Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Everything in the Kitchen Sink

A girl needs to be careful when she takes on the living and care of a life.
Oddly enough, she may be thirty-five-plus-six and moving along at a clip when she realizes this fact.

A girl could stand to be warned at the outset that the things she likes might be hers to bear more often than not all on her own, and though they bring her joy, they can also drain her cup dry if she gazes too long at the prospect.

I have a mental image of my 70-year-old grandmother standing at my mother's kitchen sink, elbow-deep in suds, clean dishes stacked in the dry side waiting for a rinse while the stack of dirty plates, glasses, and flatware slowly diminishes. It never occurred to me at the age of 15 that she had been doing that very thing for decades, or that she might wish she were doing something else at that moment. I failed to realize the probable pain in her lower back and the ache between her shoulder blades; didn't know of the dry skin and flaked fingernails from exposure to soap and hot water. I just knew she made a mean potato salad and fried chicken to die for, and that she wouldn't rest until the kitchen was cleaned up. I helped, darting about in my teenage way, putting condiments in the fridge, bringing dirty dishes to the sink, wrapping the last of the rice and gravy and finding space to stack them in the refrigerator. I may have even wiped the table. My cursory jobs done, I would have escaped to the television or(more likely)my latest read of young adult fiction while Grandma stood at that sink for another twenty or thirty minutes, removing the traces of crumb and oil and setting things to rights in my mom's kitchen.

This image haunts me as I approach the kitchen near-midnight after having friends over for the afternoon. We had tea and a host of small treats to attend it; four porcelain pots, 8 cups-and-saucers, 8 or more plates and spoons and then the serving dishes--platters, plates, creamers and pitchers, along with the food processor and cutting boards, knives, mixing bowls, and baking trays; all greet me as reminders of the fun afternoon chatting and laughing with friends. Sounds of the movie the girls are watching drift in from the adjacent family room, but as I begin putting nacho cheese sauce in a container after the late-night snacking session, my oldest daughter flits in on tiptoe and begins unloading the dishwasher.

I smile, somewhat amused at this oddity as I help put skillets and glasses, whisks and platters in their places. She bends over the silverware, actually sorting the pieces into their little holders and chatting gaily with me about how tea parties were invented by people with STAFF for people who also had STAFF--a mild protest of the immensity of the cleanup--as the work gets done. She finishes the sorting and I begin loading the second of what will be three loads of post-tea-party washes. And it hits me, this image of Grandma at the kitchen sink.

I love my kids and their friends. I love my friends. I enjoy using my pretty things and making memories in beautiful surroundings, but this is work. So much of love IS work. And I see it for what it is. My grandma stood at that sink so my mom wouldn't come home from work to a dirty kitchen and need to clean up before preparing supper. She was reinforcing her own habits of years, though. Raising four children in difficult circumstances, she had to make the most of meager resources all too often in order to provide nourishment and sustenance to her husband and family. She owned--commanded--the kitchen in that old house we used to visit, with its chipped formica counters and scary stove, slightly-askew cabinets and large porcelain sink. It was used, and in that use, loved, and she served us and the kitchen nearly equally as she stood at that sink and stove going through the all-too-familiar ritual of making milk gravy and buttermilk biscuits or frying chicken and stirring up her amazing potato salad.

Brides-to-be pick out china, crystal, and linens, glibly registering for all the paraphernalia that makes setting up a home easy and beautiful, completely oblivious to the fact that they are essentially pledging to those beautiful things a lifetime of conscious care and handling. Just as the extra care they will eventually put into preparing special meals for wonderful times with the people they love will help build happy lifetimes, it will also invoke a bit of loneliness as the kitchen's filling the heart-of-the-home means a woman stands in there a whole lot of the time by herself with her thoughts and memories.

As a young mom of three little girls, I would occasionally stand them on chairs at the soap-filled sink, tuck and tie the aprons around the tiny waists, and enjoy hearing them giggle as they "washed" and rinsed the plastic plates and cups that are the hard-working finery of families with small kids. 

Now getting them to help in the kitchen is a treat, and they can bake and chop and braise and saute better than I ever did at 15, but the cleanup generally lands on my shoulders, as it will for years to come.

I have a photograph somewhere of myself and my two nearest-in-age cousins standing at the sink in my other grandmother's kitchen; I was in college so they were both in high school, and we were washing dishes after one of the very last full-family gatherings we had in that house. We enjoyed the time to visit, I'm sure, but what sticks in my mind now is the ages we were; I could put my three girls at that sink now and have the same scenario, different faces. The years fly and we are held to this earth in part by the rituals of living--and the kitchen certainly centers in that grounding. I know in a few years I will cook for two and clean up for two and wait impatiently for the days when they can all come home and make huge messes and we can clean up together...and so the cycle continues. Young bride, mother-to-be, mom with a toddler playing in soap bubbles, children doing chores alongside mom, teenagers cooking and experimenting and helping when they want to--in their own way--and then leaving...never knowing as they spread their wings and buy pretty things that they are committing to years at the kitchen sink. Mostly alone.

Meanwhile grown-up women haunt thrift stores and antique shops searching for bits and pieces of the memories they hold from their childhoods. I have so much that reminds me of this grandmother or that aunt or a day we spent together doing something fun as a family. The memories associated with these things keep me company as I wash and rinse and dry and put away very carefully.

At the end of this long day, after my daughter has returned to her sisters, movie, and friend in the family room,  I hit "start" on the dishwasher, rinse out the sink, wipe down the stove, and turn off the light. Tired but happy, maybe with a tear running down one cheek. The soap bubbles drift and pop into the air like laughter fading, and I remember the joys of today, looking ahead to many, many, many more. My cup is certainly not dry; in fact, it is running over.
Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
    you make my lot secure.
 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    surely I have a delightful inheritance.
Psalm 16:5-6

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Twelve-Minute-Muse: A Creative Adventure

Several months ago my husband came in from his "seasonal" employment of lawn care and announced he had a new, fun idea for a creative outlet: a podcast. It would be a twelve-minute podcast, highlighting conversations with artists of many kinds--musicians, authors, graphic arts, and on it goes...he even had a title: the Twelve Minute Muse!

I, being always a very supportive and encouraging wife, assumed he had been out in the sun too long and handed him a glass of ice water while murmuring something like, "That's nice, honey."

Well, he did it! The cooler months allowed a break from the lawn care so that he had time to pursue this goal, and so every week for fourteen weeks now he has interviewed, edited, posted, linked, and generally spent SO MUCH ENERGY on this podcast. And it has grown. I am proud of him. Furthermore, it is INTERESTING. He's interviewed some wonderful people; we have learned some inspiring seemingly universal truths about creativity(one being that it CAN be WORK and that's okay!), and we have been motivated to pursue some other creative interests of our own as a family.

I would love if you would give a few minutes(generally about twelve, as the title suggests)to check out this new endeavor. He would be thrilled. Which makes me happier.

Here's an easy link to this week's interview(very interesting musical style and a GREAT love story!)with artist Josh Garrels.

Enjoy, and if you can, leave a comment about the Twelve Minute Muse...and it would be wonderful if you gave him a "Like" on Facebook too! Don't forget to check out past episodes as well!

Thanks, friends!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A January Morning

As I crawled back into bed at a quarter of six this morning and shivered up against the warm lump of my sleeping husband, I remembered many, many cold mornings growing up in the country. I spent week days –some early mornings if I couldn’t catch the bus at home, and nearly every day of Christmas break—with my grandparents who lived just up the road from us. Their house was a pier-and-beam construct from the late thirties, with no insulation under its oak hardwood floors and heated only with small gas heaters in the kitchen and living room and a fireplace in my pawpaw’s bedroom. It was COLD. To maintain the warmth in the heated rooms, the doors of other rooms were closed tightly and sometimes a towel stuffed underneath to avoid drafts. The main areas affected by this were the dining room—located between the kitchen and living room, and the black-and-white checkered floored hallway which separated the living room from the bathroom. That bathroom itself was very chilly, warmed only by a sunny window on the south side, and I remember slowly turning the old porcelain knobs—anticipating the blast of cold-- and closing the doors carefully and quickly behind me in the chill air. It was a methodical and shocking process to move from one oasis of warmth to another. There were times that the shut-off rooms were cold enough to see my breath in the darkness of early morning.
Old colander with Christmas village light behind it. STARS! 

But then there was the warmth. Is there anything warmer than a room with a fireplace and a huge sofa with a hand-tied crazy quilt to wrap up in near a bookshelf and a sunny window? The red linoleum floor in its bandana print radiated the heat of the fire back into the room as the clock above the mantel chimed the hour with a single DING and the pages of Reader’s Digest rustled in my hands…I read many books in that sunny spot by the window of that room. Dickens in “A Christmas Carol,”  "A Cricket in Times Square," the “Little House” books—snuggling in tighter as I read of Laura and Mary’s snow-drifted quilt under the rafters, thankful for the warmth surrounding me. I read stories of odd diseases(Reader’s Digest!) and strange events and enough comedy features to ensure a lifetime of corny humor…I puzzled over words I didn’t understand and moved on to the next article, content to read my meaning from the context only. I pondered the super colorful and usually abstract artwork on the back covers(these were issues from the 1960’s) and thought of my art lessons that would likely resume in the summer. A perfect warm orb of contentment surrounded me in those days.

The kitchen, of course, was never cold for long. Mawmaw would light the heater and then turn on all the gas burners –one to heat the kettle for the stove-brewed coffee and the other three for heat, and would preheat the oven to make the ever-present biscuits while I watched in awe as she seemed to snap her fingers  and fill the pan. She told me of times when the house was full of kids and she made 40 biscuits every morning before they headed out to work for the day. I couldn’t even think then what 40 biscuits would look like;  as she talked her fingers flew—pressing the Crisco into the super-white, freshly sifted flour, mixing in just enough cold whole milk to moisten and hold it together, patting the lump of dough into an egg-shape and pinching  the biscuits off, turning them in the oil in the pan and nestling them up against one another till the pan looked full to bursting , then tucking them into the blast of heat from the oven till they emerged brown and crunchy around the edges and soft in the middle where they touched and swelled together in rising.
While the oven worked its magic, the coffee was brewed in the aluminum drip pot on the stovetop, bacon was crisped in the frying pan and eggs were dropped in the hot fat till the edges browned and the yolks shone as yellow as the sun outside the window. Somewhere in the activity, grits were boiled and buttered, their whiteness stark against the  margarine melting into golden pools that seemed to mirror the eggs in their fried glory. 

The food went onto the warm plates and then to the green-formica-topped table where Pawpaw quickly prayed and  doused his eggs with a king’s ransom worth of pepper and was finished eating in five bites; a handful of multicolored pills downed with his glass of milk or juice, and he was gone to his man's day. Mawmaw took her time; one biscuit buttered and sopped into the liquid yolks, grits and bacon eaten and then another biscuit crumbled into the sweet-milk coffee left in her cup to be savored with a spoon while we talked about whatever little girls and their grandmothers talk about in the early morning—wondering how mom’s day at work was going, perhaps, or that particular day’s tasks? Maybe we talked about the cat or the cows or the latest wanderings of my imaginary friends. We would finish breakfast and she would clear the kitchen—soaking the dishes in the huge white sink and wiping the table and stovetop, likely  simultaneously starting something for lunch-- while I tried to help by washing the dishes and getting distracted with the lemon-scented soap bubbles, or by making the beds, wrestling with the sheets and quilts and flimsy bedspreads that unforgivingly showed every wrinkle I had unwittingly left in the undercovers. They had to be perfectly smooth so that only the wires from the electric blanket showed through, and then NO SITTING ON THE BED because of possible damage to those wires. I hated the electric blankets. They were part of the delicate web of warmth that was cast over the house in winter, though; each part crucial to the comfort level.
Their anniversary would have been January 8th. 

Remembering all that this morning, I was thankful for the extra quilt on the bed. For the warm body next to me and for wool socks. For the coffee pot that would click on automatically in a few more minutes, and for the memories that warm me just as much as the oven will when I finally go in to wake up the kitchen for the day.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Craft Studio Summer and Winter

After all the holiday busies slowed down and we actually were able to have some time at home, I knew it was time to FINALLY make the push to get the craft studio in organized order--both so I can work on new projects IN it(to this point it's been only a storage zone and things have still been overrunning the house when we need to craft or sew), and so I could take pictures to show YOU! These first few pictures were taken back in the summer--I didn't quite have everything in there yet, but the light was so pretty that day, and it looked pretty neat on the organizational level, so here's the (Louisiana!)summer's vs.winter's day contrast.

 The porch we closed in is almost 18 feet long and just over seven feet deep; obviously it makes for a long, skinny room. We tried to keep the "porch" and "old house" feel by closing it in with salvaged doors. Since the view from my bedroom windows now is into the studio, it's really nice that the glass keeps the backyard squirrel action visible and lets in quite a bit of light.

This corner hasn't changed  much since summer; it is designated as the paper crafts and beading side of the room. I would like to put a small rug down here in front of the white cubbies as a place to sit and work OR to help keep beads from bouncing if they're dropped. It would also cozy up the tea station which is in this corner(See the mushroom cookie jar? It's perfect for out here!).
 This end of the room is the sewing station. Since the summer I've moved things down a bit and added another bookshelf in the corner. More storage, though I love the versatility the pegboards provide, I also need shelf space  for patterns and books and tchotchkes!
 More details of sewing stuff. I had fun amassing the years of odd accumulations of stuff to use in this space. It's fun and quirky!
 My window seat has hinged storage underneath. I love sitting here and watching the birds almost right overhead in the trees.
 This little door--which admits a TON of light, ladybugs, and lizards-- leads to the newly-fenced and soon-to-be garden area! I am excited since this side yard is totally fenced with privacy panels--I dislike feeling "watched" when I'm gardening! C has already been drawing up shmancy plans for the space--she forgets we have NO budget for it at this point. 
The side yard--on a true Louisiana winter day. It was misty-moist and COLD(well, for us!) when this picture was taken a couple of weeks ago.
Here's a good picture of my sweet little picket fence Hubby has installed. It's so charming I almost wish it were in the front yard! :) Hopefully it will keep the marauding chickens out--I love them, but they do wreak havoc on blossoms and young veggies!

 Contrast of the light in winter when it's hazy from the summer picture above. :) I prefer this weather, by the way!
 This corner again; it has changed slightly as I have moved things around. I did get around to hanging a shadow box in that huge empty white space.
 It cheered it right up!
 And here is my sewing corner, revised. I added the tall brown shelf my daddy built for my books in college(it was sized perfectly for carting up and down dormitory stairs!). I also hung some more things and covered the worktable(a luan door bought just for the project--needs to be sealed because it sheds red dust). The vinyl tablecloth adds more color and will keep my fabrics from snagging or getting dusty on the wood.

Of course, I didn't show you the storage on either side of the window built-ins. Those are shelf units that hold all sorts of sewing things and patterns and books and gift wrap; I don't have those "prettied" yet, and I plan to put curtains over them to help hide the crowding, but they are FULL and work well. The studio is a blessing from my hubby--I'm so thankful and blessed that he makes my interests a priority.

Hope you enjoyed seeing my little space! 

Having fun along with:

A New Birdie-Baby

"I'm perfectly happy right now."

"Tilney, three days is plenty of time to get excited!"(about Christmas! and helping unwrap gifts!)

These are words I heard in the car on our way home on Dec. 22nd after adding a new member to the family. 

Meet Darcy-Tilney-Bilbo-Bertie the bird...."Birdie" for everyday reference. 

It took months after we felt we were ready for a new cockatiel before we could FIND one. This little fella is super sweet.

J has a new buddy!


Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Sweet Giveaway (just in time) for Christmas!

My Redhead girl who LOVES her American Girl dolls has decided NOW is the time to do a girls-and-dolls sweet treats giveaway...drawing will be on Christmas Eve; if you win, you'll have your treats in hand by Epiphany!

Click here to enter, and SHARE, please! It would mean so much to her!

Thank you!!!!!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Tree--Last Year's Version, anyway!

I don't think I ever posted pictures of our tree last year, and since this year's tree isn't yet up,
 I thought I'd revisit last year's tree. 
Maybe it will help me get motivated to decorate around here. 
 I have several photos and cards that I put on the tree, usually.
 It's so sweet to look back at how little the kids were!
 The little white chenille wreath was made by a sweet lady who was our church librarian when when I was about ten years old. She made these out of OLD ornament bits and gave them to our Sunday school class. Seeing it reminds me of all the great stories she encouraged me to read.
 I did finally manage to start wrapping gifts today. 
Here's Kit safeguarding C's new hat last year. 

 Last year we had little people coming to visit right after Christmas, so I picked only some of my most favorite ornaments for last year's tree. The nutcracker belongs to The Boy's collection, and the kitty cat basket belongs to the Redhead.
The card with the couple looking at the map is a humorous reminder of the "You should have turned there!" scenario we re-enact on EVERY road trip.
 The red boots remind me of little feet and muddy yards and swing sets of days gone past.
 A Christmas card picture taken when it snowed several years ago. 
This was early in the morning; they were so excited that it was snowing, they were up before dawn!
 Maybe soon there will be a tree to see this year! 

Enjoy the days! They are fleeting!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Did Someone Say Christmas?

Wow! Look at the date! I am finding it hard to believe that we are 15 days away from Christmas, even though blogland has exploded with red and green, gingerbread men and santas, and snow and sparkle. We are working on a fairly big project right now--which ends this week but began back in early October; and my girls are still in classes online with quite a bit of work, so it doesn't "feel" like the Christmas season yet. I've not managed to put up a tree or decorate the mantel or even open any boxes of decorations. I have managed to finish shopping for two children and gotten a good start on everyone else--thank you, cyber week sales! Not one gift has been wrapped yet, however. I know at the last minute I will likely be wrapping madly and scribbling names on packages with a Sharpie...unless I pay a child to wrap her own gifts again(Yes, I did this last year and it was GREAT!).  

I did manage, back in November, to get the twinkle lights strung in my craft studio.
 Since there are windows on both sides of the room, the reflection of the lights goes on and on till it looks like thousands of tiny twinkles instead of only 200! 

I also managed to get the dollhouse decorated. Not high on the priority list, but it fell in the category of Things I'm Always Intending To Do at Christmas But Never Accomplish, as well as the category of 
Things I Can Finish Quickly.
 Hazel's bedroom has a beach-themed tree this year and a simple green holly wreath on the fireplace. She's been busy wrapping up a few gifts too--kept up here till closer to the big day for safekeeping and no-peeking!
The dolls were glad they didn't have to climb any ladders to hang the outside decorations! Advantages of being dolls, I suppose!

 Someone's been busy baking Christmas treats, and left a sink FULL of dirty dishes! Oh, my!
 The upstairs hallway has a pretty banister decoration and a new birdcage. Downstairs needs the staircase installed again....oops!
Hazel is in the attic searching for more decorations, while visiting friend Jane is keeping Cindy company over a Christmas movie in the living room. Little sister Janie is in her room dreaming of what she will give the others for Christmas. Baby sister Lili is visiting a friend today. 

Sometimes I wish I could pop into the mini world and be done with all that's needing to be accomplished! :)
Hope your Christmas preparations are coming along merrily!


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Understanding Unemployment from a wife's perspective

No one has any concept what a woman goes through when her husband is unemployed unless she herself has experienced it. I was thinking of this the last couple of days after a few conversations wherein I felt totally displaced and misfitted to my stage and location; these are FRIENDS who have known me for years, and they don't seem to know me anymore--not since he lost his job have things been the same in our relationships. I chalk this up to misunderstanding rather than malice. They are friends, after all!

No one can understand the sudden change of priority that takes place when a husband unexpectedly loses work. Yes, there are the financial stresses which never are silent and still, but the other changes are more subversive and harder to comprehend. There's stress on the marriage at sudden larger amounts of time together and the way this interferes with daily routines. There's stress in relationships with the children as more decisions are shared between Mom and Dad, as Dad is home during the day more. There's the temptation for Mom to pick apart Dad's decision making and discipline in front of the children. There are more meals to prepare when he is home more. There is more laundry when he is working hard physically to earn money for the family. There are disruptions in Mom's (and the children's) social life as she reconstructs her time to meet the needs of her family better. An unemployed husband likely depends on his wife's ears and intuition more than a man who is fully engaged  in his work. Her ears may already be tired from listening to children all day, and then she finds herself needing to listen still more to her man and even DREAM a bit with him when she's tired and ready to dream, herself. These needs limit her time to chat with friends and to do "fun" things outside of the house...some of which is good because it IS harder to spend money she doesn't have when she is at home! These needs are also incredibly stressful and draining, as the need for UNITY in the marriage is compounded by the momentous nature of a career change--coupled with more with-kids-time and less opportunity to really have uninterrupted conversation as a couple.

It is hard on the woman whose husband has lost his job and has experienced a long and fruitless search(say, nineteen months)when she is questioned by friends and family incessantly about what he's doing to try to find work. It's frustrating to her to feel the need to defend her man and his decisions, because no one can see more clearly than she just how hard he IS working to find a job, how much stress he IS enduring because of the financial lack, and how much he needs people to really and truly come alongside him in PRAYER, BELIEVING in God's providence and timing...NOT to question his motives, his plans, or his efforts. Real help comes in the form of a pat on the back, an offer to help out somehow financially, keeping their children for a much-needed-but-unaffordable date night, a phone call or card of encouragement, maybe even a business is not so much in the constant questioning. The unemployed man and his wife are spending PLENTY of time questioning, that  much is certain. Just because they have not bared their souls or presented all of their family and friends with their ten-step plan to FIND WORK NOW does NOT mean that they are not thinking about it!

Do you have a friend or family member looking for work? Have you wondered how to encourage them?
Let me suggest some ways to help:

1. Pray for them. Ask God to provide for their needs in tangible ways for His glory. Pray that they will have eyes to see Him at work, and that they will have wisdom to pursue "paths of righteousness for His name's sake" as they move toward their next assignment.

2. Realize they may need your help. Can you cook a meal? Even just once might offer a chance to feel a slight break from the pressure of needing to provide EVERYTHING; you might indeed be God's provision for Tuesday night's supper! Put hands and feet to the good intentions. Offer to mow the grass, take the kids for an evening, or just have the whole family over to hang out. The change of scenery from their home to yours might be just the mental rest they need RIGHT NOW. Unemployment means a LOT more time at home, all together, in the same four walls.

3. Avoid asking too many questions. It's demoralizing to be asked "How's the job hunt coming?" all the time. It reinforces a sense of failure to have to say that it's NOT going well, still. Trust me, if your friend finds a job, YOU WILL HEAR ABOUT IT. Until then, don't ask that question. Ask how you can help. Ask how you can pray. Ask if they still like chocolate syrup and bacon, but don't ask THAT question.

4. Listen. If your friend needs to talk and vent frustration or work through an idea for a great new business plan, consider that your cue to be a great ear and maybe even a firm shoulder to cry on...isolation is a really big monster in the closet for the family whose breadwinner is unemployed. Let them know you are just THERE if they need you to be.

5. Check in. Call. Text. Remind them that they are missed in the circles they're not frequenting so much anymore. It's very hard to keep working hard on a job search when you feel like no one would miss you if you were gone. Friends and family can provide much-needed connection and emotional support during the stress of job hunting, waiting, and maybe even relocation if it comes to that.

6. Celebrate successes. Big, small. Share your blessings and thanksgivings for God's provision in your own life AND help your job-needy friend celebrate his too. Point to the Giver of all good things when it's so tempting to have a downcast countenance. Thankfulness is contagious, but don't PREACH it. Live it.

7. Give grace. The season of unemployment presents many unexpected financial, time management, and interpersonal challenges that are frankly overwhelming. Try to put yourself in that position before getting your feelings hurt over how things seem to have changed. Your friend needs YOU more now than ever. Be available.

That's my observation. Do you have points to add to my list?

We're still watching and praying for God's next step for our family. We appreciate YOUR prayers on our behalf.

We know He makes all things beautiful in His time.

Blessings to you!