kitchen reminders

As my “Spring Break” kicks off (no classes! no piano lessons! no Bible study!), I’m faced with a pretty daunting list of things to accomplish around the house. Taxes, business paperwork and billing, dry-cleaning, kitchen trimmings and a full “Spring Cleaning” check list mean that my break is just a change in the type  of work I’m doing, not a break from work. I’m looking forward to accomplishing some projects that have been bugging me for a while, but right now I’m especially grateful for these words of wisdom scattering the kitchen. I think sometimes I leave these things out because I know that my future self will need the reminder.

kitchen reminders

Praise to the Lord! Who doth prosper they work and defend thee;
Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee.
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,
If with His love He befriend thee.
— Praise to The Lord, words by Joachim  Neander, 1863.

We delight in the law of your word
We delight in the Son who was perfect from birth
We delight in the day He’s returning to earth, 
Hallelujah!
— We Delight, by Joshua Moore.

sharpened pencils

This rest of this summer was brutally dry and hot, but now our mid-August weather has mellowed into a gentle respite of 70-degree days. With a cool breeze at night, sleep comes easier and deeper. (At last. I never sleep well in the summer.) And after that, these mornings are just right for steaming cups of coffee on the patio. I love this. The very end of summer signifies a turn to my favorite season, fall, and I usually call these weeks of changing weather “Pre-Autumn” in anticipation. I spend them obsessively dreaming about piles of leaves, apple cider, flannel shirts, butternut squash (not spaghetti squash – I will never eat that again), mugs of chili topped with sour cream, wool sweaters, hot tea, crisp mornings, thick socks, and orchard apples. Also, school supplies. I can’t get enough. I love the feel of paper, the tab dividers on folders, the sharp open-close of the rings on 3-ring-binders, and, second only to sticky post-its, I love writing with regular sharpened wood pencils. I usually indulge myself in some unnecessary stationery purchases during this time because that urge to browse the school supply aisles is so overwhelming.

“Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.” – Joe Fox in You’ve Got Mail.

This year I join my teacher-friends in a collective mid-August panic attack because school is starting. On Monday I leave this state of suspense and enter my favorite season with exciting challenges that will stretch me in many different ways for ministry and business. (And luckily, I feel like the business is a bit of a ministry, too.)  There are thirty-one students registered for fall semester piano lessons, I’m leading a group of other ladies in my Bible study program, I’m on a Sunday-School rotation at church, and I’m directing six academic subjects for a group of ten home-school students in 8th and 9th grades.  It was a huge leap for us when I quit my job and let my marketable skills and budding entrepreneurial spirit take us into uncharted income territory, and it’s wonderful to see this dream coming to fruition. I’m overjoyed that this is happening, but I’m also hyperventilating every time I look ahead to how much is already filled in on my calendar.

But I think fall is a great time to be stretched. Nature will provide some important lessons, because I know there is a lot that has to die and fall away in my life during the next few months. I’m thrilled about my new adventures, but also very aware that  last year’s leisure is almost entirely over. There will be a lot of dying-to-self required this year. There is beauty in that mortification. And there are also freshly-sharpened pencils, so I’m sure it will all be okay!

a bouquet of pencils via u-create.

customer service

[Image via emilymcdowelldraws on etsy]

Last week marked one full year since I finished my old job so I would have more time for my music studio to make a living teaching piano. We have both learned a lot this year, and I am overwhelmed with thankfulness that the life I had turned into the life I have now.

I worked at a bank for three years, and somehow I think I’ve blocked out most of my bad customer service memories. It was especially amusing when people tried to lecture me about bank policies, as if they were training me or I could change anything about it. Word to the wise: in almost any business, that first person behind the counter has 0% power and deals with 90% of the complaints. It’s a grating position to be in. I loved many of the customers I worked with, but it’s hard to deal with difficult people when you can’t enforce healthy conversational boundaries. The negative interaction that tops them all came inside my first six months there. It began when a customer came in flustered and crying. In addition to expecting me to approve of some dangerous financial practices, my role became difficult when she explained that she just found out her 30-year-old son in the military was being sent to Afghanistan. She didn’t understand why his Commanding Officer wouldn’t change the orders – or give her the time of day – when she called to complain about it.

I had to say something like “Oh, that’s too bad. That must be frustrating,” when I wanted to say “HELLO?! You can’t make a phone call to get your son out of fulfilling his duty to the country just because you’re mad about it. Nobody wants to send their son to war, but he wasn’t forced to enlist. And, by the way, he’s 30!”

Perhaps because my supervisor was standing right over me, I didn’t mention my own experience in this area: I’m a military wife, my husband was deployed (dangerously so) while we were dating, and I’m working here in the midwest because additional deployment scheduling conflicts meant we moved to Iowa instead of southern California after our wedding. Apparently my lack of pity for her helicopter parenting was evident, and she finally wailed, “Well, what am I saying? It’s not like YOU’VE faced any hard times so you’re probably too optimistic or naive to know what I’m talking about.”  Well… not quite.

I have been thinking the combination of people becoming ruder and standard customer service practices are a bit dehumanizing to the people who work behind cash registers. Self-employment is not quite as easy as it sounds, but I’m grateful for the freedom to do things I’m good at and the flexibility to decide who I work with.

Rendering unto Caesar

Since it is the adventure of self-employment that gives me more free time and makes our taxes just slightly  more complicated than last year, I’m the one hacking through our year-end statements and getting ready to prepare our yearly tax returns with Turbo Tax as Uncle Sam’s April deadline looms in the distance. While setting up for this process, I have already succumbed to emotional eating (too much coffee, leftover pizza, and hazelnut wafer rolls, if you must know) and am now listening to classical music in hopes that it will bring a sense of calm and classy-ness to the day as I accomplish the task at hand.

Naturally, the quote that comes to mind in these times is from the Gospels.

“And Jesus answering said unto them: ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they marvelled at him.”
– Mark 12:17, the king james version.

It is always the KJV diction that sticks in my head for this passage, and I’m getting very distracted by the word “render.” In this context it means “return” or “give back,” but I’m amused that it can also describe the process of separating fat from meat by the application of heat. Though the double meaning may be unintentional, it seems like an apt picture for this process. We will soon know how much “fat” the government will claim for 2011!

(That exclamation point is supposed to be ironic. I am not actually excited about this.)

a look at our life as a WAHC.

As the typical use of the English language degenerates rapidly, probably in inverse relation to the availability of social networking, those of us who read things online often see acronyms that succinctly describe a person’s current state, such as SAHM for Stay-at-home-mom or WASP to describe White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants. Honestly, I don’t understand why these four-letter titles are such a common part of web lingo, since other than texting or twitter most technological communication doesn’t have a word or character limit. (I might also argue that over-using these things reveals a limit to one’s moral character, my own included, but that’s not the issue here.)

Those objections aside, if this is how people are talking these days I suppose I can’t completely beat it. So I’m coming to terms with the facts: this week we have been a DINK (Double-income-no-kids) WAHC (Work-at-home-couple). The first title seems less glamorous when I clarify that these incomes would keep us well below the poverty level if we only had one of them.

As a change from his usual 70-hour researching work week in the lab, Aaron is laboriously writing for a deadline at the end of this month. As if this doesn’t sound hard enough on it’s own, scientific research publications look like another language. Working from the couch at home is a small comfort in the midst of this task.

And when I’m not changing the world one music lesson at a time, my grand central office is in the kitchen. I hear stand-up desks are all the rage these days. The location is a bit torturous because I keep getting distracted and trying to clean things.
As apparent in our pictures, we have been drinking copious amounts of fresh french-press coffee.

This DINK WAHC status allows opportunity to observe the shiny nose of our deer in it’s temporary home above the fireplace,

and check out the guppies in our new fish tank to see if they will be popping out babies under our careful watch.

…but the biggest benefit of this is coming up with ridiculous inside jokes. This morning, it’s that I shout, “I am (You are) being summoned!” in a British accent when one of us get a text message.

We were just talking about how we’re spending years in a stage of life neither of us really imagined being in for long. Of course graduate studies are demanding, but this PhD program is strenuous and it feels like it’s taking forever, and we’re uncertain about how many “roots” to put down where we live, childless, pinching pennies by necessity… It is very, very easy to feel like we’re just in a holding pattern, waiting for the rest of life to get here. So on the surface life usually feels quite stagnant, but we’d be missing out on so much if that is all we focus on. It often seems strange to settle into this DINK WAHC life, but it’s what we’ve got. Of course we look forward to things being different, and it can be difficult to balance contentment now and hoping for what is ahead. Weeks like this are such a gracious reminder that what we’ve got now is good, too.

Who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience… Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
– Romans 8, esv.

Future selves

Having it together - censored from the hilarious and inappropriate SomeEcards site

In recent conversation Aaron found out someone looked up to him and thought he really had his life together. This is an encouraging compliment because we both feel like we are still flying by the seat of our pants when it comes to “having life together.” While we are both still shocked at Aaron’s effortless deception, this comment prompted some dinner discussions about our “future selves.” They are like our current selves, only in the future, when we are more disciplined and better at things, and maybe even have life figured out.

I think most of this dreaming is good and healthy, and it’s good to know that there is purpose in day-to-day happenings. For instance, future Aaron maintains his buffness and has a PhD, so current Aaron needs to lift weights and work on science. Since future Abby has 25 piano students, current Abby works on meeting more potential music lesson families. Though some of our musings are probably a bit far-fetched, it’s fun to think about what we can do now to succeed later.

You can’t get so caught up in living for the future that you forget the importance of the here and now, though, so Calvin (Aaron’s inner child) is right to muse as he does here:

Calvin and Hobbes

do what you love what you do

There have been some big changes for us in the works for the last several weeks and I’m really excited to share the news about moving forward into some new life adventures. So here it is: After almost three years of working full-time at a bank, I’m starting a new part-time job so I can focus more time and energy on teaching piano lessons from home. Hooray!

It’s difficult to know what to say about leaving the bank job. I have learned a lot, but it’s hard and sad to think about spending so much time and energy on something I’m not cut out for. I really struggled with many aspects of my duties there. I’m not a “type A, everything in it’s place, just follow the rules, order-without-beauty” person. For most of my time there, there hasn’t been opportunity to exercise my personal strengths and I’ve felt very stifled. Furthermore, the regular full-time job thing means that my employer controls most of my life. Someone else chooses when I have to work, what I can wear, when I can eat lunch,  if I can snack between meals, in some cases even when I can use the bathroom, whether or not I can have time off around the holidays to see family, how I can use e-mail and the internet, and so on. This is just part of life for most people, but it has weighed heavy on me this whole time.

I’ve been teaching piano in the evenings for about a year, and since that started I’ve turned down several families seeking afternoon lessons because I had to be at my regular job during that time. What? I can’t get paid fairly to do what I love because I’m too busy getting paid a lot less to stay at a job I don’t love? Who’s brilliant idea was that? We realized the absurdity of this situation. I would definitely prefer to be working from home doing things that I’m actually good at, so we began thinking about other boring, very grown-up topics that would impact this dream of responsible self-employment: health insurance, taxes, retirement savings, coupons, groceries, mortgage payments. It was clear that I would really need to work about 20 hours a week in some sort of flexible job, because music income would likely be a little shaky with school breaks and the variation of my students’ disposable income.  So a few weeks ago, amid prayers and tears and a big part of me wondering if those lame-o money details would ever come together…

…a really flexible part-time job landed in my lap.

This is truly a gift. It’s so hard to feel like you’re slaving away, that your work-life (and consequently, the rest of your life) is just one giant blob of frustration and deadness, reading countless application rejection letters and wondering if anything will ever get better. Maybe because I have been through a long season like that, I can say pretty confidently that landing this new job was not of my own doing. Even in my gratefulness, it’s easy to wonder “Why now? Why not two years ago?” I don’t know why this came together now. Or why it happened at all, really. But grace opened a door and we’re running through it.

Naturally, I am thrilled – I’ll be working partially from home with quite a bit of control over my schedule, and the flexible part-time hours will give me more chances to market my music business and connect with future students. This means… from here on out, it’s all on me. This is a big change and a new sense responsibility on me. I’m excited, and a little nervous about jumping back into the role of the confident self-starter I was before my current job. Hopefully it will not take long to excel in this re-entry into a life of true self-government. Of course I know I can do this, but I’m not going to pretend there is no anxiety or sense of uncertainty somewhere deep inside me as I prepare for this.

Enough blabbing about these details, though. Plenty of people get through their whole lives not even knowing what they’re good at or what they would do if they could choose anything. The point is, I’m 25, I already know I’m good at some of the things I love, and I get to make a living doing something I’m really passionate about. And be my own boss at least half of the time. That’s pretty awesome.

[photo from kara paslay designs]