Treasuring and pondering

I know I’m not I’m alone when it comes to Christmas decorating anxiety. It’s just one of many Christmas traditions that started small and then blew up bigger than a front-yard inflated Santa and reindeer.

It started with my mother’s homemade white tulle wreaths wrapped on a wire coat hanger. We helped her make a bunch of them to hang all over the house.  They were pretty.

When I got my first apartment, there was no way I could afford new decorations. We didn’t have miles and miles of inexpensive Christmas decorations like we do today. So my roommate and I made our own Christmas tree skirt, one of those colorful felt things with sequins.

Hundreds of sequins.

Thousands of sequins.

Hand-sewn.

Every single reindeer, star, tree, ornament, and snowflake was cut out and hand-stitched. Not super challenging as far as sewing skills, but it took hours. We watched the Love Boat, Hill Street Blues, and certainly Dallas while we stitched.

When we finished the Christmas tree skirt, we proudly placed it under the little tree by our sliding glass door — the same door where earlier we discovered a peeping tom but that’s another story.

Now here’s where it gets embarrassing. This finished tree skirt belonged to my roommate. Since I wanted to have my own for future years — and since we had so much fun making this one —  I bought my own kit and started sewing in January. Fast forward thirty-plus years. The unfinished tree skirt sits in a box in the basement.

It was the perfect project to do with my children.

Didn’t happen.

It’s the perfect project to do if I’m blessed with grandchildren.

Yes. That’s my plan.

I’m getting side-tracked here, revealing one of many craft projects I’ve left unfinished. That, along with the peeping tom, is another story for another post.

The point here is that I really thought every single room needed to be decorated for Christmas. I had to “put” Christmas into our home. I know that wasn’t what my mother intended when we made those fluffy wreaths. But that’s what stuck with me, especially once I started having my own family and especially when aisles after aisles of local stores started to carry inexpensive decorations that didn’t have to be cut out, stitched, hot-glued, or pasted. Then there were the church Christmas bazaars that added the just-right homemade touch. The post-season 75% off sales topped it all off.

I accept full responsibility for this mild obsession.

Decorating was fun and became a tradition, especially with my daughter who loves to open up the boxes every year and re-live last year and the year before and the year before. I’m right there sharing memories. My sweet guy has alway believed that less is more, so he helps carry the heavy stuff, smiles as he listens to us reminisce, and then retreats to his woodworking shop.

Several years ago I was on my own to decorate. My daughter was overseas in graduate school. It was a lot of work to do it alone. So I did less. Thus began the process of simplifying.

Two trees, little Christmas village houses with the requisite puffy snow, an embarrassingly large collection of stuffed Christmas bears, nutcrackers of every shape and size, Christmas mugs, tea towels, hand towels. Yikes.

I used to boast that I wasn’t a collector.  (Not that collections are bad things. Not at all. I just didn’t like to collect things that had to be dusted.)

So now I’m simplifying.

Donating bears and mugs and candle-holders.

It helps that my house is smaller and there is nowhere to put all this stuff.

I’m only setting up the decorations that we absolutely love.

It’s not about “putting” Christmas in my home. It’s not even about “putting” Christ in Christmas. I can’t do any of the “putting.”

That’s grace.

That’s the Holy Spirit.

“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Luke 2:19

Simplifying helps me do a little bit of what Mary did.

Treasure and ponder.

I’d love to hear your Christmas decorating history. How do you treasure and ponder? 

 

What’s for supper?

I envy the Israelite cooks — men and women — who wandered in the desert with their families for forty years. Lest you think I’m crazy, read on.

Yes, they struggled with thirst, hunger, frustration, anger and more throughout their long journey. Yet when they grumbled, the Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.'” (Exodus 16: 11-12)

And for the next forty years, they were fed. Maybe they didn’t like what they were fed, but the family cooks didn’t stand in front of their tents and ask, “What’s for supper?”

That question has haunted me for years.

At first it was easy. I cooked the things my mom cooked. Tuna casserole. Stuffed green peppers. The occasional roast. Grilled cheese.

I took a cooking class once and learned how to reduce a liquid to a glaze, roast red peppers, and make chicken stock. I was inspired. Yet that inspiration never translated to the dinner plate. I returned to tuna casseroles.

And then I got a job, got married to my guy, and had two beautiful kids who filled the house with lovely and not-so-lovely noises. I made no time for the joy of cooking. I was busy playing Candy-land, grading papers, or baking chocolate chip cookies. I always had time for baking cookies.

The pressure to feed my family something that wasn’t out of a jar or box, even back then, was real. I’d stand with the fridge door open as the jars and bottles and packages and plastic-covered odds and ends laughed. Ha! Just see what you can make out of me, said the leftover roast. Yo-hoo! The frozen chicken yelled.  See if you can thaw me in 30 minutes.

What’s for supper? Gulp.

I became really lazy in the kitchen. My supper repertoire shrank. (And you wonder how it could possibly get any worse than tuna casserole? Think boxes. )

I rationalized. Toddlers and even teenagers liked macaroni and cheese and scrambled eggs. My husband still says he likes those “helper” meals that come in a colorful box.  (I’m sticking my finger down my throat right now and gagging.)

Today, I’m doing the same thing.  I don’t have the good excuses like kids, car-pooling, and back-to-school nights. It’s just me and my guy, most of the time.

But I’ve invented new excuses. My go-to recipes are for a bigger family. My go-too recipes don’t fit the farm-to-table style I love. My kitchen is too small. The farmer’s market is too far.  I’m busy writing my novel. We’ve moved and I can’t find my ________ (fill in the blank with any kitchen tool). Never mind that we moved over two years ago.

And I’m still standing in front of the refrigerator at 5:20 p.m. wondering, what’s for supper?

So, I’m on a mission to quit this silliness because I really do love to cook.

I  just hate to decide what to cook.

I’m going to start by doing three things. Organize, plan, and remember.

Organize.  I probably have thousands of recipes in magazines, cookbooks, and three-ring binders. They are garbaging up my brain. I want to have ten, maybe twenty, top-notch recipes that are easy to find. Healthy meals. Delicious meals. Some simple. Some elegant. Some hearty. Some fancy.

Plan. One week ahead. I know, some of you are saying you can’t believe I’ve never done this before. I have actually done this, but it’s a habit that just doesn’t stick. I’m going to try it again. Wait. I’m not going to try. I’m going to do it so I don’t shudder when someone asks me the dreaded question, What’s for supper?

Remember. As I think of those Israelites who were given manna every day for 40 years, I remember the gift. They had no food or water. They hungered and thirsted. And the Lord fed them. Whenever I wonder, What’s for supper? I will remember that I am blessed to have food in my refrigerator, food in my pantry, and food for my soul.

“I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” John 6: 47-51

Do you struggle with what’s for supper? What are your tricks to combat the paralysis that hits when you open the refrigerator before supper?

 

Three Things I Learned from My Messy Desk

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” Albert Einstein

That’s not how I was raised. Mom and Dad — by their words and their actions — taught me and my sibs that cleanliness and order are right up there next to you know what. Like so many, they believed the broken-windows theory: the smallest mess leads to bigger messes.

However, a recent study says that sometimes a messy desk might be a good thing.

“Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights,” Dr. Kathleen Vohs states. “Orderly environments, in contrast, encourage convention and playing it safe,” she adds.

Yep. As a momma, I encouraged convention and playing it safe with our two kiddos. Pick up your dirty socks. Put away your toys. Don’t take food outside the kitchen. Hold my hand. Don’t talk to strangers. Good rules, especially for momma’s sanity.

But what about creativity? Taking risks? Discovering something new?

Ooooh. It seems that some messiness is good.

So that makes me feel a little better about my messy desk.

Except for one thing.

Since moving into this new-old house and doing some crazy major remodeling, I have an awesome writing space. My desk sits in the front corner of the main floor, in the space that used to be the formal dining room, facing into the big open room we’ve created after knocking out a few walls.

Compared to my Utah writing space, a small dark room, this one is flooded with natural light, views of the bird-feeder and the goings-on in my neighborhood. (That’s not always a good thing.)

I love this space for all kinds of reasons except that I see my messy desk. All. The. Time. And everyone else sees my messy desk, even the UPS delivery guy standing at the front door waiting for a signature. I can’t shut the door and ignore it because there is no door to shut.

My desk has forced me to see who I really am. Yes, like a counselor.

#1 —  I’m not organized.  I just like to look organized.

My husband has always applauded me as the organized one in our relationship. I’m pretty sure that started when we were dating, and he left me alone with his messy desk one afternoon. I broke all the dating rules. (Isn’t it written somewhere that you shouldn’t mess with a guy’s messes until you are married?)

Mind you, I didn’t file anything or toss anything. I just straightened the papers.

Anyway, I knew he was a wonderful man when he saw what I’d done and he smiled and said thank you.

I figured out much later that my 20-minute desk detox probably freaked him out.

By the way, he’s been thanking me for more than thirty years.

And telling me I’m the organized one.

But I’m not. I’m just slightly more organized than he is.

#2 — I’m a procrastinator.

If I have a fast-approaching deadline, whether it’s finishing a story or editing someone else’s, and I see a stranded paper clip or a few stray catalogs? I stop being productive and I start to putter. Writer Anne Lamott calls this sacred puttering which makes me feel a little better.

I’m so good at sacred puttering.  Anything to avoid the real work of writing, editing, creating.

And to remove the temptation to putter — and to create the illusion that I’m organized (see #1), I’ve started doing a quick desk detox.  I shove the paper clips and the notebooks, the scattered post-it notes and catalogs and whatever else I don’t need into the desk drawer.  It’s a lick-and-a-promise act of avoidance. Out of sight. Out of mind.

#3 — I’m still learning stuff I thought I would have figured out by now. 

Like what does my messy desk mean?  Who am I in the midst of this messiness? The messes may be out of sight, but they aren’t really out of my mind. Is it working?

There, just inches from my work, is a mess. I will have to face it. Eventually.

Just like my life messes.

I can ignore them. Shove them aside.

The completely disorganized but out-of -sight basement? A difficult conversation I should have with someone I love?  My next mammogram? That moment of self-righteousness when I really thought I was better than someone else? The phone call to an old friend where I couldn’t wait to hear the latest “news” — a.k.a. gossip?

Or open the drawer and hand them over to the One who is the expert at dealing with my messes. Seek His wisdom, His grace, His perfect peace.

Yes. Then I can deal with the messes — perhaps creatively. Perhaps more easily. Perhaps not.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10

Or check out how The Message paraphrases this same passage. (No, it’s not theologically exact but it really sings.) “God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.” Love that.

Yes. Renewed. Refreshed.

Now go have a Genesis week, my friends, because in Christ, you already have a clean heart.

No matter how messy your desk might be.

How do you deal with your home messes and life messes? Do you have a favorite way to putter and to avoid puttering?

Two minutes to open your eyes

Two minutes. That’s the length of time my electric toothbrush vibrates. Thirty seconds for each quadrant.

And every night until recently it has seemed like an eternity. Why? Because I couldn’t do anything else while I was brushing my teeth. I couldn’t read a book, though I tried. I couldn’t pluck my eyebrows. I definitely couldn’t chat on the phone. I couldn’t even pull down the comforter on my bed, something I tried to do and then ended up dripping toothpaste drool on my pillow.

I couldn’t multitask.

I used to be a tooth-brushing multi-tasker. Brushing while wiping out the sink. Brushing while doing crunches. Or just brushing quickly so I could get on to more important things. Brush. Brush. Maybe thirty seconds, tops. That’s probably why I have a mouthful of crowns and root canals. But there it is.

I’m facing a hard fact. I had probably always done this.

Either I was rushed to get out the door — kids to school, me to work — or I was simply exhausted and ready to fall into bed at the end of the day. Brush. Brush.

There. Done.

Sadly, or maybe happily, I am just figuring out that I Brush Brush my way through most days.

Brush Brush. My new phrase for the Rush Rush that is my world. I’m so used to rushing through a lot of stuff every single day in the name of efficiency, multi-tasking, productivity — whatever. I didn’t learn it from my mother. She has never been a rushing brusher or rushing anything. Somewhere between pigtails, braces, labor pains, carpools, jelly sandwiches, and gray hairs, I became a do-it-quickly kind of gal. Maybe it was when I started my first teaching job or when my kids were young. Maybe I’m just programmed this way. I don’t know.

But I do know that I have worn it proudly like a sparkling tiara, my rushing, my busy-ness. My Brush Brush. Look at my busy and productive life. Look how I can multi-task, juggling all my vocations. Look at me.

Even if I’m the only one looking at me. Ha.

So yeah. Look at me. I’ve got an expensive mouthful of dental work to show for all this silliness.

More importantly, in the midst of all this Rush Rush Brush Brush, I’ve been partially blind. I’ve missed some preciously serene moments that will never return. (Ouch. That really hurts.)

But I’m out to make a change. (Well, not the dental work – can’t do much about what’s already there.) I’m out to change just a little bit of the silly busy-ness or busy silliness that has been my life.

I am purposefully trying to single task.

I am purposefully trying to open my eyes.

And it all started with my electric toothbrush habit. A single task, a time where I focus only on angling the vibrating bristles at the gum line just so. I focus on each tooth, all sides. I’m paying attention to the way the brush tickles my tongue if I get it too close. Sometimes I close my eyes and marvel at this gift of electricity, this powered tooth-brushing invention. This gift of fresh running water, toothpaste, a clean sink. This gift of a dentist and a hygienist who encourage me and watch over my teeth and gums. Thank you, Lord.

And then the two minutes are up.

My gums are happier. My dentist is happier. And I think my husband notices it too. But that’s another post.

So join me. Really. Even if you are busier than all get-out. Especially if you are busier than all get-out.

Choose one thing that frustrates you because it seems to take forever. You don’t really have time to do that one thing. Or you don’t want to make time to do that one thing. So, sometimes you don’t do it at all. Most of the time you give it a lick and a promise.

It might be a little thing. Flossing. Washing out those quart-size plastic bags. Crunches. Making the bed nicely.

It might be a really big thing. Reading one more story to your sleepy toddler. Sitting quietly. Playing one more round of Candyland. Praying.

And then set a timer and do it for two minutes. Or do it for whatever time it takes.

And the key? Don’t do something else at the same time.

Oh, and open your eyes.

And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” Mark 10:51

Can you even relate to this? Are you good at keeping your eyes open? Or do you need help like me?