Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Wins for 2014 and Onward to 2015

1. Travel: California with my daugher Katie in March. We adored going to San Francisco and Big Sur and Carmel with my mother and my nephew and then going to Hearst Castle and LA with my sister. Mike and I went to Sanibel Island in Florida for a week in May and it was rejuvenating and beautiful and idyllic. I also took an Asheville getaway alone and it cleared my mind and spirit. Then we loved traveling to NC at Thanksgiving to spend quality time with our dear friends.
2. Movies, Concerts and Bluetooth Speaker. After 15 years of an extreme lack of movie theater attendance, we saw more movies this year than all of those years combined. I especially loved The Hundred Foot Journey and Chef. We really really enjoyed seeing some favorite musicians this year too. Josh Garrels in Charleston and The Brilliance Music and Shane + Shane and Reeve Coobs. And Mike surprised me with a Bluetooth Speaker in the summer that I ADORE for listening to music through Spotify and also podcasts.
3. Community and Service. Initiating IF:Table, IF:Pray, a Bread and Wine Book Club, Growth Group, my Fall Potluck, and Birthday parties were the most meaningful events of this year. Connecting with other women and listening to their stories and combining that with food is where my heart beats fast and gets excited. Podcasting with Elizabeth Foss and speaking to a local MOPS group were places where I offered women thoughts about intentional living, self-care and loving well. I also coordinated many meals for new mamas or families struggling with illness in our church and community and that always brings me great joy to see families fed and cared for. Attending Beer & Hymns - South Carolina and Wine & Worship with my church family were also venues of connection, joy and encouragement.
4. Organization + Homeschooling. Using PowerSheets clarified my goals and priorities for the year and helped me recognize what fires me up and where I need to invest my time. Doing lots of freezer meals as I entered the busy Autumn season kept me sane and able to lead my children well in learning without hours spent in the kitchen. My Advent season went smoother than ever due to careful planning and lack of sickness. Arrows Academy was the perfect fit for my teens this fall in terms of academics and community. Reading Aloud and audio-books were the best tools of teaching my younger children this year.
5. Gifts. A new phone, a new bed + bedding, 40 (+1) gifts from friends at my birthday, meaningful prints from women, a new planner, and best of all, Lily Mae...the Maltipoo whom we all adore. She brings us great joy and laughter and we love having a dog again after waiting many years for the right one.
6. READING! I read over 50 books this year. Books continue to be some of my very best friends, mentors and inspirations.
7. How in the world did I forget to say VOXER!? Best new app for me in 2014. I get to talk to dear friends every. single. morning. We share our plans, our lists, our woes, our laughter. It's been life-changing, really.
The last few years had been difficult ones for myriads of reasons. This year has been full and overflowing and sweet and meaningful and I feel so deeply deeply grateful because I know painful years and drought years and exhaustion years and so to receive this one felt like a GIFT over and again. My word for 2014 was OPEN and God asked me over and again to be open to new people, new ideas, new ways of living and loving. I was gifted over and again with beautiful environments and situations as I stepped away from fear and chose openness. The best part of being open and available was relationships. It always is. I received many new friendships this year and new women came into my life and I had many rich conversations. Because of this, I chose my word for 2015 to be INVEST. I want to keep giving myself and my gifts to the most important things in my family + women + community, my own self-care/development, and my home.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

On Summer Colds and Chicken Noodle Soup

Eating according to the seasons is so fundamental to me...summer is all about grilling and salads and fruits and light meals. Soup usually doesn't enter the dinner meal rotation until deep Autumn when the days are crisp and the temperature is falling at night and all the recipes for comfort foods get spread out across my counters.

But a summer cold threw all that to the wind!

And that means we need some Chicken Noodle Soup! I had many friends deal with colds and the flu last winter and I finally perfected this recipe.  It's warm and spicy and comforting in all the ways.

1-2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
4 garlic cloves, pressed
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced

Heat olive oil over medium in a large Dutch Oven.  Throw in garlic to soften for a minute and then carrots and celery.  Let soften for several minutes.

Mix together in a small bowl these spices:

1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp white pepper
2 tsp parsley flakes

Mix the spices into the celery/carrots. Add to that:

8 cups chicken broth (preferably homemade but if not, use 2 boxes Kitchen Basics broth)
Meat from one whole chicken (roasted or Rotisserie from store) or 3 cooked breasts

Allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Then add:

16 oz bag of frozen egg noodles

Cook another 10 minutes and DONE and YUM

Sunday, August 17, 2014

On Beauty and Productivity

For a while now I have noticed that I am prone to waking up late, feeling a sense of loss of time, scrambling to make a to-do list and get moving fast.  My disposition becomes one of tyranny over the home and over the people in my home.  It's not pretty.

In July, I listened to Andrew Kern at a local homeschool convention. One of the big ideas he shared was that since the Industrial Revolution, we live in a "mechanistic age" that is based on military, industry, assembly line. It shows up in the way that we educate by treating children like machines and that we need to cram facts in the brain over the years to produce a worker.  This mindset is a mechanical/material way of viewing reality instead of a spiritual way of viewing reality.

We are not machines but Temples of the Living God.  

This should not only change the way that I educate, but also the way that I view myself and my day. What if we really believed that we and our children are living souls that need to be fed and nourished or cultivated or we will starve?  I mistakenly wake up and view the goal of my day as productivity...but to have that mindset reduces me to mere machine.  I was made for more...for beauty and truth and goodness.  And as I seek first His kingdom, all those other things will be added. In other words, I can't help but be productive and move rhythmically and well when my soul is feeding on higher and nobler ideas. My works becomes the fruit in my life not the guiding principle.

So my goal in the mornings right now is Beauty.  I have been meditating on Psalm 27:4:

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.

It is Beauty to seek Him, to gaze on Him, to ponder Him.
It is Beauty to make my bed and clothe myself simply yet pretty.
It is Beauty to set the table with morning food and flowers and intention.
It is Beauty to "spread the feast" of good books and art and music for my children.
It is Beauty to look in the eyes of my children with love and respect and presence.
It is Beauty to walk in nature and behold the sky, the woods, the sea, the creatures.

So many of the daily tasks that I would normally do fueled by anxiety and production continue to happen but instead may be fueled by the peace of Christ by pondering His beauty and viewing my daily world through that lens.  

My world is a home filled with living souls, not robots or machines who need to produce. May we receive the grace to perceive this Truth and live in the freedom of it day in and day out.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Who Do I Work For?

In the past few months I have really been challenged and encouraged by the writings of Sarah, hearing Andrew Kern at a local homeschool convention + his podcasts, this webinar on restful learning, and also from all the goodness at Schole Sisters.

There are TONS of good ideas and soul reorientation happening as a result of pondering all the truth, beauty and goodness that these writers/speakers have offered.  I am literally feasting on all of it day in and day out when I cook, when I walk, when I drive, and when I fold laundry.  I learn best through fully immersing myself in a subject until the content feels as if it is a part of me.  There have been so many "aha!" moments and realizations and although I don't know how it will influence the practical in my mothering and homeschooling, I know that it will.  That's what meditating on Truth changes you. Change begins in the thoughts and in the spirit and then influences the actions.

One truth that has subtly influenced the way I view my day, my plan, my iPhone usage, and my priorities, is the truth that I work for God. This would seem rather obvious, but for me, somehow it hasn't been.  I honestly think that I have been working for my children, working for my ideals, working for what I deem is "good and right", or just working for no one...the thought being that "I have no boss". All of those are terrible motivators and have set me up for disillusionment, rebellion, and frustration.  I have been in a place where I feel like in my spirit I have thrown my hands up, raised a white flag, and have felt like "what does any of what I do each day matter?  WHO CARES?"

Somehow listening and reading and pondering, the message came to me very quietly and simply and gently:

"Aimee, you work for God.

This seemingly obvious revelation has given me deep joy and renewed PURPOSE.  Every day when I wake up, I look to Him and ask Him for my day.  How would you have me work for you today, Lord? It has lifted the seemingly mundane chores to acts of faithful service to Him.  It has curbed my iPhone addiction...because in what job would your boss want you to sit on your phone constantly? It has given me focus in spending time with children, using my time well to love others, and to use rest for meaningful activity instead of escape.

When you realize that a beautiful and loving Father has a plan and a purpose for your day, you know that doing His daily will offers peace, focus, satisfaction, joy, and meaning.  If you believe that you are checking the days off for your children, your husband, an earthly boss, friends, family, church, I believe that over time you lose hope, confuse priorities, and at its worst, walk in resentment.  We serve One Master, One King, One Father, One Lord, One Ruler who offers the weary and heavy-ladened the gift of Rest and Lightness. His yoke of work is not burdensome but easy. His tasks come from His gentleness and humility. The taskmasters of this world are demanding, pushy, unsatisfied and exhausting...He offers us another Way.

So every day now, I place my day under His authority and Lordship.  I give Him my hours and minutes, my meager gifts and abilities, my focus and return, I receive from Him peace, rest, purpose, joy, and a plan that is not overwhelming but just right. We fear that He will be the Cosmic Cowboy with a whip driving us from behind until we break down, but instead He is the Gentle Shepherd out in front leading us to green pastures and still waters and soul-restoration. Amen.

Monday, July 14, 2014

On Gathering Women

That's what I do.  I like to gather women.  Sometimes it's for a Book Club. Sometimes it's been for sewing. Sometimes it's for coffee and muffins. Sometimes it's for dinner. Sometimes it's for crafting. Sometimes it's for discussing our growth. Sometimes it's just to let our children play together.

I don't have any real plan or vision for these events or for where I think they should necessarily go.  I just invite and pray that the Holy Spirit works in women's lives and that they come away with a challenge or an encouragement or a new thought or a new friendship or just a bit of reprieve from the dailiness.

Our culture is so busy and fragmented and distracted, and there are few spaces where women can gather for food and  focused conversation and to be heard and to be loved.  I believe that God made us as women to be inviters. Why aren't we doing that more?  Why aren't we creating space in our homes and in our schedules and in our hearts to gather? I know that for each of us there are differing lists of obstacles that we face, but most of those can be overcome.

Women are lonely. Women need friendship. Women need nurturing as they are nurturers to so many in their lives. Women need to be listened to and offered encouragement and hope. Women need to eat a slow meal without interruption and to enjoy a glass of wine coupled with laughter. Women need to share their real life stories and listen to other's stories.  Women need to be seen and noticed. Women need to be affirmed that you are not alone.

Why do we wait for other women to make the first move? Why do we sit alone at home or make ourselves over-busy to compensate for that ache of aloneness? Why do we keep hoping that good friendships will just happen to us?

I believe that we can move past our fears and insecurities and issues, and seek to learn how to love other women in even the smallest of ways.  May I encourage you to begin to take steps to create of lifestyle of loving and pursuing women?

Text a woman today and ask her how she is doing.

Find out who has an upcoming birthday and buy her a card.

Take a friend some flowers this week.

Mail something.

Private Message someone on Facebook that you want to get to know and tell her that.

Invite a few women over for coffee and muffins.

Host a Book Club. Discuss the book Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist.

Take a woman a meal when you find out she is feeling under the weather.

Consider hosting an IF:Table with five other women.  Make it a potluck.

Begin a Growth Group: meet with three other women once a month to discuss the growth in your lives intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, relationally...books you have read, movies you have seen, podcasts listened to, music that encourages.

Ask good questions.

Be the friend that you want to have.

Pray and ask God to give you names of women to reach out and to give love to.  Do it freely without expecting anything in return. Do any of these suggestions as an overflow of love...seeking to be Jesus to others without demanding a response of gratitude or reciprocation or friendship. Give because Jesus made you to give and to offer and to invite. Check pride and insecurity and comparison at the door and walk in your identity in Christ which is to be a woman who is deeply loved, forgiven, accepted and complete in Him.  As we walk in our God-given identities, we are then FREE to walk in love and service without hindrance.

We weren't made to go at life alone.  We weren't made for isolation and comparison and insecurity. We were made for intimacy and connection and authenticity and sacrificial love. Women at their best are intimate and relational and honest and nurturing...let's humbly reclaim all the best about ourselves and offer that to the women God places in our lives and paths every day.

Monday, June 2, 2014

What I Learned In May

1. Taking a Vacation With Your Spouse Is Amazing. It had been 12 years since we had vacationed together and OH MY GOODNESS! My sister who lives in California came out here for a week to care for our children while Mike and I headed down to Sanibel Island, Florida.  We did all the things I dream of a vacation being: private, quiet, restful, books, good food, games, walks.  Truly a gift.

2. Being Open to Others Allows Me To See God Move.  I initiated with many people this month who were complete strangers.  A few of them were people I met when we went camping with the Boy Scouts for a weekend and some were women from my church that I invited over for IF:Table.  When you open your life with others and listen to their stories, then you see how God is lovingly at work all over the place and in such unique and diverse ways.  I was blessed to hear how He uses pain for His glory and uses the hard things to draw others in.

3. The More I Give, The More I Want to Give.  It becomes this beautiful habitual practice of seeking to bring joy and care and God's love to others in simple yet meaningful ways.  Never underestimate the power of a meal, a small gift, an act of service, an encouraging text, a prayer for another.

4. Giving Must Come From A Place of Being Filled.  I am really starting to see when I am giving out of "should" and depletion and recognize pretty quickly that I probably should have said no.  I want my love and my giving to come out of a place of overflow and grace not duty, obligation, fear or performance. And I am in tune with myself enough to know the difference.

5. Having A Plan Is Changing My Life.  I feel so much more in tune with living out my gifts and priorities and focusing on what matters most.  I feel less angsty and more hopeful.  I am soooo much closer to living my best life and not my distracted, brooding life :)

6. Brooklyn 99 is a hilarious show.  We signed up for Hulu Plus for the month just to watch the first season.  It is (mostly) clean and really really funny.  It's like a police version of The Office.

Friday, May 30, 2014

On Homemaking and Hard Work

I have been under the impression lately that my newer friends believe that I am just naturally wired for homemaking and domesticity and that I have always been this way.  This really is funny to me...if only I could show them my room when I was growing up, my dorm room and the places we lived when we first got married.

None of my current skills in the home were magically gifted to me.  They are a result of learning and growing and plain old hard work.

As a young married woman, I had no idea how to cook. My capability in cleaning came from working in two fast food restaurants late in high school and in college.  Clutter was my nemesis. Laundry was never ever under control.  Piles and piles of clean laundry would overflow everywhere and we just grabbed what we needed from that. Dirty dishes would pile up for days.  Our kitchen table was two-thirds office and one-third dining space.  My mother would swoop in from time to time and help make pillows and curtains and soften everything.  She would help order my life again but her habits weren't my habits and so it didn't take long for everything to fall back in disarray.

In 2002 I bought a Woman's Day magazine and learned about Fly Lady.  I knew that reading her and having someone daily "mentor" me in the home was what I needed.  I needed her to help me clear clutter and get into a habit of clearing clutter.  I needed her to teach me routines.  I had resisted routines for so long and was no longer satisfied with all of the emotional and physical chaos that inevitably came when I lived without them.  Day by day and step by step, I purged my spaces, our storage unit, our clothing. This took time and a few years.  I began to believe "do not keep anything in your home that is not useful or beautiful". I let go of fear and hoarding and sentimentality and freed myself to decorate simply and in my unique style.

I read the book "Use What You Have Decorating" and it helped me to understand design and that I didn't need new and shiny and expensive.  I could make what I already owned or what I found in a thrift store pretty and pleasing and self-expressive. This book taught me how to arrange furniture and lamps and why certain spaces feel better and function better than others.

I got obsessed with Pampered Chef and my sister's recipes and between the two of them, I learned to cook. I knew from going to many of their Shows that their recipes were usually delicious. So I bought a cookbook at every Show and began to experiment and work my way through them.  People would rave over what I made at an event and it was always one of their recipes.  They taught me how to use kitchen tools and made me realize that the right tool + a well-written recipe makes a world of difference.

I checked out books and bought books on homemaking and domesticity for years. I became a student of it all.  My thinking was that if I believed that God was calling me to be at Home and raise a family, then it was my responsibility to learn how to do that.  My desire was to create spaces that were warm and cozy. Happy and inviting. Uncluttered and relatively easy to manage.  None of that was "natural" to me. It was a choice I decided to make.  I began to view my home as a Professional would...this was my "job" now and so I needed to learn and work hard and grow into that.  No one becomes good at a new job overnight.  You become skilled as you gain knowledge, observe others, ask questions, and practice, practice, practice.

Blogs came along my path around 2006.  I was amazed that I was being given peeks into people's real life homes through their photography and their words. Being the visual learner that I am, I now felt even more inspired and mentored to view beauty through simplicity, through natural living, through doing art and making stuff alongside my children.  Through my sister's help and many books and online tutorials, I taught myself to sew. To knit. To crochet. To embroider. To do a million crafty things and to invite my children into a creative lifestyle. I stopped listening to the inner monologue of "don't try that because you won't be perfect so don't even go there" and released myself to try new skills, to make mistakes, to fail and to be messy. I began making things for my home and making things for others and never in my life did I feel so free and so joyful and fulfilled.

I never realized that Home could be the place where I would find myself, where I would find calling, where I would find fulfillment. It started out just as a choice.  We just knew that my being home was what we wanted for our children but I never stopped to think at all what it would do for me. Here is the place that taught me to love, to create, to grow, to learn, to clarify, and to focus. Here is the place that provided me space to learn to cook and later to learn hospitality and and to give all that I learned away to others. Here is the place where I learned to lay down my life only to find it again.  It was a choice we made by faith only and I began to receive the fruit of that decision years and years later.

I say all this to say that I am not more "gifted" at this homemaking thing than anyone else.  I don't possess a skill set that isn't available to others. I was dissatisfied with how I did just about everything in our home and decided that I needed to learn, practice and grow. One thing that stuck out to me as I have been doing those Powersheets is that she says that we can make all of those goals and steps and plans, but at the end day, it's putting in the hard work. That is true of any job out there, homemaking included.  When we put in the hard work of learning, practicing, failing and learning yet again, we are rewarded with that effort.  We gain virtue, skill, and ultimately gifts that we can bless others with.  All of that hard work enables us to fulfill our calling which is always to love our neighbor.  Our neighbor is our family, our friendships, our church and our wider community.  Our acquired skills become our avenues and paths to bring blessing and grace and joy to those that God allows to cross our paths.

In the quiet and hidden place of Home and family, God gifts us with time and space to grow, to learn, to become skilled in a variety of ways. For years we may wonder at it all and question our place there and get depressed and doubt it all...but the fruit will come. As the roots grow deep and receive nourishment over time and storm, we can grow and blossom into fruitful trees which bring beauty and health and growth to others. Little by little, day by day.