Wednesday, August 31, 2011

sometimes the crazy can be good

it's in the midst of the crazy
that God reminds me
that He is bigger than the crazy.

It's been a long week for the Simko family, and an even longer day.
We appreciate your prayers for peace.

No Waste Not Wednesday today -- I need to recuperate and prepare for my last graduate class that begins tonight.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

there's always one more thing.


Do you ever have one of those days?

I'm talking about the type-of-day that seems slow to start because you have so many things to juggle on your plate that you don't even know where to begin -- the kind of day that seems overwhelming from the minute you wake up because you can't quiet your mind enough to figure out how to prioritize -- one of those days that looms over your head like a black storm cloud, and all you feel you can do is flinch while you wait for the rain to start pouring.

One of those days.

I guess it's not even the prospect of this one day that is overwhelming to me, but the prospect of days to come.  There is a shift coming upon us -- a shift from maternity-leave and endless-days-alone-with-baby to frantic running-around going from this-job-to-that while at the same time trying to maintain a level of balance.  And there are other things looming overhead -- things I won't name right now -- that just seem much-too-much to take in right now.

I pray every night that Gwen would not live in a life of stress.  We've spent most of our marriage sprinting from one job to the other, from home to school to job to home and back again.  It's been frantic and busy and I want it to slow down.  But there is always something else, something new, something that can't-be-passed-up.

And I can't help but wonder -- what are the best decisions?  Are we making them?  Should we be more deliberate about guarding our time and schedule?  But -- and here's the kicker -- how does one even do that, exactly?

Because, let's face it:  there's laundry to be done and dishes to be cleaned and dinner to be made and monologues to memorize and songs to sing and homework to do and people to see and relationships to maintain and babies to nurture and blogs to write and books to read and so on and so on and wash, rinse, repeat.  And repeat.  And repeat.

God says, "Be still, and know that I am God."
Does anyone else find this incredibly hard to do??
And if you've somehow found the secret to juggling life and being still before God... could you let me in on it?  Please?

Sara Groves - Just One More Thing

There's always just one more thing,
There's always another task.
There's always I've just have one more small favor to ask.
And everything is urgent.
And everything is now.
I wonder what would really happen if we stopped somehow?

I'll be there in a minute, just a few places to go
You wake up a few years later and your kids are grown.
And everything is important
But everything is not
At the end of your life your relationships are all you've got.

And love to me is when you put down that one more thing and say
I have something better to do.
And love to me is when you walk out on that one more thing and say
Nothing will come between me and you.

Not even one thing.

There will never be an end to the request upon your time
It's your place to stand up and tell the world you've gotta rest a while.
And everything is important
but everything is not.
At the end of your life your relationships are all you've got.

And love to me is when you put down that one more thing and say
I have something better to do.
And love to me is when you walk out on that one more thing and say
Nothing will come between me and you.

Not even one thing.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Blog Highlight: Rachel Held Evans

First up in the Blog Highlight series is Rachel Held Evans.  

I am only a recent follower (which, if you know anything about the Christian blogging world, is somewhat shameful), having found her blog after a witty post about the (un)coolness of church on Relevant Magazine.

Anyhoo.  I haven't missed a post since finding this blog.  Instead of randomly gushing about it off the top of my head, let me break it down for you.

Content:  The content in Rachel's blog is vast and superb.  It ranges from personal musings  to convicting truths to thoughtful debate to previews of her upcoming book and beyond.  Honestly, the list could go on and on.  As far as most blogs are concerned, Rachel has one of the most variety of thoughtful, inciting content.  To put it simply: it never gets boring, and it never stays on the surface.  If you want your mind to be stimulated on a daily basis, check this blog out.  Like right now.  Go.  Do it.  Ok, fine -- keep reading the review before you do.

Style: Rachel's style is casual but informed, always well-stated and succinct.  She uses her words wisely and communicates clearly.  Also (and I can't say this for all of my favorite blogs), I have never found a grammatical error on her pages.  That's seriously impressive for someone who blogs every day.  Bravo, Rachel!  You rock my English-major-socks off!

Frequency: Um.  Every. Single. Day.  I do not know how she does it, especially since she is also writing a book right now.  

Don't Miss: Sunday Superlatives (posted every Sunday!) and Ask a... Series

Extra Bonus: The community!  Honestly, the conversations to be had within the comments section of her posts are not to be missed!  It is absolutely refreshing to find an online community so open to thoughtful, respectful, and stimulating conversation.  I attribute the community to Rachel's thoughtful, respectful, and stimulating posts.

So what are you waiting for??  Go check out this blog!

Guest Post

Hi friends!

Please check out another guest post at Introverted Church:


If you have a minute, please make a comment so we know you stopped by.  Thanks!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Waste Not Wednesday: Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

For the last two years, I've been washing dishes by hand.  It's something you can get used to rather quickly.  Although we've been using washable dish rags instead of sponges to cut down on waste (and bacteria build-up), I never really ran across a homemade dish detergent for hand washing.  Our detergent is almost out, so if you know of one, please tell me!

But here in the community house, we got a dishwasher!  I was, at first, vehemently opposed, but I do admit it's cut down on a lot of time at the sink (especially with four hungry adults!).  I'm not sure what the environmental-repercussions are of a machine vs. hand-washing.  I'd be interested to hear your own thoughts on the subject.

Anyhoo.

So we got this machine, which means I got to try out...

Homemade Dish Detergent
(Ok, ready for the list of ingredients?  Brace yourselves, it's a long one!)

Equal parts Borax and Washing Soda



(Yup.  That's IT!)


 We just mix the two parts together in a glass jar.


This is my kitchen helper:


She keeps things interesting.  And cute.

Ok.  So here's the thing.  We like that this type of detergent is easy on our wallets and that we know the exact ingredients going into our wash.  So those are the plus sides.  The down side?  We're left with a weird sort of residue on all our glasses.  I don't think we have hard water, so I'm not sure what to do about the problem.  Anyone have any ideas?  We are okay with it, but I know guests might think our dishes are dirty when they come over.

Rating:
3.5 out of 5 stars
(points off for the residue)

Alright, so there are a few more things we do around here to cut down on waste/live naturally, but I'm running out of ideas.  And YES, I WILL try the homemade shampoo one of these days, but if you have anything you use or have been curious about, send me a link/recipe in the comments section.

Credit where credit is due:
These recipes are from this lovely woman who published this lovely book.
I highly recommend purchasing it and supporting her!

Monday, August 22, 2011

I'm not "supposed" to say this.

I don't "get" suffering.

There.  I said it.
I don't "get" suffering, and I don't know what to do with it.

I know I'm not supposed to say that out loud -- that I'm supposed to have a complete understanding of sin and brokenness and God's mercy and plan for restoration -- but there it is.

I just don't know what to do with suffering.

I know this is one of those big issues that keep people at an arm's length (or longer) from the Lord, and it pains me.  It pains me that people don't know His comfort, but it also pains me that I cannot adequately explain to them why there is suffering.

And before you comment, please know that I know the "right" answers.  And a part of me "gets it."  But the part of me that doesn't get it is the part who looks into the eyes of another human being and sees their suffering.  The part of me that doesn't get it is the part who sees a friend wounded after yet another miscarriage and doesn't know how she will process yet another one of her friends getting pregnant.  Or the friend who is so lonely, she could scream as she watches all of her other friends find love. Or the friend who can't even get pregnant, no matter how hard she tries and tries and tries.  Or the friend whose mother died from cancer before my friend entered into her late 20s.  I don't know what to do with the suffering of my friends.  I cannot explain it to them because I cannot explain it to myself.

Because the reality is that although I have struggled with very difficult things, on the whole, my life is pretty good.  I come from an awesome, loving Christian family.  I am married to an amazingly supportive, Christian man.  I have a beautiful, healthy daughter.  I myself am very healthy.  The list of "good things" in my life goes on and on.  So I guess people could look at my life and say, "Of course she believes in God.  Look at her life."

But the friend who might have cancer and doesn't have the insurance or money to get the treatment she needs?  - I can't blame her for not believing.  The friend who has feelings for the same gender but has been ostracized by every church he's ever stepped into?  I can't blame him for turning his back on God either.

Because the reality is that I'm not in their shoes and I cannot speak directly to their suffering.
And I cannot adequately explain suffering to these people, because I can barely stomach it myself.

And there are also those whom I've never even met who struggle even more.  The mom who has to work three jobs and can barely feed her children because she also has to pay for daycare and rent.  The child who was sold into slavery so he could make the sneakers and shirts that I mindlessly wear every day.  The young woman who has been kidnapped, bribed, and forced into the sex industry.  The many, many people in the world who have no access to clean water.  The people who have been forever misplaced due to catastrophic, natural disasters.  These are people I don't know, but I know I could not look them in the eye and tell them why they have to suffer.

It pains me.

And although I know that there is a God who weeps alongside them -- although I know that Christ came down to earth in order to bring about redemption of the world -- although I know that the world will be restored to the Good that the Father originally intended -- although I know that the Holy Spirit provides very real, tangible comfort to those who suffer -- although I know all these things... will they?  Will they ever know?

And who can explain it to them if they don't?

Maybe you've got it better than me.  Maybe you understand it better and can explain it in a way that makes sense to these people.  But the reality is: I can't.  So I'm gonna stop wondering how, and keep doing the only thing that makes sense to me: weep.

I will weep with these people, but I will never try to explain their suffering.
Because I just don't get it.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Memory Lane's Bizarre Turn; or, "OHMYGOSH I FOUND HIS HOUSE"

I took a walk down memory lane yesterday.  Literally.
Actually, I was running.  I was running and I turned a corner and BOOM--
there it was.

The last time I saw this house, I remember how I felt.  I remember what I thought.  I remember thinking, " I will never come back here.  I will never see this man again."

But then, there it was: the three-story, bird-cage-adorned house, a mere ten minutes from my own humble abode.  I have to admit that I was half-looking for it.  Ever since we moved to this town three months ago, I knew there was something oddly familiar.  And slowly, bit by bit, pieces came to me every day.  Strange pieces.  This is a strange story.  I'm filing it under my "bizarre-o" files.

In order to fully understand, I have to take you back five years ago, to 2006.

I was working two jobs - full time as a tea salesperson (yup, you heard me right) and part time as a theatre educator at the Y.  Sales is not my forte, and I was not a kid person back then.  Needless to say, I was looking for something else.  Through an acquaintance, I found what seemed like a really good fit: an assistant for an English professor at the local college.

At first, it seemed pretty cool.  I'd be grading papers (nerd alert:  I actually enjoy grading papers.   ...I know.) and helping him with odds and ends around the house.  I thought it would be good experience in case I wanted to use my English degree to teach.  But my naive, recently-graduated self did not understand the term "personal assistant."  I didn't know that it would entail him owning every free hour of my life (I was still working the other two jobs because I have had no boundaries).  I didn't know that it would require me to spend an entire afternoon (read: 5 hours) sewing buttons onto his pants while he made semi-degrading comments about my being a woman sewing buttons.  I didn't know that I would spend an entire day sorting through his 10-year-collection of junk mail.

But the worst part was that he inexplicably felt as though he could automatically adopt the role of "mentor" or "father" to me.  When he started to take on the role (without my permission), I tried to shake it off.  But he became increasingly overbearing -- planning out my life, telling me my choices weren't good enough.

There were some other odd things, too -- things that, when I described the situation to my husband years later, seem like the lore of books.  Like the room full of birds.  And that he only talked to me in German (I don't speak German).  And that we only drank Earl Gray tea at his house (no water).  And how he always talked of his "long lost love" whom he left behind in Germany in pursuit of his career.

A few words before we continue:  In total, I think I only worked for this man for maybe a month.  He decided to be my father-figure almost immediately -- which, to me, is incredibly invasive.  Besides, I think it's worth noting that I already have a father who is and has been an excellent father figure to me, whom I love very much, and who has my complete trust.  I was not looking for another father, nor did I think it was appropriate that this man act like one towards me.

The whole situation was completely confusing for me.  I felt like I must have been living in some alternate universe, and everything caught me so off-guard that I was never able to stand up for myself.  I was also very young.  When I decided to leave (or rather, when I had the emotional breakdown that forced me back home to my parents-- my awesome parents, I might add, including my awesome father), he gave me a lecture on how my decisions were wrong.  I remember sitting on the porch swing with him, listening to his chastisement, barely containing my tears or my inclination to run screaming to my car.  I couldn't wait to get out of there, and then suddenly, he gave me a gift that was incredibly thoughtful.  He had this pillow covered in birds (I love birds) that I had admired from day one.  It was his mother's from Germany; I think she made it in the 1940s.  And he gave it to me.


Note: I LOVE this pillow.  It's sort of falling apart because it's so old and I love it so much.  I'm not sure what to do with it though because it's literally going to disintegrate one of these days.

I left, pillow in hand, totally confused about what had just happened -- the pillow and the pants buttons and the room full of birds and the German and the tea and the feeling of entrapment all boiling inside my head, and I thought one thing:  "I will never come back here.  I will never see this man again."

Flash forward to 2011, and there I was:  innocently running in my new neighborhood.  And there was his house -- exactly as it was when I had left it.

And here's what I need to know:  Do I go back?  Do I take my family and walk to his house to say hello?  Because here's the thing -- here's the honest truth:  I know he has no one.  I know his misplaced, inappropriate desire to mentor me came out of intense loneliness.  And I have a feeling that although he could probably sense my desire to get away from him, I think it would still mean a lot to him for me to stop by and say, "Hey.  This is my family."

There's something in it for me too, though.  You see, over the years, the idea of this man has ballooned into mythical proportions.  I want to face the legend once more -- to bring him off the looming pedestal in my mind -- in order to... I don't know... overcome?  That was a bleak time in my life, and I'd like to think I've grown a lot since then.  A part of me feels like I just need to face him, at least one last time.

So.  What do I do?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

i am the jar of clay

It was a hard day.
I went to bed very weary. 
Weary from the growing pains, because we are all still growing up.
I am still growing up.  And I am broken.  I make mistakes. 
And I find that when I make mistakes, previous mistakes from my past flood into my brain.  Haunt me.  And make me to grow even wearier. 

And I hear myself groaning, inside and out.  And I want to fall into the bed and be swallowed up, but I can't stop the memories of mistakes from flashing in and out of my brain.  Sometimes I feel like I am at their disposal -- all I can do is close my eyes really tight, fight back the tears, and wait for things to pass over.

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us."

I am the jar of clay.
I am frail.  Broken.  
I make mistakes.  I push blame.
I have a past I am not proud of.  I have a present full of mishaps, known and unknown.
I am living, walking proof that anything good out of me comes from the Father, and that He can be glorified through frail, broken vessels.
In my case... at least I hope so.
I lean on His strength to get me through, especially on the hard days.

"We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed."

But I thank God for the hard days 
because they are a visceral reminder of 
how. much. I. need. Him.

"Though out outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.  For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison."
2 Corinthians 4:7-9, 16-17

Friday, August 19, 2011

Stay Tuned: Blog Highlights

Recently, I've sort of stumbled into a bit of a dilemma.

I've found reading on the computer the easiest activity to accomplish while breastfeeding.  This is not my dilemma.  I've been delving deep into the blogosphere, and have been spending a lot of time reading countless blogs.  Still not my dilemma.  I've really been enjoying these countless blogs, and have felt enriched by the thoughts and writing of others.

Here is my dilemma:  there are so many awesome blogs out there, and I want others to read them.  I want others to read these stimulating ideas being thrown about into the internet world, and appreciate them with me.  I find that listing links on the side of my blog - or posting something on Facebook - are not enough to adequately highlight these blogs.

So I've decided to make highlighting different blogs a frequent feature here.  I'm going to review blogs based on Content, Style, and Frequency (of posting).  I use the term "review" lightly, as I want this feature to be positive for both reader and writer.  I'm not here to tell people what they need to fix on their blogs; instead, I want to point out positive qualities in order to steer you towards good reading.

For the first few months, I'm going to highlight a number of well-known blogs (that you may or may not know -- but if you don't know, you should know, hence the highlight).  Once I go through them (there are probably about 6-10 or so), I would love to review your blog, or a recommended blog.

In order to get reviewed on a Blog Highlight, please e-mail me your blog at chellysimko at gmail dot com, subscribe to this blog, and add the html code/link (see below) somewhere on your blog.  In return, you will have a permanent link on my site.





Copy this code to add this button to your site:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Waste Not Wednesday: Prefolds and Flats and Pockets, Oh My!


Today I want to talk about cloth diapers and their awesomeness. They are, to borrow the phrase from Andy Dwyer of Parks and Recreation,
"awesome sauce!"


But if you're new to the concept of cloth diapering, you probably have a lot of questions. Thankfully, the internet has a LOT of good answers. This means I don't have to reinvent the wheel but can answer your questions via spiffy links! Also, an important note: if you want to enter into a contest for some FREE stuff, read the whole post!

To get started, here are the reasons I choose cloth diapers over disposables:
  • it's better for the environment
  • it's better for the baby (less diaper rashes and you know exactly what you're putting on the baby's bottom. No, really, have you ever read the ingredients listed in disposables?!)
  • it's better to control leakage (I have had less problems with cloth than disposables)
  • it's better on the wallet (even a diaper service costs less money than buying disposables!)
Now, I acknowledge that many may shirk from the idea of cloth diapers. I suppose there's an "ick" factor at first thought, and there are some who don't have access to their own laundry machine. In response to the ick factor: it's basically the same as disposables. I have to touch a disposable to put it in the trash -- likewise, I have to drop the cloth diaper into the diaper pail. I don't actually touch the cloth diaper -- only the diaper cover. And hey, if you're really worried about germs or whatever, that's what this was made for:


Alright, moving on.

So let's say you don't have a machine to work with. I would recommend Googling diaper services in your area. There are two in my area: Baby's Choice Diaper Service and Philly Diaper Service. I've used Baby's Choice for the first couple months of Gwen's existence since I didn't want to bother with laundry while adjusting, and I highly recommend their services. The owner, Jim, is very personable, prompt, and a pleasure to do business with. His service is also cheaper than the Philly one, although they may service slightly different areas. If you've used Philly Diaper Service, I'd love to hear of your experience!

Now let's say you've decided to consider washing your own diapers. Where do you start?

There certainly are many options for cloth-diapering your baby, and what's best for you and baby is whatever works. I've heard about the all-in-ones, but they seem a little pricey to me. In our house, we stick to three simple kinds:

Prefolds


Prefolds are great if you're sort of crunched on time and don't want to fold a lot of diapers. On the other hand, they can be a little bulky and hard to pull tight enough (which means more spillage on the diaper covers). Most diaper services use prefolds.

Flats


Flats are a personal favorite here in the intentional community house. We like them because you can double (or triple!) up for more soaking power, they tend to be less bulky than prefolds, they're cheaper (see Amazon or Babies R Us - the Gerber ones work fine!), and they're easier to maneuver for good coverage.

Here are what flats and prefolds look like folded:

Pockets


Then we come to pocket diapers. Pocket diapers are a stroke of genius, in my opinion. They are great fantastic magical for overnight protection. I am always amazed when I pull out the insert and it's soaking wet, while the part touch the baby is completely dry. I would imagine these help our babies sleep longer through the night too! And anyone who uses diapers will tell you that bumGenius is the best brand -- definitely worth the investment.

And as for diaper covers, there are so many to choose from, but our favorite here are the Thirsties diaper covers.

As for cleaning how-to's and other questions (and I mean ANY other questions you may have), I will refer you to the wonderful blog, All About Cloth Diapers. Just use the search bar to research and get your questions answered. And for the Haute Cloth Diaper Giveaway from Sorta Crunchy, click here!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Americans, Don't Turn a Blind Eye: This is Important

A recent read of Elizabeth Esther's blog led me to a post that reminded me of a similar struggle I encountered over a year ago after the earthquake in Haiti. I'm providing links to both because it's important to keep these issues on our hearts, minds, and tongues. Please read both before commenting.

We cannot take for granted what we have.
We need to ask, Why?
We must wonder, Now what?

What do we do with the riches we have but do not deserve? (ie: EVERYTHING)
How can we love our brothers and sisters who are in poverty?
What should we do?

And why do we ever stop the conversation?

taking it back

Hear-ye, hear-ye!

I'm moving all intentional-community-related things to the

I'm taking this blog back for my own musing-space. I needed the outlet.

I hope you understand and continue to follow both endeavors!

Oh, and this is my baby as a duck:


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Waste Not Wednesday: Baby Wipes and Wipe Solution

I wanted to continue my Waste Not series by featuring it every (or every other) Wednesday. In our efforts to cut down on waste in this community house, we've all become super resourceful at finding better ways to live intentionally.

So, in case you couldn't tell, we have two babies in the house. They could be a source of a lot of waste, but between cloth diapers and reusable wipes, we've managed to keep things in check.

Reusable Baby Wipes


If you or someone you know has a baby and access to a washing machine, I would highly encourage the use of reusable baby wipes. Not only are they eco-friendly, but your baby('s bottom) will thank you as well. Disposable wipes tend to be very harsh on baby's skin. When you make your own solution, you know exactly what's coming into contact with your baby, and you are able to control it.

Your best bet to find good wipes is to go on Etsy.com and search "Reusable Wipes." I found a pack of 24 for $9 and got two packs. My sister-in-law also made me 15 or so. I do a wash maybe once a week, and I'm good to go!

In addition to the wipes, you'll probably want to invest in a spray bottle (we got ours at the dollar store). So what exactly do you put into the spray bottle?

Homemade Baby Wipe Solution

There are a plethora of "recipes" online for baby wipe solution. Here's the one that we use:

1 cup water
1 tablespoon oil (vegetable or olive work fine)
1 tablespoon Dr. Bronner's castille soap
a couple drops of peppermint or vanilla extract


Mix together, put in the spray bottle, and viola!


A note: some babies might get irritated by the peppermint oil. We don't use it on Gwen, but Zoey seems to be okay with it. Just do what's best for your baby!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

More Outside Reading

Here's another guest post I wrote on the Ruby Eyed Okapi modesty blog:


And my sister-in-law just started a blog, and you have to read her first post. Trust me on this.
She's the mother of twin (adorable-amazing-hysterical) boys. Hilarity ensues.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Check Out My Guest Post!

I've been quoting different posts from Introverted Church ad nauseum these days. It's just a really awesome blog that resonates with me. Anyways, I had the fabulous opportunity to do a guest post on his blog. It's up today! Go check it out and support me!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Double the Babies, Double the Fun

So what's it like raising two non-related babies in the same home?

*teehee*

Just kidding. We actually don't know yet since Gwen is just barely starting to recognize Zoey's existence. But contrary to the photo above, Zoey usually thinks it's pretty cool.

Stay tuned later on in the year for the happenings of these two little girls!

here I am holding Zoey on the left, and Jocelyn is holding Gwenny on the right.
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