Goodbye, Christmas and 2018

December 31, 2018

I was enjoying our Christmas tree in the dark of early morning, thinking that it’s a lot like me right now:  getting old, a little crooked, but still standing.  That tree has been with us since our first year of marriage, and stood in six different living rooms in six different towns.  It still seems to be ready for a few more Christmases.

I’m not entirely sure I’m ready for a few more Christmases like this last one.  It ended up as an article published at No Sidebar; you can read it here.

I’ll be enjoying our tree for a few more days.  I’ve left behind the must clean out Christmas by New Year’s! that I grew up with….especially once I realized it’s a lot easier to enjoy the Christmas pretties once the chaos of the season is over!

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Christmas, slightly excessive

December 18, 2018

We’ve been watching The Great Christmas Light Fight on television this season.  It reminded me of this post, which I had to share again.

Originally published December 24, 2013:

Last night we drove around neighborhoods to look at Christmas lights, something the kids ask to do every year. Over our five years in this house we’ve discovered a few good streets, a few great streets, and what my children refer to as “the inflatable house.” (Every time they say it, I have visions of a puffy home floating in the sky above their neighbors.) This is the place that has dozens upon dozens of inflatables in their yard, on their roof, in their driveway, and–the crowning glory–a perpetual DVD loop of the movie Happy Feet projected on the front of their house. You can actually get out and walk through their yard, though the weather has been so bad when we’ve gone we’ve never braved it.

In our last house, we lived next door to a couple who really decorated for Christmas. While they weren’t quite the place that people drove for miles to see each year, they did have a yard full of goodies. When my oldest was a toddler, he would plant himself at the dining room window, peering out across our dark lawn to all the lights next door; at that point, their light-up train (with “moving” wheels!) was a special draw. Once, when my older daughter was around two, I stood in the driveway with both my kiddos and watched them set up for awhile.

As I stood looking at their display I counted no fewer than twenty-one light-up objects in their yard, ranging from elves, polar bears, reindeer, and a toy soldier, to the aforementioned train. Also in this total count were inflatables, including a snow globe with actual blowing “snow.” Not included in this count were the dozens of strings of lights; some of which, as we watched, they were hanging in a tree.

The wife was standing on the ground, watching her husband perched atop a ladder; lights in one hand, pole in another. He was focused, working with great intensity on creating glowing perfection. She would occasionally call up helpful comments and observations. My absolute favorite (note: for full effect, this must be said with a slight southern drawl):

“Now, Rick, make sure none of the bulbs are burnt out…that’s just tacky.”

Years later, it still makes me laugh.

Do the hard thing

March 30, 2018

I feel like I’m hearing a strange mix of frustration and apathy from people lately.  We seem to want to fuss and complain, but then just shrug our shoulders and mutter something like “meh–what’re ya gonna do?”

How about, do something?  Anything?

But it’s hard.

My kids’ sports schedule is out of control–the six-year-old doesn’t need to be on the ball field at 10:00 at night!  Do the hard thing.  Pull him.

My five-year-old still isn’t sleeping through the night…. Do the hard thing.  Start actively trying to solve the problem.  Baby steps.

I never get to see my kids anymore….their schedules are so booked!  Do the hard thing.  Say no.  Claim some margin for your family.

My phone is a constant distraction.  So turn it off.  Find an hour (or fifteen minutes!) that you can live without it, and live without it.

Last year at this time we were struggling with staying at our church or finding a new one.  That was a hard thing, people–leaving what we’d known for nearly ten years to start over somewhere new.  It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done (right up there with pulling my son from school mid-year to homeschool).  Seeing a connection between the two, a well-meaning friend reminded me that “You can’t just leave every time you don’t like something.”

Well, no, but life is too short to be miserable at church.  (And my kids are too important to be fed to the lions.)  And that idea is what I keep coming back to, when people hem and haw and fuss and complain about what they oughtta and what they shoulda…. Life is too short. 

Life is too short not to do what you can to fix a problem.

Life’s too short not to take a stand for your true priorities.

Even when it’s hard–and it IS HARD, y’all, I get it–life’s too short to live full of regrets.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
–Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

Courage, friends.

 

 

 

 

Rainy Mondays

March 26, 2018

This is the second Monday in a row I woke to pouring rain.  (So thankful!)

As I got ready I was thinking about how much I love mornings like this.  Downstairs, I found my two daughters snuggled together on the sofa, wrapped up in a comforter, giggling; it hit me again how much we would miss out on if my kids were in public school.  That snuggle time couldn’t have happened at 7:30 in the morning–my older daughter would have been on a bus, headed to a school that starts at 7:50.

This post sums up my heart this morning.

Originally published April 2016

These are my favorite mornings to be a homeschooling family.

No one wants to move very quickly anyway:  first off, it’s Monday, and secondly, it’s gray and dreary and drizzly……

And guess what?  It doesn’t matter.  We don’t have to Go.  We don’t have to Rush and Get Out the Door.  I can sit in the chair in our bedroom and snuggle the almost-not-two-year-old-anymore and spend a good long time reading.  (Mr. Putter.  Again.)  The older kids can stumble out of bed terribly close to the start of our school day and eat their breakfast, groggy, in their pajamas, while we begin our morning together.  Slowly.

 

Isn’t that part of pursuing “enough?”  Knowing when to be slow?

 

 

A homeschool day in the life

February 26, 2018

I’m eyeing this slightly apprehensively…..is there really a “typical” day around here?  Regardless, here is the lay of the land for a random Monday in January, when I decided to join the linkup at Simple Homeschool…..  

I’m up at 6:00, as always….I’ve been up at 6:00 for so long my brain has acclimated and I don’t even need an alarm clock.  I love this time of day; the entire house still asleep and dark and quiet; just me with coffee and my Bible.  I open the living room curtains and peek out to see if I can see the moon, then spend my hour–by far, the quietest hour of my day–alone with God.

At 7:00 I reluctantly drag myself away from my cozy corner, grab my water from the fridge, and head upstairs to get ready.  It’s a full morning, so I can’t move quite as slowly as I sometimes do.

7:20 brings a smiling four-year-old and “Mun” (her faithful Blanket) to my door, while I’m still attempting to put myself together.  “It’s a preschool day!” she announces with a smile, and she hangs out on the floor of my closet, singing and playing with my jewelry, while I finish getting ready, stepping around the pajama-clad little one.

We head downstairs together.  I start a load of laundry, feed the dogs, and she and I have our first “just Mommy and me” time of the day:  breakfast.  The “just us” doesn’t last as long as usual since her 14-year-old brother comes down early this morning; he’s heading out with us because of a doctor’s appointment today.  My twelve-year-old daughter is still asleep and will probably stay asleep for awhile longer.  I pull our school books from the cabinet, arrange things on the kitchen counter, and write a note encouraging her to enjoy her quiet morning.  (While I am the type who loves quiet mornings, the lone  extrovert in this house tends not to be a fan.)  My work-from-home pharmacist husband is downstairs, clocking in at 7:00 in the basement; no one is ever really alone in this house.  I flip the laundry that I put in before breakfast while my youngest gets dressed, and then we’re off.

My son packed all his school books for the day in a bag and starts working during the drive to preschool.  My youngest attends a Reggio-inspired, home-based preschool run by another homeschooling mom for a few hours twice a week; to say she loves it would be an understatement.  I drop her off with hugs, and my son and I make a quick run to the library before his doctor’s appointment, where I pick up holds and he discovers a new Rick Riordan book on the Hot Picks shelf.  Back in the car and off to the doctor.

Today’s appointment was doctor initiated; she wanted to check in on how the new dose of antidepressants was working for my kiddo.  I sat and listened to him answer her inquiries, question after question, praying a silent thank you, Jesus, over and over as each item got checked off her list.

Any thoughts of hurting yourself or suicide in the past two weeks?

Nope!

Thank you, Jesus.  THANK YOU.

They chat about school and she asks what he does with his free time, if he usually manages to get his school done mid-morning.  “I write,” he tells her.  “Write?” she asks.  “About what?”

And then I watch him light up as he explains to her how he writes about music, how he loves music--so many different kinds of music–and he writes reviews and critiques of albums and songs and rankings….

I cannot put into words my sense of relief as I watch this kid get excited about something again.  Get excited about life again.

We’re done at the doctor early enough that I have some time at home before I need to get my little.  I seize the time to knock out the laundry that’s been waiting in the dryer, then (finally) hang up the platform swing my twelve-year-old got for Christmas.  It’s warming up to almost 50 degrees today, and tomorrow looks even better.  (It is winter.  You take what you can get. 😉 )

The twelve-year-old has had a productive morning at home, knocking out her school while we were away and now curled up reading the Missy Piggle-Wiggle books we stumbled across while looking for Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle to read aloud.  She jumps in the car with me as I head out to pick up my youngest, wanting to be the first to tell her sister that the swing is up and ready in the backyard.

We’re home in time to visit with Daddy during his 11:30 lunch break; the sisters head to the swing in the backyard for only a little bit (it’s still cold!) while I fix lunch for the little and me.  The bigs make their lunches, too, and today we eat together around the kitchen table (oldest son has been known to eat in the dining room….apparently teens need their space).  My son is laughing uncontrollably as he explains his idea to create an entire album “recorded” by the dog, and starts writing lyrics to the kind of songs that Kina would sing while I remind him to at least keep it appropriate while we eat.

Once lunch is cleaned up and the dishwasher started (around 1:00), my youngest and I head upstairs for her second (and most favorite) “just Mommy and me” time:  reading before her quiet time.  We have outgrown the rocker in her room and now just curl up on the bed in the master bedroom, today getting to choose from fresh library books I got on our trip this morning.  We read and snuggle and I admit this is my favorite time, too.

Big hugs as I leave her in her bedroom for some quiet time….and I go downstairs to get my quiet time.  The bigs are knee-deep in their own things; my daughter has started the second Missy Piggle-Wiggle book she brought home, while my son is creating cover art for the dog’s album.  (It’s actually pretty stinkin’ funny.)

At about 1:30 my husband’s music is oozing up through the floorboards and the older kids are around, but this is as quiet as it gets when everyone is awake.  This is my recharge time; I’m going over any written schoolwork from the morning, and reading or writing or thinking and planning, and while there are occasional days I don’t get it, this highly-sensitive introvert makes sure this time happens as often as possible.

At 3:00 I realize I’ve stumbled into bonus time:  the four-year-old actually fell asleep. Regular naps are a distant memory, but she does still sleep once or twice a week, and today is apparently one of those days.  I take the extra time to get some housework done and remind my son we leave for math at 3:30.

Finding a tutor for math has been a huge blessing for us.  Once the words “algebra” start appearing in curriculum, I’m officially in over my head, and this math teacher has been wonderful for my son.  He needs someone as confident and competent as her, and I love seeing him through a different set of eyes (namely, less worried eyes).  It turns out that in spite of his dread of math, it “comes really naturally” to him and he’s doing quite well.

I spend his hour-long math lesson roaming the library where we meet up, and come home with more library books for everyone.  (Yes….I might have a problem.)  When his session ends I text my husband that we’re finished, and he (ahem) calls in an order to Planet Sub that I’ll pick up on our way home.  Kids eat free night conveniently falls on math night.  While this was not planned, I will happily take advantage of the situation; so much so that the cashier calls, “See you next week!” as we walk out the door.  (Blush.)

Math does knock the day out of whack.  My usual snuggle-with-my-little and watch something after quiet time doesn’t happen, and my bigs don’t get the “up in their room alone time” they seem to crave by late afternoon.  Instead, my son and I come in with bags of warm sub sandwiches, and we gather in the kitchen to eat and talk about our day.  Once dinner is over and the kitchen cleaned up, the girls take off to play in the basement, which is finally free now that Daddy’s off work.  I’m frequently invited to watch “shows” they perform together, always interesting mash-ups of whatever my older daughter happens to be listening to incessantly (this week, The Greatest Showman) and liberal doses of My Little Pony music.  “The boys” enjoy some (relative) quiet until I bring the little one up at 7:00 and start bedtime rounds.

PJ’s, teeth brushing, and another slew of books spread out on our bed for one last “just Mommy and me” time. Once I tuck her in and pray with her, I move to my 12-year-old’s room, where we have about thirty minutes of what she calls “talk time,” before I pray with her and say good-night (though she’ll read for at least another hour before she actually goes to sleep).  Downstairs for about thirty minutes of sibling-free time for my son, who loves this opportunity to have the parents all to himself.  Once he’s off to bed (I’ll pray with him and say goodnight before I turn in, myself), it’s finally just my husband and me and we can talk in peace without interruptions.  (Finally.)

Typical?  Well, yes, I guess I see glimpses of typical in there…..

An interesting thing happened when I stopped reading other people’s homeschooling blogs.

I started asking myself what I really wanted OUR SCHOOL to look like.

I was doing a lot of “I love that! I wish we did that;” set to repeat.  So many beautiful things and lovely ideas, endlessly scrolling past and scolding me with shoulds and oughts.  Or, worse, those moments of “I wish we’d done that,” because I really did come to this homeschooling thing a little late.  There are a dozen things I wish I’d done differently in my children’s first few years of school.  (For starters, how about not sending them?)  But since there’s no way to change the past, camping out in regret is not really very effective.  (Aw…..camping out!  I wish we’d done that!  Wait….)img_8148

 

The book Gaston is a new favorite in our house.  One line sums up perfectly how I feel in any attempts I make to manufacture a perfect homeschool:  “There.  That looked right….it just didn’t feel right.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

So I sat down one day, in the midst of “that’s not us….what is us?” and came up with three statement starters:

Our family is…..

Our family loves…..

Our family believes….

I then asked every single family member to give me three endings to each sentence.  (I finally stopped asking the four-year-old.  Even though she seems incredibly old for her age, she didn’t quite get this concept.)

It seemed really simple and basic, and I absolutely got some flippant answers (twelve and fourteen are the perfect ages for that).  But honestly, when I was studying the responses later, I realized “Our family loves….the library app” is a pretty succinct summation of one facet of our family.

I spent some time really thinking about this first question:  What does a homeschool look like for this family?  There are a thousand ways to “do homeschool,” but what fits us?

This family that is “bookish,” “quiet,” and “loves the library app” is probably going to be heavy on reading and maybe not so crazy about a ton of events and co-ops.

This family that is “weird” and “different” might need time to chase all their interests….Star Wars and music and Ponies and music and writing and music….and outside time when no one else wants outside time lol.  (We’re the ones at the park when it’s 45 degrees and cloudy; once it’s above about 83 and sticky, forget it.  We’re hibernating.)

Can I add that the “weird” and “different” was a unanimous verdict?  I’m kind of thrilled to pieces that we own it that proudly.

The idea that our family–again, unanimously–believes in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, working in the world and our lives, tells me that memorizing Scripture needs to be in the heart of our home somewhere.  We might not even call that “school.”

As I dug through their responses, I could feel our school starting to take shape.

The second question I asked myself was, What do my kids need?  Not “need” in a “needs work” way, but what do they really need?

My son’s response of “Our family is….exhausting” tells me I need to find a way to create another spot of quiet in our home.  With everyone here, all the time, it’s incredibly difficult to find quiet.

Both big kids need more outings; some adventures in their “school” experience.  I need to plan those adventures for mornings, because my energy is shot by afternoon (and because I need my quiet time, too).

My daughter needs more beauty in her school.  Just because her brother doesn’t like read-alouds and poetry tea-times doesn’t mean she has to miss out….and there’s the little one, too, to pull in for the fun stuff.  (And let’s be real.  He can turn up his nose at the idea but if there’s treats on a table, who wants to miss out on that?)

My son needs as much freedom as possible in his learning.  Key words: as possible.  It’s an interesting balance, me calling some shots and allowing him a voice within that structure.

All kids, always, need some uninterrupted alone-with-parent time.  Always.

Sitting with these two questions has begun to allow me the freedom to own this homeschool.  This is what we do.  “That looked right,” for us, “and it felt right, too.”

Beauty in the Valley

January 25, 2018

Our pastor ran a sermon series in December called God With Us.  The promo video that ran each week began with a reminder that God is always with us:  “On the mountain…in the valley….”

Ah, yes, the valley.  The first sermon was all about the valley, which is where our family spent most of 2016 and a fair portion of 2017.  The valley is supposed to be a dark, desperate place–“I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” from Psalm 23, right?–but here’s what hit me as I watched the video intro:

Valleys are beautiful.

Honestly, on our trips to Colorado, valleys are my favorite places to be.  Mountains are majestic, of course, but the countless houses tucked into the deeply wooded valleys? That’s where I’d want to live.  There’s beauty there; it’s not hard to see.

There’s beauty in the valleys of our lives, too.

A perfect example came to me a few Fridays ago, when I went to bed early (like before-dinner early) with what seemed to be a stomach bug.  My husband had plans that night, so my twelve-year-old daughter put my four-year-old to bed.  While I lay curled up under the covers, miserable and barely awake, the sound of my older daughter’s voice floated down the hall, reading bedtime stories to her little sister. Snuggles, giggles, a chapter of Betsy-Tacy; A Birthday for Frances….

When did she get to be such a beautifully fluent reader?

Beauty in the valley.

Watching your oldest pull back and withdraw, more and more often, until you fear that depression might actually really win–that’s a valley.  No doubt.

Watching your son buy his younger sisters stuffed animal souvenirs on the zoo trip he chose to go on with the family, smack in the middle of the ugliness….spending his own money to put a smile on their faces….there’s beauty in the valley.

Holding your son while he sobs and begs….begs you to buy him a gun, so he can end it all and just be done with it for good…that’s the deepest, lowest valley I’ve come to yet.

A doctor who returns your calls while on vacation to ensure he gets medication started: beauty in the valley.

Any trouble with friends tripping a switch that still seems to be set to “despair” is even now a very real part of our valley.

Watching the same child–barely 24 hours later–bringing the folding card table up from the basement, setting it up on the back deck, and cooking and serving dinner to his entire family under the light of the near-full moon….that is a step beyond beauty.  That is unbelievable.

Watching my middle child lose her older-brother-best-friend to the gaping maw of depression has been one of the most ongoing, difficult valleys.

Signing off on her “homework” for church and realizing that under “list three ways you know God cares for you” she included, “He gave me a baby sister….”  That is beauty so vivid it brought me to tears.

It’s beauty, too, when the big kids do reconnect and find out they are still friends, even after everything they’ve been through.

I know that God has been with us in every one of these situations.  He was sitting on the bed with us, brokenhearted, while my son sobbed into my shoulder.  He was pulling up a seat with us, outside on the deck, rejoicing in His gorgeous night and healing child.  I know his hand is on my family as we walk this rocky road, full of switchbacks, that winds through the valley.  But I’m also realizing the valley can be an amazing place, full of beauty, if I can just pay attention.  I don’t know how much longer our valley is.  I do have faith there will continue to be beauty along the way.

January 18, 2018

I am sitting at the kitchen table, eating breakfast with my four-year-old.  The rest of the house is quiet; the older two still asleep, husband at work in the basement.  She is quiet, too, as she digs into her warm bowl of oatmeal.  She-who-will-not-be-hurried is deeply focused.

She pulls up a spoonful and holds it over her bowl, watching.

Finally….finally….she looks at me and explains, “I’m watching the steam.  Steam is beautiful.

Steam is beautiful.

There you are, friends.  Your mindful moment for the day, brought to you by a preschooler.  Steam is beautiful.

Go out and find something else beautiful in your day.

 

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.”–Psalm 19:1-2

January 8, 2018

I decided weeks ago that my word for this year would be “intentional.”

It might be ridiculously overused; almost a buzz-word at this point, but it sums up exactly what I was needing–and aware I was needing–by the end of December.

My life was slowly veering into the “keeping up with the daily” that is so much of mom-ness, with lots of floating around in the in-between times; or, on other days, the pin-balling of incessant reacting.  The day would end and I would realize that while things “got done,” nothing worthy was really accomplished.

I spent three days writing down every. single. thing I did during the day, and then sat down to figure out how to make things work better.  I figured out where I had huge windows of time to play with, where things got complicated quickly, and saw clearly that sometimes things just happen:  there really is a limit to any control we attempt.  I wrote down the things I wanted to see in our home (among them more art, more read-alouds, more time outside when feasible) and began to lay out a new plan for our days.

The start of this year has been beginning to put that plan into place.

I started with a little bit of art time immediately after breakfast with my little. Sometimes big sister joins us, sometimes it’s just she and I.  Cutting snowflakes, watercolor painting, play-doh…we’re open.  Today art time looked like her snuggled up under the tablecloth-draped fort of a card table with a new stencil set from Gramma while I took down the Christmas tree, ornaments spread all over her “roof.”

That was an intentional decision, too:  after planning on taking down the tree “on the 6th,” which I’d been stating for weeks, I realized the weather was not my friend in this endeavor.  I want to take down a tree in full sunshine, not lose all our Christmas lights on a gray, rainy day.  So I checked the weather and opted for today.  Our big dog is curled up in a huge patch of sunshine that’s been blocked by the tree for a month and a half, happy as can be.  (For that matter, so am I.)

I thought our read-aloud would be pegged onto our snack time, but it’s looking more like a breakfast thing at this point.  I don’t care–it’s happening.  I want a routine, and I know we’ll get there, but at least right now I can see it happening.

Outside time?  Well….with the temperature here eventually warming up into the low 20’s, that hasn’t exactly been a priority.  I’ve kept the birds (and squirrels…sigh) fed, and the birdbath filled, and that’s probably enough for now.

I guess, this year, I want to be “pursuing enough” of the right things.

Unplugging

December 18, 2017

It was around Halloween that I realized what I was doing.

Each time I’d see a little uplifting reminder float by on my Facebook feed….

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I’d always finish it with, “….but you could get off your phone and do some of it.”

Because truly, sometimes it’s not an unreasonable to-do list or the busyness of a certain season.  Sometimes, it’s just me being lazy.

I finally decided to do something about it.

The first baby-step was to deleting the two real estate apps off my phone.  We have no intention of moving, and if a house pops up for sale “that I’ve always wondered what it looks like inside,” I can get on the computer.  No more mindlessly scrolling through houses and suddenly realizing an hour has gone by:  check.

The next step was scheduling an email check into my morning routine…on my laptop.  I suddenly had a new goal of not being on my phone in the early morning, at all.  Was that even possible?  All I knew was that I didn’t want my four-year-old to grow up seeing me glued to my phone…..and I wanted to see my four-year-old grow up.

Next up:  not faithfully keeping up with reading blogs.  No more daily check-ins (though occasionally reading is definitely still happening).  It occurred to me recently that I’m not trying to build a brand, launch a product, sell an item or make a name…..so why on earth do I feel a strange sense of obligation to keep up with this?  No more.

The last step was deleting the Facebook app.  I’d already made a decision, after an exceptionally good Halloween, that I wanted to take another break from Facebook; I wanted to enjoy the holiday season we were having instead of constantly being bombarded with other ideas and wondering if we should be doing things differently. This fall and winter have been so different from last year, as my son continues to climb out of depression.  I want to enjoy it!  I want to savor this time, not compare it to someone else’s holiday–or not even be truly present for it in the first place.  Bye-bye, FB.

My mom and I had a conversation not that long ago about how technology has gone from a blessing to a nuisance.  While I don’t want to get rid of the internet, I think the line that got crossed awhile back–that “smartphone” line–has turned something wonderful into something awful.  I can objectively see the benefits of the internet.  Right now, it’s hard for me to see the good in a smartphone.

Rant over.