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!

My Girl Maeve

It seems like all Auntie Em has been talking about is cooking! But I promised to share some good books too. I love to read, and if I don’t get to read before bed I feel like I’ve been sadly mistreated.

Maeve and her husband, “Dear Gordon” Snell. Photo courtesy of maevebinchey.com

One of my all-time favorite authors, the Irish novelist Maeve Binchey, died last week. Maeve has been part of my life since I discovered her when my children were little. She wrote about interconneted communities of people, and her characters were flawed but honest and sympathetic. While reading her books, I normally have to keep a Kleenex handy because at some point I’ll cry. And she always dedicated her books to her husband, “dear Gordon.” (There is quite an unexpected love story there if you read it, too!) It always seemed like you would be able to sit down over a cup of tea with Maeve and start talking like you had known her forever!

This was on the front page of her website, which I think is very telling about the kind of person she was.

The happiest moments of my life are connected with family and friends. There is a great comfort about being with people who knew you way back when. There is a mental shorthand, an easy-going feeling that life doesn’t have to be explained or defined; we are all in more or less the same boat. To have a community around you in a changing and unstable world is invaluable and nothing can beat the feeling that there will always be people out for our good.

She wrote some collections of short stories, but my favorites were her thick novels spanning years or decades in the lives of a small circle of people. Circle of Friends was probably the best known, as it was made into a movie. (I didn’t see it.) Her last one was Minding Frankie and I loved it! In it, a young man, gets custody of his child which he didn’t know existed, due to the mother’s death, and the rallying around of his friends and family to show the child welfare worker what an able parent he is.

Her books would probably be rated PG to PG-13. There are some “adult themes” but no explicitness or poor taste. Mostly, though, she presents a kind look at flawed people.

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Auntie Em’s guide to life

Hello Dearies; I’m so glad you are here! Auntie Em has learned a thing or two along the way and is happy to share them with you, so you don’t have to learn the hard way! (And now I’ll switch to first person!)

BE HONEST

Jeremiah 17:9 says “The heart is deceitful above all things. Who can understand it?” Surely everyone knows your life will be easier if you are honest with other people. (Who can remember what they told to whom? Not me!) The trick is to be honest with yourself. People were fooling themselves back in Jeremiah’s day and we are still doing it. Have you seen women of a certain age wearing Spandex when they shouldn’t? Singers on American Idol who thought they were good? What about teachers who make a big to-do list at the beginning of summer, and when school starts, it’s still undone? (OUCH!) Deceiving ourselves can go from the frivolous (like Spandex or size 6) to much more important issues, like our weight’s effect on our health, or addictions, or bad relationships. Once you uncover your warts– a painful process– you can deal with them honestly. You might decide to still eat the brownies. But you’ll do it with open eyes.

EXAMINE YOURSELF

As long as we’re talking about honesty, this is a good time to say- examine yourself. Have you thought about why your dad’s not telling you about his out-patient surgery hurt your feelings? (My “rules” say you must share health concerns.) Have you been cranky and not known why? (I’m cranky when I’m cold. I get colder than a lot of people, so I know to bring a jacket, or if I’m on a car trip with Mr X, a blanket too.)

KNOW YOUR RULES; KNOW THE RULES; KNOW THE DIFFERENCE

My rule: My girls had to have dresses that I made at Easter when they were little. (This caused some stress for me!) THE rule: They need to be in church on Easter (and regularly) and it really didn’t matter even if it’s a new dress or not! Don’t get too hung up on YOUR rules.

BE FRUGAL

The “Tightwad Gazette” (Amy Dacyczyn) has had a significant influence on my financial life. In our world, “frugal” means getting the value that YOU determine is valuable. You save where you can, intentionally, so that you can decide what you want to do with your money. (We did piano lessons for 2 children from grades   1-12 but didn’t have cable TV until the youngest was 9 or 10.) We are also Dave Ramsey followers- don’t borrow money except for a house.

DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT (Don’t fall for advertising.)

Contrary to what TV ads say, every woman does not need professionally colored hair, salon nails, a tattoo, a fake tan, and the latest shade of the color-du-jour shoes. And it really IS possible to live on one income while caring for preschool children. Now I have a very fashionable friend who likes to buy inexpensive, trendy accessories, but she saves her bigger money for wardrobe staples. And I have some friends who don’t want to put a hold on their careers and feel like their career/child situation is in balance (usually with the help of a lucky grandma!). But your money (or time, or energy) can do only one thing. YOU get the facts and decide.

LET THINGS GO

You have control over one thing. You.

EXTEND GRACE

I love 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter.  “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (v 7) So very often, my students get all upset because of something a friend did or didn’t do, or say, only to find out later that their friend was preoccupied, or didn’t see them because they didn’t have their contacts, or were upset because their parents just announced a divorce. If we can jump FIRST to the conclusion that some offense is not about us, we will be much happier.

BE KIND

I don’t know why I’m still surprised when I find out that somebody who appears to be fine is actually dying inside. I’ve seen it so many times. Be kind to people and give them a break. You never know what’s going on in their lives.

USE REAL BUTTER (and the best ingredients possible)

Self-explanatory. Except it holds in all other areas. I have Wusthof knives and will never need to buy any again.

PLANT THINGS IN PLACES THEY WILL BE HAPPY

Azaleas will get big, and they have a natural shape. Don’t try to make them small hedges. You’ll work yourself to death and they won’t reach their potential. (This theory works with children too.)

AMEND YOUR SOIL AND USE MULCH

Fertilizer won’t help too-sandy soil. And the Texas sun will dry up your beds in a day if you don’t mulch. Weeds will spring up too. (Good relationship rule too, with kindness and love being both the amendment and the mulch!)

ASK YOUR HUSBAND WHAT YOU CAN DO TO MAKE HIM FEEL LOVED, AND DO IT

Guys are weird different and sometimes hard to understand. Reading books like John Gray’s Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and Gary Smalley’s The Five Love Languages will give you lots of insight, but you still need to be a student of your husband and ASK him.

MAKE YOUR HUSBAND YOUR FIRST EARTHLY PRIORITY (not your kids)

They will leave. He will not. (hopefully both) They will also be set up for good relationships when Mom and Dad have a good one.

GET A BOARD OF ADVISORS

Swallow your pride and pick some people you admire. Let them mentor you. HINT: They don’t even have to know they are doing it; in fact they might not even be alive! Look at different areas and see who you admire- fashion, decorating, spirituality, marriage, child-rearing, etc.

READ YOUR BIBLE

You will find many mentors in the Bible. Even if you are not a believer, you can’t go wrong! Love one another- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you– The borrower is slave to the lender– Don’t let the sun go down on your anger– etc. You’ll see lots of guidance on what to do, but also plenty of “what not to do” (David did what?), and how God will forgive ANY sin and still use you in marvelous ways.

So there you have it. Auntie Em’s guide to life.

I’m linking with The Alabaster Jar

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