Monday, August 31, 2015

A Word on Fashion from the T-Shirt Queen

First of all, let me say this has been a very Mondayish Monday. I overslept because last night whilst wasting time on my phone I turned the volume all the way down so as not to awaken The Redneck next to me, and I failed to turn it back up. So my alarm was going off, SILENTLY, for an hour and twenty minutes before the sun beaming in on me startled me to reality. So we were late to school. Which means the girls got a "red ticket," the first one for the Kindergartener. She had just told me last week she hoped she never got "one of those red pieces of paper." We made it two weeks. Cheers! Then the van started making weird dying noises so I went next door to my parents' to borrow their 1999 Dodge Durango with the "W '04" sticker on the back windshield, just in case anyone wants to know who they supported 11 years ago. Monday.

Secondly, this is a totally frivolous post. The time I spent writing it could have been better used. The money I discuss in it could have been better spent. Please don't send me emails lecturing me. I am aware of my American excess. This post will not make you love Jesus more. There will be nothing deep here, in case you couldn't tell from the title.

Except for this:


We have got to get control of how 
we view our bodies. 

I have never been, how do you say it, petite? Small? Skinny? Thin? None of those things. In fact, a story has been told REPEATEDLY (Mother!) about how when I was still in the hospital, mere hours after my appearance into the world, someone stood me on the bed, and there was cellulite on the back of my thighs. So I blame my mom and the things she ate while pregnant for starting me off as a member of the Chunky Crew.

I used to think about my body alot. Like, all the time. Examining my rear from every angle. Mourning the fact I had inherited the "family hips" which would make childbirth so easy for me. (They didn't.) Buying cream that promised if I used it I would be able to magically rub my dimples away. Constantly asking, "Does this make me look fat?" (By the way, if there are any men left reading this post, the answer to that is always, "No!" Do not hesitate. Do not smile. Do not change your expression. When I say your life is literally on the line I am not exaggerating.)

But then God changed my perspective on all that when we had girls, and I read a book by Dr. James Dobson called Bringing Up Girls

This book was a game changer for me as a person, not just as a mother of three girls. I never knew that all women thought about this stuff. Even the thin supermodels have some area of insecurity - lips, nose, eyes, something. Suddenly the playing field was level. And now the playing field didn't matter! This is not my heavenly body. It is not perfect. It will fail me completely some day in the not-too-distant future. So, ok. Now that I know we are all thinking about it, let's all not. I am created in the image of God, I am taking care of the body He gave me, and when I criticize it I am mocking His handiwork.

Plus I run, lift weights, can do a bunch of pushups without stopping, can squat 250 pounds no problem, and yet the sagging baby stomach and there-since-day-one cellulite remain. Probably because I like chocolate and really all desserts except ice cream, and I think God put caramel on Earth to make up for the evil creation of onions. So you can be fit and strong...and cellulitey.

Anyways, now that I have that little lecture out of the way, thus begins the real post.

I really hate clothes. I hate shopping, I hate constantly having to decide what to wear. Why are T-shirts I got for free when volunteering for something not acceptable attire at black-tie events? 

But I am going to be subbing sometimes, and my last job only required scrubs. (EVERYONE in ALL walks of life should wear scrubs. They are amaze.) So I really needed to clean out and update.

I have a friend who claims her secret ninja skill is shopping, and she mentioned the idea of a "Capsule Wardrobe" a few months ago. (By the way, I think my secret ninja skill might just be the ability to say tongue twisters. Jealous much?)

The idea here is that you create a wardrobe for each season, with each mini-wardrobe containing somewhere between 25 and 37 pieces, depending on whose blog you read. Some pieces may go in two capsules. And once the capsule is created, the goal is to only need to replace 4 or 5 pieces each season.

Even this much thought about clothes makes me want to cry into my t-shirt drawer. 

But I took some time to read some blogs, look at some Pins (on the app guaranteed to make you feel fat and uncrafty, although I did find the following pictures there that make me laugh every single time I look at them - sometimes Preston and I type "Funny" into the search bar and then laugh hysterically while we ignore the girls)   

 This picture makes me cry laughing. 
Preston and this guy would be BFFs.

And this. When you grow up with a for-real genius 
for a brother, who happens to be in the grade ahead of you,
you learn to say smart things to impress the teachers without
knowing what the crap you are saying.

Anyways, I did some more research on this "Capsule Wardrobe" thing and decided it would be worth a try. So here's my modified version of it:

1. Try on everything in your closet. Cry when you cannot zip the skirt from Banana Republic you got junior year of college and have been saving for when you lose 10 15 35 pounds. 

2. If you put something on and you don't love it - like LOOOOOOVE it - put it in the give-away pile. Bye-bye, Banana Republic. I came up with about three Target-sized bags of clothes that no one will want, but I'm going to take to Thrift Smart anyways. 

3. Figure out what you need to buy. Since I hadn't shopped in approximately 10 years, the list wasn't too long. 
       1. Clothes that are in style.

4. Set aside a shopping day. I loathe shopping unless it is for t-shirts, so I knew I needed to knock this out in one day. I never shop. My mom, who is the most beautiful, fashionable 67 year old out there buys me winter clothes for Christmas, summer clothes for my birthday and that is all. I do not shop in between. Except for jeans and t-shirts. I am not ashamed that my mommy still does the majority of my shopping. I love her all the more for it. But I spent about three hours today shopping.

And here is the finished product:

A lot of these things I actually had. I got 11 new items, and I spent $215, which I think is crazy thrifty of me. And now the thought is that I can go into my capsule closet, pick out a top and bottom, add a scarf or necklace and jacket, throw on some boots, and it will go together and actually look put together. I ended up with 42 clothing items and 7 pairs of shoes. (By the way, you don't count accessories or work out clothes in your final piece count according to the Official Capsule Wardrobe of Martha) I am slightly over the limit of most Capsule Wardrobe people, but since fall and winter kind of run together in this region I will only have two capsules, so I think it's ok. And I have a couple pieces I might still weed out. Plus no one from the Capsule Wardrobe Police is coming to check, so all is well.

By the way, I have decided sizing is pointless. The fashion industry shouldn't even bother. Those skinny jeans in the top corner are a size 12, but the boot cut jeans I have on right now are a size 8. The chambray shirt I got is a small, and the colorful plaid in the foreground is an XL. Sizes are a joke. Ignore them

Side note - Some mom friends and I were recently texting about the ripped jeans phenomenon when one received a pair in her latest Stitchfix box, and she wasn't sure she could pull them off. These rips have also made lots of appearances at functions I have been to lately. I tried on a pair, but I couldn't get my dad's voice out of my head, saying how as a boy he was always proud of how stiff and dark his new jeans were - that faded, ripped, patched jeans shouted out that your family was poor. But ripping is "in" right now judging from the pile of jeans at the front of Every Single Store in the mall. I decided to not purchase them since my fat squeezed out through the ripped places, but some of you look super cute in your rippedness.  

So that is how I spent my day. And then I wasted more time and blogged about it. The breakfast dishes are still in the sink. Also, I probably could have waited two more months to do this seeing as how it is still step-outside-and-sweat-hot here. I bet Preston will be really glad about our decision for me to not go back to work so I can take care of the girls and house when he reads this.

But now, hopefully, I won't have to shop until I get ready to make a spring/summer capsule. Thankfully t-shirts are pretty much the uniform of summer around here, so maybe I won't have to shop at all!

Grace for the T-shirt Lover and the Wearer of All Things Couture, Too, 

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Gift of a Smallish Life

So everybody knows Preston is a teacher, and I used to be one. 

From the time I could talk my parents knew I would have to have a job where I would get to boss people around. I tried to boss my brothers and often my parents, but they were pretty much having none of that mess so I knew I needed to figure something out. 

Therefore, I would be a teacher. Knew it from age 4. Never changed my trajectory. I would be boss of all 6th, 7th, and 8th graders who would come into my classroom. I loved it. And I think they learned things. But I got to boss, so that's what's important.

Preston, on the other hand, didn't really know what he wanted to be when he entered college. He messed around, mostly majoring in partying, until he finally landed on P.E. a few years in. He didn't really know about teaching, but he knew he loved sports. He figured P.E. would enable him to play sports all the live long day.

So he graduated about 5 years after he started college with a degree in P.E. But there's a problem with that degree: most schools have one or two P.E. teachers. And everybody knows this so once a job is landed it is never to be given up. Like Packers season tickets. Don't people leave those to their kids in their will? Thus it is with P.E. jobs.

So Preston went back to school - for the first time - and got an endorsement enabling him to teach Biology and Physical Science. This landed him a job.

Teaching those subjects took a ton of work. Then his principal threw Advanced Chemistry into the mix. It was like cramming for college finals every night. But he did an amazing job and was soon handed all the advanced upper level sciences. 

(And remember, he really wanted to teach P.E.) 

Everyone knows if you plan on staying in teaching very long you should go ahead and get your Master's so you can cross the $30,000 threshold and make some real money - like $40,000. So while Preston is studying up on all these sciences he's having to teach, he's also going to school online to get his Master's. This took hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars. But he got through. Because he did online school and is the most low-key person around and didn't want to go walk the line, his graduation really wasn't recognized. The two of us went out to a nice dinner, and that was celebration enough. 

One thing led to another and soon he was on the path to administration. Since he had gotten his Master's in teaching and learning, he needed to go back to school yet again. So he re-enrolled into the online university where he had gotten his Master's and set about getting his Ed.S. (Education Specialist Degree for the non-teachers out there.) This was a huge undertaking, huuuuuge, and left the man a mere twelve hours and a dissertation shy of his doctorate. And again, no line-walking for him, so we celebrated quietly with a nice dinner out, and that was it. (If it were me, I would have had signs made to put up all around town announcing my accomplishment, but whatever, Mr. Introvert.)

Then one extremely difficult test later, he found himself in the position of Assistant Principal at a local high school with 1500 students. We had just had our first baby and were thrilled. This meant I could stay home; money wouldn't be an issue. He was young, only 31, and had already "made it." We were swollen with pride. When we dreamed, we talked about Superintendent someday. It was obvious God had so much more in mind for him than a P.E. job. He would be somebody in the world of education. 

But after the first year things changed and rapidly deteriorated ultimately leading to his resignation. We were crushed. We knew it was coming in October of that school year, and still he had to go off to work and do his job every day. It was a nightmare.

To say that year and the year following were awful would be a understatement. There was much controversy involved in the resignation situation. Lots of consulting of lawyers, and filing of papers, and meetings, and it became quite "the thing." Preston, who is of the never-exaggerate-and-no-hyerbole-camp, has said it was "hell" for him. 

But the season passed. And God, not time, has healed the wounds of those two years, and we are now able to see that difficult season as a gift of refining fire. A pruning so more fruit could blossom. And that fact in itself is evidence of God's mercy. Those years could have left us bitter and jaded, and did for a while. 

But God.

We soon noticed a job opening in our county teaching Physical Education. Preston's original endorsement. Something he still had yet to teach. 

He put in for an interview not really expecting much seeing as he had no P.E. experience. We also knew there were tons of applicants, and we were worried those extra degress he had slaved for would make him "overqualified." (How is that even a thing?) One of the other interviewees was the hometown shoe-in. The cards were stacked against at every turn.

But God. 

God gave him the job. The decision amongst the interviewers was unanimous. For some reason, Preston was their guy.

We were so glad, mostly because it meant work, but I remember thinking, "It sure isn't very fun to tell people my husband teaches P.E. 'Assistant Principal at the big high school' could be said with pride. But P.E.?" I wasn't as proud of my husband's job anymore. From an office to the gym. A real step down. 

What happened to the path to greatness? 

How can a P.E. teacher ever become Superintendent? P.E. teachers kick back on the bleachers and blow a whistle all day. Their job is cake. Preston even made jokes like, "Me teach P.E." Because that is how we perceived teaching P.E. (And lots of other smallish jobs like it.)    

He is now in his 6th year as a P.E. teacher. Longer than he was in any other position. He gets to wear Nike shorts and hats to school. With the exception of a few sports seasons, he's home in the evenings. He doesn't have to deal with crazy parents (much) or decide how far to go with disciplinary action for the most unruly kids. His job is mostly low-stress, especially when compared to the years of administration. 

So far all those reasons, we love it.

But's P.E.! Can't anyone throw out some balls and play with kids? How is P.E. important? Plus he has all those degrees, and he's so qualified to teach subjects that actually matter, or even run a school for Pete's sake! 

But God. 

And now:

We think this is the most important job he has ever had and ever will have.

Preston is the only person in that building who gets to teach all the boys. All of them. No other teacher will teach them all. No other teacher will have the opportunity to offer an ear, a word of advice, a suggestion, a shoulder, a laugh to all of the boy-men who are in this crazy, awkward, pressure-filled, three-year stretch of life that so often proves to be the "make or break" years. There's sex, and braces, and girls, and the right sneakers, and try-outs, and getting cut from the team, and parties, and grades, and drugs, and so much more than any generation before has had to deal with. 

And Preston is there. 

Which means he gets to show Jesus to Every. Single. Boy that comes through that school. 

Teaching soccer...showing Jesus.

Coaching basketball...showing Jesus.

Playing football...showing Jesus.


All those awkward, awful, awesome middle school boys.

That is huge.

God chose PRESTON for that role. He looked at him and knew he was the instrument He wanted for the job. 

So today, when we think about the cut in pay, the fact that he is no longer "the boss," that he sometimes roller skates for a living, or all the hours he spent to get all those degrees..."Jesus" is the thought that screams louder than the others. Because HE worked on us and changed our perspective.

And now, instead of dreaming of greatness for us or for our girls, we dream of how God will use our family and these girls He is letting us borrow a bit from the creed at their school...will they be a doctor? a teacher? a preacher? a carpenter? a banker? a nurse? a mother? a mechanic? a toll booth attendant? a missionary? a lawyer? a waitress? For His name's sake?

And how can these smallish humans He has given us glorify His name today? Because we believe with everything in us that God has and is and will use them each day. Even smallish as they are.

God is so kind in graciously allowing us, His flock, to participate in His work.  

Maybe in great Billy Graham and Jim Eliott and Superintendent kinds of ways.

Or maybe through dodgeball.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Secret To Cleaning

I consider myself a decent house keeper. Especially if you compare our home to, say, a hyena's den. Mostly though, we invite someone over, and I put it on the calendar knowing I have to block off three days before the date to devote to cleaning. 

Cleaning is so pointless. I just cannot get motivated. All these little people who live here, and even the big people (well, one of us, not me, but I'm not naming any names) mess everything up the second it's perfected. 

"Mom, did you just dust the coffee table? Good because I wanted to dump out the bottom of this bag of Doritos right here but just wanted to make sure it's clean first."

"Martha, did you just spend two hours scrubbing the soap scum from my shower? Good because I took apart the carburetor on the weedeater and am now covered in black grease and wanted to be sure I have a sparkling white shower in which to clean myself."

But I do clean occasionally. Sometimes it gets to the point where I just can't stand it. And then my internal switch flips from "Even-Keeled-Pretty-Fun-Mom" to "That-Woman-is-Crazy-Mode," and I am forced to scream at everyone about how gross we all are and why can't anyone put away their crap and how I read an article eight years ago that said it takes 10 seconds to put something in its place but if you let all your ten secondses add up then you are left picking up Barbie shoes until forever. The girls loathe this article and whoever wrote it. They also HATE to be told to be efficient, which is Preston's favorite thing to say when I go into Mean Mommy Mode and he is just trying to diffuse the bomb.  

I have in fact had a "Deep Clean the Kitchen Day" planned for the first day after school started on which I had no other important Stay At Home Mom things to do like eat bonbons or catch up on "Days of Our Lives." Today happened to be the day.

When we were building this house, I was totally opposed to white cabinets. But then I saw these white cabinets that could have a brush stroke put on them. This means some kind person took an itty bitty paint brush and painted a tiny strip of brown in all the places where they eventually turn brown anyways from the problem known as "Nobody Washes Cabinets Here Ever." So the cabinets occasionally get wiped down, like when someone dribbles red KoolAid on the pantry door, but deep cleaning hasn't been necessary. 

Isn't that brilliant? 
Well done, Painter Person!

Therefore you might think that on this deep cleaning day the cabinets were the grossest thing here, but you would be wrong. 

It's the vent hood.

I have never lived in a house with a vent hood.

Did you know you need to not only wipe down the tall part where the smoke gets vented (which I have done when I have wiped down the appliances...every four months or so) but you also should clean UNDERNEATH where the lights and the fan and all that stuff are? 

It's like that old scary movie, 
"What Lies Beneath?" 

I did not know this.

Until I was wiping down the stove and happened to glance up.

There was more grease under there than on a whole fleet of carburetors, which I feel sure is how they count them at the carburetor factory.

I do not care if you have six little boys who never ever hit the toilet, a pack of wild dogs living in your basement or have not once swept under your nine month old's high chair. 

The underneath of your vent hood is grosser. 

And now I have a problem because it has gotten so gross that I can't touch it. And Preston, who is not grossed out by anything - like, a child threw up in his hand once and he didn't even flinch - is still in the first hellish days of the school year wherein he is leaving at five am and returning at six pm with a giant backpack full of Things Which Will Fill His Time Until 11 pm. So I can't ask him to clean it.

But I have a solution. Lean in for the secret to all things like this in your house that need to be cleaned: 

I am just never going to look at it again. 

Problem solved.

Grace for Dirty Houses,

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Dear 2006 Martha,

You can't go back.

Hindsight is 20/20.

There are no do-overs in life.

Oh, if only there were! 

Some people say they wouldn't do anything over; all the events of their life have led to where they are and doing anything to change anything might affect the outcome. Remember the old Gwyneth Paltrow movie, "Sliding Doors?" In one half of the movie she catches a subway at the last second. In the other half the doors on the train car close as she is running towards them. The movie highlights the difference that split second made in the outcome of her life. I love thinking about that.

And while I wouldn't re-do any of the big stuff (I'd still go to college where I did, become a teacher, marry Preston...well, most days.) I would love to go back to 27 year old Martha and give her some tips from a 9 year mothering veteran.

First of all, good job getting that baby here. Don't give a second thought to that C-section you had, nor to the two more C-sections you will elect to have. Home-water-doula-natural births are awesome, and so is major abdominal surgery. Don't let anyone make you feel like you didn't get the real birth experience. Believe me, you did. 

Secondly, she will sleep through the night. But in the meantime, if you need to bail on some stuff and tell a lot of people "no" because holding your eyes open is a full time job, don't worry about it. There will be so much time to do things like cook, teach Sunday school, shower and socialize. You can feel just fine about taking some time to forget anything outside of your little house. And if it's 3 am and you need to sob in the rocking chair, go ahead. It really does help.

Also, put an extra shirt in the car. For you and the baby. For the rest of your life.

And when the second baby comes along 17 months later, and she has her days and nights mixed up and you are in the depths of despair for about 6 full weeks, go ahead and recluse yourselves then, too. People who have expectations of you have either forgotten what it's like, not done it, or are crazy, so don't worry about their judgment or opinion of you. God gave you that Surprise Baby, and Scripture tells us He knows, He loves you, you are engraved on the palm of His hand, and He is ALWAYS doing the VERY BEST THING for you. So even though you have no idea how this happened (well, you do know the science of it) God knows, and He planned your life from the beginning before He created anything. So it's all good. Or if it isn't, you can trust that it will be.

Yes, you should lay that third baby in the crib watching her mobile for lots of hours a day. It will keep her away from her over-loving-still-toddler sisters who like to jam pacifiers down her throat and feed her whole graham crackers when she is 1 week old. She will actually turn out to be the most easily entertained child. So don't worry about ignoring her. She's totally fine.

Don't yell. It just isn't worth it. But know that you will yell. Those three little people will make you so crazy, and you may very well lose it. And when that happens, look into their puffy eyes, explain to them that even though they are total little messes who were behaving horribly, you are the grown up and unfortuantely did not handle the situation well. Apologize and ask for forgiveness. That is powerful. It teaches them to own up to the situation when they are wrong, because even though some people think they are always right, only One person ever was right 100% of the time, and you aren't Him. It also teaches them to say the words, "I was wrong. I am sorry. Will you please forgive me?" All three parts of that are so important. One on it's own is not enough. And you are a yeller by nature, so get ready to model this little lesson pretty much daily. They will love and trust you more for it. 

Run down to Target and go ahead and buy those size 14 jeans. Don't worry about it. You just grew three babies in three years in that body! Your body is AMAZING! Besides, there is so much time to work out and not much time to have your littles. So sneak in a run or a yoga session when you can if you feel like it, but if you don't do anything for six months, please, please don't worry about it. I promise, you can get your body back anytime. (I have the secret when you are ready - two things: Eat Less; Exercise More.) But I also promise that baby girl will never be 4 days, 4 weeks, 4 months, 4 years again. So if she toddles over with a book clutched in her chubby, sticky fingers, sit and read it to her. You won't regret those 5 minutes you cut short the Jane Fonda DVD. 

Because the next nine years... they are going to go fast. Like, warp speed. Even if you thought it was going fast before, trust me, you don't even know, Man. 

And 4 days from now, you will walk that 3rd baby into Kindergarten, and turn her over to a woman you adore, but who still isn't you, and have to drive away because if you stand outside the classroom door and stare in the whole time you will probably be arrested for stalking. 

And that will be that. Someone else gets them 7 hours a day, and you get them about 5 waking hours.  

So even though you feel like the last nine years have been a blur of yoga pants, ponytails, crying in the closet, Sesame Street, play-doh, sandboxes, Cheerios, bad dreams, buckling people in and out, yelling and apologizing, you did it.

You have survived the preschool years. 

And now that it's over, you really, really, really wish you could go back and savor it just a little more. So enjoy it. Enjoy it. Take breaks when you need them. Power through when you think you need a break, but that sweet baby needs you more. Don't feel guilty. Don't. Kiss their chubby cheeks. Hold the bowl when they are throwing up. Take them out of church when you need to. Let them tell you the worst joke for the millionth time. Laugh at it. Mop up the 50th spilled drink of the day. Let that load of laundry sit unfolded for two weeks. Get a babysitter. Cry. Laugh. Hold. Breathe in the scent of their head. Savor. 

I'm so glad there is Heaven in our future. Because my heart is so heavy. I have shed so many tears this week, I think Preston, the man of infinite patience, has just about had it. I feel desperate to hang onto the next four days, resentful that there is so much going on, and I have to share these last baby moments, panicked at what my future holds. 

But Heaven.

For me and my beloved and these covenant children, life has barely begun. And we have forever together. Forever. Hopey told me the other day she can't make her brain understand forever. Neither can I, Precious Girl.

So even though I wish I could go back knowing what I know now, it's ok that I can't. I will still be the one they will turn to, still the one they know can figure out how to fix things from broken feelings to broken ankles. The foundation is laid. I can let someone else teach them the things I can't. And I can share this time I don't want to share. And I can let go. 

And no matter what comes in the next nine years, or the next 50, by the grace of God the Father, I will do my very best to hold loosely.

Because Heaven.


"Believers love Jesus with a deeper affection than they dare to give any other being. They would sooner lose father and mother than part with Christ. They hold all earthly comfort with a loose hand..." Charles Spurgeon