Mapping My Hopes With a Foundation of Flexibility

School started last week for Bea and, while we have another week to go until Elle begins her preschool adventure, I’m enjoying the rhythms that the school year has to offer. This summer was pretty unstructured. Outside of a week at zoo camp, we hung out, went swimming, got on each other’s nerves, and played outside a lot. I think that freedom and boredom are incredibly important to a summer schedule, even if I get overwhelmed with the mess and chaos.

IMG_0487Now that school has started, I’m itching to get back into a productive routine. This first weekend of the school year arrived and I found myself out of sorts and frustrated. I looked back on the week and saw all the things I wanted to do that just didn’t get done. Elle and I went to the zoo but I didn’t write as much as I was hoping; we didn’t clean the playroom; we just kind of hung out.

With Elle starting preschool two mornings a week, I’ve been imagining all of the things I’ll get done with those five extra hours each week. I have big plans! I’m going to practice French and work on a project that kept getting shelved over the summer and really go through the closets for a good purge. Frank and I want to have morning-dates and I want to try to find a workout rhythm. I want to volunteer in Bea’s classroom and go to the art museum regularly. I absolutely recognize that I have more planned than I have space for.

Before preschool begins, I’ve started making lists of my hopes for this year. Things I want to accomplish and rhythms I’d like to create. I’m hoping to map out this time so that it’s not wasted away doing things I could do with Elle around.

But I also want to be intentional about this time with Elle. I’m recognizing that these goals and hopes need to be flexible and fluid. I see how quickly the time passed before Bea started full-time school and I want to savor these moments with Elle.

In her reflections on summer routines and the beginning of a fall schedule, author Addie Zierman says,

“And so I’ve come to accept that this summer, for me, was not supposed to be about being productive, or even really functional. It’s been about being grounded.”

Addie Zierman: Field Notes from the End of Summer

As I plan my fall and our new schedule, I need to remember these words. I have hopes of productivity and I know our routine needs to be functional for our family. But above all, I need to find the ways in which we all stay grounded and rooted. How am I building a schedule that leaves me energized and fulfilled for those days I spend with Elle? How can I feel as productive as possible during my alone time so that the after-school flurry feels more energizing rather than draining?

I have a feeling this will take a good amount of trial-and-error and I need to remember that this is part of building rhythms, as well. What is working? What clearly needs to be fixed? How can I read my family and myself through this shift in seasons?

For now, I’ll keep scribbling my lists and goals as I assess what makes the most sense for us, at this moment.

How do you set goals at the beginning of a new season? How do you tweak your plans along the way?

The Highs and Lows of Summer

At night when we eat dinner, we like to go around the table and share “highs and lows.” Something good that has happened in the day and something that wasn’t so great. Elle doesn’t quite understand the idea and hers often go something like, “My high was going to the zoo with mommy and Bea. And my low was seeing daddy when he got home!” Maybe it’s that her life is truly one big high. More likely it’s that she’s just too young to understand or remember the tough parts of the day. I love hearing about her lows-that-were-really-highs.

IMG_0485Summer is over and as I reflect on these past ten weeks out of our normal routine, I feel a bit like Elle. The highs and lows kind of meld together. A high was having unstructured and free days. A low was having unstructured and free days. Elle is reminding me of the both/and rather than either/or of life.

In that spirit, I thought I’d share a little summer update of highs, lows, things I learned, and little mundane moments.

Taking a Writing Break is Good for the Brain
I decided to take July off of blogging. I had a couple book reviews and things but mostly I kept this computer shut. I didn’t even send out my monthly newsletter! It was good to not stress about (self-imposed) deadlines and goals. But here we are, the second week of August, and I’m slowly stretching my writing muscles again. Routine helps. I know that as I sit down and practice, the words will come back. But it was hard to truly let go. To live in the moment. To not wish a bit for kids who were just a little more independent. It will come. Every year is so different. But it’s a tug, being productive and living in the moment.

(Have you signed up for my newsletter? It’s filled with book recommendations, an essay that’s a little more personal, poetry, and great reads. You can sign up here.)

Threenagers are the Best… And the Worst
Now that Elle is three, I’m remembering what a cool and awful season this is. We are catching glimpses of the future. Travel is easier, the girls’ friendship is blossoming, and Elle’s vocabulary and humor are so fun. Mixed with all these amazing moments are the frustrations of wanting to figure things out herself. I’m not much help, as I’m itching for a more independent season, as well. I’m remembering to slow down – for both of us – and take in these moments slowly, without wishing them away.

Screen Time is July’s Best Friend. But Unplugging is Pretty Awesome, too.
We started the summer strong. Playdates, zoo camp, activities, swimming, camping, limited screen time. And then the long hot days of July felt longer and hotter. And the amount of screen time got longer and longer. I don’t feel guilty about that at all. The girls got outside for unstructured play every day. They drew and read and squabbled and created. But I also was pretty relaxed about letting them watch an extra show (or three) more than usual.

IMG_0302When we drove up to Wyoming, we had a 10-hour drive ahead of us. Reception is sketchy at best in the Tetons and Yellowstone so we decided to go the screen-free route. It was mostly good. There were a few moments on the drive when I wondered what we were thinking but overall, the detox was great and the girls didn’t miss their shows. Lesson learned: All bets are off in the summer. Screen time is a savior but it’s also sweet to completely unplug.

Summer Celebrations are the Best
The last week of July is filled with celebrations for our family. Bea’s birthday is three days after our anniversary and Elle’s birthday is three days after that. It’s a chaotic and cake-filled week but I love having a reason to celebrate in the mist of those lazy summer days. The girls still love having a joint birthday party and I love inviting tons of friends for hot dogs, Costco sheet cake, and kids running wild in the backyard. What began as a stressful feeling of poor planning has turned into a week that I look forward to.

Community Abounds
This summer has been a lesson in the value and richness of diverse community. At my low points, I long for a “church home,” where our social circles are at and where we find all we need. Our reality is that we attend services at one church, have a fantastic parent community at another church, and are getting more and more plugged in with our school and neighborhood community. Sometimes this feels incredibly disjointed but a few different moments reminded me that this is an incredible gift. Our girls are growing up with a wide range of experiences, values, beliefs, and worldviews and I am so grateful for that.

There’s always a bittersweet feeling at the end of summer. I can’t believe that alarms are set and we’re back in the school routine. If I learned anything this summer, it’s that seasons pass quickly and as long and tough as some days can be, I know I’ll look back on these little years with fondness and gratefulness that I was able to be part of these daily moments.

What about you? What have you learned this summer?

Untitled designIn case you missed it, I’m raising money for women to join us on the Ruby Woo Pilgrimage. Read about it here and please consider donating – every bit helps!

The Importance of Reading Genesis

Last Friday, after we took Bea out for her celebratory last day of school lunch, I packed five books, two journals, two packs of pens, my computer, and my sneakers and drove up to the Abbey of St. Walberga close to the Wyoming border.

IMG_9055I was two hours into the drive when I realized I had forgotten my Bible. I had just gotten a new version and had been eagerly awaiting this weekend to start reading it. Somehow, it was left on the kitchen counter. Of all the retreats to forget a Bible on, this isn’t too terrible, as nearly every room in the Abbey has a copy.

After Vespers at dinner my first night, I was talking with a friend who also happened to be there for the weekend. (What are the chances?) My friend reminded me that the Desert Fathers likened nature to reading the Bible and said, Just go out and spend time in Genesis!

I had some loose goals and ideas for how I wanted to spend those 48 hours alone. I read a lot, attended the Offices, and napped. But I also remembered to “read Genesis.” My friend, who had lived at the Abbey for a few years as caretaker, took me to some of her favorite spots.

Looking at the trees growing out of rocks, listening to the streams and birds, and breathing in the wildflowers reminded me of what uncultivated earth is like. We talked about how being out in the wild landscape is like a glimpse of the New Earth, though such a pale shade of comparison.

I love the idea of catching glimpses of the Earth to come. Of getting out of my norms and seeing trees and grasses in new context. Even though we have wildflowers growing in our garden, actual wildflowers are so very different.

In the afternoon, I walked to the front of the property to hike the Stations of the Cross. The route winds up a hill and, at the top, a view of the Abbey, nestled in a valley of rock formations with the snow-covered Rocky Mountains in the distance stood below me. I saw the cultivated farmland of the Abbey but it seemed so small and orderly compared to the landscape surrounding it.

Looking down on this scene, I was reminded of my own orderly life. I work so hard to cultivate it and make it fruitful and I often see good results from the rhythms we have as a family. But I need to remember to get out of my order and go “read Genesis” in the wilderness.

I had been in a bit of a creative slump when I arrived and looked forward to resting. I brought my computer, just in case, but was hesitant to open it. Walking in nature, getting out of my routines, not talking for most of the day sparked that ember of creativity. I started seeing my adventures through the lens of storytelling and would come back to my room ready to write and connect what I had been seeing and learning.

Writers—and creatives in general—are often told to just “do the work” of creativity. That if you show up, the muse will meet you. I agree that the only way creativity happens is if I’m willing to show up and do the work.

But I’m also reminded that I need to rest. At this stage in parenting, rest is hard to find at our house. The girls are up and ready to go, regardless of the day of the week. We cook and eat and tidy and do bedtime every day without much variation. I needed to pause and physically get out of my routine.

I loved doing this at the Abbey where the balance of showing up to pray the Offices and go out for unstructured rambles could live hand-in-hand. (For me, not the nuns…) I wish there was a way to practically implement this idea into our daily routines.

Maybe there is. But if it doesn’t make sense, I’m also realizing that this is ok. Sometimes the only way to rest is to leave. The only way to “read Genesis” is to get out into new territory.

How do you break out of your norms? What ways do you “read Genesis” to experience the Bible in fresh ways? Does nature connect you with faith?

Twenty Years From Now

Life is all about the both-and, isn’t it? I both love staying home with the girls and I’m eagerly anticipating our next horizons. Living in this tension is hard work and I’m honored to be over at SheLoves Magazine today, sitting in those feelings. There are no answers, but I know I’ll look back on this phase without disappointment. Here’s an excerpt and I hope you’ll head over to SheLoves to join the conversation!

annie-rim-twenty-years-from-now-2Exploration was part of life—from literally getting on a train to visit a new location to engaging with friends from different backgrounds and world views. This became a habit I held onto: Seeking out new information and ideas, either through books or over a meal with a new friend.

Fast-forward nearly 15 years and that quote doesn’t fill me with the same excitement any more. It fills me with nostalgia and wistfulness. The last time I traveled internationally was in 2011, before we even started trying to start a family. We’ve gone on adventures since then, yes, but they aren’t what I was imagining in my untethered early-twenties.

These days, you’ll find me at home in the suburbs, establishing healthy routines for our daughters and grappling with ways I can make a difference in my community through cultural interactions with our immigrant neighbors and by dipping my toes in the world of activism. Most often, life doesn’t feel glamorous or adventurous. It feels so very typical. When asked what I do, I most often shrug and say, I just stay home with the girls.

This isn’t the whole truth, but I never know how much a stranger really wants to know about all the ways I’m piecing together meaning in my own backyard. I still read a variety of books that challenge my thinking, my outlook, and my faith. I still seek out conversations and friendships with people who have lived different experiences, whether by choice or circumstance.

My husband and I were talking about this phase of life and parenting. I told him it’s a both-and feeling for me. I both wish we could travel and live a carefree life and I recognize the importance of tending our roots. Read the rest over at SheLoves and join the conversation!

What do you look back on, twenty years later, with fondness? What are choices you’re making now that are tough but you know will be good in the future?

What I’ve Learned By Walking to School

Nearly every school day since mid-August we’ve had the same routine: Get up, eat breakfast around 7:00, head upstairs at 7:30 to get dressed and brush teeth, leave the house no later than 7:50 (but 7:45 is better) to walk and arrive at school by 7:55 as the kindergarten lines up to go inside. It’s a routine that works pretty well for us. If we eat earlier and the girls have time to play a bit before getting dressed, it can throw off our entire routine.

IMG_8633Really, anything can throw off our routine. It can quickly go from a well-run schedule to me nagging and asking sarcastically if Bea has ever seen a pair of pants before and if she knows how to put them on. (Model mothering right there…)

On the mornings that unravel, I’m tempted to buckle the girls in the car and drive. Even with the parking lot chaos, it would increase our chances of arriving on time. But more often than not, we still walk. It might mean we miss the second bell and Bea has to go in through the office. But it also means we have some breathing space between the rushed chaos and the start of school. It means we get some fresh air, a short walk, and time to hold hands and talk about the day.

I have to be intentional about putting aside my frustration on those walks. If I remained upset, they would do no good for a reset. I breathe, too, and remember that starting school excited and calm is much better than starting it with a grumpy attitude. So, I leave my last lecture at the door and as soon as we step onto the sidewalk, we talk about the blossoming trees, which specials Bea will have, and who she’d like to play with at recess. We talk about books and activities and notice our neighborhood.

By the time we reach school, even if we do have to go through the front doors rather than the kindergarten entrance, we are calmer, happier, and ready to give hugs and kisses. Elle and I wave to Bea, play on the slides for a few minutes and walk back home, ready to face the day.

This practice was especially important during those cold winter walks when our five minutes to school was a chance to see the sunlight and get outside. Now that it’s spring, it makes sense and this routine has taken on new life.

It’s reminded me that, even though it may make us late, building in space for pause and recalibration is so important. I know this is nothing new – that pause and rest and breathing all help me make better choices. They give space and perspective – both physical and mental. And yet this is something I forget over and over again.

I love May for many reasons but a big one is that it feels like a walk to school. After tax season and winter and going into head-down, hibernation mode, we’re coming up for air. We have a chance to recalibrate before summer when our schedule changes again. We are still in the school year routine but with all the hope and promise of dinners eaten outdoors and playtime extended after homework is finished.

This is the last week of Eastertide, this season of celebration. We are entering into Ordinary Time soon, which I love as much as any feast day. This year, I’m giving space between these seasons. I’m remembering to celebrate, yes. But I’m also remembering to look forward to a season of rest and recentering.

What ordinary habits have taught you extraordinary lessons? How do you pause and breathe during the changing seasons?

Building Foundations of Wonder

I’m honored to be over at Kindred Mom today, wrapping up their series on Cultivating Family Culture. Our hikes are still slow and filled with meandering and I don’t know if we’ve ever reached our destination. But both girls readily pick hiking on a weekend, so I call that a success. Here’s an excerpt and I hope you’ll head over to Kindred Mom to join the conversation!

IMG_8298My husband and I are both avid hikers. We met on a snowshoe hike; our first anniversary was spent hiking the West Highland Way, a 100-mile trail in Scotland; our pre-kid days were filled with rambles through the mountains of Colorado. So, when we found out we were pregnant, we dreamt about raising outdoorsy kids who loved hiking as we did.

Our first year as parents didn’t look all that different from our days before kids. We’d pop our daughter into the Ergo and then, as she grew, the hiking backpack and kept on trekking. It wasn’t until she became an independent toddler that our expectations of family hikes were put to the test.

It’s not that we thought our 2-year-old would be able to hike more than a mile or so, but we were hoping she’d be content to stay in the pack in between her own sprints along the trail. We didn’t reckon that our hikes would dwindle down to a quarter mile exploration. Our norm became an hour drive into the hills, a half hour or so walk, plenty of snack breaks, and an hour drive back home.

On one of these excursions, my husband’s best friend, Uncle Steve, came along and completely reframed my mentality of hiking with kids. As we drove to the trailhead, I found myself warning Steve that this hike would be short and slow. I apologized for the way kids stopped all the time and tried to create realistic expectations.

Steve responded by asking our daughter what wildlife she was hoping to see on our hike. A Mountain Lion!! was the enthusiastic response.

We piled out of the car and within a couple hundred yards of the trailhead, Steve bent down and exclaimed, Look! I found wildlife! Our daughter ran over and knelt beside him, inspecting the centipede that was inching its way along the trail. After that, every few feet, they would find more wildlife: an ant, a snake’s hole, a bird or a butterfly.

This hike changed my mentality of exploring nature with my girls. Now, we ask what wildlife they hope to see each time we head to a trail. Read the rest over at Kindred Mom and join the conversation!

Do you stop to watch the centipedes? How does noticing the small things change your perspective?

We Are Free to Love

My friend dropped her daughter off for a day of playing with Bea. Her daycare was on a holiday so I had agreed to host another 2-year-old for the day. After organizing snacks and lunches, my friend was about to leave when I blurted out, We just found out we’re miscarrying.

29595147_10160186172275453_3799920368185849580_nTiming is everything, isn’t it? We had just returned from a lovely weekend in Yellowstone, introducing Bea to one of our favorite places. On the way home, I knew something wasn’t right and, after inexplicably crying on the phone to my doctor, was seen right away for an early ultrasound. I learned a lot during that miscarriage, the biggest of which is that it is a process. It took weeks for my body to finally let the baby go.

Those weeks were held with a lot of waiting, a lot of Daniel Tiger episodes, and a lot of unknown. Those weeks also held so much hope and love from our community. My friend’s husband returned that afternoon to pick up their daughter, a bottle of Veuve Clicquot in hand. Another friend who had gone through her own miscarriage and the subsequent discovery of infertility brought over a meal and a listening ear. I learned that life isn’t meant to be lived alone.

I also learned that, even though we had a strong community who came alongside us, this is not the case for everyone. Miscarriage is still not shared, even though it’s a fairly common occurrence. I knew that I wanted to be open about our experience. In the following years, I’ve been able to come beside friends who experienced their own losses but we’ve had other friends who held it dear, not wanting to share.

Of course, we all process grief in our own unique ways and for some, that process is quieter. But that feeling of loneliness is one that breaks my heart. It’s for this reason, I’m so thankful for Adriel Booker’s memoir, Grace Like Scarlett. Adriel walks us through her own journey of three miscarriages between healthy pregnancies. She is honest and vulnerable in her feelings and hopelessness but also encouraging as she grounds her experiences in God and her community. She says,

“When we humble ourselves enough to let down our guard and be known for who we really are, grace is released. We are free to love and be loved.”

Even though this is a book specifically about miscarriage, its scope is much broader. It’s about grief and expectations; about community and faith. Booker reminds us that when we open ourselves up to others, we are seen. God meets us in those places.

Grace Like Scarlett is a book I wish I had had during the months following our miscarriage, as we became pregnant with a healthy baby, as I still processed the loss in the midst of joy and anticipation. It’s a book that is important in helping us open up to our friends and community. It gives hope and help on a journey that’s not often discussed.

How have you found help in your community after experiencing loss? What resources do you wish had been available?

Booker_GraceLikeScarlett_3D_webGrace Like Scarlett releases on May 1 but if you preorder now, you get tons of bonus gifts, like coloring pages, an audio series, and journaling prompts to help you process your own grief journey. Visit gracelikescarlett.com for all the details!

As a member of the Grace Like Scarlett launch team, I received an advanced copy for review. All opinions are my own.

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