Plans and Other Futile Attempts at Sanity

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Jason and I when we were just married
 Getting married was a hugely eye opening experience for me.  Not so much from learning how to live with another human every day, I’d been doing that all my life, more from finding out things about me.  Weird, I know.  You’d think it was revelations about HIM that would make the whole business upsetting, but he’s actually remarkably tame.  It’s me we all need to worry about.

So, here’s the thing about me that I never knew until I got married.  I want to be super jovial, go with the flow, happiness is stopping in the middle of your carefully ordered life to smell the roses.  I always thought I was like that and then Jason came along.  And I’m actually not that easy going.  Who knew?

My normal when I’m traveling somewhere is to have a carefully ordered itinerary in mind and charge ahead toward the destinations, plowing over whatever obstacles dare to get in my way.  The reason I always thought I was spontaneous and easy going is that I actually mentally plan normal stuff along the way.  There is a destination in my brain called “lunch” and “rest stop” and “historical marker”.  But don’t add random things in!  Now you’re just messing with my mind!  Jason’s idea of traveling is … well, enjoying the journey.  What?  Who even came up with this idea?  In my defense though, while It sounds great in theory, when the wedding is six hours away and you’re already running late, I’m not a super fan of stopping at every creek and river from Waco to Lubbock to see how the water’s flowing.  This is what I get for marrying a man who kayaked from Maine to Texas.  He just can’t pass water without looking at it.  Sigh.

 

I am a planner.  I love it!  I buy planners, I make my own planners, I make lesson plans that would be the envy of elementary teachers everywhere.  It’s truly something to behold.  I follow through on about 35% of everything I plan to do.  I know.  You all want to be just like me when you grow up.  By sheer volume though, of all the things I write down, 35% still turns out to be a lot.

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These pictures do no justice to how detailed this planner is

If you think I’m uptight when traveling, you should see me at New Years.  I start planning my yearly goals a couple of weeks into December.  This is when I get a planner, or refills, or here lately I make my own.  Those store bought ones just do not have all the things I need.  By the time the ball drops on New Year’s Eve night I have categories and subcategories for every one of the months of the upcoming year.  It’s May right now.  I have no idea where that planner is.

So why am I not president yet, or at least, like, Secretary of State?  I mean, it seemed inevitable at the start of January.

Here’s the deal about my plans and my life.  Life is like the anti-plan.  It is the arch enemy of everything I write down in my carefully organized, personalized, categorized notebook.  I actually feel kind of cool though, having an arch enemy.  It makes me think I’m a little closer to being like Sherlock.  But anyway, back to my point.  You just can’t fit your actual life into those little plastic page protector things.  Trust me, if it was possible, I would have done it.  I love page protectors.  One of my favorite quotes ever is by John Lennon who’s song lyrics state “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”  My life in a nutshell.

You should have SEEN my plans at the start of this school year.  Jack should be doing quantum physics right now.  He should speak Spanish fluently and have had a thorough introduction to French and Latin.  A compulsive planner should never read “A Well-Trained Mind”.  It literally makes us crazy.  The other day we learned some stuff about graphing that was pretty fun.  And we played with play doh.

I know there are ways around these disruptions, because planning works for some people.  My friend Susan (name was changed to protect the potentially embarrassed), has a very orderly life and when she plans to get pregnant at a certain time of year so that it coincides with her teaching schedule, that is what happens.  Really, she even gets PREGNANT on a schedule.  It’s just wrong.  Also, using only the natural birth control known as the “Rhythm Method”.  If you’re unfamiliar with birth control, that method is 100% drug and procedure free.  It works beautifully if you want to have four kids in four years. My husband and I employed it with pretty much all of our children. And, it could actually work if you’re Susan.  So yeah, some people’s plans work out.  I’m pretty sure I’m just going to have to learn to deal.

So what do we do about plans that go amiss?  Personally, I take lots of deep breaths.  I remind myself that there is Someone’s plan that IS working out in my life and I don’t have the whole picture yet.  I remind myself that no one’s plans work perfectly, (even Susan’s) and that life is still good anyway.  Sometimes I cry too, and yell at people.  I forgot to mention that.

But be all this as it may, I’m still going to make New Year’s goal charts and add more tabs and page protectors to my planners. I’m still going to buy more curriculum than I could possibly need in all four of my children’s life times and make more attempts at teaching them dead languages!  Some of my plans work out too.  I did write and publish a 400 page novel last year.  That’s not nothing.  Zig Ziglar taught me all growing up (through his tapes, not personally) that you reach 100% of the goals you never set.  So … I guess it’s pretty inevitable that if you do set goals, you won’t reach all of them.  Still, I get more accomplished when I plan to accomplish something.  And then I try super hard not to get too emotionally attached to my checklist.  I remind myself to live the life that is happening to me right now.  Smiling at my kids and so forth.  I write that on my list too sometimes.  I know.  I need therapy… and chocolate.  Oh, and more play doh, if anyone has extra lying around.

 

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11

 

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Cameras: AKA the World’s Greatest Liars

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My mom is the biggest proponent of getting professional pictures of your children ever.  JcPenney studio should start paying her.  Seriously.  It’s that ridiculous.  She had very little money for this when we were babies, so now she insists on a pretty regular basis that she and I take my children and have them photographed and she always pays for whatever I can’t afford.  These outings are fun-filled hours of constantly getting onto/bribing/timeouting and doing whatever it takes to get four squirmy five-and-under children to sit still for a nano-second and also maybe smile.  Maybe.  But that part is optional.  They’re all looking at the camera, just snap the picture for the love of all that is decent!  The results are usually big fun though.  I posted my latest “perfect” pictures on Facebook to be lauded and praised about how adorable and angelic my children are.  It was delightful.

But really, cameras are such liars!  Now you can even use photoshop and increase the velocity of the lie.  Smudge out those wrinkles and zits.  Enhance your eye and lip color.  You can even make yourself look thinner. I’m dying to learn that trick!  I’m not saying you shouldn’t take pictures of yourself and your family.  Of course you should, and you should smile for them because smiling makes everyone prettier except for Vigo Mortenson.  Vigo, if you’re following my blog, you are much better looking when you’re  serious.  Anyway, where was I?  Smiling for pictures is good.  Remember life’s happy moments.  No one is a bigger advocate of keeping an upbeat and positive attitude than I, however, I sometimes wonder if I am too good at the show.  I do an excellent job at “smiling for the cameras” of my life.  Let’s get real here.  You shouldn’t go through pictures on Facebook and believe that they are the sole indicators of the picture taker’s happiness level.  So here is my unphotoshopped reality for anyone who looks on Facebook, this blog, or at my sweet kiddos and thinks, “I certainly wish my life was perfect … like Julien’s”.

1.  Sunday mornings

Camera version:  My four children arrive at church scrubbed and beautiful in lovely outfits.  The girl’s hair is usually fixed in some way.  My hair is fixed and I have makeup on.  My clothes are clean and my husband’s shirt is pressed and I sometimes even wear heels.  Jason and I teach our Sunday School class, smiling and laughing with our college and career group.  It is all just precious.

Real version:  I am up super late the night before trying to find SOMEthing clean that both fits and matches and is appropriate for church.  Special bonuses if the outfits include underwear and possibly socks.  Tights are the bane of my existence because they are always dirty, holey, too little or too big.  Who MAKES these things?  Sadists.  That’s who.  Baths happen before bed Saturday, or they may not happen at all.  Jason and I drag ourselves out of bed before the sun is up, feed our children something from a can (sweet rolls usually, but recently I’ve switched to biscuits from Immaculate Bakery, because I tell myself they are slightly more nutritious.  At least they aren’t leavened with aluminum,) and then we dress the children.  Even if I have stayed up late, this can be a real nightmare.  I scramble around for clothes while Jason catches little people as they streak through the house laughing and screaming with glee because they aren’t wearing anything.  We pull clothing onto their reluctant bodies and try to figure out why every shoe has no partner. I iron Jason’s shirt while he looks for shoes and then shake the wrinkles out of my own clothes and throw them on.  We yell a bit at the kids, sometimes at each other, then we gather up everything and everyone and throw them into the van.  I run back into the house to grab two cups of coffee that we can drink on the way to church.  Jason feeds the chickens and ducks while the van warms up.  My makeup bag is permanently in the front seat so that I can dab a little bit on my face as we drive, in an attempt to look like a human.  Jason glances at me, then does a double take and says, “wow, you look really pretty!” Translation:  I didn’t recognize you without the scowl and with your eyes all the way opened.

2. Homeschooling

Camera version:  Jack, Ella and I sit in our clean classroom with books opened and smiles on our faces.  I pray and start the morning with the pledge of allegiance.  I follow my carefully detailed lesson plans throughout our day.  Jack learns to read; Ella colors in the lines.  My two-year-old and one-year-old play peacefully in the corner with all the things in my “busy little hands box” that I got off of Pinterest.  It is such a blessing to homeschool my children… on days like this.

Reality version: Jack and I sit on my unmade bed with a stack of books that I’ve carried in from the classroom because it is piled high with clean clothes that need folding and putting away.  My two-year-old is planted firmly in front of the TV watching “Bug’s Life” for the millionth time with a pile of goldfish crackers in front of him.  My one-year-old is in her crib with her second bottle of milk which she has thrown onto the floor, while she screams at the top of her lungs in protest to her morning nap.  We dive into Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons  because I want to finish the book.  I warn Jack we can’t read his favorite book The Human Body until we have done our reading and math.  Ella runs into the room screaming and crying that Caleb hit her.  Caleb saunters in after her grinning while he says he’s sorry.  I tell them to go shut their bedroom door because I’m tired of listening to Lily scream.  Ella and Caleb fight over which one will go and then run to the bedroom to slam the door frightening the wits out of Lily who screams even louder.  I storm into the situation and order everyone to sit down and be quiet.  I get frustrated with Jack because when I come back into the room, he’s making paper airplanes instead of doing his work.  Jack starts crying.  It is such a blessing to homeschool my children… I mutter through my teeth as I google “Boarding Schools in Switzerland” on my laptop.

3. Being a writer

Camera version:  I sit at my computer and write in three hour increments, skillfully seeing to the needs of my children at regular intervals.  Every month I receive a large royalty check in the mail and my husband and I spend every summer in Italy while my children learn the language, have unforgettable international experiences and sink their refined palettes into every delicacy Europe has to offer.

Reality version:  I kick my children outside to play and run to my computer in a desperate attempt to “just write something today”.  Periodically I throw raisin boxes and peanut butter sandwiches at the kids.  At least I buy whole wheat or gluten free bread and natural peanut butter, so that’s something.  I add honey to the peanut butter because it is so dry and yucky on its own.  In the few precious moments of quiet I blog, work on my Twitter following, advertise and Facebook.  I get to spend about 15 minutes a day writing.  I actually recently received a small royalty check which was super fun and it almost covered the electric bill last month.  I also make spaghetti on a pretty regular basis and sometimes there is also salad to go with it.  So I feel all set in the refined palette department.

Conclusion: My children are definitely precious, but taking their pictures is an exercise in dealing with imperfection!  I do truly love homeschooling and some days are so fun.  I enjoy writing and reading and think it’s a fabulous way to pay the electric bill.  I show up at church one way or another and fellowship with my friends and family.  There you are.  My perfect life.  If you think I’m exaggerating, you’re a wonderful person and I want to hug you.  Friends, life is just life.  Everyone has the camera version and the real story.  And sometimes even the camera fails us!  That’s why most moms don’t even take pictures of themselves for the twenty years that they’re raising their children.  I think reality keeps us humble.  It keeps us manageable.  Can you imagine living with someone who is as perfect as they appear in pictures?  I can’t.  Thankfully, I never have to.  I only associate with real people.

My friend, Anna Stallcup (you can also follow her on http://www.thestonecups.com/) is a huge propenent of honesty in our Christian walk.  She calls it, giving people the gift of “going second”.  Being honest about our struggles is a present we can give to each other.  It allows another person to see that they aren’t the only one that fights against anger, depression, guilt, yelling at our children etc…  They get to “go second”.  We are honest first.  I love this.  I’m not very good at it.  I’m much better at smiling as if I’m being followed around by a 24 hour camera, so that everyone will think I have it all together all the time.

Of course we can overdo the honesty thing.  You don’t have to update your Facebook status every time you stumble.  Unless your friends are all medical professionals, very few people want or need to hear all the details of your health issues. For instance, if I can’t see the body part in a normal appropriate setting, I don’t want to know any detail about how it’s malfunctioning.  I didn’t go into nursing for a very good, very weak stomach related reason.  Just tell me it hurts.  I’ll get the point and be sympathetic.  I promise.  You know what I mean, if you’re ALWAYS having a bad day or everyone you work with are jerks or your life just never seems to go right for one reason or another, perhaps your perspective needs a switch.  I’m not a psychologist by any stretch of the imagination, but even I know that when someone has no friends at all, it usually isn’t everyone else’s problem.  That’s a whole different topic … for someone much more qualified than I at dealing with hurting hearts.  Of course we should find a good balance between being honest and wearing people out with our problems.

So, maybe we could go easier on each other.  Give each other less of a reason to pretend that we’re always looking into the lense of a camera.  Let people “go second”.  If you don’t buy into Christianity because you’ve met imperfect Christians, join the club. I’ve never met a perfect Christian.  There was only one perfect person to ever walk the Earth and we crucified Him.  There’s a cheery look into the human condition.

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Everyone is finally smiling, looking sweet and lovely … Lily is looking at the shelf full of props. *Sigh*

My world is a good one and even better when I realize that life, things and people don’t have to look like a magazine article to be wonderful.

A Eulogy for Dead Chickens …

My husband, Jason, and I are hobby farmers.  I mean by that, that we started out planting a huge garden every year, and we’ve recently added chickens.  So I feel we can upgrade our status from just gardeners, to hobby farmers.  I just think it sounds cooler.  Anyone can be a gardener, but it takes real skill to raise live things like chickens.  Cluck if you agree.

So, some sweet, well-meaning person I used to buy farm fresh eggs from asked me if we’d like their year old flock of 21 chickens.  I gave her an enthusiastic yes and Jason went and picked them up.  So exciting.  Of those 21, 17 are still alive. I think that’s fairly good odds … for us.  Just last Saturday I stopped for chicken feed and mysteriously came home with 6 new chicks and 2 ducklings.  Not sure how it happened, at least that’s what I told Jason.  Of those 6 chicks, only 4 are still alive.  So, see what I meant about the 21/17 odds?  You have a better shot at survival at my house if you start out full grown and somewhat able to fend for yourself.  Just sayin’.

I’ll come back to that later.  I actually want to talk about regrets.  I know, right?  Makes perfect sense with the way this post started.  Regrets are interesting little boogers.  We all have them of course.  Some people seem to handle them well, rolling with life’s punches and getting on with the good stuff.  Others can literally let regrets rip them to shreds.  Sometimes it’s the actual regret that is seemingly insurmountable, but a lot of times, it’s just in the handling of it.  I’ve seen people bounce back from some of the most devastating life choices.  People that God actually names as great leaders, prayer warriors and friends of God overcame things like murder, thievery, other things that were truly despicable and I don’t want to talk about them.  So, how do some deal successfully and some fly apart?  I have steps … of course.  These are just my opinions, my ways of dealing, or things I was taught by people who are smarter than I.

Number One:  Focus only on what you know is true.  Have you ever met someone who is suspicious of everyone?  They always think someone is mad at them.  No one has “liked” their Facebook Statuses lately.  So and so didn’t call them back when they left a message.  Their friend said such and such, but they really think they meant -.  You get the picture.  We all do it, so don’t be high and mighty.  Sometimes this is true.  Someone actually is mad at you.  Sometimes it’s made up in our minds, because we’re too sensitive, or because someone else isn’t sensitive enough.  I’m usually the latter.  Mostly we just need some chocolate.

I used to tell my college roommates the first night they moved in with me, “if I do something that makes you upset with me, please let me know.  You can ignore me for a week and I will never figure out what I did, or worse yet, I won’t even notice.  Also, if you think I’m mad at you, you’re wrong.  I’m not two.  If I’m mad about something and I know I won’t just get over it, I’ll tell you.”  Most of them took this to heart, did as I asked and we all got along swimmingly.  They’d tell me if I upset them, I’d apologize (not a lame, fake apology, but a real “I’m sorry, please forgive me,” apology) and we’d all live happily ever after.  One girl never did say what was troubling her, but we figured out that she was most annoyed when we didn’t keep our side of the room tidy enough.  We fixed that problem, and boom!  she was happy again.  Sometimes with quieter people, you have to do detective work.  It’s a thing with them.

Here is the solution to this that will absolutely work for you, because someone else smarter than me thought it up (God).  Focus your energy only on what is true.  If you know you said something to that person that would have hurt their feelings, then go to them and tell them you’re sorry.  If you know they are upset, but you don’t know why, go to them and ask if there’s something you can do to make right whatever has upset them.  Don’t give pathetic apologies.  The anger will only build from there.  An, “I’m so sorry, would you please forgive me?” will go a lot farther toward healing than, “I’m sorry I made you feel that way, but-” No!  Scrap the “but”.  Would you like to be apologized to that way?  You’re just making excuses for yourself.  No healing will happen as long as we excuse our behavior.  The flip side is, if you didn’t do anything and they assure you that they aren’t upset with you, act accordingly.  Don’t keep going back and making sure they really aren’t upset.  Life is really too short to waste in paranoia.

Number two:  Get out of the brain cycle of “if only”.  This takes practice.  When I was in my early twenties a renown psychologist in our area taught my Sunday School class.  Most of what he said was far too brilliant to penetrate my 21 year old brain, but a couple of things stuck.  One was, “When a negative thought pops in your head, stop it immediately.  You then have about 5 seconds to change the tape.  Refocus your mind and move on.”  I have practiced this since then.  I’m still not great at it.  But I’m trying.

Number three: Remember just how important and valuable you are.  Whew!  I think this is the hardest yet.  The other thing that Dr. Myers (Sunday school teacher) said that stuck with me forever was that “Jesus would rather die than live without you.”  I realize it’s hard to focus on your eternal value when you’re doing twelve loads of laundry, stuck in traffic, staring at a computer screen for a living, but it’s absolutely true!  You are so valuable that the One who had the power to speak the world into existence would rather die a brutal death than live without you.  That’s some crazy love, friend.

Number four:  Because some of you just never will believe number three, here’s another starting point for getting away from the “if only” brain cycle.  Do something nice for someone else.  Make yourself more valuable.  Stick with a strength.  Our technology guy at our church, Bubba Stallcup, fixes computer problems for church members for free in his non-existent spare time.  When my mom felt down she always used to make banana bread or cookies and we would all take them to a nursing home.  If you can’t bake, just take them flowers.  People in a nursing home just want some love and attention.  Go hug them.  Nothing will make you feel more valuable than spending time with someone who literally has no one that cares about them.  Pay for the person behind you at the drive through.  Nice people have more friends.  That’s just a fact.  I believe the statistic is that the most reclusive person in the world touches at least 10,000 people in their life time.  Imagine if you’re actually trying!

Number five: Eat more chocolate.  This requires no further explanation.

What does all this have to do with my propensity to kill chickens?  Ah!  You smart aleck thing you, it doesn’t really.  It’s just my life.  No, honestly, the unfortunate chickens triggered this thought because I used to be devastatingly scared to try something new.  I was paralyzed by past failures (I have a surprising number of these for how young I am).  I let regrets and fear run my life and keep me in my comfort zone all the time.  If a chicken had died in my care back then I would have cried for days, given all survivors to a chicken expert with years of references and never tried anything new ever again for fear that I would stink at it.  What fun is that?  My lifetime friend, Sara Pullen once asked me, “what would you do if you weren’t afraid?” My current answer –  I’d start a blog, write my books, have a bunch of kids and homeschool them, hobby farm.  Accidentally kill chickens.  You know, the usual stuff.

 

I do feel that I should add here that the chickens and chicks died of natural causes.  I wasn’t negligent or anything.  Just in case you were worrying about the survivors.  We’re doing all we can here!

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