It was a year ago today when we got the not-exactly-unexpected-but-still-sudden news that my husband Shawn had lost his job. He’d come home early from work that day (which should have been my first clue) and seemed to be in a cheery mood (which didn’t strike me as out of character until later), so I was completely caught off guard when he told me he was home for good—at least for the time being.
I remember feeling slightly panicked. After all, Shawn was (and still is) our family’s biggest breadwinner—not quite the sole provider, but just about. We’d already made a lot of financial sacrifices so that I could be at home with (and homeschool) our four children. And we were right in the middle of a big plan to pay off debt and put away whatever extra savings we could manage (a key to our survival strategy—but more on that later). All around us, people (including friends and family members) had been losing jobs and homes, so we weren’t oblivious to or unfazed by the effects of the economic downturn of the previous year. I think it was just human nature to hope it wouldn’t happen to us. But when it did, we quickly begin to gain a whole new perspective.
We faced a lot of unknowns—from little things like how we were going to pay the utility bill to big things such as how long it might be until Shawn found another full-time job (which, as it turns out, was exactly nine months to the day!). We also learned a lot about ourselves and our priorities—important things to know in both good times and bad. My goal is to share in this series of posts over the next few weeks how we managed to make it through a pretty rough year—and how we continue to recover from it. As is customary on this blog, I’ll share a half-dozen things that helped us not only to survive, but in some cases to thrive, during the most difficult days. (First up: How We Got By With a Little Help From Our Friends.)
If you happen upon these posts, I hope you’ll find inspiration for surviving your own tough times—whatever they might involve and whenever they might arise.
January 26, 2011 1 Comment
Sometime during the past month and a half—don’t ask me exactly when—we reached a milestone around our house: Our diapering days officially ended. Now you might think that when Keillor—age 2 1/2 and the youngest of our four children—made the transition to wearing “undies” (his word) around the clock, it would be a big deal. Such a momentous occasion, you might say, is certainly worthy of a paragraph or two in the journal I started for him before he was born—or at least a one-liner in his baby book. And you’d be right. (Note to self: FIND Keillor’s journal and baby book and write something—anything—in them.) Did I mention he’s our fourth child? Best intentions aside, I definitely suffer from that syndrome you hear about—you know, the one in which the mom painstakingly documents every detail of her first-born baby’s life and then slacks off just a little more with each subsequent child until the last one is lucky if his birthday makes it onto the calendar each year. (Another note to self: HIDE all other siblings’ journals and baby books.)
The thing is, life’s been a little busy lately, and it really does seem like the whole thing happened rather suddenly—literally overnight, in fact. The truth is that we probably kept Keillor swaddled and Velcroed in his little bumGenius-brand cloth diapers a bit longer than we needed to. So when he fell asleep late one night recently with nothing but his favorite Lightning McQueen briefs on under his jammies and woke up completely dry the next morning, I had one of those forehead-slapping, “duh” moment as I realized he’d actually been waking up with a dry diaper every morning for a few weeks. And that’s when I surprised myself by getting a little sentimental about—of all things—the diapers.
Don’t get me wrong: I’ve been looking forward to this time for about five years. That’s how long I’ve been laundering a load of cloth diapers every two to three days. With both our pocketbook and the planet in mind, I made the decision to use cloth diapers when our third child—Kennah, now 4 1/2—was born. And after using the same set of diapers on both Kennah and Keillor, I like to think that all of my effort did save a couple thousand dollars (for us) and a little landfill space (for the Earth). At the very least, I’m crossing my fingers that we’re kind of close to even-steven in both regards after using disposable diapers on our first two babies.
So why the wistfulness? I’m sure it has something to do with what the diapers symbolize: babyhood. Or, more precisely, that that fleeting period of time is, in fact, over for our family. (Don’t tell Kennah. As our only girl, she hasn’t completely given up on the idea of getting a sister someday.) Sure, it took some work to wash the diapers and hang them up to dry on our backyard clothesline every other day. But after I had a system down, it was actually kind of satisfying to look out the kitchen window and watch those pretty pastel colors pinned up and swaying in the breeze. Or to see them—on the rare occasions when I managed to fold them and put them away—stacked neatly in their cubby beneath the changing table.
In addition to the nostalgia for what is no longer, my misgivings might also be a little bit about the uncharted territory that lies ahead. As I let go of the diapers, what other—maybe more demanding—parenting challenge will take their place? (We are, after all, entering the tween years on the other end of the childhood spectrum.) If you already know, don’t tell me. I’m sure I’ll discover it sooner or later. And chances are, whenever I happen to realize that the next milestone has passed, I’ll want to write about it in someone’s journal or baby book—if I can find them.
August 18, 2010 1 Comment
. . .things that changed my life in 2009:
1. Preparing and eating real food. Although my interest in the real-food movement actually began in 2008—when I first encountered such books as Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma—my personal journey began in earnest this year. I read more books, including Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions and Nina Planck’s Real Food. I looked for and found local sources for grass-fed beef and lamb, pastured chickens and eggs, raw dairy, and in-season fruits and vegetables. I learned how to sprout grains and beans, as well as soak and dehydrate nuts and seeds; I tried my hand at making butter and cheese; and I converted the recipes for many of my family’s favorite dishes to meet real-food ideals. My husband and children went along—warily but willingly—on the journey with me, as we cut back on the refined flour and sugar in our diet and incorporated such new and strange (at first) staples as fermented cod liver oil and kombucha tea.
2. Reading some great books. Clearly, I’m a believer in the statement “You are what you eat.” And by now, you’re probably getting the idea that “You are what you read” would be another suitable credo for me. Simply put, books are—and always have been—a big deal in my life. I can recall at least one engaging novel I read in 2009—The Girls, by Lori Lansens (a diary-style portrayal of the life of conjoined twins)—but for the most part it was a nonfiction year for me. Aside from the above-mentioned food titles, the rest of what I read mostly revolved around marriage and parenting. Favorites here include The Mission of Motherhood and The Ministry of Motherhood, both written by homeschooling mom of four Sally Clarkson. I can so relate to the personal challenges she recounts—from the physical and emotional strength required to be a 24/7 caregiver, nurturer and teacher, to the doubts and feelings of inadequacy that often creep in from a culture that places almost no value on those roles. What I so appreciate about Clarkson’s writing is her ability to transcend all of that—and to help me do it, too!—by putting those roles into an eternal perspective. Her books gave me a renewed sense of purpose that I continue to cling to on those difficult days when I desperately need a good answer to the question, “Why am I doing what I’m doing?” Another author who struck a similar chord with me this year is Gary Thomas, whose book Sacred Marriage has garnered him speaking engagements at churches worldwide. Shawn and I were able to attend one here in Arizona in September, and since then I’ve added a few of his books (including Sacred Influence and Sacred Parenting) to my list. Sacred Marriage (subtitled What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?) intelligently and thoughtfully exposes the ruse of romantic love as a means to (elusive) fulfillment and instead challenges those of us who choose marriage to see the difficulties it inevitably brings as a way for God to shape our character and for us to demonstrate our commitment to Him. I haven’t delved into Sacred Parenting yet, but from all indications, the theme continues on its pages. In a particularly powerful essay Thomas uses to open a book of devotions based on Sacred Parenting, he writes: “I’d like to suggest a motto for Christian family life: ‘God is in the room.’ While God is always there, so often we act and think and behave and speak as if he were not. . . .Think of how differently we might treat our children in those frustrating moments if we responded to them with the knowledge that God is in the room. If we truly believed that the God who designed them and who is passionate about their welfare was literally looking over our shoulders, might we be a little more patient, a little more understanding?. . .Tell it to yourself, every morning, every noontime, every evening: God is in the room. Tell it to each other, every time you’re tempted to yell, or to criticize, or ridicule, or even ignore each other: God is in the room. Tell it to your children, throughout the day: God is in the room. Let’s keep telling it to ourselves and to each other until we practice it and live it, until we live and breathe with the blessed remembrance: God is in the room.”
3. Having a homeschool room (where I especially need to practice the above-mentioned motto!). When we added two bedrooms and a bathroom onto our small home last year, we decided to convert one of the existing bedrooms into a homeschool room. It meant that our four children would have to double up and share the remaining bedrooms, but we were all OK with that. Shawn outfitted the room’s closet with plenty of shelves to store books and supplies, and he built new cases to replace the broken ones on three cast-off desks from the charter school where one of my sisters works. A bulletin board, dry-erase board and world map later, we were in business! And we haven’t looked back to the days when books, papers and manipulatives almost always covered the living-room floor and the dining-room table. Sure, we sometimes still “do school” in those other rooms, but having a place to put everything away when we’re finished—and a door to close when we haven’t had time to tidy up the mess—has gone a long way toward keeping me sane (see No. 2) and all of us organized and on track.
4. Finding financial peace. No, we didn’t win the lottery, receive an unexpected inheritance or invent the Next Big Thing and suddenly become fabulously wealthy. (I’m sure I would have remembered if any of those things had occurred this year!) What we did do was solidify our financial philosophy as a single-income family with a tight budget and a desire to live relatively simply and to be completely debt-free. Toward both of those ends, we’ve begun a serious campaign to get rid of things that we don’t really need or especially love, and to pay off everything we owe (which is really just the mortgage, a car loan and a credit-card balance). Our champion of sorts in the process has been Dave Ramsey, author of The Total Money Makeover, host of radio broadcast The Dave Ramsey Show, and creator of such catchphrases as “Sell so much stuff the kids think they’re next,” and “Live like no one else, so that later, you can live (and give) like no one else.” Shawn and I completed his 13-week Financial Peace University course at our church this fall and discovered that we were actually in decent shape with regard to some areas of our money, but that we needed to make a few changes and do a better job in other areas. Above all, the class helped us talk things through and agree on some goals to keep us focused. We’ve even gotten the kids on board, switching their “allowance” (which implies entitlement to free money) to “commission” (which solidifies the concept that money is earned).
5. Receiving an iPod Touch. As a lover of all things Apple, I’d had my eye on an iPhone for awhile, but because the only cell-phone carrier to offer it doesn’t provide good coverage in the areas I travel most frequently, I’d pretty much ruled it out. As a second choice, I liked the iPod Touch, but without the phone functionality I couldn’t really justify buying one. “Sure, it’s cool, but would I really use it?” I wondered. Shawn surprised me with one on Mother’s Day, and that question was quickly answered in the affirmative. The marketing lingo “There’s an app for that” became a reality for me as I started to use the iPod Touch for all things usual (checking e-mail and Facebook, surfing the Web, and keeping the kids entertained with movies, music and games) and unusual (recording Kellen’s first piano recital and watching TV—mostly late-night online streaming of current episodes of The Office and Parks and Recreation). And sometimes it’s an absolute sanity saver: It makes multitasking a cinch, as I can use it while I’m cooking (see No. 1) or folding laundry. And at the risk of sounding like a really bad homeschooling mom, I occasionally use it to tune out the constant din created when 2 Bigs + 4 Littles almost always occupy the house under 1 Midsize Roof (see No. 2). Whenever I need a little break, I simply pop in the ear buds and download a podcast of The Dave Ramsey Show (see No. 4) or listen to my current playlist faves (the cast recording from the Broadway musical Wicked, or the new Sidewalk Prophets album, These Simple Truths. To hear the Sidewalk Prophets song Just Might Change Your Life—which is, after all, the theme of this post, click the play button of the audio player below.)
6. Starting this blog. I’ve only been a blogger for half of the year, but the impact of finally finding my voice—I’ve never been much of a first-person writer—as well as the guts to share it here—I worried whether I had anything relevant to say—has been huge. I’ve “met” so many other bloggers who are living inspired—and inspiring!—lives, and I’m writing more frequently than I have in a long time. And I can’t leave out the incredible learning curve I had to conquer just to set up the blog and publish a post! When I first started, I didn’t know a tag from a category or a plugin from a pingback—and HTML code? Forget about it! (Click here to find out about the Beginner to Blogger course that helped me get up and running.) Not that I’m all super tech-savvy now. I have much more to learn, for sure, but I’ve come a long way since I began, well, at The Beginning (my first post).
Please note: It is my goal to provide a top-quality, content-driven, ad-free blog. That said, I do occasionally include affiliate links in some of my posts. For example, if you click on any of the book or CD covers above, you will link to Amazon.com, where you will have an opportunity to purchase the items—and if you do buy them after clicking through from my site, I will receive a small commission to support my work here, as well as my own book-buying habit. Seriously, though, I’d be just as happy if my recommendations inspired you to check out the title from your local library or borrow it from a friend.
December 31, 2009 5 Comments
I’ve been thinking over the past several weeks about how to start this blog, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve thought about it way too much and that it’s just time to write already! Probably because I am a writer and editor, I’ve put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself to put together the perfect first post. Part of that pressure comes from questions I have asked myself as I have delved into the process of getting set up—which, by the way, involved a serious learning curve and an incredible expansion of my high-tech vocabulary. Questions such as, “Does the world really need another blog?” “Do I have anything to say that somebody else isn’t already saying?” and “Do I have the energy, creativity and time to keep it going?” My answers? “Probably not.” “I doubt it.” and “I can’t believe you can ask yourself that question with a straight face.” Still, I find myself unable to resist a forum such as this—a place where I can share ideas and experiences with people I know well and people I don’t know at all—yet. And I’m drawn, too, by the knowledge that I’ll be forced to exercise my writing and editing muscles, which often lay dormant too long between free-lance assignments.
So what will I write about, exactly? Well, I plan to follow the old rule, “Write what you know.” Which, for me, means writing about my family and my place in it; the things we strive toward and thrive because of (or in spite of); our life experiences; and our hopes, dreams and heart’s desires—from the minuscule to the grandiose. Topics at the top of my list include homeschooling (which is a huge part of our lifestyle), healthy eating (both for optimal nutrition and to accommodate our family’s food allergies) and hobbies (from digital scrapbooking to urban farming).
The Hemmings Half Dozen includes my husband, Shawn, and I, and our four children: Kellen, 9; Kerrick, almost 7; Kennah, 3 1/2 (don’t forget the 1/2); and Keillor, 20 months. We live in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona, in a mid-size home that often feels crowded and chaotic. And we love it—most of the time. If you find us here, I hope you’ll contribute to the conversation where you can, and that you’ll extend a bit of grace my way as I continue to navigate this uncharted (for me) territory. In fact, for this first post (and maybe beyond,too), I’ve decided to adopt as my motto the following quotation from Dr. Seuss: “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
July 24, 2009 10 Comments