• daybook

    Well, hello October…

    My goodness. It is October 15.  The school year took off without me! It has been such a helter skelter month and a half that I feel as if I am just now coming up for air and just barely at that. All that margin I thought we had built in to our days was apparently the teasing placidness of summer break talking.

    Needless to say some things need adjusting.  So let’s check in, shall we?

    Things we did well in September:

    Um. We held on for dear life. HA!

    I think, the success I see in September is that those rhythms we’ve really built in to our family culture held somehow over this last month. We ended September relatively right-side-up even though no one had really had any time to think about or put towards those rhythms. They just held. We are consistently praying together and reading aloud together as a family just about every night, which has been a huge goal for a long time, and I wondered if it would hold during this new season. It has. Our kitchen/dinner/meal planning routine held, relatively speaking, and that in itself was a wonder to me, as I didn’t feel like I had any brain space to devote to it.

    Laughably, the second two of my goals for September, keep pounding away at the medical bills and more art, more art, more art barely blipped the radar. I had no idea what was coming around the bend when I wrote that.

    As seems to be a constant in our lives, lately, we had a series of breaks. James’ car, which has been quite literally limping for nearly a year, had another catastrophic failure. We had to devote all of our financial margin to get it back to some useable form. It seems to be a constant measuring for us with so many of our large appliances/tools as to whether to finally scrap it and go without or attempt limping some more. We couldn’t find any more of a workable solution for the financial margin available than the reality we already had, so it limps along and lives to fight another day. We keep having things break for no other reason than perhaps to frustrate us: our lawn mower, most of our large appliances (save the oven and dishwasher, which were finally replaced around Christmas time last year), sometimes even just the simplest things…it feels a bit perverse!

    It has been a lesson in taking deep breaths and just living with the reality. It’s hard in this culture of ours, but it’s necessary.

    I’m thinking here of our lawn (and recalcitrant lawnmower(s), yes-plural- we have three, only one of which *sort of* works) which has been at all levels of shorn and meadow-like and half-hacked throughout the summer. Our side and front gardens have completely gone to weeds multiple times this summer, only to be weeded back to presentable-ness, only to get completely out of hand again. We live in your typical suburban has a home-owner’s association and perfectly manicured, cared for by professionals green lawns neighborhood. A lot of the owners are middle-aged or retired. They have expectations, is what I’m saying. And we can’t do a thing about it. We do what we can, when we can.

    Just this last weekend, James was able to somehow-rig the sort-of-working lawnmower enough to start again, and we set to work with a vengeance, all of us older ones, each taking turns. The back yard was nearly a foot long, the front, about half that. I started in on the back yard late in the afternoon, got about four rows in, and then…OUCH. ouch. OUCH. ouch. Glance down, and then, as calmly as possible and as quickly as possible, get out of the back yard. I had run over a yellow jacket nest that had somehow established itself in the three weeks we couldn’t get the lawn mower to work. They were so angry. I got nailed, twice, and I think it was only by God’s grace that it wasn’t much, much worse. My body was working faster than my brain for once, and I was moving before I even realized I needed to move, if that makes sense. Needless to say, a decent sized patch of the back yard remains un-mowed until we figure out how to wisely deal with the yellow jackets. I was so angry when it happened- though that might have been the adrenaline talking- but I was just so frustrated that we just couldn’t, for just once, get the yard mowed all the way. And I couldn’t even walk the rest of the day. OH, how I stewed! But maybe it was the Bendadryl haze, or the prayers, or the sleep, but the next morning, I couldn’t stop laughing and rolling my eyes at how ridiculous and perverse this stuff has been, and a bit of an awed laugh of grateful thanks that the Lord preserved my life! It could have been a thousand times worse! It could have been James, and I would never have been able to get to him in time.

    James can’t go near it- he is life-threateningly allergic. It would be suicide for him to try…which leaves me. And I don’t know how to ‘fix it’. So we have to figure it out. And it’s yet another thing…another smudge and besmirch on our standing in the neighborhood. They don’t know our lives though. And I’ve learned to just shrug and get back to work. Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. I understand that it a pretty profound way now. The lawnmower is just the last in a long, long train of lessons.

    Sometimes you can’t fix or change things. Sometimes what is, just IS. 

    Which leads to the third goal, more art, of which there has been precious little. I had wanted to launch a new collection on September 15. It is now October 15. I have serious doubts that it will arrive on Nov 15, but that’s my new re-set goal. I did, somewhat for my own sanity, jump on the #inktober2018 challenge wagon over on IG, only to promptly fall of said wagon due to more pressing concerns. I have serious doubts there will be much of it in October. It just isn’t in the cards for me right now. For some reason, September to December are always my absolutely nuttiest months, and it’s time for me to recognize and embrace that and stop trying to shoe horn more stuff into it.

    Things I’d like to focus on in October:

    Erm, October’s half gone at this point.

    I think my main focus has to be on a bit of weeding. None of us in the family are happy with the current state of margin, so we’ve got to weed back until we feel like we’ve got the proper amount of breathing room. I hate that it takes me nearly a week to read/respond to emails, the sort of administrative side of being a homemaker and homeschooling mom type things. I can’t think straight, and that’s a bit problematic. When I don’t have enough time to brain dump and plan, that’s when I really start making mistakes. Costly mistakes. Easily avoidable mistakes. So yeah- MARGIN. That’s my goal for the last two weeks of October.

    Things I’ll leave behind:

    GLUTEN. *cough*laugh*cry*laugh*cough* Guess who was diagnosed with Celiacs in September? Yours truly. I was already pretty decently gluten free but would often ‘cheat’ (more like ‘not care’) when not around Elliana. Since the diagnosis, walking that last quarter mile to being zero gluten— UGH. It has taken so much brain space. And it’s hard. It was, perhaps, so much the easier for Elly four years ago because she really didn’t know what a good something-or-other tasted like. She’s always had the GF version. Me, though. My Scotch-German genes are rebelling LOUDLY. I haven’t been doing any grains (not even GF options) at all, or sugar. I’m okay as long as I can’t smell the real deal. My brain just can’t handle smelling yeasty, bready goodness without being all engines GO. NOW. Every time I’ve been near a bakery or something like that my body goes in over-drive, and all of the sudden my stomach is growling like I’ve never eaten in my life….each time….major head ache. It’s so weird. Even if I’ve literally just eaten. So now I can’t even enjoy the smell of it! Hopefully that will eventually fade. I am having a hard time dealing with the hangry that happens if I get too far out of a meal. I haven’t quite gotten my protein balance right. BUT. I will happily leave behind twenty pounds last month. It balances itself out then!

    How about you?

  • celebrations,  daybook

    Fresh beginnings…

    It’s our first day of (home)school today, September 4.

    It’s also my Namesday. My chrismated name (or Christian/Baptized name, as Westerners might be more familiar with) is Hermione, for St. Hermione of Caesarea. As most Orthodox will tell you, the Saint choses you…mine certainly did. While a catechumen waiting for my Chrismation, I could not decide which was the wisest to chose and so told my priest. The three saints’ names I had narrowed the list down to were written on strips of paper, left under the Gospel throughout Liturgy, and then pulled at random by lots by my Priest after the service. Anyone that knows me well knows how much I resemble (moreso in temperament and thirst for knowledge that physical appearance) Hermione of the Harry Potter books, so it was rather a sweet, yet funny thing that the original Hermione chose me. (Hermione in the books is named for none other than my St. Hermione; J.K. Rowling often referred to Foxes Book of Martyrs for names. It’s also where she got the name for the hospital- St. Mungoes. There’s a few more Easter eggs like that throughout the books.)

    It’s also the ecumenical new year, as the new church year started on September 1.  My parents came for a visit over the weekend.

    Just a new page all around, really.

    It has been a sweet, quiet day.

    I’m not sure what September holds for us yet. Looking back over August, I feel a sense of relief. It felt like the first month that we really and truly found our footing in many areas after months- years, really- of upheaval. Doesn’t feel like we’re running frantically from one plate to another and tossing them, just trying to keep it all in the air.

    I’ve been looking back over August as I look forward to September and establish my goals, and I thought I’d drop some of those thoughts here.

    Things that we did well in August:

    our food prep/kitchen/grocery budget flow. (This has been a huge goal for me for at least two years, so to see some progress feels SO good.)

    –  staying in the moment.  One of the unfortunate side affects of medical trauma-rama is focusing *in* the moment, because it feels like there’s always something barreling down at you and also that you barely stood up from the last thing that ran you over. It gets hard to just enjoy the moment and not think about it all. I feel like we really truly did this as a family in August, just enjoyed each other’s company and celebrated the every day things. That’s with my husband having a kidney stone that necessitated an ER visit about mid-month. I feel like we did the right things to recover and didn’t rush the process and trusted our intuition as to what was needed both for him and for our family. Trusting that voice is hard after what we’ve been through, and I’m really happy to report that we did. And James is definitely on the mend!

    – working hard to get all the past-due and collections medical bills PAID in full this month. It was so unbelievably squeaky tight in August because of it, but it is SUCH a relief to start September in the black. There was a huge paperwork snafu when the two medical systems here merged into one (we had bills at hospitals in both networks) and the new merged network sent a bunch of bills repeatedly to a decade-old address right after the merge. I found it odd that we had stuff showing on our EOBs from our insurance but no bills were coming. It took a solid month and a half and a billion phone calls to get it straightened out and then we got slammed with a number of collections as soon as they got the right address dating all the way back to the merge in January. No chance to negotiate. It was so frustrating and humiliating, especially when it was the new medical system’s fault in the merge, and they had correct phone numbers for us the whole time. (Sigh.) But it’s over with now! We still have larger bills set on payment plans that are okay and weren’t affected by the merge, but no more collections! Yay! That’s huge. The more important thing to me is that we didn’t just survive while doing it this month, we thrived on the challenge of it. It didn’t knock the wind out of us like it has often done before, keeping us up at night. We did our best each day and slept well.  I don’t think the kids really noticed a difference one way or the other, and that is really important to me! They don’t need to be worrying about it. It’s been a stressor for all of us for so long that having healthier responses is BIG.

    Things that I’d like to focus on for September:

    building up our pantry. I have planned to set in some ‘winter stores’ like a proper squirrel in September. We’re already halfway there on the fourth day of the month: my parents gifted us a membership to a bulk store with better prices on our bulk daily needs, we found an even cheaper place locally for 50 lbs of rice and oatmeal than I had originally researched (score!), and there was enough wiggle room in the grocery budget to take advantage of both. Some of the things we still need I am researching for best prices, and we’ll finish it up in the second half of the month. The fact that I can even say (and know!) that there is space in the grocery budget is HUGE! YAY! I want to work on baking and freezing some meals, too.

    – keep pounding away at the medical bills. Again, this is already showing fruit- James and I both have some side hustles going, and we’ll able to put some extra towards that goal this month. This is the first month we’ve felt comfortable taking on extra work, knowing that it won’t burn us out or unbalance our rhythm.

    – more art, more art, more art! I’ve been working on a collection all summer called Bird-In-Hand. It is a culmination of many quiet, healing moments of painting and drawing this summer, and God willing, I’ll introduce it the world on or around September 15. With the return of our school rhythm, I’ll have more time to devote to art, and I am very excited about that. I have so many things going that I am always sorry to put away and having more focused time will be wonderful!

    Things I’ll leave behind:

    – giving up. I tend to shut down when I feel overwhelmed instead of finding some practical steps forward away from whatever it is that has me so locked down. Sometimes it’s just a simple thing like getting dressed. Making good food for myself. Calling someone who might know the answer to the quandary or has similar life experience. All small things, but they aren’t standing still and not doing anything at all, and that’s where the forward movement comes from. Step by step.

    – crappy food. And crappy people. Both seem to be hitting me on the same level lately. I want to invest my time in life-giving things and not life-taking things. Stronger boundaries and fences! And better food, for crying out loud. My body deserves better. So does my soul!

    – escapism. I notice that I start to check in to social media and mindlessly scroll when I am feeling overwhelmed. I am checking in with myself when I pick up any technology as to whether what I’m about to do is life-giving or life-taking. The answer is usually pretty obvious to me when I ask that- I know when I’m using it as a tool towards something that gives me life (like art tutorials or dear friends’ thoughts or looking up a recipe I’ve forgotten, balancing the checkbook, writing blog posts etc.) or whether I’m just escaping from the noise of the kids or the school day or whatever. One is usually done with intention, and the other is done mindlessly without a goal in mind.

    How about you?

  • daybook

    Lean into the beautiful now…

    It has been forever, dear ones. I know. I was so in the thick of living it that I couldn’t pause here to tell you all about it, but as it is all coming to a close now, I can slip in here quietly with my tea and fill you in on all the news.

    Where do I begin?

    Ellianna passed her sixth birthday, as healthy as her new healthy can be. It was a strange feeling, to be honest. So many February days past have been filled with hospitalizations and stress and illness. I do think we finally got to the bottom of all that troubled her, God willing. The cycle of her illness has evened out and almost disappeared (if you didn’t know where to look)- meaning that we finally, finally found the sweet spot with her treatments and diet. Glory to God!

    Josiah, too, continues to heal. They stepped back some of his medication, to evaluate if some nerves have started firing, and so far, so good. We won’t know for sure until his next colonoscopy (when they replace his c-tube), but we are all curious to see. He may or may not have to have surgery this summer; he’s reaching an age where they may be able to replace his tube without putting him under, but as he also needs to have some exploratory surgery for some other things, they will probably do it all together all at once. All that aside, we have definitely reached a new season with them both, a normal, an expected path; they will always have these chronic life-long incurable illnesses, but their illnesses no longer define them or us in such a profound way as they have these last few years.

    The real news, however, and the reason that everything suddenly got so quiet- was some really tremendous changes for us all. James found a much better job back in our home state of Tennessee, rather unexpectedly. Given the children’s medical needs/insurance (we can’t be without it!) there could be no downtime between the two jobs, and we had to move in basically a week. Not only did we manage to do it, we actually had space left in the truck! Four years in pursuit of minimalism definitely paid off. It was a wonderful feeling, and it was a blessing that we could move so quickly because of it.

    For the first time in the history of our marriage and family, we split up for an extended period of time, which felt very strange. Some of our children still had things going on in Virginia; some doctors appointments, some birthday trips (Swan Lake! The Symphony!) gifted by the grandparents before we knew of James’ job, some music lessons…and of course, closing up our house here and preparing it for inspection. A few kids here, a few kids there, and mom and dad in different states. It went well, but I’m glad we won’t have to do that again any time soon!

    Homeschooling and my 365 painting practice definitely took a back seat this last month. The kids did continue in some of their schooling on their own; we grabbed these unschooling journals for a bit of fun and a change (while still giving a bit of structure- a must in our family), and they were a big hit. I was able to sketch and paint in some small snatches, but not at all in the way I expected to. I somewhat foolishly told my friend whose commission I am working on that I thought once the bigger part of the move was over I would have plenty of time to paint and finish before the month was up; he (far wiser than I) knew better and told me not to worry and return to it when the time was ripe. So that’s on deck in the next few days and weeks- such adventures!

    Ah, there is the other news: a beautiful, wonderful, far reaching commission, with a fellow artist halfway around the world; one of the serendipities that could only have happened in the universe’s own timing. It is so exciting and so life-giving, but I can tell you absolutely nothing about it! HA. All in good time.

    As I’m writing, I keep thinking of my dear friend who faces some incredibly difficult medical challenges; we spent a long afternoon over coffee recently comparing notes about what life is like with chronic illness. It’s a very lonely path to walk some days, whether you are the patient or the caregiver. It’s hard for many to understand the challenges. But as we were talking, she said- all I can do is live now, in this moment. Her words have stuck with me, and have become somewhat a whispered mantra: lean into the beautiful now. Give me eyes to see and to rejoice in the place where my feet are set.

  • daybook,  the home arts,  the kitchen arts

    Keeper of the home…

    sgarden paperavalanche carrots blurryelly rainbowsalad abundancebowl redlentilsoup southernexposure rainbowtwo

    It’s not a surprise to me that after an intense period of upheaval there is an almost equally intense period where everything gets cleaned or scrubbed or cooked. It’s my way of making sense of the world, putting things to order. Some of it is practical of course- things tend to fall by the wayside and need to be put to rights. But mostly, it’s my way of nurturing both myself and my family back to a more even keel. I have been expanding my repertoire in the kitchen quite a bit this go round, inspired very much by Sarah Britton’s My New Roots cookbook and her blog. A dear friend of mine gifted me her Plant Based Nutrition class and it has gone miles towards making me more comfortable in my gluten free kitchen. The artist in me simply loves all the color and texture that is the hallmark of Sarah’s recipes- and the knowledge that they’ll all taste good. We haven’t found a one of hers we haven’t liked yet. I’ve also been ever so slowly editing our belongings over a period of six months, inspired mostly by Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It’s just something about the way she wrote it, her question- does this bring joy? that has helped me let go of many things that no longer need to be in our home or life. The last stand, of course, is all the paper and memories. As my efforts accelerated over the last few weeks, my little studio/office space became the landing spot for all the paper. I did that intentionally- I knew it would keep the fire under my bones to finish. I am so very close now- I’ve dealt with almost all the piles you see above and have only the medical paperwork and art supplies to finish. I’m sure I’ll be done by the middle of this week, and it feels wonderful to know I have crossed the finish line.