Thursday, October 22, 2015

Simple Gifts: Flowers on the Table

Everyone has their 'thing', that item or experience or moment that it repeatable and that brings them joy. For me it's a bouquet of flowers on the table. It just makes the whole room feel welcoming and polished to me, and strangely, the table stays pretty clutter free if there are flowers on there. Without them it becomes a complete dumping ground.

I go to great lengths to fit flowers in our grocery budget ;) I've been known to forgo somewhat crucial items on the list in favor of fresh flowers, so I've had to get a little creative in order to buy food AND flowers so Andy doesn't starve and I can have a little bouquet of 'happy' each week.

We were at the store last night and I picked up this bunch of flowers and carried it around while we did the rest of our shopping. When we got to the checkout, the cashier set them on a shelf while he rung the rest of our items and as he handed us our bags and the receipt I said, "Oh! The flowers! Did you ring those?" He picked them up, handed them to me so Vanna-White-like and said sincerely, "My gift to you."

"Every good and perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights,
who does not change like shifting shadows."
- James 1:17

Interestingly enough, that verse is in a section of the chapter called "Trials and Temptations". I know flowers on a table are relatively trivial in the grand scheme of things, and they are certainly not a "need", but I think it's such a precious thing to realize that the Lord cares even about the little things that make our heart happy. How much more will He take care of us in the larger things when He also takes care of us in ways that are small, but so specific and dear to us.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Kitchen Adventures

I sort of wish I loved cooking. I am more of the "eat to live" variety than the "live to eat" type, except if someone makes it for me. Then I can eat like an 18 year old football player. When Andy and I first got married he lost a considerable amount of weight because we both lacked kitchen skills and were coming from the 3-meals-a-day all-you-can-eat plan at college. They forget to warn you in college that when you graduate you will not spontaneously walk into your kitchen with 6 different hot meal options fully prepared and ready for you to dig in. Also... no one takes my tray for me and washes it while I go to class do other things.

So, with my time off I have decided to learn to enjoy cooking. Instead of sharing what we've eaten for the last 60 days, I will share some of my kitchen lessons with you, should you need them in the future.

  1. If you add frozen blueberries to your pancake batter via the blender (genius I thought!), you will then have green pancakes. #notsogenius
  2. Baking powder IS actually necessary, despite what the 1/2 tsp may make you want to believe.
  3. You do not need a meat mallet. You can use your frying pan. Just cover your chicken in plastic wrap and beat the heck out of it with the bottom of the pan. #winning
  4. Check to see if your grocery store has an app. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I discovered the Wegmans app and it is so amazing it makes me want to cry. It puts your grocery items in order according to store layout, and tallies your total cost at the bottom. You can also search recipes and have all those ingredients added to your shopping list. Am I way behind the eight ball here? Are you all rolling your eyes at me because you've done this for 5 years already?
  5. Sometimes you will fail miserably. I tried a crockpot chicken recipe and it was literally so bad we couldn't eat it. #blameitonthefennel
  6. I know how to make b├ęchamel now! And it is not as hard as you might think. I used it on top of a lasagna recipe. (Thanks Ina Garten!) If only I could speak with a French accent...
  7. We eat some version of 'make your own tacos' every week. No need to stress. #hallelujah
  8. Herbs are wonderful. They really do make a difference in the flavor of food.
  9. I usually cook 3 times a week, but enough that we have leftovers the next day. It helps keep our grocery budget manageable and my sanity in tact.
  10. Finally, and this is less humorous and more of an observation... I think it is so important to try and prioritize sitting down for a meal together. I feel like that was an uphill battle for us off and on for a few years because of having so much going on on weeknights. We have literally almost nothing going on now during the week at night (on purpose) and it is so refreshing. It creates space to savor and enjoy and not constantly be worried about getting somewhere on time. I know this is harder for some in different seasons, but if you have any control at all over your nightly schedule and want to try simplifying, I highly recommend it! :)
Peace out girl scouts. Stay tuned for the next installment of Kristen's Crazy Kitchen Thoughts as I learn them... ;)


Monday, October 5, 2015

Collisions {Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month}

Five months ago, I locked myself in the bathroom and stared at two pink lines on a pregnancy test that I never thought would appear. Four weeks after that I was being wheeled out of surgery and into recovery after a miscarriage. The doctors had found a big complication and told me that the likelihood of carrying to term would be less than 10%.

All my grandest hopes had collided with all my greatest fears and I was left wondering if this really happened.

Maybe I just dreamt it.

I was so relieved it was over but so empty with what I had lost.

We had nicknamed our little one "poppy seed" after a funny little app I found that would tell you week by week the size of your growing baby. In the months that followed after my miscarriage I was haunted by a little container of poppy seeds that managed to swing their way to the very front of the lazy susan each time I opened our spice cabinet.

How do I untangle the grip of the past without losing it completely?

The past few nights I've laid awake in bed pondering the events of five months ago and what we've been studying in church - moments of courage in the Bible that happened by the water. It's then that I realized I had to reconcile my currents of grief with the stillness of God's presence, and so I went back to a place that is teaching me a lot lately.

This time with a poppy seed in my palm.

I stood on a big rock and watched the falling water collide with the wall of stone and realized that perhaps my sorrow and grief could be taken here. I hurled my poppy seed into the raging current and was struck by how small it seemed in comparison. I didn't even see it fall.

Perhaps in the middle of these unexpected collisions is where we receive the greatest gifts.

When my deepest sorrows collided with God's majesty I saw His mercy.

When our greatest fears collided with modern medicine, we saw our poppy seed's heartbeat on a monitor screen.

When my sincerest hopes collide with God's wisdom I can see His grace.

I do not believe that everything happens for a reason, but I do know that the Lord can work even the hardest circumstances into good if we let Him.

Maybe when our brokenness collides with His goodness we receive peace.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

FAQs: Staying at Home

I thought I'd pop in today and answer a few of the questions people have been asking since I've decided to step away from my full time job and take a creative break:

1. What do you do all day?
Haha, this is so funny to me. I know that while I was working full time I had a hard time imagining what someone who didn't work full time would be doing with their days. Not that I was skeptical - I just had little to no clue what someone would do to fill their time. I am still finding my rhythm, but I usually take the morning to walk around the house and put things back where they need to be, do the dishes, vacuum, start a load of laundry, walk the dog, make the bed, and just generally tidy the house. I've also been doing a photo session a week for my photography business so sometimes I'll take a chunk of the morning (or afternoon) and work on editing the session. I'll do any errands that need to get done, and sometimes go visit a friend. I've also started using my new library card, so in the afternoons I will sit on the couch with a good book and spend a few hours reading. Then I work on getting dinner started, (making better meals now that I have more time), and making Andy's lunch. I also try to nap, too, before Andy gets home :)

2. Do you get bored?
This was the most surprising to me, but no, I am not bored at all. I feared I might be. I actually feared that the first week Andy was at work and I was at home I would break down and think I made a terrible mistake. Nothing could be further from the truth. I LOVE being home, I love taking care of our home, and I have loved having this time to refresh. Maybe because I am an introvert this sort of arrangement is easier for me than someone who needs to be around people all day? I'm not sure. Yesterday was actually the first day where I stayed on the couch most of the day and it was because I wasn't feeling well. For the most part I have stayed pretty busy, but also have given myself permission to do things that fill me up, because that's what this time is meant for.

3. So you're not working? At ALL?
As far as graphic design, no, I am not. I'm not doing freelance, or any projects on the side. I knew I needed to 100% step away from it for a while so that I could really feel like I was getting a break. I have been doing one photoshoot a week, which I've limited myself to, so that I can keep that door cracked open a bit and figure out of that is a business I would like to develop more or not. When Andy and I looked at the budget and our numbers before I left my job, we made sure that all our expenses would be covered and we were not going in the red each month. We certainly are not saving as much as we were when I was bringing home a full-time paycheck, but I don't have pressure right now to make a certain amount so that we can eat. That has helped dramatically with being able to relax and recharge with no guilt.

4. How are you doing this financially?
This sort of requires a multi-faceted answer. The first part has to do with debt. If I had wanted to step away from my job five years ago it would have been MUCH harder financially. We had multiple student loans and two huge car loans that were costing us a lot each month. I regretted spending as much as we did on cars, especially the first one we bought, but we worked hard for the first five years of our marriage to save all our extra money, including trimming our budget to a bare minimum, so that we could pay those loans off. It took a lot of discipline and a lot of being on the same page with each other, but a few years ago we were finally able to pay off the last of all our loans. Because of this, we don't pay on monthly loans for anything but our house. The second part of this is our current budget. We have enough to pay all our bills, and we have enough in savings to cover anything major, but we literally do not have any extra a month for things like going out, traveling anywhere, or anything like that. I don't think of it as "going without" though, I think of it more as a fun puzzle, and thankfully Andy is ok with going simple for a while. I have a set amount for groceries that I have to stick to, and we have a set amount for gas that we have to stay within, but that is part of the fun and creativity I think. This isn't necessarily a situation I would love to be in for a long time, as I have seen the benefits of saving and investing, which we can't do right now, but the benefits far outweigh the sacrifices for this season and I am so very thankful for all of it.

5. So, is it working? Are you being recharged?
Yes, and I think so :) It has taken me a while to wind down and sink into the new normal, but it is so very refreshing to have simplified my daily life so much and to have this time to take care of us and take care of our home. My days are much more flexible now, allowing me time for things I didn't have before. I think this time is giving me a lot of perspective on myself, work, and some mistakes I may have made in my thinking in the past. I also think that work (which can be a lot of things, some not paid like others) is really important, and a gift, so moving forward I will need to figure out how to balance that for where our needs are at that point in time. Perhaps one of the biggest lessons I am learning is that "busier" does not always mean "more valuable", which is going against the grain a bit in our culture. I've allowed myself to believe in the past that unless I was running around like a crazy person and filling my days with a million things, then I wasn't using the day the best way I could. Sometimes that's true, but sometimes that is a really big lie I was telling myself that ended up negatively affecting a lot of areas of my life. By letting go of some big things for a short time, I think I've been able to put those things back into perspective, realizing their importance but not living for them.

I think that's all for now, but if there is anything else you want to know feel free to ask!


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Simple Gifts: Ironing

To say I loath ironing would be far from an understatement. I am quite bad at it, and to help soften the blow to my self-esteem I might blame it on our iron. I probably iron three or four times a year, and when I do it takes hours.

I think part of the reason I've loathed ironing is that by the time I got done cramming the house chores in the little time I used to have on Saturdays, I just didn't have the energy or the motivation.

Now that I'm home, I've discovered this strange phenomenon where the things I used to hate doing are now the simple things that bring me joy. Maybe it's because I don't feel rushed anymore, or maybe it's because my focus has shifted to maintaining these four walls and everything in them while taking time to breathe. Lack of time isn't bearing down on me like a ton of bricks, so now any task of the day feels like it can take as little or as long as it needs to. 

Somehow that is incredibly refreshing.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Quiet Pools

I came home from some morning errands today and felt my mind and my chest heavy with my feeble attempts to process my murky thoughts. I heard the creek roaring high across the street and so I threw my camera on my shoulder and just walked out of the house.

The water was cold and the creek was running brown from all the rain we've been getting. I breathed in deep and began leaning into the thoughts that overwhelm me lately - the ones I have a hard time putting into words. It's moments like these that make me realize my soul has needed more of this and I begin asking myself the questions that have swirled around me faster than I can keep up with.

What happens when the voices of our influencers or the voices within ourselves consistently tell us we are not measuring up, or that our numbers or stats need to be higher. What happens when we hear messages of culture that tell us we would be happier with more. What happens when our churches put more emphasis on the going than on the staying, more emphasis on the doing than on the being. What happens when our worth is measured in lists and percentages and assessment scores.

Without a foundation of grace my running and striving got so very tiring and unfulfilling. I am in a season of 'less', a season of 'simple' and I am slowly realizing that this is far more important for me than I even initially thought it was. If I can let this season of restoration rebuild my cracked foundation of 'not enough', then the tasks, the challenges, and the numbers will all be far more inspiring and valuable moving forward. They will propel me instead of breaking me.

This verse came to mind last night, and so I pulled it up and just stared at it for a good long time. This translation is from The Message, and it seemed so very fitting today:

"God, my shepherd!
I don't need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction."
- Psalm 23:1-3


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

On New Adventures and Finding My Creative Soul Again

For the past eight years I've had the privilege of working at a local college as a graphic designer. The job was absolutely perfect for my experience as a newly graduated student and over the years I was able to grow and expand my knowledge and reach. I designed with some amazing colleagues and was able to teach and mentor other college students and see them fall in love with design. I walked in barely knowing how to send something to print and over time networked with so many skilled area printers and produced over 1200 pieces that I am so proud of. I met 'clients' on campus that turned into very dear friends - a gift I never imagined receiving and am now so thankful for.

One of the challenging things about being a creative is that if we don't nurture our own souls we become weary and the work becomes, well, work. I found myself struggling with the typical 9-5 schedule and feeling disconnected without a strong group of fellow creatives in my physical workspace. I was growing weary, and as much as I tried to fight to push through it, I couldn't shake the desire for simplicity and creative rest.

I hesitated for probably too long to share this with Andy, but I finally felt like I could put into words what I was experiencing and what I felt I needed. God bless this man who married me, because he knew and gave me his blessing to do what my soul was craving.

So, today was my first day in my new role. A creative on sabbatical, a stay at home wife, a keeper of the household, a maker of food that will hopefully help the hubs gain the pounds he lost when he married me because I couldn't cook. ;) I've been given a gift of time. Time to exhale, time to walk outside at any time of day and feel the sun on my face, time to nurture these four walls we call home and make them as peaceful and life-giving as possible.

I wrestled for a little bit with feelings of guilt that I'm not bringing home an extra paycheck with benefits and matched 401k contributions, but then I realized that there is no sense in all of that if you are slowly withering on the inside. This is a risk, yes, but a calculated one. I am thankful for the disciplined saving and paying off of debt we've done for the last several years, because with that we are able to support ourselves while I have this amazing gift of time and replenishing.

I look forward to writing more about this new adventure and finding the simple gifts in each day.



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