In Focus — 5 steps I took to Zoom into Better Living

Have you ever simply known that your life had gone a little out of focus?

You are still doing the same basic things, the same routine that has been keeping you going for years.

Yet, something is off.

You find yourself holding your breath, waiting for normal to arrive.  Hello, Normal?  Where are you?

You don’t seem to have time for the things that you once did simply for pleasure.  Tea from the kettle–not the microwave.  An impromptu photo shoot simply because you’ve got cute kids and a perfect patch of sunlight coming in the window.  A game of UNO.  Popcorn and a movie after the kids fall asleep.  Falling asleep yourself next to your dearest love (even though that kind of irritates him).

Where did those joyful little moments go?  When did every day become decidedly less fun?

That’s where I’ve been lately.  I’ve been restless and lacking contentment.  Late 2014 and all of 2015 so far have brought in new challenges that I had never faced before.  There have been many joys and amazing days, but illness and losses in my life and in the lives of people I love put things into a new perspective.  I expected those painful events to fill me with an urgency to LIVE–really live deeply and abundantly–but instead, I felt stuck, disappointed, angry, and frustrated.  Instead of turning to sources of encouragement that I could count on–God, family, the Scripture, dear friends–I turned inward and to technology.  Have you ever drowned your sorrows in Facebook?  Have you numbed the here and now with a hefty dose of daydreaming while reading about other people’s lives on other people’s blogs?  That’s been me.

And then my nine-year-old was working on a family crest.  He worked hard. Markers everywhere!  He drew a shield, divided it to represent each family member, and then he came up with an icon to represent each of us.  Cory was a weight because Daddy is strong.  I was a little laptop–because Mommy loves the computer.

Wait, did you hear something?  Oh, yeah.  That was my heart shattering.

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A number of things–the laptop drawing near the top of the list–helped me to finally see that I needed to take some concrete steps to turn things around–to pull things back into focus.  These are the steps I took, and I’m still working!

  1. I prayed.  I confessed that I been focusing on me and my shortcomings instead of the larger picture of the life God wanted me to live.  I confessed that I had not been living with gratitude.  I confessed that I had not been using my resources (including time!) with intention and intelligence.  I thanked God for loving me anyway!  I thanked Him for my children, my husband, my parents, and the rest of my big, wonderful family.  I thanked Him for friends at our church, in our community, in our past and our present.  I asked for focus, for patience, and for the grace to approach my family and MYSELF with gentleness.  I asked for contentment and peace.
  2. I reached out.  One of the biggest sources of my frustrations and disappointment is the lack of organization in our home.  This has been a problem forever.  I could blame having four children.  I could blame homeschooling.  But I would be pretending!  Let’s be real here.  I have struggled with messes since I was a kid, seemingly cleaning my room every single day but always living in a disaster.  My mom keeps a beautiful home.  I had plenty of positive examples, but I fail regularly.  So…I reached out to an old friend who is an organizer.  We are just figuring out what working together will look like, but it feels wonderful to feel like I have a teammate!
  3. I returned to activities that matter to me.  It might seem crazy to add MORE when my plate is already pretty full.  However, I did some real soul-searching, and I realized that I had dropped a few things that were true treasures in my life.  So in April, I returned to a La Leche League group.  I’ve been an accredited Leader with LLL since 2008, but I have not been affiliated with a group since we moved in 2013.  It was time.  I always thought of LLL as my “positive peer pressure.”  The meetings lift my spirits, confirm my parenting choices, and connect me with like-minded mothers.  Serving mothers and babies in the Leader role always does something good in my heart.  In addition to La Leche League, I added a little crafting and remade my old homemaking binder.
  4. I set some healthy boundaries.  That sounds all psychological and sophisticated, but it is actually code for “got my lazy bum off the computer.”  I use the computer for good things–researching homeschool ideas, looking up recipes, connecting with friends and family–but I get sucked in.  I get wrapped up in things of no importance.  I’ve been feeling like I had way too many voices in my life.  Articles, comments on articles, opinions upon opinions upon opinions!  I needed some mental quiet.  I so easily allow time to slip by, and I’m often left with a lingering feeling of disquiet after I’ve read something controversial.  I’ve strictly limited Facebook to Saturdays, and in general, I’m keeping my computer time quick and on task.  This is a hard one for me.  I asked Cory to make up a new password for Facebook, and he is under strict orders to never tell me!
  5. I surrounded myself with inspiration!  I visited a long-time friend who always inspires me with her amazing work ethic and her fun sense of humor.  I also found two quotations that spoke to my situation and made me feel motivated to create change.  I printed them on pretty paper and taped them on the wall.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” ~Psalm 16:11

^^This passage from the Psalms helped me remember that as long as I am in God’s presence, I have what I need to be content and joyful.  Everything else is bonus!

“If you don’t make the time to work on creating the life you want, you’re eventually going to be forced to spend a lot of time dealing with a life you don’t want.” ~Kevin Ngo

^^This quotation by Kevin Ngo helped me to think about where I do want to place my focus, and it made me realize that the time I spend planning and strategizing is valuable–not just silly day dreaming.

Nearly a year ago, the auto-focus on my camera’s basic lens stopped functioning.  I was struggling with the manual setting.  My brother-in-law who is a photographer and film-maker gave me some good advice.  He told me to take my time.  He said to slowly move the lens back and forth between the extremes on both sides until I find the sharpest focus in the middle–even though the people around me (including those in the picture!) seem to want me to hurry.  The clear image and perfect light are the reward for taking the time to find that sweet spot.

I’m feeling good these days.  I think I am back in focus, but I’m not afraid to put in the time and effort to live life beautifully.

 

Farmers in the Dell

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I love farms.  I often daydream about being a farmer–although my visions are probably completely romantic, unrealistic notions.  But nonetheless, I like to get a little touch of farm life any time that I can.

I belong to an amazing attachment parenting meet-up group.  I adore many of these families, and I enjoy meeting new AP parents as often as possible.  I was excited for our long-awaited tour at a local dairy farm this week.  We’ve been to this particular spot a few times, and it is always a fun event.

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The morning started out with some drizzle.  Thankfully, the rain stopped just in time for our tour to begin.  We saw the mamas-to-be in the maternity pen, fed handfuls of grass to the other ladies, and explored their fuzzy heads, moist noses, and sandpaper tongues.  Dairy cows are gentle and shy, yet curious.  They didn’t seem to mind our visit at all, and they were eager to welcome lots of little hands and the grass they offered.  We hand milked a very patient gal named Gloria.  Imagine more than a dozen farmers coming to milk one cow.

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The dairy farm has about 100 cows and a handful of pigs, a goat or two, and a farm dog named Moose .  Each grandchild in the family picks a baby cow and names her!   In the store, you can buy milk, butter, cheese, a wide variety of homemade foods, glorious baked goods from the on-site bakery, and the most heavenly chocolate milk you could imagine.  To me, it tastes like a melted milkshake.  How could I forget!  Ice cream!  The dairy makes its own ice cream, and we were each treated to a free cone after the tour.  We had a beautiful day as “farmers in the dell.”

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When Rest is Required

Dear Readers,

I’ve been thinking.

When people have surgery, they are expected to rest.  When they come down with the flu or bronchitis or a simple, common cold, rest is prescribed.  Sprained ankle?  Rest it.  Mothers tell their children–even the grown ones–to get some rest when they have any ailment or injury.  Everyone knows that rest promotes healing.  It’s a given.

But do we remember that emotional fatigue and pain also require rest for healing?  Too often, we assume that we can continue our usual, zippy speed as long as our bodies are keeping pace.  Although I can’t speak for everyone, I’m pretty good at identifying bodily fatigue.  I recognize the slow, dragging feeling, the muscle aches, the heavy eyes, and sore feet.  I feel them, identify them, and slow down.  I’ve learned that ignoring those signs means paying the price in headaches, sore throats, fevers, and colds.  Not worth the price.

I’m not as good at remembering the toll of emotional busyness.  I think of “emotional busyness” as periods of time when I’m experiencing a wild ride of high and low emotions, a time when I need to invest myself emotionally in events and people that seem to overlap and collide all at once.  That is exactly how life has looked lately.  Crushingly sad news followed by happy news.  A fun trip followed by a sad good-bye.  Scary news before a fun weekend.  And on and on.

You know what though?  I am thankful that I care enough about people to have developed some powerful emotional ties–bonds that require some big emotional investment.  That is something to celebrate.  I want to love and be loved.

Nonetheless, rest is required!

We took a serious Sabbath on Sunday.  Without apology, we announced our absence at an evening event–an outing that the whole family usually enjoys, and instead, we did some restful things.  We attended the morning worship service, changed into comfy clothes, and did nothing of importance!  The kids jumped in thousands of yellow leaves that blanket our yard.  We watched a movie.  Cory didn’t even turn on football until after the kids went to bed.  I did some tidying around the house and snuggled with the baby.  Easy, restful day.

The bad news is still real, but with it has come a lot of love–love from all directions.  The world is still a weird place, and the future is big and open and kind of scary sometimes.  BUT…I know…

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.  Psalm 62:5

Meet Clover

Are you prepared for some puppy cuteness?  Yes, we got a puppy.  Most of my blog readers are “real life” friends and family, so you already know about our newest addition, but my blog wouldn’t be complete without a proper introduction to Clover.

Clover joined our family about a month after the loss of Hannah.  We thought we would wait a bit before finding a new pet, but we missed Hannah’s presence in our home too much to be without a dog for much longer.  We had decided long before Hannah died that our next dog would be a rescue pup.  We browsed Petfinder.com, and this little black lab mix jumped out at us.  She was named “Jill,” but after several in depth rounds of family voting, we decided on “Clover.”  (I was later dismayed to find out that there is a popular cartoon character with a pet named Clover.  We had no idea.)  She was only about nine weeks old when we adopted her, one of nine puppies in an abandoned litter.  Can you imagine!

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These photographs are of Clover with her pal, Bailey.  Bailey isn’t our dog, but  she has been quite the little (big!) mother to Clover.  They have a cute, funny relationship.

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And here is our girl at 4 months old.  She’s growing fast, and we soon won’t have a little puppy anymore!

Somehow Summer

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Somehow, it’s summer already.  Somehow, spring slipped by, baseball season came to it’s dramatic end (champions!), and our family vacation came & went.  Now, somehow, we are in the midst of July.  Happy summer weeks are behind us, and about six more stand ahead–bursting with the promise of lightning bugs, cook-outs, popsicles, and trips to the pool.  Somehow, time continues to speed faster with each year, daring to beat it’s own impossible pace.  All we can do is snatch moments into our memories for safe keeping, hoarding them like precious stones.

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Babymoon

My first three kiddos are summer babies.  They spent the first three months of their lives in little Onesies.  They rarely wore socks, and we took them outside for walks every single day of their brand new lives.  Our current bundle was born on a very warm December evening, but since then, the weather has been mighty chilly.  Such a different experience!  And the whole fact of a newborn in cold-and-flu-season brings out the almost-germaphobe in me.  Let’s simply say that several factors have brought us to being inside a lot, and we are all feeling antsy.

I, for one, am craving the normal run-around of our usual life, but at the same time, these three weeks have been a treasure.  I know why people call the newborn period a “Babymoon.”  It is a period in time that you can never recapture.  It’s a process of falling in love, getting to know a new family member.  It’s a time to close out the rest of the world, trim down responsibilities, and just BE.

As sweet as this time has been, like any honeymoon, the hibernation has to come to an end.  Cory went back to work this week, and we returned to our (modified) homeschool schedule.  The meals from kind friends have come to an end, and I need to get back to meal planning and prep.  This is good progress, and don’t worry; we still have tons of cuddle time.

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A Tradition Renewed

When I was growing up, we cut down fresh Christmas trees.  We weren’t exactly on a tree farm though.  More like an old strip mine/wooded area.  It was fun and felt a bit sneaky.  Such rebels we were!  Truly, though, it was a great way to get a tree.  The trees weren’t sprayed with pesticides, and they were left to grow when, how, and where they pleased.  We were never bothered by a single other tree shopper!

From Christmas 2004 until my family moved to Florida in 2011, we went to a Christmas tree farm with Cory’s family to pick out the perfect evergreen.  That first Christmas was also the evening when we saw our very first positive pregnancy test.  As we decorated our tree, we danced around the living room, listened to Bing Crosby, and cracked open a can of fruit cocktail.  Our hearts were full with anticipating next Christmas with a new baby in our arms.

In late November 2011, Cory’s mom and dad drove a moving van down to Florida with our belongings.  To our absolute shock and delight, a beautiful Christmas tree had made the trip–tied onto the back of the truck.  What a surprise!

Last year, we picked up a Home Depot tree in a Florida parking lot.  Not quite as fun.

But this year, the tradition continues.  We bundled up, mounted the big wagon with hay bales for seats, and set out to choose our tree.  A fresh snow and a bit of sunshine made the day perfect.

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More Waiting: The Good Kind

I’ve been on the “down low” for a bit.  So many things were happening, but so many question marks were rising.

We did find a house that we love.  It’s not perfect, but it is beautiful and totally loveable.  We have a contract on a 1920s cottage in  a small town.  It has hardwood floors that are in excellent condition and many adorable features that captured my eye and my heart on the first visit.

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We are praising God that our Florida house is officially sold, and we are now waiting for our lender to give us a closing date.

Two, Five, Eight

Summer in our family means birthdays!  We start with me in mid-June, Charlotte at the end of the month, and J in July, and we end the stretch with F in late August.  Whew!

Charlotte turned two this year!  Amazing, funny, wonderful two.  Forget the so-called “terrible twos.”  I absolutely adore this incredible period of language development and emergence of her sweet, hilarious personality.  We began Charlotte’s day with Grandma Renee’s pancakes, and we wrapped it all up with blueberry banana cake from Soulemama.  (Click it!  It’s a great recipe!)  Aunt Kristy and Uncle Jake were able to celebrate with us.

J turned five this year!  Five feels like a very important milestone.  He becomes more articulate and ever-practical with each passing day.  We spent his actual birth enjoying a nearby park and getting totally soaked in the stream.  Then late in July, we had a combined party (Knights and Ladies theme) for our new two year old and five year old.  It was a lot of fun!

And finally, our big boy turned eight.  Eight?  Too big, simply too big.  We celebrated with a “planet party” of his own invention.  On his real birthday, we made a much anticipated trip to Red Lobster for his favorite food: shrimp!  My eight year old is growing in so many ways.  He seems taller and smarter and more inquisitive every day.  I can’t wait to see what this third grade year has in store for him.

Here are some images of our summer of birthdays.

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Home Again

I’m pretty sure I used this title in a previous post, but I never meant it quite the way I’m using it now.

We have moved back to our home state.  After less than two years in the south, my husband has accepted a job at a small university only 30 minutes from the college where we met and fell in love.  I feel like we’ve come full circle as we begin the search for a home so close to the place where our lives together began.  To some blog readers, this might seem sudden, and…well…it kind of is.

Cory first heard about this particular opening last summer.  The university officially opened the job search in early fall.  Cory applied, even though we both felt happy and comfortable in our community.  The prospect of a tenure-track professorship closer to home sounded promising.  It couldn’t hurt to apply, right?

And then silence.  We heard nothing.  The potential job was no longer on my mind.  Cory continued working hard in his position.  He connected with interesting and challenging students.  He enjoyed his relationships with the faculty and staff, and I deepened my friendships in our church and homeschool communities.  We were not thinking about jobs or moving. We were largely satisfied and thankful for the life we were building.

I try to avoid clichés, but “out of the blue” is exactly where the news came from. In mid April, a voicemail message told me that the committee wanted to talk to Cory about “the faculty position.” A few days passed before Cory was able to talk to a real person and find out what that really meant.  We were nervous! Perhaps for different reasons. Yes, I wanted to be near family badly, but did I want to start over again? We would be near family, but we wouldn’t be neighbors! We would still need to take that emotional leap of making new friends, finding a new church, and hunting for a new homeschool group. Could I do that again? That’s tough stuff for an introvert. And I was sad to leave our pretty house. Cory saw all the practical benefits: the better insurance coverage, the potential pay, the college opportunities for our children. After much prayer, thought, and pros & cons analysis (a funny sort of back and forth dance), we knew even before the job offer that we would accept the job if it was offered. And it was. In mid-May, we had the news that we were saying good-bye, moving north, and starting a new segment in our family’s story.

We returned to our home state about two weeks later with as many of our belongings as we could possibly tow.  We enjoyed our vacation and a few other planned activities.  During the first week of July, we headed back to Florida again to do the final pack-up and clean-up.  Whoa…that was hard work.  We returned home again with more of our belongings (I wish I could say all.) and a spirit of readiness–ready to find our new normal, ready to settle down and breathe, ready to start over.

I will never regret those two years in Florida.  It hurts to say good-bye to some very special friends.  In Florida, I finally answered the call to homeschool.  In Florida, I  reaffirmed my convictions in parenting and had the room to work out some kinks.  In Florida, I figured out a little bit more of how to live out my faith in my household and in my community.  I learned that I can reach out to make friends.  I learned how to accept help, to say yes to the kindness of others, to receive with grace instead of rely on an “I can do it” attitude.  These were all great lessons to learn, and I worry that I won’t stay on these positive paths when I am back in my old environment.  Will I fall into old habits when I’m too comfortable?

For now, I only have to watch my children giggle and explore and sing in the presence of their grandparents to know that we’ve made the right choice.  All of their faces tell me so.

Gram and C