Home and Hearth

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Photo by Duchesssa (Gabriella Fabbri)

I just wasted at least an hour looking for a picture that would help me ease back into writing. It has been almost a year since I’ve posted, for which I will not apologize. Life has indeed presented me with many challenges, some pleasant, others heart-wrenching. I can not write about them all.

I have tried and tried to decide  what direction to take this blog – and my life. I have made no decisions. Is life about making decisions? Or is it merely observing the now? Seems like this state has existed for me for a long time.

On the bright side, I have been offered a job. The job of my dreams. Now begins the hard work. Whether or not I will move forward remains to be seen.

Tree Silouhette Against Sky

Photo by Asif Akbar

It all started at the end of January. My husband lost his job and our family of five, plus one cat, was suddenly without income. It would be nice if our cat could become an internet sensation and earn us some money, but alas, he doesn’t even flinch when the doves pass by him on their way to the water dish.

This job, which has lasted for more than thirteen years, has been slipping away from us for at least the last five. We didn’t know when the job would end, we only knew that it would. Even though we knew this, we weren’t quite ready for the shock of it all. We immediately went into recovery mode. We made sure we knew exactly where all of our money was, how much we had, and when and how much we could expect to receive in the coming weeks. The severance, which we were lucky to get, is gone. We’re receiving unemployment insurance, but that is less than one quarter of what we were earning. My family is helping me out, but, as grateful as I am, it will be better when we can stand on our own. We have been unemployed for just over six months now. The unemployment benefits will continue for 18 months.

We realized that I need to go to work, and that we have to put the kids into public school. It means the end, for now, of our homeschooling career. For me, this is huge. I have not been in the workforce for more than thirteen years. Resumes are different. Job hunting is different. Networking has taken on a whole new meaning. I am worried about how the kids would do in school. I am worried about the logistics of getting them to and from school while holding down a job. I am worried about how my energy would hold out.

Shortly after the job loss, I sank into a major depression. If you have never experienced this, it is one of the most terrifying things there is. I was barely able to get up, shower and get dressed. Without the boys in the house, I doubt I could have gotten out of bed at all. Because of them, I got up, got dressed and mimed my way through the day. My husband took over all the cooking and most of the cleaning. I lay on the bed or sat on the couch or at my desk and simply stared into space. I knew instinctively that I could not handle this alone. This was just too big. I decided to seek counseling and within 6 weeks, I started counseling at a place that offered a sliding scale.

Fast forward 7 weeks into my counseling. Things were looking up and I had a better grip on things. On the fourth Monday in May, I got a call from my Mom telling me that my Grandmother’s death was “imminent.” On Tuesday, I drove five hours to her home. I sat by her side for three days. She died while I was holding her hand on Friday. I had never known such devastation before. My Grandmother was as close to me as my Mother. She taught me how to survive with three rowdy boys. I spent summers as a child at her house, and when I went to college, I visited her on weekends. I spoke to her on the phone several times a week. She let me use all of her office supplies to make fleets of paper airplanes and “crafts.” She gave me the best bedroom in her house, with a big pink bed and an adjoining bathroom. It was a room fit for a princess. I adored my Grandmother.

This event yanked me forcefully backward. Someone had grabbed my hair and pulling me. My Grandfather had died a mere two years before, and I was still grieving for him. I fell back even more solidly into the depression. I felt choked, as if I was drowning. On the advice of my counselor, I immediately got on the waiting list for another counseling service that had a sliding scale and open ended counseling sessions. Ten sessions was not going to be enough.

Since then, we’ve had another death in the family – my late Grandfather’s sister. Luckily, there was not to be another funeral. I could not have handled that. Nevertheless, I traveled the five hours again to be with my family – to offer what comfort I could to my Great Uncle, my Mother, and my many cousins. Our family has lost and lost and lost these past two years.

My husband and I have not yet found employment. The kids are slated to start school in a little more than a week. Next week we must shop for the remainder of their school supplies. The air conditioner went out while the outside temperatures have hovered near 105. We had to buy two full sets of tires for the vehicles and replace the wheel bearings on the van. In case you didn’t know, that is an expensive repair.

Somehow, I’m still here. No one has been sick. The boys are happy and thriving. I just haven’t been able to write. I have had to sit still for a long time and in many ways, I’m still sitting. My Grandparents’ furniture is in my home, and my Mother is moving into their house. I continue to visit my counselor and my friends have helped to hold me up. For now, I sit still.

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Photo by Ivanmarn

Osama Bin Laden was killed yesterday in Pakistan. Also killed were two of his brothers and his adult son. I found this out just today. Although I am relieved that he will no longer be able to kill or to order the deaths of any more innocents, I have to stop myself from rejoicing over the death of another human being. Actually, I don’t have to stop myself very much. It’s the rest of the world. Even now, thousands are at Ground Zero in New York City and a crowd has gathered in from of the White House in Washington D.C. rejoicing and cheering. This makes my blood run cold. Even though Osama Bin Laden did a lot of heinous things and orchestrated the murders of thousands at the World Trade Centers and in other attacks around the world, he was still a human being. He was a son, a brother, a father, someone’s lover, a grandson, perhaps a grandfather.

It is my belief that every single death touches more lives than you can imagine. It affects even those who are not related in blood or in friendship. Like an insect walking on a spider’s web or a stone thrown into an undisturbed pond, extreme actions like the killing of another being have repercussions. Osama Bin Laden’s death will affect the world in its own way. In order to have true peace, we must, as a species, practice the peace we want to experience around the world.

Rejoicing in his death only adds to the violence. It sends the wrong message to our children. The message it sends is that violence solves all problems. It does not. Killing the killer does not bring back the killed. Even the families and friends of killers still weep for their lost loved ones. Because everyone is loved by someone.

I see in my local news that people are celebrating. Fireworks are being set off over the campus and many say they are happy about what happened. A soldier at ground zero reminded us, though, that it is also a time of mourning. So many have needlessly lost their lives at the hands of Al-Qaida and it’s leader and followers. The families of the folks killed in the 9/11 attacks are still in mourning. The mothers of the Al-Qaida’s operatives have lost their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.

The celebrations just seem wrong. To me, this is a solemn event. It is a day to reflect seriously on where we’ve been and where we’re going. It is my hope that Mr. Obama and leaders around the world will ponder these events and take time to absorb what has happened and reflect on the violence that threatens to swallow the world whole. They need to take these reflections with them to work every day. They need to make decisions that will bring peace, not violence to the world.

I am keep these thoughts close to my heart as I interact with my family and children. On the way to school with my eldest, I briefly told him what had happened and my thoughts on it. I told him that I wanted him to know what I thought, so that he may weigh that against what others may say and form his own opinions. I am very interested in what the perceptions of the other children will be. Their background is probably very different from his. They come from a different culture and a different world view. It will be a challenge navigating the issues of the day with my children.

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Photo by Yaroslav B

 

I am a runner.

I do not run fast.

I do not run far.

But I am a runner.

I run to stay healthy.

I run to stay sane.

I run because my body aches to move.

My feet long to feel the pound as they hit the road.

I’m not an experienced runner.

I do not run marathons.

I’ve never entered a 5K.

I love seeing the nature in my own neighborhood; saying hello to the dogs that bark at me as I pass; chatting with neighbors.

This only happens when it is cool outside.

Soon it will be 95 degrees by 9am.

My walks will take place even earlier.

The sunrise will be my friend.

My shoes aren’t expensive.

My outfit is not perfect.

My hair may be a mess.

I don’t own any ear buds or headphones.

I listen to the birds and the sound of my own breathing.

I savor the season.

I am a runner.

 

 

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Photo by Stephanie Hofschlaeger

 

It all starts out so innocently. A couple fall in love and decide to get married. Soon enough, they decide to have children. At first, the children are precious, delicate beings, content to nurse and sleep and laugh and cry. Even when they are crying, though, they are precious. At some point, say around the time they start to walk and talk, they change. They can manipulate their environment.

In short, THEY LEARN TO TAKE OUT TOYS.

New parents often fall into the trap of buying all the latest toys for their precious creations. It’s one way of showing love. The grandparents, especially if they live out of town, often show their love this way, too. If you have more than one child, there are often multiples of favorite toys. For us, that meant three Bob the Builder dolls; three special, light up firetrucks; three identical sets of Legos; and three copies of Thomas the Tank Engine: The Complete Collection. The result is mountains and mountains of toys and books.

The problem is, clutter makes some kids edgy. Others may feel overwhelmed and not be able to clean up because they don’t know where to start. I always tell my children that if their rooms are too cluttered, then the firemen can’t get to them if the house catches on fire. Dramatic? Perhaps. But why not make it easier for them by setting a few simple rules.

Rule #1 When One Comes In, Two Go Out

This is one of the simplest methods I have found to declutter. When the grandparents send a new toy, encourage children to choose two to donate to those who are less fortunate. Forget about selling them on Ebay, Craigslist or at a children’s consignment store. Just let them go. It takes lots of time you probably don’t have to document, photograph, package, list and mail those toys. Send them to a local charity. Of course, don’t donate anything that is in poor condition. Only donate the quality you would wish to receive.

Rule #2 Have a Place for Everything

Seems simple enough, but how many things do the kids own that simply don’t have any place to go. There is only so much space in a house. At some point, there are no more bins, boxes, shelves or corners. Plus, the adults need and deserve their space, too. If there is no where to put a new toy, then get rid of an old one (Rule #1). Oh, and buying new containers just creates more clutter. Believe me, I’ve tried.

Rule #3 Throw Out Broken Toys or Ones That Are Missing Pieces

Many kids, mine included will figure out some reason why they should be allowed to keep a broken toy. My favorite is “He can just be a headless robot, like the Super Battle Droids on Star Wars!” Let’s get real, here. Broken toys are not worth the space they take up. You will most likely never send off for an extra game piece. (OK, maybe if it is a really important game that the entire family plays over and over and over again.) Out with broken toys or toys with missing pieces. Same with books. Unless it’s worth the time, effort and expense to repair or replace, toss it!

Rule #4 Mom and Dad Have Final Say

This is something crucial that parents often forget. You are the parent. You make the decisions. Children are not developmentally capable of parenting themselves. So hold firm. Stand your ground. Control the toy clutter. Your kids will be happier, and so will you.

How do you control the toy avalanche?

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Photo by Katelyn Thomas

Now that the deer in the headlights sensation has worn off, we are trying to move forward with our lives. Life does not stop when the breadwinner is laid off. There are a million things that we don’t think of that need attention. It’s very overwhelming. In fact, it’s very tempting to just escape and procrastinate. But that does no one any good. In fact, ignoring the situation can MAKE IT WORSE.

The Pit of Despair

 

When my dear one was laid off, one of the things that I worried about was that one or both of us would sink into a depressive pit from which we could never emerge. To some extent, that did happen. Spouse hid his head in a riveting historical novel (which he had read at least three times before) for two days. He just stayed in bed and read. I, on the other hand, spun around trying to fix things – you know, be proactive. I felt resentful that he was not trying to fix the situation immediately. I really didn’t react with much empathy. Never mind that he was laid off on a Friday and deserved a weekend off. Neither his reaction nor mine helped. Instead, after the flurry of activity, we both got sick for 2 weeks. The kids did not. Finally, I succumbed to a rather deep depression for a few days.

Initial Decompression

An acquaintance mentioned that my husband and and I were both probably “shell-shocked” and needed some time to decompress from both the layoff and the toxic work environment that he had endured for 13 years. I relaxed and tried to allow my husband to grieve his job loss and come to grips with our new situation. I immediately sought counseling. I am still on a waiting list, but just the act of calling to make an appointment relieved a great deal of stress. We leaned on family and friends to get through this period of initial shock.

The Plan

What did help was sitting down calmly and attacking the problem systematically.

  1. We agreed to have weekly financial meetings. These meetings would help us to work together and keep me from feeling that I had no control over the situation. He would tell me how his job search was going and I would refrain from repeatedly asking him about it. I would keep him abreast of our income and expenses and provide a weekly financial report.
  2. We brainstormed a list of things we needed to do to keep our family afloat financially, medically, and emotionally. When the list was done, we assigned tasks for each of us to do to run the household. This gave both of us direction and purpose in taking our family to the next stage.
  3. We made it a priority to safeguard our physical health, our mental health, and our emotional health. We committed to eating healthy, taking daily walks, and doing yoga. As I mentioned, I called for counseling. We decided to keep some things, such as weekly skating (only $10 for me and the 2 younger kids), occasional movie rentals (under $3 per movie), and date nights (using coupons and 2 for 1 deals only) in the budget for now.
  4. We re-instituted the weekly family meeting to keep the kids informed. It is important to remember that a lay off affects everyone, down to the cat (though he doesn’t have as much to say).

We haven’t heard back yet about that job. Our future is still uncertain. Our lifestyle will change of necessity. But we will emerge stronger and with more life skills than we had. It will take all of us, working together, to build a new life.

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Photo by patita_rds

On Friday, my husband lost his job. As a result, our lives have been turned upside down. This turn of events was not unexpected. The company he worked for has filed for bankruptcy and is in the process of “restructuring”. People have been laid off almost daily for several months now. It was only a matter of time. He has worked to keep and enhance his job for more than 10 years. In today’s economy, this is a big deal. The job that he lost was not the job he signed on for. In many ways, he created his current position.

The Downside

Our lives have been turned upside down. I am scared. We are a family of 5. We have one child in braces and one that will soon need them. I have a child and 2 adults with glasses. My dear husband needs extensive dental work. Finally, we had a big scare last summer when two of my three boys were diagnosed with allergy-induced asthma. On top of that, we have a cat, some consumer debt, and a mortgage. I think the mortgage and the medical and dental care worries me the most.

Periodically, we scan the classifieds for apartments, duplexes and rental houses that would meet our modest needs. Our home is only 1,400 sq ft.  So far, we have not found another housing situation that would provide enough room and cost less than our mortgage. We would end up paying more per month for less space. More per month is something we can not do right now.

As for the medical and dental care, it is my hope that COBRA will help and that I can make arrangements with our doctors and dentists to continue care on a cash basis. I have a long term relationship with the pediatricians and dentists that I don’t want to lose.

The Upside

On the upside, my husband occasionally has some paying music gigs. They don’t pay much, but may help put gas in the tanks. He also does some web design on a freelance basis. Again, not much, but it might help with groceries. Two of my three boys just had their annual checkups, so that is covered. My eldest just got a really good haircut, so I can try to maintain that for a while. The other two have easier hair to maintain. We just got a major house repair done. The garage door now closes securely and opens safely. Finally, both of our cars are paid for. We will put a priority on keeping them in good repair.

Immediate Impact

Ours is not an extravagant lifestyle. We have a flat screen TV, but it is the smallest one available. My dearest got it on Craigslist for $100. We do not have cable, satellite or pay TV of any kind. We just canceled Netflix and are planning to make full use of the videos available from our public library. Our audio receiver is broken, only to be replaced when we see a used one that is serviceable. We bought our bread maker and microwave for pennies on the dollar through Craigslist and at resale shops. We buy our clothes at inexpensive stores and try to avoid the mall. We do venture to Sears and JC Penney for clothing and housewares. Our grocery bill is very low, less than half of the weekly cost of food, compared to the average family. Finally, we do not own iPods, iPhones, Blackberries, or other cell phone plans. My husband did get a fancy phone through work, but that will soon be a thing of the past. We also do not own any video game systems. Our kids use the internet for games and my husband requires an internet connection for his freelance jobs. In short, there is not much fat to trim. For now, all extra spending is stopped. No new books, clothes, or toys. Each and every purchase must be scrutinized.

Our Goals

Our foremost goal is to maintain the status quo in regards to housing, school and medical and dental care. We want to keep our home. We would like to try to home school the two youngest at least until the end of the school year in June. That would put D in 5th grade in August and R in 2nd grade. We would like to make sure we are all healthy and have the care we need to combat orthodontics, high blood pressure, glasses and dental repair. Hopefully, with these goals firmly in our minds, we can thrive despite our immediate hardships.

Steps For Recovery

My husband and I have formed a plan to address these issues. We plan to do each step in its turn and check in with each other once a week. I plan to make sure we all get the exercise and stress relief we need. We will keep taking the kids to roller skating once a week. As time goes on, more may have to be cut. But for now, we will make do. Because that is all we can do. I am mindful of Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. We can only act on things that we have control over. We can’t control that the job is gone. We can only choose to do the steps that move us forward.

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The Vase with 12 Sunflowers, by Vincent Van Gogh

Painting by Vincent Van Gogh

Life has been super busy lately. We scrambled to get the birthday season up and running, barely having time to put away the Christmas tree.I have a longer post planned, but have had no time to get it done. In the meantime, please enjoy the archives and this month’s artist, Vincent Van Gogh.

A couple of weeks ago the cedar count began edging upwards. Then there were itchy eyes, sniffles and sneezes showing up in everyone. At first, we just claimed it was allergies. After all, the weather man said we had the highest cedar count since 2004. But when T said he couldn't remember not feeling stuffy and R started refusing meals, I had to admit that we had a virus making its way through the family. These secondary infections always get us. Before the evening was over, all three boys were complaining.

This morning, I finally caved and decided I needed to take a decongestant. The decongestant ended up making me really sick. I curled up while my dear husband took T to school ( he's not feeling sick enough to stay home, just a stuffy nose), and we let the younger two sleep. School at home is hereby canceled while I wait this out. When the kids are feeling better, we'll resume.

In the meantime, enjoy these links on Homeschooling And Illness:

Enjoy!

The following is a homily I delivered at my church during the first service of the year. It was one of three homilies by different speakers on the subjects of birth, love and death.


Birth – A Homily
January 2011

I’ll try to spare you the gory details of my three labors and births. Innumerable mothers have written about the nitty-gritty of labor and delivery. Birth is a visceral event, messy and uncomfortable. Birth is emotional, painful, chaotic, ecstatic, and supremely uplifting. Instead, I want to tell you what I’ve learned from giving birth, what I’ve learned about losing control, an experience both frightening and wonderful.

As a child, teenager, and young adult, I was fond of being in control. I remember having fifty-six stuffed animals – fifty-six exactly. I remember because I counted them twice daily, when I made my bed before school. I lined them all up on my smooth bedspread, sometimes according to size, with the bigger ones in the back, sometimes by name, and sometimes by species. My room was impeccably clean. The books were neatly arranged on the shelf, the clothes hung in the closet. There were no toys left carelessly on the floor. At least that’s how I remember things – my mother may have a different story. I liked everything just so. I was in control. I liked activities in which the outcome was guaranteed. If you do your schoolwork correctly, you will get good grades. If you follow the recipe exactly, you will be rewarded with the perfect chocolate cake. I liked predictability, and I still do.

Childbirth is not predictable. A perfect pregnancy and delivery do not always result in a perfect baby. Child rearing is not a perfect science. Spur of the moment decisions are often the rule. Mistakes are made by the dozens, but time does not stop for you to be perfect. The babies grow and change by the minute. This morning my son’s pants fit. This afternoon, they are too short. Discipline strategies that worked last week probably won’t work ever again.

My husband and I, or maybe more correctly, I, planned our births according to the seasons and the astrological sun signs. I didn’t want a Summer baby. I didn’t want to sweat through a Texas summer eternally uncomfortable and round. My mother had spoken of this often, as I am a September baby. Moreover, and rather selfishly, I wanted Pisces or Aquarius babies because I was convinced that I, a Virgo, could not possibly get along with or live with any other sun signs. After all, my mother is an Aquarius, my father, my stepfather, and my husband are all Pisces, and, so far, I had managed to get along well with all of them. I was in control.

Giving birth and raising children means letting go of a great deal of control. First, there’s the mess. Labor and delivery are messy – the sheets, the towels, the blood. Birth is loud – both mother and baby make noises that I was sure no human has ever uttered. Then comes the mess of a mother nursing, feeding, bathing, and changing an infant, not having time to wash dishes, vacuum, or do laundry. I was always relieved when my husband said, “Don’t worry about the mess. It proves we have children.” I still have to be told this from time to time. Sometimes the messes are emotional, as when I referee arguments among my three boys, or take their behavior personally. Now my kids are older, and our house is often messy and lived in. It proves we have children.

With my firstborn, especially, I was really afraid of what was to happen to my body in the process of giving birth. At the end of my first (or was it my second?) trimester, my midwife advised me to put aside all of the books on childbirth I had been devouring and trust nature instead. She assured me that my body instinctively knew what to do. It did, but nature herself had other plans. My first delivery held many surprises and there were many times that we all – I, my husband, the two midwives, the obstetrician, and the pediatrician – had to make sudden decisions. But in the end, it all turned out OK. My eldest is about to turn thirteen.

With my second child, I already knew that my body was physically capable of giving birth. I didn’t have to wonder what was coming, and I was able to surrender to the process more. This birth proved to me that I was capable of having a totally normal pregnancy and delivery. I let nature tell me what to do. My body knew exactly how to proceed. My toddler slept through the whole thing. By moonrise, our house was quiet and dark and calm, as if nothing unusual had happened that day. My middle boy will soon be ten.

With my third birth, my midwife referred me to the obstetrician’s care in my thirty-sixth week because of abnormalities in the pregnancy. I ended up having to surrender myself to Dr. Love (yes, that was his name), while still feeling like I had some say in the matter. During labor, the umbilical cord prolapsed, coming out before the baby. I ended up having an emergency C-section, my eyes closing to the anesthesia on the way to the delivery room. When I awoke, my husband and midwife were by my side, cradling the sweet baby that was the root of all the activity and concern. My youngest will soon be seven.

In all three births, I had to let go of the control that I so dearly loved. I learned that to grow and to help my children grow, I have to let go. If I always do things for them, because, of course, I can do things better and faster, they will not be able to do for themselves. I am proud to say that all three of my boys can and do clothe themselves, feed themselves, and, for the most part, clean up after themselves.

To this day, I still feel most comfortable when I’m in control. It’s still hard to let the floors have sticky, dirty spots, to let the beds go unmade, to allow my boys to make their own mistakes, and to let them make questionable decisions. But I have grown with them. Letting go has allowed me to take on more things to nurture myself and feed my own soul. Letting go has allowed part of me to become a child again. I can sit back and watch my dear boys as they grow and appreciate their individuality. By relinquishing control, I can relax and enjoy the happiness they bring and dream of the bright future that is theirs.

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