Tuesday, January 27, 2015

On the Attack

I was listening to a podcast (yay podcasts!) and the moderator said you have to look where you want to go, not where you don't want to go. 

He told a story about a racecar driver who was hurtling around a track when he started staring at the wall because it was right there in front of his face. The person with him in the car forcibly turned his head away from the wall and toward the track. He said, "If you stare at the wall while you're driving you are going to hit it."  

Sometimes something we don't want to be is right in front of us and we can't stare at it. 

Our Pastor said something on the same subject in Sunday School a few weeks ago. He was talking about the armor of God and said that we weren't supposed to just resist Satan. We were supposed to attack- be on the offensive and not just the defensive. Look at what you want and not just at what you don't want.

So I started thinking about what that could look like played out in my life. So much of living seems to be running from something bad instead of searching for something good.  (If you live with that mindset you will end up with a list of rules to follow to help you avoid the bad and you won't have cultivated a relationship with your Savior.)

What if, instead of simply trying to not be short and grumpy with the husband (which leaves me focused on when I'm grumpy), I attacked by extending graciousness toward him. If my goal was to always be gracious toward my husband I would no longer be focused on when I was feeling grumpy.  I would be focused on being gracious. 

What if instead of trying to not to be angry and inconsistent with kids, I attacked with cheerfulness and a Biblical viewpoint on kids and discipline? 

What if instead of trying not to be moody and irritable as a woman,  I attacked to be a gracious, godly lady? If I tried to be gracious instead of just not grumpy? There is a difference there, don't you think?  There's the 'not grumpy' woman and there's the 'gracious' woman. Which once would you pick? 

What if I looked at life through the lens of what I want to be and not the lens of what I don't want to be?

There are lots of things in front of me that I don't want to be and it's easy for me to focus on them out of fear. Fear of being that. Fear of never growing into something more. But I want to change my mindset. I decided that I didn't want to make decisions out of fear and I don't want to think out of fear either. 

I don't want to focus on the negative behavior; I want to train myself in right behavior. 

Retraining my thoughts is what it all comes back to isn't it? It's a mind game and focus matters. That was also in the Ruth Simons Inspired to Action podcast. She was talking about what you rehearse through the day. Do you tell you, "All I do is pick up clothes, wash dishes, and change diapers."? Or do you speak truth to yourself in your thoughts (Ps. 15:1). Do I paralyze myself with fear of what could be? Sadly the answer is often yes. 

I want to be on the attack instead of always playing D. On the offensive of pushing toward what God wants me to become instead of just running from what I don't want to be. Don't you like the idea of pushing to master something better than running from something- constantly looking over your shoulder? That gives me a mental image of sprinting down a dark alley running from a serial killer. I like the idea of running an obstacle course better: dodging the dangers but focusing on the goal. I want to be a godly, gracious, graceful woman: spirit, soul, and body transformed by the work of Christ in my life. 

So the next time you find yourself saying, "But I don't want to be that!" Stop! Ask yourself what you do want to be and then run toward that. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

3 Ways to Enjoy Being a Mom of Littles

Motherhood is not something I'm naturally good at. I've prayed, studied my Bible, and read a lot of material about mothering well. I've watched older moms and asked a lot of questions. Still most days I find myself asking, "God, what on earth do You want me to do with this child?"

Over the past several months I've been surprised to receive multiple comments on how comfortable motherhood looks on me and how well I handle multiple children. I'm never quite sure what to say in response and people stare like they are expecting me to spout off some magic formula. I am not superwoman. My children are not just naturally good. It takes a lot of hard work. As our pastor would say, "There is no magic spouffle dust to sprinkle over your life. You have to do the work."

The questions did make me think about how much I'm enjoying this stage of life. It has times when things get hectic or chaotic. There are times when I would love to transport myself to a beach for a day or two. I think that's true for everyone. But I love our life and think three children are much easier than one.

My best mothering advice is this- Go find an older mom with grown or mostly grown children who is living the kind of life you want to live and raising the kind of kids you want to raise. Watch her. Ask her questions. Ask her kids questions. Read good books about motherhood.

Some of you don't have have an older woman like that in your life and you're desperate to find a way to enjoy your children and your life now. Here are my top three tips on life with small children.

1. Train your children.
Your children should not be in charge at your house. You will be happier if they aren't and so will they. I hate those shirts that say things like "I'm the boss" and refer to children as brats or monsters. You can teach your kids to sit at the table and be quiet when you're talking and walk beside you at the grocery store.
The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame. Proverbs 29:15
- This will take time. You will want to quit. There are always things that I'm working on with my kids and some days I'm sure it will never stick. But it will. Don't give up.

-Practice, practice, practice. Do it over and over at home. Train at home and see the results in public. You can't wait until you're out at a restaurant to try to teach your two-year-olds to sit on their bottoms and not yell at the top of their lungs. Do it at home.

-Teach them to pick up their toys. Don't leave yourself a big mess to deal with after you put them in bed. They will get better at this as they get older and the younger ones will learn from the older ones. 

-Your tone of voice and your attitude about training your kids matters.  It is not better to train your kids in how to behave if you are sinning in your behavior while you do it.

-"Don't Make Me Count to Three" by Ginger Plowman is my favorite resource for training small children.

-A busy child is a happy child. Don't let your kids wander around the house for hours on their own and then wonder why they are constantly fighting and tearing things apart. Learn to structure their day (and yours- more on that next).

I can cook dinner and my kids don't tear the house apart, although I do frequently referee sibling fights. I shower every day contrary to what people told me would happen when I was pregnant with Micah. We have a reasonably clean house and they even help me clean it! You can enjoy your kids more if you teach them not to smack you or unfold the laundry you're folding or run crazy in the doctor's office waiting room. But you'll have to teach them how. It's not fair to let them do whatever they want at home and then get mad at them for doing the same in public.

2. Manage your time.
First priority is always time with God. Please don't tell me that you don't have time to read your Bible, at least a little bit, unless you NEVER check social media, watch tv, read books, or hide in your closet and eat chocolate. You can read your Bible and eat chocolate at the same time. The daily time in the Bible will transform your life and how you mother your children.

-Know your priorities. What is important for your family? This will be different for each family.

-Have a rhythm. You need to know what you should do next. We don't operate on a schedule unless we have an appointment, but we do have a rhythm to our days. Breakfast with Bible time, the baby's bath after we brush our teeth, reading while I feed the baby, audio books during quiet time. Tie the activities together and make it a habit. 

-Add one thing at a time. Put mealtimes, snacktimes, naptimes, and bedtime in your rhythm and build from there. Read for a few minutes after naptime. Clean for thirty minutes after you eat breakfast. Kids love to help. Sure it will take longer but they aren't watching tv and they are learning valuable skills.

-Change what doesn't work. If something makes you crazy, change it! This is something you do not have to get right the first time. Your rhythm will have to change as life changes- as your kids get older and stop napping, if you have another baby, when work situations change. Your rhythm may even change daily with appointments and disruptions. A rhythm is about flexibility.

-Don't waste time. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish if you don't scroll through facebook or Instagram every hour. Stop watching tv and talking on the phone. Suddenly there's time to wipe down the bathroom counters, read books with your babies, and fold the clothes. (Bonus points for wrapping the kiddos in warm towels and snuggling on the couch.)

-Ask what can be done later. Stress points come when three things need to be done at once. Decide which one has to be first and which can wait. Diapers need changed and babies need fed before about anything else. Then change out the laundry. It can be washing and drying while you play with the kids, vacuum the rug, or get ready to leave for the store.

-Adapt a cleaning scheduling. We do one area or task a day. Bathrooms one day, kitchen another (of course the kitchen gets cleaned every time we eat) vacuuming and dusting on another. Maybe you want to do most of your cleaning on one day or one evening. Find a plan and then do it. Best point for a good start to the morning? Always clean your kitchen before going to bed. Nothing makes me feel more behind than waking up to a dirty kitchen.

3. Be just yourself sometimes.
I'm a better mom when mothering is not the only thing I do. Time to just be you- and not a mom- can be captured in small moments; you don't have to have hours to devote to yourself.  Don't wait until you can do something big to do something.  You'll be amazed at the difference small chunks of time here and there can make.

- Find what energizes you and do that instead of wasting time on something you do out of habit (like facebook or tv). Draw in a sketchbook while your kids color for fifteen minutes. Read a book while you feed the baby after you put the big kids in bed. Listen to a podcast while your kids play with legos and you cook dinner.

-Date your husband. Nurturing your marriage will make all parts of your life better. Be the woman he fell in love with; you probably liked her too.

-Utilize naptime or quiet time. I don't typically clean during quiet time. I use that time for things that make me feel alive, things that I love. You do the same. Take a nap if you need to.

-Mind your friendships. Mind them as in pay attention to them. Meet a friend for coffee for an hour or two one night after the kids are in bed. But also mind them as in pay attention to their influence on you. If you hang out with friends who complain about their husbands, the kids, and the work you will not be encouraged in what you need to do.

Managing life as a mom is all about managing yourself. You have to do the work to train your kids. You have to manage your time. All of these areas are intertwined. As you manage your time better you find the time to do some things for yourself. When you train your kids they cooperate and your rhythm flows smoother. Effort in one area jumpstarts the others. These are not easy things but they are worthwhile and will benefit your family greatly.

I'm not suggesting your life should look like mine. Your priorities, your home, your rhythm will be completely different. I am interested in your being able to fulfill God's purposes for your life and that's hard to do when you are struggling to simply survive. In certain seasons of life that is unavoidable but I'm not talking about the first weeks after having a baby or when you have a child or a parent in the hospital. I mean your normal, everyday life.

This is not a comprehensive look at motherhood. Your attitude about motherhood and your children makes the biggest difference. Your attitude about the work involved in a family matters. All the logistics in the world won't overcome your bad attitude. There will always be hard days. Having a family will sometimes require more than you want to give. And that's ok as long as you do it anyway.

You can enjoy your life and your babies while they are little. But you'll have to do the work.  Forget trying to look like a good mom and do the work that benefits your family.

How do you manage life with children? Was there any one idea that changed the way you view motherhood?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Why I Changed Quiet Time (Or Five Step Decisions)

The quiet time game changed when Kevin and Micah started sharing a room. Before that Micah had quiet time in his room and Kevin napped in the nursery. Then I moved them into the same room. Micah moved to quiet time in our front hallway that's right off the living room. He loves the quiet time spot; we fix it up with a kid-sized chair, a sleeping bag, toys, and books. 

The only drawback is that my desk in directly in line of sight of the quiet time spot. This distracts me from my work (quiet time is when I do most of my writing and blogging) because I am not a good multi-tasker and it encourages Micah to be much rowdier in an effort to entertain me. So I changed what didn't work. 

I moved my workspace to the kitchen table during quiet time. It takes less than a minute to get my spot put together and to put everything away.  Micah can't see me but I can still hear him. We both get much more from the time with much less stress. 

Sometimes plans don't work the first time. We have to brainstorm new ideas and improvise with what we have. The second or third time might not work either. It might take a training period to teach everyone how to behave or use a certain setup. That's no reason to quit; it's a reason to persevere. 

Here's how I solve logistical problems around our home. 

1. Pray. That may sound silly but God cares about all parts of our lives. And since He's the one directing our thoughts it makes sense to take our problems to Him. I want to do my work with wisdom and He has all the wisdom I need. 

2. Identify the problem. Sometimes this step is the hardest. You can't solve a problem until you know what it is. My problem was that Micah could see me and he's a social child. He's fine playing for that hour by himself as long as he's not trying to get my attention. And I can't work well with that much distraction. 

3. List possible solutions. This is the place to seek counsel if you need too. I definitely asked Justin for input here; he's a wealth of good ideas. There are many other ways I could have handled this problem. I could have moved the quiet time spot. I could taught Micah to ignore me and go about his business. I could have changed the time when I wrote and worked. But the solution I picked was the most effective for the time. 

4. Try it. This time the solution works great. Sometimes it might not. If it does, wonderful! You're done until you have a new problem. If not...

5. Try something else. Pick another option and implement it for a few days. Nothing says you have to get that right the first time. (Obviously I'm not talking about big decisions like who you're going to marry, ok?)

Don't quit when you run into problems or difficulties. Work through them. Give your home and your work there the same respect you would give "a real job." 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Weekend Edition

Some of my favorite things come from the internet; the Weekend Edition is where I share them with you. 

On the Internet
Oh, kitchen, I love you. I must admit that I stifle that love because it is less relaxing to cook with little ones running around. I will invite them into the work and I will fight for the enjoyment. 

Jon Acuff: The vanilla trap 
Everyone won't like you or what you do. Don't let that stop you. 

Braid Creative and Consulting: When You Don't Know What To Write About
This isn't a list of prompts and fill-in-the-blanks, although those aren't bad. This is a thoughtful look at writing and what you are already doing. 

In My Hand: 
Own Your Life by Sally Clarkson because I love the two other books I've read by her and the topic is a passion of mine. 

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp because I'm starting a study on creativity and artistry and work. 

Great ideas on picking what you really need to do and putting off the extra- you know, like social media. 

Especially no. 39. Ok, I've only listened to a few but they were excellent. And I see other intriguing titles for days ahead. 

(Both of these podcasts are also available in iTunes.)

This will probably hit the menus monthly! 

Because a mall is along way away. 

Enjoy your weekend! 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Carnitas: Our Official Christmas Dinner

Carnitas are our official Christmas dinner now. Neither Justin nor I are crazy about turkey and we get plenty of that with Thanksgiving. So we decided to devote Christmas dinner to one of our favorites! An added plus of this meal is that it's simple to get a low-protein version for Micah. Turkey...not so much.

Mexican is the way we go. We have refried beans and Mexican rice with these carnitas. I make Pioneer Woman's pico de gallo to go with it because how can you go wrong? And I roast some corn. (Put frozen corn on a pan, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Then roast under the broiler until the corn around the edges gets brown. Most delicious corn in the world!) 

Sometimes this meal seems complicated in my head because you need several hours to cook it. But you need less than ten minutes at the start if you have someone else cut up your meat (20 if you don't) and then 30-40 of supervision at the end. That's not more time than I would usually spend cooking dinner and you get this deliciousness. 

(Why yes, I did turn the camera on two different angles for your viewing pleasure. Or maybe I didn't realize I had done that. Either way.)

Boston butt pork roast- you pick the size: we typically get a 4-5 pounder
1 cup orange juice
juice and zest of 3-4 limes, plus more limes for serving
3-4 tsp. cumin
3-4 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. salt (Or use garlic salt)
2 tsp. pork seasoning, optional
toppings: lettuce, cheese, salsa, sour cream, onions, etc

Cut your meat into 2 in. cubes. Seriously, this is so much easier if you ask them to do this in the meat department. But if not, you can handle it. Just use a sharp knife.  Cut as much off that bone as possible and toss the bone in too. Do NOT remove the fat. You need it later. (I did not say that you needed to put the meat into a pot. I just assumed you knew. Sorry if that caused you problems.)

Side note: the pot you use is important. I use a nonstick pot and it works beautifully. I used one of my regular aluminum pots with a copper bottom the first time and my meat stuck horribly. Don't waste the deliciousness. 

Add orange juice. Zest and juice your limes. Or have your husband do it because he's stronger and can get more juice out.

Add remaining seasonings. Just sprinkle all over the top. Use more or less for your preference. 

Cover meat with water and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook for two hours. Do not touch it. Don't stir it. Don't cover it. The water is supposed to cook off. You will soon smell it though. 

After two hours turn up the heat to medium high and let the rest of the water cook off. Pull the meat off that bone and remove the bone. The meat is very tender and will flake right off. The fat will be left in the bottom and your meat will start to brown in it. Turn down to medium and flip the meat occasionally. The meat will start to brown on the bottom and get crispy. Sample it here, of course, and add more garlic salt and cumin if you want.

When you turn the temperature up to let the last of the water cook off, start prepping everything else. Cook your rice. Warm your tortillas. Heat your refried beans. Chop your veggies. 

Continue turning the meat until the rest of the prep work is done and everyone is starving. Place meat on a plate draining off as much grease as you want. Or leave it there and let it drip down your arm while you eat. 

Assemble your tacos in whatever order you prefer. Eat. But please, squeeze some more lime juice over that meat before you eat it. It's the crowning touch. 

Repeat the last two steps until all the meat is gone and there's just some grease stains in the pot and on the plates. Then put carnitas on your menu for next month, even though it's not Christmas. They don't really taste any better at Christmas. They're good anytime. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Good Doesn't Mean Comfortable

A college friend has been working on Bible translation in a foreign country for several years now. She lived in this country with her parents some years ago but never alone. She left what she's known for years- the friends, the work, the familiarity of the States- and went to the unknown because she believed the work was important. She shares some amazing stories and beautiful pictures. I think she is doing an important work but I don't have to live it. I don't get to live the exciting parts and I don't have to live the difficult parts. 

A couple I went to high school with got married shortly after we graduated. They have a little girl around Micah's age and they recently adopted a four-year-old. As in, they had one four-year-old and now they have two.  They are loving it but also facing adjustment and difficulties in the process. Why are they doing it? Because it matters. 

We brought home our third baby almost two months ago. Another little life to love, care for, and train for Jesus. Another little boy to be a part of our family and be colored by our family worldview. 

What do these stories have in common? 

Change. Change happened in all of these stories. Not a small change, like I bought a different flavor of ice cream. Big change that will affect the rest of each person's life. Big change that means that nothing is quite the same again. 

I'm not sure there is a good way to adjust to change, if by good we actually mean comfortable. Instead I think you have to accept that change will be all kinds of messy; that you'll want to pull your hair out, that you will wonder if it was really a good idea, that you'll think that life will never be normal again. 

Life won't be the same normal again, but you will eventually find a new normal. By the time you get settled into that, something else will change.  But normal isn't the point. The point of life isn't to be comfortable or normal or anything so cheap. The point of life is to live it for Jesus: to give each day to a work that matters. 

Good sometimes means hard. Good sometimes means you cried, you apologized, you got up and tried again. Good sometimes means that you made it through and you can finally collapse into bed. Good sometimes means that you did the work even if you saw no results. Good can mean you did the work even though you'll have to get up tomorrow and do it all again. Good can mean that you did it when you didn't feel it or that you kept your mouth shut when you wanted to scream at someone or that you helped someone who didn't deserve it. 

In a life that matters good cannot equal comfortable. Comfortable is the death of growth. Comfortable is the sitting on the couch watching tv for hours while life passes you by. Comfortable is doing the same thing, even if it doesn't work, day after day because you don't want to push through something new. Comfortable is stagnation. 

Be uncomfortable; that's where the best part of living starts.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Postpartum Nesting: Organizing Your Closet

Everybody tells you about nesting- that urge to clean and tidy and reorganize when you are nearing the end of your pregnancy. The whole, "I'm making a spot for this baby." Everyone jokes when you start cleaning that you must be getting close to having that baby. (Not true, I do most of that about 30 weeks along.)

 But what nobody tells you about is postpartum nesting. Maybe that's because you don't do it on the first baby. Or at least I didn't.  But I definitely have on the third. 

This is not to be confused with holiday cleaning or any kind of cleaning actually. I've not really done any extra cleaning.  (Just look at that shelf! I could have at least wiped it off.) But closet rearranging? Yes, please! And kitchen cupboard organizing? All the the time. Let's rearrange and beautify and just luxuriate in how good it feels. (I never said I wasn't strange.)

One of the first areas I tackled was our master bedroom closet. We use it every day, of course, and there's quite a bit going on in there. We store some things, like my sewing machine, and then all of mine and Justin's nice clothes are in there. (And by nice I mean non-workout clothes.) There are a few things I did to our bedroom closet to make it look more "department storeish."

1. Get rid of the extra hangers. Extra hangers aren't pretty. They moved to our laundry room closet. This is also helpful when getting clothes out of the dryer. Just hang them up there and carry them to the bedroom. 

2. Keep underwear/bras/hose/etc in baskets or pretty boxes. I saw an awesome pin that had baskets attached to the wall for this purpose. I'm definitely going to try it. 

3. Stack the sweaters with the folded sides out. So much smoother and ordered. 

4. Store sheets folded up inside one of the pillowcases. The whole set is always together and they are less likely to fall off the shelf. 

5. Restore to order. Laundry baskets on one side. Designated place for the purse. Shoes organized on shoe rack. Sweatshirts folded on shelf. Before I had children I hung up my clothes by clothing type. Tanks, then short sleeve shirts, then long sleeve shirts, then jackets, etc. But now I must admit I just shove them in a spot and go with it. I liked the other way better. I might have to switch back.

There are a lot more things I could have done if I had been willing to spend some money on it. But I wasn't. I took a couple of hours one morning and worked with what I had. As the Nester says, "It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful."  And to me at least, it's beautiful; and it's my closet.  

Do you prettify your closet? I love to have places look pretty, especially ones I use everyday. It makes me smile when I open the doors and see it! 

What does this postpartum nesting signify? Anybody else done it?