Choosing Margin

Picture this scene… You’re driving home from work and you cruise into your neighborhood.  Once you turn the corner and pull onto your street, you see half a dozen teenagers riding bikes, rip sticks and skateboards.  They’re talking and enjoying some downtime after school.  As you turn right into your driveway, you spy Mr. and Mrs. Murphy sitting on their front porch having a glass of iced tea.  You stop the car halfway down the drive and roll down your window,

“Hey Maggie.  How are the grands today?”

She puts down her tea and says,  “Just got ’em down for a nap. This is the first peace me and Ed’s had all day.”  You look over at Ed and he’s reading on his Pop Science Magazine.

“Maggie, you should come over while the boys are napping and see the chair I’m reupholstering.  Got it at an estate sale for $30.  I had some  green fabric left over from another project.  Sure could use your opinion on the piping,” you say as you finger the garage door opener.

Maggie nods and you roll up the window and slowly drive into your garage.

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This transaction, the kids on the street, the rolling down of the window, the conversation with neighbors, all of it takes time.  It takes time to interact with neighbors, to know a little about their lives and even more time to invite them over for a visit.

I’m not saying that everyone has friendly neighbors and I’m not saying that teenagers should always hang out on the streets riding skateboards.  What I am saying is that if we want to have meaningful relationships and down time for our kids and space in our schedule to help people, we need to be available.  We need margin.

Margin is that space in our lives where we have the freedom to deviate from our everyday routines.   Margin is that amount which is available beyond what is actually necessary (

I’m speaking out of regret for my own lack of margin.  I’ve not had it.  Having five kids, homeschooling, working part time, being involved at church, making time for my husband… my schedule is maxed.  So, when one more thing is thrown on top, like a niece who wants to talk about a bad relationship or a child who needs a little table manners training, there’s no latitude for this activity.  There’s nothing left. And, my kid’s schedules, when they are so busy with sports and Scouts and music lessons,  there is no down time for causal friendships, serving others or even creative boredom.

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So, why plan for margin? The answer can be found by looking at the English student and how she interacts with her novel.  In her novel there is a space around the printed material on a page.  This student, when reading her text, uses the  margin to jot down observations, make connections, refine meanings of words, etc. so that when the test comes around she is prepared. All of the little connections, observations and definitions added up to a more meaningful interaction with the novel.  Similarly, when we have margin in our lives, we have time to make connections with others and we have the space in our day to reflect and react lovingly to life’s little moments.

This all makes sense.  So, why don’t we have margin?  Where did it go?  I’m not sure.  But, somewhere along the way we decided we had to be productive all the time, When we aren’t working at our job, raising children, or cooking and cleaning our homes, we are working our side hustles, our social media accounts, and our Netflix queues.  We multitask and teach our kids to multitask so that we can accomplish even more in a day. There are days when I’m driving a child to practice, talking on the phone, eating lunch and helping my teen passenger with a math question all at the same time.  At home, you can find me some days folding laundry, directing  a science lesson and prepping dinner simultaneously.  Essentially, super mom.

Yet, when I am operating at this break neck speed, there is no margin.  I get snappy and there’s no joy in it.  Heaven forbid if I were to be called upon to make a dinner for a new mom or have a meaningful conversation with a family member who needed advice. Does anyone else struggle with this need to accomplish and the need to be available?

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Here are the hard facts, as I see it, about getting margin back into our lives.  Choosing margin means you are choosing not to do or have something, like power or things.  Choosing margin means you say NO more and speak less.  Choosing margin means you let go of your expectations about what it means to be productive.  These are hard choices for some of  us.  But, the benefits are significant and the payout lasts a long time with a more peaceful home and deeper relationships.  Having margin enables us to bless others and to enjoy the gifts God has given us, two things that are not valued very highly in our consumer driven society.

If we don’t choose this space, here’s one possible way the scenario above can play out:  You’re driving home from work and you cruise into your neighborhood. Once you turn the corner and pull onto your street, you notice all the garage doors are closed and the sidewalks are empty.  You see a boy leaning against his family’s SUV, ear plugs in, eyes glued to a screen while the older sister wearing leotard and tights with ballet bag in hand, loads into the back seat.  No one looked up to say hello. As you turn into your driveway, you spy Mr. and Mrs. Murphy drinking a glass of tea on their front porch.  You gently lift your hand from the stirring wheel to wave hello and exchange a smile.  You notice that Mr. Murphy seems a bit older today.  Then you look toward your house and drive slowly into your garage.

Unfortunately, I see this depressing scenario more often than not.  Thankfully, by choosing to be available and slowing down the pace each day, I can be more oriented toward loving and helping the people around me.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”    –Matthew 6:21

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It’s Camp Week

July 1 – It’s camp week!

These are beautiful words to a parent’s ear!  Camp week!  It’s here.  That week when the kids pack up their clothes, boots, sleeping bags, towels, and pillows and go have fun while mom and dad get a little time alone and some peace and quiet.

This is the second year my boys are headed off to Camp St. Thekla, an Orthodox Christian summer camp operated by the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Diocese of Miami and the Southeast.  Last year, all we heard for two weeks after camp was how much fun they had, how great their friends were and how they couldn’t wait to do it again.  So, here we go.

Getting ready for camp can be a bit tedious.  There’s the suit cases to pack and only the coolest of t-shirts can go on the trip.   There’s a costume to bring for Decades Night.  There’s mom double checking to make sure deodorant was included.  There’s pillows.  Gabe brought his shredded pillow again which is also shedding stuffing everywhere.  We put a second pillow case on that one.  That was Saturday night.


Father Jacob blessing

Then, of course, there’s Sunday church and the Blessing for the campers!  St. Timothy’s in Toccoa, GA  had 5 going to CST this year.  Father Jacob douses them thoroughly with holy water after he says the prayers.

Then, there’s the road trip up there.  Everyone in the truck, yakking about camp games and counselors and Fr. Alexander.  It’s a lively conversation all the way up the twisty, curvy roads to Cleveland, SC.  Alas, we pull into the retreat center.  This is the time when mom gets a little anxious.

“What’s that Cascades thing you were talking about?” I ask.

“Oh, it’s where they let us jump off a waterfall into a pool of water, about a 50 foot drop,” says my quit witted teen.  “You won’t have to worry about Gabe.  You have to be 13 to go.”

“That makes me feel so much better,” I gasp. “Only one of you has to die.”

“Don’t freak, mom!  It’s not 50 feet and there’s a life guard,” he says with a grin.  “We’ll be fine.”

Father Alex at the check-in

So, yes, I do get a tad worrisome, but most of that eases as I meet the counselors and see Father Alexander again, the very capable coordinator of this ministry.   Then, I hear screams!  Those screams come from about five different kids running up to Hunter hugging, high fiving and beaming that he’s finally arrived.  He scurries away with them into the sunset, backpack over shoulder, not remembering to look back and say good bye.

It’s all good.

At check in, a friend and mother of six says, “We’re going to Asheville so we can sleep.”

“Good idea,” I agree, thinking about our own quiet week ahead.  It will be nice to sleep and think and breathe!  On the way back to the truck, I catch a glimpse of my youngest; he’s crowded around a busy game of poll ball completely unaware that he has a mamma nearby.

It’s all good.

Moments later, I nudge up into the driver’s seat, husband beside me, unable to help my big smile.  He’s smiling too as we head off together into the sunset.

Foreground: 2 a prominent or important position.

The Foreground is a blog series providing a glimpse into what one family is attempting to make prominent:  a life in the church.  We are a family of seven with some in the nest and some out.  We have kids in college, in high school and in middle school.  One of us is a sub deacon and one of us runs the parish book store.  Orthodox for 14 years, one of us attends a Greek church and the rest attend our local OCA parishes. What’s in our foreground?   Come join us this week and find out.

Go to to see this blog and other great family oriented content.


2018 – Kitchen Table Reflections Prompted by iPhone Photos

Today is a rainy, February, gloomy sort of a day.  I am at my kitchen table letting the gloom settle in on me like loose silly putty on an upholstered couch, getting depressed about the weather and my blog and my to-do list.  My favorite green tea is out and Monday is the first day of Lent!  With perturbation, I open my blog page to see that the last post here was November 26. Ouch!

I love writing here so much; yet, I haven’t been here in months.  I have literally pages of topics I want to write about and explore and share here with you.  So, what have I been doing that has kept me away?  A million things in a million directions.  And, since I haven’t been able to get myself back here in months due to, well you know, life… I am just going to start again.  I’m dusting off these keys and jumping in. These nimble fingers will bend to my will once again.  It is time!

Winter weather, childhood milestones, marches, sickness and parish life: These are the themes so far this year.  These iPhone pictures show where we’ve been and what we’ve been about.

From the get go, on day ONE, January 1, change was upon us. We had only a few days at Christmas to say goodbye to Ben who left for the Hermitage of the Holy Cross Monastery on Jan 2.


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Then, there was getting the # 1 daughter set up in her new apartment at UGA.  Mattresses, a desk, and a succulent collection were all important things to be hauled into the shared space on a 27 degree day.


Then, there was a nasty sickness that managed to hang around our house for 2 weeks!  Coughing, sneezing, tissues, Tamiflu, ibuprofen, charting, and echinacea were all common vocabulary words around the fire those weeks.


Then the snow came.  These southern chickens would not go out into their snowy run, so I had to bring the water bucket to their covered space.  Of course, having multiple days below freezing meant this urban farmer had to haul thawed buckets of water out to replace the frozen buckets twice a day.  Somehow, in spite of the bitter 7 degree temperatures, these 10 chicks laid a half dozen eggs in one day!

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With snow, came our favorite snowy past time, sledding!!  By the way, if you don’t have a Zipfy, like the green one my husband is holding below, you need to ask Santa for one next year.  Zipfy is the best, safest, most resilient sled known to man!  It works great on pavement, hills, ice, snow, even pine straw.


Unfortunately, with the snow came a bitter frost that burnt the camellias and froze beer on contact in 20 minutes flat.



Somehow, we managed to get some school in during January, but it was difficult.  I had an idea:  Let’s see if these jade plants will revive if we use fertilizer!  I figured, these jades were on their last leg, so nothing to loose.  So glad we’re studying botany!


On January 19, with most people healthy in our house, we made our way down to the Atlanta March for Life.  So glad I phoned Father Tom to join us.  He represented the Orthodox clergy in the area and gave us an anchor as we walked the streets of downtown.

Atlanta March for Life

The first week in February, our Riley had his Eagle Scout Court of Honor! He’s in the middle, literally!  He’s our middle child, # 3!  So proud of his Eagle Scout accomplishment and glad that COH weekend is over!!

Eagle Court of Honor

Pinewood Derby is always a rowdy activity in the winter!  Especially when you make your Pinewood Derby car into a taco.  Note how this slightly dramatic competitor is putting hot sauce on his taco car to make it “go faster.”


Thank God Father Paul has come to bless our house yet again in 2018.  We always have him do a double blessing on the teenagers’ vehicles, which he is doing here with a flourish of holy water.

house blessingWhich bring us to last weekend, which had us on a college visit to Georgia College on another wintry day …


and Meat Fare!  Goodbye meat.  See you in April.

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So, you can see we’ve been pretty busy with all sorts of wonderful things and most of this business is just pretty typical at our house.  2018 is going by in a hurry as evidenced by these cell phone pics.   And since this is standard fare, I will just have to adjust my schedule slightly to get some more time at these keys.  That’s the goal, anyway.   See you very soon.


How Marvelous! Your Marbling!


Project 1: Oil Based Marbling on Paper and Canvas

When you’ve been homeschooling long enough you find that there are activities that you really enjoy doing with your kids.  In my home school, with an 11 year old, I figure our time is limited, so I have us doing exactly those things we like doing.  What do I mean by limited?  Well, I never know when these days are going to change.  When will this whole homeschooling adventure end?  I’m never sure.  So, I feel like each homeschooling day is really a gift.  It’s a gift because I know these kids are all growing up and moving out.  I’ve actually seen it with my 20 and 22 year olds. They don’t stay young and little and curious forever!  They move on.  And, at some point, they join their own kind…they merge in with others of their own generation.  Kids, like baby chicks, eventually mature and join the hens in the larger flock.  When they join the flock, they aren’t  interested in all the art and the experiments and the nature walks.  At that point, you’ve done your job and they lift off into the great blue skies.  So, I savor these days like a mamma chicken taking a sunny dirt bath on a winter day.

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Raw art we enjoy and I’m making more time for it this year.  Enter paper marbling…

We’re on a mission to try every feasible way to marble paper.

Vivid color and texture were the original goals with these projects. But, as we learned with the shaving cream approach, the muted bubbly prints are nice too.  Either way, with paper marbling, the process is where the excitement is.

Project one:  Marbling with Easy Marble paint.  I grabbed three tiny bottles of these marble paints from Blick’s Art Supply.  At $2.75 a bottle, this wasn’t too expensive for several rounds of printing.  We printed onto card stock, drawing paper and mini canvases and I still have about 1/3 of a bottle left in each.  The oil based Easy Marble paints printed magnificently brilliant.


Here are the basic directions:

Get a disposable tray. I recycled one from a recent buffet.

Have your paint bottles nearby.


water color paper or canvas for printing

Tip:  You have exactly 30 seconds from the time you drop the color onto the water’s surface to print.  In fact, the sooner, the better. Otherwise, the paint dries into a glob.

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Fill your tray with a couple inches of water.  Now, this next step is where all the talent comes in… shake three or four droplets of paint from each bottle onto the surface of the water.  Gently stir or swirl with a stick and let your inner artist escape!  Your heavy paper will pick up this design and each one is totally unique!

We dropped the paint onto the water, stirring gently to swirl.  Next, we carefully placed the clean paper directly down onto the surface being careful to make complete contact with as much paint as possible.  The paper was lifted directly up and A LA Peanut Butter Sandwiches!  Marbled paper!  It was that simple and the ahhhh’s were worth any effort that was made to set this little deal up.



In Project 2, you’ll see the results of our crazy shaving cream marbling adventure!  It started calm and ended wild!




You’ve Got to Set an Alarm!


Second in a series on keeping our youth in the church.

Yesterday, on a rainy Sunday road trip day, I had the benefit of sitting beside my lovely 20 year old daughter as she took a driving shift. We were headed home from a family reunion in Florida and talking about the struggles of staying active in church during the college years.

“You’ve got to set an alarm,” she stated.

“In high school, you just woke me up for church. In college, I have to be motivated to set the alarm so that I will get up,” she said confidently, one hand at the wheel, left foot tucked up onto the seat. I gazed out at the rural scene moving past my wet window pondering her comments.

“You’ve got to set the alarm!”

These words are telling.

That’s a pretty simple idea; but it’s complicated. It’s complicated because maybe as a college student, you don’t want to set the alarm to get ready for church. Maybe you are the only college student going to a particular parish. Maybe there isn’t a priest at the local parish. Maybe you don’t have a car.

Regina had all of these problems her first year at Appalachian State. Somehow, she still kept setting her alarm and going. Thankfully, she found a ride most Sundays and was able to connect with the people at her small mountain parish as they plugged along looking for a permanent parish priest.

“Sometimes there would be just a handful of us singing Typika,” she said.

“But, I still wanted to be in church because it reminded me of home and I knew that going was good for me,” she confided as we raced along past a peach grove and some cows.

Somehow, I suspect that her desire to set the alarm was established long before she graduated from high school. Regina was about five when we converted to Orthodoxy. She has walked this faith with us for many years. One impactful experience she had as a young girl growing up in a household of boys was that she was the St. Lucia girl. Each year, on the 13th of December, I would set my alarm and wake her up just before daylight. Eagerly, she would arise, and put on a white night gown and come downstairs. There I would have Little Debbie cakes and a single candle burning on a brass candlestick. Groggily, she would take the candle and the cakes, and walk around to each room saying, “Jesus is the light of the world,” whereupon she would offer each boy, or Dad, a “St. Lucia” cake. It was her special thing. The Scandinavians have remembered and honored St. Lucia since 304 when she died a Christian martyr during the Diocletian persecutions.

Our priest also asked Regina to offer the festal cakes during the St. Lucia Vesperal service on the evening of the 12th. We have always loved this tradition and it has given her a special function in the service.


I’m not going to say that being the St. Lucia girl is why Regina is setting her alarm on Sundays now that she’s in college. Yet, something stuck. She sees the importance of being in church and worshipping the Light of the World even when it’s not very convenient. So, I think one can make the connection that involving our young ladies in little traditions like this is worthwhile and may one day pay rich dividends. Over the years, these experiences layer in on a foundation of faith and tradition that keep our youth connected to what’s really important.

Like setting an alarm; it’s simple, yet very important.