What's Working: April 2017

This is where I share five things that are working well for our family right now--three for myself (or us as a whole), and one for each child. I love seeing what works for families at different points and hope this is beneficial. Minus the allergies, Spring has been so wonderful. Both boys seem to be less angsty, and we're really in a good season (both literally and figuratively) right now.  Here are a few things that are really working.

  1. Getting rid of stuff. I've written before about this (and my obsession with Marie Kondo). I love how getting rid of stuff frees up my mental space. I realized recently that what keeps me up at night is not big worries but little, silly things like whether the laundry is caught up or where something is. I read somewhere that almost anything you get rid of that you need again (which, let's be honest, rarely happens) can be replaced in 20 minutes, for less than 20 dollars, within less than 20 miles. Plus I tend to let stuff sit around until it can't be useful to someone else. I'd rather sell the bouncy seat before it gets mildew in the basement and give up the clothes I won't wear before they are totally out of season/fashion.
  2. Music. When one or all of us are in a funk, we turn on our speaker and jam to music. It changes our day 100%, especially for my littlest who just really seems to like music. I've been listening to Erin's playlist on Spotify or finding any good toddler music. Sometimes we find a Classical station when we try to have drawing time.
  3. Pancakes/Waffles. Once or twice a week, I make a batch of whole-wheat pancakes or waffles in the morning. The kids play on the deck, we listen to music or Podcasts, and I often tidy the kitchen between batches. Walt knows how to say "waffle" in his own unique way, and Liam asks for them often for a snack. Waffles are super helpful to have stashed in the freezer. I love this recipe (if you want fluffy waffles) or this one (with bananas), and this basic one is my favorite. I've tried to get back to eating almost solely whole grains, and it has definitely improved our health.
  4. Liam (almost 4 years old): He still loves preschool at home each day. He asks as soon as we wake up. Our activities are so simple (from The Peaceful Preschool) and tied to books. I do almost no prep-work (as opposed to our previous preschool at home), and the weekly rhythm of making his own alphabet flashcards with glitter glue is really helpful. The lack of prep means I have plenty of time to still find books and resources on topics that are interesting to us (for him right now, it's earthworms).
  5. Walt (15 months old): Walt has decided (in the last two weeks) to shun baths, high chairs, and shopping carts. One thing that has worked for meals (so I don't have to hold him in my lap!) is putting him at our child's table. Sometimes Liam will pull up a chair and sit with him (did I ever tell you about the Christmas my mom ordered one nice child's chair for Liam and they accidentally sent six?!).

What's working for you this glorious spring? I'd love to know!

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Heather + Smartphone: A Reflection for Our First Anniversary

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I was a flip phone lover from the start (and there’s still a very special place in my heart for that sturdy little beast). I loved the simplicity. I loved how cheap it was. I loved how long I could hang on to one flip phone while Smartphone screens shattered all around me. I could throw that guy across the room, and he still turned on.

And I was a little afraid to change my life by getting a Smartphone. People talked about all the negatives—how it sucked up their time and made them feel disconnected from the world. I didn’t want to be obsessed with my phone. Simultaneously, these people said they couldn’t live without their shiny rectangles.

But I finally broke down in 2016 and joined the Smartphone club. And looking back, I’m so glad I did. I’ve been thinking lately about this year and what I learned.

As a sidenote: I did have an iPad mini before the Smartphone (and before its screen shattered in an unfortunate incident). It stayed at home (I didn’t have a network for it or anything), but I did use it to keep up with blogs and Instagram, read, and take pictures at home. Still, it was a big deal that it stayed in my bedroom, as I’ll talk about later.

I am generally pro-technology. I grew up as improvements came out every year, and each improvement seemed to open up more possibilities, from a microscope connected to our computer to AIM to watching videos online.  So ultimately, I love technology and believe it can make our lives so much better and easier, allowing us to focus on important things. Technology is currency—better technology and the know-how to use it really can make our lives easier and better and make us more efficient.

I found this out this year.The Smartphone ultimately simplified my life.

 It’s so nice to not have to plan for every possibility. If I need a coupon when I’m out, I can just scan my phone (rather than printing a bunch out ahead of time). The same is true with directions and recipes. I do find that I still prefer a paper list I’ve written beforehand for grocery shopping. But there have been many times when I’ve been out and wanted to double check ideas for a recipe.

 Prior to the phone, I had to remember my iPad, camera, and phone on trips and all the requisite chargers. The Smartphone could take the place of all of those (and was only one thing to keep charged!). It is also only one thing to check. 

The Smartphone makes me feel so prepared on outings. It’s one device that meets many needs (including music). It syncs with my car and actually makes talking on the phone in the car easier.

I love how easy it is for me to listen to Podcasts or Audiobooks without having several devices. I can listen in the kitchen and then in the car and then when I’m cleaning. It allows me to feel inspired and use time better.

The biggest reason I got a Smartphone was for pictures. I love taking pictures, and since I make a family Adventure Book each year, I love having pictures of daily life. It was hard lugging my DSLR, and sometimes I wanted to be able to capture those every day moments (like a baby asleep in his carseat or a meal at a restaurant). I love this aspect. I did have to learn to reformat my book layouts to accommodate more portrait photos (and I learned to try to take more photos in landscape). I also have to remind myself that it’s still worthwhile to have the DSLR out from time to time. Still, you can’t beat a camera that you always have with you.

The Smartphone also makes it so much easier to keep up with friends. Texting was just challenging on the flip phone when everyone else had smartphones. At a certain point, I had a hard time due to the odd format or length of Smartphone texts. The Smartphone has made it much less cumbersome for me to respond to other people’s texts. I feel more connected, and I love how easy it is to respond.

The two biggest challenges for me are mindless surfing and the feeling of urgency.

I realize it became habitual so quickly to pick up my phone and just scroll through Instagram one more time. I didn’t have this problem with the iPad because it lived in the bedroom (and there’s something about size, too, that makes mindless surfing easier on a small device). I especially want to be careful about this mindless picking up of the phone around my kids.

The other challenge is the feeling of urgency. When your phone is always with you and often out, it is easy to feel like you have to check every notification and respond to every text. I don’t enable many notifications (what is it about that red bubble with a number that makes me feel so urgent?!). I try to be really careful about this in the car, but I do need to be more careful around my boys. I hate that phrase, “Let me just check one more thing,” but I utter it far too often.

Going forward, here are two things I’m trying to let my phone be more of a tool for me (which it really can be!) and less of a distraction.

First, I read somewhere this year that we need to design technology that allows us to accomplish needful tasks and then lets us go. Typically our phones suck us in (or at least this happens to me—see, “check one more thing” above). There’s always something to check, something to alleviate boredom, something to make us feel that flicker of excitement.

When I get tired, especially, I can just surf mindlessly (that little magnifying glass button on Instagram is a trap for me!). So the first thing for me was realizing that when I’m tired, I need to put down my phone (or limit myself to reading).

Another thing I’ve been trying  is giving myself something worthwhile to do on the phone. When I’m nursing Walt, I love to check Instagram. So I let myself check it. Then I stop. I found that I need a BIG goal on my phone. So I set out to read through the Bible in 90 days. The plan is on the Youversion App, so all I have to do is click on it, and there my reading is. It’s a big goal because I need that to force me to stop wasting time.

I found early on that I spend less time scrolling mindlessly when I have an engaging book, so I do this too. But the Bible goal has been the best use of my phone so far. I’m loving that it’s lofty enough to keep me from mindless surfing while not feeling like some kind of self-imposed punishment.

The second thing I’m trying to do is keep my phone out of our daily lives. I try to have paper books I’m reading too (so I can pick up a book in a spare minute), I leave my journal out for jotting down ideas, and I try to leave kids’ books lying around. I want to experiment with keeping my phone in the bedroom or on the counter more.

There are so many good things about Smartphones, so many things that can truly simplify our lives! My goal this year is to continue to find out how I can integrate the Smartphone into a simple life.

I would love to hear your ideas for helping our phones simplify our lives! 

Acknowledging the Hard Stuff

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Last night, we had a Horrible Diaper Situation in the middle of the night. As with all Horrible Diaper Situations, I prefer to stick the baby in the tub rather than deal with it in a more hands-on way. It was the cold, wee hours of a new year, and with the baby splashing away, I pulled out my notebook and jotted down a list with two parts: hard things and good things.

All year, I kept trying to convince myself that it was a good year—that things shouldn’t feel so hard. We had a beautiful baby and a fun, smart toddler. I had always dreamed of having a house full of kids, and I wasn’t going to let two kids be hard for me. So all year, I tried to be positive. To say: I’ve got this.

And why should my life be anything but easy? All year I’ve felt guilt about living in the particular time and place that we do. I’ve felt unease about the material wealth around me, frustrated at myself for ever complaining about anything, wondering why I—a mom in the suburbs—couldn’t get my life together and do more, be more, give more. I’ve asked over and over, “How do I live a life of Gospel sacrifice as a mom of two? How much can I ask my toddler and baby to sacrifice in order to sacrifice myself?”

So I told myself over and over to stop complaining, that my life was easy, that I was privileged. This was part of the story of the year.

But in the in-between times, I often fell into desperation, feeling like there was not enough sleep, not enough help, too many tantrums, too little patience. I often felt like all my nerve endings were exposed—as though one bad thing in a day could tip me over the edge. And it often did.

I could call it The Year I Realized I Was Not a Great Mom. Up until this year, no matter how hard motherhood got, I felt like I ultimately had it. This was the year I didn’t have enough patience, the year I tried to rely on my own strength, the year I felt so alone at times that it took my breath away. And in those moments, I chastised myself to get it together, to realize how privileged I am, how entitled I was being.

I constantly beat myself up for wondering how life could feel so hard because it should be so easy for me.

I told a friend recently that I tried all year to pretend that this was a good year and finally, in December, I realized it had been hard in so many ways. She agreed and pointed out concrete things that had made my year hard—things I hadn’t even noticed. And instead of making me feel discouraged, this gave me peace. Acknowledging those hard things was part of accepting and understanding this year. 

So last night, sitting by the edge of the bathtub with my notebook propped on the toilet, I finally forced myself to acknowledge on paper the hard things (because most of the time, for me, it has to be on paper).  And as I wrote them down, I felt freedom to say, “Wow! There really were a lot of hard things this year.”

My goal this year was to thrive. Though we were having a new baby, I didn’t want to end up in survival mode for so much of the year. I worked hard to make “thrive” my word.

But a short way into the year, after a series of exhausting days of toddler (and mommy) tantrums I was copying down these verses from James 1: 

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1: 2-4)

And I realized my word instead should be joy. I was going to find joy in the trials. I kept this verse at the forefront of my mind. And though joy seemed to me at the time like a cop-out word of the year, it wasn’t.

This year really was a fight for joy. I found myself fighting with every ounce of my mental and emotional strength some days to see the joy before me—in the beauty and in the sacrifice. I had to realize over and over again that there really is no joy or strength apart from the Lord. I have to seek Him and meditate on His word to find joy.

I also found myself finding so many little joys—even just five minutes at a time as Alain de Botton talks about in The Course of Love. I’ve learned to appreciate the beauty in the midst of the chaos and to accept that there will never come a day of perfect rest here on this earth. I long to discover the secret of keeping up with the laundry and having a good routine so I can  find time to write even with two babies running around. I want to not be tired when I invite friends over and to have meal-planning and grocery shopping be totally automatic.  But this year, I came to realize something important: I can’t wait to get my life in order before I start living. But surprisingly in the living, I often find order and discover priorities. 

As I listed those hard things, I found more of them than I expected. But I was filling up my list of good things even faster.

I’m not writing this to try to tie my year up in a bow. In fact, I can't tie the hard things in my life up in a bow right now (probably ever). Instead I’m writing it to acknowledge that God fulfilled his promises. I can strive and work for joy—and indeed sometimes I have to. But I can also find it by acknowledging that God is faithful to His promises no matter what is going on in my life. I can find it in realizing that I am part of a bigger story and, at the same time, that there are hard, unresolved things on this earth. I love this verse from a William Cowper hymn: 

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; The clouds ye so much dread Are big with mercy and shall break In blessings on your head.

I learned this year that God is faithful and that the fight for joy is a fight for faith. I learned this year that I have to allow myself to acknowledge that some things really, truly are hard, that joy is sometimes a fight but always a worthy one.

I have to hold both these tensions in my heart—the true, very real pain of life on earth and the true, daily and forever joys found in God.

When I acknowledge the hard things, I see even more the goodness in the good things, gifts that come from a good God about whom Paul tells us (and this is amazing!):

"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6)

I am astounded by God's goodness and faithfulness to me. I wouldn’t have thought I would write this, but as I reflect back on my year, though we were often more surviving than thriving, I realize this really was a year of Joy. 

P.S. If you, too, are struggling to find joy in a season of your life right now, this is one of my favorite resources.