This is another “what works at our house” post–I don’t think there’s a right way to do it, but for us, this has been genius.

Our main laundry bin is two kitchen-sized trash cans that live on the floor of our linen closet.  They’re pretty big–packed full, they fill up my front-loading washer.  One is labeled “lights” and one is labeled “darks,” and each one has a large lingerie bag (i.e. a giant mesh bag) hanging from a hook. Socks go in the lingerie bag, with the rule that only matching pairs can go in. This helps greatly at preventing lonely socks, because it prevents pants or the washer from “eating” the tiny little baby ones.  I lost so many socks before I hit on that idea.

Then there is a small laundry bin anywhere that is so many steps away from the linen closet that it encourages clothes to otherwise end up on the floor–right now, this is just in the downstairs shower, but I also have a little bin that I set up in the nursery from time to time.

So, when it’s time to do laundry, I empty the small bins into the larger one, then carry the entire trash can off to my laundry room and upend it into the washer.  Easy-peasy and quick.  I wash the socks in the lingerie bags; besides helping keep track of the socks, this actually makes it much easier and faster to fold the other clothes, because I’m not having to untangle socks (or rip static-filled socks away from towels) from the other clothes, or find a place to toss them until I pair them.  I divide our towels (and sheets) up into lights and darks and wash them with our clothes.  I try to do laundry before the bins are about three-quarters full, which works out to be about one day a week.  The size of the bins really “forces” me to allow no more than two loads to stack up, because the washer will hold everything that fits in one bin, no matter how stuffed it is.  So unless we’re stashing dirty clothes somewhere else, it’s impossible to have more than two loads to do at a time.  I find folding the clothes, however, a much easier task if the bins are not all the way full–and the clothes come out of the dryer less wrinkled.

Laundry is, by far, my least favorite household chore, but the fact that the clothes come pre-sorted because we have two bins makes it much nicer and more efficient, not to mention less smelly since I don’t have to fuss through the dirty clothes–I just dump them in!

Home-Centered, Musings

Staying at home.

Sometimes I feel like a lot of people want me to get rid of my kids.  Can’t you get a babysitter?  Don’t you want to put them in the nursery?  Can’t you leave them with your mom?  Let’s have a mom’s night out.  I should add–I don’t mean my husband.  He’s mostly like me; rather bring them with us than get rid of them.
Our next-door neighbor was telling me a few weeks ago that they tried to go on their “honeymoon” (which they hadn’t had after their wedding) after their children were born, and they made it exactly one day before driving all the way back home to get their kids because they realized they’d rather have them along.  I love that.
It’s one of the things that I like about midwife-assisted birth.  Our kids come to all the appointments with me, and that’s the way everyone involved seems to think it should be.  They talk to them and include them and even have a room full of toys for them to play with.  They recognize the family structure and that birth is a family event.
But so many people just don’t “get” the fact that I’m a mom, a mom to young children, and with very few carefully measured exceptions, I feel very strongly that my place is where my children are.  It’s the same principle that makes me find daycare such a repulsive option–our kids are our responsibility, and delegating that responsibility to someone else on a regular basis just doesn’t jive with me, whether it’s for daycare or a weekly “night out” with my husband or a weekly “mom’s night” with other women.  I mean, really, consider the idea that a full seventh of the time, Mommy isn’t home for dinner and baths and bedtime.  That’s an enormous shifting”“shirking, I dare say”“of responsibility.  Especially with children as young as ours.
So, no, I’m not going to find a babysitter so I can have a night out with the girls or even a regular date night with my husband.  My husband is the best babysitter there is, but he isn’t me.  Our responsibilities in this role are not equal; daddies can’t stand in for mommies any more than mommies can stand in for daddies.  God gave our children a mother.  I’m not going to make plans to regularly abandon my primary mission field, or to throw my babies’ schedules into flux.  I don’t “need” a break.  Sometimes I need to have my perspective fixed; sometimes I confuse selfishness with necessity.  But this is my job, my calling–and it doesn’t stop just so I can have some social time.
I love it, most deliriously, when people understand that kids don’t wreck things.  I love going to a church where the kids are in the service.  One time we were visiting a church–a church much too small to afford a nursery–and the pastor remarked that once they had to sit in church with a baby screaming every Sunday through the whole service for a few months straight, because there wasn’t anything else to do and that it was fine.  That it was church, and that they wanted the parents to be able to come, and that they learned to cope with the distraction–they got over it.  This was the explanation I got after apologizing that our two month old had been a (tiny) bit noisy in the morning’s service, and it blew me away.  I would love a “Mom’s Retreat” that welcomed moms with nursing infants and toddlers.  I really, really, appreciate anything at all that gives me fellowship and socialization with other people without expecting me to dump my kids in someone else’s lap.
Because, well–I like my kids.


Getting a Handle on Cooking

Before pregnancy deep-tiredness hit, and before I had a second walking daughter, I was sorta-kinda starting to get a handle on balancing cooking with the other parts of my daily routine.  I’m convinced that this is one of the many areas of organizational skills in which different things work for different people, with no One True Solution, but here are some of the things that worked well in our busy little house:

Once a Month Cooking… just not once a month.
I love the idea of once-a-month-cooking (if you haven’t heard of it, Google knows all :-)), but it doesn’t really work with a newborn or young, mom-clingy baby.  An all-day cooking session, in our house, with our kids running around wreaking their usual havoc?  Not going to happen, even if I could convince S to devote a whole weekend of every month to mommy-free childcare.

What does work, however, is to take the concept and instead cook one recipe at a time, in lieu of a normal dinner.  I found that it worked really well to start the cooking early in the day, so I didn’t have to worry about how long the prep would take or what interruptions might ensue.  The recipes might make three or four meals, and I’d usually pop one in the fridge to eat later that night for dinner, and put the rest in the freezer for another day.  Cooking larger quantities of a single recipe doesn’t take too much longer than cooking a regular dinner, but once the routine gets going, I only had to cook twice a week to have a consistent stock of freezer meals for the other nights of the week, with plenty to spare for sharing or busier weeks.

The major downside is that you end up with massive amounts of a recipe before you actually know how it tastes, and that was actually quite a problem for us.  It’s not as easy as it might seem to convert regular recipes to freezer-ready meals–the math is easy enough, but knowing how the food is going to react to being frozen takes more experience than I have, and it was also surprising how many recipes, when trebled, ended up needing prep bowls far larger than any my kitchen possesses.  Put these factors together, and using regular recipes ended up as a disaster a little too often.  Recipes that are actually designed for once-a-month cooking, on the other hand, are somewhat hard to come by outside of books (which cost money!) and aren’t quite as polished or reviewed, in general, as regular recipes.

I am very much out of this rotation, presently, but I think it’s the best long-term solution for my brain and cooking.  But I definitely need to spend some serious effort and time into finding recipes that are freezer-tested… and our-family-approved.  🙂

Computers do all the work.
So, if I’m not doing once-a-month recipes right now, what am I doing?  I’m relying heavily on various websites that let me put together a collection of recipes and assemble a grocery list for me.  I’m a big fan of kraftfoods.com, which–for free–allows me to pick from their very large database of easy, reviewed, acceptably-tasty recipes, add them to a list, and print them all out with a grocery list.  The recipes aren’t as “healthy” or as economical as I might get from one of my cookbooks, since they rely heavily on Kraft foods (salad dressings, mac n cheese, Velveeta, and so on), but they reliably make everyone in my family happy when they’re on the dinner table, and are usually pretty easy and quick to throw together.  And I love how much time I save not writing out my own grocery list.

Another site I’ve been trying out is Food on the Table.  It is not free, except for a very basic version that limits you to three meals at a time, and in fact is a bit pricey at about $6-$10 per month.  But the awesome thing about it (besides not relying on Kraft’s desire to sell their own products!) is that it reads the store circular and guides you to recipes that try to maximize use of items that are on sale.  This probably is of limited use to someone who’s a massive coupon-clipper and price-matcher, but to a mom like me, who is struggling just to find time to plan dinner, much less a shopping expedition, it can actually save a lot of money.  If I use the Kraft recipes, I can try to pick ones that match ingredients I have on hand, but I’m probably still going to have to buy three or so packages of meat per week, and with Food on the Table, I can make those packages ones that are on sale.  It saves a lot of time, and does have a less… biased… collection of recipes that seem to rely on fresher, more natural food.  The big caveat here is that I haven’t actually cooked any of said recipes yet, and if they turn out to be less than tasty, the site really won’t be of much use to me.  (On a sidenote, another cool feature of the site is that it asks what is more important to you for the week–ease, taste, cost–and helps build your recipe selections based on that criterion.)

Lastly… I try to have at least one meal in the freezer that’s easy.  Whether it’s frozen pizza or a bag of Bertolli’s pasta, it’s good to have something to fall back on during those crazy-tired pregnancy days, days when I’m unexpectedly away from home up until dinnertime, or days when one of the kids goes haywire or gets sick.  It’s a major stress relief just to know that it’s there–that dinner can magically appear in twenty minutes or less without any prepwork.


Stay at home… daughters?

In many ways, my thoughts about the stay-at-home-daughter “movement” are still in flux–so this isn’t an endorsement!–but this blog by one of them is full of many excellent ideas and thoughts, perhaps particularly for those who are not yet married, although I’m finding many good posts that are perfectly applicable to me as well! I love the perspective of spending one’s pre-marriage life in preparation for one’s married life.  This post, by the author’s sister, is also well worth reading. One quote:

As young women not yet married, we have the responsibility to become as well-rounded and useful as we can be.  Right now you probably don’t have the full care of running the home–this is an excellent opportunity to prepare yourself for the rest of your life.  The more helpful skills we acquire, the more useful, the more of a blessing we will be to our future husbands and families.

Aren’t I full of linky randomness today?  This is what happens when I’m so tired I’m falling asleep accidentally…


All of me.

Julie / February 19, 2010

One of the most striking things about motherhood is how it consumes.  One day, there you are, doing the things you want to do, on a schedule you choose (how much choice you really have you may not realize yet)–and then, suddenly, the next day, you’re completely at the beck and call of a small unreasonable creature.  And the only break is one you arrange at the expense of those around you.  (Baby naps, while they may be a refreshing pause in an otherwise busy day, are not “breaks” in my vocabulary, because you have to be quiet, observant, and restrained, and you never know exactly when the nap is going to end.)

And thus it is easy to lose oneself in the vastness.  And it is hard at first.  I read once a theory about oxygen in the depths of the ocean, that there could be a liquid (instead of gaseous) form that could help the lungs deal with the pressure of ocean depths.  I think this was in a fiction book, because I remember very clearly that they talked about how hard it would be psychologically, because it would feel, for a moment, like drowning.  Eventually you would discover that the liquid filling your lungs was oxygenated and life-enriching, but for that dreadful moment, you’d be sure you were going to die as your lungs lost their last tiny bit of air, all you’d ever known–only to be filled up by this alien liquid.  That’s the best description of motherhood I can think of.  One day air, the next day liquid.  Different.  Foreign.  Scary.  Drowning.  But eventually, every bit as useful and good and maybe even better.

The common response this overwhelming transition: don’t give in!  Take time for yourself!  Be your own person!  Have your own identity outside of motherhood!

Indeed, one must not allow one’s children to become one’s idols.  But this response of unabated narcissism annoys me.  I hadn’t quite put my finger on it until tonight, but after reading the umteeth blog about not losing yourself in your kids, I finally realized why this had been rubbing me the wrong way even more than usual: there’s a third way.  It’s not either/or, me or my children.  It’s not a split, some time for me, some time for them; a little energy here, a little hobby there. The thing all this pop psychology can’t account for is that some of us already lost ourselves long before we had kids.  It’s hard to be overly upset about the reassignment of our time and resources when we didn’t count them as our own anyway.  I’ve thrown myself into motherhood without too much fretting about my own lost opportunities because I recognize that this new calling of mine is one I’ve been given, and one that’s an honor.

I don’t mean that I don’t struggle–deeply at times–with the fact that so many of my old ways have been subverted.  There are certainly things about life pre-kids that I miss; a good night’s sleep tops the list at the moment!  But what I do mean is that I consider this a failing, in large part, when it distracts me or dissuades me.  Complaining and grumbling in my heart about this job I’ve been honored to do is well, sin.

A happy mommy does make for happier, better children.  That’s the mantra and the justification of the do-something-for-yourself crowd, and I have no doubt that it’s true.  But the more important question is, what makes a happy mommy–and what should make a happy mommy?  True happiness is not found in serving myself.  The same One Who made me happy before children is the same One Who makes me happy today, and the happiest, most satisfying thing in the world is to be completely consumed, used up, obsessed, and burnt to a crisp in affection and service to Him.

Compared to that, children are about as much work as brushing my teeth.


Submit in Everything?

Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 

[Ephesians 5:24, ESV]

I can just imagine the hordes of feminists getting out their pens and crossing this verse out of their Bibles. Not only does Paul say that wives are to submit to their husbands, but he explains exactly what he means: in everything. Can’t really build any loopholes out of that! The Greek is equally plain and incontrovertible; everything means everything!

So, we have a command from God to submit to our husbands in everything. Let me the first to say that I fail miserably at this! Everyday, probably: very time I’m lazy and spend time on my own pursuits and the housekeeping goes a bit awry, every time I get unjustly miffed at Seth for some little thing or another, every time he asks me to do something–or I know it would please him if I did something–and I don’t do it, I am failing to submit in everything. In short, this is a hard command to follow! It infiltrates every moment of our homeworking, every breath of our marriages, our finances, our families… that’s what everything means.
While the command is clear, I find myself asking two questions tonight:

  1. Are there exceptions to “everything”?
  2. What motivates me to such a massive calling?

These aren’t exegetical questions so much as heart questions, so my answers are not theological so much as personal, although I hope they’re scripturally sound!

Are there exceptions to “everything”?

I think this is sort of a trick question, really, although I suspect it’s the most often asked. The only exception that’s is biblical is, of course, when one’s husband is asking one to sin. Clearly, Christ is our Lord far and above the position of our husbands, and submitting to Him is both first and limitless. And since Christ is Lord of our husbands as well (whether Christian or not), I think it’s fair to say that biblical wifely submission in such a case is to obey God rather than man.

But once we get out of the area of direct sin, things are far less clear. What if our husbands want to teach something we think is theologically wrong to our children? Again, there are times when this would be clear–if our husbands forbid us to tell them about Christ, for instance–but what if it was a more minor point of theology, or even something that barely even touches on theology, like politics? Especially for those of us who tend to be more opinionated, it can be a deep struggle to have a disagreement even in such a small subject.

The most helpful thing to me in these situations is to remember that unsubmission should always be a very sorrowful concept. If we are choosing to act contrary to our husbands, and if we believe that we are doing so out of righteousness, then our hearts should ache unbearably! Our husbands are choosing sin, we’re being ideologically completely separated from them, we aren’t happy with them, they aren’t happy with us, and we’re losing the opportunity to move forward in Christ together. In other words, there is no room for gloating, unholy glee, rashness, or self-centered anger. If our hearts aren’t breaking with every act of disobedience, then we’re not being unsubmissive for the right reasons.

To bring this home a bit–I remember one time when I told Seth something along the lines of I think what you’re doing is wrong, in the sense of sin-wrong, and I’m not going to have any part of it. Which sounds really good doctrinally, except that I was saying it because I was frustrated and you’d have been searching my heart for a long time before you found a holy motive. So was I right? Absolutely not!

Secondly, I think that it’s important to remember that nothing should be important to us apart from God. All of our wants and desires–whether mundane, like a fondness for chocolate sundaes, or serious, like a burning desire for motherhood–all these things we are called to subordinate to God’s will. All these things we are called to abandon to God. Not to stop liking them, necessarily, but to order them in our minds so that if, in God’s sovereignty, they are denied us, we find it joy to forsake them for His sake.

In other words, while submitting to our husbands involves varying degrees of self-denial, it’s nothing more than we should already be prepared to do (joyously!) as Christians. The wants we’re talking about abandoning are nothing in comparison to the sweetness of obeying God. And submitting to our husbands is obeying God. This strikes very near to my own heart, honestly, because I often don’t consider things that far. If Seth asks me to do something, I tend to consider it as him asking me to do something, me giving up something I like for him, when really I need to view it as obedience to God.

What motivates me to such a massive calling?

Submission isn’t natural–check out Genesis 3:16–and submission in everything can sound downright unpalatable. So why do we do it? This is one of those areas of theology that must sound absolutely batty to nonbelievers; we give up “everything,” and what do we get in return? What motivates us? Moreover, when we feel unmotivated, how can we learn to enjoy submitting to our husbands?

There’s the obvious answer: heavenly reward. God will reward us for obeying Him. But I think it goes beyond that, and so it’s the here-and-now I want to focus on tonight. As I was studying to write this entry, I came across the following passage in John Gill’s commentary on the verse:

Her head, being wholly dependent upon him, and entirely resigned to him, and receiving all from him; from whom alone is all her expectation of provision, protection, comfort, and happiness; wherefore she has respect to all his commands, and esteems all his precepts concerning all things to be right; and yields a cheerful, voluntary, sincere, and hearty obedience to them; arising from a principle of love to him, and joined with honour, fear, and reverence of him.

To be less archaic, Gill is saying that since a wife is dependent upon her husband for “provision, protection, comfort, and happiness,” she must therefore do what he says, agree with his opinions and obey them, because she loves/honors/fears/reveres him.

As I read, I thought, hmm, Mr. Gill, that sounds rather akin to the philosophy that we should do good works in an attempt to “pay God back” saving us. Like a cosmic thank-you note from us to God. And since John Piper rather throroughly debunked that idea (excellent book, by the way), I’m not sure that I agree with Gill here. Or maybe I’m reading him more chauvinistically than he intended. But while there is a sense in which wives do subordinate themselves to their husbands out of thankfulness for their provision, I think that motivation alone falls far short.

The parallel Paul makes in this passage between Christ/Church and husband/wife is unspeakably valuable. As believers, why do we do good works? Because they please God. And why does that please us? Because our delight is the Lord; pleasing Him is the sweetest thing we know. And yet that very truth is one that we have to learn a bit as we grow in Christ. Sometimes our thick skulls forget that there is no higher pleasure. Sometimes we do the wrong thing in pursuit of something infinitely less grand. And sometimes we do the right thing trusting that it will bring us the most delight, even though we don’t yet know it experientially.

Very similarly, in the sphere of marriage, pleasing our husbands is the sweetest thing we know. Just as we were created human to worship and glorify God, we were created woman to be a helper to man (Genesis 2:18)! As wives, the height of our gender, our identity as female, is to submit to our husbands. The church is the Bride of Christ to submit to and glorify Him; wives are examples of that relationship. Therefore, if submission doesn’t bring us happiness, our worldview needs changed! As Christians, we sin because we forget that our joy is in pleasing the Lord; as wives, we balk at submission because we forget that our joy is in pleasing our husbands.

But how do we get that truth into our minds? What can we do if we don’t feel joy in submission? I’m sure there are many answers to this question, but I would like to propose two.

The first is this: earnest prayer that God would change our hearts. It sounds cliche, but truly, every step on the road to eternity teaches me more and more that God is sovereign, and that He delights in answering our prayers. When things seem hopeless–when we need a massive personality overhaul, for instance!–God is faithful.

The second is, very simply, to seek out and savor the joy when we do submit. Here’s an example: when everything’s going crazy and I really don’t feel like I have time to get dinner on the table, but I do it anyway, I’ve got to treasure Seth’s smile and appreciation; treasure his happiness more than I disliked the “inconveniences” of achieving it. Then the next day when the same thing happens again, I can anticipate that joy as I work towards it. The joy sweetens the work, until it becomes such a state of mind that the work begins to sweeten the joy.

How awesome the gift of submission becomes once we treasure and learn from it as God intended!