Tag Archives: inside the life of a stay at home mom

Sometimes Blooming is a Bunch of Dooky (and some Fabulous Friday GF cookies)

Since Laura’s last post, I’ve been thinking about what success means to me. And my inspirational gem is:

Sometimes “bloom where you are planted” is a bunch of dooky (yes, I said dooky).

Back in 2006, Nick bought a vanilla orchid cutting. For those of you not as nerdily awesome as my husband, a vanilla orchid is a vine on which vanilla beans grow. They need hot, humid, tropical climates. You know, just like Iowa. The vines typically grow to be 10 feet long before they are ready to flower, and then the flowers last only one day (and are usually hand pollinated). And – voila – you have an expensive vanilla bean!

With Nick’s plant magic, the vine actually grew and we started dreaming of financing graduate school with our mini vanilla farm. Nine years and 20 feet of vine later, still no flower. Because (gasp), we don’t live in the jungle and don’t own a tropical greenhouse.

Property of Kristin Giuliani

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It has taken me three decades, but I finally have a grasp on my gifts and talents. I am creative, spontaneous, laidback, and compassionate. I can reroute a derailed plan with ease. I am a global thinker who can uncover the most unlikely connections to build my case. I love creating and unconventional projects and letting the girls skate on a thin layer of flour sprinkled on our kitchen floor.

But.

My brain cannot grasp organization. Setting and maintaining a routine is about as easy for me as running a marathon (or a 10K). I am not a natural cook. I get overwhelmed by too many choices, so trying to plan meals takes me hours and hours. I can handle detail, but in small doses. Planning ahead and sticking to the plan feels like walking through a giant vat of rubber cement. Keeping my schedule straight, without even adding in the schedules of four other people, is exhausting.

Property of Kristin Giuliani

So, if you can’t already see where this is going, I am that vanilla orchid. In this particular setting of my life, which demands way more organizational acumen than I possess, I will never bloom without constructing a completely artificial environment around me.

Over the years, I have tried hard to bloom. I vacillated between making minute-by-minute schedules for every single day and throwing my hands up in surrender. I tried every organizational tactic, method, and fad. The not-so-subtle message drenching womanhood is that you can (and should!) be organized if you just learn how. If I could just get the time to finally get everything organized, I thought, my problems would be solved. I wasted so much time and energy trying to become organized like the rest of my non-ADHD friends with Pottery Barn-like houses that I lost myself. My unique gifts were suffocating inside all my disorganized organizational bins.

But this past fall, I hit a low (for the third time in seven years). I let everything go. Clutter filled every horizontal surface and we ate lots of painfully expensive gluten-free mac-n-cheese.

As I crawled out of the gutter, I realized it wasn’t that I lacked the time to do everything, I lacked the brain capacity. I finally acknowledged my limitations and embraced my strengths.

Property of Kristin Giuliani

In the last few months, I have found a (mostly) happy medium. I recognize that we have an uncontrollable, demanding schedule where Nick is largely unavailable and all three girls need to see medical specialists on a regular basis. I stopped consulting to seek work with consistent weekly hours. I clean less than I would like, but everything has a place (even if it’s a teetering pile in the corner of the kitchen). We enforce consistent dinner and bed times, but everything else fluctuates daily. The girls have weekly chores and are not allowed to keep something unless they can find a place to put it (even if it’s a teetering pile in the corner of their closet). We only eat mac-n-cheese once a week.

Property of Kristin Giuliani

I am a happier, more creative person, but there are still days where I lose it. On my bad days, I worry that my chaotic way of doing things is stressful for my routine-needing girls, and that they will leave home not knowing how to be functional adults. On my good days, I trust that by respecting my gifts and limitations (and not screaming at them on an hourly basis), I will be able to help them become confident and creative enough women to fill the gaps.

I may not be able to bloom right now, but I can grow. Perhaps not as quickly as those orchids in the jungle, but the growth is there. And, I can even offer a completely different kind of beauty – evergreen beauty during the gray Iowa winter.

So here’s my measure of success instead:

Grow where you are planted and recognize that sometimes, blooming is just pure dooky.

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Property of Kristin Giuliani

 

Aside from the first snow of the season (for which the girls have been waiting since MID-JUNE), my Fabulous Friday this week is my proud creation:

Property of Kristin Giuliani

Kristin’s Awesomely Soft and Chewy Grain-free, Gluten-free Totally Unhealthy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 stick of unsalted butter (at room temp)
  • 3/8 cup each of brown and white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ¾ teaspoon of baking soda
  • 2 1/3 cups of blanched almond flour (Honeyville brand works the best – Bob’s Red Mill can be too grainy)
  • ½ to ¾ cup of chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 350. Whisk almond flour, baking soda and salt together. In a separate bowl, cream butter, sugars, and vanilla together. Add eggs one at a time and beat until light and fluffy. Add flour mixture and beat until well combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop by tablespoonful onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake 9 – 12 minutes, until just starting to turn golden on top. Watch them carefully so they don’t burn. Let cool on the sheet for 3 – 5 minutes before moving them to a cooling rack. Enjoy! Do NOT store them in an airtight container – they will get soggy.

Property of Kristin Giuliani

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When the Worst is the Best

I have this habit of trying to do it all and be it all, seeking frantically to find the way to exist in that magical, elusive state called The Best.

But this year, I have discovered that while this mythical-seeming state actually does exist, it is nestled in the more hostile country of The Worst. As much as I’d like to pretend The Best is a sovereign nation, the two are inextricably entwined. And, for the first time ever, I am realizing that this is okay. As I alluded to last week, I see how the common and the fabulous coexist in my life, nearly always in the same thing, and this juxtaposition is part of what makes life real and, sometimes, what makes it beautiful.

The reality has sunk in, as it usually does, while muddling through this parenting thing. As the girls mature, we have started to include them in decisions other than what to wear and how to do their hair. You know, things that have more permanent, influential and visibile consequences than being cold, mismatched or uncomfortable for a day. While we will have the final say at this phase in their life, we have found (through lots of trial and error) that on many decision, it is important to ask for their input and acutally seriously consider what they say.

Iowa has this fantastic dual enrollment option, which allows kids to attend between 2 and 5 hours of public school per day and be homeschooled for the rest. This year, after much deliberation and for a variety of reasons, we (Nick and Nora and I) decided to dually enroll Nora in 2nd grade. She goes to school with everyone in the morning and leaves two hours early.

Property of Kristin Giuliani

We all (mostly) love it. Nora loves having extra time at home. But, because she misses the end of the day, that means she often misses the fun stuff, too – birthday celebrations, class parties, costume parades, fun projects.

Nora was dually enrolled in kindergarten, for a different set of reasons. And we would always let her stay till the end of the day when there were special events.

This year was different. Nick and I decided at the beginning of the year that we wouldn’t be making exceptions. We wanted to teach her that there are consequences to all choices, even the best ones. We told her that the privilege of having extra time at home meant that she would be missing things at school. She agreed.

The first time there was something special, I braced myself for a torrent of whining. But to my surprise, she said, “Mom, I’m feeling disappointed that I am missing it. But, I know that I get to go home and have tea outside and do fun things with you guys. So I’m okay.”

What??!?

Maybe it’s just me, but I hear this unspoken message everywhere to find the best, and be the best, and to never settle for anything less. And so I embark on the noble quest for the best, discarding anything that is less. I confuse trying my best with being the best and consequently never learn the important lessons that come through working hard at something for which you may never be the best.

I can see how this mindset has permeated my parenting. Much like I have a deep desire to protect the girls from all pain, I want them to experience the best. All the time. In everything.

But not the worst.

And really, I’m finding it’s pretty easy to do that while they are young like this, and I can control so much. I can manipulate circumstances to enhance the best and minimize or even eliminate the worst. And I am realizing that I am walking a fine line between responsible parenting that strives to create a safe environment for kids to grow and mature, and dangerous parenting that strives to create the perfect environment. When we talk about choices and decisions, I find myself discussing all the benefits of each possibility. Rarely (unless I’m trying to sway a decision), do I talk honestly and openly about both the best and the worst.

Recently, I was chatting with my sister about the popular critique of her millennial generation, namely, their collective repulsion at taking a good job (or any job, really) instead of the best job. And it made me wonder. In our nobly intentioned desire to have our kids find their passion and become the best that they can be, have we set them up for a never-ending quest for the mythical, sovereign country of The Best? Have we actually succeeded in creating people who won’t settle for less? Ever?

Property of Kristin Giuliani

So much like I’m feeling challenged to prepare my children for the reality of suffering, I’m realizing I need to do a better job of discussing The Worst as a inevitable and necessary part of life. I am a naturally (and usually, unrealistically) optimistic person, so this is not easy for me. But, I’m working to train myself to see the worst parts as evidence of the best parts.

The tricky part is trying to teach them to recognize the (often subtle) difference between The Worst that is simply a byproduct of a particular option and The Worst that is destructive, damaging and divisive. I don’t want to raise apathetic kids. I want to raise kids who can and want to recognize and address problems.

I am hoping that the experience with Nora will extend to the rest of life – that by giving them a realistic view of what life is they will have

The serenity to accept what cannot be changed, the courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to know the one from the other.

I Am Lazy

When I was in 6th grade, I was asked to play on an all-star basketball team in my hometown.

Okay, is everyone done laughing?

Granted, it’s a small town, so it’s not like I was selected from among thousands of other talented youth. But, ALL the other girls were good. Some even went on to play in college. And the coach’s son was famous for being one of the few South Dakotans able to slam dunk. So it was a pretty big deal.

We won the 6th grade interstate tourney that year.

Property of Kristin GiulianiYes, I still have the trophy, mostly because it was the only sports trophy I ever won. But partly because I’m still not sure why I was selected for the team. Sure, I was fast and a very aggressive defensive player, but I could NOT make a basket. I think I made around 3% of my shots. I certainly couldn’t hit a 3 pointer (AIR BALL!). My best bet was a layup, although I got called for traveling almost every time. And dribbling? Let’s just say I looked a lot like Stanley from The Office.

I did not play basketball after that year. You see, I tried to practice shooting and dribbling. But it was hard. I was not naturally good at those things. So I just stopped practicing. By the end of the season, I barely played and when I did, no one passed me the ball anymore. I could see the writing on the wall. So I quit.

 Fast forward 23 years. This August, I had finally figured out some health issues, and was feeling awesome for the first time in years. On a whim, I signed up for a 10K called the Chocoholic Frolic. Now, I should mention that I had not run in…hmmm…5 years? Oh, and I am not a runner. Not only am I not a runner, but I hate running. I keep trying to like running because it’s free and I can do it with my children in tow. But I have never been able to run much more than 2 miles. Slowly. Hating every second of it. Running was always hard, I was always slow, and I always felt like I was going to puke. So I would quit. Because I am just not a runner.

So, obviously, the next logical step for me was to sign up for a 10K. Thank you, ADHD. Sigh.

But there I was. I had already paid my $60 entrance fee. I had already told all my friends (who looked at me in awkward silence with blank stares, waiting for me to chuckle and say, “just kidding!”). So I had to figure out how to run 6.2 miles in 3 months.

Pride is apparently a powerful motivator. Since I do not like to fail, I sucked it up and started running. Guess what I realized? It’s not that my genetic makeup makes it impossible for me to be a runner. I’m just lazy.

Don’t get me wrong. I do quality work and do work hard. But, I have noticed a pattern. If something doesn’t come easy to me, and it is not required for a job or absolutely essential at that moment, then I will quit. Even if it’s the best way, or would be fun, or will save time, work and strife down the road. Looking back, I’m a little embarrassed to see that I have spent my life meticulously surrounding myself only with activities that play to my natural talents so that I don’t have to do things I am not good at and don’t like.

I certainly believe it is necessary and responsible to discover, use and share your natural gifts and talents. And I certainly think that it is essential to know when to say no and quit things that drain and distract. However, I am talking about an underdeveloped sense of discipline – the ability to work hard and see something through to the end, even if it is not essential. Because it is best. Because it is right. Because it sets a good example. Because in it there is beauty, importance, eternal value and joy. Because eventually, something challenging will  be essential and there will be no established pattern of discipline.

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I am now faced with the reality that most of what I have to do each day are things for which I have no natural talent (cooking, cleaning and organizing), and consequently have never bothered to learn. So, I do the bare minimum to get by. I have blamed it on just being so busy for years. But if I’m really honest with myself, I know it’s because I just don’t want to work at it. I become immobilized by how naturally inept I am at all of them. I don’t know where to start. There are so many and they are never done and I get so discouraged. At those moments, I feel like I’m drowning in a sea of all things common. It’s hard not to sigh enviously at Laura attending her glamorous Opera Ball.

While picking away burrs on my recent retreat, I did a lot of soul searching about this.  I didn’t really know how to start to un-lazify myself and how to stay motivated to work on all those things each day that are so hard for me. Then, it hit me.

Running.

While it’s still hard, I’m still slow, and I still feel like puking, in the last few weeks I have been surprised to discover myself actually looking forward to running (what the what?!?). Apparently, I’ve started to unknowingly learn some discipline. So I came up with a few parallels to apply to my day-to-day laziness.

  1. Start with short, easy runs. I’m starting to tackle just a few things at a time. Thoroughly organizing just my clothes. Sitting down with the girls daily to play scales on the piano. Having theme dinners for each night of the week (Monday-slow cooker night, Tuesday-taco night, Wednesday-smoothie night, etc.) to make meal planning easier.property of Kristin Giuliani
  2. Have a training buddy. I have enlisted Nick, the master chef, to help me plan meals and to divide up the tasks that will fit best into his new, chaotic schedule. I have a standing (mostly) daily text date with a friend who has similar struggles to share scriptural insights, encouragement, frustrations, and chuckles.
  3. Take time to properly warm up, cool down and stretch. This is the hardest for me to logistically implement, but I know I need time alone to NOT do chores, to read, reflect and pray at the beginning and the end of the day. It’s a work in progress to figure out the right wake up and bed times, but I’m slowly getting there.
  4. Have realistic expectations. Just like I will never run a marathon, I will never be great at keeping a consistent routine, or having a pottery-barn-like organized house. And because of who I am, and because I like to see results right away, working through challenging, unending tasks will probably always be a struggle. And that’s ok.
  5. Find encouraging advice. I know that this looks different for everyone, but I have discovered a few great resources that encouragingly convict and help me to practically move forward by paring down to the essentials. I don’t read many blogs, but my core three are The Art of Simple (home life), Simple Homeschool (not just homeschool; parenting & creating a rich home environment), and Mel’s Kitchen Cafe (awesome, easy homemade recipes). I also plan to reread a challenging book by Elisabeth Elliot on being disciplined.
  6. Know when to rest. When it gets extra uncomfortable, I’m learning when I need to power through and when I need to stop and rest to avoid burnout.
  7. Make it fabulous and reward myself. It seems that having a trip to Minnesota for a chocolate filled end goal with friends has helped me to see running in a more fabulous light and has helped me to make it over the I-can’t-do-this hump. Not sure what this will look like in my daily life yet, but I know this results person needs something to work toward. Girls’ Night Out? Date Nights? Trip to Chicago to watch an opera? Homemakers’ Chocoholic Frolic, anyone?

The 10K is November 8. I still haven’t run more than 4 miles. Progress is slow, but I’m getting there. I’ll let you know what happens.

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