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.

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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?

Daybook: End of November

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Outside my window: it’s cold today, after 75 and sunny yesterday. Similar (emotional) swings are occurring inside the house as well. The light and shadows are so close and so stark this time of year.

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In the kitchen: today we’re going to have beef pasties. This is my new favorite grab-it-and-go meal. (I just wish someone else were doing the prep before I grabbed it.)

In the school room: we really needed our break last week. Now we are regrouping and trying to press on till our longer break at Christmas. I took a few minutes Sunday night, when I do my usual school prep, to assess the growth so far this year and it’s been significant. Hopefully I will remember that when I stare down far we have to go.

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In my shoes: We went for the independent (a.k.a. free) turkey trot this year, and I ran a beautiful four miles. Yes, it’s the same four miles I usually run, but it seemed sunnier than usual, and I felt lighter. (That feeling went away after dinner.)

In my reading pile: I spent a good chunk of the weekend reading, finishing Written in My Own Heart’s Blood (Gabaldon), Sourdough (Sloan), and The Attenbury Emeralds (Walsh). The trick after so much feasting is going back to being able to read only a little bit here and there.

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Grateful for: a Thanksgiving celebration with my parents.  We shared dinner and decorated their Christmas tree with them, which has become a cherished tradition. It’s been two years since Sam was miraculously healed. We are still celebrating that! I’m grateful for Phoebe’s confirmation this weekend- it was joyful and beautiful and precious.

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Praying for: More miracles, of new life and healing, in other lives that are dear to me. Mandy’s new knee (going in today!)

Daybook: late October

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Outside my window: Still dark. But once the sun comes up, there will be leaves to rake and a crisp morning. I’m hoping to make it out for a run today.

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This autumn has felt especially colorful and precious to me, and I think it’s because I missed much of autumn last year because of my injury. I couldn’t run, or even really walk around the neighborhood, because my foot hurt so badly. Now I am so grateful to be outside.

In the kitchen: my mental energy is elsewhere right now, so it’s going to be easy staples this week: simple soups (butternut squash, potato-dill, Jerusalem lentil) and eggs of various kinds. And maybe some pumpkin ribbon bread.

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In the school room: Phoebe had a breakthrough last week, seeing some progress in areas that have been challenging for her. I think it’s very hard to be the youngest- she spends a lot of time thinking she’s behind, when really, she’s just younger.

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Meanwhile, Jonah is working hard on college and scholarship applications. This process has shown me where lie some gaping holes in my educational plans. It’s hard to be the oldest- he’s the guinea pig for all my theories.

Today is the end of our first quarter. We need to get to the library for new books (and return all ones that are overdue…)  I think it’s time to schedule a reading day.

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We collected a bunch of leaves two weeks ago before the snow, and last week I got around to ironing them in waxed paper.  The kids couldn’t remember the word for ironing board and were very puzzled as to why I had it out. We certainly never use it for ironing clothes.

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Grateful for: second (and third and fourth) chances. The medical miracle I witnessed last week. Friends.

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While Jonah and I look at colleges this weekend, Owen’s going to visit his godparents. I am so grateful for our children’s godparents and their investment in our kids.

Sam and I had a chance to get away this weekend. It was a trip we’d scheduled and then had to cancel last year. We slept in, read books, ran long, and ate delicious meals we didn’t have to prepare or clean up afterwards. So many gifts.

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Praying for: New life, both literal and metaphorical. Mandy. Luke. Upcoming college visits. Discipline. Our group of four young confirmands at church as they prepare for confirmation.

 

Seven Quick Takes: Smack down edition

One: In accordance with the cosmic law that Low Must Follow High (I know it’s not true, but it feels true), I am here to report on the smack down that followed my last message of hope and encouragement.


“That’s right.  It’s not true.  It just feels true.”

Two: It happened on Monday, when we had one of our worst homeschooling days in a long time. There were tears (not just mine, which the children have come to expect so that they [the tears, not the children] make less impact than they might), and by the end of the day- when the work was still not finished- I locked myself if my room saying, “I don’t care what you do now, but I’m going to do some yoga.” I don’t think I slammed the door.

Three: We spent Sunday pulling out the garden, since it was going to freeze anyway.  You may recall that I had planted mostly butternut squash and a tiny bit of carrots and broccoli, since everything else we get from our local CSA. I felt pretty boss when we brought all that squash inside. Also, we harvested a broccoli that was almost as tall as Phoebe.

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Four: I made pot pie this week and thought I would be smart and put in some of the broccoli stem for extra bulk and nutrition. It seemed a little tough when I peeled it, but I figured it would soften up as it simmered.  Spoiler: it did not. It remained the consistency of wood chips, and we had to pick it piece-by-piece out of the pot pie.  And then it snowed.

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Five: We spent the morning after the snow pulling out snow clothes so we could make a snowman and play outside, which was extremely fun for 17 minutes, and then the snow melted and I was left with snow pants or boots on every available surface. I will keep tripping over them until I put them away next May, when it will promptly snow again.

Six: I went for a run a few hours after the above photo was taken. I wore several shirts, my hat and mittens, and wool socks and dissolved a puddle of sweat after approximately eight minutes. But at least the view was stunning.

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Seven: Now it’s Friday, and I cleaned all the old food out of the fridge. Look what I found! (I rock at this housekeeping thing.) I’m thinking that’s Aspergillus growing on what might have been cream cheese several years ago. I may have to feed my family actual wood chips later, but at least we’ll have a good science class first.

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