this holy space

A list- of what you don’t get with a 118 year old house:

• 3 beds

• 2 baths

• open floor plan

• a finished basement

• a garage

Now, what you do get with a 118 year old house:

• 1 tiny attic bedroom

• 1 giant loft with 2 awkward nooks

• 1 downstairs bedroom connected to the dining room by double pocket doors

• a kitchen with pink and white checkered tile and cabinets that let mice and *gulp* rats in (don’t worry, we fixed this)

• a creepy old basement that looks like a horror movie (what’s behind that door? Is that red paint or blood? Paint! *whew*)

• 2 off street parking spots that force you to go up two sets of stairs with three under 4 in tow and make groceries a full on workout.

All these parts of this house, they are by most standards: inconvenient, inefficient and downright annoying. I will admit my second list to be part comic relief, part complaining, and part resignation.

We stumbled upon this house almost 4 years ago- only a year of marriage under our belts, a four month old baby taking up most of our waking and sleeping hours, and our current residence being the basement of my husband’s parents’ house in the country (thank you, mom and dad!). We thought we would be basement country dwellers for a while-possibly a year or more-while we saved up to purchase a small starter home.

A few weeks in to the arrangement, I was going mad. Not because my in-laws were stifling (they are actually the best people you could possibly do something like that with), but because my own nature needed a house or space of my own to keep. I felt useless and worthless.

A chance conversation with a relative revealed that they were working on getting a small, old house ready to try and sell, and if we wanted to take a look we could. They were even willing to let us rent it for a winter before we decided if we wanted to buy it!

Long story short, it needed work, but we were willing to do it. We didn’t quite have a clear vision of what we wanted it to be, but it had *potential*. It didn’t really make logical sense to take on such a big project for a first house, but it truly felt like God had put it in our laps. We couldn’t say no.

Fast forward to today: two babies have been brought home here, a couple grand have been added to our credit cards, three Christmas trees have lived and been taken to the curb here, rooms have been painted and repainted, carpet torn out, floors replaced, spaces configured, reconfigured, emptied, filled, cleaned and dirtied. We have half a bathroom more than when we started!

This house, this unlikely house, has taught me so many lessons about gratefulness, creativity, frugality, problem solving, and myself. It’s shown me so completely how God can have a much bigger plan for us than we could ever imagine. I never truly thought we would be here more than three years, and now it seems like we could never leave.

There’s a bit of nostalgia that motivates me to stay here, but it’s mostly the realization that this smallish space not only pushes us all together, but pushes me forward. In the phases I had very little time for creative output, it provided me with some in the form of rearranging to meet our needs. This home has pushed me closer to my children. It’s pushed me out into the world- you can’t stay inside a small house for very long. And then it’s pulled me back into welcome solitude when I knew I was over socializing and over expending.

My feelings of uselessness and worthlessness didn’t disappear once I had this space to keep- if anything they worsened. However, this home was the space that witnessed my lowest lows, and it is the place I have built myself back up in. It has been a safe place to learn (and continue to learn) to be myself, to be a wife, to be a mother, and to be a friend.

Your home doesn’t have to look like mine for this work can happen. Our apartments, houses, townhouses, duplexes, subdivisions, our roofs- these are our dwellings, and thereby the indwelling places of the Holy Spirit.

Our homes are holy spaces, where we break bread together, where we yell and cry and say “forgive me” and laugh and wrestle and do dishes and bake cookies and nap and read stacks of books. I can no longer view my home as a suffocating or inconvenient place- it’s precisely where God wants me to be.


There’s a Raisin Stuck to my Shoe

This past Sunday, I found myself struggling to pay attention and actively pray in Liturgy.

Now, this doesn’t sound much different from any other Sunday as a mama of two toddlers, but my kids were actually not the cause of my distraction! It wasn’t even the babe growing inside me or the tiredness of pregnancy that weighed me down either.

It was a raisin. Stuck to my shoe. Sticking to the rug every time I lifted my foot. Making me worry “can other people see this giant blob on the bottom of my white flat every time I move my foot? Will everyone notice when I go up for communion. Ugh.”

Really? I was worrying about what other people think about me having something stuck to my shoe. A remnant of my girls’ leave-the-sanctuary-for-a-snack-during-homily time was my biggest concern as I approached the Body and Blood of Christ.

As I became aware of my silly obsession, I quickly realized the lesson laying before me. There is never a “perfect” time for prayer. There is never an easy time to pray. Even when the usual distractions and frustrations are not a problem, we will always find something to distract us.

It felt like an apropos lesson on Meatfare Sunday (the Sunday before Lent begins), and one I’m hoping to keep in mind throughout this entire season. Every time I find a way or reason that I can’t pray, every time my girls decide to cry in unison, every time the food burns or the thing breaks, or the hard news comes, I will say “it’s just a raisin. Pray.”

Yes and No: learning to love in marriage

If you read my last post about Yes and No phases, you can probably guess I’m back in a No phase because I’m writing again! (If not, reading Part 1 will help you understand this post a bit better.)

I want to share with you how this idea of Yes and No phases has increased clear communication within my marriage, and how it relates to showing love to your spouse.

The biggest determining factor for me in figuring out if I am in a Yes or No phase lies simply in listening to the thoughts running through my head. Am I being very negative about myself and feeling like I am failing at life? Probably in a No phase. Am I very positive in my thoughts about myself, and feeling like I am accomplishing all I want and need to? Yes phase.

When those negative thoughts are constantly running through my mind, I need to do those recharging activities on my list and figure out how to be loving to myself again. Being married (or in a relationship) means you have someone who loves you, and they are there for you in the No phases and Yes phases. In Yes phases you don’t need that person as much, and you can give love to them more easily and readily. But in a No phase, you’re gonna need lots of lovin’.

Using the terms “Yes phase”, “No phase”, “recharge” and “drain” has completely changed how my husband and I communicate when we need love the most from each other.

I’m sure by now you can pretty easily figure out when the other person is in a bad mood or not feeling well, but sometimes it helps to be told directly “this is where I am; and this is what I need”.

How this looks for us:

After becoming enthralled with all these new terms, I sat my husband down to discuss these ideas. I wanted to know from him (not just “knowing” by assuming myself) what he needs in order to recharge when he is in a No phase. As is usually the case in marriage, he is the complete opposite of me. While I need to talk and socialize, he needs to be alone, and time for creative thought and expression (he is an artist, after all).

I think I’ve known this in my mind our entire marriage, but these concrete terms have given my heart a way to truly understand him.

I asked him to give me a list of activities (or non-activities) that recharge him in these areas the fastest. It looked something like this:

  • Sitting (or napping) alone, listening to music
  • Eating good food
  • Time with the girls (our daughters)
  • Drawing for fun (not for work projects)
  • Exercising
  • Watching movies that stimulate creative thought.

Having this list (which, I really already had, but not concretely) now gives me a way to help him when he is in a No phase. If he comes home from work and I can tell that he is completely drained from doing his (very extroverted) job, I can say, “Hey, why don’t you go upstairs and rest for a half an hour while I make dinner” or “do you need to grab your sketch pad and draw? Or go color with Nina?”

Sometimes your spouse is exhausted and you can see that but you don’t know how to help (or they don’t know how to help themselves). Having a list like this and staying aware of your partner’s “charged” level can help you know when to give them what they need or push them towards what will recharge them.

Sometimes Life happens 

More often than not, one of you is in a Yes phase, while the other is in a No phase. When that happens, the Yes spouse can give of themselves to help pull the No spouse out of that phase. When both of you are in Yes phases, life’s pretty great! When that happens, though, it’s still good to be aware of your partner’s needs and try to help each other stay in that Yes phase as long as possible.

However, there are times where you find yourselves in a No-No phase (Haha! I sound like my two year old. “No, no Mama!”).

These are the hard parts of marriage. If you look back, you’ll probably be able to find them. Times when you were both unable to show love to one another, where you sat binge watching shows you didn’t really care about or always managed to be in separate rooms, not wanting to be with each other.

It’s not a fun time for anyone. Nobody really wants to stay in a No-No phase, but couples often get stuck there because neither is capable of showing love to the other and both want to be the recipients of love. I believe this is probably the situation most people are in when they search for love outside of their marriage (i.e. hobbies, extra-marital affairs, working overtime).

None of those are places to find love though, and they allow us to step outside of our marriage which is not healthy. (Obviously hobbies and work are okay in healthy amounts, but they are still distractions from those we love.)

When you find yourselves in a No-No phase, there has be a martyr. This makes sense though right? In the Orthodox wedding ceremony, our wedding crowns are literally crowns of martyrdom. We have to be martyrs for one another!

Sometimes you are the martyr, sometimes your spouse is; but somebody HAS to step up. One of you has to say, “I have no energy to give of myself right now, but because I love you I am going to go into the negative in hopes that when you are in the positive you can help me.”

If you’ve ever had a newborn, you’ve done this a lot. Well, and really, with no expectation of getting anything in return, but that kind of love is exactly what is needed in a No-No phase. In a healthy relationship, that is what will happen. One of you will give of yourself with no expectations and your spouse will show love in return by helping you out of your No phase.

Using their Love Language

A No-No phase is the hardest (and the least love-filled) of the phases. Being so deep in a pit of negativity requires the strongest love ropes to pull you out (I know, cheesy simile, but stick with me).

If you have read the book The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, I’m going to use some of his terminology now (I highly recommend the book if you haven’t read it).

Gary basically breaks down the ways people give and receive love into 5 categories:

  • Gifts
  • Physical Touch
  • Quality Time
  • Words of Affirmation
  • Acts of Service

I had read the book and knew the terms before discovering Yes and No phases, but never really understood how to use the categories….UNTIL NOW!

Using both of my husband and I’s lists of “recharging activities” we finally figured out what love languages we each use! And as you probably guessed, none of them are the same! We literally speak different languages.

Ha. Marriage is hard, you guys.

What it looks like for us

I give and receive love via Quality Time (talking deeply, being with my daughters and husband) and Acts of Service (cleaning the house, baking and cooking for others).

This means, if my husband is going to be the martyr in our No-No phase, he has to sit and listen to me talk (which drains him, poor introvert that he is), or he can clean up the kitchen for me, or make dinner one night. Or even just take the girls for a walk so I can be alone and take a shower or sleep. (two2andunder)

When I see him doing these things (which are the last thing he wants to do when he is drained), it is then my turn to say, “Thank you so much for helping me recharge! What is going to help you recharge the fastest? Do you need to go take a nap?”

Every scenario is different and usually requires different (or multiple!) ways of speaking your spouses’ language. Using these new “vocabulary words” has drastically changed how proficiently my husband and I truly communicate with one another, and I hope that just maybe, they can do the same for you and your spouse.


I know this was a very long post, so if you did read all the way through, I hope these tools are useful to you. If all of this makes no sense and is thoroughly confusing to you, please don’t feel like you are failing at marriage. It took me a lot of thinking and time for all of this to make sense and work for me and my husband. Every marriage is different, and maybe your marriage doesn’t need these terms and tools- more power to ya! You’re probably a more holy person than I (and I’m not saying that sarcastically).

*Lastly, if you like a lot of what I’m saying here but genuinely don’t think you and your partner are capable of communicating in this way, I sincerely encourage you to seek out a marriage and family counselor. I have recently started seeing one and it has been a relief to my husband. There is no shame in working hard to make your marriage work. *

Yes and No: the phases of our lives

Recently, I’ve been listening to the podcast Awesome With Alison. I have to say, it has changed my outlook on so many aspects in my life and my mental health. While I’ve greatly enjoyed how the life of the Church during Lent and Holy Week has impacted me, sometimes you need to listen to advice from other sources, especially if they help you stay sane in a world with so many demands on mothers. Awesome with Alison isn’t specifically directed at mother’s (my husband has actually gleaned a lot from it as well) but she is a working mom who has battled low points and is now sharing her wisdom, and for that I am extremely grateful.

I felt compelled to write a blog post about what I have learned and how I have been applying and connecting it to so many parts of my personal life in hopes that it may also be of help to someone facing the same struggles.

My favorite (and believe me it’s hard to pick) episode of the podcast is ‘Ep. 7: Are you in a “Yes!” phase or a “No!” phase?’ I think I vaguely knew about when to say Yes and when to say No, but this podcast helped me see it in much more black and white terms. I highly recommend listening through the whole podcast, but I’m also going to summarize and share what I took away from it below.

YES Phases

Yes phases are the times when you are mentally and physically recharged and are capable of handling what is going on in your own bubble (work, family, friends) and you are actually able to give more of yourself to others as well. For me this means I feel like I can somewhat keep my house in order (I do have a toddler) and I am not constantly lashing out or becoming frustrated with my children or my husband or myself.

When I am in that place, I can then begin taking on projects outside of my home, and give of myself to others who need my help or time.

Real life example: Two weeks ago, I was in a YES phase. I was able to go to Church for all of Holy Week, keep my house in order, I was doing great with my toddler, and I was able to help with extra church tasks such as singing, doing an egg hunt for kiddos on Pascha, and making food as well. I don’t say this to brag, but to show what a healthy YES phase looks like for me.

NO Phases 

A No phase means you have extinguished all your energy keeping up with all the things I listed above, and you are drained because you have given your energy away. In a No phase, you need to recognize that while you would love to help others, you must first help yourself get back to that energy level you had in the Yes phase in order to help others without grumbling or resenting them.

For me, a No phase means saying No to things outside of my home. I need to focus on my people, my home and what will get me back to a Yes phase again so I can help others. Because I really do like helping other people.

An important thing Alison shares about No phases is that you simply say No. You are not required to give an apology or excuse. And you do not have to feel guilty about the “No” afterward. In fact, you’re not allowed to feel guilty! I’m telling you that because when I simply don’t allow myself to feel the guilt it helps me get back to a Yes phase more quickly!

Real life example: I’m in a No phase right now. I was last week and I still am. All the “Yes’s” I gave out two weeks ago pushed me back into a No phase. I only realized that this week and have been able to turn it around fairly quickly. The thing is, with a No phase, you don’t have to say No to everything and everybody! For me, it means saying yes to:

  • my house and my kids,
  • social interaction (that fuels me instead of drains me),
  • playdates with friends
  • making sure I get enough sleep
  • exercise and healthy foods
  • learning (i.e. reading, listening to podcasts,etc.)
  • praying
  • talking (or writing)

Well, I talk a lot no matter what phase I’m in, but I think especially in a No phase I have to get things out of my head so I can feel better.

Making this list also helped me to finally figure out if I am an introvert or extrovert. As you can see from my list, I am clearly an extrovert and need social interaction to recharge. If you know you are an introvert, your list may look quite different! When I am fully recharged and ready to help others I actually become a bit of an introvert because I want to focus on the work required to help others and I become less interested in social time.

Last week I was in a No phase, but I was feeling guilty about it. This week, when I finally realized I was in a No phase, I stopped the guilt and did the things that fill me up. If I had continued in my drained state this week, not saying yes to the work in my home, thinking I just needed to stay home and relax and do nothing, I would have been stuck here for a lot longer. As it stands, I’m feeling like I’m almost fully recharged and ready to switch back into a Yes phase by this weekend. Which I knew I needed to do because I have things I have to do for others this weekend!

No phases can sometimes last a very long time, but that’s usually because you’re saying Yes to the wrong things (doing for others, taking on too many projects) in No phase.

How can I make this work for me?

If you stay aware of what phase you are in and make yourself do the work that is required to recharge you, you can stay at a happy medium. When you quickly switch back and forth between the phases you are going to be feeling successful and happy, because you are balancing your personal and external lives. Additionally, it has made it easier for me to brush off the guilt. If I know that I am regularly putting good into the world, then I can see it is not selfishness or laziness that is causing me to say no, but a self awareness that tells me I need to put on my oxygen mask before I can help someone else with theirs.

That being said, I’ve come to see how this very closely connects and assists in my awareness of my self care. A No phase means I’m in a self care phase. But self care doesn’t always look like manicures, lazing around, sitting on my phone. I more clearly see that self care for me means having things clean, learning, talking and growing. Now that I have a list of concrete activities and things that need to happen for me to get out of a No phase, I can turn to them and shove my life full of that self care so I can quickly get back to helping others (which I desperately love to do).

What if I don’t have time for a No Phase?

I do fully recognize that there are extenuating circumstances that can require us to say Yes when we are in a No phase. Some people truly do not have the option to say No. But it is important to remember that you really can say No more than you think you can.

I do believe (and hope) it may also be possible to be in both a Yes and No phase where you are fully capable of saying yes to others while still recharging yourself, but I’m sure it will take me awhile to get there. Since I’ve become aware of this idea however, my phases have greatly shortened because I’m doing something about them much sooner. I’m hoping that very soon I will be able to maybe even be so aware as to switch phases daily and get closer to the balance of taking care of myself and others simultaneously!

If you’re in the middle of a long No phase, take heart! You can get yourself out of it! Find those activities and needs that you are craving and devour them! Then when you are not hungry any more, you can feed others.

In my next post on this topic I’ll share how this awareness has helped my marriage and how I incorporate showing love to my spousein YES and NO phases.

All my love to you.


A Nursing Mama’s Lent

Wow. It’s been a long time since I’ve written (probably because I’ve had a baby and been managing two under 2 for awhile). I finally feel like I have something worth sharing that takes more space than Instagram will allow. 

I am now 4 months postpartum and Lent has just begun. The church makes an exception for nursing and pregnant mothers during Lent to not have to fast. However, it’s been over two years since I have actively participated in Lent and my soul and body were longing to be a part of it. 
My husband and I talked about it several weeks before to allow ourselves to be prepared both mentally and logistically and this is what we came up with that followed the fast as closely as possible but also (we felt) included the proteins I need to be able to maintain my milk supply (and supply our four month old with the appropriate nutrients). 

This is a strictly logistical post, I won’t get into the details of my spiritual goals for Lent because I’m still not sure what they are. And honestly, I’m already failing just three days in. Lent with a two year old is hard, you guys. 

So here’s the plan I’ve come up with: 

We are fasting from meat and dairy aside from fish and eggs (lots of good protein and omega 3’s for baby!). 

What this looks like: 

We decided on six basic meals that we will use every week in Lent in order to simplify and not over think it. 

The Meals: 

•Potato Hash and Eggs: 2-3 cubed red potatoes or sweet potatoes, handful of chopped mushrooms, diced onion all sautéed in a large pan until cooked and crispy. I add spinach to the hash if I have it on hand. You can add any type of green (kale, spinach, arugula) to add a good contrast. Fry or poach an egg to put on top. 

•Salmon and Rice: I’ve been buying Sea Cuisine pre marinated fish recently and we really like them! All of them have had 5 g or less of sugar in the marinade. The Stout BBQ, and  Chipotle Terriyaki have been our favorites.

•Fish and Roasted Veggies (2 times a week): Again, the Sea Cuisine fish has been a go to. Just bake in the oven and roast some potatoes or sweet potatoes, serve with green beans, broccoli, asparagus or your favorite veggies. (We’re pretty boring, we rotate through those three, but it works!) You could also do a simple salad on the side instead of cooked veggies if that’s more your style. 

•Fried Rice w/ Veggies: I make extra rice on Salmon and Rice night and then use it in this recipe and use olive oil instead of butter. Veggies are just steamed broccoli or sautéed asparagus to bulk up the meal. You could add shrimp to this as well if it’s in your budget! 

•Mexi Bowls- More rice! Rice is kinda our go-to this Lent, but we’re keeping it to small portions of the meal so we don’t overdo it. These bowls are simply rice, black beans or pinto beans, pico de gallo and guacamole or cubed avocado. Dress it up with lime and cilantro! 

•Soup and Bread: This is soup in a can and a loaf of crusty bread from the store. Keepin’ it real, ya’ll. I’ve found a lot of really yummy veggie and super-grain filled options with the Campbell’s Well Yes! Soups. The minestrone is my favorite so far. I may make some homemade soups if I have enough veggies that need used up, but the plan for now is to keep it simple. 

So, as you can see, lots of rice and potatoes, but again, keep the portions healthy. The goal is to balance with veggies so we don’t get to carb- heavy. 

For Lunches: 

Keeping it simple again with harboiled eggs, PB&J sandwiches (for my 2 year old), and variations on this chickpea salad with rice or quinoa. I love this recipe because I can make it at the beginning of the week, and simply reheat rice and top with the salad for lunches until it’s gone. And the longer it sits, the vinagarette gets deeper and deeper in flavor. Aaaand my 2 year old loves this stuff! 

Other than that, lots of apples, clementines, bananas, sugar snap peas, red peppers, almonds, cashews and pistachios for snacks. 

We don’t do hummus much just because it seems to sit in the fridge and go bad so I decided to save our money and use it on eggs that we will actually eat. 

My little one still drinks whole milk but my hubby and I have been drinking  unsweetened vanilla almond milk. 

Also, because giving up coffee was NOT an option for me this year, I have to share this CoffeeMate Natural Bliss coconut coffee creamer that I love! If our tiny Kroger in rural Indiana is carrying this stuff, I’m sure it’s available most everywhere. Lifesaver! 

And that’s the plan as it stands right now. I’ve been so tired of thinking about food lately so this set rotation has really simplified my life as a nursing mama. 

Full disclosure: I don’t think every nursing mama should fast, and I’m not trying to tell you to! I simply wanted to share our simple (and pretty kid friendly, well, if your kids like fish like mine does!) plan for the Fast this year in hopes that it may be of help to someone who is feeling the way I do. 

What are some of your favorite simple Lenten Lunches? We could use some more ideas in that arena! 

taste and see

(c) Littlehampton Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) Littlehampton Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

last night we celebrated the first presanctified liturgy of the lenten season. our little church was quite full (glory to God) and a majority of it’s occupants were young children.

presanctified liturgy (or really any evening service) requires a bit of faith to attend as a parent. it is right around the famous “witching hour” when children often inexplicably become fitful and misbehave. for wee babes it cuts it awfully close to bedtime- and if nap time that afternoon went badly, well, there is certainly apprehension in a parent’s mind.

last night was no exception to this. i don’t say this to try and point out the behavior of other parishioners’ children, but to paint a picture. several little ones were noisy, or continually moving, wanting up and down repeatedly (this would be my child). i am always trying my hardest to turn my snap judgement of others’ and their children into a prayer for them but i found it particularly difficult to do so last night (this is of course a fault of mine, not those around me).

as we finally reached the time to partake of the eucharist, i went up with my nephew and my little girl, and made it back to a pew to sit with them. the congregation was singing repeatedly this communion hymn:

“O taste and see, o taste and see, that the Lord is good, that the Lord is good.”

in my heart it was clear to me why this struggle of coming to the services is so completely worth it for us as parents of little ones. the Lord is good. 

your child can have a million meltdowns, scream and cry in the middle of the floor, make silly noises in the middle of the service, yell out “no!” unexplicably or any other number of things, but God is still good. nothing that happens will ever change that. we are bringing our children, even when it is difficult, so that they might “taste and see” that God is good. if this is the only theme they take away from the service then our struggle has not been in vain.

keep on keepin’ on, mamas and papas- you are introducing your children to the goodness of God.

the merits of an empty fridge

homemaking quote2lent is here for us orthodox and i think this is the perfect time to start this blog with a new focus. i’ve been itching for a change for months now. my old blog was born out of a necessity to put my thoughts into words as a lost and confused college student,  and it felt wrong to continue writing there.

my life has completely changed since I started notes from a handmaiden. i find myself focusing on much smaller parts of life that somehow always come back to larger themes and this new, fresh space feels like just the place for these realizations as a wife and mother trying to bring Christ into my daily being- in the monotony of homemaking.

recently, i opened my fridge for the monthly task of cleaning out all the expired condiments and tupperware containers of leftovers that were past their prime. the task can take a good hour sometimes. i have to clean the containers for recycling, wash the tupperware thoroughly, and throw away slimy vegetables i forgot about in the bottom of the crisper drawer.

when i was done i felt such a sense of relief, looking into my clean, empty, and neatly organized refrigerator. immediately following that feeling however, i was overwhelmed with the need to fill it back up with new, yummy groceries. our mindset as americans is often that your pantry can never be too full, your freezer can never be too stocked. we live in the land of abundance so we should take advantage of it right?

what about those around the world who literally don’t know where their next meal is coming from? they starve while we fill our fridge to the brim with food that will probably go bad before we can eat it.

this lent i am making it one of my goals and new practices to keep my fridge as empty as possible. to finish what is in it before i buy more, to be frugal with what i have. i want to learn to be content with eating simply what is in front of me. instead of opening the fridge or pantry only to say, “there’s nothing good to eat” i will try to say “look at all there is to eat!”

may we find contentment and simplicity in not only fasting this lent, but in a fridge that stays “empty” by our culture’s standards.