I didn’t realizer “fixer upper” meant…

P1080465At the beginning of the year, my husband and I moved into our new house. A fixer upper. It’s a 1977 ranch that hasn’t seen much love since 1977. We were really excited to make this house our own, and had so many ideas for how to accomplish that. We knew it would be a lot of work. We thought we knew what were were getting into. But here are some things that I didn’t realize I was signing up for when we bought a fixer upper:

  1. That something is always broken. I knew we’d always be working on something, but I didn’t realize that meant something is always broken, inoperable, or otherwise out of commission. I imagined doing projects, and I imagined the finished results, but I didn’t imagine what it would be like to live in partially completed projects.
  2. That the house will often insert it’s own priorities. I had made a list of the projects that were important to me. Based on our budget and time constraints, I guessed how long it might take to get things done. I never realized that the house would present it’s own projects, like when the septic system failed or we realized (in the heat of the Texas summer) that we have NO attic insulation.
  3. That there would be tons of stuff the home inspector missed. This probably says more about our individual inspector than some universal truth of buying older homes. I thought I understood the limits of home inspections. I knew they could only see what they can actually see. I knew they couldn’t guess what was going on in the walls or in any other hidden place. But it seems like our inspector missed A LOT of stuff he should have been able to see. Like the lack of attic insulation I just mentioned.
  4. That we would regularly have to choose between regular ol’ home maintenance and “fixer upping.” We have 2,500 square foot house on two acres of land. We could easily spend an entire weekend just doing yard work and some basic home maintenance. But if we spend the whole weekend doing things that “need” to be done, when are we going to do the projects that we “want” to get done? And vice versa. It’s a constant balancing act.

I don’t regret buying a fixer upper. And I don’t think I walked in completely blind. But there are definitely challenges that I didn’t expect. Some days when I’m really frustrated, I say that we should have bought something newer and nicer, but I don’t really mean it. We have a beautiful property right in the middle of the city. I’m just looking forward to the day when I can say my home is beautiful too.


Make A List

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

make a listI work really hard most days. So hard that, as I’ve already mentioned in this series, I don’t even grant myself the time I deserve for should-be priorities like eating, resting, cuddling my babies, laughing, or having fun. So you know what really upsets me and sends my stress level through the roof? When I sit down to dinner with my family, completely exhausted, and look around at my house and realize that it looks like I haven’t done anything all day. I run myself ragged, but, at the end of the day, it seems as if everything I’ve done has been undone by little hands, and things I really wanted to get done remain undone because I was too busy to get them done. It makes me feel like my life is completely out of control. It makes me feel like a failure.

Part of my problem is that I have really high expectations about what I should be able to accomplish in a day. I usually want to get about 50 more things accomplished than time will allow. As you can imagine, that means I don’t accomplish what I want to accomplish each day. The truth is I simply can’t accomplish that much in one day. No one could. There is only so much time. And only so many tasks can be completed in that finite amount of time.

I’ve always been a list person. Whatever I need to do goes on my list. Partly, so I don’t forget about it. And partly, well, because I’m a list person. I think up a new task, it goes on the list. The only thing I love more than making my list, is crossing things off my list.

So, at the end of the day, as I look around my messy house that I spent the whole day cleaning, I also see my list. My list full of un-crossed-off items. And I get really upset and uptight. How can there still be so many things left on my list?? How am I ever going to get all of these things done?? How will I prevent the world from spinning out of control?? (There goes that catastrophic thinking again…)

So, in preparation for this post, I’ve changed the way I make my list. And it’s worked out so well for me!

Every morning, I take out a sticky note. On the sticky note I write the six and only six things that I’m going to accomplish that day. (Sticky notes won’t hold much more than 6 items, so it keeps me from cheating. Otherwise, I might try to add a few “bonus” items.) Items 1 and 2 are the same every day: 1. school with A & J 2. read aloud. That only leaves me with 4 little ol’ spots for all the many things I think I need to do. This makes me prioritize my projects and it makes me stick to a reasonable number of tasks. I don’t have to accomplish my list in any order, my goal is just to accomplish it by the end of the day.

This little exercise has been so good for me! It feels so good to get to cross six things off my list every day. It feels so good to look at my list and know that I actually accomplished what I intended to do that day. It feels so good to sit down to dinner and know that, even though my house is a mess and I’m exhausted, my list is complete. It gives me tangible evidence that I did, in fact, accomplish something, even if I feel like there is still so much that could be done.

S, T, U – Surrender to the Unexpected

All April long, I’m blogging alphabetically about Adjusting to Life to Life with Baby Number 5. Click here to see all the posts in this series.

expect the unexpected

Surrender to the unexpected.

This is a lesson the control freak in me really needs to learn. It’s a good life lesson in general, but with 5 kids, it’s unavoidable. Something unplanned, unexpected, or inconvenient happens nearly every day. Sometimes multiple times a day.

In my head I’m the kind of person who rolls with the punches. I’m flexible, up for anything, and can easily change plans. I’m spontaneous, unpredictable, and a lot of fun.

In reality I’m not really like that at all.

To keep my household, which includes our homeschool, running smoothly, I have to be fairly organized and on a schedule. I’m not the type to write out a schedule in 15 minute increments, but I have a pretty clear idea about what we need to accomplish and the time frame we need to accomplish it in.

But life often gets in the way. Spills happen. Someone gets a booboo. Art projects take longer than expected. Little boys paint mattresses with toothpaste.

A lot of times these kind of things freak me out. The more I can see our schedule melting into oblivion, the more stressed out I become.

But that’s not how I want to be.

I want to be more like the person I imagine myself to be. I want to surrender to the unexpected, go with the flow, and readjust as needed. Most importantly I want to do that without my stress level going through the roof.

Because the truth of the matter is that all that unplanned, unexpected stuff is what life is made of. If I keep trying to avoid it all, I could be missing out on some of the best life has to offer.

Thanksgiving, Traditions, and Itineraries

DCF 1.0

Thanksgiving 2007. We hosted my side of the family in our Cordova apartment. Somehow I made everything using the stove, our single oven, and a crockpot.

This morning, my parents finally chose a time for tomorrow’s big family dinner, so now I’ve finally been able to put together a timeline for my family’s Thanksgiving festivities. I was getting really frustrated trying to come up with multiple “what-if” scenarios based on various times they could wish to serve dinner. One of these days I’ll learn to stop doing that to myself and do a better job rolling with the punches. In the meantime, I’m a planner, and I want a plan in advance.

I know that to some, or maybe even many, my desire to plan out events may seem extreme or like it’s a waste of time. But, I truly believe that family memories do not (in most circumstances) make themselves. This is certainly true for my little family. In the absence of a plan, we end up sitting on our behinds and doing a whole lot of nothing. If I failed to plan tomorrow in advance, we would all sit around until the last possible minute, get ready, and head out the door to go to my parents’ house. Downtime is certainly good, but who wants to look back at a life full of downtime? I want to make some memorable memories!

My plan for tomorrow isn’t particularly memorable because it includes anything fantastic, rather, it is going to be special because it contains all the things I love about Thanksgiving. You see, I’m a sucker for tradition. I’m not the type that wants to go to to Florida for Christmas or go skiing for summer vacation. (I suppose if those things were our tradition, I’d feel differently. But they’re not. So I don’t.) I like to stick with the tried and true. I don’t think that’s boring. I think that’s meaningful. This certainly doesn’t mean there’s no room to add new traditions or do away with empty routines that have been substituted for traditions, but, in general, it means I like organic growth and development when it comes to the way I celebrate my holidays.

Thanksgiving 2011 at Josh's parents' house.

Thanksgiving 2011 at Josh’s parents’ house.

When I think of Thanksgiving, several things come to my mind: THE BIG MEAL, cooking all day, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Mass, and family expressions of thankfulness. Some of these, like the parade and the meal, are rooted in my childhood experiences, but most of these stem from who I am today and why I believe Thanksgiving matters. Regardless of where my holiday notions stem from, this is my jumping off point for creating all of our family’s traditions. Josh and I compare our lists of what we equate with any particular holiday or event, evaluate what is the most important, decide if there’s anything we want to add, and, VIOLA…we have our little family’s traditions.

Despite the fact that we have been married for nearly 8 years, we still often have a hard time helping our parents’ understand that their ideas and traditions aren’t number one anymore. This is often uncomfortable and results in strife, sometimes between Josh and me, sometimes between us and either or both sets of our parents. Either way, it’s no fun. Needless to say, we’re still a work in progress. (Which, by the way, is how I ended up waiting on my parents to select a time for Thanksgiving dinner before I could solidify our own plans…)

So, what will tomorrow look like for my little family? I’m so glad you asked!

6:30-7:00AM – snuggle and drink coffee until I’m conscious.

7:00-7:45 – shower and get ready while the kiddos play or watch Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving or Madame Blueberry or something else keeping with the spirit of things.

7:45 -8:00 – Start cooking! Our breakfast first. Our family always has some kind of yummy (and incredibly unhealthy) egg & hash brown dish. I’m still working on the specifics, but I’m pretty sure it will involve ham this year instead of bacon.

8:00-9:30 – Turn on the parade and watch while we cook and maybe even leave it on in the background while we eat. (We’re such rebels!)  The kids also have to get dressed during this time.

9:30 – Leave for Mass

10:00 – Mass!

11:30ish – Get home from Mass. I’m going to have apple cider waiting in the crock pot to warm everyone up. While I’m drinking, I’ll get back to work in the kitchen. Josh usually helps too. We’ll coax the kids into a nap or, at the very least, a little rest of some sort to help curtail cranky moods for the rest of the day.

I’m sure Gone with the Wind or the Godfather will be on during this time, so that’s probably what we’ll have on in the background while we cook and chat and catch up. (I really love cooking with Josh. We ought to do it together more…)

Sometime before 2:30 – I hope to lay down or at least put my feet up; I’m so exhausted with this pregnancy!

2:30PM – load everyone up again. To Grandmother’s house we go! We’ll likely talk about what we’re thankful for in the car on the way there. Maybe I’ll even come up with some kind of cute activity to make that more fun. I’m curious to see if the kids simply say the same things they wrote on our Thankful Tree or if their responses will vary somewhat.

From 3:00 on, we’ll be at the mercy of my family. I’m hoping between my newly evaluated expectations and some kind of Thanksgiving miracle, it will be an enjoyable evening. If nothing else, the food will be delicious. At the very worst, I can suddenly become some kind of football fanatic and pretend I’m completely engrossed in a game. ;)

If we get home before it’s too terribly late, we’re going to watch the Wizard of Oz. We recorded on the DVR a few days ago. The kids have been dying to see it, but we haven’t gotten a chance to watch it yet. If it is late, we’ll just watch it tomorrow while we all lounge around waiting for my grandmother to arrive from Atlanta.

Thanksgiving 2005. Our first "family" Thanksgiving picture! 9 mos preggers with Andy. :)

Thanksgiving 2005 outside our apartment in Bartlett. Our first “family” Thanksgiving picture! I was 9 mos preggers with Andy. :)

I must say that, if it were entirely up to me, all holidays would involve a little sleeping in. But, alas, that’s not realistic for our current season of life. Ben will be up by 6:30AM, regardless of when we put him to bed tonight, and I want to spend every holiday minute with my littles.

I know our plans aren’t particularly glorious or magical, but I’m happy with them. I’m a little disappointed that I played the “let’s just make everyone else happy game” but I’m quite pleased with the way it’s all going to come together.

It goes without saying that tomorrow will not work out exactly as I imagine. That’s why the schedule isn’t broken down into more specific time chunks. That would never work for us. Other than that, I’m just going to have to remember that each moment is a gift, and sometimes gifts aren’t what we were expecting, but gifts are always wonderful.


Thanksgiving and High Expectations

Thanksgiving2Recently, thanks to the encouragement of my sweet hubby, I’ve been working really hard at setting realistic expectations. See, I’m a perfectionist, I have a very active imagination, and I put great importance on creating wonderful family memories. These three combined often make for highly fantastic fantasies and deadly disappointing realities, especially related to holidays, vacations, and any other large family events.

Moments ago, I was entering an amazing giveaway over at the Pioneer Woman’s website. (Oh, how I love her!!) Realistically, I have no chance of winning, as there were nearly 14,000 entries when I left my comment and only 3 available prize packages, but the prize was too amazing not to give it a shot. But I digress…

Back to my point.

To enter the giveaway, I had to leave a comment with my Thanksgiving plans. I started to write something about how we were going to my parent’s house this year, but I always come away disappointed, so we’ll likely have another Thanksgiving at our house on Saturday and invite some friends or whatever family wants to come so that I’ll have the opportunity to do it right. But that just seemed to negative to leave on the fabulous Ree Drummond’s site. So I sat for a moment and thought about what I could type that was both honest and uplifting. Suddenly, I had a beautiful moment of clarity. The truth, just as it is, is beautiful and uplifting. It’s only my bad attitudes and unmet expectations that spoil the beauty of the day. I wrote:

“We’re taking our four kids and joining my three siblings and their kids at my parents’ house. My mom does the turkey and the pies and we all bring the sides. I’m hungry just thinking about it!”

It’s simple. It’s true. And it provides all of the makings for my wildly fantastic holiday fantasies.

So why am I dreading it?

As I’ve already given away, the problem is me and my expectations.

While it’s true that my mother will likely do something (or lots of things) that annoy me, and my brother and his girlfriend will likely get in a “disagreement” at some point, and my kids will likely get in trouble for something that’s not really their fault, and my kids will likely do something horrific that is their fault, and my sister will try to disappear to sulk about some comment my mother makes to her…. (Sadly, I could go on and on, but I’ll spare you.)  None of this really matters. If I could just let that stuff roll off, it wouldn’t define the day.

But, unfortunately, I do the same thing every time. I arrive hoping for the best but expecting the worst, and right away I start keeping score. Each time something less than ideal happens, it impacts my hopes for the whole day. Usually, after I’ve been there for about 30 minutes, I’ve gathered enough evidence to decide that, once again, my holiday is going to be ruined.

And, if that weren’t bad enough, I walk in the door loaded down with all of the baggage from past ruined events. This means that I view little things as catastrophic because in my heart and mind I’ve combined their minuscule hurt with all the hurt experienced in the past. Suddenly, and before I’ve even had time to realize what happened, I’ve got a mountain where there was really only a molehill.

I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you how horrified I am to realize that I am the source of most of my holiday pain and frustration. But, more than that, I’m grateful. Relieved. Liberated. Hopeful. Maybe, now that I’ve gained some much-needed perspective, I can actually get around to creating some of the wonderful family memories I long for instead of grieving for unfulfilled fantasies and aching over wounds from the past.

This year is going to be different. This year is going to be wonderful. And it’s all going to start with me and my newfound realistic expectations.

(Is it just me or is this a great time to cue up some Michael Jackson??)

Mass: It Fits in the Schedule!

massWhen I first imagined myself homeschooling, one of the perks was the ability to take my kids to daily Mass. Three years later, that is finally becoming a reality. As with so many other areas where I feel called to grow, I had a list of excuses of why it just couldn’t work. My most prominent excuse was our schedule.

If only Mass were earlier. Or later. Either would be more manageable. How could I possibly go to Mass at 9AM and have any semblance of a reasonable daily schedule? How would we ever get anything done?

While visiting with a friend recently, we were chatting about the unreasonable expectations we place on ourselves in the context of our homeschools. In the course of this conversation, I discovered that one of my unspoken expectations was that we must be done with our school day by lunch time. Why? I don’t really know. Other than for bragging rights. You know, something along the lines of, “Oh look how efficient and productive we are. We finish school by lunch and then have the whole day to play and enjoy childhood.”  Yup. That’s about how my thought process went.

Discovering this was a major revelation for me and, best of all, released me from my scheduling hang up. Granted, it took me a few days to come to terms with this revelation, (Yes, I’m ever so graceful when it comes to change.) but once I did, our whole day opened up! I love our new schedule and the icing on the cake is: so far, we haven’t gone past lunch time with our book work! It is so true that when we make time for God, he allows everything else to fall in to place.

Just in case you’re curious, this is what our day looks like right now. I know my family well enough to know that there are many areas I can’t put tasks in order or schedule them into 15 minute increments. In these instances, I simply schedule blocks of time. The routine in that area may vary some each day, but I allot enough time for us to get it all done. This flexibility is also incredibly useful for the days when we’re not exactly “on schedule.”

6:00AM – Mommy’s alarm goes off. Ideally, I get up and exercise, but, unfortunately, I have a rather strong tendency towards sloth. Some Most days I just hit snooze.

6:30-8:30 AM – Everyone gets ready. We get dressed, I shower, nurse the baby, serve breakfast, etc.

9:00 AM – MASS!! Truly, the highlight of our day. Sometimes, thanks to my not-so-angelic children it’s also the low point. Thanks be to God, even when it’s the low point, it’s still the highlight!

10:30ish – We get home from Mass. It just depends on how long we chat afterwards.

10:30ish-12:00 – Formal lessons and bookwork.

12:00PM – We stop to pray the Angelus and sing the Salve Regina.

12:05 – 1:00PM – Lunch and free time.

1:00-3:00 PM – QUIET TIME! (It’s almost as good as Mass.) The little ones (and cranky ones) nap. Other options are reading, praying, or quietly working on a project that requires no assistance. No group activities allowed. In the future this will also be a great time for studying, test taking, researching, etc. (This concept may seem odd. One day I really will write a post about the value of silence to further explain why I find this so important!)

3:00PM – Those who are awake pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

3:15-5:30PM – Finish lessons (if needed), art or science projects, chores, free time.

5:30ish – Dinner.

6:00-9:00ish. Family time. Baths. Prayers. Goodnight!

9:00-10:30PM Mommy and Daddy time.

10:30PM – Lights out everywhere. Sweet dreams!

Despite having our day planned out, I am certainly not opposed to impromptu water gun fights or trips to the park or visits to/from friends. This flexibility is one of the many things I love about homeschooling and one of the reasons our family chooses to school year round. But that’s a topic for another time…

7 Years, 7 Lessons


Today, Josh and I celebrate 7 years of marriage. I’m not sure how that happened. On the one hand, I can’t remember what it’s like not to be married. At the same time, it seems like it was just yesterday when we were rolling around Memphis with far to much free time and expendable income. In honor of the seven years we’ve been together, I thought I’d make a list of seven things I’ve learned about being married so far.

  1. Whoever said the first year of marriage is the hardest probably wasn’t married for more than one year. And I don’t think I’m alone on this. I once bought a book entitled “What I Wish Someone Had Told Me About the First Five Years of Marriage.” I never actually read it. I bought it somewhere around year 5 and the title alone was enough to bring me comfort. Knowing that it was ok that we didn’t get it all figured yet was a great relief. So far, for us, I think the sixth year of marriage was the hardest. I suppose only time will tell if it was indeed THE hardest year.
  2. The couple that prays together, stays together. I know this might sound cheesy, but it is so very true. Our marriage is so much easier when each of us is focused on growing in holiness (i.e. growing in our own individual relationship with God). Our fights don’t last as long, we’re more patient and forgiving with each other, and we’re generally more pleasant people when God is number one. We’ve ebbed and flowed in this area, so we’ve seen it from both sides at various points in our marriage. It’s not just a maturity thing or something like that. We really are better people when we are aware of how completely dependent we are on God’s grace to make it through the day.
  3. Girls/guys nights out aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. It’s definitely nice to get away for some “me time” every now and then, but we’ve both found that girls/guys nights aren’t very positive or uplifting experiences. Almost always, the evenings turn into a flogging of the opposite sex, particularly the spouses or significant others of those in attendance. Speaking ill of your spouse and/or being around those who constantly do is not a good thing for your marriage. We much prefer couple or family gatherings. It’s not uncommon for these events to end up as completely gender segregated as a 7th grade dance, but it’s a much different environment. No one is there to “escape” from the other, which drastically changes the mood and conversations.
  4. Expectations, especially unspoken ones, are more toxic than cyanide. I haven’t found anything in our marriage that can ruin a perfect day or situation quite like expectations. We all have them. But we need to let go of them. And the ones we can’t or don’t want to let go of? We need to communicate them. Clearly.
  5. Be willing to suffer together. It’s kind of an at-least-we’re-in-it-together type mentality. If Josh has to bring home a pile of work, I make sure I’m also doing something along the sames lines, like homework or my own work. If I’m pacing back and forth with a screaming baby, he cleans the kitchen or starts the laundry. We’ve learned that when one of us is sitting comfortably reading or watching TV, while the other is engaged in some unpleasant task, it usually sparks some kind of fight. Usually about something stupid. That’s because the problem isn’t whatever stupid fight erupts; the problem is that one of us is frustrated. It’s a lot easier to express frustration when you feel the other one “gets it” instead of looking up and realizing that the other is completely oblivious to what you’re dealing with at the present moment. (In all honesty, this is probably a much bigger deal to me than it is to Josh. Regardless, learning this lesson has cut back on many stupid fights.)
  6. It’s important to acquire some basic knowledge about all of the things your spouse is interested in.  Yes, all of the things. I’m still working on this. Learning about what the other is interested in shows you value and respect the other person. Their whole person. Even the parts that you find completely boring and stupid. Like Japanese candlesticks. Like I said, I’m still working on this one. If he can go baby shopping with me, I can learn a little something about those colored graphs. (Note: Josh just supplied the baby shopping example. I was shocked. I really had no idea how much he dislikes baby shopping. Guess he’s much better at this skill than I am.)
  7. Your pride is not more valuable than your spouse. We’re both prideful people. And we’re both stubborn. Back in the day, we could stay mad at each other for days, just to avoid having to be the one to give in. It’s so not worth it. No matter how badly it stings, apologize or cave in or whatever. It’s so much better than driving a wedge between you. This is a relatively new skill for us. Sometimes we stand there shocked at how quickly we can get over something that would have caused a major battle not all that long ago. This is probably one of the hardest lessons learned, and definitely one of the most valuable.

So there you have it. They’re not listed in any particular order, and they may not be profound, but these are the little lessons that have made our marriage what it is today. Like the little card on the flowers Josh sent me today said, I’m looking forward to seeing what the next seven years will bring!