Saturday, January 24, 2015

Progress on Home Office Organization

I tore into my office, which may now be called "the study" as my son has tried to take it over with his music stand and new viola. After trying out a few configurations to include him in the space, I chased him out and moved his stand to the dining room. I'm fine if he wants to practice in here, but it's too had to navigate with a music stand and an extra chair when he's not practicing.

So after several days of cleaning and organizing, The Study has come a long way. There are still some piles spilling out on the floor -- stacks of books and pottery -- but we have good intentions to build some shelves in the hallway. Amazingly, I threw out a whole printer paper box of junk, which for a semi-hoarder is a big deal. I even had Joe take a side table to Habitat Restore. I purchased six tan Better Homes and Gardens collapsible bins from Walmart, which fit perfectly in the Ikea Expedit shelves. There are bins for the following:
  • Sewing machine (it's a small one)
  • Sewing and craft supplies
  • Photography (matted prints and such)
  • Stationary, mail supplies
  • Shipping bubbles and envelopes
  • Garden seed packets
The top basket has random office supplies, and the final shelf has pottery. Excess pottery is a problem in our house. I have pieces listed on Etsy, that are waiting to be sold, but I also have pieces that I want to keep that are samples of the various stages of my skills development, and I have some that are simply too ugly to sell. I am starting to put a box together of "freebies" that I will have to determine what to do with. There's a huge stack of cardboard boxes in the corner just in case I make a sale on Etsy. The USPS will send customers free flat rate boxes to make shipping easier with them.

My only real concern now is that every time my neighbors drive by, I'm sitting in the window -- maybe even pointing the camera towards the bird feeder out front. I look like a real creeper at times. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Piles on Piles

I've been working my way through the house attempting to put it back on its feet after several years of toddlerdom and a lifelong habit of saving every little thing. There's a front room in the house that has amazing potential yet it often finds itself in the cross hairs of multiple hobbies, a litter box and hoards of preschool projects. It is the first room people see when they walk in the door and it currently looks like it is vomiting out the manifestation of my internal chaos.

You see, I begin piles as temporary solutions, and yet they almost always grow to be permanent problems. 

These piles are the castoffs that may have future value, that once were important, that were a whim, and things I would simply feel irresponsible for throwing away. 

And this is the result. 

What should be a functional space has become a hazard. As I pulled out a stack of papers and photographs, my son's ceramic hand prints came tumbling to the floor where they shattered on the corner of a picture frame. The messes prop up the messes until they all come crashing down. 

Isn't this the nature of the internal life as well? We push aside what we don't want to face or deal with at the present only to find years down the road that our entire emotional well-being is constructed as a child's building block tower in which the blocks were not laid parallel or on square. 

My dear friend said today, "It always gets worse before it gets better." 

She is absolutely right. These shelves and their contents have to be pulled out, wiped down, sorted through and evaluated for use. I once told a friend-counselor-in-training that I would essentially take my internal messes to the grave, wherein Jesus would make all things right anyhow. But the problem is, other people, as they live in my physical home, also dwell within my internal spaces. My messes spill out into their paths; perhaps they themselves have been slid into one of my piles. 

A life of love is one that doesn't hide away the messes but faces them head on, one stack at a time. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Throwing Big

Last week I drove to Durham and returned with supplies and 150 pounds of clay in three different shades. I have torn through two bags of Little Loafers and have been making large 12" and up bowls. I've scrapped some of the work and have been reusing the clay for plates. I don't have the best plate skills. It seems that maybe 30% of the ones I throw make it through the whole process. My biggest struggle is getting the thickness right so that they can be cut off the bat. The second biggest struggle is letting them dry slowly enough so that they don't crack in the middle. There is currently one drying on a hydrabat -- not cut off -- and one on a particle board bat that was cut off but not removed. I can't cover them since the underglaze swirls would get boogered up. I saw an instagram picture of a fellow potter that was placing wet pieces in what looked to be a plastic portable greenhouse, the clear tent kind. I need to see if that is something I could purchase. During this time of year, the air humidity in the garage is pretty unpredictable. 

Here are a few of the pieces ready for a bisque fire!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Out of clay!

Oh no! I'm out of clay. I used up my bag at Pullen, and the last of my bag at home. While cleaning out the garage this weekend, I found several bags of moldy and rock hard clay. It's a sign of having taken some time off. I need to drive out to Durham for more clay, but I'm not about to make that drive in rush hour traffic. Besides, with as low as the temperature will be dropping tomorrow, I doubt my trusty little space heater will get the garage warmed up.

Last night I joined the Triangle Potters Guild. I've been eyeing this group since taking classes at the NCSU Craft's Center, but I never determined that I was a "potter" or "ceramic artist" and thus was qualified to be part of the group. That's just silly, because the group is comprised of people with a whole range of experience and skill. Rachel Smith gave several great demonstrations, and I was able to pick up some new tips and inspiration.

While stalking a friend's pins, I saw a water-color tutorial. I had a huge urge to go buy water color paper, but I checked myself and decided to let the clay be my canvas. I love the way underglaze blends into the wet clay, and I plan on picking up a few other colors next time I'm out... once I have clay!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Working from Home with Kids Part 2

In the last post, I described my journey to being a work-from-home mom. In this post I'll share some of the struggles. To give reference, I have two boys - one is now in preschool four mornings a week, and one is in first grade. I'm a part-time temporary hire, which in fancy terms is adjunct professor. I've been doing this work since I was first pregnant and have taught every spring and fall semester the past seven years. I currently teach three 1-hr and 2-hr credit courses in the spring and one 3-hr credit course in the fall. This works out require anywhere from 5-15 hours a week, depending on how much grading there is and whether I'm revamping course materials. A couple weeks last spring, I pushed 20-30 hours, which coincided with snow days, and I ended up automatically terminated by the system for working too many hours, in the doctor's office after two weeks of not sleeping, a resting heart rate that was bouncing between 89 and 117, high blood pressure, a sinus thing, dry mouth, twitching, and down about 5-10 lbs. I'd also been pacing the house and neighborhood and bawling on anyone who asked how I was doing. Up until last summer, I would put in several hours a week for course maintenance, but last summer I resolved to fully devote my time to the kids, the sunshine and garden. I do not regret that decision one bit. I also run a small pottery side business, but during busy seasons like last spring, this gets dropped. I think I'm getting better at pacing myself and not feeling like I have to be productive, but I do get very anxious if I go more than three days without putting in time on the classes even if I'm all caught up.

Repeatedly I'm told by friends, family and even my physician that I have an ideal setup - keeping my foot in the door in my career while getting to be home with my kids and keep up with hobbies I'm passionate about. We haven't had to hire childcare, and with the youngest entering elementary school next fall, it looks like we are in the clear in that department. Sometimes I've used the childcare at the YMCA to knock out an hour here or there, especially around that 12 week mark that seems to be the peak stress time of my semester. Admittedly, it's a sweet deal, but it all hinges on the fact that my husband is full-time employed with benefits.

Working from home in early motherhood, which I define as the years before grade school, has held various challenges. Each of my boys has required adjustments to my work habits and schedule as their personalities, love languages, and ability to entertain themselves greatly vary. It has also taken me time to learn my own work environmental needs, personal limitations on time and energy, and find a way to meet those. There are some parenting compromises I've made that I probably carry guilt for. One of those is TV consumption. I didn't want my kids in front of the TV until 2 years old, and then only for a wee little bit of time, but this didn't happen. I try to make myself feel better with arguments that "At least it was primarily PBS kids" and "My oldest knew the alphabet by 18 months," but I'm not really fooling anyone, especially not myself. Another compromise is stepping away from being everything to my boys. Preschool has been huge for our family. We love our preschool and its teachers. Both boys have really thrived there, and it has met needs that either I didn't feel equipped to meet or allowed to be outsourced in order to work and pursue other outlets. (Gosh, that sounds selfish as I type it, and I don't know if it truly is or if I am bending under the weight of unspoken expectations our society places on moms.)

My oldest son started a mom's morning out program one day a week when he was 19 months old, and I got pregnant a month later. I didn't get a ton of paid work done during that time block because I was shocked to be alone for a couple hours and needed it to recover from the rest of the week. While very independent in his physical abilities and a great thinker and problem solver, he likes feedback and a ton of vocal interaction. He shows frustration towards other things that hold my attention, whether they be work, people or hobbies. I have a vivid memory of him as a toddler lunging at me from one side of the couch anytime I pulled out my laptop to work and me holding out my blocking arm. He returned the favor anytime I tried to talk on the phone. I could only work when he was sleeping, and lucky for me he was a great napper - not always, but most of the time. He still has a tendency to hover and sigh while I work, which makes me very anxious and snippy. Ambient noises, the TV, the bustle in a coffee shop or YMCA lobby don't distract me. My children's voices do distract me (and he likes to talk loudly). I'd like to consider this a positive thing - my reaction to their distraction is not always positive. The more focused I am at work, the shorter my temper becomes as I try to maintain the concentration. We are having conversations about how to respect each other's needs and how some thoughts can just be thought rather than spoken, and that not everything he's doing needs to be narrated, but I'm also aware that this is how he is wired. During the week, he spends more than seven hours a day in school behaving very well, so the couple hours we have together in the afternoon, he needs me present, to talk, to listen, to hug, to love him, to wrestle and run. He needs me to not constantly hush him or brush him aside. I want to be present.

I had my second son when the oldest was 29 months. When I tried to put him in in mom's morning out at 15 months, he wasn't ready. Or maybe I wasn't ready. He fell asleep on the floor each time and cried a lot, and I was already having reservations about him being away from me, so I pulled him out after only four weeks. He didn't start preschool the next year either because I was determined to keep him as "my baby", as it was becoming clear that he probably was going to be our last baby, and I wanted to absorb it all (even if it meant him watching Sesame Street beside me while I worked). However, I also quit trying to get so much done during the day, enjoyed many long snuggles, and often waited until they both went to bed to start working. This ate into time with Joe, but he was mostly okay with it. He now will go off and quietly entertain himself with Lego's or Play-doh with amazing focus, and is content doing so. Last year I tried to keep a schedule where he'd get my full attention on mornings off, but that stressful spring demolished my plan. Hopefully, I've since resolved this.

Other challenges involve equipment and office space. There are almost always dried chocolate milk drops or random stickers on my laptop. I suppose that is sort of cute, but my last laptop had the DVD drive cracked and then ripped out. I once bought a web cam and headphone set with a microphone, and one of the boys bit off the microphone. I now carry an accidental damage warranty on my laptop. My textbooks have scribbles in them -- fortunately just inside the front covers. My "desk", the living room ottoman usually has Lego's, crumbs and random bits of crusted over fluids on it. It would be helpful if I had a formal desk or office in the house that I could hole away in (which I did at one point), but when the kids are home, I keep a watchful eye on them if they are in the yard, or I just go to the garden and pull weeds while they play. Working at night, I'd rather be in the living room with Joe, so there's not much point in having to move things back and forth from a desk. If you look under my couch, you'll find my textbooks and laptop when not in use... two fruit snacks down from the missing flip flop and in front of the last cheap plastic prizes from the dentist.

So I guess this hasn't been easy, but whose parenting experience is? We all make choices that require compromises and induce anxiety. If we are honest, even the most self-assured of us, we question those choices and wonder if our kids will one day end up in therapy because of us. Guess what - they probably will and not even for the reasons we think. I have to remind myself that my job isn't preventing my kids from experiencing disappointment, but teaching them skills to handle it -  showing them how to manage their reactions, how to forgive, how to be forgiven, how to lose, how to be okay not living up to their highest potential in every aspect of life. I teach these by struggling through them myself. Because, yes! Absolutely yes, I am disappointed in myself. It would be a lie to present myself as someone who has it all together. But that disappointment is temporal. It isn't lasting. It isn't defining. The best thing I get to teach them is how to be loved simply for being and not for doing.

my favorite way to de-stress

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Working from Home with Kids Part 1

In the final stretch of my PhD program, I traveled to Portland for an annual conference. I'd been married just under three years, and earlier in the week, Joe and I rafted down the White Salmon River, during which I had a near death experience. It was an anxiety ridden week, because on top of almost dying, I had applied for tenure-track positions in my department and at another university, and everyone who had anything to do with my potentially being hired was at the conference. I was in a hotel room with a fellow graduate student and friend, my husband having already returned to Raleigh, when I burst into tears.

What I really want to be is a stay-at-home mom.

I had known since the fifth grade that I would get my PhD, and I'd always had an interest in teaching, and it had been in my plan to marry by twenty-three and have my first kid by twenty-seven (very specific, I know), but what I hadn't fully prepared for was the enormous internal conflict that would arise from seemingly competing desires. The conflict came to a head during that conference.

At that point in the journey, neither a faculty position nor children were a guarantee. It wasn't as if there was an actual decision at that point for me to make, but I was in limbo. We weren't going to try to have kids until I finished my degree, but in the meantime I was starting to consider career and wondering if a career was even something I actually wanted. I cried tears for the kids I didn't yet have, for the job I wanted yet didn't want, for the fear of a life-long career at a desk with cinder block walls, for the guilt of having my education financed by foundations that expected me to use it, and for having nearly drowned beneath a waterfall in icy rapids.

I didn't get either job. However, as part of my degree program, my chair had me develop a 1-hr distance course related to my research and at the end of that semester, I was offered the opportunity to create and teach a fall distance course for the department that would prepare incoming graduate students and get them up to speed on topics they'd need for other courses. Right around graduation as I was then prepping the fall course, I got pregnant with my first son.

The path I have ended up on isn't conventional for academics or for moms, and I often question how it will play out long-term, but it has worked for our family the past eight years. It hasn't been without challenges, which I will address in a later post. I've learned that sometimes to reconcile competing desires, I have to be open to unconventional solutions and compromises. It's when I size myself up to other academics or other mothers that I really seem to lose my footing. As a follower of Jesus, I'm in a constant battle to take the world's measure of success completely off the table otherwise I fall to great clouds of self-doubt and disappointment.

I'd love to hear from other work-at-home moms! How did you end up where you are? Do you struggle with second-guessing your role in your career or as a mom? How do you find balance in the multiple roles? Feel free to comment or shoot me a message on Facebook or Twitter.

Maturity is not conferred along with the degree.

Friday, January 2, 2015


Just before Christmas, I put out birdseed. When we returned home from Tennessee, the birds had discovered it, and they are now hanging out on the deck taking turns at the feeders. "Taking turns" may be a generous phrase for what really goes down. It's more of a crowd of feathers hopping back and forth from deck railing to feeder to chair to nearby tree. Some seem to wait off to the side for an opening, some make an opening. I don't refill the feeders in summer or autumn since it seems there is plenty for the birds to feed on (such as my garden), but after a few frosts, I feel sorry for them and put out food. For several winters now, we've been bird watching from our kitchen window and photographing the birds. It's become part of our family rhythm that's governed by the seasons.

Where I live, the four seasons are well defined. Sometimes summer heat bleeds over into fall, and sometimes winter chill hangs around a little too long, but there is a predictability that brings a measure of comfort. No matter which season is upon me, it's likely not going to run longer than twelve weeks. No matter how cherished a season is, by week twelve I'm ready to move on and bid it adieu.

As an adjunct professor I fall into the rhythm of living life in two sixteen-week blocks of time, which are bookended by hobbies, family visits and full days with the kids. By the twelfth week of a semester, I'm desperate for closure, as are my boys who shoulder the fallout of my stress. It's as if this academically constructed season is just a few weeks too long. My students seem to experience it too. The seasons transition and life throws wrenches without heeding the academic calendar.

Last spring semester was rough -- rougher than it has ever been -- and I'm anxiously looking out the window at the bare branches and brown grass hoping this season doesn't get the best of me again, and hoping someone remembers to fill up a feeder for me.


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