February 16, 2015

How to Get Simplicity in Your Overwhelming Life

We live in very overwhelming times… We know a lot of people, we participate in a lot of activities, work creeps into family, social media is constant and we have a lot of things to keep up with.  Our lives are very different from times past.  We like to say we are progressive, that our quality of life is better, that we have appliances and gadgets that make our lives easier, but is this true?
When my kids were little, I convinced myself that I needed a fancy new washer and dryer to keep up with laundry.  My old cheapies worked just fine, but didn’t I need something with more cycles?  A front loader to save water?  A dryer with a larger capacity?

Well, we got them… and I’d be a big fat liar if I told you they made my life easier!

Those things have more bells and whistles than I could ever use, and these bells and whistles have come with high repair costs.  Plus, I have to clean the gaskets and empty the drains.  These fancy things that were supposed to make my life easier have actually become time and money sucks for my family.  And they are just one, very simplistic example.

What about your phone?

What about your cable?

What about all of the activities your kids participate in?

What about that part-time work schedule?

It is so easy for the “easier things” to make our life a lot less simplistic – and it often has to become overwhelming before we do anything about it.

 Another trap I have fallen into is putting too many activities on my families’ plate “for the good of the children.”  This is so easy to do, especially with four children and sports that seem to pop up throughout the year. 

The older my kids get, the more I realize that simplicity is a constant way of life.  But, I have developed a check list of sorts that helps me to ascertain the best practices for my family.  When things seem to get really out of whack, I often go back to this to see where we are out of balance. 

Do What the Kids Want

Now, before you crucify me for letting my kids run the show, listen… Of course I don’t mean let your kids do whatever they want.  I mean to listen to their opinions and beliefs.  Last year, our family got way out of our simplicity zone.  My kids were involved in a variety of activities, and I took on a way larger work load than I ever had before.  It was a bad combination, but I put my head down and figured we would muddle through.  Bad idea.

My kids were exhausted, I was exhausted, and it often ended in some pretty big explosions that I would rather not revisit.

I thought that I was being a great mother, putting my kids in so many activities that they wanted to participate in.  I quickly learned that just because a kid asks to be in something doesn’t mean they want to actually fully participate in the activity.  In fact, I find that what my kids want is often a lot simpler than what I think they want. 

Last year, we wound up playing a variety of sports and, while they were fun to try, we were practically dragging the kids to their games in the end.  I didn’t want to let the team down, so we finished the seasons.  But it was the opposite of simplistic for our family.  This year, I’m looking for camps, or classes that we can try out on a one-time or short-term basis before we agree to participate. 

Don’t Try to be Perfect
Nothing stresses me out more than trying to keep up with the Joneses.  Unfortunately, however, this is a practice that I think everyone participates in at some point (or multiple points).  And, I think it’s a practice that is easier to fall into than avoid.

When my babies were little I met a person at the park that commented on how it looked like I had it all together.  I had three kids under the age of three in tow, and I had actually put on makeup that day.   At first, I just took the complement and thanked her – but then I thought again.  She had a newborn.  A new newborn.  I knew she was exhausted and I wanted her to know that she wasn’t alone.

So, I told her the truth.

I hadn’t washed my hair in a week, I hadn’t taken a shower that morning and I had snot all over the inside of my shirt from wiping little kid noses.  I hid it all well.

We had a good laugh and she thanked me for being honest.  I think so often we try to be perfect and try not to let others see us for who we truly are, but that most often ends in disaster.  You can’t keep up with it all – none of us can.  So asking for help or excepting help from others is mandatory… and doesn’t mean that you are weak.  Simplicity is a group effort!

Limit the Noise
When my kids were home fulltime, I craved silence.  Just a little bit of time to myself to think was heaven.  But, I often found that instead of relishing the silence to think, I just cluttered it with outside noise.  There are so many things competing for our time today… the television, your phone, YouTube, podcasts, TV on demand, it is all at our fingertips.  While these avenues can be a great way to decompress, I have found that filling my empty time with noise takes away some of the simplicity of life. 

I find now that I get a little nervous in the silence.  When my kids are in school, it just seems too quiet… but I am taking some steps to learn to embrace it.  I got to thinking – I know I operate better when I give myself space to think, but does this transfer to everyone?
A recent study published in Scientific American says yes.  Our brains need more mental breaks, and these breaks “increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity.”
Now who couldn’t use more of that?

I think that our constant focus on receiving and taking in information has given us little time to actually process all of the information we receive.  Additionally, we often view downtime, or vacation time as weakness and leave our free days at work unused – in fact a recent survey found that Americans have an average of nine unused vacation days per year.  And, when they do take vacation, many will admit to obsessively checking their phone and email - not quite the break they need!
We look at idleness as a problem, but…

“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets,” surmises Tim Kreider, a New York Times essayist.  “ The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration – it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

All I can say to that is AMEN!

Stay one step ahead
I try to stay ahead of my kids to keep their mornings and other “out the door” times simple.  This means packing lunches the day before, laying out clothes for the next day and meal planning.  Bulk cooking has been a life saver for me, giving me the ability to spend time connecting with my kids during the afternoons instead of spending time in front of the stove.

There are some amazing online resources for bulk cooking – many even offer a full shopping list and plan of action.  Basically, you set aside a full day to cook up a month’s work of meals.  For our family, this is a lot of crock pot recipes and casserole recipes that I can have in place before the craziness of the afternoon hits.  This way, dinner is on the table and weeknight clean-up is a snap.  If you aren’t into doing the cooking yourself, there are some different companies that offer the convenience of doing the work for you.  You will, of course, pay a premium in price, but that reward of a more simplistic evening is well worth it!

For me, simplicity comes from planning.  It may sound like more work in the beginning, but it winds up allowing for much more quality time in the end.

February 04, 2015

God's Plans are Bigger

I never thought she would be mine - I dreamed it, but I never allowed myself to fully believe it.  I didn't want the disappointment.  I had lost her before, and I knew my heart couldn't take it.

But, now she is mine.  God works miracles.  The circumstances leading up to each of my kids' adoptions are miraculous, each one was brought to us in such a unique way - at times when we were looking in completely different directions.  I have no doubt that each of these kids were ours from the start.  God moved mountains for us, and continues to amaze us in His support and care for each obstacle we come across.

If you are in the middle of an adoption, or just searching for how to build your family, I want you to know that there is hope.  It might not all look the way you originally envisioned it, it will be hard fought - but it will be SO much better than any original plan you had!

"Who brings our chaos back into order?  Who makes the orphans our sons and daughters?  The King of Glory!  The King above all Kings!"  - Phil Wickham

February 02, 2015

Day in the Life

Five years, two kids and two houses ago, Dallas Child ran a Day in the Life feature on our family.  It was a fun endeavor!  The magazine recently contacted me about doing an update, but we don't live in their circulation area anymore... so, no go.

But, I still thought it might be fun to do a bit of sharing!

Our life has changed so much since then.  We live in a small town, walking to school would be a 15 mile journey, I have a beautiful little girl, I don't change diapers and we now play sports!

I don't think life has become any easier or harder, but it is very different - although, I apparently still wake up and go to bed at the same time! (and I definitely still have a caffeine addiction, despite many attempts at breaking it)

6 a.m. - alarm goes off and I head to take a bath and get dressed for the day
6:30 a.m. - Heath wakes up and gets the kids awake
7 a.m. - I'm dressed and ready to go and the kids are starting breakfast - from here they get dressed, do morning chores and get ready to start their school day
7:40 a.m. - leave for school
8 a.m. - drop kids off in carpool because they now refuse to let me walk them in.  I park and head into Anna's class to help the teacher get the day started by organizing lunch boxes and stapling papers
9 a.m. - head to Stone's class to help with running reports
11 a.m. - back home to do laundry, clean kitchen and wipe down all the bathrooms (daily task when you have three boys!)
noon - do a bit of blogging and answer comments over at A Fine Parent
1 p.m. - check in with a few clients on projects and send out a couple of invoices
2 p.m. - pack lunches for tomorrow and make dinner for tonight.  Staying one step ahead saves my life
3 p.m. - get kiddos from school..  It's a beautiful day, so we head to the park with some friends
5 p.m. - back home to do a bit of reading for homework
5:30 p.m. - Daddy is home and dinner is served.  We spend the rest of the evening playing a few games, finishing up art projects and getting wound down for baths and bed
7 p.m. - Daddy reads the kids stories (Harry Potter-book three is their current read-aloud) and I tidy up the kitchen, finish any laundry and set out clothes for tomorrow
7:40 p.m. - lights out for kids.  Heath and I spend the evening watching a show, making sure we are ready for tomorrow, and I may sneak in a bit of work
10 p.m. - I'm out!

Of course, every day is different.  I often help at my husband's store getting invoices entered or doing filing.  I'm also up at the school a lot to help with tutoring or to play the role of lunch lady.  There are also days I purposefully stay home to cook and clean.

In the Dallas Child article, they also listed an "All About Brit" section.  I thought it would be fun to answer these questions again as well:

What I'm Reading:  I love reading blogs... you can check my Things I'm Reading posts to see a few of my favorites.  I do my Bible reading through She Read's Truth, which is a great app for delving into different topics.  I'm not working on a specific book right now, but Heath and I did just finish listening to Gone Girl while on a road trip.  Spoiler:  CRAZY book!
Favorite Indulgences:  Kombucha - yum!  And a fair amount of dark chocolate
Can't Miss TV Show:  Parenthood all the way - I cried when it ended!  Heath and I also love Law and Order SVU and Chicago PD
Nicknames for Kids:  Collectively, snug-a-bug or babe... Stone:  Stoney Bones, Cash:  Rooney, Holden:  Holds, Anna:  Annie or Anna-Banana
Favorite Family Outing:  I love to hike and we happen to have a lot of great places around our home to do that!
Meal I'm Known For:  It's still Spaghetti Carbonara!
What's in My Handbag:  I actually don't carry one anymore - wow!