Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Getting Your Work Done, Part 2

I've still been thinking about how to get your work done. Work is never-ending and time management can be a problem, especially for people who work for themselves. (And stay at home moms do. Nobody is standing around making sure I'm doing my work!) So a few more pointers. 

photo courtesy of franky242/freedigitalphotos.net

1. Don't sit down.  I've been thinking about things that help me get my work done and one thing I've noticed is that I don't sit down. I don't mean that literally. What I really mean is that I sit with a purpose. When I sit down I am sitting to do something. I am sitting to practice piano. I am sitting to read to the boys or play with them. I am sitting during quiet time to write. I am sitting because I set aside that time to rest. I am sitting to eat. Do you see what I mean? I'm not sitting on the couch when I need to be cooking dinner. I'm not sitting and watching tv when I need to playing with my children. Stay moving. 

2. Challenge yourself to just "one more thing." If you just keep moving you can get so much more done. Think "one more thing." You can always do just one more thing. Write those 500 words, read that book to your baby, fold a load of laundry.  Or set a timer and work for ten or fifteen minutes.

3. Write stuff down. I love a list. And I really like crossing things off the list. So I make a list.  I don't list many of my daily things, like practicing piano (although I do track it) or getting ready for the day or reading my Bible. I would write down daily things that I was struggling with doing consistently. 

 I write down the days we are doing preschool, the cleaning for the day (it's so big that it's nice to cross off and it changes daily), if we have any errands, if I am doing something for someone outside our family, etc. A list will help keep you focused. Maybe you do need to write down three important things. If you are having problems spending time with your kids, put it on your list. Or keep track of it every day. Maybe you need to put "cook dinner" on your list if you are struggling with that. Find where you need to focus and make your list help you. 

4. Plan ahead and prepare. For example, a few weeks ago we were going to clean the church at 4:30. Justin was going to meet us there when he got off work. So during quiet time I thawed and seasoned my meat, and formed hamburgers. I peeled and cut up potatoes for fries and left them sitting in cold water.  And I cooked the bacon for our burgers. That way when we got home I could just turn on pans and put the food in.  No stressing about how long it was going to take or debating stopping for food on the way home. The hard work was already done.

Fix the diaper bag the night before. Pick out everyone's clothes the night before. Lay out the preschool work before you need it. Prepare: most of the time you know what you are going to be doing. 

5. And one last note. All the work will never be done. Never! Just yesterday, we got a crazy amount of work done. And while I was cooking dinner and playing with the boys I kept seeing things that needed done. And I just overlooked them. I am one person. The work will still be there tomorrow. 

Don't worry about finishing your list or having the perfect house. Just do what honors God and blesses your family. And remember, "only God gets His to-do list done." 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The King and A Mother

Children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skillful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king's palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans.  And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king's meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king. Daniel 1:4-5
These children were captives from a foreign nation and the king had no interest in them besides what they could do for him. Because he wanted something back he poured resources, time, and skills into shaping these children. And it paid off. I don't know how the others did but we all know how Daniel turned out. And Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego were no slackers either.

I think we mothers could learn something from this king. These children of mine are precious to me. I'm not after what they can do for me but what they can do for God. There is an eternal purpose in rearing these children. My motivation should go far beyond the king's. Nourish means "to promote growth." It's an active word and an active role. It's adding the positive and not just removing the negative. Nourishing requires my involvement and my interest.

-I am "in charge" of this kingdom. This home world that shapes my children's worldview is almost entirely my domain. It is my privilege and my responsibility to create a home that honors God.

-I am to promote the growth of our children: spiritual, physical, mental, emotional. If I am not interested, who is? Who else is going to care about these precious babies like I do?

-I am to nourish with purpose and intention. The men that were in charge of educating and training Daniel's generation had a vision and some goals for their work. They knew what they wanted the end product to be. What is my vision as a mom? Do I understand the task before me?

My children have the ability to learn: my purpose is to mold them to serve God. They will absorb what they see to be true in our lives. Do my children matter enough for me to grasp God's vision for mothering? Do they matter enough for me to leave lesser things to devote the time and skills necessary to loving and training them?

So often I'm convicted about why the right purpose doesn't motivate us the way some worldly purpose can. We will work and strive for money, for promotion, for fame; but not for God's kingdom and purpose. Where are our hearts centered?

What is your vision as a mom? How are you living out your vision for motherhood?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Fab 5: Freezer Foods

Freezer food is a great time-saver for cooking! I love having already prepped or ready to prep food in my freezer. I try to keep these items stocked at all times.

photo courtesy of patpitchaya/freedigitalphotos.net

1. Roasted, cubed chicken. I add this to everything. Soup, pasta, casseroles, you name it and it saves serious time. No mess, no fuss. And much cheaper if you buy the chicken on sale!

2. Hamburger meat. Now when I was pregnant with Kevin, I actually froze cooked and seasoned ground beef. Much more of a time-saver but I don't do that on a regular basis. But we eat a lot of hamburger so I keep it around.

3. Black beans. I buy a big bag of dried beans, cook them in the Crock-Pot, and put them in freezer bags once they have cooled. It's cheaper and less salty.

4. Boneless, skinless chicken. This is only prep handy if you take the chicken out of its original packaging, cut off any fat, and freeze flat in freezer bags. It's a cinch to thaw and then cut up to use in your favorite recipe. Because thawing chicken in those original packages makes me want to be a vegetarian.

5. Frozen veggies. I always keep peas, corn, and broccoli. They don't spoil, they're really easy to measure to add to Micah's food, and they're cheap!

What's always in your freezer?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Dear Newly Engaged Friend,

Dear Newly Engaged Friend, 

I saw your excited "I said 'Yes'!" post on Facebook! Then the ring pictures and dreamy thoughts about the wedding and being Mrs. Somebody. And I smiled. Engagment is a special time in life. You are thrilled to have found a person to love and who loves you and it's finally your turn to find the perfect dress and plan your dream wedding. But then I saw a little phrase that made me pause. 

Please understand that this caution is coming from happily married woman. I'm not jaded about love or romance. My husband is an incredible man and I love being married to him. But this marriage takes place in life. A life with kids, jobs, a mortgage, and responsibilities. And we get to choose life one of two ways. 

photo courtesy of victor habbick/freedigitalphotos.net

You said, "I found the man who will make me happy for the rest of my life!" Now I'm sure your fiance is an amazing man and you adore him. But please don't saddle him with the job of making you happy. I'm a woman; I know how it is. Sometimes nothing will make you- or me- happy. He cannot always fix your feelings and he shouldn't have to try.  Your happiness is not his responsibility.  Men love to fix problems but there are some problems they can't fix. And he will drive himself crazy trying until he realizes it's pointless. You can feel unhappy when nothing is wrong and only God can help you with that. 

Your happiness is your responsibility. A man wants a happy wife but he can't make his wife happy unless she wants to be happy. If being happy is your goal you will spend a lot of time being miserable. How do I know this? Because our everyday life isn't what we say will make us happy. We want flowers, and money, and vacations, and romantic dinners, and jewelry to be happy.  We don't list crying babies, stubborn preschoolers, family problems, medical bills, overtime, homework, housework, or exhaustion as things that make us happy. And yet that's what life hands us most of the time. Your man can't fix that for you. He can't remove all your responsibilities to your family and to God and let you float around only doing  the things that make you "happy."

Instead why don't you say you found the man you are going to make happy for the rest of your life? If your goal is his happiness you will be happy. And if you make your husband's happiness your aim he will try his best to please you. It's a win-win for both of you. It's a weird paradox of life that Jesus explained in Matthew 16:25: "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it."  It's only as we pour ourselves out for others that we find happiness for ourselves. If you have a heart to please God and make your husband happy you will find a deepening satisfaction in life despite the crying baby and the electric bill. 

I realize this is unpopular advice. Many people would say I needed to assert myself more. Many people would tell me that life is short and I should live for myself. But I've watched those people and they are miserable. I don't want that for myself or for my marriage. And so if you see me smiling in a picture on facebook it's probably not because I'm going on a cruise or  even eating chocolate while watching tv. It's because I'm pursuing someone else's happiness. And that's a purpose worth my marriage and worth my time. 


Friday, March 14, 2014

Art: The Beauty of Limits

Much of the beauty that arises in art comes from the struggle an artist wages with his limited medium.  Henri Matisse
This quote is solace for my heart. I would love to devote more time to my piano practice than what I have. It's not my top priority and therefore doesn't get two or three hours a day. Instead I'm spending time with my husband, teaching my kids, and caring for my home. And that's ok. It's wonderful actually; the limits contain the beauty. The scales used, the medium for the painting, the interests of your children are all boundaries in art. And they are necessary.  Limits have taught me a few things about my work/art. 

1. God blesses obedience. Always. If I obey Him and follow His priorities for my life, He will bless my other work.  He has greatly multiplied my ability already and it's not relative to my talent. If I were to skip other priorities to practice longer my art, my work would suffer. Instead I will trust God and let Him make up the difference. 

photo courtesy of salvatore vuono/freedigitalphotos.net

2. The limited time helps me to focus. If I had three hours to practice every day I would waste a lot of it. I don't have that option. I must know what I'm going to practice. That's why I made a practice schedule so I would know what skills I was focusing on for the month (or other time period.) When I sit down to play I know what to start on; I don't have to waste time flipping through music. I know what skills I am working on while I practice. Right now I'm working on transposing. I'm not going to practice many hymns and not transpose most of them. 

3. I must do the work. I can't use my limited time as an excuse to not do anything. While God is blessing in the limited time if I were to stop practicing the blessing would stop as well. Yes, God does His part, but I must do mine. I must actually practice. I must practice purposefully. 

4. The finish leaves me excited to return. I am never "finished" practicing. I quit because my time is up and my attention is required elsewhere. Usually snack time and some more preschool work. I am always ready to work at practice time because I have a goal and that's my only time. 

5. Enjoying the progress helps the process. Enjoy the beauty of the art. It's fun to remember how far I've already come. What I can do now that I couldn't six months ago. What I can do now effortlessly that I didn't know was possible four years ago. 

6. Sometimes the process isn't beautiful. My practice can sound ugly as I work through classical passages and search for chords while transposing. Sometimes I get up more frustrated than soothed by the work. That should not stop me. 

7. My practice time should challenge my skills. Practice should be hard. If it's easy and comfortable I am not practicing correctly.  I am coasting on what I can already do instead of learning and applying something new. Learning is uncomfortable and halting. 

8. It's ok if it takes time. I don't have to be an expert now. I don't have to need to be able to transpose flawlessly or sightread classical music beautifully yet. It will come if I keep practicing. I have years. It takes years. 

Without the struggle- the struggle for time, the struggle in learning- much of the story would be lost.  These principles easily carry over into any area of your life. We have no infinite resources, but we can take advantages of our limits.

How is your time limited? How are you meeting that challenge?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Metabolics and Homeschool Philosophies

I've found two child-rearing "rules" so far.  They're complicated so pay attention. 

1. Follow Biblical guidelines. 
2. Let each child be their own person. 

Ok, maybe not so complicated. 

I don't expect my children to be the same as each other or the same as their friends. I don't expect them to like the same things or develop on the same schedule. And that's good. You know why? Because they aren't the same!  If you compared me with twenty five of my peers chosen solely by location we might not even be on the same page. I would look incompetent compared to some of them and I might be a genius compared with some others. Wouldn't comparing me with myself yesterday or last month be a more accurate way to discern what I'm learning? 

You see, in some things, Micah's "behind." Behind the average, I mean. (Although what exactly is an average child? I don't think I've ever met one.)  In a lot of things Micah is not "behind" at all. He has strengths and challenges and he will face them all his life. I will not teach him to give his challenges a name and dismiss them. We're going to work on them. We're going to take our time. 

How much of this is related to his IVA? I can only guess but probably a good amount of it. The official paperwork states that 50% of babies live through the crisis. And then that some of them make a full recovery. We're not at full recovery mode yet but if he continues as he has been we'll be there in a year or two (or four) I think. 

All of these factors force me to think about education. I find most modern (American) educational standards and philosophies to be a bit ridiculous. Ok, a lot ridiculous. My five or six or seven year old does not need to spend 7+ hours a day away from his family, sitting in a desk, surrounded by children his own age. How is that developmentally appropriate? And I don't really care if he tests the same as the next kid. Or reads when the neighbor's boy does. Or does math at the same level as his brother. I want him to be his best. 

I find I'm not alone in this outlook. 

Matt Walsh (in case I haven't told you, I love his blog) weighed in on this subject recently. Also just google "delayed academics" for starters. You can go from there.   

This is not an uncommon stance. Education can be tailored to the abilities and challenges of each child instead of to test questions. Quite a few homeschool advocates are also advocates of allowing children to develop at their own pace instead of pushing them to adapt to the timeline of "normal."  (And maybe even let them be children instead of pushing testing at such young ages.)

If an "expert" told me that my piano playing wasn't good enough because someone else was learning quicker or had a more natural inclination to playing I would want to quit. Why? Because I can't compete with them. I can only work with what I have. If I didn't quit, I would grow to hate it. Instead of enjoying what I was learning I would be consumed with what I wasn't doing yet. Is that any way to go through years and years of school?  

Micah and I have started preschool this year and he's doing great. And by preschool I mean that we're playing games, reading, and singing songs. Really, we aren't doing much new; I'm simply keeping track of it for my own benefit.  It's fun to learn what works for him and what his strengths and challenges are.

Now here's to letting him learn on his own schedule. No comparisons. No pushing. 

(Of course I'm not talking about not pushing him to do his best. I want my children to learn to do THEIR very best. I'm talking about not pushing him to be, or to do, like someone else.)

I know plenty of people, my husband and myself included, who went successfully through a public or private school system. What about you? What led  you to your educational choices? How are they working out for your family? 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Keep The Heart: An Online Resource

Keep The Heart by Francie Taylor is becoming one of my favorite resources! I first ordered one of her books and a couple of mp3 downloads over a year ago and I still review the material frequently. I love that I can listen to her teach while I'm cooking dinner!

My favorite lesson is "Classy Lady or Brassy Lady?" And you can't beat 99 cents for the price!

I also picked up the copies of last year's eMag. They are full of excellent material.  I even have a wishlist of her things that I want to get eventually!

There are books, mp3's, cd sets, and a eMagazine to choose from. Go check them out!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Learn to Love What Must Be Done

German poet Goethe said, "Cease endlessly striving for what you would like to do and learn to love what must be done.

Is that not the answer to our problem? The problem being, of course, that we are selfish. We have our own wants. We know what we would like to do.

I would like to go out to eat. 
I would like to sit and play the piano for hours. (No, really I don't; it would drive me crazy. I would just like to be able to.) 
I would like to sit and read or write. 
I would like to sleep in. 
I would like to go on vacation. 

I want, I want, I want. End it already! Forget what you want. Put it out of your mind. 

So what do we do instead?

Learn to love what must be done. 

We have to learn because it's a process. God has all the love and help that we need for this.  Don't expect it to happen overnight and don't expect it to be easy. But it can be learned. 

Learn to love what must be done.
Learn to love cooking and cleaning up the meals. 
Learn to love playing the piano when it's time and to love getting up when the time is over. 
Learn to love reading and writing when it's time and working on other things when it's not. 
Learn to love getting up to live this life God has given. 
Learn to love washing clothes and reading board books. 
Learn to love changing sheets and changing diapers.
Learn to love the day to day routine. 
Learn to love whatever it is you do. 

Do we even ask God to help us love what He has given us to do? I know I often don't. I buy into the world's lies that my day-to-day work is misery. If we get everything we want or get to do everything we want, we will be brats. God can't accomplish His purposes with brats.  

God can help me. God can help you. But do we ask? Do we run to His Word for wisdom and help? Do we seek Him in prayer for strength? Do we tell ourselves "no," and go do our work with a good attitude, even if we don't feel like it? 

I would suggest that we just ignore our feelings. (Obviously I'm not speaking of dealing with anger or bitterness. I'm talking about our day-to-day "I don't want to do this. I want to quit. Nobody likes me" feelings.) Know what God wants you to do and then do it. 

Do it when you feel like it. 
Do it when you don't. 
Do it when it's comfortable. 
Do it when it's uncomfortable.
Do it when it's accepted. 
Do it when it's persecuted. 

We don't expect to learn to love it. We expect to be miserable and live for the occasions when we can do whatever we want. TGIF, anyone? That is a miserable life to live. 

Learn to love what you must do. Live that life of joy that God has called you to. Don't accept the world's standard that you must be miserable in your work. Or that you must be miserable serving. or that you must be miserable loving. God makes the difference. Hopefully our lives really will be different so that others are turned to Christ. 

Isn't that the whole point? To show Christ to others in every attitude and action? 

Start learning to love your work today.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Fab 5: Children's Books, Part One

Reading is obviously a necessary skill. You can't even fill out a job application without being literate. Early reading is a fantastic way for parents to bond with children and prepare them for academic success.  It's also a great boost for children with slow speech development. Ask me how I know. (Those aren't scholarly sources but you can find some if you look.) 

I said all that to say this- we read a lot! Micah could be read to for hours at a time but I always fall asleep after 45 minutes. Kevin's working up for reading "big kid" books for 20 or 30 minutes. One of the three big goals that I have for my kids is teaching them to love to read. We'll see if it happens. 

We have so many books that there is no way we could list five that were our total favorites. So this will be part one.

The Cat in the Hat is one of Micah's favorite books right now. We read it a lot and it doesn't drive me crazy after a couple of reads. That's always a plus for this mama.  As you can tell our copy is completely falling apart; it's been taped several times but I think it's about a goner. I'm pretty sure it was Justin's when he was little. 

My mom found Digger Man, along with two others for the boys. Kevin especially loves them and Micah can almost quote the whole thing. 

Micah received Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type at Kevin's baby shower. It's a cute little nonsensical story that the boys enjoy. 

We enjoy Little Blue Truck so much that I'm going to look for the other one: Little Blue Truck Leads the Way. It has animal sounds and is an adorable story about helping others. 

And a beloved children's book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? wraps up our five. It teaches colors and animals and of course there are others (see below picture). Micah can practically quote this one and they are Kevin's favorites. He loves to sit and look at them. 

What are your favorite children's books? 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

How Our Home Is and Is Not Like a Bed and Breakfast

We all know about my bed and breakfast obsession. I love the whole concept: they are tiny and cozy and intimate.  Justin and I actually stayed at one a few months ago because the man understands me. We snuck off to Gatlinburg for a night for a little mini-vacation and stayed at Eight Gables Inn. It was beautiful, even in January. 

While I was there I took notes (in my mind, didn't want to be a creeper) of things that they did that made it successful; it's a highly-rated bed and breakfast. I found some ways that our home is like a bed and breakfast. I also found some other ways it's definitely not! 

How we're similar:

Our home is personal, just like a bed and breakfast. All we serve is is our family and a few others that come into our home. A bed and breakfast might serve 10-25 people a night, not hundreds or thousands. 

Our home is beautiful. Not the same kind of beauty as a bed and breakfast but still beautiful. 

Our home is welcoming. We were greeted at the door and shown around the grounds when we got there. They opened and closed doors and tried to foresee your every need.  I also try to have a welcoming spirit at our home. Welcome home the husband, be delighted to see the children in the morning; you know, be glad about these people!  

Our home is serving. The bed and breakfast staff waited on our every need. They knew what car you owned and serviced your room while you were out. They brought you a beautiful dessert before bed.  I try to serve my family and meet their needs. Meals, clothing, cleaning are all part of that. 

How we're different:
Our home is not quiet. We have two wild Indians, I mean, small boys who live here. They play harmonicas, beat pots and pans, and listen to Bob and Larry music (VeggieTales) almost nonstop. But I do seek a peaceful atmosphere in our home. We listen to calm music during dinner and I try to keep a peaceful spirit since I am the spirit of our home. 

Our home is not magazine worthy. We have a limited decorating budget. We have a homeschool starting here. We have children's toys and books. But it's still beautiful. It's neat and organized and the children are learning to keep their spaces that same way.

I can fill my home with love-God's love, because mine is not enough. I am confronted with that fact every day. I can love what God has given me to do and this home where I do most of it. Home is the center of our lives. I want to pour my heart into it. 

The season of life you are in will greatly impact whether or not your home looks like a bed and breakfast. But we can always work on making our home feel like a bed and breakfast: welcoming, peaceful, personal. 

Consider how you greet your family in the morning and when they come home.  Are basic needs cared for? What can you change to make your home a little more like a haven designed specifically for your family? After all, YOU are the expert on your family.