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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Category: Household

The Unmaking and Making of Home (Guest Post by Sharon Mugg)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for “Plant sequoias./ Say that your main crop is the forest/ that you did not plant,/that you will not live to harvest.” - Wendell Berry

It’s funny perhaps, but I love how our house smells in the summer heat. It has the old-house smell of plaster and floorboards soaked in living. I loved the smell from the moment I set foot inside and knew it could be home. It reminds me of an old house I lived in as a child. It is everything that house could have been.

~

I woke this morning to commence the next decade of my life. My love lay warm beside me. He kissed me, held me for a moment and went to brew coffee. The children clattered after him. I lay back and smiled in the momentary stillness left behind. So much has happened in a decade – so much received and so much lost. I entered the decade still childishly innocent. I leave it grown. Joys and losses are the foods that nourish adulthood. The joy is sharpened, intensified, known more completely through its antithesis of grief. Perhaps this has been the lesson of my twenties.

~

These days I carry two homes always in my heart. One is the home we have painstakingly built together, Josh and I. This is where the beautiful mess of life happens daily. We brew beer and garden; we laugh and cry; we fight and forgive. Our children tear around like hurricanes until we snuggle and read stories together at the end of each day. When we feel discouraged, the brewing and gardening remind us that just as comforting brews and beautiful gardens emerge from grubby toil, commitment to the process, and a whole lot of waiting and hoping, so too with a beautiful marriage and home. We hold each other and vow never to cease in our toil, and never to stop looking for the beauty that emerges, sometimes in unexpected colours and flavours.

The other home I carry in my heart is one that crumbled. It is the home of my childhood. I find myself returning again and again to weep amidst the rubble. Sometimes as I shuffle through the memories, I rescue a small remnant of this or that: the song my mother sang when she rocked me, that now I sing to my children; the beloved stories we read as a family over and over again (Narnia, Little House in the Big Woods, We Never Meant to Go to Sea… the list goes on and on); the tradition of an advent meal in early December; and that of unkempt, real-life hospitality.

But even these pieces that I love and have saved do not satisfy the longing for the home that is no more. I never dreamed that I would not bring my children back to Granny and Grandad’s house, that it would not be a place of safety and love (or really a place at all). I never dreamed that the people I relied on most would hurt each other so badly that they would give up and walk out on the messy work of being a family, that other things would become more important. I never dreamed, yet here we are.

~

Here I am at thirty with two beautiful children and a husband whose love for me is written everywhere upon our life. We will surely make messes and hurt each other. Pain will surely be woven into our story as it is in all marriages – these dim reflections of Christ’s healing and forgiving love for his broken bride. In one way or another all husbands and all wives must hang on a cross for sins that are not theirs. In some mysterious way, this profound act of repentance and forgiveness is how God makes us whole: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” we pray.

Thus, I take my beloved’s hand and we look together into the next decade. We are not afraid. In this decade we will brew and garden and forgive more fiercely than ever. It will be our liberation front. It will remind us that the greatest maker and forgiver of all is already at work making our true home – one that can never fall apart – from the broken wreckage of this world. We will rejoice because we are called to be his ambassadors of hope. By the grace of God, and by his grace alone, our home, our marriage, our garden, and our beer will boldly proclaim: “The Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”


Sharon Mugg is a Canadian transplant living in Indiana. She is the wife of a philosopher (dinner conversations are never dull), and the mom of two crazies. Sharon is in the process of launching into graduate studies in English literature.

 

 

 


keeping-place-11Welcome to a guest series I’m calling, “Home: Musings and Memories.” I’ve invited writers from all over the Internet to share their stories from home—in part, because I’ve just released a book called, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home (IVP, May 2017). I believe home is our most fundamental longing, homesickness our most nagging grief. Most of all, I believe that the historic Christian faith has something to say about that desire and disappointment.

The story of Jesus is a home story.

Thanks for joining me and these other fantastic writers in our search for home—and the God who makes its hope possible.

Jen

Holding Space for Home (Guest Post by Nicole T. Walters)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for Flat 402 Wara Alkulliat Alharbia Masr Gadida, Egypt

The miniature plastic house hung limply between two pine branches, the words “Our First Home” engraved on the side. We had brought the Christmas ornament with us to the first home we rented after a year and a half of marriage in which we lived with a friend.

The tree looked like it came straight out of Charlie Brown’s Christmas and the only other signs of celebration in our fourth-floor flat was a bright red poinsettia. Nothing about the day felt like Christmas because even though the Coptic minority celebrated the holiday, the Orthodox Christmas occurred later in January.

After we opened a couple gifts to each other—an onyx encrusted hand drum purchased from the tourist market and a grey flowing robe that local men wore called a gallabaya—we caught a cab to a nearby café that felt a bit like home.

The ancient culture had called to us back when we were living in the Southern United States. We imagined living in the land of the Pharaohs as this thrilling adventure and weren’t disappointed as the melodic Arabic call to prayer became the first soundtrack of our new lives.

In country for three months, the newness had worn off. We learned to say “we aren’t tourists; we live here” in Arabic to street vendors who tried to charge us more than we knew items were worth. But the truth is the dusty landscape didn’t feel much like home yet. We huddled in the cafe, isolated from those around us as we sipped our lattes and nibbled tomato and mozzarella sandwiches that Christmas afternoon, longing for the comfort of something familiar.

We had packed our former lives up in four suitcases so we had only a few things there that tied us to our American roots: ornaments, trinkets, photos. The taste of home lingered in the Lipton iced tea brought from Georgia in place of the hibiscus tea we sipped with Egyptian friends.

Gradually our flat began to fill up with more than the dust that clung to our sandals, symbols of the new life that we were forming. Bangles, a gift from my first Egyptian friend, glistened on my dresser. The wooden cross from our visit to the ancient churches of Coptic Cairo sat next to my English-Arabic Bible. Seashells from the Mediterranean coast mingled with rocks from the base of Mount Sinai, little pieces of a land that was finding it’s way more into my heart each day.

Almost as soon as I felt roots starting to grapple for a place to hang onto, we were uprooted again back to the home of our birth.  In those last days we repeated the process of sorting our home into piles to take or leave behind. I found myself weeping for the feeling of home I wanted in that place and would never fully get to know.

Now there are few mementos of our home in the Middle East. Faded 10-year old photos a reminder of the place that feels like but a dream but I feel so attached to it now. When we watched the revolution rock the square where we had attended language school, our hearts ached for our far away home. Whenever a Coptic church is attacked, we weep for the people we still see as brothers and sisters.

As I sit before boxes yet again, I stare off into the past as if I can still see the gilded living room furniture that was more ornamental that comfortable. I turn the house ornament over in my hands, lost in thought. I wrap it gently and pack it with other precious items for our next international move. I pack it next to the Georgia ornament, a painting by my sister, an onyx box from Egypt, a scarf from South Asia, and shells from the Gulf Coast. Some of these trinkets remind me of places that I called home for a time; others point to people who will be home no matter where I go. I forgo taking more clothing and spices into suitcases so I can fit in another keepsake that reminds me of where I’ve been.

I hope I take the lessons Egypt taught me along to our next family home in a faraway land. I pray I have learned the balance between remembering and moving forward, between letting go and putting down roots. I tuck away pieces of home to take with me wherever I go but I now remember to hold space for the new home, too.


Nicole T. Walters loves to experience and write about the messy, noisy, beautiful world and cultures not her own and travels internationally as often as she gets the chance. But this writer and author from metro-Atlanta, GA spends most of her time with her husband and two little wild ones that keep her on her toes. She hopes to help others create space to hear God's voice in the noise as she writes about faith from a global perspective at A Voice in the Noise. Her writing has appeared in places like Relevant, CT Women, and Ready. She is an editor and regular contributor at SheLoves Magazine and The Mudroom and is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild. You can read more of Nicole's story in her essay included in the newly released book Everbloom: Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives. She would love to connect with you on Twitter and Facebook.


keeping-place-11Welcome to a guest series I’m calling, “Home: Musings and Memories.” I’ve invited writers from all over the Internet to share their stories from home—in part, because I’ve just released a book called, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home (IVP, May 2017). I believe home is our most fundamental longing, homesickness our most nagging grief. Most of all, I believe that the historic Christian faith has something to say about that desire and disappointment.

The story of Jesus is a home story.

Thanks for joining me and these other fantastic writers in our search for home—and the God who makes its hope possible.

Jen

Weaving a Home (Guest Post by Michelle Radford)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for 127 Belle Avenue Greenville, SC

I never planned to chafe against domesticity. I subscribed to interior design and architecture magazines throughout high school and college and planned gourmet meals to cook for my family on the weekends. I helped with chores around the house and loved the idea of making a home of my own some day for the husband and children I prayed I would have.

I married Paul while I was attending grad school and became pregnant with our daughter the year after I graduated. Almost two years after she was born, I gave birth to twin boys. Gone were the days of rearranging the objects on my mantle and trying new and exciting recipes. In addition to my job as a college professor, my days were an endless treadmill of baby care along with dishes, laundry, scrubbing body fluids out of carpets, and putting away items my two-year-old had unearthed from closets, cabinets, shelves, and baskets.

I was exhausted and frazzled, not only from the lack of sleep, but also from the constant repetition of domestic tasks that would only be un-done in a moment. In addition to this, I wasn’t making any art, a source of guilt for me as I taught college students how to paint and encouraged them to throw themselves into their artwork.

When my twins were six months old, I re-entered the studio, unsure of what I would make. My former work, landscape paintings in oil, was out of the question due to the scarcity of large blocks of time. I told a friend, “I don’t know what I’ll make, but it will have to be something I know.” All I felt I knew now were stacks of dishes in the sink, piles of towels in the hallway linen closet, and baskets of toys. Without much thought to their meaning I began gluing antique hand-made linens to wooden panels, using their decorative designs as a starting place for my new mixed media paintings. I liked the idea of salvaging the work of women who had come before me, and the softness of the textiles was comforting to me. I had accumulated boxes and bags full of crocheted doilies, hand-embroidered hankies, table linens, hand-woven table runners, and a christening gown.

The epiphany happened when a friend pointed out to me that the linens I was using in my work were a result of repetition. Crocheting is a series of knots, repeated to make a pattern. Weaving is the repetition of over-under, over-under, over-under. Sewing pulls a thread up-down, up-down through the fabric. For millennia, after women have retreated from their domestic repetitions of cooking, cleaning, laundering, they have taken up needles and yarns and threads and applied their tired hands to other kinds of repetition to unwind from pressures of the day.

These repetitions of sewing, knitting, crocheting, embroidering, and weaving reflected in a visible way the invisible repetitions of making a home. It had been hard for me to see the repetitions of cooking, scrubbing, and laundry as beautiful; the processes had become strictly utilitarian. I was struggling, seeing my efforts to straighten up and beautify my home swiftly negated by the people I loved the most. My domestic work didn’t seem to matter as no progress was visible. I was feeling split in half as I tried to be an artist and homemaker at the same time.

Seeing both my art and my household duties as life-giving repetitions began to tie these two parts of my life together. While I was doing the dishes, I was thinking of new ideas for my artwork about domesticity, and while I was in my studio I was sorting through my thoughts and feelings about home and family, praying over them, surrendering to God the parts I feared were impossible.

I now have a visible reminder that though my efforts around my house sometimes have little originality, though they seem to move forwards and backwards, though they loop around endlessly, they are creating life-giving patterns that will one day be visible. They are leading to an end, and meanwhile these repetitions bring comfort and beauty to my home and the lives of those I love most.


Michelle lives in Greenville, SC where she is an artist, college professor, wife, and mother to three rambunctious kids. For the last several years she has organized her studio practice around the concepts of home, repetition, care, and motherhood, and she’s passionate about helping other women find their creative voices alongside their other vocations of care. You can find her work at www.michellebergradford.com and follow her on Instagram: @michelle.radford.

The Grace of One Loo (Guest Post by Katherine Willis Pershey)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for Home for me is, and I hope shall be for some time to come, a charming little Dutch colonial in a quaint village many affectionately call “Mayberry”. We love where we live. We can walk to the girls’ elementary school, to our beloved church, to a family-friendly restaurant where you can snack on fresh hot pretzels while you wait for your meal. We know and love our neighbors, and frequently swap favors and share meals together.

Our house itself is cozy. Try as I might, it’s rarely tidy, but rather cluttered with solitary socks, piles of correspondence, and the occasional half-dressed Barbie doll. Our home is - well, homey.

The four of us share one bathroom. For the last few summers my mother-in-law has come for extended stays to care for the girls and escape the Arizona heat. When she’s in town, the people-to-bathrooms ratio becomes 5:1. A nearby house has 7 bathrooms; we would need to be housing a whopping 35 people each summer to maintain the same people-to-bathrooms ratio, or a more modest 28 people during the school year.

Sometimes I worry that it’s not normal to be so acutely aware of bathrooms-to-people ratios. I clearly covet my neighbor’s loo.

Having one bathroom isn’t always comfortable. We often must quickly assess which of us needs the facilities most urgently, and wait our turn. We have precious little privacy, and as the girls get older this will only get more complicated. Not long ago we got an estimate to put a bathroom in the unfinished basement. We confirmed what I suspected: we can’t afford to do it. But even if we managed to save up enough to pay the plumber, I’m not sure I would go through with it. Which is not to say I don’t pine for another toilet. I do. It’s just that this house was built in 1929; for 87 years, families have lived with the constraint of sharing one place to bathe, brush teeth, and relieve themselves.

We aren’t the only house in town with one bathroom, though the older and smaller houses are torn down at an alarming rate and you can be darn sure that the large homes constructed in their wake are generously appointed with master bath suites.

I’ve been praying about this, realizing that my covetousness was becoming a problem. I received a humbling nudge from the Holy Spirit to remember this simple truth: that we have access to clean water and indoor plumbing at all is a profound privilege. At least, I think this was a nudge from the Holy Spirit - I tend to believe that whenever I am moved to remember the poor with compassion, the Spirit has been on the move.

Without casting aspersions on my neighbors, who am I to spend my treasure on a half bath? I reckon I would be stepping over Lazarus every time I crossed the threshold. Instead of comparing faucets and paint chips, I’ve been researching mission organizations that focus on bringing clean drinking water to communities in need.

Home is where we are formed in both virtue and vice. I’m grateful that our solitary bathroom doubles as a workshop for learning patience, courtesy, and generosity.


katherine-persheyvery-married

Katherine Willis Pershey is an associate pastor of the First Congregational Church of Western Springs. She is the author of Any Day a Beautiful Change: A Story of Faith and Family and Very Married: Field Notes on Love and Fidelity, which will be published by Herald Press on September 27, 2016. 

A View from the Kitchen: Why your pile of pots and pans matters this Christmas

jenmichel@me.com

"It must be nice to be a man," I told Ryan in the aftermath of our family Christmas. We'd shared our traditional dinner and unwrapped gifts with the children before leaving Toronto for the holidays. All the responsibilities for cooking and shopping, cleaning and wrapping had, like most years, fallen almost entirely on my shoulders. And goodness, can I really complain about that? I mean, if Ryan works hard enough to bring home the bacon, can't I at least cook it?

But to what degree I cook it with a charitable spirit is always up for grabs.Though Christmas should traditionally be a season of joy, in truth, I can battle with resentment about the extra domestic work it requires of me.

And this is why I wrote my most recent post at her.meneutics. If you've been reading here for any length of time, you know well enough that I don't often write about the areas of my life over which I feel mastery or control. (And by the way, I'm not even sure what those areas are.) Instead, I write in order to preach the sermons I most need to hear. I write as a way of living into what I know to be true but have a harder time absorbing.

This is true of my most recent post, which I hope you'll read and find as a source of encouragement for your kitchen work this Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

From Welfare to Work: How to get your kids to do chores

jenmichel@me.com

There’s nothing like blogging to out all your ridiculousness. When school began this fall, I admitted to having created a spreadsheet in order to evaluate the time I would have for writing this year. I tallied the time it would take for laundry, grocery shopping, dinner prep – down to the quarter hour, no less. In my defense, that exercise was worthwhile for taming my expectations. Everyday life is always busier than I expect.

On the other hand, it may have caused you to wonder what medicine the doctor was prescribing for my condition.

One friend texted me after the post, asking if we could meet for coffee. Or, had I, she needed to ask, used up my 1.5 statistical friendship hours?

Yeah. Ridiculousness.

The fact remains, though: I want to spend my time wisely and purposefully.

Which is why I'm writing about the new Welfare-to-Work program we’re instituting around here. It's a program, which I’m hoping will not only keep our house cleaner, teach our kids greater responsibility, but also free up a bit more of my time to do this: write.

For years, we’ve been doling out allowance as a kind of proverbial share of the family’s resources. We didn’t necessarily equate the money the kids earned with the chores they were doing around the house, although pitching in has always been required. Our kids have been folding their own laundry and helping with meals for years now.

Ryan has technically always worked for the allowance bank, although since moving to Canada, allowance accounts have gone into arrears. The kids ask for allowance, and Ryan shrugs ambivalently. This scenario happens most Saturdays: same question, same noncommittal look. It’s become a more serious problem as Audrey (who is saving for a wooden clarinet) has expressed growing concern that Dad isn’t ever going to pay.

“Will you talk to him?”

In Ryan’s defense, I shared his growing ambivalence about allowance.

Was it really meeting our broader parenting goals, or were we just shelling out cash for more legos?

We wanted the kids to learn money management (giving, saving, spending), and we wanted them making real-life decisions.

We also wanted them to contribute in more meaningful ways towards household responsibilities.

I think the biggest challenge in whatever chore/allowance system is insuring accountability and making it a real-life exercise. It takes no little parental oversight to keep the whole thing humming. I’ll admit that’s where the proverbial wheels have always fallen off the cart for us.

If you’re like me, you need a chore/allowance system that requires less from you and more from your children. Or, in other words, you need another paper chore chart and sticker pack like you need another girl scout showing up at your door selling you three more boxes of thin mints.

I am happy to say I think we’ve found a solution, and I wanted to share it with you.

MyJobChart.com is worth a try: it’s an online chore system, and we’re finding it’s working here for us. You can input your children’s chores (according to day, a.m./p.m.), assign a point value to each chore (or no points, if you choose), and let them do all the work from there. They manage the list, checking off what’s done. When they finish their list, the computer sounds a chorus of applause and sends you an email indicating what’s been done. The site also allows you to divide earned points according to your spend/share/save goals. It keeps track of everything.

Can it be this easy?

Of course not. The task is still yours and mine to make sure that no points are awarded for shoddy jobs. Yes, we still need to enforce measures of quality assurance. But the other parts (keeping track of who’s done what and what they’ve earned) is managed by the computer.

I’m hoping we’ll stick to our new system, not simply because I would more time to write (which I would), but most importantly, because I want our children growing into responsible, capable adults.

* * * * *

If you find you’re ambivalent about allowance, read this essay by Elizabeth Kohlbert from The New Yorker. It’s entitled, “Spoiled Rotten: Why do kids rule the roost?” It will shock, even infuriate you, and light a fire in your parenting belly. Your kids will be doing chores today.

If you’re unsure about what jobs to assign your children, check out this great book by Christine Fields: Life Skills For Kids: Equipping Your Child for the Real World. It outlines what work even a young toddler and preschooler is capable of accomplishing around the house.

And if you simply want to talk about Biblical principles as a foundation for “welfare to work” programs as well as general attitudes/practices of money management, you can read and discuss these passages with your children:

2 Thessalonians 3:6-15

1 Timothy 6:17-19

Matthew 25:14-30

 

 

 

 

 

 

How-to Friday: Set the Table

jenmichel@me.com

Years ago, I read a great book by Danny Meyer called: Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business. At 27, Meyer opened what would become one of Manhattan's best restaurants: Union Square Café. Since that time, he has experimented and innovated on his ideas of "enlightened hospitality," where giving attention to the team you employ and the function of your space figures importantly in the purpose of gathering people communally around a table. This kind of gathering for meals around a table is a sacred act in the Christian tradition. Jesus gave us a meal for remembering Him, and there is much to be learned from the theology of the meal. Most obviously, Jesus gathers His people corporately and meets them in their gatherings. The church needs that reminder desperately when culture sings the song of the individual, and books today are being published with titles like, Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. David Brooks' op-ed piece in the New York Times this week, "The Talent Society," is a good read for seeing some of the rising trends of our individualism. Brooks makes it clear that we are a society that prefers aloneness: but the question as Christians that we have to ask is, Should we? If Jesus gave us a meal by which to remember Him, I think the answer is rather obvious.

A meal is also so unbelievably material and concrete, a sort of forced reckoning with a life that isn't primarily esoteric and philosophical. I, for one, love to live shut up in my mind's attic, tending to my abstractions, bothered when it's time to actually get to the business of laundry and dishes. I struggle with feeling that it's the mundane responsibilities of my life that are interruptions to the real business of living that I want to be doing. But I'm starting to see this perspective for what it really is: a rejection of the meal and of the way God wants to embed His truth and reality into the everyday, material realities of my life. I am a mom whose life is incredibly busy with dirty socks and dirty dishes and crumbs underneath my table. I can choose those as interruptions, or I can choose the theology of the meal, which means finding Jesus in every dusty, cluttered corner of life.

It actually imbues my kitchen work with holiness: I'm grateful for that because it is many, many hours of the week that I stand by the sink and stove, stirring and peeling and measuring. The work of setting the table for seven people, two and three times a day, is monumental: there's no getting around it. But how will my life transform when I start seeing Jesus there and start giving the kind of sacred attention to our gatherings? When I let our meals become communion?

Enough of the philosophical: here are some practical things I've been trying to make our meals less rush, more communion.

First, time. Give them more time. In the mornings, I try to give ourselves thirty minutes for breakfast. At dinner, we try to allow for a little more time than this. Trust me when I say that there are days that we, too, rush around and don't sit as long as I wish we would. But giving time to our meals allows for letting the table be our invitation, not just to swallow our food, but to nourish our souls. Please, sit down.

Second, bring Scripture, prayer, conversation back to the table. I've said this before here. Once you've done the hard work of gathering your family, take advantage of your efforts and use the time at the table to pull out your Bible. We also keep a journal close by: this year we're working to count our good gifts from the Lord as a family. And after the writing retreat, I brought a book of poetry up from the basement to include to our table books, and we've been reading aloud from it. The children have actually insisted they do the reading aloud. So we read at our table, pray at our table, and generally, try to do a lot of talking. It's good, nourishing face time. And like I said, it doesn't happen every day in this way, but it's always the goal.

Third, turn off your screens. I love that my friend, Wendy, has her teenagers (and her husband!) drop their phones in a basket by the front door when they come home. Turn off your tvs, put your phones away, and do the work of seeing each other. Is it any wonder than research shows how one common factor for keeping adolescent children out of trouble is sharing meals together as a family? I think as parents, we set the tone for how our children will interact with their media. When we let our conversations with our children constantly be interrupted by texts, checking status updates, reading email, we should not be surprised when they, armed with their own phones, will learn quickly to tune out our voices and mute the conversations going on around them, the very conversations that will be arguably more important than those we're having today.

This is my body broken for you: eat this in remembrance of me.

This is my blood, poured out for you: drink this in remembrance of me.

Let's set tables of communion for our families and communities and cities. It is a good and holy work. If you, like me, are a mother with young children who resist sitting quietly in their chairs and who often complain they don't like the food set before them (two chronic sins around here!), don't despair. You are right to do a bit of insisting on the sitting and the polite waiting and the powering off the technologies. You are teaching them the theology of the meal and the beauty of gathering.

How-to Friday: Celebrate Valentine's Day

jenmichel@me.com

Because I won't be spending Valentine's Day with the family this year (I'll be at the writing retreat) we'll do some of our celebrating this weekend. It's probably true that Valentine's Day is mostly marketing gimmick, but it is fun to make the day extra special (in a reasonable sort of way). I'm sharing a few ideas here today and links I've used. But don't forget: this is NOT a DIY blog where I show you the elaborate Valentine's crafts we're creating together or the gourmet cupcakes I'm sending with them to school. You will have to look elsewhere for that! Here goes:

1. Tie a balloon to each of their chairs before they come down for breakfast on the morning of Valentine's Day. There's nothing like a balloon to announce, "This day is special!"

2. Write a card to each of your children (husbands, too, for that matter!) I have yet to read the article that circulated on facebook, which citing research against praising your kids too much. But I still think there is something to be said for what is the very Biblical idea of blessing. On Valentine's Day, in the cards I write to each of my kids, I use it as an opportunity to bless them: to tell them what's uniquely special about them, to name ways I see God at work in their lives, and to write a verse I'm praying they grow into.

3. Make an extra special treat to send to school with them or to enjoy at home. Make it together if you have eager and capable helpers. It doesn't have to include fondant, people! Here, it will probably be homemade chocolate chip cookies, and I'll be asking Ryan to also include these great jokes in their lunch. (You can print the jokes here.)

 source

4. Give a $5 gift card to Starbucks or a favorite ice cream shoppe. My kids love this! They feel incredible grown-up when they're handing over their own "credit card" to pay. And it's a great excuse for a date with them. Another idea is to give coupons you personally fill out for other "gifts": intangibles like something you might do together. This year, my kids will be getting a coupon for a book of their choice, and we'll make our first visit to a charming children's bookstore that is close to our house. If your boys like legos, make a coupon for a mini-figure of their choice, and take a trip to the toy store.

5. Make their valentines with them. Admittedly, my girls will like this better than my boys. And well, actually, Audrey did roll her eyes at me when I showed her the idea I'd found for this year. "I'm almost eleven, Mom??" So it might just be me and Camille this year with our craft paper, scissors and glue!

Some great verses on love to talk about this Valentine's Day (all from 1 John because that's where I'm reading these days.)

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God! 1 John 3:1

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 1 John 3:16

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:18

And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:21

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. 1 John 5:3

 

How-to Friday: Keep your house (relatively) clean and yourself (relatively) sane

jenmichel@me.com

Everyone knows what to do around here when Mom's temperature is rising. Scatter and find something to pick up and put away. Or better yet, disappear into your room, collect all the dirty clothes from your floor, and straighten your already made bed, this time, attacking the wrinkles. They know me well. I do like a clean house. I admit it. I've always been like this. I was probably only a little older than Camille when it became my habit to carry a laundry basket around the house, collecting misplaced items and then returning them either to their rightful owner or home. And I still remember the day my mom hosted a Longaberger basket party, and the hostess had come early, organizing our home with her beautiful baskets. Pure serenity.

 Source (I'm afraid this is starting to sound pathological.)

But trust me when I say that I have also learned to let things go. Five kids has that kind of curious way of forcing a mom to get realistic.

My one friend wills herself to power through twenty minutes of pick-up before bedtime. This I do not do. When it's bedtime, there's no willing myself to do much of anything besides put on my pajamas. Every night, everything is not magically re-ordered in my home for a new day.

But I've found a relative sanity in keeping things relatively ordered. My goals are changing: it's less about having the Pottery Barn catalog spread when you walk through my front door (although, mmmm, that does sound delicious). It's mostly about keeping ourselves organized enough so that nothing goes overdue (at least for very long), mornings don't get ugly and mean, and mom keeps (relatively) calm.

Here are five simple tricks:

1. Recognize your five minute jobs. I think one thing that becomes overwhelming about keeping a house is feeling like you never have enough time to give anything a thorough cleaning or organizing. But I bet throughout your day, you have five minutes here, five minutes there. Here's what I can get done in a quick, focused five minutes:

Clean my toilets

Wipe my mirrors

Dust a room

Vacuum the kitchen

Straighten the coats/shoes at the front door

Straighten my desk (depending on its state of disaster)

Clean my kitchen/bathroom sink

Collect all the toys from the family room (I still use the laundry basket trick. Only I make my kids do the putting-away.)

Pre-spot a load of laundry.

Do one part of dinner prep.

So you get the idea. Lots of things you can do in five minutes. Don't wait until you've got the half-hour block you think you need. Set your timer for five minutes, and with a bit of FOCUS, you'll be amazed at what gets done.

2. Identify your hot-spots. A hot-spot is the ONE thing that when it's clean and organized, gives you incredible peace, but when it's been neglected, you want to strangle someone. For everyone, this is different. And it probably matters whether you're a "clean" person or a "tidy" person. My hotspots are my kitchen sink, my dining room table, my kitchen counters, and my bed. If my table and kitchen counters are cleared and wiped, if my sink is empty, and if my bed is made, the day is off to a great start. I work on these areas first because they are going to generate a HUGE return when it comes to feeling sane. What are your hot-spots? Give these your focus first.

3. Involve your children. They are so capable, aren't they? Much more than we give them credit for. A great book recommendation if you're not sure where to start with assigning chores is called, Life Skills for Kids: Equipping Your Child for the Real World, by Christine Field. It's helpful in identifying ways that children even as young as 3 and 4 can begin to assume responsibilities around the house.

4. Schedule in some maintenance. Remember my confessions that I easily overextend myself? My weeks go so much more smoothly when I schedule time for maintenance. (This week, I'm suffering BIG from over-planning and erasing all my maintenance blocks.) What I mean it this: I'm a BIG job kind of person. If I have two hours in the afternoon while the twins are sleeping, I'll work two hours on my writing project. But when they wake up and we're running off to school to get the big kids, I'll regret not having spent 15 minutes to reorganize my desk, plan an afternoon snack, and put away the dishes I'd washed for lunch. A little bit of maintenance along the way can do so much. I also like to plan some maintenance for the weekend: maintenance tasks are jobs like inventoring the pantry, cleaning out leftovers from the fridge, sorting school papers, organizing library books. It's getting these jobs done that help everything run a bit more smoothly, but they are jobs easily ignored because they're a bit more detail-oriented. Maintenance blocks might work best in 15-30 minutes increments, and they keep an eye on the calendar, anticipating what's coming up next.

5. Run the dishwasher every night, and go to bed with an empty sink. This is the whole philosophy of the Fly Lady. If you're someone for whom this kind of house cleaning/organization doesn't come naturally, she's a great resource. She talks about shining your sink every night, and the idea is, that if you wake up to a shiny sink, you're going to already feel a bit more ready for the day than if you woke up to a pile of dirty dishes. I don't literally shine my sink every night, but it is always empty and the dishwasher is always run. And my breakfast helper (Nathan) never has to be told what his responsibility is in the morning. He knows that he's got dishes to put away every morning.

Here's to (relative) sanity and a (relatively) clean house!

 

 

How-to Friday: Tackling the unwanted jobs

jenmichel@me.com

How do you manage the tasks in your life and home that you despise? With a family as big as ours, I never reach the bottom of the laundry hamper. And just as soon as I've cleaned up from dinner, little Cindy Lou-Who is wandering into the kitchen asking for a snack.

I've never minded laundry or cooking. But I do have my list of oh-no, not-again, do-I-really-have-to kind of tasks. They are:

1. Picking up.

My mother-in-law once asked me whether she was more of the "neat" kind of housekeeper or the "clean" type. That's a question you simply can't answer when it's your mother-in-law. But I admit. I'm a cleaner. Scrub a toilet, vacuum the floors, wipe down kitchen counters? Yes, yes, and yes. But at the end of the long day, retrieve all the scattered fragments of our day and return them home? Oh, the torture.

2. Email/Facebook messages

I procrastinate. Silence for days, weeks, while my inbox bulges.

3. Meal planning

Must take inventory of what's left in the fridge, gather the cookbooks, consider the evening commitments in the week ahead, and commit to buying for the TWENTY-ONE meals I'll be serving. Whew. I'm overwhelmed.

4. Budgeting

Coupons? Nope. Sale ads? Uh-uh. Walmart? Gross.

I have no concept of the dollar's elasticity. I can't stretch it to save my life. And of all things, I'm married to an actuary. I think he dreams of spreadsheets and math models.

What's the answer to facing your unwanted tasks?

Wishing them away doesn't generally work, and hiring them out generally gets expensive (see #4 above). Here are 5 ways I've found to facing the jobs I simply can't stand.

1. Set a timer. This is a standard go-to for me when I don't want to do something. I give myself a little pep talk, and it sounds something like this. "Jen, give yourself 15 minutes to this task. You don't have to get it all done, but you gotta stay focused." I literally set the timer on my phone and work like a dog for 15 minutes. No coffee breaks. No answering the phone or scanning facebook. It's 15 unadulterated minutes of focus and whirlwind. And glory! So many things can be done in 15 minutes. An entire room vacuumed and dusted. My desk neatened, my papers filed. Receipts entered into the budget. And if the job's not done, I can commit to coming back to it tomorrow for 15 minutes, or, if the finish line is in sight, taking it all the way!

2. Reward yourself. I'm always looking to carve reading time out of my bloated schedule. To sit with a book for a half hour is delicious pleasure. Another pep talk is in order: "Jen, respond to emails/plan the week's menu for ___ minutes, and after that, you can take a break and read for ____minutes."

3. Hand off to the hubby. Get really good about communicating with each other about the jobs you find most fulfilling and easiest to do around the house. Ryan's a math whiz. It makes a lot more sense for him to pore over the spreadsheet, consider our spending patterns and giving priorities, and then determine our budget categories. I love to cook, and Ryan, well, he's boiled an egg or two in his life. He's happiest cleaning up after meals, and I'm grateful for the help. Sharing the workload is a must.

4. Involve your children. Managing a household, especially a big one, is not a one-person job. My three older children (10, 9, 7)  fold and put away all of their laundry and have been doing that for three years. Everyone has chores, including the twins (3) who know to neatly straighten their shoes by the front door, hang their backpacks on their hooks and bring their dishes to the sink. Each of our kids "owns" a meal: they're on call for that meal, day after day, to prepare food, serve the dishes, clear the table, and sweep afterwards.

5. Turn on music/podcasts while you work. New to Canada, I've recently become an instant fan of the CBS's satirical radio show, "This is That.' I download their podcasts and do my brainless work in the evenings. And I laugh. Outloud.  Something must be working there.

Hope you've found some of these suggestions helpful! Good luck with your laundry, your budget, your dog grooming, or whatever it is that you've been running from!