Friday, July 20, 2012

Quick Takes

I can't put into words my adoration of Downton Abbey.  That's why, when perusing Hulu Wednesday night in an attempt to numb myself to sleep on the couch and finding that the second season of Downton Abbey was available for viewing, I forewent words and squealed a loud, foreign sound similar to that of a teenage girl finding One Direction serenading her at the front doorstep.

Watching Downton Abbey has me yearning for a different sense of womanhood.  The love story of Matthew and Lady Mary wound by the allegiance to unforgiving virtues whispers in my soul a conversion to greater modesty, respect, and poise.  The show has me searching for new heights of femininity which I will likely follow up with a copious amount of reading and pithy actual change in my daily living. 

This morning, after debating whether a trip to Lowe's deems a shower necessary or not, I made an impulse decision to jump in the shower. I figured I could be quick and that I didn't need to secure/confine/white jacket my son in order to do so in peace.  However,  there was a silence when I stepped out of the bathroom, one that had me searching through the house in nothing but my bath towel.  While I should have been concerned about a possible neighborly sighting due to many opportunities for window exposure, I was focused on Thomas's safety...and the can of white paint which I spent thirty minutes trying to open earlier with every conceivable tool in our house.  A toddler has a way of sniffing out smashing impossibilities or excavating ancient paint cans their mommy has unsuccessfully attempted to open.  I spotted a splash of water on the entry room rock floor and my eyes shifted up to see in split second motion picture fashion an open front door, a garden hose gone wild, and a blur of a toddler wearing nothing but his diaper and a grin. 

The actions which followed were horrifying.  Me hiding behind a wall and hissing begs at Thomas to retreat inside.  Me sprinting to my room for clothes.  Me sprinting back to the living room because my bra was where I had left in that night I watched Downton Abbey wee into the night.  Me sprinting back to my room for clothes, 2nd attempt.  Me running out of the house to chase down a toddler, my eyes darting arrows of frantic madness and yet also thinking, "Do I have clothes on?" as a neighbor drove by and I politely waved so as to retain a semblance of normalcy.

This escaping toddler incident illuminates the stark contrast between me dreaming for a supremely feminine life and me celebrating a shower which doesn't invite chaos into my home.

Oh, and that 1st QT about me numbing myself to sleep.  No worries.  That was just because my husband was out of town.  He's back now, so there won't be any more willful adherence to television marathons.  Instead, we do this routine where I tell Paul every detail of my day, and the new evolution of my goals, and the progress on my project list and so forth until the point where I ask Paul a question and he musters a "huh?", "yuh", or a "hmm", and I decide I should stop talking and go to bed. 

Earlier this summer I posted about the ridiculous mantra all or nothing.  I'm still trying to put this into practice because I think, in appropriate instances, it can be a very healthy mindset.  My happiest moderation find has been taking a stroll around the neighborhood after dinner.  I don't put on a sports bra or tweet my mileage or push myself to a heart rate of any extreme.  The fresh air and the quietness is enough to reward me for an action so minimal.

If you haven't checked out Jennifer Fulwiler of Conversion Diary, the hostess of Quick Takes, you should.  She's equal parts helpful and hilarious.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

No Excuses + An Imagination = Happy Parenting

It was the toothpaste incident that did me in today.  I had just decided that I wasn't being totally productive or wildly motherly and that I needed to get my butt in gear and stop moping around about Paul being in a different time zone ... and stop fretting the fact I haven't had access to my new classroom yet... and so on with slimy excuses for today's sub-par performance as Mommy when I walked in the bathroom and found a toothpaste bath in the sink.

A plastic toy figurine which closely resembles a bull and a gummy pink ant Thomas "earned" at Chuck E Cheese's last Saturday night were having a toothpaste hangover.  How I had missed Thomas sneaking around, with his very logical fascination of switching over to "adult" toothpaste, I just don't know.  Whenever the shenanigan, I had to save Bull and Helicopter [Thomas's name for the ant; I kid you not] from their fate of suffocating white.

And when I said the incident "did me in" I don't mean to be misleading.  You know, "doing one in" sounds like a shutting down, tuning out, or a big scream fest of, "YOU STOP THAT RIGHT NOW! SERIOUSLY! I'M GOING CRAZY IN THIS HOUSE!" Yeah, luckily, it was none of those things.

Instead, a new level of determination found its way to the surface of my thoughts. 

As a teacher, I've heard every excuse in the book from students, parents, and teachers.  Teachers complain that Student A plays too many video games and Student B never does her homework and Student C is going to fail this class and just take summer school. It's easy as a teacher to listen in and nod an agreement, throw in some sympathy, and even add to the conversation with a similar frustration. I've done that many, many times. The problem is that in focusing in on so much negative [the majority which can be grounded in a degree of truth] is that in doing so we are prone to lose an inexcusable amount of time and energy which would be better spent creating solutions. Understanding our realm of power and control liberates us from grasping why others' aren't better utilizing their own. We must immediately follow our statements with action: Change a policy. Try another approach. Be honest. Schedule a conference. Ask good questions. Research. Model.  Preach less.  Utilize every minute.  

As a parent with just two and a half years under my belt, I'm finished re-learning the necessity of not allowing excuses.  I'm over being stuck on reasons why I'm not XYZ or doing XYZ.  I refuse to let myself slip into a land of only ifs.  [Only if I was a) creative b.) thrifty c.) extroverted  d.)  the type of Mommy who pins projects on Pinterest AND actually does them]. I don't want to miss one more minute of my son's life to an excuse-ridden type of partial presence. So, I'm allowing no more excuses.  At the first sight of the little energy-sucking thieves, I'm popping back with a, "So yeah. You're right. Now what are you going to do about it?"

Parenting is tough stuff, but I've recently acquired a skill which transforms me into something of a pro in the finesse of mental toughness. My imagination. Well, I'm working on it at least. Thomas watches on in awe of my Imagination Apprentice role, likely because he knows his Mommy typically operates on the imagination level of a squirrel.   He harbors excitement as I work out an impromptu dinosaur family sketch, tell another "Once upon a time there was a little boy named Thomas" story while I cradle him in my arms, and awkwardly participate in vague imaginary enterprises where I see invisible things in our house and quickly convince Thomas they're really there before I lose interest.  

Imagination is critical in parenting.  The entertainment of child element is helpful for starters.  Yes, stuffed animal meetings, naming of toys as if your life depends on it, and other nonsense you so desperately wish you had a script for is all very good for the health and well-being of your growing little mini-me who is gaping at the horror of you pairing Hellicopter and Spider as playmates when you should know dang well they don't go together, Mom!

But even greater, an imagination is of paramount usefulness in life, something even more than the decree of No Excuses! When we say we won't let ourselves grow weary in our roles as employee, parent, Christian, spouse, or ____________ [fill in the blank] and so won't allow excuses, we have to spur on our imaginations to fill in that gap.  Our imaginations must provide for us a vision of a five year old, a joy-filled marriage, a size 4 pair of jeans strutting its stuff into work, and for me as of late, a garden with an upswing of things more so living than dying.

I'm thinking this equation of No Excuses + Imagination (in the vein of: this stuff I'm doing is really, actually working even when it doesn't feel/seem/look like it) should day by day allow for happier parenting.  I was having a good time already what with all my V.I.P invites to Thomas's room for jigsaw puzzles and reading to an audience of carefully lined up dinosaurs, witnessing Thomas ask strangers, "What your name is?" and hearing him follow-through the conversation with info about his name as "Thomna", but I'm wanting something better than just a good time. 

I want to be what I saw in my Mom the other day when she visited us.  In asking her some question or other about Dad being on the road for a week as a truck driver while she was at home with four little ones and listening to her warm response about truly enjoying all the time she had with us and seeing the honesty in her eyes when she said it, I sensed that's a little different than me consciously holding back from screaming things like, "YOU STOP THAT RIGHT NOW! SERIOUSLY! I'M GOING CRAZY IN THIS HOUSE!"

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Trimming Down

A little over a week ago a storm offered great relief to the stifling string of hot temperature days.

It also brought a limb down from one of our two huge beloved front yard gumball trees.

This image at first stole my breath. Then, in the midst of the tail end of the storm, our neighbor and Paul side by side sawing and stacking branches, it offered a chance for me to further appreciate the kindness of those both to the right and to the left of our cozy lot. Later, as I surveyed the [previously unseen] rot and rippling effect of damage at the center of the tree, something told me that we were dealing with an issue much greater than 60 mph winds or a limb which was torn in a way that would require professional help to remove it correctly.

There was something bigger here. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but that knowledge was at the pit of my stomach even after Paul met with the tree removal crew and held high hopes the tree would be largely saved.

Two days ago, I watched through the generously clear windows of our living room as the crew quickly and fiercely trimmed, hoisted, sawed, and hacked my charm of a tree into the most pathetic eyesore I've ever seen. Thomas and I, shocked, watched the neighbors drive by gawking, eyes enormous as they held onto their steering wheels and remained just conscious enough of the road as to not completely drive off into the ditch.

I won't show you that side of the tree. It's so bad I don't have the heart to take a photo of it.

Here's what we see just off our porch, a sight we're told "will look much better in two years".

It was as I expected. Something was wrong, and it needed to be fixed, amended, tended to in a way that would, for now, drop our property value, transform our yard into --what's this???-- a sunny spread, and make us also gawk and hold onto our steering wheel as we pulled into our driveway from the street.

The tree was damaged long ago.  Its center never grew properly.  For years it continued to branch out, bear fruit, and offer a sense of comfort, protection, and let me tell you Heaven for the residents who have chronologically shared ownership of this house.  Although it appeared strong, bold, and healthy, it was only a matter of time before its mangled core gave up and let its weight down.

My response to this tree episode has been a mixed bag. As if I don't think about death enough, this further entertained my anxieties about mortality. The trimming of the tree has also had me pondering what sin can do to the center of our lives and how even when we bear copious fruit afterward, that damage can still bring us, or parts of us, down. The tree has helped me remember that life can be so often confused by the security of physicality, even when that physicality comes in something not artificial like that new purse or stylish pumps, but even in the purity of a beautiful tree. And in a simple straightforward response to the tree, I've got field guides on my mental list of buy this next! I want to walk the streets of my neighborhood and be able to know each tree by name in light of a greater hope to be more attentive to both the people and things which have been entrusted to me.

Sometime last week in between the moment of "Oh my, a limb fell down" and the day of "Oh my gosh, there goes our tree, Thomas!" some gratitude came to settle in my heart.  I welcome yet another way to accept Jesus's message to travel lightly, to cast off our belongings, and to simplify our lives in light of a greater joy than the false security of material possessions.

If Paul and I were tree geniuses and we had chosen to look past the great shade and beautiful green stretches of the gumball tree, we could have taken note that the tree was leaning to the left.  We could have ultimately addressed the problem before the problem addressed us. However, either scenario would have ended similarly: a trimming down.

Life is just the same. I can choose to take note of a call to simplicity, trimming down for the long term mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health of my soul. 

Or, I can wait for the storms of this world to rip me from my core.

Monday, July 9, 2012


This morning I decided to nestle a project in between the mindless laundry sorting and the also mindless dish duty.  I pulled our overflowing "Look Book" from the shelf in our sun room and plopped down on the carpet for business.

I had been in the zone of housewifery, and so the concept of sorting and stuffing previously ripped out magazine pages into the binder appeared nothing more exciting or spirit-lifting than tossing one of Thomas's toys back into his room for the one millionth time since he's been born.

And at first it wasn't.  I went about it like I do with most of my housework: moving appendages, responding to Thomas in interim sessions, and thinking on autopilot about what we've got to do today come Hell, high water, or a heat index of 108. But then I ran across those scones I forgot I had so longingly torn from the pages of Southern Living... and the recipe for apple-butter I had requested and had been granted from a co-worker...and that girl's lavender room that I swore to myself I would recreate should I ever be blessed with a sweet little baby Anderson girl.

I thumbed through the binder after mentally crossing off the task of revive Look Book. Brightly colored toss pillows on neutral sitting room furniture.  The perfect pot roast.  A plan for making the most of a small garden  space. The how-to for emergency kits.  Creating an inviting space for guests. Variations on our already white kitchen.  Creative lighting. Backyard sprawling lounges edged by gorgeous greens.

I felt sparks of creativity ignite inside of me, and I felt a tangible sense of gratitude for all things creative Paul and I have found a way to make time for.  Namely, we've cooked a lot. We're great at taking up space side-by-side, and finding some sort of tandem rhythm, even if it is typically me playing sous-chef to his authority.

But when I put the Look Book back in its spot on the shelf, I went right back to work.  Without those little details of laundry, dishes, wiping off the counters, there's just no room for creativity.

Today, there was no hoisting of chandeliers or ripping open of fun packages shipped from Ikea.  I didn't finally decide on a paint color for the laundry room and hightail my creativity-igniting-self over to Sherwin-Williams, slap down my ripped out page from Southern Living, and declare, "I want your Eggshell White. I want it now. And I won't take no for an answer!"

Today, I made appointments to fix the Vue's front windshield [cracked by a suicidal bird over 6 months ago] and the side panel [which chose to jump ship earlier this year on a particularly windy drive I made across the state].  I looked up how to remove a decal from a mailbox properly. I organized my Google Drive.  I walked through Lowe's researching project prices and looks and made decisive mental notes: 1) I know next to nothing about plants 2) That is unacceptable.

The only physical evidence that my creative genius is making things happen in our home is the thirty-nine cent cover I screwed into what was an uncovered electrical outlet in Thomas's room.  I don't know what kind of light that holds to building a tree house big enough to house a sleepover, designing a guest room fit for the Queen of England, or making eight variations of a scone just because, but I'm guessing it's pathetic.  Just as pathetic as it would have been for me to be whipping up a batch of scones while Thomas plays Operation with the gaping hole in his wall.  

Well, that's life.  Sometimes, we get piles of pathetic and sometimes we get crazy freak flags of creativity.  

Tomorrow, I'm planning on getting all pathetic up in this joint for the second day in a row.  I've got a date with that decal, and I'm not going down without a fight.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Quick Takes

Our 4th of July was a turn of events I should really share with you.  For now, I've got this deceiving photo that would make you think that the day was a grand parade of relaxation and joy. In reality, this photo documents the brief moment of the night when we weren't entrenched in what will be referred to as "that one time the Andersons made us do all their prep work for those [insert expletive] tacos."

Just to explain why my sister and I are sporting our Americana gear on the streets of my neighborhood, we all had to take a walk around the block due to the intensity of Independence Day Taco Night 2012. That, and the insides of our home were still cased in smoke from those homemade tortillas.  Our walk was just another way to offer entertainment to my neighbors who are collectively two generations up from us and often worry through their windows when we let our toddler run around nearly naked in the front yard or do things like this, flaunt our American heritage in broad daylight. 

I'm in the thick of a reading frenzy, and I'm not sure how to back myself out of the 12 holds I have on my library account. Unfortunately, I can't keep up this pace when I'm busy whipping up lesson plans and grading student essays, particularly at the beginning of the school year when I make a clean cut from summer.  The 1st week of August I will perform the shortest walk of shame ever. The twenty feet from my car door to the library drop box, with several unread books cradled in my arms, I will mourn and curse the close of summer. 

Here we are in Target. Rather, here is Thomas in Target playing with one of many toys he is allowed to "test" but not take home.  I offer this photo as public evidence that I can sometimes lack creativity as a mom. Case in point, this week alone we've climbed through McDonald's play place [but didn't eat there], visited Barnes & Noble's Thomas the train table [and didn't purchase a book there], and perused the aisles of Target [only to kindly put back the tested toys].  

This morning I met some Catholic moms at a nearby parish for Mass and the Holy Rosary.  While I'm not shy by any means, I'm very introverted, and meeting new people can be so exhausting for me. That exhaustion can also be compounded by factors like the size of the group, intense personalities, and the likelihood of my  toddler ingesting a foreign object while I'm mentally cradling my introverted need to crawl back into my cave home for processing time.  However, this morning wasn't any of those things.  It was wonderful.  

I reorganized my office closet this week. Wait, no. That's completely wrong. Let me start over. --- I organized my office closet this week.  I also took before, during, and after photos to share but have now decided against doing so. Here's the thing.  You could look at the after photo and be really excited for me that I was able to create such a great system, but really you would just walk away horrified with the image burned in your memory of my before photo, a poster child of organizational neglect and abandonment.  

To satisfy your curiosity, yes, I did find random objects in my previously one-hot-mess closet.  Highlights of randomness include: a rogue animal cracker, a coin purse somehow glued shut, two sets of kid paints of which I had not one remnant of remembrance buying, a card I wrote out to a friend a year ago and never sent, a chopstick, and a baby bottle nipple. The coin purse was one of the biggest scores during that project session.  After I cut it open, pennies spilled forth, a coincidental and yet offensively disappointing tip for taking care of business around the house.