On Laundry

Laundry…oh, laundry.  Laundry and I have had a love-hate relationship since I was sixteen:  Laundry loves to accumulate at a rapid rate in my closet, and I hate to do it.

I’ve long told my kids that if ever we hit the jackpot and become suddenly wealthy, the one thing that I will change about our weekly routine would be:  I would certainly, most definitely pay somebody else to do the laundry.  To be completely honest about that, I guess I’d have to admit that there have been other things that sudden extreme wealth would change….like buying brand-name TP.  Brand name TP would be a good thing too.  But laundry would be first!

I hate it so bad, I wrote this poem about it.  To compound the laundry problem, I have to point out that I’ve really never had an ideal laundry situation.  Now, before you tell me that there really is no ideal laundry situation, let me tell you a little bit about my laundry history.

I went to boarding school at the age of sixteen, and from then until I got married I was subject to a unique microcosm called the Laundromat.  In a laundromat, everybody is sitting around waiting, with nothing to do except examine other people’s laundry.  It’s like purgatory, except it smells like dirty gym socks and Tide Ultra. You get to know people in the laundromat…simply by observing what they are stuffing into the big-drum washers or pulling out to fold from those wheeled basket things.  Over time you get to know various members of the little laundromat society.  There’s the mother of five with the refluxing baby (five hundred mis-matched small socks, burp clothes and bibs piled to heaven, she has given up on the bleach and stain stick because everything-I-mean-everything is already stained, so why bother?).  There is that woman standing there in high heels and a skirt so short it looks like it should belong in Reflux Mom’s pile of size 4T.  She has at least five hundred pairs of underwear in various electric colors, the amount of fabric in all the underwear combined would add up to about 2/3 the amount of one of those burp clothes.  And then there is the bachelor, who stuffs two dozen pairs of faded Levi jeans into one washer, empties an unmeasured amount of soap into the overloaded machine and just leaves the place altogether– abandoning the laundry in favor of a venti mocha and leaving everyone else to clean up the mess when the machine seizes up and gritty grey suds overflow onto the floor.

And seriously?  More than once there was a person who was not going to waste this trip to the laundromat, and instead efficiently proceeded to do their laundry wearing nothing but their underwear.  Yeah, it happened more than once.

After hubby and I married and settled down, you would think that the laundry situation would have improved…and it has, compared to the laundromat days it has.  But still, we seem to have terrible luck in the laundry department.

For nine years, we had my hubby’s grandmother’s old washer and dryer set.  They were big.  They were built to last.  They were gloriously Harvest Gold in color.  These were the Lady Kenmore behemoths that every housewife circa 1965 dreamed of owning, and they still worked…ish.   That is to say, they worked if you left the lid of the washer wide open and crammed a pencil into the hole where the lid was supposed to shut, and if you didn’t mind fishing socks, hand towels, and the occational small animal out from behind the drum, where everything seemed to land.  And if you didn’t mind the dryer eating 1/10 of your load on a regular basis, and melting anything made of, well, anything melt-able.  Like the anti-slip feet on the kids’ footed pajamas.  The positive thing was, when they broke down (which they did on a regular basis) you could usually fix them with a flashlight, a roll of duct tape, and a pair of old nylons.

When we bought a home of our own, we left the Lady Kenmores behind.  And we went out to the scratch-and-dent store, where we purchased a beautiful (although scratched and dented) set of Maytag energy-saving, stack-able, front-loading washer and dryer.  They were pretty and new and so very hyphenated. They fit perfectly in our little laundry room, and looked sleek and efficient and refreshingly 21st century.

They were our worst purchase, EVER.  Unless you count that silver Volvo we once owned, but I digress.

The dryer was so energy efficient that it didn’t dry.  At all.  You would put your small load of laundry in there, after the washer had spun out every drop of water (assuming the washer was working on that particular day, which was admittedly a stretch) and after 3 1/2 hours you would load up your ball of still-damp laundry into a wicker basket and go peg it out on the laundry line outside.  Where it would have dried in less than half an hour, had you just put it there in the first place.  The problem was, it wasn’t broken…it was just born that way.  Online reviews (read too late) dubbed it “The dryer that doesn’t dry” and they were spot-on.  

And the washer?  I searched my blog for “Laundry” because I know I’ve visited this topic before, and here is what I had to say back in 2009:

On an entirely different note, we have experienced the untimely demise of our washing machine. Alas, Maytag…we hardly knew ye! Of course, as soon as we started looking online for how to fix it we were immediately faced with all the product reviews we should have read *before* purchasing the washer. It’s never a good thing when a product review includes such words as “unholy,” or such lines as “run screaming from this washer” and “I will gladly PAY you $100 if you come and take it away”. Seriously. But I digress….suffice to say, we spent the better part of yesterday rounding up every scrap of laundry in the house and sitting at Swishy Washy doing schoolwork as our laundry spun in an entire wall of washing machines. I didn’t have time to fold it while we were there, so this is what my living room now looks like:

 

Yeah, back to the laundromat.  Swishy Washy was refreshingly free of any underwear wearing laundry do-ers, but it was still a really big pain.

So now, where are we in the laundry saga?  I have a lovely, large capacity washer and gas dryer that work consistently and reasonably quickly.  In a nice big laundry room with plenty of space for the ironing board, the soap, and even that awesome lavender scented linen spritz you use on your freshly cleaned sheets.

Problem is, the downstairs has been turned into a basement apartment and the beautiful laundry room is now a beautiful little kitchen in said apartment.  We are blessed with a great renter who is understanding about the situation, however I am still left scheduling my laundry days to accomodate my limited access to the washer and dryer, which is now technically in somebody else’s house.  So I am back to stuffing a week’s worth of laundry into a few hours, hanging up the sheets and towels to dry on the rail of our deck in order to force as many baskets of laundry through in as short a time as possible.

Sigh.

Thus ends the saga of my laundry woes…at least, for the time being.  When the ghost of Ed McManhon shows up at my door with a million dollar check, I will be sending my laundry out.  Until then, I will do my best to appreciate the fact that I have not seen the inside of a laundromat in over a year now, and (most of the time) there are clean socks in the sock drawer.

Linking up with Gretchen Louise, who is sponsoring Laundry Week over at her blog…brave soul!

A Gift

Sometimes God gives you a gift, a special gift just for you to let you know that He knows the desires of your heart and He delights in your joy. The sort of gift that is wrapped up in beautiful paper and tied with curls of brightly colored ribbon, the kind with your name on the tag, picked out just for you by the Person who knows you best.  Youngest was given just such a gift last week….

Horses.  For years, she’s longed for horses…to touch them, ride them, learn everything about them.  We are a suburban family now, like it or not, and horses are most certainly not allowed to live in our back yard.  Youngest checks this information periodically to make sure it’s still true and sadly, we have remained entirely horseless for all these years.  And although I would have loved to have given the girls the chance to take horseback riding lessons, it has been financially out of reach…so we have had to settle for peeks at the lazy horses on the public farm nearby, or moments spent feeding carrots to the Department of Agriculture horses living on the campus of my father’s university.

Until now.  At Youngest’s reading clinic, there was a sign…free horseback riding at a ranch whose vision is to help kids through horses, and help horses through kids.

So we loaded up in the van, but not before I purchased some boots.  Because really, every little girl needs at least one pair of cowgirl boots.  And then we drove way, way out in the country…where the fires had been burning all summer long and where the sky was huge overhead, the September sun slanting gold over scrub oak and dust.

And the woman who owns the horses was like meeting up with an old friend, though we’d never met.  And she knew, she knew exactly how to talk to Youngest and when she could tell that words were backing up on Youngest’s tongue like logs interrupting the river’s flow, she knew how to tell her to just relax, slow down…I can wait.  

When we met the horses was when I knew, this place was a God-gift and He had put our names on that thin paper tag.  Because the horses, they’d been through hard times.  They came from all over and they each had a story. These were the horses people had failed to love and had thought of as trash, these were the beaten down, used-up horses who had been rescued by someone who understood that lives are saved and destinies are changed by loving the unlovable.

And me, I know I’m just like one of those horses….headed for the dog-food factory and purchased at a price, given a new life and treasured by the One who sees value where the world sees only weakness, failure. Even nine-year-old Youngest knows this feeling first hand…and there are days when the struggle gets to you, when the words on the page won’t line up to make sense in your head or when all your efforts seem to add up to nothing and you wonder what on earth you are doing here anyway, and really there are days when you just feel like dog-food.

And then God gives you this little gift, all wrapped up in pretty paper with your own name right there on it.  And you love those horses because they are beautiful–every knobby, broke-down inch of them. And they love you back for no better reason then that you love them.

And maybe that’s what we’re doing here anyway, even on the dog-food days when we feel most unloved and un-loveable.  Maybe we just need to unwrap that gift and let ourselves be rescued.  Maybe we need to rest and reflect on the miracle of grace, be thankful for the transformation that unconditional love brings when we deserve it least and need it most. Maybe we need to remember that if all we accomplish today is loving for no other reason then that we are Loved, mightily and beyond reason, we’ve done something worthy…something beautiful and good.  

Gratitude Journal

Continuing counting the blessings of the last crazy year, the ones that seem like blessings and the blessings that don’t yet feel like gifts.  Because God is using them all to create something good, I trust it even though I don’t yet see it.

555. For getting my state day care license (long story as to why, although I’ve never used it)
556. For how the process of doing that put me through things I didn’t think I could do
557. For having every inch of my home inspected…by the fire inspector, the building inspector, and the state (yeah, every closet and drawer)
558. For being able to keep my home *that clean* when organization is certainly not my strong point
559. For the fact that after years of the kids joking “it’s not like the health department is going to inspect our kitchen” when I told them to go back and scrub down the counters, the health department DID come and inspect our kitchen.  And it passed.  Proof that God has a great sense of humor!

600.  For the first year of (part time) public school for Eldest
601. That he adjusted well, and learned a lot (but not much of it academic)
602. That he made friends and got along fine
603. That he had a few great teachers
604. And challenged a few misconceptions about homeschoolers

605. For the really hard stuff
606. For seeing first hand how addiction is a thief, a murderer, a liar
607. For the hard lesson that no matter how hard you try, you can’t fix things for someone else
608. For the understanding that I am sheltered, naive, and therefore gullible
609. For knowing this, and not changing a thing because that wasn’t what it was about, anyway

610. For all the hours on the phone, seeking help
611. For the people who work with addicts, the ones who genuinely wanted to help, who had compassion, whose hearts broke for my friend and who went the extra mile to help
612. For even those who had been where they were long enough to have lost compassion, love, and even hope.  I pray for them
613. For how my pride was broken, because I can see now where a person gets that attitude…the feeling that nothing you do will really help, that so few really escape this downward spiral and why let your heart break one more time?  Only God grants the grace to keep loving, keep trying
614. For the people I met, in waiting rooms, at meetings, in government buildings, in hospitals. The ones caught in chemical nightmares, and the ones waiting for them…collateral damage, so many of them children

615. For seeing her amazing strength, fighting to reach the surface time and time again
616. For the heartbreak…oh, the heartbreak.  I don’t understand it, God.  But I will take it
617. For how she tried, and tried, and tried again.  How many people could have been that strong?
618. For the hard conversations, and how I learned I can do and say the things I wasn’t sure I could
619. For the long drive to detox, and all of us crying. And how it seemed like the first page of a new, happier chapter in a long hard story, or maybe the last page of a hard chapter of that same story…and really, it was just a page or two somewhere in the middle.

Linking up with the gratitude community at A Holy Experience….

Tutorial: Family Chalkboard

With all the things going on in our lives, this family has really been in need of an organizational overhaul.  One of the things we are trying is a big “family chalkboard,” a place where we can write things down, keep track of school work, and generally just keep lists of things that need to get done in plain sight where we can check them off (oh, the happy feeling of checking items off a list!).  We didn’t want to just paint blackboard paint on our wall, because it can be hard to paint over.  We priced out some chalk boards at stores and they were expensive and not nearly big enough, so Hubby made this cute chalk board for us!  Here’s how:
You Need:
Chalkboard paint
Sponge paintbrush
Smooth, thin board (masonite works well, we used a 2 x 4 foot piece of very smooth birch)
Crown molding (enough to go around your board)
Miter box
Saw
Small wood screws
Picture hangers
You Do:
Choose the smoothest side of your large board. On a protected surface, paint the board.  USE A SPONGE BRUSH…we followed the directions on the back of the paint can and used a roller with a special, smooth roll-y-thing, and the results were disastrous.  This is why both sides of our chalk board are painted…the first side was unusable!  We had much better luck with the large sponge brush, and we wasted less paint using the brush as well.  Sorry the photo shows the roller…I didn’t get a chance to photograph the do-over.

You will want 2 or 3 coats of paint on your chalkboard.  Give it at least an hour between coats (more if you live where it’s humid) and wait a day after the last coat to fit the frame on the board.  As you paint, be very careful to keep it as smooth as possible, and alternate painting one coat with horizontal strokes, one with vertical etc.

Measure the molding and cut the ends at 90 degrees using a miter box.  This should look like the pieces in a picture frame.  The fun thing about making your own chalkboard is that there are lots of different kinds of moldings to choose from, so you get to have fun deciding what sort of frame you want!

Once your chalkboard is dry, screw the frame onto the board from the back (yep, here’s the messed-up back of ours….you can see the texture in the paint.  Rats.)  You will want to use screws every 6 or 8 inches to prevent the board from bowing and pulling away from the frame.  Measure and place your picture hangers (ours are 6 inches down from the top of the board).

Using the hardware recommended for your picture hangers, mount the board to the wall.  We used some kind of plastic sleeves on the screws in the wall, so we didn’t have to bother finding the studs (oh, wait…here’s one installing the chalkboard!).

And there it is!  All ready to go.  

To give you an idea of the scale, here it is in context  I think we maybe could have even made it bigger and it would have still looked ok. 

Here’s the chalkboard on its first day of use.  So far I have it divided into these sections:  Dad’s list, Mom’s list, Memory Verse, School, Chores, Meals, and a big area for kids to doodle.  I have just drawn in the sections with regular chalk so far, because I suspect we will mess around with them and change them a time or two before we are done.  Once we decide how to best use it, I will be drawing the sections and labels on with Bistro Chalk Markers, which is like chalk paint that dries and won’t erase unless you use water.  Then we can erase our lists and notes without losing our sections.
Have fun!  

Roots

Little me, with my red cowboy hat (and unfortunate haircut) on my birthday.  
It has been so many years, and maybe I’ll never know why suddenly the desire welled up in me the way it did.  I planned the evening out, all excited to show these three kids a little part of my history, my roots that are twined a few hundred miles to the North of us–all wrapped up in the Lodgepole Pines and chain-saw grizzly bears, the Carhartt jackets and 4×4 pickup trucks with lab mixes faithfully patrolling their weather-worn beds.  And I can see how I’ve slipped in my parental duty to show these kids just where their mother came from when I share my plans and the youngest, she just looks at me and says:
“Wait, you mean people actually pay money to watch guys get catapulted to their deaths off the backs of bulls? I thought that was just a myth.”

Oh, I think we’ve been living in the city just a little too long.
So we eat dinner and we pick up some State Fair tickets and we meet up with friends and take six city-raised kids to the Rodeo, and I suddenly realize just how much I’ve been missing cowboy hats and boots and the smell of cattle.  And for some reason, when two cowgirls ride around the arena with flags unfurled and they play the Anthem and we all sing I find that I am wiping tears off my face with the back of my hand.
The kids, they warm up pretty quick and the rodeo clown has us laughing and singing along with music that I remember well from my own childhood.  The girls have always loved horses and their eyes are fixed on sleek bodies moving with wild grace over the turned earth of the arena, a flurry of bay and roan and chestnut.  When they set up barrels I lean to Youngest, sitting next to me, and whisper “this was always my favorite part” and I see her sitting up in her chair to watch in rapt attention as cowgirls race around the barrels and I can see how she’s picturing herself on one of those beautiful animals. This is no myth.

The town where I grew up was comprised of two worlds, the College world and the Cowboy. I belonged to the College side of things, with my dad putting on his cowboy boots and his felted wool hat and walking not so many blocks South to the campus each morning, where he taught people to build roads and fought for the best ways to keep the water clean.  In my earliest memory I find snapshots of gathering eggs on the farm, timidly feeding carrots to the horses (one of them bit) and a sorrowful moment when the neighbor’s German Shepherd got into the chicken coop.  But we moved to town before I started school, so most of my childhood was spent walking the tree-lined sidewalks of a quiet college-town, riding my bike through campus in the summer when the students left and the population suddenly dipped– leaving the streets lazy-silent. The air was clean and the blue of the Big Sky spread out endlessly.  I must confess, I did not own cowboy boots after I outgrew the little red pair I had when I was five. Still, we were a college town embraced by acres of ranch land and the cowboys, they were the “real Montanans” and the West was everywhere you looked.  It takes something special to endure Montana winters and you could see it in the weather-worn faces of the men who gathered at the Cowboy Cafe just off Main Street in the mornings.  If you drove very far in any direction, you’d find split-log fences worn silver-grey with age and barbed wire running along both sides of the road and you’d see the horses, standing in sweet clover in fields that seemed to last forever.

In the years since I left, my hometown has split even further….the College and the Cowboys have had to move over for the Tourists.  The Cowboy Cafe still exists, but I’m told its clientele wear cowboy boots with no mud on them and have been known to drive away in sports cars rather than rusty Suburbans and Blazers and GMC trucks.  Still, the West is out there and the Real Montanans shake their heads at the wine bars on Main and they let the tourists try on their over-priced Stetsons and pretend to be cowboys for the long weekend.  
And maybe I’ve become the same sort of voyeur, sitting here in the bleachers crying at the flying flags and the cowboys tough enough to wear pink.  But maybe I just needed to see some good, black dirt and smell the livestock and watch the muscles ripple under shiny chestnut coats. Maybe I needed to see the manes and tails flowing out like banners raised high, hooves pounding and heads tossing and for a moment, to feel the West tip its hat at me and wink.  
And to show these three, sitting beside me under indigo sky and blazing arena lights, a little piece of what’s inside them too.  Roots tied up in open spaces, the image of a lone cowboy on a fine horse silhouetted there on the horizon against a crimson-orange sunset burned into the Big Sky.  

Gratitude Journal…Rounding the Bend

It’s been too long since I counted the daily joys, and there were so many days of treading water and fighting the current just to keep my head above water that things seemed to fade and blend into one big, long blur.  So I’m doing my best to paddle back to shore, or at least grab onto a good-sized piece of driftwood and just hang on and let the river take me to wherever its going.  There has been so much flowing through, a fullness of life that is at once joyful and overwhelming and there has been heartache and grief and there has been beauty and grace and there has been so…much…of everything that it’s hard to know just where to start.  The last 12 months have brought so much change that I feel like mentally I’ve moved houses, and am standing there in the living room surrounded by stacks of boxes, wondering which one to open first.  And looking around, there are so many and they all look just as urgent and wow, where is all this stuff going to go, anyway?  And I guess you just do the thing that you always end up doing when the job looks so big and you feel so small, you just trust God that He’s got a vision for the end of the project and you get started on the one little thing that’s right in front of you. And then you remember that one thing you really have always enjoyed is unpacking in a new house, finding a place for everything and making it look like home, or at least as close to that as we can get.
Counting the blessings in the crazy last year-or-so….
531. For the Boys, our time with them and 
532. How they became a part of our family
533. For their mother and all she taught me
534. For what I learned through fighting to help her

535. For what she taught me about life
536. For how my eyes were opened (and yes, even when I wanted to close them again)
537. For how being a family of 7 stretched and grew us
538. For how our church family rallied and surrounded us with help and support
539. For the strength I found that I never knew I had

540. For the need to move houses, for our children growing and our call to be close to church
541. For the years when we drove 1/2 hour each way…Hubby to work daily, then the family to band practice, youth group, small group, men’s and ladies meetings
542. For the months of searching for a new house, closer to everything…loading up diaper bag and infant car seat and seeing so many different possibilities
543. For our new home
544. For renters for our old house and the ones in the cottage, even the
545. Renters who caused us months of headache and finally left the place trashed
546. Because we learned a lot through that that will serve us well in the future

547. For Hubby being offered a new job
548. For the studying for another round of tests for his career
549. For the good timing through all of that
550. For the weeks of working on the Alive album
551. For the time Hubby had with fellow musicians working on a Worship album/concert
551. For the time I had at home with the 5 kids during that time, how hard and how good it was
552. For how it made me appreciate not being a single mom
553. Especially when the rain hit and the roof leaked (but it was easier than we thought to fix)
554. For when we packed up all five of them and went to visit Hubby and stood in the back with the stroller and just listened to the music fill us up

I thought I could finish up that crazy year in one post and I was wrong….so I guess I’ll continue next week.  Actually, maybe the week after that, too.







Bandages

The bowl hit the counter and shattered at the same moment he tried to catch it, leaving a cut that quickly bled through two bandages.  As I swept up the pieces one pricked my finger and there we were, bleeding in the kitchen early on a Wednesday morning.  I wrapped his wound in cotton, pulling the plastic tabs from the sticky bandage and oh, how many little wounds I’ve bandaged on this child in nearly sixteen years and oh, how it’s still true that we both bleed when he hurts.  His hand is bigger than mine and he is taller than me and he is broad-shouldered and strong and he still fits perfectly in the innermost space of my heart.
I drove him to school today, the second week of his Sophomore year of High School.  He says he misses home school, just because he misses being home.  And I say, “I miss you being home, too…” and I don’t say the rest, how I miss him being little and I miss him sitting on my lap and reading and how I miss the long days of wonder learning about God’s creation and how I miss the days when his growing up seemed so distant.
I don’t say this because I know he doesn’t need to hear it when he’s already feeling the sting of separation, as sharp as the sting of this bandaged cut.  I don’t say it because I know that he does enjoy school, that this was a choice he felt comfortable with and his feelings are a passing moment.  I know he is ready for this and that he is going out as a light in a dark place and he has already shown how he can make a difference, how he can hold true, how he can stand out for the right reasons.  I don’t say it because I know in my heart that to keep him home another year would be selfish, because he can take classes now that will further his future.  I don’t say it because there is a boy he met last year, when he went to school half-days, who sometimes comes to church because my son was there instead of here at my kitchen table.  Because he stayed after class to talk to his Biology teacher about God, and who else would have done that?  Not me, when I was his age. We live in mission territory here and missionaries, they have to go out.  

I’ve been blessed by the years of him at home and this new chapter is also good, exciting, an adventure.  The going is part of that. The trusting that God’s plan is good and He knows our needs.  That all those years at the kitchen table are bound up in my son’s heart as well as in mine, roots tangled together and anchoring us to the One who bandages all wounds and holds the future in His hands.