Monday, January 19, 2015

Been there, done that, still learning the lessons




This picture, to me, is always the "we hate Ithaca" picture.  It was taken on Cornell's campus, during one of my first visits - a time when Justin was seriously considering leaving
graduate school and I not so subtlety expressed my disappointment at making plans to move to this unfamiliar place to join him.

I definitely didn't see it coming that 5+ years later, 6 months after our move, little tears would well up in my eyes when I logged on to Weather.com and it still defaulted to Ithaca weather and I realized that...Toto, we're not in Ithaca any more.  (Slight consolation that it's a balmy 5 degrees warmer here in Ohio).




The point is, God took a town I hated and a house we refused to look at for the first few months of our house search and turned it into a beloved home.

It's not that I hate it here.  In fact, I think my first 6 months were more positive than my first 6 months in Ithaca.  I've met far more people than I did at this point in Ithaca.

But that doesn't stop the raw emotion of homesickness, missing the familiarity and the comfort and the belonging of being, well, home.

This is, by contrast, my "I love Ithaca" picture:
So much joy being surrounded by my some of my very favorite people in one of my very favorite places.

This is going to be home, especially once we're finished house-sitting and into our own place next summer.  But I'd forgotten what an emotional roller-coaster it is to look for a home.  And now there is more at stake, given that there's no graduation looming in the future to necessitate a move.  This may end up being our "forever" home.  Maybe not, but it might be.  And we're really feeling the "depressed" part of the economically depressed town, where so very many beautiful homes sit calling to our renovator's hearts, but are out of reach because the neighborhoods aren't safe for our girls.

I guess this is just a lot of raw emotion, being dumped here on my unsuspecting readers.  But this is as much journal as it is microphone, and I find myself revisiting my archives often to remember different times on our journey (and drawing strength from them again).

So this week, I'm clinging to the hope that God will always provide - and the memory that He always has.  And not too far in the future, we'll have deep friendships and a beautiful house and laugh that this had ever been anything other than home.

Until then, if you want to say a prayer for us to find a house and to feel peace in the process, I wouldn't mind.  :)

(I hadn't realized until now, but it was just 6 months this week that we arrived!  Time flies!)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

What Would Granny Do?

A few days before Christmas, I sat in my grandmother's living room, listening to her tell stories of her mom.  

"She'd buy a 50 pound bag of flour, and there was a special drawer in the kitchen.  She would make loaves and loaves of bread, just scooping out flour from the drawer until it 'looked right.'  She never used a recipe."

"Joe [her brother] worked down at the A&P down over the hill.  They always wore starched shirts and wanted to look just so.  So he'd wear one shirt in the morning and come home and change at lunch, and then if he went out dancing he'd put on a clean one in the evening.  My mother ironed all those shirts.  She'd dampen them and roll them up  and starch them and iron them."

"If she wasn't working, she was praying."


I began to have a burning desire to want to do an internship with my Granny.  

I want to hang my apron next to hers and tie it on with her in the morning and have the fresh bread baking [sans recipe] and the shirts all ironed and the house sparkling, and I want to chat with her in the evening as our crochet hooks spin yarn into afghans.

(Most relevant picture I could find in my archives.
We'll call it "Apron on Hook,"
although it is fitting that the fabric is from my other great-grandmother.)
(Irrelevant side note, I really, really miss my kitchen.)
Whenever I think about it, I am always amazed by all that she and her generation got done.  I buy our bread and Justin only wears one (non-starched) shirt a day, and yet I'm still floundering many days.  She could run circles around me, not just in efficiency, but I'm sure in quality, too.

Why?  How?

I don't know much about Pappy (other than that he had amazing gardens) but at least stereotypically the husbands of that era were doing less housework and childcare than ours do today.  Chores were harder with many appliances we take for granted not even available, and it was commonplace to do chores and tasks that we've just about written off as a culture.

It really comes down to women capable of doing much more with much less (in terms of modern conveniences, that is).  There is a huge component of their success (and our failure) that comes down simply to discipline, to doing what needs done when it needs done.  And I certainly can work harder and longer and come closer to what Granny could accomplish.

But before I fall into despair at being the first lazy woman in a long line of incredible mothers and homemakers, I stop myself and recognize that we don't live in Granny's era anymore.  There are a few significant differences (besides work ethic) that make our days look so different.

First, travel.  Our generation is constantly on the run, errands here, play dates there.  You can't bake as much bread if you're spending more time in the minivan than the kitchen.  I don't think Granny and Pappy ever owned a car.

Second, isolation.  This creates the necessity for the travel, but it also means that it's more lonely.  And the sense of working alone...which is certainly not motivational.  Granny and Pappy's entire extended families all lived in the same city, and the men and women up and down their street were all doing the same things (working on the railroad, and making bread, respectively).  Except the little bit of time Justin has at the end of his long work days, I'm pretty much at it alone.

Third, acquisition.  We live in a culture of stuff.  We're constantly running off to get it (see, travel) and trying to deal with it once we have it.  Their closets couldn't have been as stuffed as ours, or their piles of things to be put away after Christmas quite so high.  

And, finally, the elephant in the room: technology.  Most of you probably expected that the Internet would be first on the list, and maybe practically speaking it's the biggest time-suck that's preventing me from actually ironing shirts and baking bread.  Many times I've thought that my life might be better if I just threw the computer and the cell phone out the window, thus removing the temptations that are wooing me away from who and what I really want to be.

But in a technologically-centric world, if I do that, I'll throw out the time-wasting...but also the connections and the information and the access.  If I deactivate my Facebook, I might not otherwise hear the news about a good friend's baby due next month.  If I stop checking my email, I might not know that the women in town are getting together on Wednesday evening.  No one will just stop by for a visit as they might have for Granny.  No one will write me a newsy update letter.  No one will stop to chat with me over the fence while we both hang out our laundry, because that "neighbor" commiserating about teething babies or comparing notes on dinner plans is miles or even states away.

Ditching the technology is ditching some of the last threads of connection in a physically and emotionally isolating daily life.  And so we're stuck, beholden to an addicting technology for the sake of maintaining our human relations.

I haven't figured it all out, this relationship with technology, and I guess that's OK.  We're the first generation of mothers to navigate a world of so very, very many screens.  It's actually pretty scary how quickly technology has developed in my short life: I remember my dad's first brick-sized "car phone" that felt so incredibly swanky.

If push came to shove, I probably wouldn't jump in the time machine to go back to Granny's time.  Not to stay, at least, but I certainly would love an afternoon visit!  I'm grateful for the blessings and benefits of our age, like the fact that my firstborn lives in a time that has the antibiotics to keep her alive through the fever that took Granny's at 9 months old.  I had the opportunity to go to college and have a career before I made the choice to stay home with my girls.

But despite my appreciation for our times, I still feel lost in them.  The 'Advice from a Singer Sewing Manual' was circulating on Facebook again today and I felt lonely and sad amidst the "LOL"s and the "Can you believe it"s.  I can't stop the nagging feeling that Granny had some things better.  Her days were longer, her work was harder.  But I sense an authenticity and an accomplishment and a discipline and a culture that we have lost. 

Neither time is perfect, I suppose.  We need to fight to remember what was good of the past to keep it a part of our future.  On the hard days when I face a long list of chores and a hungry family that needs dinner, I recall the stories of one remarkable woman and ask myself, "What Would Granny Do?"  

And I put on my apron and say a prayer.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

12 in 2014 {photo year in review}

As usual, more time away from the blog makes it harder to jump back into it...but thankfully the "12 in 2014" photo link-up at House Unseen is still open for procrastinators like me (and good practice for choosing pictures for the 2014 photo book that is on my January to-do list).

And so I bring you, the 12 pictures that capture the defining moments, the defining characteristics of our family over the course of this (busy) year!


PhD dissertation, academic papers, developing new courses.
Always busy, always loving his girls.


Spunk, enthusiasm, new things every day.
Daily joys of life with a toddler.


Spunk, enthusiasm, new things every day.
Daily challenges of life with a toddler.


Joy, anticipation, lots of pink.
A sister's on her way.


Pride, accomplishment, pomp & circumstance.
Daddy is a Doctor.


Boxes, boxes, boxes.
Preparing to say good-bye.


Empty rooms, lots of tears.
Farewell, beloved home.


The wait is over, a beauty's born.
Welcome, Julie Mae.


Cuddles, snuggles, lots of joy.
Daily life with two.


Matching outfits, sharing smiles.
Loving little sister.


Spunky, happy, smart, and caring.
Toddler Anna Rose.


Smiling, cooing , easy-going.
Baby Julie Mae.




Friday, December 19, 2014

Quick Takes: Edition 9 {the forgotten posts}

For inexplicable reasons, my second most-viewed post ever is the guest post Justin wrote about his fight against the ants in our old kitchen.  I think there must somehow be an errant link out in Internet-world that sends people to the post, and then it's a self-fulfilling prophecy because it keeps showing up on my sidebar in the "popular posts" section and people keep clicking.  I don't think he'd be offended if I said it was just a silly, off-the-cuff paragraph he typed up one evening, and (I hope!) he'd agree that it's not the best thing on the blog - and, at the very least, not representative of the types of things you can typically find around here.

And so, today, I'm going to give a quick run-down on some of the forgotten posts; things I've written that are more representative of the general theme, things I've spent a lot of time on, things I'm proud of....and things I want you to click on (instead of those darn ants!)

(1)
It all started as a renovation diary, and this sentimental post about the process of finding the (physical) former glory of the old house might not mean as much to the average reader, but it means a lot to me.

Remember When?  (June 2011)

(Note: the best concise way to see all of the renovations is in the House Tour tab, above)

(2)
A little theological reflection on how attitude changes everything


(3)
Three part how-to-sew tutorial: not the best you'll find on the Internet, but hopefully a little bit helpful.  The first two parts are probably more helpful than the technical one.


(4)
One of my most (legitimately) popular posts, after the ants: an analysis on the practical reasons why being a stay-at-home-mom can be tough


(5)
A pair of posts featuring a little bit of fashion and a lot of cultural reflection


(6)
My impassioned defense for striving for success as a homemaker & mother


(7)
Observations on how to attain joy (and success) from the example of religious sisters and my (super)mom

Lessons in Joy (October 2013)
Chasing Supermom (September 2014)



What are your thoughts?  Which posts were your favorites?  Should I just turn the blog over permanently to Justin and his extermination theme?  ;)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

{pretty, happy, funny, real} volume 2

Dear cyber friends!  It turns out that I really do enjoy posting here on the ol' blog, and when things get crazy and I don't get time to write, I miss it!  But yes, I've been busy with other things (ahem, Christmas preparations...and laundry and sleep schedules that still aren't 100% back to routine after only 2 nights away for Thanksgiving.  Heaven help me after the 2 weeks of travel that are penciled into our upcoming calendar...)

The best way to recap the time since I've last written (excluding, perhaps, an extensive invoice from Amazon.com) is a photo montage to the theme of {p,h,f,r} (pretty/funny/happy/real).  Enjoy!

{pretty}


(note, we are in fact only on the 3rd week of Advent but all of our candles have been burned because they're still last year's model (frugality for the win!)




We set up our Advent wreath, a paper count-down chain, and our nativity (with empty crib!) on the first Sunday of Advent.  I love feeling the feeling of longing that comes with the season of Advent, and I love the beautiful simplicity of these items before all of the decor of Christmas.

{happy}

I feel strongly about observing Advent, and I love the spiritual depth of the beautiful Advent hymns - ones that I intentionally listen to on repeat before I break out the Joy to the World.  However, I've struggled with the practical aspects of waiting to do all of the preparations until Christmas Eve.  I thought THIS article ("Advent Guilt" on Catholic Icing) was a wonderful reflection and it really helped me to make peace with finding a balance - of celebrating Advent, but also of preparing for Christmas.  A gradual approach feels right this year, beginning with just simple Advent things and slowly adding Christmas decor.  We got our tree this weekend and decorated it tonight.

It's one of life's great joys for me to sit in a darkened room next to a lit tree (which I have the pleasure of doing now).  And I realized that this brings me a reflective peace that I maybe missed last year when our tree didn't go up until Christmas Eve.  It helps to build the anticipation and the excitement for the coming of the joyful holiday and of our Christ.

So: happy for the tree, happy for figuring out the balance that works for our family, happy for toddler squeals of joy, and the fact that we managed this operation without breaking any ornaments (yet) - although we did spill some hot cocoa in the process!




{funny}


It makes me smile to see all the places that the pieces from Anna's play nativity set have turned up :)  The camel watched over her breakfast, St. Joseph accompanied her at bath time the other night, and baby Jesus is tucked in snugly in her doll house.

Incidentally, we've spent so much time reading nativity board books (a few favorites HERE, HERE, and HERE) and talking about it getting ready for Jesus' birthday (a VERY exciting idea for a birthday loving toddler) that more than a few good-meaning strangers who have asked Anna while we're out and about if she's ready for Santa Claus have been meant by blank stares (although, today she did tell the pediatrician "not yet" in response).

{real}

I've shared only my favorite 7 of the more than 250 pictures in my December file, and so it seems fair to also show things that are a bit more...representative...of daily life around here:


(Behold, the power of cropped photos for making it appear that you have things put together!)


Spoiler alert, the Christmas card will not feature Christmas jammies, since that photo shoot produced only out-takes...including this one, which makes me laugh out loud every time I see Anna's face.



The {real} story is that despite trying to keep things simple, the addition of Christmas preparations has turned my day-to-day from being mostly under control to feeling a little crazy.  I've also found that this sentimental season has been rough for me emotionally as I think about my Grandpa and our first Christmas without him.  And I also have to say that although we're so thankful for the opportunity to house-sit this year, this season especially sends a little (or big!) twinge of homesickness for my sweet little house (and how much I loved to decorate it for the holidays!) and all of the places and people we left behind with this year's move (and the family and friends in our hometowns who are still too far away despite the move that we had hoped might bring us geographically closer).

A friend reassured me tonight that it's never too late to still claim postpartum hormones for the emotional roller-coaster of motherhood ;)  A little bittersweet in some ways, I suppose...but I'm glad for the chance to reflect on all the pretty, happy, funny that still weaves its way through the days.

Happy Advent, and a Merry Christmas in case I don't find my way back to the keyboard between now and then!

linking up with Like Mother Like Daughter for {p,h,f,r}

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Homemaker's Blessings {Guest Post by Mandy from This M Word}

I don't know about you, but I'm currently getting back into the swing of things after our Thanksgiving travels and playing that mental tug of war: "Ahh, so many projects to make/gifts to buy/things to do for Christmas!"  "Calm.  Advent.  Quiet.  Peaceful."  "Must. do. all. the. things." "Quiet.  Slow down."  And so while I wrestle with my to-do list (and my inability to do as many things as I dream), I have a lovely guest post to share with you today!

Joe & Mandy were good friends of ours in New York, and just as we were packing up to move, they too were preparing for a move - theirs across town to a new (to them) fixer-upper house.  Being the renovation-lover that I am, I was disappointed to not be there and able to see the transformation first-hand.  I asked her if she wanted to do a guest post (thinking perhaps that would be a way for me to see pictures of their newly completed - and amazing! - kitchen re-do), and she agreed.  However, instead of just before-and-after photos, she sent me this lovely post about the blessings in everyday life as a homemaker.  I hope you enjoy it!  Please visit her at her blog This M Word  (and you can see the kitchen pictures there...did I mention it's an incredible transformation?)

And so without further ado, here's Mandy:



I've found myself reflecting quite a bit since the renovations have died down and the everyday litany of things that make up a life start to be the focus in my world once again. Renovating a house built in the 1890's is for sure a nice distraction at times from laundry, cooking, cleaning, and teaching, but I have to admit I started to really miss taking care of my family. It is not something I'd recommend doing all the time, renovating an old home, but it puts into perspective the many many blessings that have been imparted on this family.

Early on in my journey as a mother I struggled to keep my household going, and keeping it to the standards that society has set down. In my mind, as a new mother, it was very important to establish a clean and functioning house with dinners at a specific time, laundry done, folded and put away, in a word, perfect. I drove myself a little crazy trying to do things a certain way, and ensuring all the chores were done by the end of the day for an evening of relaxing. To be sure, Joe must have thought I lost my mind, watching me move furniture, fold clothes a certain way and a myriad of other tasks I had set for myself. In retrospect, I realize all the lessons that were being taught to me in those moments. These little blessings in the mundane that I had hardly the time for and now, after two children, a diagnosis for my son and daily prayers I can see what these blessings are in my life and for this family.

For roughly a year I worked hard to create the perfect home, or what society showed us to be perfect. I had fallen into this trap, and willingly went along but never felt satisfied or complete. Something was missing and I couldn't put a finger on it so I started to pray. I prayed to God to speak to my heart, and I asked Mary to intercede on my behalf for wisdom and understanding. Another year passed and not much changed in my mind, and understanding did not come easily. It wasn't until we moved, and lived outside of our house in utter chaos, that finally in my prayers, understanding and awareness took place. Yep, you read that right, in the midst of chaos, kids going to bed as late as 11 pm or refusing to sleep at all, scattered or lost clothing, switching off nights to work on the house, meals from mcdonalds every day (sadly every day)....understanding and awareness took place.
It's hard to find blessings in the mundane. After all, the mundane is by definition dull, but this is where I found my biggest lessons from God and through those lessons, blessings. These mundane tasks range from doing laundry for the 5th time in a day, to scrubbing poop off of the wood floors, and taking the kids out on my husband's day off just so he can have some peace. These lessons have taught me service with a loving heart, and sacrifice. As I began the monumental task of righting our family's ship and setting a routine. Cleaning a cluttered and not fully completed home, cooking out of a bathroom with two little kids for over a month, while school started and renovations continued was no small feat. I prayed a lot to God in those moments and it eventually occurred to me that those moments were chances to choose right, a lovingly placed lesson by God to teach me and grow me into the human being I was meant to be. Chances to teach me to do these tasks gladly, because they helped my family, they taught my children love and responsibility and no where was there this expectation to be perfect. These were my blessings.
A Blessing: nevertheless, like a sacrament, a sacramental helps the faithful to sanctify each moment of life and to live in the paschal mystery of our Lord. 
As I began to realize these little moments for what they were, I started to wonder what Blessings were, by definition. I had never had such a rich and intellectually deep resource to search in before I became Catholic. So naturally I decided to see what the Church said on such matters. A fantastic explanation in full can be found here, but what truly stuck with me was this phrase "Nevertheless, like a sacrament, a sacramental helps the faithful to sanctify each moment of life and to live in the paschal mystery of our Lord." It called to me and said "Yes! See, even the mundane tasks can be filled with little blessings, little lessons and ways to live for God!"
Blessings come under the category of sacramentals. A sacramental is a special prayer, action or object which, through the prayers of the Church, prepares a person to receive grace and to better cooperate with it.
I have no doubt that these lessons I have become aware of are little blessings in my everyday tasks that have helped me to sanctify even the most mundane of moments, and in turn glorify God. I can't say I am perfect in this but I'm not supposed to be. Unlike society's imposing charade of perfection which weighed me down and proved me a failure, God's true perfection has elevated everyday tasks as a chance for sanctifying, loving and being simply human.

I can't say I would prefer it any different. Would you?

---

Thanks, Mandy!

If you're a new visitor to my blog from Mandy's, welcome!  I write about the challenges and joys of making a home, the frustrations (and blessings!) of life as a young mother, and our efforts to reclaim good, old-fashioned traditions.  (Oh, and you can see our own kitchen renovation here!)

Monday, December 1, 2014

Public Service Announcements

Well, hello there!  I hope you had a fabulous Thanksgiving :)  We had a great visit with my extended family (and survived the first multi-pack-n-play trip, although my resulting sleep deprivation probably made any blog-reading relatives wonder if I could possibly be the same person who writes anything related to seeking success).

Anyway, since having a blog is sort of like having free access to a microphone, today I'm going to make a bunch of public service announcements, or at least ramble about a bunch of things that I think you should know.

(1)

Did you know that there are physical therapists who specialize in women's health?  (Aka, making your body work again after pregnancies?)  I've complained enough before for you to realize that pregnancy was not exactly friendly on my body, and I have abdominal muscles that are no longer attached where they're supposed to be or working how they're supposed to be (or, I've learned..at all).  After Anna's birth, my doctor told me that I'd need to have it surgically fixed "after my childbearing years," but didn't really mention that it would significantly alter my body mechanics or lead to a very painful second pregnancy.  This time around, no one mentioned physical therapy as a possibility, either, until I did some serious Googling in response to my rising panic of the thought of future pregnancies.  And now I've been going to physical therapy once a week, and I find it amazing that this resource is available but so secret!  So, ladies, talk to your doctor (anybody else feel like this is a pharmaceutical commercial yet?)  

(2)


Making comments about how to parent is the sort of thing that can get you virtually lynched on the Internet, but I'll go out on a limb and say: please consider the facts about infant sleep!  (My mom is a safe sleep instructor for a pregnancy center, so I've heard lots and lots about this....and I saw this press release today on Facebook, which encouraged me to share it).  It's easy to say that babies have survived for centuries with blankets...which is mostly true...except for the terrible, tragic (and, sadly - very real) cases where they haven't.

(3)

While I'm opening all sorts of cans of worms, I might as well tell you that I recently learned about NaPro Technology, and I'm just amazed by all of the things that they can do for women's health - naturally.  The fact that the success rate for couples with infertility is significantly higher than IVF should command your attention, regardless of your opinion of the Catholic Church's moral stance on reproductive-related issues.  It's worth knowing that this technology (I think that's a funny word, since it's really just scientific understanding, not really a technology, per say) exists - whether for yourself or for someone else you know (and it can offer far more than just help with infertility).  So add that to your "check it out" list.

On to lighter topics:
(4)






With Christmas shopping in full-swing, please tell me that you use ebates to get a percentage of your purchase price back in cash.  If you aren't already signed up, please stop reading this and go take care of that (and then come back!  ;) )

If you sign-up via my link, I'll get a little bonus, too.  Win-win!  But -  I swear this is not a pyramid scheme.  It's a legitimate way to get a check in the mail for online shopping you were already going to do!

(5)

And finally, if you are a major retailer, I'd like to let you know that today is the first day of December.  I know you were all excited about Christmas six weeks ago, but some of us were still looking to buy some fall-themed muffin papers, oh you know, a few days before Thanksgiving.

Seriously, though, we can complain all we like about holiday stuff being put out earlier and earlier every year, but it warrants more than just the I'm-wearing-shorts-and-there's-a-snowglobe-already eye roll when stores replace the current season's items with the next.  For example, last year on New Year's Eve, I went to the store for some noise makers...and found a Valentine's Day display instead.  I'm certain that more people will impulse-buy party hats than heart-shaped chocolates on December 31.  Likewise, I was looking for fall muffin papers a week or two before Thanksgiving, and couldn't find any, although there were 4 or 5 red and green options.  Seriously?!

This rant is fueled by my business degree - I honestly can't understand how it makes sense financially for the stores to be so far ahead.  I mean, I ended up buying the 99 cent plain Jane muffin papers, but would have probably paid a mark-up of 3 or 4 times that for the pretty fall ones (and when I mentioned this complaint to my mom, she said she did the exact same thing).  I'd love to see an analysis of their seasonal sales and see if it's actually profitable to have Christmas stuff out so early.  I've never met someone happy to see Santa on the shelves in August - but I guess someone must be buying it, huh?  



That's all I've got tonight, folks.  4 "hey you should know this" public service announcements, and one complaint disguised as a helpful hint for retailers.  I'll be back either tomorrow or Wednesday with a guest post from a friend, so c'mon back if I haven't angered you too much with my baby-sleeping and family-planning links ;)


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