11 Things That Happened At Our House This Week

1.  I washed this boot in the washing machine.


Accidentally, of course. I’m no boot nitpick.  I just pulled out the load of sheets and there it was.

I’d like to think it looks noticeably cleaner now, but I may never know because I can’t find the other one to compare it to.  Maybe I should check the dishwasher…

2. We officially entered the stage of “no pens, pencils, crayons, or markers anywhere but the kitchen table. No exceptions.”  Josie is a budding artist but hasn’t figured out which medium she prefers: chairs, floors, walls, counters, blankets, scratch paper, or herself.  Any guesses which option I’m campaigning for?

3. Daniel is in a very physical stage where he wants to “boom” everyone he meets.  We’re working on keeping his hands to himself but he’s not above slashing his hands in the air to make his point.

I was walking the halls at Willamette University with my wiggly boy during Scott’s chorus dress rehearsal Friday night when a university student walked by and said, “Hi,” with a smile for Daniel.   Daniel responded with a fierce look and an air karate chop.  Without missing a beat, this stranger, this stellar example of a human being, clutched his chest, stumbled backwards and sprawled completely out backwards on the floor groaning, “You got me!”  I’m not sure who was more delighted, Daniel or I.  Then the student hopped back on his feet and headed on his way.

4. Scott threw out three of my socks. He thinks holey socks are a disgrace so when he spots one on my foot, he surreptitiously pulls it off and throws it in the trash.  I, on the other hand, think things “still have some life left” so I try to keep my feet out his reach.  Apparently I haven’t been vigilant enough lately.

5. We instituted a few new rules around here: “Whiners run” and “Get into it, get after it”.   

The first means if you whine or kvetch, you head outside and take a lap around the house.  I love it because it distances the kid from the situation, gives them fresh air and some perspective (especially if it’s chilly or raining outside). Whining has never been a fast track to get what you want, but now it’s more obviously a step in the wrong direction. We’ve had a lot less of it, and the kids are pretty agreeable about taking a lap.  Siblings will join in and they’ll often come back smiling.

“Get into it, get after it” means if you get into stuff on the counter or things you shouldn’t, you get after it with 5 pushups.  This is another winner!  It’s making my touchy kids more aware of what they’re doing with their hands. Previously there were unnecessary spills, items gone missing or broken because they’d just walk around messing with stuff.


If you look carefully you’ll see that someone crossed off “whiners run” and replaced it with “whiners play! YAY!”   Yep, the perpetrator got pushups. 🙂

6.  Scott completed his 4th marathon! His training was seriously impacted by our added busyness in building a house, but he got in the arena and finished that sucker.  What a champ. He paired it with a trip to Southern California to visit his great brother.  Unfortunately, he got on the plane right as Josie came down with croup so I had a teary baby on my hip a *lot* while he was gone.
Also: I texted my general contractor that Josie had croup because apparently I text him more than my husband so he’s now my phone’s default? Minorly embarrassing.IMG_7435.jpg
I’m pretty much going to turn pro at this house building thing. Ahem.

7. I had a pretty serious heart-to-heart with one of my kids about whether homeschooling is the best fit for them right now.   Oh how I love having them at home, but we have to consider the dynamic of the family as a whole, their relationship with me and their own needs. It’s not an easy choice, but we’ve made some adjustments and we’re going to see if we can get things in a better place while continuing to homeschool.

8. Filed under the category of “bored kids are creative kids”:  All in the same day, my children had a multi-round (outside) peanut fight with a bag of peanuts that had gone stale in the cupboard, I had a daughter make her own stringed instruments out of rubberbands and a plastic play kitchen pan and *tune* it so it played “Old MacDonald” perfectly, and my kids made a dragon trap (AKA a fort with an elaborate back story) in the family room.

None of this required any instigating or oversight on my part, which is good because I was on the phone with subcontractors.  Though, I’ll admit a little more oversight on the cleaning up of the peanut fight would have been nice. Scott came home to a skunk having a feast in our driveway.  It didn’t spray him though, perhaps as a gesture of gratitude for the convenient meal.

9. Scott offered to go grocery shopping (to two stores, with a mile-long list) after he finished performing in a Veteran’s Day concert, and it wasn’t until he was headed home afterwards that I realized he was still wearing his tuxedo for the errand running.

Talk about the man of my dreams, he walked in the door dressed to the nines with bananas and sweet potatoes in his arms.  He also came bearing brand-new, unlooked for pink pajamas for our girl who was pajamaless (yes, mom fail).

If you know my second daughter, you know that her joy was complete and very loudly expressed in squeals of rapture.

10.  We went on an “apple” hunt, which is somewhat less fun than an easter egg hunt, I’ll admit.  We had a sweet boy at our house from Safe Families who has had some food insecurity at home and he kept grabbing apples from our box in the garage, taking a few bites, and hiding them around the house in corners and closets.  I’m reeaaally hoping we found them all!

11.  We saw major progress happening on our home build.  I think our new move date will be somewhere in February, since they’re going to start drywall around Thanksgiving.  (I hope!)

 

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Shakespeare and Dishes – Staying Sharp as a Stay-at-Home Mom

I recently published my thoughts on the role of a stay-at-home mother and my lament that it’s often depicted (and sometimes lived out) as a life exclusively spent in wiping noses and bottoms.

In any given day, much of what I do is directly taking care of my children – cleaning, cooking, hugging, reading to, listening to, and yes, wiping.   (The hugging, reading, and listening are admittedly more fulfilling to me, but like so many things in life, parenting is a package deal.)  Outside of my direct care of my children, however, I want to model for them what a beautiful life looks like.  I hope they grow up wanting families of their own, not dreading the inevitable laundry and messes that accompany such a family.  I hope they persist in being curious, interested, and interesting people.  If I want that for them, I know I need to live that for myself while I’m raising them.

Unfortunately, in my experience, the work of a stay-at-home mom can lead to mush for brains.

I’ve found that it takes deliberate effort to keep the neurons firing when you’re running on little sleep and reading the same picture book for the 12th time in a week.  The further challenge is: I do not need extra items on my to-do list nor do I need extra pressure to measure up to what the super mom down the street is doing.  

Instead, I’ve focused on ways to tweak what I’m already doing to better prevent brain mush.  Also, I seek out ways to enrich my life that make sense to me and my interests and strengths, even though they won’t ever make it to Pinterest.

Here are 15 tips I’ve personally used to stay sharper as a stay-at-home mother. Each fits into my regular day without requiring time outside my home.  (There are plenty of great opportunities there as well, but that’s not what I focused on here.) A few are just mindset shifts.

I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments because we’re all different!

Mega Disclaimer:  I’m putting myself out there in hopes of sparking ideas. Don’t let this list discourage or overwhelm you. If something doesn’t fit you or your life, skip it!  I don’t do any of these things perfectly, nor do I do them all the time. Got it? Ok…

1) I don’t read inane books to my kids.

Reading “Dippy the Dim-Witted Dinosaur” would be enough to make anyone’s neurons run up the white flag, but stay at home parents are particularly prone to having brain drain from dumb books because we often log so many hours reading to our kids.

The majority of children’s books at the library are mind-numbingly bad. But because there are still a thousand fabulous, beautiful, clever, thought-provoking books out there, we can skip all the dumb ones and still have plenty to read.  I let my kids read whatever they like (within reason) when we visit the library but I only check out good books to bring home.

A perfect book selection for a ride in her boat.

How can I tell if book is good? I find reliable booklists and excellent authors and use them as a starting point, but as a general rule, I agree with C.S. Lewis: ”

“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

That means if I flip through the book and it looks dumb, it goes back on the shelf. I have no qualms about teaching my kids that some things are more worthy of our time than others.  *See the end of this post for a comparison of a good book to a lame version of the same story.*

Every single book in our home library (and we currently have several hundred) is a winner and I typically don’t mind reading it repeatedly, though I will draw lines to save my sanity as needed. I also rotate our books so old favorites surface and some books and I can take a break from each other.

2) I memorize things worth memorizing.

There’s lots of data around sharpening your mind by memorizing things (any things), but in particular I memorize things I find compelling, beautiful, or funny.   It comes in handy when I’m pacing a fussy baby in the middle of the night, waiting in a long line, or scrubbing pots and pans.  I have poetry, Shakespeare, scripture, quotes, and hymns stored up in my mind so I’m rarely bored even while doing the mundane without a podcast (#6) or the brain power to think my own thoughts (#7).

I’ve also found that when I’m doing something difficult, whether that’s persisting in a workout, waiting out a tantrum, breathing through a labor contraction, or washing a particularly tedious mess, if I have something in my mind I can turn to, I am better able to patiently endure.

I use a really simple system for memorizing things, just 5-10 minutes in the morning over breakfast and it’s paid 10 years of dividends and counting.  I choose what I memorize so it’s always enjoyable and worth my time.  As a bonus, my kids just naturally joined me in this as they became old enough to see what I was doing.  I love sharing all this great language with them and seeing them bring it to mind to form connections with what they’re seeing in a regular day.  “It’s not the critic who counts…”  “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…” “Behold the duck.”

3) Nap time = Book time.

At our house, all ages take a nap time or book time for an hour or two in the afternoon.  The youngest naps, the next one up listens to an audiobook and plays quietly alone, and the oldest kids read.  It’s tempting to cross things off my to do list during this time, but I love the days I follow my own advice and curl up with a book by myself.

I was inspired by what I heard the author Jonathan Auxier say in a podcast , referring to his childhood: “I constantly saw [my father] reading. I constantly saw my mother reading and so I was taught that those were adult activities.  When I was projecting into my future and what it would be like when I was grown up and had my own home and my own life and could make my own choices, I just assumed that one of those choices I would make is what I’d be reading next… I think the number one thing we can do to help our kids [love reading] is to show our kids that reading is not only worth their time but worth our time.”

Side note: I tend to read books in paper form or on my kindle rather than on my phone because I want my kids to know exactly what I’m doing, and because I don’t want to get sucked into anything else on my phone.

4) I seek out opportunities to create.

I realized early on that my kids would enjoy drawing, painting, and sculpting more and for longer if I sat down alongside them and gave it a go as well.  What I didn’t anticipate was how hard and good it would be for me to consistently do that.  I am not an artist. I drew like an 8 year old when I re-started creating art.  I heard a wise artist tell a group of adults once that if you draw like an 8 year old, it’s probably because you stopped drawing when you were 8. Somewhere along the way you decided you weren’t an artist so you stopped trying. Had you persisted, you would have improved.

True, right?

I was embarrassed by my early attempts, even when I was sitting shoulder to shoulder with my preschoolers who of course were in awe of my creations.  But I heard myself say to my kids that their effort was wonderful and that trying was enjoyable and would lead to improvement.  I had to hear that message myself, right?  Persisting has been enormously fun. And, what do you know? I’ve improved!  I’ve acquired a couple helpful books on drawing over the years. I’ve only practiced in pockets of time (when my kids are drawing, when I’m writing someone a note anyway, when we’re listening to an audiobook as a family, etc.) but I’ve been doing it for years now.  Because I look for opportunities to draw, I find them.

I will never be an artist, but that was never the point. 

I also write.  Ahem. This fulfills #7 for me as well, in a big way.

Other ways to create include photography or playing or composing music.  All of those can be done alongside children.  I adore the illustrations by Marla Frazee in the book, The Seven Silly Eaters.  Many of them include a cello that belongs to the mother of the seven children in the story.  In some scenes the cello is gathering dust.  In others she’s playing it in the eye of the storm, as her children swirl around her.  I’m sure there are times where she plays it alone, but I am moved most by the image of this mother making beautiful music in the thick of everyday life with kids at home. Why not?

5) I seek out mastery in some arts of homemaking, and embrace “good enough” in other areas.

I do not do this with everything, but I’ve really enjoyed tackling some select homemaking tasks with extra fervor.  There are plenty that I only do a bare minimum on. I’m not crafty and I don’t excel at home decor… I’m pretty sure I’ve never properly mopped a floor… the list could go on.

But laundry? I do pretty darn well at laundry. Rather than continuing to do a middling job, I decided to optimize it.  I studied out the chemistry of stains. I refined our systems to streamline things so I was doing fewer unnecessary loads.  I designed our laundry room in our new home with great care.  As a result, our hand-me-downs hold up for at least three kids, I rarely encounter a stain I can’t get out, and I’m hardly ever behind on laundry.  (Incidentally, this skill allowed me to really help out another family by taking on their laundry for several months while they were in crisis.  Good thing they didn’t need me to mop their floors…:)

I also have an interest in healthy eating and have learned a fair bit about nutrition and the human body as a result.  My family benefits and I have had lots of opportunities to help others as well.

My own mom deep-ended on gardening and has a backyard like the Garden of Eden. I know women who love gourmet cooking, sewing, interior design, or cleaning.  Those interests absolutely “count!”  They also happen to have a fortuitous overlap with our regular duties around the house.

I’m going to hit you with another salient thought from C.S. Lewis here,

I think I can understand that feeling about a housewife’s work being like that of Sisyphus (who was the stone rolling gentleman). But it is surely in reality the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, miners, cars, government etc exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? “

I hope as homemakers we feel how valuable our work is and take pride in the doing of it.

At the same time though, I have found that letting go of perfectionism in some areas leaves me more time to pursue other interests.  Nobody can do it all and the truth is *we* (with our families) decide what “warmed” looks like for our house or what being “fed” means. Here are just a few of the time-savers I employ as a homemaker. Prepare to be shocked:

  • I wash windows… never?
  • I don’t dust blinds more than approximately once a year.
  • I don’t wash sheets more than once a month or two (unless needed).
  • We are vegetarian so vegetables usually are the main dish.  I rarely make side dishes, preferring one dish wonders to feed my crew more efficiently.
  • I cook extra at nearly every meal so leftovers are almost as common around here as new meals.
  • My decorations for holidays are underwhelming and my day-to-day decor is pretty much limited to beautiful pictures on the wall.  What’s an accent pillow? I’m sure I don’t know.
  • Ditto for statement necklaces.  I try to make sure my kids’ clothes match and are clean when we walk out the door, but if they win any fashion points it’s due to their own efforts.  As it currently stands, my odds of personally winning a fashion point are one in a million.  I’m pretty sure I once wore the same outfit to church every Sunday for a month simply because I didn’t pay attention.
  • The bottom line is, my floors are “clean enough” to satisfy me even though I’ll never wax them. I’d rather sit down with a book instead!  Many people of course, do both. They wax their floors and read books… but they leave something else undone instead. Because no one does it all.

6) I always have an interesting podcast ready to roll.

There is a balance here because if I’m trying to listen to a podcast and my kids need me, that can be a frustrating situation for all of us.  But often I’ll kick the kids out of the kitchen to pick up the house while I finish making dinner and I’ll turn on a podcast. Or, I’ll listen to a podcast while on a run or in the car when the kids have their noses in their own books.

The key for me is having a podcast I’m interested in already loaded up so it’s easy to make use of the little pockets of time I have.  I enjoy podcasts for topics that interest me such as homeschooling, but I have purposefully include a few in my docket that have a wider range of topics to keep me on my toes and broaden my horizons. Freakonomics is one that fits this category for me. What are your favorites?

7.1) I take time to think my own thoughts.

Our house is often noisy.  Interruptions can seem near constant.  In the pockets of time between, I’m inclined to take more information in (see #6) but I’ve found I think more clearly and articulately when I have time that is not full of interruptions or full of input.  In addition to using these ideas for fighting infobesity , it’s just important for me to pause and fully think over what I’ve just learned before moving on.  It helps me evaluate the information I’ve just received and if an idea resonates with me, it’s more likely to stick if I give it some time to mull and settle.

So I’ll often listen to 5 minutes of a podcast and pause it for a few minutes, just to ponder or review in my mind what I’ve just heard.  In  homeschooling circles this practice is referred to as ‘narrating’ and it’s incredibly useful to ensure attentive listening. It’s also helpful with reading something meaty. I don’t recall doing this often before having kids but it sure seems essential now when my brain threatens to turn into a sieve.

I try to be transparent with my kids about my desire for uninterrupted thought so they better understand when I ask them to wait a minute even though I don’t look busy. I have one child who is often lost in her own thoughts and I try to protect that space for her to think as well, rather than barge in with my own agenda.

I also consciously try to consult myself before I ask the internet. It gives my brain a reason to live.

7.2) I don’t allow toys that make their own noise.

See 7.1.  How does anyone think with repetitive kid toy sounds around? I can’t do it.

 

Perfect time for an intermission, I think.  Coming soon… the second part of the list!

 

* From the original “The Little Mermaid” by Hans Christian Anderson:
FAR out in the ocean, where the water is as blue as the prettiest cornflower, and as clear as crystal, it is very, very deep; so deep, indeed, that no cable could fathom it: many church steeples, piled one upon another, would not reach from the ground beneath to the surface of the water above. There dwell the Sea King and his subjects. We must not imagine that there is nothing at the bottom of the sea but bare yellow sand. No, indeed; the most singular flowers and plants grow there; the leaves and stems of which are so pliant, that the slightest agitation of the water causes them to stir as if they had life. Fishes, both large and small, glide between the branches, as birds fly among the trees here upon land. In the deepest spot of all, stands the castle of the Sea King. Its walls are built of coral, and the long, gothic windows are of the clearest amber. The roof is formed of shells, that open and close as the water flows over them. Their appearance is very beautiful, for in each lies a glittering pearl, which would be fit for the diadem of a queen.
From Disney’s book, “The Little Mermaid”:
Deep beneath the sea lived a little mermaid named Ariel. She loved exploring her underwater home with her friend flounder but dreamed of living on land as a human. Ariel was always searching for human treasures. When she and Flounder found a strange forked object, they swam to the surface to find Scuttle the seagull.
“It’s a dinglehopper!” he proclaimed. Ariel’s father was King Triton, ruler of the sea. He thought humans were dangerous.
Posted in Life as we know it | Leave a comment

Shakespeare and Dishes – on being a stay-at-home mother

I wrote this blog post a long time back and never published it.  I discovered the draft, read it and found I still agree with my three-years-ago self so I’m publishing it. 🙂 

Yesterday at lunch, my three year old started our mealtime conversation by asking me quite seriously, “Mom? Does my mouth look like it has peanut butter in it?” She then opened her mouth wide, inviting scrutiny.

“Yes,” I confirmed.

She nodded and continued eating her sandwich.

I’ll be the first to admit that this type of interaction is not all that uncommon with young children at home. There are mundane (or downright inane!) parts of nearly every job I can think of, and motherhood is no exception.

What I “do”

When someone asks me what I “do” and I respond that I’m a mother(.) and I end my sentence there, often the conversation stutters a bit. It’s not nearly as common of a full-time job/profession/role/calling as it used to be and it seems to catch people off-guard. Almost like it doesn’t count as a legitimate answer to the question?

Maybe these people have previously conversed with a three year old and they envision my life is full of peanut buttery mouth inspections? Maybe they wonder how taking care of children and a home and a husband could possibly occupy an entire working day? Sometimes the person I’m talking to goes as far as to confess that they could never do what I do. A few would “go crazy”. Others “couldn’t handle it”. I suspect many silently think they’d be bored out their minds.

Something that I often think but rarely point out is that life has seasons. I have spent 4 years getting a chemistry degree, 8 years working my tail off for an amazing bootstrapped company, and 7 years (so far) devoting my best efforts to my three children, my husband, and our home. (For those doing the math who know I’m 30… I’ll clarify: Some of those seasons overlapped.)

mom-collage
Painted as “Black Cat” as a SmugMug Super Hero, in a triathlon, in Hungary

I’ve also traveled to more than 20 countries, skydived, bungee jumped, scuba dived, completed a half-iron man triathlon, played soccer internationally, and done other things that are fairly interesting. But when people ask what I “do” and I answer truthfully, the conversation is usually dead in the water.

The simple truth though is that while I don’t consider myself “just a mom,” unquestionably I have experienced more personal growth since I became a mother than at any other time in my life. Some people imagine my job is composed of drudgery and yes, dishes. But it is also one of the most freeing and flexible jobs you can imagine, not to mention downright funny. It’s also so fulfilling that at least once a day, joy wells up inside me and overflows until I’m dancing with my kids. How many jobs can you say that about?

As I explained to my oldest daughter recently, she and I actually share a birthday. The day she was born is my mothering birthday.

Since then I’ve been stretched (physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally) and changed in so many painful but beautiful ways. Yes, raising children is worthwhile, important, crucial. It’s also incredibly rewarding.

But? I’ll be the first to admit that it can turn your brain to mush if you’re not careful.

Fight the mush

Maybe we stay-at-home mothers talk too often and too casually about “pregnancy brain” or the “brain fog” that comes with living with little people like it’s a foregone conclusion. Maybe that’s why confessing we stay at home with our children is often a conversation killer.

I came across a quote many months ago that has been mulling in my head ever since. I can’t put my finger on where I found it, though, which is driving me nuts. It went something like this, as a response to an insinuation that staying at home was “aiming low” in some way:

“Nonsense. Taking care of a family and home doesn’t mean you’re any less intelligent. You can listen to Shakespeare while you do the dishes.”

While not everyone wants or needs to dive into Shakespeare (though I’ve surprised myself by loving it lately), the point stands that the possibilities for refinement are endless in nearly any phase of life.  Stay-at-home mothers come in all varieties and I’d hate to think that other people, or far worse, we limit ourselves by the mundane tasks that we tackle every day. Diapers, oatmeal pots, stained shirts… the mom treadmill can be definitely monotonous. But it is not confining.

I should know, I hop on and off it all the time. 🙂

Those mundane tasks also don’t define me. A CEO of a major corporation doesn’t say he “ties his own shoes,” “spends a lot of time in an elevator,” or “flips through unnecessary paperwork” for a living. He defines his role by the overall growth and health of the company. I’m nurturing souls, raising the next generation, and creating a safe haven for 5 people and counting. I just wipe lots of sticky fingers along the way.

Bring your kids along

Every mother finds her own way, and I see many develop passions which take them outside of their home (a job, photography, athletics, etc.) These generally make it easier to answer the question “what do you do?” A mother could respond, “I’m a mother and I…. [am a photographer].”

But if you choose, you can stay right at home and stay (or become!) intellectually sharp and develop passions and skills outside of changing diapers and inspecting peanut butter mouths.

With my husband’s (previously) busy schedule and my (arguably irrational at times) aversion to hiring out the care of my children, my own personal growth often happens with a child on my hip. These days I have another one holding my hand and a third one racing ahead.

I’m not convinced that “me time” must mean “time away from children”. As I ponder what truly recharges and challenges me, if I narrow that list to things I can do with/near/for my children, I am still left with several lifetimes’ worth to choose from.

Soon, I’ll post 12 ways I personally stay sharp as a stay-at-home mother, and I hope you’ll add your own ideas to the comments over there!

Posted in Deliberate Mothering, Life as we know it | 2 Comments

The Haven and other Happenings

I last posted 5 6 months ago and since that time we have spent most free bits of time (and some of our not free bits of time) working on building a new house.

Every time I mention that we “are building a home,” I feel a little funny about it because neither Scott nor I have so much as lifted a hammer this year.  WE are not building it. Unfortunately, “having it built” sounds awfully pretentious though it’s definitely closer to the truth. At the same time, saying we’re having a home built makes it sound like all we have to do is open our wallet. Instead, given our personalities, we’re predictably deep-ending on every aspect of the build, learning far more than we ever wanted about a wide variety of topics, agonizing about unimportant details, overlooking important things until it’s too late, delighting in the things we’ve been able to tailor to fit our family, and sometimes just hanging on for the ride.  There’s such a learning curve that a tiny part of me wants to do this again in the future so I’ll know better how to handle things, while the more greater and more reasonable part of me wants to cross this life experience off my list with a red sharpie.

Until this past spring, we’d only ever purchased a handful of things in our 12+ years of marriage that cost more than $1000.   Now the thousand dollar decisions seem to happen almost daily as we seek to build something beautiful and enduring, while keeping our broader financial goals in mind (ie not spending too much on the house!)

The Haven.  That’s what we’re calling our new house and that’s the vision I cling to when I want to throw my hands in the air.  We are building a home for our family and (hopefully for others that cross our path) which will be a haven.   We picked a quiet spot of land, and we want to preserve a bit of a quiet childhood for our kids with room to romp and grow.

haven.jpg

Of course our new neighborhood will fill in so it won’t be just us and a field, but we’re not complaining in the meantime!  We do have a couple acres just for us, and where we live that’s a rare chance.

I’ll save the house building details, decisions and drama for another post or two, and fill this post with our other happenings since March.

Scott and I flew off for a long trip to Hawaii with his kid sister and brother-in-law and no kids.  Thanks to another fabulous sister of his, our kids were swept off to make memories with cousins and Scott and I had more uninterrupted time to think, talk and connect than we can remember having in close to a decade.  Especially because it came on the heels of many months of hosting extra children through Safe Families and it came in the midst of lots of Haven angst, it was a delicious respite.

This is the third time Scott and I have returned to the same spot on Maui and the view from the condo never gets old.

I could go into detail here about how great it was to travel with Kristin and Travis, but instead I’ll just post a picture that encapsulates it all:

See the rubber spider on Scott’s shoulder?  They packed that all the way to Hawaii just to scare him, and were in every other way wonderful travel companions as well.

I mentioned that I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled to Hawaii several times before, but this trip was poignant in a new way.  My wonderful soccer coach from high school brought me to play in Hawaii on my first trip and I learned of his passing while we were in Hawaii this last time.  He embodied the aloha spirit and I was glad to be able to say my goodbyes to him in that beautiful place.

God puts on a beautiful show in Hawaii, and we loved exploring His creations.

Haleakala feels like being on another planet.  I’m guessing here, of course, lacking firsthand experience at interplanetary travel but I’m pretty sure I’m right.

In other news, Daniel graduated from his one (and only) year of Joy School.  I love that program but at this point in our lives committing two mornings a week to it is a big deal, so one fabulous year is what he got.

This picture is a pretty good summary of how he spent his time during Joy School:

He was absolutely in his element singing, imagining and learning with his buddies and he grew up an alarming amount.

 

Post-Joy School Daniel is now most likely to be found reading a book aloud to himself or trying to wrestle an unsuspecting person.  A third favorite past time is riding a big kid bike.  Mackenzie taught him a little when I wasn’t paying attention and then he pretty much just figured it out, much to my delight!

We continued our Marathon in a Month tradition with some new friends joining us for the Final Mile.  Mackenzie went ahead and did a double marathon, tenacious lady that she is. She sneaked in miles on the treadmill and soloed around the neighborhood when necessary to get her 52.4 in!

This one figured out the medals were something special:

Daniel earned his first one ever!

We spent the month of June, our “bonus month” of school (when I pick a certain topic and we deep-end and take a break from our regular studies) on traveling the world:

We maxed out three library cards and read piles and piles of books (plus videos, music, adventurous food challenges, etc.) from every culture we could find.

At the end of June, we took a roadtrip to UT for a wedding and through one of those amazing serendipitous opportunities, we seized a day to spend with three fabulous families we cherish as friends from our time in Columbus, OH.  We live in Nebraska, Texas, Oregon and Utah now but were all in the same city on the same day and we jumped on the chance to re-introduce our kids and stay up until the wee hours talking and playing games.

I only have this one random picture to show for it but it does show lots: random kid feet, most in crocs (18 kids among our 4 families), lots of smiles, and one masterful otterpop resuscitation.  What’s a little dirt among friends? A little water and the otterpop was back in action. Once again, the Baughs saved the day for us. May it not be the last time!

 

The wedding was beautiful. My kids love going to the temple and partying afterwards, and since this was the third niece in so many years to get married, it’s practically a family tradition by now! All of us adore being at their Uncle Steve and Aunt Suzie’s house so it makes even the 12+ hour drive out there a treat.

From there, Scott flew home and the kids and I visited Aunt Melanie, where the kids scored BIG TIME with her handmade animals. She let them each pick one from her menagerie:

I picked a darling bunny rabbit for Josie, who kept choosing every single animal at once.

I even made it in a picture!

We made our way down to St. George to spend time with my wonderful 88 year old grandpa.  He had an important part at a nearby nursing home’s Fourth of July program, and oddly enough we ended up spending the Fourth of July morning listening to a great Irish band perform for the residents. Josie and I walked the halls for part of it and she very nearly commandeered a scooter.

We debated barreling out of St. George the next morning to head to the Bay Area to stay with my family, but a horrendous yet fortuitous diaper disaster delayed our trip and I’m so glad.  By the time I emerged from the laundry room and Josie got out of the bathtub, my older kids were all eating breakfast.  Pie and pickles.  Grandpa Johnson had told them they could have anything in the fridge and he meant it.  I’m not sure they’ve ever been quite so pleased with themselves.

We spent the rest of the morning learning how to drive the ride on lawn mower and rolling in the grass clippings.

Grandpa made sure Josie got a turn as well:

When we finally rolled out to head to CA, my kids were promising to come back VERY soon.  We don’t do screens in the car, but per our usual audiobooks, looking out the window games, and some healthy boredom got the job done. (And bonus, nobody threw up pie or pickles.)

Posting this with a promise:  More to come!

Posted in Life as we know it, Trips | 1 Comment

2017 By the Numbers, So Far

How do you measure a quarter of a year? On any given day of 2017 I’ve felt like I’ve been hanging on by my fingertips… but I can look back in awe already and appreciate that I’m here and smiling with a whole pile of memories and personal triumphs, if I count picking myself up after I fall as a triumph. And I do. 🙂

Mostly I’ve had some minor victories over my tendencies towards impatience, selfishness and perfectionism, but also I’ve had the chance to be resourceful, develop greater empathy and live by faith. (That’s another way to say these past few months have rocked my world.)

Some days have been full to bursting and some nights have been long and heartbreaking, but they would all be a blur without the photos I took here and there and my 10 year journal. Thank goodness for habits.

Let’s see if I can tell these months’ story through numbers. Most are firsts for us!

1 set of house plans (finally) approved.  Well, approved by me and Scott anyway. Surely we must be pickier than the city? 😉

After failing to find any floor plan that fit our family, we started with a blank piece of paper. Remember Harry Potter’s blood quill in detention with the detestable Delores Umbridge? I feel like maybe our floor plan ultimately got drawn up with one of those. It was so painful by the end to figure out that balance of easy-to-clean, super functional for a large homeschooling family, beautiful, and not-so-expensive. Now we have breathed a huge sigh of relief and are ready for the easy* part: building!

*If this part is, as I suspect, not in fact easy… please don’t mention it yet. Ignorance is fewer gray hairs for now.

2 extra kiddos we’ve been hosting through Safe Families for Children.

~7 weeks we’ve been a “family” of 8.

1st time in my life at the grocery store when someone has told me I had my hands full that I totally agreed with them.

6 kids 9 and under is a lot.

The short story is: I had an appointment to apply for a loan for the construction of our dream home and I ended up canceling it because we got a call just an hour beforehand from a single mom who was losing her apartment and her children and needed immediate help to keep her family intact. Boom. Perspective on a platter. It was a tremendous and humbling opportunity for us to center our attention on what matters most (relationships, souls, families) and let what matters less (mudroom dimensions) take a backseat.

10 weeks Scott has been doing P90X3 without missing a day.  I’m truly impressed, considering that lots of my own goals have been jettisoned in the last few months as I’ve tried to stay afloat.

11pm is the time I try to be in bed by.

2 nights this year I’ve actually been in bed by 11.

8 times I loaded (and unloaded) all the kids into (and out of) the car this past Wednesday.  It shall henceforth be known as Black Wednesday in the memories of us all. School pickup and drop off for one of our guest kids, Joy School for Daniel, a meeting with our builder and draftsman,  and a church activity for Mackenzie.  Each activity seemed good in isolation but was too much for everyone in sum.

2 soccer balls that have rolled down our heinous driveway so far this year.  One was recovered several blocks away. It’s the fourth one since we’ve moved here that has been lost and subsequently found, which is amazing since we really do live on a layer of hills.  Our new driveway will not be treacherously steep. Just sayin’.

1 dropped and smashed dish, 1 dropped and spilled container of brown sugar, countless epic meltdowns by various children, 2 wet pairs of pants,  1 broken dishwasher, 1 leaky roof, 1 broken water pipe,  countless squabbles amongst children when you factor in there are 15 different relationships potentials for conflicts between the 6 of them and they’re all sharing toys and space and beds, 2 days spent sledding down our heinous glorious driveway on cereal boxes, 1 water fight outside that turned a flour fight(!),  lots of prayers for the mother of our guest kids, 1 homeschool spelling bee coordinated,  1 Sunday on time for church and many Sundays late despite giving it my best effort.

1 attempt to french braid kinky hair (she promptly took it out so she wouldn’t have to go to school ‘like that’. Doh. 🙂 Apparently I’m supposed to ignore her when she says it hurts and just braid tighter!

1 week long “whale spout” hair style for Josie courtesy of our guest 4 year old who thought the diaper cream was hair grease and gave Josie a good application of it while I was in the shower.

 

2 pig tails courtesy of Josie’s adorable mullet.

 

4 times my friends have saved my (vegetarian) bacon with last-minute babysitting when I was in a tight spot. Twice I had extra kids for them to take care of and they welcomed them with open arms.

Hundreds of great books read. This is a constant in our family and an anchor when life gets crazy. We’ve read piles of picture books and a good number of great chapter books already this year.  Specifically, Jim Dale’s reading of Peter Pan has me laughing every time we get in the car. Also Mary Poppins, Where the Red Fern Grows, A Little Princess with Caitlyn, The Princess and the Goblin with Mackenzie, The Jungle Book, and more. Sharing stories together is priceless and has really helped us envelop the extra kids into our family culture.

For me to remember: When I felt pretty helpless to “save” this sweet family from being split up, I tried to focus on what I could do. Give the kids love and security in our home, primarily, but also I helped the 7 year old become a confident reader.  She was struggling and set to finish 2nd grade believing she couldn’t read.  We turned that right around together and with hard work on her part she’s now a voracious reader.  I hope it takes her far.

1 visit to the temple, seeking peace. I found it there, as I always do.

1 opportunity for Mackenzie to sing in Germanic Latin.  She performed Carmina Burana with Willamette Master Chorus (including Scott), a live orchestra and live dancers.  It was a treat for all of us.

1 dream come true: In case you haven’t heard it from her (and you probably have), Caitlyn is now an actual real live ballerina. We watched the documentary First Position a while back and she’s had stars in her eyes ever since. When we finally signed up for a class I think the whole world knew where Caitlyn would be on Tuesday afternoon. We have had lots of discussion about how this is ballet and not talk-et but judging by my peeks through the window she’s still getting plenty of chat time in the studio. 😉

 

1 new Bean Reader! Daniel finally finished up his 100 Easy Lessons and boy were we all excited. I gave it my best effort to be consistent and it still took far more days to get those lessons in than it did for his older siblings. But hey, being third in line has its perks. He had encouragement from his older sisters helping him to the end.

(See that little handful of cold cereal by his knees? Yep, those came to some of our longer lessons.)

1 photo flashback captured when I realized that this little darling was wearing the same dress (in a similar church lobby) as her big sister did 8 short years ago:

Josie’s babyhood has had a smaller slice of my attention, by necessity, but I’ve relished it more because I know just how short it is.

Dancing in the lobby doesn’t last forever, except in pictures. Thank goodness for pictures.

Posted in Life as we know it | 5 Comments

Looking at a glass, darkly

My six year old daughter is staring down her glass of cranberry juice when I walk into the kitchen.  Ever since she had pyelonephritis as a toddler, I crack open a bottle of the good stuff at the first sign of a UTI.

The cold juice I poured a while ago is now tepid and still she sits before it.  She’s talking to herself, but it’s loud enough that I overhear.  “You would think I would like it,” she says, regarding the glass. “After all, it’s pink!”

Then, after a moment’s reflection, “But it’s dark pink.”

She warms to the topic now. “Evil pink.  TOXIC pink.”

Her voice lowers to a whisper, for effect. “Treacherous pink.”

Then she sighs heavily, shrugs, and bottoms up.

Drama is in this lady’s past, present and future.

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Posted in Life as we know it | 4 Comments

Fighting Infobesity: 17 Ideas for Slimming Down Part 3

Read part 1 here, and part 2 here.

11. Stay grounded in old truth.

Thousands of years of profound thinking have generated a body of wisdom that cannot be snacked on. It must studied diligently to be absorbed. I highly recommend starting the day with at least 15 minutes of a hearty breakfast: religious texts, classic literature, etc.

The pull of my phone is strong when I wake up in the morning, but when I deliberately grab truth before I grab what’s new, I reinforce to myself what I value. It’s a subtle but real willpower boost for me to stick with this habit.

(I have lots of young kids and there have been many days and weeks straight where I wake up to a child and what I do first in the morning is change a diaper or change a bed. However, I commit to reading truth before reading anything else, when the opportunity to read does present itself.)

Dietary corollary:  Fill up on vegetables and everything else will be less of a problem. Cauliflower shouldn’t have to compete with candy. Candy might be alluring but cauliflower saves lives.

12. Decide already.

When starting to research something online, be it a microwave or a flight, begin with deciding on how much of your time the decision is actually worth. Then set a timer. It’s embarrassing to admit that I’ve spent over an hour making a $10 decision on many occasions.

Dietary corollary: Decide before you go to a restaurant or party how much you will eat and stick with it instead of agonizing over the possibility of a second (and third) helping. 

13. Put your device to bed.

When screens have an earlier bedtime than I do, I suddenly have time to do many of the things I “wish I had time for”: drawing, exercising, writing a handwritten thank you note, getting lost in a good book, etc.  These are all things I value but they would get squeezed out of my life if I didn’t set conscious limit on screens.
I heard a psychologist recently describe a “flow” state of mind, which includes losing track of time doing something you enjoy and coming away at the end refreshed.  She pointed out that when we watch television or scroll social media, we experience “sham flow.”  We get swept up in it and lose track of time, but we end up feeling depleted afterwards.   If we’re losing sleep and time, that’s a triple whammy.

Dietary corollary: After dinner, clean your kitchen and clean your teeth.  Late night snacking loses its appeal after you’ve flossed and infrequent are the times I snack late and don’t regret it.

14. Timewarp it.

I installed a free plugin (Timewarp, but I’m sure there are many) that puts a stopwatch on my screen anytime I visit certain sites.  So far I only have it on for Facebook but I might add gmail to the list.  This is an antidote to sham flow (see #13) because it makes it impossible to lose track of time.  I can see right there that though I got on Facebook to send an important message, I’ve slipped into mindlessly scrolling for 17 minutes and counting…

Dietary corollary: Write down what you eat in a food diary.  The increased awareness will automatically reduce mindless calorie consumption.

15. Build in stillness

I think we’ve all heard that we need to be comfortable in our own skin, and I would add that we need to be comfortable in our own heads.  Whipping out a device seems to have become a reflex, a knee-jerk reaction to a momentary pause in conversation or a pause in life.  But if we want to increase in wisdom and understanding, we need to stem the flow of information and start grappling with what we have already heard and seen. Look up from your device.  Look around yourself. Look inside yourself. Be deliberately still.  Be the only parent at swim practice who’s not glued to a screen. Schedule thinking time on a regular basis if needed, and bring a pencil and a paper if it helps you clear your mind.

Dietary corollary: Commit to experiencing hunger between meals. Hunger is the best sauce, yet we tend to seek food as soon as we feel the first twinge of discomfort from an emptying stomach.

16. Savor it.

This is a simple habit but a powerful one.  When you watch a beautiful video or read something fascinating online, pause.  Instead of instantly looking for the next funny video, witty remark or piece of news, just sit with what you just experienced for a moment.  It will be more funny, more thought-provoking, more useful if you take a moment to let it sink in.  There’s a better chance you’ll be able to recall it and use it later if you savor it a bit now.

Dietary corollary: Savor it. And, eat things that are worth savoring rather than larger quantities of lower-quality food.

17. Work for it.

When a topic interests you, resist jumping right to wikipedia to skim the gist of it.  Instead, sometimes seek out a well-written book by someone who is passionate about the topic.  We value things we work for and doing the hard work of reading an engaging book rather than just blistering through a summary article online will give you both a more lasting knowledge of the topic and the pleasure of entering into someone else’s experience.

As a bonus, you side step some of the inherent danger in the way information is conveyed  online – the line between factual and vetted vs. persuasive has been blurred to the point where the relative merits of the information are hard to gauge.  You can read in an encyclopedia that lemurs are long-tailed marsupials. You can read on a blog that lemurs are dumb.  Google will dump both of those on the first page of search results.

An observation: Google favors what’s recent, and wisdom favors what endures.

My opinion: People who read great books tend to be more interesting and have a richer thought life than people who acquire information solely from flitting about online.

Dietary corollary: People who cook food from scratch tend to be thinner than those who grab convenience foods.

Wrapping it Up

I use multiple devices every single day. I stream great music, read fascinating and uplifting content, and connect with people I care about online.  There are so many good and beautiful things technology brings to my life.

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The 17 ideas in this series continue to help me as I seek a healthy relationship with technology and its accompanying glut of information. What helps you?

 

Posted in Life as we know it, Parenting & Household Hacks | 2 Comments