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Kristen is a home­maker, home­schooler, and a home­keeper. Her experience includes nineteen years of practice, raising three kids, a husband, and a dog. Writing about her life helps her stay sane. She believes that sharing stories helps others by providing opportunities to share advice (and helpful hints) about homeschooling, and raising kids on the autism spectrum, while supporting marriages and families that are striving to thrive.



We're All a Little Mad Here

Just a Material Girl

 

 I have been in a minimalist mode lately. I’m trying to de-stuff the overstuffedness of my life. My husband and I are at this point of realizing that “more” is not better and “bigger” is not best. It is interesting to me that as a young couple we were so busy “filling up”. Filling up bookcases, and rooms, and toy boxes became priorities. We needed more ornaments for our Christmas tree, more seasonal decorations, we needed outdoor things like hoses and sprinklers. We needed things- the things to make a house a home and a yard... well, the yard is still a corpse, but not for lack of trying. We just had to have more stuff, to fill in the empty spaces.

Mark and I had all hand-me-down furniture or very, very inexpensive furniture for a long, long time. It’s not like we got married, and instantly had furniture and table linens, and a Pottery-Barn-esque decor! Saving and acquiring furniture, rugs, matching linens and silverware are part of growing up and growing old together, I know, but I remember having this need to have all the things... right now. I coveted pretty furniture, and seasonal accessories, and flowers in the yard. The reality, though, was trying to stay within our budget for groceries, and clothing for kids that were constantly growing and needing new clothes, and birthday and Christmas presents, and occasional day care. Then, of course, came the medical bills, and specialists that come with diagnoses and therapies. Then we decided to homeschool and go down to one income. So, we’ve arrived at this point in time with a lot of experience being frugal and we have a lot of patience with the “lived-in” look that has been our home since we bought it way back in 1999.

Enter sweet Baby-Kate. My girly-girl-tomboy-wildling child. She is all things teenager at the moment, and definitely in a “me” stage. She has a generous heart, on her terms, and she loves something fierce. She cannot, for the life of her, save any great sum of money. As soon as she gets her allowance, it’s spent. Sometimes she spends her allowance before she gets it. She wants things done now, and wants things done in a certain way and on her timeline. It’s a tough life.

 

Ikea Instructions... ugh!

 

So, she has been asking for a loft bed for about eighteen months, and I have routinely shot the idea down for about eighteen months. Out of the blue, though, she decides to bring the subject up at the dinner table, early last week, when Mark was home. After a very short debate (Mark actually thought it was a great idea), we considered the pros and cons of said loft bed, and decided to go for it. We found one at Ikea that was reasonably priced, and in stock, so we hustled up to the megastore in Woodbridge and bought no less than twelve long, flat boxes that indicated they would become a loft bed with a desk after assembly. We don’t go to Ikea very often, but when we do we discover that we need about thirty other items, and a few plants, plus a mattress. So, the minivan was completely full and packed to the brim when we headed home. Two days (yes, days, plus three Google searches and a few naughty words and lots of exasperated sighs) later, we had a loft bed put together, complete with desk and new linens and drawers that lined up and some extra screws, and extra monkey wrenches, but a put together product, that was, indeed, a loft bed. And... lots and lots of cardboard... just keeping it real.

 

 

Well, it wasn’t a day later that Katie declared to us that we needed to go into debt in order to fund her future acting career and horse and gymnastics habit. Whaaat?!??

Kids: you love them all the time, and they just break your heart a little bit each day. Can I get a witness? I love, love, love my kids, and it is heartbreaking when a little heart decides to choose self over love. We’re all guilty of it, I know, it’s just hard, right? My family and I try really hard to be giving and loving, and we try to make good financial choices, and we try to not carry debt. When did I forget to teach that to my youngest? Or, maybe it is because she is the youngest that she expects so much. She came into the world with a room ready and waiting for her, plenty of toys and books and baby gear, and two older kids that adored her. We were more financially stable, so she could choose activities, and where to have her birthday party every year without too much debate. She has it pretty good, really. We all do, actually.

 

 

Teaching humility and thankfulness is the stuff of hard, beautiful love. I know I need to be more consistent with teaching my youngest, and definitely more patient with her. She struggles with non-concrete subjects, so I’m pointing out to her every blessing, every moment to be thankful for, pointing out each less fortunate person or old (out of production type of minivan and station wagon ) type of car that we pass while out and about. We will be doing more mission work with our church, and I will be keeping her busy with books and activities that teach about finance, and health and food crisis’ in other parts of the world... and in our own backyard.

I am a former material girl, and I may be a little bit mad here, but I don’t want to raise any material girls (or boys). We are a downsizing and rightsizing family to help make our home a better place, and hopefully make the world a better place. Giving the kids everything they want, when they want it, leads to selfish behavior, in my experience. So, my pearl of wisdom for the day is to just say no to some things and love your babies with hugs and kisses and walks and good conversations about how awesome it is to be alive. De-cluttering is a great opportunity to give to those in need, and have conversations about the world beyond your walls. I want to shelter my kids, and make everything beautiful for them. I don’t think, though, that this helps them in the long run. Experiencing waiting for things teaches some powerful lessons, don’t you think? I know I’ve learned a lot over the years, and hopefully, my kids will be able to echo this sentiment in their collective futures.

Keep calm, say no sometimes, and parent on!

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Some Ways To Make Friends With Your Neighbors

 

 

Now, I can’t even pretend to be an expert here... I can write about being more neighborly, and why it is important to know my neighbors and how it can benefit me, my neighborhood, my community and the whole wide world. Walking the walk, as they say, is harder than talking the talk. Oh, how that is so true in life!

I have, however, come up with a few ways to break through some of the barriers that pervade our (now, seemingly) isolationistic society. Here is the disclaimer to following the  advice from a non-sociology-educated-regular-type of person: Proceed with enthusiasm and caution and common sense. Prepare for some people to be receptive, and for some to not want any part of knowing the joy that is you making time to be a good neighbor. No need to slip on tennis shoes or a red cardigan or to sing “Won’t you be my neighbor,” but looking somewhat put together is probably a good idea (I think most days I’m wearing the frazzled mom look with pride, and I’d scare myself if I looked out the peephole in my door to me)... And always wear a smile.

 

 

Food. Food has a way of bringing all kinds of people together. Muffins are easy to make (from a box- I wouldn’t know where to begin with the “from scratch” approach). We woke up one day last month to fire-trucks and medic units outside of our neighbor’s house. I knew the husband had been deteriorating, but this seemed kind of sudden. He had indeed passed away that morning. We brought muffins the next morning for the surviving wife and her family members that were beginning to arrive from out of town. Sad people need reminders to eat. Food can be for good times, too, of course. Our community does an annual chili cook-off in February, for example (perfect timing, in my opinion, because it is the dead of winter, and chili will warm up the coldest of hearts). Why not make plans to actually attend? I think I might go to mine this year. Maybe you can start an annual tradition in your community, and use the lure of food to bring neighbors together.

Holiday treats. Every October a “boo” tradition takes place in our neighborhood. It’s fun to make like a ninja and leave treats on your neighbor’s porch. At Easter we do the “you’ve been egged” tradition (candy eggs, by the way, not vandalism eggs). Valentine’s Day means little heart treats. Leave a little card with your name and number with the treats, if you so desire. That can open up a path of communication, at least, with people you might not have occasion to talk to otherwise. If nothing else, just leave a note that says something along the lines of, “Your neighbor at ---- is thinking about you!”

 

 

Block Party. Don’t be shy about scheduling a block party. I recommend it not be scheduled around a holiday because so many people travel around those times of year. I’ve missed all but one of our block parties because of holiday travel, because the parties were always over July Fourth, or Labor Day or Memorial Day Weekend. Be bold! Schedule a block party one random weekend during the summer! Tell everyone to bring a beverage, a dish to share, and meat (or veggie burgers) to grill. Fill up some water balloons, grab some squirt guns, set up a canopy, and let the fun, and the get-to-know-yous begin! This ties nicely back into food bringing people together; and water fights are always bringing kids together. It works!

 

 

Walking Club. In Germany people participate in volksmarches all the time. Literally, communities host marches through their town or city, a section of the nearby forest, or on trails through cities, like, every weekend. I remember walking and earning medals and keeping a corkboard for patches from various volksmarches that I attended with my parents and brother. I didn’t have to run, swim, or bike a ridiculous amount of miles, either. It was just walking, enjoying the weather, and earning a medal. Now, why don’t we do that here in America? Well, actually, there are a few volksmarches here. The Porter library actually hosted a kind of virtual one all last year, where you could log in your miles and such. I think, though, that this could be done on a somewhat smaller scale through neighborhoods. Medals aren’t even needed. Just walk together. It’s like a running club, too, which I know exist.

 

 

And here is my favorite: Books. Host a book club!! I love to read, and many of my friends do, too. I’m in two book clubs right now, and one is in my neighborhood! Did you know that the library has bagged books for book clubs? It’s even free! Start a neighborhood book club for adults or kids, or even a mother-daughter (father/son, mommy/kid) type of club. Your brain, your children (their teachers), your neighbors will thank you. Books are a great way to bring people together. It’s true!

So, hopefully I haven’t scared anybody off! Make friends with your neighbors. Talk to them, bring them food, or share a book or a walk together. Remember that we are all trying to raise up a generation, and that generation would benefit by knowing their neighbors, and so will you... benefit, that is. Keep calm, make friends, and parent on!

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Love Your Neighbor

 

I have been living in Virginia for the greater part of three decades; living in, more specifically, Northern Virginia, for the greater part of three decades. I may not be “old Virginia” or “original Virginia”, but I am a Virginian. I love it here and I don’t love it here and I have a rather schizophrenic relationship with my state, that was never supposed to be my state, that I both love and hate.

Virginia is bipolar when it comes to weather, for example, and with every "pro" comes a "con." Virginia is BEAUTIFUL. If you are ever not stuck in the commute that is a part of life here, you can see how beautiful it is. We have one of the best fall seasons in our country! The leaves are stunning (and abundant- and they are a bear to rake, but they really are stunning). We have also one of the most beautiful spring seasons in our country. The blooms are fantastic, and I especially love the cherry blossoms. My eyes do not like the spring in terms of allergies, but I wouldn’t complain ever about how gorgeous it is.

 

 

 Here is another reason I think living here is awesome and not so awesome... Being In Northern Virginia, we are surrounded by transient people. Quantico, Fort Belvoir, Bowling, all the three letter organizations, and the endless contractors make for a very temporary feeling to the neighborhoods. I’ve been friends with the people in the house across the street from me since 1999. Six families have been in and out of my life over that time period, in that house alone, and it’s been beautiful and heartbreaking all at the same time. It’s hard stuff to be vulnerable with people, get close, and then have to say goodbye.

I wanted to post about this, because I think it’s relevant. In our social media-driven world, technology is replacing human interaction. Don’t get me wrong- technology is great to be able to keep up with friends and family that live far away. I know, though, that in my neighborhood lately, a lot less of us are outside (me included). We don’t really talk anymore. I think sometimes people actually go inside when they see other families coming out. I’m not as close to my neighbors as I once was. I don’t know who is sick, or who is dealing with a hardship or who is pregnant. I only know, really, a few of my neighbors any more because so many people have moved since I was more of an outside-talk-to-my-neighbors-type-of-girl, and I haven’t even had a chance to meet the new people.

Here is the thing:isn’t it relevant that people aren’t talking to other people anymore? Shouldn’t we want to know our neighbors? I know people that have literally said to me: "Why bother?" They would answer no, they don’t need to know their neighbors. I’m sure I’m not the only person who disagrees with that, though.

 

 

We need to bother, friends. We need, I believe, these relationships in our lives. Humans are relational. It is important to know the people around you and the people that live close to you. Furthermore, consider that so many populations are feeling isolated, attacked, and disenfranchised. Is it possible that we just aren’t talking to each other any more? Why aren’t we communicating with our neighbors? I think there is something to this. Talking, face-time (not the kind over the computer), and helping each other, getting to know each other; these are the sweet things of life.

I’ve lived on both sides of this coin. I grew up in a military family that moved every three years. Now, I live in a community surrounded by people that move every three years. I have had the position of the friend that leaves, and I currently reside in the position of being the friend that is left behind. I get it. It’s hard. It is easier to be the one leaving, in my opinion. That being said, what if I never had people and neighbors that poured into me, knowing that I was a temporary fixture in their world? My oldest, best friend and I met in Germany when we were just ten years old! I can’t imagine her not being a part of my life. I have some friends that I’ve known even longer than that- like pictures of naked babies in the bathtub stage of life (I’m the naked baby, by the way, and my friend would be the other naked baby, and today we have children that are at the University of Nebraska, the Naval Academy -he and his wife had twins- and Woodrow Wilson- all born the same day... hours apart).

My point is this: people are important. Relationships are important. Communication is important. Neighbors are important. Invest in your community. Invest in each other. We are relational and we need to love our neighbors. It’s a command.

 

 

So, keep calm, love your neighbors, and parent on!

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Independence Steps, Take Three!

 

It is time for another Tommy update! I’m so excited for him, and scared (I’m a mother, after all), and proud, and I’m actually having all the feelings that surround a child leaving the fold of our secure little nest and venturing into the brave new world... or in this case, a bigger nest, with supports that will hopefully help him succeed. Baby steps. Forward motion. Training means a longer step away this time.

Tommy finished up his life skills course at the end of September. Woodrow Wilson Workforce is a school/ training center in Fishersville, Virginia, and the people in this facility work diligently to provide people with learning challenges, developmental delays and disabilities learn a trade or a business enabling them to find meaningful work and become more independent. They do in-depth evaluations for the clients to match them with work they like, and work that they can do. Tommy successfully qualified for trying out business technology! He started this week.

So, independence is always on the forefront of my mind with Tommy. He definitely needs prompts and reminders for everything. Last week was a little crazy trying to get him packed and ready for school while I caught the lovely flu (again), and the schedule of my events in my cute little planner came to a screeching halt. However, soldier on, we must. We got his wardrobe taken care of early in the week (a silver lining of having a kid like Tommy is that as long as he has t-shirts and lounge pants, he’s not needy in the retail department). We did get him some new jeans and long sleeved shirts. He protested, but Fishersville is in the mountains and I’m sure they get more snow and cold than we do in Stafford. Also, new shoes, for the same reason. This is a kid that will wear flip-flops twenty-four-seven, if allowed. His insistence? A fedora. So not practical, but that is his choice for flair, I suppose!

The other parts of packing him up and preparing him for training is the stuff that is hard and harder. Did I tell him enough how special he is? Did I remind him to treat everyone with respect? Did I tell him how to handle difficult situations? Will he stand up for the right things, and remember to report the wrong things? These are the things that keep us, as parents, up at night. Sometimes up all night, every night, for several nights in a row. I’m just being honest. Well, we packed up and made it to Fishersville right on time on Monday (despite no sleep and a week of having a fever).

He (we) forgot his jacket, hat and gloves. He forgot his learner’s permit (Tommy!). “I packed my wallet!!” he exclaimed. Well... where is your permit? He thinks it is on his desk or in a pair of pants... (sigh). We forgot pens and paper (again). We went to the local Wal-Mart to get the things we forgot that we could get, anyway. We’ll mail him his other things- thank goodness for Virginia weather, because we are experiencing the January thaw even though it hasn’t really frozen yet. We settled Tommy in, got his closet situated and said goodbye.

It isn’t easier, by the way, even though it’s the third time we’ve dropped him off. This growing up stuff is a hard business! I know for me and my husband, we pray for our children to grow and become independent and launch. It’s so, so difficult to smile and let go and hope for the best. Hold onto your littles as long as you can, and then cheer on your bigs as they start their own adventures in this big crazy world. Love fierce. Teach them gently. Be consistent. Let them go. Let them fall. Help them back up again. It’s tough stuff, isn’t it?

In two months, I’ve now had two kids do big launch events. It’s all good, hard, and beautiful. I’m exhausted, and a little excited for the continued adventures of parenthood, and it will be good, I think. I trust.

 

 

We talked to Tommy last night, and despite a very quiet roommate who seems to be into sports (Tommy is anti-sports), he seems to be doing well. He likes being on his own again. Orientation went well, and classes start this week. “I’m fine, Mom, really. And I’ll remember to shower,” he said, “I love you.”

Oh, my heart.

So, keep calm, parents! Love, let go, and parent on!

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Why Me, Again?

 

So, in this brand new year, why did I have to catch the brand-new flu? I had the flu for most of last March. It hasn’t even been a year!! I’m put out, I tell you, not just out of commission, but out of humor and out of patience for my body that insists on getting sick so often. I am now praying fervently for all the cells, probiotics, vitamins, supplements, etc., to work together in this immune system that makes up me. I know I’m fragile, and all that, but seriously, now I’m offended that my little biome would give in so quickly this winter. Offended, and a little sad. Just sayin’!

So, with another seclusion to my bedroom, and with nothing else to do because, frankly, breathing is taking its toll, I have composed a million little posts to pontificate, extrapolate, and expound upon in my feverish state of being. The first, of which, is why me?

My very wise and good friend who lacks filters said once, “Why not you?”

I haven’t argued this point with her, since she said that to me once years ago. She’s right, of course. Bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people, and things just happen with abandon to everyone and anyone. I happen to believe that there is no such thing as an accident and everything has purpose, but she’s right: why not me?

 

 

So, I will pull up the big girl panties and get on with my day. I’ve hydrated, and medicated, and cancelled all appointments for the week. I’ve deferred my house detox. I’ve suspended homeschool for the week, except for reading and Minecraft because, come on, you can read and do Minecraft without me. I’ve issued directives on food and hand sanitizer. It’s a forced rest break. I wish I felt better to enjoy it, but I can’t have everything, right? My hero has even invoked sick leave for the rest of the week, so now even the mom-taxi services are curtailed. Praise!

The hidden benefit of being sick is witnessing how well the family does without me (or the collective you). This goes along with the premise of preparing them for independence, which is kind of a running theme of my writing. The husband does fantastic, first of all. He needs a little guidance, sure, but gone are the days where the house would be trashed and laundry would be overflowing all the living spaces. He’s awesome. The oldest actually did ok, too, which is kind of huge. He’s going to Woodrow Wilson Workforce next week, so I’m happy that although there were no complicated tasks, he was able to stay out of trouble and feed himself. Granted, he ate pizza and leftovers, but still, he ate. I had to remind him about showering, but baby steps are still forward moving steps, so that’s good. The middle, very responsible girl isolated herself in her room, complete with universal precautions, and screamed at me if I ventured out of my room. This is good. She definitely exhibits signs of great self-preservation. I’m pleased. That little one curled up with me and hugged me and asked if I was dying and layon me and went and told the husband that I was dying then came and lay on me some more. Needs improvement, that one.

 

 

While we are all works in progress, and a little bit mad here, we are people of great love. We’re not without our faults, though. We have our selfish moments and our selfless gifts, and I think one of the best things we may have going for us is homeschooling. Homeschooling definitely has some pluses and minuses, but one of the biggest pluses is being able to do life together all the time. This can be a negative, too, I’m not going to lie, but the plus side is that real life is being lived all the time, right? There is nothing as real life as having mom or dad get sick. For sure, the kids needed to be able to prepare food this week, they needed to be flexible with routines and cancellations, and they needed to be empathetic with each other and me. Well, it wasn’t always exactly pretty, but it all happened as it had to. Yes, we need to keep working on the finesse of living life, but I think we have the basics down. This reminds me of this thing I keep reading about -- this phenomenon known as adulting, and I’m hoping that my kids will be prepared to adult when they are done here, because they’ve not just had things magically happen (like chores being done, and dinner being made) and they see first hand the teamwork involved in raising a family and a marriage, for that matter.

The thing is that, once again, despite the odds stacked against us when we are sick or under the weather or whatever, we seem to all rise to the occasion of getting through it. Maybe that speaks to life training, independence goals, homeschooling, love, laughter, tears, tirades, etc., but it definitely speaks to the stuff of raising families, and that is where all of our (the collective our) beautiful and messy work lies.

So, keep calm, stay healthy, take your vitamins, and parent on!

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