the home arts

photo (7) I loved Auntie Leila’s post about housewifery the other day. She has such a lovely sense of humor. (And if you haven’t been reading Like Mother, Like Daughter, you’re really missing out!) I agree with her on all points except for the advice about hanging out the wash…that seems to be going the way of the carriage. My neighborhood will not allow clotheslines, and I can’t think of one of my friends whose neighborhoods allow it. It’s a shame, really. It seems to afflict urban areas. It certainly has been a change from where I lived before.

I have long struggled with my approach to house and home. Certainly it was easier when I had fewer children, and they were younger and non-mobile. Once mobility is achieved, all bets are off! Although the mobility means that they will eventually turn into capable children able to deal with chores themselves. But in the interim, it gets a little crazy. Add to that a lot of medical crises, and it gets downright chaotic.

I haven’t had a good attitude about it all, either. It is completely possible to miss the forest (a pleasant home life) for the trees (a clean and organized home). Most of all, it’s incredibly disheartening for all when the woman of the house is a raging lunatic task master snapping orders. (Guilty as charged.)  My bad attitude has shifted different directions at times- sometimes trees for forest thinking. Most of the time though, it is a resentment that so much of my time is pulled into the endlessness and seeming futility of caring for a home. It’s not true, exactly, but it often feels that way.

It’s the wrong approach, really, to think this way. It’s one thing to know that at an intellectual level, but it has taken me nearly fourteen years to get it to the heart level of knowing that what I do in this home is simply an expression of love. You can have a completely clean house and a home full of discord. You can have a messy, chaotic house and a home full of love, and all variations in between. Most importantly, the standard shouldn’t ever be perfection. You can tell yourself that and then work yourself ragged trying to achieve perfection anyways. I guess that’s why I’ve always appreciated Leila’s version of “reasonably clean” and that’s the standard I try to hold myself to now.

Most of all, though, I am challenging myself to be a maker of beauty. It’s a different idea all together from making sure the house is clean to questioning what I can do to make this room beautiful today? Cleaning plays a part, yes, of course, but in making things homey and beautiful, it may mean reading materials strewed invitingly, or a math game to play- essentially, ‘mess’, but something that invites my family in to relationship, not spurns it. It’s given me a lot to think about. It’s certainly better than having a bad attitude all the time. I’m hoping I can turn that around.

Art Friday: Abstract

photo (6)This is my current work-in-progress. These abstract collages seem to happen when I am very troubled and need to get out of my head for a while. (Which reminds me, Ginny shared a way to help Sarah’s family.) The same sort of thing seems to happen while I’m knitting. My brain tends to spin over things I can’t change or control, and there is something about the rhythm of knitting and the rhythm of painting that helps me center. Yesterday was just such a day in the no man’s land of waiting for Ellianna’s test results again. I needed to find some breathing room. I was surprised at the bright colors that popped up in this one. I usually don’t go for bright yellow and pink, but it really works. I don’t think this one is done yet. It doesn’t feel ‘finished’ in my head…I’d really really like to try an encaustic process, I think. We’ll see.

How Can I Help: Caring for a Family in Medical Emergency Situations

frostnipAfter I wrote and published my post yesterday, I found a prayer request from Ginny about her friend Sarah. Sadly, during the night, Sarah and her baby passed away. Please pray for her family: she leaves behind her husband and four young children.

A friend and I were talking about both Sarah and another family we know of, and she mentioned how she feels at a loss to help in those moments. In medical situations, we can’t all crowd into the waiting room and the family can only absorb so many meals (if they are even home to eat them). We want them to know that they are loved; we want to ease the burden. So what then? As I’ve walked both sides of this journey in the last five years, I thought I’d jot out here some thoughts.

Sharing Meals:

 Meals are wonderful. Don’t get me wrong. Two thoughts.

1) in the immediate aftermath of an emergency, meals aren’t super helpful. The immediate family is usually at the hospital; there’s no one home to receive the meals, prepare or freeze them. What might be helpful in the first 24-48 hours is providing food at the hospital for the family- maybe that means a gift card for local delivery, or money for the cafeteria, or (if you know the family well enough) a picnic/buffet type meal that can be brought to them that can sit unattended without cold or heat.

2) meals after the first 48 hours? Designate a point person to organize it and use a web-service that people can sign up electronically. It is so hard for the immediate family to deal with the logistics of this, regardless of the blessing it is- they’ve got a lot of details they are tracking and trying to field ten different phone calls from helpful friends about meals can be super-overwhelming.

For the family, beyond the meal:

Large families face significant challenges when emergency strikes. Large families with special needs children face even more challenges. Sometimes they have family members who can step into the breech and help care for the others, and sometimes they don’t have any help at all. Any size family faces a challenge. If it’s a child in emergency, one parent must always be present, leaving the other parent to juggle both the emergency and the other children.  If you’re an intimate friend of the family, one of the first things you could do to help is to help them ascertain the child care situation. Particularly in a special needs situation, the family may need a specific caregiver to help the family. Help to support this care giver. We in large families are used to the logistics and needs of our family- a caregiver usually isn’t and will need rest and breaks too- help them find them.

The siblings in these situations are going through a lot of upheaval. It’s often been the case that kids get split up between two or three families. Try to coordinate those families together for a meal or playdate so that the siblings can spend some family time together even if mom and dad can’t be there. When there are a lot of unfamiliar things going on, having this time of familiarity will help ground them. It’s also hard on siblings when there is so much focus on the sick sibling. Especially in an extended medical issue, it means the other siblings’ needs get shifted to the back burner…check in with those needs.

The bread-winner in the family faces a challenge past about a week. Most people have enough vacation or sick time to cover about a week; beyond that it usually gets pretty dicey. Everyone is allowed to take FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) leave, but it is unpaid, non salary leave. In some companies, colleagues can actually donate sick time. This happened for us at James’ former job.  More often, though, they cannot and once they meet a certain threshold, it becomes un-paid leave. Sometimes they can work limited schedules. Again, helping the family coordinate the logistics of this is always helpful- starting a fund to help support the family in a situation like this could be a possibility, but make sure there is a discussion with the family first.

Household needs fall by the wayside very quickly. I can’t tell you how many times I have been hugely blessed to run home from the hospital and find clean laundry waiting. Often a family member helps with this, but perhaps a youth group could donate an afternoon to go sweep and mop and run the vacuum? Don’t forget things like a lawn that needs to be mowed if it is more than a week. Particularly in an extended upheaval, car needs rise while attention to them falls- oil changes and the like- and lots of gas being burned going back and forth. We’ve been given gas cards before and every time it has happened I’ve turned into a weepy, blubbery mess, because invariably we’re about to run out of gas and there are so many needs vying for our attention that not having to worry about how we’re going to get back and forth to the hospital that week is a HUGE blessing.

For the caregiver and/or the patient:

- bring healthy, shelf-stable snacks and drinks. One, hospital food is crappy. It’s ridiculous, really, for people so unwell to have eat such horrible, icky food! How does that help them feel better? And, two, for the caregiver, the cafeteria isn’t much better and is SO expensive. Great things to include are fruits like oranges, bananas, etc with tough skins, granola bars, nuts, (anything shelf-stable, really, that won’t have to be immediately refrigerated), tuna fish and chicken in the can, etc. The better you know someone the better you’ll know what they’d like.

- care boxes for the patient and or care-giver. For young children, particularly those in isolation, bring stickers and crayons and other bed-friendly entertainments- remember, though, that children in isolation units have to have toys that can be cleaned and sterilized so soft, plush type toys wouldn’t be a good idea. For older patients or care-givers, the sky’s the limit. I had one friend keep me continuously supplied with good books that she knew I’d like when I was stuck in bed. Trust me, watching tv gets really old, really fast. My favorite gift lately as a caregiver was a box full of yarn to knit, tea, an assortment of chocolate (of course!), lip balm, and beeswax candles. (The candles couldn’t be burned in the hospital of course but they were used later.) You’ll know what best fits your friend.

-Keep in mind that highly-scented things are in-advisable in a hospital setting. I’ve always found it ironic that people send flowers to hospitals- allergies get worse when immune systems are depressed, and in my case, deadly- when I received flowers I had to send them home and they weren’t allowed in my room. Balloons are a much better choice for cheer- they last longer too. Bouquets of things like candy (or even socks! Feet get cold!), matchbox cars, all sorts of things are a fun alternative too.

I have so greatly appreciated all these things over the last few years from friends and family as they have supported us. Know that as a friend, even a simple card with a note of love or a comment on Facebook page is a huge morale booster. Sometimes it really is the simple things. 

Listen to the wind…

photo (5)
I love these little birdies. They dance and jingle on my front porch, colorful and inviting: a little touch to my home, to bring welcome, to call forth joy. Here along the water, with the gulf stream running not too far offshore, the wind is an unpredictable thing. It is not unusual to have a fair and lovely day in the morning with the gentlest of breezes and by noontime have a right nasty storm whipping along the eaves, breaking power-lines and downing trees. It happens so often here, especially in the late summer months, that the locals barely nod heads at it- they just circle their car about the downed tree and on they go. Everyone else looks on the surreal landscape with a little less aplomb, especially the poor fools (ahem tourists) that get caught unawares even though the signs were all there.

The wind. This invisible thing. I’ve been thinking about rhythm, about order. It’s hard not to, you see, with six children swirling and eddying around this place. There is much to keep track of, and the danger that we will have to go naked or underwear-less if the laundry doesn’t get done. Without structure, we are lost, lost, lost. (And wearing dirty clothes, but I digress.) And yet, no matter how much I try to manage the ebb and flow of things, something will crash in.

For us it so often seems to be some sort of medical crisis, which means that everything has to stop, pivot, and change direction on a dime. When everything started with Ellianna, we thought we’d be out for a week or two, maybe three, as she recovered. It has now been months. She isn’t getting better, and the doctors want to know why. We all want to know why. It’s upended things quite a bit, a massive tree in our family road.

I’ll openly admit I’ve struggled with resentment the last four and five years with these medical issues, one after another. Why us? Why now? So many questions. They don’t have easy answers. They never do.

The thing is, I feel like I’ve spent too much time trying to make everything make sense in my head. I’ve tried too much and too hard to force answers where there are none. I’ve tried to pigeonhole our family into a routine and rhythm that fundamentally doesn’t work for us because if there is anything that has defined us in the last five years, it’s that we spend a lot of time in waiting rooms and offices, in hospital beds and specialists offices. I spend a lot of time caring for our family needs in the kitchen pursuing a whole foods approach. I have to orient my time outside my home with the needs of a sick one in mind.

So often illness in a family is a brief thing, the family does what it needs- mama focuses on the sick little one, the other siblings pick up slack, daddy pulls time off at work, church friends bring meals. A week or two later, all is back up to speed.

That hasn’t been the case in my family. I kept thinking it would be. James would get better and then…I would get better and then…Ellianna would get better and then… James is better, yes, but it was a long road to recovery. I still struggle with long-term consequences of my illness, and I won’t ever be the person I was before. And now, Ellianna. So many mysteries. She too, has her good days and bad, and we never know which one is in the draw for us. We can make plans to do things but often end up having to cancel or leave early when she begins to cycle down. It makes finding a path forward difficult at times.

I heard John 3:8 yesterday, talking about the wind.The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” I keep thinking about our wind-blown life, those surreal storms that whip up off the coast, how the locals turn aside and continue on. 

I think about the birdies on my front porch that dance in the breeze and spin in the storm, but still, they are there, day after day. I feel the whispering of the wind around me. Can I listen and adjust my sails accordingly?

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