Friday, July 29, 2011

Follow-Up Blip

Last night I went with Mom to one of her new church's home Bible studies. It's been a long, long time since I've been in a group like that (long story) and I liked it very much. Biblically (do you know my spell check doesn't recognize that word? heathen program) sound, great discussion, kind, sincere people...I even met a homeschooling mom with sons Man-Cub's age with whom I can network!

Anyway, there was a young mother there with her husband and SUPER CUTE infant son and toward the end of the evening she was venting her frustrations about finishing her college degree. Her feelings of conflict and confusion sounded SO familiar and everyone else in the room was urging her to just bite the bullet and finish it!

And I wanted to point to the sweet babe in her arms and say, "But it seems God has given you something else to do."

But, having never met her before, and being the only brand-new person in the room I thought it might be too cheeky. Not to mention hypocritical as I was the one saying the same exact things just mere days ago.

Funny old world, though, isn't it?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Intellectual Underachievement or The Beginnings of a Mid-Life Crisis (or could it, in fact, be PMS?)

The phrase, "intellectual underachievement," has recently come into my life. It was mentioned with the best of intentions and has, I think, been used to encourage and inspire at least one person who is very precious to me.

But it has left me wanting to punch strangers in the face.

Having been a Housewife for sixteen years, I have long since come to grips with the inevitable, "Just A," in front of my occupational title. I used to make a stink when someone was ignorant enough to use it, but now I merely indulge in a secret condescending smile and remind myself that they have no idea what it takes to do my job, poor devils.

I have learned to take great pride in what I do, in the richness it contributes to my marriage, in the blessing it gives to my husband, in the character it instills in my children, in the joy it builds in our household (even as I am not doing anywhere near a perfect job).

But I still struggle with how to use the gifts God gave me in the life He planned for me. Some women seem to have been born to run a household. Not me. I do not have gifts in the areas of cleanliness, organization, concentration, cookery, teaching, promptness, hospitality or even discipline. I have learned to adapt and develop ways to compensate for my weaknesses, but none of those come naturally to me.

My gifts are in areas that would seem to fit in another kind of life: writing, humour, music, creativity, discernment. Oh, sure, there are definitely times when those things can be used in the life of a Housewife (humour and discernment have been particularly life-saving for me many, many times!) but, truly, they are the interests and pursuits of a woman of leisure or starving artist.

Obviously, as I am known to the world as a Housewife and not a Famous Soprano, I decided against woman of leisure/starving artist a long time ago. And, after a few rocky years of frustration, I decided to truly embrace the life I had chosen and try to use my God-given gifts to do the best I could.

I learned to cook. I've gotten pretty good at it. I have learned a lot (though I am still learning) about keeping house. I don't like it, but I can do it. I have become a homeschooler (though I still can't believe it). I have single-handedly saved our family untold amounts of money by learning economy and frugality. And along the way, I became content and even fulfilled.

And then...enter "intellectual underachievement". Someone very dear to me casually mentioned that an acquaintance of theirs, whom I have never met, used this phrase to describe my life. It was not intended as a criticism, but as an understanding of the sacrifices I have made for my family. It was intended in the most gentle and respectful of ways. But it started a chain reaction in me...

At first I was offended. So, I'm an intellectual underachiever because I'm "Just A Housewife"? I'm stupid because I chose to stay home and raise my kids? I'm wasting my brains here in this suburban nightmare (another phrase I heard this week that was used to describe housewifery)?

Then I got to thinking. Maybe I could be achieving more, intellectually. Isn't that exactly what was frustrating me so much in those early years? Didn't I start doing crossword puzzles almost religiously every single night because I felt like my brain was going to shrivel up and flake apart if I didn't do something with it?

And then I talked to Mom. Mom is one of the sharpest people I know. With her brains, wit, common-sense, wisdom, talent and determination, she could have had what the world would call a "brilliant career". Instead she poured herself into brilliantly raising four intelligent, witty, sensible, wise, talented and determined daughters. She was home full-time until my youngest sister was well into elementary school. Then she went out and got herself a job in a hospital. She took it because she could work the graveyard shift, come home, get us off to school, then sleep while we were gone for the day. We girls (there are four of us) were old enough by then to ease her household load and I vividly remember me and Dharma (the two oldest) making dinner and doing the laundry, though I know we did not do nearly as much as we could have.

Mom worked in one position for a while and then had the opportunity to take a few classes, improve her education and get a better position which she did with gusto! She continued to do that until she wound up with a job in a very successful surgical center that she loved! It was exciting and stimulating, she was able to meet and help people (two of her great loves), and she contributed to our family's income in a way she never thought she could. And she did it all without taking time away from her children. I remember being so very proud of her!

When I talked to Mom about this intellectual underachievement, she said two things that surprised me. The first was that on the first night of her first job at the hospital, she was terrified. I have never thought of my mother as terrified of anything. The second was that, although she was the first woman in her family to do anything in the way of intellectual achievement, she wished she had set the bar higher for us girls! She was proud of what she had accomplished but wished it had occurred to her to instead go to college, get a degree, do something more with the intellect with which she's been given. This completely startled me!

But then it inspired me! I am now at the point in my life where Mom was when she got the job in the hospital. I need to think about what I'm going to do after they've left the nest. Now is the time to start preparing for that time. Why can't I go back to school? Why can't I become an expert on something? Why can't I acquire some marketable skills? Maybe I've just been using my children as an excuse to not take any risks, try anything new...

I realized something: it isn't intellect that I lack, it's vision! A clear idea of what to do with the gifts God's given me! Suddenly, I had the desire and the confidence to achieve my potential! Suddenly I was seeing an upcoming opportunity instead of an looming sadness!

For days I was high on optimism. I had been inspired! I was going to look possibility in the face and embrace adventure! I was going to dig out my old, dusty dreams and see if they still fit! If I can learn to cook, if I can survive without a dryer, if I can homeschool my son, I can earn a Bachelor's degree, write a book, start singing again!

And then everything came to a screeching, crashing halt. I talked to The Viking. No, no, no, no, no, that doesn't sound right! It wasn't like that at ALL! Let me 'splain (No, there is too much. Let me sum up)...

My patient, level-headed, much more practical, much less fantastical husband began doing what he does best: asking me questions to help me formulate a plan. He asked what I am hoping to accomplish. He asked why I wanted to accomplish it. He tried to discuss with me my options for getting a degree that would enable me to find a job. He basically asked, "So what are you going to do with your new-found knowledge?" And the more he asked, the more deflated I became.

And I realized it wasn't just that he was killing my buzz. He was shining the cold, hard light of reality on all of my grandiose ideas. What DO I want to go to school for? And what AM I going to do with the training and education I get? If I wanted to be a teacher, nurse, or lawyer my course of study would be clear and practical, but I don't. If I were concerned primarily with finding a job, I could take a course in whatever the fastest growing field is right now but I don't even know what that is! And I don't want to spend the time and money to go to school only to wind up working in a cubicle, waiting tables, or cleaning offices, things I could probably do without the trouble of going to school.

I could finish my degree in Vocal Performance or get a new one in English literature, but then what? Sit around the house for another 16 years admiring my degree with absolutely no idea what to do with it? It's not like I've had to watch opportunities pass me by simply because I didn't have a degree in something.

Which brings me right back to where I had started. It's not lack of intellect or education or even vision that keeps me in a state of underachievement. I don't know what it is, but it's not me waving opportunities by, saying, "Oh, heavens no, not for me, thanks, I'm just a Housewife." Maybe it's just where God has me right now. And maybe this is all He has for me at this time. And maybe the lesson I am to learn from it is contentment and obedience.

I just wish I hadn't taken this side trip into fantasyland again. I wish I hadn't let my eyes stray to the other side of the fence, let my mind dream of greener pastures sure to be found elsewhere. I had gotten to the point where I was content and peaceful and I certainly did not need this kind of disruption!

So this is why I find myself wanting to vent my frustrations on a complete (and well-meaning) stranger. And why folding the laundry, doing the dishes, and doing the grocery shopping are sounding more dreadful to me than ever.

But duty, as ever, she calls...

Thursday, July 07, 2011

{Pretty Happy Funny Real}: Empty Nest Edition

round button chicken

~Capturing the context of contentment in everyday life~
Every Thursday over at Like Mother, Like Daughter

Yikes, I've missed quite a few of these! Shameful...

But I have been busy, you know.

Anyway, BOTH children are away from home and so The Viking and I are enjoying not only a brief glimpse of what life will be like for us once Man-Cub finally gets the heck out of our house in eight years but also a reminder of why on earth we ever decided to spend the rest of our lives with each other in the first place.

We're overflowing with Happy over here right now!

But first, the Pretty 
(because what have we got if we haven't got order?):

 I have at least one post about my hydrangeas each year.  I'm completely besotted with them.  And they obligingly burst forth into joyful bloom each and every summer.  This morning was so leisurely that I wandered around the garden a bit, taking a few photos.

*Sigh*  You are so pretty!  Hey, little bug!

This is a Mandeville or Mandevilla.  I try to get two each year to plant at the base of the kitchen porch stairs so they'll entwine themselves around the stair railings all they way up to the kitchen door.  They'll be stunning by the end of the summer.  But I've never seen them quite this red before!

And now for the Happy:

The Viking and I indulged in a casual, but fine and intimate, dinner for two last night.  Candles, a bottle of wine, classical music, quiet conversation, you get the idea.  I had texted him right before he left work saying, "Why don't you pick up a few steaks on your way home," and he was happy to oblige.

He is so smart.  He brought an enormous rib-eye for me ( I couldn't finish it)...

...and a salmon steak for himself.  The Viking loves fish (especially salmon) but I hate hate hate it so I never make it (poor man).  This is the height of indulgence for him!

I had one of my proudest culinary moments last night!  I wanted to make dessert and have it in the oven before The Viking got home.  The only thing I could make with the ingredients I had was bread pudding.  Now, I love bread pudding (AND I have a fantastic recipe that a friend gave me from his Irish grandmother) but The Viking feels just meh about it.  So I put my thinking cap on and tried to think what I could do to bread pudding to make it more palatable to him...

I spied the slightly soggy banana threatening to rot in the fruit bowl and...EUREKA!  The Viking LOVES bananas!  On the spot, I altered my recipe (which I am typically not good at) and got to work.  I sliced up the banana and added it to the torn bread in the baking pan.  I heated milk and butter, then whisked it slooooooowly into whipped eggs and sugar, then added 2 Tablespoons of rum (why is the rum gone?).

Ten minutes sitting on the counter, then about 45 in a 375-degree oven and WHAMMO!  Banana rum bread pudding!

(I know I'm rambling on here but) The Viking looked at it resignedly when he sat down to eat.

"Is that bread pudding?"

"Just taste it, please.  You don't have to eat it if you don't like it."

He took one bite and his eyes got wide.  "What IS this?  Is that banana??  And rum??"

"Do you like it?"

"It's amazing!"

"Is it 'Kick-Ass'?"  Slightly crude, yes, but it's become The Viking Standard of Good Cooking.

"ABSOLUTELY!  Let's pour some more rum on top!" (Why is the rum always gone?)

And, of course, it was super for breakfast this morning with a steamy cup of lavender Earl Grey tea!


Whilst cleaning up after dinner, The Viking was putting the leftover salad into a plastic bowl to store in the fridge.  I stopped him, asking if he could possibly find a clear bowl to put it in.  When he looked at me askance I explained, "If I can't see what's in there, I won't know what it is and I won't use it."  Then I turned back to the sink, thinking the matter was settled.

And it was, but not in the manner I had expected:

This is what I discovered when I went to the fridge for milk this morning.  Clearly, he was having none of that transferring-from-one-bowl-to-another business.  This makes me laugh each and every time I look at it, whether in photo or real-life form.  Do you see why I love this man?

Finally, the Real:

This is sad, so very, very sad.  Guess who forgot to ask the girl who was feeding the dog, fish and guinea pig while we were away on vacation to also water the plants?


Sunday, July 03, 2011

Home again, home again, jiggity jig.

So, I don't know if you know, but we have one crazy summer going on over here. And most of it is field hockey related.

Don't ask. It's all recruiting stuff. It will be worth it if she gets a scholarship.

Anyway, Redheaded Snippet and I made our way down to North Carolina to visit both dear (old and new) friends and a few colleges before heading up and over to Virginia Beach for the National Field Hockey Championship. Yes, colleges. I can't believe I'm taking my first-born to scope out colleges.

Somehow, it's hard to believe she's mature enough for this.  That's the metal strip from a ruler, by the way.  Points for creativity, right?

We got to not only visit but stay with one of my dearest friends from my college days.  We hadn't seen each other in about 8 years and vowed never, ever, ever to let that much time pass without seeing each other ever again!

 Her husband said, "Ok, make a funny face..."  I did.  She didn't.  Typical!

I know it's a cliche' but it was just like old times!

Nothing like a good belly laugh!

My friend's sweet, lovely daughter is just a year older than Redheaded Snippet and they got along like they've been friends all their lives!  It was so fun watching them make instant friends.

I remember when this handsome, shy young man was a towheaded toddler!  Now he's over 6 feet tall!

We spent a lot of time in the car!  We didn't get any photos of Duke University, but Redheaded Snippet was rather impressed with it!  Originally, she didn't want to even consider Duke, but now it's a top contender!  She wasn't, however, impressed with UNC (no photos of that either).  It's just too big and too sprawling for her.  That's just fine with me!

We tried to take advantage of being in a beach resort town by staying at least part of the time on the beach.  This was the view from the balcony outside our hotel room.

A few times, it even got cool enough to actually sit out there and enjoy the view!  But most of the time it was just, "SHUT THAT DOOR; IT'S TOO HOT!"

Self Portrait

But despite the beach, we were there for one reason and one reason play field hockey.  This was the sunrise as we made our way to the field one morning.  I HATE those early games!

Now, while her team didn't take home a medal this year, Redheaded Snippet played very well and scored the tie-breaking stroke that ended one heart-stopping game in victory!

And we just found out she was selected for the Junior Olympics again.  We didn't go last year but have decided to bite the bullet this time.

The JO's are in New Orleans this year so The Viking will be taking her to that one.  I am not too comfortable with the idea of her and me roaming around New Orleans unaccompanied and unprotected.

Despite all the hockey playing, there was plenty of time for hi-jinks of every kind.  Of course, my children seem to gravitate toward one kind in particular: looking absolutely deranged whenever someone pulls out a camera. This one isn't so bad, but just you wait...

They really are cute children.  And they are rather intelligent, if I say so myself...

But you'd never know it from their photos...

They will insist on looking like inbred little freaks.  Which, of course, they are, now that we know that The Viking and I share a common English ancestor 27 generations back...

They found the shower cap and had no idea what it was.  But they discovered it makes a handy jellyfish disguise.

...I really have no idea...but I do know those are not his underwear (in case you were worried)!

I think we've honed in on the source of their photographic antics...

Yes, yes we have...

Before we left, we stopped in at William and Mary.  And, as you can see, I DID get some photos!  It was a lovely, cool day and the campus is just beautiful!

You can't see him well, but that's a statue of Thomas Jefferson way back there...

I think there's something very profound in watching a small boy comparing himself to a great man to see how he measures up.

The Sunken Garden, former site of 18th-century garden parties and current site of Ultimate Frisbee games and campus movie nights.

Man-Cub had a real thing for those statues.

Before we left we had to have the obligatory seafood dinner.  The Viking enjoyed his bucket o' crab legs.

Isn't it a law that teenagers have to get a burger and fries no matter what kind of restaurant you take them to?

Man-Cub has decided to start practicing abiding by this law as well.

And what family trip to the beach would be complete without a FOOD COMA ending?  We were so worn out from all the traveling, playing in the surf and sand, running around on fields (Redheaded Snippet), spectating in the broiling sun (the rest of us), eating out and packing and unpacking that we were more than glad to come home again!  It's good to be home again in our own beds and our own kitchen!

Until the next tournament that is...