What DIDN’T work in 2017

I posted a few weeks ago my list of what worked for me in 2017. The less fun list is here: what didn’t work for me.

I don’t necessarily have solutions for these, which is maybe why it’s taken me a few weeks to post this. I like solutions, but maybe some of these don’t have answers. These problems are just going to sit there, like the neighbor’s cat on my fence who taunts me and runs away when I yell at him at the window, and then comes back an hour later. I’m not going to move; my neighbor isn’t going to keep his cat away from my chickens. We are at an impasse. Also, I don’t particularly relish talking about things that bug me; it feels like whining.

Here we go.

Community

I used to have a small group of homeschooling moms with whom I met regularly. For a few years, we met each month to discuss a reading. In other years, we got our kids together to hike when the weather was nice or do crafts when it wasn’t, and then we’d talk. As the kids have gotten older, a lot of them have transitioned into formal schools, and some of my friends have moved away. I no longer have a homeschooling mom community, and the kids’ day at their homeschool school is my day in the clinic, so I’m never the one doing the drop off, pick up or volunteer hours. It’s hard homeschooling high schoolers, and I could use some advice. More than that, I miss my friends.

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Too much screen time

As my kids have gotten older, we have increased their access to the internet and screens in general. This has led to my own increase in screen time, and the perils of that (for me) have included a feeling of hopelessness from too much news. I want to talk news and politics and current events with my teenagers, but I find it overwhelming. (Plus, my daughter put Cookie Jam on my phone and I quickly developed an addiction to it. I have now joined Cookie Jam Anonymous and am working through the twelve levels steps.)

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Not enough outside time

The increase in screen time and the decrease in outside time have gone hand-in-hand. As my kids have taken on tough online, AP and college courses, we have become more tied to a schedule, which has made long afternoons digging in mud at the side of the lake nearly impossible.

Housecleaning

Our house is a mess. I am grateful when we have friends over, because it temporarily pushes cleaning up to the top of the list. It’s gotten so bad lately that Owen has taken to cleaning up.

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(This photo has nothing to do with anything, but I like it. I wonder who took it, since I’m usually the photographer.)

Getting together with our refugee friends

We had our refugee friends over right before Christmas for breakfast and games. It was not great. I realized we hadn’t spent significant time with them for almost a year, and that’s a really long time when you don’t have much history together. I want to know them better and get past the awkward smile-a-lot-because-that’s-all-we-can-really-do, but we have so little time in which to do that.

I think that’s what most of this list boils down to: time. I don’t have more than 168 hours/week and never will. I used to be manage our 6 schedules and plan them to our best advantage, so that swim team for 3 kids happened at the same time as a swim lesson for child #4, during which I could take a run. Then we’d have three hours to play outside, or take a hike, or volunteer every week at an ESL class.

Now, child #1 is on campus from 8-2, child #2 has a music lesson from 2-3, child #3 is in dance class from 4-5:30, and child #4 wants to be home all afternoon so she can play with her friends. I can’t streamline it, but I still have to be the driver, which means that my time is chopped up into all sorts of little sections that are too small for what I want time for.

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Vacation

Last January, Sam and I went away to Mexico for five days. It was stunningly beautiful, and we were so grateful for the friends who stayed with our kids to make this happen. We wanted to minimize decision fatigue, so we went to an all-inclusive resort, thinking it would be delightful to be able to eat any time we want and spend the rest of our time on the beach. We learned really quickly that we were not resort people. I felt like I was trapped on a cruise with a bunch of drunk strangers, and the only people I really wanted to talk to (other than Sam) were the restaurant and housekeeping staff, who were lovely. (The whales were also lovely, but harder to talk to.) In the future, we will skip the resort, even if it means we have to cook for ourselves.

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We did manage to get away for a weekend in October (thanks, Mom and Dad!), which did work for me, and as time with our oldest (and money for vacations) will soon be very limited, I think we will have to plan more short road trip-type getaways.

Your turn: what didn’t work for you in 2017?

 

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Daybook: Mid-January

Outside my window: It’s 67 degrees and sunny. My windows are open and Julian (a.k.a. Cat#2) has spent the day watching birds at the window. The chickens even laid four eggs yesterday.

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In the kitchen: Cuban Flank Steak with Mango Salsa (from Melissa Clark’s cookbook, Dinner: Changing the Game), and Deviled Eggs. I am very grateful everyone wants to cook right now. Phoebe (a.k.a. Chef #2) even cleaned up, but don’t say anything because I don’t want her scare her off from doing it again sometime by accident.

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Chef #2

At lunch, we had ice cream sandwiches. I think Mary Poppins had a song about that. “Just a small ice cream sandwich helps the algebra go down!” We listened to Randall Munroe’s Ted Talk on math answering cool questions.

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In the school room: One of the questions Randall Munroe can answer is, “How much force did Yoda use to raise Luke’s X-wing fighter from the Dagoba swamp?” (He needed Star Wars wikipedia page to find out the mass of an X-wing fighter and the gravity on Dagoba.) And here’s a link to Wired Magazine, where they calculate the physics of the tie-fighters’ formation in the Star Wars trailer. Just in case you needed it for some lunch-time math.

We are also reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter right now, but the effect is blunted by our own balmy weather.

On my reading table: I just read Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, which Owen & Moriah are reading for school. I’m listening to A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter. I thought I was almost to the end, and then I checked and I’m only on chapter 16 out of 34. I’m not sure what’s going on, or if I’m going to be able to get through it all the way before the library yanks it off my device. And I’m reading Helen Thorpe’s The Newcomers, which is excellent.

Grateful: for tomorrow’s release of my second book, Lost Things. I’ll be over at Karen’s Killer Book Bench tomorrow with details on its release, an excerpt and a giveaway. If you can’t wait that long, all the pre-order links are here.

I’m also grateful for the two cats (Graycee and Julian) who joined our family last week.

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A game of Bird Bingo with Julian.

Praying for: Mandy, Bishop Gerry, Austen, Lori, Ruth, Christine. Refugees. Patience. For our cats to become friends.

7QT: Our How-to-pay-for-college plan

I know y’all are very concerned about how Jonah’s college search (and our search for college funding) is going. We are making definite progress on both fronts. I’ve been getting lots of ads for subscription boxes in my feed lately. For only $24.99 a month, I can have a box of practically anything delivered to my door—boxes of books, or beer, running gear, dog treats or purses, beauty supplies or gourmet snacks. Because I’m never one to miss out on a trend, and because college is really expensive, I want to offer you my own special twist on the subscription box club:

TiredMomBox! For only $19.99/month, club members will receive one “artisan” (a.k.a. shoe) box for the month’s theme, and the warm fuzzy feeling you can only get by helping us pay for our son’s college tuition.

Resolutions Theme (January): you will receive a box of selected fitness gear I bought in years past and no longer use, such as handheld weights of different sizes (no two alike!), fitness bands I can’t get the knots out of, and prenatal and postpartum yoga DVDs I never want to see again.

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Middle-Aged Romance Theme (February): you will receive a box of take-out pizza, a bottle of two-buck Chuck, and a Kipper video to put the kids in front of so you and your hubby can have a conversation. (Try to look deeply into your husband’s eyes as you decide who’s driving the swim team carpool this weekend.)

How Long Is Spring Break? Theme (March): I will send you all the old, dried up craft supplies from my closet, and—as a bonus for new subscribers—the leftover pieces from the puzzles and board games we got rid of last year.

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Earth Day Theme (April): you will receive a box of leftover kitchen scraps to add to your compost. Good feelings for doing the right thing are included.

Mother’s Day Theme (May): I will send you two hours of free time. However, odds are good that you’ll waste it pinning things on Pinterest and feeling bad that you aren’t one of those moms making a forever-memory with your family.

School’s Out! Theme (June): June’s box comes with a summer calendar, marked with 100 days’ worth of super fun daily activities. Your family will enthusiastically do three of them in June (Spend a day at Water World! Hike the Monument Incline! Go out to breakfast in your pajamas!), one in July, and then spend all of August complaining that they’re bored.

Put Your Best Face Forward Theme (July): This month subscribers will receive all the old make up I’m going to clean out of the bathroom: clumpy mascara (your eyelashes have never looked this thick!), concealer that might not have dried out yet, and the Clinique lipstick samples I’ve been saving since 1989. You don’t want to miss July’s box!

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This is just a sampling of the goodies in store for you with your TiredMombox! Subscription. Thank you for your support for the college of my son’s choice.

Fine print: A one year subscription is $19.99/month, plus $7.99/month shipping. There is a $5 shipping surcharge for the January box because the weights are heavy. May’s shipping is still $7.99 because you will have forgotten at that point that you’re paying for this every month, and you can’t figure out how to cancel your subscription.

Finer print: For the record, I was going to name this box something way cooler, but when I Googled the names, MomBox, SuperMomBox and WonderBox were already taken.)

Go check out Kelly for more Quick Takes!

A Little Late: What worked for me in 2017

This was the year– wait, last year was the year— of late birthday presents (here’s looking at you, Phoebe!) and missed deadlines and leftovers gone bad in the fridge. So it only makes sense that I’m getting around to my reflections on what worked for me in 2017. (Tomorrow… if all goes as planned… I’ll post what didn’t work for me in 2017.)

Reading: this year I discovered the secret for my enjoyment of audiobooks. 1.5x speed. The narration all felt too slow to me when I listened to them on 1x, and on 2x the readers all sound like junior high boys. 1.5x speed is just right.

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My reading chair. Not necessary for audiobooks.

Writing: This year, instead of focusing on outcomes (x number of pages or words written each day), I set time goals for myself.  Sometimes it’s just not flowing, but I can still manage to sit in my chair for 20 minutes most days.  The upshot was two finished manuscripts.  Also, meeting with my critique partner regularly keeps me motivated and hold me accountable to my goals.

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I wish this were my every day writing space! I could spend a lot more than 20 minutes there.

Food: My goal for the year was for us to eat more vegetables on a daily basis. I started trying to add a second vegetable to our evening meal (e.g., salad and roasted cauliflower). For the most part it worked. Our summer CSA share makes a huge difference for 18 weeks of the year. We all love eating up what our farmers send us.

Also, I was trying to promote more kitchen autonomy for the kids (which does not promote more eating of vegetables, alas). It worked, and the only person who almost amputated her fingertip was me. Ahem.

Prayer: For the first half of the year, the app Pray As You Go was a huge help to the regularity of my prayer. I’m not sure when I stopped using it daily, but I did. From that point on, my prayers were mostly, “Jesus, help!” (He did.)

Phoebe chose to be confirmed, and I had the privilege of co-teaching her confirmation class. We taught them the Nicene Creed week by week, and the process of working through it to teach was a huge encouragement to me.
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Financial: The January Money Diet helped us put a little bit in savings, and some new habits grew it a little more. I also worked my way through Joe Dominguez and Vicky Robin’s Your Money or Your Life, which was really helpful.

Running: At the beginning of 2017, I was clawing my way back from an injury. I basically had to rework my entire gait from the ground up. The emphasis I had to put on yoga and my PT exercises has made me stronger, and I definitely appreciate each run much more.

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Scenes from an October run.

Hair:  I know this is frivolous, but I used to be the girl who used Lubriderm’s Every Day Moisture with SPF 15 (yes, lotion) as her styling product. I finally have two hair products that work for me. (Ouidad Whipped Curls and Ouidad Botanical Boost.) Also, I found a stylist who hasn’t once suggested I color my hair. I’m sold.

Coming next: What didn’t work for me in 2017.

From the archives: What worked for me in 2016.

Snow books

It’s finally snowing here for our first day of winter break, and we’re going to pull out all our favorite snow books today. They are (in no particular order):

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The charm in Uri Shulevitz’s Snow is that Boy with Dog knows better than everyone else who tells him it’s not going to snow. The illustrations are fantastic, and the sparse prose is exactly right.

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Virginia Lee Burton’s classic, Katie and the Big Snow, is chock full of details. The only thing I change when I read it aloud is “The doctor couldn’t get her patient…”

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Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon perfectly captures the haunting silence of a snowy night.

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Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day was Phoebe’s favorite when she was little (and I’m sure that had nothing to do with the fact that I substituted her name in for the main character’s.)

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Jaqueline Briggs Martin’s Snowflake Bentley is the true story of Wilson Bentley, the man whose passion for natural beauty led him to photograph snowflakes. His work was amazing, and this children’s book about him is beautiful.

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I loved Carolyn Haywood’s Snowbound with Betsy growing up and dug an ancient copy up a few years ago. I still love it.

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Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter haunts my dreams: the food running out, the Christmas box that couldn’t make it, the cutting for the train…

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Winter Holiday, the third book in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series, takes place on a frozen lake and is full of all the fun you imagine you’d have with like-minded kids and utter freedom.

I don’t think we’re going to have enough snow to give me time to read all of them today… but I’m going to give it a shot. What snow books am I missing?

Daybook: Mid-December

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Outside my window: dark. And cold, too, though it’s supposed to warm up enough for a comfortable run later. Whether I’ll have time is  different matter.

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In my shoes: I’ve been running at the end of the day again. Somehow, between the aforementioned darkness and cold, I can’t quite get myself in gear to run before our school day starts. Instead I’ve had a few beautiful sunset runs, one under the Supermoon (which connected me with a whole bunch of moon-runners on Instagram) and one where I saw an enormous owl, whom I managed not to scare away.

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In the kitchen: I’m in a cooking funk.  I write out meal plans but don’t want to go to the store, so when it comes to four o’clock and I drag myself back into the kitchen (which is invariably awash in piles of dishes and school books and bags and mail) I realize I don’t have some crucial ingredient.  Some weeks are like that, even in Australia.*

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When I went though my photos last week, I found that I had taken almost the exact same photo of this ornament 7 years ago. His name is Harry. He’s what I feel like every day at 4:30p.m., which is exactly why I need to run in the afternoon.

On my reading pile: We started our annual reading of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and we all sat around chuckling at the same jokes as we always do. I love that book. When I’m without children, I’m reading Lydia Reeder’s Dust Bowl Girls, which I mentioned over here on my book blog.

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In the school room: I realized a few weeks ago that we hadn’t been doing enough art.  My high schoolers were whining and complaining when we did it, so I’d been skipping it, but my youngers need a lot of art. So we’re back to sitting at the table while I read, at least once a week. The boys can opt out if they want, but I’m making it available. (More often than not, they join in, even though they’re too cool# for it.)

We’re doing our exams this week on history and literature. This involves narrations (e.g., drawing a comic, making an annotated diagram, writing a page, or asking 5 questions about the reading).

Also, it’s recital season. Last week we had two recitals (one piano, one piano and violin), and this week we have a concert and two Nutcracker performances. It must be December.

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Grateful for: great music teachers. My in-laws’ beautiful reminiscences of their dad last week. Xeljanz. Running. The upcoming release of my book, Lost Things.^

Praying for: Mandy, Judi, Lori, Christine, Bishop Gerry, Scott, Aimee, Austen. All those who are mourning lost loved ones more than ever at this time of year. Refugees and those who minister among them.

*No, I’m not in Australia. #No, it’s not humanly possible to be too cool for art. ^Coming out January 10, 2018.

7QT: Seven Free Ways to Slow December Down

I blinked yesterday and found out it was December. It had been December for several miles already, but we were moving so quickly I hadn’t noticed the scenery. So in honor of December, here is a collection of free things to do with your family to slow the pace down a little bit.

One: Make a paper calendar as a family. Put everything on it. The more discerning of your children will recognize that that it’s really full and will agree to pull back a little bit, or at least complain less when you say, “No, we can’t do that.”

Two: Spend an evening (or fifteen minutes) walking/driving around your neighborhood to look at your neighbors’ decorations.  One year I made Bingo boards with the different things we’d seen. This year’s Bingo squares here include an inflatable Minnie Mouse, a Storm Trooper, Yoga (it’s a big year for Star Wars and Minions, apparently), Minions, a dragon in a Santa Hat, and Santa smashed into a chimney.

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Three: Bake cookies or cinnamon ornaments. Here’s the recipe we like. (Do me a favor and don’t compare ours to hers.)  Our ornaments have held up for 6 years, through two moves, so they’re more durable than you think.

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Four: Go through old photos together.  Repeat your family stories.

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This gem is from 2010, when we helped Aunt Mandy decorate for Christmas. (You can see that hair care was a top priority even then.)

Five: Make gingerbread houses. Make them cheaply, from graham crackers or pretzels. Think of these as Minecraft structures, built to be destroyed by your siblings, instead of enduring architectural masterpieces.

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Six: Observe Advent. It’s a quiet church season, unlike Christmas (and especially unlike the commercial version of Christmas.) Pray together over the injustice you see in the world. It takes a minute, especially for the younger ones to slow down enough to think about the second coming and what we’re waiting for, but it’s worth the effort.

In years past, we have followed an Advent devotional through the four weeks, always crashing somewhere in the middle a missing a few days here and there. So if you’ve always wanted to do an Advent book/reading series/devotional but didn’t manage to start on Sunday, no worries. Start where you are!

Here’s my favorite easy Advent “calendar”: write out the verses from Luke 2: 1-20, breaking them into enough segments to cover the days of Advent. (Or, if you’re starting today, just 17.) Then cut the paper into rings, staple them together. Open one each day, pasting them up and reading the story each day as it develops.

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Side note: I tried to have the girls in my Sunday school class at church do this with me this week. We couldn’t decide if it was better to label them 1-22 (since there are 22 day of Advent this year), or 3-24 for the actual dates of December. Two of the girls told me what a terrible craft it was, because it wasn’t perfect. So anyway, do it yourself and then you won’t have tiny perfectionists criticizing your crafting.

Seven: Pull out a favorite Christmas book and spend time curled up together, reading. Our favorite is The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, but I just bought a new-to-us audiobook of The Christmas Carol I’m hoping to slip in here one night, accompanied by hot chocolate and popcorn.

What would you add? What are your favorite free ways to slow December down?