2018 Goals: Where I Am Now

One of my January goals was to complete a scrapbook from our family vacation to New York City last fall. I finished it on January 30, and, although it’s certainly not the most artistic presentation, it reminds us all of a wonderful adventure.

For 2018 as a whole, I set myself a handful of goals and blogged about them here. Now that a month or so of the new year has passed, I’m taking a quick review of those goals.

good morning coffee

  1. Continuing on the journey of being faithfully frugal… We did go ahead and cut out Netflix, and our one-month no-Netflix venture will end mid-February. We’ve been totally content without it (and haven’t had cable in many years). The boys like to watch Popular Mechanics for Kids on Amazon Prime a few times per week, and Mike and I watched a movie on Hoopla together in January. Hoopla is a free service provided through our public library (and many others across the country), allowing us to check out more e-books, audio books, and even movies and TV shows than we could access through our library alone. We just haven’t missed Netflix, and it’s been freeing to go without it–financially and otherwise. The jury’s still out on whether we’ll reinstate it after our one-month fast finishes.
  2. Using my mid-day downtown for quiet time with Jesus… I have continued this practice, and it’s been one of THE most effective uses of my time. I have energy; I don’t feel rushed. My thinking is clear. I think I’ve found a real sweet spot with this habit.

joy candles

3. Write + submit, submit, submit! Good news to report on this front:  I learned in January that a brief article I wrote on generosity will be published in December in a magazine called Purpose. As well, a Christian magazine for girls (called SHINE brightly) will publish a piece I wrote in their summer 2018 issue. This feels like such a victory. Whereas these 2 works are non-fiction, I also wrote a short story for a magazine called Brio (published for girls by Christian ministry Focus on the Family) that is being, as one editor communicated to me, “shown to the other editors.” The 2 articles that will be published later this year will come with a small stipend, and I plan to add that to the money I’m acquiring for extra giving projects. Which brings me to my next goal of…

4.  Raising $300 to give to needs… Right around New Year’s, I connected with a person on Craigslist who needed to have assistance with proofreading a story he’d written. I spent about 5 hours working on the project and earned $50. Then I sold some excess hand-me-downs at 2 separate consignment stores, earning $75.50. Less than 2 months into 2018, I’ve seen over $125 of my giving goal met! With that, we’ve helped a woman from our former church with funds for her cancer treatments. We mailed restaurant gift cards to a family facing huge transition due to a medical situation. And I bought a Valentine’s wreath made by some teens raising funds for a mission trip to help rebuild in hurricane-affected areas of Puerto Rico.

kids playing

5. and 6. Continuing parenting with the trust that Christ is my source of unshakable peace and teaching with the trust that the work of my children’s growth is done by the power of God’s Spirit… Somebody said, “Attitude is everything.” Or, if nobody said that, somebody should have. When I am resting in Christ’s sufficiency, I experience more peace. I combined these 2 goals, which I listed separately on my “2018 goals” blog post in January. I read a book called Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Dr. Laura Markham over December and January, which has encouraged me in my parenting. I also recently finished an e-book titled The Homeschooling Housewife, by Amber Fox. It’s given me some good ideas to implement in our home, even if the title is a bit off-putting.

7. Creating more Wear It Well Wednesday blog posts… Check. Woodrow loves taking pictures, and he often snaps photos of me for these posts featuring outfits I put together for little to no money (through hand-me-downs, gifts, and items occasionally picked up at secondhand stores or yard sales). Please don’t be fooled by these posts that I actually get dressed every day. On cold days–well, cold for central Florida–I sometimes stay in my sweat pants from the night before, throw on a zip-up jacket of my husband’s, and call it a day. Hmm…maybe I’ll need to work on that as a goal for 2019.

How’s your 2018 going so far?

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2018: New Year, New Goals

2017 is now in the books, and I’m ready for a fresh new start. This past year held many triumphs for me:  I made a Power Point presentation for the first time! I know, hard to believe. The first one of these I ever created was for the talk I gave this past summer at my sister’s church about the Luo Pad project.

I also explored some caves with the boys’ Cub Scout pack this past spring, on a camp-out at Hog Island recreation area in Withlacoochee state forest. That was a first for me, too.

roller skates

2017 also held hurts and loss:  My beloved Papa died on Valentine’s Day last year. And yet another dream I held for myself came to naught when I had to close the Women of Vision/women’s stewardship group I’d previously launched.

But 2018 is still wide-open, unclaimed territory, and I relish that. Looking toward the new year, I’ve set a few goals for myself–ones that are specific and targeted (although some are more measurable than others). I didn’t list everything that is a priority that I’m already doing, that’s already part of my normal rhythm, such as exercise, reading good books, or carving out time to be with friends. I tried to list what I might need to be reminded to keep at the forefront. Check it out…

balloons on train track

2018 GOALS:  

  1. Continue on the journey of being faithfully frugal. Remember that book I read that inspired me so?  I’m captivated by the idea of living intentionally this way. One way we’re implementing this in January is by cancelling Netflix. Well, for a month, anyway…I’d like to do away with it for longer, but we’ll start with a month. Our subscription price increases by $1 per month in 2018, so we’ll save about $11 monthly by refraining from being Netflix consumers. And it cost $11 to ship the final 2 quilt tops I sewed for 2017, so that savings is meaningful.
  2. Use my middle-of-the-day down time for quiet times with Jesus on weekdays. I struggle to get up early to start the day with the Lord, and not just because I’m a night person. I sometimes feel more sad in the mornings than at any other time of day, and for a while I found myself feeling some kind of barrier in connecting with the Lord in the morning that I don’t feel at other times. I’d been having my quiet times at night, but for the last week or so of school before Christmas, I used our after-lunch down time (when the boys usually listen to an audio book) to get alone with the Lord. And those times were truly rich. I plan to continue this new practice.

shoes and flowers

3.  Write + submit, submit, submit! Notice my goal is not “get published.” I have little control over that–although by not submitting anything ever, I’m guaranteed not to get anything published. I have a few irons in the fire–meaning I’ve submitted several pieces I’m awaiting a response for–and I know most of those submissions will be rejected. That’s just how it goes. Getting a story published in Chicken Soup for the Soul this year has spurred me on, and I want to continue attempting to put my work out there. Plus, if I get paying gigs this way, I’d like to use at least a portion of that money for extra giving, which absolutely motivates me.

4.  Raise $300 in 2018 (apart from our regular giving) to give to gospel-centered needs. At the end of December, I used some of the money from a recent thredUP cash-out–from selling excess hand-me-down clothing beyond what I needed for the second time–for a mom in need. Not sure yet where I’ll find $300, but that’s the reason it’s a goal, right?

5.  Continue teaching the boys from a spirit of trusting that the work is accomplished NOT by my might or power but by God’s Spirit. Zephaniah 4:6 pierced my heart recently, and I’ve sort of paraphrased the verse here. If I attempt teaching my sons as though it all depends on my best efforts and my good planning and my hard work, I’ll be frustrated and despondent when the fruit I see doesn’t reflect the labor I put in. But if I teach them trusting God’s Spirit to be at work in them, causing the knowledge to take root and develop over time, I can relax–and enjoy the process (and my children) more, not depending on my children’s academic growth to fund my sense of accomplishment.

6.  Continue parenting  with the trust that Christ is the source of my unshakable peace–not good days or nice circumstances. You probably noticed the idolatry I mentioned above (being tempted to draw a sense of validation from my children’s school success since I am their primary teacher), and there’s more to address within goal #6, too. Most days simply don’t flow smoothly from Point A to Point B, and if I depend on circumstances feeling peaceful in order to find the good in my life, I’ll end up disappointed and angry. In this world, we will have trouble; but in Him, I can take heart, because He is my peace.

allison in front of azaleas

7.  Create more Wear It Well Wednesday blog posts. See? Another targeted, specific, doable goal. Look for more of these posts coming soon!

What are your new goals for 2018? I’m also contemplating learning to play the ukulele this year–we have one that Mike’s brother gave to our boys. But I didn’t list it as a goal because I’m just not sure yet. We’ll see! There’s a whole year to fill, so maybe I’ll go for it after all!

Journals: Source of Encouragement for this Season of Life

A couple months ago, back when we were still in Colorado, I posted a question on Facebook:  What books would my fellow home school parents recommend to give encouragement for a new school year? I received a few suggestions but haven’t pursued reading any of them yet.

I keep a cache of blog posts that never fails to provide the proverbial shot in the arm when it comes to my having energy and motivation for persevering with home schooling. I re-read those throughout most school years. But recently I found a home school pep talk from a different source:  journals.

typewriter in black and white

I have kept journals for decades. Over the years, those entries have progressed from statements such as “I hope my best friend and I both get our guys!” at age 16 to processing my thoughts about loneliness and eating struggles while living overseas. Apparently, regular writing has been proven to offer mental health benefits. Therapists, counselors, and social workers often encourage their patients to journal for the cathartic benefits of it.  There are many ways to journal, and no one “right” way. But I know I’ve been helped by writing down my personal stories–and even by returning to them later to read where and how I’ve grown.

I’ve also kept journals for my boys for years. I don’t create elaborate memory books for them, and most of our photographs are on the computer instead of in photo albums. But I diligently fill journal pages with stories, milestones, and prayers concerning their lives.

And it was these journals that have refreshed me in important ways for this season of life and schooling and parenting. Here’s some of what I gleaned.

dawn-nature-sunset-woman

Last year, we’d finished lessons for the day. I sat at the kitchen table jotting down what we’d accomplished before fixing lunch. Woodrow looks up to tell me that the golf ball he’d rolled across the floor had produced two shadows. I took notice of what he’d pointed out and asked if he knew why that was.

“Because there are 2 light sources–one from the kitchen window, one from the living room window. Two light sources, 2 shadows,” he explained. We’d never studied this. But he noticed, and he made connections from what he’d learned to real life. That same day, he told me at lunch that a person weighs more where gravity is stronger. He then described why and finished with this tidbit:  “Maybe the reason we all seemed to weigh more than we thought on the scale at Publix two days ago was due to a gravitational wave.” I’m not all that sure what gravitational waves do, and I don’t think Woodrow is, either. But, again, he showed me he learns things I don’t necessarily teach and makes connections between learning and life around him.

I also found this little joke Woodrow came up with that I penned in his journal:  “What did the round spoon say to the square spoon?” What? “My life is POINTLESS!” Once while I was working on laundry, he and Garfield were in the throes of a competition with a catapult I’d helped them make, flinging LEGO men with it down the hall and then measuring how far each piece had gone. During my chores and their play, Woodrow approached me and said, “The only way to fail is to give up.” This young man can teach me a thing or two about perseverance.

wooden spoons

Years ago, Woodrow cheered up his little brother (who was very distraught and angry about a notebook I’d bought at Big Lots–go figure) by reading him a story called “The Fuzzy Duckling.” Except he replaced certain words in the story with “stupid” and “dummy,” which I would never actually encourage–but I chuckled to see how Garfield laughed and laughed at his brother’s antics. And I cheered Woodrow’s taking the lead to bless his little brother in a way that would connect with him.

When Garfield was about 5, I gave him free time during a school day so I could focus on a task with Woodrow. I noticed him enter the kitchen and grab an empty cereal box from our recyclables stack, then he returned to the living room. After finishing with Woodrow, we checked on Garfield. He’d used instructions from a library book about bridges, along with some fishing line and the cereal box, to make a drawbridge. He couldn’t read, but he’d followed the schematics (a word my older son taught me) and successfully created this drawbridge from materials he could find on his own.

Last year, we discussed how wars begin and how countries establish their geographical boundaries, all over lunch one day, and the boys initiated this. Home school lunchtime conversations prove to be replete with depth at our house.

bridge

As I reflect on these stories and memories, I’m reminded that God created the human mind to learn, and my boys are learning. In fact, learning is always happening. So in two days, we’ll begin a new school year, and the learning will just continue.

And I’m encouraged.

 

 

 

 

One Last Summer Road Trip

While Mike worked in Chicago last week, I got the idea–in the midst of home school planning–to visit family in Mississippi again before we begin our new school year. One of my nephews, my sister’s oldest, started pee wee football this year. I thought it’d be special both for my boys and for my nephew if we could watch one of his games.

My boys have never seen a football game–at least, not the North American kind. But the game wasn’t the focal point; squeezing in one last family visit before we start school and Scout activities for the fall was our aim.

calvin and allison on ferris wheel
Garfield & me riding a Ferris wheel earlier this summer in Colorado.

We’d planned to leave last Friday morning, drive all day, and then stay at my parents’ home in south Mississippi that night–then driving another few hours to my sister’s home the next day. Our plans changed last minute, though, when my nephew’s game time switched from Saturday afternoon to Saturday morning. We ended up leaving Thursday afternoon, arriving in Mississippi near midnight, then driving again the next day to my sister’s house. We stayed with my sister and her family for just under 24 hours, then drove back to Mama and Daddy’s to spend Saturday night. All totaled, we spent about 27 hours in our van over a span of 4 days.

bus on beach

Even after all our previous travels this summer, even after being home for just over 2 weeks, this trip was worthwhile. Because making memories is worth it. Because relationships are worth it. Because watching my children grow a friendship with their cousins is worth it.

Also I felt brave and accomplished making such a long road trip with just the boys, no other adult to share parenting or driving responsibilities. Woodrow and Garfield really are great travelers. They listened to 4 books in the Boxcar Children series that we played over the Hoopla app. They didn’t watch any DVDs or TV shows, but we did tell stories and jokes and listen to music. And we had a couple of talks about big topics, too–after all, I had a captive audience right there in the backseat.

During some of the time in my hometown this past weekend, my boys got to pick okra with their grandmother at a fellow church member’s garden. They bought some goodies at a yard sale for their cousins. They visited with their great-grandmother. Prosaic as these acts may be, they are precious gems, too–milestones in building into my children a life of memorable experiences and family love.

map water coffee

I cherish the fact that I could give this to my children this summer, this one last road trip before schedules change for the next 10 months.

Even mini-vans can be part of an adventure.

The Anti-Spiritual Discipline

I’m planning for our new home school year this week. For the past couple of years, I did a great deal of long-term planning at the outset of the year. For example, I set up units for art {art history and art appreciation + creating some of our own art along the way} for the entire year. Last year, we studied 6 Renaissance artists, and I printed out examples of each artist’s work, put together activities corresponding to each artist, researched books, ordered supplies. Last year, I used plaster of Paris for the first time as the boys and I practiced painting frescoes.

Last year, I also set up our music study for the entire year. I wrote up math lessons, based on the program we use, that would cover several weeks for each of my sons. All this, of course, required hours of work, and I did it while Mike worked a conference in Chicago last year–while I was flying solo as a parent.

I read a book earlier in 2017 about a year in the life of a home school family. The author commented that it’s very difficult to do something besides parenting when you’re never NOT parenting. That week, I was never NOT parenting but still managed to complete tremendous amounts of work.

wooden colored pencils

For this year, this week, Mike is also in Chicago. But this year, I don’t have the stamina or wherewithal or energy to plan out activities for the entire year and print out all necessary pages and pictures of composers and put them in neatly organized folders for each unit. Right now, this week, I’m also never NOT parenting, and I just can’t do it all. In fact, while I write this, the boys have stopped me to give me a hug (always welcome!) and to talk about playing Life and to ask if they could spin in a chair that’s in the room where I’m sitting on the floor.

I’m tired from the travel to and from Colorado. I’m trying to claw my way back to the disciplines of regular exercise and regular time alone with God. I shared with a friend recently that the hardest pursuits in life to re-establish after losing one’s rhythm are the ones that require the most discipline. In May, I also received some disappointing news about a new turn I’d hoped my life could take that might open up new possibilities. Other than acknowledging this at the time (in the midst of packing and prepping to be away for 10 weeks), I didn’t give it much attention until this summer–when Woodrow and Garfield attended one week of the Cru summer programs for kids while in Colorado. That week, when I’d anticipated trying to find some equilibrium that would help draw me back to the healthy habits of time with Jesus and working out consistently (instead of sporadically), I ended up spending much of that time feeling depressed, as I now had solitude and opportunity to reflect on a disappointment that truly challenged my hope.

boy on beach pink shirt

Between drop offs and pick ups for the boys and their camp activities, along with regular chores and errands, and working on some Cru stories, I watched a series on Netflix and cried. And I did spend some time in prayer and in Scripture, but it didn’t seem to stick, because the next week, I barely prayed at all. My journal, where I write prayers, lessons learned, things for which I’m grateful, has been sorely neglected this summer. It’s evidence my own spiritual well-being has been neglected this summer, too.

So here I am…exhausterpated. I made that up, and I kind of like it–it communicates more than “exhausted,” I think. I’m content with doing ENOUGH planning for the school year for now, leaving some til later; I’m content with understanding that I’ll need to complete the rest of the planning as the school year goes on. It’s freeing to know I can take a different approach because I need to give myself a bit of a break.

clipboard and coffee cup

One of my favorite Bible verses is Galatians 5:25–“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Keeping in step with the Spirit involves receiving God’s grace, and I’m doing that by recognizing I don’t have to do everything all at once in order to prepare us for a meaningful year.

This time of year, the enemy also sends lots of accusations and temptations to compare myself and my children to others. I feel this time of year I leap over one hurdle of Satan’s lies only to find another one right in front of me. To face this, I need to keep working at renewing my priority of making the main thing the main thing:  hemming my day in with prayer, with fellowship with Christ.

We often call prayer, journaling, reading the Bible, meditating on Scripture “spiritual disciplines.” But there’s a method I’ve sometimes employed at trying to “grow” myself that is not a spiritual discipline at all:  berating myself.

chess mirror

I have never once successfully beat myself up into doing something good or into doing a good thing better. Many of us probably grew up in the era in which correcting children involved making them feel bad in hopes of getting them to do good. I just don’t believe that works. God doesn’t treat His children that way; He confronts us with our sin, yes, but He never speaks to us with words like “You’ll never get this right if you don’t try harder!” or “You just keep ruining things over and over and over!” 

This is not an approach I’ve taken with my own children, and yet it’s also a habit with myself that has taken years to break. Even now, I’d say it’s only mostly broken. But I’m saying it to myself again:  Berating myself is not a spiritual discipline. 

My 2017 word of the year was and remains “heal.” As we begin a new school year, I’m hoping for some renewed healing.

 

Something New Saturday: Homemade Dog Chew Toys

Back during Advent, when our family sought to give a gift a day, we tried a new project with old t-shirts:  dog chew toys. We gave the toys to friends with pets and also took several on our Christmas travels to share with family members who are dog owners.

The process was one that we did as a family–but the boys learned to create these on their own, as well. In fact, in a knapsack back in their closet at home, they have fabric pieces awaiting transformation into more dog chew toys. Both boys envision making a little side business out of these efforts.

five dog chew toys
Our first batch of chew toys last December:  blue, gray, and white t-shirts knotted and braided together.

Besides t-shirts, the only other tool needed to make these is a pair of scissors. We cut off the shirt sleeves and then cut the shirts into strips. We knotted together 9 strips at one end–three sections of 3 fabric strips each–and then proceeded to braid the sections. (Tip:  The tighter you make the braid, the better.) It helps if one person holds down the knot while another person does the braiding. Then knot the ends, and you have a toy. We also snipped off sections that hung longer than the other strips once we had a finished product.

Here’s a link to instructions for the DIY dog chew toy (slightly different than the ones we used). Besides presenting these as gifts to pet-owning friends and family or selling them, these toys might make great donations to animal shelters–as a project for your family, church group, Scout troop, etc.

The act of creating is always a joy. From my family to yours, may you have tons o’ fun with whatever you create this summer.

 

The Adventurous Life of a Boring Mom

When I was 8 or 9, my family and I visited some extended family members in a small town near Vicksburg, Mississippi. While there, my distant cousin, Dru, who was the same age I was, had a soccer game. Her step-mom invited me to go along, so I went, happy to be included.

I’d never been to a soccer game before, ever. At that time, the sport of soccer had not made its way to my rural hometown. I had to sit alone during her game, since her step-mom had to work the concession stand or keep score or some other job.

The weather was hot, and I got bored. So, near the end of the game, I occupied myself by turning cartwheels on the sidelines. Over and over and over. I kept myself busy by moving–and moving a lot–but always coming back to the exact same spot.

primary colors plate

Last school year, I read a book aloud to the boys:  Carry On, Mr. Bowditch. I did a fair amount of research before reading that to Woodrow and Garfield, because I couldn’t figure out how to pronounce the name “Bowditch.” I finally discovered it’s pronounced like “bough,” as in “take a bow.”

The story centers around travels on a ship, so the pronunciation makes sense:  like the bow of a ship. Some of the phrases, particular to those seafaring men, connected with me. When a sailing vessel has insufficient wind to move it along, that ship is said to be “becalmed.” Another phrase that struck me:  Swallowing the anchor. Which refers to the time when a sailor retires from sea-going life and settles down.

There are times, whole seasons, in life when I feel this so acutely. When I feel that I’m where I’m supposed to be, but I’m just cartwheeling myself along the sidelines until the game finishes. When I feel I’ve lived with steps of faith and taking risks that led to adventure, but that those days, whole seasons, are passed–and that I must swallow the anchor and settle down to life ashore. These feelings ebb and flow with the natural push and pull within my own soul.

A genuine contentment {most of the time} at being at home:  home school mother, stay-at-home mom for right at 11 years now. My life truly revolves around our home–parenting, teaching, hours of reading aloud and playing games and listening to countless stories about Garfield’s favorite Hot Wheels and Woodrow’s ideas for new inventions. And all the serving that goes with this life-orbiting-around-the-home–from giving haircuts to piggy back rides to birthday parties. This is what I want.

Henry Ford drawing by Calvin
Garfield’s recent portrait drawing. My boy is a Ford truck man.

A genuine restlessness {once in a while} at being at home:  My husband travels to New York for a week, serving others in his ministry role, while I stay back and home school and take the boys to Scouts and fix meals. He eats at fancy restaurants and sees a Broadway musical, and I think to myself–pettily, I know–But I loved New York first! I lived there for a summer during college, serving with Cru on an inner-city mission project. I went back for a week during my time serving with Cru at Mississippi State, leading a group of college students to serve in and learn from inner-city ministry during spring break. Then I also spent a few days there right after 9/11, involved with Cru service there. Mike thinks he doesn’t travel much for work (and compared to others, he really doesn’t), but he gets on a plane numerous times a year. I haven’t flown since 2012.

Before we had children, I discussed with my then-team leader our plans to go to New Zealand for a year and join a team ministering to college students there. I pondered that, if we were going to do this, it might be better to go before we had babies. His response:  “You better get while the getting’s good.” It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that his comment terrified me. What did that mean for my life one day as a mother?

butterfly drawing

I have ten years left–only ten!--to finish laying a foundation in my children’s lives, before they are (more or less) launched into the world. I will not wish away a single moment. I will continue to stop what I’m doing and make eye contact with the child who has another question, another story. I will sacrifice the travel and give up the adventure for time–lots and lots and lots of time, for there simply is no substitute for it–with my children.

Yesterday, we spent a half hour finishing an elaborate game of Memory that Woodrow had made up. Before bedtime, we spent almost half an hour reading, even though I’d already read a chapter from that book in the morning, too. If time is money, I’m investing it in these boys.

When my sons and I spend a morning packing homeless care bags together, or shopping together for socks and underwear and t-shirts to send to a ministry to men engaged in survival prostitution, or cleaning together at a friend’s condo as she prepares it for a new tenant, my eyes of faith crack open a bit wider, and I can see more clearly:  This IS the adventure.