outside.  It's incredibly peaceful to be able to do a task with painstaking attention and without interruption.

There are disappointments, of course, like the aforementioned packets of seeds that didn't materialize because I flooded them.  Or Tuesday evening when I discovered that our neighbor's cat(s) decided my fledgling zinnas patch was the best place to go to the bathroom.

But mostly I just wonder at the miracles God created (it's really amazing, isn't it - what grows from dirt?!) and breathe deeply and appreciate that I'm able to see relatively quick results at what love will grow.

Gardening isn't all that different from parenting, in the sense that "everything grows with love" (I saw a t-shirt with a cactus and that phrase before and thought it was brilliant and hilarious).  People (especially little ones) need someone to pay attention to how much water they've had to drink and whether or not they're overwhelmed by the sun or if someone is totally crowding out their space.  And grown-ups and kids alike thrive on love.

I am discovering that the behavior and mood of certain children of mine are particularly  PARTICULARLY sensitive to their sleeping and eating needs. (At which point I'm sure Justin would point out that apples don't fall far from mother tree...)  And yet sometimes, even when I think they've been pretty well rested and pretty well fed, there can still be an afternoon of tantrums.

I can only do so much, and it's an illusion that I could control every single factor to keep my (human and plant) babies growing perfectly.  My evenings of careful transplanting into straight little rows is balm for my soul after crazy days, but there's still the weather and the animals and the bugs and the mold to remind me that I'm not really in charge, and how much I depend on God to even open my eyes.  But He has given us the beautiful opportunity to cooperate with His grace, to nurture what He has given to us.

It's rewarding to see the results of love poured out in time and attention.  Less obviously in children, given that their seed-to-bloom time is a marathon and not a single summer.  But I'll keep digging away, day after day, watering, pruning, loving, appreciating.  What a wondrous gift we have to love things into bloom.


I'm not sure that this reflection is entirely coherent, but it was on my mind as I gardened this evening.  One of my other musings (and potential next post) is about doing something towards a goal instead of waiting until it can be perfect, so I'm going to apply that to this blog and hit publish!  Thanks for your kind response thus far to this reintroduction, and please know that your comments are so very much appreciated and inspire me to keep writing.


One last thought, I recently discovered the blog Better than Eden and was particularly moved by her post "When I'm hurting, draw me closer."  It's at least tangentially related to this post, or perhaps it's just on my mind because it's something I wish I had done better during the latest round of tantrums today, but I think it's worth a read!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Here we go again

A few things have happened recently.

(Well, between my last regular posts and now, a lot of things have happened.  Including a whole new, wonderful person who was added to our family.  But I digress).

Specifically, recently, a few things have happened:

1) I've been doing projects.  Things ground to a halt when I found out I was pregnant 18 months ago.  Since Peter's birth in September, I've had fits and starts of normalcy, but for the most part we've been thrown continually back into survival mode, especially by ear infections.  It doesn't take much to upset our (my?) equilibrium and routine for 3 kids four and under, but the unrelentless cycles of sickness really made it tough to find our normal.  15 doses of antibiotics and one ear surgery later, things are finally looking up.  Poor Julia is not in pain. We're all sleeping,  And I've got dirt and paint under my fingernails.

2) I read through my blog archives.  A few nights ago, I randomly decided to read some old posts, and ended up spending more than an hour laughing and crying myself through the memories.  I had forgotten how much I had captured, and was amazed by how little of it I would have remembered if it wasn't saved electronically.

My day-in-the-life post from November 2014 hit me hard:

"A few minutes later, I found myself basking in just how precious Anna was - I had called her a silly goose, and she said "nooo!  I'm Anna Rose, Mommy!" and she leaned her head on the door frame and looked at me with her big beautiful eyes and started singing "Rock-a-bye, Anna Rose."  And in that moment, I felt a great loss for how many of these beautiful moments that I cannot adequately capture or remember.  Over the course of the day, she makes me laugh and smile over and over again with her hilarious and sweet comments, and by the time Justin gets home I'm lucky if I can think of even one of them to tell him, and even then, the retelling is never as sweet as her little voice or her little head tilt.  I wish I had a constant video camera stream to replay all of those moments - for my own sake and for sharing, too."

3) I was honored to give advice to a mom-to-be.  A few weeks ago, I received an email asking me to share an inspirational message at a baby shower for a friend.  I was shocked and surprised at the invitation.  Even though the friend herself had asked privately for advice on pregnancy and motherhood, I couldn't believe when her mother asked me to speak at the shower and share my thoughts more publicly.  I still feel unworthy of the task, especially since I gave my talk to a room full of mothers with decades more experience than I.  Nonetheless, it got me to thinking....

And in reading this post, can you guess where all those things led?  Back here to Finding Former Glory.

My life is more hectic these days, and there are exponentially more sweet moments for me to forget.  More sadly, some days I think I'm too busy to notice, let alone remember.  I don't want these years to slip away.  And not just the adorable toddler comments, but my thoughts on motherhood.  My challenges and joys.

Sure, I could start a journal, but I've always been better with external motivations.  Maybe, just maybe, there are some friends out there for whom my ramblings are helpful.

And there will at least be projects (and adorable children) for photo fodder.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The miraculously imperfect

I sat down this afternoon for a little 15 minute rest and was giving myself a pep-talk about how Christmas will not be ruined if we leave some of the decorations in the storage bin, or if we have fewer desserts on the buffet at the party, and if Peter does not have a little red and green bowtie/vest combo to wear to Mass.

And it hit me - we're celebrating the miraculous in the imperfect.  A long, grueling trip.  No room in the inn.  Smelly, mooing creatures to greet the babe.

And regardless of the propriety or lack thereof, of the preparations or lack thereof, Christ came among us.  Despite our imperfections.  Nay, because of our imperfections.

This celebration is not about the surroundings or the visitors or the gifts.  It is about the love and the joy of His Presence, a presence that laughs in the face of human expectations.

So put away the to-do list and look beyond the unswept floors, and look to the smile of friends, the glee of the toddler, and above all to the babe in the manger, the one whose perfect love comes amidst our imperfect world.

Merry Christmas!

And keeping with the theme of imperfection, no time for pictures today!  Just imagine a nice shot of a manger here...and pretend that there was a nice summary to catch you up with the last 15 months since I last posted.  Maybe it won't be that long again :)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Maybe I meant next September ;)

When I posted that I'd be back in September, I really meant it.

But now that it is October, I clearly didn't.

If we could find a way to download my brain when I'm doing menial tasks, we'd have quite the blog.  But alas, that technology isn't available.  Well, it might be, I guess; I'm not actually interested in finding out.

We've been in the house almost 3 months now.  And it feels like home.  It feels like the place my heart has longed for over the last year - and, really, it longed for even in Ithaca when I thought I was content in my dream house.  I've learned that the place itself isn't really that important, but what is inside that makes it home.

The people, of course.  The things we need and use and love.  And, most of all, the relationships and the life that is built among those walls.

I have learned so many lessons about living intentionally, about living like Granny, about seizing the day and working hard and reaping the benefits, and of authentic relationships and true relaxation.  And all of the things that were theoretical for so long are coming to fruition in this house.

I've been so busy living this life that I (obviously) haven't written about it.  And I'm not sure when - or if - I will.  Stepping away from the Internet has been a lot more than just a refreshing pause to re-establish habits.  It's been a chance to really step into the authentic life we'd been too busy to create.

I'm not ready to say good-bye permanently to this blog, but I'm also not ready to put another timeline on when (or if) I'll write.  Now that the pressure's off, I might be inspired to write tomorrow.  But it might be next year.  Until then, all the best!