Problem-Solving = Creativity

Today’s guest post writer holds a special place in my life: mother-in-law, the wonderful woman who raised my Guy to be the creative, giving, thoughtful man I love. Her creativity impressed me from the first time we visited their family home. Something was always baking or cooking (all three of my guys drool for her cookies–and she graciously keeps them in supply), her walls covered with handmade-by-her needlework, and she often had a current project in her lap. And I love today’s post about creativity as problem-solving right in your own environment.

Create Challenge #24: Nancy Ricketts

Let me introduce myself…as per instructions from my beautiful, talented, creative daughter-in-law.

NRickettsMy name in Nancy Ricketts. I am nearly 75 and have been blessed with many opportunities over the years to be creative. I could say something about “creating” two wonderful sons, but I give God credit for that…I only helped a little.

It seems to me that I create because of need. There is a problem or an opportunity that calls out to be solved, fixed, improved. My own home is my current creative laboratory, so here are some examples of my brand of creativity. The way I’ve chosen to decorate expresses creativity with shapes, patterns, textures, objects, light, colors and use of space.

Let’s start with the front door of our home. It is a bit plain and needed a creative touch. A local thrift shop provided inspiration. Don’t you think it looks better with a band of roses overhead? The view overhead changes with the seasons. Fall leaves and pine swags await their turn to appear.NRicketts door 2

When we moved here almost four years ago, we were overwhelmed by the huge blank living room that had a wall of windows and a very high ceiling. On a trip to South Africa I found a large fabric wall hanging; at the same craft fair my husband found some beautiful sketches of San tribal members, also known as “Bushmen.” One thing plus some other related things create a whole. Problem solved.NRicketts wallNRicketts elephantsNRicketts San

Creativity can also be involved when things need organizing…whether planning a dinner party for 20 or dealing with a messy pile of fabrics and sewing materials. I confess it was not a fun creative project to sort out stuff from my home workroom, but the organized results are satisfying. Moral to this story: Do not expect every creative project to be joyful in process. Creativity may be in disguise as hard work!NRicketts org

NRicketts rosebush coverBehold the covered rosebush! A plastic tablecloth from the Dollar Store protected my precious yellow roses from marauding, hungry deer that see our yard as an evening buffet. This covering worked well during the night, but obviously can’t be used in the daytime, and unfortunately, the deer recently discovered that the roses are also tasty during daylight hours. Creativity does not always solve the problem!

NRicketts flowersDeer do not eat our patio flowers, leaving me with plenty of pretties to put into tiny bouquets, my current favorite way of expressing creativity. Some of these are given to people onNRicketts nosegay our Food and Friends (like Meals on Wheels) route every week, others are given to friends, neighbors, or staff at our local medical office.

Rejoice in the creative abilities God has given you–enjoy and share them with others! How pleased our Heavenly Father must be to see us explore and use the gifts He has so graciously given us.

Thankful Thursday – Books!

I read 30 books in 2015. Not a lot, but more than two a month. So far in 2016, I’ve upped the ante, closer to one a week. I may not keep it up, but it’s been fun so far. I keep my library queue updated as I hear about books I want to read, which makes it like a game of library roulette – I read what I get, and I set reading goals based on due dates and which books are more likely in demand and so unlikely to be renewable. Just last week my neighbor popped over and found me in my pj’s too late in the morning, because I just had to get to the end of a book. She loaned me the library book she’d just finished, with four days left to read it. Done! And wouldn’t you know it? The day I returned it, my queue provided my next book to take its place.

Another coincidence that made me chuckle: the first four books came in young adult-adult pairs of two, one pair on death and another on female friendships.

So here you go, the low-down on what I’ve read so far in 2016.

All the Bright PlacesAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I almost stopped reading after one chapter – the subject matter is raw – and I’m so glad I didn’t. This book is beautiful, with beautifully-drawn characters, people I feel I know, struggling in the wake of tragedy and the daily tragedy called High School. For those who liked Paper Towns and Eleanor & Park, this book might be even better.

Ordinary GraceOrdinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A middle-aged man recounts his thirteen summer as son of a Methodist minister in a small Minnesota farming town, the summer death stripped him of childhood and forced him to face life as a young man. The book feels slow and almost dreamlike in its reflection but superb in capturing the superlatives that make up ordinary life: doubt, faith, friendship, family, anger, fear, joy, beauty, love. It portrays what it looks like to live faith, which necessarily includes doubt, without being preachy even during the few snippets of sermon. The story points to grace which leads to hope.

“In your dark night, I urge you to hold to your faith, to embrace hope, and to bear your love before you like a burning candle, for I promise that it will light your way.
“And whether you believe in miracles or not, I can guarantee that you will experience one. It may no be the miracle you’ve prayed for. God probably won’t undo what’s been done. This miracle is this: that you will rise in the morning and be able to see again the startling beauty of the day” (195).

Big Little LiesBig Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Without the raving of friends I might not have picked up this book, but I’m glad I did. I know these characters, and if you’re a parent with kids in grade school, you do, too. They made me laugh and made me want to stomp on their toes and/or hug them. The bitchy, controlling parents who believe their kid can do no wrong. The meek who get trampled for listening to and believing their kid. The life of the party and the parent-organizer. And oh, the issues: gossip, manipulation, parent v. parent v. administration. It’s all real, frustratingly so.

But it’s really about friendship, family, and parenting in a cultural environment that doesn’t always prioritize the right things. And in the end, it does a good job of revealing that exteriors and reality don’t always match up. We all need more compassion. As the book says, “It could happen to any of us.”

Goodbye StrangerGoodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Stead has mastered the thoughts and voices of middle school girls. So spot on and surprisingly smart. In fact, it’s evident that Stead loves her characters, refreshing as culture tends to look down on middle schoolers. The story broke my heart in all the right ways and handed it back fully restored. It’s not a great book, but if you like early adolescents, or if you want an inside peek into their complex inner lives, this is a good book. If you haven’t read Stead’s When You Reach Me, do so quickly. It is amazing.

I Dare Me: How I Rebooted and Recharged My Life by Doing Something New Every DayI Dare Me: How I Rebooted and Recharged My Life by Doing Something New Every Day by Lu Ann Cahn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really liked this book. A wowza-successful middle aged woman decides to try something for the first time every day of the year, and in so doing “unsticks” her life. Some of her Firsts seem drastic – New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge or riding a mechanical bull; others are wacky – eating a scorpion; some are playful – hula hooping; some are ordinary – trying a new restaurant or recipe; some are life-changing – she learns new skills and takes risk that may eventually pay off in her career. The overall take-away is to open your eyes to see the invitations – and say YES! – to live a full, creative, exuberant, playful life.

The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, #1)The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While my guys have read just about every Rick Riordan on the market, this was my first. Tween and I needed a new read-aloud, and as this series is based on Norse mythology (my heritage), we dove in headlong. Surprise, surprise, I liked it! There may have been too many characters considering my woeful Norse myth-knowledge, but it was fun. Just right for a read-aloud with a middle grade reader boy.

Finding AudreyFinding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Different from Kinsella’s other books, while maintaining her style, makes this foray engaging in new ways. I related a little too much to the mom freaked out by her teenage son’s gaming habits. She made me feel better about myself, actually, until I realize she’s got way more on her hands than I want. Poor Audrey is making her way through her “broken” brain’s reaction to tragic events, and her family is doing their best along with her. I don’t know enough about how teenage brains heal, so this effort may be a little too romantic and unrealistic. Still, it was sweet.

Who Do You LoveWho Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was a very readable down-to-earth love story, beginning with Rachel and Andy as children and following each one as they weave in and out of each other’s lives through middle age. It was good, not great. I much prefer Good in Bed and In Her Shoes, but if you’re looking for a light, don’t have to think too much love story, this is it.

When Organizing Isn't Enough: Shed Your Stuff, Change Your LifeWhen Organizing Isn’t Enough: Shed Your Stuff, Change Your Life by Julie Morgenstern
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Because I constantly fight with clutter, I constantly pick up organizing books. This one is different and at first I thought it wasn’t for me, as it really has to do with people moving through life transitions: change of employment or relationship status, for example. The paradigm is this: Separate the treasures; Heave the trash; Embrace your identity; and Drive yourself forward = SHED. Of course those 4 steps can apply to anyone at any point. They’re broader than just Stuff as well, because you can apply the paradigm to mental and emotional clutter as well as physical. I mostly skimmed the book, but there’s some good stuff in there you won’t find in your average organizational book.

Three WishesThree Wishes by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book fell into my hands courtesy of my neighbor and I had four days to read it before it was due at the library. It’s an easy read, so I devoured it like birthday cake. It looks light and fluffy, but is surprisingly rich as it follows triplets from their 34th birthday celebration back in time to before their conception and through life as these look-alikes live out their individual identities.

Our families assign us roles we live out:
Lyn – driven, achiever, martyr
Cat – dramatic, funny, bitch
Gemma – forgetful, drifter, surprisingly smart but unfocused
And yet we have the power to make different decisions, ones that may seem out of character to others but drive us forward in new and better directions.

 

Uncluttering Our Lives: Simplicity

Oh, the irony of the day set aside to consider simplicity being more complicated than any typical day! Between church, sports, and school commitments, this family set off running in multiple directions. Some of us said goodbye more than twelve hours ago and haven’t been face-to-face since. And before bedtime one kid suddenly started puking. Nope, nothing simple about this day.

Let’s face it: simplicity is simply a struggle for most of us. Culture pushes us to be more, do more, buy more, more, MORE! We measure our worth – consciously or not – by the houses we live in, the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, the gadgets we carry, the black space (as opposed to blank space) on our calendars.

I am not a simple gal, though I long to be. I dreamily page through each issue of Real Simple magazine, knowing it is not now nor ever will be my life’s reality.

I am dramatic and disorganized, complicated and continually overwhelmed. I fight hard, and maybe not hard enough, against the entropy determined to rule our home. As much as I dislike being a stuff manager, I spend a fair share of every day shuffling our belongings (backpacks, shoes, laundry, dishes…) from here to there and another fair share ignoring belongings that ought to be shuffled. No matter the organizational systems set in place (yes, we have key bowls and shoe baskets, not to mention laundry baskets and towel hooks), it still feels like a sisyphean battle.

After remodeling bids came in way too high, dear friends have recently taken advantage of the economic upturn to sell their house. Any move prompts a purge, and they purged prior to putting their home on the market and again more thoroughly once it sold. Watching the process has initiated something in me, and I have begun to ask myself (and Guy, who might be a tad overwhelmed at this turn of ‘tude): “If we were moving, would we move this?”

We opened the garage for just one hour this weekend and came up with an obscene number of things we could donate or sell, some stuff in good usable condition but so well put away (read: ignored) that we hadn’t seen it in years. We’ve listed only a fraction on a local ‘garage sale’ listserve, and took a trunk-full to the Rescue Mission drop-box. We have so much more to do!

A laundry basket filled with items to sell/donate

A laundry basket overflowing with items to sell/donate

Why do I hang on to stuff I don’t use when it could be precisely the thing someone else needs? Why do I hang on to earthly treasures I have ceased to treasure when they might form a wobbly barricade separating me from Jesus?

Jesus wants to be my treasure. He wants my heart, but it’s pinned beneath towers of cascading clutter.

Guy and I married when we were 23 years old. We lived in small spaces and moved every few years, and so we left my archivally-preserved wedding dress in a corner of my grandmother’s closet. Some years ago during a Chinese Checkers marathon, I asked her if I could at long last have it back. She sat up straighter, made a funny face, and confessed: “It’s gone.”

My wedding dress had been stolen when she moved from an upstairs to a downstairs unit in the same building.

While I felt strong disdain for whomever would steal boxes from a 96-year-old woman as she belatedly moved to a downstairs apartment in a building she had occupied for 30-some years, I also experienced heartbreak for my lost wedding dress.

And yet…
* I had no plans to wear it;
* I have no daughters for whom I should save it;
* And, most importantly, its loss has in no way affected the quality of our marriage.

That loss has affected my view of stuff, however. If I can release my wedding dress into the great wide world (of dirty rotten grandma’s-box stealing thieves… oops, sorry), then I can certainly let go of items far less sentimental.

As a family, we have done a few things to counter the cultural tide, to anchor our hearts solidly in Jesus’ kingdom:

1) Among our posted family values: “Boredom = Opportunity” and “Play!”
We try hard not to over-schedule our kids. One sport at a time, and mostly rec leagues, and no more than three weekly activities each season (sport, church, music) has been our MO. We also don’t allow screen time during the school week, so the kids have plenty of time to get bored, to be creative, and to simply be kids who play. One Mother’s Day when Teen was still in elementary school he made me a home-made card that read, “Thank you for not over-scheduling us so that we get stressed out!” Melt a mama’s heart!

2) Another family value: “Need vs. Want.”
We don’t buy just because we want. We weigh desires against needs. We can easily convince ourselves that we need more, but honestly we need far less than we think we do. Staying out of stores is also a big deterrent against shopping for entertainment.

Creating margin on the calendar and on our counter tops will be an ongoing process, but it’s one to which I’m committed. Here are a few of my recent and regular steps:

1) Set a timer for 20 minutes, choose one cluttered space, and attack. When possible, set aside a longer block of time.

Even 5 minutes could make a dent in this pile

Even 5 minutes could make a dent in this pile

2) Continually winnow. I’m not one for taking everything out of a space and only putting back the essentials. That approach feels too drastic, too large, too time-consuming. And so I try to look fresh at each space as I come to it: what do I see today that I can let go of? Same goes for the calendar: do we need that activity? and likewise: what good activities are missing because we seem to be overscheduled?

It's tempting to say I need a bigger closet, but I really just need less stuff

It’s tempting to say I need a bigger closet, but I really just need less stuff

3) The Art of Simple has become one of my favorite blogs. The posts tend to be short and to the point of simplifying so many areas of life.

4) A book I expect to come back to again and again: Throw Out 50 Things. Gail Blanke walks you through each room/area of your living space and your brain and examines why we hold on to our stuff and our unhelpful thinking patterns.

And a Bible study for you, as together we treasure our relationship with Jesus.

Connect
Reflect on an example from your life when you lost (in some way) a precious possession. What was it and what happened?

Study
Read aloud Matthew 6:19-21.
Give three examples of someone storing up treasures on earth. What do you think Jesus meant by storing up treasures in heaven?
What problems result from storing up treasures on earth (v. 19)?
What are the benefits of storing up treasures in heaven (vv. 20-21)?

Live
In what ways can earthly treasures get in the way of storing up heavenly treasures? Explain.
How does storing up treasures in heaven help you simplify on earth? (cf. Mt. 6:33)
Where would you put yourself on a spectrum from hermit to hoarder? Explain.
Describe a time in your life when you lived simply. What were some of the advantages?
Name one or two obstacles to simplicity that you might be able to remove from your life, and how you might begin to address them this week.
Which Faith Training Exercises have you tried recently? Share joys and struggles.
Which exercises might God call you to this week, and why?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that the Holy Spirit will use a discipline of simplicity to draw you nearer to God.

Hope for Salvation

Tween outgrew his room.

Three issues: increasing age and maturity; a sentimental-pack rat soul; and the furniture and layout just weren’t working. The convertible crib-daybed-full bed frame cracked some time ago. The remaining headboard, unattached, banged against the wall each time he rolled over. The drawers for the coordinating changing table-dresser stuck. Both pieces were more than sixteen years old, hand-me-downs from his brother. His rug, another hand-me-down, had belonged to an older friend who outgrew it, a cityscape “drive-your-Hotwheels here” rug. As our house doesn’t have a coat closet, our winter coats occupied half of his closet. His own coats never made it to the overly-crowded closet, so they took up valuable floor space. He had WAY too much stuff in the small space, and no good organizational system.

"Make a path!" our most regular room-related mantra

“Make a path!” our most regular room-related mantra

Our Christmas gift to him: a room re-do. We took him shopping on Saturday to buy a new dresser, shelving units, rug, pillows to sub for a headboard, and curtains for his closet. But we hadn’t really calculated how two hours of furniture shopping would equal exponential hours of clean-out.

We boxed and bagged up most of his stuff and piled it on the living room rug. Dad spackled, sanded, and touch-up painted the walls. We sorted “Keep” and “Give away”s. We vacuumed the dust bunnies that multiply behind and under furniture. We wiped down the old furniture, assembled the new, stuffed the pillowcases, rolled up the old rug and rolled out the new one. Less than five hours of work, over two days, and we have so much more to do before we’re done.

My laundry baskets currently hold a) enough Nerf guns for a neighborhood army and b) a small library of books that don’t fit his bookcase. Both baskets – and so much else! – currently reside in the garage, our own Land of Misfit Toys. I considered taking “during” pictures, but honestly, didn’t want to remember the overwhelming and fairly disheartening chaos.

For now, we’ve hit the Pause button. Shelving units and additional stuff-sorting will happen slowly, over weeks, but I can’t handle More this close to Christmas. Besides, I’m pretty sure he won’t miss most of the stuff in the garage.

Better, right?

Better already, right?

Tween had made a mess of the “broken system” that had been his room. It took expensive and hard work, more than he could manage on his own, to save him from himself and restore order and peace to his world. In short – and yes, an admittedly poor analogy – Tween needed salvation.

Sin broke the world God created. Humankind has done a bang-up job of wrecking the good place God made to be our home. We needed God to step in, to pay the price and do the work we couldn’t do for ourselves.

God gives us the gift of salvation, freely because there is not a single thing in the whole world we could do to earn it. He gives it, we receive it. And then we receive it over and over, day after day, hour after hour, again and again. We continue accepting the gift because we continue to need it. Philippians 2:12-13 says, “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” God does the work, and we do the work of “working it out.”

Tween (and we) have hours of sorting and assembling yet to go. He will then have to hang his jackets, put away his clothes and toys, make his bed. We made it possible, but he will have work to do, no more excuses. Before it did feel (at least a little bit) hopeless. Now we are hopeful. And it feels good.

Week 4 – Hope of Salvation
December 21-24

Read Scripture: Micah 5:2, 4-5a; Matt. 2:1-6

Candle lighting: Light the four perimeter candles.

Read: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” The first candle represents the hope of Israel. The second candle represents the hope of heaven. The third candle represents the hope of His coming. The fourth candle represents the hope of salvation.

This week we celebrate the birth of a baby born to be King. Mighty kings and small children together bow before Him in worship. God promised that this baby will be a good Shepherd and a strong Ruler, bringing peace to the ends of the earth. Come and worship the hope of our salvation!

Pray: Dear God, thank you that you kept your promise to send us the hope of salvation. In the name of Jesus we hope and pray, Amen.

 

Throughout the Week// light the candle, read and discuss the daily Scripture and pray together.

Light four candles as you say: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Monday// Psalm 42:5// What makes you feel downcast, and how can God help you?
Tuesday// Psalm 65:5// What awesome or righteous deeds have you seen God do?
Wednesday// Ephesians 4:4// All God’s people hope in Him. Say thank you to Jesus for your hope in Him!

Pray: Dear God, thank you that you kept your promise to send us the hope of salvation. In the name of Jesus we hope and pray, Amen.

Purge

I believe that often books come into our lives at a time for a reason. A friend compiled a great list of books for me to read throughout our summer away. After enjoying one of the books I recommended to her, she started following the author’s blog. That author had a promo of a free kindle download of another author’s book, which my friend mentioned to me. I downloaded the book, googled the author, and found her website.

Twisty-winding its way to me, the best result of this book download discovery was the author’s website. Hannah Keeley is a motivator. I signed up for her “30-Day Purge” and after just one week I am so glad!

I don’t qualify as an Organized Woman. Now and again I stumble upon a system that works for me, at least until something throws a wrench in it (and “something” can be as simple as one of the guys dumping a load of papers on my desk – the overwhelming nature of having to sort paper creates a system wrench, not to mention the wrench it generates in my gut…). But I also know that my lack of organization drags me down. I lose things I want, I can’t find things when I need them… Being disorganized takes time when I least to have time to spare.

Hannah has divided the home into “zones” and Zone 1 is the kitchen, the focus of Week 1. Each day I received an email with instructions to declutter/clean one specific area of the kitchen and tips for how to go about it. Hannah recommends setting aside one hour each day, but it didn’t take that much time. And it was fairly easy to build the work into other work – as I extracted ingredients for dinner, I did a clean sweep of the fridge; while a pot simmered, I tackled the spice drawer. One day I thought I might not have the energy, but I caught a burst when I was prepping the coffee pot for the morning.

I didn’t do it perfectly, but I did well enough. I took baby steps. More than once I left a piece of the assignment for the next day. I haven’t yet mustered the courage to excavate the under-sink cabinet, and the cupboards will require Guy’s assistance – after all, some of the clutter is rightfully his. (The first fight we had after our wedding: where to put things in the kitchen. We each thought we had primary domain in that one small room…).

It surprised me how starting and completing one small task could give me such satisfaction. We’ve lived in this house for six years and I had a) no idea how many crumbs had accumulated in the bottom of the freezer (seriously, how do crumbs end up in the freezer?) and b) no idea how to get the freezer pan out (Guy happily helped – of course he did, I was doing the real work!). Maybe that little bit of organization isn’t revolutionary, but it did make dinner prep faster and shopping less expensive – I knew exactly what I had on hand and where to find it.

And I feel freer. I can give myself grace for disorganization in that area because I have reorganized this area; that area will have its time. One assignment at a time, I am heading in the right direction.

This afternoon Tween opened a drawer that had been the “junk” drawer of junk food, all the leftover treats from every holiday and birthday party, the stuff I won’t eat but mysteriously won’t throw out. But really, no one needs candy from last Christmas or even Easter. It’s almost Halloween, for crying out loud! Anyway, Tween was shocked but, even better, he didn’t complain that I’d thrown out the junk. I had kept a few recent treats and he happily helped himself to a not-gunky-because-it’s-so-old lollipop.

Gretchen Rubin attacked clutter as one of her January tasks when she first began The Happiness Project. She couldn’t find any research to back up the popular belief that organization boosts happiness, but just look at the success of The Container Store or Real Simple magazine: at least in the good ol’ USA, people seem to crave an uncluttered life. And it’s difficult to achieve and sustain. [I just discovered that Gretchen also has decluttering projects on her website; maybe Purge Part 2…?]

So my small attempts at organization this week have been a miracle in my mundane. And they have me thinking: what else do I need to purge from my life? Besides the clutter, what else holds me back? And what small steps can I take to tackle it?

Three times this year I’ve done a three-day food-based cleanse. The first time I was thrilled to lose five pounds. The next two times I was disappointed to only lose two. But then I realized that comparing one experience to the other was the problem. After all, I’d lost two pounds in three days – not bad! A cleanse is really a purge for your diet. The cleanse rebooted my physical system and upped my commitment to healthy eating. I don’t know that I could eat like that all the time, but it was a good discipline.

I have 21 days left of this purge experiment. I already anticipate that, like the diet cleanse, I will need to repeat the process and probably more than once. But my new commitment is to purge the clutter while I ponder the question: what holds me back?