Happy Homemaker, Ph.D.

A novice homemaker's attempts to use her engineering Ph.D. to serve her family

Christmas Cards

Christmas CardsIt’s that time of year, a time when I aspire to share a greeting with everyone in my heart.  The perfectionist in me declares this should include a summary of the past year (or more if I didn’t get cards out the year before…or the year before that), a picture of my family (of course, dated and labeled with names and ages of each person), and a Christmas card that fits the person I’m sending it to in some way (or at least myself or our relationship).

I imagine a snowy, quiet day in which I would carefully select the fountain pen from my collection that has just the right nib size, barrel thickness, and color to fit my mood and size of my handwriting needed for the card.  I’d choose cardinal red, gemstone green, or perhaps cocoa for ink, and let my heart-felt words of thankfulness for our friendship and best wishes for the coming year flow onto the page while my favorite Christmas music played in the background and a peppermint candle flickered.  I could happily pass a day – or more – in such occupation, and there were days in the past when I did just that.

Today was a day with the perfect, gently falling snow.  A peaceful Saturday.  A day with no outside obligations.  Perhaps I could…

But, it was also a normal day with my sweet Four, the five-year-old singing loudly and dancing haphazardly, the toddler crying (for milk, for help opening the baby gate, for justice when big sisters are mean…), the three-year-old unable to nap and needing help with every single paint jar lid when the rest of the house was quiet, and the baby apparently not being satisfied to play alone on the floor nearby.

A couple of years ago, I would have probably felt frustration and loss, perhaps even a sense of being cheated out of something that I delight in.  Today, I knew it was important for me to share some of my words with a few beloved family members that were on my heart.  I hoped to finish six cards (instead of the close to one hundred I’d love to prepare and send)  – without the year’s summary or thoughtfully selected card.  I traded the bliss of my fountain pens for a ballpoint to avoid the fear of an accidental spill and to save the time I’d spend deliberating on a choice.

I finished only two, but didn’t feel cheated.  I think that’s two more than last year.    And, there’s tomorrow to try for another one or two…  Right?

As I remember Christmas seasons past, my heart fills with joy in reliving days with such special people – family, school mates, college friends, roommates, lab mates, church friends, band friends, and new friends.  I long to share with them how I treasure our time together and how dear they still are to me, despite the distance of geography and time.  I sincerely hope I’ll be intentional and focused enough to send some words to many, even if it’s after Christmas.

But, today, I was telling dear ones how much they are loved.  I did so as I read Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs for the third time.  I did so as I admired her painting and served hot chocolate with whipped cream to my sweet, quiet three-year-old daughter while the other three slept.  I snuggled the thumb-sucking, blond-haired two-year-old after her nap.  I rocked my baby, singing Christmas carols to lull him to sleep.  I washed laundry, cleaned dishes, cooked a meal, and watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” with my kids, all things that I didn’t do when I had the time to spend all day with a stack of beautiful cards and my fountain pen.

So, for those of you who are dear to me (I hope you know who you are.), please be patient.  This season of life is demanding and hard and RICH.  Please don’t take my negligence as a personal slight.  As I hear at the grocery store (whether with two kids or with four) on nearly every outing, I’ve got my hands full, and I haven’t yet learned to write with my toes.

And, if someday in the future, you receive a card like I imagine sending, please give me a call, because though I may be delighting in the writing I couldn’t do when the children were small, it will mean that they’re not small anymore, and I, well, I just have a feeling that I’ll be missing these days of slobbery kisses, a full lap, and perhaps even the loud chaos and sticky messes, and I’ll need a hug.

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Lessons in the Clouds

Earlier this year, my four-year-old drew a picture.  As she told me the story of what it was, I was surprised at how much it related to my current circumstances – and the wisdom the Spirit impressed upon me through her.

On a simple piece of brown construction paper, she had drawn colorful clouds above her and a black, hairy bear next to her.

God in the clouds

God in the clouds

“This is me.  God is trying to get my attention in the clouds,” she told me, “but I’m too scared of the bear!”

She spoke as if her fear paralyzed her from seeing the beauty of the clouds or from looking to the God who painted them for her.  I realized I had often been doing the same.

While my early mornings were brightened by great beauty in the quiet stillness before my three, active little girls awakened, I still found myself steered by my fears, fears that sometimes seemed completely irrational and other times were so real to me that I couldn’t seem to think clearly.

What if something was wrong with the baby I carried?

How would I deal with the needs of four children under the age of five?

How would we survive those first days and weeks after the baby was born with no support network in place in the new city we lived in?

Would our financial situation support us?

What if something went wrong with our planned home birth?

So many questions and doubts plagued my mind when this was the scene right outside my window.

Sunrise

Brilliant colors changed continually as the angle of the sun gradually changed.  Blazing oranges and bright pinks softened as the sun ascended over the horizon.  The shadowy mountains came alive as the light shone on them and reflected off the snow-capped peaks.

Mountain Sunrise

Some mornings I didn’t even look, I was so immersed in my own plans or fears.

But when I did take the time to watch the beauty of the sunrise, I was struck by how temporary that beauty was, how each moment was different, colorful, amazing, and then — over.

These days of mothering four children under five (Yes, the fourth one arrived safely not long ago, and God has completely provided for us through others, despite my fears.) are hard.  I’m tired.  The house is in varying degrees of disarray depending on the moment.  The laundry, dishes, cooking, diapering, feeding, and dressing can seem overwhelming at times, and yet, I still need to take time to enjoy these precious days.  They are temporary.  Each moment is different, colorful, amazing, and then — over.  

The moment when my three-year-old’s soft voice tells me, “I want to be with you, Mom.  You’re my best, best friend.”

The moments of holding my newborn close as we gaze into each others’ eyes.

The moments my one-year-old takes my face in her hands, smiles broadly, and laughs boisterously as I play our game of turning my head to one side and then back to face her.

The moments of seeing my four-year-old feel success and pride in her accomplishments as she writes her alphabet, solves a problem, or composes a new song that she insists on singing at the top of her lungs.

Different, colorful, amazing, and oh, so easy to miss.

The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? (Psalm 27:1)

Today, may we take our eyes off whatever we may be fearing and fix our eyes on Jesus.  He’s trying to get our attention and show us the most beautiful revelations of His love!  We just need to be present where He’s placed us and take in the moments He’s given.

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A New Groove

I’ve been away from blogging for a while… A long while. I remember thinking last June, “I’m tired (really tired), and Clara’s birthday is coming up. I’ll just take a few days off of writing so I can prepare for the party.”

I did. I was eight months pregnant at the time, and I easily justified that.

The only problem was that after the party, I was still too tired to spend time blogging at the end of the day instead of sleeping. My writing focus was spent completing an article from my dissertation work so my advisor and I could submit it for publication. That piece came together, but I was getting closer to my due date, and any extra energy needed to be applied to an attempt to clean the house. My little one’s due date came and went in mid-July. Ten days later, we met our third little girl, Charlotte.

July 10-August 2, 2013 112

Then, the days and nights became a blur of activity with three little ones under 38 months in my care. I hope I took enough pictures in those months because the memories are foggy, even now just a few months later. There was much to learn. Such as…

Where do we put another car seat? What was the optimum way to position the 3 car seats in our 6-passenger Ford Freestyle with all three girls needing complete help with the buckles? We chose the wrong way first. It involved opening the hatch, lifting the 16-month-old over the back of the far rear row of the car into a rear-facing car seat, gently (?) dropping her into her place, crawling onto the bumper, wedging my head and my arms into a position that would both hold myself up and enable me to buckle the straps. Yeah, that didn’t work out. My husband could do it well, but my arms are much shorter than his. We’ve got a manageable arrangement now with the younger two in the middle row and the 3-year-old in the far back. (It’s about time for our middle daughter to face forward which may shuffle things a bit again, but at least that problem doesn’t seem overwhelming anymore.)

How will I manage to get everyone in and out of the car multiple times a day? The first week of preschool was brutal; I won’t lie. Charlotte was about 6 weeks old, and our schedule that week included 4 trips to preschool, 3 to church, and probably a few more outings, such as grocery shopping.  That week, I thought homeschooling would be the best option for us simply because we wouldn’t have to spend an hour traveling back and forth and dealing with the stress of trying to make it somewhere on time. This has gotten easier, too, though the baby may still decide it’s time to eat right as we’re ready to grab our bags and head out the door or a dirty diaper is discovered as I push on a little shoe.

How can I get everything done? We were so blessed by our church family to have some meals brought to us the first few weeks after Charlotte’s birth. I hadn’t figured out the whole freezer meal thing beforehand, and we don’t have a lot of freezer space anyway, so this was such a blessing! I also remember delighting in God’s daily provision. On the days I didn’t have enough energy to keep going and I desperately needed a nap, the three girls miraculously slept at the same time! That may not be a big deal to families that have a structured schedule at their homes, but I couldn’t get my older girls to sleep at the same time (or my middle one to sleep for very long at all), so there was no doubt in my mind about Who was taking care of me.  I treasured that my God is the one who saw my efforts and needs when no one else could.

Honestly, though, I’m still trying to figure out the answer to this question. My house isn’t clean. The laundry is unfolded. I don’t have a meal plan for the week, and I didn’t make it to the grocery store on my regular day. The sink is full of dirty dishes, and the fridge is rather empty.

But I love on my little girls, and we have what we need for the day. Today, we put puzzles together – over and over again. I read a couple of chapters in “Little House in the Big Woods” aloud, to the 3-year-old’s delight.  (She asks to “play Laura” often.) I held my 3-year-old close and tossed her upside down and tickled her when she was upset that, “No one has time for me.”  I sang to my baby and danced with her in my arms.  I put the bow the 1-year-old requested in her thin hair, again and again.  I let my oldest crack the eggs and pour the scrambled mixture into the pan (and showed her how to clean up her spill).  We played hide and seek.  We watched some favorite videos on YouTube.  We shared hugs and kisses.

My baby is now six months old. The fatigue of those early weeks is finally subsiding, and I’m looking to find the rhythm of our new normal as a family of five. I’m dreaming of taming the chaos, but the reality is I will never really find the answer to that question of how to get everything accomplished.  The key will be to find what God has assigned me for each moment and to be faithful to obey – and to let the rest, all those things I think I am *supposed* to do go.

Jan1-18, 2014 018I’ve got a lot of growing to do to accomplish that task faithfully, but I’m trying to do a job worthy of my calling, be that finding a routine to keep the dishes washed to better honor my amazing husband or a groove that includes a celebratory dance down the hallway with three little girls following behind.

(And I’ll try to share our journey with you more often again.)

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The Power of Praise (and a Birthday Story)

“Never comes mortal utterance so near to eternity as when a child utters words of loving praise to a  mother!  Every syllable drops into the jewel box of her memory, to be treasured for ever and ever.”

– George B. Lyon

I am beyond blessed, and only one of my three children can talk!

And, that dear daughter’s birthday is today.  Three years ago, I began Saturday as normal (whatever that was before kids.  I’m not sure I remember.).  *Wait a minute, now I remember better.  I had contractions through the night that kept me from sleeping, except for a couple of hours in the morning, which I took to rest.  It’s easy to forget the harder things.* I had been having contractions for about a day and a half, but they were somewhat mild and 10-15 minutes apart.  I was one week past my “due date.”  I was getting frustrated with the waiting but dreaded the thought of having labor induced.

Our neighbor had asked for some help on a spreadsheet, so I was at their house developing a form, I think, on MS Works.  I stayed there while they left to pick up their new little chihuahua, Bella.  As I walked home across the lawn, my water broke.  I calmly told Chad we should probably have some lunch (this was around 12:30 p.m.), repack the hospital bag (I had unpacked it earlier in the week in my frustration.), and start to head that way.  (We live about 5 minutes from the hospital.)  We arrived at the hospital about 1:30, and this time (We’d been in for a false alarm a few days prior), labor was progressing!

That afternoon is a treasured memory for me.  Time passed quickly, it seemed, as I rocked back and forth on a birthing ball with my husband rubbing my back at just the right times.  We sang worship songs together in between contractions.  I got to relax in the “hot tub” our hospital has for a little over an hour in the evening.   As midnight neared, I was fully dilated and pushed for less than thirty minutes to meet our 9 lb. 3 oz. baby girl.

A treasured day

A treasured day

I remember the hard parts of that day – a little.  The doubt I felt as the nurse suggested twice that pitocin would speed labor along (especially when the transition contractions were pretty intense, and I was just fine with the 5-minute break instead of 2-3 minutes between them).  The discomfort of the IV in my hand (which in my memory was worse than the entire rest of the non-medicated childbirth experience!).  The focus I needed through those intense contractions.  The burning as I pushed.  All easily forgettable.

Especially when you’re entrusted with such an incredible gift!

Happy 3rd birthday, Clara!  You are a precious blessing to us!

Such a blessing!

Such a blessing!

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What’s a STEM Woman (At Home) to Do? – Part 1

Women are encouraged like never before to enter the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), but is the message balanced?

(Image source)

A reader comment to my post on What I Missed In College got me to thinking about the push to encourage girls to explore and enter STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields.  This hit me even harder as I recently learned a five-year-old girl that I dearly love is headed to a STEM magnet school for kindergarten next year.

Don’t get me wrong.  I LOVE the STEM fields!  LOVE THEM!  I have studied them with excitement and vigor since at least 1991 and spent a combined ten years working as an engineer and teaching operations management (using math and problem solving in business applications).  I even found I loved applied statistics so much that I left my well-paying job and amazing friends to move to the desert to study for a Ph.D.!  So, why do I feel hesitation in embracing these programs for women?

I feel the message may be unbalanced.

That little five-year-old girl has been described most to me as a “little mother.”  She plays well with my oldest girl, but she adores and nurtures my youngest.  I think she’ll be beyond excited to hold my newest baby sometime this summer.  I can’t help but wonder if, in the midst of building projects with moving parts, getting excited about math, and performing hands-on experiments, she’ll also learn to ignore that part of her heart that loves to care for little children.  Will she, in a male-dominated field, lose her quiet, tender heart in an effort to achieve “success?”

Perhaps it’s my own story that gives me reservations for these girls.  There is no doubt in my mind that God has given me my interest in and aptitude for science, engineering, and statistics.  I cannot imagine pursuing a major other than Chemical Engineering as an undergrad even now, knowing I’d choose to switch to industrial engineering as a major in grad school, teach in a business college, and then stay home with my children.  I fully enjoyed, as a woman, being in the minority of the development engineering department I worked in.   I was able to support myself in the years before I was married.

During those years, I still had my focus that I had insisted on in college – that I wanted a job, not a career.  And I dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom, like my mom was, more than anything else.  Then, I went back to school full-time for my Ph.D., a path that I could not see ever going together with a family.  A year later, I married.

I’d love to say that marriage kept my aspirations grounded.  I now got to care for my husband, cooking meals, trying to keep house, and all of the domestic duties that I had mostly shoved aside for 29 years to make time for other pursuits.  Still, with being in a focused academic environment, I lost my vision.  I got distracted as I learned what I “should” be doing to be “successful” in the field of academia.  I learned what it took to be a tenure-track professor, and I learned how to do those things well.  Instead of just going through my classes and requirements, I sought out additional opportunities to gain experience in teaching, research, and service.  I started writing small grant proposals, presented my research at conferences, traveled to research meetings, gave several lectures to undergraduate students, and helped plan a research symposium on my campus.  I won awards for presentations.  I received the grant money.  I worked an intense internship and won the respect of my colleagues.  Before I graduated, I secured a teaching job at my alma mater, a dream come true for me.

Again, with “only” teaching required in this new position, I strove to keep the research and service parts of my vita full.  These efforts took away time and focus from my husband while providing additional stress as the teaching responsibilities were already more than I would consider “full-time” work.

By the time we discovered we were expecting our first child, I had been sucked in, and felt I couldn’t leave.  (Now, part of that was the calling to complete my dissertation work so I’d have my Ph.D., and I needed to stay with the university until that was complete.  That delay was my fault and a topic for another day.)  I was used to the income, the affirmation (Really?  Do I remember the days I’d read my TEVALs and cry?), the classroom, my own office on campus, and more.  I stayed a semester longer than I had to so I could try to teach a new course, an elective.    Looking back, it was probably an excuse.  I justified it many ways, and much of that last semester, I frantically searched for ways I could still remain engaged in the workforce or field part-time to keep my “foot in the door.”  I felt I needed an outlet for my well-developed skills.

And, then I came home to be that stay-at-home mom I had always dreamed of being.

In all my days of academic training, I don’t remember hearing anyone talk of how fulfilling that would be, save my mentor from my teaching internship during my doctoral program.  (I praise God for Linda!  I chose her for this reason.  I was trying to look for a family-friendly path.)

I can’t help but wonder, if I got distracted from what was really important – and what I really wanted – in a period of 5 years of academic immersion at ages 29-34, what will it be like for girls who are encouraged to enter STEM fields from much earlier ages?  Will their teachers also tell them how wonderful it will be to stay home and raise a family, should they be so blessed?

In my eighteen months at home, I haven’t missed being in the workforce.  I haven’t felt isolated.  I haven’t felt “unfulfilled” or unappreciated.  I have been full of the joy I hadn’t felt since before I started my Ph.D. studies!  I have treasured the moments with my young children.  I have savored the opportunities to pursue interests like cooking and writing that I didn’t have time for while working.  I have basked in the peace that comes from not having piles of papers to grade or the stress of hurrying between work and home, dropping a child off at day care, picking her up, and trying to fix a quick supper.  I have delighted in the pride my husband feels as I stay home to make our family a priority.  I’ve even enjoyed being on a smaller budget, being able to trust God in new ways again and seeing His faithfulness and provision.  I can’t imagine anything better than being right where I’m at, and I still get to engage in those STEM fields I love every day (see Part 2)!

So, for the girls and women out there with a passion for math or an excitement for science, I’m cheering for you, sisters!  But I’m also asking you to search your hearts and seek the Lord for what He has for you each season of your life.

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Correction: He Does Bring Flowers Home

I laughed as my husband returned from work Friday.  I had posted that day about how much I appreciate his hard work in our yard and gardens that supplies me with beautiful flowers throughout the summer, though it’s extremely rare that he brings cut flowers home (A Gift That Keeps On Giving).  He stepped out of his truck after the end of a long week of work and had these beautiful flowers with him!  (He had not had time to read my post yet.)

The beautiful flowers my husband brought Friday

The beautiful flowers my husband brought Friday

I was delighted!  They are so beautiful, and we are all enjoying them.  Some of the flowers are perennials that we can plant and hopefully enjoy again next year, and the others may be such that we can gather the seeds and plant them again as well.

We are all enjoying them!

We are all enjoying them!

I guess it just goes to show me that my husband is still full of wonderful surprises! He is such a blessing!

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