My children are all away at school now.

I have no goats to milk, rabbits to groom, or chickens to keep alive (as my once-necessary source of eggs-that-don’t-give-me-migraines).

I have read over 180 books this year, since I quit feeling embarrassed for my high-consumption of novels, and for the first time in forever I can sit still and feel a sense of choice and options in how I will spend my time.

Years ago, when Jay was traveling, and I had rabbits/goats/chickens (and rats, God-help-me) in the depressive dark of winter, along with three beautiful children who looked to me for all things good, I was much more limited in my choices.

One funny part, in a quirked way, was that I couldn’t choose to write. Writing wasn’t optional if I wanted to be sane, kind, and have any energy at all. Writing was essential like showers were essential: maybe not to life, but without question to quality of life.

I remember the moment when I realized that I was perpetually falling into “crisis mode,” that lifestyle where nothing mattered but staying warm fed and sane. Trouble with that, was the niggling part of my mind that insisted healthy also needed to be in the equation somewhere, especially since this looked to be my lifestyle for a while.

This resulted in a life-changing awareness:

If I’m going to spend this much time in crisis mode, I need a way more efficient crisis mode!

And you could say that’s what I’ve spent the last three years learning.

We’ve gradually removed stressors from our lives — first the rabbits, then the goats, then the little house, then the chickens…

We’ve added margin: Jay travels less, we have more physical space, we live closer to Jay’s work, so we have more time-space, and now the children are all off being taught by somebody else.

One of the intriguing things about being on Facebook is watching trends within my own news-feed. A kindergarten mom shared her tear-red face on day-one, and asked the next day if she’d ever get used to giving up her boy.

I’ve never been particularly sentimental, but I’ve also been particularly good at treating whatever it is I want to do as simply normal. I never considered sending my kids away for kindergarten. I didn’t seen the point, really. Natasha’s first day of school looked a lot like every other day of her 5/6-year-old existence, with reading, songs and a bit of colored-bear mathish games thrown in.

The main difference was that I mentioned her neighbor friend was going to his first day of school. Natasha froze, then, very carefully said, “I’m not ready to be away from you all day. I’m not big enough.”

This, I loved.

And I also loved how everyone was ready this year.

So now we’re on day-three, and I have the option of sitting quietly. Having learned and lived a sustainable “crisis mode,” having become familiar with the absolute minimum that will keep a home together while those in them are at their weakest, I am reminding me to pace myself.

Usually I do my best work when I’m alone in the house, so the last two days have been a bit tense while I find a balance between maximizing my alone time (so I will be able to focus better on the kids once they’re back), and doing it in a way that doesn’t leave me physically exhausted.

The thing is, all this margin and reading and rest has been *wonderful,* but in a way it’s underscored how much the last five years have sucked out of me. I tried to be active and productive and go maximize my empty house (clean! organize! exercise!) and I was reminded that I am still low on stamina and strength.

So I’m still playing things by ear. My one big goal this semester is to finish the second part of my lindorm story, with the smaller (as in quieter, less-forceful) goal of recovering health is working in the background.


August Update 2012

Okay, school’s in session.

Jay asked me to spend the the first day of school on-site, in case the sudden change was too much of a shock for any of the children.

I camped in a workroom one wall from Melody and Elisha’s 1st & 2nd (combined) class and heard their first interactions with their teacher (Elisha’s spontaneous and musical, Melody’s called-on, but confident). The teacher kept going no matter what, continued her lesson without hiccup, and I began to realize how very different this rhythm was than anything I could do.

Before the end of the morning I was pretty agitated, actually. The hum and energy and metronome-steady press so close to me was nearly overwhelming.

I went into their classroom at lunch, and read to Melody after she finished eating.

She’d seen an illustrated version of Heidi in the book basket, one she remembered reading at home, and asked for it. For the next few minutes she lay in my arms and just soaked up Mama. While the rest of the class thrummed by their desks waiting to be released to recess.

The next morning (and every morning the rest of the week) Melody made it clear she was not interested in going away to school anymore, but we emphasized this was not a decision she got to make.

At the same time, I understood.  The clip and the rhythm and the push of an experienced teacher is very different that what any of us are used to, and it was nothing that I would be comfortable with myself.  I wrestled briefly with whether I could make my kids do something I wouldn’t do myself.

My conclusion was two-fold:

  1. I already had done this. I wasn’t asking her to do something I never endured.
  2. I think all children need both structure and the opposite in their lives. If my kids can get the structure side of things from someone else, that means that I don’t have to make it happen. And that. is awesome.

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The post that needs pictures

…that I don’t know how to take.

This is going to be a very chatty, busy post, because that’s what I have today.

You see (actually you can’t see) our house is (by USian standards) very small.  We have one bedroom, that the kids all share.

What’s funny about all this is that I still read those “simplify your life” blogs (or posts) and consider what else I could do to maximize the space I have.  And this Christmas break (Jay’s been home) we’ve done quite a bit and I’m *thrilled* with the results.

Only there’s no way really to show you through the computer, so you’ll just have to come visit, ‘kay?

Since last month (you know, back before our massive rabbit expansion) here’s a list of the space-makers that have improved my quality of life:

  • Changing to a full-size stacked washer/dryer
  • This is huge to me: I can sort (and fold!) laundry in the laundry room now.  Baskets fit in the laundry room instead of spilling into the hosting bathroom.
  • Jay put counter top in the wellroom, so I have a place for my Vitamix and Kitchenaid to hang out and stay easily usable.
  • I moved the miscellanea cabinet into the wellroom, which left my main kitchen feeling more roomy and got my measuring cups and mixing bowls closer to where I use them most.
  • We hung up lots of stuff. Which means it’s contributing to the environment, not cluttering it.
    • There was the stuff that makes the spaces more comfortable/attractive, like my gordian knot quilt in the main room, a miniature knot in the kitchen, and a two hangings in the wellroom (to mute the intense yellow all around).
    • And there were the little things that just made life easier: my Thread Elephant (okay: one of my New Year’s resolutions is officially to get my camera to talk to my laptop.  You all need to hear the thread-elephant story, and it just doesn’t work without a picture.) and a few other things, but the BIG ONE is that Jay hung a florescent tube light fixture in my office (which also happens to be under our double-size loft bed).  This is a big deal because we’re going to add full-spectrum bulbs once we go to the store again, and I’ll be getting that oh-so-important light therapy while I do my writing and computer time.

    Another life-enhancer is just the plain cuteness of bringing in glossy baby angoras.  I’ve been reading about rabbit agility (don’t roll your eyes. You love me, remember?  Just smile at my quirkiness and be supportive, please), and it made me think of the work I used to do in a similar vein with Joule.

    Yes, I miss her.  No, we’re not likely to get another dog.  Jay is loving the pet-free house far too much.

    Rabbits are proving to be a good match for me: they can go from bare-minimum interaction to lap-pet with remarkable dexterity.

    Two of the three new angoras look to be torts (half-way down this page, if you’d like an estimate), and very high-energy.  I expect I’ll experiment with one of these for agility.

    Continue reading

    How do you get ready for the new year?

    (I’m shifting my chatty and “personal” stuff over to this blog, so reading updates and so on will probably be kept here now.)

    I am continually re-evaluating and “tweaking” my life, and see the turn over to the new year as another natural opportunity for that.

    This year begins the second full year in our new home, and Jay has had vacation time to do some of the indoor projects that make my life easier (Thank you Jay!).

    Mainly, I have a bit more counter-space for kitchen work, and (today) he’s finishing up the re-piping of my little laundry room, installing a (Craigslist) stacked W/D to double my working space there.

    Having a year behind us is a huge encouragement to me, because we’ve got our baseline (nearly) nailed down, and now we’re free just to figure out living.

    I just began our second month of planned meals (I’ve been amazed at how much brain matter that clears out for other use), and over Christmas break I worked out a schedule I plan to apply once we start school again.

    The hopeful thing about this schedule (I keep telling myself) is that I didn’t add a bunch of stuff I *wish* could happen.  Nearly everything on the list is stuff we’ve been doing already, just not as consistently as I want (bed and waking times, for example).

    Two things I did add are weekly “project” time with each kid– I want to do special stuff with them, but have proven I don’t do well with unstructured time– and twice weekly bringing Griffin– the male angora– inside for grooming.

    Griffin has the most amazing, spinnable wool, so naturally it matts and felts for nothing.  Which simply means it needs to be maintained if I want to get a good harvest.

    Yesterday I made a short list of the stuff I expect (hope) to buy, and the books I’d like to have read (or re-read) before the end of the year.  I even brought inside the (hmm) 22 books and put them all on a single shelf, cause that’s the way I am.

    The sad thing to me, is how (mathematically speaking) 22 books is a very realistic number to expect to consume in 12 months (you see, it’s a little less than 2 per month. I’m sure I’ve done at least that this year; I haven’t gone back and counted yet).  It’s sad because it fills a good 24″ chunk of shelf, and can’t help drawing attention to the fact that I have many multiples of that amount of space being filled by books I want to read.

    I know better than to make a resolution not to buy anything new this year (some of you remember how empty that promise has been in the past), but it certainly highlights the inherent optimism of buying books.

    Anyway, I’ll be staring a “Finished in 2012” book page, as I did for 2009, because, as huge and ungainly as it gets, it’s just simpler to maintain than multiple miniature posts.

    Over half of my reading this year was on the kindle, and most of those were free or under $5. I kept track in my home document/journal, but I guess I felt more…sensitive about what I read. I suppose I should be confident enough to “be me” and read what I want without explanation or apology, but I’m not there yet.  Maybe when I’m 50.  At least I’m still reading them, right?

    Continue reading

    So Much to Process

    Yesterday Melody had her first dentist appointment (looked in her mouth a week or so ago and could see cavities).

    Turns out she’s got a gobzillion cavities, and the dentist looks at me and asks, “Has she been brushing twice a day for two minutes each time?”  And I felt like saying something totally rude about how he shouldn’t assume everyone has heard those standards, and I’m not an idiot, are you taking a survey over how many people who follow the standards still get cavities?

    Maybe I would have felt guilty-er if I hadn’t just had a conversation a week ago with a mom who does hyper-regulate her kids’ teeth hygiene and was crushed that her 8-year-old has cavities despite her efforts.

    Anyway, they give me a quote for half her mouth (they schedule one side at a time because they don’t expect a kid to sit through the whole procedure at once) and blow off my questions/distaste for metal fillings.  “[Tooth-colored fillings] are more expensive” was all they’d say to me.

    The friend who referred me had warned me about the negitive response the workers gave when asked about health issues, so I tried to make it about aesthetics (hey, this should be solid ground, I thought), and still felt invalidated.

    I guess I should have taken that story as a reason not to go, but I wanted to get Melody checked and here was somebody known by somebody.  Anyway, after looking at the estimate (pushing $2000.  For one-half of her mouth. BLEW my mind) I told Jay, “I am totally calling around for prices.”

    And I only had the energy to call 3 offices, but that was enough to establish that we visited an expensiver place (annoyed me) and that there are providers that are already rejecting the metal fillings themselves, so I don’t have to but heads with an establishment.

    So I have to finish calling around tomorrow; one more place to meet Jay’s request of four new offices, and one call-back to compare oranges with oranges.

    I’m totally getting the impression that this isn’t playing by the rules (going to place A then hijacking the x-rays and exam to have the work done elsewhere).  If office A hadn’t charged plenty for the initial exam I might feel more compunction about changing, but I’ve given the worker his due.

    Continue reading


    Now I am sincerely sorry for ever telling my kids to ignore a sibling’s teasing because “You know what they’re saying is not real.”

    I wish now I had instead used the time to urge the offender to “practice telling the truth.”

    Because now hearing as fact what I disagree with– even when I don’t feel deceived by it– feels like an assault on already embattled walls, and that from a side that was supposed to be safe.

    And when a little person is little, I’m thinking now that a blue sky being blue is not something s/he should have to defend.

    It doesn’t set a healthy precedent.

    If We’re not Striving for Perfect

    What’s the alternative?

    Has anything is this world been accomplished by pursuing the mediocre? Or the minimum?  Jesus himself set the bar pretty high: Be perfect.

    I understand the calls away from such “impossible” standards, though.  We could get terrifically discouraged by never meeting a goal we were seriously striving for. So where’s the middle ground?

    One of my measures I use for “appropriate engagement” (if perfectionism is a bad word) is Paul’s admonition “Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

    I thought that it was brilliant when I first came up with it.  After all, I’m human, and weak and all that, so I’m not shooting too high. And I’m not comparing myself with someone else.

    But as I tried actively to apply it I still became discouraged, because, well, I really do have moments of amazing. And they are far less than consistent.

    How can I justify that?  How can I explain the difference between that woman who can corral and motivate a dozen children between the ages of 3 and 7, and the woman who has to remind herself to smile and speak kindly to those same delightful children when she’s completely uninterested?

    How can I — when I’m not even working on my novel— explain the difference between effortless maintenance of my home and the soul-swallowing discouragement of a kitchen I can’t keep clean.

    I don’t quite beat myself up over it, but I have wondered a long time.

    When I guessed there might be a hormonal connection I got really discouraged, because here was something completely beyond my control.  It made me feel incredibly weak (or insulted) to imagine I only had a particular ability because of largely random timing. That I couldn’t expect it to last.

    It felt so unfair and unnatural.

    Then I thought of your typical cold-blooded lizard.

    I swear this is not a reflection on my self-image. 😉

    Here is a creature *completely* dependent on elements outside its control.

    A lizard on a sunny day can seem almost magically fast, energized, and even clever.  That same critter in winter (or in the cool of night) seems like a different animal altogether.

    The encouraging thing, if one chooses to see it this way, is that the lizards don’t even try to do the same things (or not to the same level) when it’s not warm enough to engage their full powers.

    In addition they have coping/survival skills in place for those anticipated times when they will be vulnerable. They make different choices and behave differently in order to maximize their available resources.

    So that’s been my thinking lately– how best to maintain an even keel when the energy is lacking in a particular area. How to have a meaningful double standard for those things I don’t (consistently) soar in.

    I am not interested in “curing” perfectionism.  I still strive for it, because I believe in that I am being obedient to Christ. But I maintain hope, because of God’s promise that

    He knows what we are made of,
    remembering that we are dust.

    And I know that if I wasn’t “striving,” I would not have discovered the many delights God was ready to bless me in.

    7 Quick Takes: Love Really Does Make Everything Better.

    This post got really long and eclectic, then I remembered, Ah! I have a format for this! Thanks Jen!

    ~ ~ 1 ~ ~

    I am thankful for how practical a teacher God is.

    Even though I have a (theoretical) capacity to understand things just by thinking about them–

    Hey, would that count as a super power?

    — He usually explains things in a more tangible way.

    What do I mean?

    Well, in the last week there’s been the reminder of my insufficiency– which I can’t even take full credit for, because I had help noticing that; there was missing my family; there was understanding my Migraines; and there was getting the hull of my emotional boat to stop scraping along the rocky river bottom of confusion.

    ~ ~ 2 ~ ~

    I remember almost 5 years ago, when I told the ladies of my Bible study how maxed I was with my Dear Husband gone a month. I was in my exhausted sludge of a first trimester, with two children under the age of three, and attempting function at 15-below (-15 F) while people asked me if I was worried about my husband in Antarctica.

    After all, he had to attend the required SURVIVAL classes. Camping outdoors. Alone. At approximately 31-degrees. That would be above zero, folks.

    Oh, and that would be while enjoying the gorgeous, non-stop *light* we were missing on our side of the world in November.

    When I was afraid this wasn’t making enough of an impression I added that I slept on a bed I couldn’t even change the sheets of.

    “I know God’s supposed to be my sufficiency and all that,” I said (in a defensive effort to preempt any platitudes I was afraid were headed my way), “But right now what I really need is someone with skin.”

    And to my own humbling, the next morning started with a phone call that resulted in one of those women inviting herself over “to be skin.”

    ~ ~ 3 ~ ~

    Jay and I will have been married 10 years in August.  We have always included talk and questions about “back at the beginning” in our conversations, so it caught me off-guard this week when Jay said, “That was ten years ago. Tell me what makes you feel loved, now.”

    And, bless God, enough specific things had happened recently I knew exactly what to say.

    It was no small thing to watch Return to Me with Jay a couple nights ago, and see him devastated by the first ten minutes that take away the leading man’s wife. It was a heavy measure of value to me for Jay to bring it back up and use it to emphasize how important I am to him.

    So I was already thinking about how nice it was to be taken care of, and I could say specific things. That’s when I understood something.

    Feeling loved goes a long way to lifting my emotional boat off the rocks of what’s going on around me.

    I was pretty thoroughly marooned a week ago, unraveling with too much stress and unmeetable expectations. And Jay noticed.

    I like to imagine I’m an easy read.

    Between him and Mom (but mostly him) they took over with the housework and the kids for the next four days.

    Loads of water poured in (if you can visualize one of the locks at the Erie canal), but I had felt so dry I was still scraping bottom in a lot of places.

    Anyway, I was only supposed to have “off” until dinner time Sunday night, but I didn’t sleep at all Saturday, and so crashed before 6 on Sunday. Monday morning I was supposed to take the kids to a doctor appointment (on my own), but not far into the (perfectly paced) morning, I realized I was having a migraine.

    Because we were already going to be on time, Jay met us at the doctor’s office and ran herd while I sat quietly with my head against the wall.

    Jay was the one who held the children for their highly-traumatic shots, then took them to choose ice cream and candy mix-ins from the grocery store, making “Cold Stone” style ice cream at home because the shop itself didn’t open before 11am.

    Then, because of the migraine went to bed *early* again.

    And heard no complaints.

    ~ ~ 4 ~ ~

    Back when my niece was born, almost 14 years ago, a saying began in our family.

    Somebody said something about this darling child getting spoiled by being the only baby for 6 adults (give or take a couple teenagers). I think it was my mom who firmly contradicted that spoiling wasn’t healthy for any child; that *our* baby was, simply, Well Taken Care Of.

    Jay was not around yet, but because the phrase was established it entered his vocabulary, and my heart swelled the day he picked up our crying firstborn (because I begged, not because he wanted to) and told her seriously, nose-to-nose, “I think you’re Well Taken Care Of.”

    ~ ~ 5 ~ ~

    I now say (frequently) that I’m well taken care of, but– and maybe this is the way babies feel too– I am thankful this is the baseline. Because I need this level of care.

    I’m still confused as all get out about some of the stuff that threw me into a tailspin last week, but having a buffer that keeps me off the rocks has made it all a *lot* less threatening.

    ~ ~6~ ~

    The challenge I’m being reminded of now is maintenance.

    The word by itself makes me think of *all* the things I’d like to maintain, so I’m trying to narrow my focus.

    For highest-functioning health it looks like I need to actively work with my sources (God, my husband, my friends) to make sure I’m maintaining that magical ballance that fills my lock without overloading my introvert wiring.

    I’m still figuring out this ratio.

    It also makes me look at my kids’ meltdowns in a more blatantly relational context.

    Though sleep is a close second: and one of three highly-correlated elements in my migraines.

    Eggs is another.

    ~ ~ 7 ~ ~

    I’m having my first massage Friday.

    No idea what to expect, other than I hope to come out of it de-tensed in my body.

    Back when I made the appointment I wasn’t quite off the rocks yet, and the intangible issues felt overwhelming. All I could think of to ease my load was to get the tension out of my body at least.

    Now that I feel better all around I’m looking forward to the massage even more–  thinking, in my improved state of mind, that it should be even more useful.

    Shifting Focus

    Have you ever noticed  you become like what you spend the most time with?

    This is why I’m always awed and grateful about the Really Awesome People who like me and think I’m worth spending time on.

    And now I’m finding a combination of that and how guided I am by titles.

    “Family News” might be getting a new name and more content soon.  Because I’m realizing there’s stuff I want to write because I want to write it, and not (anymore just) because I think someone else wants to read it.

    And I’m realizing a harder time writing about non-writing stuff on Untangling Tales– largely because I’m connecting with more and more “serious” writers on-line and the eclectic stuff seems to be more suited to this spot.  But it will need a new name.

    Probably not “little red onions.” I think that name was inspired by the massive amount of reading I’ve been doing lately. (Soon to be reflected in my sidebars).

    In Pandora I have a station I call my “Noveling” station that is crazy-broad in content, but perfect for triggering my intent to write. It’s music that I enjoy and engages my story-mind.

    Last night as I cleaned my kitchen (hmm, could I make that a nightly ritual?) I had it playing because it’s my favorite, most varied station.

    And I wanted to leave the kitchen and go work on my novel.

    So I created a new station.  My desire is for the music-task connection to grow just as solid.

    Anyway, my desire for a shift is from realizing the fractured nature of my on-line writing.  If I can change my image of this space (and you, beloved readers, can tolerate skipping the things of no interest to you) I would put everything non-writing here, and eliminate the extra little blogs I created out of a sort of “politeness.”

    I want the writing to be separate because the more I meet “serious” writers, the more I figure I ought to have a little corner that looks a bit more professional.

    But with moving (or not), and homeschooling, and (maybe) tiny-homesteading, and eating up the learning curve and being excited by that: that is different and jumbled together, and I want a place to let it all dance without worrying if this is something *everybody* is interested in.

    I like writing for an audience (even if it’s very small), but since I’m in a place of multiple transitions my blogging is going to reflect that.

    Just, a new title would be really helpful, too.

    Ask a simple question…

    The children are “ice skating” to their self-created music in the nook normally used as the dining area.

    Jay is filling out some huge survey, occasionally trying to engage me by asking questions.

    I am trying to cruise through my reconceptualized novel despite the activity, and Jay reads from the survey:

    “Do you have trouble concentrating or making decisions?”

    Me: “YES!”