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Organizing!

Lately I’ve been keeping busier-than-normal with a little side reseller/organizing business.  And sometimes I just lend an organizing hand to a friend because it’s more fun to clean someone else’s house!

I like reading about organizing, so most of what I do is stuff I picked up from books and blogs and I can’t claim to be the one who thought any of this up.  The Don Aslett books are great, and I really love the various homemaking posts over at Like Mother Like Daughters and if you haven’t read her blog and you are like me pulling my hair out trying to have something approaching home management with small people underfoot, do yourself a favor one night: grab a glass of wine and enjoy yourself some reading by a veteran mom.  None of that Martha Stewart stuff over there, just good sense.

Anyhow, this post is actually for someone specific, but it’s way easier to do a post and email it than it is to show photos on a phone while we are packing and our combined ten kids try to build their Lego masterpiece under our feet.

Disclaimer: My husband can be my witness: I do not have it together in every area of the house.  I just don’t. Our own bedroom is particularly bad because I have a rule: things that come in my house go in their home.  But sometimes they don’t have homes yet.  Then they go in The Pile and once every couple months when the pile starts encroaching into actual living space (it lives in a corner of my bedroom that might someday again be devoted to my embroidery… hopefully while I can still actually see) then I freak out on everyone and lock myself away to deal with it.  And usually not in an saintly, Orthodox Christian way befitting a priest’s wife, but in a rather less pleasant way that involves me bellowing at small people to go play while simultaneously blocking my bedroom door with my business inventory so I can actually work.

BUT!  My kitchen?  I got this.  Probably because I spend 50% of my day in there.  I have bad days, and if I sit down after dinner and relax before I finish putting things up… they’ll be there in the morning.  But I have a good system, and that means it’s easy to get back on track. A warning. This is probably massively boring to anyone not obsessing over where to put things in their new home.  And maybe to them too!

So here’s how I set things up.  It works for me. It may not work for you.  We’re a family of five who often have house guests.

First the food. Because you can’t cook what you don’t know you have.

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I’m not running down and taking a better photo.

My fridge has zones.  There is actually also usually 1-4 glass gallon jars of raw milk in there, but I haven’t picked up my cow share this week yet.  Veggies in drawers.  Roots on the right, and miscellany in the left.  (The potatoes aren’t always in there, but I lost my pantry to our pending mold remediation. :p)  Bottom shelf is for wine and various flat breads/tortillas and the salad I clean and store in a tupperware for the coming week.  Main shelf holds the milk, the massive kimchi container and leftovers (which have dates.) Drawer holds cheese. Top shelf, left to right: eggs, fermented dairy, veggie ferments.  I stick with my zones; I eat my food.  I let things just get shoved in there; I end up tossing out stuff, giving up, and ordering Chinese takeout.

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The door has zones too.  The butter compartment hold… wait for it… butter.  The top shelf holds yeasts, jams, and meds/vitamins and my husband’s cold water.  The second shelf holds condiments.  The bottom shelf holds my Korean pepper paste, my tahini, and whatever overflow from the second shelf.

Also, I have a deep freezer, so I can put bulk-bought frozen goods elsewhere.  Everything in the freezer upstairs is for snackage, frozen spices, or frozen items for the next week or so. And because we buy our meat bulk-frozen, I rarely store it in the fridge.  It almost always comes out of the basement freezer and out to the counter.

I go through my fridge the morning before I head to get my milk, because otherwise I’m lugging in my milk, my veggies (because I buy them nearby that day too), my eggs, and my kids into my house and THEN having to clean my fridge so I can fit four gallon jars in there.  But the upside of that is if things have turned, I can toss them, and if they are close to turning, I make sure we eat them.

Also, I never, ever, ever let small people touch the food without express, one-time, permission.  There’s no good reason I can see that a small person who just ate less than two hours ago needs to get in there and mess things up.  I have a Please-Ask Basket for that.

Behold: the Please-Ask Basket.

Behold: the Please-Ask Basket.

My friend who told me to do this doesn’t even do this herself anymore! But it was genius.  Always in the basket: peanut and cashew butter.  Because even if there is NOTHING else to eat, a hungry kid can eat a spoonful of nut butter!  Fortunately for them, there’s usually other stuff in there too.  Anything I find in my cupboards that is still good food, but *I* don’t want to eat it, goes in there.  Right now: a bag of taco shells that I dropped and broke, a banana, a bag of leftover fried wontons from a takeout night, a bag of mixed nuts, and a jar of toasted pumpkin seeds. Occasionally I’ll feel like making muffins or some such and they’ll end up in there too, if there’s any left from breakfast. So you *can* stock it intentionally, but I’m trying to encourage them to eat a lot of the good food I make at meals.  So better if the grazing is not all that appetizing.

If the kids seem hungry, I tell my oldest to go make them a snack out of the basket.  This is because she’s now moderately able to identify what they need and provide it safely, and she’s not going to make a mess. And when she does, she knows I’m going to make her clean it up. So she cleans it up.  This requires a sort of low-level vigilance, but is totally worth it in my opinion to not have to clean my floor twelve times a day.

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And since we’re there, next to it is the only space in my kitchen I have to cook on.  I have three containers of rice, a mixer, and a food processor that live there too, and occasionally an overnight ferment.

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That’s Great Northern beans soaking under black beans soaking under pumpkin seeds getting brined.  The plates make the bowls nice and stackable and off my four square feet of counter.

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I keep all the things that go to my machines in the bowls.  When I want to use a machine, I pull them out and put them in the Please Ask Basket until I’m done, and then they go back in.  I never have to hunt for the right attachment that way.

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Underneath my workspace is a Lazy Susan.  I have never been a fan of them as pantry, but I do like them for storables.  Which brings me to another rule I have about my stuff: if I have to use more than three motions to obtain an item, it’s in the wrong place.  That means: (1) open the cabinet, (2) lift an item with one hand, (3) grab the thing I need.  Max.  More than that, time to rearrange.  I know myself.  I know that if I open a cupboard to bake muffins, but I have to pull out eight things to get to my pan (and I’ll have to pull them out AGAIN to put it back!!), I’m going to say to myself, “Um. no. How about I don’t.”  That meant I had to part with some stuff.  And I continually part with stuff to make room for newer, more useful-to-me stuff.

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Next to the Lazy Susan is my miscellany cleaning cupboard.  I keep all the little things in a souffle dish that I never used and now when I need something I just pull it out and grab what I need.  This is a deep cupboard, so behind the stuff I use all the time, I keep things like tallow for soapmaking that I use much less frequently.  Because I might could convince myself to pull things out once a year.

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The cupboard on the other side holds my pots, my lids. I don’t have very many, because I only have three working burners and one oven.  How many could I possibly need?  If I clean a pot before I use it for the next thing… not many.  Which leaves room in there for me to also keep a few extra take-out containers.  I only keep enough to provide three meals, so when a call goes out at the parish or what have you for someone to make a person dinner, I don’t have to worry about getting my pans back.  I keep a few above the range as well, the smaller ones that I use several times a day for bits of cooking.

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Above my workspace is a cabinet that I keep my mason-storage jars in and things that I use for my mason jar storage like the funnels and lids.  The stuff on the right of the cupboard I only use once or twice a year.  Which is why I shoved it back there.  I knew I’d never want to pull it out!  The top shelf is more things I almost never use.  I am not tall enough to reach it, and I’m not pulling over a stool.

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Next to that is a cupboard that holds our regular dishes.  The top shelf again holds things I rarely use: bulk spices not yet in use, and various other rarities. This cupboard is two steps from my dishwasher, because I don’t need to go all over carrying dishes. I was very conscious of giving plenty of room and things have a place; it is very easy for my daughter to put away the dishes, though that’s not a regular chore for her yet.

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Under that cupboard is a large divided drawer that looks like it is a gigantic mess, but is actually organized well.  I only use the stuff in the left compartment a handful of times a year.  Except the grater on top.  Which means the grater is not really in the way. The middle stuff is kabob skewers, spatulas, a potato masher, and my basters.  The right compartment holds all the other tools I use.  And I use everything in that compartment.  If I notice I’m not using a tool, I give it away.  No need to wade through fifteen serving spoons.  I just need three.

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Speaking of drawers, this one is under the range.  Everything in here I use, and often.  Everything fits my three motion rule.  And things are kept in order by the baskets, which I got at a yard sale for 10 cents each.

2014-11-19 11.26.27This is the other range drawer, and same thing.  I have my muffin and prosphera stuff in here.  Also my sauerkraut mallet and spoon rests.

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This is my silverware draw.  I’m actually looking for another basket for the back, but haven’t found one thrifting yet.  I don’t even want to put anything in it, but it’ll keep the tray from sliding around in there.  I used to have a motley assortment of silverware, but I inherited a set from my mother-in-law.  So now it’s all matchy!  If I had known how awesomely matchy silverware fits in a tray, I would have bought a set years ago!!

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More drawers. Under the silverware is a bread drawer, that I keep flour in.  I actually hate this drawer, because it makes me violate my rule every time.  You have to slide the metal lid back.  But I lost my pantry so I have to suck it up and use it until we finish the remediation.  pbblt I say!

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Bottom draw holds linens.  Pot holders in the back, hand towels in the middle, dish towels in the front, and dish rags down the side.  I put them in here so that even the smallest people can clean up a mess.

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Above that set of drawers is a square foot or so of counter where I keep cooking utensils in a canister, my knife block, and cooking oil, and then above that is my spice cupboard.  We are adventurous eaters who are enthusiastic about trying our hands at international cooking, so I have a lot of spices.  I date each and every one when I open it. And I keep them in baskets so that I can follow my rule. Open the cupboard. Pull out a basket. Grab my spice.  Bottom shelf: a basket for A-L, and one for M-Z, plus salt, pepper, and Real Pepper.  Under the M-Z I keep an Indian spice container, but I admit I don’t use it often.  I’m thinking of re-purposing it.  The middle shelf: one for Very Useful Things, which include two spices I use in almost every meal (allspice and cinnamon).  The one on the right has lesser used things like broth herbs and condiments.  The top shelf holds extra salt and some things I rarely use, and a basket of dried hot peppers.

This cupboard in particular needs to be organized.  I do NOT want to hunt for a spice.  I do still have to hunt a bit, but because I can pull the whole basket out, it’s not bad.  I can’t remember who told me about using baskets to make “drawers” but they were brilliant!

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This is my drink station. We like to drink coffee, and we like to have people over to drink with us.  Some of them want tea, so I stock a small selection of things.  I don’t go crazy, and I keep everything I need except the cream in this cupboard, including a jar of small spoons.  If you want to make yourself a drink at my house, you don’t need to ask me where things are.  You just open the cupboard.

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My pantry is always changing.  I recently had to revamp this one, because I lost an entire closet!  We’re making due. I put nuts and dried fruit in that pink basket.  Those little bags just get everywhere and make things messy!  Corral them, I say!

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Under that is another pantry, which also holds the plastic bags.

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The rest of my pantry is now in my Zombie Maker room for the present, so I hauled a bookshelf up from the basement (guess where all those books are? not organized, I’ll just say.)  I shop at a discount salvage store, so most of what’s on here is either from there, or from my semiannual Korean market runs.  I don’t buy food I don’t eat, I don’t care how interesting it looks.  When I do get something that wasn’t what I expected, and I don’t like it, I donate it to the local food bank. (This is easy, because my church has an ongoing collection box.)  Someone else might like it, and then I won’t be throwing it out five years from now because I didn’t eat it.  (And this was a lesson that took me half of my marriage to learn!  But I learned it.)

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There are a couple cupboards left.  I don’t use the one above the fridge to store much.  Most of what’s in there I use LESS than once a year.  And I have stuff stuck up on the fridge now until I get my pantry back.  This above photo is of the weird cupboard above my oven.  It’s not where I want it yet.  This means the I only use the top three things: the tray, the cookie sheet, and the broiler pan.  All the stuff underneath? Nope.  So I need to tweak the system.  I also got rid of a deep fryer that lived where my new-to-me oat groater now resides.  Freshly ground oats!  Yay!  I can fry my potatoes in a pan to have an oat groater!

So that’s what I do, my friend.  I don’t have seven kids, and the kids I have I am a crazy tyrant about them touching stuff in my kitchen.  That’s why it stays organized. It’s not magic, and it’s not because I’m working hard. I’m super lazy in the kitchen actually.

I do let the kids work with me occasionally, but more like Jonathan Toomey style: sit down, don’t touch anything unless I say to, and be quiet so I can think.  Mine are all still small, so this is a simple decision for me.  If I had teenagers, I’d have started putting them to work.  I do make my daughter do jobs I know she can handle… and I stand there and make her do them over if she cuts corners.  I’m hoping the upfront work cuts down on having to tie up loose ends later. There’s also a frugal element to it: I can’t have them wasting food.  We can’t afford to throw money in the garbage can because we don’t have our act together in the kitchen.

Maybe that helps? Maybe my new readers have are all rethinking signing up for my feed?  My kitchen is the way it is because I constantly ask myself: where do I use this item? How often?  How can I fit all the things I need to have in the space I’ve been given without having to do more than three motions?

If this doesn’t help, let me know and I’ll come unpack your kitchen after you move in. ;)

Children’s Church

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For us Orthodox, there’s no such thing.  It’s all their church, and the rest of us are there hoping to become a little more like them:

Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said,“Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:2-6)

 I mean, when the Son of God tells me that I would be better off tying a big rock to my neck and throwing myself into the river than helping a child turn away from God’s will for them, I take that very seriously.

Every time I fail to get them to Vespers or a weeknight Liturgy, I know that I am not doing my job as their mother.  They need to go.  Yes, I spend 35 of the 45 minute service in the narthex between the three kids.  I’m “praying with my feet” as Mat. Anna says.  Yes, it is frustrating to miss my favorite hymns almost every time I go.  Yes, my children’s behavior completely mortifies me, and yes, I’m probably not the parent I should be.  If there ever was a time when all parents knew how kids should be raised (and I have my doubts on that!), it is certainly not now. If I took everyone’s advice on what to do about squirrely kids in church, my pew would be covered in markers, a Matchbox car would take out an acolyte (we sit up front), a hundred beads would suddenly burst from a bracelet and go bouncing all over the nave, and someone would probably end up reporting me to CYS.  So I do the best I know how, and that’s to remove them with frequency when they lose their self-control.

At St. Paul’s we have a lot of kids.  A lot of not quiet kids.  I’d say most people in the parish don’t even notice when a mother has to carry out a four year old literally kicking and screaming, though.  And really, self control is one of the hardest things we learn in life.  Most people don’t even have it as adults.  I may not roll around on the floor screaming when I’m tired, but I have a much harder time controlling things like not eating the creme brulee or putting off the latest episode of Running Man so I can make breakfast. Some people have a hard time controlling their desire to judge others, or to keep their thoughts clean, and even much worse things.

Someone else’s kid struggling to control their small desires and emotions doesn’t bother me all that much… until it’s my own kid.  Then it’s hard.  It’s hard because we want them to listen and love the church the way we do and they don’t seem to be able to do that for sixty consecutive minutes.  It can all be very discouraging.

I love this, but rarely does it reflect my own reality!

I love this, but rarely does it reflect my own reality!

I think it does go in cycles though.  The newborn stage can either be a breeze, or impossible, depending on the baby’s temperament and how much sibling wrangling I have to do solo. (I’m of the opinion that if you have an adult partner you should thank God for the tag-team privilege.)  The stage between when they begin walking and when they understand the word “no” is awfully rough: how can I be upset with them when they don’t even understand what they should do yet?  So I carry them out and look at some icons until they are quiet and I bring them back in and try again. Rinse. Repeat. Yes, for the entire service.  And again, if there are siblings that can’t sit by themselves… they march out with me too.  But that also passes into something slightly more manageable.

Two and three year olds understand “no”; in theory, behavior expectations can be communicated.  In practice though, they haven’t achieved very much in the way of self control.  If something isn’t quite right with them or I’m not paying attention to the clues, my children will meltdown, and once their emotions have gone there I just have to drag them out (kicking and screaming, hopefully not during the homily – or worse, the Great Entrance when the escape route is blocked off!) and let them get a hold of themselves.

I say all that, because of what I’m about to say, so that you all know that I completely understand that asking a mother to add all that to a day that was probably full of over-clogged toilets, brothers slugging each other, running people all over town for various activities, trying to get three meals into people and hoping some of them didn’t come from a drive through or freezer, working to pay for all of those many things, and maybe throwing a load of laundry in because otherwise someone in the house will be out of socks can seem like asking too much. I know, because sometimes I feel like I’m asking too much of myself.  But we have to do it anyways.

I read a post somewhere recently… FB, Pinterest, I don’t remember… that said when things were hard, you need one word to keep going: nevertheless.  “I’m tired.  Nevertheless, I’m putting these kids into the car and driving to church.”  “I really just want a quiet Sunday morning. It was a crazy week. Nevertheless, I am going to church because I know my children need to get to know that worshiping God is more important than all these other things we’d like to do.” “Last time my kids had a meltdown, someone gave all of us the stink-eye. Nevertheless, I’m going to bring my assorted chaos to a weeknight service.”  That phrase has armed me with a way to bridge my fatigue with my will.

You can get these vinyl wall quotes from my friend Laura at her store LettuceLiftUp on Etsy.com.  She takes custom orders!

You can get these vinyl wall quotes from my friend Laura at her store LettuceLiftUp on Etsy.com. She takes custom orders!

And no, a segregated children’s service is not the answer.  Was it the answer for drinking fountains and bathrooms last century?  You think that kind of nonsense is going to work out better when it’s adults vs. children? Give them some lesser, condescending, Veggie-Tale-coated version of church?  At best, you are training them for something completely different from what you experience. At worst, you are communicating that they aren’t welcome in the real church.  I know not everyone will agree with me there, but I firmly believe this, and I’m glad the Orthodox Church sees even their tiniest baptized members as equal to even the longest standing members of the church community.

We need to go to church frequently so that the Scriptures write themselves on our hearts, and we need to bring our children.  When I think about saying something, my mind is singing “incline not my heart to evil words; to make excuses in sin. With men that work iniquity: and I will not communicate with the choicest of them.” I mean, the whole of Psalm 141 is embedded right in there.  I didn’t sit down and memorize it.  I got it through the osmosis of frequent services.  My children don’t appear to be listening… but at home I’ll catch them singing a phrase here and there from Liturgy or Vespers.  If I have to drag them to a year of Vespers services just to have them remember

29Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:

30For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,

31Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;

32A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

… well, I think that’s worth the aggravation.  We have to take the long view when it comes to raising up saints.  I’m saying this as someone who doesn’t always do what I know I should.  That’s the life of a Christian though. Fall flat on my face, get up, and drag my tastous back on the path.

I’m grateful for the people at St. Paul’s that make that easier, whether it’s an encouraging word to a tired mom that “Nooooo, I didn’t even notice when your son chucked that car at the subdeacon and had to be dragged out during the Gospel reading”, a teenager who volunteers to feed a toddler a pastry during coffee hour, or a veteran mother who lets a four year old play with her fancy ring. So if you have been one of those people, whether in my parish or your own, God bless you for doing your part to make church a place a mother can feed her weary soul.  And if you’re one of those tired, busy moms, bring your kids.  They need it. You need it.  And everyone else in the parish needs you all. A church without children is a church that watches as its death marches inexorably towards it.

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This is an owl at the disco. I kid you not.

If you’ve been reading this space lately, it’s probably clear that it’s been a rough year.  I like having things just so, and almost nothing is “just so” these days.  My daughter has not been doing a classical or Charlotte Mason or even insipid Common Core curriculum.  She’s been doing workbooks and lots of documentaries and books on tape.  We’re trying to get things back on track, but it’s gonna take time.

Meanwhile, I find myself unschooling by accident.  And for my daughter, that’s working out better than I thought.

She has always liked making things.  This year she realized that adults don’t like the things she made out of those disposable craft kits for kids.  So she started asking for nicer supplies.  She really enjoys making beaded bracelets, so when she asked to move beyond pony beads, I took her to Jo-Ann’s and she bought (with her own money) some strands of beads and plastic elastic cording.  She set to work and made a few really cute bracelets, and I offered to open her an Etsy store.  And it ended up being one of the most educational things we’ve ever done with her.

Some of things she’s learned:

-how to make patterns

-lots of family history because Bourys are almost genetically business owners and there are some great inspirational stories to tell

-how to choose color palettes

-how to advertise her merchandise (through her parents’ Facebook profiles, but also by having me “model” bracelets when I go places. I’ve sold a couple right off my wrist.)

-how to pursue outside investment (thanks Taita! She bought her a bunch of beads this past summer to commission a necklace.)

-that promises you make in business can’t be broken without penalties (Sorry Taita! She didn’t like making necklaces.  So now she has to pay back $80.)

-how to research design trends (we went to a local department store and examined similar bracelets to see how they were constructed, what seemed to be popular colors this year, and how much they charged for them.)

-how to sell her merchandise (how you speak to your customer, how to suggestion sell, etc.)

-how to calculate a sale price that ensures a profit.

-what happens when you spend all your profits on chocolate for you and your brothers without considering future business needs (what happens is you go temporarily bankrupt and have to beg for outside investment from Taita. lol.)

-what happens when you decrease the quality of your product (she strung her remaining beads willy-nilly to use them up… and unsurprisingly, didn’t sell that one.)

-what effect your enthusiasm about your product has on a sale (when she’s chipper and upbeat, she has better luck selling than when she’s in a bad mood.)

-really basic arithmetic (addition/subtraction, multiplication, using currency)

-how to organize her workspace to encourage peak creativity (when she just dumps the beads in a box vs. sorting them out so she can clearly see what supplies she has to work with)

-that’s it’s a good idea to put your things away after a crafting session or you lose all your work to the next rampaging sibling

She’s seven, and she’s learning all that.  With all due respect to hard working public and private school teachers, I know she wouldn’t be learning these sorts of critical entrepreneurial skills there. I can already see that there will be lots of lessons in the future.  She hasn’t had to deal with a return yet. She might want to invest in her skills by taking a class or reading some how-to books (which might encourage her to actually want to read I hope). She hasn’t had to file taxes. Eventually, she’ll need to start listing these herself, so: photography, using photo editing software, learning to type and navigate the guidelines of an online host, maybe finding local craft shows to go to.   Lots to learn!

I’m glad we did it, and I hope my other kids find something that they can grab on to like she did.

Regret doesn't build houses.

Does anyone know who painted this? I love it, and want to know more about it.

Every time I take a Myer’s Brigg personality test I am told I am ENFP.  I think such things are limited in their ability to see into a person, but I admit they are a pretty good indicator of strengths and weaknesses.  I have been thinking about it a lot lately though for various reasons.  You know how it is… several small interactions converge into a ball of thought you can’t stop tossing around in your head.

I have been thinking lately then about my own strengths and weaknesses, my reactions to stressors, my attempts to walk this walk of faith despite obstacles… my struggle to discern an obstacle from a part of the path itself.   Sometimes an obstacle is a person… and is that person an obstacle or a companion?  Are they sometimes one or the other?  Are they neither?  Every person is a mystery unto themselves, an unsolvable puzzle. My instinct is to solve puzzles.  You don’t solve people.

Some time ago my husband and I filled out one of those get-to-know-you questionnaires I found somewhere on the web.   Later, he pointed out that the fictional characters I most identify with are the ones who are the most broken when it comes to making connections, or who stand aloof from those around them:  Aviendha, Seven of Nine, Data… the more I thought about it… It’s true.  Odo, Alexandra Bergson, Sam Gribley, Galadriel, Susan Ivanova, Guy Montag, Huckleberry Finn, Beatrice… If I had to say off the cuff why that is, I would simply say that it is because their actions make the most sense to me.  But really… why do they make sense to me?

A puzzle.  If I can’t solve other people… can I solve myself?  Is it possible even in one’s own mind to sift through the ever-changing thoughts and emotions and sort out one’s inner algorithm?  Is that even a good thing to do?  If you solve yourself, do you trap yourself within a cage of consistency?

I am an extremely independent person.  I acknowledge this as as much a weakness as a strength.  If I lost everyone and everything around me today, I’m pretty sure I’d simply take stock and carry on.  What else would there be to do? When I lost my second child, I gave myself a night alone to deal… and I moved on. So I know I can do it. I do have a sense that I would miss things… would miss people… some more than others and some quite a lot.  But I also have this knowledge embedded in the deepest part of me that I would carry on.  I would get up and do what needed to be done.  The reverse is true as well:  if I was called Home, I would go and not unhappily.  When a thing is what it is, after we’ve done all we can to move life in the direction we want… well no other reaction except acceptance makes sense to me.  Take it in. Adapt. Move on.

Relationships don’t really hit me where it hurts.  I enjoy them, I value them, I love being surrounded by friends and family and I even don’t know quite what to do with myself if I’m alone too long… but their absence doesn’t affect me greatly deep inside. I feel like this isn’t quite right, but I don’t really know how to change it. I don’t have the ability to have someone simply update my emotional software à la Data. Will this be something that the life of the Church mends with time?  I know it’s not something I have been able to accomplish on my own.

Have you heard of the Five Love Languages?  My daughter’s is spending time together.  Ask her to do something on her own, something that she is perfectly capable of doing, and it is a huge battle.  Simply do it with her… she will do it joyfully and well.  The change in her is as shocking as Jekyll and Hyde.  This is a real challenge for me as a parent. I don’t often rely on others, and I prefer them not to rely on me.  When I feel like my independence is being encroached upon in any way, whether it is the idea of being socially trapped by a movie theater, physically trapped by highway traffic, or emotionally trapped by relationships, my deep gut reaction is to break free.

Children by their very nature are dependent.  In the beginning, they need everything from you: sustenance, love, protection… they even sometimes need to steal your sleep as you pace the floor for hours holding them so they can rest at 2 a.m.  It’s an icy cold bucket of water to throw on a person, that first few months of becoming a mother.  I see others around me who embrace the change, who truly enjoy getting down on the carpet to play with a toddler.  For me, it has always been a struggle.  I’m not one to shirk obligations though, so I am facing the challenges the best I know how.  I feel a lot of the time that my best isn’t quite good enough though, and I just hope the space between what I am for them and what I pray to be will be somehow bridged by the Grace of God.

Occasional Hermit

Still my best friend, 20+ moves later.

Still my best friend, 20+ moves later.

Fr. John Oliver once published a song on a CD of Orthodox artists, the Cross Culture Project. It is a beautiful song about wandering and the decision to stay and make a life.  (And made it worth buying the whole CD, in my opinion. This from someone who doesn’t pay for music pretty much ever.)  The song spoke to me, because that’s how I’ve lived most of my life; every few years I pack up my stuff and leave almost everyone behind.  Since I’ve had children, the wanderlust has actually increased… and at the same time, so did my strong sense that I should provide more stability for my children.  When I pick up and move, I don’t look back much.  You’ll run into a tree or something walking around that way.  I have kept up with a handful of folks over the years though; and I think if you told me who I’d still be talking to years later, I wouldn’t have believed you.

We did so much together: violin, gymnastics, piano, Bible study, pilfering the neighbor's mangos...

We did so much together: violin, gymnastics, piano, Bible study, pilfering the neighbor’s mangos…

Last night I opened my email to find a short, but enthusiastic, all-caps note from an old friend from several moves ago (6? 7?) saying that something he had been searching for for as long as I’ve known him may have been found.  I don’t call this friend often. I don’t even message him hardly at all.  But I immediately picked up the phone and called him.  Was it like we’ve just hung out at the Bojangles on Western Blvd. yesterday?  No. We haven’t shared much of our mundane daily events with each other in the last ten years.  What struck me though, was that this was a person who was still my friend.

Some people got left behind.

Some people got left behind.

The conversation was mostly not about me.  I called to see about him and that’s what we talked about.  He did ask me at one point though, “how are things going?” My answer was the stream-0f-consciousness babble that I talk in.  I’m trying to become more of planner.  I’m trying to get it together, so I can be less annoying to the Germanic, time-obsessed people around me.  He stopped me and essentially said, “Whatchu worryin about? You just throw it all together at the last minute like you’re the master of, and it’ll turn out great.” The anxiety I had about all of the things I need to do just melted away.  I thought, he’s right!  I am the master of the impulsive, aren’t I?  When I plan, it doesn’t usually end up that great.  But the most successful things I’ve done I just jumped up and did in a whirlwind.  It is okay to just be me.

Some people survive the friends purge.  Like this guy.  Which is a mild miracle, considering.

Some people survive the friends purge. Like this guy. Which is a mild miracle, considering. In case you are wondering, if I make that face, it’s because wherever I am is incredibly awkward.  That’s my “I have to be here, but dang is this weird” face.  If I’m at something and I’m making this face, please let me go home.

In one passing sentence, he soothed a wound he probably didn’t even know I had.  A friend looks at you and sees you the way you are. And what lots of people would tell you are imperfections?  They’ll see them as your strengths, as something that makes you you.  The people who in my heart I call friends (not just the people who I am friendly with) are all people who accept the whole, slightly crazy, Nicole package and love me for it, not despite it.  I need that.  We need North stars among the people we know.  If I just look over once in a while, I can get my bearings and keep on going.

I only remember the names of two people in this photo.  How does that happen?

I only remember the names of two people in this photo. How does that happen?

I’ve left behind some people over the years. I’ve often felt bad about it: all the time and tears for relationships that died. More and more I find myself only wanting to sustain relationships with people whose presence lifts me up.  I’m not talking flattery, but someone who sees what’s going on with me and is okay with all of it. Someone whose presence encourages me without them even knowing it.  Out of the hundreds of people I could friend on social media, there are less than ten I would say are people who I would be totally myself around.  Everyone else requires a filter.  And filtering is an exhausting thing for me. Lately, I’ve found myself wanting to spend my non-mommy time alone, or with those few people. Filter-friends aren’t bad, but I’m just tired.

My confessor told me yesterday that part of what I should do when I’m feeling this way is to steel myself.  Get up and tell myself I’m going to make through the day’s fatigue, and grab moments driving in the car or doing the dishes to say a prayer and let myself lean on God a little.  Let God hear what I’ve been filtering and let the rest go.  I know I need to do that more.  I’m thankful though, to have a few people around who love me the way God loves me.  They are gifts that I cherish.

On Friendship
 Kahlil Gibran

Your friend is your needs answered.
He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.

When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the “nay” in your own mind, nor do you withhold the “ay.”
And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;
For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.
When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.

And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.

I sure hope you all have Genesis in your head now.  If not, your 80′s musical education was deficient.

If you live around Raleigh, NC, go have Elina snap your family pics.  She's awesome. http://pelikanportraits.com/Pelikan_Portraits/Pelikan_Portraits.html

If you live around Raleigh, NC, go have Elina snap your family pics. She’s awesome. 

I have a confession to make.  I really, really, really don’t want to home school this year.  Lots of other things have drained my energy reserves, and raising children is hard even on full batteries.  I’m not a generally consistent person. I don’t even view strict consistency as a moral good. So I’m not consistent… except when I am.  (Ha!)  Once in a while I put my inner determination to a task and I set to it, and almost nothing or no one can dissuade me. All obstacles seem to melt away as I run head long into whatever it is.  Spending time in Lebanon was that way.  Becoming Orthodox. Getting married.  Having children.  Buying a house.  Home schooling the kids.

Here we are giving it a go even under less than ideal spiritual circumstances.  A friend pointed out to me that if I’m going to make a mess of it this year, at least it’s just second grade.  We really don’t have to do anything more than what the public schools do, which is way less than a classical education anyhow.  As long as the kid can read, write, do a little arithmetic, and learn to be a little more a child of God, we’re good.

That last one is the root of the trouble.

I don’t know what other women think about when they are stirring their soup, but I’m usually not thinking about the task at hand.  I practice a foreign language in my head, or see how many digits I can mentally multiply out, or write my next post.  If something is truly puzzling, it will spill out to other tasks in the day.  Small people are naturally disruptive of my inner world and I often get grumpy.  This year, the mental puzzles are numerous and the luxury of space for inner reflection has disappeared. I feel hounded by The Other and what I would really like to do is to grab my BOB and march myself out into a forest for two weeks. I’m not a good model of a child of God. I’m the mother crab that walked sideways, telling her child to walk straight.

When I was a kid, one of my math teachers told me this: if you get stuck on a problem, move on to a different problem.  When you come back to the first one, you may have learned something that will let you see the solution for the first.  I find myself doing that often these days, but with my actual life.  This post is in the middle of that process.  Normally I write something when I find some sort of solution.  Quiet is this space is usually the result of me not finding solutions.  There weren’t very many posts this year.

************

I’ve been asked to join several book clubs recently.  I never liked the idea of them.  I envision an adult version of a literature class: only three people actually read the book and the rest skimmed it the morning of, and the questions we ask about the text rarely reflect anything approaching real experience.  I feel like the space between the book the author wrote and the way it touches someone’s soul is a place of solitude. Yet I still sometimes post pieces of what comes out of those revelations here, so I’m not unmindful of that contradiction.

The earth was warm under me, and warm as I crumbled it through my fingers…I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.  - My Antonia, Willa Cather

Some words express something so well that it cheapens them in some way when you talk about them.  Why do I have to talk about them?  Aren’t there some times when it’s enough to just feel the warmth in silence and not look for answers?  I did a lot of that this year.  The soil of my heart needed a winter under a thick layer of snow for the flowers to rest quietly.  God should have been close because He’s always there in silence, but I had a hard time feeling Him in spite of that.  And this was a year when SP’s questions about such things have pierced us with the clarity of the innocence she brings with them. I want to be silent, but she needs answers.

“Before I go,” he said, and paused — “I may kiss her?”

It was remembered afterwards that when he bent down and touched her face with his lips, he murmured some words. The child, who was nearest to him, told them afterwards, and told her grandchildren when she was a handsome old lady, that she heard him say, “A life you love.” - A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

Every time I read those last lines they pull the breath from me and my heart seizes.  Nothing I could say in a room of pastries and coffee would improve them, and I feel like they would lose something for me if I tried.  Or almost worse, someone would make me read The Old Man and the Sea again.

 

**************

Those two thoughts are related.  Or maybe they aren’t.  But both of these things roll around my head these days and I feel like they are two keys to an unusually difficult puzzle.

I run around in intellectual circles.  Somehow my husband and I stumbled into each other, and the combined population of Super Nerddom that is our group of friends is a poor reflection of general reality.  I know this, because I worked retail for many years.  Nerddom is less common than nerds tend to think.  You may think that everyone knows what it is you are referring to when you say “Necessity is the mother of invention”, but most people will hear their grandmother, not Plato.

The world of Orthodox theology is full of intellectuals, from my little corner of such things.  Not that any of them are doing something wrong.  It’s not surprising that people who like to think abstractly like to read theology.  But lately it has bothered me, not any single person, but as sort of a wall of intellect, that the amount going in and what’s getting brought back out for a gallop in real life… well, I don’t even know how to put it into words.

A friend of mine once chided me gently when I carelessly repeated a bit of slander that was making the rounds in seminarian wives’ living rooms.  I was raised better than that. My taita has always told me to base my judgments on people from my own direct experience, and not gossip.  This friend pointed out that the woman of ill-repute in the seminary community had a really lonely set of circumstances, and told me this story:

Every week, there was a coffee hour after Liturgy.  The seminarians would relax and the conversation was about important things like the writings of the Desert Fathers or what exactly was the relationship between Divine love and love for our neighbor and who is God.

It’s really easy to talk, even about abstract spiritual knowledge.  But who actually cleaned up after fellowship?  It wasn’t those guys, almost without exception they’d throw their cups out and go back to the dorms or homes they lived in.  No, it was this woman everyone disliked who washed down those tables, pushed in the chairs, tidied up the kitchen.

Who is a better model of Love, even with her imperfections?

Dammicks-26

***********

Not enough answers to too many questions.  And somehow, a second grader is sitting there sounding out Calvin and Hobbes, a four year old is building a boat out of blankets, a two year old is giving hugs, and we’re not eating too many take out meals.

Dammicks-25

“Your children are your pro-life work.”

That was something Joan Fasanello (the director of Life Choices, a local ministry serving mothers in crisis) said to me when I lamented that I just couldn’t seem to find the time to get down there and volunteer.  That comment stopped me right in my tracks for a good minute.  After which I filed it away in the data banks and went back to my usual overclocked self.

I operate at maximum capacity seven days a week, 365 days a year.  It’s my personality, and as long as no one is getting in my way I’ll work like the Energizer Bunny and I’ll do All The Things. (Warning: that very funny post has some Language.)


all the things

I thrive on activity and interacting with groups of people.  I come back from conferences like I have a caffeine drip in my arm.  Homeschooling?  Sure, I got this.  I’ll just grab this nice polished Ages of Grace curriculum and use it to write one for the Ancients while I do it with my daughter. No problem. And let’s ramp up one business and start working on another to launch in late summer of this year.  And add a two year old to my wonderful little herd of mini-me’s (an adorable, funny, sweet two year old that was still… two.) Oh, and I am going to remodel my bathroom and living room and expand the garden.

So, all that?  I can pretty much handle if I was running around solo.

I’m not running around solo.

I started noticing that my kids were getting whiny and anxious and cranky.  I don’t think those characteristics are natural in childhood.  When I’m whiny or anxious or cranky, I don’t say “I was born that way” or “I’m just being a thirty-five year old”.  I say things like “I have a headache” or “I should have gone to bed on time” or “hey, maybe I should eat breakfast.”  So I went through the list of basic needs: food, sleep, schedule.  We’re good on those.  What’s their deal?

2014-05-14 09.37.14

Guess what?  My daughter is probably an introvert.  She seems to need some quiet downtime with just the family and in our home.  The four year old likes people, but he needs someone to really stop and listen often during the day and provide unlimited Interrupting Hugs.  The two year old needs me to sing “Let My Prayer Arise” semi-continuously. Four hours of structured curriculum?  What was I doing to us?  Who is this for?  Them… or me…?

Ah, Pride.  You do goeth before the fall.  Sigh.  You must learn ALL THE THINGS. and I must do ALL THE THINGS.  And we’ll be… very tired and grumpy.

I’m bailing this sinking ship, y’all.  I feel a little bad about not continuing all that curriculum writing, but not bad enough to keep neglecting the small people I’ve been given charge of.  AOT is a wonderful start.  It’s training wheels.  But, SP and me?  We can ride our bikes now, so we’re taking the training wheels off.  We’ve been much happier since I decided that she needed basic arithmetic and phonics and not much else.  She is still learning, and I spend the hours I used to stand over her nagging her instead just trying to be present for them.

2014-05-19 19.36.45

We want to home school to strengthen our bonds of love while we strengthen our minds.  I needed to re-prioritize.  Put my children before myself.  And put them before all those internet friends of mine.  Put the phone away when the kids are in the room.  Ignore the constant tweeting and ringing of it in my pocket.  Stop letting any Joe Smith’s comment about their latest restaurant experience or any Jane Doe’s fascinating article about breast feeding take precedent over MM’s immediate need for me to receive the wilted, squished dandelion that he so lovingly saved in his pocket all day.  Stop and give him a big hug. Ignore all those asking me to donate my time to them because my daughter wants to learn how to wash dishes with me, to feed her need to feel loved by doing something with and for me.

Children are like water.  Sometimes they soften us slowly, like a warm summer river, with their surprising insights about our world.  Sometimes they are like glaciers, tearing all the unnecessary things from us as we try to hold on to them at all costs because we are adults Who Are Right.   I’m trying to embrace the change.

All of this to say:  I’m leaving the AoG stuff up there.  And if you want to mess around with the Wiki, go for it.  But as we’re not using it in any documentable sense, I probably won’t be able to help.  This post is a half-hearted apology.  Half-hearted, because I don’t feel any real guilt about not doing it.  Just a vague sense of “mybad”. I’m working on being present for my children, and letting them take ownership of their own educations.

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