What’s working right now…

Since it’s usually better to focus on the positive, what is working for my family right now?

Sunshine.  Today (and actually for the past few days) the sun is actually shining.  That always changes my entire energy level–I feel like I can move mountains.  I know the sun won’t shine every day, but I’ll definitely take it when I can.  (And when it does rain?  At least my girls are happy.)

 

Projects.  Art projects, craft projects, house projects…I’ve been digging into my Artful Parent book and my youngest and I have spent afternoons trying this and that.  The liquid watercolors are still out on the kitchen table after a week, just in case.  We have salt paintings stacked up on one counter and a large fairy house (still in process) smack in the middle of the kitchen island.  Fabric is piled up next to the bookshelf in the kitchen; my youngest sewed herself a little cat this weekend.  Stuff for potential projects (egg cartons for planting seeds) and almost finished projects (painted wooden discs about to be turned into magnets) are everywhere.  My kitchen is not a minimalist showplace right now….but we’re happy.

Music.  It can be Studio Ghibli piano music in the background of our mornings, or Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony while I’m prepping dinner:  music helps.  I dare anyone to still be in a bad mood by the end of Beethoven’s Seventh.  Truly.

Time outside.  I spent one Saturday afternoon simply weeding and cleaning up flowerbeds.  It was one of the most peaceful days I’ve had.  If the weather cooperates (thunderstorms turn our backyard into a swamp quickly), being outside is a blessing.  A friend commented last night to watch the birds–they don’t realize there’s a pandemic going on.  Sitting on your porch (or deck) and simply watching the animals in your backyard can give you a tiny dose of normal.

Free stuff to do from sympathetic souls.  I’m surrounded by people crowding my inbox with here’s something to help you through this time, for free (or heavily discounted).  We’re in a unique place where everyone, to a certain extent, is dealing with similar problems–and people are ready to help.

Books.  A secret stash of books, to be precise.  After our last trip to the now-closed-library, where I stocked up on things for my youngest, I sorted everything and hid over half of them on the shelf of the living room closet, complete with dividers telling me what was where.  She’s plowing through things faster than I anticipated, so it won’t last long, but for at least awhile I can trade out her finished Magic Tree House book for another one, and set out “fresh books” downstairs on occasion as a surprise.

My new morning “alone time.”  This is actually me trying to spin something that’s honestly making me crazy.  My youngest has been sleeping in a ridiculous amount, rivaling her teenage siblings.  She admitted one morning–after stumbling downstairs at eleven o’clock–that she’d read until after midnight.  Somehow, the little girl who was picking her way gingerly through the Puppy Mudge beginning readers not even a year  ago is now inhaling the Rainbow Magic Fairy books in one sitting–and not sleeping.  I’m horrified.  Our daily routine is totally shot.  Except that it does allow for bonus alone time for me as I start my day, giving me time to do things….like write this.

Think on it awhile.  What’s working for you?

Minimalism vs. the six-year-old

I have learned to let go a lot of needing things especially tidy.  Homeschooling three kids while owning two dogs and having a husband working from home means we live in this house; really live in it, day in and day out.  My focus on “less stuff” means things are definitely easier to keep clean and picked up.

And then there’s my youngest.   

My good friend was her pre-K/Kindy teacher, at a home-based Reggio-style program two mornings a week.  I was complaining to her about how different this one was from my other two.  “When the bigs played, they’d play with the Thomas the train set, or they’d play with Legos, or they’d play with the blocks…. when she plays, she plays with Thomas with the Legos with the blocks.”  My friend just chuckled a little and said, “Yeah, that’s very Reggio….sorry about that.”

I love to see her amazing creativity (truly; I love it).  But it is SO. HARD. for me to not swoop in every few days and put everything back where it belongs.  My current tolerance level is about two weeks, which honestly I feel is not unreasonable, especially since by then she’s usually wandered on to something else.  Right now we have Legos all over the dining room table (which I’ve had over a decade of practice with–that part’s fine by me). We have Thomas’s entire Island of Sodor in the middle of the living room floor, also including a handful of Legos, most of her fairy friends, and a friendly baby dragon.  The dollhouse is also in the living room and occasionally gets pulled into the story, too.  Her tiny bedroom stays clean for less than 24 hours at a time, because once it’s dealt with, it’s all open and lovely and she gets excited and immediately fills it up.  Last week she learned she could move her bed by herself; it’ll never be the same again…..

That room, mind you, is the same one I was in love with just a few years ago; so empty and inviting.  It’s amazing how things change once kids start developing their own opinions.  😉

In theory, we could move things out of her room.  I do, with some frequency.  But this is a child who, when deprived of paper, will simply use Kleenex, boxed for her convenience and sitting on her bookcase.

I’m having trouble balancing my Simplicity Parenting background with keeping her creativity fed and nourished.  I especially hate for her room to be so trashed, when I feel like it needs to be reasonably clean for her to sleep peacefully (nightmares two nights in a row has got me really focused on this right now).  I am someone constantly focused on simplifying and getting rid of stuff, and she is someone who seems happiest surrounded by stuff.  Trying to figure out how to coexist will be an adventure over the years!

Choosing Quiet

We had an exceptionally quiet day today.

This week is just full enough that when my husband needed the car this afternoon, I declared it was a stay-at-home day, all day, for the rest of us.  It’s been so peaceful.

The weather has played a part….fall is remembering that it’s supposed to show up, and we’ve had the windows open and a cool breeze blowing in.  My youngest woke with a sweet spirit and discovered the coloring books a friend had passed on to me the night before, so we started our morning coloring at the sunny kitchen table.  Breakfast involved simply pushing our things to the side while she ate her toast.  It was so quiet she realized she could hear the squirrels’ feet as they scampered up and down the trees outside the window, much the same way she noticed the steam rising from her spoonful of oatmeal when she was four.

We counted the rainbows in the laundry room, cast by the crystal hanging in the window,  throwing colors in every direction.  We “caught” the rainbows in our hands. She decided it was time for some fall clothes, so we worked in her room a bit; putting away her summery sundresses, getting out her black buckle-up shoes.

She found a clouded sulphur butterfly in the yard, which led her to bring her Legos out onto the deck to play before lunch.

Now she’s playing peacefully in her room while she listens to an audiobook, and I am here.

I’m writing all this down because I want to remember it.  I want to remember that we are choosing differently, that we are living differently, and that we’re doing it on purpose.

While I colored with my little one early this morning, I got a phone call from a friend, apologizing for having to miss out on a gathering we’d been planning.  She’d forgotten a thing, she was double-booked, she was so sorry, she couldn’t make it.

And that’s fine.  Mistakes happen, I understand.

What’s funny to me is that this is the same person who gives me such grief when I say “no” to things.  I have, occasionally, mentioned Courtney Carver’s idea that I don’t say no because I’m too busy….I say no because I don’t want to be busy.  Of course!  She understands.  Completely.

Until the next time I choose not to do something.

That is her choice.  For my part, I will continue to pay attention to my family’s need for rest, especially during busy seasons.  I will keep taking lessons from my youngest, my Noticer.  I will keep choosing slow and steady over fast and furious; choosing different.

Choosing quiet.

My Paradox

It is officially “nest” season over here again, this time with my six-year-old; the big kids have moved on.  I was watching her arrange blankets yesterday and it reminded me of this post.

Originally published June 12, 2012

I moved the living room furniture last week, pushing the sofa directly in front of our bay window.  (It’s air conditioner season here, so I don’t anticipate opening the window anytime soon.)  I was completely not expecting the enthusiastic response I got from both my kids, who appeared to be positively thrilled with the new arrangement.  My daughter was actually dancing around the room.  “Why?” I finally asked.  “Why do you like the furniture this way?”

“For our nest!!” my daughter announced.  And, yes, by the next afternoon there was a pile behind the sofa, and the spot was officially dubbed their “nest.”

There are no fewer than nine blankets and six pillows back there.  The amount of stuff in that nook, which is maybe eight feet at it’s very widest point (but it’s a bay, so it narrows to about 3 1/2′), looks ridiculous.  (Actually, to be honest, it looks quite comfy.)  All the blankets and pillows are tumbled and tossed together, in a jumble of chaos where the “dividing line” between my kids’ spaces is vaguely discernable by a color change:  one side is mostly blue, one side is mostly pink.  It’s the definition of “excess.”

But….

If one of the high points of my kids’ summer is the ability to make a “nest;” to snuggle in behind the sofa, in the dappled shade of the trees that grow just outside the window, and read a book; or to just hang out together (as they often do)…..then, isn’t that a definition of simplicity?

Connections

Sometimes I think we make things too hard.

That statement covers a lot of ground; it’s one of the reasons I’ve been so focused on simplifying things in our home.  What I’m specifically thinking about right now, though, is finding connection with our kids.

All parents want to connect with their children, but I think homeschool parents have this added dose of…..something.  Maybe because we’re with them all the time, but are aware that time together does not necessarily equal true togetherness.  Maybe it’s the extra responsibility we feel that other parents don’t have, as we’ve committed to this whole “school” thing in addition to parenting.  Everywhere I turn, I’m being reminded that it’s all about the relationships.  

I think there’s this vague idea of what we want connection to look like–what it “should” look like.

  • Bonding over a read-aloud.
  • Discovering something new and unknown in the world around you, together.
  • Deep conversations over cocoa on a cold day (or over ice cream when it’s hot).

Something about all these ideas seems very serious and….I don’t know….intense.

What if it really was as simple as watching a movie?

What if you and your spouse pulled out the weirdest movie you both loved from years ago, warned the (big) kids repeatedly that they might not like it, explained that it really took a special sort of person to enjoy it…..and what if they loved it?

What if the 13-year-old “I don’t really ever laugh at movies, I just smile” couldn’t stop laughing?

What if the 15-year-old cynic laughed just as hard?

(Y’all….there was audible gasping.)

What to make of the ensuing conversation post-movie of the sheer ridiculousness of it all?

          Daughter, at the final, final scene:  What was that??

          Me:  That was the Space Shuttle built from household appliances taking off!

          Daughter:  NO!  Not that--I know what that was.  What was THAT?  That entire                                         movie? (Begins laughing uncontrollably)

What if you get up the next morning and discover the teens have usurped the six-year-old’s magnetic letters?  (This, by the way, was the inspiration for this post.)

What if, when they finally stumble out of bed the next morning, we are all still laughing?  Together?

It’s June, people, and I’m tired.  I”m tired of trying to evaluate every. single. thing my kids are doing to try and figure out if there’s some kind of educational value in it.  I’m tired of thinking about school and what school should look like and how much school is enough.  All I want, right now, is to simply connect with my kids.  To enjoy them.  To enjoy things together.

To laugh.  A lot.

 

 

*The movie in question is “Better off Dead.”  No need to go watch it….truly…..you might not like it.  It really takes a special sort of person to enjoy it. 😉

Goodbye, Christmas and 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!

Start the Car

As the year turned I was having my usual evaluation of The State of Things.  I’ve spent the better part of five years paring down this family’s life, and I was wondering–especially in light of a potential job offer–what was next.  Was it time to start adding in?  Was it time to say “more” instead of “less,” at least to some things?

What I really want, I’ve always joked, is for God to put a sign in my yard.  “Do this,” it would say, and I’d do it.

Reading during my quiet time one morning I came across this verse:

“I shall walk at liberty, for I have sought your precepts.” –Psalm 119:45

At liberty.

It’s almost like as long as I’m seeking him, following Him, I can do whatever.

Well, that can’t be right.  Can it?

Not even two weeks go by and I stumble across this quote in Emily P. Freeman’s book A Million Little Ways:

“Author Barbara Brown Taylor writes about a time in her life when she was desperate to discover what she was supposed to be doing with her life.  She describes praying to God, asking him that very question in her book An Altar in the World.

God’s answer to her was both surprising and infuriating.  She sensed him saying this:  Do anything that pleases you, and belong to me.”  (pg. 50)

Well….okay then.  Let me think on that.

One week later I’m reading in the book we’ve chosen for our Bible study and come to this beautiful (and comical) word picture:

“The difference between the mechanical and relational approach could be pictured like this:  Let’s say you’d been taught how to get written directions from God to go any place you wanted to go.  You could get in your car and hold these instructions in your hand, printed clearly in black and white.  That’s what many people want from God:  ‘Just tell me what to do!’          [See?  There’s that sign I want in my yard.]

But Jesus will not have it!  Jesus is relentlessly relational.  He gets in the car with you, takes the instructions out of your hands, and grins as he tears them up.  ‘Start the car!’ he says.

You feel uneasy; you just want the instructions!  You protest:  ‘How will I know when to turn?’

He smiles and challenges you to risk trusting him:  ‘I’ll tell you when to turn.  Start the car!’

You protest again:  ‘I need to know ahead of time!’

But Jesus replies, ‘Trust me.  We’re going to stop at restaurants you’re going to love; we’re going to see beautiful places; we’re going to stop alongside the road and help people you can’t stand.  It will be wonderful.  Start the car.”  (–When the Soul Listens, by Jan Johnson, pg. 6-7)

I’d like to think, by now, that I’m starting to get the point.  (I can be slow, don’t get me wrong, but this is a little much.)  All these moments formed the beginning of my “intentional” year, the things that came together just before I sat down to look at my days and do something about them.  I don’t have a map (honestly, I’m lousy at reading maps anyway), and I have no idea what the year in front of us holds (let’s be real, no one really does), but I plan on walking as closely to Him as I can.  If I’m close enough–and stay quiet enough–maybe I can hear his direction.

 

(Incidentally, the other option I considered for my word this year was “abide:”  “Abide in me as I abide in you…..I am the vine, you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).  It sounds like I’ll be focused on doing that anyway, “word” or no. )

Unplugging

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.

In November…

Cynthia Rylant has a beautiful book titled In November that I discovered last year while I was rounding up “fall books” for my youngest.  (Sadly, I didn’t know it existed when my big kids were little.)  At one point she talks about the trees:

In November, the trees are standing all sticks and bones.  Without their leaves, how lovely they are, spreading their arms like dancers.  They know it is time to be still.

Do we know it’s time to be still?  I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about how separated we are from the seasons.  We live our insulated lives, with our A/C and our furnaces, and let the weather go on as it may.  I’m incredibly thankful for the blessings of air conditioning on a hundred degree Kansas day, but we’ve become very removed from the gradual shift of the seasons.

Is it possible to recapture the sense that November is a time for quieting life?  For slowing down; for preparing for sleep?  The cynic in me is clawing to get out right now, full of snide remarks about how dark and gray it is and of course we’re ready to sleep.  But is it possible to actually mimic nature, to set aside all the crazy of go-go-go and do-do-do and be still?

To be at peace, in quiet, as the world fades into the muted grays and browns of late autumn?

I’m considering a few ideas:

Nothing new.  No new appointments this month.  In an effort to slow and quiet our schedule, purposefully saying “no” to any new or last-minute obligations that crop up.  If it’s a regular class, appointment, or event, it stays.  If not, it must fight to earn its way onto the calendar.  The default answer should be “no.”

Afternoon walks.  The time for after-dinner walking is officially over; it’s pitch-black by 5:30 where we live.  But our family’s schedule offers up the freedom to take a walk in the late afternoon, before dinner prep starts.  I don’t look at this as a “gotta get a workout in” walk.  I’m intending this to be a “go outside and enjoy the amazing trees before they fade” walk.

Evenings in.  It’s cold out there.  I want to spend evenings inside, with family, with warm drinks and books (or maybe cards and games).  Especially as the shopping season ramps up, I’m hoping to be content at home instead of jumping into the holiday frenzy.  I absolutely understand this is not possible every night (even our very scaled-back calendar includes youth events at church on Wednesday nights), but any baby steps in this direction will help.

Winter prep.  I’ve been taking care of the outside “stuff” over the past few weeks.  It’s never looked like “We spent our entire Saturday dealing with yard work.”  It’s been a quiet, small, gradual process of putting away the plant pots one day, unhooking and storing the hoses the next afternoon, taking down and washing the hammock another….a simple, “still” way of preparing for the winter ahead; putting the yard and garden to bed for the year.

Cleaning out.  As we prepare for the Christmas season, I’m taking decluttering the same gradual way: small, baby steps; with weekly stops at our thrift store that’s on the way to preschool (and next door to the library–does it get any better than that?).  I’m planning our Christmas in the quiet spaces I’ve found in my days, and am making room for the influx that is bound to happen come December 25th (still, thankfully, a ways off).

Apparently rules are made to be broken, because I’ve disregarded each of these more than once over the past few weeks.  Birthday party invites arrive; math tutors must be included in the schedule as needed, and afternoon walks?  That’s a fairly large schedule (read: habit) change for me to just start, out of the blue.  But my intention, knowing it’s time to be still, stays the same.

What would you want to give up?  What would you need to include?  How else could we appreciate more fully this particular season, when things grow quiet and still?

Minimalism, meet reality

I moved the furniture in my youngest’s room this morning; moved the posters on her walls around.  Got everything rearranged, cleaned out just a bit, and it’s beautiful.  So empty and peaceful.

I worked in the basement for five minutes, going through a bin of stuffed animals (the old “out of sight, out of mind” trick).  I pulled five to keep–I’m still a sucker for sentimental stuff–and filled a 13-gallon trash bag with loveys to pass on.

I weeded kids’ books yesterday and kept only the much-loved favorites.  This was met almost immediately with a request to read A Pocket for Corduroy.  Funny how favorite books can be found when you get rid of the junky stuff.

I got in the laundry room closet today…..and it was still a laundry room closet.

But here’s the thing:  the only items in that closet right now that don’t really belong are some picture frames that I want t buy mats for.  Everything else, regardless of how un-minimalist it looks, is something we use.  Not every single day, but easily every month, and absolutely every few months.

I’ve finally come to the realization that every home is going to have a bin of extra light bulbs.

Truly….I think this is something the glossy magazines don’t ever spotlight, and it’s stuff that no one likes to think about.  But I daresay that even the most minimalist home is going to have a stash of bulbs somewhere.  If they don’t, they’re going to be hanging out in the dark at some point, because bulbs don’t burn out when it’s convenient–much like smoke alarm batteries only running out at 3:00 AM.

So that closet full of “stuff” isn’t going anywhere.  It is a testament to the reality of living this life.  We use detergent, and have an iron and ironing pad.  We need a place to keep things like string and screwdrivers and my secret stash of chocolate.  I’ll do my best to keep it organized, and keep it cleaned out, but some “stuff” you just need to keep.