Category Archives: Family

Domestically Dis-Inclined

Domestically Dis-Inclined: How One Family Takes Back Their Home

I have realized for a long time that we are not all created equal when it comes to the domestic home front. Some people are just born with the desire and ability to create order out of chaos, to maintain systems and to think ahead. Others have to really work at it. And some either have no inclination, no desire or no awareness.

I have discovered over the years that I fall somewhere between the last two. I do have the desire to have a clean, organized home, but I am not naturally gifted at creating it nor am I genetically predisposed to maintain order. The good news is that there is help for people like me as long as one has the desire and remains aware of one’s surroundings.

I come from a long line of women who believe that function follows form. Homes should be beautifully decorated but less thought goes into the actual orderly running of things. I suppose this was less of an issue for my grandmother who had staff to keep things orderly and clean. My mother, who worked outside of the home much of my childhood, had to tackle this on her own. She admitted frequently that she was not a good housekeeper nor did she get any pleasure from it.

The lesson that I gleaned from my mother’s example was that as long as the pillows were plumped and there were fresh flowers, as was well with the world. Clutter was what made a home looked lived in—especially if the clutter included beautiful and/or interesting objects and books. Books were always plentiful in our home and were kept close to hand (past and future reads were equally important as current). As long as there was a surface, there was no such thing as too many photographs, too many books or too many decorative objects. I believe that I have followed this example well.

Over the years, however, my family has accumulated more than our share of stuff. Some might say that this is simply “the American way” and perhaps I believed this as well. But now I realize that this “collection” is actually the result of disorganization, laziness and paralysis.

Two months ago my family embarked on an adventure to regain control of our home through purging and organizing, rethinking our spaces and how they are used and by refurbishing our 17-year-old house. We call it “Project Take Back Our Home”.

Project Take Back Our Home

Over the next few months, I will be sharing the process and the results of our efforts in this new series. I hope to give some encouragement to those who are where I was: in a state of complete denial and immobilization due to the enormity of the job at hand. I will reveal organizing tips from the perspective of a “real person” (i.e., one who is domestically disinclined). And I will share how our complete domestic re-boot has helped my family. I hope you will join me on this adventure!

 

 

 

 

When a Break Turns Into a Sabbatical

I’m back. I took a little break from writing and blogging this summer thinking I would be back at the keyboard by late-August or early September…it is now October 13. I suppose that is more of a sabbatical than a break. I didn’t expect that I needed or could even tolerate this much time away from writing. I guess I was wrong.

I stepped away from my laptop in June for family and for personal reasons. I will be writing more about both of these in future posts. In short, I wanted to spend as much time with my daughter before she started her senior year and I needed some time to process some things privately. I was concerned that if I continued to blog I would process publicly–and prematurely. Given these few months, I know I made the right decision in both of these cases.

The time away also allowed me time to get started on some much-needed and long-overdue projects around our house. I will be posting regularly about our “Take Back Our House Project.” I have some great before and after photographs, will share some of our dirty, little secrets and the solutions we have found. We are still very much in the process of this project and will be continuing to work on it throughout the year.For a sneak preview, check out my Instagram posts.

I’d love to hear from you about your own projects: how do you get started, what keeps you motivated, how you juggle the long process with living life, etc.

So…I am glad to be back. I am determined to keep writing and to continue to share my journey and struggles, battles and blessings.

God’s peace, my friends.

Amy

 

My Father the Farmer: Dirt Runs Through His Veins

dirt in his veins

My father is a farmer. Not the up with the rooster, working the fields, dirt under nails kind of farmer. He is the kind who looks at a yard and sees a small plot of earth in which to grow things. The kind who thinks and plans and plants and eats and then thinks and plans….He is a man of letters with South Carolina agrarian blood generations old pulsing through his veins. He scrapes scraps, churns refuse, spreading and working it through the soil like a baker kneading bread. He sees life beginning, stretching, full of possibility, regenerating in every square inch of dirt he has sanctioned. I have heard the tenderness in his voice as he walks me through his garden, seen the loss in his eyes when he talks about leaving a place and leaving behind his plants. He has taken an impossibly cold, rock of an island in the St. Lawrence River and planted tomatoes and herbs. Dirt runs through his veins.

I have long hoped that this same blood runs through me—this love of the land and tending things. Maybe it will become more dominant as I age, settle and slow down but for now, it is still just a longing. I lack the patience, the attention to detail and the long view that characterizes one who plants. My desire is for the immediate, the applause, the back slap. I live for the dreams, the ideas, the process, the prototypes. My father patiently turns and nourishes the soil. Waters and dead heads and stakes his plants. He collects leaves from neighbors, hand washes delicate egg shells and sorts through the remains of meals to create the perfect compost cocktail.

These things don’t come naturally to me. So, for now, I emulate hoping that in the doing—the digging and planting—any remnants of the South Carolina soil that runs in my veins will be stirred and awaken the farmer in my soul.

Bicycles

The Magic of Summer

There is just something wonderful about the beginning of summer. Maybe it is the freedom that we–even as adults–feel once school has ended. Or maybe it is the lengthening of days and the vegetable stands and sunburned skin.

field

I was reminded of the magic of a summer evening as I drove along a rural portion of a South Carolina interstate earlier this week. Mesmerized by the way the trees filtered the late afternoon/early evening sun, I watched as dust particles danced like fairies in the space between the trees and grass. My mind slipped easily back to a day in my childhood–summer 1974–in the small, mid-Western town of my youth…

 

SUMMER 1974–PARKVILLE

A chair pushes back, side door opens and the screen door slams shut. The mother’s voice yells unheard to the girl bare feet, bed-messed hair, eyes minutes from sleep. The girl pauses on the steps and surveys the yard feeling the warmth of the sun on her cheeks and shoulders.

Screen door

Her head snaps to the right, hair flying as the dog runs barking towards her. Slobbers and paws and too much fur greet her. Laughing she pushes the part-collie, part-cocker spaniel, part-dachshund aside and races down the stairs jump-stepping onto the stones with grass creeping around the edges. Finally—bare feet already hardened sink into cool, soft, blue-green blades. The day stretches out before her for miles.

Grass

The phone has already rung. Secret plans have already been whispered. The girl moves to the back of the old house picking her way across the sharp gravel to the dark, cool basement dug into the hill. Quickly, to avoid the spiders and bugs and musty smell, she retrieves her bike: purple frame, glitter banana seat, name plate, tall fluorescent flag to catch the wind.

Sidewalk

Scrambling up the slope, she makes her way to the street and hops on. She pedals the flat stretch of road passing one, two, three, four Victorian houses. Then there is the hill. The hill where the car slammed into one of Dr. Donnelly’s Saint Bernards laying in the street smashing the front of the car while the huge monster lumbered across to its home. The hill that she flies down but dreads pushing the bike back up. The hill that the girl’s father walks daily down into the town and up onto the college campus.

Pedaling faster and faster to gain speed, she sails down the hill, trees and leaves and grass and houses all swooshing past. Finally hill turns flat and she pedals on to the house with white picket fence—the manse for the Presbyterian preacher and his family. The house with the quiet, serious, best friend. The house tidy and smelling of cooking and mother always home. The backyard a long slow slope covered in vinca vines sprinkled with purple flowers. The large bedroom on the second floor with two beds for sisters who read and play piano and study.

Picket fence

Slowly the group gathers at this house—white haired fairy-like girl, tough tom boy from two blocks away, smiling little sister of best friend, street-wise blond with the bad mouth and the parents divorced. An odd crew—best friends on street, strangers at school.

Alliances form. Negotiations begin. A decision made. Whatever the outcome—riding bikes to the creek, picnic under the trees at the college’s playing fields, roller skating in the freshly paved parking lot of the church, walking down the next hill into town to Ernie’s pharmacy for candy or escaping the heat or rain in the basement of the house playing school or acting out plays—we are all in. No complaining, no do-overs, no crybabies.

Pharmacy

As the day draws to a close the group disperses and heads to their respective homes and dinner. The girl walks her bike up the hill with the white-haired girl whose house is in the middle of the incline. Bikes dropping on the sidewalk, the two run up the driveway to the back yard, through a hole in the fence, across the neighbor’s yard into the dainty garden next door.

Strawberries

Crouching, crawling across still hot paving stones to the mounds of variegated, scalloped leaves with fingers gingerly reaching trying to grasp the small, sweet, dark red strawberries. Popping as many in their mouths as possible, they stuff pockets while always looking and watching for the old woman. One day, a few summers later, the girls were caught but the old woman invited them to take as many strawberries as they wanted. That was last summer of sneaking the berries. Now mouths and pockets full, the girls race back across the neighbor’s lawn with hearts pounding, down the driveway back to their tangle of bikes.

image

Waving goodbye to the friend, the girl pushes her bike up the steep hill past the house where she picked out her kitten-now-cat—a bribe from her parents to go to first grade without a fuss. To her right the narrow island of grass and trees calls to her to step inside its secrets. The woods with so many lost balls and the old woman who kept them.

1338 Main Street, Parkville MO

The gray clapboard house peeks over the hill and the girl picks up speed ready for dinner and questions about the day. The father stands in the garden—a small plot of land carved from the lawn—amidst the asparagus going to seed and squash and tomatoes. The girl joins him half-listening to the lessons of gardening and mulching, skimming her hands over the tops of the riotous zinnias.

Riotous zinnias

Armed with their bounty, the girl and her father enter the kitchen to smells of chicken and rice and butter beans cooking. With the tomatoes sliced and the table set, the girl, her parents and brother settle in for the meal and talk. Later, plates cleared, the girl and her father load the dishwasher. Again the lessons half-heard on the proper way to rinse and load.

After the bath, the girl pulls a clean cotton gown over her head. Hair still wet and feet clean and prunish, the girl follows the voices of her parents out into the side yard. Fireflies flicker across the grass. Chasing a few, the girl finds herself at the hammock—the one purchased two summers ago on the island in South Carolina white ropes crisscrossing. Climbing in she pushes off from the ground gliding slowly back and forth, back and forth. Arms supporting her head, the girl looks into the dark sky that peeks between the two huge oak trees counting the stars. A breeze rustles the cotton gown body underneath all clean and scrubbed. Parents’ voices trail off, the girl closes her eyes.

Good night moon

Photographs by Amy Watson Smith, 2013 and 2014

This was originally posted in May 2013 as Summer 1974-Parkville.

 

How I Start My Week

Monday morning from my perspective: setting priorities

This is what Monday looks like from my perspective. Coffee, old school planner, iPhone, iPad, camera, pen, more coffee. In my pajamas. Surrounded by my hounds.

This is how I start my week.

I know that I am fortunate to be able to start the week this way. I am blessed to be able to spend this season of my life only working out of my home part-time. I am lucky to have the opportunity to explore my passion for writing and photography and to have time being creative.

So I sit on the sofa in the den in my pajamas with my three dogs barking and running in circles (or sometimes chewing their bones), the cat is perched on the pillow by my side and I try to plan my day, my week, my year.

I update calendars, make appointments, brainstorm blog post ideas, plan the editorial calendar for my blog, shoot a few photos, begin a draft post or two and try to finish at least one that I can publish this week. I research ideas, read new posts from my favorite bloggers and comment when appropriate. I look through emails, check Instagram, Facebook and Twitter posts and try to respond in turn. Finally I check my site statistics to see whether anyone has even read my latest post.

Seems like a lot of work . . . but for what purpose? Sometimes I wonder about this. And I know that my husband certainly does.

But I love what I am doing–writing, taking photos, blogging about my journey, . . . this gives me joy, makes my heart sing, stirs my creative juices and, ultimately, makes me a happier mama and wife. My two days of doing what I love energizes and enthuses me for the rest of the week.

I am thankful to the Lord and to my husband and daughter for allowing me the time to see where this “work” will take me.

This is how I start my week. With dreams and plans and ideas and pajamas.

How do you start your week? Are you a planner or a dreamer? Do you carefully set priorities or do you just jump into the week and see where it will take you?

 

How Do You Want to Be Remembered?

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like I am running in circles–darting from one “emergency” to the next. When a friend asks me what I have been up to lately–or even what I did yesterday–I find myself at a complete loss to remember anything that I have done.

What have I been doing? I often ask myself.

Movement not action

I know that I don’t lounge about eating bon-bons and watching television all day. I also know that I spend much too much time in my car running errands. And no matter how many loads of clothes I launder, there are always more to do.

Every single day I am surprised by how quickly time has passed.

I admit that I am a listmaker. I love to cross things off and check boxes. Yes, I am the kind of person who even puts things on a list that I have already done just so I can check them off.

Grocery store. Check.

Dry cleaning. Check.

Prescriptions refilled. Check.

Library books returned. Check.

I often wonder about the things I put on my lists though. Do these things really matter in the long run? Is this how I want to be remembered?

I realize that these tasks are all part of running a household, being part of a family, living in a community. I am not suggesting that they don’t need to be done or that they aren’t important.

I just wonder if there are other things that I might need to add to my list.

Listen.

Love.

Pay attention.

Be thankful.

Would I be able to cross these off my list each day? And if I did add these to my list, how might my day be different? How might my life be different?

I suspect that if I added these to my list and actually did them, my other list of tasks might not get accomplished.

How do I want to be remembered? As someone who was a listmaker and a list-checker? Or as a woman who listened, loved, was attentive and thankful?

I will let you guess which one I choose. What about you?

How to Have the Perfect Vacation

"A vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in." -Robert Orben How to Have a Perfect Vacation on www.amywatsonsmith.com

“A vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in.” -Robert Orben

Spring Break is finally here. We have escaped our normal lives and gotten away for a few days to lie about on the beach in Florida. Unfortunately the weather has not cooperated as we had hoped. But I have a secret. I know how to have the perfect vacation regardless of the location or weather.

A vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in.

Brilliant.

As simple as that.

Well, at least it is that simple for me. I am perfectly happy doing absolutely nothing: reading, watching a movie, chatting, napping, snacking…there are a lot of of us out there.

But then there are also those of you who are like my husband–someone who prefers to have something to do or something to see (at least on vacation). The idea of doing nothing all day is torture to someone like that.

Our first day in Florida was beautiful so of course the girls (two teens and me) headed straight for the beach to soak up as much sun as humanly possible. My husband joined us but kept suggesting a walk. Eventually he left us to do some exploring. Two hours later he returned with shells and several interesting encounters to relate.

Day two at the beach was overcast and rainy. The girls were disappointed at first and frustrated but soon realized that without the sun they were now released to do the thing they really wanted to do: nothing all day long. I was thrilled as well (we had all gotten a bit too much sun the day before). Even my husband managed to enjoy it.

Once you realize that you really cannot do much of anything, you just have to relax and give in to it.

There it is.

Vacation.

Having nothing to do and all day to do it in.

Once you release yourself (or someone/something releases you) from the pressure to do and to see and to go go go, you can really enjoy doing nothing.

So regardless of where you are or what your situation is, it is possible to have the perfect vacation. You do not have to even leave your own home if you can release yourself from the drive to do things. You do not have to have a full day–even a few hours will do.

So block off some time, turn off your phone, grab a book or a magazine, find a comfortable spot and settle in.

It is time for your perfect vacation.

Enjoy!