Posted in What I'm Learning

Mindful Leisure

The more I think about rest, the more I have to analyze, practically, what that looks like. If I were to put the question to the wide, wide world, I would probably receive many responses related to leisure.

Our culture is all about leisure.

We live for weekends and holidays, during which we want to unplug from everything. We have movies, books, video games, ball games, amusement parks, and all manner of activities that allow us to escape life for just a little while as we supposedly rest.

So, why do we stay exhausted all the time?

I think it’s because rest was never meant to be mindless. It was never intended as escapism. Yet, so much of our leisure is just that. It’s mindless.

Now, I’m not saying that the activities I mentioned are bad. But, when we approach them as escapism, they become something that sucks the life out of us instead of pouring it back in. If we’re going to enjoy a good ball game, snuggle up for a movie, read a book, head to an amusement park, or engage in any other activity, we need to be intentional to engage in them mindfully. We must choose to actively explore how we can avoid the mindlessness that rises as the archenemy of rest.

What does this look like?

Well, that’s just it. This is all a work in progress for me. A mission of discovery. I am creative in many ways, but I do not think outside the box well. I have a hard time breaking the mold of what has been exemplified for me. If I dislike the mold, I am more inclined to leave it empty than to recreate the shape. I know I cannot leave this one empty, but I am often stumped as to how to change it. Fortunately for minds like mine, changing the mold often starts with evaluating the mold itself to see if there are useful aspects to it.

For instance, think of one thing that so many of us struggle with: time on the Internet.

We “hop on” for a “quick” look, only to find we have wasted thirty minutes without realizing it. How can we turn that around? By choosing to be purposeful in our time on the web. Think about Pinterest. Many of my friends laugh at me because I avoid Pinterest as often as possible. It’s a bottomless pit of overwhelming. But, when I have a specific task to accomplish, it can be very helpful. I choose my keywords, set a time limit, start a search, and then take my finds and go apply them to whatever project I wanted to tackle. A few years ago, ten minutes on Pinterest and a couple of hours of sewing resulted in several adorable gowns for my girlies to pack for camp. I had so much fun making those gowns, and the whole experience was one of mindful leisure and rest.

Mindfulness. Intentionality. Purposefulness. And fun! That is actually restful!

I have so much to learn about rest. How to avoid feeling guilty when I say no to people so I can obediently rest. How to balance personal and family rest. How to anticipate the Sabbath so I don’t spend the first few hours of the day wandering aimlessly trying to figure out what to do to avoid the mindless leisure that so often comes to mind first (and never satisfies!).

But I am excited to know that God will teach me as I discipline myself to rest His way. Mindfully.

 

Posted in What Works for Me

Make It Your Own

I love to read, but, as I’ve shared before, I’m not always great at it – especially if it is non-story-based non-fiction. I might enjoy the topic and writing style immensely, but I struggle to retain what I have read. For a long time, I let this dissuade me from reading much non-fiction. What good were the books doing me if I did not retain them? Last year, I decided that had to change.

Here’s the kicker, though. It has not been just about changing my reading plan. I have also had to change my reading habits to help me retain. As I look at the titles I have read over the past year, I realize how much more I have retained from those titles than from any previous non-fiction attempts. So, what has been different?

I’ve been determined to make the books my own.

When I was in high school and college, I recognized my struggle with processing information, and it motivated me to work extra hard. I highlighted, underlined, took notes, and wrote in margins when possible. I did this with my Bible as well. And it worked! My books and their content were my own. The added effort provided a multi-faceted input that allowed me to truly interact with the message and sear the information into my heart and mind.

During my junior year of college, though, I heard someone talk about how marking up your Bible kept you in a learning rut, and it was better to let the Holy Spirit speak afresh every time instead of always seeing what you’d learned the last time. The logic is debatable, but the following summer when a dog managed to get ahold of my Bible and rip it to shreds, I “started fresh” and broke the habit of marking up my Bible. Meanwhile, I started wanting to loan out my books, so I didn’t want to mark them up, either. And with that, my interactive habits stopped.

Unfortunately, I never formed new habits to replace the broken ones.

As I became determined to challenge my reading habits this year, I knew those new habits had to be formed. So, I’m actively exploring ways to get back to making what I read my own. Here are some of the things I’m trying:

Slow Down

Some people – including members of my family are speed readers. I am not. My “to read” stack stays pretty large and daunting, and sometimes I’m tempted to rush through a book just to get to the next one. But, it is better to never get to the bottom of the stack than to miss the great content in each book of choice. In order to process, I have to slow down and really read.

Journaling

Let me admit from the get-go that the habit of journaling slows everything down even more! I’m a writer, and I still get frustrated at times with the amount of time it takes to process through journaling. But, for writers and non-writers alike, journaling is an incredibly powerful tool. When we journal, we have to interact with and show an understanding of what we have just read. And journaling can take many forms. It can be coherent sentences and paragraphs, lists or a series of phrases referencing the original material, voice recordings, or even art. The key is the interaction and “teaching back” nature of processing what we have read. And yes, sometimes that will also include underlining, highlighting, and writing notes in the margin!

Talk It Out

I love reading a book at the same time someone else is reading it. This year, I’ve read several books simultaneously with my husband, oldest daughter, or a Bible study group. Having read the same information, we talk it out and share how it impacted each of us. This works for Bible reading as well. I love being on the same Bible reading plan as the rest of my family! But, this also works for books I read on my own. When something stands out to me, I like to process through it by sharing with my husband, the kids, an accountability partner, or friends. Like with journaling, this forces me to process what I have read in a coherent manner.

Own Two

The first time through, I almost never mark up a book. But, there are certain books that automatically go on the “buy a loaner copy and reread” list. When I’m able, I snag an extra copy to have on my shelf. This copy stays unmarked and available for loaning out. At least once a year, I want to pause from reading new books and go back and reread one of the books from that list. And in the reread, I will probably mark it all up and really make it mine! Not every book is worth this. But, some really, really are.

How do you make sure you really process what you read? I’d love new ideas!

Posted in What I'm Learning

One Sentence at a Time

Sometimes a great idea for organization or structure or time management flows through my mind. I try it. It works. I begin to implement it and see the difference. I share it here. Then something happens to derail that wonderful thing.

April was a month of derailment. Looking back, I accomplished one single thing: I finished my large, annual writing project. But, in the process, just about everything else fell apart. And I mean everything. Almost no grading was accomplished in the month of April. Writing, other than that one project, was nonexistent. Discipline went out the window, as did motivation and inspiration. I pulled off a column, two blog posts, and a book review in April, but little else. May was even worse.

My husband looked at me recently and said, “You’re struggling because you’re not writing.” He’s right. Every area of my life is a challenge. But, every time I sit down to write, the blank screen or blank notebook page mocks me. Even writing for work has been a challenge. How in the world can I get past this? How can I improve when the one thing that will help me just won’t come?

By writing just one sentence at a time.

I intended to give a blog post a go on Monday, but fear of the blank screen caused me to avoid it. I had no accountability. So, that night, I told my husband I would write a blog post the next day. At some point, I’d just sit down and do it. I’d make myself write one sentence. Then another. Then another. Accountability. One stage of discipline and one small measure of motivation.

Maybe the sentences, when compiled, would make sense. Maybe they wouldn’t. But at least I would be trying.

One sentence at a time.

You see, I’m a finisher. I like to see a project through to its completion. But I also struggle when the project is huge and finishing seems so far away. Small, manageable tasks that I can check off are helpful, but often I have trouble breaking the big picture down into small manageable bites. So, I get easily overwhelmed by the big picture.

And lately, even a single article has felt like too great of a project.

So, as I sit down now to write, I choose to break it down. One thought. One sentence. Word by word. I can do that.

And just like that, I have over 400 words. Not the greatest blog post in the world. Not worthy of publication anywhere other than my own blog – if even there. But it’s a start.

And right now, that’s what I need. A start. Choosing to actively work to put discipline, motivation, and inspiration back into place.

One sentence at a time.

Posted in Family, Wednesday Work, What Works for Me

Table Talk

If you pick up any parenting guide, read any family focused tips, or seek advice on strengthening or restoring family cohesiveness, you will see “share meals regularly” as a common top recommendation. I’m going to admit something that I’m just now coming to realize: I rebel against that advice. Not because I don’t make a habit of sharing meals with my family. I do. Although there are always exceptions, our goal is to sit down as a family for at least one meal every day. Because that is our goal, we are quick to find alternatives when the goal is thwarted. It’s that important to us.

So, why do I balk at the advice to eat as a family daily or a certain number of times each week? Let me answer that question with a brief trip down memory lane.

An Aspirin a Day

Decades ago, my grandparents were told by their doctor to take a “baby” aspirin every day to ward off heart disease. Now, my grandparents were both very healthy right on up into their nineties. Although there were illnesses involved in their deaths, the honest truth is that they died of old age. Their bodies had degenerated too much to fight off normal diseases.

I remember multiple times when my grandmother told me that she was so healthy because of that daily aspirin. So-and-so was having heart or other health issues, and if they would just take an aspirin every day, that would solve their problems!

Truthfully, though, my grandma was just healthy. Or maybe it was just that she was too stubborn to get sick! Either way, the aspirin was just a tip. A suggestion for dealing with a potential underlying issue. It was not a cure-all, but advice based on contemporary medical wisdom.

And that, my friends, is exactly what the family meal suggestion is. It is one method of combating relational distance. Just one method.

Our Talk Time: Table Talk

My family loves sharing a meal together because that is the easiest time to just sit around and gab for a few minutes. Some days we talk, and some days we don’t. Sometimes we have serious conversations and other times a fly on the wall would run away in terror because of our insanity. Sometimes we just so happen to eat multiple meals together in one day, and other times we can barely coordinate sitting down together three times in a week! We might have interesting discussions every day one. week and none for the next two weeks.

The key is that meal time is the most opportune time for us to converse in a spontaneous manner, without pressure or topic orchestration. And, honestly, that’s probably true for the majority of families. Sharing meals as a family has a reputation for being one of the greatest single components of a healthy family, and consequently tends to be the greatest single recommendations for restoring or building family health: because it’s an opportunity to talk.

It’s not about the meal. It’s about the natural interaction and the relationship. It’s about the talking. It’s about the relaxed interaction and communication.

What’s Your Talk Time?

For your family, it might not be table talk. It might be car talk if you are all in the vehicle together at least one to three times a week. Perhaps you have weekly game night or enjoy regularly watching sports together, so it’s game talk. The key is not the meal. The key is finding a time when everyone in the family is together and relatively relaxed so the relational conversation – whether serious, funny, or outright weird – just naturally flows.

Yes, mealtime is what works for our family. And I love that time together! My prayer is that you find the “talk” time that works for you. You won’t regret it!

Posted in Wednesday Work, What Works for Me

Letting Go

I’m a perfectionist by nature. Unlike the portrayal of perfectionism that is often depicted in our media and entertainment, perfectionism does not always mean that everything is perfectly in order. For me – and for many perfectionists I know personally – it is more that there is a sense of constant tension because it’s not perfect. My desk is a mess. Why? Because right now I just can’t seem to keep everything in its place. And, even if I do, there’s just a lot of stuff that stays on my desk, so it doesn’t necessarily look tidy even when it is. That’s a conflict. So, it is almost better to have chaos than to have something shy of perfection.

I know. I’m weird. But, you probably are not just now figuring that out!

Over the years, I have learned to repeat a phrase in my head when perfection eludes me. So, pretty much continuously. What is that phrase? Let it go.

Yes, princess moms, you can now all start singing the song in your head. All. Day. Long. I’ll be joining you, I’m sure. You’re welcome.

Back on point.

One of the tendencies of perfectionism is emotional and mental self-abuse. I suppose every personality suffers from a form of that. It just manifests itself differently in each of us. For my perfectionist mind, the self-abuse comes in the form of beating myself up over every past mistake and imperfection. Just ask my husband. I will readily forgive my children when they spill something. (Unless it was an “accident” caused by blatant disobedience. Then we have to deal with it first.) But, my own spill? I mentally enumerate all of the ways I messed up leading up to the spill. All of the ways I could have prevented it.

It’s just a spill. But in my mind, it’s an utter failure.

So, once again, I have to repeat in my head over and over again, “Just let it go, Ann. It’s okay. It really is just spilled milk.”

It gets even better. The topic for this post came to mind for the most bizarre reason. I had a marriage post ready to go on Monday. Just this morning, I realized I never actually published it. It’s such a silly thing. Some people would have just published it today. But, in my perfectionist mind, that post belonged to Monday, my day for marriage posts. I missed the window. I didn’t get it published. Grrrr. I messed up. Beat. Beat. Beat.

Or take a deep breath, let it go, and publish it next Monday. (Because, it really does belong to Monday. I can hang on to at least a small portion of my craziness, can’t I?)

The great challenge here is learning how to separate mistakes and accidents from my sin, just as I do with my children. Mistakes happen. Accidents are plentiful for a socially and physically uncoordinated person like myself. But sin? That’s another story entirely. The problem comes when I beat myself up more over the mistakes and accidents – the things that just happen – than I do over my willful sin. I’m often much more quick to justify those actions.

So, what works? A thriving and active relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

You see, the Holy Spirit is the only one who can truly help me separate conviction from perfectionism. He knows best how I am made. He knows what damages my relationship with a holy God. And He knows that my heart craves the perfection I was created for.

When I’m listening to the voice of my Lord, I know best when to confess and when to just let it go.

Oh, and once it’s confessed? Yeah, I have to learn to let that go, too.

What do you need to let go of this week?

Posted in Homeschooling, Wednesday Work

What About Homeschooling?

A couple of weeks ago, I shared about the homeschooling side of my organizational system. But, you have probably noticed that I rarely write about homeschooling.

It’s odd, I admit. Homeschooling is such a huge part of my life. I was homeschooled through most of my childhood, and now I’m in my eleventh year of teaching my own children. So, why does it not figure dramatically into my writing? Well, there are a few reasons.

First, I am not really the hands-on, photograph worthy homeschool mom that you might see on Twitter, Pinterest, and in the great bloggy world. Yes, I’m comparing myself, and I am not that mom. Oh, we have done some of those things in the past. I do have posts on the family blog of the elementary years displaying outings, projects, and funny moments. And, there are sometimes blog worthy moments even now that they are older. But, now that the kids are older, those picture perfect moments have grown fewer and farther between because my kids do not fit that homeschool model either. Books fill their love for learning, but pictures of kids sitting around reading book after book after book tend to get a little old.

Second, we’re strange. What works for us does not work for many other people. Maybe even most other people! (Again, rather obvious from social media and the blog world.) So, I actively refrain from writing about what we do as if it’s THE way to homeschool. It’s not. It’s just our way to homeschool.

Finally, I love to encourage and mentor other homeschoolers, but I’m a one-on-one kind of person. If you have questions, I’d love to sit down face to face or over e-mail and talk through them with you. I’d love to help you discover what will work best for you and how to get the most out of your homeschooling. A blog post does not accomplish that. Not in the least. Mostly because I can’t hear your questions and respond according to your unique needs.

There’s a Problem, Though

All of this leaves me bothered about something. You see, there are a gazillion homeschool bloggers out there. Think I’m kidding? Get on Twitter and search #homeschool. Then, begin following everyone that pops up. But, as you follow, make sure to look through and follow all of the recommendations connected to each new account you follow. It keeps going and going and going and going and going! And all of them have plenty to share about their homeschool experience.

And that bothers me. Not because they are sharing what works for them (I applaud that part!), but because their posts often – and usually very unintentionally – leave other moms like me (and maybe you) feeling like failures because we cannot make that same system work. Or because we have never taught this topic or insisted on those lessons. Or because we don’t do all of those creative, hands-on projects. We come away with the feeling that, no matter how exhausted we already are as we try to fit everything in, we have to make sure to fit in this one more thing or we’ll be leaving incurable gaps in our children’s growth and education.

That, my friends, is a lie. And many of the homeschool bloggers out there would be mortified to discover that they in any way contributed to that lie.

I work with a team of amazing homeschoolers. Each of us has homeschooled a different way. We prioritize differently, and our children are all developing differently. But words cannot express just how much I have learned from my amazing coworkers through the years. They encourage me, exhort me, and share their wisdom with me. How I love it!

That is what homeschool community is meant to be. And, that is actually what the blog and social media world can be to all of us, if we know how to navigate it and sort through the massive amount of information flowing our way.

So, I have decided to start writing more about homeschooling. Not necessarily about what works for me, but more about how we can navigate this huge, intimidating, but potentially helpful community that is the world wide web of homeschooling. And I would love to hear your questions! Is there anything you want to know about homeschooling or navigating the online community? Any general homeschool questions that you have never known how or where to ask? I’d love to hear from you! Either comment below or click on the Connect with Me tab at the top and send me a message. I’d love to connect with you over a little homeschool chatter!

Posted in Wednesday Work, What Works for Me

The Planner in Me: Life

Last week I shared a glimpse into my homeschool planning system. But, I know many of my readers are not homeschoolers. So, what do I do for the rest of life?

Well, the first system that really seemed to work for me was Franklin Covey. I had a really nice binder, and I ordered planner inserts every year. I used that system for three years, I believe. The biggest problem from me was the size. The binder I used was lovely and sturdy, but it was not incredibly convenient to carry around. It did not fit in my purse, so it had to be carried separately. That got a little awkward. I had tried a variety of pre-bound planners, but I never found anything – even among the Franklin Covey planners – that matched what worked for me through the customized Franklin Covey inserts. That really offered the best layout, but the bulk just got to be too much.

For a while, I tried to to make digital planning my primary go-to system, updating in my Franklin Covey paper planner when I was at home. But, I had trouble keeping up with that. The story was the same when I tried to carry a smaller calendar in my purse, updating my big planner at home. So, my next step was trying to go all digital. I was just not very good at that, either. I’ve tried. Really I have. But, it is so hard for me to see the “big picture” on my phone. It’s also hard to flip to information quickly. And, just about the time I really need something, technology outsmarts itself, something doesn’t sync, and I cannot retrieve my information. Yes, it is inconvenient sometimes when I neglect to carry my planner around (which really isn’t very common) or when a date is beyond the end of my planner. But ultimately, it is so much easier for me to flip open that planner than to try to find what I need on my phone. And, I keep up with it better. I can much more quickly jot notes in the planner than tap them into my phone. So, it didn’t take long for me to give up on the digital planner idea.

About four years ago, as I transitioned from being a volunteer reviewer for Well Planned Gal to being an editor on her staff, I also expanded my usage of her planners and gave On the Go a try. This is a purse-size planner (unless you carry one of those little bitty purses!) that does everything my Franklin Covey system did, but is much easier to carry around! It has spots for to-do lists, time-focused appointments, and extra notes. The monthly view pages are easy to write in, and there is plenty of room for notes for each month.

The only problem with my On the Go planner is that it is a school year planner, and life and church tend to go more on the calendar year. To solve that problem, I have a simple, hardcover Moleskine weekly planner. It has all of the monthly views in the front, and the weekly views follow. On the weekly views, the calendar page is on the left and a note page is on the right. I do not like this layout as a primary planner, but it works so incredibly well for a secondary planner. I use it as my prayer planner and to keep dates and information for July – Dec. Thanks to the combination of these two paper planners, I always have anywhere from nine to eighteen months of planner space available to me!

That’s such a quick overview of my planner organization system, but if you are by some chance trying to figure out a great organizational system, maybe my overview and the links above will help you get a better idea of what you’re looking for! Or perhaps you already have your system working well. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: what works for me will not work for everyone. So I’d love to hear what works for you! Will you share it in the comments?