Monday, December 31, 2012

Resolutionary Manifesto

It's New Year's Eve and I sit on the peak, only hours away from the fresh start, the clean slate, and square one; the new opportunity of a brand-spanking-new year.  If you've known me more than a minute, you'll recognize I'm the optimistic sort that truly relishes the new beginning.

Thus, I'm also a "Resolutionist" - the type of person who uses that blank page to write in a new me in the form of resolutions -- or more precisely, disciplines -- that will guide my plans and actions in the new year.  Some years my resolutions have been stringent, precise, and exacting. On other years I've chosen to be more vague, leaving room for interpretation as I travel the year-long path.  Last year, I remained mindful of my resolutions through the long and winding journey of 12 months; many times they are discarded after Easter either by choice or unconsciousness.

For the first time in a while, I'm turning the page on the calendar with a fresh face. I set out to have a conscientious Advent season and I think I succeeded; I find myself in the middle of the Christmas season and at the end of the year with a clearer idea of what will support me in the months to come.

Our home is a cacophany of joyous (or not) noise and activity all day long.  It's a surprisingly strenuous task to direct this busy household and support 6 other people.  I'd not trade it for piles of gold and yet I freely admit, it's the most difficult role I've ever held.

I've realized that in addition to my completely sincere and essential (though oft stated) plans to exercise and eat healthfully, what is most needed in my Resolutionary Manifesto for 2013 is frequent opportunity for quiet, reflection, meditation, processing and a deep breath.

During the time of preparation that is Advent, I have been faithful to a minimum of 30 minutes a day of quiet meditation (often much more) and it is bearing fruit in me already.  I feel deeply revived.  I feel settled in my body and my legs are strong beneath me.  Don't get me wrong, I am stressed more often than I wish I were, but I more quickly recognize it, take the deep breath, regroup and/or apologize.  I see more and I feel more so I love more.  It's simple.  Maintenance of this time of prayer and reflection is my utmost priority in 2013. If I do not mention it again, please ask me how it's going.

Here is my six-word resolution for this year:

Quiet: Take time every day to listen
Exercise: 2 hours, 6 days, every week
Nourish: Food that feeds me body and soul
Play:  Time each day with each one
Love:  Notice resistance, be myself, embrace vulnerability
Serve: Offer what I have freely, frequently

Perhaps you will have a moment in the next 24 hours to take a deep breath for yourself, consider the year just past, then joyfully rip off the cover of the new calendar and write down some of your hopes and dreams. May your new year be your most Resolutionary ever!

Cheers.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Putting my (Social Justice) Money Where my Mouth Is

A while back, I heard that the mayor of Phoenix was going to eat on a "food stamps" budget for a week.  The same week while grocery shopping, someone commented to me that a product was expensive and said, "but you just buy whatever you want without regard to price."

I replied that I was buying it for a treat, for dessert, and it was an extravagance.  (It was organic fresh squeezed orange juice, just in case you're thinking caviar or something!)

The comment bugged me though.  I noticed I felt defensive and kept wanting to come back to the conversation and somehow defend myself.  I didn't.  Instead, I took to the "work" book and wrote my heart out, taking a closer look at it.  I uncovered that defensiveness right away and under it, guilt, and under that, fear.  The guilt was about being a poor steward, not only of Dear Hubby's hard-earned wages, but more, of our ample blessings.  And we are blessed.  The fear was that my kids might not get what they want, or need, or (worse in my mind's eye -- not reality) that they might think I didn't love them.  

But beneath all that was something else, something more.  I had bigger purposes lurking beneath that rancid pool of dark water.  I have a purpose to feed my children a wide variety of whole, healthy food; I want them to think about food as a sensory experience, a loving experience, and a family experience.  I want them to know that healthy food is good food too.

There was another intention too, beating soundly and slowly beneath it all.  I have chosen to be a good steward.  I want to share good things with my children, yes, but with others as well.  I want the money I save through sales, coupons, planning and compromise to be used to help others.  So many are hurting and hungry.  It's my intention to share.

Then and there, in recollection of my larger purposes, I resolved to take more time in planning, reading sales and shopping to get the reasonable values.   The Governor's story, too, resonated with me and I talked to family about it.  I explained there would be little or no eating out and that even our choices at the grocery store would be affected. Together we decided to try a week on a food stamps budget and we chose this week, the week before Christmas.  We have a big Italian feast planned for Christmas Eve so we chose this final week of Advent to practice more frugality.

At the outset, I was nervous.  Could we do it?  I had no idea.  Pepper helped me plan a cost-saving menu and as we shopped, we were both nervous.  It took so long.  We normally pay attention to prices when we shop, but this week we had extra pressure.  We were seeking to feed our family of 7 on $225 a week.  Clearly, some choices were out; we decided to forgo our favorite Clementine oranges ($3.50/pound) for an 18# bag of grapefruit for only $7.  Almost nothing we purchased was name brand as the budget couldn't afford it.  The Captain's school meals ate up $10. My organic salad greens are nearly twice as much as the standard kind but I argued for them and prevailed.  "It's lettuce," I whined, "so full of pesticide and the Littles love it. It's necessity not luxury"  It was challenging.

4 days in and I have to say, it's actually wonderful.  I did not realize how much money we threw away on needless luxuries each day, things that do not enhance our quality of life.  The way that we eat, cooking most things from scratch, does make food more affordable.  We will finish the week, I'm happy to say, with money leftover. [To learn about what we ate on this budget, check out this  Bright Love  post]. Pepper thinks the government should invest some money in teaching people to cook because "its' healthier and cheaper too."  It's a valid point.

That said, no extras were included in our week.  No Christmas stocking candy, no desserts for birthday parties or school.  I allowed limited school lunches and no eating out for anyone.  The girls did eat out, but on their own dime (both painful and eye opening for them!) We also took advantage of our larder.  We ate a roast we cooked and froze a while back, a whole chicken we got free, and a surprise offering of a bean pot from my mother in law.  Without these, we'd have barely broken even. Economy of scale helped a lot too. And I found it very stressful. Feeding a family with consciousness is hard; firm financial constraints definitely increase the pressure.

Our take away is that we need a longer experiment to fully appreciate the difficulties in having such limits on our food dollar.  I am proposing that we conduct the experiment for the entirety of Lent, this time with no-one eating out unless it comes from the budget.  It may be a hard sell, but I have an adventurous crew, I think they'll go for it.  It will make our Easter joy that much fuller, especially our appreciation for the bountiful choices we have about how we eat.

On Monday, we will brave the Christmas Eve crowds to go as a family to the grocery store with $75 and fill bags with groceries for the food pantry. [Post publication edit:  we actually spent a little less and bought a large grocery gift card for a friend in need.]  This will be our Christmas offering when we head to Mass at 6:00 PM.  I promise you this, as we sit down to our feast on Christmas Eve after church, I will be expressing gratitude for the moment of  good fortune that bore me into my particular family and I think the rest will feel the same. I wish to take nothing away from how very hard my parents worked (and Dear Hubby's too) to clothe and feed us.  They were magnificent in providing for us.  Yet we are also extremely blessed.  Please remind me if I ever forget.

Merry Christmas.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Why I Haven't Shampooed My Hair in 8 Months

It's not as gross as it sounds.  If you know me in real life, you know that for years I have suffered with a skin allergy that turns my forehead a bright, scaly red. It has to do with my messed up auto-immune system and by the way, I also have a serious dandruff issue.   In the past 10 years, I've made many visits to the dermatologist and paid hundreds of dollars for special shampoos, ointments, etc.  It all helps a little but my best results so far had been a lessening of symptoms.  I tried changing my diet, sleeping more, exercising more or less, washing my face more, you name it, I've tried it.

Early in the year I was going through a particularly bad season of "the mark" but was having really good results with my home-made skin cream.  I started wondering what people washed their hair with in the old days.  It turns out they used baking soda.  Since my allergy was already so bad, I figured I didn't have much to lose.  I read a couple of articles to get the solution right, started using baking soda to wash my hair and vinegar in the rinse and I've never looked back.

Not only is my allergy the best it's ever been, sometimes it completely goes away for weeks on end.  Not only that, it is 10 times easier than shampooing.  In case you, like me, are turning into some version of pioneer/hippy and want to try it for yourself, here's the scoop.

Dilute 1 Tblsp of Baking Soda in 1 Cup Warm Water ( I double it in a big cup)

Dump the whole works on your dry head and gently massage your scalp.  If you let it sit two or three minutes it works better.

Rinse.

Dilute 2 tsps. of apple cider vinegar in 1 cup warm water. (For dark hair.  For light hair, see note* below)

Dump it on.
Rinse.  You can also put it in a spray bottle and spritz it on but then, obviously, you don't rinse so the smell hangs on a bit longer.

You're done.  It's quicker than shampooing and since you can buy the ingredients any where, no need to pack it when you travel.  I keep the baking soda in a travel container in my "to go" makeup bag.  It doesn't hurt your eyes so I use it on the kids too. Of course it's also really inexpensive

You can skip the vinegar but it does lay the cuticle down nicely.  My hair and scalp have never felt better . . . and I do smell a bit like a salad at times.

A few reminders:  Don't use white vinegar, it's too harsh.  Always dilute the vinegar in water; it's too strong alone.  Don't mix the baking soda solution and the vinegar solution or you just wind up with salt water.

*For light hair, use lemon juice instead of vinegar.

My hair has never looked better but you'll have to take my word for it because pictures of me are few and far between and I couldn't find one except from my recent trip in which it was coated with hair spray!  So sorry about the hair spray but I had flown until midnight and gotten up early!  So here I am with my friend Lea-Ann




Sunday, September 2, 2012

Funeral Day

Yesterday I attended the funeral of a dear friend's mother. As we traveled the sunny roads on a dazzlingly bright, hot day, my 14-year-old and I pondered the paradox of death and life, of resurrection and funerals.  The service was lovely.  It was just the right combination of sentiment and sincerity; of sadness and joy.  An apt poem was read by my friend's husband-- "White Owl Flies" -- and there were hymns, a slide show and some very touching words by my sweet friend.  It was the perfect tribute to life and eternal life.

Yet my heart has been aching  -- a dull, burning sodden ache - for my friend in her loss.  As hard as yesterday was, I suspect there are many tough weeks and years ahead.  When the shock of the loss wears off and the busyness of decision making and funeral plans is over, the grieving begins in earnest.  The times the phone rings and your brain, on auto-pilot, expects it to be that loved one and the dreadful sinking torture when you remember that it simply cannot be. The days when you open a book and see that dear one's handwriting there, her note in the margin, or the odd scrap of paper in a stack of unfinished business on which you had jotted a something-to-do that one that no longer needs to be completed.

This is the business of grieving, the process of coming face to face with our own humanity.  In loss we realize how deeply, how greatly, how powerfully we have loved and we also must come to accept that we can never love perfectly.  It is to us to love the most we can in any moment and somehow that must always be enough. Grieving makes us hug our children tighter.

In grief we see what we could not see so clearly before: that our thinking and doing matters both tremendously and not at all and life is indeed a short journey able to end at any moment and without notice.  So much of what consumes my energy day to day -- cleaning, dressing, hair dos, email, shopping, errands -- won't matter at all.  I have never heard it said at a funeral that the deceased was a snappy dresser or stayed on top of her email. What most comes to light at funerals is how much our living affects others.  In Peggy's case we heard over and over of her bright and ready smile, her sympathetic ear, her love for her offspring,  her dedication and commitment to helping the helpless.

 In the end, it it is our relationships that outlive us.  We must give to them what we can, our utmost, and at the same time trust that it is and will be at last enough.

I am reminded of the sage lines of Thomas Bayley:

When the waves are round me breaking,
As I pace the deck alone,
And my eye in vain is seeking
Some green leaf to rest upon;
What would I not give to wander,
Where my old companions dwell...
Absence makes the heart grow fonder;
Isle of Beauty, "Fare-thee-well!"

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Free Won't (an Expeditious Re-Run)

I am cleaning my house today.  Period.  Therefore, I have decided to post a re-run of this post from 2009 because I really needed the reminder.



It turns out it is all in your head!

In our culture, we hear a lot about "free will." It has all kinds of connotations: social, religious, political, parental! We are told, often, "It's your choice," or the parental opposite, "Well you chose to do that. You have free will. If little Timmy jumped off the roof, would you?"

I don't know about you, but I have - at times - basically bought into the notion that I can do anything if I only want to enough. And yet, we all know that isn't the case. Because if it were so, we'd all be worshiping at the shrine of Noman Vincent Peal (The Power of Positive Thinking) or The Secret would no longer be one because we would have all attracted money, love and power and either destroyed each other by now or engaged in a world wide group hug.


Okay, I am being extreme. So seriously, what's the deal? Why is it that I, for instance, am capable of sticking to a diet and exercise plan for sixth months of every blessed year and not at all for the other six months? And why is it that though we want to love our irksome neighbor, for some reason we can't? Well, I have both good and bad news. It's because of our brains!

That's right! Researchers have discovered that in the frontal lobe -- where free will is thought to "reside" -- there is also a veto power. And this veto power can override a "conscious" decision. So you may make a conscious decision, for example, to stop smoking. And when the impulse to light up hits you, you can say no. That's where the veto power comes in. It overrides your conscious decision. It becomes active when you inhibit an impulse. It really explains why some people have more trouble than others in breaking bad habits.

Did I promise some good news? Oh yes. We can retrain the veto control by practicing the more desirable habit over and over. [edit -- Did you get that last sentence?  We can re-train our brains by replacing that desire with new behavior! ] This is where support systems, plans and processes all come into play. Repeating that new, chosen behavior over and over retrains the brain. So get yourself a plan, a cracker-jack support partner and your odds of success will be greatly improved. Hallelujah.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Long Story of Life Shocks and a Lesson Learned (aka How I Fell in Love in/with Louisiana Through the Kindness of Strangers)

I don't like the saying, "Be careful what you wish for."  Instead, I tend to believe that Providence brings me exactly what I need at any given moment to learn what it is I need to learn.  My adventures last Tuesday were the perfect example of same.

Shortly after lunch on a nine-hour drive from home to Covington, Louisiana, I had lots of time to think.  I was reflecting on how my "cutting edge" right now seems to be asking for and accepting help.  I keep getting reminded of this --in the nicest possible way -- by Dear Hubby who comes into the kitchen on occasion and says, "What do you need?"  I am often at a loss although if you look around, it's pretty clear I need help!


So a little over halfway into that long drive, my car broke down.  Sunshine was just ahead with our friends Susan and Abby, so it was just me and the Littles.  Immediately, the questions began: "Why, you stop, Mom?  "Why it so hot?" "Why you not driving Mom?" 


I ignored their questions with a "shhh, shhh" and thought about my emergency plan:
  • Assess the situation
  • Garner support (the most challenging step for me)
  • Decide on a course of action
  • Implement
  • (Repeat as needed, taking new information into account)
It appeared my battery was dead so I called Susan and asked her to continue on with the girls, then dialed AAA.  They dispatched a wrecker but I decided to open my hood and take a look while I waited.  I saw that the battery was disconnected on one post.  I needed help.  

Immediately a pick-up truck pulled up. A couple a little older than I emerged and offered assistance.  I hesitated then said I needed a wrench.  He happened to have JUST purchased one at a flea market, so it was still in his truck. He hooked up the battery but warned me that the damaged battery may have damaged my alternator.  Oops.  I had jumper cables but jumping the car turned out not to be easy.

I kept handing the kids water and trying to keep them cool in the hot car.  I dared not release them from their seatbelts on the interstate.  Finally Kind Stranger said, "You can't stay here.  It's too hot and dangerous.  Maybe we can charge you up to limp forward a ways; there's a truck stop at the next exit.  We'll keep jumping you until you get there."  4 charges later, I finally traveled through the exit and made it to the truck stop where we had a bathroom, shade and access to beverages.  Kind Strangers wouldn't take any gas money and I didn't think to get their names.

At the truck stop, I called the garage to ask them if someone could come get us since only 2 people can ride in the tow truck.  At the exact moment as the tow truck, a white Cadillac SUV showed up, driven by Weylin Daigle.  Weylin, owner of Performance Auto (and other businesses) in Crowley, Louisisana delivered us to the shop and on hearing our story, prioritized our repair.  Unfortunately, it was the battery and the alternator.  It took time to find the part.  It took time to get the part.  It would take time to make the repair.  He said we'd have to wait until tomorrow.

I went back to my emergency plan. Step One: Assess.  (We could stay but we really wanted to get back to Sunshine). Step Two:  Garner Support.  I called bus lines.  I called rental car agencies.  I called friends.  Susan offered to come get us but that seemed extreme (it was a four-hour round trip).  I called Dear Hubby. There seemed to be no way to get to my daughter and the hotel room I'd already paid for. Finally, I begged the garage to go ahead and make the repair, offering to pay the repairman for his time.  One declined and one agreed.  Weylin, God bless him, stayed to help as the work could not be done by one person.  Then, as if he had not done enough already, he drove the kids and I to McDonalds and left us there so they could eat.

We returned to the shop after dinner and the kids resumed their long and glorious game of "blow the label with the box fan."  Eventually, Weylin appeared with more news:  While removing the belt tensioner, it had broken into pieces.  A replacement part had been found . . in another town . . and could not be retrieved until tomorrow.  I'd be spending the night.

Back to the emergency plan -- Step 1:  Assess.  I really, really needed to catch up to Sunshine.  I knew she'd be worried sick plus I had all her ball equipment and uniform.  Step 2:  I asked Welyin, my new best friend, for advice.  He offered to take us to Lafayette, 30 miles away, to the airport; surely we could rent a car there.

Wrong.  They had no cars.  6 rental car companies had NO cars.  Back to the plan.  Assess.  Garner support.  Three more strangers decided to help.  


Rhea at Hertz helped me find the number for an airport shuttle.  She did not give up until she actually got the guy on the phone.  (Have I mentioned my phone was now out of battery?)


Byron, of the shuttle company, was sorry, but he could not help me.  He was short on drivers and everyone was elsewhere employed.  He could get me there tomorrow.  I declined, gratefully, and he had a change of heart.  "Call me back in 5 minutes," he said, "I'll see what I can do."   


Meanwhile, Robert Parker, of Enterprise, was listening to it all.  "So where are you going," he asked, "and will you for sure be back here by Sunday?"  Absolutely.  "Give me your driver's license and a credit card," he said, and we were on our way.

Meanwhile, dear Byron called back, offering to take me himself in his family car!  I gratefully told him I'd been able to rent, after all.

9-1/2 hours after I broke down, I was reunited with Sunshine and her team.  Parents met me in the lobby to help me handle the (now sleeping) Littles and the luggage.  Sweet Sunshine had set the room all up and made up the sofa bed for the boys.

The kids went straight back to sleep; it took me a little while.  I noted how wonderfully well-behaved and patient my little ones were when it really counted and acknowledged myself for my ability to turn some tough times into a fun -- albeit sweaty -- day of "Mama time." In the end, I met a lot of Louisianans, many of them Cajuns, and though I did not think of taking their picures until the end of that long day, each of their faces will be forever in my heart.  


I stopped to appreciate how many times that day I had said, "I need help," and how each and every time, help was available.  I also noted how when the reply to my request was not always what I wanted or expected it to be, there was still always a "Yes" in there --- I simply had to open my mind to it.  It wasn't hard to ask for help and in fact, it was pretty essential.  I didn't diminish me in any way, in fact, each person who tried to help blessed me in some way.


Lesson learned.  And, well, "be careful what you wish for" because you might just get it!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Marriage and Fulfillment


I was born at the dawn of the era of "free love" and grew to adulthood in the "me" generation.  While I was raised in a conservative home, like most young people I thought the purpose of relationship and marriage was to be "happy" and "fulfilled."  In fact, I think we thought it our right. The shocking divorce rate of my lifetime is testament to this belief.   But what if there are other reasons for marriage?

At one time, relationships were preludes to marriage and marriage was an economic as well as a social arrangement. For most of our human history, the majority of marriages were arranged and love had little (if anything) to do with it.  Fulfillment was not part of the arrangement.  It was an institution based on cooperation and commitment.

One of the main purposes of marriage was to produce progeny.  Staying in marriage ensured the future of those children.  If marriage was a challenge, or a struggle or an outright trial, that wasn't really surprising.  Fulfillment was not expected but cooperation was.

Before people get up in arms, let me clarify that I'm not suggesting a return to this system which was an easy set-up for abuse.  I believe every person has the right to choose his or her spouse; I believe no person should be expected to endure ongoing abuse (of any kind) from another.  I believe children have to right to be raised in a home without fear.

That said, I do think we can "take a page" from history.  The guiding belief that marriages should be mutually fulfilling -- that the other person is responsible in some measure for our happiness --is not working.  If we are going to stick to that principal we are going to see the final destruction of the family.  Relationships do not move in a steady straight line; rather, relationships have seasons.  We have fair weather and foul.  We must learn to weather the storm and not abandon ship at the first sign of rough seas. (Sorry for the nautical tangent there.  Aye, matey!)


In any long term relationship, there will be seasons of discontent -- yours or theirs -- you can count on it.  These seasons may seem longer and tougher than the seasons of joy but perhaps that is because we think we deserve the joy and we don't deserve the other.  Thoughts can morph quickly into expectations which morph just as quickly into rights.  We don't have a right to happiness, we have the right to pursue it.

How will our children learn to weather the storms of their life if not from our example?  Our examples of grace and forgiveness (or the opposite!) will be the brick and mortar they carry to their own marriage.  If I am honest about my my process, if I talk openly about love and marriage and all that is required, perhaps they will be well prepared.  They have their own way to make but I can equip them for that task.

I think it is time for re-framing both relationship and marriage.  There are a million books on the subject but in the end, there is no quick fix.  The change must come from within.  What if we just let go our expectations and dealt with what is, right here, right now?  What if, instead of trying to get the other person to meet my needs, I take that responsibility as solely my own?

What if there is something to be learned from occasional suffering?  I am not suggesting martyrdom here, in fact, quite the opposite. I am suggesting that in time of trial, we see what is being required of us, and rise to the challenge.  Perhaps there is something to be learned from the old timers.  It is rare these days that someone marries from a sense of duty or responsibility, but that does not keep us from taking up that mantle.  I am free at any time to recreate my purpose for the relationship.

Fulfillment starts with me.  It ends here too.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Right Here, Right Now

Recently I read these lines by the witty and wise blogger Simcha Fisher
. . . I'm not looking at the road ahead of me.
All I can see is the road I've left behind,
and while I'm processing this information,
I'm still hurtling ahead,
driving faster than normal
because I'm anxious and tense.

Isn't this how it goes?  It's just the case that at times we are speeding though our lives, totally consumed with the mess and wreckage behind us-- with an occasional focus on not crashing into our future-- and utterly unaware of the beauty of right here, right now.

Right here.  
Right now.

Right here with my two-year-old and three-year-old just out of sight but playing a sweet game in which one is now called "Michael" and the other is now "Sophia."  

Right now with my younger teen asleep, literally, at my feet; looking so sweet and childlike because she is, in fact, still a child, something I fail to remember at times.

Right here with the house smelling of eggs and corn tortilla and the breakfast dishes piled in the sink.
Right now with 3 loads of laundry waiting to be completed and a birthday cake yet to be baked.

Right here there is a bird waxing poetic just outside the window where I write; and a cat on this side watching intently and wishing she were out there.
 
Right now there is room in my heart for my large, loving family and miraculously I am able to hold space for other things too.
 
Right here on a bright and bloomy spring day that smells of breeze and lilac and sun-warmed dirt.

Right now when I have every single thing I ever dared to dream, and lack for absolutely nothing.

So all that craziness that is behind me is, after all, the pavement on the road that brought me  . . .

right  . . . here . . . right . . .now.

Ah.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Lip gloss

I am experiencing some sort of weird transformation into a cave woman.  Maybe it's my age.  We are making everything around here these days.  Recently we made lip gloss/lip balm. 

It is embarrassingly easy.  I spent less on all the ingredients, which made a LOT, perhaps 1/3 cup or more, than I spend on a single lipstick.  I found the original recipe here and then "Tischlered it up!" (but in a good way).

Looking back now, I see my recipe no longer resembles the original.  Oh well -- it's awesome and I hope you'll try it!

Pretty Lip Balm
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 2 Tbsp grated beeswax or beeswax pearls
  • 7 drops rosemary essential oil (or other essential oil)
either/and
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder (we used a full tablespoon to make the darker brown shown for the girls)
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp colored, natural lipstick for color (or both cocoa and color)
 I don't have a double boiler, so I used a glass bowl set into mildly simmering water.  It worked fine.

Melt the top two together on low heat.  It takes quite a while to  melt the beeswax and next time I will add more.  Add the cocoa powder toward the end.  Do not add the essential oil or natural lipstick until you remove it from the heat. 

My first run through was not colored.  It was fine.  For the second, I just used the end of a lipstick my darling daughter had mutilated.  We love the really brown one because the color fades fast but it tastes great! 

Why would I do this? (And why you should try it!)
1)  It's super easy
2) It's fun -- like science only not stinky or poisonous
3) Since using it exclusively, my lips are no longer dry.  I think the store bought products were actually creating  the need for lip balm. Suspicious!
4) It's easy on the pocketbook.
5) It's easy on the earth.

Last note:  I originally followed the Crunchy Betty recipe, kinda.  (The cocoa one.)  It was just way too soft for me; it's hot here.  And I didn't mind the lavender but everyone else, including my hubby, did mind it. So the soapy lavender was out.  The rosemary is nice -- earthy.  I like it. 

Try it and share your results (please!)


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Well Rooted

The enormous change in our family 2 years ago -- going from 2 to 5 children -- threw me for a loop.  Other things were going on at the time as well and all of the stress and change left me ungrounded.  I am not saying that on the whole I've been floundering; but there have been lots of times of unbalance.  I have struggled to right myself more than I would like.

I know myself; I am a person who craves structure; the rhythm of our days has been more discordant than I prefer.  Yet I have stood in; I have been willing, on the whole, to take the deep breath, to make an adjustment (or half a dozen), to keep coming back to the truth and my true center.

I think this is the blessing of mid-life.  The storms that would have rocked our little-seedling-new-lifestyle right out of the soil in my 30s or 40s seem more able to be weathered at this phase of life.  I have the good soil now: an active faith that sustains me, practices that right me when I get pushed over, support that upholds me until I regain my strength.  I am less easily uprooted these days, no matter how tenacious the storm.

It has been a long and tenacious storm.  There is so much to be tended to with a large family and I put so much pressure on myself to do it all.  I recognize the storm has brewed - largely -- from within.  Hurricanes start at the center, don't they?

And now, I feel a shift.  My sense of purpose is deepening, I feel myself softening at the edges,  the new realities around me are taking root.  It is, in part, the new opportunity of Lent that is encouraging this growth in me, but I also think it is time.  Two years is a good time to grow in love for these youngsters, a sufficient time for the original four of us to reform our systems and our relationships with one another. 

Relationships have to be maintained, of course; we are so not done yet!  There will still be weeding and culling and reshaping the ground as we move forward as a family into the future.  Yet we are in the spring it seems, in fertile ground for setting those good roots that will withstand a future tempest. 

I stand encouraged and full of hope.  I can't wait to see what the spring brings.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How to Get Your Child Kicked Out of School


(This post was originally titled:  Wobbly Kneed and a Little About Legislated Parenting.  I couldn't resist the sensationalism.  Sorry.)

We're Texans and for us, that means we have the freedom to home educate our children with little restriction save that we conduct our schooling in a "bona fide manner, using a written curriculum consisting of reading, spelling, grammar, math and a course in good citizenship; no other requirements apply."  So for most of our older daughter's lives, that's what we've done.

A couple of years back, our oldest began attending local charter schools and taking the state mandated tests as a part of that schooling.  I did not think too much about the tests because that child's learning style and personality made her very successful at them.  I really didn't give them much thought at all.

Then last year, in an effort to assuage my doubts about whether or not I was providing adequate instruction to our second oldest, then entering 7th grade, I decided to enroll her in an on-line public charter school.  It was her idea, really.  She loves on-line anything (as amply evidenced by her gabbiness on Facebook) and she was excited by the challenge.

She loved it last year, she truly did.  She enjoyed the work but also loved being at home and having control over her schedule. She has gotten As and Bs, both this year and last.  It worked well with her ADD and need to move around and frequently switch tasks.  She loved it, that is, until the state mandated tests came around.  She did very poorly on those tests.  Parents are not allowed to see the tests; we are only told if our child passes or fails, so my ability to help her was limited.  She has above average intelligence; we paid almost $2,000 of our own money to have her tested and the result was the ADD diagnosis.  She's smart -- but has memory challenges and  these tests and the method of administration are very difficult for her.

The school responded by placing her in extra classes to prepare her for the tests.  She has to take an extra English and an extra math class, in addition to the two all 8th graders are taking.  The knowledge of last year's tests coupled with the extra classes has had a devastating effect on her self-esteem.  A formerly happy confident child is now frequently calling herself stupid.  When January rolled around and spring weather dropped in, her thoughts turned to tests and she began to worry and fret.

So I did what any parent would do, I explored our options.  It turns out there are few.  After much research, I wrote the school explaining that she would not be appearing for her test days. Few (if any) of my friends would consider me a radical.  Yet I am willing to stand against the status quo when necessary.  It was necessary. 

My knees were literally knocking as I mailed the letter.  I had explained to both child and Dear Hubby that the consequence might be that the school asked her to leave.

Today, that is exactly what happened.   The principal, who was both warm and courteous when she telephoned me, explained that in order to continue to be funded, they need 95% compliance in state mandated tests; it is hard to meet that 95% just due to truly unavoidable absences.  Because the school is "housed" in Houston ISD, our daughter is considered a transfer, so their acceptance of her is voluntary.  Therefore, if we are unwilling to take her to the tests, they must respectfully request that we withdraw her.  It was clear that I should act on this "voluntarily."   

I thanked her and told her that we had enjoyed the school and respected her teachers.  I understood their predicament but we were firm on our stand against the testing. Therefore, we would be withdrawing her.

My child was thrilled.  I am still a little wobbly kneed.  I am sure getting out of "public school" is what's best for her.  What I wonder is, what are my next steps?  If our "bright" child struggles so much with these tests, how are they affecting other kids who parents cannot offer them homeschooling as on option?  Do parents even realize the difference between the tests today and even a decade a year ago?  Since the tests are tied to both grade point and grade promotion, are they helping or contributing to the drop out rate?   As an advocate for children, is there more for me to do?

I don't have answers to these questions just now -- but they are certainly food for thought.  If you are interested in reading the letter, you can find it here


Saturday, February 25, 2012

My Repository of Work

Recently I was considering a Renaissance artist with the family and we spoke about his repository of work.  We pondered which of his masterpieces he would consider worthy of our focus and which pieces he would consider "not his best work."  As we conversed, the realization slowly dawned on me that this fine artist, has no posthumous control over what we saw as his life's work.

This left me pondering my own "repository of work."  I've held a good many jobs, many of them "people oriented."  I produced some fine documents, set many appointments, and served up some platters full of good food back at the Country Kitchen in the 70s.  None of those things will survive me.  I also ministered to hundreds of children (sometimes less gracefully than at other times), enrolled a lot of people into WOW, and coached some fine souls. These days, of course, my repository of work consists of a few blogs about a busy but simple life in a graceful but typical subdivision, and many hours of dishes, laundry, homeschooling, and story reading.

My repository of work, both in the past and now, consists mainly in the hearts and minds of people whose lives I have been so honored to encounter.  It's a largely invisible and apparently abtruse body of work.  Therein lies the battlefield.

We live in an achievement-based culture.  In my rare forays into all-adult settings, I'm asked over and over, "Where do you work?"  After responding with an occasional lack of clarity that I work at home caring for my family, I am quite frequently asked, "Well, what did you do before that?"  Ironically, those answers are often equally disappointing for my poor inquirer who is seeking to appreciate me through what I have achieved.

I know there are mothers who feel undervalued.  That is not the case with me.  I see the value of what I do, so I do not (typically) get "up in arms" when others don't get it.  It's just so very hard to explain in the few words most are seeking.
I have been trying out a few things lately to describe my body of work.  "I challenge people to live life brightly and support them on their journey."  It sounds too airy and high-falutin' doesn't it?  (I think I've been reading too many marketing books!) So I've switched to my original answer and after I give it rather than wait for the next question, I pat them on the shoulder or give them a kiss on the cheek -- a situational decision, obviously -- and beat a hasty retreat.

"I'm a house-wife.  I stay home and love my family."

That is my repository of work.  It sits just right.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Dishevled and Expectant, Oh My!

I've been in a slump lately.  Literally.  I notice that I am not holding myself upright.  My house is messy although I seem to spend all day cleaning it.  I am not getting myself to the gym although I'm now well enough to go.   My coupons aren't sorted and my email inbox is filling up.  I'm not keeping my eating disciplines. I'm avoiding studying; I'm watching TV when I'd normally be productive.  My life is just a little disheveled. 

You know where I'm going with this, right? It's not because we've all been sick.  It's not because of the (blessing) rain and we've all been cooped up.  It's because at some point, several days ago, I had what More To Life terms a "lifeshock."  It's when something - even something seemingly innocuous -- happens and my brain starts making up it's own version of the truth.  In my case lifeshocks often occur when I have a lot of expectations about how poeple or things "should be."   I did a little "research" (aka digging around in my brain) and found the lifeshock. 

On Valentine's Day (which we had been gearing up toward for weeks), just as I was making my first batch of heart shaped pancakes, Maggie threw up.  And she kept throwing up through four rooms, 2 sets of sheets, and 3 outfits.  She ran a fever.  She moaned.  She wept.  And I felt awful.  I was so upset that she could not have her Valentine's Day, that she couldn't wear her new outfit, that she and I would be at home while the rest did our annual Valentine's bowling.  I felt worse as, over the course of the day, I had to tell her 56 times that she absolutely could not have any of her Valentine candy.  She spent the day lying on the living room floor looking morose. 

Until she felt better.  Then she was awful.  She did anything she could think of to retaliate.  She tested me in every way and I failed.  Miserably.  I talked mean.  I withheld attention.  At one point I gave her the silent treatment.  I failed to notice that I was as disappointed as she was.  Bummer.

The real problem wasn't the lifeshock, though.  The difficulty was the 4 days I let it fester and compound.  That's when I started slouching; small surprise with that giant weight I was carrying!  Then I woke up this morning and slouched out to the living room and I could hear my dear friend Sue Oldham saying, "Got a cat on your back?" 

And that's when I woke up.  I woke up to my own disappointment about Valentine's Day, my own unmet expectations (oops!); woke up to Maggie's attachment disorder and her real need to test me; I woke up to that fact that though I sometimes fail, I am in fact doing the best I can and I too, am worthy of my forgiveness and a "do-over." Parenting isn't always this hard but sometimes it is.  I am not always so "in the dark" but this time I was. 

Since I am utterly incapable of going back in time, I did the only thing I could.  I sat up straight and I opened my eyes. I noticed my lifeshock, I did my work, and I made my choices. 

Waking up is freeing; it's as the saying goes, "And then you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free."  Next time, I'll choose differently.  Or I won't and then I will undoubtedly get another opportunity to practice.  And that's what I call grace.   

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Cross-Purposes and True Intention


 I'm on day 5 of a journey called a 10-day Family Recharge.  Whatever your job is, try to imagine that a kind, creative soul came in and said, basically, "Just for today, what if you tried this?  Here is some inspiration.  Here is some encouragement.  Here is some support."  Now imagine that tomorrow, they come back in with something else, presented again as an offering, open handed, open heartedly.  And you can simply not resist because the leadership is so inviting and non-demanding.  This is my experience of the re-charge so far.  It has been a warm place to walk into.  
 
Yet, today, I awakened quite tired and full of stress.  Just like an advanced course, somewhere mid-way, I am starting to take stock.  I am being hard on myself for not being 100% the person 0r wife or parent I want to be. I am having trouble seeing the work I am doing and that my intention is what shines through even when I am not meeting all my goals.  I am having trouble seeing past the not so successful potty training, the Mount Laundry, the messy rooms; I can't see the forest for the trees.

So I lulled myself (almost) to sleep.  I was literally about to take a nap when I thought, "Well, I'll just check my email first."  When I did, I saw this amazing video and I had an epiphany. 

My house is not always messy.  It's not as if people throw something on the floor and I never pick it up.  It's an evolution.  The kitchen is clean every day -- sometimes two or three times!  But we live there.  We cook all our meals at home - our kitchen is the heart of our family; 6 people are in this house 24 hours a day, and 7 live here for 14.  It's not a realistic "want."

I am getting what I wanted from the re-charge.  I am reconnecting with my family in new and profound ways.  I am seeing myself and each member of the family with new eyes.  I feel more relaxed and less worried.  I wanted to re-create our life together and that is happening, completely.

To be completely honest, the intention I had "on paper" for the re-charge was not my true intention.  My true intention was to become something like super-mom.  I can see that now.  I knew what I needed was an "easing into" my true motherhood -- my genuine love of children and to let that joy and love out -- but I still subconsciously thought I should want something more.  Talk about cross-purposes!

Whew.  I feel it easing in me already.  And I am already laughing at myself.  If my old buddy Will Pyke were reading this, it would crack him up too.  It's Seven Days all over again.  Oh my gosh.  I can only stand about 3 days of trusting myself and then I have to have a little breakdown.  
 
My true purpose is to love my family with my whole heart and to love myself in the process.  I can move toward a more conscious living space with them.  It's not for me to do; it's for us to do to the best of our abilities and without forsaking what truly matters:  That each and every one of us has the chance grow into the person we are created to be.  One day all the children will be grown and my house will be clean.  And then it will be time for a new purpose.    
 
A wise man named Richard Perry once said, "God has not given me a single moment of control, but every moment of choice!"  I'm over it now.  I really am.  In the snap of a fingers, I can change my perspective. 
 
Thanks be to God.  And me.  and Annie.  and Erin.  And you, too, Will Pyke, wherever you are!  Blessings on you all.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Taking a Deep Breath

Day 3 of our 10 day Family Re-Charge is already passing; the youngest are in bed so I will take the opportunity to reflect.  Some time ago I made a commitment not to have my laptop between my children and me; but the challenge for me is not getting driven about all there is to do around me. There is -- quite literally -- always one more load of clothes, things on the counters, another load of dishes, floors to maintain, another meal to prepare, one more thing.   I am good about doing stuff with the kids in the mornings but after naptime, I ramp up! 

I don't know if I have mentioned it but on Friday, I withdrew my oldest daughter (10th grade) from school and have brought her home to school again.  Today we have re-instituted our afternoon tea time; it fell by the wayside a few months back and we are picking it back up.  I sit with any of the kids who want to sit at the table and we have tea (o la leche o el agua).  Usually we have some nuts and a sweet of some kind or bits of cheese and crackers; the main thing is, it's a great time to reconnect. [We older girls drink from antique tea cups passed down on my hubby's side.] I just sip my tea and chat with the children and it eases something in me.  It's a deep breath.  I am able to fix supper and enjoy the time in the kitchen;  the kids have had my full attention so they are able to do something else whilst I cook.

When Paul gets home, everyone is in a calmer state.  We enjoy our evening meal so much more -- it's as if you can taste the peacefulness in it.  And because the cooking and eating goes more smoothly, it seems as if I am able to whistle through bedtime and then truly enjoy the evening and reconnecting with Paul.  I don't feel so stretched.   I don't think he knows why this is, but I am quite certain he knows when we've not had our tea time because something is just not sitting right.

My other "answer" - if you will -to the re-charge questions is that I have carved out a half hour between getting my middle child on the bus and waking the others in which I can have a devotional period.  It has taken some work to achieve this time;  I frequently get to say "no, thank you" to requests for waking someone or other during this period.  This is when I do my reflecting on my spiritual state and set my compass for the day ahead.  At the very end of this time, I check my calendar for the day. 

So I have the beginning "regulator" set and the late afternoon re-set; I lack something before bed  to book-end the day.  I have recently begun a practice of oil cleaning my face; I have decided  to give myself a five minute facial massage each evening and go to bed with a soft, clean face to welcome the night's dreams.  I hold so much stress in my face; now I shall be sending it down the drain!

So appreciating the work for each day, Erin Barrette Goodman.  Muchas gracias!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Recharging our Batteries

Life in a household of seven is gratifying, exciting, fun, challenging, fulfilling, evoking, inspiring  . . . and busy.  In many ways, I have "found my feet" since the huge change in our family almost 2 years ago.  In other ways, I am still floundering.

I remember the "magic" when Pepper and Sunshine were the little ones;  I don't think that we have really recaptured that magic with The Littles.  I want it for them and I want it for the "bigs" and I want it for Dear Hubby and I really, really want it for me.  So often it seems like . . . well . . . work. 

I want to recapture the essence of who we are in the midst of all the logistics of life in a big family.  Just as I have been making incremental adjustments to my days in order to accommodate this big "want," I stumbled on The 10-Day Family Re-Charge.  I am joining with an eclectic group of 200 parents to hit the "reset" button on our family life.

I am looking forward to spending time with my six nearest and dearest to take a collective deep breath!  Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Make a Valentine!

In two weeks it's going to be Valentine's Day.  It's a major holiday at our house; that's what happens when you start your family with two girls.

We usually make Valentines although we've had a few disorganized years where we bought the drug-store kind.  Here is a really cool old-fashioned folded valentine you can make yourself.

Let me know what you think!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Simplicity: A Pipe Dream?

I am a lover of simplicity.  I am attracted by it and yet I find it a complicated thing to achieve.  The more people I live with, the harder it is to come by that simplicity.

Yesterday we were in IKEA and they have a fascinating display there, a 621 square foot "family home."  It has two very compact bedrooms, a bath, a living room and a surprisingly spacious kitchen/dining area.  I stood in there and looked around while Sunshine stood on the outside with the three little ones because there were a couple of shoppers in there in addition to me and there wasn't room for any more people.  I was thinking how in that tiny space, there was not room for even one of my children's possessions.  Yet it appealed to me so much; the clean lines, the lack of clutter, the simplicity - it drew me in.

As a child, my imagination was captured by the Laura Ingalls Wilder series of books.  I fantasized about living in that age where kids romped through wheat fields and Pa milked the cow.  I longed for the freedom of that open space and even more, to have the simple desire of a single sweet for Christmas.  I wanted to sit around the fire with the whole family and listen to Pa play the fiddle.  I knew that in reality, ma's hands were rough and red from the constant manual labor, that Pa was too tired to play that fiddle except perhaps on winter Sundays and that those kids could only go to school a few weeks a year because the rest of the time they were working very hard;  Laura probably wasn't jealous of Nellie Olson's possessions so much as her leisure. Nonetheless, I craved the simplicity.

I spend part of every day decluttering.  I give away truckloads of STUFF every year.  If I get something new for the kitchen, I give away something else.  But no one would say we have a simple life. 

There is more to living simply than not having so much stuff.  I am making more progress on some of those fronts; when we had babies, we used a lot of "old fashioned" baby stuff, like cloth diapers and nowadays, cloth training pants.  We don't get perms or color our hair (normally, anyway), we cook from scratch and we keep trying to garden.  We eat locally mostly, we focus on seasonal foods and we ride bikes with petals, not motorized kid cars and scooters.  We read books, we color with regular crayons, and the youngsters watch little tv and don't play video games.  My motto is taken from World War II, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without." 

Yet we are still enmeshed in conspicuous consumption.  We keep considering -and rejecting - solar energy; it seems like a risky investment in our hailstorm/tornado/windstorm prone area.  Many of our light-bulbs are incandescent because with three toddlers (including two boys) and one softball player, things are always flying through the air and the mercury in the new bulbs scares me.  Sometimes plastic wins over glass or wood in our house because of cost or safety concerns or both.  We have a lot of clothes so we don't have to wash them so often.  Life in a family of seven involves a lot of laundry, cooking, and entertaining the troops; certain shortcuts make life easier.

Sometimes I think simplicity is a pipe dream.  We make so many compromises.  Yet I cannot give up  because in many ways, I think the simplicity is what saves us.  I am not married to a man who is going to live in the woods and hunt for our food.  I'm too practical to wash my clothes by hand when Kenmore makes a great machine to do it for me.  It's a balancing act.  And a learning process.  Perhaps instead of seeking that ultimate simplicity the idea is to keep working toward a more simple life.  That fits.


Monday, January 2, 2012

A Single Resolution

I love resolutions.  I've said this before.  The idea of a "fresh start" is just so alluring.  I do it every year.  This year I am keeping it simple.  Here is my resolution for 2012:

I will set higher standards for myself and lower my expectations of everyone else. 

I have noticed that over time, I stop "bringing my best."  Yet I don't really want to live life halfway.  I will implement it in every area of life, from exercise to fun;  why have half as much fun as is on offer?  I want it all, baby!

I am also keenly aware of my tendency to be critical of others -- so I am choosing to actively censor that critic and become more embracing of others just as they are, especially my nearest and dearest!

What about you?  Are you making any New Year's Resolutions this year?