Update on my Minimalist Challenge

Today my to-do list included, among other activities, to toss an old tennis ball back and forth with Woodrow in the backyard (which he likes to do and asked me about this afternoon) and to finish browsing through a book of fighter planes with Woodrow (that he’d also asked me to do–we started it Monday night and finished it this afternoon). This is a large part of what I do as a “professional mother,” investing time in my  children. And that makes it to the to-do list.

dry erase board with markers

Spending these moments together with him, doing activities that he’d chosen, confirmed something for me:  My first born’s love language is quality time. My own love languages are words of affirmation and physical touch; I think Garfield’s are receiving gifts and also physical touch. Knowing what speaks love to my children helps me to pursue them intentionally, offering what I know will bless them.

Have you heard about the 5 love languages? You can discover more about those at this site.  The book of the same name (The Five Love Languages) has been around for decades, but I find it’s helpful to know this kind of information about yourself and about the ones you love.

wreath with garland

Other items on my to-do list today:  bake bread, make smoothies, and–of course–since it’s November 8, to organize my 8 things to purge in my November Minimalism Dare. I’ve been faithful with this practice each day this month, and it’s giving me the gift of anticipation. Each morning, I wake up eager to toss something else into the give-away bag. Part of me wants to rush through it and dump everything into the container headed to Goodwill all at once (I’ve pulled out a pile of stuff that I will eventually get rid of and am so far picking through that for each day’s give away). But I’m heeding my internal reminders to pace myself, to enjoy the ride, and to value having something to anticipate each day.

Here’s a sampling of what I’ve purged so far in November:

Day 3:  1 glass jar with lid + 1 fabric swatch + 1 piece of clothing

Day 6:  1 tent (an extra one we’d been trying to sell–it finally sold!) + 1 luggage tag + 1 two-minute timer from an old Boggle game (we lost some of the letter cubes) + 1 ribbon + 1 piece of fabric + 1 cord with tassels

Day 8:  1 garment bag + 7 make-up samples

chalk spilling from tin bucket

On day 2, we gave away a box of macadamia nut milk that we’d won at a grocery store event (random, I know). We didn’t need it, so we passed it along to a family who did. The make-up samples went to a women’s Bible study via a friend, hopefully blessing some women there who might enjoy these items. On day 7, I FINALLY returned 2 books I’d borrowed from my team leader with Cru–I’d had them more than 2 years.

So, this project isn’t only satisfying to me; it’s actually giving me the means to bless others, too. I can’t wait to discover what else I can share, toss, sell, or donate this month!

 

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My MeToo Experience…Or One of Them, At Least

The other day on Facebook, I noticed a friend had referenced the MeToo stories circulating on social media, in which women acknowledged the sexual harassment and assault they’d faced. Her post mentioned how she’d experienced MeToo moments in elementary school, middle school, high school, and on into adulthood. I paused at that, wondering about sexual harassment that occurs when we’re that young.

girl staring at sun

Then I remembered a couple incidents in my own childhood. Oh, yeah.

The first MeToo story I can recall took place in 6th grade. A boy who sat across from me in English class had apparently been annoyed with me that day; maybe we’d had an argument. I don’t recall what prefaced his outburst, but what I DO remember were his narrowed eyes and his exclamation of “Flat-chested!” hurled at me as an insult.

I was not even 12.

That particular comment hurt me very little, actually (I didn’t think much of this boy, anyway). But my second MeToo experience caused far more damage.

The summer I was 13, I’d bought a new one-piece bathing suit. A rainbow of pastels, with a little ruffle around the hips, the suit initially came without straps. After trying unsuccessfully to wear this suit (and maneuver in the waves) at the beach strapless, I went home and sewed on some elastic strips from my mama’s sewing basket (after I tried dying them in a bath of purple dye made from food coloring; the tint held for one wearing, but the straps themselves lasted.) The straps I’d made looped over my shoulders and held up what was–to me–the perfect swim suit.

pastel candy

Later that summer, our church youth group packed the church van and drove to a big, busy, crowded water park for their “faith and family” day, or something like that:  Christian bands were slated to play, for instance. Several of my friends and I started that day at the wave pool, which is what it sounds like–a pool with mechanically generated waves. If you pushed through the waves, you could reach the opposite side of the pool, which was a regular swimming pool. That’s where we were headed.

My friends moved faster than I did through the waves, but I was making progress by myself. About that time, a curly-haired boy about my age made eye contact and smiled at me. I don’t remember smiling back; I was preoccupied with getting to the side of the pool with my youth group friends. A minute or so later, I noticed that he had walked closer.

The next moment, I saw him swim by–behind me–and felt a noticeable pinch on my rear end. He surfaced a few feet away, smiling and half waving at me. I was incensed. Livid. Absolutely indignant. And I did something in response that I probably shouldn’t have done on “faith and family” day at the water park, with youth group friends and chaperones around. I flipped this boy off. Without even giving it much consideration, I stuck up my middle finger and glared at him, then I kept making my way, alone and feeling more so by the minute, to the spot where my friends were swimming.

sunglasses at the pool

I practically shook with rage. How dare he do something like that to me? What makes him think he can do that to MY body–pinch me on the butt–just because he wants to? And I’m supposed to accept it, just like that, because he felt like doing it? 

I didn’t have enough language at such a tender age to put words to all that this incident surfaced in my heart and mind. And I don’t think I told anybody. Not a soul. Because even then–in the summer of 1987, at 13 years old–I think I assumed that this was just “something boys do.” I also remember thinking something along the lines of this being the “first time” I’d gotten pinched on the rear by a boy–as if I expected it to happen other times, too, and there’d be nothing I could do to stop it.

I’m raising boys, so maybe there’s something I can do to stop it–simply keep teaching my boys that there are parts of our bodies (including their own) nobody else can touch without that person’s permission, for starters.

I’ve never actually regretted flipping that boy off that day at the pool, although he looked properly stunned when he saw my gesture. If I had to choose, I’d still prefer that 13-year-old Allison to have reacted the way she had–instead of shrugging it off as just “something boys do.”

*For the record, I know not ALL boys do this. Nor do all men perpetuate harassment or assault. And I am thankful for those men. Women need good men in our lives, and we need to raise our sons to BE good men.

A Spoonful of Sugar: My Mopping Playlist

Music can really set a mood, even while doing mundane household chores. I mopped the kitchen/eating area today (it’s all one room) and created a play list as I went along. I’m sharing it with you today, for your own listening/mopping pleasure.

You’ll notice there aren’t any praise and worship songs; I wasn’t aiming for contemplative, thoughtful tunes. I looked for upbeat, familiar songs–preferably ones with which I could sing along. Essentially, I needed to hear music that would make me want to dance with my mop. And I did, as I listened to Bruce Springsteen croon about how his “kisses used to turn you inside out.”

mop on wood floor

We have an Alexa (which I think is more properly called an Amazon Echo), so I just yelled out tunes for it to play while I sloshed my mop back and forth over the tile floor. I was initially against bringing this device into our house, but my husband won it as a door prize at a trade show. The last thing our home needs added to it is more technology. But I acquiesced so long as we only refer to it as “it,” and not “her,” although it can be easy even for me to forget since it has a female name. You pick the best means for enjoying your own play list, and maybe mine will inspire you.

Allison’s Mopping Play List

  1. I Am a Paleontologist, They Might Be Giants
  2. I’m Goin’ Down, Bruce Springsteen 
  3. R.O.C.K. in the USA, John Mellancamp
  4. Why Does the Sun Shine? They Might Be Giants (notice the science theme from time to time)
  5. Let’s Hear it for the Boy, Denise Williams (first heard this on American Bandstand as a child)
  6. Dancing in the Moonlight, King Harvest
  7. She Drives Me Crazy, Fine Young Cannibals
  8. Tempted, Squeeze
  9. Safe and Sound, Capital Cities
  10. Break it Down Again, Tears for Fears
  11. Budapest, George Ezra

The steady stream of music simultaneously helped me get my floors clean and lifted my spirits. And in my experience, lifted spirits translate to more energy.

woman in washing machine

I’m off to listen to more music and maybe even find something else to clean. Happy Friday!

Journals: Source of Encouragement for this Season of Life

A couple months ago, back when we were still in Colorado, I posted a question on Facebook:  What books would my fellow home school parents recommend to give encouragement for a new school year? I received a few suggestions but haven’t pursued reading any of them yet.

I keep a cache of blog posts that never fails to provide the proverbial shot in the arm when it comes to my having energy and motivation for persevering with home schooling. I re-read those throughout most school years. But recently I found a home school pep talk from a different source:  journals.

typewriter in black and white

I have kept journals for decades. Over the years, those entries have progressed from statements such as “I hope my best friend and I both get our guys!” at age 16 to processing my thoughts about loneliness and eating struggles while living overseas. Apparently, regular writing has been proven to offer mental health benefits. Therapists, counselors, and social workers often encourage their patients to journal for the cathartic benefits of it.  There are many ways to journal, and no one “right” way. But I know I’ve been helped by writing down my personal stories–and even by returning to them later to read where and how I’ve grown.

I’ve also kept journals for my boys for years. I don’t create elaborate memory books for them, and most of our photographs are on the computer instead of in photo albums. But I diligently fill journal pages with stories, milestones, and prayers concerning their lives.

And it was these journals that have refreshed me in important ways for this season of life and schooling and parenting. Here’s some of what I gleaned.

dawn-nature-sunset-woman

Last year, we’d finished lessons for the day. I sat at the kitchen table jotting down what we’d accomplished before fixing lunch. Woodrow looks up to tell me that the golf ball he’d rolled across the floor had produced two shadows. I took notice of what he’d pointed out and asked if he knew why that was.

“Because there are 2 light sources–one from the kitchen window, one from the living room window. Two light sources, 2 shadows,” he explained. We’d never studied this. But he noticed, and he made connections from what he’d learned to real life. That same day, he told me at lunch that a person weighs more where gravity is stronger. He then described why and finished with this tidbit:  “Maybe the reason we all seemed to weigh more than we thought on the scale at Publix two days ago was due to a gravitational wave.” I’m not all that sure what gravitational waves do, and I don’t think Woodrow is, either. But, again, he showed me he learns things I don’t necessarily teach and makes connections between learning and life around him.

I also found this little joke Woodrow came up with that I penned in his journal:  “What did the round spoon say to the square spoon?” What? “My life is POINTLESS!” Once while I was working on laundry, he and Garfield were in the throes of a competition with a catapult I’d helped them make, flinging LEGO men with it down the hall and then measuring how far each piece had gone. During my chores and their play, Woodrow approached me and said, “The only way to fail is to give up.” This young man can teach me a thing or two about perseverance.

wooden spoons

Years ago, Woodrow cheered up his little brother (who was very distraught and angry about a notebook I’d bought at Big Lots–go figure) by reading him a story called “The Fuzzy Duckling.” Except he replaced certain words in the story with “stupid” and “dummy,” which I would never actually encourage–but I chuckled to see how Garfield laughed and laughed at his brother’s antics. And I cheered Woodrow’s taking the lead to bless his little brother in a way that would connect with him.

When Garfield was about 5, I gave him free time during a school day so I could focus on a task with Woodrow. I noticed him enter the kitchen and grab an empty cereal box from our recyclables stack, then he returned to the living room. After finishing with Woodrow, we checked on Garfield. He’d used instructions from a library book about bridges, along with some fishing line and the cereal box, to make a drawbridge. He couldn’t read, but he’d followed the schematics (a word my older son taught me) and successfully created this drawbridge from materials he could find on his own.

Last year, we discussed how wars begin and how countries establish their geographical boundaries, all over lunch one day, and the boys initiated this. Home school lunchtime conversations prove to be replete with depth at our house.

bridge

As I reflect on these stories and memories, I’m reminded that God created the human mind to learn, and my boys are learning. In fact, learning is always happening. So in two days, we’ll begin a new school year, and the learning will just continue.

And I’m encouraged.

 

 

 

 

One Last Summer Road Trip

While Mike worked in Chicago last week, I got the idea–in the midst of home school planning–to visit family in Mississippi again before we begin our new school year. One of my nephews, my sister’s oldest, started pee wee football this year. I thought it’d be special both for my boys and for my nephew if we could watch one of his games.

My boys have never seen a football game–at least, not the North American kind. But the game wasn’t the focal point; squeezing in one last family visit before we start school and Scout activities for the fall was our aim.

calvin and allison on ferris wheel
Garfield & me riding a Ferris wheel earlier this summer in Colorado.

We’d planned to leave last Friday morning, drive all day, and then stay at my parents’ home in south Mississippi that night–then driving another few hours to my sister’s home the next day. Our plans changed last minute, though, when my nephew’s game time switched from Saturday afternoon to Saturday morning. We ended up leaving Thursday afternoon, arriving in Mississippi near midnight, then driving again the next day to my sister’s house. We stayed with my sister and her family for just under 24 hours, then drove back to Mama and Daddy’s to spend Saturday night. All totaled, we spent about 27 hours in our van over a span of 4 days.

bus on beach

Even after all our previous travels this summer, even after being home for just over 2 weeks, this trip was worthwhile. Because making memories is worth it. Because relationships are worth it. Because watching my children grow a friendship with their cousins is worth it.

Also I felt brave and accomplished making such a long road trip with just the boys, no other adult to share parenting or driving responsibilities. Woodrow and Garfield really are great travelers. They listened to 4 books in the Boxcar Children series that we played over the Hoopla app. They didn’t watch any DVDs or TV shows, but we did tell stories and jokes and listen to music. And we had a couple of talks about big topics, too–after all, I had a captive audience right there in the backseat.

During some of the time in my hometown this past weekend, my boys got to pick okra with their grandmother at a fellow church member’s garden. They bought some goodies at a yard sale for their cousins. They visited with their great-grandmother. Prosaic as these acts may be, they are precious gems, too–milestones in building into my children a life of memorable experiences and family love.

map water coffee

I cherish the fact that I could give this to my children this summer, this one last road trip before schedules change for the next 10 months.

Even mini-vans can be part of an adventure.

New Life for an Old Dress

At the end of this month, Mike and I will mark 15 years of being married. That’s longer than all of elementary and middle and high school combined. So much has happened in all these years.

colorful cogs

Eleven days before our wedding was to take place, our florist quit her job. She arranged floral displays at a theme park in central Florida, and there was no other florist employed there who could take over where she left off. I learned of this when one of her co-workers called me at work to break the news. This woman offered to meet me at a grocery store to pick out flowers, but I declined. She mailed back my check, plus the 2 tin buckets I’d brought to the florist for her to use for the flower arrangements I’d ordered.

We’d already planned for the bridesmaids to carry bouquets of artificial flowers, made by my mama and sister. Mama and Rachel also made boutonnieres for the groomsmen. I’d planned to have only Mike’s boutonniere, my bridal bouquet, and 2 arrangements of blue hydrangeas as actual flowers. Because:  budget. But after the original florist quit, I settled for using real flowers only for my bouquet. A neighbor of one of my co-workers worked with flowers, so I paid her $50 for a bouquet featuring a huge hydrangea bloom in a delicate pale blue. All in all, losing our original florist turned out to be only a minor setback.

For our wedding, I borrowed a veil (from my friend and bridesmaid Nicole); I also borrowed shoes from my sister. I wore my great-grandmother’s pearls. That covers “borrowed” and “old.” To represent the “blue,” I switched my regular nose ring out for a tiny stud with a blue stone in it. (I’ve had a nose ring since I was 25, in case you didn’t know.) The little blue stone fell out in a matter of weeks, but it did provide the traditional “blue” for the wedding ceremony.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue…My “new” consisted of the wedding dress that my mama sewed for me, and she did it in the span of only a few days during a visit to Orlando.

allison wedding day (1)
That’s my Daddy in the background, which is probably where he prefers to be when a camera comes out.

Many years after we married, after our two boys were born, and I realized that we weren’t having any more children (and that I wouldn’t have a daughter), I decided to do something with my wedding dress apart from hanging it in our bedroom closet.

I sought out opportunities and came upon the Mary Madeline Project.  This group of volunteers sews wedding and bridesmaid dresses into burial gowns for babies who die in the neonatal period at hospitals, as well as for stillbirths.

I have a family member who lost a baby at around 18 weeks gestation; volunteer sewers provided him with a burial outfit, although it was not connected to the Mary Madeline Project. I’m so thankful for that gift to the grieving parents who lost their baby boy. I’ve never personally had to face such a loss, but I believe (if I found myself in those circumstances) I wouldn’t want to have to exert energy on selecting burial clothes for a newborn if I could simply receive those as a gift.

i will always love you lock

So that’s the route I took–I boxed up my wedding dress and mailed it to the Mary Madeline Project. Later, when I received their thank-you note detailing how the fabric of my dress would be used, I cried–not because I missed my dress nor because I experienced second thoughts about having given it away, but because I imagined myself in the place of those parents. And I felt gratified knowing my wedding dress would find new life in honoring the short but significant lives of premature or stillborn infants.

In all these 15 years of marriage, I remain grateful that I could pass along the wedding dress my mama made for her child so it could hopefully bless the parents of other children.

Embracing with Faith our Summer Re-location

One thing I appreciate about living in Colorado:  There are no lizards. I can leave the front door of our apartment open when the weather is mild and never worry that I’ll find lizards running around the floors (or inside our shoes) later in the day. This spring–back in Orlando–I found a little lizard in our kitchen sink. I can’t count how many times I’ve almost tripped trying to avoid stepping on a lizard in our driveway or on the sidewalk. But I’ve never seen a lizard in Colorado. Also:  No fire ants. NO FIRE ANTS! Those are parts of Florida I don’t mind leaving behind for the summer.

Colorado offers beauty, adventure, outdoor fun galore. It’s also not home. It’s not the place where I do life. I do like to travel–as in, pack bags, go someplace for a visit, and then come home. {I actually like living overseas more than I enjoy travel, but there again, one puts down some roots and establishes a life if making a home in that place, wherever that place may be.} But this is more than–different than–travel. It’s packing up our house for a summer renter. It’s packing our family’s belongings to be away for over 2 months. It’s asking questions:  Do I pack the crock pot, or buy one at Goodwill when we get out there? How many dish towels should I pack? Will our tenant take care of our plants for the summer? 

frames

It’s also recognizing that we’ll be away from our church for 11 Sundays. ELEVEN. Another question:  How can we connect with people there–especially when we know hardly anybody there–if we’re not THERE? 

And it’s work. So. Much. Work. Imagine giving your entire house a spring clean to prep it for a person who’s going to pay (a modest amount) to live there, while simultaneously packing lots of boxes to be shipped out to Colorado for your family (along with suitcases and school supplies, since our home school year didn’t end until mid-June) AND continuing with normal life chores. Baking cupcakes for the Cub Scout den party and prepping for our end-of-year home-school evaluations, for instance. You know how busy the month of May can be for families, what with all the end-of-school-year functions? Yeah, like that. Plus readying my home for the house sitter AND getting all four of us packed to travel cross-country and plant ourselves in a new place for the summer–long enough to be more than a trip, but too short to consider that we’ve moved to a new home.

cupcakes with sprinkles

But here we are. End-of-year festivities and responsibilities have been fulfilled. We live in a 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom apartment this summer–instead of our 3-bedroom, 2-bath house in Orlando. Less housework is required, and the weather is delightful. I mean, there is NO humidity. The city of Fort Collins is a cool, interesting place to be. Our boys are making friends with other Cru kids, and the pool is just steps from our door (although the water has been far too cold for me so far). There’s a community gas grill that Mike has used multiple times already, enjoying a working grill since we actually moved our broken gas grill to our new home in 2015 and still haven’t fixed it. He’s missed grilling and is making up for that by grilling everything from corn on the cob and tomatoes to chicken and pork chops.

We’ve hiked, biked, fished, played, taken advantage of the plethora of summer yard sales out here. I got a small tape measure for a nickel–just 5 cents–that I’m using as I sew more quilt tops while we’re here.

There’s much to appreciate in this place where I’ve spent the summers of 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, and now 2017. And even with my horrible sense of direction, I’ve lived here enough months collectively that I remember how to get many places without using GPS.

But there’s still struggle, transition–the boys have their own, and I have my own, and I must help them navigate theirs. Conducting school out here, even at a slower pace, has been really difficult. I don’t have a specific summer job to do with our ministry out here, as my husband does. I still edit ministry stories on a minimal basis, the role I fill normally with Cru. But I don’t have a niche to fill out here; my real purpose in being out here is so our family can be together for the summer while Mike serves in his summer role. That’s more struggle.

And yet, since we’re planted here for the summer, I want to bloom here for the summer. In early May, I wrote in my journal, Lord, thank you for whatever our summer holds. My desire, my hope, is to embrace by faith whatever God has for us–and for me–this summer. I want to have the heart to receive with grace what He gives.

picnic tea set

What He’s given so far (besides that crazy cheap tape measure):  On the way out to Colorado, I spoke at my sister’s church about the Luo Pad program (led by Cru’s humanitarian ministry, GAiN), a cause close to my heart. The women who attended responded with great interest in sewing Luo Pads as an ongoing project. What a treat that I got to do some public speaking–which I love but rarely get to do–and that I got to share about a ministry opportunity that meets tangible needs as an expression of God’s love. I’ve also had a chance to help a mom with a Cru conference job here who’s needed an extra hand.

luo pad chalk board

There’s more summer to come, and I’m hopeful that God will continue to give me grace to take hold of all that He ushers into my time here in Colorado. I want to remember that EVERY DAY counts. This is not a season of simply marking time until we arrive back in Orlando in early August; these are days of living by faith, living out my faith. Embracing it with faith.