Open Hand

My family recently returned from our annual August trip to Vail, CO. Although known for its ski slopes, it’s an absolutely gorgeous (albeit, expensive) little town at 8,200 feet, where we spend a week hiking, swimming, and playing, along with reading and resting. It’s a true Sabbath for us.

Betty Ford Alpine Garden - Vail

Betty Ford Alpine Garden – Vail, CO

Then we return, and the school year begins. As a homeschool mom, my year becomes very scheduled starting in September, and my challenge this year is to incorporate the daily purging and simplifying into that schedule.

I must keep reminding myself what it is I seek … a home that is peaceful, open, and soothing. I seek a refuge.

Even though the actual work is repetitive drudgery, I still have these ah-ha moments, tiny epiphanies that leave me wondering why, for the love of Pete, it took me so long to figure it out. One came to me as I was working through the master bedroom (still in progress) and I came across this book: The Change Your Life Challenge. The fact that this book is happily packed up and on its way to bless someone else represents Massive Progress for me. I was able to release it from my home, thankful that it showed me it wasn’t the way for me.

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Did you catch what I said there? It wasn’t the way … for me. I tried this system three different times. I kept reading the testimonials, I kept telling myself, “This works! This works!” I kept reimplementing it, and … this is the kicker …. I kept finding fault with myself because it wasn’t working. And then, a while back, I was talking to a homeschooling friend about forms  — those systems we create in our homes to help things run smoothly — and she said, “The greatest form in the world, the one everyone says is The Answer, it may not be the right form for you. You really have to find your own way.” This little nugget of wisdom buried itself in my brain, to sit and germinate for a bit.

Fast forward to the moment I came across this book in my daily work. I held it in my hand, and the Spirit reached back into my memories and grabbed this nugget, bringing it to the forefront. The Spirit, which knew the truth all along, spoke to my soul and I realized … the fault is not with myself. There is no fault, really. This is just a system, a form, which does not work for me. The epiphany was sudden, and strong, like the light of the sun shining into a dark, dusty corner. This awesome system, this amazing system… is not my system. And so, with thanksgiving that it came into my life to show me it wasn’t the way, thereby leading onto the path I now walk…

I released it.

The Ongoing Quest

I’ve had this to post for the longest time, but the Holidays happened, and my home turned into a rush of decorating, baking, giving, fellowshipping, entertaining, and celebrating. It was lovely, and I hope yours was as well, dear reader.

The laundry room is clean, organized, functional, and I am so thrilled at the accomplishment. I’ve tried so many systems and plans and programs, which haven’t worked, that I do believe the most paralyzing thing I’ve been facing all along is the fear of failure. But it’s absolutely working, and the feeling is really wonderful. All the games live there, instead of in three different closets, as well as puzzles, and winter wear; and the house-cleaning supplies are all together and the laundry supplies are all together, etc., etc.

It’s made such a difference to approach it spiritually. Praying about my purpose in my home, journaling about it, and dealing with all the leftover issues from being sick has granted me success in this area for the FIRST TIME!

CartBefore FridgeTopBefore

The second thing I’ve implemented is keeping my 3-point zone clean every day. I realized how hard this was because of visual clutter. Even when I’ve tidied, there are things that just live in a cluttered state, like the top of my refrigerator. Since my kitchen is part of the 3-point zone, I set about trying to make more empty space. This cart lives in the closet under the stairs, and you can well see that it’s been a gigantic mess. I cleaned off the cart, and made it a home for all small electronic appliances, which had all been stored on the fridge and in various cupboards, and even on counters throughout the kitchen. The result was pleasing, and is working well.

CartAfter FridgeTobAfter

I’m amazed at how much better I feel, in general, when the front room and kitchen are picked up and put away.

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Front room at Xmas. Not perfect, but not bad.

My prayer for my home: Father, I ask You to energize me with the desire and wisdom to re-organize and clean my home. Thank You for answering with workable solutions and stamina to stick with the goal.

To Sort or Not To Sort

I always say that I’m unstructured. But over the last week I’ve realized this isn’t an entirely true statement. I don’t do well creating structure, but I like to have routine. Last Thursday, my older daughter finished school for the summer and with the lack of an imposed schedule I’ve been drifting.

So, today I got up at 6:15 like I do during the school year. I accomplished so much by 8:00 that I was amazed. I need to become more disciplined about structuring my day because it makes a huge difference. I guess I should say that I’m not internally structured but I thrive with structure around me.

Today’s post is super short. But I’m encouraged that I’m writing anything at all. I’m also encouraged by the things I seem to have mastered – my table stays cleared off, my dishes stay done, and I’m getting exercise several times a week. I also got my garden planted – something that’s been on my wish list for well over a year. My tomatoes and red peppers are blooming, everything else has new growth, and my herbs are thriving outside. It’s a small garden, but it’s a start and it’s given me a true sense of accomplishment to scratch “plant a garden” off my list. Unfortunately, I’m also discouraged by the huge projects still looming before me which will require lots of sorting (my least favorite thing) ~ this is mostly closets and toys. I don’t feel up to the task which is a mental hurdle I need to get over. So I’ll keep writing and rewriting my action items. Maybe the 800th time I write “sort through toys,” I’ll actually do it. The key with this, as with everything in life, is to keep going. Quitting can’t be an option.

Day 116 ~ All Things (well – Something anyway) Made New

I’ve made some measurable progress this week. For one, I finally – with my husband’s help – got several bags ready for charity. We’re keeping the cat.

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I’ve also been practicing Redeeming the Time – you know, grabbing ten free minutes here and there to do little tasks. By using this approach I’ve reclaimed a small counter in my kitchen. Now, I must explain, there is a deep-seated problem that resides within my very soul that leads to a counter that looks like this. It’s hard to see, but under the clean food containers and the bread items, in the back, is the epicenter of this mess. It’s a wire basket full of junk. Well, not junk really, but stuff. I toss things in there, like coupons, business cards, things I want to look at later. (You can see how accessible it is. And please understand, my whole kitchen does not look like this). But the problem (the one in my soul) is this – pretty soon the basket is overflowing, I never pull anything out to look at it again because it’s disorganized, and soon it becomes a permanent fixture in my decorating scheme. I walk by it 18 times a day, and never, ever look at it. The result? I’ve lost the counter.

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So I finally did something about it. I got a three-ring-binder, I put tabs in it, and I now have a place for – – > current coupons, reference information, take-out menus, and contact information. And it fits next to my cookbooks on the bookcase. Now the basket has oranges in it and is sitting on my dining room table. I don’t know why it took me – you know – YEARS to take care of this. But now it’s done. My counter is new. And I am happy.

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Day 96 ~ Dispassionate Homemaking

I truly love spring. I love the newness of life. And I love lilacs, which I’ve brought into the house, along with their delicious fragrance. As an aside, some people don’t realize that because of their woody nature, you have to pound the cut end of the lilac branch with a hammer, splitting the wood and creating more surface area for the branch to draw water. Otherwise, these beauties will wilt within a few hours.

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Lilacs from the garden

Today has been a “day in the life.” Nothing spectacular has happened. We put grass seed on bare patches in our front yard (and by we I mean my husband). Normal household chores are being done. And I am facing projects that involve sorting – sorting and organizing, my least favorite things to do. I wish I could be passionate about homemaking. It would make my whole life happier, because that’s what I find myself spending the most time on. My problem is that I don’t feel passionate about these things I do. I feel that my whole existence requires me to operate in my area of greatest weakness and so I’m constantly falling short. (If this sounds like a familiar theme – it is. I continue to struggle with this same issue).

There is a blog written by a young woman called -of all things – Passionate Homemaking. She has hundreds, maybe thousands of readers, so she clearly resonates with people. But when I read her stuff, I find myself feeling like we are living in two absolutely different spheres. I can’t even try to run my home like she does. I wish I could – she says she’s loving simple, natural, intentional living. Who wouldn’t want that? I am a dispassionate homemaker (I guess). Of course, I have to run my home, I just don’t have it in me to be Martha Stewart. I suppose it’s not my mission. The question I have about missional living is this: how do you find your mission when you feel like you’ve been sidetracked and you’re not even sure exactly what you’re looking for?

Fleshing out this question this week, I’ve been reading “Flunking Sainthood” by Jana Riess. This is more my speed (compared to the aforementioned blog) because this woman is far from perfect. Each month she attempts a different spiritual practice, and in falling far short of her goals, learns some valuable life lessons. During one month in a chapter she calls, “Meeting Jesus in the Kitchen … or Not,” she studies Brother Lawrence (some monk from days gone by who did all of his monkly work in the kitchen) and works on mindfulness – being fully present in what she’s doing and thereby finding her creator in those daily tasks. Brother Lawrence was never made a saint by the Catholic church, and the author at one point says, “It suddenly strikes me why I’m so sensitive about Brother Lawrence’s lack of official saintly creds: He’s an underappreciated housewife, the one everyone takes for granted. He’s … a bit like me, and like a whole lot of people I know.” This is a work in process for me – finding my creator in tasks I despise. I simply have to say to myself – I work so hard, and I’m making change, and it’s possible the only one who sees it at all is God. And that must be enough.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m doing it for me, too. I’m doing for my family. And I’m hoping along the way that I trip over my mission in all the clutter.

Day 87 ~ Keeping on Keeping On

simplicityHow do you change? How do you truly, honestly make changes in your life? It can be extremely difficult, but one thing is necessary – a plan. I have a plan, but my life is spinning like a whirlwind and I’m having trouble executing the plan. I simply run out of time and energy by the time I get all my “have-tos” done. I have friends that seem to get it all done and done well, and to me they seem superhuman. I truly wonder how they do it all – they homeschool, they grow and preserve their own food, they craft, their houses are neat and beautiful, and their children are always polite. They have clever organizing ideas and are always doing projects. And at this late date, they’re not trying to schedule a time to get Easter outfits for the kiddos. Maybe they don’t sleep.

In my own life, take today, for instance. I have been very successful changing my daily routine, and my house is more ordered because of it. But, this morning … This morning, the lovely woman who scrubs my house every four weeks came to do her thing. In my rush to get my elder daughter to school, and my younger daughter and myself to our homeschool commonwealth, I found myself pushing a huge box of paper (throw – shred – file) under a table with my foot. Guess what? I did the same thing four weeks ago. I mean I pushed the Exact. Same. Box. Then in the bedroom, I moved a box of clothes folded and packed to give to charity. I moved it so vacuuming could be done, and I had déjà vu. I moved the same box four weeks ago. I mean the same box with the Exact. Same. Clothes.

So, I’ve decided some things.
1. I am not superhuman. I must sleep. And I will be happier if I choose to focus on my own gifts and talents and simply admit I will never be “those people.”
2. I must do more than the daily routine. My goal for the next two weeks is to complete the throw – shred – file pile, and get some charitable giving done. I cannot bear the imagined humiliation of having those boxes taking up space any longer.
3. My goal for this blog will be posting three times a week. When I first started, I posted every day but Sunday, but since then – well, reality has set in. I’ve missed lots of days, and I realize I must maintain some consistency or I will lose sight of my goals.

So, thank you, dear reader, for coming along for the ride. Thank you for the comments here and on facebook that encourage me. I’ll see you again on these pages in a couple of days.

Day 76 ~ Migraines and Clutter Bombs

My life has gone crazy. Well, not more than anyone else’s life goes nuts, but it hasn’t been normal. First, my little one got sick with a strange infection. Then my daughter was in the state poetry recitation finals. Then I got a migraine – my first “real” one all year, and it incapacitated me for about three days. I still have the hint of it playing around the periphery, so I’m being very careful not to move my head too quickly. All this has caused me to be amazed.

I’m amazed at how many dishes are in my sink. I’m still not caught up, though the dishwasher is now full of clean dishes, so I’m almost there. I’m amazed at how three days without the 10-minute tidy results in my house looking like the Clutter Monster exploded a clutter bomb. When Mama goes down for the count, all sorts of things quit getting done. And I’m amazed at how discouraged I feel that a few days out of whack seems to take me back to the starting point.

However…

One reason I’m writing this online journal is because I really, truly do NOT want to quit. I want to reach my goals. Writing does

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Hopacrab (which I'm probably not spelling right).

several things. For one, it keeps me accountable. I know someone is reading, someone is wondering how my progress is going, and so I don’t want to let that someone down. But writing does something else. It acts as a catalyst. All those thoughts and emotions that get swept aside in the frenzy to get things done, well … they get brought out and analyzed in order to write a post. And that analysis helps me feel better, which I can’t really explain, but it’s the truth.

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Tulips in my garden.

So today, I’ll get caught up in the kitchen. Then tomorrow, maybe I’ll accomplish some of those things I’ve been writing and re-writing on my action items list for days. Then, because my children are on spring break, I’ll be absent for a few days as we’re heading out to soak in some therapeutic mineral springs and enjoy springtime in the Rockies. I’ll post pictures when we’re back.

Springtime has landed here, too, with tulips and fruit trees in bloom. There’s beauty all around, and it has inspired me. After a few days off, I will come out swinging. Beware, Clutter Monster…