Front Yard Living

At the beginning of the summer, during our daily Quiet Rest Hour, the energy in our house changed. I looked up from my book and felt that it had gone from Quiet Rest “Quiet” to eerily and suspiciously “Quiet.” I closed my book and walked upstairs where I found my oldest daughter obediently and happily reading in her room. My three-year-old was not in her room or in the playroom – our two designated Quiet Rest spots.

I looked into our garage and, sure enough, found the door open and a tricycle missing. Barefoot, I walked out to the front, crossed the street, and headed toward the most likely of our neighbors. There I found my daughter and her friend playing sweetly in the driveway. I waved to our neighbor who told me that, when asked, my daughter confirmed I knew exactly where she was.

Welcome to our neighborhood. Of the eight houses in our cul-de-sac, seven know my kids and take an interest in our daily lives. Three have an open-door policy, meaning if I can’t find my kids, I’m fairly certain where to look. But really, I know exactly where my girls are: out in the street, biking, playing, imagining, building forts, and exploring with the neighborhood kids and grandkids.

This community didn’t happen overnight. When we moved into our house in the suburbs four years ago, it was December so we didn’t have much of an idea about our neighbors. We had a good feeling – right away, people stopped to introduce themselves and I often found our driveway and sidewalk miraculously shoveled after a snowstorm. As winter merged into spring, we found ourselves outside more and more often.

Garage doors stayed open, front porches were filled in with comfortable chairs and hanging plants, and I discovered we had moved into a neighborhood of front yard people.

I responded by moving our water table to the front yard, stocking our freezer with Otter Pops, and learning the value of shifting from the backyard to the front yard. Often, my inclination is to go out back, where I can read quietly in our hammock, where my preschooler can run through the sprinklers naked, and where we have a sweet haven from the busyness of life.

Our backyard still functions as that but it has become so much more. When we intentionally decided to shift to living out front, we invited our neighbors into our lives. We met the little girl across the street, who is nearly the same age as our oldest. We met the grandparents whose grandkids often bike with our girls. We sat on front lawns and learned the stresses and joys of each other’s lives.

There’s a cost to living out front. We’ve had to navigate boundaries and space when it comes to kids trooping in and out of our side gate. On stressful days, I just want to close the door and hunker down and that’s not always possible.

Choosing community can often be messy. And yet, I wouldn’t give up that intention for the world. Now, as our kids grow and our activities have changed, we’re not just hanging out in front as often. Already I feel pangs of nostalgia as our kids get busier. I’m thankful for the newborn down the street, knowing that front yard living will continue for a few years more.

I think back to that relatively simple act of moving the water table out front and marvel at all that unfolded from there. Even as summer comes to an end and we look toward more structured days, I think about small ways I can keep my focus on our neighbors – from bringing a book or my computer out front to wave as others walk by to date nights after bedtime on the front porch rather in the backyard, I want to continue the spirit of loving my neighbors well by being present in my neighborhood.

What is one small shift you can make to live in your front yard more often? Perhaps sidewalk chalk or bubbles in the front yard will help you meet new neighbors? I am amazed at the ways the simplest acts bring about community.

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: https://blog.mops.org/backyard-front-yard-living/

Summer Rhythms

My first summer as a new mom didn’t really feel like summer. I had been staying home nearly a year and so, as I watched moms with older kids reframe their schedules and lament the loss of alone time that school provided, our routine stayed the same. Some things did change. After attending MOPS for that entire school year, I started getting invitations for playdates. A group of moms met for weekly hikes at trails around town and I started experiencing a new world of exploration.

Now, six years later, I’m one of those moms I looked up to. The one who is restructuring schedule and figuring out how to create space for the quiet and alone time I got used to, even with just two mornings a week to myself while our youngest was at preschool.

I hesitate to give advice or share our summer routine because what works for our family could translate to the most stressful summer for yours. One thing I’ve learned over my almost-seven years of motherhood is to try to take the path that is least stressful. If I’m calm and happy, it’s likely my kids will be calm and happy.

Some of my friends make lists of things to do in the summer months so if the kids are bored, they have a preplanned set of ideas to fill the time. I recently read about a mom coordinating her days into “Movement Mondays” and “Water Wednesdays” so their weeks have a rhythm and structure. I know another mom who lets each of her four kids pick one activity they want to do during the summer. She doesn’t guarantee which day they’ll do it but she does promise to make time for those activities.

In our house, summers are for slow mornings in our pajamas, for playdates and water fun, for Costco-sized boxes of OtterPops, for riding bikes after breakfast and before dinner, for extra screen time and reading in our backyard tree castle. As my girls grow, I’m finding a natural rhythm to our days. My oldest thrives on sticker charts and created one for our fridge. I don’t know what reward she’s working toward, but she’ll tidy, sweep, and read to her sister all for the promise of an extra sticker. It works for now.

I thought I’d share a handful of rhythms we’re creating this summer. They didn’t all work last year and they most likely won’t all work next year but in this moment, they are what give me space and the structure I need in these blissfully unstructured days.

Chores Before Screen Time

Normally, I don’t link screen time to a rewards system because screen time is my time. Making my girls give it up means I’m giving up a quiet space in our day. But this year, my almost seven-year-old really wanted to start a chore chart so I did link screen time to her simple chores. Mondays she tidies the main floor, Tuesdays she sweeps, Wednesdays she cleans her bedroom. You get the idea. The baseline is minimal. If she kind of does these chores, she gets screen time. I figure anything is better than nothing and so far it’s decreased my nagging. For me, the key is trying rather than perfection. Our nearly four-year-old is off the hook for this. If she tries at all, we’re good!

Fun Meal Planning

I try to involve my kids in our weekly meal planning anyway, but summers are for saying yes to more. When my youngest asked for cake for dinner, I googled savory cakes and was amazed at the choices! This simple yes means something new in our meal rotation and it feels like a celebration. The other day we ordered pizza, spread the picnic blanket in our front yard, and had an impromptu dinner. Suddenly our normal Friday fare became an out of the norm experience. I’m trying to remember this philosophy in other areas of our days. We have to eat anyway—what’s a simple way to make a normal meal special? What are other daily tasks that can be made fun? Is there a playground next to the grocery store? Can you stop there for a few minutes before your errands? Is there an ice cream shop on the way to another place? Taking some time to mix up your routine feels incredibly special to kids of all ages.

Relaxed Rhythms

Our family works well when we’re on a rhythm rather than a strict schedule. If possible, I like to spend the first few days of summer establishing a new routine. For us, this looks like busier mornings and quieter afternoons. Even though we’re long out of the napping phase, if we’re home we practice an hour of quiet rest after lunch time. Sometimes this means going to our separate rooms with a book. The other day, my girls took their books to the backyard tree fort for the hour. Whatever we do, it has to be an activity that involves minimal interaction with me so that we can all rest.

None of these rhythms happen perfectly on any given day. But because I’m choosing to practice and model them, on those longer days it’s easier to lean into this modified schedule.

If you’re able, take five or ten minutes to think about what gives you the most energy in your mothering. If you need that hour of quiet and space every day, take the time to train your kids to give you that. It won’t be perfect but it will be better than nothing. If you thrive on activity and unique experiences, make a list with your kids and plan out some summer adventures! Just remember that whatever you choose, it has to give you joy and life.

I’m leaning into the paradox of embracing the spontaneity summer offers while creating a structure and rhythm to our days that will keep us sane and safe. It’s what works for our family in this given season and I’m remembering to listen to that more than anything.

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: https://blog.mops.org/summer-rhythms/

The Call to Love Means Leaning Into the Unknown

We recently switched churches and I’ve been thinking a lot about my own journey as I sort out questions and theology and beliefs. I’m learning that, for as important as it is to research and dig into what the experts can teach, it’s equally important to lean into relationships. Without my friendships with those who have been marginalized by the church, I wouldn’t have the same empathy as I learned from my questions. I’m over at SheLoves Magazine sharing a little bit about our journey. Here’s an excerpt––I hope you’ll head over and join the conversation!

I’ve never been affiliated with a particular denomination. My high school years were spent at an Evangelical megachurch, where my questions and digging weren’t welcomed. My college years were spent at an Anglican church in the heart of Paris, where I learned to lean into the questions. I learned there that church and social justice can go hand in hand, and the encompassing love of God looks different for everyone. When I returned to Denver after college, I tried a number of churches from Episcopalian to Vineyard to a tiny arts-based house church. Like Goldilocks, none was quite the right fit and, faced with a plethora of choices, I kept searching.

I finally settled at what a friend and I had dubbed “the make-out church” after we sat behind an enthusiastic couple one Sunday. Awkwardness aside, the sermon was fine, the theology seemed sound, and the community was thriving. I joined a social justice Bible Study that morphed into a weekly theology book club that sustained my faith for close to a decade.

Frank and I met on a snowshoe hike at this church and followed one of the pastors as he opened one of the first affirming and inclusive Evangelical churches in Denver. At this new church, we grappled with our own views on what the Bible really said about inclusion. We were the minority straight couple in our supper club, and we learned so much about that encompassing love of God.

A learner at heart, I normally dive into books and articles when I’m curious. At this time, there were a small number of books about homosexuality in the church. The online world was still very small, at least for me, so a lot of these questions happened in real life, with face-to-face conversations. I had grown up with the teaching of “love the sinner, hate the sin” and had never thought about how damaging those words could be. As I listened to stories of conditional love and acceptance with limits, I realized that Jesus called for something much more radical. He called us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Full stop, without caveats.

I remember driving home from church in those early days, after the announcement had been made, when half of our congregation left and two-thirds of the funding went with them. We wondered if we would leave too. We realized that this call to love meant leaning into an unknown. I didn’t know if being gay was a sin, but I did know that calling it that deeply hurt people I worshipped with. I didn’t know what God would judge any of us for, but I did know I am called to love my neighbor, without judgement.

I had been journeying into a faith that accepts the unknown for a few years, but this was the first time I really put it into practice. I could have researched and dug into the biblical text more, but instead, I leaned into the relationships we had formed. I leaned into the unknown aspects of our complex Bible and embraced the mystery that surrounds my faith. We decided that we were ok being deemed theologically wrong if it meant that we loved people better. For someone who likes facts to back up decisions, it was a leap to make this move based on the stories I heard by people I loved. I realized I didn’t need any airtight arguments to know what Jesus had asked me to do.

Being part of a progressive church that claimed the label “evangelical” was incredibly freeing for me. I needed to remember that labels can be used to do deep and often irreparable damage, but they can also be redeemed. You can head over to SheLoves to read the rest and join the conversation there!

Are you affiliated with a particular denomination? How has that shaped your faith?

What I’m Learning From Mosses

It’s the first week of summer and we’re easing into life without routines here. Or, I suppose I should say “modified routines” because there’s always a need for some sort of rhythm to our days. This year, I’m learning from the mosses as I try to embrace slow growth, longterm goals, and letting myself be held by the earth. I’m over at SheLoves Magazine today, reflecting on the practices of leaning into the “boundary layer.” Here’s an excerpt–I hope you’ll head over to SheLoves to join the conversation!

In her book, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of MossesRobin Wall Kimmerer describes “Life in the Boundary Layer”—a place where mosses grow and thrive. The boundary layer is the space where earth and air meet. Mosses aren’t the only thing that thrive in the boundary layer. Humans experience it when we lie on our backs, sun on our faces, looking at clouds. We experience it when we allow the earth to hold us, the air to soothe us. If we were caught in a storm, the boundary layer would give us warmth and safety.

We are currently transitioning from school to summer and all the expectations and scheduling changes that go with that. When I look back on this past school year, I was far less productive than I was hoping to be. Instead of checking off all my hopes and plans, I found myself in a season of quiet and learning. I went on a pilgrimage that continues to reframe and push my thinking. I took a class that pushed and reframed my thinking. I read books that made me confront what I thought I knew and how far I thought I had come.

And beyond those tangible experiences, I found my everyday rhythms quieting and slowing down. I fought against this new pace, thinking I was in a slump or too distracted or too lazy to accomplish all I was imagining. I felt frustrated and hopeless.

A friend and I talked about harvests and how sometimes the harvest takes a long time. I think about the fruit trees in our yard and the years it takes them to grow to an age of production. Even then, anything can impact the harvest—an early frost, a fallow year, squirrels and birds. We aren’t guaranteed anything. Even these metaphors were less-than comforting.

And then I opened my copy of Gathering Moss and found what I was looking for. Not only does Kimmerer talk about the boundary layer, she talks about the slowness of moss growth. Patterns are traced over years; colonies expand by centimeters, not by acres. Head over to SheLoves to read the rest!

How do you lean into the slow growth of certain seasons? What are some ways you’re letting the boundary layer hold you?

I Don’t Arrive Until We’ve All Arrived

I just finished a monthlong journey of learning about how to listen to and give space for Indigenous voices in classroom settings. Even though I’m not in the classroom (right now!) I took away so much from the class. The history I don’t know, the posture I can take when learning, and small things I can do in the “first classroom” I have here at home… I’m over at SheLoves Magazine today reflecting on my experience at the Denver March Pow Wow and the small changes we’re making. Here’s an excerpt but I hope you’ll go join the conversation!

Denver March Pow Wow fell at the tail end of a week of sickness in our family. My oldest caught it first and then I spent our spring break in bed. Our three-year-old was just getting over her round when we arrived at the Pow Wow. After exploring the vendors and buying some remembrances for our girls, we settled into the top row of the Denver Coliseum.

As the drum circle entered, followed by the color guard and ambassadors, I felt my daughter snuggle into my arms and slowly get heavier. Soon, she was fast asleep, lulled by the drums and songs.

I’ve been on a journey of learning and unlearning over the past several years. Confronted with my own privilege and role in this system, I’ve turned to books and articles—the most comfortable way I know to dismantle my own misconceptions. While there’s a certain level of discomfort in confronting all the history I didn’t know, it was also done from the safety of my living room chair.

This past year, I’ve been stepping out of that armchair activism. I went on a pilgrimage to dig into the intersectionality of race, faith, and women’s suffrage. I signed up for a class about Indigenous Voices in the Classroom to take my learning from something internal to a place of stretching and accountability.

One part of this journey that I’ve been reminded of more and more is the importance of sitting and listening, especially as a white woman. I want the active experience of learning and doing but sitting back is harder. I can’t check any boxes or see any apparent advancement.

Holding my daughter in the coliseum, I was forced to simply sit and experience the Grand Entrance. I was pinned under the weight of a sleeping three-year-old, unable to move much. The beating drums lulled both of us and I was able to feel the rhythm in ways I wouldn’t have had I needed to be actively parenting my normally energetic and inquisitive daughter. Head over to SheLoves to read the rest and join the conversation!

What are some small changes you’re making in your learning?

Re-Identifying the Beauty of Intensity

Over at SheLoves Magazine this month, we’re thinking about typical trigger words and how they’ve impacted our lives and faith. I’m incredibly thankful that I have few words that have been harmful to my formation. But I’m thinking about certain words and phrases that have shaped who I am and how I can reimagine them as gifts. Here’s an excerpt and I hope you’ll head over to SheLoves to join the conversation!

My first steps into the world of social justice and activism happened in second grade, when I really began noticing and paying attention to things like environmental impact of goods and capitalist economies, thanks to Scholastic News articles about the safety of dolphins in tuna farming and the closure of my favorite grocery store chain. I was a kid with big feelings, especially when it came to issues of injustice. Most of my early activism looked like protesting the inequities between the methods my parents used in raising my brother and me (at least, from my perspective) and it wasn’t until I was old enough to read justice-centered novels that my activism took on a global perspective.

I was often told that I was intense—my feelings were intense and the way I responded to new information was described as intense. Even at a young age, I felt that this wasn’t something to be proud of. Intense people were dictators and women who chose careers above family. Intense people got things done, but at what price?

I’m in the midst of raising my own passionate, articulate, and politically aware daughter.At six years old, she also has big feelings and the vocabulary to describe all the injustices around her. Like me, her view of injustice ranges from the amount of time I spend reading to her sister to why adults would yell at a child like Ruby Bridges. I see a lot of my own story when I look at how she interacts with the world, which is both amazing and heartbreaking.

One word I intentionally choose not use to describe her is intense. Sometimes I’ll ask her to modulate her voice because the way she is speaking to her sister is too intense, but I try never to use the word in replacement of who she is as a person. I tell her she is thoughtful and passionate and that I love how she cares for the world around her. Head over to SheLoves to read the rest and join the conversation!

What about you? What word are you reframing in your journey?

Be Kind to Yourself

When I wrote this post for SheLoves, it was easy writing about the discomfort. That seems to be part of life, right? Leaning into the discomfort. Something didn’t feel complete about the piece. I worked on it, sent it to a friend, and finally sent it to my editor, thinking it was all about discomfort. And then I remembered the most important part: Be kind to yourself. I added in that imperative piece and it all came together. That seems to be the hardest part for me – remembering kindness to myself. I hope you’ll remember that today. Be kind to yourself.

Here’s an excerpt of the piece. I hope you’ll head over to SheLoves to join the conversation!

We stretched at the end of our weekly workout, faces on the mat, right hands extended, left arms stretched under our bodies, kind of in child’s pose. I’m sure there’s an official name for this stretch but I don’t know it. I do know it feels awkward and amazing, all at once. Just as the stretch feels more awkward than amazing, our instructor encourages us saying, “Lean into the discomfort while still being kind to yourself.”

Anyone who has taken any sort of yoga or workout class has probably heard something along those lines — lean into the discomfort. After an hour of movement, I often want to skip the stretching. I want to stop, change into clean clothes, move onto the next part of my day, and check off the box of healthy living. But that wouldn’t be kind to myself—mentally or physically.

But taking the time to stretch and lean into the discomfort is what allows me to healthfully go on with the rest of my day. It’s this kindness that keeps me from getting hurt and is why I keep coming back to class, week after week.

I’ve been thinking about this phrase in other areas of my life lately. How am I leaning into the discomfort of life as I stretch my thinking? How is that discomfort preparing me to take what I’m learning and go back into my daily routines?

I’m in a creatively quiet season right now. At first, when the words were hard to find, I welcomed the space, knowing that sometimes we need to stop and listen before we can produce. But months have gone by and that quiet is turning to discomfort. How long will this last? I’m starting to push against the discomfort, questioning my abilities and purpose. Head over to SheLoves to read the rest and join the conversation!

What are some ways you are remembering to be kind to yourself?