I am taking down Christmas today and it is making me sad. I am sort of avoiding it, actually. I love Christmas. I love the whole season. I re-read the cards we received, made notes of new addresses, saved photos, and then tossed them. As I did, I prayed for everyone who remembered us with cards, everyone we sent cards to, and everyone we know that we no longer stay in touch with. I try to do that with our decorations, too. I pray as I put them away for another year. To me, Santa is so much more than a guy in a red suit. He embodies the Saint himself, St. Nicholas of Myra. And the lessons from St. Nicholas are supposed to stay with us all the year long, as well as the lessons we gain from the Birth of Our Savior. We are blessed to attend St. Nicolas of Myra parish, so the icon of St. Nicholas, and one of his relics, is always with us. He was a Bishop and he loved the poor and he loved his community. Those are attributes we should keep in mind more than just in December each year.
I love being Byzantine because our Vespers, our Orthros, and our prayers keep our calendar busy, as well as all the wonderful feasts throughout our liturgical year. There is a term called, “Ordinary Time” for the days between the preparation of the Feasts on our calendar. People often get this confused and think it means that our time is “ordinary,” as in mundane or rote. Not at all! The term relates to the order of the days, and the way in which we count them. As in numerals or ordinals; it has nothing to do with the character of the days, but rather the ways in which we keep track of the days between feasts. So as you take down Christmas and feel like your home is just “ordinary” until the next feast (for most of America that would be Easter) take a moment to think about that. We are counting, or keeping track of our days, until we fast and feast!
I read a great blog on FB today about the art of housekeeping. In the article, the author talks about the mundane – laundry, chasing dust bunnies, folding clothes, picking up toys, cooking meal after meal. Sometimes in the eyes of the world, those of us who stay home and keep a house have nothing to do. We are the dross, the extra, of our culture because we are not gainfully supporting it by working outside of our homes. We have a boring routine and our lives are the same, day in and day out. I have SO much to say on that, but I want to share just a couple of thoughts.
My life truly began when I was married 29 years ago. We conceived our first child soon after we were married and he was born just 10 months after our wedding. I really do not know what it is like to be married without children around me, without being a part of a family. But I feel like I truly found myself as a wife and mother. I feel like the life I led up until marriage and motherhood was all preparation. My father used to question how I could be satisfied being at home. He thought I was wasting my intellect and my time. And I have always felt sad for him because he thought that way. Each moment, each experience I had in life, every tid-bit I learned up until I was a wife and mother, was just preparation for my true vocation in life. I have the intellectual chops to have become pretty much anything I had wanted to. I changed my major so many times in college, and was there so long, they used to ask my if my student ID number was legit, because it was so ancient (true story). I never managed to be able to complete an area of study, because my intellect would be drawn to something else and off I would go, changing my major again. And I learned so many odd, fun facts, that I know a lot about quite a few subject areas, but have mastered none of them. (The old adage, “Jack of all trades, master of none” totally applies to me!!). And I learned that all of that knowledge was gained to impart to my children. To share with them as they were growing and learning. I would not trade a moment in a career with the moment I saw a concept click in the mind of one of my sons. I know why teachers teach and why they love sharing knowledge. It is just so magnified when you teach your own child. And my father thought my time would be better spent becoming something (he wanted me to be a doctor) and did not understand how I could stay at home every day. I loved, and quite often miss, the chaos of having your children at home all day and teaching them everything they need to become adults. My older sons attended high school, but my youngest is staying home for high school and I am so glad. Time is racing by and there will come a day not too distant, when I will be alone all day long. (Hopefully I will have grand children that need some babysitting!!). But my days as a homeschooling wife and mother are the most precious thing I have, and can share about my life. It is my vocation, to be married and a mother, and I would not trade away a moment of that “mundane” for a boardroom, the hectic racing out of the house each day to be on time to yet another meeting, the long evenings when homework came after a crazy commute home and dinner being prepared on the fly, while throwing in a load of laundry. I am a wife and mother who stays at home, and I am so very blessed.
The other things I must face, in reflecting on the article I read, is that mound of laundry, the piles of papers I need to organize in my “office,” (I used quotes because my office is a mess and really can’t be called an ‘office;’ it’s more like a paper-storage area!) the endless dust bunnies moving around the corners of my hallway, the stupid stain I can’t seem to get out of the corner of my shower, the windows that need washing, the dishes that need to be put away, the dinner that needs to be planned. All of these things are a part of my every day. (And in addition to those mundane things, I also assist my youngest son in gaining knowledge through homeschooling). Each day I need to pull up my socks and charge into it. And for some reason, I just could not find the motivation. Until I read that article. The author reminded me that the home is truly where our hearts are. She reflected that she had such fond memories of the sameness of her grandmother’s home. She would feel sad if furniture had been moved, or wallpaper had changed. And I thought about that. I loved the smell of my great-grandma’s house and the ticking of the clock on her mantle, the cherry tomatoes growing in the backyard, and the same tablecloth always on her dining room table. I loved the smell of my grandmother’s house (the daughter of my great-grandma) and knew where every, single thing was in that house. She never kept us out of any cupboard or drawer as kids. She even had a drawer of chewing gum and mints, but we had to ask to get into that one. I fondly remember the clothes wringer sitting next to her modern washer. I loved watching her wring the clothes out. Then she would pile them in her laundry basket and we would walk past her famous “Johnny Weismuller” swimming pool (he played Tarzan on the old TV show and afterward designed swimming pools) and out to the far back yard, where we would use wooden clothes pins to hang the laundry. The sound of her laundry cart is one of the sounds I will always miss. Her mother’s mantle clock I loved? I own it and love the sound, still. I loved the sameness of their homes. I loved that I could snuggle down in that same “eiderdown” comforter when I spent the night there. I loved helping her cook and clean, and I use many of her pots and pans still, as well as a couple of her dishtowels! And I thought of all of that today, and I realized I need to put that same love into trudging out through the ice on my front porch to move a load of laundry into the dryer. I need to apply that same love to chasing stains and dust bunnies, and finally organizing my “office,” because those are ways I express myself and my love for my family.
I have started to keep some “sameness” in our home for our grandchildren. My oldest grandson practically runs to the drawer I save for him in the kitchen, with all my plastic baking tools in it. He also has this box of wood samples my husband played with as a child, that were given to him by his grandfather. He also knows what cupboards he can’t go into, but he still tries. My sons are floored I allow him to play in the pots and pans and even encourage drum-playing with them. Ha-Ha! I’m the grandma now, not the mom, and I can enjoy the noise for the joy that shows on my grandson’s face. But more importantly, I am sharing my love for him through banging on pots and pans, that drawer always having my cooking things in it, the same table, the same blankets thrown over the back of the couch…this is how I share my love with the next generation. We rock and sing together; we cuddle and I am praying these times will become his memories of his time with his grandma. My little grand daughter is only a couple of months old, but I talk to her about the fun times we will have baking cookies and making cakes…girlie-stuff! My husband is planning on sharing his love of woodworking with his grandchildren. These are all ways we share our love with our family.
We used to live on a dairy when our sons were pre-school aged. The dairy was not convenient to get to, and if you did not know how to get to it, you would not have known it was even there. It was behind a horse ranch, down a long, dirt road. But we used to get all sorts of visitors. Friends would come to just sit and gaze out the kitchen window. Once, a friend and I were drinking some tea and happened to notice a cow walking down our dirt road. We did a double-take. Someone had left a gate open and the cows were out! A quick call to the milking barn and there were milkers chasing them down our road. What an afternoon! But our home was never empty. I loved those days. I learned to cook from scratch and always had something cooking. I used to can fruits, vegetables, make my own jams, and at least two loaves of bread a day. The smells were welcoming. For Christmas, I got a “Sentsy” candle holder from my daughter-in-law. Yesterday I burned some vanilla wax in it. My husband told me he hated that scent because he kept looking for sugar cookies! Ha-Ha! The scents of our home, as well as the things we have around us, say “Welcome” to our friends. And I am re-learning that. Today’s article has helped me re-focus after 29 years of doing this. I had become complacent and jaded. But now, along with our new liturgical year, I am setting goals for myself. I am going to attack my vocation as a wife and mother, and renew my dedication to it. Sometimes we all need a kick-start in life and this article really has been good for me. I hope that if you read this, it will help you get yourselves motivated for this wonderful opportunity we have – today! There’s a great cartoon of Winnie-the-Poo and Rabbit. Rabbit asks, “What day is it?” And Poo answers, “It’s today, my favorite day.” And so today, my favorite day, I am tackling taking down Christmas and I put a citrus/mango scent in my “Sentsy” candle to rev things up a bit, even if it is still all ice and snow outside!
Theophany is the Holy Day we just celebrated. In that special holiday, we commemorate Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan. We also remember Saint John the Forerunner, who Baptized Our Lord. And baptism ties in so perfectly to my post today on keeping a home. Chasing the stains, the dust bunnies, and the laundry all have to do with keeping ourselves and our homes clean – as in washing. I love the photo I used above of a piece of art depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, doing laundry while the Christ Child played at Her feet. We need to constantly be on guard to ward off the evil one, and one way we can do that is to keep order about us. We can “clean house” in our homes, and in our hearts, every day. I can opt to just close the door on the chaos that is my office, or I can face whatever demon is keeping me from diving in there and cleaning it up, organizing it, and keeping it that way. What do we not want to face when we allow the dust bunnies to win? When we pile the laundry and dishes? When we allow our homes to reflect the chaos that lives in our hearts and minds? How do we find the peace, the clarity of mind, and the simple joys of keeping a home? I think we find it in the seasons of faith we live in. Today I have to face that Christmas and all the things that go along with it are well and truly over. We closed out the season, liturgically, by the feast of Theophany. This feast is often discussed as the feast when God chose to acknowledge His Son by speaking and the Holy Spirit coming as a dove to rest above Christ. It is when God declared, “This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.” (Matthew 17:5).
So we have our faith showing us God in His Son, being cleansed of, not His sins, but our sins, in the Jordan River. He submitted to being baptized to show each of us that we need to be cleansed, over and over again. Yes, we are baptized and our lives become Christ’s. But over and over again, we allow the world to get us grimy and stained, we are tripped up and we fall. We need to seek forgiveness and cleansing each time we fall. And as a housewife, I can apply that to my home. I keep a constant vigil over my family. I keep constant prayer for them as they go about their lives each day. I show glory to God in applying myself to my vocation – I school my son and I keep a clean, tidy house (well, I try!!). God is smiling as we apply ourselves and learn His many lessons for us. As I see the mess in my office, I reminded of my soul and the need I have to clean it out, air it out, and straighten it up. And it makes me look forward through these ordinal days, until we welcome the Great Fast.
Today? It’s my favorite day!