Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Five Easy Ways to Gratitude

I’ve done a lot of work in cleaning out the yucky parts of my heart to make room for joy this year. One of the things I’ve found is that gratitude clears a wide path for joy. It’s as if in seeing that we have much, we are given even more good.

I'm sharing today a few of the things that I do to bring myself back to gratitude and therefore joy. These are all easy practices that could be done almost at anytime and anywhere.

1. Cleaning

Doing the dishes, sweeping the floor, and scrubbing the toilet can be an exercise in gratitude if we let it. It’s when I clean up my fridge that I see I have so many things to eat. It’s in putting little boys’ clothes on hangers that I can smile for the little stinkers who made a cloud of dirt settle on that fabric just the day prior. It’s in tidying up books I can love the authors who’ve dedicated themselves to the words. It’s funny. I never feel like buying more clothes after a day of catching up on laundry. Sometimes even a purge or reinvention of things we have on hand can give us delight, all without reaching into our wallets.

We've reached critical mass at our home. It's as if we took a path out and now we hit then end and have to return to the trailhead. This is the first year that we've had way more things leave our house than come in. I haven't been able to purge all at once as suggested in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but we are getting there. After each chunk of purging, I've been truly, truly amazed at how different I felt about the things that remained in my closet, book shelves, the boys' room and the garage. The things that no longer "sparked joy" were getting in the way of the things that were. When we removed the things that were no longer meant for our home, the things that are seemed to come to life. I think this is true for the things we store internally as well, and I wonder how much we clean up internally when we are busy tending to the external weeds at our feet and hands.

2. Praying for others

It was just this year that I started regularly praying with my kids at night. With the twins, it’s a very simple prayer. They are usually busy setting up their stuffed animals and asking for their fifth drink of water. With Thomas, it’s a little something more. Whether we pray about our day or say an Our Father, we always pray at the end for those who are lonely or have little.

Without prompting, Thomas joined in saying the Our Father last week. I hadn't realized that he had it memorized since I just say it to him and when he prays he tends to do free form shout-outs to God about his friends, his brothers, his dad, and Legos. It hit me that Thomas might find mention of bread odd in a prayer, so I explained to him what asking for our daily bread meant. It hit me there in that retelling of "just enough, not more". Of course it is important to think long term and big picture. It is important to have extra savings and a plan for retirement. But at the end of the day--if we had enough for THAT day, our hearts should be thankful. It's this art of contentment that I'm learning as I age and it is a much happier place than the frenetic hustle for tomorrow's fruit. As my favorite poem states:

"Oh, leave tomorrow's fruit to providence

and dote upon the bud--from which is spun

a leafing-out to love in increments, "

It’s in meditating on the true suffering around us that we’ve taken more pause in our lives to think of those around us who are suffering, even those we don’t know who are suffering. Our extremely simple and humble prayer (think one or two sentences) puts into perspective the troubles of our day. It is all too cliche to say but true. There has never been a night I went to bed without shelter, clothes, or food. I have very much to be grateful for and also to be a good steward of.

Of course, actually helping others is even better. But when you don't know where to help or when to help or how to help or it's the end of the day and even your own life needs help -- one little prayer is good enough, is very good indeed.

3. Margins & Pauses

What good is the hammock if we do not lay in it? What good is the speaker system without the occasional weekend dance party with the family? What good is the hydrangea bush without a bouquet on the table? We can’t fully enjoy the things we already have if we are always rushing, rushing, rushing without margin.

Sometimes we are so busy working for the next good thing, we forget about the good things we already have. Say no to obligations that aren’t essential. Put away the phone. Give yourself permission to take a quiet walk, paint your toes bright pink, light a candle, and pick up the child and dance. Invite a friend over and pour a glass of wine. No one will step in and make margin in your life. You have to be firm in making white space. I’ve found that that’s where all my brightest colors bloom.

There are seasons in life that are so busy that even the word margin feels a bit like a joke. I know when the twins were newborns, there was little room for margin. Just their sleep cycle alone kept me on my toes and barely sleeping myself for a stretch of months. This is where I think a pause does great work. No one should have to feel heavy with stress and scrolling the to do list all day. Even 15 or 30 minute breaks to do something silly or fun or quiet recharges us and makes us return to even our grungiest, most difficult work with a bit of joy. Thomas and I do one art activity a week. This is something I let myself get lost in for a bit of time. I feel no shame playing and coloring because I've seen how I bounce back into my work with more enthusiasm and focus.

4. 3 Good Things journaling

Pick a month to declare a gratitude reset. Heck, pick a week. We don’t need to always write down the blessings in our lives, but doing it for a bit of time can spark back to life that joy we left behind when life got busy or stressful or just such a overstuffed bag that gratitude sifted to the bottom. At the end of each day (for whatever amount of time) take a moment to replay the day.

Did you love that you dressed up and felt beautiful? Did you take extra time to love on someone? Did you make a new recipe and strike gold? Did you see some great thing someone else did? Write three good things down.

I kept this practice this summer. It was incredible. The things I wrote down were very eye opening. They helped me to really take a step back from my life and see how truly good it is. I had a ton of wonderful things that I was very, very quickly forgetting because of all the looming things I needed to fix or get done or get through.

I know November is just around the bend, and with it Thanksgiving. It may not be a bad month to take notes on your good things. Ann Voskamp's books are good recommendations for listening and listening to our gifts. And there are plenty of tags on Instagram for directed focus on the beautiful things and people in our lives.  But don't think your gratitude list has to have anything grand on it. Every time I take a shower I feel like a million bucks and a walk around my neighborhood brings me so much joy it's impossible for me to hide it on my face. Simple things. Simple things. 

5. “I am ready for this.”

It’s easy to be grateful for the good, but what do we make of the difficulties of our lives? I think we can find a way to be grateful for those too. Each struggle is a door to something new. If we didn’t struggle, than it would be of nature something we already know. Me? Becoming a wife: difficult. Becoming a mom: difficult. These things were struggles (are struggles) because they pull me from what I was to what I need to be.

Do you know that ache in your chest when your heart is raw and your entire body, mind, and spirit are processing the “foreign”, the burden, the difficult—you know you have to get from A to Z and you’re confounded as to how? That's tough stuff.

Some difficulties land in our laps as if from the sky and I don't mean that as a nod to heaven. These problems are random and may not have much meaning aside from the character that we come to exercise in dealing with them.

But I think there are some difficulties that we specifically take on because we were ready to do so. It could be problems in our marriages or our relationships with others. It could be in taking care of that underlying, nagging issue with the house or the finances. It could be in apologizing to someone, confronting someone, or just simply going to someone to be honest about something you have harbored for some time because you couldn't find the words for so long. It could be in seeing that your kid mouths off or that it is time to put the dog down. It could be a big conversation about why your family is doing things the way they are and if that's the path you want to keep going down. These are all examples of things that we should meet when we are ready and because we are ready we should do them with a touch of joy for being ready. This is when we can say: "I am ready for this. I am strong enough for this! I'm glad I'm here to do this work."

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What do you do to increase your gratitude ? What's that thing you do to recenter your life and plant your feet in joy? I would love to know!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Brand new-to-us homeschooling hits & tweaks

We are on day 12 of kindergarten homeschool + trickle down benefits for the twins.  A friend texted me yesterday wanting to know details, so I’m jumping at the chance to press pause on life (which is kind've insane right now btw) and think on that question.

All the boys are asleep as I type this. The house is so quiet.... <smiles>

Anywho, here's what I see right now just a little over two weeks in.

what’s working well

  1. checklist notebook: 

Before the kids wake up, I pull out Thomas’s spiral bound notebook and create a checklist for the school day. Some days I even take care of it the night before.  He is always going to see a reading lesson, read aloud, poetry and math lesson listed on his daily rundown.  How I decide on the rest (handwriting, history, science, art, etc.) is complicated but takes very little time.  I take a moment and think about two things: 1) what did Thomas struggle and/or excel at yesterday?  and 2) what is on our schedule for today? essentially—how much time and energy will we realistically have to offer school today?

I mapped out a scope and sequence for our year, so I know what we need to do each month to keep us on track. But with the consideration of our schedule (appointments, errands, play dates) and what things I think I need to offer either slack or supplementation for, it’s easy for me to write down the rest of our activities and assignments for the day.  

When Sarah Mackenzie shared about this on her blog, I saw the benefit for older students who completed a great deal of independent work. I thought I would try it with Thomas anyway. He took to it right away. I love when something so simple works so well. 

2.   school (mostly) during nap time:

Our homeschool rhythm is largely influenced by the needs of the twins.  Yesterday was an odd morning and the boys were pretty calm and quiet for the first two hours of the day.  I kept thinking maybe somebody fled the scene, but no. Legos really are that awesome. Typically, the boys are wound and loud by 8 am, so focusing on school work during the morning is not a wise choice.  

Thomas knows that his checklist is ready to go in the morning.  We eat breakfast and cleanup. After I get my morning chores rolling, I make myself available for reading. Some mornings it is picture books. Most mornings Thomas asks to read our chapter book while they are playing.  I have to judge the climate of the house and if it’s too loud, I just wait for when we move outside or switch to drawing or whatever.  This used to frustrate me.  But I’ve accepted that reading aloud is really important and the only way we can make it work well is for me to wait for and ride opportune moments and not force it. This is all to say that we read a lot throughout the morning, but I don’t initiate any school in the morning, but if Thomas asks to get started on school, I’m happy to help and that’s okay too. 

So we largely do schoolwork during the twins’ nap, even if that means they are in their room playing while Thomas and I can focus on things like math or history that take a bit more focus.  I would love completing schoolwork in the morning because I’m one thousand percent a morning person. Maybe one day. But the season we are in with toddler twins and the relatively small curriculum needs of a kindergartner—nope! 

3.   everything reading

Our reading game is fierce. It is the one subject which has me feeling all the good feels: happy, excited, eager, confident.  I know the kids are not missing out.  Our home is definitely formed largely around a love for reading and ideas and imagination.  Ask me in person about reading to kids and you've set off a bomb. I will talk your leg off. Not so much for math and science.  I like what we are doing there, but I'm still watching and thinking and trying to find our fit. 

Here's what's on our plate:

  • direct reading instruction 
  • read alouds (current: The Green Ember)
  • oodles of picture books
  • + those that Thomas reads independently
  • and audiobooks

The reading instruction book we are using is The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading.  We completed Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons last year.  I skipped a couple sections of TOPGTTR because I felt it overlapped a bit with 100 Easy Lessons, and Thomas loses interest if something doesn't challenge him enough.  Also, and I'm totally going to bore some (all) of you here, but there is some poetry work Bauer weaves into learning vowels that I do not like.  Just my opinion   Recitation along with reading instruction felt a bit cumbersome and so I stuck my flag in our ground and said nope to that.

Honestly, I wasn't excited to start The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading.  It doesn't have the same crowd appeal or cute visuals like the Explode the Code series. However, it is extraordinarily thorough.  Every bit of reading instruction you would want to equip a blossoming reader with seems to be contained in that book.  Thomas does well with the lessons and I see now how Bauer has layered the learning in a way that is really making it stick. So far so good, but I'm eager to see the rest of the lessons play out throughout the year.  Generally impressed... as of day 12.  ;)

what we'll be tweaking

1. science 

Thomas shows so much interest in science. That's awesome. What is not awesome is that by not wanting to overwhelm him, I planned on covering science through tons and tons of reading and the very occasional fun activity or experiment. Read: light science. 

It was made abundantly clear though that Thomas's idea of school meant a lot more exploration and contact with science manipulatives and such.  I can do that. I can meet that need. But I'm doing a little bit of scrambling to pull those resources. They are coming. 

2. theme days

I love simplifying things.  Less choices. Less clutter. Save the decision making for the stuff that can't be anchored onto some kind of loop, routine, or rhythm. So I'm working on theme days.  A home ec day. A poetry tea day. Maybe an art day.  If I ever get it figured out and it sticks, I will let you know.  I want to breathe life into each day of the week with their own unique flavors we can anticipate and savor. I want hooks in our weeks and days that entice us even in the most mundane (what? never!) stretches of curriculum work.  

3. and mommy time

Prior to kicking off our school year, I had been letting myself crash during nap time.  I would take a cat nap and maybe read or just lounge for a bit before rolling into the afternoon and getting back to work.  That's just not feasible with our homeschool days. Now, by the time we finish school work I have no time, if any at all, to sink into solitude before the twins wake.  Night time is the one place I can see in my schedule where there is time to steal. I want to return to going to bed early and reading myself to sleep and feeling rested enough in the morning to tackle these long days where I'm often solo parenting while Paul's away or working long hours. 

It's really important that I take care of myself. Paul has traveled so much in the past year, and I have learned so much about self-care. I'm still learning. But I know this truth.  A mommy who carves out time to fill up her cup can pour herself out with abundance.  It's an ever shifting game of seizing opportunities that still fit well with our family. Hey. As long as I know there is going to be one small swath of time for be to be by myself and to get quiet and listen to my thoughts, I don't care when it is. I'll take it!

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Okay. That's all I've got for now.


I've got a lot more to share, but I'm biting my tongue and sitting on my hands and trying on moderation so I can be responsible and go make a panini and feed the boys like a good mom.

Let me know your school-isn thoughts!