Friday, September 13, 2019

Minimalist Schooling: 7th and 3rd Grades

I recently wrote that I'm going through a challenging time*...something about still recovering from a year devoted to cancer treatments + a (minor, but annoying) physical issue of my own + exhaustion + + burnout + ?? and that one of my priorities this fall is school...but very, very minimalistic school. Even more minimalistic than my usual educational minimalism!

I have spent a lot of time thinking this, and re-thinking this.  Even before I was hit with burnout, I was carrying on a school-related conversation with wise Susan, whose perspective was invaluable to me, especially once I realized I needed to really re-group.

I don't know how things will unfold after the New Year, but for this fall semester, I am basically going to take my children to their normally-scheduled activities, and fill in a little bit of school at home around that.   What this means is that I'll be flexible with what I consider "school." Our activities outside the home provide a nice framework for learning.....

Robotics club? That's a lab science!

Ballet?  That's physical education!

Obviously music lessons count.

Our Charlotte Mason-based co-op provides my children with weekly lessons on Plutarch (2 lives/year), Shakespeare (2 plays/year), brush drawing, recitation, architecture, and handicrafts. I am so grateful for this!

Spanish class for both kids and my son's French tutor take care of foreign languages.  (Thank you God, for people who teach these classes!  My son loves languages and I can't teach them at his level! He is very serious about getting fluent, and I'm rusty at best in French and Latin.)

So those are a nice framework!

At home we will do:

Bible (daily at breakfast--that's the thing I'm best at in terms of consistency)

math lessons (Finn uses Math U See and Annie uses Horizons)

read-alouds or audio books (thanks Sarah! I need to do more audio books!)

daily music practice


(and my children will have homework for French, Spanish, architecture, and robotics, but they'll do that on their own)

And then occasionally, and only when I'm feeling up to it:

grammar/language arts-type things when and where we can (lower priority, but my son loves grammar and actually does it daily on his own--the joy of parenting an auto-didact!)(Annie uses The Good and the Beautiful Level 2 Language Arts, which we are really liking, and Finn uses Junior Analytical Grammar, which he loves and is almost done with, we'll transition to the next level soon)(also, Annie coaxed me into buying this book at Staples the other day and she's zooming through it....yes, my Charlotte Mason-educated daughter loves workbooks! why not!)

a history lesson (both kids together, using The Good and the Beautiful Year 1 History, which is very open-and-go and user-friendly, and lends itself nicely to Charlotte Mason's teaching methods)

And my children are also selling at the farmer's market once a month.  So that's handicrafts, economics, math, social skills.....

That's it. I don't think I can manage more.

But when I list it like that, even though in daily life it is pretty minimalistic, there's a lot going on.  We're covering Bible, math, literature, history, citizenship, music, physical education, life skills, crafts, art, science, and foreign languages.  And there's lots of margin for my children to pursue additional interests as well. (They both love to write!) This isn't a bad way to operate, it allows us to take part in the outside activities that we value and that I cannot teach (make no mistake that I'm incapable of leading robotics club or teaching ballet!), and gives us flexibility and breathing room.

I'm also taking an entire week off in October, part of Thanksgiving week, and either 3 or 4 weeks off in December/January.  And we want to really enjoy autumn, Thanksgiving, and the Advent and Christmas seasons!

This will be it for us this fall, and over our Christmas break I'll revisit things and see what to add, subtract, or swap.

I'm hopeful that this approach--using our outside activities as a framework, and filling in with the basics at home--will help me regain my sense of joy and energy, which are so important to me in leading my children and loving my family.

*               *              *

*Funny side note: I originally wrote this last weekend.  In the course of this one week:

 -We have had a new roof put on

-We trapped 2 feral kittens & surrendered them to a vet friend who will give them medical care and find them a good home--but I was sad because I had developed quite a relationship with one of them over the past month of feeding them on my porch at night..... :(

-I came down with a stomach bug that still (on day 4) has me SO hungry yet with no appetite, and down to my lowest weight ever (LIKE EVER--I am sure I weighed less at some point in my childhood...maybe middle school?? late elementary school??); this is not ideal, and I really miss eating.

-I completely forgot an orthodontist appointment (in my defense, it was the first day of the stomach bug).

-My husband hit a deer on the way to work and his car is now in the shop indefinitely (he's fine, thankfully!).

-Our thermostat completely went kaput (hoping my husband can fix it tomorrow!)

-A few days after her Nutcracker audition, Annie twisted her ankle

-Was up 8+ times in one night with our geriatric dog (when you go to bed at 10:30 and at 3:30 realize that you've already been up 6 times, that's what we call not a good night's sleep). Usually I'm only up 3-4 times with him.'s no wonder I'm tired!  And it's no wonder that I need minimalism these days.

Here's hoping that I can start eating again (!!) this weekend, that I will not miss appointments or beg off of obligations in the coming week, that no one will have any other car incidents, that the dog will sleep well, and most of all that I'll have a clear and clean and uneventful and un-newsworthy and unremarkable visit to the oncology specialist on Tuesday.  Whew.

May it be so!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The End of Herself

In church last week our pastor was preaching on the woman who had the bleeding illness for 12 years, and was healed after simply touching the bottom of Jesus' garment. During the sermon our pastor was trying to express the severity of this woman's plight: she was outcast from her community, she was sick, probably anemic, she'd spent all her money on doctors and had not gotten better, "she was," our pastor said, "at the end of herself" when she came to Jesus and just tried to touch the hem of his robe, in faith that she'd somehow be healed.  And she was.

This phrase stuck in my mind because I felt it described how I've been recently.  No, I do not have a disease that has caused me to lose all money and hope of cure, so that's not really what I mean. But I have been overwhelmed, exhausted, and confused.

We started school back in July.  This seemed reasonable; we'd missed a lot due to my husband's cancer treatments in 2018, and the long, lazy days of summer seemed to almost beg for a little more structure.  We did a bit of schoolwork and also went to the pool and spent tons of time playing outside, and that was alright. But as August progressed, and our fall schedule loomed, I grew weary. At one point I told my husband "I'm feeling burned out."  And he looked at his watch in jest.  "I KNOW!" I responded. "It's only August! This is not good."

For the first time ever, I was genuinely tired of being both the teacher and the mother.  I just wanted to be the mother! I wanted to be in charge of the fun things, but not responsible for anyone's educational experience.  The idea of school exhausted me. I texted a few friends for prayers.  This isn't good, I noted, because I'm already such a minimalist that I can't cut anything else out!

Contemporaneously with all this, I was diagnosed with a physical issue that had caused some trouble for a few months.  It appears to be relatively minor, but it's annoying.  (I'm being sent to an oncologist next week for a second opinion to be SURE they think it's minor; I feel confident that it is.) So I began to change my diet and sleep routine in an attempt to heal the issue naturally, since the only medical treatment is a major surgery that I definitely want to avoid!

I'm a champion sleeper, but recently I've found myself awake at 3a.m. some nights, blinking into the darkness and not quite sure why. I'm more scattered than usual. I have forgotten things, dropped the ball, and gotten confused. I missed an appointment.  I lose things. I'm highly organized most of the time, and for the past couple of weeks I've been....barely organized!  It's strange, and a little unsettling.  I'm worn out for no apparent reason.

A friend was talking to me about this by the clothesline a couple weeks ago and she reminded me that last year was a very intense year for our family.  Two cancer surgeries, multiple biopsies, multiple PET scans, living out of the state for a couple of months, radiation and its severe side effects, feeding tubes, dealing with insurance, chemotherapy, etc.  It could have been so much worse, and as a Pollyanna-type I always look on the bright side.  We had an amazing support system, our insurance paid for early everything my husband needed without issue (except that sometimes I had to do a few things on my end to get that done)(and this was probably about $1,000,000 worth of treatments), and his employer was wonderful.  So, I felt that although we were going through a hard time, we had so many blessings all around us. I still feel that way. 

My friend pointed out that last year my job was holding space for everyone.  Holding space for my husband's illness and then healing. Being everyone's emotional support.  Running our lives as smoothly as I could. And I did this well--because I cut way, way back on my expectations of myself and others.  And maybe, after all this caring for others, even in a quiet, simplified way--maybe I'm just worn out. 

And in the midst of all this mental scatterbrained behavior, physical jumble of symptoms, and general homeschool burnout, our academic year was starting with many obligations: piano and violin lessons, Spanish class, co-op, ballet lesson, robotics club.  I felt--feel--like I'm drowning and want to just stay home and mulch my flower beds and organize the closet, but these outside activities are things that we genuinely value!

I talked to/emailed a couple of wiser homeschooling mothers who have done this for longer than I have (like Sarah! my kindred spirit in the Pacific Northwest) to get some advice.  Sarah helped a lot, sharing her perspective on what really matters in the years before high school, and how to deal with things when Life Overwhelms (she has been there!).  Everyone says, in essence, do less.  Give yourself grace.  It's alright to feel burned out.  Scale back.  Which is funny because of course this is the advice that I give to others when they're dealing with's just that I'm not in a crisis. I'm just....tired

Last night as I blinked into the darkness at 3am, tears of frustration in my eyes, I felt like I had reached "the end of myself."  Whatever is wrong with me is obviously something that a perfectly-organized home and precise schedule can't solve; in other words, I can't pull myself up by the bootstraps. I can't manage my life to get rid of this problem.  Last year was a year of true surrender for me, and last night I realized--once again--I need to keep that posture of surrender.  So often I throw my energy into tackling my life, but some things can't be solved by working harder.  I think this problem is only solved by elbowing my way through the thick crowd of noisy distractions and touching the hem of the garment of Jesus.


Last year when we were home from radiation and chemo and my husband was recovering, we had very slow days. I started my chores each morning by listening to hymns, specifically Page CXVI.  Nearly every morning I listening to "Nothing but the Blood" and repeated this refrain, over and over again.....

this is all my hope and peace
this is all my righteousness 

When we were in that sad, quiet time of slow healing and horrible sickness and feeding tubes and painful mouth sores and waiting for December and the PET scan results, singing this is all my hope and peace while I rinsed dishes was my honest worship, and was the best, most therapeutic start to the day.  It was my reminder of where I put my trust and hope. 

Where does that leave me now?  I'm completely re-thinking my priorities for this fall.  It's funny that I started to write a couple posts on Charlotte Mason minimalism, because it looks like I'm not out of that season at all just yet!  I will continue to write more on that as the year progresses.  

My priorities for this fall are: 

*reading/quiet time every day. Devotional. Journal. Bible.  Thinking. Praying.

*Exercise a few days a week. In my ideal world I work out daily for an hour or more.  And I've done that before! But it's probably not realistic this fall.   I'll give myself grace and aim for 4 days or so per week. 

*taking care of the house in a "good enough" way, not a "perfection" way

*minimalist homeschooling (more on this in another post)


...and everything else will just have to get filled in around these priorities.  Or not done at all. :) 

My husband said recently that he really wants to ENJOY this fall. He loves autumn and was so sick last year that he couldn't enjoy it at all.  So pumpkin-carving, leaf-jumping, cider-sipping, gingerbread-eating, and hikes take priority over schoolwork (and, if I'm honest, housework).  After all, he's healthy and he's alive!  We must take time to celebrate this and relish the reality of his healing.  

Last year one practice I had was to try to slow down intentionally all the time. Instead of rushing through my chores, I tried to slowly do them.  Slow down and enjoy fluffing the duvet.  Slow down and enjoy folding laundry.  Slow down while washing dishes.  I suppose I get less done this way, but I definitely feel better when purposefully moving slowly.  As life has normalized for us, my pace has increased.  So I'm dialing it back. Way back!

I'm going to try to be kind and gentle to myself, to sit on the deck or porch each day for a few minutes, get fresh air, knit a dishcloth. Simple things. And I'm going to do them in a spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving, remembering that my hope and peace don't come from my planner (as great as my planner is) or my management skills, they come from leaning on my Savior and turning to Him when I'm feeling discouraged, exhausted, and overwhelmed.  

And that is how I hope to hold onto the hem of His garment.  

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Charlotte Mason Minimalism: Reconciling the 13th Principle with Real Life (Part 1, Philosophy)

Over the years I have jokingly referred to myself as a "Mason Minimalist" when describing my homeschooling style.  I admire and follow Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles, and employ many of her methods, but....

I'm kind of a minimalist.

I didn't start out that way; when Finn was in kindergarten I created an elaborate filing system for all his "subjects" (what was I thinking?!).  This system barely lasted a few weeks, if I recall correctly, in part because my sweet tornado Annie was a toddler.  

Over the years I've had to hone in, revamp, make lists, toss the lists out, re-prioritize, re-think, etc.  In the few months before my husband was diagnosed with cancer, I was, for the first time, following a Charlotte Mason curriculum fairly closely, using lesson plans (!)(that's so not me!).  It is a beautiful curriculum full of  good things, but along about late October of that school year I was just exhausted.  I simplified a little and continued on until our Christmas break, and on December 18th my husband got his diagnosis. Needless to say, the curriculum went out the window.

I was forced to re-think things.  I re-read Mason's principles--many times.  I thought about how to stay faithful to those principles even in the midst of illness or crisis.  I prayed. I journaled. I adapted.  My husband had surgery in January 2018 and returned to work after a month at home, and we finished out that school year with a fairly minimalist homeschooling routine, and I was looking forward to an easy summer of pool time and thinking when his cancer recurred--with a vengeance.  From May to December last year, we were dealing with surgery, radiation, chemo, living in another state for a couple of months, side effects, doctor's appointments, et cetera. I was an absolute minimalist during that time; in fact, when we lived in North Carolina, I did a bit of school here or there when I could (highly simplified), left my children to their own devices as much as possible, and felt gratitude to my best friend Allison for reading to the children, taking them to the library, and doing interesting things with them when all I could do was call the insurance company or try to help my husband manage his symptoms.

2018 was the year of cancer, but it was also the year that cemented in my mind the idea that minimalism is okay.

*                 *              *

When Charlotte Mason homeschoolers get together we throw around the word "feast" a lot.  It's a beautiful feast, this type of education: everything from history via living books to brush drawing, from hymns to modern languages, from picture study to natural history.  Any curriculum that tries to stay true to Mason's methods will invariably include all of these things, and many more, in a well-organized way.

But of course that must be balanced with reality.  We have to figure what is sustainable for our personalities and family situations.

{a simple supper a few nights ago, with zinnias from our neighbor}

The 13th Principle states that in devising a syllabus/course of study for a child, 3 points should be considered:

first, the child requires much knowledge; that is, sufficient "food" for the mind;
second, the knowledge should be full of variety to stimulate the mental appetite; and
third, the knowledge should be communicated in "well-chosen language" because we naturally gravitate to ideas conveyed in literary form.

The "feast" idea stems from the idea that a child needs a good variety of much knowledge.  It's the buffet.  Lots of choices.

In a school setting, this appears to look like short (often timed, so to be sure they are short) lessons on multiple subjects.  On paper it is beautiful and I have created perfectly beautiful "on paper" plans!  The issue is that in real life at home there are complications to the plans:

you need to attend a funeral (this is our reality this morning, actually) and help with the post-reception cleanup
the roofing company guy pulls up to measure your house for the new roof
the cat becomes sick to her stomach
your husband needs you to call the car dealership
your neighbor--sweetest person on earth-- needs to take her ill child for bloodwork and asks if you could watch two of  her other children while they are gone

Today is only Wednesday that's my *actual* week so far!

{real life: a geriatric dog and my husband's dresser in the living room because our bathroom is being tiled and we had to move the dresser out of the it goes....}

I could set strict boundaries around our school time.  I could decline to attend the funeral of the dear family friend who looked after my mother so sweetly during a hard time in her life.  I could ignore the roofing guy (although the roof is such a huge investment that I don't think that would be wise). I could ignore the cat issue (yuck, I don't think I could do that).  I could decline to call the car dealership. I could decline to babysit. 

But I'm not sure that living a life that is quite that insulated from reality, or inflexible with real human needs, would be an appropriate education for my children.  I don't want them to think that our agenda is the most important one all the time.

It is healthy and good to keep boundaries in life.  During the day I almost never answer the phone unless it's my husband, a parent, or a doctor's office.  I try to schedule our appointments and outings in the afternoon, presumably after we have done most of our daily work.  And I try to keep to a strict rule, if at all possible: no more than one Extra Thing per day, so that we can have plenty of margin.

{from a recent field trip to a colonial-era home}

But the reality of our lives is that interruptions will happen.  And I agree with C.S. Lewis:

"The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one's 'own,' or 'real' life.  The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one's real life--the life God is sending one day by day."

So that's the philosophical perspective I take when pondering the issue of how to structure our "school days."  Next time I'll write about the practical side of it; how I actually structure things so that we can enjoy a 'feast' without a checklist or stress. 

Thursday, August 1, 2019

The Pressure of the Ordinary

Have you read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis?  This short, pointed book is one of my favorites.  The premise is that a demon named Wormwood is trying to win the soul of a man, and Wormwood corresponds with the head demon, Screwtape, in order to get advice on how to worm his way into the man's heart and mind. 

At one point, Screwtape writes " don't realize how enslaved [humans] are to the pressure of the ordinary...."

Isn't this true?  Don't we have lofty ideals, but tend to get bogged down in the pressure of the ordinary?  Even the beautiful bits of ordinary can become mundane.  They can wear on your soul, drag you down, look dreary.  Am I enslaved  to the pressure of the ordinary?

 In this section of the book, Screwtape is discussing how important it is to distract humans: instead of allowing them to dive deeply into thought over an excellent book, lure them into the street to buy a newspaper.  The power of constant distraction cannot be overstated; it's hard to dive deeply into any subject, or achieve excellence in any part of life, in the face of constant distractions. I love that Lewis uses a newspaper to demonstrate this point (multiple articles on various topics); I am sure that in 2019, he'd use a smartphone app....

Likewise, the power of wasting time in nothing is an additional way to tap into and destroy a soul: 

"Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man's best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off."

Nothing seems to be the type of living that culminates in regret in middle age, or later in life.  Do you know anyone who wakes up and goes to sleep with their regrets?  It is a hard way to live.  Although I don't think it's possible to live a life with no regrets, it seems wise to do the best you can to try to live a life that you will not regret living. 

This nothing is not to be confused with enjoying life for the simple sake of enjoying it, which is, in fact, a healthy thing:

"The deepest likings and impulses of any man are the raw materials, the starting point, with which the Enemy [Polly's note: this is a demon talking, so the "Enemy" here is God!] has furnished him.  To get him away from those is therefore always a point gained...[county cricket or collecting stamps or drinking cocoa], I grant you, have nothing of virtue in them; but there is a sort of innocence and humility and self-forgetfulness about them which I distrust."

In our self-absorbed, internet-rich world, is there any activity that we or our children engage in that still contains the qualities of innocence, humility and self-forgetfulness?

What's our motivation behind what we do?  My son and I were recently discussing this. Is our motivation to look good or impress others?  There's not much humility or self-forgetfulness in that; that's all about pride and self-consciousness.  When we are motivated purely by what people think of us, we lose the beauty and purity of enjoying an activity simply for the sake of enjoying it.

What's our motivation behind what we post on social media?  Are we employing innocence, humility, and self-forgetfulness?  I hazard to say that nearly everyone who has ever engaged with social media has, at some point or another, forgotten these virtuous qualities and instead posted or commented with an unhealthy spirit of offensiveness, pride, and self-awareness.

The pressure of the ordinary and power of distraction combined with the frittering away of time over nothings, those half-aware, fleeting curiosities, are--Lewis argues--destroying our souls. And he wrote The Screwtape Letters nearly 80 years ago, before television and the Internet took over our modern lives and minds.

*         *       *

A few years ago I had a sobering dream. I am (unfortunately, at times) prone to prophetic dreams, and this is one I've never forgotten.  I was on a nearby road at night, walking with my children. (Interestingly, it's a road that runs through the poshest neighborhood in our county, about a mile from our farm.)  I was distracted by my phone and was scrolling through its lit screen while we walked along.  Suddenly, I became aware of the sound of howling wolves, and I knew that they were getting closer. I realized they were after us, particularly after my children. I panicked; we were nowhere near safe shelter, and the only thing I held was a cell phone. My children were about to get eaten by wolves, and I somehow knew that it was my fault, because I'd been so deeply distracted by scrolling my phone that I was not aware of my surroundings earlier.

Then suddenly the phone turned into a shovel.  And I realized that I was going to kill the wolves with an instrument intended for digging

I woke up.

As soon as I woke up I knew exactly why I had a shovel, not a gun. The solution to the danger my children were in was to quit being so distracted and to dig deeper into life.

And so that is what I try to do. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Considering the Schoolbooks: An Embarrassment of Riches

My children asked me today: when can we start school again? 

I had planned to pick back up with things next Monday, but can see no reason not to start sooner, since they were asking to start today!  So we'll start tomorrow!  

 I've had so much fun on this cool, rainy afternoon, going through my books and deciding where to begin, jotting down my plans as I nibble on some Valrhona chocolate (a brand I highly recommend and that you can find well-priced at Trader Joe's!). 

  Obviously there are the basics: math and grammar for Finn (just continuing books we already have) and math and copywork for Annie. 

 A few books we plan to use together this year are:

Pilgrim's Progress with both children (and using Riverbend Press narration notebooks for pretty drawing narrations)

Tchaikovsky and the Nutcracker Ballet by Opal Wheeler (chosen because I think Annie will be in the Nutracker this Christmas season)

Who was King Tut? by Roberta Edwards (a fun toe-dip into Ancient Egypt), followed by Pyramids by David Macaulay 

Birdwatchers and Birdfeeders by Glenn Blough (as we watch--and hopefully draw-- birds at our feeders!)

and, as always, we are reading a chapter each day from The Child's Storybook Bible by Catherine Vos.  I have done this for a long time, and I don't really take summers off from this or count it as "school." We narrate it each day. We're now in the New Testament. I read it to the children as they eat breakfast. Some days a narration will suffice, but on some days--like today--we get into a Big Theological Discussion.  I love that!  I made myself a second cup of coffee--decaf this time--and sat down with Finn for lots of talking.  

In addition, there are books we'll use separately: 

Johnny Tremain (Esther Forbes), Stowaway (Karen Hesse), The Storybook of Science (Fabre), The Young Citizen's Reader (Paul Reinsch) for Finn; these books cover literature, geography, natural history and citizenship. 

An Eliza Pinckney biography (later, a Maria Tallchief biography), Children of Other Lands (Watty Piper), Plant Life in Field and Stream (Arabella Buckley), and Fifty Famous Stories Retold (James Baldwin), which cover history, geography, natural history, and a touch of citizenship. 

As we finish a book in a certain subject area, I'll poke around on my bookshelves and find the next book! We are fortunate to have an large collection of great books. 

For our evening read-aloud, we're currently reading a biography of Booker T. Washington.  After that I'm going to probably pick a book of historical fiction to read (with my husband listening as well), and I'm eyeing The Golden Goblet by Eloise McGraw. 

And none of this includes our Shakespeare or Plutarch studies, which I am not picking up just yet--we'll do those once co-op begins again in September.  But I'm looking forward to The Merchant of Venice and Coriolanus! 

We are also doing some recitation: Robert Browning for Annie, Robert Frost for Finn, and William Butler Yeats for me. 

I decided to choose a few books for myself in these basic categories, so I'm going to read Bella Tuscany by Frances Mayes (geography), West With the Night by Beryl Markham, (which I've already begun--it's wonderful!!--and is a bit of geography, history, and biography all in one), Ourselves by Charlotte Mason (citizenship), and A Countrywoman's Year by Rosemary Verey (for natural history).  Once I finish the Verey book, I may read a little Annie Dillard. And I'm going to read Natasha Tretheway's book of poetry, Thrall. I love her work. 

{This year Finn will be in 7th grade (!) (Form 3 for all you Charlotte Mason aficionados) and Annie will be in 3rd grade (Form 1)}

Sunday, July 21, 2019

How Do You Have Time?

I get this question from time to time: how do you have time? It seems like when someone learns that I sew--even intermittently!, or spend time reading and/or writing each day, or exercising almost every day, or practicing violin, or {insert something else} I get asked how I have time to do it.

First of all, I always tell people not to be deceived: I don't do all of these things every single day. But I do at least a couple of them on most days. 

We all have the same amount of time in our day.  But we all have different priorities, family lives, needs, etc.  

I'm at a place in life now where I try to get up by 6am each day (today it was 6:07).  But there is no way that would have worked when I had little children.  My babies and toddlers were not easy sleepers, and I was often exhausted in the morning. I'd easily sleep until 8 am if they stayed asleep, and I needed the rest!  So it's not helpful to make blanket statements like "get up early."  Sometimes you just can't! (Getting up in the 5:00 hour does enable me to be more productive....I just don't recommend it because everyone's needs are so unique.)

But there are are a few things that I do that I think buy more time and can apply to people with different life situations.

*No television.  People hate to hear this and I don't say it unless I'm asked (except on my own blog, ha!), but I literally never, ever watch television.  I have gone through spurts of watching TV (especially in my 20s) but it has been years since I actually sat down and watched a show.  I am not even sure I know how to turn our TV on!  I don't care what's on TV and at night after our children are in bed I love curling up with a stack of books.  It calms me, encourages sleep, and feels like a connected, happy quiet. TV is too stimulating, distracting, and commercialized for me.  

I know people argue that television is a way to relax and escape.  This may be true.  But I think there are probably more rewarding ways to relax at the end of the day.

(like: my evening walk!)

*Strict boundaries on Internet use. I have had to develop this strictness over the years.  It's so easy to "check something" online and resurface hours later!  Social media in particular is addicting (it's designed to be).  I don't have a Facebook app on my phone and have ALL notifications on my phone turned off.  I try to keep a running list of "things to look up/do" on the internet, including email, buying stuff, and reading, and once I have a fairly solid list, I pull out the laptop and work my way down that list.  (This blog post was on that list!)  And I avoid watching any movies or YouTube videos unless I'm on the elliptical trainer. 

I have also turned off all text notifications on my phone, which I can do because I don't have children who are independent and driving around.  I try to check texts just a couple times a day. 

*Less stuff=more time.  I know we have all heard this before but it's TRUE!  The more items you own, the more time you have to take to clean it, organize it, store it, manage it, arrange it, dust it.  I have always enjoyed purging, but also seemed to easily acquire things, even just from generous neighbors or thrift stores.  But since my husband was diagnosed with cancer 19 months ago I got ruthless with the stuff we own.  I have gotten rid of some really good stuff, y'all!  A telescope, a dress form, furniture, lots of books, china, sheets, toys, clothes, my mother's vintage brandy name it, I've purged it in some way or another.  I have come to see stuff as a burden that comes between me and the life I want to live with my family.  I hate it when I don't play a game of Candyland with my daughter or have a talk with my son because I feel like I need to tidy up the clutter or organize a space.  So I took the bull by the horns and am finally beginning to enjoy the fruits of my labor. 

I'm a minimalist now.  Of course, if you walk into my house you will see stuff (right now Annie has four puzzles all worked on a table in the living room!), because we live here and my children have creative work to do.  My house doesn't look like a photo of a minimalist's house, with one white sofa and four white walls and a potted plant.  Nope. That's not cozy enough for me--plus, I love books and artwork too much.  But I define minimalism as intentionally choosing what's important and disregarding the rest. We have pared down significantly, and the benefit is that it's so much easier to keep things neat and clean, even when they get sort of messy (see the puzzles on our living room table).  I don't have a lot of stuff to manage, so the stuff that is left is....easy to manage.  

And, honestly, I can still pare down.  And I still plan to pare down. In fact, I plan to do more purging this summer and fall, until we are truly left with the essentials (although I do consider 3 guitars, 2 violins, and 2 pianos essential...see? I'm not getting rid of everything!). 

 I'm using this minimalist lens in every area of my life. It has brought so much peace into my heart. 

*Prioritizing top needs of each day.  Trying to do everything every day just leads to distraction and feeling frenzied--at least in my experience.  I focus on accomplishing 3 things each day in addition to the stuff of daily life (like keeping house and caring for my family's educational, laundry, and nutritional needs).  I find that focusing like this somehow gives me MORE time. 

*Mastering the fine art of saying no. I am so good at saying no!  No to more stuff, no to obligations that I can't fulfill without feeling stressed, no to activities and involvements that take time away from what matters most to us.  I think it's hard for some women to say no because we want to please people.  But the more you get used to saying "unfortunately, I can't do that," the easier it is.  I am an oldest child, perfectionistic, classic people pleaser, so if I can learn to say no with confidence, I think anyone can.  

*             *            * 

I'm not suggesting that everyone adopt all of these things. I'm just offering them as the things that I do that I think allow me to have the margin in my life to do interesting things and also to enjoy my family more. 

If you have babies or toddlers, or a sick spouse or parent or child, life is just going to be different, but paring down and prioritizing helps so much in those situations.  In those cases, you need more time than other people do, but you also need more margin.  Be kind and gentle to yourself, and do whatever you need to do to simplify, even if it feels radical or counter-cultural.  

People above things, always! 

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Fighting the Plague of Inadequacy

Recently I was thinking about social media and its (many, in my opinion) drawbacks.  One issue I see constantly is that it seems to foster a sense of inadequacy and quiet competition among women, and this can lead to discouragement and frustration.  

When we look around our homes and see the normal signs of daily life, and then we go online and see an Instagram post of someone's beautifully-edited living room, we can be inspired, put off, or disheartened.  Perhaps we're inspired to tidy up.  Or perhaps we are irritated at their constant perfection.  Or perhaps--worst of all--we are disheartened because when we pry our eyes away from the screens, what we see in our own life is nothing like the glossed-up stuff online.  

If I go online I might see someone's amazing vacation photos, or their beautifully-decorated house, or their fine wardrobe, or their amazing career successes.  However, there's so much that we don't see.  A vacation is only a few days out of the year.  A beautifully-decorated house can be a prison or an almshouse (to paraphrase Thoreau).  A fine wardrobe could just be a sign of credit card debt. An amazing career can be an albatross.  But we don't know that!

Years ago, the only intimate exposure we might get to other people's lives would be the lives of our neighbors, and these were people who were likely to be a lot like us.  On my lane, I see people who live a lot like we do, although we're all different.  In spite of our differences, we are all friendly, we work hard, our socioeconomic status is roughly similar.  We know each other's children.  We know where the others go on vacation, if they go at all.  We drive cars of a similar ilk.  I know their houses are often neat and clean and sometimes messy.  Their gardens are productive, but not always weed-free. It's just normal life. Interestingly, none of us are "Facebook friends."  We are real friends (and family, in my case, since my family lives on this farm.)

I do not think it's God's will for us to feel inadequate with the lives He has given us.  I do think we can be motivated to change, to educate ourselves, to make improvements, and to learn new skills, and those are good things.  But to feel inadequate just because your life doesn't look like someone else's?  I just don't think that's God's best for us.  I don't think He placed me where He did so that I can fret and feel inadequate, day after day, year after year, over inconsequential details of life.

Thoughtful consumption of social media is important.  If this is an area of struggle, I strongly urge taking a month-long (at least) cold turkey break from scrolling Facebook or Instagram, listening to podcasts, reading blogs that are too "perfect"...whatever it is that steals your joy.  Because Instagram shouldn't be a mirror reflecting back your own perceived failures.

My best friend and I were recently wandering around this subject and I told her about the time, a few years back, that our Internet broke.  We didn't have access to it for over a week, and I didn't have a smartphone.  I remedied this by keeping a list of things I needed to do online, and twice during the week I took my laptop to the local coffee shop.  I drank coffee and spent about half an hour doing the "online things" that needed to be done while my children soaked up sunshine on the shop's patio, and then we went home. At the time I thought this is the best week of my adult life.  The shift in the way I went about my day was amazing: I was more focused, less distracted, happier, more joyful. I even asked my husband if we could just not fix it, and cancel our Internet access, but he didn't like that idea!

When I feel myself getting overwhelmed, too distracted, mentally disjointed, or--worst of all--jealous or inadequate--my solution is to ignore the Internet.  It always helps.

God gives us families, daily responsibilities, certain boundaries (see Psalm 16), and I think it's our job to keep our eyes focused on the life WE have, and not the live we don't have--or that someone else has.

 If you're feeling inadequate, give all the social media interactions up for a solid month.  I can almost guarantee it will radically change your perspective on yourself and your situation.  Truly!