School year transitions and preparation, home renovations, family relationships, soccer, morning walks, weddings, apple harvest, last swims, developing routines. These are the things that have characterized the last half of our summer. Still trying to add and recognize beauty in our surroundings. There is plenty to be found.
In case you’re wondering…yes, I’m still participating in this project. But as I’ve said in the past, when the blogging isn’t happening, the living is.
We’ve spent the first month of freedom from school recouping, which has entailed putting the house back in order, pulling weeds, planting things, playing soccer, relaxing, and resting together. We’ve already taken spontaneous walks, stayed up too late a few times, eaten sweets, and spent a couple of mornings playing board games. These things may seem so simple, but they are truly things we’ve not had the time or space to enjoy for quite a while.
I’m feeling very protective of our family these days, as far as how many things we say “yes” to. Not that I’m an expert or anything, but I’ve been doing this marriage/family thing for about 15 years now, and I’ve learned that I can certainly set myself up for failure by coming out of the gates with guns blazing. I’ve set the bar really high with birthday parties, only to realize that I can’t match my own enthusiasm from year to year. I’ve made grand plans for summers, only to come to the end of them and realize that we didn’t even do half of what I thought we would. It’s depressing. It’s discouraging. It can be downright devastating, depending on our outlook. So I’m cautiously optimistic about this summer. The goals I’ve set seem doable, and we’re really focusing on having thankful hearts when we do something fun, rather than being bummed about the things we miss, either by choice or by circumstance.
How are you approaching summer? Are you going to conquer the world? Or maybe just the laundry?
So far, this month is flying by. All of the sudden I have a twelve year old. (Also, no more family birthdays until October! Should a mother be excited about this? If no, don’t tell me. I don’t need anything else to feel guilty about.)
We’re nearing the completion of the bulk of our school work for the seventh year in a row. This is unfathomable to me. And as the rain and the sun keep making their alternate appearances, and things are turning green and the birds are piping up from their long rest, Adding beauty just seems to get a little easier. For this, I’m grateful.
So much color to enjoy! Yellow marks the beginning of spring for our yard. Daffodils were drooping from a particularly cold and frosty morning, so we rescued them to brighten up our kitchen window, which has not yet been cleaned in a spring-like fashion.
More yellow on these blooming forsythia branches! And all of that green is so delicious.
It definitely happens, no matter how much you talk about one thing or another, and no matter how passionately you feel about it. At some point, you find it difficult to embrace the thing you thought was coming easily to you. March was like that for me. I had to t-h-i-n-k really hard about finding beauty. I had to f-i-g-h-t to appreciate the mundane goodness of life. There was a lot of frenzy, a lot to do. There was so much time for making messes and not enough for cleaning them up. And I’m not sure why this kind of scenario is always so upsetting to me, because there is always an end to the chaos. There is always a day or two of recovery, then all is well, or well on the way. I’m not sure why it’s so hard for me to remember and hold on to that.
When reflecting on this month, I found it necessary to go back to my Instagram feed and find out exactly what I did to add beauty to my world. Couldn’t remember a thing. Some days (or months) are like that, I guess.
But lo and behold…the pie! I ended up making three of them. So of course, we ate some for breakfast when there wasn’t quite enough cereal to go around. (Why wasn’t there enough cereal? Oh, because we were buried in snow. Buried.)
Another stresser? Homeschool testing. But my kids weren’t stressed. All they care about are the snacks. Do you see a theme to the ways I’ve added beauty? And actually, if we’re being really honest here…I actually wasn’t as stressed about testing as I would like to let on. I kept my kids out til midnight the night before so I could go see a concert with my man. For my birthday. My brother and sister in law kept them until it was over, then we all rushed home for the busy week ahead.
Also for my birthday, my mom gave me this framed cross stitch piece I’ve been eyeing and not-so-subtly hinting about. She made it when she was engaged to my dad. My Paw Paw made the frame, and it hung outside my bedroom the whole time I was at home. So history, sentimentality, intricate stitch-work equals beauty.
Today, on this last day of March, I gathered some daffodils that were drooping from a very cold night and brought them in. The sun shining in on my dirty windows and those golden beauties was just the reminder of hope I needed. Not to mention those little paintbrushes, just waiting to bring more color and light to this house.
Now, I’ve got to make some progress on working off all that pie…
The month of February, for me, is a crazy whirlwind of love and birthday fun on top of all the responsibilities of home, school, and mothering. There are 3 out of 6 family birthdays plus Valentine’s Day during these few short weeks. It’s my biggest opportunity to show my family love and appreciation and I NEVER live up to my own expectations during this busy time. I will always struggle with this, I’m afraid. But I constantly tell myself that the goal is for my crew to know they are loved, no matter how fancy (or un-fancy) I get with my preparation. And that is an achievable goal.
Here is what Adding Beauty looked like in February…
This little bit of green was a welcome touch to my pantry window.I had no idea how welcome it would be after we were to be buried under 3 feet of snow, just a few short weeks later. (I just love this hanging planter from Ikea.)
And who knew how helpful it would be to have all our snow gear organized and ready for easy access? Apparently I did. Those dry erase labels are from the Martha Stewart collection at Staples. I also use them on crock pots and drink pitchers so friends at potlucks or whatever know what they are eating and drinking. (Say what you will about Martha, but I would argue that she has done more to turn womens’ hearts toward their homes than most in recent times.) Come springtime, we’ll be able to use these baskets for springy things! I’m counting on spring BIG TIME this year.
What happened next was nothing short of absolutely breathtaking. After a particularly rainy day, the temperatures dropped rapidly and we woke to the most amazing sight. Hoarfrost. Covering absolutely everything. You had to see it to believe it and no picture could truly do justice to the beauty we observed. The kids and I drove slowly home from errands and decided to chase this curiosity to our magnificent New River Gorge “backyard.” (It’s really about a minute’s drive from our house).
Couldn’t see a thing. We had to settle for some close-ups.
My daughter snapped this pic of some barberries with my phone. Aren’t they exquisite?
The very next morning, the sun came out and we knew it would all be gone soon. She and I raced out with our cameras to capture it as best we could before it melted away.
There was also some Valentine’s Day prep to attend to. Thankfully, we did have to opportunity to deliver these babies before the snow burial began. I de- mushified this version found through a Pinterest search, so there was no mention of love, just friendship. All my kids could deliver their cards with heads held high and no teasing.
There’s almost nothing better than a muffin with tea for breakfast or a snack. These strawberry-banana ones were just about perfect. I had enough to freeze for another time.
I neglected a lot of other responsibilities in order to give the girls’ room a little face-lift. A certain someone was transitioning to a world of no more crib and no more pacifier. It had to be special. I’ll do a full post on it soon. There are a few more little touches to add before it’s done-done.
Pom pom trim on a window treatment. Always a good idea.
My biggest girl’s bed. (Which, incidentally, was mine as a child. I’m pretty sure I transitioned from a crib to this very bed. It used to be white.) I had an old chalkboard with two holes already drilled in it and just free handed a design similar to the one found here. (Aren’t they all gorgeous? Such sweet sentiments about books) My daughter made a finger knitted yarn chain to hang it from a little screw in the wall, and I added the tassels. I do love the look of it. (Except for the creepy Monkey. But it’s her bed, after all.)
My little big girl’s bed. We’ve since added a basket of board books for her to peruse while she gets sleepy. (That’s the Black Apple Doll you see hanging out there beside the Ikea Cloud Pillow. Again, thanks Martha.)
We had just enough time to celebrate her birthday with spaghetti and pink cake and friends before getting absolutely dumped on. It’s a good thing we had cozy new spaces to enjoy. We were in for the isolation period of the year. (Those muffins in the freezer came in really handy.)
I understand a lot of people are totally grossed out by the following. But in my humble opinion, it’s a childhood ritual. I’ve done my motherly duty and told my kids how gross snow is. It’s full of dirt and grime and nasty organisms. (Thankfully we don’t have a dog, so, one less thing to worry about) But the truth is, I send them out in the snow to play and I see them stuffing handfuls of the white stuff into their mouths when they think I’m not looking. I’ve chased them from window to window through the house, banging on the glass and shouting, “Don’t eat it!” But I’ve surrendered. This past week we collected a bowl full and added sugar and milk. Everyone participated. There were even cones to put them in. And we’re all still alive. And healthy. And happy.
We still have one more birthday to get through this month. During the forever-long days stuck in this drafty old house, I found time to sew! So far, I’ve stitched up a quick birthday banner for my youngest son and hemmed a pair of pants for my husby. It’s been glorious.
It happens every year. For the homeschool mother of young children and teens, there is often a silent, steady build-up of anxiety, like the watched pot that never boils. Only it eventually does boil and that mama spills over the edge of her pot, with all her feelings of failure and her overwhelming list of to-dos that remain undone. I can’t do this. I’m failing. What time does that yellow bus drive by?
February is often referred to as “homeschool burnout month.” Have you felt it? (And for that matter, I’m not sure this applies only to homeschoolers. There’s plenty of anxiety to go around for moms and even women in general. The gray days do much to add to the feelings of want, I’d venture to say.) I’ve certainly felt it on numerous occasions, but I’m just not sure it must always be this way. There are plenty of articles on blogs and homeschooling websites with helpful encouragement and practical suggestions for coping and pushing through, (ahem, like Julie does here. Read it.) so I’m not sure that I have anything new to add. The truth is, we’re all so very different. The needs and dynamics of our families are constantly changing. It’s exhausting. And there isn’t necessarily an easy formula for success. What is success, anyway? And who decides if you’ve achieved it?
Over our Christmas break, I was thoroughly blessed by a study from Sarah Mackenzie at Amongst Lovely Things on the subject of Teaching from Rest. What struck me most profoundly was the fact that this business of running a household and being a parent and being responsible for the education of my children is seriously holy work. Within the often seemingly chaotic atmosphere of our days at home are hundreds of opportunities to model grace and gratefulness. If we’re honest with ourselves about whose stamp of approval really matters, then we have permission to truly leave our concerns at his feet. He knows. He cares. I love the idea that after we ask God to use us and help us fulfill his purpose, we can look at every little hiccup and every little setback as an answer to those prayers. We are free to see those frustrations, not as hindrances to what we’re trying to accomplish, but as opportunities to extend to our children the grace that’s been given to us. What a difference that change in perspective could make.
Yesterday, I almost never left my kitchen. It’s the hub.
So much has happened there, around the table, over the last few months.
I don’t think the dynamic is going to change any time soon, and I’m completely okay with that.
But it’s time to start taking note.
My friend Anne and I have decided to do just that. Anne’s got this really great blog about her homeschooling journey that is basically her way of keeping track of her kids’ educational journey. What I love most about it, though, is that she’s chosen to share it publicly, so it also serves as a way to encourage other homeschool moms. She’s doing what she passionately enjoys and sharing it with others. If that’s not loving your neighbor, I’m not sure what is.
So after seeing this initial post, documenting all the life happening at her table one afternoon, I started thinking about how much happens around my own kitchen table.
Hence, a new collaborative memory-keeping blog post series has been born. You can see what’s going on at Anne’s table here. (We’ll also document it on Instagram, if you want to follow along and join in! #LifeHappensAtTheTable)
You know what is just the best? Only one of these pics is mine, which means my friends are adding beauty, too!
The way you are coming alongside me, friends, is truly exquisite! How lovely to see all of you recognizing the beauty in your surroundings. Both the breathtakingly artistic photos and the simple snapshots of moments appreciated are such sweet reminders that we’re not alone. Wouldn’t you agree? It’s nice to know that you mothers/friends/kindred spirits exist in the world and that you are pushing back against the darkness in such tangible ways. It may seem insignificant to you. It’s not.
Here are a few of the ways that January has been bright and beautiful for me…
Kelly’s post entitled, Hail January? My sentiments exactly. (Only she is wayyyy more eloquent than I could ever be.) Read it.
January is kind to us in making us reevaluate. The loud voices in our heads tell us to achieve more! Do more! Go further! January quietly suggests that it might be better to do well at those things we’ve already undertaken — for the glory of God and not ourselves, for the benefit of others.
Winter cleaning/ organizing/sprucing around the house is essential for me. I almost thought it wouldn’t happen this year. But then it did.
And I’ll just say that white paint is glorious.
My niece came and cleaned for me one day and when she was done, the afternoon sun coming through the windows and shining on the floors was irresistible for a photo, because, you know, NO DUST. ( I’m still trying to find a great frame and a good spot for this gorgeous print that my husband gave me for Christmas. Every day, I need to be reminded of the hope depicted here.)
Additionally, Paperwhites. I’ll never not have them during winter. Ever again. (Ever.)
I did some planning and re-vamping of our household chores and responsibilities during the first week of January. So far, things are running smoothly. I have a lot more time on my hands for fun and games and relaxed learning with the kids. This was all made possible because Sam has been carving out big chunks of time for me to relinquish some of my responsibilities and focus on my personal well-being. It’s been blissfully freeing.
The result of all this? A little more baking, consistent hot meals on the table, and books! Hooray! (Remember, dads, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” It’s totally true.)
We haven’t had much snow, but took advantage of the little bit that has fallen and attempted snow painting. The kids had a different idea than I did. They took the paint down with them in the sleds over and over, making rainbow stripes all the way down the hill.
I hope you’re able to embrace this last week of January. My plan is to be consistent in the small things, think ahead, and brace myself for February, our birthday marathon.
The completion of a project, from start to finish, is not always something I can celebrate. There are a lot of things left undone on my to-do lists, like abandoned sewing projects, putty-filled holes on walls that remain unpainted and…who can forget THE STAIRS?? (referenced here.) But this post is a celebration of something that was completed and has brought a lot of joy and focus to my heart and home this year, something that I hope and pray continues to grow. Because no matter how much is accomplished, there is always room for more growth. And we all know our own hearts, and what corners of them need to be dusted. I pray I’m never too afraid to let the light shine in and show me where to purge and clean.
Here’s what the last week of #Addingbeauty2014 looked like in the Smith home!
With all of that being said, can I just take a sec to thank all of you that participated this year? Even if it was only a couple of times, you were all truly an encouragement and an inspiration to me and to so many others. Let’s keep going, shall we? Join us in 2015 as we recognize and/or create beauty in our surroundings. Use the hashtag #AddingBeauty2015.
Christmas came on this 51st week of adding beauty. How blessed we feel to have celebrated with our sweet little family and enjoyed some quiet and relaxation. I started the week at my parent’s house. While my dad took the big kids all over creation and wore them completely out, my little snuggle buddy and I took a lovely nap, right in my old bedroom. I always felt so safe there. And I still get the best sleep in that room.
Did you happen to see this IKEA commercial? So touching. We had determined that we would spend lots of quality time together this Christmas. It’s been so cozy and peaceful. I really don’t know what else we could ask for. We’ve seen our favorite Christmas movies, eaten our favorite foods, played our favorite games and been with so many of our favorite people. We took our time. We kept it simple. Truly what the doctor ordered. (If there had been a doctor involved, and he had ordered something, that is.)
I mentioned our lack of decor, but I feel like things have been more festive around here, in spite of it, and because of this project. Tiny touches of beauty that have been brought to our home all year long really make us feel like there’s just not a whole lot missing. This little bunny in the forest was a last minute add…a result of some scouring of my Pinterest boards.
Our fabric gift wrap is always something we all look forward to using and never fails to make the tree completely stunning. This year was no exception…
I typically get a lot of joy out of making gifts for the kids, but didn’t even put a ton of effort into that this year. I did make a little leather cat purse for the baby, which she loved.