Wednesday, February 24, 2016

I've Moved to a New Blog!!

Hey, friend.

This space is no more. I'm collecting my things and closing the door here.

I would love for you to come on over to my new virtual living room! It's a happy place, and I'm excited to share it with you!

Click here ------  ---- and join me in my new and joyful space. Say hi if you have a moment, so I know you found us!

Lots of love,

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Post-it Shares

I'm popping in really quick this morning to share some random small notes.

+ Yesterday was the first day I've done yard work this year. I bagged up 7 huge bags of gum balls and that gets me about halfway through what needs to be done in the front yard (until a thousand more drop). I needed that sunshine so badly and I'm so excited that today is going to be another day of it. Thomas helped some and then laid on a blanket and said nothing for a good bit while he waited for me to finish so we could go inside and have warm drinks.

+ I bought a domain! And a Squarespace membership! I've been journaling a lot lately. Two days ago as I was writing a new blog name came to me as clear as day and I thought how obvious it's been all along what I've tried to say in my writing for the last few years.  I'll share it with you as soon as I can. I'm really excited.

+ Being off Facebook for Lent has been so amazingly fruitful. I won't share just yet everything I've been experiencing "off the grid", but it's been pretty significant. (And yes, even with still being on Instagram and this blog.) I'll just say this. Facebook is noisy. It's cluttered. It's a lot for me to take in, but it's been such a presence for so many years (slow boiling the frog) that I didn't think much of it. I honestly can't think right now about how I'll use it responsibly after Lent. Right now I'm truly enjoying this sensation of being stripped of a "need" and seeing how many things are so much more essential and life-giving to me.

+ Need a jolt of inspiration?? Go here and watch this guy's video. It's long, but it's worth it. It's maybe the best video I've ever watched. Truth. (Teaser: He reaffirms the #1 thing that I read about in The Power of Positive Thinking...that I have yet to get in the habit of doing.)

+ Cari Donaldson is lovely and has been sharing quotes with us from a terrific book titled, My Other Self, over on Instagram. She's posting these wonderful snippets through Lent and it has been such a gift. Don't miss out. Her handle is @caridonaldson.  I don't know if it's kosher to do this, but here you go...

+ It turns out our Lenten prayer chain has been really fun & helpful too. We rip off our new link in the morning, announce whose day it is (randomized group of every family member and then some friends, neighbors, etc as well), post it on the fridge and then pray for them at the start and the end of the day. To see the number of days in that physical form is really something. I've loved it!

+ I wrote two weeks ago about how winter is hard on me which of course made me bolster with enthusiasm that I was gonna skip right over that this year. After I wrote the post I couldn't leave the house for over a week because Emerick had 7 straight days of Factor 8 treatments and an IV in his arm that made his eating efforts (and refusal to use his hand that actually had a range of motion) quite comical. When I finally made it to the Y on Tuesday this week, I was wearing no make-up, no smile, and an oversized hoodie with paint splatters on it. After walking for 30 minutes, I found myself staring out the Y windows at a dead tree shaking in the cold.

So I'm handling winter pretty well.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A Long List of Small Ways I Cultivate a Reading Life

 Books are awesome. I’m sharing how I hack my time & energy to read as much as I can.

These are true to the season of life and motherhood I’m in. Take what you want and leave the rest. I’ve got my own set of circumstances, and you are likely in a very different boat.

And if you are in the same boat, what are you doing without a life jacket? And row faster, won’t you?!!!

1. I waterfall my reading. I read serious, thought-provoking material in the morning, and it goes downhill from there. By the time I crawl into bed it better be so fluffy I can float on it right to sleep.

2. I keep my “to read” list on my phone on the Reminders app. By some sort of magic, it helps me get more books in my hands. It’s the same list app (as simple as they come) that I share with Paul for groceries (swear by it). The list is long, but I get to scroll through it every once in a while and knock one off.

3. I hook our chapter book read aloud time to an absolute in our day. Thomas and I have kept true to our read aloud time every day for over two years. We are more flexible on the weekend of course, but the week days go the same way every. single. day. Naps start for the twins. Then we read our chapter book.

4. I set a timer for my personal reading. Mid-day I’m like a piece of toast discovered six hours past its prime. Lately, I’ve been refueling by giving myself 20 minutes to read which is enough to make headway on a book but not so long that it’s not a realistic option for my day. It’s amazing what just a small chunk of focused reading does to clear my brain and lift my spirits back up. It’s incredible. 

5. I take pause before picking my next read. I’ve learned not to set up myself for failure. The older I get, the more I really think about what mood I’m in (oh, the feels) and what I need right now. I like a variety and try to switch things up, so that reading always brings me new flavors. Same rule goes for picking our chapter books too. In the pause, I read Amazon book reviews. Preferably with glass of wine in my hand. 

6. Books are the one thing I buy randomly for the kids. There is no other type of toy or treat we just give to the kids. I would never say, “surprise! I bought you Legos!” But I do it as much as I can afford to with books. I’m generally opposed to rewards, but if I buy one it’s probably going to be a book. 

7. I go solo to the library every other Saturday to pick up books.  I max out our card. First, I check the new books and award contestant books. Next, I grab around 3 books for each subject for school: science, math, history, art, and poetry to use for our morning time loop. Then, I grab level readers since Thomas needs a few of those to build up fluency. Last, I scan for bindings that have award or runner-up labels. Last, I judge a lot of books by their cover and fill up the rest of the bags. 

8. I keep a Goodreads account for Thomas. I’ve kept it up (admittedly missed a few books last year) since he turned 4. Yes, we had to sign him up for an email, but I can switch from my account to his no problem on my computer.  I let him rate books.  He gets to tell me what he’s interested in reading. It’s really fun. It’s motivating for him to see all we’ve read, and now he's just begun reading chapter books on his own so I'm really excited for him to log his reads. 

9. I keep a Goodreads account for myself. Let’s be friends.  :)

10. I listen to podcasts that encourage me to read.  Read Aloud Revival and What Should I Read Next? are my two favorites right now.  (Also, I'm a Modern Mrs. Darcy lifer.)

11. I read books that encourage me to read more. I’m due for a reread of The Read Aloud Handbook. 

12. I share what I read with Thomas. We hear so much about investing in what our children read, but I want Thomas to join in my world a bit too. I’ve read aloud from or summarized so many books that I’ve read. He sees me reading and asks me about my book. He asks me to read it to him, and I usually do. 

This seems very normal to me. My mom shared snippets of her books, and her thoughts about what she was reading, all the time growing up. I still treasure those moments to this day. She was sharing her enthusiasm for reading, for learning, and thought it natural to include us too and I really love that she did.

13. We laugh.  We don’t take ourselves too seriously.  The “me balls” from Only Ivan. The silly dreams in The BFG. The creepy figures in The Wizard of Oz. The Indian’s curt demands from The Indian in the Cupboard.  The ridiculous anecdotes of the narrator in the Lemony Snicket series. I have oodles of times Thomas and I have shared laughs over books. I have so many reasons I think reading is of serious importance, but it’s just fun too.  A lot of fun. Or it’s sad. And we go there too. We let ourselves feel.  Thomas made an invisible threat to the bully in Hoot and I had to encourage him to feel a little less…  

14. We keep our library books in the same place. This should encourage more reading, right? 

15. I’m honest with Thomas. I don’t sugar coat. Sometimes, I think a book is lame and say so. Sometimes, I adore a book and I say that too. Sometimes, I’m still trying to figure a book out so I say that.  I let him be honest too. We don’t have to love all books, but a lot of books are worth the try and usually make good conversation anyway. 

16. I ask people about books they are reading or for their favorites.  Oh to be connected to others through the books we read. I absolutely love it! If I read a book I almost always have a trail buddy--someone I can talk to about that book (or whom has already talked to me about the book.)

17. I make a plan. I have a number of books I’ve already planned on reading this year, so I’ll switch between reading those I’ve planned on and those that I feel like and also those that come in from the library (because I always have an ongoing hold list and they come in at pretty random times). Here’s an example. It’s the list of books I wanted to, give or take a few, get around to this school year. We are doing pretty well. (The same can’t be said for my own reading.)

18. I give classics a try. There’s a good reason everyone else has read it. It might not end up one of my favorites, but I want to know the secret too. From the classics I’ve finally caught up with in the past few years, it’s totally worth the late read. 

19. I keep an Amazon wish list just for books. 

20. Rule of two. I always have one non-fiction book going and one fiction book going. I might have an additional book beyond that, but I definitely have those first two.  

21. I take tons of screen shots.  I screen shot Instagram book recs all the time. Then when I clean out my photos, I add those books to my “to read” list or put them on hold right away. I highly recommend! 

I just looked on my phone. Here's the most recent book rec screen shot I took. 

And here are a few things I would love to start:

1Keeping a commonplace book — Do you have one? Where do I start?

2. Thomas keeping a record of his pages read — Too soon maybe. 

3. Sharing recommendations here or on Instagram (but it does feel a little overwhelming because there are so many terrific books)

4. Putting more books on hold for the kids so I can utilize the drive through. 

5. A book club! I’m wondering if this matters enough to me that I’m ready to make it happen. Possibly. 

Do you have tricks and tips for cultivating a reading life? How do you make it happen? 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

"Siri, how many days do we have left of winter???"

Winter is a struggle for me. Thomas knows. He said to me the other day, "Remember that one time (he's referring to last year) snow had just melted on the ground and new snow started falling and we were looking out the sunroom windows and I was excited but you looked like you were going to cry?"

Yes, Thomas. I absolutely remember. That was the day before we joined the Y.

This time last year I took walks almost every single morning around the neighborhood while the kids were sleeping. I would wake up with the silent and the cold. I loved that season of early mornings. I tripped over a branch in the dark and barely missed some geese one other time, listened to Unbroken on audio and all the financial podcasts, stopped each time at the lake to stare at the clouds reflecting under themselves, and smiled as the dawn would break. It was what I needed at the time.

I'm in that category of people who are super affected by the seasons and the weather. Give me three rainy days in a row and I'll give you desperation in my voice and Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell on repeat.

I cook unnecessarily elaborate meals. It's one of my love language.  The colors and the feeding my guys and the trying new recipes. I just love being in the kitchen prepping all the things and filling the house with smells of butter and onions, a simmering soup, or a roast on low. It makes me come absolutely alive to cook.

But when we had the fall back time change in November....And I was looking outside that first week when it was time to get dinner started and it was already DARK. Dark I say. Dark. It was dark even before I could cut an onion or peel some carrots.

I looked at the dark outside my kitchen window and decided right then that it was not in the cards for us to be eating this winter. I served pb & js to any kid who thought that sounded fun. So all of them. And I sat at the table with some sunny side up eggs and talked to myself about hibernation.

It was lots of sunshine and warm here the week before last. I can't be sure but I think I was floating. 

For homeschoolers, February is supposed to be a bust. February is the month the homeschool momma drives by the local elementary school while asking peculiar questions of her children like, "Do you still have the backpack we bought you?" and "Don't you think recess sounds like fun?"

But I don't know how February can be a bust when January was such a drag. Let me illustrate: "SCHOOL? SCHOOL? We're doing THAT again?" <Stare face emoticon + stare face emoticon + stare face emoticon.> So, after convincing my darling (who, mind you, never had a problem doing school for an entire semester but then acted like resuming it was akin to wading into shark-infested waters) that "Yes. That's right. One semester of kindergarten was not a complete education", I don't plan on missing one single beat on our drum marching forward.

January's unsuspected horror of "education shock" has been the flip side of February's falling back in love. Okay, love might be a stretch. But we've really been hitting our stride the last couple weeks. We've found a great routine. We're using a Time Timer for everything and doing morning time and resumed memory work. We are getting our work done earlier in the day and reading more and even having a good bit of fun while doing math care of a miniature plastic dog that we pretend is Thomas's teacher because homeschoolers are weird.

So homeschooling is in good shape. And that's good because we are going from zero to 60 with Paul's travel. He's going to Australia for two weeks and I'm excited for him and we'll just have to see how the kids and I manage. I'm just gonna say it. We are so due for an awful sickness. I'm bracing myself.

37 days left of winter. 

I've been a Catholic all my life and I've never once made the connection that a sincere focus on Lent could be a convenient distraction from winter. It's only a pretty theory I made up the other day. My eyes lit up and I thought I finally found the ticket to surviving a bi-polar Missouri winter that teases and taunts and occasionally dumps tons of snow on you when you least expect it. We'll see.

I'm off Facebook for Lent. So blogging here (which I still hope to do on Tuesdays and Thursdays) is interesting. I already have a tiny audience. It'll be super tiny without Facebook. I think I like that though for right now.  When I started blogging I could care less about the race to blog this certain way so that I could get somewhere with it. I just had words I wanted to eek out. I just wanted practice. I don't need to arrive. I just want to show up.

Honestly, writing is a labor for me. It's really, really difficult for me to move my thoughts and feelings out and over to you without mixing it all up. To connect, yes, that's my hope too--that someone else (you) can say, "Oh, me too!" This is my space to practice with the words over and over and over again.  It's really hard to do that when I'm focused on the opinion of others. So some quiet blogging during Lent (maybe I'll let it all out a bit more) feels pretty good.

If you are here, still, without Facebook---wow. I love you. I'll write to you this Lent, so tell me what to write. And if you say nothing, I'll keep writing just like this. 

But back to winter. I can see the light. It's there. I'm going to pull out my superhero cape (totally kidding.) (I keep it on all the time. ;) and really go big for this last stint of winter.  If all else fails, our Lenten Prayer chain and grocery deliveries from Hyvee will save us!!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Letter to Thomas On His Birthday


You turn 6 today! If your memory capabilities hold true for the future, this letter will be mostly pointless because you will retain 97% more memories of your childhood than your dear mother.

Sometimes you ask about yourself. I tell you that you are a little like your dad, a little like me, and a great deal of just uniquely you.  I heard you tell Alistair and Emerick in another room yesterday, "This is 100% not what we are trying to do here." That's me coming out of your mouth. It's a problem. (which is actually another thing I've heard you say...)  You make up for it by being patient, kind, loving, and joyful.

At 6, I know who you pretty well. You need to know why for everything. You lead and manage and take charge of things. You love reading, building, and drawing. You are. not. shy. When people don't give you enough attention in public because their oogling like idiots over your brothers, you simply say, "Hi. I'm Thomas! I like to build Legos!" or something of the sort.  You speak well when you want to. It still takes me aback. So does your whining. Let's quit that soon because it's really undermining the awesome I know of you.

You are very helpful. Sometimes, I say something I'm dealing with out loud. You often offer a solution or your help. When you said you would go into Target yesterday with a list of the things I needed so I didn't have to bring the the twins out in the cold, I had to turn you down. But a lot of times your suggestions are truly helpful and sometimes even very smart. Keep solving problems and adding value to people's lives. That's most of what is going to bring you success and joy as an adult.

Reading is really special to us. Two days ago you were finishing Diary of a Wimpy Kid. You read independently now and it's amazing. I was correcting a few of your words. You got miffed with me and said you would figure it out, not to help please. So I turned around on the couch so I could just listen to you. Shortly after, you told me, "No, Mom. It's okay. You can correct my words. I want you to tell me the right way to say these." On the one in a million chance you are reading this when you are older--hear me please.  I'll give you space, but you can always call me back. I'm trying to raise you to be a man. To be tough and independent and to execute things well and to work hard. But it's ok to need people too. I'm giving you permission to be as wise as a 6 year old.

Ah. I almost forgot the two best words in the universe that you say. I ask you to do things all the time. A good portion of the time you respond with this very agreeable "yeah sure".  Sometimes it's "yeah sure, Mom" or even, "yeah sure. I can do that for you."  It's in the most pleasant tone of voice I've ever heard in my life. You say it and mean it and help me right away. When I hear those two words I feel as if I'm on the beach with a mixed drink, sun on my skin and a smile on my face.  I love you unconditionally but I really love you for being so cool about so many things. In that regard, I want to be just like you.

You and I, we read about a lot of orphans who've parents have died. Likely, that won't happen to us. I'm a very selfish woman and God wants me ironing that out by wiping up spilled milk every day.  But should something happen to me or you learn nothing in your stay here because it's too loud, here's what I want you to know.

1. Be humble. Humility is everything. You can't grow without it. You can't be your best self without it. You can't know God without it. You can't serve others well without it.  If you can be humble, you can know joy. Don't be afraid of seeing both your strengths and weaknesses just exactly as they are every day. Knowing these things and walking in humility will set you free.

2. Accept responsibility. People fail. Great people makes things right. They let go, they forgive, and they don't just say they did wrong--they fix what's broken to the best of their ability.  Take ownership even where you don't know how you'll carry it. You will find a way.

3. Work hard. We don't work hard just so we can have more money and more things. We work hard as a huge, heartfelt thank you for this day, this body, these gifts.  Work hard every day because you can. Work hard every day because millions of men and women fought for your freedom to do so. Work hard every day because there is nothing better in this life than making the lives of other people better.

4. Seek God and love others. This takes vulnerability. This takes strength. This takes seeing people for their whole self and letting your respect reach beyond that outer layer into an understanding that we are much, much, much more than meets the eye. It's easier said than done, but it's worth it. Treat others how you want to be treated. Set your expectations high and surround yourself with people who have that mindset too. And know, oh Thomas please know, you are never ever alone. You are in a village. We are in this together.

I'm stopping here so I can make you pumpkin bread for breakfast. You and your brothers will attack it like the pack of wolves that you are. We'll put up decorations today and dance and I'll dream a little about this next year.

I hope you know how much you are loved. How capable you are. What a good person you are. How you are a bright light in our world.

Happy 6th, Thomas!

With All My Heart,

Your momma