Monday, September 9, 2019

Now With More Cats Than Ever Before!

I am spent. I mean, whoa. We had our first day of structured homeschool work today and started up extracurriculars as well, but that's not it. I had twenty-three days in a row of cat work (I said twenty-two in the last post, but I'd miscounted), but that's not it either.

It was the three extra cats in the garden that did me in.

Normally I love all cats, as many cats as possible. Professional cat lady-ing remains an excellent fit for me, and having six different cats that I looked after during this long run of work was fabulous. I also adore kittens. KITTENS FOREVERRRRRR, am I right? But it turns out that having the responsibility of feeding a stray who is nursing kittens, figuring out where the kittens might be, then socialising the kittens and finding homes for all three once all were in our garden is, how shall I put this? A bit much. At least, it is while I am working most mornings and every evening and trying to get some other time sensitive tasks done.

I am not sorry we did it (and are still doing it, in some ways, more on that in a sec). I wouldn't have left the mama to keep stealing food from the neighbours' kitchens. She is such a sweet, personable cat, and it is a treat to have her sweet face show up at the back door every day (multiple times a day). And I wouldn't have left the two kittens to become feral in the garden either. I wanted them to have a good, permanent, indoor home before autumn arrived, and with hard work (crawling slowly across the garden, food in outstretched hands), we made that happen. They went to their new family on Saturday, and I felt happy and sad all at once.

Regardless of the hard work, kittens are cute and fun and impossible to avoid falling in love with. If you've ever had an animal that is terrified of you, the giant human, learn to trust you enough to lick the last of their dinner off your fingers, you know what I mean. Loving those little furballs is simply unavoidable. So we loved them, and now we've let them go. They are settling in beautifully at their new home, and I honestly could not be more pleased with how it all turned out for them. All that hard work? So worth it for our roly poly little loves.

As for the mama, she is due to be spayed on Wednesday, recuperate at our house before a further vet check, then go to her new home on Sunday. She will live with good friends of ours, and we will get to see her often. I have become incredibly fond of her, and I don't think I could've let her go to just anyone. This is all getting wrapped up so nicely, we may as well put an imaginary bow on it.

And I won't lie that I will be glad to have the responsibility fully off my shoulders next Sunday. As much as I adore all three of these cats, I felt like we went beyond peak cat and straight to what have we done? I am ready to get back to normal life, or at least as close to normal as we ever get.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Working and Working Ahead

This is where I've been. And everywhere else. Palaces, smaller cities, the seaside, lots of places we can get by train. But sometimes just stuck under a kid or a cat or both. Managing some needs, trying not to get kicked in the face when the snuggles turn to acrobatics. Being accused of being really mean when I am not up for cleaning up everyone else's stuff. Standard mom stuff, really. We go through these days sometimes, when we're all checking to see what's ok with everyone else.

Today I begin a twenty-two day stretch of cat jobs. I've never done such a long stretch before, but I think it will be ok. I'm keeping my eye on the prize, and the prize is paying for all my kids' classes and my husband's new iPhone. Also we've got a holiday in France coming up at the end of September, and it would be nice to have some extra in the family coffers for that. We've always done budget holidays before, looking after every penny spent. People say that it's not money that matters, and while I'll agree with that overall, it's also true that being on a strict budget is stressful. I don't want to be stressed out on holiday; I'd rather get that stress out of the way ahead of time. By snuggling cats.

In preparation for these twenty-two work days - and the fact that our term time activities start up the day after I'm done - I've tried to do as many things in advance as possible. I don't want anything lingering on my to do list that might be difficult to manage when my brain is a bit foggy from early mornings and more to juggle in the evenings. I wrote our annual home education reports for the local authority to peruse, I've prepared everything I need for some meetings that will occur, I've started my Christmas shopping.


What did I just say?

Ah, yes. I said I've started my Christmas shopping. That's true. Obviously I don't need to have that done within the next three weeks, but I figured why not? I've never liked leaving it to the last minute, and I've got a good idea of what everyone on my list wants. My usual goal is to be done by my birthday at the end of November, but this year I'm hoping to have the bulk of it done before we go on holiday at the end of September. I understand this might sound a little bit silly, but I know how quickly the autumn goes by, and this year we've added some activities to our schedule, which will make it go lickety split. For me, having those gifts bought and stowed away before we go on holiday will be an early Christmas gift to myself. So I'm going to make it happen.

But right now? I'm off to cat job number one. I'm ready. Let the (snuggly) work begin.

Monday, August 5, 2019

A Break and Some Work

We are halfway through Z's stay at camp. This is the last year that Z will go and E will stay home, so I am trying to make the most of these days that we can do all the things that E likes and Z only barely tolerates. Thus we went to a trampoline park last week. I am like Z in that I find the trampoline park to be unbearable, but sometimes we do unreasonable things for those we love.

On Friday we took the high speed train to the coast for a beach day. This was not unreasonable, nor was it something that Z particularly hates, but it's something that is very much E's thing. She is happiest in the water, preferable with an inflatable contraption of some sort and a variety of sand toys. So J took a day off work, and we went, and it was good. Exhausting also, in the way that hauling all the beach stuff there and back and spending the day in the sun in exhausting. I was glad to go, but also glad to come home.

Last night found us hosting children's vespers, which is what I consider the last of the summer obligations before getting a proper summer break. And by proper summer break I really just mean not having to keep up wtih schoolwork or housework in any meaningful way, and not having anything of note on our agenda. The rest of the month of August stretches out before us, mostly empty. I think we need this badly, for a mental break as much as anything. J will go to work, and I will run my cat care business, but that's about it. It feels good to look ahead and see very little on our immediate horizons.

But of course I am mindful of what goes on the rest of the world. It continues to feel strange to have so much going well for me/us personally while there are so many truly awful things happening. I'm not typing this up while blissfully ignoring the fact that there were two mass shootings in the USA within 24 hours over the weekend, and that both of them were committed by white men, while the President of the United States continues to villify people who are not white. Meanwhile here in the UK, someone who makes racist jokes and statements on the regular is now Prime Minister.

Is racism alive and well, and growing within a new generation of young adults? Yes. If you look at the age of those who have committed acts of white supremacist terrorism, they are mostly young adults. I'll admit I feel powerless to stop it sometimes, but as someone who benefits from white supremacist power structures, I consider it my duty to dismantle those structures. It shouldn't be down to the victims to fight the oppressors. It should be down to those of us whose lives are not on the line, who have more time, more energy, more unearned privilege. I also recognize the great privilege of having been able to move my children away from the particular intersection of racism and gun violence that exists in the USA. My worries are not overwhelming in this regard, and it does give me more mental space to figure out what to do next, how to help best.

I think some of it comes in the form of conversations with those who are open to dialogue and changing their minds. Those who want to defend their choice to vote for Trump are not on my list; that's pearls before swine territory. If you come in only wanting me to understand why you voted for him, and for me to agree that it was fine for you (or your friend, cousin, parent, etc.) to vote for him, well, it's not going to happen. I do understand why some people who are otherwise kind people voted for him*; it doesn't mean I will agree that it was ok to do that. But some people are beginning to realize the great evil of voting in a man who encourages violence against those who are not white, and I think that we could figure out a way forward together.

*Full disclosure: I think lots of people were deceived. As someone who is often deceived myself, I am not judging or saying you are a bad person. But I am saying you must recognize the great harm this has caused and do your best to clean up the mess that you helped make.

Monday, July 29, 2019

No and No and No and I Cannot

I didn't mean to go a full month without typing anything into this little box on the internet. I have written a lot of things in my mind, but the month got away from me in a flurry of houseguests (seven at once!), group travel arrangements, homeschool group facilitation, hosting our landlord and his partner for dinner, and all sorts of other little things that got done only because I made a lot of lists. I am quite certain that I forgot to do a few things which may or may not be important. I suppose I'll find out what those are when someone lets me know. But for now, I think things are quieting down a little. I sent Z off to camp yesterday, and that marked the end of some big tasks I've been working on. Now I am going to direct my efforts toward a new endeavor.

In short, I am working on being better at saying no.  Also at saying I quit, but in a kinder way than that. These years with my children are fleeting, and now more than ever I see the value in reserving the best of myself and my efforts for the benefit of my little family. I don't want to come to them exhausted and out of sorts; I don't want them to remember me primarily as a frustrated person who was always too busy to enjoy them and to nurture them. Of course I sometimes need to be busy, and sometimes there will be people who need me more than they do. But overall, these are the years that are meant to belong to nurturing their hearts and spirits, and helping them grow into adults who are at peace with themselves and ready to make their own way in the world. If that is my focus, then I need to jettison some things which are preventing me from doing this job well.

I envy people who say no with ease. They opt out of things which I feel obligated to do, moving on with their lives as if the world will still spin and things will still get done if they do not do them. When I say no, I feel I must explain why and apologize a lot, then possibly offer to do an alternate task to make up for it. I think this is due in part to knowing how hard it is to find people who are willing to help out with tedious tasks, and also due to a misguided sense of what it means to serve. It occurred to me lately that sometimes I am serving those who really don't need my service. They want it, sure, but the question of need is a firm nope.

I do want to serve those who are in need of what I have to offer. As it is unhealthy for me to spend too much of myself on those outside my family who are vying for my attention, so it would also be unhealthy for my children to think they are the only people who matter. So now I ask myself a few questions. First, is this something that is necessary, or is it just for the fun and convenience of those who have plenty of fun and convenience as it is? If it is necessary, am I the best person for the job? If I do not do it, and no one else steps forward, will that leave a gap which will cause harm or distress? If the task is unnecessary, or if there is someone else better suited to do it, then I can say no with confidence. I can quit doing things which really do not require my efforts. And I'm in the process of doing that with a number of tasks. It is uncomfortable for me. I don't like having to do it. But on the other side, I see an opportunity to serve better. I can't give more in ways that matter if I don't give less in ways that don't.

There are things I know I will continue to do, to say a confident yes to. That's part of this process as well, recognizing those things which are working really well for me, for my family, and for others. I will continue to facilitate the homeschool group and be the parish council secretary. I arranged the group travel for the camp Z is attending, and I'll likely do that again if the people in charge of such things were happy with my work this year. I am 100% on board to continue my cat job. But beyond that, well, I make no guarantees.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

This Here, This Now

I'm sitting here in my quiet house, on the last Saturday I know I'll be alone here for the summer. I hurried through my morning errands partly because it is going to be hot today, and I wanted to be done before the heat really set it, but mostly because these hours are part of what helps me restore my equilibrium when life gets hectic.

Which is not to say that restoring my equilibrium is the be all end all. It's not. I know that. There are so many serious things going on in the world, so many people only wanting their basic needs to be met, for their humanity to be recognized and respected. So I am doing what I can for them, but I know it's not a lot. It's not enough. Some coins in cups, a meal from Tesco, a chat on the weekend, an online donation to bail someone out. We all need to work together for it to be enough, pressure those in power to do better. I think it's important, too, to recognize our own privileges and work to extend those privileges to others. Maybe we can sacrifice a bit of our own comfort for others; I know I could do this. I think about it a lot.

In our family life, we have been quite fortunate. None of us have stories that are without pain, but right now we all seem to have reached a place of contentment. I know this comes and goes, but honestly, this is the best it's ever been. It feels easy in a way it hasn't before. I see my kids growing, learning, making their peace with things on their own terms. They are so good to and for each other - they fight, and they'll tell you that themselves, but overall they support and care for one another in a way that I have hoped that they would. They are both growing into such wonderful people, and I am so proud of who they are.

And in other ways, too, life is easy. Nearly everything that we want materially, we have. Oh, sure, we need to wait to buy some bigger ticket items. We still need to stick to our budget, and I still shop the sales. But we get the groceries we want and have extra leftover for treats. If there's something we need to replace, it's no big deal to just do it. We have a holiday booked for the autumn, paid for in full, without a lot of stress. It's not always been that way, and I am not taking this for granted. If anything, there is an undercurrent of wondering if it's all too good to be true. This life, this family, this home in this city. Every night I think of all the things I am grateful for, and I say thanks. There are a lot of things to be grateful for; I fall asleep before I am done.

So now the question is, what do I do when I wake in the morning, having fallen asleep knowing I have been blessed beyond what I deserve? Honestly, sometimes I wake up and I do all the things I know are right and good, and some days I do not. But the work ahead of me is to tip the scales always toward using what I have - not just materially, but my own sense of peace and comfort - to make things better for others. I don't know what that will look like beyond what I already do. But I know that there is a purpose to having all this goodness in my life, and the purpose is not to hoard it. I am lucky, maybe I can make others luckier still.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Reframe as a Means of Stress Relief

I worked eleven days straight doing cat jobs, finished on Saturday, then had a full Sunday. We've had slow mornings the four days since, and I am grateful for this. Our afternoons speed things up, and I feel like getting dinner on the table is at somewhat of an internal fever pitch for me. I'm trying to reframe things so I don't feel so much stress about it - I mean, no one in the family seems to care how quickly I get dinner on the table but me, so it's not anyone else's issue.

As my business grows, I am trying to figure out many small sources of stress that I can eliminate or at least reframe, in order to keep most of my energy free for my paying job and my parenting job. And let's face it - when one is a parent, a lot of sources of stress just need to be reframed. For instance, I am not going to reject all invitations to outdoor parties because they're too stressful for me. We'd be declining a lot of invitations to parties if we did so, because it seems that I am one of the few people who is not keen on a party in the park.

But seriously: I am not keen on parties in the park. Is that weird? I don't know. I think it's either weird of me, or other people are lying about how much they like these types of parties. I do like the part where E runs wild with a bunch of other kids, because it makes her extremely happy and also helps her fall asleep quickly that night. I like the part where our friends are happy we've come to celebrate with them. But other than that? Meh. No thanks. If I attend a party, what I really want is a comfortable seat, a plate of food, possibly a beverage, and not to have to awkwardly hover nearby and decide whether or not to introduce myself to someone who is also awkwardly hovering. In parks, there is a lot more space to awkwardly hover. It pains me.

But I've got a plan for reframing this and for making it more comfortable for myself in the future. First of all, I need to plan ahead. I ended up taking E to a party in a park on Sunday, and it was all very last minute. I had originally left the decision up to J, who is not as much of a planner as I am, and he was being his usual laid back self and hadn't let me know he'd decided when suddenly, friends were offering to take E with them in their car, and they needed to leave ASAP. Because J was sorting the bookstall after liturgy, I was the one who ended up in the room where it happened, and I ended up making the final decision without a lot of time to think it over or discuss with J. Thus felt that I should be the one to commit to go to the party with E, since J didn't end up having the final say.

At that point, any or all of us could've shown up later, but J and Z decided not to go. On the way home (home! my favorite!) they also stopped at Starbucks (alas, for a peppermint mocha to ease my party struggles!), and it felt like a giant insult. I'm not keen on feeling resentment toward my husband or kid(s), so I know that in the future, I can't leave things to the last minute.

Second, I am adjusting my view to embracing these types of activities as taking one for the team. Or for multiple teams. Family team, friend team, kid team. I do not need to like everything I do, and sometimes it is really nice to do something for someone else. I have had lovely conversations with others at outdoor parties, and sometimes the food has been amazing. Also, there is the aforementioned joy and delight experienced by my youngest child in particular. So it is certainly not all bad, and again, I can take one for the team(s).

Third, I am planning ahead for my comfort. On Sunday, I had absolutely nothing with me. No food, no coffee, no picnic blanket, nothing. I had at least dressed comfortably, knowing that it was a possibility I'd end up at the party. But in the future, I need to put my own snacks in my bag and maybe a bottle of iced coffee. Even if I don't know for sure if we are going, I can put these things in my bag as insurance.

I realize this may seem strange to a lot of you. But I am guessing that a lot of you are also nodding along. (High fives to my fellow planners!) It's ok to be someone who does not go with the flow very easily, and it's also ok to be someone who doesn't like something that a lot of people are really into, like parties in parks. We can learn and grow and adjust. And sometimes? We can just stay home and let others have their fun.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Cats! Cats! Cats!

I am in the middle of day three of eleven of cat work. Or, as I like to call it, professional cat lady-ing. The jobs seem to come in spurts, and this suits me. For this run I've got three different clients, and there is a bit of overlap, but nothing unmanageable. Tomorrow will be the busiest, with two clients both morning and evening. And then it tapers off for a few days, picks up for a few days, and then I'll be done. For morning jobs, I've got to get the work done before Jarod needs to leave for work, and as a non-morning person, this is a challenge. However, I am a professional cat lady, so I do what I have to do.

I have been surprised at the amount of business I have been getting - I am one of the higher priced cat sitters in my area, so I assumed I'd get a couple of people who were really into their cats and wanted a proper cat lady to come look after their cats, but mostly people would choose someone more affordable. Well! I am happy to find that I was wrong. In fact, if business continues to pick up, I'll start having to make actual business decisions, like about how many days I am willing to work in a row, and then how much of a break I want in between. As it stands now, I will likely need to file taxes next year, which I honestly did not think would happen. It's good to be surprised! And I do like that people trust me with their cats and in their homes, and choose me above a bargain.

This work is a gift to me, and I won't pretend that it's not. It's been a gift to our family as a whole, really, because it allows us a little more financial breathing room, and we have been able to purchase some things that we've wanted and/or needed but have not been able to afford. That said, it's still just a side hustle. My main occupation remains home education and facilitating various things that allow us to have a good family life and for the kids to develop the skills they need to flourish as adults. This work will always take a backseat to that, and this is what I am keeping in mind as I make my professional cat lady business decisions for the future.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

In Pursuit of a Little More Quiet

We've just returned from the annual church conference. It's basically a bunch of people from our Orthodox Christian Deanery that get together at a conference center outside the city and listen to talks and have discussions based on a theme. There is a children's program, which I now help plan and carry out, somewhat under duress (kidding but not kidding, if you know what I mean), but this year I made the time to listen to a couple of the talks and to attend the icon workshop. Being raised Protestant, my knowledge of and appreciation for icons was nonexistent before I became Orthodox myself, and even after ten years I still have a lot to learn. What I do know is that I love icons, and that I want to learn more about them, so signing up for this workshop was the thing to do. Above is my practice drawing the lines of icons. The goal with the hands is that they wouldn't look like a bunch of bananas. I think I was somewhat successful, but I need more practice, and I must make time for that practice.

I am trying gradually to make more space in my life for a variety of things which are enriching to me both emotionally and spiritually. The challenging part of this is that, having proved myself reliable and capable, I get asked to do a lot of things, and while I have gotten good at saying no, I am not good at ending things which are not a good fit. I've gotten myself into a bit of a pickle because, in the past, I accepted some jobs which are leading to burnout, and for which I now know I am not well suited. So there are some opportunities ahead to grow as a person, to learn to gently but firmly assert what I can and cannot do.

The other challenging part is retaining my sense of the importance of these self-enriching pursuits in my life. So much cries out for my attention, and the easiest things to sideline are the things which matter only to me. In some ways, this is as it should be, but in other ways, it is not to anyone's advantage when I neglect to take time to settle my own heart and mind. I am also mindful that after so many years of intensity in our family life, I am in need of a rest for my spirit as well as for my body if I hope to continue to parent my children well, and then when they no longer need me, to offer of myself to a new pursuit of caring. When I think  of what I would like to do once my own children do not need me as much anymore, I know that I want to continue to offer care directly in some way to others. That will not happen if I am completely burned out. I must take this time, when my children's needs are not so big as they once were, but are still big enough that their care and education is my main occupation, to recalibrate, to find balance and rest.

So I am going to make space for creative, spirit-nurturing pursuits, ten minutes a day at minimum, hopefully more. If I am successful, this will result in a little drawing practice, a little more writing about things that are in my heart and on my mind, a little more time that is spent in quiet. And eventually, it will result in me feeling ready for whatever comes next.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

This Latest Lesson

Hey! Here's another cat photo! You're welcome! (Seriously though, you're welcome. Look at that adorable snuggling! Teddy can't even breathe under there probably, but he is committed to the snuggle. Adorable.)

I've been meaning to write all week. I have so much to say. But it turns out that resting works, and so I keep resting instead of doing other things, including trying to string some words together at the end of the day.

I am finally well after many weeks of having a cold/flu/whatever. It was only rest that made a difference. I am learning a big life lesson about rest. I've already learned some big life lessons about food and exercise, and now rest is next.

It's actually just one life lesson, really. These things are all related. The lesson is this: I can trust my body. Yes, it's that simple. It turns out that my body will tell me what it needs and when it needs it. I don't need to follow a complicated system. It can actually be easy. Or simple, at least. It is never easy to quiet the voices I've heard all my life, that still try to clamor for my attention.

We are told in so many ways that we absolutely cannot trust our bodies. We are given the message that our bodies are something to conquer. Aging, weight gain, the potential for illness. We must be ever vigilant! But is this vigilance, this conquering, actually good? For me, no. I have fought against my body for far too long. I have chosen to nurture it instead. I have been given this one body, and it is a good body. It was made well, and I can trust what it is telling me.

I want to share more about what this has looked like for me, this shift from conquering to nurturing, and I will. It has taken a long time to come to this place. But I feel better than I have in years, especially mentally. My body is my friend, not my enemy. It is a gift.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Rest, Rest, and Rest Some More

Hi, hi, hello, hi. It appears that I will eventually recover from this cold/flu/possible allergy thing, though it's not quite done with me yet. (I know. It's endless.) As predicted (but initially resisted), the only thing that works to get rid of it is rest. There were some other things which helped ease my suffering from the symptoms, but rest is what does the healing job. There is absolutely no way around this.

I find this to be frustrating. I am an Enneagram 1, and my inner critic is not down with just doing nothing. My inner critic thinks I should recover faster. My inner critic does not think that taking a short nap after returning from an early morning cat care job is acceptable. My inner critic wonders if I have seen the state of the kitchen lately? Or my disaster of a desk? My inner critic asks if I've figured out the budget for the rest of 2019, and if I shouldn't just get up in the night to finish that?

My inner critic clearly needs to shut up.

Because overall, things are going well. I no longer feel like someone has filled my sinuses with concrete. My energy levels have come back up to a level which allows me to get most things done without feeling like I need to sit down every few minutes. I booked a holiday for late September/early November, and that gives us all something to look forward to. Pascha is coming up this weekend, and we've got a plan to keep it as low stress as possible. So my problems right now are small, it seems.

For example, I'm experiencing dinner-making burnout. I just don't feel like making dinner anymore. I love cooking, but suddenly it seems that I've made enough dinners. Why does my family still want to eat dinner? Haven't they done that enough? Apparently not.  But they do seem to have accepted mediocre dinners pretty readily. Mediocre is better than nothing, and they know it! And also I got a bunch of pizzas on clearance, so there's a backup option in the freezer if necessary. Let's just keep it real.

Also real? That I have other things to do besides complain about making dinner to my audience of 35 willing readers. Like grate cheese for tonight's mediocre dinner of quesadillas heated in the waffle iron. Off I go.

Monday, April 15, 2019

A Quick Note About Resting (and How I've Been Doing It Wrong)

Aaaaaaand...we're back to the cat photos. You're welcome. I took that photo while lying on my bed today, massaging my face with frankincense and lavender oils to try to get my sinuses to stop making my whole head hurt. It was nice, lying there with the cat nearby. I'd say it was nice to smell the oils, but I honestly couldn't smell a thing.

I'm spending three days trying to recover from the cold/flu/who-knows-what that I've had since early March. I thought it would be gone by now. I took little breaks! I did! But my problem has always been not being able to allow myself to take the kind of rest I really need. Sometimes I'll take as little as possible, and other times I will take not quite enough. Logically, I know that I need it. Practically, I see all the things that need to be done and figure that if I can drag myself out of my bed to do them, I probably should. This is a lie, but it's one that I apparently believe, as I keep doing things instead of resting.

Spoiler alert: that doesn't really work out. And yet, today I started on the project of swapping my winter wardrobe for my spring/summer wardrobe when I had vowed to rest. I meant to do it! But there I was, contemplating which things were truly for winter and which were more transitional between winter and spring.

I also did laundry.

And some dishes.

But then I laid down. Many times. In between the laundry and dishes. Because some things that can wait turn into absolute disasters if they are not attended to in a timely manner. I did what I had to do, in order to not suffer terribly later. I don't have a solution for this. All I can do is spend these three days lying down as much as possible and hope for the best.

For the long term, I am trying to build things into our lives that will mean that I get more rest overall. I took a free online course about increasing energy, and I'm going to incorporate some of the strategies I learned as well. (If any of them work, I'll let you know.) But none of that helps me now. What will help me now is lying down as much as possible. And that is hard for me, but I am going to do my very best.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

A New Day in Our Week

For most of the years we have been home educating, we have had a four day school week for book work, leaving one weekday for whatever else we wanted or needed to do. This worked out brilliantly - much of the time we would have an extra activity booked one day a week, but when we didn't, we'd take Friday to just relax a bit and get extra things done. This year I didn't build in that day, as we consistently have our Wednesday group that takes us away from book work fortnightly, and on alternating weeks we almost always have a day out planned. It became clear to me last week that we still really need it scheduled in, and that some weeks we need more than one book work free day.

It does seem a bit lax to only do book work three days per week some weeks, but in the end we always manage to get through more books than were on our curriculum plan, so this is not a real problem. It's a perception problem. Because most children attend school all five weekdays, it seems like doing less would make us slackers. But we don't actually do less. Absent the need for classroom management and answering the questions of thirty plus students, we can get a lot done in a short amount of time. So four days as standard is plenty, and three days can also be enough.

Therefore, recognizing that we needed a bit more time to develop some key skills, last week we added a new day to our homeschool week. It is Cleaning and Project Day. This will normally take place on Thursday, and the key skills that will be developed will include cleaning, not complaining because your mother doesn't want to be everyone's maid, and not begging for Minecraft instead of doing something else creative.

I do allow a small amount of Minecraft once the cleaning is done, but I'm not keen for this to be a day in which my kids rush through cleaning tasks and then glue their faces to screens. So they do a little Minecraft or other screen time if they want, and then they pick something else to do. Today, Z finished sewing a skirt that's been in process since January. E ate ice cream and got out her big doll stroller. I made orange syrup and some applesauce.

Honestly, the main point of this day is the cleaning. It is, in a way, selfish on my part, but I believe it will benefit the family as a whole. As I mentioned in my last post, feeling peace in my surroundings helps me be more patient, and of course it's a good thing for everyone when I feel peaceful instead of shout-y. But I also want it to be possible for everyone in our family to clean up easily and without a lot of stress. When things get too messy, it feels overwhelming to my kids to complete the task. By cleaning regularly, we avoid that trap.

I'd also love to be able to have people over without having to do more than a quick tidy of the bathroom. Up to this point, I've felt that we have to plan at least a week in advance to have people over to our house. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but I have realized that it would be nice to just be able to ask people to come over and know there will be a place for them to sit, and they won't be tripping over things as they walk through the house.

So on Thursdays, we start by cleaning and tidying. It's nothing special - our house won't pass the white glove test when we are done. In fact, today we didn't even vacuum all the rooms, and you can tell if you look. But the bathrooms and kitchen got cleaned, and everything that we have out throughout the house got put away where it belongs. These are the things that must happen every week on this day. This is not my kids' favorite thing, but it doesn't have to be. Frankly, the cleaning part isn't my favorite thing either. But then we all get to do projects, and I think that might become one of my favorite things. I hope that my kids will come to love this, too.

I also hope that this gives us the extra space we need to feel less rushed. Both kids have complained of this feeling lately, and so my hope is that as we take this day away from book work each week, they will feel the freedom of getting a little work done and then having the rest of the day open up in front of them to do whatever their imaginations can conjure up. Whether we have four full days of book work or have had an special group or activity thrown in, this day will be there for us, just waiting. I'm excited for it. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Adjustments and Plans

I have been going to IKEA a lot lately. This is partly because there is one quite near to me now, but also because I've decided that organizing is what will make my life worth living. Well, okay, not worth living, but easier at least. And it brings me joy to look out into my laundry room and see everything in containers, with a clear path to the back door. I put down a rug out there. It is glorious.

And I mean that. Sometimes it really is the little things that make a big difference.

For the past month, I've had a cold, the kind that settles in the chest and makes it feel like I'll never take a full breath again, and I'll always be tired. I am very nearly over it, but now we've had the time change to British Summer Time, and so I'm contending with that lost hour of sleep. But at least I am not tired in the sense that I feel like I cannot do anything beyond the bare necessities, which was the reality of most of the last month. I realized as I was finally coming out of the fog last week that it is very hard to slow down my life when I need to, and that's when I made my plan to amass a large quantity of clear IKEA storage boxes, as well as a lidded basket to put our sofa blankets in.

I understand that the connection between needing to slow life down and amassing storage containers may not be obvious, but allow me to explain.

A lot of my life is spent getting things out and putting things away. I need to move around my house efficiently to get things done, and certain spaces need to be clear for me to complete tasks. It also falls to me to make sure that our house is ready if we have guests over, and while I can delegate some of the tasks, ultimately whether it works out or not is up to me. All of these things are easier if the house is organized, and I didn't realize until I was sick for a month that my organizing efforts thus far hadn't gotten me to a place of ease in tidying. I still endeavor to keep the house in a happy medium between hoarder and minimalist, slob and neat freak, but I was falling behind on basic tasks because it was just too hard to do my work without tripping over something or finding something in my way. When I was exhausted and not feeling well, it made me feel like just giving up and letting the place go to ruin.

So I took a look at what wasn't working, and I've been adjusting some things. My plans won't solve every issue, but even with a few small changes, it is easier to do what I need to do. I can get the vacuum out more easily now. I can walk through the laundry room without a rolled up piece of carpet tripping me. There aren't ziploc bags of carefully sorted old clothes of Z's falling off shelves. The sofa blankets aren't piled haphazardly on top of the back of the sofa. These things didn't seem like they'd matter much, but they do. Not only are things functioning better, but they look nicer, too. Now, the messes that exist (because there will always be messes in our space, most likely) don't look so messy. The house feels more peaceful. I feel more peaceful. This spills over into other areas of my life. Of course it does.

I wrestle a lot with feeling that some of my priorities, particularly when it comes to home improvement, are selfish. My husband and kids really don't care of the house is organized or neat. But I know that they do care if I am stressed out. My kids like me better when I have more patience. I wish I could just be serene in any circumstance, but I'm not that far advanced in my personal growth yet. So I will change what I need to change in my physical space order to be more of the person that I want to be in my heart. I'm not sure how many more trips to IKEA it will take, but I'm open to any number.

Monday, March 25, 2019

In Praise of Inconvenient Love

On Thursday, I bribed my children with extra screen time to visit our neighbor in the hospital. I'd never had to do that before, though sometimes I had to talk them into visiting her. I think that, if pressed, they would have said yes without the promise of screen time, but the sights, sounds, and smells of the hospital are hard to take even for me, so I thought I'd make it an easy yes for them. My hope was that it wouldn't be long until she was placed in a care home, where things would be a bit more stable, and she could be a bit more comfortable, with more of her own things around her. We would stick it out with the hospital visits until then. We always saw her on Mondays and Thursdays if we were around, and that was not going to change.

Except that it did change.

Five hours after our visit on Thursday, I received a message that she had passed away.

We are still in shock. We are terribly sad. We loved her a ridiculous amount, and we didn't even know how much until she was gone.

Loving a neighbor isn't always easy. There were things about our neighbor that were inconvenient, maybe a little challenging. But I am here to say that love that is inconvenient may be the very best kind of love. It will surprise you with how much it gives back to you when you invite it into your life. I wish we had more time for the inconvenience that came with loving this neighbor. I wish we had years more of arranging our schedule to include visits to her. I thought we would have at least one more. But we don't. And so instead we have our memories of her.

She laughed easily. She gave generously. She made us welcome in her home and in her life. She held the girls' dolls, told us she liked our clothes and shoes, insisted that we take home sweets and random things from her fridge. She let the kids take charge of the remote to her television and watched what they chose as if she liked it (I'm sure she didn't always like it). She had a big heart. We were well loved, and I'm sure it wasn't always convenient for her to love us. But she did, and we will remember this the most about her.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Things I Don't Regret

My E is growing tall, all arms and legs and sudden grace as she grows into them. I watch with wonder, remembering the past, remembering carrying her through an enormous airport in my arms, so light I never had to shift her position to be able to carry her more easily, though we walked and walked and walked. She is no longer small. She has grown, healed, made her way in this life in ways that have surprised everyone. She is a wonder, through and through.

As my own children grow, I find myself reminiscing about our first days as family to each of them, sometimes prompted by observing lives of others who are welcoming children into their families in the same way we welcomed our children into ours. Older toddlers will always remind me of my Z and the joy of getting to know her. Any child who joins a new family and ends up in a hospital fairly soon thereafter reminds me of E and all those hospital days.

I have been watching one such story unfold. I have debated about whether to speak up or not. I'm not interested in naming or shaming a family who may be doing the best they can. But this is also a high profile case, and I know that some people may feel inspired by this family to explore adoption as an option for adding to their family. I think that the impressions I get from watching this family (and not knowing everything) may be impressions that others are taking away as well, and I feel that in this light, it is important to speak up about best practice for newly adopted kids with complex medical needs.

I am not a perfect parent. I have made loads of mistakes and will likely make loads more. But there are some things that I do not regret. One of those things is always putting our most vulnerable family member first in line to get needs met. In E's case in particular, this meant having a parent available to stay with her when she was in the hospital, every time she was in the hospital, for as long as she needed to be there. We wanted to set the precedent that we would always be there for her, especially in her most challenging and painful moments. No matter what. We wanted to show Z that this is how we do things as a family - everyone's needs get met, and we all work together to meet the needs of our most vulnerable member. She experienced this in her own story; we made big adjustments due to her needs when she was in a vulnerable position.

And Z's needs did get met, too. Was her life different than normal while E was hospitalized? Of course it was. She knew it would be, and she accepted this with grace. She was a key part of our family team, and her presence at the hospital was a delight to E. She is still E's favorite person to hang out with, nearly seven years later. Z stayed with someone else during the weekdays (usually a family member), but she could come to the hospital anytime she wanted to see E and me. We all met up at the hospital for dinner each evening. Then J would stay with E while I went home with Z and put her to bed. I'd shower, return to the hospital, and J would go home to sleep and attend to any needs Z had in the night or in the morning before he left for work. On the weekends, we'd switch, and I'd be with Z all day.

It worked. It was hard, but it worked. And I believe that it contributed in significant ways to E's healing, but also to her budding attachment to us. Even now, when she is feeling insecure, we can tell the story of her life, and how we did not leave her side when she needed us most. Hospitals are hard places to be. Imagine being a child, in a new country, in a new family, and having to contend with hospital life. It made sense to us to be there with her, for however long it took. We were lucky, because none of our hospital stays extended beyond four weeks. But if it had taken longer than that, we were committed for the long haul.

Would this have been nearly impossible if both J and I had needed to work away from home? Yes. Absolutely. I recognize that privilege. I recognize the work it took on the part of our extended family, who often flew in from thousands of miles away, and our friends, who were on call for us when we needed them. There were a lot of people in place in our lives that made this happen. We did not do it alone. I am not going to pretend that we did. But I am also not going to pretend that we didn't make sacrifices as a family to make this happen, or that we didn't prepare for and consider the practical implications of her level of medical need before we brought her home with us. That was an essential part of the process. We knew that because I was home with Z already, we were afforded flexibility that would make medical care easier to accommodate.

This is what I want people to be prepared for if they choose to adopt a child with complex medical needs. Your child will likely need to spend more time in a hospital than you ever dreamed they would. Please, please, please, for the sake of the child who may join your family, be honest with yourself about if it is possible for you to meet the child's needs with the resources you have available. Do not look at the selective things that people share on Instagram and think that is all that will be required of you. There will be more, so much more.

It will take a toll on you. It will take a toll on other members of your family. Can you handle that? Can your other children handle it? Be ridiculously practical about this, before you commit your heart. All these sacrifices will be worth it - we have no regrets about all that hospital time and what it took to be there - but it will be work. If you cannot do that work, that's ok. It is better to admit that it is not going to work well than to find yourself in a situation in which your most vulnerable family member cannot be cared for as they deserve to be cared for.

And an aside, for those who are of the Christian persuasion (as I am myself): you will hear a lot of people talk about the healing of a child as being glory to God and talk as if adopting a child is being part of their physical healing and even their salvation. I don't like this sort of talk at all; I think it leaves out a lot of the conversations we need to be having about adoption ethics and good practice in adoption and family preservation. I will tell you honestly that I believe that the help I received from God and the saints when I called out for it has helped both of my children immeasurably (as it has helped me as well). But God responding to my cries for help for my children does not absolve me of my own responsibility to them. I cannot say, "God's got this!" and then make choices that will leave my child in a vulnerable position.

Our kids are only kids for a short time. There will be other things which clamor for our attention during their childhoods, which may seem important, but please consider this. You cannot get those early days, weeks, months, and years of pursuing attachment  and trust back if they are used up on other things. There will always be other things, worthy things even, to demand your attention. But your child will only be a child for a little while. The window of opportunity for your influence in their life will narrow more quickly than you imagine. It will go by in a blink. If you are not prepared to use the time that you have to attend to their needs, if you feel that there is something else that you must do that will prevent you from being the best possible choice for their future, then don't move forward.

I know this may seem overly forthright. I do not mean to shame anyone, and I am not pronouncing judgment on the choices of the family I have recently observed. That is not the point of this post; the point is to protect and care for children by giving others the information they need to make an informed choice. I believe that there remains a big gap in education about adoption of children with complex medical needs, and that agencies are not doing their due diligence in many cases to ensure that families know best practice and can follow it. We cannot know everything by looking into the window that social media provides to a family's life. So do your own due diligence. Be informed. Make the choice that is best for the child.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Let Us Not Plant Sorrow

When I woke up this morning, I read of the terror attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and I felt deeply grieved. We have many mosques in our community, and many Muslims are our friends and neighbors. I believe that I have not spoken out enough about respecting and protecting them. It should not take a tragedy of this magnitude for me to remedy this. But here I am.

I have come here today to address my fellow Christians in particular. Of course you are welcome to read along if you are not a Christian. But this is a message that I believe that Christians need to hear. Because we have been the ones who have helped to create this problem.

I grew up being taught that anyone who did not accept Jesus into their heart was destined for hell. Various religions were mentioned, and Islam sometimes singled out. I was told things that were incorrect about what Muslims believe. Seeds were planted that would lead me to think of others as lesser, as wrong in the worst way possible. Friends, it is not a long walk between telling people that God is sending others to hell and deciding it's okay to send them there yourself. If we believe otherwise, we are fooling ourselves and creating a world full of sorrow and pain. Small seeds can grow into giant plants.

The honest truth is that none of us know for sure what happens on the other side of death. This is why it is called faith. But the Bible is clear, has always been clear, that judgment is reserved for God alone, and we are not to engage in it ourselves. And so, fellow Christians, we need to stop doing this. We need to stop planting seeds of judgment in our hearts and the hearts of others. Look what these seeds have grown into! Oh, what sorrow have we wrought for others?

I believe that God weeps for these people who were killed today when they came to worship, to pray. The people who were slain this morning seek to worship the God of Abraham; we too seek to worship the God of Abraham*. Muslims are not the enemy; we have this common goal of worship. We have differences in beliefs, yes, significant ones. But the fact remains that not only are we instructed not to judge, but we are told to love our neighbors.

I Corinthians 13 has been the gold standard within Christianity to explain the importance of love. I think we would do well to read this and meditate upon what it means to truly love our neighbors. We can refer to the story of the Good Samaritan. Let us protect and care for our neighbors, whoever they are and whatever they believe. Let us rip out by the root these evil plants that we have unwittingly grown, and pray that God has mercy on us to help us never to plant them again in the future.

*J has pointed out to me that the official Orthodox Christian view of whether we and those who follow Islam worship the same God differs from mine. Referring to I Corinthians 13, we understand that we "know in part," so I will say that I absolutely do not know what is exactly correct. But we do know that we are to abstain from judgment and to love our neighbors, so I'm going to do that and encourage others to do that. If we err, let it be on the side of love.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

My Life is Not a Trampoline

Hello! As you can see, we are back to cat photos. But that's not my cat - that is my cuddliest client. I must say, if you have to work following a very stressful neighbor caring situation, while you are feeling under the weather, I highly recommend a situation in which someone warm and fluffy comes to sit on your lap and purr approvingly. This cat is so soft. He helped me feel better when I felt like absolute crap.

(In case you are concerned about me going to others' homes and leaving a dreadful virus behind, rest assured that the virus itself was along the lines of a common cold. A person who was not caring for an ailing neighbor with no resources may not even catch it at all, even sitting right next to me. I did wash my hands diligently and did not sneeze or cough directly on anyone's furnishings.)

It's been a week since I handed care of my neighbor back to the person it belongs to, and I am still trying to recover. I did not bounce back. This is partly due to the fact that I had seven days of cat care for two different clients lined up directly after the whole debacle, and one of those involved some early mornings, but mostly due to the fact that - news flash! - people are not naturally bouncy. No really. We can plyometric ourselves to death, but we still won't actually bounce.

It turns out I hate that term, bounce back. It makes it seem like it happens so easily and naturally, but in my experience as of late, there is nothing easy about it. It requires intention, planning, acceptance. It's that last bit I'm struggling with. One week out, and I am still tired all day, even with the help of my good friend coffee. There is no bounce. There is just steady, incredibly slow progress.

Before this happened, I was on a roll. I think this is why I am struggling so much with acceptance now - I had worked my way into a rhythm in which most things got done well in advance. For the homeschool meet up I facilitate, I was working a week in advance. We have that meet up again tomorrow, and I am not done with all the prep yet. And then there's my kitchen that I was keeping mostly clean - it is not, in fact, mostly clean. Or partly clean. It's "a tip," as they say here.

I know it will get better. I need a few days during which I have little of consequence to do, and that is coming this weekend.  For now though, just a few words in case you find yourself in this same situation. It's okay if you don't bounce back. It's okay if a hard thing, no matter how brief, makes things hard for a little while, or for a long while. You don't have to be a super hero. Rest. Let some things go. Pay attention to what your body wants. My body wanted a certain type of pastry, so I bought a package of them and hid them in my wardrobe so I would have to share. My body wanted to take the escalator, not the stairs. So that's what I did.

It's okay to do that, you know. In a culture that is obsessed with wellness and fitness, it's okay to  acknowledge that what will possibly make you most well is to listen to your own body. It's more than okay. (And I will certainly have more to say about that later.) It's good. Right now, my body is saying that it's still tired. It still needs more time, more rest, less stress. So I'm going to listen. And eventually, I will be back to my normal, no bouncing required.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

All is Well, Because It Ended Well

I've switched from cat photos to photos of things I'm chopping in my kitchen. I hope you are not disappointed. I took this photo with the intention of using it for a very different kind of post, but I never got time to write it. Sometimes life gets tricky.

On Thursday I stood in my kitchen chopping chocolate, enjoying the quiet joy of working in the kitchen alone, thinking about the weekend ahead and the work that needed to be done to make it go smoothly and peacefully. It was our turn to host children's vespers, and I had lists made so that each thing would get done in turn, with the effort spread out from Thursday to Saturday. I smiled to myself with satisfaction. The weekend was going to be easy, thanks to my careful planning and the work I'd done in advance.



Best-laid plans and whatnot.

Earlier in the week, our neighbour's son had asked us to let people in to care for his mother while he was away on a business trip. She has dementia and struggles to open the door to people, so I said sure, no problem. We'd be around, and we were also planning on visiting her every day to make sure she was okay and cheer her up a bit anyway. Her son lives with her, but he travels for work a lot, and as her dementia has gotten worse, it has gotten more distressing for her when he goes. It felt like no big deal to commit to seeing her more often and coordinating our daily visits with the professionals that came for her care.

On Friday, she seemed quite unwell, so I notified her son, and a nurse visited and agreed that further action needed to be taken. I was told the GP would be in touch with me to let him in to examine her that evening, and then he would decide what course of action to take next. It was an extra visit to her house, which meant I needed to juggle errands a bit, but still, no big deal. Until the GP didn't show up.

I alerted her son, who left a message for her case manager. There was no response. What followed was 36 hours of her condition steadily worsening, with me as the only person who was there to attempt to assist her, while I was also dashing back to my house to prepare for and host children's vespers. It was unclear whether she was unwell enough to necessitate dialing 999 and sending her to the hospital. I wasn't comfortable making a medical decision for her, especially as she was expressing quite strongly that she did not want to go anywhere but to her bed.

What I remember about children's vespers is that everyone loved the barbecued pork, and I was very happy about this, because I had made the barbecue sauce myself but couldn't taste it because the stress of neighbor's situation was making my chronic heartburn flare up. Saturday, the day which was supposed to go off without a hitch thanks to my lists and planning ahead, was the worst day I'd had so far in 2019. I was in charge of a woman who likely had an infection in addition to her usual dementia struggles, and I had no idea how to get her the help she needed. I tucked her in as well as I could that night, then came home to my own bed and mostly did not sleep.

I got up on Sunday angry - that my neighbor had been let down, and that no one seemed to think it was important enough to follow up and get her the care she clearly needed. I ceased to care about the line I'd drawn to keep from invading her privacy too much, and I walked into her house determined to read every piece of medical paperwork I could find until I located a phone number to call to get help. If no one could help, then that would be my confirmation that dialing 999 was the right choice.

Providentially, a relative of hers who had seen her on Friday and knew she was unwell showed up shortly after I did. She took charge of the practicalities of clothes and bedding changes, and I started rifling through paperwork and dialing numbers that I found. Eventually, I was given the social care emergency number. The person I spoke to took my details and said someone would be in touch. I waited. Someone else called and said they'd see what they could do. I waited some more. I was promised help from a nurse. I waited for the nurse. At no point in time was I given a number to call if someone did not show up. If anything went awry, I would have to call the social care emergency line again and start the process over. I was caught between being responsible for someone's health and safety and having no real power to do much of anything about it.

Finally, I received a call that a nurse had been assigned to help with food and bathing Sunday night and Monday morning. Her care team would be back in the office on Monday morning, and her son promised to be on the phone with them first thing. From there it was all a blur of letting various people in, trying to get my neighbor to eat or drink something with nutritional value, texting her son, doing laundry, taking calls from various professionals who were back in the office, and getting supplies that were needed. The GP made a house call and diagnosed an infection, after which I was put in charge of making sure she took antibiotics. When pressed, the care team agreed to send a nurse to administer the medication and possibly help with clothing and bedding changes, but the nurse wasn't told what she had to do before she showed up. I was, in effect, the nurse's supervisor. Monday night, I tucked my neighbor in for one last night on her own and prayed that she would be okay until morning. She was. The nurse came again, meds went down the hatch, I could see that she was improving.

By the time her son came home yesterday afternoon, my neighbor was feeling well enough to be stand on her own and attempt to get dressed. The dire situation of the weekend was starting to fade. My work was done. I went home, feeling sick. There's nothing like extra stress to make one more susceptible to a virus. I laid down on my bed, exhausted and with a headache that seemed to encompass my whole body.

Today I have spent the day in bed. I had a cat job this evening, so I did that. There were a few things at home that couldn't be left undone, so I did those things. I've started to feel better. Rest helps, and so does peace of mind. I know that my neighbor is back in the hands of the people who can get her what she needs now and for the long term. I was there when she needed me, but I don't need to do anything else. I can go back to being her friend who visits twice a week to chat with her.

In the middle of the weekend, I felt angry. I wanted to blame someone for what happened, and I was upset to be thrown in the middle of it with few resources to get anything done. But looking back on it now, I see that I had what was necessary to help my neighbor. It wasn't ideal, and mistakes were indeed made, but we did okay. We survived! On the other side of this awful weekend, there is a sense of urgency for her care that didn't exist before, and ultimately, that is a good thing. I love my neighbor, and I am happy that she will get what she needs. I am happy, too, that I was there to give her what she needed when no one else was. It could have ended badly. It didn't. All is well.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

If I Can Do It, Then...

Lately I've been managing to do a lot of things that have seemed impossible for quite some time, some of them for as long as I've been a parent. I think part of it is down to the lengthening days, and part of it is down to the lightening of some other loads, mental and otherwise. Many of them are basic home maintenance type of things, like washing the bed linen on a regular basis and wiping down the counters more frequently. These seem like small things, but they honestly were just too much for me some days. Which makes me think of this statement which I hear and read a lot. If I can do it, then anyone can do it.

Frankly, I don't know of any case in which that statement is true. Not one. There will always be someone for whom what you are doing is impossible or would take more effort than it is worth making.

When we make statements like that, we do not allow for others to have a different experience than we are having. It also sets us up to have expectations which others may or may not be able to meet. We make judgment calls about others which may or may not be correct. And often, those judgment calls are unkind.

So I will let you in on a little secret. Most people do not broadcast their troubles. A lot of the things which have taken my time, energy, and mental capacity during the past nine years in particular are not mine to share. I might allude to some things, but very few people outside our immediate family will know the extent of it. When it comes down to it, I would like to be given the benefit of the doubt. If I say I cannot do something - or if I simply don't do something which seems like it should be done - I would like people to assume that there is a good reason that I am not doing it. So I think a lot about giving others the benefit of the doubt as well. What I desire from others, I must be willing to give. I'm not immune to judging others. I do it. But I could do it less, and this is something I am working on.

Let's be gentle with each other. Let's let go of the idea that anything is easy for everybody. Let's approach each other with compassion and empathy. If we each take less time to judge and more time to be understanding, we will create a better life not just for the person we are not judging, but for ourselves as well. There is peace in allowing others to be human. I think we could all do with a little more peace.

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Perfect Job

I spent part of the weekend working - for pay, and also not for pay. The for-pay part was actually way easier than the not-for-pay part. I continue to look after other people's cats as a side job. It doesn't pay loads, but it's something, and considering the fact that I accidentally for sure bought a new pair of shoes as opposed to maybe keeping the pair of shoes I'd bought on a whim, something is better than nothing. It's also a good fit for me, since I love cats and also love being alone. This job provides both! Amaaaaaazing! The only part I don't love is having to get up early for it sometimes, but I can live with that because: cats! silence! money to pay for the shoes I have most definitely bought!

The not-for-pay part of the weekend was drudgery, but drudgery that I am happy to do for the good of the collective. As a bonus, it helps me keep up marketable skills which are not related to cats and may someday offer more lucrative career opportunities. I've got no designs on trying to do anything other than sporadic part time work right now, but someday I will find myself with more time than I have now, and it would be wise to add a little money to the family retirement coffers once I am able. So I converted eleventy squajillion pages of meeting notes into two pages of meeting minutes, to be printed on a single piece of paper, front and back. As much as it was incredibly tedious and annoying, I find that I am pleased with my work. So I guess that's a win as well.

I do wonder sometimes just what kind of job I'll have someday. My current work experience is so varied that I wouldn't know where to start. So mostly I don't think about it. I take the opportunities that I have in front of me, and I do my best to do my work well. I get up early some mornings and walk through the fog to a little kitty who is lonely because her people are away for the weekend. I coordinate groups, invent craft projects, take notes using a very specific type of pen that no, you may not borrow. I work out curriculum for two very different learners. I figure out what to do with the unfamiliar veg in the veg box. I keep the budget. I have no idea what these skills will add up to in the future. But right now? I suppose they all add up to the perfect job for me.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

A Place for Everything, But Not Every Thing in Its Place

Here we have yet another photo of our nervous little cat not exactly sitting on the table. I mean, not directly. Her tail is clearly out of bounds, but thanks to Z leaving all her drawing things out, kitty has a nice little spot to occupy without being scolded. I did tell her to get down. She know, later. When she felt like it. It's just that I feel very sorry for this cat, because she is so very nervous about everything. I imagine it's not very comfortable being her, so if she wants to sit on things which are set on the table, I am just not going to stop her. (Unless it's someone's plate.) Here I imagine that she is contemplating taking up figure drawing to calm her nerves.

Right. That's not what I came here to write about tonight. It's related though, as I am providing an example of one of the many little messes around our house. Behind the cat is our overflowing treat basket. I'm not sure why the leftover crackers from E's party are in there, but I'm just rolling with it, and with a lot of the other little messes that are everywhere at the moment. I put some things away, but I can't put everything away for all four of us, so I've ceased trying. It is also a bit onerous to try to get anyone else to put things away if I don't have a good reason for it, so I've given up.

This is not a bad thing. I've gotten things organized well enough that when there is a good reason to ask my family to put things away, it's not hard to do. Even if not everything is in its place, there is now a place for each thing to go, and it's fairly straightforward to just take things there. Things can get out of hand to the point that the quantity of things to be put away is overwhelming, but we've had a party recently enough that we're nowhere near Situation Critical. We are hosting children's vespers in a week and a half, and I am not concerned. We can get things put away quickly, everyone we know is used to the lack of attention to dusting in our house, and I am making the main dish in my crockpot, so even the food is sorted. Easy peasy.

Plus, I think there's a good argument to be made for leaving some things out. It's comfortable. I know that some people feel most at peace when everything is put away, neat as a pin, but for our family, having a few things out here and there makes it feel like we live here. Knowing that we can leave things out sometimes makes this feel like home instead of just a place to entertain the guests that only show up sporadically throughout the year. This is where we can relax. This is where we can be ourselves, not just the most polished versions of ourselves. So we've got some snacks stashed in weird places. There's a doll wearing sunglasses at the top of the stairs. I've got books tucked just under my side of the bed. There are shoes scattered throughout the whole house. This is home. So we let it be.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Emerging Into the Light

I spent the weekend and today doing everything and nothing. Resting but accomplishing things. It has been absolutely lovely. It occurred to me today that since September, I've had something major for which I was responsible on the horizon constantly. Sometimes the responsibility was shared in some way, but as the family planner and the organizer for some other things, quite a lot of responsibility for making sure things happen rests on my shoulders. So we went on vacation, we went to the US, we had a lot going on up to Christmas, we had Genna, it was E's birthday, there were some parish council meetings thrown in, a few other important church things, plus the usual demands of home education, the homeschool group I facilitate, etc. It was all overlapping.

And now, with E's big party done and the work of this past week done, there is nothing big looming on my schedules. I've even done the necessary work to file our taxes! I can relax, knowing that nothing urgent is going undone. There is time again. Time to rest, time to do things, time to leave things undone if I want. And there is also light. I can't deny that this helps as well. The sun is up around 7am now, so I'm not fighting with the dark to be out of bed by 8:30. (Yes, I do realize that it is a luxury to have my goal for getting out of bed be 8:30. It is a full on gift to this night owl, and I am aware of my good fortune in this.) I don't feel at 4pm that it is already night. I can see to get dinner started without turning on the kitchen light. It's feels amazing! One of the gifts of the shorter days is that the lighter ones feel like a miracle.

Also in the category of "feels like a miracle" are some little, silly things. I have found sneakers that I truly love which fit me well and were on sale to boot. We started getting a local veg box, and my kids are excited to see what is in it each week and even to try new things. I got my grocery vouchers from the loyalty scheme, and friends! I am going to save so much money on my groceries this month! It feels good, all of it.

So, so good.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Let the Mess Rest

In my last post, I said that I'd come back and let you know if Friday's activities included pajamas. I am sad to report that the answer is mostly no, as we did end up leaving the house today. We are checking in on our neighbor every day for a little while, as her son is out of town for work, and she needs both extra company and a bit of help sometimes. I'm sure she would've just thought it was funny if I showed up in pajamas, but I decided that the rest of the neighbors might make other judgments.

On the upside, because I was getting dressed anyway, the opportunity presented itself to wear some things I hadn't worn in awhile and see if they were still workable for me. Because my wardrobe space is small, sometimes things get pushed to the back of a compartment or get otherwise lost in between other garments. I had a pair of jeans and a top that I'd forgotten about entirely. I'm pleased to report that both still fit fine, have not developed any new moth holes or become otherwise disfigured, and will be back in rotation now that I've remembered they exist.

Besides visiting our neighbor, there were a few other things I needed to do today, but I decided that on the whole the day should be one of relaxation. The house is a mess, and so this was a bit hard for me. Every room I went into, I saw things that needed to be tidied. But I think we all know that I'm no Marie Kondo, and I made a conscious decision to let the mess rest, and let myself rest as well. All the cats got lap naps. The kids had the read aloud portion of their schoolwork attended to. And I got what was necessary done, but I got to be still a lot, too. It was what I needed today.

These last three or so weeks have been solidly busy. Last night's meeting had me out until nearly 11pm, and I had a hard time turning my brain off afterwards. It was lovely getting into bed knowing that today I would have a bit more space in my life today to do things a bit more slowly, and to ignore some things altogether. The weekend will hold errands, but also time at home, during which I can catch up on the things that got neglected today. It's all about the balance, really. I'm happy that today worked out the way that it did.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Randomness on a Wednesday

Oh, hi. Here is a picture of a cat in a large ceramic bowl. Yes, that is a blanket in the bowl, meant to lure the cat in. No, the cat is not sitting on the table, where she is not allowed to sit. I mean, isn't that obvious? She is sitting in a bowl. Yes, the bowl is on the table. But the cat is not directly on the table,'s fine?

Z got that bowl at the church social and sale on Sunday. She likes anything that's "olden-day-ish" and was thrilled when no one had bought this by the end, so it was marked down to a price she could afford. She's not sure what she's going to do with it long term, so for now it's a cat bed. We did move it off the table, though. And also I closed that drawer in the yellow cupboard properly, because I am the only one who can do it. I mean, I think I am, because no one else ever does. I am going to assume they are all incapable in order to not foster resentment. Closing the yellow cupboard drawer is officially my job.

We are in the middle of a busy week after a busy weekend, and I am going a little bit nuts. (Perhaps you noticed?) I have gotten some things done, though, and for that I feel quite pleased with myself. Aside from the confetti-filled balloons that are still lingering all over the house, all the party things have been put away. I led our Wednesday homeschool group this afternoon, so that's done. The laundry all got washed and dried. Fabulous, yes? Yes.

But there's still more to come, as always - the clean, dry laundry hasn't managed to fold itself, and I have a parish council meeting tomorrow. I'm the parish council secretary, so I must attend and takes notes that I can turn into minutes. We also need to visit our neighbor. And then it will be Friday, and I have no idea what is happening Friday. I hope it mostly involves pajamas. I'll check back in here then and let you know.

Monday, February 11, 2019

E at Seven

Today our E turned seven years old. Seven! So big and yet still pretty small. The outfit she is wearing in the photo above really encapsulates who she is at this age. All sparkle and stripes and color and still little enough to want to hold our hands. Seven means that she can walk or scooter pretty much anywhere we need to go, but she still asks to be carried when she is tired. (We mostly comply with this request. I know how quickly a child goes from being small enough to carry to being altogether too big for it.) She likes to sit on my lap after dinner, and she sometimes appears in our bed in the middle of the night. She has about five different names for J, which she uses with affection. She loves her sister fiercely and also gets upset with her using that same fierceness.

She likes to sing the songs from Hamilton, and she knows which words she is not allowed to sing at all, and which ones she can only sing at home, when it's just us. Thanks to our neighborly visits, she has discovered both James Bond and Friends, and she likes both. She can be talked into doing a reading lesson with the offer of an episode of Friends, but otherwise she feels it is a boring waste of time. She is clever and kind. She has an endless number of friends of all ages. She makes people smile regularly, even when she is being cheeky. She has an iron will that she is learning to wield to her advantage. She is an absolute delight, and we are lucky to know her.

Friday, February 8, 2019

For the Love of My Little Extrovert

I've spent the past two weeks planning and preparing for a big event tomorrow. This big event is set to be the big event of 2019. There will be no other time that we will invite so many people to our home for a celebration. This is because only one of us is an extrovert. I told E that she could invite whomever she chose to her birthday party, and she chose, well, pretty much everyone she knows. We invited thirty children to our home to watch Muppets Most Wanted. Twenty-two said yes. Many of their parents will attend with them.

I see some of you introverts are needing to take a break. Please take your time and come back when you are ready. I understand if you are never ready.

All joking aside, a party of this size in a house of the size we live in is a challenge no matter how you slice it. But a girl only turns seven once, and I was the dummy who told her she could invite as many children as she wanted. We now have a variety of cinema type snacks to suit the various dietary needs of our guests. We have a big cake which is full of butter and eggs, and we have two dozen cupcakes which are vegan. We have food for the adults to eat, which I hope the children won't pilfer, because there is not enough for everyone. (Just eat the popcorn and sweets, kids. I beg you, please.) There are juice boxes for the kids, tea and coffee for the adults, and if I've forgotten anything, that's too bad. I can't do another thing for this Muppets Most Wanted extravaganza.

The only thing I can do now is get into bed early, and wake up ready to set everything up and make it a special day for E. I may complain a bit (or a lot), but in the end, this is about celebrating her. And she is an extrovert who loves her friends. All of them. It's going to be good.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Finishing Friday's Writing on a Tuesday

I am very popular lately. Did you know this? It's true. Mostly just with my own kids, but still. It's enough popularity to last me a lifetime, I think. I am very rarely alone, and there is often someone touching me. This makes it very hard to concentrate, and if the person is hanging on my arm as if I am a climbing frame, it also makes it quite hard to type. So I have not been doing much typing that is unnecessary. I started this post with the photo of golden winter light last Friday night, when I thought I'd have an hour alone to concentrate, and then I didn't. I haven't been alone since then except to power nap for fifteen minutes on Saturday. This is my last ditch effort to write something to go with this photo. (Which is not to say that this post actually goes with this photo. But I will proceed anyway.)

I am very cognizant of the fact that my children will not be children forever, and I will not be home educating them forever either. Z already has plans to ditch me in favor of a theater program when she is fourteen. Neither of my kids will need me so much in the future, and so I am doing my best to be patient with what seem like ever-present needs, wants, and demands. Someday they will be out of the house more than they are in, and I will miss them. There is so much to love about their presence here.

But at the same time, I don't think it does anyone any favors to be dishonest about what parenthood is actually like. No one has ever said, "Have kids! They're terribly convenient!" Being a parent is to submit oneself to years of inconvenience, and at times a good deal of heartache, in the name of love. But still we do it, because the good does outweigh the bad in most cases. I suppose if we inadvertently end up raising a megalomaniac, I might change my mind about that, but I don't foresee that happening.

But what will happen is that sometimes I will make plans for myself that are impossible due to my kids' needs. I will put up with a thousand discomforts. More than that. I'll be asked hundreds of questions every day. I'll sit in front of my computer screen, and my children will ask me to turn on the Mary Poppins Returns soundtrack again, and I won't be able to think, because my computer is also the source of music when the kids want to listen, and "A Cover is Not the Book" will cause my mind to seize up. I will not finish a blog post once, twice, three times. The fourth time will be the charm (this time). And it will be fine. Because I'd rather they want to be with me than want to be as far away as possible. I'd rather have them here, now, than lose the chance. I wished to be a mother, and now I am one, and I would be a fool to resent the inconveniences that come along with a wish come true.

People ask me sometimes what I will do when my children are grown and gone. They mean to ask what I will do for work, but I don't really know about that. I have some ideas, but it's far enough out that I don't feel I need to think too hard about it. I hope instead that what I will do is to be grateful for the state I find myself in then. After all these years of wishing the house were just a bit more quiet, I hope I won't resent getting exactly what I wished for.