Merry is Optional

Merry is optional 

First published 12/16/2017

RootsMerryIsOptional

‘Tis the season, they say. For what, exactly, is up to each of us to figure out.

There’s the store-bought concept of what this time of year should be like, of course. Magazine covers, the Internet and daytime talk shows are full of ideas for making this The Best Christmas Ever.

There are tips on ways to simplify, of course. But those are dwarfed by ideas of a more elaborate nature, such as erecting a themed Christmas tree in every room and baking seven different types of soufflés for all the happy people gathering at your house, complete with timelines for what you should have done by now to ensure a stress-free holiday. 

So I’m just going to say it outright.

It’s mid-December by the time you’re reading this, right? And frankly, it’s way too late to start making homemade Christmas gifts and wrapping them in the “it” decorating style of the season — Kraft paper with a dangling set of miniature ice skates adding just the right decorative touch.

Maybe this year your gifts will be wrapped in the paper bag you bought them. You did shop local, right? So no plastic bags for you!

Or maybe this year, your gift to others was not buying them a gift at all, thus relieving them of the duty to reciprocate. Let’s call it the gift of freedom. 

Actually, that’s what I want to talk to you about it. I wrote a book called “Merry is Optional,” because I think we forget that it is, in fact, optional. We don’t have to enjoy a second of this season if we don’t want to.

That not an original idea. John Grisham’s “Skipping Christmas” is a pretty great book about a couple who found freedom in sitting out the commercial aspects of the season.

Of course, they found so much more meaning and joy in avoiding commercialism that they ended up finding meaning in the season anyway. Sorry for the spoiler. 

The point is, they didn’t get to the point of enjoying what they were originally dreading by simply ignoring it. That’s not a thing when you’re walking around and breathing among radio ads and human beings cheerfully keeping count of how many days are left until Christmas. You can’t simply sit it out.

But you can find the freedom to do Christmas in the way that works for you in this season of your own particular life. It’s not always merry, but that’s OK. 

Real life doesn’t stop happening around us because sleigh bells ring in the distance. As we go through the motions of “this time of year,” it’s like every other time of the year in wrestling with life’s harsher details — illnesses, broken relationships and the death of loved ones, to name a few. 

So here we are. Now what?

Well, you choose. Given whatever situation you find yourself in this holiday season, what can you do to make the most of it? And should you choose to be merry, despite whatever challenges you’re facing, how do you do that on short notice, on a tight budget, amid some of the aforementioned situations? 

You choose. You consider what matters to you most, right now, in this season of your life personally.

Not the commercial season, but your season. What does your life look like right now? What can you manage that might also bring you joy, or at least less angst?

Maybe joy isn’t right in the moment. Maybe you choose to create memories for yourself or others to savor later, when your situation looks up.

That may mean sitting through a meal or tolerating a celebration simply to have the experience or give it to a loved one, even though you didn’t feel like it. Or it may mean you buck tradition this year and just eat out on your own.

It’s your holiday. It’s your life. So you get to choose.

This particular Christmas will be my first without my children. That’s what divorce does.

I tear up just thinking about waking up Christmas morning without them. But the truth is, they are going to have a wonderful time with their dad, their grandparents and their cousins.

It was my choice to give them that gift without imposing my own feelings on them. To help make that possible, I’ve planned to sprinkle Christmassy type things out through the month, so we have moments of our own to cherish, even if they weren’t made on that particular day.

This will also be my first Christmas without my dad. He passed away last month, and I’m still treading water in the wake of his loss.

Last Christmas was actually the last time I saw him. And I’ll never forget the last night we had together.

We left the pool late at night, because you can do that in Palm Springs. And even though we were chilled, having wrapped up in wet towels for a ride in an open-air golf cart — as one does in a retirement community in Palm Springs, even in the dead of winter — we took the long way. We wanted to look at all the lights. 

“Dad, I’m cold,” I said. “Let’s go home.”

“Soon,” he responded. “I just want to show you this one more. It’s fantastic.”

And with that, we spun past more houses that all looked the same to me, then stopped in front of one featuring a truly spectacular display. The boys and I stared in awe. My dad smiled proudly.

He’d shared a special moment with us. Now we could speed home — to the extent a golf cart allows, anyway. 

My dad was all about going out of your way, even if you had to suffer a little, to enjoy a spectacular moment. So this season, even if it’s not comfortable, even if everything isn’t the way I’d hoped, I plan to also go out of my way to create moments to savor. 

I’ll keep in mind that merry is optional. And while I’ll opt in as much as I can, I’ll feel free to opt out when I need to as well.

So, Merry Christmas to you — or not. 

Nathalie Hardy writes her columns "Raising the Hardy Boys" and "Behind the Picket Fence" in the margins of real life. 

***

It's been a rough year for a lot of us. In a lot of ways. If this resonates with you, I'd love it if you'd share it.

 p.s. check back tomorrow for the backstory on this picture with my dad. The last one of us. And one of my favorites. Spoiler: my hair was wet and I was in trouble. Because it doesn't matter how old you are when you're at mom and dad's house. :) 

 Tati and Me

 

 


Going Tarpless

 
Roots cover

But when it comes to figuring how to manage all of the maintenance yourself on a home built in 1900, I find myself wanting to Google this: How do you even figure out where to start?

Frankly, what I need goes way beyond Google. After all, Google can't caution me against stuff like filling up a truck with soil without first having a way to get it out of the truck and into the yard in a reasonable amount of time. 

Instead, I turn to Facebook. My friends on Facebook, that is. 

Recently, I realized I needed to mount a local dump run. And I had no idea how to go about it.

Trust me, the irony of reporting on our local landfill for this very paper for two years, and still being clueless about how to find my way around its Newberg transfer station, wasn't lost on me.

But there I was, wondering everything from where to go, exactly, to what to do, exactly, once I got there.

Of course, I Googled the exact name, address and hours for the dump. You know what Google didn't mention? The amount of manual labor my mission might involve.

Turns out there's no automated system dedicated to unloading garbage. For the twelve of you who don't know, you have to, like, climb into the back of your truck and throw all the stuff into a giant, pungent pile of other people's stuff. 

So I turned to my friends on Facebook, announcing I was making my maiden dump run and seeking input. In moments, my feed flooded with great tips and reminders. 

For instance, Google didn't tell me, "Hey, wear boots because it's kind of gross." Or, "Bring a tarp. You have to have a tarp."

I was totally planning on going tarpless until I saw that. In fact I didn't even own a tarp.

Now I have two. And they seem like the kind of things a competent grown up would own. 

Some of my friends had all the answers, even to questions I didn't even know to ask. Others were glad I asked, because they got a lot of good tips from the thread, too.

As an added bonus, it made them feel like they'd been empowered to ask some "dumb" questions of their own.

When we were kids, we used to hear, "There's no such thing as a dumb question."  But we never felt that was true, because it really wasn't true, at least in the eyes of others. There are, totally, questions that will seem dumb to someone else.

But if you don't know, you don't know. In the end, what's actually dumb is doing what I did — stressing out so much about something that ended up being pretty easy in the end, once armed the with the advice of people who kew things I didn't. 

By the way, one thing no one mentioned was, bring something to cover your nose, particularly if you have a strong gag reflex, as I do. You might look the fool,  but at least you won't be unloading your truck whild struggling to fend off bouts of barfing.

Just in case you didn't know, there you have it.

While I'm dispensing spare tips, if you really want to pull off the full-fledged adult impression, you should clean out the truck afterward. Otherwise, you'll have a friend climb in, only to find the following tangled up at their feet — a tarp, a rope, some bungee cords and a supply of disposable gloves. 

That, of course, is bound to raise some eyebrows and questions. And I don't know about you, but I'm not really known for my fast follow-through. 

Now that I had the dump thing out of the way, round one anyway, I decided to try picking up a load of soil to help me flesh out a garden concept of mine. 

It's been a couple weeks, now, and I'm still rolling around town with a truckload of soil. I'm really regretting not listening to the friend who suggested throwing a tarp down prior to loading the bed. It would have made removal of the soil so very much easier.

This business of maintaining a home is a whole lot of toil. But I'm starting to feel the satisfaction of working toward a goal instead of being constantly disappointed by my inability to keep up.

I'll eventually figure this out. Even if it means asking lots of dumb questions, swallowing my pride to ask for help and actually listening to the advice I get! 

Roots cover

Hardy writes her columns "Raising the Hardy Boys" and "Behind the Picket Fence" in the margins of real life. 

 

 

  


In a fix

You guys, I know, I know ... but I found my desk this weekend. So more writing soon. No, really.  But for now, here's my most recent clip and me opening a can of worms writing material. Because why not. 

In A Fix

I recently celebrated, as it were, a year of single home-ownership.

If I'd known I was going to be doing this on my own, of course, I would never have laid eyes on, much less purchased, a house built in 1900 — a house with just one bathroom and, uh, lots of opportunities for improvement.

Home improvement is a thing, as most readers of a home and garden section of the newspaper know. There are, however, lots of different means and motives behind the improving of homes.

For some, it's cosmetic. For example, we've outgrown these tired floors and are ready to put down some bamboo. Or whatever. 

For others it's necessity. For example, improve this situation or your porch will rot in front of your very eyes. I mean, I've heard that can happen.

And now that I'm paying attention, I'm also noticing there's a fair amount of peer pressure serving to motivate home improvement. I've come to realize some people would be mortified if someone drove by their house and spotted an array of issues crying for attention, including, but by no means limited to, peeling paint, flower boxes dangling by a rusty nail and an utterly neglected garden. 

Fortunately, I'm not that kind of person. I'm more of an, "I'll keep the lawn mowed within an inch of the law and do my best with the rest" kind of person. 

From the outside, it looks a lot like things have been falling apart around my place for the last couple years but that belies the truth which is that I've been putting all my energy into keeping things together. 

Now that the chaos, shock and upheaval of a parental split have settled into a new kind of normal in our household, I'm ready to take on some of this so-called home improvement. I decided to start by using a sledgehammer to demolish a piece of furniture my ex had mounted to the wall.

It was an awesome experience. I overshot my target a few times, so had to add "fix drywall" to my ever-growing project punchlist, but I got the job done. 

I've taken more trips to my local hardware store the last few months than I have in my first 40 years on the planet. And I've been impressed with how helpful folks can be, if you take the trouble to seek them out. 

That brings me to my most recent adventure.

With three of us living in a house with one bathroom, and two of us being barging little boys, I decided it was time we had a bathroom door that actually locked. 

So I bought the hardware I needed, and a screwdriver to install it.

In my eagerness to get started, I immediately removed the old door handle, leaving just the deadlatch in place. (Yes, I Googled it.)

Then I carefully read the instructions. Finally, just for good measure, I looked it up on You Tube in the company of my 9-year-old son, Sam. 

Part way through the online tutorial, Sam had apparently seen enough. He decided to go for it, on his own. 

Then I head the dreaded, "Uh, Mom? A little help here?" 

I peered through the hole in the door, catching the nervous look on his face. I had to peer through the deadlatch, which was locking him on one side of the door and me on the other.

It turned out we each had one part of the new lock and one part of the old on our side of the door. He had the tools, the hinges and access to our only toilet on his side, and I had the run of the house on my side.

Neither of us knew quite what to do next. 

And, of course, my other son needed to use the bathroom. Right now!

"Google something, Mom!" He urged from inside. 

"Okay, but first I have to take a picture," I said. And I posted on my Facebook wall, indicating I needed a little help.

All kinds of awesome advice and tips soon began cascading before my eyes, because I have the best tribe in the world. But there was no window for him to crawl out of, and I couldn't quite picture what action I was being advised to take on my side.

A friend Facetimed me and asked me to show her what I was looking at. 

"Which side is the doorjamb on?" she asked. When I hesitated, she explained, "That's the part that ..." but was interrupted by someone at the front door.

Another friend saw my plea for help. He was in the neighborhood, so he stopped by. 

He did what I was trying to do, but faster and more effectively. In the blink of an eye, with minimal drama, Sam and the cat, also trapped on the other side of the door, had been set free. 

And while he was there, he helped me finish the project. 

The box the doorknob came in boasted it could be "easily" installed "in minutes" using only "one tool." 

I suppose, technically, that was true — provided a got a lot of help from technology and my Facebook tribe. 

As my friend left, he eyed the bathroom vanity, still sitting in the kitchen, in its original packaging. I recently bought it to replace the one that broke six years ago.

Catching the look on his face, and mindful of the jam I had just escaped, I promised him I would seek help in advance before tackling the vanity project. 

But I'm going to do the sledgehammer part myself. Because I can.

 

Image may contain: text

Hardy writes her columns "Raising the Hardy Boys" and "Behind the Picket Fence" in the margins of her life raising two boys who somehow convinced her to get a cat. 

 

 

  


Present

Present

Savor your own present

By NATHALIE HARDY | Yamhill Valley News-Register 

A fortnight from the time of this printing, we will be turning our calendars to a new year, and with that, focusing on our resolutions for what we hope to do more or less of in 2017. 

But first, between now and then, there are The Holidays. Big ones like Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas. 

Since I write my columns about what I know about, Christmas it is. I celebrate Christmas doubly, both the Christian “reason for the season” stuff and also the commercial and cultural stuff we indulge in during this festive time of year. 

However, “festive” is not the only "f" word that comes to mind this time of year, when people are forced to compromise far more than they want; are stressed with pressure to create a magical experience for children while also donating to All The Causes; and are sick and run down to the point they’re not feeling very merry and bright. 

Whether this particular holiday season finds you relating to Will Ferrell’s character in Elf or perhaps Dr. Seuss’ Grinch, I want to remind you of one thing: We don’t get this time back. So please don’t waste it wishing things were different.

That doesn’t mean you’re not going to miss the people you miss, or suddenly adore the people who cause you the most angst. And, of course, that doesn’t mean there’s any magic way to pause time so you can catch up and get it all together to make things in real life match the picture in your head, or your mother-in-law’s head or on your Pinterest feed. 

No, that’s not what I’m getting at. 

It’s like this: There’s some truth behind the feeling that time moves faster as we get older. At the end of a life, the minutes add up. Since we don’t know when that end comes, it’s incumbent on us to make our moments count. 

If you take the long view, the little annoyances, the big blowouts with family and friends, the stress of trying to do too much in too little time aren’t the things you will savor in life’s rear view mirror. 

What we keep, when everything else falls apart, wears out or changes, are the memories we’ve made, the moments we’ve collected, the scraps that make up the fabric of our lives. 

But back to the present:

Consider pausing for a moment to make sure you’re clear about what matters most to you right now. Ask yourself what you most want to remember from this time in your life and let that answer guide your priorities. Let it guide what you say yes and no to. 

Does your house need to be perfectly decorated? Or do you just want some special things out to make your home feel a little decked out? Here’s an example of what that means to me:

Instead of waiting until everything was all picked up, I did my best with the time I had. Now the decorating begins. 

Ergo, on one side of the house, by the laundry room door, I have a pile of dirty laundry serving as a do-it-yourself draft dodger. But on the other side of the house, near the front door, I have an adorable, decorative draft dodger that looks a lot like a reindeer.

Balance, people. 

If you’re looking to set the scene, to put a little spirit of Christmas into your space, the smallest of touches will work as long as they are significant to you. That will get you there.

There’s a time for a “go big or go home” attitude, but I promise you, this isn’t it.  

What I’m saying is, you don’t have to wait for the new year to be intentional. You can resolve now to have the best season possible under whatever circumstances you find yourself this year.

Enjoy your present. 

Merry Christmas. And Happy Holidays.

 p.s. this column started as a little "note to self" but if you think it might encourage someone else, please share it!

Hardy writes her columns "Raising the Hardy Boys" and "Behind the Picket Fence" in the margins of her life raising two boys who somehow convinced her to get a cat. 

 

 

  


Wearing the robes we weave

Wearing the robes we weave

 

October, 2016

By NATHALIE HARDY | Yamhill Valley News-Register

Pssst: If you liked this column, I'd love it if you share it with someone else who might be encouraged by it too! 

  


Gratitude for the present that lasts

Raising the Hardy Boys: The present that lasts

May 20, 2016

By NATHALIE HARDY | Yamhill Valley News-Register

  Capture

Well in advance of Mother’s Day, my boys asked me what I’d like from them this year.

“A clean house,” I told them. I know it would only last for a moment, but what a blissful moment it would be.

I got the slow blink from both of them. Then Jake, my 6-year-old, said, “We were thinking earrings.” 

 His 8-year-old brother, Sam, quickly followed, “Yeah, not like a special hug or cleaning our rooms, but more like something at Target.”

Because their whispering skills are not yet well developed, I heard most of their plotting and planning from the other room. What I couldn’t quite put into words at the time, and perhaps never will adequately be able to express, is this: They are the gift. With all the dirt, the mess, the opportunities to practice patience and grace, in all of that is the gift ready to be opened at any given moment I can recognize it. 

In the hustle of “Get in the truck!” it’s easy to miss those moments. When Sam gets out by climbing up into the bed, clambering around the edge and jumping out the back, it’s tempting to say, as I did this morning: “Why can’t you just climb out of the truck like a normal person!” 

He laughed and said, “Because I’m not normal, I’m a ninja.” That’s the gift. 

When I served the boys dinner after a long day, after not making it to the grocery store again, Jake said, “Mom! You forgot the buns!” 

“Budget cuts,” I said. We all laughed as we ate our simple dinner, and it was just fine.

That moment was precious. And it wouldn’t fit in a box. 

When my mom asks where Jake was going, after perusing his “costume” in a picture I posted, I said it wasn’t actually a costume. It was just another of his carefully assembled outfits, which, on the outside at least, look less intentional.

I can assure you, his drawers are organized by color. He is very, very specific about matching his gloves to his pants and making sure the texture is right on all of the elements.

What was the occasion? Oh, just, you know, Tuesday.

The long soccer socks, the kind that go up to his thigh, were his work-around for managing the gaping holes in his favorite red velour pants.

These pants feature a velvet ribbon I once suggested he hide by untucking his shirt. That prompted him to look at me incredulously and say, “But I want the bow to show!”

Having front row seats to two people who are unique individuals in a world that tries to make us all the same, there’s no bow big enough for that.

In my day, I was the kid on the sidelines, hoping nobody noticed me, and yet longing to be noticed at the same time. Not these two.

When a Justin Bieber song comes on the radio, Sam says, “Mom, I don’t think he really means, ‘Go love yourself.’ I think that’s like when you say, ‘Good for you.’ Right? What’s that called again?”

A euphemism.

I loved him even more in that moment. Then I remembered, maybe it’s too soon for him to be picking stuff like that up. But here we are, and I treasured the moment all the same. It would become a memory, a gift. 

When I see something of mine shattered on the floor, and demand one of them tell me right this second how it broke, and they say, in unison, “gravity,” the funny trumps the frustrating. That’s a gift. 

There’s a Nichole Nordeman music video called “Slow Down” that’s making the rounds on the Internet. It speaks to every parent who has ever wished time would slow down as their babies grow into toddlers and then transform into children, teenagers and, finally, adults.

Every person I’ve seen post a link to it has mentioned they “ugly cried” or “snot cried.” It’s a way of saying, “Your mascara will run. Get some tissue.” So I was prepared. 

But I didn’t cry. FYI, I tear up just thinking about you tearing up, so I was expecting a nice, cathartic cry. 

The music is beautiful, the lyrics are lovely and the images moving. Many of you will cry, in that bittersweet hurts-so-good kind of way. For me, and maybe a few of you, though, the video didn’t reflect reality at all.

While aspects of my life have never been harder — the whole working full time and being a single parent thing, for instance — it has never been sweeter overall.

These are the moments. These are the times with my boys that I will cherish most.

I’ll take the gift of watching them grow into themselves and being able to play a supporting role in that over a clean house any day. Stop by, you’ll see how true that is. 

When the video of their childhood plays back in my mind, it’s the collection of moments happening right now I think will bring me to tears, and to my knees in gratitude for the gift of having had them. 

I think about them already being so thoughtful and intentional about doing something special for me and it hits me how they can’t possibly know there is no gift that matches that.

But yeah, I will cherish the earrings, or whatever else they find at Target. Because when they’re off and gone doing their thing in the world, I’ll have something to hold in my hand as I remember the echoes of these days. 

And now, friends, there’s something in my eyes.

 

 P.S. If you're a Paul Harvey, rest of the story kind of person here's some background info on how this column got done, late but done!

Hardy writes in the margins of her life raising two boys who understand deadlines come before dusting and juggling a fulltime job working with some pretty awesome young people and occasionally calls washing down a fistful of Swedish fish with Red Bull a complete meal. 

 

 

 

  Jake

What?

 

 


The kids are really all right.

The kids are all right - really!

April 12, 2016

By NATHALIE HARDY | Yamhill Valley News-Register

The kids are all right.

My baby was a few months into kindergarten when he shook me awake in the middle of the night to ask: “Mama! What do I do if there’s a shooter at school and we’re in lockdown and I’m in the bathroom? What do I do?” 

What? What? What?!

I don’t even remember what I said to calm him and get him back to sleep. But I know I didn’t sleep another wink the rest of that night and the next few afterward.

Even now, a few years after that shocking wake-up call, I can’t answer his question.

The best I can do is help my kids accept the reality that we don’t have all the answers, and that we can’t possibly be prepared for each and every possible scenario in advance. It’s just a limitation of being human.

But first, I had to really wrap my own mind around that reality. And then I had to figure out how to reconcile that truth with a core belief of mine that we cannot live well if we are constantly in fear of Something Bad Happening.

We now live in a world where children in schools, and many adults as well, are asked to participate in “active shooter” drills, in addition to earthquake drills, fire drills and the like. That doesn’t mean they have to live each night in fear of The Big One Happening, but it acknowledges possibilities dictating we be as prepared as possible.

And you know what? When Yamhill County took its turn in the national school shooting spotlight, it was for a threat being foiled rather than carried out.

That’s because kids did the right thing by alerting responsible adults and adults did the right thing by responding responsibly. Police and school officials worked collaboratively to ensure the safety of all, even though it meant taking heat for not being able to answer all questions immediately. 

Personally, I think Newberg’s recent brush with a potential school shooter situation represents a success story — at least in terms of awareness leading to a tragedy averted.

What breaks my heart is the presence of people so disconnected and disenfranchised they are capable of plotting and sometimes pulling off such atrocities in the first place. 

I can’t protect my kids from that, nor can I protect yours. But I can do my best to emphasize violence prevention.

I can talk to my kids about how their words and actions affect others. I can work with them on identifying issues they have with others and ways they can manage those conflicts. I can be honest with them about what is reasonable to expect from others and what is not.

My oldest son recently had to work through an incredibly awkward situation with a friend at school. In the course of that, I was told that he “had a right to always feel safe at school.” 

Well, I’m not sure that’s true, even though I dearly wish it were.

We all want kids to feel safe at school, and everywhere else for that matter. But I would argue it’s more important for them to know what to do, who to trust and where to go when they don’t feel safe.

I want kids to know who their trusted adults are. I want kids to know they aren’t alone in navigating the ever-changing terrain in the transition from child to youth to adult. 

Adults, hear this: They’re watching us very closely, even when they have their headphones on and their eyes seemingly locked on their cell phones. And get this: They care what we think. 

It’s disturbingly common among us adults to point fingers and find fault these days, both with the world in general and kids in particular. It’s common for us to pat ourselves on the back as we reflect on how we did things different and better, or at least “not as bad.”

To all of that, I channel my inner 15-year-old and say: Whatever.

You want to know what I see as today’s biggest problem? It’s people being so busy identifying what goes wrong that they fail to recognize and reward what goes right.

What our kids need, just like we did before them, and our parents before us, is people speaking truth to youth. They need to hear what’s right in the world, and that includes what’s right with them.

They need to know we believe in them and their capabilities. They need to hear us say, you kids are really all right. 

 

Hardy writes in the margins of her life raising two boys who understand deadlines come before dusting and juggling a fulltime job working with some pretty awesome young people all while breaking her “I don’t really like animals” rule to love their sweet puppy Scout.

 


A season for reflection

Roots to Roofs spring 2015Season of Reflection

A season for reflection

Even if it's not in a freshly polished mirror

Mar 11, 2016

By NATHALIE HARDY | Yamhill Valley News-Register

First published in Spring 2016 Roots to Roofs

This time of year it's hard to get through a supermarket or newspaper without being flashed with new ideas for spring cleaning. Of course, they consist mostly of a compilation of recycled tips from last year and the year before and the year before that.

This advice is packaged and presented alongside the latest, best way to do what your mama told you to do when you were a kid. 

It is packed with revolutionary ideas like, "Pick up after yourself," and mind-blowing concepts like, "If you spill it, wipe it up." Bonus tip: "Don't just leave the wet, dirty towel on the floor."

There. You're set. 

Except, of course, there's a reason these articles crop up like your perennial forget-me-nots.

It's not that we don't generally know what needs to be done to keep a home in decent working order. It's just that life happens.

Sometimes we get overwhelmed with the details, and things like picking up wet towels fall lower and lower down our must-do list. Eventually, you start greeting people on your front porch with a housekeeping style can be best described by a meme explaining: "There appears to have been a struggle."

I know it's not just me on the wrong side of winning the battle of doing all the things well. And, even if it were, I'd still be fine sharing it with readers flipping through this section of "Roots to Roofs" looking for inspiration, trends and information. What's the harm in providing a reminder that we all do some things really well and no one, literally not one person, does all things really well. 

The reason we see surges of popularity in a variety of methods, authors and speakers professing "the ultimate way to clutter-clearing happiness" is this: There actually is no one right way. 

We each have seasons. Not just the kind where dormant winter blooms into dynamic spring, but I mean seasons like when the best we can do is push crumbs aside to prepare the next offering of food to our offspring. Or when putting a clean blanket on top of sheets that are less so, just to get through the night, is how we can best care for a sick kiddo.

During these seasons, we're just thankful we have fresh food and clean blankets.

Sometimes we're in a season where our little ones insist that vacuuming the cobwebs is "killing the Charlottes." So you take a break from that task for a while. I mean, who wants to be a Charlotte killer?

Traditional, and ironically, all the "new" spring cleaning tips include stuff like flipping your mattress over, dusting places I didn't even realize people thought twice about and something about cleaning windows maybe.

Here's the one I'd add, given the fact that not all of us are living lives worthy of coffee table books at most given moments:

Spring cleaning as a concept is an awesome one. The idea of starting fresh, clearing out old stuff, including beliefs about how things should be and look, is a great idea. 

This year, as the birds start chirping earlier and the light starts lingering longer, I'm going to spend less time figuring out how to clean the outside of my windows and more time considering what matters to me in terms of making home feel like home. Then I'm going to start paying some attention to those areas.

For instance, there's this pile of pictures I have leaned against a wall for years as I wait to put some money aside to frame them nicely. What if I just hung them up? With a tack even.

I mean, what? It's my house. If looking at the picture makes me smile does it really matter how it's displayed? 

I've long been annoyed by some broken curtain tie backs and damaged window shades. Then I was closing a bag of chips with one of my favorite utilitarian tools, a binder clip, when I realized I could take them to a whole new level of functionality.

I could've gone with some fun-colored ones, but opted for classic black. It works for me. They serve to hide windows I probably won't clean much, if ever, this spring. 

So there's my radical spring cleaning tip for anyone else who is looking for a little reflection of reality amid the media reminders that spring is springing and thou must clean all the things.

Nope. You don't have to do anything.

But you could consider this an invitation to look at what you'd like to make different, and then make it so.

 

You guys – getting a new subscriber is like getting a little high five in the middle of the day – and who doesn’t like a mid-day high-five? So don’t leave me hanging, because awkward …


I am that mom

Maybe I am that mom

Actually, I totally am.

March 2016

By Nathalie Hardy | Yamhill Valley News-Register

  I realized I was giving in to the same kind of peer pressure to which I’m trying to raise them to be resilient.

Recently, as I was walking my boys to school, I noticed a couple of women point and cluck as they walked their purse-sized dogs.

I glanced at the three of us, trying to determine what the tsking might be about.

Ah, yes. My 6-year-old with the tank top and no coat.

I can see, to a passerby, that could raise an eyebrow. Perhaps even the question: What kind of mother sends her kid to school without a coat?

Right here. I do. I’m that mom.

But in the moment, I suggested to him we go back to the house and grab a coat, “Maybe just carry it so people know your mom cares.”

“I’m not cold,” he said. “And, you’re not wearing a coat,” he added,staring at me with the same brown eyes and expression I make when I’ve driven home my point successfully. 

“I thought we aren’t supposed to worry what other people think.” With the same face as before, I realized I was giving in to the same kind of peer pressure to which I’m trying to raise them to be resilient.

Some may say it’s not the same thing at all, but actually, it is. Because I have a solid, thought-out reason for allowing him to choose whether or not he’s cold, and it’s actually pretty simple: I want him to listen to his body and make decisions accordingly.

At the age of 6, he is plenty old enough to know if his body is cold.

Every office has that one employee who is always hot, or always cold, regardless of the setting on the thermostat. In adults, we allow for these ranges of preferences. Why is it so hard for some to comprehend that it might be the same for children? 

A few weeks ago, we were walking out the door. We reached the fence before he told me he’d be right back.

He returned with a coat and hat because, “It’s sure chilly today.” 

There are plenty of places I intervene and override the impulses of my young boys. But I do my best to honor their initial instinct, because I want them to do the same for themselves. 

Ironically, the same day Jake pointed out I was not practicing what I preach with the whole “who cares what other people think” thing, he learned an additional life lesson.

At school, another caring adult was concerned he wasn’t wearing a coat. It turned into a thing I won’t detail here, because I know with my whole heart she was doing her best to take care of a little boy who looked cold.

The thing is, even if he was cold, he didn’t need to be rescued. He could’ve stayed cold for the small amount of time he was outside and then maybe being cold and uncomfortable would clue him into perhaps taking a coat to school in case he wanted it later in the day. This is a small-stakes lesson for the life skill of thinking things through and planning ahead. 

So you see, it’s not just a coat to me. I’m okay with letting my kids shiver a little. 

When the boys were younger, I spent more time padding the edges to protect them from pain and discomfort. As they’ve grown out of their toddler years, it’s time to offer a little less cushion and a little more opportunity to suffer, or benefit, from the consequences of their choices.

It’s not exactly like I’m handing over a book of matches and seeing what happens. It’s just a coat. 

If my son were sick, shivering and upset that his mom didn’t let him wear a coat, or that he didn’t have access to one, that’s the time for a grown up to help the kid out. 

For the record, I love and appreciate my boys’ teachers, and the staff at their little school. We aren’t always going to agree on how a situation should be handled, but I know that we trust each other to do the best we can in any given moment.

I’ve learned, for example, not to send an e-mail with all caps and exclamation points until I have all the information. I’ve also learned to be a little more upfront when needed.

Last week, Jake opted out of dinner. Then he insisted he was starving, because he missed dinner and hadn’t had anything to eat for breakfast.

Actually, there were plenty of healthy options for breakfast. He just didn’t want any of them.

So I posted this message for any concerned adult in his life that day: 

“Jake may be hungry this morning. Let the record show, it’s not that I didn’t give Jake dinner last night, it’s that he opted out.

“Please help him understand that’s not the same thing. And thanks for the way you love our kids, including your desire to keep them warm.

“xo Nathalie.”

Hardy writes in the margins of her life with two young boys who understand deadlines come before dusting.

 


The Hardy Boys get a Puppy

The promise of a new puppy

January 11, 2016

By NATHALIE HARDY | Yamhill Valley News-Register

 

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You’d think that getting a puppy for Christmas would be a bad idea, particularly when it’s been raining for 25 days straight. And if you cared about preserving sanity and order in your home, you’d be right. 

As I write this, I am under “Scout surveillance.” Our 3-month-old pup watches my fingers carefully, trying to decide which one to nibble next — or perhaps pondering which hand is holding his treats. The pockets of my coats, all of them, have random Legos, mandarin peels and training treats in them now.

I got out of a friend’s car the other day and left what appeared to be some scat behind. Nope. Just treats.

It was awkward, but I’m adjusting to awkward pretty well. Which is apparent to neighbors and friends driving by my house since Scout’s arrival.

There’s been a bit of rubber-necking. I’m not sure if it’s because people are confounded by my being awake and outside before dawn or surprised to see a dog apparently belonging to me, as I am notably not a “dog person.”

They are probably just admiring my Lightning McQueen Snuggie, paired with flannel pajamas and slippers. It’s a coveted look. A statement, actually.

It says this:

“Though I’m rarely ready to leave the house until 8:07 a.m., we got a puppy for Christmas, so here I am at 4:30 a.m. Good morning. Now, look away.”

You might ask, “But, you have a backyard. Maybe that’s a better place to rock the Snuggie and slippers?”

You’d be right every other month of the year. But this month, we have a pond out back.

That could be a problem with a curious new Borador. Yes, you read that correctly; we’ve acquired a labrador/border collie mix.

That makes it sound like he’s a popular new type of designer dog. But no, he’s a different kind of popular — a stray mutt. 

Insert Public Service Announcement here: Spay and neuter your pets, people. And also, don’t buy live animals spontaneously just because they are so cute and it’ll be so fun. It’s not all cute and not all fun, and the responsibility is both real and forever. 

I know some people have wonderful spontaneous pet stories. But I also know the story of my first puppy, Lucy Baby. And while I can’t regret the time we had with her, I think I literally loved her to death.

Sadly, it’s not a unique story, as anyone who has a heart for animal rescue and shelter work will attest.

We didn’t know what we were doing when we got her. We weren’t planning, or prepared, to get a dog.

We went to Wilco one day to get wood screws, and there she was. So we brought her home.

We did some right things, but mostly wrong ones. 

I treated her like a furry little human. She rode shotgun in my truck, and really, shotgun is how she rolled.

Until, a year later there was a baby. And then she sustained a terrible injury. And then the baby turned into a toddler. And then there was another baby.

I didn’t train her to stay in the yard, as I should have. I didn’t keep her safe enough. Then we moved to a new house, in a new town, near a busy street. 

When we lost Lucy, we were in the process of trying to find a better environment for her. It was heartbreaking.

I was sure we’d never get another dog. The boys were pretty sure, too. So sure, they even went a couple years without even asking Santa for one. 

The other day, my 5-year-old told me he was glad we got Scout.

“I didn’t even think I could ask Santa for something so good. He’s my best friend,” he said.

“Guess what I am going to ask for next year, Mama?” I held my breath. “A girl!”

“Like a girl dog?” I asked, seeking clarification. He shot back, “No! A girl sister!” He said he would learn to sew like his cousin and make his new girl sister rainbow gloves, adding, “and she will love them.”

He is learning a lot about love already. For instance, he told me solemnly that sometimes love is having to hold your pee.

That, friends, is one of the truest things I’ve heard. As we’ve been potty-training the puppy, there are times we must respond to his, uh, needs immediately — before our own.

That reminds me of a time when people like my husband wondered what I did all day. With the years buffering that reality, and fogging my memory, it seems easy to forget those early years were spent minute-by-minute, getting through each succeeding day by doing the next necessary thing, tending to basics like essential nourishment.

Just keeping other living beings alive seems a bit momentous when you realize it’s on you to keep the chokeables from choking them, the dropped chocolate chips from killing them, or what have you. 

Having been given another chance at caring for a dog, we intend to do better this time around. We did stuff like, you know, research and plan.

We saved up for a kennel set up so we could be successful in training him. And, we got firm about the way we wanted things to go in advance instead of making up the rules as we went. 

Lucy Baby was absolutely not allowed up on the couch. Except when she was. Which was all the time. See how that could be confusing? 

I thought Lucy Baby made me a better mom, and maybe, in some ways, that was true. Now I think what I’ve learned about child raising will help me with our new adventure in dog raising.

Scout is teaching us, too. For example, he’s taught the boys how their toys will get eaten if they aren’t picked up.

After he ate one highly specialized Lego piece, I developed a pair of the fastest picker-uppers on the planet. 

Here’s a tip: If you’re going to set up an indoor kennel for initial training, and place it near a Christmas tree sheltering paper-wrapped presents, consider things like the effect of gravity in an old house with sloping floors. Otherwise, things are going pretty well with our new best friend.

Also, I feel you should know that Snuggies are way cooler than they look. And these slippers are practically shoes.

Happy New Year!

Nathalie Hardy’s second book, “Merry is Optional,” was recently published by Ridenbaugh Press and is available on Amazon. To learn more, visit www.nathaliesnotes.com.

 

Hardy writes in the margins of her life with two young boys who understand deadlines come before dusting.

 

Nathalie Hardy recently published her first book, “Raising the Hardy Boys: They Said There Would Be Bon-Bons” available at local bookstores and online. Hardy writes in the margins of her life with two little boys and a husband who understands deadlines come before dusting. To contact her, visit www.nathaliesnotes.com.

Her second book “Merry is Optional” was just published by Ridenbaugh Press and is available on Amazon. For more ideas and tips for holiday fun, with or without an elf, visit www.nathaliesnotes.com.

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