Monday, February 10, 2014
As Murphy's Law would have it, I had a cell phone crisis while reading Chapter One of The Hands Free Mama by Rachel Mary Stafford. I reached my cell data limit a full week prior to the turnover to a blank data page. A full week early. This has never happened before. Not even close.
At first I thought it was my kids. Surely they had been streaming Netflix on my phone at basketball games all month. "Those little guys are racking up all my data!" I thought. "They really have a problem with screen time and it must be stopped. Time to tighten the reigns!"
I checked the data usage. Nope. It was me. All me.
Does it make it any better that I was live streaming lots of Joyce Meyer podcasts while driving alone to and from millions of appointments and errands over the past few weeks? They're Christian and uplifting, right?
Oh, and I must admit to watching a fair amount of The Blaze TV while preparing several freezer meals for my family. I must stay on top of current events, right?
And I watched lots of weather forecasts during our snowpocalypse. I had to keep ahead of the school closings, right?
And I also clicked through to all the lovely blogs I read while having my knee iced at physical therapy. I had forced blocks of down time so I might as well surf my blog list, right?
Because of the fear of crazy expensive overages, I was forced to put down my phone. I turned off the cell coverage and even turned off the phone overnight.
It was a wake up call and I am willing to go so far as to say it was a divine wake up call.
You know when the electricity goes out and it takes a while to remember it because you keep turning on the light switches in every room? Having no cell data was similar. I'd pick up my phone to check email, then put it down. Pick up again to check Instagram, put it down. Pick up to check the weather, put it down. It was Pavlovian - like a trained animal looking for a treat and not finding one.
I embarrassed myself by the need to hold the phone in my hand from room to room just in case the school called and my child was sick. Just in case a friend texted and I needed to respond immediately. Just in case my husband called from overseas and I might miss the chance to connect with him.
I consoled myself with the idea that at least I generally do all this streaming and checking when my kids are at school. But did I really?
It was such a good feeling to sit with them after school and not even know where my phone was. It was a blessing to fall asleep face to face with my youngest, not his face to my cheek illuminated by the light of a small screen in my hand.
Then I started to get irritated with my husband. Being forced to put down my phone while he was not made me gratingly aware of every moment he was on his phone when we could have been chatting together instead. Suddenly I was ready to impose my own limits on him as well. I got a bit grouchy - probably a sign of withdrawal.
I started reading him passages from my book. He wasn't much interested. This bugged me even more.
Finally, I realized that what was bugging me was the realization that I was extremely tethered to my phone. It was humbling. I never thought I was the one with a problem.
In her first chapter, Rachel describes that everyday life has "Sunset Moments" that we often miss because we are too busy with our to do lists and too tethered to screens to look up and notice them.
The irony is that we are so busy trying to get everything done so we can get around to having our "Sunset Moments". But they cannot be planned. The beauty of these experiences is that they occur naturally and we need to be open enough to notice them and able to slow down enough to participate fully in them when we do.
Now that my cell data has returned, I have the challenge of staying detached from my phone. It hasn't been easy but I am trying. The key has been to create a docking station in the kitchen. This is the place to drop all devices and leave them there.
My friends and family have commented that I am less reachable lately, not responding as quickly to texts. I think that's ok. I have sunsets to capture, tender spur of the moment moments to spend with children who are growing up and away from me each day. And I have a husband who needs just a bit more convincing that even he could live a little more hands free.
Monday, February 3, 2014
How can it be February already? The past two weeks of snow day drama made January evaporate as quickly as the frost on the tree branches. Now here I stand looking into February with these tasks on my mind:
~ Prepare for my mother's arrival on February 13 (she is staying for two months which requires intense bedroom/closet/drawer/bathroom preparations)
~Valentine's Day prep for school parties and a dance for our middle schooler
~ Plan two birthday parties for my boys turning 11 and 12 this month (send invitations, buy gifts, cakes, make arrangements etc...)
~Prepare my own accommodations as I will move into the downstairs guest room for a while post knee-surgery
~Continue the "Great Purge" of closets and drawers to clear my mental clutter and make the family run smoothly without much help from me
~Stock up on groceries and freeze ahead meals to assist my mother
~Finish my One Little Word pages for January and start on February
~Include Ali's 31 Things Pages and 52 Lists in my OLW binder
Phew! Just writing this out is a bit of a relief for me. Now to make the time to get it all done in the next two weeks.
What does your February look like?
P.S. I am experimenting with allowing anonymous commenters since so many of my family and friends don't have on-line profiles and therefore cannot leave me a comment on my blog. We'll see if my SPAM goes up or if I am enough "off the radar" that this setting can work. I hope so!
Friday, January 31, 2014
It was Catholic Schools week this past week. Our boys attend the local parish school and participated in collecting tuition donations after Mass last Sunday (not for their own tuition, but money to provide assistance to families who may want to send their children to Catholic school but cannot afford it). My favorite part of Mass was when Father R. asked people to stand if they were a product of Catholic schools. There must have been 75% of the congregation that stood. Clearly, Catholic education (whether in a parish school or a homeschool) fosters life-long Catholics.
~ 2 ~
This boys has had a drippy nose and cough all week. He is learning how to blow and wipe his own proboscis but we have to work on conserving tissues. He is a one wipe and done Kleenex user. I guess I can't blame him when I think about it but we really cannot go through an entire box of tissues per sneeze.
I remember obsessing over jelly shoes and Guess jeans back in the day. This is one obsession I can handle!
~ 4 ~
Have you tried the Project 365 Pro app? It is such an easy way to capture your everyday life via photos. Each day you add a photo and at the end of the month it makes the collage for you. I'm not a scrapbooker by nature so this is brilliantly easy for me.
~ 5 ~
Winter Storm Leon brought us ten inches of snow and paralyzed our beach town. That didn't stop anyone from motorized sledding. We did this on wide open farm land growing up but every time a scene like this drove by my house I held my breath hoping no one swung into a mailbox or a parked car. It was so icy that a small tree and a light pole were knocked down in our neighborhood but thankfully there were no sledding injuries!
It was amazing to watch the show now that I relate more to the parents than the kids. Mr. Brady and Mrs. Brady were equal, respectful, partners. Mr. Brady was actually portrayed a wise, fair and loving father. How clearly this show contrasts with the current youth-targeted shows where the father and most adults and teachers are portrayed as out of touch idiots and fools who have no idea what their kids are up to.
The Brady parents also teach natural consequences! When Peter was fired I almost expected Mrs. Brady to storm into the bike shop demanding her poor son get his job back. She didn't. When Greg and Marcia fought over the attic space they gave it to Greg because he was older. They made the rule and let Marcia and Greg work it out on their own. They didn't build an addition to let Marcia also have her own room so it would be "fair".
But what is the deal with Alice? Why did it never strike me as odd that they had a live-in housekeeper? It is a riot to hear Mrs. Brady choosing recipes and asking Alice if she thinks she can make them. Wow! What a stay-at-home-mom life she had!
Anyway, if you are looking for a family-friendly show that teaches good-old-fashioned G-rated values, try The Brady Bunch. It's a hoot and a fun trip down memory lane. (Find it on TVland.)
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
In the rush of excitement for this snow storm I stocked up on goodies. I plan to make a Mexican meal of chicken enchiladas, guacamole , a favorite in our household. I also bought several disposable tin pans and will be making some foods for the freezer in preparation for my surgery in three weeks. The plan is make extra enchiladas, beef and bean burritos, lasagna, banana bread and pumpkin breads. We'll see if I get around to it or end up dropping everything to read by the fire.
Thursday, January 23, 2014
It must seem like overkill to our relatives up north that we make such a big deal of a few inches of snow falling in one night. Having grown up in snow country and raised my boys in Chicago during their younger years, we are more than comfortable with a little snow. I think that's why we notice its absence all winter long here by the sea.
We have been praying (literally) for at least one snow day this year and now we are on day two of no school! What a treat! We pulled out the snow pants, boots and mittens and had a good laugh at how much the older two have grown. RW's pants are at least three inches too short but they still fit around his slim waist so they worked just fine. They first headed outside at 7:00am yesterday. Then again at 10:00, 1:00, and 4:00. By that time I found myself silently grateful that we only do this once a year. What a pain it is helping these boys out of muddy boots and soggy snow pants, then hauling everything to the dryer only to start all over again by the time the cycle ends. I had forgotten about the tears that accompany a five-year old whose mittens came off in the snow and who comes inside sure that his hands are permanently frozen.
On the bright side, we had plenty of cocoa and chocolate chip blondies, interspersed with long stretches of time to play in the sunbeams by the windows, to play X-box with other snow-stranded friends, and even time for me to take lots of photos throughout the day. At some point I realized I was doing my own version of day in the life by Ali Edwards. Seeing the way the light changed throughout the day led me to want to capture it on my camera. The more I am aware of the boys growing up the more I want to imprint each moment of the present on film.
I even dared to take a snap of myself, in all my un-made-up glory as reflected in the bathroom mirror. This simple post impacted me and I am trying to get my(real)self back in the picture a little more this year.
And yes, our unadorned Christmas tree is still up. We thought it finally seemed appropriate now that there is white stuff on the ground. As much as I am ready to move on to spring, the glowing evenings beside the tree are the perfect end of each day. I took the ornaments off after Epiphany but the boys don't want us to take the rest down. That's the beauty of artificial trees, the magic can last and last.
Monday, January 20, 2014
Looking up (and dreaming of Springtime)
The boys are off from school today in honor of MLK Jr. so right now I am hearing dangerous sounds of wrestling and rough-housing from the upstairs playroom. Sadly, I have a general rule that the three boys are not allowed to play in there at the same time. It just gets too rough and always ends in crying and more than once a trip to the ER for stitches. Today I am letting it go a bit but will soon have to put the kibosh on their "fun". The kibosh is always followed by my instructions for them to "take it outside". Somehow the wide open outdoors keeps the hand-to-hand combat from happening like it does in a confined space. Will I ever get used to being a mother of boys?
Stacks are piling up around here as my eyes once again get to big for my ability to read all these wonderful books. I blame Amazon for my over-abundant bookshelves. It is just too easy to pop over and order a book or two to be delivered within two days.
This tower of books is still awaiting as I am currently into the third and very long book of this series. (It is so good my mom is now reading the first book and says she loves it. Fun to share books with her across the miles.)
My list just keeps growing as I come across all the good books other bloggers are reading and posting about on their sites or on Goodreads. Are you into Goodreads? It has been a lifesaver for me as a place to keep track of my own reading wish-list as well as a record of the wonderful books I have read.
This week Hands Free Mama and Slow Family Living arrived on the doorstep. These subjects speak so deeply to me as if echoing back what I already know to be right and giving me the strength to stand in my own convictions. I just posted about the natural slowness that accompanies January and these books are leading me toward Lent and unplugging in my own way.
Thanks to the slower pace of January, even my boys are finding more time to read. My 5th grader, ZJ , is reading a series about the Vietnam war for fun and the abridged version of The Last of The Mohicans for a school project. KC, age five, is suddenly learning to read and a whole new world of fun is opening before him. My husband is the bedtime story reader in our house and their current novel is Survivors. RW, our 6th grader, has just finished Enders Game and moved on to the Percy Jackson series.
My husband is working his way through The Untethered Soul and while it is not exactly riveting reading, he and I have had such good discussions based on the message of this book. My mother has just finished it and said it was like being hit over the head with a revelation that has changed the way she interacts with people everyday.
In fact, a new phrase has become part of our family lexicon. "I'm untethering" is code for this situation is really bothering me but I am choosing not to react, just to let it pass through me. We laugh about it but I think even our sons are learning that there is no benefit in indulging in stress, anger or fear. No problem changes by our obsessing and complaining about it. Change only comes when we breathe deeply and move forward with calm, kind solutions to the problem.
And if that doesn't fix the problem we simply have to let it go. We have always wanted to teach our boys how to cope with life rather than manipulating the world around them to protect them from hurt feelings or challenging situations. Untethered Soul has given us a language to use around these abstract ideas. Good stuff.
~OPI My Private Jet nail polish (found on Amazon)
~ek tools journaling pens (found them at Target)
~Pioneer Woman Cooks tv show
I don't watch much TV but lately I've been on a tear through the many episodes of Ree Drummond's show. The best part is that my boys watch with me and comment about recipes they want me to make from the show. I have all three of her cookbooks so I often find the recipes there or I just print them from Food Network. We made her Best Tomato Soup the other day and it was delicious!
In the kitchen
The first thing on my list was to get back into my kitchen. I find such peace and comfort in cooking and baking. One reason is that I can see the full completion of a task. So many tasks around the house are dragged out and I love the process of cooking from start to finish - even doing the dishes. I even created my own hashtag on Instagram called #peacefulkitchen where I tag all my photos of recipes and quiet moments in the heart of our home.
Meals this week
MONDAY Mexican Night: Homemade Chipotle Chicken Bowl
TUESDAY Italian Night: Linguine Alfredo with roasted asparagus and leftover grilled salmon
WEDNESDAYBreakfast for Dinner: French Toast and bacon
THURSDAY Fast and Easy: Tuna Sandwiches and tomato soup
FRIDAY Fun Food: Delivery Pizza
SATURDAY Eat Out: Somewhere fast between Mass and the Free-Throw Contest at school
SUNDAY Soup Night: Basic Chili with Jiffy cornbread muffins
For my mother who is converting to Catholicism this year. That is another whole blog post so I'll save the details for another day. I am just so proud of her for making such a huge change in the later years of her life. God is amazing. My mom and I never, ever, talked about her converting. I never even imagined it. Not once. Just wow.
There is actual (accumulating?) snow in our forecast tomorrow afternoon. Hard to believe considering I have all the windows open and it is 60 degrees and sunny today. Nonetheless, we are getting our hopes up for a snow day on Wednesday. It doesn't take much to shut things down around here. The boys are now playing happily outside in the sunshine. I can eavesdrop on them through the open windows. (It has taken me all day to complete this post!)
Sharing and getting more inspiration here:
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
“A balanced life has a rhythm. But we live in a time, and in a culture, that encourages everyone to just move faster. I'm learning that if I don't take the time to tune in to my own more deliberate pace, I end up moving to someone else's, the speed of events around me setting a tempo that leaves me feeling scattered and out of touch with myself. I know now that I can't write fast; that words, my own thoughts and ideas, come to the surface slowly and in silence. A close relationship with myself requires slowness. Intimacy with my husband and guarded teenage sons requires slowness. A good conversation can't be hurried, it needs time in which to meander its way to revelation and insight. Even cooking dinner with care and attention is slow work. A thoughtful life is not rushed.”
Katrina Kenison The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother's Memoir
I used to really dislike January. It was such a let down following the glittering holiday season. What was there to celebrate about January? It seemed like a month of just waiting until Valentine's Day, until Spring returned and real life resumed its normal pace.
What was I thinking?
Since my boys have grown old enough to have plans and schedules of their own, I have increasingly found the lull offered by January days to be a balm to our busy family's soul. As Katrina expresses in the above quotation, a thoughtful life is not rushed. Rushing seems to be the predominant quality of most people's lives. We rush to and from school, errands, games, and even rush ourselves right out after church. To what? More rushing around? There is little time to stand still, turn and visit with the people who sit beside us in the pews every Sunday.
We move through our daily lives checking off the boxes on our to do list but rarely pausing long enough to make full eye contact, to converse beyond the hollow how are you?, to engage in the messy lives each of us live behind the rushing.
We complain to our friends that we have no time to make a healthy family dinner, no time to read the books stacked on our nightstands, no time to call loved ones and chat, no time to sit and savor the sunset.
For me, January has contradicted all that. The calendar pages, while still dotted with basketball practices and games, church meetings and school events, gleam back at me, brightly white and clean, begging me to fill them.
I have learned to resist.
Instead, I have taken the hint from our Church's return to Ordinary Time, to do the same. Ordinary time in my home means planning healthier meals and actually making them, reducing the need to run errands and spending less money overall. It's noticing the sunrise and the sunset, saying yes when a boy asks me for my full attention, putting down the phone, the remote, the mouse, the pen. It means folding the laundry and setting aside what is too small and worn out, purging the junk drawers, cleaning out cupboards and rewarding my efforts with a cup of coffee and some time alone with a good book.
The busy days will return again soon, but for now, I revel in the regular and hope to continue to do so even when we are inevitably rushing again.