What if ?

According to Wikipedia, What If ? is a non-fiction book by Randall Munroe in which the author answers hypothetical science questions sent to him by readers of his webcomicxkcd. According to decluttering experts, the question is the leading obstacle to a simple and joyous life. I beg to disagree. In fact, my opposition to the idea that “What if I will use it later on?” beggars owners of cluttered homes is so gargantuan, I have taken time away from resting this festive season to pen this piece in the hope that it will prevent someone from getting a case of material regretitis in 2021. Believe me, material regretitis is a disease that is quite hard to cure completely.

Everything pictured above went to the trash bin as part of my end-of-year house clearing.

Let me preface this by saying that I do not have a Western outlook. I was born and raised in a Third World country. Thus, many articles on decluttering or simplifying one’s life wash over my head. I cannot relate with writers who contend that it’s easy to buy another gizmo again on Amazon.

Secondly, I live in a place where it is hard to find stuff. There is no Goodwill or thrift shop around the corner of my block though there’s a Red Crescent box for donations. Thus, I find it hard to let go of stuff that I know is still useable after forking out hundreds of dollars in shipping fees over the years …

Thirdly, I believe that the act of thinking about decluttering one’s possession is a tacit admission of privilege. Not only do you have more than what you need to survive, you can afford to either sell, give or throw them away without affecting the quality of your life. Not everyone has that privilege.

So yeah, I’m privileged. I’m even more privileged because I get to write about why this privilege should not be carried to the extreme by going on the latest home style bandwagon, the KonMari (remember the cocooning trend made popular by Martha Stewart and predicted by Faith Popcorn?). Let’s not quibble about the need for organizing and regular tidying up. That’s a given. Right now, though, thrift stores are swamped with the things that people have decluttered from their homes. But what if the stuff did not go to thrift stores but instead went to the dump instead of being recycled? I ask this because I have observed that people who have immaculate homes do not seem to have environmental concerns.

And so here goes. It’s my attempt to show that sometimes, maybe for a certain period of time, not letting go of stuff DOES spark JOY. Not to mention monetary savings.

Above: The container on the right was given by hubby’s company as a Ramadan gift ten or so years ago. It is a very sturdy box which now conveniently houses my Altenew dye inks. I love it because, unlike other crafters who have albums of their ink color swatches, I don’t want to consult or open an album to see the colors of my inks. The plastic box on the upper left is, of course, a Ferrero Rocher one from 2017. It holds the sponges for my Ranger ink blending tools. The Ferrero cardboard box on the lower left was a Christmas gift from a family whom we visited in Dubai in 2016. It now contains the alphabets for our letterboard. Not included here is the chocolate box holding my jewelry. As you can see, I keep chocolate boxes but not for sentimental reasons. What if I had thrown them away right after eating the chocolates?

These jam jars came from a McDonald’s breakfast meal. I asked my friends for theirs, intending to put leftover DIY colored modelling paste inside. They are now used as Communion cups during our church’s online worship service on every first Friday of the month.

Above: When our printer died, I did not throw out its ink. Instead, I made alcohol ink and made my homeschooled daughter use it in her Paul Klee-inspired artwork.

I realize that a lot of the examples* here are art- or craft-related. That is not mere coincidence. Because crafting is an expensive hobby. Honestly, though, we are saving lots of money by holding on to stuff. Take for example my daughter’s outfit on a recent outing to the city. She wore a leather belt of mine that was 25 years old, my five-year-old peach-colored pair of Naturalizer shoes, my 11-year-old pink bag from Nine West, and a pair of pants that were hand-me-downs to yours truly four years ago. Oh, and she just wore out the sandals which I purchased with friends but which I hardly used (they were comfortable but we hardly ever go out!) In fact, I just showed her a pair of white Adidas shoes in pristine condition. They were bought 11 years ago. Just in case you’re wondering — yeah, we have AC 24/7.

All these examples are not meant to proclaim “Hold on!” We have given away balikbayan boxes of our old clothes, bakeware, juicers, shoes, books, CDs, toys, blankets, towels, etc. I did not grow up in a single house and still don’t have a place I truly consider home so material objects do not constitute a considerable commodity to me. In fact, we gave away 90% of the gifts we received during our wedding within a span of two years.

What I am protesting is the assumption that asking yourself “What if?” is leading to more clutter and, ultimately, unhappiness. Yes, my house is cluttered right now but that’s because I’ve been lazy, preferring to craft instead of clean the house. Whether the residents in our house are unhappy is questionable. I long ago decided that the level of clutter in our house is inversely proportional to my children’s happiness. Two of my boys have grown and flown so perhaps that shouldn’t be my standard anymore, eh?

Was so glad that I had not given this away. Creating a bracelet with her own name was how we entertained a young girl recently.

Maybe if people practiced intentional purchasing they wouldn’t have to deal with clutter. I don’t know. I practice it (it could be years before I buy a book and even now I am crying inside because there are items in my wishlist that are now retired) and still, there’s so many books and clothes to put away. I look at folks who have less kids than I do and think that’s it! Yet it’s not. It’s more about having habits of tidying up. I do believe, though, that truly exceptional mortals — those whose souls reach deep, deep into the stars to plumb ideas — have become comfortable with clutter in their lives.** For, unless they have paid help, how would they have time to spend on the pursuits and passions that make them so interesting in the first place?

*Please note that items shown were NOT immediately recycled. They were kept in storage for a period of time, sometimes years.
**I say this because I do not want to regret at my deathbed having spent a lifetime cleaning and cleaning and organizing and organizing. I’d rather create not so much to leave a mark but to leave something of value to my family and friends, not just memories.

The lazy mom’s summer studies

Ack! 2019 went by without a squeak from moi … but then, who really cares? This blog is just one of a billion voices out there. Still, writing down activities and thoughts for posterity enables one to record track his or her growth through time if not space.

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The reason for girth growing in this season of my life: being in a perpetual state of zombieness requires coffee which is sweetened by my daughter’s baked goodies 

Ha, ha … growing my waistline through space horizontally has definitely been one of yours truly’s achievements this year … a far cry from my youngest son’s accomplishment which is so, so impressive that our breakfast conversation three days ago left me dumbfounded.

Son:  I think I’m finally getting the hang of implicit differentiation.
Me:   Oh dearie, it’s really too bad your school won’t let you take a vacation.
Son:  Huh? What are you talking about? This is something I’m studying on my own.
Me:   (shocked into silence, thinking) “Did this guy actually come out of my womb?”
Son:  Hmmm (shrugging his shoulders) … there’s not much to do besides video games. I’d rather study something instead of just indulge in games. 

May I add that …. This. Is. The son. Who was supposed to go to Germany this summer for a language immersion program to prepare him for C2 proficiency prior to entering university. Who also complains that he has cleaned his bedroom and the toilet. To which I reply “Yeah, but our visitors can’t see what you’ve cleaned and we need to clean what visitors will see.” Who is washing the dishes right now.

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The only thing that saved me from sinking was looking at a cheat sheet (on the left) I’d printed years ago and recalling Maha’s YouTube lessons; here’s an encouraging video for language learners

Ok, enough of proud-mama-bragging. This pandemic lockdown has actually given me adequate time to indulge in all sorts of studies, though none require such mental calisthenics as AP-level Calculus. But it sure felt like my rusty grey cells were doing somersaults when I attended an orientation by the Dubai Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Deparment for its 10-month Arabic course. May I just say that — being an introvert –I’ve always shied away from challenges and since this looks like one, it could be the chance of a lifetime to prove to my kids that their mother can also look a challenge in the eye without blinking.

Tough words, those. The truth is my eldest told me “Mom, learning a language is peanuts compared to learning Finance! I’m going to fail!” Now. I’ve been continually amazed at what my children have accomplished. I mean, they must have inherited SOME genes from me …. so if they can do it, it follows that I should be able to do it, right?

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The other truth is that Arabic learning is the only thing I’ve ever attempted on my own several times in my past life and utterly failed. I can’t even give the excuse of lack of time; my brain just can’t wrap itself around reading from right to left script whose vowel sounds are indicated by marks on top or below an alphabet. Spanish seems so easy even though yo no habla Español. Maybe this time will be different, who knows?

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Will I ever master this? Keeping in mind that oral communication is the goal …

Anyway, Arabic isn’t the only subject that I’ve dug into during the lockdown. I also attend two online bible studies weekly that, coupled with YouTube videos of sermons by John MacArthur and Voddie Baucham plus book readings, have greatly enlightened me on certain aspects of Scripture that were previously not well defined for me. (More on that in another post. Suffice it to say for now that I have seen the light why Dietrich Bonhoeffer could not succeed in his plan to assassinate Hitler. In Christianity, where suffering is a given, the end never justifies the means.) 

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I truly don’t know when I’ll finish John MacArthur’s sermons on Daniel since I usually go back to take notes. His sermons on the first chapter alone equate to five! 

Learning on my own, though, takes a backseat to the YouTube videos I watch as part of lesson planning. They are a lesson in themselves. For grade 7 Social Studies, which focuses on Asian Studies, we’ve looked not only at the physical geography of the Middle East and the peculiar features of Iran and Lebanon … we’ve actually explored the relationship between the two and how Iran is waging a proxy war against Israel via  Hezbollah in Lebanon. As an aside, do you know that Iran’s parliament has a Jewish representative? Not sure if this is how Deped envisioned grade 7 Social Studies to be but, but … how else to make our lessons relevant than to tie it up to current events? I mean, what’s the point?

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Taking notes through brush lettering forces me to listen attentively and keep track of what has been said because brush lettering requires one to write slowly; this study looked at the Feasts with respect to Revelation and involved a bit of mathematical computation … I need to print out the study notes for this to review the lesson, my notes are insufficient.

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In fact, YouTube has taken over the teaching role in our homeschooling. I give assignments to develop the skills that are my goals for my child to master. YouTube takes care of content and knowledge delivery. This, of course, means that I have to preview videos prior to watching them with my child. It’s not an odious task because there usually are more videos I want to watch than there is time.

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Meanwhile, I have to go and clean up the clutter caused by my artistic longings. Which doesn’t actually reflect what I really, truly want to learn. It’s a paradox but it’s true — the one thing I dearly desire is usually the last thing I do. Take the shorts I wear. For more than fifteen years I’ve worn the same type of cheap shorts which isn’t so bad really. Except that I detested them.

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Can’t remember the last time I posted on Instagram …

Now, it’s watercolor painting. The hubby hates the sound of this fabulous YouTube painter whose tutorials I find to be  so informative and instructive. He thinks her voice is too seductive. Me thinks I’d rather watch her videos than pay for Billy Showell’s online course. It confounds him that I don’t want to pay to learn a skill that I have been wanting to excel at for so long. But when you’ve got two children at university, making do with freebie videos on YouTube is IMHO the way to go. That’s how my eldest learned German: he started with Duolingo and took it as far as he could before paying for actual lessons.  Btw Duolingo just reminded me that I need daily practice … my first lesson being last year and the second being last week.

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Sometimes, I wonder whether people who pack our orders ever think? I ordered six after hubby (who banned instant noodles from appearing on our menu while the kids were growing up) declared that instant noodles (which we occasionally eat when hubby is on night shift duty) were missing on supermarket shelves. This was during the early days of the lockdown; I’ve since gone to the grocery to check if the items hubby says are out of stock are really not there. 

To make a long story short, I ended up  purchasing Billy Showell’s book on techniques. Which is currently on the backburner because our tables are always so cluttered with homeschooling books and baking paraphernalia, I just don’t have the energy to take out my tubes, ceramic palettes and glasses of water. Still, art has so many outlets for expression that even simple coloring with pencils brings joy and peace to the soul. May your heARTs be full of love and thanksgiving today!

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The Derwent Coloursoft pencils received a scathing review from Lisa Lachri but hey! they were priced lower at noon.com than at Jackson’s Art  and I’m not a professional artist who sells her work … My review: I love them!! (maybe because they’re the only artist-grade color pencils I have?) 

Conversations

Frankly, I don’t know how I’ll survive my golden years. Conversations with my children  nowadays leave me wondering whether the people who inhabit our house truly came from my womb. Consider the following breakfast talk with my youngest son this  morning:

Son: What do you think of Elon Musk?
Me: I don’t think of him.
Son: What do you think of Brexit?
Me: I don’t think about it.
Son: What do you think of Ken Ham?
Me: I don’t think about them. (thinking of Christian apologists I don’t follow)
Son: Since when have you started using gender-neutral pronouns?
Me: Huh?
Son: Do you have a custom domain for your blog? Or is it just wordpress.com?
Me: Just wordpress.com
Son: You should shift to github. No ads … completely static.
Me: Github?
Son: Good coffee always saves the world. (rising from the dining table)
Me: (looking down at my cup of green tea and thinking “I should have drunk coffee instead”)

But. Conversations that cause my head to spin are the least of my worries. There is always an antidote to questions that cannot be answered: silence. No, sirree … I have more pressing problems to deal with. It seems that my brain processing skills are slowing down to a more leisurely pace. The fact that I’ve been sleep-deprived for so long could have something to do with it.

Whatever. I cannot count the number of times when I’ve been called out by second son for asking questions that could have been answered by the remarks preceding it. Like the time second son was introducing a girl he met up with in the city for the first time.

Me: So, are you part of Counterflow? (assuming that must be where he met her)
Son: Mom, I just told you she’s not part of Counterflow!!
Me: Ah! Sorry, I didn’t hear. (flashing a lamebrain smile) 

I bit my tongue and refrained from posing the question “Aren’t you the girl he met up with yesterday?” Instead I turned to safer topics and asked “So, what course do you plan to take up at university?”

Believe me, it is only just now that I have come to realize how painful it must be for teenagers to introduce an airhead of a parent to their friends.

 

 

 

It was International Women’s Day yesterday?

Youth and beauty are not accomplishments.
                                                    Carrie Fisher

Yesterday, a friend whom I have not seen in more than two decades sent a greeting to mark International Women’s Day. Admittedly, there are many females whose accomplishments are worthy of celebration. But since most of them exist outside my bubble, I cannot relate to their struggles even though I deeply admire them.

Let’s get this straight. It’s not that we don’t care about the hardships that Michelle Obama and Ruth Baden Ginsburg (watch the trailer for her new documentary where she’s shown doing a plank here) went through. It’s just that their ascent to stratospheric heights has left us dizzy with dismay at the lack of opportunities in underdeveloped countries or countries with a male dominant culture. In places like these, a woman would have to be born into a wealthy or well-connected family to be educated and rise above the well-accepted lot of being a mere housewife. This is why I admire women like Iranian human rights activist Shirin Ebadi more than American women.

In reality, there are several women I admire from a distance. I marvel at how they have combined a career and family and managed to turn out independent, happy, productive children. Some of them are single mothers. Sadly, I have not seen most of them in decades so I have no idea of the struggles they went through to reach their present status. What I’d give to pick their brains over coffee, though! (I have a friend whom I asked for advise on raising boys and she reminded me that her son ran away at thirteen … so there’s that)

What I am waiting for actually … and this I cannot understand (I mean, among the billions of women in the planet, who can understand Sheryl Sandberg when she advises women to lean in?) because millions of women care for babies … is for the inventor of disposable diapers to be celebrated by print, social and broadcast media.

Hello??? Do you even know who she is? Nope, she’s not a Pampers executive. She’s Marion Donovan and like most women whose achievements were celebrated yesterday, she had to battle sexist thinking that her invention was unnecessary. You can read her story here.

Plus. You can read about Henrietta Lacks, Qiu Jin, Diane Arbus and other women of substance in the New York Times’ 15 Remarkable Women We Overlooked in our Obituaries. What better way to celebrate International Women’s Day than to educate yourself on women who are doing something to change the world, eh? If you have a daughter, do yourself a favor: tell her about them. 🙂

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I honestly have not yet started on these books … but my daughter has read parts of them.

MOMents (on Billy Collins and MOMdays)

So my posts have tended to focus more and more on motherhood. That wasn’t intentional, believe me. But. What else can I write about when my life centers around MOMhood MOMents? Thus, inspiration struck again when I read Billy Collins’ poem The Moment. Just in case you haven’t read it, here it is:

The Moment

It was a day in June, all lawn and sky,
the kind that gives you no choice
but to unbutton your shirt
and sit outside in a rough wooden chair.

And if a glass of ice tea and an anthology
of seventeenth-century devotional poetry
with a dark blue cover are available,
then the picture can hardly be improved.

I remember a fly kept landing on my wrist,
and two black butterflies
with white and red wing-dots
bobbed around my head in the bright air.

I could feel the day offering itself to me,
and I wanted nothing more
than to be in the moment–but which moment?
Not that one, or that one, or that one,

or any of those that were scuttling by
seemed perfectly right for me.
Plus, I was too knotted up with questions
about the past and his tall, evasive sister, the future.

What churchyard held the bones of George Herbert?
Why did John Donne’s wife die so young?
And more pressingly,
what could we serve the vegetarian twins

we had invited for dinner that evening
not knowing then that they travel with their own grapes?
And who was the driver of that pickup
flying down the road toward the single railroad track?

And so the priceless moments of the day
were squandered one by one–
or more likely several thousand at a time–
with quandary and pointless interrogation.

All I wanted was to be a pea of being
at rest inside the pod of time,
but that was not going to happen today,
I had to admit to myself

as I closed the blue book on the face
of Thomas Traherne and returned to the house
where I lit a flame under a pot
full of water where some eggs were afloat,

and, while they were cooking,
stared into a little oval mirror by the sink
just to see if that crazy glass
had anything particular to say to me today.

Reading it this morning I realized that …

life is made up of moments
big and small,
some painful,
most ordinary
but for the joy
of  exhaling time well spent. 

But Collins’ poem does more than evoke memories of “priceless moments of the day  … squandered one by one” that would have been forgotten had they not been captured by my smartphone.

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I can so easily relate to Collins’ “I could feel the day offering itself to me, and I wanted nothing more than to be in the moment …” whenever I take my seat in our dining table each morning – alone save for the chirping of our pet parakeets in the garden.

Collins’ question “And more pressingly, what could we serve the vegetarian twins we had invited for dinner?”  reflect most mothers’ anxieties about what meals to serve picky eaters,  always-hungry children, and other dinner companions.

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Well … I’ve no glass of iced tea … but I sure love to drink tea in my Arabian-themed cup and saucer

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Nor do I have an anthology of seventeenth-century devotional poetry with a dark blue cover … but I pilfered my late father’s anthology of poetry and store it in a plastic pack 🙂 It’s what I read whenever Momhood gets to be too much – nothing like quaint English to restore the senses, eh? As Collins says, “then the picture can hardly be improved.”

And what mother will fail to identify with Collins’ lines “All I wanted was to be a pea of being / at rest inside the pod of time, / but that was not going to happen today, / I had to admit to myself?

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My daughter wrote this on the pan while cooking pancake for breakfast. Let’s face it, even though we moms feel like All I wanted was to be a pea of being / at rest inside the pod of time,love is what makes us get off the bed while still sleepy and start the day.

Most bizarre of all, I even have a “little … mirror by the sinkinto which I starejust to see if that crazy glass ha(s) anything particular to say to me today.” 

So yeah, I like Billy Collins’ poem very much though I daresay he did not have mothers in mind while composing it. Meanwhile, here are the MOMhood MOMents, “any of those that were scuttling by (which) seemed perfectly right to me.”  

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It never fails to amaze me … I can be the last person to go to bed with no dirty dishes/cups/glasses/pots to wash but when I wake up, I’m always greeted by several dirty glasses. Did we have thirsty visitors in the night????

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For someone who seldom ventures far from home, this photo reminded me that, yeah, the hubby and I had a weekend getaway at the Intercon in Dubai. Having stayed there five years ago, I looked forward to their Japanese buffet and was not disappointed.

 

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Never thought that my brother would ask me questions about soaking vegetables. He did and I showed him this Savoy lettuce in our sink – because I was cooking fried noodles the evening he asked.

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If there’s one plant that should be associated with motherhood, it’s this: Euphorbia mili otherwise known as the Crown of Thorns or Christ Plant … because, really,  isn’t a daily dying to oneself a crown of thorns?

Meanwhile …

In a few days, the Louvre Abu Dhabi will be opened to the public. Many people will go just for the experience of being inside a museum. Hopefully, they will appreciate the works on display, 300 of which are on loan from France. The Louvre, however, is not the only noteworthy museum in the UAE. The Sharjah Art Museum, while located in a part of town that is not conducive to parking, contains fabulous works by Middle Eastern artists. There is one particular piece that I really, really liked by a Yemeni painter:

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Here is the complete painting:

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It may not qualify as a MOMhood MOMent but …. surely looking at a great work of art up close and personal is a blissful twinkle of time, eh? 🙂  Would Billy Collins have liked it? I don’t know but since he admits to getting too knotted up with questions about the past, and his tall, evasive sister, the futurewho knows?

 

 

 

On Ishiguro’s Nobel Prize, motherhood, and memories

After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished?
Kazuo Ishiguro, Remains of the Day

So. The hubby is returning back to work tomorrow after a cycling accident that rendered me awestruck at the miracles we witnessed. To write or not to write – that is the question. Because to me, whose digital footprint spans three blogs, there are just some milestones and moments that are too precious, too close to the heart to be shared with strangers. Thus. At the moment, all I want to proclaim is Hallelujah! God is good. God is sovereign. He cares. He provides. Angels to carry us …. I will write anyway, please keep on reading. 🙂

Like everyone else, life sucks me into a vortex of busyness that months later makes one ask “Where did the hours go?”

Maybe that’s also what Stevens, the butler, thought at the end of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day. Who really knows? But yes … it must be. Stevens’ ruminations on his past life while traveling through the British countryside can – if you think about it long enough – be brought to conclusion with the question “Where did the years go?” It’s the query to end time travels to the past.

Which, as any housewife can tell you, is a question that most mothers ponder at the end of the day, er, years of their servitude as household managers, cook, laundromat, etc …. Hopefully, you get the point.

But that’s not why I’m writing today. Yesterday morning, I could not get back to sleep. The subject on my mind was the previous night’s news: the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature had gone to Ishiguro, “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.” 

Having slogged through his last book, The Buried Giant, I was stupefied that an author whose last work had brought down my esteem for his writing had won. (My review of  The Buried Giant is here.)

The hubby, bless his heart, does not overthink. He gets up, reads the Bible, digests the news, then thinks of the jobs to do around the house that need his attention. Me? I overthink. All the time. It’s a bad habit, I know (and the reason why I can never finish an entire stack of clothes to be ironed.)

Back to yesterday morn: I sat up in bed and mused on my years of motherhood. Then struggled to rationalize the committee’s choice. In a flash, the lightbulb moment came despite the lack of coffee. Authors win the Nobel Prize because they not only distill our experiences into words that conjure images in our mind and sensations in our hearts, approximating how we feel to a degree that is uncanny for a work of fiction… according to Waseda University Prof. Koji Toko, Ishiguro’s win reflects the fact that “vague sensations such as memories, nostalgia and delusions are what constitute the reality of our lives.”

Do they? Frankly, I don’t think so. But. Let’s face it, the fictional lives that authors create so resonate with us because we can easily step into their shoes of their characters. In fact, most often, we wish we were in their shoes. Literally.

I suppose all well-loved writers accomplish those things. In my case, I hated The Buried Giant yet have to concede that for all the cumbersome work of wading through its pages,  Ishiguro still accomplished his goal in writing it. I was left with the sense that a “mist of forgetfulness” can serve a higher purpose in life (the fact that I am now entering the golden years and have become forgetful has no bearing on this sentiment, believe it or not). Don’t we all wish to erase certain memories? As the Swedish Academy’s secretary Sara Danius remarked, Ishiguro won for “exploring what you have to forget in order to survive in the first place as an individual or as a society.”

Then too, like Stevens, I have often wondered whether, with graying hair and feeble bones, I will be forced to be content with whatever remains of my current life will still be there in the future. Like Stevens, whose blind loyalty to his foolish employer kept him from seeking relationships, have I been blind to the emotional needs of my children as I struggle to keep the house spic and span? The latter is something I feel ambivalent about – it’s how stay-at-home mothers are judged – not only because I like order but because it takes away a lot of time from mothering. Age has brought security in my choices, yes, but should I have been less fastidious and mothered more?

Perhaps I would not have pondered Ishiguro’s win so much if I had not had experienced memory loss and its effects so close to home recently. But the hubby’s incoherent babbling and transformation to Dory forcefully reminded me that we are creatures of memory as much as habit. Memories shape our responses to love, loss, the passage of time and emotions such as regret  if not as equally well as the physical reality of the present.

Would amnesia leave as much devastation if memory and time were not inexplicably linked? Why is it that older memories are always associated with our younger selves? For most of humanity, photographs bear silent witness to what others may dismiss as figments of our imagination. For the hubby, his Tomtom testified that he crashed at exactly 6:28 pm on the last Tuesday evening of September. Without it, we would have been forced to rely only on the testimony memory of his cycling companions. Because. Try as he can, the hubby cannot recall the events leading to and after his crash.

But. Enough of thinking! There’s one difference between Stevens and moi. I’m married to the boss of the house, ha, ha. Ishiguro  and I both share one thing in common, though: spouses who enable us to write by picking up our slack in housework. Meanwhile …  being a night owl …  here’s my favorite quote from Remains of the Day:

You’ve got to enjoy yourself. The evening’s the best part of the day. You’ve done your day’s work. Now you can put your feet up and enjoy it. That’s how I look at it. Ask anybody, they’ll all tell you. The evening’s the best part of the day. 

Frau Maria, this is for you: THE KINDNESS of STRANGERS

I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.
               Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire

Several months ago, I had no idea that there was a sisterhood of mothers with grown and flown children. When I learned about the group, my immediate thought was “Nah, my eldest still has one more year to go before leaving home.” And then. Our eldest bared his plans after high school graduation. It meant leaving for another continent during the summer before twelfth grade to pursue a B2 language certification. It’s a prerequisite when one is applying to a public university in Europe.

Two months. Away from me. Away from us, the family.

My heart went beep, beep. There were late-night discussions with the hubby on doing what’s best for our child’s future. There were number-crunching dialogues on how we will send four children to university.  There were questions as to whether this was an answer to prayer. Was this a way out of sending our boy(s) to the Philippines where teenage boys are being killed with impunity? The boy and his father went over his goals and options repeatedly, an activity that they had begun maybe two or three years ago.

In the end, we both agreed that, whether he’d be accepted into a German university or not in the future, this child needed to further his language studies. After all, he had exhibited incredible self-discipline (he deleted his FB account to focus on his language studies which was conducted entirely at home) to attain A1 and A2 mastery and be eligible for a B1 class in the language school where he was enrolling.

And. We all agreed that the optimal plan was to send him away. The only other option was to enroll him in a language school in the city where he would have to pay rent but not get the immersion experience that he needed. Both options required the same financial investment but the latter offered the lesser return.

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When your child is flying alone for the first time, what do you do? We guessed that most flights were delayed due to the outward-bound flights of G20 leaders that day. 

Why does supporting kids in their pursuits and plans almost always tear the heart? I don’t mean this in a negative way but when I consider my children’s abilities (one son can play the drum, guitar and piano – and we never paid for music lessons for him!) I am always heartbreakingly blown away at the feats they have accomplished at such a young age. They surpass me, these seeds that grew in my womb.

Back to our eldest. This is the child who did not care for the German language classes that he was forced to endure in ninth grade. The child who had resisted purchasing a language program because “Duolingo is free.” And now here he was, begging permission and money. We had no choice but to acquiesce. But our German friends whom we’d visited last year were moving to the US three weeks after my son would arrive. It was uncertain where he would stay afterwards. Nevertheless, he flew and we prayed for the best.

Indeed, his experience was more than we could have hoped for: he stayed with a family where he was forced to think and speak German all the time.

So. Now, here he is again and I’m awash in tears. Not by his presence. But by the letter that he handed to me within minutes of our arrival at home. There’s a line that opened the floodgates (or it could be hormones at this period in my life) amidst praise for my son’s language ability and a reminder to trust in God.

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Reading it, I’m awestruck at the thought that the woman who became his surrogate mother, a working mom with small children still at home,  spared time to pen a letter to me, his birth mother. It’s handwritten. Who writes handwritten letters nowadays? Members of my generation, mothers with grown and flown children who understand each other’s concerns though we’re geographically and culturally worlds apart.

Indeed, I’m staggered at how she opened her home to my son despite being so busy with her own family and work. It’s not something I would have thought to do, being so tired of taking care of myself and my own brood. Beyond that, she affirmed our parenting and sought to quiet a mother’s heart. For being there and holding my child’s heart, Frau Maria, thank you.

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I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26 (NIV)

On being a Christian, motherhood and life after forty

Now really, I’ve just been dragged along this techno revolution where one had to upgrade every few years to a newer and sleeker version of a gadget that was only in the realms of science fiction during my adolescence. Thus, you did not find me ruing the fact that  Facetime and Viber are banned in the UAE. Because – goodness! With so many channels for communicating, why would one need Facetime and Viber?

Still … maybe it’s a good thing that there are apps that allow people to chat without being physically tied to an oral conversation over the phone. A person can reply at one’s leisure. The negative side is that one is always distracted by the constant stream of messages from different sources. Also. They do not afford privacy, according to my privacy-obsessed 13yo who uses ProtonMail and has converted my smartphone browser from Safari to Duck Duck Go. Hubby says it’s appropriate for me since I am constantly making dakdak, ha, ha.

Anyway, several days ago in a group chat, someone posted “If and when (insert hubby’s name) loses his job (hopefully not), that’s only when you’ll find your true allegiance.”

Duh? Being a writer, words are my love language. I feel their implied meanings, the emotions they convey, the angst they arouse, etc … I was tempted to reply. But did not .

Later, I discussed it with the hubby. Implicit in the statement, we both agreed, was the insinuation that my Christianity hinges on the comfortable life we have abroad in contrast to those residing in the Philippines. Yet. Much as I resented the innuendo, I had initiated a conversation on that same topic two years ago with close friends. We’d asked ourselves: What if we were to be suddenly destitute? Would our Christianity suffer or would we remain faithful till the end? And we agreed that it’s not so much that we’re shallow Christians, it’s that we don’t know ourselves that much to be sure that we will never complain of hardships. I mean, if we can’t help but compare and complain of financial and physical strains right now, how will we be able to endure financial and physical suffering in the future?

Now I’ve been a born-again Christian for more than 20 years and being one is at the core of Me. It permeates nearly every decision I make, nearly every thought I have, and nearly every action I take. I say ‘nearly’ because clearly there are some things I still grapple with. For example, were I not a Christian I would buy a pair of shoes every month. It’s not difficult to do so when UAE stores average four to five sales every year (four seasons plus Ramadan). But how can I teach my children not to be materialistic when they see my row of handbags imported from the US, some of which have not been used for several years?

Then again, I struggle with the injunction not to let the right hand know what the left hand is doing. I think we should tell our children where our tithes, offerings and donations are going just so they’ll know we are obeying God’s call to give back what is rightfully His and that we’re not spending for our needs and pleasure only. I believe we should model financial generosity but will that make them more generous when they become wage earners? How does one model generosity in a town where there are no slum dwellers or homeless?

I know we’re supposed to reach out with the gospel but really, how can I reach out when I’m tired all the time? Heck, I can’t even keep the house in order all the time, what with the laundry, ironing, cooking, homeschooling two kids, and the sand, the sand, the sand! that gets into the house even when there hasn’t been a sandstorm. How can I reach out to others when just keeping my sanity is wearing me down all the time?

Life may begin at forty but I know there are others out there who will agree that middle age sucks big time when you’re undergoing perimenopause. It’s a sisterhood that one is violently inducted to by nature. And it’s exacerbated by the fact that those around you have no idea why you can’t sleep when you’re so sleepy and why you feel inflamed for two years then feel frozen all of a sudden all the time. Believe me, the first time I visited an ob-gyne, I broke down. It was a relief to finally have someone completely understand what I was going through. Without. Any. Judgment. (I once confessed to a friend about trying not to use my situation to excuse my bad behavior and I was downright disheartened when she pointed out someone who was able to do so. Caveat was that mother had several maids to attend to her needs! To me, if you’ve got a maid, I can’t reach you. Sorry.)

I look at Jeremiah and wonder how he continued to be faithful in the face of scorn and ostracism. How could he? What was God thinking when He chose Jeremiah to deliver a message that He knew would be rejected? Maybe I should be inspired by Jeremiah’s devotion to his creator. After all, I have teenagers who are increasingly stubborn about doing things their way. But no. Methinks my diatribes sermons speeches started falling on deaf ears years ago when they began going to school.

How does one contend with a God who tells you to proclaim an unpopular message? Surrender to Babylon or die! Today, that would be tantamount to sleeping with the enemy, nay, treason. If I were in Jeremiah’s place, would I have been faithful?

I. Really. Don’t. Know. But I have a suspicion I may not be. Just like in the hypothetical situation above wherein our source of income has been cut off.

Perhaps I think like this because I belong to a church that equates growth with active service and regular attendance in church activities. Which, to me, seems like a stunted way of becoming like Christ because honestly, how can one grow spiritually without practicing the spiritual disciplines and being connected to the source of that spirituality in the first place. How can one grow in love or mature unless one is in the path to which God has called you? Why isn’t motherhood honored as a worthy calling? If your primarily calling is inside the house, why isn’t it affirmed to be as worthy as visible ministries? I suspect that many church workers would have less discipline problems at home if they prioritized their families first.

And really. Without being mean about it, a person’s level of personal spiritual growth is reflected in one’s words and values not by 100% attendance in bible studies. Thus, even though one has no intention of measuring a fellow believer’s spiritual maturity, one can know just by learning what a friend watches or does in his/her spare time. Paul’s injunction to think about “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8) may be archaic, yes, but they’re still relevant to our times in light of the trash that is produced by television and film producers.

Not saying here we shouldn’t watch movies but that we should practice discernment concerning our spiritual intake much the same way we control the food that we eat. Because the world’s values seep in and permeate our mind without our knowing it. Perhaps, then, I shouldn’t be surprised that we are in a church where most believers values are shaped not by the Word (“they deserve to die because they’re bad people” is a common refrain for defending Duterte’s drug war) but by the world.

Last night, my eldest asked me to call. So I did. In our conversation, he remarked “You never call me, it’s always Dad who calls.” That sort of blanked me. I’d sent messages via SMS, What’s App and Messenger without getting a reply sometimes. I thought I’d been gradually letting go gracefully. I’d greeted him “Good morning!” and kissed him “Goodnight!” with nary an emoji save for a thumbs up. Sometimes. And now this. Just when he’s about to return. I was at a loss and stammered “It’s your Dad who’s always upset when you don’t communicate. Just a sign from you in the morning and before you sleep is okay with me.” And then we discussed sundry things.

The truth is: I’m trying to find the right balance. How does one let go of a person whom you spewed out of your womb without breaking down on the outside? How does one try not to smother a child? Boys are funny creatures, you know? They don’t like the feeling that they’re being controlled. They don’t like being told what to do. Wily creature that I am, I thought I’d been giving my boy more independence. Yet “I’m always low priority” is what I now hear. And. The Old Testament isn’t much help. It’s a struggle to find inspiration.  Tell me, how does one navigate midlife motherhood beyond the feels?

PS. Here are some noteworthy articles on motherhood in the Old Testament by Claude Mariottini, Professor of Old Testament at Northern Baptist Seminary

I dreamed last night

Found an old poem written years ago …

I dreamed last night of the (insert name here) tree
Atop the Thousand Steps
From where we rowed a banca
When we fished for tilapia
The summer we turned twenty.

I’d never seen a kapre or dwende before
Though they’re common in folklore
But Lola’s tales before she died
Swiftly rendered me tongue-tied.

Oh, it was a fearful sight!
Standing above in a circle of light
Sword at his side, with whiskers brown and ugly,
Clothed in belted, black tunic, a kapre glared malevolently.

“Halt!” cried he while his minions
Blocked the escape trail to Muzon
And an army of dwendes garbed in green
Descended from nearby Curly Mountain.

“The password or your life!” he threatened me.
Looking around for Ali Baba’s cave, I
Saw dew-dropped leaves glitter obliquely
Like diamonds on a lightning-struck sky.

‘Twas the same (insert name here) tree
With its verdant, rustling canopy
Where we’d carved our initials that third of May
Before dusk drowned out the light of day.

I never gave the password
But
That surreal scene
Of a leprechaun and elves in green
And a first love’s kiss
Amidst the smell of fish
Are all I can now remember
Of a long and blissful summer.

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Have been wanting to write for the longest time but life throws a curve each day …

Still, I do write.
In my head
As I try
To drown out the list of things
To do tomorrow
While lying in bed
And driving to La La Land.

There must be a thousand opening
Paragraphs I’ve composed
About
My eldest’s flight and
Mid-air meeting with Trump,
The salads that brighten my world
Each day I’m in a stump;
The online friends I meet
Whose chat gets me through each day,
The flab on my belly that greet
Me each morn and refuses to go away.

Most days life sucks,
Some days ecstasies abound.
Whatever shit I’m buried in –
Don’t worry, dear,
I’m still around.

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“Ohm’s Law, Boyle’s Law, cole slaw …” my son chanted a few years ago and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what Cole’s Law was, ha, ha! 

Wonder Woman I am not

It seems all I ever do is catch up. Yeah. Take this post, for instance. It was slated to be posted on Mother’s Day. Now it’s the first week of June and I’m still on the first paragraph.

So yeah, my life consists of catching up with –

…. the news.
…. what’s been happening in my friends’ lives.
…. my family.
…. my extended family (meaning: the long-lost relatives who found me on social media)
…. my kids (wow, I nearly forgot to mention them!)
…. my reading (see the photo below of some of the books on my TBR list)
…. my age (a friend recently remarked “Only our body ages, we’re still teenagers!“)
…. my gardening (see photo taken today of my drooping peace lily)
…. my household cleaning (having a maid ranks on top of my wish list till my dying day)

Then again, there’s the laundry. Who has ever caught up with the laundry IRL? Conquering the pile of dirty clothes, bedsheets, towels, etc … would not require Wonder Woman powers so much if, if only the missing sock syndrome didn’t plague our household.

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Okay, so the lonely socks syndrome only affects mommies. Of which I, obviously, am one. That it was not a problem in our household during our blissful BC (before children) days has been lost on the hubby. He fumes whenever it takes him more than 30 seconds to find matching socks I, of course, have the wisdom not to mention that I am not a maid nor a slave to make his life easy.

Here is one solution that I have yet to try because I don’t know what I’ll do if I ever keep the first bag of unmatched socks out of sight and later on forget where it is stored. I am notorious for having a poor memory. There was a time when, while on vacation in the Philippines, the hubby asked, “Where’s our money?

Struck with fear, I asked, “What money?

He calmly replied, as if explaining the alphabet again to a first grader, “You know – our cash for this holiday.

Oh! Are you sure you gave them to me?

Of course, they’re not with me.”

Couldn’t you have stored it away somewhere?

Heck no, I entrusted them to you, remember? I even told you that it was all our spending money.

I kid not, with the specter of losing two months’ worth of holiday currency looming large on the horizon – not to mention the possibility of a word war that I was sure to lose – I turned our entire bedroom upside down. In a matter of minutes, I sweated more than I ever I think I will ever do with a Jillian Michaels workout. Think that you need physical exercise to perspire? Believe not! I’ve never been able to replicate that feat of perspiring a bucket in less than ten minutes in all my dancing since then. Yup – never!

You’d think that by now I’d know every nook and cranny in our bedroom. After all, that was not the first time I’d treasure hunted to find something I’d hidden (usually, my jewelry). But no. On that same vacation, my eldest son found Dh1,700 in the pocket of a pair of shorts in our closet. Which I’d hidden nearly three years before. 😦

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So let’s get back to the problem of missing socks. I’m no Wonder Woman. In fact, I don’t even aspire to reaching Wonder Woman status. Watching Gal Gadot’s achievements actually prompted a question in my mind: how many maids does she have? Does that sound mean? Well, so be it. I’ve no bones to pick with former beauty queens who maintain their looks while having children but every mother knows that one can’t balance work, family responsibilities, workouts, Me time, and stave off the ravages of time without paid help.

Two nights ago, I asked a friend who’s now doing Emily Skye’s workouts, “How was the movie?

She replied, “Her body looks good. From all angles.”

Hearing that somehow depressed me. Yeah, I know, it’s escapist fiction. I have yet to watch the film so I really can’t comment about its storyline but if my friend’s overall impression of the movie was Gadot’s physique and prowess, well … maybe it’s a good idea to pass up on the latest superhero(ine) franchise.

I do watch escapist fiction under duress. And I usually can’t remember the plot the next day. Thus, I prefer my choices to have some semblance of justice for middle-aged matrons with plenty of white hairs and wrinkles. What that means is a plot that has heart, a story that everyone young and old can relate to. Like Kevin Sullivan’s Anne of Green Gables.

Enthusiasm and melancholy, perseverance and grief, romance and regret — in short, a dollop of everything that contributes to the human experience. Still a resonant cornerstone of our national cultural identity, Anne of Green Gables pays affectingly nostalgic tribute to the slower pace and simpler times of an earlier era, while its heroine embodies such “truly Canadian” values as moral conviction, intelligence, and perhaps most importantly, empathy and understanding towards other people.

                                David Davidson in Anne of Green Gables

Maybe it’s nostalgia. Or perhaps it’s because I can recall a time when life was simpler and less grim.  And films did not distort nor deviate from an author’s mood, like Netflix’s dark Anne with an E. Either way, age has a way of distorting one’s views. Even though what continues to be a problem must be addressed and solved, wisdom acquired via experience makes one let go of daily botherations. Especially if it concerns laundry and disappearing socks.  Lonely socks? Let them go to sock heaven!

In the meantime, La La Land beckons so I’ll be off to catch up on some sleep …

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Maybe I should have a bin just for socks? 

Valentine’s Day 2017 (on dealing with non-expectations)

Is there anything in Me
That can’t be fixed by a cup of tea?

Ugh. So yesterday was another busy day of homeschooling. And. Wanting some comfort, I turned to my cache of tea boxes bought from Germany last summer. Only to discover that creeping crawling insects had invaded most of them. So now I’m throwing them away. Ack! The meandering thoughts they would have inspired while being sipped! Alas, adieu was the order of the day …

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Some of the tea that I threw away … and they cost more than four times as much here in the UAE!

Anyway, I had a most pleasant surprise yesterday. Like I wrote before, we don’t normally celebrate Valentine’s Day so I was not expecting anything nor taking the hubby’s mutterings about not having a present for yours truly seriously. Truly. I can’t remember if he ever gave me a rose before we were married. (In fairness, he started giving roses after we were married and it was only last month that he gave me tulips) 

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Sadly, these tulips wilted within two days of purchase

So. He took youngest son out for a haircut. And returned with these and an apology that they were the best he could find in our desert town.

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I’d seen them advertised on Facebook and thought “Who would ever give those kind of roses to their dearly beloved!” I couldn’t help it – I laughed. And told him he need not have bothered – there were roses aplenty in our garden. Thereupon he articulated his hurt and vowed never to give another Valentine’s Day gift again.

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One of the rose varieties that grows in sandy soil – these are not sweet-smelling

Realizing that I’d crushed his delight in giving (not to mention jeopardized all future chances of ever receiving a Valentine’s Day gift again), I immediately sought to rectify my thoughtlessness. Articulating my gratitude, I remained mum concerning the box of chocolates that accompanied the rose. Though really, my first thought was “Oh no, are you sabotaging my calorie counting?

Anyway, I’ve since then been enlightened by Joe Carter’s piece on How to Write a Love Letter.” He says

Being in love has nothing to do with being reasonable. In fact, love requires that you make completely irrational choices. If we didn’t there would be no romance, no second marriages, and no jewelry stores.

So maybe purchasing a long-lasting rose is unreasonable, irrational  and downright corny. Yeah. When I think about it, what rose is supposed to last a whole year? Still … after all the busyness of yesterday and the middling musings on life and marriage that kept me awake till one in the morning, I finally found a way to allay the hubby’s hurt (who knew men could be so onion-skinned?) and express my appreciation for his selflessness throughout the year… by finally writing the dedication/Christmas greeting in the book that I gave him for Christmas. I’d asked him to read it prior to reading the book and was perplexed to find that I’d never written it. Who knew I could be unreasonable and irrational to ask someone to read something I’ve never written?

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Honestly, I don’t know whether to feel gratified that hubby is turning romantic as he ages or mortified at the thought that we’ve now been swept into the tide of crass commercialism of a day commemorating the gruesome death of a Christian martyr. No one needs a special day to convey his/her love when it’s communicated everyday, eh?

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Image Source: The Idealist on FB

Belated Heart’s Day from the sands of Arabia!

Expectation

Daily Prompt: Anticipation

Okay, so Madam’s death squeezed out all motivation to post for the longest time. A pet’s death, however, doesn’t dry creative juices completely. Just as Billy Joel says in his song, “there would still be music left to write”  if only because life goes on despite what one is feeling.

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So. Going through my emails today, I was so excited to learn that yesterday’s Daily Prompt was “Anticipation.” I haven’t participating in The Daily Prompt for some time. But. Anticipation is the only the word that describes my state of mind right now. The church which we have hosted for the longest time (nearly ten years to be exact) is due to move out in a month or so. And all I can now do is imagine our house having more space. And what not.

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That’s a Kitty Meijering printed canvass I found in the Philippines (okay, it’s probably a fake but KM is one of my fave artists)

It’s so hard to put everything into words right now because interior decorating is a part-time hobby of mine due to the fact that it is a very expensive one at that. Plus. It takes me ages and ages to conceptualize and think about where to place furniture and what furniture to use/buy for a particular need.

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For example, the hubby right now is using the top of a shoe rack in our kitchen as a countertop for his coffeemaker. That is going to change, of course, not least because he’s been making noises about it, ha, ha.

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One thing’s for sure: we need more shelves for our growing library.

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Anyway, I’ve been looking at the current and present IKEA catalogs and my cache of color-coordinated bric-a-bracs, wall decor, table covers, sofa covers, cushion covers, curtains, etc … The last time I changed our color scheme was 17 months ago in June 2015 when I adopted the color purple.

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Ugh. Now I realize I didn’t take pics of our house with the purple curtains, carpets, etc … except for the one below.

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Anyway, the photos here do not show our current living situation which right now is very messy since I’ve been “springcleaning” soon after the end of our homeschooling year. They’re how our house looked like two Christmases ago. Meanwhile, anticipation beats steadily through my days …

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 Anticipation

In memoriam

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Farewell, furried friend
Though I cannot comprehend.
Tears may fall
At your sudden call
This I know
I cannot show
Life’s bitter clause
Rent by your claws
For all we fear
Grab things held dear
Blistering
A tearing of the heart
When the heavens part.

 

Keeper of my dreams

Keeper of my dreams
At your altar do I bring
All my person’s pride and pain
And a sinner’s dross and shame.

Keeper of my dreams
Gladly do I give you everything:
The fears and tears of yesteryears –
Free them, please, on an angel’s wings.

Keeper of my dreams
To you I surrender all heartaches
Carry me so my soul won’t break
Strengthen me for thy Spirit’s sake.

Keeper of my dreams
Gently sew these tattered seams
Of long dormant desires and whims
Into a garment of psalms and hymns.

Dimly through the world I see, 
Dreary though my life may be – 
Forever will a praise I sing,
Seeking not a blessing
But the strength to come shining through;
Clutching at your hand as children do
Clinging to nothing else but you:
       Tender keeper of my dreams.