Monday, April 30, 2007

Training our Eyes to See....Details and the Big Picture

Are you a woman who has trouble seeing the forest for the trees? Or, do you rejoice in the forest but have trouble seeing the trees?

Or, have you achieved that happy balance between understanding and appreciating the big picture and also caring about the details behind them? If you have mastered this art of balance, good for you!!

Achieving balance between the big picture and the details requires both experience and application of one's self to understanding when, how, and on what to focus your attention. It's also a like using a car's steering wheel. A car won't stay on the road unless we keep adjusting the steering wheel's position; likewise, we won't stay on the road to balance unless we keep adjusting our focus. When we have driven for many years, we can adjust the steering wheel without even thinking about it. Likewise, we will become better at balancing the big picture and the details with practice.

Arriving at this balance between the big picture and the details has a lot to do with how happy and successful we will be in keeping our homes. The woman who gets lost in the details will spend so many hours perfecting one special area that she loses control of the overall mangement of her day. She will become frustrated that nothing gets done. The woman who is out of balance towards the big picture will end up with the basics done, but not well and without many special little touches. She will be frustrated that her projects often turn our poorly.

The woman who is balanced will express much less frustration. She may not get everything on her to do list done, but she knows she accomplished what is truly important. And, what she did, she did well -- or at least well enough to fill her family's current needs.

As we discussed two posts ago, God's nature presents a beautiful and functional big picture. But, behind that big picture are a myriad of details. Think of a beautiful snow-covered valley. Then, imagine the intricacy of each of those countless snowflakes when viewed singly underneath a microscope. Imagine the billions of people on the planet, and, then, reflect on the many details that comprise a loved one's face.

In fact, beauty in life depends both on the big picture and on tiny, intricate, often unnoticed details. Presenting a clean and lovely appearance to the world depends on the care we take with details. Is out clothing washed and ironed. Does it fit well? Do we have runs in our stockings. What is the shape of our nails? Our cuticles? If we wear makeup, is it applied well, with no smudges or streaks? Are our shoes polished? Is there a button missing, a thread loose, or a snag or a scuff in our overall appearance? After we have attended to such details, it's wise to take a glance at ourselves in a full lenth mirror and take in the big picture. What overall impression does our appearance give?

If we undertake a craft, decorating, or sewing project, its success will depend on whether or not we pay attention to the details. The most beautiful quilts, for example, have beautiful, even stiches and carefully pieced blocks. I am a beginning quilter, and I have found that it's not as easy as it looks! In wrestling to make the details of a quilted project come out correctly, I have acquired new admiration for experienced quilters! However, if we think only of the painstaking details required to finish something and not of how much we are going to enjoy it, we may become frustrated and give up.

Scheduling your time well requires that you think through the details of your day and assign a level of importance to them. Skilled time managers know how to order the details of life so that the truly important things get done. Those of us who are weaker in our time mangement practices are driven by things that seem urgent, but are not necessarily of top priority in our lives. Thus, wise time management requires that we grasp the overall picture and smaller details.

Loving our families involves times when we just enjoy each other and times when we pay attention to the finer points. I heard once that Oprah said, "Love is in the details." I'm not necessarily an Oprah fan, but this is a true statement. Caring for details that make life sweeter and smoother for our loved ones contributes to the peace and harmony of a marriage, a parent/child relationship, a friendship, or even of a church. Caring for details means that we train our eyes to see what others need. It requires that we put aside total self-absorption so that we can think about what will bring joy and peace to another. Even remembering the birthdays of our loved ones and friends requires that we pay attention to details. But, if we fuss about the details and forget to enjoy our loved ones, we will end up being frustrated like Martha was when Jesus came to dinner. Mary wisely understood that this was a time to just sit at Jesus' feet, rather than to encumber herself with too many details of serving.

Remember, paying attention to the details makes life more beautiful and more productive. However, it does not necessarily bring us praise. Often, all that others may notice is the big picture. They may not understand the effort we put into the details behind that big picture. Our husband may casually say, "The house looks nice, honey," but have no clue that we have been spring cleaning down to every little nook and cranny. The new bride who has never sewed in her life may say thank you when you present her with a handmade quilt for a wedding gift, but she may have no idea how many hours it took you to piece it and quilt it.

When we are tempted to feel sorry for ourselves because people do not understand the detail that we have put into something, that's the time to remember that our own eyes cannot come close to comprehending all of the detail that God has woven into the fabric of the universe. Nor, do we always understand how he lovingly works out the details of our lives.

Thus, we have to learn the joy of doing a job well because the Lord appreciates it. We can also rejoice because a job well done adds to the beauty and satisfaction of life. When people do understand and thank us for attending to details, we can think of that as delicious icing on the cake.

In the same way, we must train our eyes to see and appreciate the love and detail that others put into their tasks. Do we listen when our husbands describe the details of their jobs and do we express appreciation for their hard work? My husband works in a field that I don't understand. I do know that he spends long, long hours attending to very minute details. There's no way that I can grasp everything he shares with me about his job, but I can appreciate his heart and his diligence.

Those of us who are married and are parents as well, have a better understanding of the many details our parents attended to as they created a home for us. Have we gone back and expressed our thanks? Likewise, if our child has mastered a difficult task, one that requires attention to many details, do we praise the child for his diligence?

Appreciating the attention that others pay to details is one way of practicing the golden rule. Additionally, it will teach us to notice details and to perform them well, ourselves. If we notice an older woman taking delicate embroidery stitches as she decorates a pillowcase, we can make a note to ourselves to imitate her diligence.

Here are two exercises that can help us train our eyes to see. (If we point these things out to your children, we will be training them in these areas as well).

1) For the woman who graps the big picture, but stumbles over the details: Always be on the lookout for the details in the things you see around you. Notice this whereever you go. If someone shows you an antique quilt that was passed down to them, study how it is made. If you are in a public building, notice how the building is constructed and how it is furnished. If you view a painting, look not only at the overall effect, but try to figure out how and why the artist used certain details. If you are shopping for clothing, note whether the clothes are well made or poorly made. Check the seams and hems. Talk about these details with your children. If your are viewing a piece of well-made handwork or art work in the presence of the artist, express appreciation for the attention to detail. Express appreciation to God for the detail you see in his creation.

Try to re-create fine detail in the work of your hands. When tackling a project, break it down into small steps. Don't fret about the big picture, but take it step by step. If you are sewing, read the pattern instructions completely before you launch in. Likewise, think through a new recipe before you try it. Have the ingredients out and ready to go.

2) If you are the perfectionist who gets stuck on minute details and leaves more important things undone: Make an effort to distill what you read, hear, and see into the most essential points. When viewing a painting, step back and consider what overall impression the painting gives you. When you enter a home or a public building, enjoy the overall ambiance. When you get up in the morning, pray for discernment about the most important thing you need to do that day. When you are creating a project, step back from it from time to time to enjoy the big picture of how it's coming along.

Learn the art of knowing when you have paid enough attention to the detail of a task and, thus, need to move on to the next one. Start your house cleaning each day with a quick overall tidy-up of your house. Then, get down to more concentrated tasks.

Express appreciation for the loving heart behind what people do for you. Don't expect them to meet unrealistic standards before you express appreciation. Don't expect yourself to meet unrealistic standard of perfection before you allow yourself to find satisfaction in the works of your own hands. Strive for consistency rather than perfection.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Training Our Eyes to See: The Elements of Beauty and Order

When viewing an object, whether it is made by God or man, look for the following elements:

1) What is the overall form of the object. Forms are three dimensional, such as spheres, cylinders and squares have three dimensions. Forms have length, width, and depth. These forms can be geometrical in nature or free-form, such as a winter tree lying bare against the sky. In a painting, artists use perspective to create the depth that comes with shape. Do you detect the imaginary lines the artist is using to portray perspective?

2) What is the overall shape of the object? Shapes are one-dimensional closed lines. They do not have depth, but they do have width and height. Again, these can be geometrical, such as squares or circles, or they can be more free-form. Does the shape seem taller or wider?

Do you see many smaller shapes within the overall form and shape of the object. For example, if you are looking at a painting of the vase, is the base of the vase round like a circle, while the top flares out like an inverted triangle? What about the face of your cat? Do you see ovals and triangles?

Artists often look for ways to distill an object to its basic shapes and forms, so that they can draw it in sections. Even the human face and form can be broken down this way. For example, if your face is basically oval in shape, an artist might start a portrait of you by gently sketching an oval. Then, he will adjust the oval to fit exactly the contours of your face.

3) What about the lines in the object? Are any individual lines vertical, horizontal, or,perhaps, diagonal? Are the lines zig-zagged, curved, or straight?

If you are looking at a flower arrangement, see if you can discern the imaginary lines or shapes the arranger was following as they placed the flowers. For example, some arrangements are based on an S-shaped line. Others are circular or based on a triangle. Some arrangements appear to be more horizontal; some are more vertical.

4) Look at the space around and between objects. We tend to think of space as being blank, but it adds to the overall effect of the objects it surrounds. The next time you see an attractive tabletop arrangement, don't look just at the objects. Examine how the objects are placed in relation to each other, with regard to the spaces around and between the objects. Or, if you receive an invitation that catches your eye, look at the relation of the engraving or printing to the white or colored space on the page.

5) What is the texture of the object. Is it smooth, hard, soft, fuzzy, etc. Obviously, if you are looking at a painting, the texture of the painting itself might not feel like the object portrayed. But, think about what texture the artist is trying to invoke and now how he or she achieves that effect.

6) What is the color of the object? Is there more than one color? How do the colors relate to each other? Which is the main color? Which color stands out most to your eye? Do you like the color or colors? If you are looking at a painting, what highlighting did the artist use to make the color, line, and shape stand out?

A fun thing to do is to practice looking for these elements in nature, in homes, in paintings, in clothing -- in anything that might have a touch of art to it.

Also, skim through a magazine about decorating houses or about sewing clothing and see if you can identify these elements.

Remember that shape, line, and texture are part of the beauty of a garment or a quilt. If you sew a lot, you may have already developed an eye for these things without even realizing it.

Now, here's the hard part: Can you apply these same principles when you are arranging furniture, clearing away clutter, positioning objects on a mantle, sewing, shopping for clothing, setting a table, selecting bed linens, etc? Pay attention to the lines, shapes, colors, textures, and forms in a room or in a little arrangement you are creating.

You get extra bonus points if you can use these to help pick out treasures in thrift stores!

Some of you have already studied these principles so well that they are second nature to you, or else you understand them and use them intuitively. For the rest of us, we may need to do a little more study. If developing an eye for these elements of art don't come easily to you, don't fret. Just as some people have an ear for music, some have an eye for art. If this isn't our thing, we can still make improvements, little by little. The key is to keep training our eyes.

Also, remember that while God uses these principles perfectly, the rest of us don't. When it comes to man made things, there's room for some subjectivity here. What is pleasing to one person may not be to another. The point is not to achieve an artist's ideal of perfection or even to achieve your neighbor's vision of how things should be done. The key is to learn more about seeing, appreciating, and creating beauty and order. Have fun with it!

Just as you don't have to be a virtuoso to play the piano, you don't have to be a master artist to incorporate the elements of art into your daily life.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Learning to See...Developing An Eye for Order and Beauty

Last week, I posted about the quality of watchfulness. This week, I want to look at a similar subject -- learning to see. However, this time, I want to explore it from a different angle. I want to talk about developing an eye for order and beauty.

While this trait is akin to the godly traits of watchfulness, thankfulness, and diligence, it's not, in and of itself, something that God asks of us. However, this trait can add skill and satisfaction to our performance of the domestic arts. It can help us appreciate the fine arts. And, most importantly, it can help us appreciate the glory that is revealed in the Lord's creation.

Before we get started, let me mention one thing: Developing an eye for beauty and order it meant to glorify God and not ourselves. It is also intended to help us appreciate our present surroundings and circumstances and make the most of them. If we become either discontent or inordinately focused on worldly things in our pursuit of beauty, we will have missed the mark.
After all, we don't need to have expensive things around us to appreciate beauty and order; there's always a bit of beauty to be seen anywhere. Even in the poorest apartment in the most crowded city, a woman can always look up and see a soft cloud or a tiny bit of gray or blue sky.

We all know the old saying: Two men looked out through prison bars; one saw mud and one saw stars. Seeing beauty and order around us and doing the best we can with what we have -- even if we have only a little -- is a matter of perspective.

The first place to start in training our eyes to see beauty and order is to look at God's creation. God's works can be appreciated on so many levels. Take a rose blooming in a garden for instance. A passer-by might smile, enjoying the flower's beautiful appearance and the pleasing smell. The gardener who planted the flower might have gotten pleasure from learning how to cultivate the flower from a bulb. The botanist who lives next door might pause to marvel at the parts of the flower, as well as mediate about the mysterious genetic code that governs its growth or take note that it is a new hybrid. The chemist and the physicist, who both live down the street might get into a discussion of the molecules, atoms, and sub-atomic particles contained therein. The bee hovering about it might gather some nectar to make honey. And, the gardener might collect the bulb to make tea.

Likewise, think about the stars in the sky. Viewed from our earth, they appear to be lovely dots that light up the black sky. The sheer number of them awes us. They sing to us about the beauty, the infinite nature, and the power of their Creator. They serve as guides for sailors and other travelers.

In our modern age, we have discovered that these stars are far more distant than they appear, and that they are actually large suns. Still, their sheer number awes us. And, knowing their size and distance from our earth reinforces the message that only an infinite, powerful God could create such wonders.

Think of an apple tree. It is not only pretty, it bears fruit. This fruit not only tastes good, smells nice, and looks pretty, it also nourishes us.

God fashioned his creation to have beauty, function, and detail. All three work together to make a wonder of creation that is truly pleasing. In addition, there is always something new to explore in God's creation. The more scientists discover about teh workings of creation, the more they realize that there yet is to learn.

So, what does this mean for us? First, God uses the beauty, function, and detail of his creation to teach us many lessons. So much of God's word uses items in nature as object lessons for our benefit. We would do well to take a few moments each day to appreciate something beautiful in creation, even if it's only a plant growing on our windowsill.

Second, if we want to create things of beauty, they must have beauty, function, and detail. If we want to create a welcoming home space, we should apply this principle, too.

William Morris, the man who created the Arts and Crafts movement in the late nineteenth century said, "Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful and believe to be beautiful."


Saturday, April 21, 2007

Watchfulness in Regard to Spiritual and Emotional Needs -- Random Thoughts on Looking Well to the Ways of our Household

In addition to watching over the ways of our household with regard to the physical needs of our family, we need to think in terms of spiritual and the emotional needs, as well.

Of course, if we are married, we look to and follow our husband's leadership. But, we, too, have a responsibility to watch over the ways of our households. The original Greek word for keeper at home conveys, in part, the idea of a guardian.

Today, in English, we use the word keeper in the following senses: book keeper, zoo keeper, score keeper, and time keeper. What do we expect of the people who fulfill these offices? We expect them to pay attention to their responsibilities! Imagine the score keeper who looks away just as your team scores a home run! Or, the book keeper who forgets to record important transactions. Or, the zoo keeper whose animals languish and die under his care. (This actually happened at the Atlanta zoo when I was a child).

In the same way, the keeper at home pays attention to what goes on in her home. This echoes what is said about the virtuous wife: "She looks well to the ways of her household".

What is the most important area we should "keep" or "guard"? Proverbs tells us to guard our hearts, for out of it flows the issues of life. The most important area in which we should keep watch is in our personal relationship to God.

Next, we should consider our husbands. Men generally need the following from a wife: respect, companionship, physical intimacy, domestic support, a willing listener, someone to share recreational activities, and a spouse who keeps herself neat and fresh in appearance. We need to keep watch to make sure we are meeting those needs.

Men also need our prayers. They need these far more than they need us to nag them "for their own good". Of course, there will be times when we will provide then with input, provided that we speak with wisdom, kindness, and respect.

Our prayers will be more effective we are alert to what is going on in their lives. One way to do this is simply by asking our husbands, "Is there anything you would like me to pray about for you?"

We can also take note if our husband seems happy or sorrowful, if his work is going well or if its stressful at the moment, if his health seems good, whether or not he has male friendships that encourage him spiritually, etc. How is your physical life going? What temptations might your husband be prey to. Praying about these things is one way we can love our husbands.

Women can neglect their marriages for the sake of their children. This is unwise. Children need for their parents to have a strong relationship. They do not do well when parents sacrifice the marriage under the guise of rearing them. Also, your children will grow up and leave home at some point. If children have been the entire focus of your marriage, you will experience deep relationship problems when they are not longer living under your roof. Conversely, if you have maintained your relationship, the empty nest years can be some of the sweetest in your marriage. So, the wise woman watches for ways to do her husband good all the days of her life.

Regarding the household as a whole, I have found through the years that my husband appreciates it when I respectfully bring things to his attention that need his guidance. This goes much better when I speak from faith and do not give way to fear, as I am prone to do.

Of course, there are times when my husband brings things to my attention, as well. Spouses do need to work together as a team.

Often a woman, especially the woman who makes home her career, will be the first in the family to see the emotional and spiritual needs of family members. A gentle word from a wife can provide valuable input that a husband can use as he leads the household.

In the same way, siblings are often highly aware of what is going on with each other. You and your husband can glean valuable insight by watching their interaction. Sometimes, if a sibling is truly concerned about another one, they will come to you with their concerns. I'm not talking about childish tattle-tales, but about genuine caring. In such cases, you will need to discern what is best for both the child who has a concern and the child who might have a struggle you didn't know about.

After children have passed the preschool stage, they don't need us to hover over them continually. As children grow up, we need to let out the apron strings a little at a time so that they enter adult life strong in character and prepared for life. But, we can and must do this while keeping a watchful eye over them. As our children grow, we must invest in close relationships, in which our children feel comfortable being open with us. Only if they feel that they can talk with us will we be able to give them the love, guidance, and discipline they need. If nothing else, the tragic events at Columbine and at Virginia Tech show us how important it is to stay involved with our children -- even those who are in their teens and twenties.

Here are some questions to ask ourselves: Are my children growing in wisdom? In stature? In their relationships with God and man? Are they influencing their friends for good, or are their friends influencing them for ill? Are their closest relationships with children who desire spiritual things? Or, are their closet friendships worldly in nature? Do they speak respectfully to us and to other adults? Are they happy? What is each child's general temperament? How can we help the child express his God-given temperament in positive ways? What are his strengths and his weaknesses? What are his interests? His talents? How are siblings getting along with each other? How are their manners? Are they shy to the point that it hinders them? Do they need some help from us in learning how to smile, to make others feel welcome, and to build a few really close friendships? Are they outgoing? Are our children getting fresh air and exercise? Are they developing the resources to be able to entertain themselves? Are they negative or faithful in outlook? Are their schedules too booked, or, conversely, do they have too much time on their hands? Are they growing in character and self-discipline? Are they growing in love for God and for others?

On every one's mind at the moment is the issue of what our children watch on TV, see on computers, and play via video games. We do well to pay attention to this. We should also have conversations with our growing children that help them form their own convictions about what they will and won't take into their minds. One rule of thumb is not overreact every time we are confronted with something in our pop culture that concerns us. Our kids will heed us better if we calmly help them stay within the limitations we have set as a family. They also need our support to stay within the limitations they have set for themselves.

We must be watchful here. This is an area in which we can veer either into legalism and judgementalism or else into compromise with sin. So, we must continually pray for guidance.

As moms, we spend a lot of time driving children and their friends to different places. Especially during the preteen and early teen years, kids get so involved in talking to each other they almost forget you are in the car. Mothers, this is a great time to observe the topics they discuss and if they talk to each other kindly or not. I don't mean that you should eavesdrop on every word they say. But, some of their chatter will float forward in the car, and you can learn a lot if you tune in to the overall tone of the conversation.

One afternoon, when both of my children had entered their early teens, I stood in the kitchen pondering how my children didn't need me as much anymore. I started to feel a little sorry for myself, but I was determined to think faithfully about what God had in store for me next. In part, I was responding to pressure from a few friends who did not share my convictions about the importance of being keepers at home. They naturally assumed that I should and would get a full time job outside the home once my children were "grown", and they defined "grown enough" as being school age! They thought it strange that I still valued my role as wife and mother, when I could be out "doing something with my life."

While I was pondering how I wasn't needed, one child came in and asked me something. Then, the next child came in. And, a few minutes later, here came the first child, and so forth. I became slightly irritated at being interrupted by my children, because I wanted to concentrate on how I should fill my time now that my children "didn't need me anymore". Then, I laughed at the irony of my attitude! There I was feeling sorry for myself for not being needed, yet irritated that my children needed me! How silly!

The truth was that my children did not my constant, round-the clock supervision, as a toddler might. But, they still needed access to me. And, they still needed me to be around to keep a watchful eye out for how they were doing.

Looking back, I'm glad that I continued on in my role as keeper at home. I believe wholeheartedly that some of the years when children most need us to look well to the ways of our household are when they are between ten years and fifteen years old. My children have told me that these were the years when peer pressure was the hardest.

I believe this, because we knew many children in our neighborhood and school district whose mothers worked outside the home and who went home to empty houses after school. Sadly, many of these children got into serious trouble.

My children are both in their twenties now. One is married, and one is working his first adult job three hours away from us. Yet, I see how much they both still enjoy having close family relationships.

I have friends in their seventies who still pray faithfully for fifty-something children and their twenty-something grandchildren.

If there ever comes a point when we parents stop watching and praying for our children on this side of heaven, I haven't found it!


Friday, April 20, 2007

Watchfulness in Home - Keeping: Practical Tips

Of course, watching over the ways of our household involves far more than just seeing to the daily, physical operation. Still, this is an essential part of our role. Creating a smoothly running, comfortable, safe dwelling for our families is a vital way to show our loved ones that we care about them. This also enables us to be good stewards of the many physical blessings that we have been entrusted with.

The following are some tips for improving your watchfulness in the home:

1) Every morning, think through your day. Pray and prepare for any interruptions that might arise, as well as for the things you have planned.
2) Ask your husband frequently if he has any household needs or wishes. Also, make note of the needs of your children. As your children grow, train them to think what needs to be done, as well. Train them how to organize their studies, their time, and their rooms.
3) Train your eyes to really see the spaces in your home. Once every three months, walk through your home with notebook in hand. Survey each room. First look at the general impression of the room. Then, get down to the specifics. Open closets and your pantry. Glance at celings, walls, and floors. Note the things you like about your house or apartment. Also jot down any things that need repair or deep cleaning. Write down any decorating or creative projects that spring to mind. Refer to your list from time to time when making out your schedule and your budget. If you've jotted down something that will require some expense to attend to or if it is something your DH might want to weigh in on, don't forget to talk over these items with him.
4) This idea is similar to number 3, except it is to be done on a daily basis. As you work through your home, carry a piece of paper or a small notebook and a pen with you. As ideas come to you, jot them down. For example, as you tidy up your master bedroom, you may notice that you need to put soap on your grocerly list. Or, you may think of a fantastic creative project to do with your child. Or, you may see something that is broken and that you can't fix right now. Write it all down. Then, turn your attention back to your tasks at hand.
5) A few weeks before a change of seasons, think through what you will need to do to help your family make the transition smoothly. There are many books and checklists that help you determine seasonal home and garden maintenance needs. Some are geared specifically to the climate in your area. If your are moves from hot to cold and back again, you may need to change the type of bedding you use according to season. Also, don't forget to think about clothing. If you live in a seasonless climate, there will be things you need to accomplish 2-4 times a year. You may want to think in terms of quarters, rather than in terms of seasons.
6) If your DH takes care of cars and finances, ask him once a year or so to acquaint you with anything you need to know in case of an emergency. If you take care of the family cars and finances, make sure you tend to them on a workable schedule.
7) Know the state of your pantry, freezer, and fridge. You don't have to make detailed inventory lists, as my mother in law does, though that may be helpful to you. But, do have some idea of what you have on hand. Many a time, I've returned home from the store with an item, only to find that I already had two in stock. Make your grocery list and your weekly menu at the same time. At that time, check which food ingredients you will need to purchase, as well as any pet food or toiletries.
8) Know the state of your clothing. Are you behind or caught up with laundry? Are there any items of clothing that need repair? Does everyone in the family have clothing that is appropriate for your activities and for the current weather? How are everyone's shoes looking? Do some shoes need a good polishing or a little repair to keep them in shape?
9) Create a way to keep track of birthdays and other special occasions. Create a folder or a large envelope for each different type of card you might use throughout the year: Holidays (not just Christmas), graduation, get well, birthday, congratulations, thank you, etc. Fill the envelopes with cards, so that they will already be on hand when you need them. If you see a card that you know a particular person will love, snap it up. You can also buy lots of inexpensive cards at Dollar Stores to have on hand. In the same way, snap up little gifts on sale. Try to keep in mind things that people you know will enjoy. Also have some generic gifts for women, such as something from Bath and Body works, and some generic gifts for men and for children on hand for unexpected occasions.
10) Have a system for keeping track of the family's dental appointments, doctor's checkups, etc. Keep up with when its time for animals to see the vet.

If you become overwhelmed, ask your husband or a trusted and experienced keeper at home to help you think things through. We can all use a little perspective now and again.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Watching -- Part II

In our last post, we looked at the importance of watchfulness. The question arises, "Can we ever become too watchful?"

Well, watchfulness can go awry if it arises from fear or pride, rather than from trust. Here are some signs that we have crossed the line from healthy attentiveness to hyper-vigilance: We can't relax. We worry. When ill, we can't let go of the reins long enough to rest. We secretly doubt that anyone else can perform or supervise a particular endeavor as well as we can. We find it hard to delegate tasks to others. We don't trust our husband's leadership. We over-protect our children. We fret about our health and the health of our loved ones. We are always on guard lest someone hurt us. We extend our watchfulness into areas that are neither our responsibility nor our business. We are quick to see flaws and problems and slow to see the postive. We beat ourselves up for our failings. We are uneasy whenever life isn't "perfect", which means that we are uneasy a good deal of the time!

What do symptoms like these tell us? Somewhere, there is a breach in our trust level that must be repaired. At least in some area, we are depending on our own selves and not on the One who watches over us. Yes, He commands us to be watchful, and this is for our good. However, we must remind ourselves that we exercise this watchfulness underneath His perfect oversight. He promises that if we acknowledge Him in all of our ways, He will direct our steps. "He is our keeper." He "neither slumbers nor sleeps". He builds the house. He guards the city. He grants sleep to those He loves.


She watches over the ways of her household.... Part I

One of the most striking qualities of the Proverbs 31 woman is that she watches over the ways of her household. Just as her faith in the Lord is seen in every verse that describes her, so, too, is her watchfulness. Her watchful attitude helps her prepare her family for snow, allot the proper portion of food to her servants, seek out the freshest foods and the best goods at the best prices, manage a household and home business endeavors too, and, most importantly, be a loving wife and mother. A woman who is lax in her focus and oblivious to the goings on of her household would not be able to manage all that the worthy woman does.

Watchfulness is not only for women who aspire to be worthy wives. There are many verses in the Bible, particularly in the New Testament, that call all followers of Jesus -- men and women, married and single -- to be watchful. Often, the command to be watchful is combined with the command to pray. Watchfulness and prayer walk hand in hand.

Here are just a few of the many verses that encourage us to be watchful:

Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately.Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them. And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. Luke 12:35-38 KJV

(Here's the same passage in the NIV) Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night. Luke 12:35-38 NIV

Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." Luke 12:15 NIV

Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. Let all your things be done with charity. I Corinthians 16:13 KJV

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints— and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. Ephesians 6:17-20 KJV

Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. I Thessalonians 5:6

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. I Timothy 4:16 NIV

Is it any wonder that the cultivation of watchfulness, like the cultivation of any other quality listed in Proverbs 31, is something that any Christian can benefit from? After all, Christians make up the church, which is sometimes pictured as the bride of Christ. Whatever we see in the noble woman can be useful in our walk with God, as well.

Watchfulness is not my natural long suit. I am watchful when it comes to people and relationships. But, I can be very dense about little practical details. I can let my mind wander off into deep ponderings when I would do well to pay attention to the task at hand.

Since watchfulness is a trait of the heart, the truly watchful woman will be prayerful and observant in everything she does. Therefore, I have a way to go in cultivating this important trait. If you have a way to go, as well, do not be discouraged. With God's help and grace, we can all improve in this area.

If you would like to grow in watchfulness, here are some ideas to help you get started:

1) Pray. Ask God to help you be alert and watchful. Ask him to reveal any ways in your household that you need to know about. I have a friend who told me that she and her siblings used to wonder why they could never get anything past their mother. She always seemed to be in tune with what was going on. They asked her about it, and she told them that she prayed each morning for God to reveal anything that she needed to know.

2) Do a study of Bible verses related to watchfulness, diligence, and stewardship. Also, read verses that contain the words, watch, beware, be on guard, or take heed, look, hear, observe. Study the book fo Proverbs.

3) In your watchfulness, honor God's priorities and your husband's.

Next time, we'll talk about practical areas in which we can exercise watchfulness.


Freezer Slaw

Today, I'm making freezer slaw. I originally got a recipe from my mother in law way back when my kids were elementary school age, and I used to make this regularly. I would make the slaw and then put portions into freezer bags. It was so handy to be able to reach into the freezer and pull out a bag of slaw, let it thaw, and then serve it to family. It was also handy to have when throwing together an meal for spur of the moment guests. Since freezer slaw will last in your freezer for three months or longer, it's a great way to put up garden cabbage. I however, have mostly made it with store bought cabbage.

I enjoy and make two kinds of slaw. My favorite is a mayo-based slaw, but dear hubby adores a vinegar/sugar slaw. Since freezer slaw is based on a vinegar/sugar dressing, he really enjoys this dish. I'm looking forward to serving him some tonight!

There's a lot of variations of freezer slaw recipes out there. Instead of digging through my files for my old recipe, I decided to try a new one from the Internet. I'm also experimenting with using pre-cut cabbage. We'll see how that turns out. Usually, I run the cabbage and carrots through a food processor/slicer from scratch before making the slaw.

Here's a basic freezer slaw recipe that you can adapt to your needs:

Start with 1 large head of cabbage, grated
Add 1/4 cup salt
Cover salted cabbage with water. Let the cabbage soak in the salt water for about an hour
After one hour, drain and rinse. (Note: It's important to rinse thoroughly and then to thoroughly drain or squeeze the excess water away. Part of the function of the salt is to draw out any water in the cabbage that might ruin the crispness of the cabbage when it thaws).

Next, make the dressing: 1/4 c. water
1 c. vinegar
2 c. sugar
1 tsp. mustard seed
1 tsp. celery seed
(I add onion powder when I do not use a real onion)
Combine the dressing ingredients. Bring to a boil. Boil for one minute. Let the mixture cool to lukewarm (approx. 1 hour -- about the same time as your cabbage will sit in the brine).

While sauce is cooling and cabbage is sitting in brine, grate one large carrot and chop one large pepper.

After the cabbage is ready, add the carrot and bell pepper.
(Some people also add 1 small chopped onion and/or two chopped stems celery and/or a bit of sweet red bell pepper. I've even seen recipes that add a bit of cucumber. I sometimes use a bit of finely chopped onion instead of onion powder and a bell pepper, myself, but I have not used celery or cucumber. Experiment to find out what your family likes.)

Next, pour the cooled dressing over the vegetable mixture. Mix.

If you would like to set aside some slaw to be used that day or within the next two weeks, pour some into a container and place it into the fridge.

Put the rest of the slaw (or all of it if you wish to freeze it all) into labeled freezer containers and place in the freezer.

Whenever you wish to serve slaw with a meal, pull a container out of the freezer and let it thaw. The best method is to let it thaw in the fridge overnight, but you can also let it thaw more quickly if you need to use it in a hurry.

Voila! You will have crispy, sweet slaw to serve with any meal.

If you want to do more research, just type freezer slaw or freezer cole slaw into your search engine, and you'll find a wealth of recipes.

The above photo is not a picture of my slaw, which is still in the making. It's a royalty free photo from FotoSearch.

Many vinegar based dishes will last in your refrigerator for a month. While you're investigating freezer slaw, look for recipes for these refrigerator treats: copper pennies and four bean salad. Another freezer dish to try is freezer cucumber pickles.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Miscellaneous Quotes on Marriage

There's a bliss beyond all that the minstrel has told
When two, that are linked in one heavenly tie,
With heart never changing, and brow never cold,
Love on through all ills, and love on till they die.

Thomas Moore

"Marriage is the most love-centered of all professions. Its prerequisites include warmth, generosity, and understanding; only the truly lovely can quality. Of all careers for women, there is none more glamours than the permanent and significant position of "an help meet" for her husband.
Lois McBride Terry

And when I sue God for myself, He hearts that name of thine, and sees within my eyes the tears of two.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Perhaps, the greatest blessing in marriage is that it lasts so long. The years, like the varying interests of each year, combine to buttress and enrich each other. Out of many share dyears, one life. In a series of temporary relationships, one misses the ripening, gathering, harvesting joys, the dep hardwon truths of marriage.
Richard C. Cabot


Monday, April 16, 2007

For today's post, I had in mind a topic related to rearing children. But, in light of the tragedy that happened today at Virginia Tech, I decided that my little post can wait. I kept thinking about parents who would be receiving unimaginable and sad news today.

In the meantime, I am praying for the families of the slain students, for the rest of the students on campus and their families, and for children and young adults everywhere.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

This and That...

It's been an interesting week. My dear father is continuing to have some health problems, including a touch of pneumonia. We've been spending a lot of time at doctor's offices lately. As far as some potential long term problems go, we've gotten some encouraging news. But, his short-term illnesses still need some attention. The doctor particularly encouraged him to rest this weekend, and he has been doing some of that. However, resting is not my darling father's long suit; he loves to be out and going! He's 87, but I sometimes think he can run circles around me. Until recently, he was the oldest exerciser at his local YMCA.

This morning, he woke up with a symptom that needed to be checked out today At the same time, I had scheduled an appointment to have our piano tuned (It's been at least four years since we had our piano attended to!). And, then, after the tuning, I was to go on to a wedding shower for a girl who not only attends our church, but who is marrying a boy my children have known since they were six and seven years old. His parents are dear friends of ours. I was supposed to bring a dish. My daughter was helping to coordinate the shower, and it was a treat to see her there.

DH -- my hero -- encouraged me to go to the shower and took care of both my dad and the piano tuning. DH thought it would be good for me to go, and he was right.

After the hectic morning, I felt the need to crash, as I've been fighting off a little spring asthma. After that, I was excited about planting begonias in the planters on my front porch, as well as setting out some lettuce plants and a tomato plant that I've been holding inside until the weather is right. I also planted some packets of flower seeds. Something told me that I was pushing it to do some planting today, even though we are at our last frost date for our area. Well, wouldn't you know it? The forecast calls for rain mixed with SNOW! The temperature's not supposed to go below freezing, though, and the snow's not supposed to stick. We'll see how it goes. At least lettuce is a cool weather plant.

In the late afternoon and evening, I was able to tend to the bathrooms, a little bit of laundry, and clean the wooden floor in my kitchen. I decided to get down on all floors rather than to use the big, special mop for the wooden floor cleaner.

I made some chicken stew and dumplings, and I called it my "Get well stew". I threw it together with what I had on hand.

While I was at the bridal shower, I was chatting with a young mom. Something she said reminded me of a useful bit of advice I learned when I was a mom of toddlers. I can't remember if I already shared this on this blog or not. But, this advice helped me when my children were beginning walkers and talkers:

Toddlers can't remember a lot of dos and don'ts. Yet, this is a time when you must begin to establish a heart of obedience and respect in your child. So, it's best to start out with one or two rules and teach them consistently. If you try to establish too many limits at one time, you will overwhelm and frustrate your child. And, you will find it hard to be consistent. Consistency is such a vital key to discipline that you do not want to sacrifice one rule enforced consistently for 10 rules enforced half-heartedly. As your child grows, you can add more instructions as he or she can grasp them.

Since you don't want to overwhelm a toddler with a lot of don'ts, it's good to establish one very positive command in your little one's heart. Patiently training your child to come to your side whenever you say, "Come to Mama". A child can start learning this as soon as he or she can walk and as soon as he or she can understand simple sentences. Each child develops at his or her own pace, so observe your child carefully to see when he or she can understand this command.

The phrase "Come to Mama" may save your child's life. For example, let's say you are visiting a friend, and you are not in your normal home environment. You look away for a second, and when you look back, you see that your little one is quickly heading for danger. Perhaps, those little legs are propelling your child rapidly towards a busy road, a rushing creek, or an unknown dog. Of course, you will get up immediately and go after your child, to remove him or her from harm's way. But, at the same time, you say, "Come to Mama!" This can bring your child safely back to your side, provided that you have been applying this rule consistently.

This same rule can also save you lots of steps. Again, let's say that you are visiting a friend. Your child is attracted by a beautiful, but valuable object, and the child wanders off to explore what it is. Again, saying "Come to Mama," should motivate your child to come back to you.

Begin teaching this to your child by saying the words, while gently going over and bringing your child to your side. Once the child has learned the concept, you may need to impose some reasonabale discipline if he or she disobeys. Always, give your child a great big smile and a hug whenever he responds to the command.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Home questions to ask yourself and your family....

If you were to hire a professional decorator, he or she would probably start by asking you a lot of questions about your style preferences, how you would want to use a particular room, etc.

You can do the same thing -- perhaps even better -- by describing your dream house and getting each member of your family to describe his or her dream house.

Here's a sample questionnaire, taken from the book, "The Complete Book of Home Management". Note: You might not be able to get a man or a boy to have much enthusiasm for answering a written questionnaire or for being bombarded with decorating questions. But, if you ask a little bit at a time, you'll get a picture of what makes the men in your family feel "at home".

It's important to furnish your house with the tastes of all family members in mind. A house can and should reflect the different personalities that live there. If you do some careful planning, you can find a way to pull even very diverse styles together to make a cozy and attractive home.

My husband often mentions that if we could build our dream house right now, he'd like to do a modern log house. He does not like things that are too fussy or too formal. He likes strong, sleek lines, and he values function over form. I love log homes, too. But, at heart, I'm into French, English, and traditional American houses with a more formal slant. I like curvy, delicate lines. I value form over function. So, my challenge is to find a way to blend our two different outlooks. Otherwise, I might create a haven that would be comfortable to me, but would not be comfortable at all for my husband. (Right now, we're decorated in "What we can afford" style LOL-- which suits us both just fine).

Here's the questionnaire to think through:

The person's name
The person's personality type -- What are their likes and dislikes. What hobbies do they enjoy. Are they outgoing or more of a homebody? What types of things do they like to read? What makes them feel at home?
Style of Home -- Do they like colonial houses? Farm houses? Log Homes? Ultra-modern dwellings? Cape Cod? Georgian? A city loft? A country cottage? Young children may not know what style of house they like, but they might be able to pick out a house they would enjoy from the pages of a book or magazine.
The Person's Favorite Things -- What are the person's favorite colors, textures, fabrics, furniture woods, window treatments, floor materials, accessories, etc.
What are their favorite fruit, flowers, and vegetables.
fabrics and designs?
windows and walls

Here's an example of how the author filled out her questionnaire. Keep in mind that this book was written in the late 70's, and some of her answers reflect what was popular then. I've abbreviated her answers, for the sake of keeping things short and simple:

Name: Kathie Liden
Personalty type: Bright spring. I like adventure, variety, and change. I dislike being stuck with something forever unless it is my personal favorite accessory. I like to create whimsical pictures made from patchwork fabrics, do oil paintings on wood, tin, or canvas. I like to make my own curtains, patchwork quilts and have inspirational quotes and poems displayed around me. I want a cheerful atmosphere that says, "Welcome home, family," and to friends, "Relax, enjoy yourselves, pull up a chair and stay awhile." Above all, I want my house insulated with Christ and joy.
Style of Home: Colonial, country-house feeling. Informal and lots of windows. I want it to have a feeling of happy, fun-loving Christians living within. I want it to have a light, sunny, fresh look.
My favorite things:
Fruit, flowers, vegetables: daisies, daffodils in wicker baskets. bright red geraniums in clay pots, apples in wooden bowls, strawberries painted on wood or appliqued on fabric -- cute, not serious
fabrics and designs: crisp white, Wedgewood blue cottons, windowpane plaids, checks and calico prints, small flower prints, polka dots, eyelet, applique, cross-stitch, quilting
furniture: light pine furniture -- old pie safes, harvest tables, roll top desk, wicker, antiques, painted furniture, trunks with calico linings, turned legs and posts, spindles, brass beds, dust ruffles and pillow shams on beds
windows and walls: tieback curtains, painted and natural shutters, scalloped shades, stained glass, stenciled walls, white walls and paneling, wallpaper, plate rails
brick, pinewood, braided rugs, candy-stripe carpet
accessories: handmade quilts, baskets, ruffled patchwork or applique pillows, ferns and ivy
Colors: pastels, red, white, blue, yellow, and green.

The author's husband had some similar tastes, but he liked darker and heavier pine furniture and leather furniture.

Don't forget to let children help you make decisions about decorating their rooms. Of course, you need to offer some guidance, particularly for younger children. But, if you involve your children in decorating their own space, this can provide an opportunity for them to learn many things. If you have children who share a room, that's a perfect scenariro for them to learn how to work together to create a space that makes both feel "at home".

One common issue that arises when children are allowed to decorate a room occurs between a mother and daughter. Generally, when a daughter is small, she shares a mom's love of pink and ruffles and sweet looking rooms. Often, as a girl passes through her preteen and teen years, she may outgrow this look -- at least for a time. She may want to leave things behind her that she associates with babyhood. She may want to move on to bolder colors and more modern looking spaces. Such spaces may still be quite feminine, but they may not coincide with mom's vision of a room fit for her princess. Yet, developing her own style is part of a daughter's journy towards keeping a home of her own one day. It's not likely that she will continue to keep the same style she develops as a teen forever. But, it is an important step in her growth.

Every stereotype has its exceptions, but the woman of the house seems to identify with her home in an extra way. She may be more vested in expressing their personality in their home than other members of the family are. Others may not understand why this is so important to her. A husband, for example, may not understand why she wants to set aside a certain portion of the budget to make the house more homey and comfortable. She, on the other hand, may fall into one of two traps: 1) She may become too materialistic and fussy about how she wants the house. This can lead to discontentment on her part, as well as to a strain on the family budget if she insists on a vision of home that the family can't currently afford and 2) She may force her idea of home on everyone else. This is where some communication between spouses and some communication as a family can help.

The point is to use questions like the ones we've listed as a springboard for discussion. Make up your own questions to suit your situation.

Of course, asking these questions and discussing and finding styles for the home that suit the whole family is secondary to forming wholesome attitudes about family life. Part of our home decorating discussions should center around questions such as the following:

1) Why is it important to pick a home decorating budget and stick to it? Why is it important to learn how to be content within the means God has given us? How do we live contently and with holiness in a materialistic society?
2) Why is the way we treat each other in the home more important than the color of the walls?
3) What takes higher priority? To love God, help the poor and the lost, and to be hospitable? Or, to create a perfect looking haven just for our family?
4) How can we be good stewards of the home space we have now? What can we do as a family to keep our home neat and clean?


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

SOS -- A Home Keeping Question For Which I Do Not Know the Answer...In other words, you get to write the post today!

My husband is a computer engineer and does a lot of his work from home, which means that we have cables and things plugged in everywhere. On top of that, we have computers, various cell and cordless phones, battery charged hand vacuums, battery charged home improvement tools, and battery charged gardening tools that must be plugged in somewhere. And, we have lamps with long cords, etc. We do have some cord covers which are designed to fit on a cord that runs across a floor. And, I saw a neat thing on HGTV where someone sewed a gauzy tube to cover up a cord. But, otherwise, I'm at a loss as to how to hide all of these various gismos and their respective cords.

So, what do you do with any gadgets in your house that must be charged or plugged into an outlet? Where do you store them all? Do you have any tricks for concealing cords for lamps or tools? Do any of you have husbands whose job requires they have equipment with lots of cords at home that you must learn to vacuum around? If so, how do you handle the vacuuming around these items?

If you have any hints for me, I'd appreciate them!


Monday, April 09, 2007

Holiday Plans...

My Easter plans didn't go exactly as I had pictured them. "In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps." Proverbs 16:9

In thinking through my week, I had decided to set the table, iron napkins, and cook some of my Sunday dinner (that's noonday dinner) ahead of time.

I had also picked up picnic preparations. Our church had planned a picnic and Easter Egg hunt months before anyone knew that Easter weekend would bring with it an unusually cold blackberry winter. It even spit snow on Saturday! Flurries in April are unheard of in our Southern town. It was so cold on Saturday that I found myself humming Christmas carols! Wrong holiday. :)

Our son, who lives in another city, hoped he would be able to join us for the weekend.

As it turned out, my dear widowed father got sick Friday evening. On Saturday, our own doctor was out of pocket. We exhausted a couple of possibilties before ending up taking him to the ER. We were at the ER all day long, and it was late evening before we finally got home. The good news is that my father came to our house to recuperate from his illness, which means that we are enjoying some great time with him.

Our son had a work emergency, and he wasn't able to travel home after all. He was a little down about the way his week was going.

Despite the unforseen events, we had a lovely dinner with my father, my dear hubby, my married daughter, and her husband. And, we were able to have an encouraging conversation with our son. My husband talked with him today, and his week is going much better so far.

In the process of managing a holiday dinner in the midst of it all, I learned several things:

1) You have to "roll with it, baby". It's vital to our success as keepers of our homes to plan and work ahead as much as possible. At the same time, we have to commit our way to the Lord and let him direct our steps. If He chooses something different than we had in mind, we can trust that His ways are best. Besides, the real importance of a family time together is the memories you build. Every detail doesn't have to go perfectly as you mapped out in order for the family to have a great time.

2) It's handy to have an easy craft in a bag that you can quickly grab. I'm in the middle of a stretch of unexpected doctor's appointments -- both for myself and for my father. While I'm an avid reader, I find it hard to concentrate on a book when I'm waiting for myself or someone else to have a medical test. It's also hard to talk to another person and comfort them, if you are reading. So, I find that it's more soothing to have something easy to do with my hands. I'm in the process of fringing napkins, which I will stitch up. That's been my easy craft of late. I also have a printed cross-stitch to tackle once the napkins are done.

3) Planning ahead has its benefits, even if the plans don't proceed as you thought they would. We didn't use the picnic items I had gathered for Saturday on Saturday. But, they came in handy for a quick supper last night and for lunch today.

Also, I had mentally set out a course of action for the Sunday dinner in which I would iron napkins and prepare several dishes ahead on Saturday. I had purposely chosen simple things -- like an easy to cook ham -- so that I could put the dinner on the table soon after we got home from church. As it turned out, I had no time on Saturday to do anything other than attend to the emergency at hand. But, I had gathered the basic materials for the meals, and I had prepared a little centerpiece. So, while I was tending to my father Sunday morning, I was able to also put the Sunday meal together. The only things I didn't get done were ironing the napkins the way I wanted them and getting out my spring wreath for the door. But, those details didn't take away anything from the good meal and the fun we had.


Thursday, April 05, 2007

More helpful resources for the Keeper at Home:

You can give yourself or your child an education in home economics (family and consumer sciences), if you make good use of the Internet. One source of valuable information is from companies that sell consumer items. As part of their PR campaigns, many companies have established web sites that provide generally informative articles. When visiting a commercial site, don't feel pressured to buy any specific products listed within an article; you do not have to buy a company's to glean helpful information about taking care of your home and family. Some of these sites will offer coupons or discounts, which you may enjoy.

Other helpful sites are run by people who simply have an interest or an education in a subject related to home and garden. (Please be cautious about taking medical or nutritional advice from the web. Remember, anyone with a computer can put information on the Internet, and, thus, individuals are free to make claims whether they are backed up by research or not. When one web site makes a claim, others pick it up, and, thus, there is a lot of medical misinformation that gets spread around the web. But, you can learn a lot about taking care of your family's health if you are wise and discerning about what you read.)

Other helpful sites are run by government agencies, such as extension services. You can be pretty comfortable that these government sites are objective, well-researched, and have no bias towards selling you a product.

Here are some resources to consider. You may find other resources for a particular topic that you like better. These are just here to inspire you to search for the information you need to grow as a keeper at home or to teach your children the basics of maintaining a household:

I think this is one of the best online sources from an extension service, but don't forget to check out your local state school extension service for additional helps. This site offers information on about everything from agriculture to food safety to nutrition to preparing an economical wardrobe for each member of your family

I couldn't leave out Georgia's Extension Service, as UGA is my alma mater.

Check out this site for information about all kinds of things from food safety to how to set a table for various occasions. You will have to keep clicking links to get to the really good stuff. But, it's worth it.

Information about how to take care of shoes, plus definition of shoe parts and symbols.

This site offers a ton of information about shoe care. However, the business has been sold, so I don't know how much longer the web site will be available. If you're interested in learning more about shoe care or if you want to teach your children about shoe care, you probably want to visit this site right away.

FLOWER ARRANGING FROM HGTV,,HGTV_3418_1371171,00.html This particular article is about flower arranging. But, of course, HGTV offers information about a variety of subjects.

Offers a lot of information, but, again, don't feel you have to buy their products to achieve the looks they talk about.









Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Sewing helps -- for the non-sewer, the begining sewer or the advanced seamstress

Check out these helpful links:

This is a fabric store located in Huntsville, Ala. You can visit their store or order from them online. They cater to home sewers and to people who sew as a cottage industry. They specialize in all sorts of nylon, lace, and fabrics and supplies for lingerie and swimwear, as well as for costumes and activewear. They have some fabrics in stock that are hard to find in regular sewing shops. They also offer selected patterns. This is the site to shop if you would like to make some lovely nightgowns for yourself or as gifts for a new bride. My mother-in-law buys several yards of tricot at a time from them, which she uses to make several gowns to give as gifts.

This is an organization that promotes the art of home sewing. It offers tips for learning to sew clothing and home decor, as well as free patterns. Many of these free patterns can be done by a beginner or even someone with little to no sewing skills. Yet, the site also has items of interest to people who are expert seamstressses. Check out the section on charitable sewing if you would like to find ways to use your sewing talents to help others. Also, if you enjoy sewing and would like to earn money by teaching others how to sew, reading this site can help you get started. They provide a resource section for those who already are sewing educators or who would like to become sewing educators.

Find new and discontinued Simplicity patterns, as well as information about reading patterns, fitting garments, learning how to sew clothing and home decor, etc.

This site has ads on its page and has a more commercial feel to it than the Home Sewing Association site. I would rank the Home Sewing Association's site a little higher on my list than this one. Nevertheless, there's some good information about sewing here, and it's well worth visiting. There's a sewing dictionary, a bookstore, a section of links and resources, and a few projects. Be sure to check out the archives of the Sew and Tell newsletter to find out all sorts of information about sewing.

Information about sewing.

COLONIAL PATTERNS (Including Aunt Martha's embroidery and cross-stitch)
This is a fabulous resource for people who love needlework and other related crafts. This site offers a variety of supplies, but they are most famous for their hot iron transfer patterns. Also check out the tea towels and the pillowcases, which can be used to make little items for the home or for gifts. There's something here for everyone.

The above are just a few of the many web sites where you can find fabrics, patterns, notions, and information about sewing. To find more sewing resources, type sewing, fabrics, or notions into your search engine. Also, look up the sites for companies like Jo-Ann's and Hancock's. Finally, if you hear of or visit a small fabric store, find out if it has an on-line sites. Some small shops sell merchandise online.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Wal-Mart is slowly discontinuing their fabric departments. As Belle-ah of Southern Somedays pointed out, many people in small towns or rural areas depend on their local Wal-Mart for sewing supplies. If you live far from a fabric store, it's nice to know that there are many stores that sell sewing supplies online. Some of these stores offer surprisingly low prices.

Even if you do live near a fabric store, visiting a company web site is a good way to pick up some extra tips that will help you with fabric and craft projects.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Husbands and Romance...

It's a safe guess that most of us who blog about home and family have a romantic side to our nature. I've seen lots of blog entries around with the themes of feminity, flowers, tea, pink, chocolate, special holidays, candles, aprons, baskets, and other items that make the world a more charming place for women.

I include myself in that category, as well. After all, my blog is named, "The Merry Rose: Blooming as Keeper of my Home," and it has the pinkest background I could find.

Our husbands are no less romantic than we women are. Oh, some may never describe themselves as being romantic. But, we must not be fooled. Even the brawniest man's man has a tender side.

The quandry is that men do not always find romance in the same things that we women do. Oh, they may appreciate it when we set a beautiful table, complete with rose-patterned china and silver candelabras with glowing tapers. And, they may enjoy seeing us arrange flowers in a vase. They may see such touches as charming evidence of a wife's mysteriously feminine side. However, they may not interpret these things as being romantic. Candlelight, roses, and walls painted pink may not move our husbands to thoughts of love in the same way that these things move us.

Of course, every man is unique, as is every woman. The key in romancing a husband is to find out what makes him feel romantic. A husband will feel extra loved if you make gestures that spell romance in his language. Understanding what moves our own husbands' hearts requires that we employ some careful observation and ask some thoughtful, but not overwhelming questions. We should make this should be a lifelong study, as our husbands, like us, will change over a liftetime.

Here are some generalities about the romantic side of a man's nature that will help us get started in discerning what a husband finds to be romantic. They are based on observations about the "average" man. Pick some ideas and see how your own husband responds.

1) The foundation of appealing to a man's romantic side is to keep some mystery and a sense of childlike happiness in the relationship. Most men greatly value mystery, adventure, fun, and challenge. They grow up thinking of girls as being somewhat mysterious and baffling, and they enjoy this mystery because it brings out their masculine nature in response.

Of course, men and women are both human, and they have many of the same needs and desires. We should not emphasize the differences between men and women to the point that we forget our similarities. After all, both men and women are made in the image of God.

However, its foolish to deny that there is such a thing as being male and such a thing as being female, and that, at least in this earthly life, there are differences between the two. How a husband and a wife combine their differenent points of view is part of what makes the one-flesh relationship so fascinating. As the French say, "Vive le difference."

In the first one to five years, the natural difference between the sexes naturally provides a sense of mystery for both man and wife to explore. But, as more years go by, we have to work to keep this mystery alive admist the daily details of living together.

I'm not talking about playing emotional games with our husbands or hiding secrets from them. As is the case with the worthy woman, our husbands need to know, above all things, that we are dependable and trustworthy. Men are hoping that their wives will be their soul-mates and best friends, just as we desire our husbands to be our close companions, as well. In order for this companionship to happen, we must be vulnerable and transparent with each other. In opening up our hearts to our husbands, we arouse their tender feelings, and they feel more comfortable sharing their intimate thoughts with us.

However, being trustworthy and open as wives doesn't mean that we have to settle in a rut or become stale and boring. There are lots of ways to keep the freshness and mystery in our marriage. We can learn new things. We can improve our characters. We can update our appearance from time to time. We can cultivate our childlike sense of gratefulness and delight, even during hard times. We can be spontaneous enough to respond happily when our husband suggests a surprise outing.

While we should be honest with our husbands if we aren't feeling well, we can avoid loading them down with too much information about every little ache and pain we might face. We can also keep our grooming private; our husbands are not blessed when they see us pluck stay hairs or clip our toenails.

2) The next step is to maintain variety and freshness in your lingerie wardrobe. Remember, men are visually oriented. They find it romantic when their wives dress alluringly for their eyes only. Wear some things that highlight your physical charms. Select items that appeal to your husband's tastes. Ask him what he would like to see you wear in the privacy of your bedroom. If he gives you lingerie as a present, wear it! Don't feel self-concious if you have a less than perfect figure. A loving husband isn't looking at his wife's flaws. Of course, if you are extremely overweight, a loving thing you can do for yourself and for your husband is to work on your health and your weight. But, don't wait until you've achieved a healthy weight to attire yourself in something appealing.

To complete your lingerie wardrobe, you will need some very revealing things and some things that provide more coverage. Even when you are wearing something that does provide more coverage, make sure it is silky or soft, glamorous, and feminine. Don't wear the same thing all of the time; remember, men generally enjoy variety. A side benefit of treating ourselves to some nice lingerie is that we will feel better about ourselves. A lovely robe does more for our spirits than slumping around in a pair of paint-splattered sweat pants.

3) Showing our husbands respect brings out their romantic side. Our husbands are also moved to tenderness when we sincerely appreciate their masculinity. Our husbands feel a great responsiblity for being husbands and fathers. They often wonder if they are doing a good job. We can lift them up by letting them know that we respect them and that we also find their masculine qualities attracitve. Even if you work as hard as your husband does, let him know you appreciate his work. Point out ways that he is a good husband and father. Compliment his masculine features, such as strong hands or broad shoulders or a grip strong enough to open a pickle jar. If you have a hard time complimenting your husband in these areas, check your attitudes to make sure that you are neither bitter nor critical. Remember, there is something to admire about every husband. If you point out a man's positive, masculine attributes, he will feel inspired. If your husband thinks he is a hero to you, he will strive to be more noble in character. And, the romantic side of his nature will be aroused.

4) Learn to celebrate your physical relationship with your husband. Find ways to make things fun. Create a different ambiance once in a while. Be spontaneous. Take a bath together. Have someone watch the children while you go away for a romantic weekend. Or, have someone watch the children while you enjoy a night alone at home. Initiate with him once in a while. Remind him of special times that you've both enjoyed in the past. The idea is that if you've fallen into a comfortable routine, it's good to break out of the rut once in a while. Men find it romantic when their wives take a happy, playful approach to the physical relationship.

While children are in the home, this kind of happy, spontaneous physical relationship can be hard to achieve. This may seem like a contradiction in terms, but the solution is to plan so that you can allow for some spontenaiety and fun in your physical relationship. Even once the children have left home, give some thought to your physicla life so that the two of you do not settle into a perfunctory routine.

5) Once in a while, surprise your husband with an out-of-the-usual date. Whisk him away to a picnic. Or, come up with two tickets to a ballgame. You don't have to spend a lot of money. The idea is simply to do something that the two of you don't usually do. You won't be able to have such an out-of-ordinary date every week, but do make sure that you set aside some time each week for just the two of you. And, make sure that you don't let six months pass without giving your husband a special date to remember.

6) The way to a man's heart really can be through his stomach. Some men find it romantic if their wives cook them a leisurely, comforting meal. They feel loved if their wives put a lot of love into meeting their physical need for food. Sometimes, we do have to slap a quick meal on the table so that we can get out the door to church or a child's activity. But, this should not happen every evening. Help your husband slow down from a hectic day by serving a meal at a slow pace. Have an hors-d-ouvre waiting for him when he walks in the door. Fix him a glass of iced tea or whatever he likes to drink and let him sit down with it for a few minutes. Have something in the stove or oven that fills the kitchen with a savory smell. Serve the meal in courses. If you do this for your husband, your children will benefit from learning how to slow down and enjoy a meal, as well. Once in a while, though, cook a leisurely meal for just the two of you.

7) Keep your everyday appearance fresh, neat, and as up-to-date as you can without sacrificing standards of modesty. A mature husband doesn't expect his wife to have a perfect face and figure, but he does find it romantic if she puts some care into how she dresses around him. (Don't we prefer for our husbands to be neatly attired and reasonably groomed, as well?)

Men feel romantic when their wives dress as if she enjoys being a woman. A godly husband will want his wife to dress modestly in public. But, he also wants her to look feminine. Make use of pretty colors, soft materials, and feminine lines when building your wardrobe. Avoid anyting that smacks of being too mannish, even if its in style.

On the other hand, most of us who are romantic in nature are drawn to old-fashioned, ultra-romantic styles. We adore lace, cameos, long skirts, plaid, pink, bows, ruffles, and the like. If we're not careful, we can overdo this.

There are many men who enjoy it when their wives dress to the hilt in ultra-feminine clothing. But, don't assume this is true for your husband; ask him. Some men associate an old-fashioned look from head to toe with being dowdy, stiff, or too formal. The very outfit that makes us feel like Marianne from Sense and Sensiblity can make our husbands think we look like Aunt Bea. This is especially true if we are somewhere in our middle years. For some reason, girlish fashions suit young women and elderly women, but often don't work for the woman "of a certain age".

If your husband isn't enraptured by a head-to-toe, old-fashioned look, do not despair. Keep some simple, well-cut, up-to-date, flattering basics in your closet. Pair these basics with one of your ultra-feminine touches, such as a lace shell or a cameo broach. In this way you can indulge your fondness for an old-fasihioned look without overwhelming the eye of your husband.

Remember, stores and pattern companies always offer something up-to-date to suit the woman with a romantic sensiblity. It's not necessary to cling to the styles of the last decade in order to dress in a manner that is both feminine and modest.

All women benefit from doing these four things twice a year: look through a pattern book, visit a dress shop, browse through a shoe store, and pick up a fashion magazine. Study what colors are in this year. Look how jackets and skirts are cut. Check out what heels and toes are in vogue for shoes this year.

Then, buy or make one or two inexpensive items that reflect this year's trends. Pair these with classic pieces that are cut in a feminine way. If you like, you can alter some of your older pieces to look more up-to-date. For example, changing the collar on a jacket or taking a dart in a dress or putting new buttons on a coat can make the garment look fresher. If you put some thought into staying somewhat up-to-date without being a slave to fashion trends, you will always look fresh and feminine to your husband. This will appeal to his romantic side.

8) Don't be jealous if your husband takes an occasional fishing trip with his buddies or goes to a sporting event with his friends. Just as women find support in talking to other women, men need some time with their guy friends, as well. A wife who understands this makes a man feel more masculine. This brings out his romantic feelings for her. A wife who suggests that her husband have the guys over to watch a sports game and cooks some snacks for them gets extra points!

9) Don't worry; be happy! Life in a fallen world is hard. Husbands and wives go through many challenges on the way to heaven. As wives, we need to be open about our pain. And, we need to weep with our husbands, when appropriate. But, we also need to laugh as well!

A woman who knows how to be open about her problems, but also knows how to maintain a positive, faithful outlook is a joy to be around. Such a woman retains an air of youthfulness even into very old age. The romantic side of a man's nature is aroused when his wife maintains a basic attitude of joy and peace.

10) Here's a suggestion that requires a fine balance. Let your husband know that you think about him during the day, when he is at work. Here are some ideas that your husband might find romantic: Send him an encouraging or romantic e-card (provided he can receive personal email at work); frame a photograph of you and one of the whole family for his office; tuck a loving or sexy note into his lunch or his briefcase (make sure it won't fall out in front of other poeple in his office); ask him from time to time if there is anything you want him to pray about concerning his work; listen to him talk about his work day when he comes home from work; and, once in a while, whisper in his ear as he is leaving for work that he has something exciting to look forward to that night. Don't overdo it here, though. A woman who interrupts her husband too often at work can end up adding to his stress level.

11) Do romantic things for your husband as a way of making him feel loved, rather than with the thought of making him love you more. When we are basically secure in life, we find it easier to be loving, warm, womanly, and romantic. When we are insecure, we can put too much burden on our husbands to meet our emotional needs. When this happens, our husbands can feel very burdened, for they think it is their fault if we are not at peace. Thus, a husband finds it more romantic if his wife does things for him because she loves him, rather than because she wants to earn his love. If you do try too hard to earn your husband's love, you will give up if you don't see an immediate reward.

Now, its likely that as you do treat your husband with love -- as you do little romantic things for him -- he will love and appreciate you more and more. We all respond to love. But, let a deeper love on your husband's part be the side effect of your efforts and not your motivation. Remember, Jesus said it is better to give than to receive. True love gives without thought of reward.