Reading when you’re not the target audience

When I was in my late 20s to early 30s, we went through some fairly severe financial crises. I learned a lot during that time about who I am, what kind of parent I am and want to be, what my priorities are, and what I’m capable of professionally.

In The Kickass Single Mom, Emma Johnson writes about how, when her husband left her and their small children when she was in her early 30s, she learned a lot about who she was, what kind of parent she was and wanted to be, what her priorities were, and what she was capable of professionally.

Two observations: first, there may be something about the way life goes in your 30s that sneaks up on people and causes them to really examine how they want to live their lives. Life can take all sorts of turns you don’t expect and cause profound changes in how you do things–even if you stay married. And second, you never know where you might find more affinity with a demographic group than you’d think at first glance.

I’m not a single mom, nor am I planning to become one, but reading a book completely geared toward that demographic gave me some very useful tips and insight. I prepped my husband in advance before he did the library run. He thought it was kind of funny that I was reading The Kickass Single Mom, and opined that the cartoon avatar of the mom on the cover looked like me. On a more serious note, we wound up talking about a lot of the information in the book, through my issues with financial insecurity, and what we could do about that. It was great fodder for discussion.

single mom bookI picked up the book based on reviews that highlighted the author’s upbeat tone and sound financial advice to a group of women who are widely thought of as extremely busy, pulled in many directions, and under a lot of stress. I fall into some of those categories myself, and really appreciated the insights about the true value of outsourcing, how to handle financial fear, and how to balance work with high-impact parenting.

I’m especially interested in the outsourcing argument. The author did a terrific job of explaining when and how outsourcing tasks makes sense, and how sometimes we get into a mindset that we must do X, Y, or Z when actually those tasks run counter to our goals and priorities and cost us more in time and money than we would expect.

I also found plenty to disagree with. I had to remind myself as I skimmed several parts that while I can sympathize with some of the challenges facing a single mom, I am not actually the target audience, and women in different circumstances may need to hear different types of advice and encouragement (and still, I disagreed with a lot of it). I was shocked and saddened by the fact that even with an upbeat tone, so many, many aspects of divorce came through the narrative as terribly destructive and devastating–both emotionally and financially.

Overall, a lot of the advice in The Kickass Single Mom is relevant for women in their 30s-40s regardless of marital status. This is the time of life to lean in to who you are in all of your life roles: the time to pour into your children if you have them, the time to get your feet under you in all sorts of ways. And because we never know what circumstances are around the bend, it would be wise for all women to understand their family’s financial picture and know what to do if disaster strikes.

If your particular brand of adulthood has left you with fear or uncertainty about finances or a precarious work-life balance, The Kickass Single Mom might be helpful to skim–as long as you’re the sort of person who can gloss over parts that don’t fit your bill.

Just curious, do you think the 30s are a peculiarly change-focused decade? Or are you on the same general trajectory you were at 22? 

 

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Making it up as we go

IMG_7057Margaret turned two last week. I spent a long time working on her cake, because it was the last time I would ever make a two-year-old birthday cake for one of my children.

Perhaps as a weird consequence of the dramatic events of Margaret’s birth, which included a lot of life changes that I didn’t get a chance to think through and prepare for, I have a habit of rolling events like this around, taking hyper-notice, really marveling at every detail. You just don’t know when it will be your last chance.

But as it turned out, this was not the last time I made a cake for a two-year-old after all. Actually that moment happened when I wasn’t noticing, back when Eliza turned two. Instead of being my last hurrah, Margaret’s bunny cake met with a cataclysmic tragedy and ended up as a sad mess of over-rolled fondant and broken cake pieces in the trash can.

As I drove to the grocery store to get an overpriced, under-decorated facsimile, annoyed and frustrated, I catalogued all of the things I could have been doing other than spending hours making a cake that didn’t even turn out: doing client work, writing a blog newsletter, sorting the five bags of whatnot in my closet that I really need to take to Goodwill…

You see, in this fifth time through having a two-year-old, I have the unique (for me) circumstance of having a life and schedule that do not work, even on paper. Usually, by the time the baby is two, the wheels are back on and I’ve MacGuyvered a way to fit everything all in. This time? Nope. I’ve tried. I’ve tracked my time. I’ve made schedules and ideal day lists and cut and cut and cut, but no. The stuff I want to do does not all fit at once.

So there’s never a “typical” week. I surge in one area, then another. One week, you’d think I’m working too much. Another, that I’m a slave to my homeschool. You might think I never exercise, or that I exercise so much I ought to be in the Olympics by now. Sometimes I’m learning French. Sometimes I’m barely writing in English. There are even weeks when I’m getting enough sleep (“Really?” my husband asks, “When are those weeks?”)

I’ll own it: this is not balance. Everyone has advice. I don’t fit into any box, but surely I could fit in a box if I would just focus on my business and work more. Or stop working entirely and write a novel instead. Or whatever. I get it from books, too. Jay Papasan would say that going off in so many different directions is a recipe for not achieving anything.

But I am coming around to being at peace with this too-much-but-not-enough life. The fact is, I’m not ok with clearing the decks of all but One Thing. I don’t match up with any given single role, but maybe that’s not a problem. Maybe that’s  a sign that I really am in the right lane. It’s not the same lane anyone else is in, and it’s not really a position from which I can come up with a bunch of universally applicable top-ten-ways-to-rock-it articles. But this is my calling, and I’m living my life, not someone else’s.

I like how Hope Jahren puts this, in her unexpectedly excellent and thoroughly fascinating literary/science memoir, Lab GirlI’ve never been personally interested in paleo-botany, but I love reading about other people who are passionate about their work, and who so clearly love their unusual and one-of-a-kind lives. I highly recommend the book in its entirety, but this part resonated with me, particularly.

I have been told that I am intelligent, and I have been told that I am simple-minded. I have been told that I am trying to do too much, and I have been told that what I have done amounts to very little…I have been admonished for being too feminine and I have been distrusted for being too masculine. I have been warned that I am far too sensitive and I have been accused of being heartlessly callous. But I was told all of these things by people who can’t understand the present or see the future any better than I can. Such recurrent pronouncements have forced me to accept that because I am a female scientist, nobody knows what the hell I am, and it has given me the delicious freedom to make it up as I go along.

I spent too much of my 20s and 30s worrying whether I was living up to everyone’s expectations and all the right cultural dictates, if I was making good on my education, if I was on the right path.

IMG_7062Now, miraculously enough, I have this fifth go-round with a two-year-old, and I’m just making it up as I go along. Work piles up, my kids can’t read Greek, and I sometimes buy the cheap soft bread at the store instead of the sprouted kind. But I take these one-off moments and savor them. I obey the toddler lisp to “Sing a SONG!” and stop to listen when the preschooler pleads, “And also, Mama, and ALSO…” I hug the moody pre-teens and tell them cautionary tales, and I am pleasantly surprised every day when my husband arrives home safe and sound. And yes, I also turn the kids over to the babysitter and write websites and marketing strategies. I go to writer’s group or book club. And sometimes I sit on the couch with a book while the melee careens all around me.

It’s all too much, it’s never enough, and it’s no one’s idea of a good time but mine. We have a two-year-old again, and for the last time ever. It’s a rainy day, there is oatmeal in Eliza’s hair, and the big kids are running around like headless chickens, having forgotten to do their theory assignments for piano lessons. I look at this never-to-be-repeated moment and notice each detail, and I say with the PsalmistThe Lord has done this; it is marvelous in my eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.

Happy birthday, Margaret. I’m sorry about how the cake turned out, but you were worth the effort!

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School Day, Fall 2017

DSC_0234We’re about three weeks in to the new school year, and, surprisingly, the schedule is going really well. I made some significant changes, so I’m recording them here–for my own remembrance and in case it helps anyone else. I will add in posts giving more detail about different sections, and link up as I go.

First off, I say “schedule” but really I mean “flow of events.” We have a hard stop every day by 1pm at the latest, and it does take us five hours to get through the part of school where I’m actively teaching (various children often take longer than that to complete independent assignments). So I aim for an early start, but the chips fall where they may. Links below are to longer posts about each item.

Preschool – 30-60 minutes – Eliza (4) tends to be up early and raring to go while the big kids are still straggling in, so I often begin the day with focused preschool time. This takes 30-45 minutes. If we really get an early start, I also roll Margaret’s board book reading time in, which takes another 15 minutes. While this happens, the big kids finish breakfast and do morning jobs and personal hygeine.

Convocation – 20-30 minutes – The big kids come to the table and we officially start our day with prayer, a hymn or Psalm, Bible memory, a Bible chapter, catechism review, and a short devotional. Time varies depending on what we’re reviewing and what sort of discussion crops up. After convocation, the little girls are excused from the table but they stick around playing quietly (or not-so-quietly), coloring, etc. Margaret (22 months) takes a morning nap around 9:30am.

Jack’s Teaching Time – 45-60 minutes – Hannah (11) goes off to do independent assignments, Sarah (8) has 30 minutes of computer time (10 minutes typing, 20 minutes French), and Jack (10) gets one-on-one time with me to do his math lesson, go over his writing assignments, do his narrations and book discussions, get his Latin assignment, and get spelling and grammar feedback from the previous day’s writing.

Hannah’s Teaching Time – 45-60 minutes – Sarah goes off to do her independent work, Jack has 30-40 minutes of computer time (10 minutes typing, 20 minutes French, sometimes 10 minutes Latin if there is a video that day), and Hannah gets one-on-one time with me. I check on her Bible assignment, get her narrations, go over her writing assignments, teach her math lesson, teach her Latin lesson (or give out an assignment, depending on the day), and go over spelling and grammar as needed. Because of the depth of her readings, the narrations and book discussions can take a long time, but usually we can get this done within an hour.

Sarah’s Teaching Time – 30-45 minutes – Jack goes off to do independent work, Hannah gets computer time (10 minutes typing, 20 minutes French, 10 minutes Latin or Pre-algebra if there are videos for either subject that day), and Sarah gets one-on-one time. I hear her narrations and talk over her readings with her, correct her writing, give out assignments, and teach her math lesson. Her session is shorter, because she’s not doing Latin yet and she’s a bit more…shall we say…efficient about her teaching time than some of her siblings.

The Reading – 60 minutes – All three big kids are doing their readings independently, but we still have some subjects we’re looping together. For about an hour after teaching times, we do poetry, poetry memory work, Plutarch, church history, Indiana state history, extra science, Shakespeare, dictation, composer study, artist study, and nature study. We don’t do all of these every day, about which I will say more in another post. Depending on the time, the kids usually eat their lunches while I’m still reading, or we switch to listening to music from our composer during lunch.

Hard Stop – As aforementioned, we have a hard stop every day. At 1pm or thereabouts the little girls take naps, the big kids finish up independent work, and I start my work day. On Thursdays we all go to our homeschool co-op for the afternoon, but otherwise I’m working from 1-5 or 6. We have babysitters in the house most of those days to keep the lid on.

Extras – We have a new piano teacher who will come to the house Tuesdays from 5:00-6:30pm to give all of the big kids lessons. The kids each take three elective classes at co-op, and Sarah is doing soccer through our church. Jack has a dissection club once a month. All three big kids go to various church activities for their age groups as they come up. We are taking a break from swim team in September due to my work load, but hope to resume later this fall.

Evening – Most days, I hear more narrations, field math questions, check notebooks, and answer questions as I make dinner. I try not to correct Latin while cooking, because disasters–both linguistic and culinary–so often ensue. After dinner and our nightly chores/dance party, we usually read aloud a chapter or two from a non-school book. Right now we’re reading Sticks Across the Chimney and enjoying it thoroughly.

Prep – My prep work this year is extensive, because each older kid doing an Ambleside Online year independently (more on that later, too), and I’m pre-reading all of it. I love it, because the books are terrific, but it’s a lot. I started the year six weeks ahead for each level, and am slowly trying to get through the next term before we finish the first one. We’ll see how that shapes up. I have a notebook for each level and make notes on each book I read as I go, so that I can remember things to flag for discussion and make sure the kids are giving thorough and thoughtful written or oral narrations. The scheduling itself has been fairly straight-forward, though, once I figured out my system.

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Checking Up – As always, it’s important for me to have a checklist so I can keep us all on track and visualize what has to happen for a week of school. I changed my checklist this year to better reflect what I’m doing in each teaching time, what I’m checking each day for independent work, and how often we need to loop various things in The Reading. I color-coded dots for each child, which reminds me which child has done what without requiring more real estate on the page.

So that’s the broad overview of our homeschool this fall. How is the year shaping up for you?

“There is always, always a trade off.”

Essentialism-book-coverI recently re-read Essentialism. (Here’s my review from 2014.) It’s an amazing, high impact book, full of helpful inspiration for untangling your confusing and stressful hyper-busyness and focusing down on what really matters.

And yet, last weekend my husband and I had (yet another) discussion about how he thinks I am trying to do too much and am burning out. I agree, but just don’t know what to do about it. “No one else is actually doing all the things you are doing,” he said, “and the trade off is your sleep, and down time, and your ability to enjoy your life.”

Preacher’s telling the truth and it hurts.

The problem is, I love the concept of essentialism, but I’m terrible at putting it into practice.

You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything. – John Maxwell

I take a lot of notes when I read. Sometimes I take action on them right away. More often, I put my notes into the think file on my desk. It’s a literal, physical file of things I need to think about. I hardly ever set aside enough time to work through it. The think file is about three inches thick at the moment.

The faster and busier things get, the more we need to build thinking time into our schedule. And the noisier things get, the more we need to build quiet reflection spaces in which we can truly focus.

If there is anything I can say about life as a homeschooling and self-employed mother of five, it’s that it’s noisy. Sometimes, I love the noise of everyone laughing and singing and being crazy. Sometimes, I feel like I will lose it if I don’t get a few quiet moments to think. I wonder if this is the root of my chronic insomnia. The middle of the night is when I can reliably have a quiet house to myself. Maybe I will start using those hours for my think file.

If we feel total and utter conviction, we say yes. Anything less gets a thumbs down.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? It’s not for me. And, I think, it’s probably not a once-and-done endeavor. It’s a constant challenge to be honest about my energy level, my callings, what I’m really able to accomplish in a given chunk of time, and where I’m out of sync with my priorities. Often, I feel “total and utter conviction” about too many things.

It’s the time of year when I start planning for the fall. I love a new school year. It’s so full of possibility! Surely this is the year when everyone will begin to love handwriting and will stop bickering over inconsequential nonsense and will not drag their feet about doing their chores. I think “Ooh! Shiny!” about all the things. With our new-found efficiency we will have time to play board games! We could do tae-kwon-do! The kids could act in plays! I could teach myself Greek in 30 minutes a day!

And yet…

What do you need to do to be able to go to sleep peacefully?

Not so many things. Essentialism. I’m working on it.

 

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Hodge Podge: Life, Work, and Getting Your Point Across

In the mix this week: some thoughts on how we work (not just in jobs), form habits, and communicate.

Deep Work – In this fantastic book, Cal Newport describes how our culture is shifting toward shallow thinking, and the opportunities this opens for people who cultivate the ability to do deep work–that is, who know how to work with innovation, depth, and concentration. Newport discusses how to work deeply and develop focus and also exposes fallacies about what does and does not foster this ability. For example, he describes the idea that kids using iPads in school to prepare them for the high-tech economy is like giving them matchbox cars so they can learn to service a Porsche. Of particular strength are insightful sections on how to reframe the way we think about tasks and how we could approach tools and platforms with a craftsman approach (“Does this help me meet my core priorities?”) versus an any-benefit approach (“Shiny! New! I’ll take it!”). I took six dense pages of notes and was challenged in my thinking on many points, putting several of my take-aways into practice, such as the Roosevelt Dash. “A deep life is a good life.” Read this book. You will not regret it.

When Breath Becomes Air – This startling book is an end-of-life memoir written by a neurosurgeon struck in his mid-30s with terminal cancer. It sounds grim, but instead is hopeful and incredibly thought-provoking. One thing that stuck with me in particular was how Kalanithi’s pre-med background in literature and the humanities made him a better surgeon and more able to deal with the complexities and tragedies of own his life and those of his patients. Highly, highly recommended (both the book and the study of humanities!).

Reclaiming Conversation – This high impact book discusses how modern life is eroding our ability to communicate and relate to others, and offers suggestions for how to repair the walls. I’ve made a note to require my kids to read this book in high school, and would highly recommend it to anyone. Many things in our current culture are stacked against community and relationships, and it behooves us to pay attention and make stronger decisions about connection, empathy, attention, and imagination. This is not an anti-technology book, but rather a framework for how to prevent it from narrowing your world. An excellent read.

The Sweet Spot – In the habits and happiness genre, this book stands out for concrete, workable, high impact suggestions written in a personable, inspiring tone. I put a lot of things from this book into practice, including this year’s motto (Love is the horse) and defining the MDR (minimum daily requirement) for things like exercise to help me break the “well I don’t have two hours so I guess it’s nothing” mindset. Another strength of the book is the emphasis on how to build or repair relationships in small, manageable ways. I really liked this book, and would recommend it.

Smartcuts – The fact is, most of us have to work and get stuff done in life in one or more arenas. So, the author of Smartcuts posits, we should do these things in a smart way. Whether you have a traditional 9-5 or not, many of the tips in this highly readable and entertaining book will help you. Smartcuts demonstrates how the maxims many of us take for granted, like “put in your time” or “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or “10,000 hours of practice makes you good at something” just aren’t true, and replaces those ideas with research-based alternatives.

Average is Over – There are a couple of fascinating points made in Average is Over, although I think they would have been made stronger in an article rather than a book. To sum up, the author argues that in recent decades a lot of people have been “overemployed relative to their skills” (that is, the cost of providing insurance and benefits is more than the value they provide) and that in the near future loads of people are going to fall out of the middle class. Some of the conclusions are fairly obvious but others are interestingly unique, such as the assertion that a key determinant in future success will be self-control. It’s not a bad book, but now you know the gist and you could probably skip it unless you’re just really interested in this sort of forecasting.

What have you been reading this week?

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Hodge Podge: The Danish Thing

This week’s literary trail mix flavor is That Whole Danish Thing. It’s everywhere. One of the book clubs I’m in did a Danish theme this month (it was very hyggelig), so I read a couple of things.

  • The Year of Living Danishly – This is the book club selection, and it made for a lively discussion. The author did a great job of discussing various aspects of Danish culture that impact overall happiness. Although her attempts at application were not very helpful, it was easy to think of individual ways you might want (or not) to put the ideas into place in your own life. I will say that the things that struck me most are things that would require cultural overhaul and are thus not likely to ever be present in my life. But I’m still thinking about several things:
    • Danish society has a strong framework of shared traditions and rules. You’d think this would be stifling, but it really gives them freedom in their lane, versus American individualism, which leads to a lot of ambiguity and stress as we’re spoiled for choice on every front.
    • The taxes are high, but shockingly not THAT much higher than what I pay as a self-employed person (in the US if you are self-employed you pay an additional 15% on top of your regular tax bracket). And because Danish taxes and benefits are straightforward, there is a lot less stress and uncertainty involved.
    • Danish people trust each other. They leave babies in strollers outside of restaurants and shops. That sort of thing would send you to jail here. But I think trust also diminishes stress.
  • The Danish Way of Parenting – This book is a little gimmicky and heavily geared toward raising younger kids. I didn’t find much about older elementary or teenaged kids, but that’s ok. One of the premises of the book is that parenting is an ethnotheory–that is, we parent very differently based on our culture, and it’s hard to see our own bias objectively. Again, the take-away is that Danish people are not as individualistic as Americans. “They don’t enjoy drama, negativity, and divisiveness.” And that really sums up the difference, doesn’t it? Although I don’t think this book is a must-read, if you’re interested in the topic it did have some interesting insights, and perhaps more that you could implement in your own family even if you are unable to change your culture single-handedly.
  • Overwhelmed – Linked to my longer review, this book has a great section on Denmark and what makes it’s work-life balance so much easier. It would be a great companion read for the topic, plus it’s an excellent book on its own.

A few other links a ran across recently:

Have you read/thought much about the Danish trend? What do you think?

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Stuck: thoughts on risk and faithfulness

Stuck: How to Balance Risk & ResponsibilityIn The Art of Non-Conformity, Chris Guillebeau advises those who are not chasing their dreams to ask themselves “what’s the worst thing that could happen if something goes wrong.” The tacit implication is that you should not be afraid to chuck your comfortable life to do something risky/different/awesome.

And depending on your stage of life, it could be terrible advice.

Sure, in some situations, the risk is not great. If you’re 24 and single and your business idea fails, you sell your car and go live with your parents for a few months and there you are–ready to start another venture having learned a lot, but having lost very little.

But if you’re 34 with three kids and a mortgage and your business idea fails, you’ll run through your savings pretty fast. If your idea fails, “the worst thing that could happen” is going to involve homelessness, being unable to feed your children and pay their medical bills, crippling debt that will follow you for years, and debilitating stress.

Worth it? Maybe not.

So, if you have dependents and responsibilities, are you stuck? Do you have to give up all of your dreams and plod wearily along for the duration? Should you give up on the follow-your-dream genre entirely?

Not necessarily. I think the key is to balance risk and faithfulness and keep a positive mindset. The Art of Non-Conformity also says to “Begin with a clear understanding of what you want to get out of life.” When you have a family, what you want to get out of life begins with them. Sure, you may hanker for adventure, but ultimately you’re choosing to prioritize your family’s flourishing. In some seasons, your family may flourish as you pursue your dreams. Sometimes, the bold choice is to do the faithful thing. To take the boring job that puts food on the table. To put others’ needs before your own desires.

But remember, this is something you are actively choosing, not something that is just happening to you. The circumstances may look the same, but the radically different attitudes make the difference.

The stuck attitude starts out feeling resigned, then spirals into negativity and winds up in bitterness. The attitude of personal agency is positive, able to see chances for small changes, and leaves room for joy.

Maybe you can’t chuck it all and move to Thailand to start a record label right now. But The Art of Non-Conformity and Guillebeau’s more recent Born For This could still help you:

  • Test out big steps with small experiments. If you don’t have capital to try your business idea, maybe you could do it as a hobby, with the option to scale up later.
  • Start living a fuller life. Begin by saying no to one thing you only do out of obligation and saying yes to one thing that feeds your soul. Just one thing could make a big difference, or start a snowball effect.
  • Avoid the glory days trap. Look for ways that your current situation can be formative and learning intensive. Can’t swing grad school right now? Make your own syllabus and read on your own time.
  • Lose the all-or-nothing approach. Think about what you love to do and what you’re really good at, and move toward those things in small increments. Your joy, money, and flow don’t all have to come from the same source.
  • Beware of false choices. You don’t have to choose between being responsible and being fulfilled. Or between exercising or playing with your kids. Or whatever. Test your assumptions. Many either/or problems can be reframed to both/and lifestyles.

Maybe you’re in a position where the awesome travel hacks and inspiration for big leaps in Guillebeau’s books are doable for you. If so, I’d definitely recommend The Art of Non-Conformity and Born For This. But if you are feeling tied down and stuck and foiled at every turn, I might recommend them even more. Rather than seeing books like this as not practical for my stage of life, I think of them as sources of ideas I can customize to my situation. It all depends on your mindset.

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The Bookmarked Life #15

2The Bookmarked Life is my take on catch-all posts–a record to help me remember this season of life.

Right now I’m:

…Considering

I’m thinking about seasons and rhythms and the original purpose of the liturgical calendar. How might we do Advent and Easter and our school terms differently to renew focus and reduce the way holidays tend to breed frenzy? I like the idea of longer seasons and a contemplative approach to the year. We have to be careful not to get caught up in meaningless rituals, but in our milieu I think maybe there is more danger in meaningless seasons if you hew to the culture than if you follow some version of a church calendar. This is tied up in more thinking and reading about liturgy and habits and may wind up shifting how I schedule the next school year.

…Furnishing My Mind

IMG_5642Margaret was baptized in early May and we celebrated by having a picture that actually included all of us. It turns out that it’s really, really difficult to squeeze a family of seven onto a loveseat.

Related to the loveseat: people often ask why on earth I have white couches when I have so many kids. The truth is, these couches were super cheap at Ikea and the slipcovers are fully removable and washable. They hold up really well–I did not stain treat them and I only wash them 2-3 times a year, sometimes tossing the seat cushions in more frequently. We use the couches all day long and they do sometimes get a little grubby, but nothing a soak in Oxiclean can’t fix. IMG_5558Overall, I feel like they make me happy and are much easier to maintain than a couch you can’t wash.

My parents came to visit for the week of Eliza’s third birthday and Margaret’s baptism, and we had a nice visit as well as a mini-break from school.

IMG_5791Jack turned nine at the end of May and had a “Lego Inventor” party. It was a madhouse but he seemed to enjoy it. He made the cake topper himself, and it was nice to just go with it and not try to do some fantastical thing with fondant. Chocolate cake with lots of chocolate frosting (the Hershey’s recipe is easy and way, way better than any store-bought version) is good regardless.

Jack is very creative, loves to read, and is super intense about everything he does. Parenting him can be a wild ride, but he’s interesting and fun and very affectionate.

 

…Living the Good Life

IMG_5671We joined the Children’s Museum and Zoo this spring and have enjoyed frequent trips to both as I attempt to justify the cost with lower cost-per-visit averages.  🙂 So far we’ve done the museum nine times and the zoo five times. As you can see in the picture, the zoo has a cool exhibit going right now of giant animal sculptures made of Legos.

For some reason it often feels easier to take the five kids out than to stay home. It sort of diffuses the noise and energy! We’ve also been going to more parks and finding interesting new parts of the city to explore (that is a nice way of saying, “Mama often gets lost but then enjoys the scenery.”)

…Teaching

We finished our required 180 days of instruction last week, but don’t tell the kids since we will still be doing school through the rest of June (after a break this week for VBS). It works better for us to take July off and then have more flexibilty throughout the year for term breaks rather than having one long summer break. To the surprise of no one, I have changed some things up this semester, so I’ll do an end-of-year wrap-up later in June.

…Boosting Creativity

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I think it’s so great to be creative in different ways.  Somehow being creative in a totally different medium can help with creativity in my usual tracks.  A couple of times lately a friend of mine has hosted a painting party–a local artist comes to her house and we all learn some techniques and paint a small picture. This one is a sprig of balsam fir.  I really like the way the colors in the background turned out.

When I was reading The Irrational Season, I was struck by Madeleine L’Engle’s schedule–she always made time for a walk outdoors, an hour of study and reading, and an hour of practicing piano in addition to writing and caring for her family and whatever else. She felt that the outdoor exercise, study, and piano were part of her creative process, and she was unabashed at saying that was what she needed for her creative life. I was inspired to pick up some of my old piano music and have been tackling Mozart’s Fantasy in D Minor.

…Building Fitness

IMG_5771 We are boldly embarking on hikes! I don’t know what it is about having five children that has made me delve into all of the things there are to do around town. Obviously it’s TONS easier to tote five kids to attractions, right? But in any case we have now met up with a friend and her two kids to do two hikes at state parks nearby. Surprisingly, Eliza (age 3) has been able to walk pretty far. And Margaret does well in the baby carrier. The big kids got these nifty water bottle holders (the friends we hike with introduced us–they are far more outdoorsy than we are!) and are allowed to eat granola bars whilst hiking, so they are all in.

I moved my regular workouts to the evening after the kids go to bed, and am now mostly doing my own circuit of heavy (for me anyway!) weights. I got this idea from Crystal, which led me to this free e-book (salesy, but informative), and so far it’s a nice break from routine.

…Seeking Balance

Work (the paid sort anyway) has been lighter this past couple of weeks, and that has been good in its way. It’s funny how the older kids, while not requiring the same hands-on vigilance as the littles, seem to be in phases that require more time and emotional energy right now, so it has been good to slow down and be able to focus on those needs lately. I’ve been doing more personal writing too, which is restorative and fun. I still have no idea how to work the schedule to include paid work, personal writing, study time, school, and intentional parenting all together. But if I look at things from a weekly or monthly perspective, it does all fit in.

…Listening To

The kids and I are listening to The Chronicles of Narnia books on audio (unabridged, not dramatized) in the car–what a great series to listen to one after the other! This is perfect for summer car trips or just for going around town. Highly recommended!

…Keeping In Mind

“May you treasure wisely this jeweled, gilded time, and cherish each day as an extra grace.” –Andrew Greeley

What are you bookmarking this week?

 

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The Measure of Success

TheMeasureOfSuccess_CVR-1In The Measure of Success: Uncovering the Biblical Perspective on Women, Work, and the Home, author Carolyn McCulley interacts with secular and biblical arguments and proposed solutions to questions about gender roles and what it means to be a woman and successful.

I thought the author made strong points about life being a series of phases, rather than one brief shot at Doing It All all at once.  She also had good insight into a Christian perspective on ambition and how that can play out in different ways during different seasons of life.

I wouldn’t say that The Measure of Success is a drop-everything-and-read-it-now book. While it’s not ultimately very prescriptive (and that’s part of the point), the book does form an interesting addition to the broader dialog about womanhood. If you’re interested in that conversation, you might find the book worthwhile.

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Breaking Busy

Breaking+Busy+CoverI know being “soooo busy” is ubiquitous in our culture, and that many people equate being busy with being important or needed or significant. That said, I also know that many of us deliberately choose to be counter-cultural in regards to the whole busy phenomenon. We don’t run our kids around to zillions of lessons, we don’t pack our calendars, we don’t overschedule, we know sleep and reltionships and down time are important.

But, do you ever look around and find yourself…still busy? I think some seasons of life just ARE busy. What do you do when, in spite of your best efforts, you find yourself dealing with a parenting crisis, a health crisis, a work crisis, a financial crisis…or several of those all at once?

The fact is, in modern life it behooves us to have some strategies to combat frenzy, because you have to live deliberately if you want to avoid the busy trap.  That’s why I loved Alli Worthington’s book Breaking Busy: How to Find Peace and Purpose in a World of Crazy.

Several aspects of the book were real stand-outs for me:

  • Diagnosing busy. If you’re not the sort who does the super busy thing as a rule, you might still at times fall into a busy life stage.  Alli gives great diagnostic questions to help you figure out if you are too busy. A lot of it has to do with tuning in to how you feel and identifying those feelings as symptoms so you can work out a different story. This is an area of life I am trying to improve: just because I’m feeling a certain way doesn’t necessarily indicate an immutable fact–it might just be a clue to a problem I can solve or a situation I can change.
  • Evaluating the why. I’m a questioner, so I have to know the why for what I’m doing, but I don’t always think of that until it’s too late.  Alli gives helpful advice for figuring out why you are doing something, and whether it’s something God wants YOU to do, or if it’s just something a lot of other people around you do but God isn’t asking from you right now.
  • Being honest about relationships. We all know that some people drain us and others encourage us.  But if you’re like me, maybe you feel an obligation to “be nice” that turns into a major source of negativity in your life and winds up marginalizing your family or other important relationships. Alli’s discussion of this problem helped me so much. Choosing to pour into relationships that are your priorities and that fill your soul is ok, and sometimes it’s ok to pray for people but not let them have a major chunk of your time.
  • How editing your life makes it more fruitful. I hadn’t thought of it in these terms, but as I read I realized that God does often have to break me down to get me to listen. Pruning and rearranging are often necessary to help us see the work God has for us. But it’s not an easy process, and that’s ok to admit. I was so encouraged by Alli’s insight into what that life edit process looks and feels like.

I could easily go on, because I took five single spaced pages of notes from the book, but instead I’ll just recommend that you read this book yourself.  I think you’ll appreciate the insight, encouragement, and practical help the book offers, no matter where you fall on the busy spectrum.

Breaking Busy goes on sale January 26. If you order it in advance, you can get a free Breaking Busy Guide that features a lot of other writers you are probably familiar with.  I haven’t previewed the guide myself, but the lineup of contributors looks solid, so it might be worth a pre-order if you were thinking of getting the book anyway.

Have you ever been hit with busy seasons that weren’t due to deliberate overcommitment? How did you handle it?

 

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I received a review copy of the book from the publisher, but the opinions expressed in this review are my own.