Category Archives: Family

Re-Entry

On September 21st, I went to Africa with a team of 6 other women, through Africa New Life Ministries, a non-profit organization. Africa New Life is an organization created by Rwandans to help the Rwandan people empower themselves through education and employment.

An overview of ANLM taken from their website:

“Since 2001, Africa New Life has shared the Gospel using two hands: the hand of compassion and the hand of evangelism. Our goal is to see lives transformed through meeting basic needs, to give hope for the future for those living in poverty in Rwanda, and to share the freedom and hope found in Christ. At the heart of our model for breaking cycles of poverty is educational sponsorship. With a high school education, or a vocational equivalent, children in Rwanda have hope for the future.”

AFNLM believes in caring for the “whole child”. While educational sponsorship is at the core of their work, they believe children need other key factors to succeed such as a growing faith, community development, and a healthy body.

Their mission statement, powerful and simple, drew me in immediately:

Africa New Life exists to transform lives and communities through preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and acts of compassion.”

Our days in Kigali were filled with activity. Being a team of women, ANLM asked if we would consider focusing our trip around spending time in relationship with women and children, offering encouragement and support. We were thrilled to have that opportunity, so on our trip we completed 15 home visits. Eleven of these visits included meeting children that are sponsored through monthly donations by various team members. The sponsorship program provides education and medical assistance. Sponsored children also attend a monthly Christian day camp and a four-day bible camp each fall. We were able to touch the sweet faces of children that we had only known on paper previously. A powerful experience that I will write about another day. The other four home visits were to women enrolled in a sewing program through ANLM’s Women’s Vocational Center. In between visits, our days were packed with a full on Rwanda experience. We attended a Christian women’s conference. We lived a day in the life of a local woman, right down to cultivating land and gathering water. We gave presentations on business skills, and health and wellness to women in sewing and cosmetology programs. We walked through a genocide memorial museum. And we spent even more time connecting with our sponsored children outside of their homes.

There is so much I want to express about my time in Africa. It will forever be one of the most important and joyful times of my life. I cannot wait to share my thoughts on education, local culture, short-term mission trips, the genocide, post genocide healing and reconciliation, worship, values, and sponsorship.  

But for today, I want to discuss re-entry. Sunday we returned from Rwanda, and we are elated to be home. But coming home brings a big bag of mixed emotions. And as someone who has always been a deep feeler, re-entering the life I left less than 2 weeks ago has been plain hard. Previous service experiences and mission trips have left me well versed on the internal struggle that occurs when you leave a life changing experience, so during the trip I began bracing myself for impact. Processing the emotions involved in re-entry is important and is an essential and necessary step for personal growth, but it is hard work.

Africa New Life Ministries scheduled a debriefing session with Pastor Fred, their executive director, for the day we left. During it, he addressed re-emersion. Looking straight at us, laughing knowingly, he said gently, “Now, when you go home…PLEASE…do not sit around your home feeling bad about what you have. Enjoy your life! Just don’t forget about us. Don’t forget what you learned. Go home and be an ambassador for Africa New Life.” This was a gift. By addressing the internal struggle he knew was imminent he normalized our feelings in advance. It made me tear up. Pastor Fred genuinely hoped we would heed his advice.

I have had a hard time heeding.

I feel disoriented. It is as if someone put a mask over my eyes, spun me around, then took the mask off and told me to walk.

Last Tuesday, while getting ready to start my day and chaperone a field trip, I noticed I was still washing off the red stain of the soil we walked on while visiting homes in Kigali. A few days ago I was delivering food to starving families and talking to people with HIV. Now I was preparing to shepherd first graders through a fire station to learn about safety. This felt bewildering. I went to the field trip in a fog.

I want to be able to share meaningful things when asked about Rwanda, but I am overwhelmed by trying to find words that properly capture joy, sadness, hope and despair all at once. Instead, out come words like “good” and “amazing”, which feel lame and weak.  

I want to accurately express to my husband how my heart broke at the exact same time that my soul was lifted. But words fall short, so I find myself staying silent…nothing depicts the whole picture, so I just don’t.

I want to hide in my house, as if I am experiencing some sort of grief, instead of rejoining the world.

When I open my stocked pantry, I feel shame and guilt. Every family we visited received a bag of maize flour, sugar, rice, beans, peanuts and salt. Enough food for a month, and they will likely attempt to stretch it much further. We have a full pantry and will probably still run to the store this week.

I want to be a different, better person. And I find myself thinking about it while staring blankly in a Starbucks line, the irony hitting me like a ton of bricks.

I wish that my children could grasp the sweet hand they were dealt.

Then I think about how my children are just like me. I slept on a bed in a mosquito net, while the families I visited that day slept on dirt.

Before we left, I wrote this on our team Facebook page:

“God has always been at work in Rwanda, and the Rwandan people are making incredible things happen for themselves, as it should be…Pray we remain humble, remembering that God has been at work in Rwanda for a very long time, using Rwandans…We will get to see His work and participate in their journey, but they have got this.”

Why is maintaining this perspective so difficult?

Why do I put this burden on myself when they have God?

I believe that God’s plan involved equipping me to help. So I will straighten myself out and mobilize. Rather than wringing my hands, I will listen to Pastor Fred’s advice and here is what I will do:

I will not focus on what I cannot fix, instead I will encourage and support the ongoing efforts of Rwanda and Africa New Life Ministries. 

Instead of standing at the sink obsessing over why I get to have water, I will smile thinking back to the day we waited for our turn at the water pump. The time spent waiting for water provided women a rare pause from constant manual labor and multitasking. If it has not rained the spout only trickles, so people wait. We witnessed how this small pause made space for community. The ladies chatted and laughed. No doubt they laughed about us… I hope they did. It was one of my favorite moments of the trip. Lamenting that we have easily accessible water while they do not is useless. So, I will put my resources and time towards providing accessible clean water for others. (Pssst…Living Water International)

Instead of hiding, I will rejoin my community. Rwandans value community. Rwanda’s emphasis on relational living has no doubt played a large role in their ability to move forward post genocide. My team and I will honor that by returning to our own communities. These are people who supported our dream to travel to Africa, made it possible, and then cared for our families while we were gone. These same people will be there to help us process our experience and to encourage us to apply what we have learned here.

I will appreciate my families access to education and medical care. If I mope and spin my wheels about why I get to have those things, it takes from the energy I could use to make those things accessible through sponsorship and sharing the mission of ANLM.

But all of that is a work in progress.

My heart is still grieving the imbalance in this world.  And my soul is also filled with gratitude over experiencing a beautiful new culture and country. But I know I will find a new normal. And that knowledge is in part why I am holding on tight to the tension of feeling shaken and hopeful. I want the part of me that broke to stay broken, but I know that it will heal.

I’m praying for a solid scar.

Rules! Rules! Rules!

The car door opened courtesy of tiny familiar hands that I love so much.  I arrived at the carpool line extra early excitedly waiting to get the run down.  My two little elementary school ladies stepped inside the vehicle and I began the peppering of questions.  The first day of school was officially over.  I maturely squealed, “MY GIRLS!!!!  HIIIII!!!  HOW WAS YOUR DAYYYYYY?”  

They left my house 8 hours earlier completely prepared for greatness.  They sported unstained clothing THAT I IRONED, brushed teeth, combed and styled hair, healthy lunches with handwritten notes, full water bottles, filled out mandatory forms, and they received a hug and kiss from both parents.  For some, this is the norm.  In our home, this lasts maybe five days before I start justifying the smacking of the snooze button.  I tell myself that 5 more minutes will not cause us to rush too much (lies) and that frozen pb&j’s do contain protein and thaw by lunch.  And as for the iron, well, it makes a better collector of dust most days than a releaser of wrinkles.  But on the first day, I like to give the teachers false hope that these children belong to parents that will sign all the notes all year long and read all the newsletters sent home.  I usually wait until October to begin the tour of disappointment.  

So, when the response I received from my elementary school daughter started off with an incredibly deep and dramatic inhale, along with an even longer and louder exhale, complete with eyes rolled to the tippy top of her lids, I braced myself for the response.  She said, “UGGGGHHHHH!!!!  IT WAS AWWWWFUL!!!!”  I asked her why and she immediately responded with one word, three times over, “RULES!! RULES!! RULES!!!!”

She went on to explain to me that her entire day was made up learning rules.  In her opinion, school is a place for reading, learning and tests, NOT spending days going over RULES.  At this point, I asked her to smile for my phone so I could show her daddy her thoughts on the first day.  She did not smile. I might need to work on my compassion-when-kids-are-venting button.

Not only did she learn rules in her classroom, she learned rules in the cafeteria, and there were rules on the playground, and the library was not even open yet but if it had been you can bet there would have been rules there too.  Plus they had to write about rules, read about rules, repeat the rules, and she might have even come home with a new tattoo on her back that said, “RULES.”  Fine, no physical tattoo was made but a mental one was ingrained into her soul obviously.

Honestly, I do not blame her.  And I do not blame the teachers.  Clear cut expectations are so important.  Can you even imagine if the teachers had to explain these rules to every child individually?  We would have no teachers. I do not even like asking my dogs to “sit” and “stay” more than once because…..well…..all the verbalizing is just draining. So, to me, it seems logical that the first week of school would be a time for group rule smackdowns.  How many times can one adult explain the process of dumping lunch trays?  At some point, I would not blame these teachers if they just zombie walked out of the building.  They would be blankly walking with their arms straight out, eyes bulging, and repeating in a monotone voice “please tilt your tray this way and tap it on the end of the trash can in order to dump all the food you just stirred in a circle 5,000 times and mixed with the jello and vegetable medley mush.  Then please stack it on top of the last tray that our classroom friend dumped.”  Teacher’s mental survival depends upon all our little offspring knowing what to do.  

And I don’t blame my girl either.  No one likes to sit and hear how their daily discipline is going up 1,000% after summer.  And it isn’t because she is from a generation of electronic kids that have no respect or attention span.  I’m tired of hearing that from people.  I, personally, have seen scores upon scores of kids intentionally practicing kindness in this generation.  And know what group of people plays a big role in positive character development?  TEACHERS.  But to sit and listen to this information does not mean it is enjoyable.  

I, for one, have no desire to sit and convince her to love the rules.  Let’s be honest, they really aren’t fun sometimes.  In the Old Testament, the term “law” is the translated word for the Hebrew term, Torah, or “instruction.”  The people of Israel needed guidance from God.  Humans have always needed instruction.  And instruction is good.  One way God provided it was through the Mosaic Law.   It guided people morally, socially and ceremonially by having over 600 commands that covered all aspects of life.  And it gave Israel the recipe for ways to receive blessings. My point is that laws and rules have been around FOR A LONG TIME.  And my daughter is not the first person to have that feeling of “me no likey.”

Someday, she will grow up and will not have to sit and almost suffocate from listening to adults read rules out loud.  However, I do hope teachers and this family can burn certain instructions into her brain and heart for daily living.  I want her to respect others and herself, to listen before she speaks, to be able to learn and speak truth and to love others well, to make sure her binder gets signed every time she needs to go potty….  And I hope she practices applying grace to herself and to others.  Because that’s what Christ did for us. Once God sent Jesus to this earth, Christians were no longer bound to the Mosaic Law.  And thank goodness because over 600 commands are impossible to keep.  We now have the Holy Spirit in us as believers.  And we are recipients of grace by no doing of our own.  And this is great news…..for believers, for children who hate rules, for teachers who are faithfully serving children (THANK YOU JESUS), for parents who are trying their hardest to raise their family, and possibly for dog owners that find their new pair of shoes with teeth marks all in them.

Surprise!

This morning I was on a treadmill.  I looked down to see how far I had run and I was certain there was a mistake.  My legs felt like they had sprinted to Canada and at least halfway back.  The treadmill read “2 miles.”  This means one thing.  Next time I run, I’m picking a different treadmill because that one obviously cannot count correctly.  Anyway, right about the time I checked my mileage, I got a text from my middle schooler.  She was not feeling well and this meant my plans for the day were about to take a detour. Surprise for me!

As I gladly ended my non-marathon workout early, I headed off to the school to grab my girl.  Once under the loving care of her mother, I did what all modern-day Florence Nightingale caretakers would do.  I told her we had to run a few errands before I could get her home and medicated.  Nothing like buckling in for a ride around town when your head is pounding!  Off we went to wait in line at the drive thru pharmacy.

Side note:  Why is it that I will wait 45 minutes behind three cars in a pharmacy drive thru line?  I could just as easily park my car, walk into the store, head to the front of the line (because as I’m waiting all the minutes in the car, I can see there is no line inside), get what I need and be out of there in 3 minutes.  But no, there is some mystical power that tells me to stay in the most inefficient car line ever.  However, if you do go inside, you miss the opportunity to use the magical time capsule launcher.  It exists in the far drive up lane and is your ticket to exchanging items with the store employee.  You push that button and it makes a noise like the capsule is going into space, but lands in the pharmacists hands in 3 seconds.  I swear the Flintstones would have loved that thing.

So while we were waiting, my daughter decided to pull out her lunch so she could refuel during our car wait-a-thon.  And then we started a brief conversation:

Hailey:  Mom, have I told you about the lunchtime game my friends and I play called “What’s For Lunch?”

Me:  Noooo.  Fill me in!

Hailey:  Ok, so everyday, we sit down and I say, “hey guys, who wants to guess what’s in my lunch??!!!!!”  And then we all try to guess.

Me:  Do they normally get it right?

Hailey:  Sometimes.  Some of us bring the same thing every day.  Some of us mix it up.  We always laugh about it.  I love opening up my lunch to try to guess what’s in it.

Me:  Wait.  You get excited about your lunch?  

Hailey:  OH YES!  Like on the days when you pack it, I try not to ask or look at what you put in there because then I have a SURPRISE to look forward to halfway through the day!!!  Like yesterday, I opened up the thermos container and it was ravioli and I was all “RAVIOLIIIII!!!  YESSSSSSS!!!!”

And there you have it.  My firstborn has made it to her 8th year of schooling before I learned this little nugget of information about her.  Does the unveiling of her lunch make or break her day?  No. Is her day ruined on the days where she packs her own food?  Nope.  

However, it was nice to learn a small and tangible way I can provide a lift to her day.  And it got me to thinking about other people in my life.  Are there more doses of happy I could be throwing out to my friends and family? Maybe a few simple ways I could help add a “YESSSS” to their day too? I bet so and I’m on a mission to uncover them.  As for Hailey, she’s got more secret lunch surprises coming her way.

Homemade Tortillas: A Magnificent Beat Down

Last week my plan to make tacos was thwarted when our pantry revealed that we existed in a house without tortillas, like a bunch of wild animals. And I thought, “You know, I always hear making tortillas is easy, healthier and better tasting.” When I found Masa mix in the cupboard  my fate was sealed. I would make my own tortillas. A decision that would elicit one of the most magnificent beat downs of my entire life.

I have a difficult time baking with a floury substance of any kind, which pretty much rules out…all baking. I follow every direction (that holds my attention) and the result can best described as “flour bread”. It is not delicious. The good news is that flour is not nutritionally sound, so my inability to cook with it is admirable and makes me a bit of an accidental health nut. I maintain my healthy low-flour lifestyle by purchasing our many bread items and only eating my friend’s tasty homemade stuff. But I do role model health to others by not cooking with flour. They’ll get it.

I mixed the masa, water and salt as instructed and of course it was too dry. So I added water. They suggested adding a teaspoon, but let’s be real. When you are thirsty does a teaspoon of water quench it? No. So why are we putting that expectation on dough? I gave it a blast from the faucet and moved on.

It was encouraging to see the tortilla instructions involved a simple five step process. Five steps = using one hand’s worth of fingers to keep track.

Although. This could explain a lot. A rather unfortunate door mishap took place when I was ten years old, leaving me to do life with 9 and ¾ fingers. Is it entirely possible that the compromised ring finger on my left hand cost me my tortillas? Yes. But, to quote every brilliant preschool teacher, “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” Can I play most instruments? No. But I can count to 9 and ¾ on my fingers, and that is something.

Divide the dough into 16-18 balls.

This kind of thing sends me straight into a tailspin. How can I be certain I am creating the kind of balls that will lead me to my 16-18 dough ball goal? What if I have to combine balls, or worse, separate some balls because I only made 10-12 balls? WHAT THEN? Do I go back and adjust all of them, or do I just change the last 6-8 balls? It’s too much for one person! Also: Balls.

Cover with a damp cloth to keep them soft.

This whole thing may have gone to crap, but I nailed this step. Nothing more to say. My balls were all tucked in, happily resting under a damp paper towel.
Using a tortilla press, place a ball between two sheets of plastic and clamp to form a tortilla 5 to 6 inches in diameter.

Who brings diameters into an already intense and dicey situation!? Rude. Now my geometry PTSD was all a flurry.  I was suddenly flashing back to my 10th grade Geometry parent/teacher conference as relayed to me by my mother.

Mom: What is Amanda’s current grade in Geometry? She seems stressed. 

Mr. Imming: Um. I don’t know what to say about Amanda’s grade. All she does is take notes in class. She’s listening. No one tries harder. But, you both need to prepare yourselves because… it’s not good.

Now we know that my math skills were just skewed because I count on 9 ¾ fingers.

As my personal high school geometry trauma became my focus, I failed to absorb the instruction to place the ball between two sheets of plastic. If I am being honest, it is only now while typing out the directions that I did notice this tidbit of info.  

This step also included “tortilla clamping”, which sounded rather cathartic after everything I had been through.

I used up a great deal of time stressing about the 16-18 balls and looking up “diameter”, so I could not afford to dawdle on clamping. I made the decision that “use a tortilla press” was just a phrase, and that it was best to smush the dough like hell with my hand. I suppose they presumed a person lacking a tortilla press would at least think to use a rolling-pin to roll out the dough. Hindsight being 20/20, I feel like that may have been the way to go.

So I smushed like hell. As I looked at my work I thought…it’s so weird this jagged mess will become a perfect circle when I cook it in the pan. Spoiler alert: It did not.

Heat griddle or skillet to medium-high heat, cook the tortillas flipping them every 20-30 seconds.

What the…they need to be flipped every 20-30 seconds?

**Stage 5 Clinger Alert**

Talk about needy! Goodnight! I had hungry children, dogs circling my ankles, a husband stuck at the O’Hare airport, and zero time for dough that wanted me to treat it like a vulnerable snowflake. So, I flipped sometimes. And truly, I think their calculations are off because the flipping seemed to be the harbinger of the devastating crumbling that ensued. I can forgive and forget, I just hope going forward they alter their directions to adopt the line “Flip sometimes, but not really if they are crumbly.”   

The first two tortillas did not survive, but I just figured they were preparing the pan. I do not think “pan preparing” is an actual thing, but it brought me solace. I had eighteen tortilla dough balls, so I did not stress until 8 were completely ruined and only ten remained.

And then hard truths needed to be confronted. Even though I had created the perfect host environment for dough balls by preparing a pan, statistically these 10 were not likely to survive. Here is where I ordered pizza. But I also held on, open to receiving a tortilla miracle. I talked to myself about perseverance, bravery and how these tortillas may take my life, but they will never take my freedom. I was not giving up! Ever. So, I ruined one more and yelled, “I AM OUT!” I had pizza on the way and I was not going to obsess over clean eating at the cost of my self-esteem. They say self-esteem helps you more than clean eating. I don’t actually know if they say that, but neither do you.

My older daughter came down the stairs and found me covered in masa mix and brokenness and asked, “Mom, what is happening?” I told her, “I made homemade tortillas, so we are going to eat this pizza.” She has told that story to approximately 400 people.

I know you want a happy ending to this story. And there is one because we ate pizza.

Next time I’ll teach you how to make this meatloaf. My husband had a craving. Anything involving the word “loaf” is not okay, but the heart wants what it wants, so I made it for him.

Pro tip: Do not stress over timing. The meatloaf will let you know it is ready when black smoke pours out. Simply pop it out, and enjoy.
So good.

If you enjoyed my tortilla debacle, might I suggest my Pinterest Amnesia post?  Here you go….Pinterest Amnesia

How to Grow a Giant Dog On a Simple Diet of Socks, Shoes and Underwear

One day last week was National Puppy Day. We missed it because we have puppies. You can not take your eyes off them or they chew on your iPad. So, we will celebrate now with a puppy update. 

Remember how Amanda and I convinced our husbands that getting puppies was an excellent idea?  Well, per usual, WE WERE RIGHT!!! Our husbands are #blessed.

These little munchkins are now 4 ½ months old.  And also, they aren’t munchkin sized.  Millie packed on 10 pounds last month to bump up to 24 pounds, while Phoebe weighs in at a more petite 20 pounds.   Their vets keep saying scary things like..“Yikes. Did you know she would be such a large dog?” We can not remember anymore what we thought. And since we were told they’d most likely be under 60 pounds, I’m pretty sure this means one thing.  In my family, we grow super-sized dogs no matter the predicted weight.  We are the real life family version of Clifford the Big Red Dog times two.  It’s our special gift.

Our families and friends have been noting how much these dogs favor certain celebrities and fictional characters.

And so, without further adieu, here’s what we came up with.  This little sweet thing….

…she may have been born a canine but she sure resembles a certain ursine.

Hello little Muppet!  Phoebe Fozzie Bear Regas!

And Millie has been narrowed down to two doppleganger possibilities.  Please feel free to voice your thoughts on this riveting topic.

I’m glad her paws are little….I’m sure she’s done growing…
  1. Doc from Back to the Future 
  2. A Fraggle Rock

And one more thing, just to be open and honest.  When we said these puppies have been a great decision, they have.  But let’s not confuse this with meaning “easy and perfect.”  Dull moments don’t exist.  Our couch, along with any surface that’s above her eye level, is stacked with shoes, socks, underwear that she tends to nonchalantly walk by with in her mouth.

Some people have throw pillows on the couch, we have shoes we’d like to not be devoured by the pup.
Millie’s drywall snack

Oh, and Millie tends to get carsick.  I learned this when she puked three times in the car while going to pick up kids from carpool.  And then she threw up again in the car the next day.  But I’m not sure if that was due to the motion or if the sock she ate and vomited back up onto my lap was to blame.  That was a pleasant time.   And apparently, we have a spot on our wall that looks and tastes delicious….goodbye drywall.

Thanks Mills.  Our vet is under strict instruction to look for and locate her internal obedience button and push it when she gets spayed soon.  I’m just certain there has got to be an answer for her shenanigans that don’t include me having to be trained on getting her to obey.

And The Phoebes, well she is perfect. Except that these are the glasses Amanda’s husband used to wear when he wanted to see the world. He left himself vulnerable by allowing his body to sleep and you can’t let your guard down like that. It’s fine. Amanda talks a lot and can just describe things to him. Good practice for the elderly years.

Just as humans like salty and sweet together, Phoebe’s well-developed palate enjoys combining the crunch of glasses with the smoosh of soft socks.

And so, on this Monday, SFB wishes you a happy start to your week.  May your drywall stay intact, socks stay on feet, glasses be uncrunched, and underwear not have the crotch ripped out of them. God bless.

Decluttering: A Post to Make You Feel Better About Your Home

This summer I will both turn 40 and celebrate a 15 year wedding anniversary. And I am finding this phase of life to be a pretty beautiful spot, although sometimes the minivan still smarts a bit. And with what is clearly a midlife crisis slapping me straight across the face these milestones hitting, I now feel a strong inclination to shed excess physical and mental clutter from my family’s life. And I have learned the mental and physical do overlap in numerous ways. During this next stretch in life, I want to place more focus on what’s valuable and essential, and less on any literal or mental junk standing in the way of achieving that goal. The mental clutter, let’s just say I am working on it. But today I will talk about the physical decluttering.  

As with most things, I considered easier alternatives. I stood in the doorway of cluttered rooms and prayed for the rapture. But I feared God might facepalm after glimpsing at this abundance of crap and say “OMG, Amanda.” As it turns out, decluttering is like any area of life in which you seek transformation. You have to do the work. It’s annoying.

Starting the process felt much less overwhelming after I began following the work of The Minimalists, who believe decluttering improves life on every level. I have tried, on a beginner’s level, to adopt a minimalistic approach for decluttering our home. In case you are wondering, minimalistic approach is fancy suburban lingo for “tossing junk out.” It challenges people to keep only what is needed and life-giving.  And additionally, minimalism encourages putting more thought into purchases with the goal of buying fewer, better things. Our parents just called this process “getting rid of stuff.” But we like All Of The Meaning.

Let me walk you through some of what I’ve experienced thus far. It will be fun. You can screenshot my pictures and send them to friends along with the screaming emoji in place of text because it will say everything that needs to be said. I like helping you with your friendships.

 

First of all, you learn interesting facts about yourself when you declutter. For instance, apparently, the part of my brain meant for organizing was being used to obsess over cinnamon.

I think we can now picture the trailer for my Hoarders episode…

The camera pans around a room littered with ground cinnamon spice bottles stacked straight up to the rafters (I don’t really know what rafters are). Finally, the camera comes to rest on me, sitting on a couch clutching cinnamon sticks. Then it will cut to a therapist reminding me that spices will never bring me love, but his words will be drowned out by the meows of all my cats named Cinnamon.

 

Tupperware has proven to be an integral part of my personal non-minimalistic hell. Nevertheless, I conquered my Goliath with grace and dignity. My husband, inspired by my “can do” attitude, captured this moment.

#ShutUpTupperwareIHateYouSoHard  

PS: I did not know we had a wok. That’s kind of fun

 

And here is the Regas family sock basket. It is the actual worst.

Fix it, Jesus.

One of our goals with this blog is to provide our daughters with something they can read in the future that will normalize their feelings since few people voice their personal truths due to their desire to appear perfect. So, eventually, they will read every word we write.  

I tell you this not to be deep, but so you understand why I can’t use all the freaking four letter words to talk about this sock basket and the pain it brings me. But just know in your heart, the swears I’ve invented because of these socks would make grown men flee from locker rooms. %&*$!

 

Children add unique challenges to organizing. And little girls seem particularly drawn towards collections of toys where each one is the size of a pinky nail.

Shopkins creator, you SOB. Whoops, forgot about our daughters already.

 

Remember Monica’s secret closet on Friends? Hi, this is mine.

Apparently, glue is hot on cinnamon’s tail in a race to my Hoarder’s episode.

 

My question is not just why did I hold onto these things…but how? I can not keep track of my children’s birth certificates. I lost my engagement ring. I know I had gerbils as a kid, but I am nervous because I don’t remember them dying. 

In all seriousness, having less stuff and more order has already brought an increased sense of peace and calm to my life. When I fix the clutter, it has such an impact on my mental state. This impact is a huge deal because inside my brain lives a pinball machine. Stuff shoots around and sets off other stuff that shoots around, and there are lots of flashing lights and music. Decluttering cuts the noise.

The process of purging has proven to be cathartic as letting go can be profound. We need to hold onto our past, but probably loosen the grip a little. Some of the physical stuff can go. Going through this process is certainly more intense than paring down your drinkware. But it helps you work through things, which is a gift.

My house remains full of junk that must go. Becoming Aminimalanda will always be a work in progress. My most recent efforts have included participating in the Black Shutters White House 40 Bags in 40 days declutter challenge. I was a little uncertain we would have enough stuff to fill bags for 40 days because I have been working on decluttering for a while. But I think as we reflect on the few pictures I have shared, you won’t be surprised to know I have found plenty more to purge.

So, check out the 40 Day Challenge, it’s a good place to start. I have not done it perfectly. I had to fill five bags today to make up for lost time. No one died. Maybe the gerbils if they were in there. And take a look at  Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things by The Minimalists.

And also, please watch this video by JP Sears. And then all of his others. We need to avoid taking ourselves too seriously.

Being a Minimalist – Ultra Spiritual Life episode 55

 

40 Bags in 40 Days

Over the next 40 days, our families will be participating in a decluttering project designed by our friends over at White House Black Shutters. The challenge begins March 1 and extends through April 15.  It coincides with the 40 days of Lent, which makes it extra meaningful for any Christian participants looking for a spiritual exercise to practice this Lenten season.

According to upperroom.org, the season of Lent is a time to return to God and refocus our lives to be more like Jesus.  It is 40 days where we can change our lifestyle and allow God to do a work in our heart as we prepare for Easter. We want to pare down excess and free our minds to focus on life as God intended. For these reasons, this Lent our families will be participating in the 40 Bags in 40 Days DeCluttering Challenge.

The idea is to declutter an area in your house by filling up one bag per day. However, you can change that to meet individual family needs and goals. The website provides links to printables, ideas for decluttering both stuff and “non-stuff,” a Facebook page for support and a daily email course.

Click here for all the information and here to join the official group Facebook page.

We would love if you joined us in this challenge, whether you participate in Lent or not. Please let us know if you decide to partake. We will update the blog as we go. We expect there will be ups and downs. And by “ups and downs” we mean we are going to start out strong and then probably there will be some crying.

-Amanda and Katie

A Parenting Fail

Evie, my happy, charismatic fireball baby, moped into the house after kindergarten one day completely deflated. She walked in quietly next to Nora, who promptly launched into recounting how she prodded Evie the entire bus ride home because something was obviously wrong. Her dad and I mentally scrolled through possibilities…a fight with a friend, someone said something cruel, conflict on the bus. I was ready to throw down; not many people bring my Evelyn down.

I quickly learned the cause of her heartbreak. And it was the worst-case scenario for a mother. It was me. “Mom forgot to come to lunch with me today,” she said. And then she just melted down.

The truth is, we had talked about having lunch together the previous night. And I learned that she had excitedly taken a spot at the parent table, waiting for me. And after a few minutes went by, she described to me and G.R. how she finally stood up and decided to buy herself a hot lunch since I had not arrived. She’s six so that whole process, even her initial excitement, was more intense for her than it would have been for an older kid. During dinner that night, we did our usual routine of discussing the highs and lows of the day. Evie’s low was that though she fought it, she cried in front of everyone, and it was embarrassing.

One of the worst parts is that she was not dramatic. This was bona fide hurt. Her mom had utterly gutted her. I let down my kid.  Who does that? I don’t know. I guess I sometimes do.

Ironically, I had missed lunch with Evie because I was driving all over Texas looking for everything her heart desired for the next day’s 50’s theme school day and family Sock Hop dance. We had gone out as a family the previous night, but could not find Evie’s poodle skirt. I guess it goes to show they need time and not more stuff, but I swear sometimes you just can not win.

Giving my girls consistency, stability and the capability to trust are my driving forces as a parent. And it feels all the good I do in these areas can be erased by a single act that becomes lodged in their memory. They say you have to say a certain amount of positive words to a kid to make up for one negative one. My God, how many actions do you think it will take to make up for this one? And who are ‘they’? I hate them.

Anyone that knows me well describes me as being hard on myself. If I could tattoo “Cut yourself a freaking break, fool” onto my arm and just read it all the time, it would be a big timesaver for my friends. But this time I fought my tendency to shut down and be hard on myself and instead took pause, thinking about this moment for my girls. I could not change what I did, but I could change how the memory lived in their brains and impacted their thought processes. I want my girls to be kind to themselves. I want them to cut themselves the precious slack desperately needed in motherhood and marriage. I want them to understand they are human. Lord knows, they will experience some version of this scenario with their kids someday. And I can tell you that while they make me a little batty, they are both good people. But as missteps happen to all of us, this will, unfortunately, happen to them.

So, this situation gave me a shot at modeling how to make a mistake, be upset, talk about it and both ask for and receive forgiveness. This is very difficult for me. It involves a lot of intentional effort. Even though this “talking it out and not blaming myself” business does not come naturally nor easily to me, I am hoping, for my girls’ sake, I can fake it until I make it and then it will come more quickly to them.

In the end, I did not shut down and dwell. Instead, we did away with our regular schedule and made cupcakes. Evie handled the liners, Nora handled the ingredients. They both handled spilling everything everywhere, and the dogs handled hovering around us hoping I would screw up in a different and more exciting way for them. Evie and I talked, and she perked right up, because fortunately for all of us, kids are resilient. It’s just a matter of how many times we make them tap into that resilience. And as much as I want to create a life for them where they have to tap into it a lot less than I did, I will make mistakes.

I went out of town the day after the 2017 lunch debacle and was still aching some from the event.  But, Evie’s sweet dad surprised her with a milkshake and lunch in the cafeteria the next day. And Evie greeted him saying, “I had a feeling this might happen!”. And I received a picture of my girl beaming from ear to ear.

As I let myself off the hook from screwing up with my six-year-old, I am going to focus on the fact that she knew we would show up the next day.

As I tell my girls: try, try again.

-Amanda

Christmas Lights: Someone Help Us

The night after Thanksgiving we decided to check out Christmas lights. The location was 45 minutes away but drew us in with its unique setting: four million lights placed along a 2-mile path through a park.  

What you are about to read is the story of our 2 hour and 45-minute voyage, just to start that 2-mile path. It is a tale of struggle and survival, and ultimately overcoming insurmountable odds to experience the magic of Christmas. As narrated in my head.

……………………………………….

Man, it took 45 minutes to get here!  But that’s totally fine. The memory will be worth it. First Christmas outing of the season! Going to be awesome. I guess we just sit in this line for a minute.  Turning on Christmas music. Yay!

………………………………………..

We have been waiting awhile. None of these cars are moving. It’s fine. I have pretzels. I’ll pull them out if this takes much longer

………………………………………..

Passing the time by playing “Guess the Character.” My six year old just gave clues to describe Dumbo by saying “He’s a boy. He has a very long front tail”, and I was able to restrain myself from giggling. I handled it like a boss. (That’s what she said.)

………………………………………..

Mother. It just dawned on me that porta potties line this road. They knew about the waiting. Dear God. They knew. What have we done?

………………………………………..

Evie has cried, laughed, whined and cried again. All within the last minute.

………………………………………..

We live here now. It’s fine. We will combine Christmas cards and change of address cards. It’s cute when people do that.

………………………………………..

The tone in the car keeps vacillating between joy and Hunger Games

………………………………………..

To use this time wisely, I have mentally devised the perfect house staff. Tony Macelli as our nanny, friend, and confidant, Sookie St. James for the chef, Mr. Belvedere as our butler.

Our driver: David Hasselhoff and the Knight Rider car, KITT

………………………………………..

My family has begun turning on one another. As matriarch, I remain steadfast. I will now role model a positive attitude amidst the negativity

………………………………………..

It will be a cold day in hell before I tell these fools about the pretzels I’m packing.

………………………………………..

If one more version of Jingle Bell Rock comes on, as God is my witness, I will lob this iPhone and its Christmas Pandora station straight at that Snoopy inflatable.  

………………………………………..

Mary gave birth in a barn without an epidural after traversing afar on a donkey while in labor. I can wait in this line.

………………………………………..

I hate Santa.

………………………………………..

My husband just pointed at one lit up house in an otherwise empty subdivision and tried to convince the girls it was the light show. I swear I saw them considering the option of going along with his deception

………………………………………..

I have started choosing people to do life with if we need to form alliances.

My picks:

1: Cargo Van family is my top choice because I am imagining the Von Trapps. The Von Trapps make a fun song out of everyday occurrences and clothes out of anything. They also escape their enemies like a boss. This family will make us matching alliance bandanas from their car seat fabric. 

2: The Christmas group traveling in the Hummer limo because I am not that strong, so I will need a place to rest while the others do whatever happens in an alliance. Plus it probably has a fridge with snacks. No alliance is complete without snacks.

3: The bearded guy in the car with the smashed-up side. We are going to need that kind of grit.

………………………………………..

Santa Baby is on. Again. We get it. You’re seductive

………………………………………..

Common law marriage has now kicked in for anyone sitting in this line that brought a date.  

………………………………………..

Police lights are coming up behind us! A rescue effort! It’s a Christmas miracle!

………………………………………..

The worst has happened. It turns out the police came to create a second lane. People who have not been waiting at all are being allowed to merge in and form a new line. This act has defeated and shattered my husband. Rocked him to his core. He can only whisper “This doesn’t make any sense. None of it makes sense.”

………………………………………..

Christmas music hurts my feelings. Everything is hard. I miss my old life

………………………………………..

This line is moving! Our cars are moving! Sweet mother of all that is holy and pure. We are moving! I will never take not being in line for granted again. I am going to start living my life differently. More generously. You never know when you will be stuck in standstill traffic. We must live every day like this might happen again.

Aw, man these lights are beautiful. Just look at our happy kids. All four of us will always remember the quality family time we set aside tonight to foster family bonding. We nailed this. I love this family. Christmas is the best. 

We are so doing this again next year.