Little Lessons, Big Impact

I just walked through my house, turning off lights in empty rooms, and a mental light turned on at the same time as I realized: I do this because my dad taught me to. 

There was a point in my adolescence where my dad explained that electricity cost money, and began fining us 25 cents for every unnecessary light we left on. We rolled our eyes and thought he was being ridiculous, but quickly adjusted our behavior when we had to hand over our precious quarters.

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BECAUSE I NEEDED THOSE QUARTERS FOR GAS MONEY.

And now, 16-or-so years and some blessed maturity later, I’m walking through my own house, turning unnecessary lights off.

I am in such a training phase right now with my kids.  I am constantly giving direction, redirection, praise, coaching, and enforcing do-overs.  My girls recently started fighting with one another for the first time; dual time-outs are a daily occurrence.

Ideally, I’d like to be promoting values and proactively teaching my kids, but I have to respond to behaviors so many times per day that it feels hard to move out of reaction mode and towards any “bigger picture” ideals.

I was listening yesterday to an interview with Sally Clarkson in which she said:

“A lot of women give up [on a certain ideal they want to have for their family] when they really are making progress, and their kids really are listening—they just haven’t gotten old enough to own it for themselves and to verbalize back to you how important it was to them.  I see so many people giving up at the wrong moment.”  

She explains that the verse, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6) doesn’t say your child will go the right way immediately; it takes time  and maturity for that training to sink in. When he’s young? He needs lots of coaching and reminders!

I loved these back-to-back reminders that all of this training is a process—a process that can, occasionally, develop habits and thoughts that last for a lifetime.

So here are three things I’m trying to intentionally teach my girls right now, knowing it might take a lifetime to soak in:

(1) “God made you so, so special.  He loves you just the way you are.”    

One of my girls is beginning to realize that she is different from others, both in how she copes with things (“why am I more sensitive than them? I wish I was brave like her”) and in her appearance.  Additionally, she has been dealing with some teasing from her preschool classmates about her beautiful hair, to the point that she asks for a ponytail every day that she goes to school so the attention to her hair will be minimized (this is where I want to cry a little bit, because seriously, 3 year olds? I thought we had a few more years).

We have spoken with the teachers about the teasing, have brought in books that celebrate black hair and read them to her classmates, and (already) read these books at home.  We also got her a doll with natural hair for Christmas, as this perceptive child pointed out that all of her black dolls had relaxed (straight) hair, which I hadn’t even realized.  This was her face when she pulled the wrapping paper off and found a natural hair doll:

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The first thing she said was “her hair looks just like mine!!!” I can’t help but think that seeing this beautifully-wrapped, fancily-dressed doll made her realize that she must be beautiful if someone would design a doll to look just like her.

I want my girls to know deep in their core that they are created on purpose by a master creator, loved for who and how they are, and wanted.  So I’m reminding them at every possible opportunity:

When they’re good at something: It’s because God made you special, and part of His special plan was to make you good at this particular thing.  

When something’s hard for them: It’s because God makes everyone special and different, and He made you good at something else, and likes to watch you try and try and get better at this! 

When they aren’t like a friend: It’s because God makes everyone special and different.  He didn’t make any two people exactly alike, but you’re both special.    

When they don’t like something about themselves: God still made you special, and He loves you just the way you are. 

(2) “Let’s talk to God about that. He loves to hear our prayers.”

Prayer has never been my strongest spiritual practice.  I can praise God easily, but I like to bring my problems to God as a last resort, after I’ve pro-con-listed different solutions, maybe worried over it a little, and talked about it with a friend.  (I’m working on this.)

It occurred to me about six months ago that if I never show my children how to talk to God about their problems, my children will see me as their god.  If Zoe tells me, “I’m scared of being alone in my room!” and all I do is give her a list of suggestions to be less scared, I’ve taken away her power and His.

When I talk with her about her fears and then lead her to share them with God, I’ve taken myself off the throne and instead empowered her by giving her the tool to finding peace—and the chance to trust God and watch Him work.

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So I’m reminding all of us:

Let’s tell God that we’re scared and ask Him to help you calm down and sleep well.

Let’s ask God to help us not get so frustrated.

Let’s tell God that you’re nervous about going to school and ask Him to help you feel brave.  

 

(3) “There’s always a Plan B.  Let’s think of some ideas.”

I’m the queen of rigidity.  It’s really annoying, and I’m trying to spare my kids from having this be part of their personality.  So I’m trying to train them to think of a list of possible solutions and alternate ideas when their first idea doesn’t work, instead of freezing and/or melting down in frustration.  I want them to know that there are always lots of options if they can just get enough outside of their feelings to think creatively.

We don’t have time to go to the park because the sun is setting soon, but we can ride our bikes in our driveway before it gets dark, or do some water play in the bath tub. What are some other things we could do? 

She didn’t answer the way that you wanted her to.  What are some things we could say next?  

It is very frustrating when things break. We could hit our sister in anger and go to our room, or we could try to fix this together. Which do you think we should try? 

 

These are just a few of the “ideals” I’m holding up every day, and to be honest, sometimes I’m not sure I’m communicating them well or enough.  I’m not sure my kids are listening or watching.  I’m also not sure I’m the best messenger for ideals that I myself struggle with!

But I can tell you this: last week, my stroller broke while I was on a walk with Riley.  It was not my Plan A to sit on the sidewalk with Riley watching stroller repair videos on my phone before realizing that I needed a wrench to fix it, and then having to walk eight blocks carrying a 30 pound child and a stroller that I was holding in a perpetual wheelie.

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I felt all kinds of frustrated.  Plan A was good! A walk! Exercise! Why is everything so hard? This is exactly what I’m talking about—how can I create a strategy for communicating these big-picture ideals if I’m always responding to emergencies?! 

But later I saw what Riley was doing with her toy stroller.

img_0068She’s trying to fix it on the side of the road.  She’s doing what I so imperfectly modeled.

And now I know: in 16+ years, my little girls might find themselves turning off a light, or thinking of a plan B, or talking to God in prayer, or (I hope) smiling at themselves in the mirror knowing God made them.  So I’ll keep going with the training and the ideals, even in the imperfect moments. Because it does add up to a better person.  And one with a lower electricity bill.

And to my parents: thank you for parenting us so intentionally. I am only now beginning to realize how much energy and thought that must have taken! You are my role models! 

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The ABCs of Spring

For this post, I thought I’d give you a little recap of our spring…alphabet-style.

A is for Anna (and Elsa).

IMG_4995One of my children may someday be a Method actor.  Which one? IMG_4997 IMG_5003IMG_5006(The curtains = the kingdom of isolation.  Clearly.)

B is for beach. 

At the beginning of April, we had the joy of spending a week in Watersound Beach with my family.  Actually, to be precise, one of my kids had the joy of spending the week there:

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The other was not impressed.

IMG_6058It’s hard to enjoy the beach if you’re terrified of sand.

Still, it was a fantastic week.  Sally Clarkson writes about a well-timed getaway, “my heart was desperate for some new inspiration and rest from my draining and demanding days.” I hadn’t realized that I was feeling a little low, but then this week was full of rest, beautiful scenery, and fun that lifted my spirits and refilled my heart.  After a week away, the routines that had begun to feel mundane felt sweet again. I am so thankful for the week away.

C is for (some) clarity. 

It was hard for me to make the choice to sign both girls up for preschool next year, but knowing that this season is going to change in a few months has really helped me to appreciate and savor this time with them (and not feel bogged down in it).  Paying for two preschool tuitions will be more expensive than paying for one sitter, so I have been laying some groundwork to get some higher-paying projects and clients for the summer and fall so that I can keep making a similar net income.  It’s been interesting to reflect on where I am in my part time job/business/whatever and where I may want to go in the future.

I spent so much time in my teens and early twenties reflecting on what I wanted to be when I “grew up.”  These days, I find myself thinking a lot more about who I want to be. It’s amazing how much bigger your world becomes and how many more options you have when you start with the “who” question…

D is for D, the letter of the month. 

IMG_5130I started a “letter of the week” station in January and VERY quickly turned it into a letter of the month station. It’s fun to expose the girls to new concepts and to watch them explore sounds and patterns.  However, at the rate we’re going, we’ll be doing a letter of the month for a little over two years.  I’m not sure we’ll make it…

E is for Easter.

This year, we participated in three egg hunts, in addition to all the church stuff that you probably assumed we did. We also gave the girls their first Easter baskets. They were moderately excited by the contents.

F is for Forty, which is how old I feel in my SPF 50 sun hat.  

Photo on 4-20-16 at 4.10 PMYou can find me rocking my sun hat, sun screen, and LaCroix most afternoons as we play outside.  In related news, I also bought a one-piece swimsuit this year.

I am a stereotype.

G is for garage sale, which is where I found these Lilly Pulitzer dresses that my girls wore for Easter. IMG_5080I tried bribing them with M&Ms to pose for a photo shoot, but this action shot of them shoving weeds into the pockets of their dresses was the best I could do.  G is also for good thing these weren’t full price.  

H is for happy, which is how Zoe and I feel about the token economy we live in. Since January, Zoe’s only chance to earn TV time has been by taking a nap.  I think she’s secretly relieved to have an “excuse” to take a nap (she definitely still needs to nap), and I’m relieved to have the chance to get work done.

One of the things I think I’ll always remember from this stage of life is how proud she looks when she settles in on the couch after her nap and selects her show of the day.

IMG_4982Lately, she’s been pulling out a big blanket for me and asking me if I want to cuddle with her. Yes, I do.

Sweet, sweet moments.  So glad I’m here for them.

“I” brings me to a quote from one of the best books I’ve read so far in 2016: “It soon became evident that consistently choosing connection over distraction was the key to a more joy-filled life.”  –Rachel Macy Stafford, Hands Free Mama: A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfectionism to Grasp What Really Matters 

This book was poignant and thoughtful.  I appreciated every word she wrote and recommend it to everyone—not just mamas.

(Other runners-up for best book I’ve read so far in 2016: Women of the Word, Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark, and Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe. I read non-Christian books too—Just Mercy and Nickel and Dimed were two of my good non-Christian reads, along with several parenting books—but overall this has been a rich and engaging season in my faith and my reading list reflects that.  I’m so thankful for that, and for a hobby that works in my current life stage!)

J, K, and L are for Just Kidding, I’m not sure I can do this for an entire alphabet.  I may be Lamer than I thought…I’ll try a few more.  

M is for Messy. 

My sweet mom drove home with us and visited for five days after our beach trip.  In addition to whipping my house and laundry into shape, she also planted some flowers with my girls. They were very excited.

IMG_5093IMG_5096IMG_5097IMG_5098Until reality set in for my daughter who thinks “dirt” and “sand” are THE WORST. IMG_5099IMG_5100N is for NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!IMG_5101IMG_5102IMG_5103IMG_5104IMG_5105O is for Only Zoe is left.IMG_5106P is for “this alphabet schtick is Probably to be continued, but not tonight.” 

Hobbies, Hair Care Products, Home Design, and My Portrait

This is about how excited I am to finally have the chance to write!

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I truly miss this space and consistently sitting down to pour my heart out through writing.  I know, I know, we are all supposed to go forth and live the life you imagine and remember that this is your one wild and precious life and if you want something, make it happen, but I have found that I imagine and want a lot of things but physically can’t make them all happen.

I’m trying to take the long view—making sure I’m fitting in the things I and my family need each week, and then making time for the things that I want over the course of the month.  My life right now is built on a base of responsibilities with a sprinkle of personal interests, and I could “imagine” all I want that everyone could magically feed themselves and clean up their own literal crap, but that’s not the case.  I could walk around in a state of perpetual annoyance at my “rights” being violated and bitterly fight to get my every desire met, or I could embrace the opportunity to learn how to dig deeper, let my character be shaped, and find joy in things more lasting and important than the immediate gratification of all my needs and desires.

This season won’t last forever and it will never come around again.  I can ride the wave or fight it, but it’s happening either way.

My boss shared something with me this week that seemed relevant to this point:

5ce67bd517b00497ab01e77674873ad6As an illustration, allow me to update you on what has occurred since I began writing this blog post this afternoon:

-David and the girls returned from their quick grocery trip (mission: give mama a few minutes to herself.  Also, buy pretzels).  Riley walks in with a joyful “MAMA!” Zoe walks in saying “I HAD AN ACCIDENT.”  Apparently, it’s the second time this weekend she has mistaken her car seat for a toilet.  She has been potty trained for three months, so I’m not really sure what that’s about.

-David disassembles the carseat pieces so we can wash the carseat cover.  I send Zoe to her room to clean herself up while I unload and put away the groceries (they bought more than pretzels).

-I “cook” “dinner” (tuna melts for grown-ups, English muffin pizzas for the kiddos, no veggies given the situation) while reopening Riley’s straw cup for her approximately 40 times and providing a minute-by-minute countdown of how long it will be until this feast will be plated.

-While we are eating dinner, Zoe exclaims, “I have to go potty!!!” We applaud and encourage her.  Ten minutes of silence later, David checks on her and finds her naked and washing her clothes in the toilet (?!!)

-Clean that up.

-Discuss why we don’t wash our clothing in the toilet and why we don’t play in the bathroom during dinner time.  Play warden for a check-in and check-out of time out.

-Administer hugs and pep talk.

-Zoe’s dinner is cold.  It’s apparently soooooo hard for her to eat her food when it’s cold (and when it’s food).  After a battle of the wills that’s going nowhere, I end up reading her books to distract her while she eats.

-David gets the girls in jammies while I begin cleaning up.

-Dance party! The girls and I bust a move for 20 minutes (okay, actually they bust a move for 17 minutes and I realize at the 20 minute mark that I’m dancing alone to a song called “I Love My Shoes” and have been for the last three minutes.  Rhythm is gonna get you…)

-Bedtime routine—teeth, books, hunting for transitional objects that have been scattered throughout the house, emotional coaching.

-Finish cleaning up dinner.

-Attempt to clean up from the day; take trash out; enjoy sunset for a minute.

This brings us to the present. And now I want to talk about shampoo and conditioner.  Because clearly, when I haven’t blogged for a month, THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING I COULD POSSIBLY DISCUSS.  IMG_5131(I figured that if I made this photo black and white, you were less able to see how dirty my shower was.  Slash I live and breathe art.)

Friends, gather close and listen to me wax rhapsodic about hair care products.  If Suave had informercials, I’d be on them, talking about how their coconut oil infusion shampoo and conditioner have helped me achieve soft, touchable hair when God, hard water, infrequent flat-ironing, and occasional chemical processing had other plans for my hair.  I genuinely sit around stroking my hair now and everyone keeps asking me if I just highlighted it.  It’s divine.

To the right of this photo is Coconut CoWash, which is a birthday present to Zoe from one of my friends who has similar curls.  It has cut our hair styling time by one third.  Her curls look and feel great, and my friend tells me it retails for less than $10 at Target!

Walk, don’t run (it’s not THAT big of a deal) to buy the hair product appropriate for YOUR ethnic and racial background!

Next, we will move on to something else important: MY PORTRAIT AND MY BREAKFAST. 

IMG_5128Zoe crafted this gem for me today.  It appears that I may need to work on brightening my face in the morning.  My hair looks great, though (thanks, Suave).

Also: I don’t know why she drew me eating cereal in this picture.  For the last month, my breakfast has consisted of hard boiled eggs and sprouted bread toast topped with smashed avocado and a squeeze of lemon, thanks to a magazine article on “how to have more energy in the mornings.” I actually think it has helped, which is why I’m passing this tip along. Trader Joe’s has very reasonably priced sprouted bread.

Finally: HOME DESIGN

Recently, my mom stiff-armed me into having an interior decorator come to the house (because I need someone to tell me where to put my $30 art and hand-me-down furniture.  Also, and most importantly, because she volunteered to help us for free).

IMG_5129I thought this wall was a high point of my decorating skills, but apparently this isn’t actually a look?!! I have lots to learn, but I’m excited, and our interior decorator (that makes me giggle) is great.  She will be giving me a plan for our future furniture purchases and some current layout improvement ideas.

Since we bought the house, we’ve put in new flooring, painted, painted our home exterior, pulled back overgrown landscaping, painted our pergola, added closet doors to every room, and done a few more miscellaneous projects I can’t recall. To my extreme shock, I am finding that putting effort into a house is satisfying and fun.  I enjoy it.

Oh, adulthood.  How you continually surprise me.

So, my long-winded point here is I may blog occasionally about home design, because it turns out that I like it.  And also, because I have an interior decorator.

 

EXTRANEOUS PHOTO TO LEAVE YOU SAYING “AWWW!” 

IMG_5044I hope you appreciated all of these valuable tips and life lessons (or generally shallow thoughts—however they might have come across).  I’m 25 graded papers away from FREEDOM (before the summer semester begins, at least…so PARTIAL FREEDOM), so I hope to blog again soon!

Sarah out…

Riley, 18 Months

I promised a few months ago that I’d write more posts about Riley.  She just turned 18 months old, so I felt like it was high time for an update!

IMG_8044-2.jpgWriting about Riley typically reduces me to an uncreative, wordless puddle of mush. She’s just so sweet that it’s hard to describe her without sounding like a sixth grade girl talking about her crush. “SO CUTE!” “I LOVE HER!” “EVERYTHING ABOUT HER IS JUST SO PERFECT!”

To counteract this tendency, I will begin by describing her (only) two annoying qualities:

she wants me to hold her nonstop (unless we are trying to dart into Starbucks for a quick coffee, in which case, she wants me to put her down and let her fling bags of potato chips and popcorn with reckless abandon while she roars like the dragon she sees pictured on the Komodo coffee bag. You’re welcome, employees and patrons). When not in Starbucks, she is typically on my lap or in my arms, with her face pressed against mine, OR crying “MAAAAAAAA-MAAAAAAAA” because she wants to be on my lap or in my arms with her face pressed against mine.

-she is beginning to develop opinions.  Sometimes they are different than mine. (NO!!!!!!)

That’s all I can think of to be annoyed by, and these issues are barely legitimate. BECAUSE SHE’S ACTUALLY THE BEST BABY IN THE WORLD. XOXOXOXOXOXO.

There I go again, getting all sixth grade girl on you. Maybe sharing some photos will inspire me to share actual facts and informative comments with you.  Here goes.1124150900_HDR-2“Nack. PEEEEZZ!!!!” These are Riley’s most-used words, followed by “dah-dah” (cracker), “na-nuh” (banana), “yo-ga” (yogurt), “deeee-dah!” (pizza), “see-ya!” (cereal), “cheese” (needs no interpretation). Riley loves to snack and would love a world in which she could steadily munch on an unvaried diet from 5 am until 7 pm.

Unfortunately, mean old mom insists on some balance, so she reluctantly eats 3 meals with some degree of nourishment in between the 2 happy snacks. “Day-you” for keeping me alive, mom.

(Notice what’s missing from this daily meal plan? Riley sure did, at least for several sad weeks. Thankfully, the heavy emotional toll of the great “bah bah” weaning seems to have finally decreased, as has mom’s end-of-the-day dish pile now that we are down to 0 bottles!!!! CUE HAPPY MUSIC!!!)Photo on 12-21-15 at 2.45 PM #2“Cean up.” One of Riley’s current favorite activities is cleaning up, which serves as a great counterpoint to Zoe’s current favorite activity of pulling each piece of clothing out of her drawers and dropping them throughout the house. While Riley’s efforts are not actually helpful enough to merit any violation of child labor laws, I appreciate the sentiment.

Riley’s other favorite activities right now include playing outside with her riding cars, going to the “paaaah” (park), reading books (“Where Is Baby’s Belly Button” is a particular favorite), “daw” (drawing with crayons, chalk, or Do-A-Dot pens), “doc-dah” (playing doctor with a doctor kit), and “baaaah” (taking a bath). She also enjoys brushing her teeth, singing “Row Row Row Your Boat” loudly on my lap, and doing anything her sister is doing.1210150722Riley’s Schedule: Riley sleeps through the night 99% of the time. Mom loves this fact 100% of the time.

She is usually up by 5:30 am and ready to eat a bowl of “see-ya” with her trusty blanket and stuffed monkey by her side.  After feeding herself two small bowls of cereal with her own spoon, she dramatically flings milk everywhere and demands “all done. Wash!” We move on to our next activity (often, a much-needed bath before some playroom time).

After an argument about clothing, we’re usually out of the house by 8:10-8:30, and typically spend our mornings out at Jazzercise, the library, a park, the zoo, a friends’ house, running errands, etc., or some combination of the above (unless we are hosting a play date or feeling like we need some slow time at home). We are usually home by 11:15-11:30 am for lunch.

IMG_4912During lunch, I typically read the girls 2-4 books, which they LOVE. Riley and Zoe go down for their naps together around 12:15-12:30. By 2-2:30, Riley’s usually up and ready for another “nack.” We’ll spend our afternoon playing with our neighbor, goofing around in the yard, reading books, making art, visiting a park, Facetiming a family member, or going for a walk, before dinner at 5:45ish, books at 6:45ish, and bedtime by 7:15-7:30.

1217151901aToddler stuff: Riley has like, 12 legitimate chompers now, and has experimented a little bit with biting. Thankfully, she usually says “BITE!” before she is about to bite you, so YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.

She also enjoys trying to break into the toilet locks and trying to get into the trash can.

She has begun to say “no!” to us but usually giggles and apologizes with lots of kisses if she thinks she has pushed it too far.IMG_4791Riley as a sister: I couldn’t have asked for a better little sister for Zoe. Riley is thrilled any time that Zoe wants to play with her. The sound of them giggling together is my favorite sound in the entire world. Riley is quick to forgive her sister when needed, and has even begun to point out to Zoe when she needs to take a deep breath.  Last week, she woke up first, and walked down the hallway to Zoe’s room calling “Zo-Zo!” because she missed her sister.

I thought that having to spread my love between two kids would take away a little bit from my ability to love each of them, but I find that I have even more love for them than I did before, because I love them each as individuals AND for who they are as a sister.

On a less sweet note, now that they can both run and tell me “no,” I definitely feel like I get a run for my money during outings.  I have even begun wearing tennis shoes on the regular, even when it’s a fashion “don’t.”  I know, who am I? 0109161003Other pertinent Riley facts: she weighs 23 lbs, is measuring high on the growth chart for height, and is wearing 18 month and 2T clothes and size 4 diapers.

Everyone always says “her curls are so perfect!” Thank you. They are.  I wash them and then use this fancy product called conditioner. (Zoe’s hair takes ~30 minutes after each bath, so I am very thankful God gave me one wash-and-go girl, at least for now).

As evidenced by all of her direct quotes in this post (ha), Riley is very verbal and basically knows the word for anything she needs. She is beginning to use short sentences (i.e. “all done. Wash,” or one I hear frequently as she plays with Zoe, “no! mine! mama! mean!”)

Well, a picture says 1000 words and I just said over 1000 words—so between the two of these, you just comprehended like 9000 words about our favorite 1.5 year old.  I’d keep going (LIKE I SAID, I’M LIKE A SIXTH GRADE GIRL OVER HERE) but I recognize that you may have a cut-off point.  Just know this: to know Riley is to love her! We are so blessed to have her as a part of our family.

On Rest, Part II

Life has settled down so, so much over the last few months, and I am so, so grateful.

Day-to-day, I have a good rhythm going between my work, children, husband, friends, ministry, and personal interests. I’ve had to drop some expectations to get here—for example, I won’t win friend, housecleaner, or blogger of the year anytime soon—but most days, I feel a sense of balance, peace, and calm.

For most of my life, I have resisted being “at rest” because it felt like giving up. Resting felt like surrendering to stagnancy and a life of limited accomplishments.  I felt like I had to stay in motion or I’d lose my significance.

But it turns out that occasionally being “at rest” is the key to actually going somewhere with all my motions.

IMG_4741One of the biggest lessons that I learned this fall was what resting looks like for me.

I already knew that I was not a very good “rester” in the traditional, kick-your-feet-up-on-the-couch or take-a-nap kind of way. Trying to “relax” that way is actually way more frustrating than energizing for me.

I also knew that chasing and nurturing two energetic toddlers, being a ministry spouse, and running a part-time business don’t really set the stage for rest—but I enjoy all of these aspects of my life, and felt called to embrace them rather than to shut them all down.

So I prayed—that God would show up and help me learn what resting looked like for me, in this life, with this personality, with this inability to nap.  And He did.

It turns out that, for me, the most therapeutic and restorative “rest” comes from short pauses—the ones where I ask, what are my goals? What are my values? Does making this decision help me live into those, or take me further from those? Why am I doing this particular thing? Is this my assignment? Whose expectations truly matter most here? Who will I gently and peacefully disappoint? What is the bigger picture of my week? What is the bigger picture of this month? What do I want to move towards for the next season, and what does that mean for today? What goal won’t I meet today because I’m choosing something better?  

Asking and carefully answering those questions makes it so that I don’t really NEED to collapse on a couch, because I’m not overwhelmed and run down and exhausted—I’m living purposefully and using my energy wisely.

It means I go to bed a little earlier.

It means I say yes to one assignment and no to another.

It means that I push past the pressure I feel to have the house clean for the dishwasher repairman who will be here soon (because what will he think of us?!!) and choose to do the messy art project with my daughter (because making a mess is how she learns…and who cares what the dishwasher repairman thinks?!) 

It means that I choose my marriage, every night, instead of advancing “just one more” item on a to-do list that I have learned will be there tomorrow.

IMG_4739Taking these pauses to consider my choices has made every day so much more enjoyable. And when unexpected events occur, I have enough margin and physical and emotional reserves to get through the events without completely losing it.

There are still the moments when everyone needs me all at once and I think, “This is just TOO MUCH for one person!”

And in those moments, too, I pause.

And then, full of awe and joyful realization, I repeat myself: yes, this IS too much for any one person. No one person deserves all of these blessings! Why has God been so gracious to me?! 

And like Lysa TerKeurst says, I remind myself that I’m managing blessings.

And this manager can take a quick rest.

Fall Report (Hint: It’s Good!)

At the end of the summer, I decided that my fall goals were to reconnect with myself, with rest, and with margin.  Here’s a little progress report on how that has gone.

Margin: 

When I set my fall goals, I knew very little about the structure of our fall. We were in the beginning of the home-buying process, and we weren’t sure about a timeline (beyond being out of our rental by January 1).  We still didn’t know if we’d find a good home or end up moving to another rental.

Since our fall was covered in question marks, I didn’t look for any additional work outside of teaching and the work I do through the grant writing business.  I also put a hold on my membership in a continuing ed/networking group I’m a part of.  Although I can’t point to many amazing professional experiences I’ve had this fall, I moved and unpacked my family and didn’t let anyone down.  Win.

Another win: this fall, I’ve been writing things like grocery shopping, exercising, and trips to Target in my calendar to make sure that I don’t wind up scrambling to “squeeze in” things that are priorities to me or that impact how well (and how happily) I can do my job as a household manager.

My fall course ended this week, so my last work projects of 2015 are writing one grant and finishing up some CEUs by the end of the year for my CPH credential.  Yesterday, I got an offer for some last-minute work.  Although we would have appreciated the money, I said no.  I only have a few more weeks before I go home for Christmas; I want to enjoy the holiday season with my family and not have to cram in CEUs every night.

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Myself: 

A few weeks ago, I took my 75th Jazzercise class.  The instructor makes an announcement when a student hits a “milestone” classes, and I have to admit that I was looking forward to my applause since I took over half of those classes in a state of chronic sleep deprivation.  Unfortunately, someone named Laura happened to share my milestone class, so people clapped for BOTH of us.  Ugh!  Thunder stolen.  Thankfully, I have been participating in a holiday challenge and should hit 100 classes before the end of the year, so hopefully this time I will get my own applause.  Ha.

All joking aside, Jazzercise has continued to be a great mental and physical outlet for me and gives me three additional hours a week of childcare that my kids love.  I am so grateful that I found this studio.

Other self care projects I can report on: I’ve been reading three books a month (this month’s books: some ridiculous Sophie Kinsella book, Women of the Word, and The Nesting Place), and have been meeting a friend once a week without my kids for an early morning walk.  I have also been doing my quiet times faithfully and going to bed earlier (last night, I am delighted to report that I hit the sack at 8:15).

I’ve also been straightening my hair on occasion and recently bought some new makeup which I am trying to wear a few times a week.  (Zoe’s recent comment while playing doctor: “mom, you have these lines under your eyes.  I’ll give you a shot and make them better.”  We have officially lived in plastic-surgery-hungry Florida too long).

I also went to a CONCERT recently! My neighbor gave me two free tickets to what turned out to be one of the coolest concerts I’ve ever been to.  I took my friend Susan (also a mom) and we had the best time.  I love music and used to go to concerts fairly regularly, but haven’t tapped into this part of myself very often since becoming a mom.  It served as a gentle reminder that I have lots of interests that are worth exploring from time to time.

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Rest: 

Rest is hard for me.

This fall has NOT been full of restful events (moving, house guests, etc.), but I have tried my best to allow myself to recuperate as needed.  This has meant spending a few of the kids’  nap times on the couch with Scandal and many evenings on the couch with a glass of wine.  There have ben a few Sunday afternoons where I’ve asked David to take the kids and go do something because I can’t be nice anymore.

The most concentrated moments of resting this fall came just a week ago when David and I took all of Thanksgiving week off and went to the beach with our kids.  Neither of us did anything productive all week long.  It was fantastic and re-charging and energizing.

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Kids eating ice cream on the way home from the beach? 
Doesn’t get better than that. 

But my favorite moment of “rest” from this whole fall happened yesterday.  I had hosted Zoe’s birthday party in the morning (she’s 3!! Sob!) As I wearily washed cupcake trays, I got an e-mail asking me if I could be available for a conference call later that afternoon.  Our sitter was going to be here, ostensibly so I could work, so theoretically I could have made this call work.

However.  It was Zoe’s 3rd birthday. I was exhausted from her party and her three hour wake up the night before.  And honestly, I just didn’t want to work.  I wanted to hang out with my daughter on her birthday.

I’m so sorry, but I am busy, I wrote back.

And then I spent the afternoon being busy.  I left Riley with the sitter and took Zoe to Starbucks in her new Elsa dress, where we sat together and played with a Playdoh activity bin for 1.5 hour. We went to Walgreens and watched every dancing musical toy. We bought quick-drying nail polish and came home and painted her nails.

“I love you, mommy!” my generally-non-affectionate child told me several times.

I am realizing that there is no shortage of things to be busy with—but not all of them are actually important.  If I can’t show up for the people and things that matter most to me—what’s the point? I want to be “busy” with the important things.  

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I AM BUSY.

Overall: This fall has felt like one giant win.  There have been some tough days (I still have two toddlers, people!!), but overall, I feel more joyful, energized, and present because I have focused on connecting with myself, rest, and margin.

Around this time of year, people begin thinking about ambitious goals for their new year—goals that usually don’t include things like rest and margin.  My humble suggestion? Instead of going big this year, do what author Emily Freeman suggests and “celebrate your smallness.”  This doesn’t necessarily mean settling for small goals; rather, it means realizing that you are one person who needs things like rest and margin, and that God will have to fill in the rest of “big” for you.

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Seeing for Two

We have a semi-open adoption with our girls’ birth moms, which means that we signed a contract to share photos of the girls with their birth moms at specified intervals.

All year, I try my hardest to capture photos of my girls’ everyday lives, their special occasions, their vacations, their time with friends, their time with family.

All year, I see for two people.

I see my daughter running on the beach, not only as myself, but for her.

I watch a birthday celebration through my own eyes, and at the same time, try to take photos for her.

I enjoy watching her peddle her bike in the beautiful sunset light, and wistfully realize I can’t capture it exactly right.  I savor it for two.

As my deadlines approach, I go through all of the photos, deciding what photos I would want to see most if photos were all I got to see.

I add captions, explaining “this is her best friend” or “this is what we did for her birthday” or “this perfectly describes her personality.”

I write a letter that may or may not be read.

And then I click “submit.”

This week marks three years of moments that I have gotten to see firsthand.

I am the photographer—not the person viewing the photos through a computer or a printed album.  This privilege is never lost on me.

As I click “submit,” I pray for the woman on the other end of the photograph.

And then I step away from the computer, back to my girls, and resume seeing for two.

The Beautiful Things

There are brilliant, wonderful, glorious gifts in front of me every single day, if I just turn my eyes and my mind to see them.

That’s one thing motherhood has taught me.

It’s easy to get lost in the work in front of me.  But there are so many moments of goodness along the way—moments where light and color and the physical and the spiritual worlds meet—and when I pay attention, I realize what an extraordinary gift these “ordinary” moments really are.

I want to pay attention more often.  

In that spirit, here are a few shots that I’ve never shared on the blog.  These photos weren’t captured during special events, but to me, they brim with the supernatural—the soft and gentle calling of a Creator who loves to speak to us through light, color, beauty, family, belonging, innocence, simplicity, His sufficiency in the face of our weakness, perseverance, hope, and love.

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“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.”  –Philippians 4:8-9 

October So Far

Hi friends! Another quick update.  Our move went well, minus the demise of our kitchen table (turns out it was literally on its last leg, HAHAHAHAHA you’re welcome) and we’re mostly settled into our new house! Here is where I would like to show you pictures of perfectly pulled-together rooms, but I have children, so this is the best I can do:

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It was clean and organized until 5:45 am.  Use your imagination to turn back time, or just enjoy it as it is 95% of the time (and note the “neutral AND bright” color that David and I convened on…it works, right?!!) Still to come in this playroom: art, a possible rug, and the removal of the last 3 moving boxes.

Our living room, shot from a hideous angle so you won’t see the stack of frames yet to be hung (“this weekend’s” project that may never be completed because kids):

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The real view, because I like vulnerability:

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Part of our massive backyard, complete with cute enjoyer-of-the-backyard:

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I’ll share more photos as I have opportunity to take them, and may even get fancy and do a “before and after” post for you chock full of juicy details like “paid someone to do this, so don’t ask questions because I honestly don’t know,” “this paint color is kind of blue and kind of green, and it has a name…er…” and “ask my dad.”  I will rule the home design blog genre.

Here are four of my favorite things about this new house so far:

-It provided an excuse for both of my parents to come visit.  I love seeing them, my girls love spending time with them, and no visit is ever long enough.  Tear.

-The chance for new rhythms.  For example, in this new house, I am decidedly starting each morning with quiet time.  The “wake up before your kids to meet with Jesus” concept has been a non-starter for us since these weirdos get up between 4:30-5:30 am and that’s just ungodly.  In our old house’s maze-like layout, the kids could easily wander and commit acts of violence if I didn’t move with them, so quiet time got replaced by “mommy is our constant companion” time.  Swell. Our new house’s layout is much more conducive to breezily keeping an eye on them while I do my own thing AND they’re both over 1 now, which is old enough to sit in A PLAYROOM FULL OF TOYS and PLAY for 10 minutes.  Zoe said the other day “I’m going to read my Bible because it’s morning time,” so I think it’s working.

-My good friend and her sweet daughter live next door.  Number of spontaneous play dates so far: too many to count.  This is awesome.

-Our double front driveway is the perfect size for car and bicycle riding, and our street is quiet enough that I can relax instead of patrolling the edge of the driveway.  We happily spend at least 20 minutes a day out here waving to airplanes, watching the clouds, peddling, and giggling.

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Unrelated to our new house, but still amazing: let it be known that on the morning of October 15, a slight chill entered the air.  You’d better believe the entire family went out for a walk in our lightweight fleeces as soon as the sun rose.  Mid-to-late-fall mornings in Florida are the bomb.

My goals for the remainder of the month are:

-be a little less self-centered and figure out what’s going on in other people’s lives.  The home buying, moving, and unpacking process have necessitated an intense internal focus for the last 2 months, but I’m eager to expand my gaze a little and figure out what the heck is going on outside of my paperwork and boxes.  It’s not a very specific goal, but I know it when I’m doing it, and my goal is to feel a few glimmers of that joy that comes in losing track of myself in serving and loving another.

-exercise 3-5 x/ week (3 Jazzercise classes + walks)

-bring my discipline and focus to work again after a few weeks of being a little more home-focused.  Get some clarity about winter/spring work projects and where I’m going next.

-get my updated will signed and notarized (hi next gathering of friends, I’m about to make you all contemplate mortality for a minute.  Bring a pen)

-hang those dang pictures.

bonus goals: enjoy Halloween with my ladies and possibly make it a threepeat month for Saturday beach trips…

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Talk to you soon! 

New House Details – Part I

I’ve been getting requests to “GIVE US MORE HOUSE DETAILS!”

Okay.  Here they are.

FullSizeRenderMy bedroom right now

Honestly, we didn’t have any intention of buying a home this year.  I like being a renter.  I’m scared of unknown expenses, spending my weekends on home maintenance, and being tied down to a geographic area.

Adding fuel to my “renters fo’ lyfe” argument is the fact that home prices in our area are ridiculously expensive, yet I don’t want to live anywhere else.  After living through Rat House (which, by the way, is now legitimately a Boy Scout hut…practice your trapping inside, I guess!), the thought of sifting through the crummy homes we could afford in this area and trying to decide was the least crappy so we could spend all of our money on it sounded pretty unappealing.  Our current rental has been great (although when your standard is “not infested by rats and insects,” there’s nowhere to go but up), and I didn’t think we’d be able to find anything remotely close to our preferences—in which case, I thought, whyyyyyyy???

However, our landlords decided to sell our rental house.

We don’t want to keep moving all the time, we needed somewhere to live, and it turned out we had a down payment.  David said we are done spending down payments on adopting children (I know, the guy who hates the traditional Christian interpretation of “head of the household” suddenly decides to get all authoritarian on me?!!) so we began investigating the housing market with a realtor and a healthy dose of skepticism.

Well! It turned out that by moving outside of our preferred middle and high school district (but staying within 3 minutes of our current neighborhood and inside my “area” boundaries) we could afford something we liked.  Since Zoe and Riley aren’t even in preschool yet, we decided that we could probably risk it.  Within a few weeks, we found something we liked, decided what we’d want to pay for it, put in our offer, and had ourselves a little deal.  That’s not really how it’s supposed to work in this area (there’s usually drama and bidding wars), so we’re feeling like this is probably our house.

Or like we are making a giant mistake that everyone but us can see.  One of the two.  Usually the first.

We are supposed to close Wednesday, complete some small renovations the next week, and move on the 29th.  I feel a little weird sharing photos of the house before it is officially ours, but I’ll share some (and some before and afters) once we move in.

IMG_2082Sneak preview.  Goodbye, hideous carpet.

In the meantime, we are packing, and I’ve discovered the incredibly fun and time-wasting world of home renovation blogs.  While I usually use Pinterest mostly to blatantly piggyback on my friend Jaima’s meal planning efforts (thanks Jaima,) I’ve been Pinning home ideas like a madwoman recently.  I have plans to implement exactly 0 of these ideas, but seeing what I’m attracted to has still been beneficial as we’ve picked paint colors and flooring and decided what our longer-term furniture goals are.

Yes, I suddenly have long-term furniture goals.

Mom, you should be proud.

More sneak previews: my favorite features of the house are the open floor plan, the huge backyard, the updated kitchen, the French doors going out to the backyard, and the bonus that my friend lives next door!

More to come if closing is successful!

(Also: blogging twice in one week?! Must have a grant I don’t feel like writing…)