Monday, July 30, 2018

My Daily Dozen: The Habit of Doing Chores

Earlier this year I began a blog series on my "daily dozen"--twelve habits that I use as the scaffolding of my life right now.   The first four (resteating wellexercisefresh air) are habits of fostering good physical health.  The second group of four habits (Bible reading and prayerspending time with my childrenfostering my marriage, and prioritizing ideas) are related to relationships.
The last four "daily dozen" habits that I use as the scaffolding of my life during this season have to do with discipline

I find that many people shrink at the word "discipline." I suppose it conjures up ideas of punishment.  But I mean it more in the sense of self-discipline; that is, training the self.  And self-discipline is essential to living a fairly ordered life.

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The first discipline that must truly be a daily habit--and I think this applies universally to everyone--is the habit of doing chores.   By this I simply mean the routine tasks of daily life at home: laundry, cooking, cleaning the kitchen, making the beds, caring for pets, cleaning something (not everything, and not all at once!), perhaps wiping down the bathrooms.  In other words: the daily tasks that keep life running smoothly.  

It takes self-discipline to do these chores every day.  The bad news is that self-discipline can be tough, but the good news is that disciplining yourself to do the basic quotidian chores can exercise the muscle of self-discipline, which carries over into other aspects of life!

(This is a bouquet my aunt and uncle sent us in the hospital. I loved these tiny roses!)

Choosing the Chores

What are the chores *you* must do each day?  We don't all need to do the same things every day, but we *do* all need to do some things every day, and the trick is figuring out what chores you must complete daily, given the unique circumstances of your life.

For me, the basic daily chores are making the bed, doing laundry, cleaning the kitchen, wiping down the bathrooms, taking care of pets, and of course cooking! I do other chores on other days, but these are the daily essentials and those are the ones I'm focused on here.

Do I do my chores perfectly every day?  No.  I do not do every chore on every single day. But I hit most (or all) of them on most days, and a few I simply never do escape unless I'm staying in a hotel (those are cleaning the kitchen, making the bed, and feeding the animals!).  I am human and sometimes I skip a chore, but the daily chores I mention here are those that, if undone, tend to get worse and worse.  Laundry and dishes pile up, food goes unused, surfaces get grimy, bedding becomes dirty, et cetera. These chores must be done every day, or almost every day.

Managing the Chores

I find that the easiest way to manage these routine chores is to compartmentalize them. Creating morning and evening routines is so helpful!  My morning routine includes sorting and starting laundry, feeding pets, making our bed, wiping down our bathroom, cleaning the litter box. The evening routine includes making sure the kitchen is spic-and-span, getting the laundry folded and put away, making sure the chickens are tucked into bed, and looking at tomorrow to be sure we're all set on the menu plan. Just create a simple, straightforward routine that you can memorize and then do almost effortlessly.

 Last night my best friend and I were talking about how overwhelming life can be, and I mentioned the fact that Steve Jobs always wore the same clothes, thus eliminating that decision from his life and streamlining his decision-making.  Now I would *never* take the Steve Jobs approach to wardrobing because I love picking out my clothes for the day, and I enjoy variation in my clothing choices, but the principle behind that is useful when applied to certain routine tasks.  If you don't have to decide each evening to clean the kitchen--you just do it out of habit--life is easier and more efficient.  Setting up your repetitive daily chores in a way that reduces your need to decide what to do and when is a genuinely helpful approach to managing the home.

Now I will admit that when we are not doing schoolwork or we're in an extended period of unusual scheduling, like we are right now, I am more flexible about when I accomplish these tasks. But they still need to be done, and if I get too flexible, they start to fall by the wayside! I have learned the hard way that life runs more smoothly in my home when I stick faithfully to the morning and evening routines.

And our children help out, too.  In fact, I have an entire extra post planned for later this week on children and chores.  I began writing it and realized it needed a post all its own, so I'll publish that soon.

(A really fun bouquet our pastor's wife left on our front porch. Those sunflowers make me so happy!)

One additional thing to remember is that sometimes we dread a chore so much that we put more mental energy into not doing it than we would put time into doing it.  I know someone who dreads washing the dishes so much that this person simply didn't do it for a long time--and then had to throw away dishes and get new ones!  In reality the time it takes to wash dishes, even without a dishwasher, is quite minimal.  I would bet that this person spent more mental time feeling irritated about those dishes than they would have spent just washing them each day.  So: chin up! It's so much easier to just do the chore and not have it hanging over you.

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 I am always interested in how other people manage and tackle the routine tasks of life.  Do you have any tips on accomplishing daily chores? Please share them if you do!

If you are interested, you may find all posts on habits here.

Now time for me to make the bed!

Saturday, July 28, 2018

My Daily Dozen: The Habit Hiatus is Over

Earlier this year I began a blog series on my "daily dozen"--twelve habits that I use as the scaffolding of my life during this season.   The first four (rest, eating well, exercise, fresh air) are habits of fostering good physical health.  The second group of four habits (Bible reading and prayer, spending time with my children, fostering my marriage, and prioritizing ideas) are related to relationships. 

I took some time off from this series--and this blog!--while we processed my husband's cancer diagnosis, but I'm ready to start back up and write about the final four habits.  I plan to publish the habits posts over the next four Mondays.  And the more I write about habits, the more I feel like I have to say! There's so much I have to leave out of the blog posts in the interest of saving space.

If you are interested, here's the link with all of the "habits" posts.

In the meantime, is your lavender in bloom?  Bobby at the local nursery told me to prune, prune, prune mine in order to keep it from getting woody.  So a few days ago I pruned and harvested!  And while I worked I thought of England in July of 2005, and how it smelled to drive a country road with the windows down....


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Relax and Smile

During this time between surgery and radiation I am busy getting my house in order.  Lately it has rained here, so I haven't had the opportunity to finish mulching my flower beds.  I'm working inside the house on rainy days!

Two days ago I hung a painting and a framed note in my bathroom

I would like to frame the painting someday, but for now it will hang unframed.  It's a beautiful original oil painting that I found in a local thrift shop a couple of years ago.  I think I paid $3 for it.  

This little handwritten paper is something I found in my grandmother's piano bench when we inherited her piano last year.  I love it!  I think it must have been a prayer that she read aloud in a gathering or meeting sometime; I particularly love her note to self at the top to "relax and smile" (because isn't that an important thing to remember in motherhood?).  I set it aside after I found it and knew I'd frame it one day, and that day came this week.

I like to read it while I brush my teeth--a little twice-a-day inspiration!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Big Surgery and Tiny Goals

It has been over a month since I posted, and many things have happened in the interim.

The biggest thing is that our trip to the comprehensive cancer center in June gave us a big surprise: they recommended an extensive surgical removal of the cancer followed by radiation and chemo.  They were talking about an 8-10 hour surgery and 7-10 days in the hospital. We were blindsided by this and opted to go to another comprehensive cancer center to get a second opinion.  (The good thing about that was that we got to enjoy a trip to Charleston and stay with my father!  MUSC's head-neck center is excellent and we knew we'd get good advice there.)

The third opinion was 100% on board with the second, and cancer doctors are wonderful about not wasting time, and on July 3 my husband underwent an 11-hour surgery.  The surgery showed that the cancer was more extensive than we'd anticipated (although I think his surgeon suspected this).  Our surgeon removed 30% of his oral tongue and 50% of the base of tongue and reconstructed the tongue using a 12"x4" swath of tissue from my husband's left arm.  He also had to remove part of the hyoid bone.  He did a radical neck dissection to remove all the lymph nodes in my husband's neck, and as part of this he had to remove part of the jugular vein because the cancer was there, too. Amazing, but he got all the gross cancer in my husband's body, and radiation and chemotherapy should mop up any rogue microscopic cells.  We were in the hospital for a week in another state, away from our children, and came home last Tuesday.  It's wonderful to be home!

When we first heard the recommendation for surgery we were genuinely terrified and resistant.  It seemed so vast and scary. But we did an enormous amount of research, praying, talking to people, and God swiftly and obviously answered our prayers for clarity. 

A few days after surgery my husband--who had a tracheostomy and a feeding tube, not to mention several wound sites--was walking several miles each day around the hospital floor.

Two weeks after surgery and he's off the trach and tube (those were pulled before we left the hospital) and walking 5 miles many mornings.  He's still quite tired and needs naps, but his recovery has been amazing so far.

Now he's healing and we'll start radiation and chemotherapy at the cancer center in a few weeks. We will spend about 6-7 weeks living away from home (although we hope to return home on weekends).  That will be an adventure!

Throughout all of this we have witnessed and received so much grace, love, kindness, encouragement, vision, and mercy from God and from so many people.  It has been the most humbling experience of my life.

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Back here at home I'm working on some of my goals.  My primary goals for the week and a half between hospital release and post-operative visit (other than the obvious things like caring for my family, feeding them, laundering, cleaning house, etc!) were to administer my children's state-required standardized tests, to order everything we'll need for our upcoming school year, and to weed and mulch my flower beds.  These were time-consuming tasks!  This is the first year that I had two children to test, and I am happy to report that Annie is done and Finn only has one more test section to go!  I also spent an afternoon and evening earlier this week (it was raining--couldn't mulch) on school planning. I have all of Finn's items for the school year ordered and most of Annie's. 

We got a truckload of mulch on Saturday and I'm working diligently in the flower beds most days--pulling weeds, pruning anything that needs it, and spreading mulch. It's hot but rewarding work.  The home health nurse who checks on my husband came in today and told us it's her birthday.  I expressed empathy that she has to work on her birthday.  "Yes," she said, "but seeing your beautiful flowers out there was wonderful and made me happy!"  I admit that I love my flower gardening and am glad that it makes other people happy as well.  Right now the hostas are in blooms, as are the shasta daisies, black-eyed susans, and the few morning glories I'm allowing to creep over the porch.  Everything is lush and green. 

Having little tiny goals set for tiny windows of time works well for me right now, as it's hard to do any planning beyond about a week or two these days.  The next batch of goals will include children's doctor visits (already scheduled for next week), having our house pressure-washed and the new deck and old porch stained (and painting the porch ceiling and trim for the first time *ever!*), a haircut, radiation/chemo consults, tidying the patio, celebrating my husband's birthday, making lodging arrangements for our time out of state, and organizing our school room.

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Doing these homey tasks is so satisfying in the face of something like cancer.  Cancer feels large and threatening and scary....because it is large and threatening and scary. But there's no point in shrinking in fear.  Life continues and I think it's healthy and so important to continue to cook good food, care for the house, read to our children, and take walks outside. Many people have asked how our children are doing. They are doing remarkably well, even though the separation during surgery was tough. They are happy children and are not worried or anxious.  I think this may be the trickle-down effect: we aren't overly worried or anxious, and the atmosphere in our home is peaceful. 

Our next obstacle will be radiation and chemotherapy, but homeschooling allows us to all be together as a family through that (so grateful!!!!) and we are going to make the best of it by enjoying slow days and each other, and playing "tourist" in the other state as long as my husband feels up to it!

I hope to resume my little series on habits  soon.  Our pastor has also asked me to start writing a devotional series to be debuted during Advent (based on what he has read on my husband's health website/blog, that I've been keeping up to date) and I may start thinking about working on that soon. In the meantime, cancer is part of our lives, but so are love and faith and joy and kindness and peace! And God is always good.