Thoughts on a Quiet House

Thoughts on a Quiet House

The sink shouldn’t be empty. There should be at least one stray cereal bowl filled with water…waiting to be washed.

The desk in the entry way is naked—where are the keys with the antique bent silver spoon?

The window by the kitchen table is still smudged by sticky baby girl hands—it won’t be cleaned today. It’s a sweet reminder of the laughing little one looking for birdies and squirrels. (My big feelings have clearly taken me to desperate places!)

There aren’t enough dishes to fill the dishwasher.

The blankets and pillows on the sofas stay obediently in their spots.

Piles of laundry that bugged me for so long are gone. Even the laundry room is on a brief vacay.

One week ago our home was bustling with hurriedness and so much chatter and laughter. “Pull up another chair to the table…crowd in…there’s room at the table for you!” No extra chairs needed today.

I’ve been known to grab a neighbor, and drag her to my house for potluck….to clean out the fridge or scrounge the freezer and eat up what we have. Sharing life gives me life.

Spontaneously invite a friend! You can be sure that your fare is as good or better than what she’d eat alone. No need to make a production! And it’s always better together.

Two in a home are better than one. And ten are better than two. We are not meant to be alone. What a treasure loved ones are and what a comfort to connect to other souls; other spirits.

A house shouldn’t be so quiet. No sounds of hurried footsteps dashing out the door and no goodbyes and I love you’s quickly called out.

The porch light is on, but why? No one is coming. New habits new ways new normals—they are all harkening me on to the new chapter.

When our kids were little and there was zero alone time, my friend Cynthia and I would chat on the phone in the mornings. We’d discuss what we learned from Dr. Dobson on 90.5 about parenting and wifing. More than once we discussed the verse from Proverbs 14;4.

“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of oxen.”

Oxen are messy and eat a lot. They’re expensive and time consuming. The manger would be clean without them; but they provide a great harvest. Their benefit far outweighs their drawback.

My friend and I imagined that theoretically we could have a tidy clean house with everything in order. But what benefit would there be to an empty house? We wanted to learn to embrace or at least accept the poopy diapers, never ending laundry, the continual spills. One day we’d miss those little rug rats.

When you’re there it’s impossible to know what it’s like to be here. And isn’t it funny that so much of the time there is a longing for the other season rather than a full on reveling in the present. We humans are so weird and impossible to please; or maybe it’s just me.

An advantage to having lived through lots of years is that you begin to finally realize that each season prepares you for the next. Every single one is as valuable as the one coming. God is always faithful. So why should I fret and why should I be sorrowful? Right now He’s preparing me for what’s ahead and even in my melancholy and tender emotions my hope is in Him. All the days planned for me are written in His book.

The Most Powerful Force

When our kids were young and Saturdays rolled around we had Family Night. We encouraged our children to invite friends; it was a fun way to introduce some of them to our Christian faith.

On one occasion my husband, Tom, asked everyone, “What’s the most powerful force in the world?” The kids shouted out names of all sorts of weapons, military powers and super heroes. No one came close to the right answer. My husband has never been one to cut corners when illustrating a point. He took each child separately, blindfolded, from the room to touch something that would give a clue to the correct answer. Each one had a turn but no one got it. He then brought the object into the room for everyone to see– it was a cow tongue! They threw their hands over their mouths and almost gagged!

The most powerful force, Tom taught, is the tongue. Our tongues to be precise. The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (Proverbs 18:21).

Today I was reminded of that long ago lesson after I chatted with a young woman working at the dry cleaners. I had the nudge that I often get to say something affirming. It’s so uncomfortable to say something personal to a stranger, but I’ve realized it gets easier as I do it. I told her I really liked her smile. That her smile was pretty.

As I walked to the car I recalled a time many years ago when an older lady that I admired told me I had pretty eyes. I don’t think anyone had ever told me that before.

On another occasion, at a friend’s wedding, the pastor who had officiated came up to me and said, “God has not forgotten you.” He knew that I’d become a single parent due to a divorce I didn’t want. Those years were hard. His words were just what I needed at that moment. And he was right—God had not forgotten! Clearly, positive words have stuck with me all these years and I’ve rehearsed them in my mind many times.

This week Katherine and I were pulling together an outfit for Grandmom to wear to the wedding. As she tried on her dress she instinctively put her hands over her neck and commented on how bony it was. She wanted it covered. After hearing her say that for over thirty years, I realized how pretty she looked with her neck area showing. I told her as much. I realized I’d grown deaf to that comment. A comment that had most likely been said to her many years ago and had stuck. It was not true but she’d believed it.

Sadly I also remember some very hurtful things said to me forty or fifty years ago. The power of life and death? I hope my words never have such a long-lasting negative effect!

I think it’s somewhat intuitive for me to hesitate before I say something unkind. A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1). But, to say something intentionally positive takes a little more thought. It requires that I dismiss, for a moment, the thoughts swirling in my head and focus on the person in front of me. Probably easier for an extravert!

What comments can we make to someone today that will bring them life? What positive words will we speak to ourselves?

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

–Proverbs 12:18

To Love a Child

To Love a Child

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s  3:00-ish in the afternoon. A chilly sunny February day. I’m kneeling on our deck, working on a current project— applying dark stain to 2×4 plywood boards.

Yesterday eighteen years ago at this very time I sat on this deck with a little six year old girl named Katherine, and served her tea. I’d cobble together whatever snack items I could find and fancily fill a tray. We called it a tea party. Specially cut mini round pb&j sandwiches, tea in the teapot (or lemonade), raisins, cut-up fruit, cookies. She’d talk about her day and I’d grin and marvel at the sweetest most joyful little one. My nickname for her was Joy.

After our tea party she’d invariably trounce upstairs to her room and begin another school day—this time she was the teacher.  She’d stand near her white board, writing lessons and enunciating to her slow of hearing students, correcting them soundly if they weren’t attentive. Sometimes her stern threatening voice sounded remarkably similar to the stern teacher she had that year.

She’d finish her pretend school day and then it would be time for entertainment. To the dress up clothes she’d go. She would don her favorite costume, jumping on chairs, off chairs, and spontaneously dancing and singing to whatever music was playing. So often she’d be bumped and bruised, but she kept going. We always said her two big brothers made her tough.

I’m glad I was there. I was privileged to be a stay at home mom for many years. I thank my husband for that. Today he thanks me for investing myself so fully in our four precious children.

There were the  daily events like tea parties and playing school and then there were the special occasions. The birthday parties, always at home, every year. One night our talented friends dressed formally and hosted a game show, microphone in hand, in our living room. All the guests dressed in fancy attire for the formal event. We decorated with hanging gold stars and played a boisterous Family Feud. To the girls, it was an authentic game show.

Movie night was another birthday theme. We borrowed a monstrosity of a first-generation big screen TV. Just moving it from car to home was an enormous task. I hung movie posters on the walls, there was a ticket booth and a handsome attendant (Daddy) wearing a tux to seat all the young ladies. We set up eight chairs right in front of that monster of a television and watched Parent Trap together. The girls were given tickets as they first entered which they used to purchase goodies at the concession stand. It was a rousing success.  It was also a lot of work and time and I would do it over 100 times if I could.

So many other memories swarm my mind as I remember this special girl. She was always singing. A small crack has opened in my memory and all the big feelings could just gush out and fill pages and pages, if I allowed them.

How can one capture what it means to have loved a child? Any parent would agree that there are no words to adequately capture the breadth and depth of the experience.

I always knew I loved my four children in an indescribable way. But, somehow as they’ve gotten older, and invariably I’ve gotten older, the feeling of love is so much deeper. Our second son was married almost three years ago. Two days after the amazing celebration, I found myself alone for the first time in quite a while. That Tuesday morning my husband left for a business trip, my best friends left to travel home, Katherine left to study in Spain, and our son and his bride departed for their honeymoon. I wish I could describe my feelings from that morning. I felt bereft and empty. I felt as though my heart was breaking into pieces, carried away with the ones leaving. I felt so full of love and pain at the same time.

The boards I’m staining are for a wedding next month. Our daughter Katherine’s wedding. Our last child to leave home. The one who makes us true empty nesters. It’s so cliche to say that the time has flown by. That you should cherish the moments because they pass so quickly. It’s all true. Time cannot be contained. It can’t be slowed. It can only be held and felt one moment at a time.

“We spend precious hours fearing the inevitable. It would be wise to use that time adoring our families, cherishing our friends and living our lives.”
― Maya Angelo

Organizing—Enjoying the Process

Organizing—Enjoying the Process

13728817133_08f448f3b1_z“For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned”.  Benjamin Franklin

This week I devoted about four (very hot) hours to organizing our attic. As I had plenty of time to think, I recalled some of my clients and the things I’ve learned.

One lady I helped recently made quick decisions as I held up each item from her closet. I was so inspired by her lack of attachment that I spent time going through my closet again and letting go of even more things.

I thought of a project from last year. This client saved everything for a future potential use. We spent quite a few hours together and really connected. We laughed and joked, sometimes in a self-deprecating way. We were Lucy and Ethel. At one point I was literally backed into a closet. I attempted to pull all the discards and donations out, passing them to her as she sat on a wobbly table. While she examined contents of bags and boxes, I started to cry out, “I’m stuck in here, let me out!” It was approaching lunch time and I was, in her words, the benevolent dictator, and insisted that we not stop until everything in the walk-in closet had been evaluated. She was telling me that she had me just where she wanted me and I would not leave until the whole room was in order! I loved her good hearted nature and positive attitude amidst a very difficult season of life. I wanted to have a grateful and cheerful demeanor like hers.

As I worked in my attic, some ideas came to mind:

  • It’s okay to take time making decisions about some things. My dad, who passed away two months ago, was a gifted wood-worker. In the attic I found a large wooden trivet, inlaid with decorative tiles,  that he’d carefully created. I realized, because of its weight and size, I’ll probably never use it. I gave myself permission to defer donating it, for now, as grief is still palpable.
  • An item that’s not loved and used can be tossed. I found the custom made table pad for our antique dining table which we have never used. “I might need it someday” is not a legitimate reason to keep stuff.
  • Let go of things if they were designed for a certain season of life.  They may have already served their purpose.  Bring closure by letting them go. With this in mind, I was able to donate a lot of framed pictures and canvases.
  • Cull things that can easily be replaced should you need them some day. I often say things to my clients like, “That old bed pillow can be replaced for a few bucks.”  “You can donate  your old sheets to the animal shelter. You deserve to sleep on nice sheets!” “Think of the space we’re creating by letting go!”
  • Some special items can be displayed as art. Living on the coast, I’ve helped several clients hang surfboards on their walls. This serves a dual purpose—art and a convenient storage system. Oftentimes people lack garage storage space. Guitars and other instruments can be mounted on the wall. Treasures such as classic record albums, vintage uniforms, flags or baby clothing can be framed and mounted,
  • For memorabilia limit yourself to one container per category. There is one client who has a two-car garage literally filled with boxes of clothing, sports equipment and school papers from her now adult children. They represent her favorite era—raising kids. I have encouraged her to fill one container with favorite items from each child. Removing the plethora of boxes is a big win for her safety and for space!

I’m honored to have assisted many intelligent, creative and capable people. Sorting through, organizing, and evaluating your own personal stuff takes courage and determination. Folks often need an accountability partner, another perspective, a person to keep them motivated, and ask hard questions.

I leave projects feeling tired, but accomplished. Clients feel lighter, inspired and excited about continuing to create order, beauty and warmth in their homes. We enjoy the process!

Homes are our largest financial investment and the one place we can be ourselves and relax with our loved ones. They are worth our investment of time and effort! What’s your next step in creating a place that truly nourishes and supports your family?

“Our life is frittered away by detail . . . simplify, simplify.”  Henry David Thoreau