As I shared in my last post, I went to a homeschool conference over the weekend (along with my hubby and 4-month-old).

One of my favorite talks was from mama x 19, Michelle Duggar of the TLC show, 19 Kids and Counting. Yes, nineteen. And as she says in the intro to her show: she delivered every one of them.

The Duggars get a lot of flack for many aspects of their lifestyle, but Michelle is clearly a woman who loves her children and works incredibly hard at her vocation of motherhood — and I really enjoyed hearing about her vast experience (besides the fact that I find her calm, maternal voice rather hypnotizing).

And so, I scribbled notes in the back of my green Mead Five Star notebook like a college student to reflect on later — and also, to share with you.

Some notes on parenting from the mouth of Michelle:

1. Whoever praises your child will have their heart. Michelle talked a lot about the importance of encouragement and praise, but was careful to differentiate between flattery and praise, saying: Praise acknowledges a character trait that a person has developed — whereas flattery is often an exaggeration of the truth. She believes the more we praise our children for the traits we want them to develop, the more they are eager to exhibit them.

2. If you’re feeling angry, whisper. Michelle realized that she could control her emotions and calm her frustration when she lowered her voice instead of raising it — and that it is also more effective at getting her children’s attention. She also reminded the audience that our children belong to God, saying: “These children are not my own, they are God’s. If I were a daycare teacher and these children went home at the end of the day to report about me — how would they describe my behavior to their parents?”

3. The top 3 character traits all mothers should have: love (vs. selfishness), meekness (vs. anger) and joyfulness (vs. self-pity). She elaborated on the last one saying that “happiness comes from happening” but true joy is from knowing God — no matter if the laundry piles are high and the dirty dishes are over-flowing. She also discussed the importance of having a home full of joy, saying that if a home is a not a joyful place to be, your children will be out of there as soon as possible.

4. The top 3 character traits children should work on: attentiveness (vs. unconcern), obedience (vs. willfulness) and self control (vs. self-indulgence). Michelle encourages attentiveness because she says that it is “showing the worth of a person by giving undivided concentration to his words and emotions.” [I.e. Training children to be good listeners!] She emphasizes obedience because she says, “If they won’t obey my voice, they won’t obey God’s.”

5. Our children often don’t know what we expect. Michelle encourages parents to set clear expectations and be consistent — and to also work on practicing good behavior rather than constantly correcting bad behavior. For example: if her child demands, “I’m thirsty!” Michelle gently reminds them to ask, “May I please have a drink?” and has them repeat it five times to practice it. Or if a child demands, “That’s mine!” Michelle gently reminds them to ask, “May I please have it back?” and has them practice that good behavior until it becomes a habit.

Me with Michelle and Jim Bob!

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I’m starting homeschool kindergarten with my 5-year-old next month. It’s an exciting adventure — and one that my husband and I have spent a lot of time researching and discussing for some time now.

I went to public and private schools growing up and had great experiences, but we live in an age where there are so many wonderful schooling options available to us: and homeschooling is a great fit for our family.

One of my favorite things about homeschooling is the fact that I can customize my childrens’ education to their specific passions, purpose and personality. After all, none of us is the same — we all learn differently, have different interests and have different ways of going about pursuing those interests.

Homeschooling gives me the flexibility to help each of my children become exactly who they are supposed to be, which brings me to my point:

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Would the moon compare herself to the sun? Or daisies to roses? Would the oceans long to be still as a lake while the lakes dream of white surf? No way. Because each of these beautiful things serve their own beautiful purpose — and the world is better because we have all of them, unique in their own way.

Each of us are as we are meant to be: our talents to be shared, our weaknesses to be worked upon, our gifts to be pursued.

There is no best way to be.

Only the best way to be you.

Someone will always be better than you and not as good as you at any given thing if that’s what you’re measuring your joy by. But nobody will ever be as good as you are at being yourself.

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Run your own race, dance your own dance, do your hair big, wear sequins pants, be who you are, do what you do: the secret to joy is just being you.

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My lovely girls,

You live in a world where we are told it’s everything to be beautiful. You are beautiful — but that is just one thing of many things that makes you who you are.

And about being beautiful, anyway: beauty has little to do with what you see on the cover of glossy magazines in grocery stores. In fact, the most beautiful people I have ever known in my life have not been the most symmetrical or svelte or smooth-skinned — but rather, the most joyful, the most kind, the most interesting, the most comfortable in their own skin.

And that’s the funny thing about beauty anyway — some people will sacrifice all the things that make themselves most captivating (their joy, their individuality, their sense of self) to match a Photoshopped ideal. And what’s so ideal about that?

So don’t chase shallow beauty; instead chase love and hope and butterflies and the things that make you your best self, which is a self that is giving.

It has been said (a time or two or a thousand) that in giving we receive — and that is the truth. I have learned this as your mother. For it is in giving my time, my talent, my life to our family that I have received the most joy I have ever experienced. I chased all sorts of things in my youth (though I’m still youthful enough!), and truly, most of them were as worth catching as the cold. What was worth catching was your father, this family, and this opportunity to help make you better while you help make me better: and that’s what family is all about, after all.

As your mother, I am all about girl power in its truest sense — not in a “girls go to mars to become super stars” sense, but in the sense that us girls have one of the greatest roles in this world. I like the way another mother puts it, Mother Teresa:

“Let us pray that we women realize the reason of our existence: to love and be loved and through this love become instruments of peace in the world.”

Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to be a mother or a wife in this life — but simply, a woman. As women, we’re made with a special capacity for love. For some of us, that love creates families. For some, that love creates companies and charities and communities. Wherever we are called and meant to be, real girl power is found in using the unique gifts you were given to be an instrument of peace in the world — in your world: your family, your friendships, your work.

You can do a great many things in this life: but know that the greatest thing you can be is simply who you were meant to be. And that’s more than enough. Knowing that is a great freedom because there is a world of opinions and pressures out there that can drown out that soft voice inside you that knows what’s best.

The neat thing is, realizing that you just have to be who you are meant to be is both a great relief and a great adventure. It involves some prayer and some thought, of course, but it also involves taking, as Robert Frost says, “the road not taken,” the one carved just for you.

My lovely girls: be kind, be brave, be bold and be willing to be different. For it is in our differences that we often find our greatness.

And mostly, know you are loved.

Love,

Mom

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Wonders of the World

July 14, 2014

I sat on the front porch last night in my new teak rocking chair watching an incredibly majestic sunset.

The sky looked like a piece of Elly MacKay’s artwork — as if the clouds were water-colored paper, back-lit in a giant light box. The colors — neon teal to a dull orange — wove in and out of clouds that bellowed like smoke. And in the very middle of the big cloud in front of me was a heart-shaped hole where the most comforting wave of deep pink flooded through. I rocked my new baby and watched the setting sun and later remarked on the Sipping Lemonade Facebook page:

“If I had to name my own 7 wonders of the world, a sleeping baby and a beautiful sunset would be two to of them.”

It made me think about how every week is full of small wonders — things that truly make me see the hand of God in the world. As Chesterton says, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

Yes: that is the feeling in those moments, sheer gratitude. It’s bigger than happiness. It’s happiness doubled by wonder.

And even if I never see the The Great Pyramid of Giza or The Hanging Gardens of Babylon — my life will have still been complete having seen the rise and fall of my child’s breath on a summer afternoon.

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To have watched a storm roll in with a cup of hot coffee.

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To have been visited by a friendly amphibian while splashing in a water table.

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For surely, it is in these little things that God shows his presence to us every day.

We spend so much of life looking for miracles:

When really, aren’t they all around us?

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One of my favorite places in the world growing up was my Grandma’s house — the home of my mom’s mother — in a sleepy little town in East Texas.

When I was in college, she switched houses with my aunt and uncle — going from her big red brick house at the top of the hill to their log cabin by the pond at the bottom of the hill. But no matter, the cabin soon became “Grandma’s house,” too, as her stuff and her scent and her presence were now all in it.

It wasn’t a fancy house by some people’s standards — but, to me, it was full of great treasure. Its richness lay in the stories that every piece of furniture, every framed picture, every family heirloom held. My Grandfathers’s old upright bass still stands in the corner of the cabin (which is still in our family) — even though Grandma passed away the summer I was pregnant with my first-born.

I think about her house sometimes while I sit in my new home, just built this Spring.  A home where I am planting fruit trees and raising babies and growing a family with the love of my life.

I am in no hurry to fill the rooms like a Pottery Barn catalog (though there are certainly a few things on the wanted-list!) Because I know first-hand that fancy, shiny things are not what gives a home that special “je ne sais quoi” as the French say: the word meaning, literally, the “I don’t know what.” That pleasant quality that is hard to describe. The feeling of home. The feeling that — no matter where I am or what I’m doing — covers me like a warm blanket of well-being.

As the daughter of an Air Force officer, we moved a lot growing up, but Grandma’s house: it was always the same. And so was she. With her games of Yahtzee and her Camel cigarettes and her homemade “milk chocolates” (made only with real cocoa and sugar). Every summer smelled the same on her front porch — like cut grass and hot dirt and an old dog panting at my feet.

I love beautiful things and decorating and finding that perfect little something to make a room feel happy, but I always bring with me the reminder of a house that — with old, worn couches and hand-me-down bedroom suites and decades-old decor — was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. And with a big happy family often gathering there, I’m sure there were smudges on the windows and dust on the floor — but I don’t remember any of that. And my kids won’t remember any of that about this house either.

One of my other favorite places in the world growing up was my Nana’s home — the home of my Dad’s mother — though she and my Papa moved a few times over the course of my life.

As an Army chaplain’s wife, my Nana was a master entertainer. She had about a billion place settings of Blue Danube china and all the linens to match. She had every one of those kitchen gadgets sold on late-night TV and served fresh fruit topped with vanilla pudding and whipped cream out of stemmed glasses for dessert. And there was always dessert.

She was an impeccable decorator and a generous hostess and though she wasn’t big on crumbs in the livingroom, when it was just me and her, we’d sit on her couch — my feet propped on her lap — and eat brown sugar Pop Tarts while watching The King and I.

Nana was my favorite date in college — we’d meet for lunch or coffee many days of the week and she truly had the spiritual gift of hospitality, as in: she made everyone feel special. It came natural to her, the ease of her smile, the sparkle in her eyes. She could get away with anything and everyone loved her — mostly because, they sensed she loved them. And she did.

These two women — though different in many ways — were very much the same in the most important way: they knew how to make a house into a home. They were, in the truest sense of the word, home-makers. It’s a word that has acquired a sort of frumpy feel nowadays, but that’s exactly what they were: makers of a home. And even though they both also worked outside the home when their kids were a bit older, I know they would have agreed with C.S. Lewis when he said the work of a homemaker is “the most important.”

It is the work that creates the places that — even when we’re grown — live on as our “favorites in the world.” It is the work that makes us feel loved, special and safe. It is the work that makes not just homes, but the people who live and visit there — it makes us who we are.

We can travel a lot of places in this life, but few remain within us even after we leave them behind. The homes that built me — my grandparents’ and my parents’ contain a magic that lives on as I make my new favorite place in the world: the home where I raise my children.

And as I make “milk chocolates” and delight in beautiful stemware — as my prepare my mom’s herb chicken and her famous oatmeal, chocolate chip cookies — as I decorate with hand-me-downs and forget-me-nots — as I rock my babies and sing them the same lullabies that lulled me to sleep as a child —

I pass on a legacy of love.

For that is truly what is made by a home-maker. A love that serves, that sustains and that stays with us forever.

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My Grandma in the log cabin

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