• the home arts

    The roads of quotidian faithfulness

    “Things take the time they take.
    Don’t worry.
    How many roads did St. Augustine follow before he became St. Augustine?”

    ― Mary Oliver

    I got to thinking this morning while refreshing our master closet that while Mary may have been talking about the existential realities of the soul, this poem is also quite true about the work and art of making a home.  It always takes so much longer for me to find a comfortable rhythm in a new season, a new place, a new home, than I ever think we’d need. Until the rhythm is found, everything feels off. Often overwhelming. I struggle to master the balance of the needs of the home, the needs of homeschooling, the needs of family until I find it. And then…it just clicks. Things run so much smoother after that.

    I can’t write a “do these five things for happy homemaking” post because it just does not exist. No two homes are the same. No two families are the same. You could have the exact same house, structurally, and two families will live in and use that house completely differently. Different rooms and appliances will need cleaning at different times based on who uses them. And the seasons families go through are profoundly different too.

    So much of what makes a house a home isn’t even quantifiable in a measurable sense. It’s the way light is set about a living room, the cozy blankets tucked waiting, the books lining the bookshelves, the soft classical playing, that invite rest for a family. It’s not the things themselves: the lamp, the blanket, the couch. It’s the sum of it all, and more.

    When I focus on the sanctifying aspect of home keeping, it makes it easier for me to focus on the whole of it. Each day, take it up, work hard at it, let it go. Ora et labora. Work and pray. Threads of a larger tapestry that I may never see in this lifetime. How many roads did St. Augustine follow? So it is with sweeping the floor, and I don’t think the venerable saint would disagree with me.

    It has been almost a year now that we moved in to this house, and it’s only this month that I finally feel like I am getting a grasp on a workable rhythm. A year. It’s a bit staggering looking backwards at it. But I didn’t see the year before me, I just kept trying. And now I have come out the other side of it. It’s a lesson I need to carry into and remember in other areas of my life.

    I’ve really liked Amanda Watters’ blog, Homesong, for a while now, and her weekly cleaning rhythm printable has been a guiding light for me for a few years. She came out with an editable one, and I’ve slowly been adjusting mine over this last year. I think the thing to note about any sort of home care rhythm is that it should make things easier, not harder. It should get to a point that a reasonable amount of chores are done each day, and no one day is loaded up with so much that you can’t think about anything else. That’s not helpful. (It’s also why I could never understand why people will wait until Saturday to do all of the chores. No wonder they hate Saturday! Ten minutes here and there each day, and Saturday is all yours, no chores required.)

    If a rhythm is really working, it will almost become invisible, without any real thought applied to it. It just becomes the thing you do to a point that you don’t have to actively think, okay, now it is time to water the plants. You just walk and do it because your brain has become so used to it. And when that happens, your brain has so much time for other things! More time to read. To homeschool. To paint. Whatever it is that truly brings you joy, you’ll have time for it. Does it take work to get there? Yes. And probably more time and diligence than you think. But once you invest the time, the payoffs are enormous.

  • the home arts

    Mindful Money: Medical Budgeting

    I’m hoping to tuck in here a little bit each week-day. I used to write very long form posts, and I’m sure I still will, but I feel like I’m also starting to write to my children a bit. Little bite sized lessons for later, if they find themselves in similar situations. And who knows, maybe someone else finds them useful too?

    So how are we doing financially? It’s where I left off, a year ago, and a good place to pick up.

    By the end of this month, we will have paid off all of the current medical bills. These are all of the bills we incurred over this last year, especially the ones related to Elliana’s hospitalization in November and her surgery in June.

    There were other things as well: one of the big kids had some seriously weird blood work come back during a routine physical that had to be followed up with an abdominal ultrasound to check his liver/spleen, and etc. (He was fine, eventually, but it was a bit of a scare.)

    My husband hasn’t ever been in the best of health since his near death from mononucleosis the first year we were engaged. (What an adventure that was. My oh my.) He’s constantly had upper respiratory issues–he was hospitalized  five times in our twenties, once in the ICU, for pneumonia– ever since, and it seems like his ‘bucket’ of health overflows quickly because of it. He’ll often catch something the rest of the family has much worse and much longer. You can only imagine how the sudden stress of two chronically ill kids affected him. He’s been running on fumes for three years, probably longer. As you can imagine, that came to a head. He was involved in a pretty nasty rear-end car crash not days after Elliana was released from the hospital in November, and it was the last straw. He had a bad concussion. His body finally said, enough is enough, and he’s been working ever since to get healthier. They had to run quite a few tests (including an MRI and ultrasounds) that weren’t related to the concussion at a few separate points. It was hard not to see the dollar signs just clicking past. That ran from November well into March. He is doing quite a bit better lately, and we’re hopeful that we can get him back to a pre-mononucleosis level of energy and immune-response.

    As I mentioned a year ago, our finances have taken such a huge hit. Going into this August, I feel like I am finally breathing a bit easier in that realm. We still have a tremendous way to go, of course. We couldn’t pay for our homeschool curriculum for the upcoming year; my parents assisted us. James’ parents have had to chip in on home repair issues that have come up this last year.  We’ve had to depend on not just our parents but extended family members and friends for help with gas and groceries at various points. When the sudden trips to Cincinnati loomed, friends raised the funds to pay for it in about three weeks. The good side of what seems sort of cruddy in this is that we aren’t going into any more debt and haven’t for a bit now. We have quite a load from the kids’ original hospitalizations that will take much longer to pay off, but I feel like things are finally beginning to stabilize and we can begin the baby steps again.

    What would I tell myself four or five years ago as I was digging into Dave Ramsey’s advice for the first time?

    Rethink your medical budget line. The more annually-related budgeting categories, I’ve noticed, often catch short shrift. Yes, most of us probably think “I need to divide my car insurance premium that I only pay twice a year into a monthly breakdown” for the budget, but it’s the more nebulous things that invariably come up at least once a year (a car repair, home repair, medical expenses) that are harder to understand and budget for.

    I’ve found in talking to so many that how their health insurance premiums work and what their co-pay obligations are hardly on their radar, let alone on their budget lines. This is the blessed ignorance of good health. If you and your family are relatively healthy and only visit once or twice a year, maybe a broken arm here, a bad case of the flu there, it won’t ever really bump your radar. I pray that you get to stay in that blissful state of health, but I won’t let you stay ignorant.

    I’m not an insurance specialist or educator, but let me tell you what I’ve learned in the school of hard knocks.

    Learn what your responsibility is for your healthcare.  What is your member (or individual) deductible? What is your family deductible? What is your split on care? 80/20? 90/10, 70/30? As soon as you know what your deductibles are, save for them. If it’s a $300/member deductible and you have eight members, that’s $2400 that needs to get tucked away. This member deductible and the family/group deductible often do not correspond. Know what the difference is between your individual number is and the family deductible and save the difference. If it’s $3000 and you know that individual is $2400 total, you need to save $600 more dollars. Keep making a line for this for at least two years- the first year you will most likely dip into this number, and you want to keep it at a fully funded level which should be reasonably easy to do the second year (unless all heck hits the fan like it did with us!). Your deductible is in addition to your premium- don’t confuse them!

    Keep in mind that copays do not apply to your deductible. You might look at that package that comes from Human Resources and think, well, $20 for a primary care and $35 for a specialist is okay, especially if you only have to deal with it once or twice a year. THIS is what can routinely send our family underwater on any given month. When you have multiple family members who are ill and who have to see not only their primary care but also multiple specialists in a given month, that co-pay number can quickly climb into four digits a month and there is no way to budget for them during an emerging health crisis. It’s one thing once specialist visits become recurring and scheduled- you can begin to get a feel for what you need when. But this is rarely the case in a sudden medical crisis. You want to see co-pays as low as possible when you are looking at your insurance. Check your co-pays against market norms to know whether they are reasonable or not. If you have completed all the Ramsey baby steps, I’d encourage you to budget at least one primary copay and one specialist copay each month. You might not ever need it, but if you do, it will give you yet another cushion on top of your deductible cushion to deal with just such occasions as have happened to us. I can’t express to you how fast this happens. They are called medical emergencies for a reason.

    KNOW YOUR SPLIT. This is the item you can’t really budget for, but not knowing what it is will devastate your finances in a medical emergency. You also need to know if both your health insurance and your automobile insurance covers ambulance/helicopters. Most do not. You want this split to be as low as possible. If your child is suddenly hospitalized (as ours were) in a non-trauma way, you are on the hook for your split of it. Say a surgery for a kid costs $6000. Your insurance pays 80% of that, and you have to pay the 20% in addition to your deductible. You have to pay $300 deductible, PLUS the 20% of the split before the insurance will pay anything. Trauma is most often covered by your homeowners or automobile insurance, which is also important to know- car accidents, fires, acts of God type injuries are rarely covered by your health insurance and they will make sure you know it and there is tons of subrogation paperwork that has to be waded through. Again, you want to have the lowest split or no split possible. No split insurance plans are exceedingly rare and if you’re that lucky, I’m kinda jealous.

    Frankly, I’d love to hear from someone with major medical issues/chronic health issues children that use a cost-sharing program in lieu of insurance. I’ve often wondered what the differences would be.

    I’m no expert, by any means, but I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have. I’d much rather help you find the experts you need now when it’s all going swimmingly than have you wait until you’re completely underwater like we were. How I wish I had known how byzantine and convoluted medical insurance was then. I would have started to educate myself about it well, then. If wishes were horses.

  • the home arts

    Elbow room…

    laundry newmaster schoolroom iconastasis

    We’ve never done a home renovation, though we consider ourselves near experts on the subject after watching years of HGTV, especially Fixer Upper, but I can tell you that the reason they tell you to live with a space for a while before you change it is because you really have no clue how a space flows until you live with it for awhile. I was thinking of this, and chuckling, a few weeks back when we basically re-arranged the whole house, right down to our iconastasis. Even the saints like a bit of elbow room, am I right?

    We’ve lived in this house for three years or so, living in roughly the same way as we did when we moved in. Our schooling was done at the kitchen table. Our Master was on the third floor. The kids all shared rooms. The flow sort of worked, but what could we do? We’re renting. You know, all of those things you think about a situation when you’re looking at it head on.

    But if you tilt your head to the side…

    It was my big boys fault, really.

    They are getting tall. Really tall. And big. They take up a lot of space, teenage boys. And the room they were in, plus their racked bunkbeds…well, they were starting to resemble Alice after she drank the cordial. There was not enough space for them, their beds, their desks. I swore if you looked in the windows you were going to see elbows and knees poking about with no room to move. Bless their hearts.

    I started to wonder what would happen, and if, the beds would fit in the alcoves of the master bedroom. A germ of an idea was forming. James measured, and, sure enough,all four of the boys’ beds would tuck in just right. This would leave a huge space in the middle for all of the boys and their stuff, with plenty of room to spread out with legos and train set ups and a nearly six foot tall teenager could sprawl whichever direction he so chose with plenty of room to spare. We affectionately call it the boys’ dorm now. It always looks like a tornado has rolled through these days, but it’s great! I don’t see it unless I want to, and they like the autonomy.

    That meant James and I moved into the big boys’ old room, which was a perfect cozy size for us with space for a bookshelf and a small seating area. The girls stayed where they were. A bonus room appeared- the little boys’ old bedroom. Could it be? Could we have a school-room/office space? Would all of our homeschooling bookshelves from downstairs fit? They fit so well they practically look like built-ins. My large old IKEA art desk, with trestle legs removed, and snazzy new blue metal legs attached became a perfect work table. Six smart new stools joined the fray, and we were in business! Our school window looks out over our crepe myrtle, and we often joke that we are headed to the tree house for school. They also like to call it the drawing room (i.e. the room in which they draw and create) which makes James and I laugh every time they ask if they can go to the drawing room, like we live in some mansion.

    Our first floor (our dining room and living room) is now strictly for relaxation and meals, and it’s really lovely. I’ll admit, it’s nice to have a clean spot to look forward to some days when the second and third floors are trashed. We all appreciate the fact that we can leave projects out in the school room and not have to tuck them away every time we need to eat. There is a door. And it shuts. It’s revolutionary, people. School mess? What school mess? I don’t see anything, do you?

    It has made our tall narrow house seem to double in size, this change. Everything makes sense now. What is interesting to me is that it used to take about a solid two hours of us all working together to clean the house from top to bottom- sweep the rooms, mopping, dusting, vaccuming, making/stripping beds, hitting the bathrooms, deep cleaning the kitchen. Nothing has really changed except for the new arrangement of the rooms, but somehow we can bless the house (as we call it) in about forty-five minutes, sometimes less. I don’t know if it is because the children’s things are more centralized now, easier to see, and therefore easier to pick up, or if the different arrangement of furniture makes it easier or what, but goodness gracious, yes, I’ll take it! This of course helps with everything else- leaving me to focus more on the children’s schooling and my own interests. More time? How’s that for a home renovation?

    Who would have thought? I think those designer people might be on to something. I do wonder why I didn’t tilt my head sooner…the only thing we actually purchased for this whole house renovation was four table legs and six stools from IKEA- about $25. I bet Joanna Gaines couldn’t beat that budget!

  • 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.

  • creative capers,  the home arts,  the kitchen arts

    Yarn Along…


    My washcloth stores had gotten rather low, so I’ve been knitting up some replacements. As my husband says, the knitted ones just work better. The machined washcloths are making their way into the rag bucket as the knitted ones come off my needles. It’s interesting- the knitted ones are far more durable and do not seem to wear out so quickly or get as stained. The pattern I am using is an old, old one. Our grandmas probably used the same one. After many fellow Yarn Along friends recommended that I might like Elizabeth Goudge, I finally found her at the library. I made the mistake of starting the first story while in the doctors’ office yesterday with one of my children- the time I had to read was much too short! That’s the first time I’ve bemoaned that we didn’t have to wait very long. Ha!

    Washcloth Pattern

    Cast on four stitches.

    On the next row, knit two stitches, yarn over, knit to the end of row.

    Continue each row until forty-four stitches are on the needle.

    In the next row, knit one, knit 2 together, yarn over, knit 2 together, knit to the end of row.

    Continue until four stitches are left on the needle, cast off.

    Sharing with Ginny.