Please Don’t Marie Kondo Your Life

I’ve only seen one episode of Marie Kondo’s new show, and I haven’t read her book. I know very little about Japanese traditions or the Shinto religion that play a role in her methods. However, a few years ago, I began hearing about her technique and used to to clean out my closet and dresser drawers. I liked what she had to say, and for quite a while it was very helpful in keeping my things orderly. I applied it to the books in our house and nearly filled my mini-van with donations to the local library. I skipped the part where I gaged the joy-bringing power of each item, but I did go through every single item of clothing and book. I have every intention of doing this to even more areas of my home.


While this method is great for cleaning out your basement or closets, I must admit, it makes me a little disconcerted when I hear people broadening this approach to life in general. Yes, we need to prioritize where we spend out time and our money. We need to focus on relationships that help us grow as people. Yes, we need to learn to say “no” to things in life that drain us or hold us back. But we also need to be careful about the implications of keeping only what brings us joy in life.

Let’s just talk about people. Most of us agree that investing in a few quality relationships is far better than having many surface relationships. We agree that toxic relationships need boundaries, and in some cases that means the total elimination of people who are destructive to you. But does every relationship need to bring you joy? Some people walk into my life, and I can’t help but smile. These are my people. They laugh with me, cry with me, and challenge me to be more. There are other people who require my limited energy. People who need things from me. I love those people who have mentored me in life, and it is important to give back in mentoring relationships. Sometimes we are more on the taking end of a relationship, so we need to make sure we are on the giving end in others. Those relationships spark joy in different ways, but at times or even seasons they are more taxing or difficult. Don’t throw them away. Other relationships are mostly negative but necessary. We don’t get to chose every relationship. Difficult relationships in our life can refine us. Some relationships need firm boundaries but are relationships of obligation through family, work, etc. Challenging relationships may never bring joy, but they might help to mold us into better people that are able to handle adversity with increased patience and a deeper sense of charity. Choosing to engage in those relationships rather than abandon them is partially what makes life a little messy. If we try to sanitize all the mess away, we lose on out what the mess can add to our life in the way of character.

Let’s talk about time commitments. Much like relationships, we want the majority of our life to be filled with those things that make us joyful, rested, happy, etc. Yet, not all of life can be that. The toilet bowl must be cleaned, the bills must be paid, the kid’s activities need volunteers, and you have to get out of bed when the alarm rings. Expecting a life free of commitments that don’t spark joy is not only unrealistic, it slowly twists they way we think so that we come to believe that life is about my own personal happiness and that all things should revolve around what I want and enjoy. It’s not. It doesn’t. I don’t want to volunteer to run backstage during my child’s drama performance, but someone has to. If more people stepped up, there would be less to do for everyone. I love my child, I value the arts, and I know his participation in these shows will make him a better person, so I do my required part. (Yes, it’s required.) The same has been true for a variety of scouting and sports related activities over the past 20 years of parenting. I love my job, but not every aspect of my job. I love my family, but not every aspect of family life. I love Jesus, but not every moment of following Him. That’s okay, because life is made up of doing things we don’t like. That’s part of being an adult. Learning to find contentment in this rather than avoid this is what actually leads to a happy life.

So, please, Marie Kondo your closets, you cupboards, and your garage. Make your teenager Marie Kondo his/her bedroom. But please, don’t Marie Kondo you life. You need some of that stuff that doesn’t bring you joy.



Chicken with Bacon and Figs (recipe)

I am notorious for making up recipes that are inspired by actual recipes. Sometimes this is in order to repurpose leftover, sometimes I am too lazy to bother doing it the correct way, and sometimes it’s because I’m a picky eater and I need to remove yucky things like olives or broccoli. Most often it’s because I have some of the necessary ingredients but not all of them. So I improvise and substitute. Tonight, I had considered making lemon fig chicken. I had bought the figs a few weeks back, and I had the chicken defrosted in the fridge. But i knew this wouldn’t be a big hit with my family. A few google searches and I now present:

Chicken with Bacon and Figs *


1/4 lb. thick bacon, chopped
1 whole yellow onion, sliced
8 dried, Turkish figs, chopped
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 Tbs. maple syrup
1.5 lbs. thin sliced chicken breast
pepper to taste

Cook the yellow onion and bacon in a cast iron skillet for 1-2 minutes on medium high heat until the bacon fat has the frying pan well greased. Add the figs. Sauté for 4-6 minutes until the onion is translucent and slightly browned and the bacon semi-crispy. Add lemon juice to deglaze the pan. Remove to a separate bowl and drizzle with maple syrup. Stir. In the same frying pan, cook the chicken in the left over bacon grease. When the chicken has cooked all the way through, return the bacon and fig mixture to the frying pan. Serve over rice.

Review: My husband, who generally doesn’t like meals that have fruit in the main course or meals that are sweet, thought it was good.
My son, who “does all he can to avoid figs,” was barely able to begin his dinner. Even though he was vocal about how even bacon couldn’t overpower the fig taste, he did say he wouldn’t mind having it again.

Disclaimer: I don’t use measuring spoons or other measuring devices. These measurements are approximate.


Adulting, women

Work-Life Balance When You’re Sick

I’ve been sick for the past 6 weeks, so I’ve becoming sort of an expert on what to do when you’re home sick.


  1. Sleep in. I mean, you’ll be up earlier than normal because your internal clock is a jerk, but at least you can scroll through Facebook guilt free.
  2. Stay in your pajamas, get some tea and breakfast, then curl up under a blanket. (Pro tip: sleep in leggings and toss on a hoodie that has a front pocket. Practical for holding your tissues, yet comfy enough to never want to be healthy again.)
  3. Grab your laptop, promising yourself you will be productive, but since you’re sick you’ll start the morning a little later than usual.
  4. After an hour of time looking at hilarious memes (A cheerful heart is good medicine and you’re not one to argue with GOD!), begin working your way through your email box, but not too fast, you don’t want to overtax yourself. Email, FB, think about something you need and add it to your Amazon cart, repeat.
  5. Around noon, after a full 40 minutes of work stretched out over 2 1/2 hours, you should get some lunch. Soup sounds good. It’s cold out and your sick. But wait, you would prefer to do a little simple cooking. I mean, your sick, so who will begrudge you the time to make soup.
  6. Soup in hand, return to your comfy chair. You can’t really eat and work, so taking a “Lunch break” while streaming a movie is a logical choice. Promise yourself you will only watch it while you eat.
  7. Finish eating before you even have a clue who the main characters are in this 90 minute Hallmark romance. Decide you deserve at least 30 minutes of watch time. That’s a reasonable length break.
  8. Get totally sucked into the movie and rationalize that 90 minutes for lunch is fine; you’re sick.
  9. Quickly shut down the movie while the credits are rolling. No more wasting time. You have work to do. Begin working on a real work project. No more distractions. No more switching back to FB every few minutes. Since you have self-discipline, you’ll still leave that tab open while you work.
  10. Wait, is that a notification? It will just take a second…..
  11. Back to work. You have goals. You’re not wasting this day even it it is 3:00 and you’re still wearing pajamas.
  12. What? it’s 3:00. It’s not good to stare at a computer screen all day. You’re sick. you need to take care of your health. Better unplug and rest a bit. Grab a cup of tea and select a book. Remember your sick, so it has to be light reading. It’s not like you’re going to have the mental capacity for a work related title. How about this sweet, short novel.
  13. How can it already be 6:00? Wow, the work day is over. Working from home is exhausting. But you need to make dinner for the family. A sick day is no excuse for not making dinner. No one understands how hard it is to be sick and still need to work and take care of a family. You’re a strong woman. You’ve got this.
  14. With dinner cleared away, sink back into your chair. (Added noises of exhaustion to emphasize how much you do is perfectly acceptable.) It time to end this long day with a family movie night. You get to pick the movie, because you’re sick and you still had to do all that work today. It’s only fair.
  15. Crawl into bed early. It’s so warm and cozy. Start that book on your Kindle, because it’s too early to fall asleep, but you need your rest. Win-win. Of course you’ll read into the wee hours of the morning because let’s be honest, you have no self control, but your sick so it’s allowed.

And that is how you do it. Balancing the life of a working mom is hard. Doing it while your sick is even harder. Having a game plan can be the difference between success and failure. Now, go live your best life.


Christian, grief and loss, Uncategorized

Dreams Deferred Rise Up

If weeks had themes, this one would have been “Dreams.” I’m reading Carry On, Mr. Bowditch with my 4th grade students. It’s a biographical fiction novel about the life of Nathaniel Bowditch, the author of The American Practical Navigator. Nathaniel’s life was one of disappointments and elusive dreams. My students were remarking that the story is so sad, and unfortunately for them, they have just begun to witness the tragedies that will shape his life. But Nathaniel Bowditch was not one to surrender to the circumstances of life; he would  “Carry on.” He is the poster child for making lemonade out of lemons.


As part of our literature study on this novel, I read my class “Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes even though I am not sure if their young lives have supplied them with enough understanding of the deferment of dreams. While they have certainly know disappointment, loss, and struggle, they have not poured a lifetime into a dream that life would not allow. I, on the other hand, know this all too well. I cannot read the words of this poem without thinking about the various ways my dreams have been lost, rearranged, or fulfilled in backward ways that I never could have imagined at the moment of their inception.

Looking around my home at the life I live, I see the remnants of a lifetime of dreams both lost and found: a family portrait filled with smiling faces of the children my husband and I have raised or nearly raised, the stack of papers to grade for a difficult job I continue to adore, the clutter of our abundance, the silence that marks a new stage of life my husband and I are entering, and mementoes inherited from parents long gone who shaped my life. I am surrounded by reminders of all I have, all I have lost, and the evidence of my personal achievements and my failures. One cannot sit in the stillness of their once chaotic home and not feel the changes brought on by the growth and loss of their children. I cannot help but reflect on the dreams I had of motherhood which for us held infertility, pregnancy, foster care, adoption, homeschooling, public schooling, private schooling, medical emergencies, mental health challenges, learning disabilities, college, death, and currently a mostly empty nest. My dream and my reality bear almost no resemblance to one another.


Dreams require courage because you must give your heart over to something you might lose. This week, I told my students that I wanted them to fail: fail often and fail big. Failure is a prerequisite for success and growth. You can’t fail big unless you are brave enough to invest your hopes into something. I told them to give it there all and then fail again and again until they succeeded. Those are the achievements that truly really worth it in life, the ones in which you’ve really put yourself on the line.

It’s a rare dream that shows up wrapped with a ribbon and handed to you with ease. Most dreams come at a cost. Often one dream conflicts with another dream and you need to chose to let one die in order to give life to the other. Some dreams are so powerful you are compelled to relentlessly pursue, forcing you to count the costs and pay the price. Some dreams you will need to reimagine around the life you have been dealt. Sometimes we must dare to realize a completely different dream because we have grown into someone completely different than we were when we first began to dream the big dreams.  The greatest challenge is determining which dreams are which. There are a thousand roads we could walk down and all should begin in prayer.  In faith, we will travel along a difficult and even discouraging journey forward laced with hope, grit, curiosity, peace, diligence, contentment, and a million tiny blessings.

I never want to land in a place where I am content to have no more dreams. I want my life to be marked by the passionate pursuit of the best life God planned for me. I want my kids, and grandkids, and students to see someone who never gave in to hopelessness, never quit growing, never stopped learning, and never said that I had had my fill of adventure and didn’t need any more. I want my dream deferred to be the seed that breaks forth from the dark soil which stole it and becomes the mighty oak that rises up.

kids 3

Dream Deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Adulting, family, food

Iron Chef: Siblings Edition

My youngest son (16) is interested in learning to cook. My oldest son (20) is on his semester break from college and is home all day, every day. Both boys were going to be home one day while I was going to be at work all day (7:30-6:00 pm). Solution? Iron Chef: Siblings Edition.

First I gathered a few random ingredients from around the house and placed them in a basket.


In the morning I left a note with the instructions. Required ingredients, free use ingredients, and the option to add 3 additional ingredients of their choice from around the house.  I wanted dinner on the table at 6:45.


I went to work and hoped for the best. My husband was working from home that day, so I figured at least the house wouldn’t burn down nor would the oldest wrestle his brother into submission for the use of any of the ingredients.

As dinner time approached, the texts began coming in.






This lost one was my favorite “extra ingredient.”


I don’t even need to ask where they get their snark from.

I also received a few texts from my husband about the sheer volume of the boys silliness as he was working. (Welcome to my life, Jay. Welcome!)

However, in the end, I came home to dinner on the table. The boys had fun, and no one died.


Both boys left out one require ingredient. (No Caleb, one noodle as garnish on your dish does not count, nor is apple cider vinegar an apple, Joel). They also ignored the rule that they could only use 3 additional ingredients and basically made dinner from what was around the house.

We used simple scoring sheets.


Joel googled the ingredients and made chuck wagon beef with pasta. Caleb made chili nachos and cinnamon apples. Both meals were good, but Joel’s tasted better and was closer the the boundaries I had set out.

The real winner was me. Not only didn’t I need to cook, but it was Jay’s dishes night.

I can see this happening again this summer.




Remembering What Is Good

A friend once remarked to me that no one ever tells you how great marriage is. Having walked several couples (including her) through pre-marriage counseling sessions, I realized she was right. We spent so much time trying to prepare couples for the very real challenges and struggles of an “unto death do you part” union, that we fail to talk about the joys. I think we assume they already know all the benefits or they wouldn’t be getting married.

Let me take a minute to remind you what makes marriage so amazing.

jay and barb 1I love that at the end of my day, I am coming home to my husband and the home we have created. I get to lay my head down next to his and sleep secure. Long gone are the days of drawn out goodbye kisses followed by a cold car ride home that would separate us for the night.

I love having someone who knows everything about me and still promises to love me forever. The safety and security both physically and emotionally are the adult equivalent of the implicit love a child has for their parents. Sure, we have broken faith which each other hundreds of times with our words and actions. Yet, somehow love has ultimately been able to cover a multitude of our sins and bind us even closer together. Pushing through those hard and painful times has actually resulted in this deeper love.

Marriage also means a divided work load. It takes less time to grocery shop, cook, do laundry, etc. for a couple than it did when we were two singles in separate homes. We save time and resources and are able to share the load. Another bonus is back-up. Having someone, whose life is geared towards being your support system in every way, eases the burdens of life.

Children are another obvious joy that can come with marriage. Raising a family together has been the hardest, most rewarding, painful, and wonderful, accomplishment of my entire life, and it was all made possible through marriage.

I am married to my best friend. We take road trips and go out to dinner. We step around each other getting ready for work in the morning, and we laugh in bed at the end of the day. We have inside jokes and reminisce about days long gone. We worry about our kids, our finances, and our jobs, but we share the load. The last 24 years of my life, no major life even has happened that we did not share.

Marriage means not having to go home when the credits roll at the end of the movie. I hope to spend many more years watching the credits rolls together cuddled up on our couch. I know one day the credits will roll on one of our lives. Until that day, I am going to keep on loving fiercely.

Happy 22nd Anniversary, Jay!

jay barb 1992

family, grief and loss

Buoyancy: The Inheritance of Grief

This week marked the moment in my life where I have now lived longer fatherless than I lived with a father. Losing my father in my early twenties profoundly impacted my life. So much of that day is seared into my mind. In a matter of hours I  went from looking at apartments with my fiancé to sobbing uncontrollably on my parents’ bathroom floor. This experience of grief changed me, but not all of the changes were negative. In the midst of the pain, there came one beautiful gift.


Resilience is defined as the ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity or the like; buoyancy.*


At 22, I had been a college graduate for less than a year and was in the midst of my first  year of graduate school. I was still a full-time student who had never held a full-time job. During the school year, I lived with my brother in our childhood home, and over breaks, I lived with my parents in their new home. When my parents had moved to the shore three years earlier for my mother’s job, I was the only child who moved with them. Still a teenager at the time, I hadn’t felt ready to take on the degree of independence that my older siblings had opted to embrace. I didn’t feel grown-up yet, despite being engaged. Two weeks before my dad died, I had been home on spring break, chatting with Dad over dinner and then riding our bikes down to the bay to watch the sunset.


The loss of my dad was the first real tragedy of my life. I had smaller losses and hurts, but nothing  life defining. The grief hit me with an immense force; suffocating me. At the time, I thought life itself was over. It felt broken beyond repair. I experienced a sense of hopelessness like I had never even imagined possible. I firmly believed that I would never recover. Never. Having never experienced that kind of pain, I could not fathom any earthly healing could ever equal the loss. A few days later, I recall collapsing to the floor and just sobbing. I know they say that the body cannot remember pain the way it remembers images or smells, but I disagree. I still remember the feeling of that pain even now, though with less intensity.

But then it happened. Slowly. Gradually, I began to  be able to function again, to think of something other than the loss. First a moment, then an hour, then a day. I began to find joy and laughter. I was able to dream and hope and feel whole again even though I was was irrevocable changed. It took time, months, years even. Each day brought me closer to healing.

Looking back, what I learned was that I could survive and heal from even the worst tragedies. I could come out on the other side. Later on, when other losses, hurts, and struggles came into my life, I saw them with new eyes. I saw them for what they were, something that could be overcome. Most of the painful events of my life that followed that day paled in comparison but not all of them. Not the year of caring for Mom before she passed away, not the loss of our son, Sean, and not every moment of marriage and parenting that happened since that fateful day in 1996.

My dad taught me so very much in my life that I will forever be grateful for, but his parting gift to me was probably the one that ultimately helped me the most. I will never be thankful that I lost my dad so young. The longing for my dad has never gone away. I imagine the depth of love I had for him was in part why the loss was so devastating. I suppose it makes sense that the first great love of a girl’s life is her father, so it seems almost natural for it to also be the first great loss she experiences.  For me, that loss gave way to strength, courage, and hope. And that is the true inheritance my father left me.


*The irony of this word is not lost on me considering the fact that it was my father drowning that would eventually give me the gift of resiliency.