Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Dealing with Clutter

Due to some rapid changes in our home life, (illness and subsequent deaths of parents, marriage of daughter and subsequent additions of children, children growing up and moving away, etc) I've let a lot of things slide. Consequently, I noticed myself declining invitations or putting off showing hospitality. Having too much housework and too much clutter, or just too much to look after, decreases the time available to really serve others.

My advice is to keep on top of the clutter as much as you can, from the beginning. When children outgrow something, send it somewhere or box it up properly and store it safely for the future. Don't let closets and drawers and storage areas collect things you can't use. Each time you enter a room, for whatever reason, keep a sharp eye out for clutter than can cause a problem later on. Pick it up, don't pass it up, is the best policy here.

One thing that really helps is to develop habits of decluttering and be aware of what you are doing. If you use a package of something, toss out the bag immediately. Throw away the teabag if you aren't going to use it again. Have a little trash can right near your feet that you can use in the kitchen, or hang a trash bag on the handle of the lower cabinet near the area you are working. Don't let the cabinet tops collect clutter. If you crack and egg, throw the shell away at once. Wipe and clean as you go. In any room, never lay anything down temporarily. Always put it away.

Special cleaning days and spring cleaning can make people miserable. You might feel more tension and tend to snap at everyone because you are starting to realize how they've helped cause all this work for you. The best way to handle this is to take out about 15 minutes each day to tackle a troublesome area, and just keep at it until a room or area or zone is finished. Do all your daily work no matter how bad the rest of the house is. The meals and laundry must be done and the floors kept clean, but inbetween all this, you can clean up clutter.

For the young homemaker, I would suggest you take special note of the toys and clothing strewn around. If your children tend to just drop something somewhere and ignore it for days, gather it all up and put in a box in the garage for awhile. The less they have, the less you'll have to pick up, and the less anger there will be in the home. Remember the pioneer children who were happy with one special toy. Toys can cause accidents and injury in the home, so supervise their care and storage, and don't let your home become "toy city." Children can still be happy and content with fewer things. It is more pleasant to have toys around if they are classical types of toys like a carved wood rocking horse, a good quality doll and carriage, a doll house, fire engine or truck. Balls ought to be kept out doors and not ever thrown inside the house. Lego and blocks should have plastic containers to keep them in and the lid used to build on, so that they can be gathered up and stored easily.

As for adult clutter, this is often very difficult to deal with. I've always thought of my humble little home as being a "castle" and unfortunately, stuffed it full of castle stuff. In reality, it has only the space of a trailer, and not even a double wide at that, so I've allowed clutter to collect a little more than I should have. I don't have an attic or a garage or any dry storage shed or any area to store things, so the junk must go.

One of the best reasons for clearing out the clutter is so that you can find things. When someone says, "Mom, do you remember that book we used to have...", I want to be able to see it in my mind's eye, and say, "Yes, it is on the far right of the third bookshelf from the top in the hall." If someone says "I thought we had a cookie cutter shaped like a rose," I will be able to say, "Third drawer down, near the back in the blue container." I certainly can't do that now, but it is my goal. The less I have, the more likely I'll be able to recall where it is. If you've ever been tempted just to go to Wal-Mart and buy a set of measuring cups because yours are scattered in messy drawers or been used as children's toys, you know you are disorganized. One reason it is easier to go to the discount store to get something is that it is in order on the shelves in those stores. You usually know exactly which aisle to go and look for it. Should it not also be so, in the home?

Still another reason to cut down on the clutter is so that you'll know what you have, and what you need, in order to stock the pantry. The pantry is whatever cabinet or section of the house you use to store your food. If you don't keep this in order, you'll find yourself doubling up on supplies that you don't need, and spending money that you really need for something else.

Ultimately, you will want to be able to entertain on a moment's notice. You see someone at church on Sunday and you dearly would love to have them over, but you know you aren't organized enough to really put on even a simple meal or make a sandwich.

Having too many things to look after, can be a great handicap, as you may not be able to be as flexible as you'd like to be. If you find yourself not being able to do the sewing and crafts you'd like to do, or writing letters, or other things that give you peace and pleasure, take some time out each day to organize and de-clutter. Don't be afraid to get rid of thngs if they aren't really important. You can't take it all with you when you die, and there is more where that came from.
I'm speaking mainly to those who have no place to store things and find themselves, like me, using plastic containers and stacking them up in hallways and corners. If you've got a big house and good storage areas, by all means, store up as much as you like. If, however, it is getting in your way, and you are having to move stuff around all the time, and are unable to function efficiently in the home, then find ways to store it better or get rid of it.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

The Things Grandma Left For Us

As I mentioned before, my daughter had made a speech about her Grandmother's commitment to building up the Ladies Bible Study class which has been meeting each Thursday for nearly 40 years. During her 60's, 70's and even 80's she was tenatious in her drive to get people to this Bible study, and she used it as a path to convert people. She and her husband, or her son (my husband) would conduct other Bible studies in the evening with the husband and wife or the whole family which she had contacted through this class. She would ask some of the ladies who their grown children were and where she could find them, or ask about their relatives or neighbors. After she had won her own neighbor, she would try someone else's neighbor if she could get the contact somehow. This led to many conversions, and really built up the church.

When my children were younger, we had been talking about things grandparents leave for their grandchildren to remember them by, such as a quilt they made, something they crocheted, a special set of dishes, and so forth, and my daughter said, "Grandma, did you ever sew or quilt anything that you could leave to the grandchildren?" Lucile said, "No, I didn't." I suppose as a preacher's wife, there wasn't much time to indulge in these pasttimes, and her sisters and her husband's relatives were always supplying them with hand made things. She had drawers full of crocheted things from her sisters, and many blankets given by other people. There wasn't much need for her to do needle work, and she preferred to write letters or do Bible study.

Lucile didn't think she was very talented, but she wrote lots of poems (and never kept copies of them) for people to include in their birthday cards, and she had great ideas for teaching children's Bible classes. She would take a piece of paper and list the alphabet, with a scripture beside each one, to memorize. "A" would be "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he," "B" would be "Be faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life," and so forth, along with the scripture reference. She did the same thing with numbers, with each number a significant event or command in the scriptures. She could use geography or colors or families, fathers, mothers, wives, husbands, meals:--just about anything could be used as a list of Bible things to know.

She told my daughter, "No, I don't have anything that I made that I can leave for my grandchildren. except the people I converted."

My daughter included this poem in her speech about Grandma, noting the specific phrase, "Living gems at His feet to lay down," to emphasise the souls she won to Christ through her diligent Bible study with these people:

"Oh what joy it will be
When His face I behold,
Living Gems at his feet to lay down,
That bright stars may be mine
In that city of gold,
Will there be any stars in my crown?"

She believed that every soul she won to Christ would give her a star in her crown in Heaven, because the only thing we can take with us when we die, are the deeds we have done and the souls we have won. The "living gems" in the verse meant the souls she brought to into the kingdom of Christ.

I thought about her statement that she couldn't leave us a quilt of any object that was uniquely touched by her hand, and then as we sang the song, "Will there be any stars in my crown" I looked around and saw all the people present there at the dinner that day, and many of them were converted by her. For years, these women have played a big part of our lives. They provided the buffet for my daughter's wedding. They helped my sons and encouraged them and showed them Christian love in so many ways, I can't tell all of them. They've been there at the Bible study from Genesis to Joel so far this year, and many years before when we were in the New Testament and back in the Old Testament again. These were all Lucile's converts, and they provide the Ladies Bible Class that I am now teaching!

These women take a strong interest in the development of our children's lives, and our own. They feel that we belong to them, and it is all because of Grandma. If it had not been for her efforts, there wouldn't be a Ladies Bible Class and the fellowship of these people. Being out in the country area, it can get a bit lonely sometimes, and I always know that Thursday is coming and they will turn the lights on in the fellowship room, and I'll see from my window the cars in the parking area, and we can see each other, laugh a bit, do our lesson, and share a light lunch together there.

An outsider might not consider that anything is significant is important there, but to a young girl of 14, this class was somewhere she could go and be accepted and forget about the problems of youth, in a serious study of the Bible. My daughter said it is now the source of wonderful memories. I had not realized during the times we both walked over there, how important this was to her.

So there you have it: Grandmother didn't leave us a quilt, or an old trunk or anything of earthly value, but left us the "living gems" that interact in our lives
and benefit us in some way every other day. She actually left us the Ladies Bible Class.

Friday, December 17, 2004

The Mixing Bowl

There are some virtues in hand mixing batters and doughs in the bowl. For one thing, there isn't so much equipment with parts and pieces laying out on your surface to clean up and put back together and put away. The family mixing bowl, whether it is a red pottery bowl or a clear green glass bowl, with the wooden spoon, is all that is needed. Why do I say this? Over the years, with continued use, the appliances will break down. The more a person has (blender, mixer, etc), the more places one must find to stash them, and they must be easy access so they can be used again. You don't have to plug the bowl and spoon in, and you can develop the strength in the arms when you do the mixing yourself. It actually doesn't cut down that much on time, if you care to time it and compare, sometime.

There are a couple of other things to consider when using that beautiful mixing bowl. I don't know about you, but I never just mechanically mix up something just because it must be done. There are a lot of things packed into this activity that you may not know. For one thing, I think of the women before me who may have stood at that counter and mixed up a batch of scones or pancakes. I remember the Pioneer women in the log homes or sod homes their husbands built for them. I'm stirring away, and thinking how valuable that mixing bowl must have been to the next generations. Grown children must have wanted their grandmother's mixing bowl, not just for something to use, but for the sentimental value. In using that bowl, the homemaker must have thought of the times of the life of her grandmother, and remembered some of the special occasions when she mixed up a batch of something. Pictures form in her mind of grandmother in her apron, with a contented smile, mixing up something special for her family. I think across the ages to the earliest people in history--even as far back as the women of the Bible making cakes, such as the woman of Zarepath, who made a little cake for Elijah in I Kings 17. So, it is more than just doing a job. It is a repetition of a custom from long ago. We are creating memories for our family when we use the mixing bowl, and one day someone will ask if they can have your mixing bowl.

In the past, I remember most homemakers having a kitchen window. This was very important to them. They knew they would need something to look out on, such as a garden, the driveway where their husbands came home, the flowers, or some scene. They would stand there stirring something in the mixing bowl, and occasionally glance up to see what was happening outside. Some modern houses lack the kitchen window, and this makes some of these rituals a little tedious, in my opinion. So, if you are planning on getting married and having your own mixing bowl, ask your husband to build you a house with a window in a strategic area of interest to you. You may spend many moments like this and be grateful you've got a special scene to look at.

I recently have seen some beautiful bowls that remind me a lot of my childhood. In those days, women didn't choose colors or themes for their homes. They weren't too fussy about that sort of thing. The bowls didn't have to match, and they didn't all have to be the same color. When we were poor, we thought these kind of mixing bowls were unsophisticated and we looked forward to getting something better one day, but now they are an object of nostalgia. I particularly like the bowls sold at http://www.gooseberrypatch.com/ Just type in "bowls" in the search area, and you'll see what I mean.

Something else that happens when someone is in the kitchen mixing something in one of those bowls, is memorable conversation. It is here that no one is in a hurry. People sit down and visit you while you are preparing something, and some very thoughtful principles are discussed. I'm not one for idle chit-chat. I like what people say to me and what I say to them, to have some meaning. A person can actually lose their voice from too much talk, so it is better to leave someone with some conversation of value. The kitchen is where all of our meaningful verbal exchanges occur.

If you have never experienced this, why not get a colorful mixing bowl such as the ones I've mentioned, a wooden spoon, and try mixing up a batch of something for your family. There is no need to serve them something too sweet or non-nutritious, as there are plenty of savory items you can mix, such as cornbread, muffins or a dense cake packed with good whole grains. Mixing up this food isn't just about the food. It is about taking your time and enjoying the process of holding the bowl in one arm and mixing with the other. It presents, in my mind, a beautiful picture.

When a woman mixes up her own baked goods, the children see the process from start to finish, and know where some of the things they eat come from, barring actually harvesting the raw food in the first place. I think sometimes little children think brownies or pizza comes from the store. I once looked after some children for about 2 weeks and when I told them we were having pizza, they were amazed that I was mixing the dough myself. The oldest child said, "I didn't know you could make pizza yourself. I thought you had to buy it."

I just love seeing my daughter mix up something in the kitchen, while her little boys gather around her, one pulling on her apron, one pulling up a chair so he can get a closer look, and another saying, "I want to mix something too!" It is a slightly different version of my own life, when my three children would awkwardly but eagerly scoot up chairs bigger than themselves, to "help" or watch me mix, and my own husband inching up close so he could get a spoonful or dough. Then there was the contest to see who would lick the bowl when it was empty. Before they discovered it was a coveted thing, my husband always licked the bowl. After they found out how good it was, he had competition.

In all the things we perceive as greatness in the world, this is one of the most cherished experiences for people of all ages. In doing this, the woman with the mixing bowl makes a statement about her life. This is her world, her time, and her freedom. She doesn't have to worry about time sheets and schedules and bosses, keeping her job, competing with someone else for better batter, or anything that takes place on "the outside" as I call it. She's not worried about losing her position if it doesn't turn out well. It is the doing of it that counts. She can think about that bowl, and if she got it at her wedding, the person that gave it to her. She can spend a few minutes quietly stirring and thinking about the people that made it possible for her to be as she is today, contentedly stirring something in the mixing bowl.

A woman who has claimed the freedom to create a cake or pudding from her own special mixing bowl, whether it is her own new one she got for her wedding, or the one passed down from her grandmother, has truly made it to the top, in life. Why this is so special, you may well ask, for isn't a recipe a recipe, and don't pralines taste the same, no matter who makes them? Not exactly! Each woman does things a little differently, and that is what makes her cooking unique. Even if we all followed the exact-same recipe, each one of us would come up with a slightly different cake or muffin, due to the differences in climate, the taste of ingredients from one region to another, the sea level, the atmosphere of the kitchen (temperature-wise, the lighting, the amount of time the dough is stirred, the length of time the dough sits before it is baked, and much more!).

I've often had meals at someone else's house that I know I can prepare at my own home, but I always declare to my hostess that hers taste better. Sometimes we share recipes but I can never get mine to taste the same as when eating it at her house. So for many different reasons, the lady with the bowl is both charming and unique, for her batch will have its own taste. She's doing something for which there is no substitute. Just compare the stuff mixed in the big blue ceramic bowl, to something you got at the grocery store, and you'll see what I mean.

That mixing bowl isn't just a utilitarian article in your kitchen, beckoning you to work. It is a ritual, a memory, an experience, an example, a history lesson, and a connection to our forebearers. It is, in my opinion the most glamorous thing a woman can do. She is leaving a type of moving picture in the minds of her children and other family members, which will not seem so important right now, but later, when the grown children bring up their memories, she'll be glad she took the time to do it.

It isn't just the act itself that is so comforting and reassurring to a home, but the end results. The enticing aroma and the final partaking of such a treat, holds a special feeling of anticipation for all members of a family, and their visitors, no matter what age. The mixing bowl transcends the so-called "generation gap" and even moreso the gap we often feel in time. In doing something that the Pilgrims, Pioneers, and Victorians did, these people that once walked the earth and have now "gone home" do not seem so foreign or so strange to us. Like you, there was once a woman in 1890 standing at her sink, glancing up at her family, with the mixing bowl in her arm. Somehow, their lives don't seem so distant from our own, when we are doing something so similar to something they did in their own generation.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Possibility Thinkers

Recently a dear friend of my husband passed away. The first thing we both remembered about him was his happy, optimistic attitude toward everything. There were no "problems" to him; only possibilities. Things that others thought were obstacles, he thought were opportunities. When he was present, it was like the sun was shining. He was full of life and always making people laugh. The last time I saw him, he was making up a game at our anniversary party, with my first grandchild, and making him laugh. I thought I would like to preserve that child's laughter, as it was so contagious. Now that this man, and others like him of that age (he was 77) are passing on, I wonder if the next generation is willing to pass the torch of the great optimism and possibility thinking of some of those people. It does seem to me that younger people tend to look on the gloomy side of life. There doesn't seem to be many people like "the old folks" used to be. When they got together for church or family events, even in their 70's and 80's they were always laughing and kidding each other. They always seemed thrilled to see others, and treated them like they were celebreties. This man was a one-of-a kind person. He wasn't made from a mold, and you couldn't pinpoint his personality into a category. He wasn't typically anything, except typically himself.He was happy being who he was, and totally unselfconscious about it.

Today my daughter made a speech about her grandmother, to a gathering of ladies at a Bible class luncheon. This Bible class has been meeting for almost 40 years. Some have gone home, and new ones have come along. Like this man, her grandmother saw a possibility in everything, even a trouble. Her greatest goal in life was to bring a large attendance to her Ladies Bible Class, which she taught on Thursdays. She went too often to the fruit and vegetable stand here, just to buy one or two more portions so she could use the opportunity to win the woman over and get her to the weekly class. Her persistance paid off. She never left her neighbor alone. No matter who was renting the house next door, Grandma would eventually get them to the Ladies Bible Class.

When it seems we are faced with some impossible situation, it causes us to think deeply and search creatively within our minds for a solution. If you don't have something, you can substitute or create. I heard a speech once in which a man said, "The only thing holding you back is your own mind." While it is true that there are unchangeables in our lives, such as our race, our place of birth, our parents, etc., and other things for which we have no choice, most of our circumstances can be changed, if we want to change them. This speaker also said something interesting. "Many people want to go on holidays and get away from the things that stress them and bother them. The only problem is, they take their minds with them, and they end up creating the same stresses and difficulties, through negative thinking."

Possibility thinking is easier if you've been brought up around optimistic people. If not, it takes some practice to get rid of the habit of being depressed or looking on the downside of everything. The best way to do this, I've heard, is to substitute a "yes" for a "no." Every time you think you can't possibly achieve something that would make life better for others and yourself, substitute a plan for achieving it, as if there were no barriers. Even if you never manage it, it does your mind a great deal of good to think on the bright side of life. For everything you think of as a problem, you have to substitute a creative alternative, and put it into practice.

From what I've observed, I think it is best to begin with small changes, rather than trying to change things on a grand scale. It is less discouraging to achieve small victories. These can be things like having company more often, getting rid of decades of accumlated clutter, smiling more often, and being an inspiration to the people in your neighborhood, to name only a few.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Learning from History

It is sometimes helpful to look to the past where people where successful in marriage, home, and family, in order to see the pattern that people followed. In cases where the Bible was used as a guide for the establishment of the family, there was stability in the marriage, happy children, and prosperity. Any nation can achieve this if families follow the time worn formula found in the scriptures.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Homemaking - Getting Started

The first thing a lot of experienced homemakers do in the morning, is get up at least 15 minutes or more before everyone else does, in order to make preparation for the day. They usually get their shower and get dressed, fix their hair, and take care of their appearance, to put them in the mood to conduct the home in an orderly way. There is nothing worse than trying to get control of the many facets of homemaking, while still in pyjamas and slippers, unbathed, and hair uncombed. The next thing they do is eat properly so that they will have the fuel and sense of well-being to think straight and get things done. After this, they may do a little something that didn't get done the day before when people were underfoot, such as folding that last load of laundry, or putting away the dishes. The homemaker might also mix up a batch of bread or scones for breakfast.
It helps a lot if you've been brought up watching your mother. I deplore the modern efficiency kitchens, which have no place to sit or eat, where a youngster cannot observe what is going on. The idea of the efficiency kitchen was to save steps, so the homemaker could reach for the fridge door and cook and wash while standing in the same place--very little movement. However we really lost a sense of home and family when we got those tiny little kitchens where families could not work together due to crowdedness. I quite like the open, "keeping room" type of kitchen, where the dining table, as well as the living room, sort of work together. Children can sit at the table and see what their mother is doing, and observe how she cooks. The beauty of this kind of kitchen, particularly, is that she could serve hot rolls straight from the oven to the table without getting them cold. In the efficiency kitchen, you have to walk around to the dining room, which is usually blocked off in some way by cabinets, to serve everything.
The next thing the experienced homemaker might do is sit down and maker her list of the essential activities of the day. I find it nice to make a list and then check off the items as they get done, as it gives the feeling of accomplishment. If you write your "to-do" list on some nicely decorated paper, and do it in your best handwriting, or even type it off the computer, it gives it a sense of importance, and you'll more likely look forward to doing it. The check mark boxes can be some favorite icon like roses, apples, hearts, or pies.
If you get the major work done in the morning, you'll find there are more hours in the day to do things you really like to do, that aren't "work" but still benefit the family, such as sewing.
It is a real treat to know someone who has a nice house and seems to be able to manage it, and will invite you over sometimes to observe. It gives you real inspiration as you see someone else doing the job right. We all need a standard to reach for, and sometimes there is a person who can supply this. I benefitted a lot in my teens from watching several people, and one time I visited a woman who was really enjoying her home, and I watched as she somehow effortlessly made her home into a beautiful type of kingdom, where you felt really royal. She never complained, but enthusiastically cleaned and moved things, and when she was in a room even to get something, if she noticed something out of place, she would put it right or clean it right then and there. These were small jobs, mind you, that only took a few seconds, but it kept her home sparklling. She had small children but they always appeared to be clean and her laundry was reasonably caught up. Watching her gave me so many ideas, and made me look forward to having my own home someday.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Homeschooling Experiences

My children are all grown, and during our homeschooling experience, there would be the usual amount of people telling my husband to tell me to put the children in school, but I am so glad we didn't do it. My children are all doing very well, and I don't regret homeschooling them at all. My husband said he'd be glad to talk to any men who are doubting about it. People couldn't see where we were headed, with home education, and so they were frightened for us. Now that its been completed, they can see the end results and feel more confidence in what we did.

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