Everything you wanted to know

Well, maybe not everything you wanted to know. More like, Some things you might have wanted to know, assuming that you’ve read some of my previous posts and have spent a fraction of time wondering what’s happening in assorted areas of my life. But that doesn’t fit into a title so neatly.

Health

Yep, we’re still trying to get pregnant, still on the month-to-month roller coaster of hope and disappointment and starting again. Our health has improved in lots of ways and the signs are good – all that’s required is the BFP on a HPT. (Feel free to look that up.)

We’re still trying to eat well. Lots of organic food and home-cooked meals. Like this.

Home cooking

I pulled back on the coconut rice for breakfast because I wanted to quit sugar, and needed to find an alternative breakfast that was still packed with nutrition. I ended up with vegetable pancakes (latkes) topped with yoghurt and rocket. So yum, but more fiddly, so I’ve also been having easier meals like porridge and some homemade gluten-free baked goods like Paleo Inside-Out Bread.

On the topic of quitting sugar, I generally followed Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar 8-week program, except I had already been doing the first two weeks (cutting back on sugar without quitting completely) FOREVER so I went straight to Weeks 3-6. This week I hit one month off all sugar, so I celebrated by eating half a pear and adding the optional tablespoon of rice malt syrup to Leftover Veggie Bread, and a few days later I had the most divine pear pudding with ice cream and cream.

It’s amazing how many people get angry and defensive at the mention of quitting sugar. My decision to avoid sugar is not intended as condemnation of anyone else’s food choices. And I can understand the concern about not eating fruit (I supplemented with lots of vegetables for fibre and nutrients). But this is only temporary, and the point is to recalibrate my tastes so that I can eat fruit again without craving and devouring every other sugary thing under the sun.

Family

My father-in-law’s health is declining. We don’t know how much time we have left with him, but it’s not a lot. It’s really hard for all of us. Joel and I are trying to spend more time at his parents’ house. Prayers appreciated.

Wedding day hug

Congratulatory hug from my father-in-law on my wedding day

House

We’re in our new house! It’s lovely. We also got a housemate! Her name is Anne and she’s been a friend of ours for a number of years. I love living with Anne. (And with Joel too, I guess.) She has been struggling with her health, so prayers appreciated for her too.

Anne and me in 2009

Anne and me in 2009. As you can see, her name is Anne, not Corrie – der!

We’ve been hosting people for dinner, for a housewarming party, for my birthday, for Joel’s birthday, and for weekend stays. I love that we can do that so much more easily now.

The joys of home ownership: For nearly two months our plumbing was problematic. It was quite a saga to get it fixed: first because the bamboo in our yard needed to be chopped down and poisoned to access the mains pipe and diagnose the problem, and then because we had to get multiple quotes and the owner of the house next door to agree to pay his half. I don’t want to go into the unpleasant details, but we finally got it fixed. No problems since then! And we’ve got this lovely swampy mud in our backyard, yay.

The bamboo and the plumbing

What I’m into

I loved reading: Eat Pray Love (Gilbert), Dibs In Search of Self (Axline), The Language of Flowers (Diffenbaugh), The Bride Stripped Bare (Anonymous), Can You Keep a Secret? (Kinsella), Carry On Warrior (Melton), Animal Vegetable Miracle (Kingsolver), Campaign Ruby (Rudd).

I loved watching: Frozen, Bad Neighbors, New Girl (season 2), Emma Approved, The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy.

I’m also loving: Libraries, chick lit, cooking, gardening, playing Ticket To Ride and Agricola.

Pot plants

Gardening in pots

When am I going to write more about …

The love story behind our piano? Or my one word for 2014? Or how I’m still finding what works?

I don’t know. But all of that simmers away inside me, and at some point, something may emerge.

Confessions of a child sponsor

I have a confession to make: child sponsorship makes me feel guilty.

Not the ads and letters and emails that tug at my heartstrings to encourage me to sponsor a child (or another child) in the first place. I mean, they sure do work, but I’m really happy with my decision to sponsor a few children from a few different organisations. I know how valuable it is and how much of a difference it can make, not just to one child, but to their whole community for many years to come. And I care about that.

It’s the guilt of not writing to my sponsor children.

I’ve read a lot about how much the letter writing means to sponsored children. It’s a really big deal to them. They love letters, they cherish letters, they share them with their friends and family and put them on their walls as decoration. They point to their sponsors as major influences in their lives. A big part of the value of child sponsorship comes from the hope the children have for their futures – it’s one of the crucial factors that separates sponsored children, who go on to succeed in many areas of life, from other children and even siblings who have benefited from the flow-on effects of the development program. So the encouragement of sponsors goes a long way to nurturing that hope. It makes them feel special.

Meanwhile, the letters I receive get put in a pile of “things to do”, often unopened and unread.

One of my sponsor children writes to me a lot. She cannot say enough how grateful she is for my sponsorship and how much joy she gets from writing to me and receiving my letters. One of her recent letters said she is “trying to brake your moments of silence” – I hadn’t written back for a while.

Every now and then I get a surge of enthusiasm for writing to my sponsored children. Tonight I hopped on the website and wrote a letter to each child online, attaching recent family pictures, updating them on my situation, asking them questions.

I think there are several factors at play in my lack of letter writing routine:

  • The length between when letters are written and are received makes an ongoing conversation difficult. Today’s letter asked about my sister’s health – my sister fell ill with appendicitis at the end of last year, but it took a few months for my letter about it to get to my sponsored child and hers to get back to me.
  • There are a lot of topics I’ve been advised to not talk about (depending on which organisation I’m going through) – religion and politics can be problematic, but so can mention of houses and possessions because they invite comparison. Should I have told them that Joel and I bought a house?
  • Space is limited (whether online or on paper), and a lot of the space goes to greetings, responding to questions, and providing updates – it’s hard to get into a flow. I find myself writing short paragraphs and leaving out a lot of detail, which I would gladly share if I were corresponding with a friend in long emails.
  • I got a bit upset a few months ago when my sponsored child wrote about attending a conference where she learned that people who compose “worldly music” are “real devil worshippers”. While I am happy for the children to receive a Christian education (part of the reason I sponsor through Christian organisations), in that case I was concerned that it might be too judgey-judgey, which could influence the kids to be close-minded and unkind to the people they have been taught to fear.

I feel like this should be something I’m good at – my strengths lie in building one-on-one relationships over time, so I wish I could be better at writing to my sponsored children. But I’m not.

And it makes me feel guilty. In a good way, though – if guilt is the prickling of the conscience, inviting us to do better or make amends, then it has worked today. My letters are done for now.

Life’s too good

Long shadows on an autumn afternoon

Long shadows on an autumn afternoon

People are saying things like, “Is it nearly May already? The year is going so quickly.” They say it like it’s a bad thing, but it’s not bad for me. I am really enjoying 2014. Time flies, but in a good way. I don’t find it sad or scary to be rocketing through a life I enjoy.

And then people talk about needing to fit more things in. But I don’t want to do that. I enjoy a slower pace of life. The times I look back on a month or year that flew by too quickly for my liking are the times I was too busy and distracted to stop, think, feel and enjoy.

Lent, therefore, was wonderful for me, after the few days of initial withdrawal from social media. I had more time. I could think my thoughts, feel my feelings, and do what I wanted to do. I knew myself more deeply.

A snapshot of my social-media-free Lent: I read a lot of books, discovered the joy of a good library (or several), wrote notes in my journal, tried new recipes, planned out our garden, lived through a few emotional crises, and dealt with a few spiritual crises as well.

I’m back on social media now, and trying to make sure it looks different to Life Before Lent. It’s hard, but worth it. Because I just enjoy the extra time too much to let it all be sucked away.

People say, “Life’s too short,” and I think they usually mean we should do the things we enjoy now. I also think life’s too good, so damn straight we should do the things we enjoy now.

Like stopping to take a photo of the long afternoon shadows outside my workplace as I leave for the day – too beautiful to just rush home. Or taking yet another photo of a brilliant blue sky, which I just love doing so much.

Easter Sunday sky

Easter Sunday sky

I’ve always loved how Gretchen Rubin talks about her personal commandment to “Be Gretchen”. As in, to be herself. She says, “You can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do.” And if I know what I like to do, why wouldn’t I do those things, rather than the things I don’t like to do?

(To be clear, I am talking about more-or-less neutral activities, and not morality and integrity which sometimes require me to do the things I don’t like to do.)

Life’s too good for me to eat gluten and sugar and feel like crap, for example. Life’s too good to spend my weekends out of the house with various commitments when I just want to stay home and cook and read. Life’s too good to have hobbies I don’t enjoy. Life’s too good to be perpetually scheduling catch-ups with my various individual friends, my beautifully collected treasures from different parts of my lives, without having time to really live my life in between.

This is why I started writing about this, by the way. I have a large handful of special friends with whom I catch up one-on-one sporadically. I’m an introvert, and those friends don’t know each other, so I see them one at a time, for long, deep conversations that last hours and finally wear me out. And inevitably when we catch up we say something like, “It’s been too long!” and “I can’t believe it’s been over a year!” and “We should do this more often!” And then I feel myself agreeing to six-weekly or bi-monthly or quarterly or semi-annual dinners and coffees and brunches, when actually what I should say is, “Once a year is enough for me. I don’t think I should commit to more than that. I can’t do it all.”

See, I don’t just live my life on auto-pilot. I like to live intentionally. I have goals. I want to eat well and cook sustainably and shop ethically and garden and do yoga and nurture my closest relationships. I also want plenty of time to just veg out, because that is what it means for me to Be Esther. And those things take time. And I don’t want to feel guilty about that any more, or neglect the time I need to Be Esther to instead Be Someone Else’s Version of Esther, or even try too hard to Be My Own Ideal Version of Esther.

I already feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to work full-time, cook yummy healthy meals, nurture relationships, and get enough sleep, let alone the other things I want to do – so why fill up my life with “low-rent” experiences?

Like endless social media. And social media sites that I don’t even like that much, by the way. And TV shows people tell me I will love. And books I think I should read. And writing regular blog posts.

And for those life-giving important things, like deep one-on-one catch-ups with my collection of precious friends, I wonder if we could accept that they don’t need to be all the time? That less often might be all we can do, and that’s okay? And we don’t need to push ourselves to make it more often? I will still love those friends after a year, see. And I will still want to know how they’re going. And I’d rather give them the version of Esther who is well-rested, enjoying life, and ready to listen and share.

Because that’s who I want to be, anyway. Life’s too good to be anyone else.