Auntie Em's Guide to Life

A guide to all the important things in life- marriage, family, cooking, gardening, reading, travel, Christian living… And whatever else grabs my attention!

“Good Enough” is Good Enough

For many of us, school is about to start. If you are a teacher, you might start weeping and gnashing your teeth when you read that statement! No matter how much you enjoy it, teaching school has a way of sucking the life out of you — and I’m sure other jobs are the same way.

Sometimes my job gets out of control– I stay too late; bring work home; and even when I’m away it’s on my mind. But I’m better than I used to be! I’m always optimistic that I can manage my work time and tasks better so I won’t be a blob on the couch when I get home. How bout you? I’ve put together some ideas specifically aimed at perfectionists and overachievers– the Marthas of the world. In a job like mine (high school choir teacher), I get a salary and I have some expected outside activities, but I could find or make things to do at school every day till 6:00. But only if SCHOOL (or my program, or looking good in my region, or others’ admiration) were my first priority! I have to find the right balance.

1. Start with some quiet time to think. You’re going to brainstorm, so tell Martha to be quiet while Mary uses her imagination. Don’t let “It won’t work” or “How can I do that?” come in the picture.

2. List your priorities. Then put them in order. Don’t worry about what they SHOULD be– or what your schedule says they are– just what YOU think they are. Here are mine: God, husband, my children, church/service, job. (Don’t overanalyze. Just write down what your first thought is. You can change it later if you want!) If you have been frazzled, what areas do you feel like were neglected?

The next few steps are to be done in layers. First build the skeleton, then come back and add some muscle.

3. Now to the nitty gritty: What activities does your employer REQUIRE of you outside regular hours?

This might be vague, especially if you’ve been a Martha . Ask yourself if your boss would reprimand you if you didn’t do it. (Tell Martha to shut it; she is not welcome in this exercise!) These are the tasks that you MUST do if you want to keep your job. An example in my case is that  I prepare my students for All-Region Choir competitions , UIL Concert and Sight-Reading, a Christmas concert and Pop Show in May.

4. What is required for you to do your job during regular hours?

I have to teach our repertoire to performance or competition level. By doing this the students learn music theory, music history, and vocal and ensemble skills required by the state.

5. Now draw your “yellow lines” around your priorities. (I just read Body by God by Dr. Ben Lerner and he used that concept– You don’t cross yellow lines in traffic, and you don’t cross yellow lines in your schedule. If it’s family time, GO HOME from work!) If work infringes on your family time, I would recommend starting with family time. In a perfect world, I would leave work at ….? Don’t start listing reasons why it won’t work. Just say what time you need to leave in order to make your family time your priority. For me it’s 4:30, an hour after school gets out.

Now remember, Martha, you’re still not making any decisions, just brainstorming!

Now to flesh out your “skeleton.”

1. How can you make your outside expectations fit in your priorities? Remember my All-Region Choir requirement. That could take up all my waking hours if I let it. Here’s how I cut it down to size:

We work on the music in class; we bring in paid voice teachers one afternoon a week, and I offer morning sectional rehearsals. I cheer, encourage, and make online resources available, I’m also available for individual help upon request. What I DON’T do is require everybody to come in for sectionals, or set up times for private lessons for me to work with all of them after school. I would be at school all hours if I did, and my philosophy is it’s THEIR responsibility to practice and get help. If they can do it only with my pushing and holding their hand, they don’t need to do it. They are in high school. And besides, my kids are some of the busiest ones on campus- advanced classes, band, drama, church, sports, etc… They have lots of demands on their time too. I try to make my class time very productive so they will need little outside time.

Brainstorm options to lessen the demands of your requirements.

2. What about your work-hours expectations? I have to teach repertoire, including the theory, history, and technique needed to perform it.

I love making videos and powerpoints or slide shows. However, they are very time consuming. But they engage the kids more than plain old paper or projector do! Yes, but how much more is learned? My very wise mentor asked me one time early in my career (when I was practically living at school), “For the extra 2 hours you put in that project, how many kids honestly benefited more than if you had taught it another way?” And the answer was, “Maybe none.” It was just prettier, flashier, and more fun for me.

If you are a teacher who is trying to scale back work time, and have lesson plans that have worked well, use them again! For heaven’s sake why reinvent the wheel? My wise daughter Sis reminded one of our overachiever perfectionist students who was way too stressed for a high school student that “Good enough is good enough!”

  • Make 1 or 2 projects/units each summer.
  • Collaborate with colleagues. Dropbox or other online resources make this so easy!
  • Google something before you make it! Chances are, somebody else has done it already.
  • Delegate! For me, the obvious thing would be to have students make the videos. More learning for them, less time for me.

If you have an activity you love that is not required, balance the time it takes and the benefits gained. We always sing at our Veterans’ Day programs, For me, the benefits gained are easily worth the time involved: giving my kids the opportunity to learn about the sacrifices made for our country, honoring the Vets, and serving in our community. Easy win, well worth the time involved. But we have sung the National Anthem at events in Houston that end up taking 8-10 hours out of a Saturday. It’s fun for the kids, and a cool experience, but that’s about all. Way too “expensive.” Maybe we could do that every other year, and alternate with singing at a sporting event at our local university.

Be creative and play devil’s advocate. If you have only a certain number of hours– and you do– how can you adapt this activity to make it fit? If you can’t, ditch it.

Let me address the elephant in the room now.

If you have been running and doing and giving much more than is required, and you decide to make your actions match what you say your priorities are, some people will not be happy with you. Anticipate this. You might want to give them a heads-up if you are not going to do some things you’ve been doing. You might want to phase out some activities gradually. But they probably will still be unhappy. You ultimately have to ask yourself who is higher on your priority list, those people or your family? (or whatever other priority you are moving up on your list) The apostle Paul said, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)

Once you’ve brainstormed, leave your list a while. Pray. Think. Get counsel from one of your Board of Directors. Then go back to it and see how you can change your world.

"Good enough" is good enough

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Real Food Challenge– What Do I Eat?

As you know if you’ve been reading this week, Auntie Em has taken on The 7-Day Real Food Challenge presented by Mary’s Kitchen. As I said in my “What Do You Mean, Real Food Challenge?” post, that may mean different things to different people. A very strict Real Food diet would include ONLY fresh, whole food in its original form. That’s more restrictive than fits my lifestyle, so rather than toss it out completely, I’m doing a modified one. (You can read my guidelines on the “What Do You Mean?” post.)

(Obviously) Eat Fresh or Frozen Fruits and Veggies.

Limit your fruits if you are trying to lose weight or keep your sugar down, as they are higher in natural sugars. Real butter is a real food– flavor with that or with olive oil. Don’t use margarine or “lite” stuff. This kind of cooking/eating is time consuming, so be smart about it: Cook larger quantities and then just reheat them for subsequent meals. Here are just a few Auntie Em recipes:

Auntie Em’s Country Squash

Tropical Fruit Salad

“Complicated” Fruit Salad (It’s really effortless!)

Garden Fresh Broccoli

Broccoli Salad

Green Beans

For several months I’ve been starting my day with a packet of oatmeal. *bangs head on table* Compare the ingredients in the first picture (pre-packaged) and the canister (1-minute rolled oats).

I don't know what these are. Do you?  ingredients only rolled oats

These still wouldn’t pass muster on a strict Real Food diet, but they are a lot closer than the boxed, packaged stuff. Rule of thumb: The more steps between original food and your mouth, the less “real” it is. Mr. Quaker Oats had to do something to make those oats cook in 1 minute. (For a simple explanation of the journey from oats from the field to steel cut oats, to rolled oats, to quick oats, check here.)   I made up a “2-serving” batch (1 cup of oats, 2 cups water) and added a chipped-up apple, a tsp of cinnamon, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1 TBS maple syrup. Good! 2/3 cup was plenty. I added a TBS of vanilla almond milk for a little extra and it was quite tasty. A little more trouble up front, but now for several days I will be able to just microwave it like the little package.

From packaged oatmeal to quick oats: Progress!

I used to take 4 packets of Splenda in my large mug of coffee. (Don’t judge) Now, I pour my half and half and sip. Not terrible. Then I add ONE Splenda and it tastes quite sweet enough!

4 Splenda packets to 1: Progress!

I’ve used spaghetti squash in place of pasta– a lot of trouble but okay taste and texture. Today I julienned zucchini and sautéed it, then topped with spaghetti sauce. Just as good, and much less trouble!

Pasta to vegetable: Progress!

Main dishes

A salad is great! Add chicken or any other meat you grilled last night. Be wary of croutons and salad dressing. Those are often very processed. Make your own salad dressing- cheaper, healthier, and you get exactly what you want. Soups and stews are another great way to eat clean. Add homemade broth and fresh or frozen veggies to meat and you’ve got it.

Desserts

I made this paleo strawberry shortcake that was pretty good. I used real whipped cream, not Cool Whip.

{Guiltless} Paleo Strawberry Shortcake | Fitcupcaker

I haven’t fixed many desserts– if anything, we are mostly eating fruit — because we are trying to cut calories too. And as my wise son said, “If it’s superfluous, why eat it?”

I hope I’ve given you a bit to “chew on” in your Real Food journey!

Mary's Kitchen: Real Food Challenge day 3

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What Do You Mean, Real Food Challenge?

I’ve decided to join Mary’s Kitchen’s 7-Day Real Food Challenge beginning today. In her Details and Recipes post, Mary asks the question, What IS Real Food? She explains that it might mean different things to different people.

You know me, and know I believe in the “Every little helps” philosophy. So I’m not going to set forth a long list of strict rules for myself. Here  are the guiding principles of my particular Real Food Diet:

  1. If God made it, it’s okay. If man made it, be careful.
  2. If it has more than 5 ingredients, be careful.
  3. If it has added sugar, MSG, or unpronounceable chemicals, be careful.
  4. Get organic or the closest to organic possible.
  5. Avoid or at least limit food allergens.

“Be careful” means knowing that it might not be best for me but I might eat it anyway. For example, I have seriously reduced the Splenda in my coffee– from 4 packets to 1. But I just can’t quite lose that last one!

Fortunately, Mr X has always liked what he calls “farm food” — plain vegetables and meat without sauces or being mixed together, and they are the perfect Real Food, especially if you can get organic.

My diet is further complicated by food allergies. I’m mildly allergic to milk, corn, yeast, and eggs. I’m ALMOST allergic to wheat, soy, and coconut. Have you ever tried to plan meals without using wheat, milk, corn, or eggs? Complicated! These allergies affect my sinuses, mostly in my ear area, and are cumulative, so a little doesn’t really hurt, but the more I eat the worse it gets. If it’s spring or fall, when my grass/tree/mold/dust allergies are on overload, I have to be especially careful!

And a further complication is that besides getting healthy nutrition, I’m striving to reach a healthy weight. I’m using the “Lose It” app and when I say I’d like to lose 1 1/2 pounds a week, it says I should eat 1,055 calories, then screams a warning that nobody should eat less than 1200. So I have to choose foods that will give me the most nutrition for the calories I eat.

Real Food Diet Goals:

  1. Overall good health via nutrition
  2. Avoidance of added chemicals
  3. Weight loss
  4. Lowered cholesterol

What changes do you need to make in your diet? What are some EASY baby steps you can start with today? Join me the rest of the week and let’s figure this out together!

Mary's Kitchen

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Ways to Get Your Exercise When You Travel

Vacation time is here and I, for one, usually come back 2 or 3 pounds heavier than when I left. Here are some realistic ways to get a bit of exercise in. After all, every little helps!

Move while you wait.

1. In the elevator lobby

Move while you wait on the elevator.

Move while you wait on the elevator.

2. Inside the elevator

Move while you're in the elevator. As long as you are alone!

Move while you’re in the elevator. As long as you are alone!

3. While you brush your teeth or are on the phone

Move while you're brushing your teeth.

Move while you’re brushing your teeth.

Depending on how many people are around and how crazy you mind looking, you still can get some body work done.

  • Do “in-place” crunches, Kegels, or other muscle-tightening exercises if you are in a crowd.
  • Balance on one leg. Extend the other leg front, side, and back. Do multiple reps depending on how slow the elevator is.
  • Do jumping jacks, high kicks, or walk in place. Kicking one leg combines aerobic activity (high kick) with core strength training. (balancing)

Walk where you can.

Walk down the hall a few times.

Walk down the hall a few times.

  • Down the hall– Going to the fitness center takes a commitment I’m usually not willing to make (time, clothes, SHOES…) but I can walk up and down the hall a few times barefoot, and use a few laps as “the price” I have to pay before I read, write, or whatever fun thing I want to do.
Take a walk in the hotel garden.

Take a walk in the hotel garden.

In the garden

  • – The hotel has a sweet outside area with a circular walkway. After writing a while, it’s good to get outside.

Take the stairs if your knees can handle it.

Talk about an effective exercise! But my knees just don’t like this one.

Take the stairs!

Take the stairs!

Make everything count.

  • Don’t make sitting down your default. Stand while you put on your makeup. Walk around when uploading pictures from your phone.
  • Do double duty. I know myself and know it’s hard for me to get moving, so when I finally do, I need to get as much done as possible. Moving your arms while walking increases the heart rate a bit more. Using wrist weights can add strength training. Doing standing stomach crunches while you walk takes some concentration (at least for me) but is a great way to get them in. 
  • Think ahead! Bring wrist weights in your suitcase and put them by the door. When you are taking your walk down the hall, work your arms too. If you are like me and didn’t think about it till too late, you can still pump or circle your arms, especially if you are on the top, little-populated floor and your arms are short enough not to run into the walls!

Be intentional about moving.

  • Set a timer to remind yourself to get up and go.
  • Tie moving to a certain point of whatever activity you’re doing– when you finish the crossword puzzle, the chapter, or the blog post.
  • Tie certain activities to moving– phone calls or waiting for slow-loading wi-fi, for example.

Just like  taking care of your pennies will make your dollars add up, I have to believe that a little exercise spread out over the day will add up to a healthier lifestyle. I know I still need to make a more serious commitment. But it’s a start!

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Time: The Elusive Necessity in Marriage

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12

24 hour clock courtesy of digitalmama824 via Flickr

Have you accepted the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day? And that even though you can borrow money (bad idea), you can’t get any more time? If your too-busy schedule is causing stress in your marriage, it’s time to take an honest look at it, assess it, and make some changes. In “No Vacuum,” I talked about 2 extremely important things in a successful marriage: knowing what we need as well as what our spouses need; and once we figure that out, having realistic expectations of ourselves and our spouses. Today I’m looking at where these 2 ideas intersect: TIME.

“Free” Time

Do you feel like you’re running from can to can’t? (That’s one of my favorite old-time Southern sayings.) Or in the words of the country singer, “always running, but always running behind”? If you’re not sure where your time flies away to, keep a time diary for a few days– in 15-30 minute increments, see where your minutes go. OUCH… It might show what I call the “Starbucks effect” (spending a small amount of money very often– it adds up!) But instead of being shocked at how much money you spent, you might realize that you’ve wasted a lot of time in small chunks, on things that aren’t really that important in the grand scheme of your life, like Facebook, playing games on your phone, watching TV reruns, etc. Don’t get me wrong; you do need recreation and leisure activities. But you need to CHOOSE what you do, not just fritter away your time on meaningless activities, then wonder why your marriage is suffering. How we spend our time should reflect what we say our priorities are.

Work

And He said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 12:15

 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

Is your career killing your marriage? In his sermon series “Breathing Room,” Andy Stanley shares a story from a book written by a hospice nurse who spends much of her time with people in the last few weeks of their lives. She began asking them, “What do you regret most in your life?” She said, without exception, every. single. man. wished he hadn’t spent so much time and energy on work.

“This came from every male patient that I had nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.” Bronnie Ware, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

(Thanks to Joel at Friendly Thoughts for documenting what I only listened to!)

Mr X and I both have salaried jobs, and we probably could both work another 4 hours every day and still find things to do. In our cut-to-the-bone economy, many employers expect more than any one person to do, and sometimes we are our own slave-drivers. But you’ve got to be honest– if you consistently work many hours beyond what you signed up for, is it worth it? That salary that looked great when you divided it by 40 hours a week might not look so good spread out over 60-80 hours. And is it worth it to you? Only you can decide. But again– be honest. Count the whole cost (not just in terms of money) to your marriage, children, your health, etc.  How much money does your family need? It’s a sad thing when a parent realizes he’s lost his window of opportunity to build a close relationship with his children while he was working to provide THINGS that were not as  important as a relationship with him.

This is tough, I know. You’ve got to find the balance. To help you think, I have to throw in this classic song from the late Harry Chapin. There is a bit of commentary from his wife and son that I think are quite relevant.

Caring for Yourself

… vast crowds came to hear him preach and to be healed of their diseases.  But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer. Luke 5:15-16

Have you ever had “vast crowds” clamoring for you? Like at the bathroom door? We women are notorious for taking care of everything and everybody else before we take care of ourselves. But you know what? You’ve got to take care of yourself or you’ll either be sick or be a grouch who has nothing left for your poor spouse. I learned the hard way that my job could move on just fine without me, and it reminded me that I’m the only wife my husband has and the only mom my kids have. Consider these things when you’re looking at your weekly schedule:

  • How much margin do you need for mental peace? I need lots, and when I forget to figure it into my schedule, my nerves frazzle. Rushing from one activity to the next drives me crazy!
  • How much sleep and rest does your body need? If you cheat, it will catch up with you.
  • What rejuvenates you? This is different for everyone.

Jesus modeled taking time away for re-creation. (I rather doubt He needed it– but He knew we would!) And remember that in Exodus 20, God Himself suggested commanded that we should rest. How prideful are we when we think the world will fall apart without us?

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God…

How are you using your time today? Do you need to make any changes?

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What Do We Need?

Question Marks by Dan Moyer via Flickr

In “No Vacuum!” I mentioned that our marriage (and probably many others) would have been healthier if we had compromised between realistic expectations and what we needed from one another. This is a big kettle of fish that whole books could be written about, and probably have! But I’ll just put in my 2 little cents, and pray that it will give you some new insight.

What do you need? What does your spouse need?

Those 2 little questions look deceptively simple. In the first place, it’s sometimes difficult to articulate what you need; you just know that something is missing. Then if you DO figure it out, it’s often difficult to communicate that need to your spouse. Sometimes you think it might hurt their feelings, and you don’t want to do that. You might be hurt or angry that they aren’t doing something you need, and resentful that you would have to say anything about it. (Have you ever said to yourself, “If he loved me, he would just know to do it!”) You might be afraid to say anything, for fear of what your spouse might think. (“She’s so NEEDY!” or “He’s a sex maniac!” come to mind.)

Here’s some of our story:

I felt like I lived many years mostly underwater, barely able to catch a breath. A “full-time” job, especially when you are just beginning it, is exhausting. And being a homemaker and mom is another full-time job. Consequently, I never felt like I did that well at either one. This guilt and perceived failure took up lots of brain space. Remember, to a perfectionist, what she DOESN’T do is much weightier than what she DOES do. What I didn’t/couldn’t do was always  heavy on my mind. Were my kids neglected? No. Did I do a good enough job as a teacher? Yes. Does reality matter to a perfectionist? NO! Guilt and condemnation make themselves right at home anyway.

Mr X was not one to talk about his feelings, even if he could have figured them out, and there was no internet or even books (that I was aware of) teaching about sex in marriage from a Christian perspective. I just knew that he wanted more than I felt I had to give; I thought that he should be satisfied with all the other stuff I did (work full time, mother 3 young children, and run a household). Then I’d feel guilty because, in yet another area, I wasn’t good enough, then resentful that he wanted more from me. I had absolutely no clue how important lovemaking is to a man; the emotional part of it and how it affects his feelings about himself and for his wife. (Once more, I refer you to Sheila Gregoire’s very insightful post here.)

When Mr X began school full-time, after several years of going to night classes 2 or 3 nights a week– a very difficult period for this stay-at-home mom of 3– he scheduled his classes on 2 or 3 days and his work on the other days. He drove the kids to school and was able to be “Room Dad” and chaperone often. He did the grocery shopping. Once he began to take up some of the slack with the kids and at home, it helped me feel lots better. I don’t think he realized how much of a load those few things took off my MIND, but it really did make a huge difference.

Then at some point a friend recommended The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands by Dr. Laura Schlesinger. It opened my eyes! In a nutshell, she said when we say NO to our husbands’ sexual advances, they perceive us as saying NO to THEM, as men. It’s like their saying NO to our conversations with them.

These 2 things– neither of which we can really take credit for– helped us get a little further down the road to a good, healthy marriage.

What does your spouse need? Do you know? I challenge you to have that conversation!

Up next: setting realistic expections of ourselves and our spouses.

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Jesus is Calling

Jesus is calling

One of my students shared a page in her devotional (from April 1) on Facebook– from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. (There is a free app that I just found– it looks good!) I think it was written for me, or maybe for me and all those other Marthas that get caught up in our own agendas either from an overblown sense of importance or an unrealistic view of our time, energy, and schedules. (Or it could be some other reason.  I’ve noticed how often I make sweeping statements, like I know everything. But I’ve seen and experienced these two.)

Here are some excerpts:

I am calling you to a life of constant communion with Me.

This reminds me of Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God. (If you click the link and scroll down, you will find several links to free ebooks and audio books.) He was a 17th-century French soldier turned monk, and he worked in the kitchen most of his monastic life. He was able to keep that constant communion with God going, through whatever mundane task he was doing. I need to keep myself from getting so “into” my tasks that I get “out of” God’s presence. He doesn’t move. I don’t need to either.

You yearn for a simplified lifestyle… But I challenge you to relinquish the fantasy of an uncluttered world… find Me in the midst of it all.

This one punched me right in the face. I have pinned so many pins about simplification and organization. Read books. Gleaned websites. Made lists. All with the hope that this time, it would really work, and I would float along sort of like a Stepford wife, with an aura of peace and serenity around me, my yard manicured, my hair done, my weight ideal, while I dusted my pristine house every Tuesday morning before work, or whatever other job was on my list for that day and that time slot. Truly, I work better with a schedule because I don’t have an inner clock/calendar and I really can’t remember when I vacuumed or washed my hair last. But I have a tendency to get obsessive about my schedule when I’m stressed and feel out of control of my life. A working schedule gives the illusion that I’m in control of SOMETHING.

Remember your ultimate goal is not to control or fix everything around you [NEWSFLASH!]; it is to keep communing with Me. A successful day is one in which you have stayed in touch with Me, even if many things remain undone… Do not let your to-do list become an idol

I have had a difficult several weeks. High stress, low energy, lots to do, plus I’m pretty sure I’m hitting menopause, which is making everything twice as bad. Bad combination! So lots has gone undone, especially at my house. The yard has taken priority because of the season (though there’s still a ton to be done everywhere I look), and the house has gotten more and more undone.

But God tells me to talk to Him. Listen to Him. Slow down. Take a breath. Work a little and rest a little each day. Hire help. Calm down.

Is He talking to you, too? I’m praying for our peace. In the midst of our messy lives.

Come unto me, all ye who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

Jesus is calling. He wants you to rest.

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Lessons on Marriage from the Garden

We had a very mild winter here in Southeast Texas, and Spring is creeping in. Lots of early blooms are out– and the weeds are beginning to wake up too. Our neighborhood is called “Enchanted Forest” and before Hurricane Rita, our yard was full of beautiful, mature oak trees. (Now we have a few tall skinny ones left.) Part of having a “forested” yard is that very hardy vines grow alongside those trees, and when you plant shrubs, the vines continue to grow up among them. They are not vulnerable to Round-Up and most foliar weed killers- you have to dig them out, and many times the bulb is WAAAAAYY down deep.

Cross vine is one of our worst invasive vines. When you let it go too long, it will completely strangle a poor azalea bush.

crossvine2

When I finally got around to rescuing this pitiful bush, look at all that came up: there was lots more growing underground that you couldn’t see. Bigger than the bush it had covered up.

crossvine

Can you guess where this is headed?

This is what a single little crossvine sprig looks like: Innocent enough, right?

20130218-111258.jpg

But look what’s lurking below: Look very closely to see the leaves and visible growth: Most of it is below ground.

DSC_6985

Kelly’s post at Exceptionalistic immediately came to mind when I pulled this rampant weed up by the roots.

Here’s the deal: Lots of time, I counsel you to overlook things. After all, “Love covers a multitude of sins,” (1 Peter 4:8) and “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” (John 8:7). However, you must also LET THEM GO. (Think of hanging the toilet paper the wrong way, or not at all, kicking the sheets out, procrastinating, etc…) If the issue so serious that you can’t let it go, and it interferes with your feelings for your spouse, it needs to be dealt with. Maybe it’s the symptom of a deeper problem- you resent his golf days with his friends not because you don’t want him to spend time with his friends, but you feel neglected. Or maybe there is a lack of transparency in the relationship that shows itself in tiny, unimportant little ways. In these days of separate Facebook accounts, telephones, the all-important “confidentiality” that the medical and insurance worlds insist on, and the blatant “porn mode” internet browsers, it would be very easy to begin to hide things from your spouse.

There are many issues in a marriage that will grow underground, like the roots of my crossvine. Left on their own, they can overtake your whole marriage and choke the life out. You must pull them up by the roots and dig out the bulb. Is it hard? Yep. Painful, tedious? You bet. Will it leave scars? Oh yes.

But our God is the God of comfort, healing, and rejuvenation. He not only gets rid of the problem; he replaces it with something better than it was before!

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners
 … to comfort all who mourn,
  and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

Isaiah 61:1-3

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Lessons on Marriage from Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey
Are you hooked on Downton Abbey? Like many, I’m smitten! I’ve always loved costume dramas, especially ones where the actors speak with British accents. I’m a lifelong Anglophile and this series feeds my love for England, beautiful homes, and history all in a moving family saga. Well you know Auntie Em– of course I had to look and find examples I could apply to marriage, and find them I did!
(Disclaimer regarding plot spoilers and details– I’ve watched all of Season 1; 3 episodes of Season 2 on DVD; and all 5 episodes of Season 3. I don’t have them recorded so I might misquote something but I’ll get the general idea. ALSO– I do realize it’s only a TV show!)
Downton Abbey Cora and Robert

1. Fight for your marriage.

When we attended the Weekend to Remember marriage conference, the presenter urged the men not to give in to their tendency to be passive at home. Many husbands will fight all kinds of battles at work; identify and solve problems proactively and face issues head on; but at home they withdraw when faced with problems they don’t know the immediate solution for. I used to see this in my marriage. My armchair diagnosis (corroborated by Mr X) says that many men don’t have the relational skill to figure out a solution on their own, and that makes them feel inadequate– and that’s the worst thing a man can feel. There is also the feeling that, bad as things might be now, if you confront them, they might get worse.

FAIL: After Sybil dies, Cora blames Robert. He gives in to her request that he move out of their bedroom and when he tells Mary how much he misses Sybil, she begs him to “tell Mama.” He says, “She doesn’t want to hear it.” Don’t give up without a fight, Robert! In the end, it’s his mother that fights for his marriage. (In Robert’s defense, he has also lost his beloved child. Sometimes you just don’t have the strength to fight!)
PASS: Anna searches tirelessly for evidence that will exonerate Mr. Bates. She moves way outside her comfort zone, involving “the master” and a lawyer, as well as spending some amount of her money to pay the unsavory witness for speaking to her. Her efforts pay off, finally! Lesson to learn: It might take a long time; it might stretch you; it might seem hopeless, but hold out and keep fighting. Your marriage is worth it.
Downton Abbey Matthew and Mary
2. Your primary loyalty is for your spouse, not your parent.
 This is nothing new for regular Auntie Em readers. (Leave and Cleave was one of the most-read posts.) Mary’s love and loyalty to her father are undisputed and a recurring theme.
PASS: As Matthew tries to budge Robert on new ideas about operating the Estate, he needs Mary’s support. “I love my father,” she counters. “Of course you do. But cheer for me.” And later he feels sure he can make his plans work, “Now that you are on my team.”
3. Encourage your spouse to be their best, what God would have them to be.
PASS with an A PLUS: Anna told Mr. Bates she would leave everything and “live in sin” with him if his estranged, conniving wife wouldn’t agree to divorce him. He gently told her, “That’s not the path for you.” I loved him for that!
Downton Abbey Anna and Bates
4. Be honest– Don’t keep secrets.
FAIL: Back in season 1, Robert and Carson got proof that Thomas was a thief. He resigned and so they didn’t have to face the unpleasantness of firing him. But they decided it would be better if Cora didn’t know– so later on, when she arranges for Thomas to return in a position of some authority, it’s rather too late for them to object.

FAIL: Also, when Mary must have a “small operation” to correct a female problem, she doesn’t tell Matthew until it’s over and healed. “That’s why I was putting you off.” Matthew’s response, “I thought you’d gone off me,” is probably what most men think when their wives stop being intimate with them. This could have led to much more serious problems.
I’m sure you can find more examples of passing and failing. If you haven’t watched the series, season 1 is on Netflix instant viewing and Season 2 is on Netflix DVD. They are also all available for purchase. Pour yourself a cup of tea and enjoy!
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Killing Drama

Killing drama

I teach middle schoolers and high schoolers and I see plenty of drama. But I see it outside of school, too, in my adult world! The past two weeks I’ve seen several episodes of it. It frankly drives me nuts and makes me want to shake people. Here’s what it typically looks like:

Person A (Susie) says or does something. Person B (Sally) misunderstands, hears an inaccurate version, takes offense, or disagrees.

Drama killer: Sally asks Susie about it, lets it go, and/or agrees to disagree. No drama.

Drama stirrer: Sally comments on it to person C (Sarah). Sarah and Sally keep talking about it, and bring other people into the conversation. The version they are talking about now has little or no resemblance to the original.

It gets back to Susie (in whispers, and often even further removed) that Sarah and Sally were talking about her and spreading lies about her.

STOP! At this point, Sally and Sarah are the only ones with the drama problem. It’s like a 2-sided figure; it will die down soon– unless Susie chooses to add the base to the drama triangle. It’s her choice: She could A) roll her eyes, say “consider the source”, and go on about her business; B) talk to Sally and Sarah and come to the truth; or C) add the base to the drama triangle by talking to other people, asking if they’ve heard, defending her position, etc… Then the problem is everybody’s.

We have a Facebook page for our choirs, and I frequently see drama being played out there. It’s usually preceded by “I hate drama!!! I wish drama queens would just stay away from me!!!” or something of that nature. I want so badly to add “DON’T YOU REALIZE YOU ARE JUST ENCOURAGING MORE?” It’s only drama to you if you play along.

Some food for thought if you have more drama in your life than you’d like:

1. Don’t ascribe motives driving someone’s words or actions. You are not a mind reader, and most of the time they are not about you.

2. If a friend is short with you, doesn’t wave at you, or doesn’t return your call, ask yourself if that is unusual for them. If so, assume (once again) it’s not about you; maybe she has a headache, or she needs new contacts (Is she over 40 LOL? Vision nightmare!), or she forgot. If that behavior is normal, why would you expect anything else and get upset about it? Extend grace.

3. Give people the right to disagree with you and respect their opinion. This is America. (Let me plug Dr. Carson’s Prayer Breakfast Speech here– he addressed this very thing so eloquently!)

4. Give people the right to be wrong. Some people will ascribe motives to YOUR words or actions that are incorrect. This is usually based on what their own motives would be in a similar situation and says more about them than about you. Explain to them if you feel you must, but sometimes they won’t believe you. You’ve done your part. Move on.

5. Refuse to take offense. See the word “take” there? That’s a very active word. Don’t hold your hand out and accept it, even if they meant to offend you. Let it fall at your feet, or better, at the foot of the Cross. I don’t have a leg to stand on concerning my right to be offended when I see how Christ responded to His offenders.

6. Realize that God is a God of peace, not drama.* If you’ve been stirring up drama, repent and ask forgiveness, then learn how to change those destructive ways.

Here is the magic word to rid your life of drama, sort of like a “Magic Eraser”: WHATEVER…

What? Your best friend’s sister ran off with the refrigerator repairman?

Drama killer: Think, “What a shame. Her poor family,” and pray for her and them.

Drama stirrer: Keep talking about it! Speculate about why she left. Share “prayer requests” with all your Facebook and Twitter friends.

What? Somebody thinks I’m selfish because I’m not teaching Bible school this year? (This is assuming you’ve prayed about it and God has not called you to do it, in which case you are not selfish.) Drama killer: WHATEVER. It’s between you and God. Others have the right to think what they want to. Even if they are wrong.

Drama stirrer: Explain your reasons to everyone, but certainly not the person who supposedly thought it to begin with.  Post a vague Facebook status hinting about your being so glad you pray and seek God’s will, and are obedient to it no matter who comes against you.

What? A coworker thinks I have fewer projects to do than she does?

Drama killer: WHATEVER. I’m too busy doing projects to participate in drama.

Drama stirrer : Tell all your friends in the office how much work you take home every day. Stress how valuable you are, and how you gladly take on extra projects because you care so much about the company. Say what a shame it is that “some people” are so selfish.

(true story from my life this week) What? A classmate that you don’t like called you a slut?

Drama killer: WHATEVER. If you don’t like her, why would you place importance on her opinion? Are you one? If no, then she obviously doesn’t know what she’s talking about. If so, well I guess the truth hurts. Change it if you don’t like it.

Drama stirrer: Punch her in the face 5 times. Be proud of yourself and make sure all your friends know the whole story.

What? A few people questioned something you did?

Drama killer: Don’t take offense, even if the questions were asked in criticism. Answer the questions (privately, to the people who asked) and go on.

Drama stirrer: Get offended and self-righteous. Make a public speech to everyone, put them in their place, and dare them to question you further. (This is like at school, when one staff member has done something wrong, then the whole staff gets a lecture and we are wondering what it the world is going on!)

Here’s what I tell my kids at school: Their problem doesn’t have to be your problem. It becomes yours only if you accept it from them. So let’s practice… all together now… “WHATEVER…”

(See my post “Don’t Play” for further tips on avoiding drama.)

*For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. Romans 14:33

Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. 1 Thessalonians 5:23

May the God of peace be with you all… Romans 15:33

… Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. 2 Corinthians 13:11

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