I am no Heather. I realize this. She inspires me, though, and allows me to be just who I am in all of my imperfection and mess. Though I try to resist comparison, it sometimes creeps up on me. When this happens, I work to change my thought pattern to one of inspiration.
One area of struggle for me is menu planning. I have a mental block, an aversion, to it, though I have prepared hundreds of meals and fed my large family daily for years. In theory it should not be this difficult, but in practice it is another matter.
Recently I was in Heather’s kitchen and noticed her menu written on a chalkboard hanging on the kitchen wall framed by an elegant frame. There was a Scripture verse printed on it, opposite the week’s menu. My mind went to the white board in my kitchen and to the possibility of writing a menu plan in similar fashion.
I decided to take action when I arrived home, claiming the lower left corner of the board for my plan. I listed Monday through Sunday and wrote down what I would prepare each day. At the end of each day I wiped off the day’s meal and wrote what I would fix the following week.
In essence it is a continual meal plan. A continual feast.
It has been a few weeks and the new menu plan has been serving me well. Now if I could get the grocery list under control!
For the curious, this is what my kitchen whiteboard looks like today
It’s not the most beautiful and could use a Scripture verse or two, but it’s doing its job. And my grocery list rhymes.
Offer to do a chore and then do it so horribly that your kid can’t stand to watch anymore and just does it for you.
Hmmm. That wasn’t the strategy when I offered to mow the backyard, but I’ll take it. Parenting Tip 99, it is.
The lawn mowing adventure started this morning with cool temperatures, overgrown grass, and several able-bodied people home together for summer break. Knowing that it would not be an easy task, I summoned middle-school girl-child and asked if she wanted to mow front or back yard.
Offer choices. I’m doing great!
She chose front yard.
I went to find middle-school boy child to break the news that he would be mowing the back yard and received news of my own.
What! I always weed whack! No. That’s not my job.
Ah. Classic response AND mother snafu.
Know your plan and people’s regular jobs before announcing changes.
Since I mow better than weed whack, I offered to mow the back yard.
Let me clarify. Since I have mowed a lawn once and weed whacked never, I figured I would practice my mowing skills.
Ok. Then I will mow the back yard.
I’ll mow it, Mom, girl-child replied upon hearing the news. I usually do.
No, I said I would do it, and I need the practice.
I promise that I wasn’t being passive-aggressive.
Walking around the mower a few times and fiddling with this and that, I realized that I needed to ask for help. Back inside I went to ask eleven-year-old daughter to help with starting the mower.
That might have been when she realized I needed some supervision and direction. She began instructing me in the backyard mowing techniques and patterns that her father taught her.
Do you want me to go around the edges like Dad did for me the first times I mowed the grass?
Sure, that would be helpful.
She arranged the picnic table up on end to begin the first section, started the mower, and began to walk. I watched.
When it was my turn, I clumsily began pushing. It was harder than it appeared until my instructor showed me the lever that would activate the self-propelling feature. Then it was too fast.
Here, let me show you. Wait! MOM! Are you using Parenting Tip 99 on me?
That’s when I learned about Parenting Tip 99. It’s also when I remembered how hilarious all of my kids are when they are not driving me crazy!
I promised that I wasn’t. I really wanted to learn how to mow the lawn, and she was being a great teacher. We were making some amazing memories, as well.
The lawn is now mowed. Teamwork during the morning means one less thing for Dad to have to supervise in the evening. We are trying to navigate this summer.
With Mom at the lawn mower’s helm, anything can happen!
My son recently performed in a piano festival. Each pianist played two memorized pieces that were evaluated by judges. A score of superior from each judge, double superior, meant that the performer was invited to play one of their pieces in a recital the following day and receive recognition and a trophy.
Now, this could be the humble brag post about how my son surprisingly received a double superior, but it is really the be your best you post that I need to write for myself to read later. So that is why I am writing it!
The festival took place on a Saturday with performance times beginning in the morning. A sister who also participated was in the 9:00 time slot. Son was in the 10:00 block. Participants were expected to be on time, stay for the entire hour listening to the other performers, and then check the postings on the wall in the hall to see if they received the coveted SS.
Mornings are challenging at our house on a good day, and there is never really one of those, so you can imagine what early Saturday performance mornings are like. Getting out of the house dressed and presentable was not a pretty sight or sound.
Son threw on some clothes, missed his coffee, iPod, and warmup on our piano, and jumped into the car with sister and me. There was much grumble-grousing. I was not in the most generous of moods and was lecturing on how we can’t all be in total comfort all of the time. There was really no other option than for us to all go together and boy to wait for his performance time. The use of my phone to pass the time softened the blow slightly.
I listened to nine-year-old sister play two memorized pieces almost perfectly and was impressed by her first festival performance. Based on past experience with siblings I was fairly confident that she might have pulled off a double superior. I said nothing but congratulated her at the end.
This is why I am not a piano judge.
At 10:00 it was brother’s turn, and I found him waiting in his performance venue. His skill level plays on the expensive upstairs piano in the auditorium. We sat together waiting for his turn. I could sense nervousness and heard negative self-talk coming from him and reminded him to just relax and do his best.
A fellow performer from the same studio went before him and played two complex pieces. The faster piece was filled with intricate-sounding runs up and down the keyboard. Son leaned over and said, I can’t do that! The dismissive shake of his head and shrug of the shoulders had me sensing even more of a downward spiral coming on, increasing the negative momentum, grinding him to a standstill before he had even started.
I leaned over to give him some motherly advice, and this is what came out. . .
You don’t have to play like the other performers. Just play like the best YOU in this moment.
I look around at my friends with their unique callings or their blogs with their voices and think I can’t do that. I can’t write about homeschooling or health or the benefits of _________. I haven’t designed a product or written a book or come up with a better way to __________. I haven’t gone back to school like _______. I don’t have that advanced degree like ___________. I’m not working from home in a job that I love like _________. I can’t sing like ___________. I am not a businesswoman like _________. I’m not as wise and spiritual as ____________.
I don’t have to do what other people are doing. I don’t have to compare myself to others. I just have to do what I do and be the best me in the moment.
Son heard his name, walked up onto the stage, and soldiered through his piece. I listened on the edge of my seat, slightly cringing at the areas where I heard him holding back due to nerves and lack of proper morning preparation. I coped in my classic way, through paper and pen in a tiny journal
“Mornings are never smooth at our house, so a Saturday morning with early piano performances at a piano festival seemed doomed from the beginning. Son’s score should really be interpreted through a baseline lens ~ meaning this is how he performs cold ~ no coffee, no warm-up, no sleep, cranky, and irritable. I am proud of him just for being here. It is hard to keep a 13 year old boy on track! It is hard to keep a 44 year old woman on track!”
He returned to his seat next to me, head shaking, hair flopping as he sat down. Whispered analysis of all that went wrong in the piece came my way, as the judges worked on his score at their table. I enjoyed the other performers, and then exited the hall to regroup with his teacher in a room downstairs.
Talking together, we debriefed on how the morning had gone, when a teenage boy sauntered up, face flushed, head shaking, eyes full of disbelief. What does it mean if your name is highlighted?
It means adouble superior, answered his teacher. That is what my son received.
This is why I am not a piano judge.
The following afternoon found us in a different performance space enjoying the fruits of his labor, of him being the best him in the moment, as we listened to the honors recital together.
Whatever you are, Friend. Be the best YOU in the moment! Bring yourself to the world and step right up.
WordPress reminds me of this today with a three year anniversary achievement notice. Three years ago I signed up for a free account on WordPress.comtitled The Compost Pile and kept it private, by invitation only. It was my first tiptoe into the blogging world, and I wasn’t ready to be all out there, yet.
Three years ago I was in a space of a breath, still home with Little Mae who attended preschool three days a week, not yet back to working full time. There was time to explore the idea of blogging. There was time to meet with friends. There was time for personal reflection, however brief.
I started that private blog in the quiet on a Wednesday afternoon, just doing a little bit of something. Here is the first post.
I am sitting in in the quiet mess of mid afternoon.
Trying to open my heart and feel love, joy, peace. Mustering up the courage to take a leap of faith.
Seasons change, and I am entering a new one. One with time to slow down and reflect and be. To learn to live in confidence of my standing in Christ. To believe that it’s not all I do but who I am.
So many big thoughts encompass my mind. I want to slow down and take time to think them. To trust and understand. To process through and accept.
Jesus, draw near.
Little did I know where that first hesitant step would begin to take me . . . thank you for joining with me on the journey, Dear Readers. Your encouragement and thoughtful comments keep me writing!
A few weekends ago, Steve and I took some much-needed time away together, with the holiday season in full swing. The timing was not ideal, but is it ever? As I type this line, I am transported in my mind to twenty-four years ago when we were saying, I do, at a time that was less-than ideal.
Today is our twenty-fourth wedding anniversary and the twenty-ninth anniversary of the season when we met.
There is a backstory to our time away, and while I could post pictures of festive decorations and divine cheese platters and gush about the reflexology treatment and hot-stone massage that my darling booked for me in advance, there would be much missing. There would be a glaring omission of the reality that we had to fight hard for this time and were almost taken down for the count.
That, dear reader, is the part that I want to share with you. Reality.
The story began last fall, summer, even, when my dearest asked our firstborn and her husband if they could spend Labor Day weekend with the kids so that we could go away together. Three nights alone seemed an incredible luxury. I was looking forward to it desperately.
When back-to-school life got full and pressures started bearing down, a voice inside reminded me that it would be worth it all when we were away. I could work really hard to get the school year going and then relax into the long weekend, emerging refreshed and re-connected with my partner in the midst of all of the madness.
We were both so caught up in our duties and responsibilities that a glaring omission happened. We failed to book a destination. This reality struck the week before we were to go away, when a painful conversation took place, leaving me feeling let-down, hurt, and angry.
Festering heart wounds that I thought had been dealt with, broke open and began to ooze painfully. I spent time trying to figure out a kind, yet honest, way to express my deep disappointment.
Too often I have offered a quick, That’s okay! or It’s no big deal! to things that were NOT okay and WERE big deals. It was a new path for me to sit in the hard place of feeling my feelings without minimizing them and of hurting without accusing my partner in anger. It was a struggle not to lash out at the one I love while in pain.
After these honest conversations, Labor Day weekend found us dog-sitting so that our daughter and son-in-law could go camping. We stayed at the house laboring, as usual. It was not the weekend I had envisioned, and I felt hurt and disappointed.
Steve quickly arranged for the next available time that the married adult couple could come and stay for a weekend. It was months away in December, but just having a date on the calendar was encouraging.
Things were rolling along smoothly. A non-refundable, non-transferable location was booked in Williamsburg, and Christmas Town tickets were purchased. Planning was enjoyable, and we were communicating. I had requested an entire Friday off to have a leisurely morning to myself before stealing away together.
I was picturing it in my head, and it was BEAUTIFUL!
Then things started to happen. Plans began to shift and change for honest reasons. Human error in communication caused the wrong weekend to be booked. We could still go away, but the child-care factor became much more labor-intensive and complicated.
I did not like the revised plan I was hearing. It felt forced and overwhelming and exhausting. Much complicated planning needed to happen just to arrive at our destination. It was not as I had envisioned. To top it off, the night before our planned departure, Steve became ill. He took to bed in a manner unusual for him unless it is serious. It was serious.
I was left in the nebulous unknown of wondering if I should continue to pack children to take to their siblings instead of having siblings come to them. I wondered if we would be able to go away at all.
Frankly, I was finished. Tired. Done.
My day off dawned, not as I had planned. It found me driving kids to school instead of rolling over for a little more sleep. After the drop off, I checked in with Steve who was not sure how he felt and did not look great.
Our revised plan had been to drive two cars to drop the kids with their adult siblings in Richmond on our way to Williamsburg. That would leave a vehicle for them to drive back to Harrisonburg that would fit everyone. Steve didn’t look up to the driving challenge. I was already less-than-thrilled with that idea BEFORE sickness crept in.
Let’s just not go. This is getting ridiculous. When are we going to read the sign that says this is not a good idea? What else has to happen?
We had until 11:00 to cancel the massage appointment he had booked. He wanted a little more rest, leaving me to make a teary call to my sister to help me process. She helped me sort out my heart, and when we hung up I realized that I needed to try.
Trying looked like seeing if there was any way to have the kids cared for here in town overnight instead of having to drive them to Richmond. The Richmond connection could drive themselves here the next day and hang out until we got home.
I reached out to friends and family who were able to say yes. While Steve slept, I arranged and drove around and packed up and picked up and dropped off. When he woke, I presented the new plan, which I think was plan d by this point. The kids were accounted for, he could sleep in the car while I drove, and we would at least be away, alone together.
If he felt better, great. If not, he could sleep while I read, addressed Christmas cards, wrote, did yoga, got a massage. We could watch movies or listen to podcasts together. It actually wasn’t looking too bad!
The bottom line is that we were able to go away, but it wasn’t easy.
We listened to podcasts together in the car. After a night of rest, Steve felt well enough to walk in the woods while I experienced a restorative massage. We ate at The Cheese Shop in downtown Williamsburg and walked around Merchant’s Square. We napped and relaxed. I didn’t write any Christmas cards. We didn’t make it to Christmas Town.
Our time together was too short. It always is. But it happened.
This may not seem like a big deal to some, but for me it is. For me it is saying, I really care about spending time together, I know Steve will enjoy this, I know I will enjoy this. Even though there are 1,001 reasons to not make it happen and then feel disappointed, I am going to TRY.
When I saw that Second Citywas returning to JMU, I wanted to go again with Steve. We attended a show a few years ago with No Strings Attached, and it was fun. I participated in a Second City workshop in Chicago while chaperoning a school trip for my son and learned a lot.
I desired to do this together.
Several weeks ago, I checked out the tickets and pricing. Seats were going fast. There were a few left scattered here and there, mostly in the balcony. Asking Steve what he thought about going, and not hearing clear Let’s do it! in his voice, I let it go.
Several weeks ago there was also great letdown as a failed communication between us resulted in an anticipated longing falling by the wayside, unmet. I struggled through deep disappointment and wrestled with how to let go of past hurts while communicating present ones honestly.
It was difficult to admit to myself and my husband that I stuff pain and quickly say, It’s okay, or It’s no big deal, when it’s not and it is. I had to acknowledge my hurt, disappointment, and true feelings without accusing, blaming, and attacking. It was a difficult time. We are still learning to communicate honestly and to hear one another in a safe space.
Steve can’t read my mind.
I minimize desire. I long for more together time but don’t take action. I wish for connection but grow busy with distraction.
It was time to make something happen.
Last night, out of curiosity, I logged onto the theater website to see what, if any, seats were left.
The seat map showed two yellow squares at the edge of a sea of x‘s. And by sea, I mean every other seat was marked taken.
Two seats at the end of a row! A countdown timer at the top of the laptop screen ticked away the minutes I had to make a decision while Steve was out walking Dewey. Two seats. At the end of a row! (Can you tell that part in itself was HUGE for me?) The last two seats. My favorite spot in any row.
I took them.
Almost immediately, contempt and sabotage began to creep in.
What did you just do? That was stupid. You don’t even know if you can get a babysitter at this late notice. Steve didn’t act as if he wanted to go when you mentioned it before. You just spent money on something that you don’t know will work out.
And on and on.
I began my usual pattern of faux-not-caring. He can always take a friend if we don’t get a sitter. I can be here with the kids. It doesn’t matter if I go or not.
I told Steve when he returned and was met with a positive response. He helped me begin looking for a sitter, which in the end I secured.
So tonight is a real date night, not that popcorn and Parenthood at 9:30pm doesn’t count. It’s the fighting forward for fun together that doesn’t just magically happen because I wish it would. It’s being in the moment in our marriage, knowing that it is worth it.
Week three begins with a day off. As we settle into our school routine, I am grateful for the places of slow start. The gradual beginning of activities is comforting. Piano last week. Choir next. Violin. Soccer. These will soon pick up and accelerate until we are in full groove.
There is a rhythm to our days. I am still learning to embrace and engage it. I try to participate with rather than fight against the afternoon crush. That is where I most often hit the deck, bowled over by the intensity of everyone’s response to the day.
Afternoon comes on the heels of school day which follows morning. Each sets the stage for the next. Morning is kind when I am prepared. When I step into my day with purpose. When I give myself some space before that first knock on the bedroom door.
Morning groove builds to a dissonant intensity about ten minutes before the first wave of people leave for school. It is in those ten minutes that I am at greatest risk for losing patience, temper, sanity, or all of the above. It is best to bite my tongue about things out of my control by then.
Socks will not magically appear. Ditto with homework. Checking parent portal will not lower my blood pressure and issuing ultimatums is of little use.
As much planning ahead as we try to do, it is a challenge to get everyone to understand the concept that if they each save onelittle thing for last minute ~ like getting a paper signed or finding a pair of socks or asking for gum or looking for lunch money, THAT’S FIVE NOT-SO-LITTLE THINGS!
Where are my keys, again?
Arrival at my day job offers respite. Knowing that my loves are squared away in their various places of learning allows me to engage my students in our space. We, too, have a groove, growing smoother by the day. We hum along together until school day’s end.
I am still figuring this one out through trial and error and trial by fire. Some days it is lovely, milk and cookies, and Imissedyoumommyletmetellyouallaboutmyday! Others, not so much. Those days it’s teeth-gnashing whyisSHEheretopickmeupWITHyou? I wanted it to be JUST you.
The hard afternoons are classic, I’ve had a bad day but don’t know how to express myself other than to take it out on you and be angry. I struggle to dis-engage from those verbal attacks. Somehow we muddle through. We try to find words and space and sort it out.
The bottom line is that it takes a lot of work. A. Lot. Of. Work. to engage the afternoons. To be engaged when we arrive home together. To stay engaged through the storms.
We’re doing the work. Together. Sometimes it’s gloriously fun and rewarding sitting around the table together digging through backpacks, eating popcorn, doing homework, and talking about the day.