We’ve been shuffling the contents of our house around. That’s a pretty way of saying we’ve been moving books, bookcases, papers, desks, CDs, and games. I’ve been bravely culling our collection, mailing an average of five books a day. We got to the point in the process where the mess was overwhelming and I was approaching paralysis. My husband, seeing the situation—calculating the time before our house is full to the rafters with boys, toys, and thrills—pitched in, bringing order out of chaos.

I had boxes and boxes of binders: small, medium and extra-large three-ring binders. I’m embarrassed to admit the years of my life that I’ve spent putting paper in binders. I had at least eight thick binders, full of magazine articles I’d clipped, trimmed, indexed, paper-protected, and clicked into binders.  I had reams of notes from conferences, classes, seminars, forums, symposiums, and workshops, all three-hole punched. And a half dozen binders with full magazines slipped through those plastic-strip thingies you see in libraries.

All those years of organization sent to the recycle bin. The humiliating recognition that when I thought I was being so clever, so resourceful…um, I wasn’t.  

Finally, I worked through the residue of my homeschool life. Binders for every subject. Binders for sub-subjects. Samples of my sons’ work. I saved representative pages, but recycled dozens of three-point paragraphs.

Curt kept me focused. I felt the refreshing lightness that comes with relinquishment. This is good, I told myself. At the same time, it was sad. A huge part of my life—15 years—is done. I worked to keep up a disciplined view of what was happening. And then, I had an emotional hernia: my reasoning tore and my emotion bulged. I kept working through tears.

“I loved this. I loved learning so much. I loved teaching,” I sniffed. “Do you remember coming home and we couldn’t wait to tell you about Savonarola, Cortez, Romney, or Fibonacci numbers?”  Selective memory: I didn’t mention the anger, the failures, the frustrations. “It feels like I’m throwing away proof that I really did this.” 

“Our sons are the proof. And now you can pour yourself into our grandsons.”

I write this to encourage you who are in the trenches. Work hard and persevere. There will come a time when you look back on what you are doing now with a fierce fondness. You will say, “I loved this. I loved learning so much. I loved teaching my kids.”


A Complicated System for Processing Christmas Cards


So you get a stack of cards, photos, letters from friends near and far.  Now it’s January.  What do you do with them?  Huck the whole stack into the trash?  (ouch! It hurts just to type that!)  Toss the letters and cards and put the pictures on the front of your fridge?  Start a photo album devoted to friend’s Christmas pictures?  Bundle them up to read next Christmas?  (But eventually you have to dispose them, one would think.)

This question has haunted me. 

You see, I inherited my father’s DNA, which means I like to capture information by cataloging or categorizing it.

So I developed a system.  An address book system. It isn’t simple, it takes time, but I find it hard to deviate from the plan.  Even, as I recently discovered, when I’m three years in arrears. 

I bought a plain lined journal with pages that are 8 x 5½.  I put the alphabet in the top right corner of several pages.  Sure enough I did not leave enough room for B’s, C’s and H’s.  I transferred my addresses in pencil including phone numbers and emails.  Two addresses to a page is about right.  Leave the left page blank. 

To the right of the addresses I put names of kids, pets (if the pet’s names are important) and birth dates, if I know them.  In the margin at the left I write in when I mail (or give) our Christmas letters: 05, 06, 08, 10. 

One day my brother called to tell me that my girlfriend’s mom had died.  How did you find out? I asked. My girlfriend’s husband had taken the deceased’s address book and called everyone in the book.  From that anecdote, I added another feature: I note the relationship in the column.  Online friend, former pastor, Carol’s friend from Lombard, Klamath Falls neighbor, college friend.   If we share last names I think that is obvious enough.  Some addresses are old and stale.  Rather than erase them, I note Archive in the column.  I hope my kids know not to call the Archives when I die.

Now we’re ready to process Christmas cards and letters.

We need: address book, eraser, scissors (I use plain and deckled) pencil, pen, scotch tape or glue stick, recycle bin, wastebasket. 

1.  Christmas card with printed signature: check address, recycle.
2.  Christmas card with photo enclosed or a Photocard.  Check address, trim photo and tape to address book on page across from address.  If there are many photos, I start stacking them (tape one above the other).
3.  Letter and photo.  Check address, read letter, make notes next to people’s names in address book.  John (ASU), Ariel (horses), Mandy (swim team).  Trim photo, attach to address book.
4.  Christmas letter with photo embedded.  Same as above; after notes are made, trim photo and attach to address book.

When all the Christmas cards are processed, I usually have a stack of photos for my cork board, a thicker address book, and notes in my prayer journal. 

In theory, I am ready for the next round of letter sending.

How do you do it?  Any tips to share?