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 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 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?

Posted in Homeschooling, Wednesday Work, What Works for Me

The Planner in Me: Homeschool

I’m a planner. I’ve always loved calendars and planners and getting things all lined out! Recently, my husband wrote a blog post outlining what he uses for schedule and organization. When I shared it on social media, I mentioned that I would outline my own system soon.

My system actually started with success on the homeschool planning front first. I have tried many, many planners and organizational systems over the years, both for homeschooling and for life. All of them kinda sorta worked, but each one left something to be desired. Then, I ran across a huge discount on a planner that only had a few months of life left in it. That was early 2011; it was also my very first Well Planned Day planner. Later that year I would become a volunteer reviewer for the Well Planned Gal, the creator of the planner. But for the time being, I was just trying out a planner I’d never heard of from a company I was only vaguely familiar with.

And I was hooked.

This gal who had tried one planner after another and rarely been diligent with any single planning system had suddenly found the one homeschool planner that truly worked. And now, six years later, I actually get to help make them! Why yes, I do love my job.

Ahem…back to the task at hand. So, why do I love Well Planned Day so much? Well, it accomplishes what I had always looked for before. It allows me to lay out assignments on a weekly basis in a large, roomy format. For even greater ease of use, I keep a colorful array of Frixion pens on hand. (Yes, they really do erase well – very important for when the schedule needs to be tweaked.) Each child has a color of their own, then there is a separate color for things I do with each child. When each assignment has been graded, I write the grade beside the assignment. Then I highlight the assignment, leaving the grade un-highlighted until I have entered it.

So, where do I enter the grade? Well, that’s part two of my homeschool planning system. You see, I don’t like to plan on paper more than a week or two in advance because of all of the little things that pop up and require us to change the plan. But, I do like to have a handle on the whole school year. That’s why I also use My Well Planned Day, an online planning software. I lay out the entire school year online, then I can tweak it as needed each week. It saves me a ton of time and allows me to stay on top of where we are. And, it’s a great place to keep grades, which is especially helpful now that I have a high school student who will need a transcript soon. Oh, and the best part is that the girls each have their own login. So, they can get on, pull each day’s assignments, and make notes in their own student and high school planners. In the next couple of years, I’ll teach Steven how to do the same thing.

What’s neat about it all is that I got to spend last weekend showing other homeschool parents what works for me. I helped Rebecca the Well Planned Gal, aka my boss, man her booth at the Ft. Worth Great Homeschool Convention. Yes, I was working. But, the whole time I was also getting to share what works for me (and getting to spend time with my amazing boss!). What works for me doesn’t work for everyone, and I was quick to admit that this weekend. It’s fun, though, to know that I get to be a part of sharing the system that I love!

Next week I’ll share what I use for everything beyond homeschooling.

Posted in Wednesday Work, What Works for Me

A Little Exploration

My oldest loves to explore. If there is a closed door, she wants to know what’s behind it. When she walks into a new place, she wants to check out every single corner.

I, on the other hand, am happy with what is visible. I like to feel comfortable and confident in what I know. When a door opens and I start to realize just how little I know about something, I’d much rather slam that door shut and just be content. I get easily overwhelmed – and easily discouraged by what’s left to learn.

For instance, I’m trying to learn German with my oldest, because that is the foreign language she chose for high school. I have this stigma against learning just for the sake of getting a grade. So, I’m trying hard to really learn the language and help her do the same rather than just do enough to help her get the grade she needs on her transcript. But, it’s hard. It’s overwhelming. And I get lost so easily.

So many other things fall into this category. Take homeschooling, for instance. I was homeschooled. And I am currently in my eleventh year of homeschooling my own children. But every time I turn around, I discover something I did not know before. Whether I am researching for a Family Magazine article, helping keep an eye on the Well Planned Gal Twitter account, or researching to answer a friend’s question, it doesn’t take much to remind me that there is a lot more out there than I realize.

The same is true of writing and editing, of sewing, and of being a pastor’s wife. These are not new things. Rather, these are things I have done for a while now, and some of which I do professionally. Yet, even in these areas I have so much to learn!

What I often feel “works for me” is to stay in my little bubble where I am skilled and knowledgeable and capable. I don’t like to reach out and discover just how much I need to learn. But, every time I get settled into that beautiful complacency, something my mom said years ago rings in my memory with great clarity: “When you stop learning, you start dying.”

Sometimes it is fun to learn something new. But, there is much more to learn in the things that are right in front of us. The skills we have already honed to a degree. The talents that we already possess. All of these still hold opportunities and possibilities for us. We just don’t like to pursue learning in those areas because we don’t want to be shown how little we really know – how many others are so far ahead of us!

I’m trying to get over that. And I’m trying to explore more. Because I do want to be good at what I do. I want to be an accomplished writer, an attentive and interactive editor, a successful homeschooler, a competent seamstress, and a capable pastor’s wife. But I will be none of the above without continual exploration, practice, and stretching of my skills and abilities.

What about you? What do you need to stretch? Come on, my friend, let’s go do a little exploring and find out just how much there really is left to learn!

Posted in Thoughts from Life, Thoughts from Prayer, What Works for Me

Intentional

Word of the Year?

Have you ever noticed the people who choose “word” for their year? That word becomes their focus – the thing around which their goals and growth center. Perhaps this is something you do.

Maybe you are among those who actively choose their words. These people spend time in thought and prayer, trying to determine a direction and a focus. I’ve never done that before. I know me – it would be too forced. I second guess myself too much, and this approach would stress me out. Better for me to work on my routine and focus on productivity than to try to choose a focus.

For the longest time, I thought that was the only approach to choosing a word or focus for the year. But, more recently I’ve noticed a different pattern among some of my friends, so I avoided it. These are the people whose words have chosen them. A lesson or idea or thought just keeps presenting itself until they finally latch onto it, determined to see where the Holy Spirit is leading.

And now I know how that feels.

Intentionality Everywhere

Everywhere I’ve turned lately, intentional has been on the tip of my tongue. I cannot describe my sense of direction, urgency of action, or areas of growth without using that word or some variation of it.

  • When I think of my routine and productivity (or lack thereof!), I realize that I’m so often just floating through life. I bounce from this to that, randomly walking through my to-do list, focusing on whatever seems to pop up next. I have been convicted of the need to be intentional with every moment of my day – whether in work, play, or rest.
  • When I think of my reading goals, I see that I have stacks of books with no plan for reading them. I’ll get around to it, eventually. I know I won’t. Not without being intentional.
  • When I see the resources I have acquired for this project or that, only to never get them done due to lack of whatever, I feel the frustration and discouragement rise. If I want to ever make progress, I have to make time. Intentionally.
  • When my brain fills with the larger ideas I have for writing, I jot down notes only to forget what I was thinking. I desire to do more – to actually write a book. But, all I ever get around to are random blog posts about whatever happens to pop into my head at the time. I will never truly become what I want to become as a writer unless I intentionally make and work toward goals.

But the biggest area is my spiritual life. I know I’m growing. I see it. But, there are many ways in which my spiritual growth is just as haphazard as my growth in other areas. I’m random, and I don’t always follow through, turning thoughts and convictions into actions. I have to become intentional about spiritual growth by making a plan for action as soon as the Holy Spirit nudges my thoughts.

Staying Open

I know how my brain works, and I know that it’s not a good idea for me to say that 2017 will be my intentional year because I’ll become more fixated on the word than the general sensitivity to what the Holy Spirit needs to do in and through me. Maybe I’ll be a slow learner, and it will be with me for several years (like rest and sabbath have been focus thoughts for two or three years!). Maybe I’ll establish a habit and pattern of intentionality in a few months, and it will be time to push forward again. I do not want to miss the Lord’s direction just because I am stuck on a word. But, for now, intentionality is my overarching focus as this year begins. Already I have seen it impact my time and energy. I’m ready to see where the Lord takes me from here!