Detoxing, Refocusing, and Entering Into Advent

I’m sitting in my living room right now, laptop perched halfway on one knee, halfway on the arm of our old and worn-out chair. The fire is on, snow is covering the branches of the trees outside though the sun has melted it from the sidewalks and streets. My girls are across the street watching a movie with their bestest friend.

Even though it’s cozy and wintery, our house is not yet decorated for Christmas, nor do I have a desire to start early. (No judgement if you’re in the three months of Christmas camp!) I love this week before Thanksgiving. I love easing into the season and being aware. We have our November ritual of thankful leaves each night at dinner, remembering the small and big things we’re grateful for, preparing us for a nightly Advent reading later in the season.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

WordPress recently reminded me that I started this blog about six years ago. Some years were certainly more prolific than others but it’s interesting to think about writing in this space, in this teensy corner of the internet for that long. I’m glad I took the leap and am especially glad for the friends I’ve made because of this space. Of course, I’d do some things differently but I wonder if there’s any experience I’d be completely satisfied with?

One of the hardest parts about the writing world is the idea that you have to keep getting bigger; that there has to be a larger goal that simply blogging. I am so very proud of my friends who have started blogs that have turned into articles that have turned into books. That is pretty impressive! But I find myself comparing their successes to my own goals and dreams. I tried to make things work that didn’t and spent too much time on things that took away from writing.

So, as we enter this Advent season, a time of joy and anticipation, I want to return to the joy of blogging for its own sake. I’m joining my friend, Leslie in a “digital detox” as a way of staying more present in this season. But I’m also joining her because I want to remember why I started writing. I want to blog about the everyday lessons I’m learning and the things I’m into right now. I don’t want to think too much about polish or reach.

I’ve had an idea for an Advent book for preschoolers brewing for a few years now but have been bogged down in the steps I “should” take instead of writing it for me and my family and sharing it with whoever may benefit from a simple guide to the season. Instead of making it into an ebook or trying to sell it, I thought I’d write it here.

So, for Advent, I’ll be quieter on social media. I’ll be using my phone only for communication with people I know. But I may be louder in this space. I want to enter this season thoughtfully, yes, but I also want to reconnect with the small community here. I’m looking forward to using this season to refocus and to spark my own creativity.

What about you? Have you ever done a digital detox? How are you looking to enter this season of Advent?

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/

The Habit of Learning Hope

One of Bea’s rituals is to run through the front yard, waving to Frank as he drives off to work. Barefoot and in her nightgown, she’ll yell before the neighborhood is awake, I love you! You can count on me!!

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Cultivating the habit of thankfulness

The other morning, Frank got up early to try to get in before any of us woke up. I was still in bed when I heard little feet race down the stairs and the front door open. Bea had raced out to the car as Frank was pulling out. Even though he had just taken over a week off of work, she clung to him saying, I miss you so much when you’re gone!

I would have thought that an entire week in Philadelphia plus a long weekend at home after that would have filled her daddy-time tank. It’s amazing how quickly we remember and revert to old habits.

During our last week of the Whole30 reintroduction, we meticulously meal planned to the final day. And then, our cupboards were bare and we ate horribly. It was as though we had learned nothing from a month and a half of healthy eating and meal planning.

Monday was the last day of the Write 31 Days challenge and it’s been nice not to have to write every day or to check in with social media. I’ve enjoyed this small break, and was mentally preparing to take at least a week off.

Here’s the thing with habits. They’re formed with good intention and easily broken so quickly. I realized that, while I simply can’t commit to posting every day, if I took too long of a break, I would easily be in a similar slump to what I felt at the beginning of the challenge.

I think that’s the hardest part of forming habits. For a month, it’s not bad and even fun to keep an intentional practice. But to make it a daily, long lasting change? That’s hard! I want to eat all the Halloween candy and enjoy wine with dinner. I want to write when the spirit moves, without sitting down and being disciplined. I want to watch TV that takes us past our 9:00 bedtime.

And sometimes, I totally break these habits. We’ll choose to watch a show or I’ll choose to sneak a pack of M&Ms out of Bea’s pumpkin. But I also have to choose to return to a healthier way of living. I know that I’m more energized and a better mom when I go to bed early. I know I feel better when I eat healthfully.

I guess that’s the biggest downside to making life-changing choices: It means changing my lifestyle to continue them.

Then I see the girls and how our modeling intentional habits reflects into their lives. Elle loves climbing in my lap with a pen to do her own “writing.” The other day, Bea said she didn’t think candy was “Whole30 Compliant.” Maybe they don’t see us going to bed early, but they see the effects of having brighter and happier parents in the morning.

For now, the high of a great achievement is wearing off and I’m faced with the mundane reminder that keeping habits is work. Not bad work, but work.

I’m reminded of what Brené Brown says in Gifts of Imperfection:

Hope is learned! … Children most often learn hope from their parents…. [They] need relationships that are characterized by boundaries, consistency, and support. I think it’s so empowering to know that I have the ability to teach my children how to hope (66).

In this climate of hopelessness, this paragraph hit home for me. The habits and boundaries that I set for my own life and well-being are modeled to my children. If I can’t set boundaries for myself, how can I set them for the girls? And without these parameters and the safety that comes with them, hope cannot be learned.

I can’t change the political climate or the injustices of this world as easily as I can instill hope in our own home.

So, here’s to a season of boundaries, of keeping habits, and of the underlying lessons of hope that come because of that.

How do you practice hopefulness? Any tips for keeping good habits going?

Connected Consumerism

Yesterday we talked about voting with your dollars and how we each have our own ways of connecting with our purchases and through our lifestyle choices.

Because not everyone sees the connections between our choices and a greater world impact, I thought I’d share a few of the things we do as a family. These are by no means the only way to do life or the most perfect list, but it may be a starting point if you’re looking for a way to make more intentional choices.

1) Thoughtful Donations
I was going through Elle’s drawers the other day and found so many baby blankets, mostly slightly used or new. With each girl, we received new blankets. I have my favorites but some just went unused. (Perhaps this is also due to having summer babies?) I was thinking, with winter coming, I should donate them sooner or later.

Usually, I drop off our donations at the goodwill – there’s one on the way to my parents, so it’s easy. Since this donation was so specific, I decided to do a little bit of research. I found an organization (WeeCycle) that inspects and sorts baby items and then donates them to the appropriate partners. This more specific way of donating seemed like a better option – one in which our things would go to families with the greatest need.

This took a little more time but I’m glad to connect the things we had to people who have a deeper need.

nrNyraiVLpgTZHBhSZMMWbC-09AL5HcRd82sfBEN35U2) Gifts from Fair Trade Organizations
With the holidays approaching, I often turn to Fair Trade organizations for my gifts, especially for people who have everything. My two favorites are Ten Thousand Villages and Mercy House Global. Ten Thousand Villages is great, especially if you live near a brick and mortar store. I love browsing their items and finding beautiful new surprises. Mercy House Global hosts subscription services like the Fair Trade Friday box and the Bracelet and Earring of the Month clubs. These are gifts that keep giving, not only to your recipient but to the women whose lives are impacted by Mercy House’s mission.

3) Farmer’s Market
This is certainly seasonal, but we are fortunate to have a farm stand down the road that’s open every day from the end of July through early October. The people who run the stand collect produce from local farms and then sell it. It’s an easy way to lessen the distance between our purchases and the producers. Yes, we can find “Colorado Proud” labels at our grocery store, but this feels a little more personal.

4) Microloans
We have been longtime supporters of Kiva micro loans, though now you can find quite a few organizations specializing in them. What I love best about supporting Kiva is that you are helping build a business. When your loans is repaid, you have the option of withdrawing the funds or relending. In the six or so years that we’ve been lending through Kiva, we’ve only had a couple of defaulted loans. I love reading the biography, giving to an area of the world with great need, and following the progress of our lender.

Where are some of your favorite places that support connections? How do you live intentionally connected to the world?

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This post is Day 20 of the Write 31 Day Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the StrengthsFinder test. You can find the entire series over at Live Your Strengths page.

Front Porch Living

The first time I heard the phrase “front porch living” was in grad school. I was getting a degree with an emphasis in urban education, so many of my courses looked at ways people in the inner city lived that would be different from a suburban point of view. (This was just as Denver was beginning to gentrify its urban neighborhoods, so I’m sure many of these cultural phenomena have changed in the recent years.)

A neighborhood with strong front porch living often doesn’t have an attached garage or they may have small backyards. Neighbors congregate out front – they see each other’s comings and goings and often stop to chat. Because much of life takes place out front, there are not may secrets (for good or bad) and there is much more opportunity to know the community.

I loved the idea of knowing my neighbors, of doing life together, and of living out front so we can interact in a more relaxed, natural way.

At our old house, we were located on a frontage road, so we had no across the street neighbors. And while our road was quiet, it was right next to a busy thoroughfare, which meant I couldn’t let Daisy or Bea roam out front without being with them. Our neighbors were all friendly, but we only knew a handful.

Hanging out front
Hanging out front

Now, we have a quaint, fenced-in front yard. At first, I wondered if the fence would be seen as a barrier to our neighbors but the opposite has proven true. I’ll open the front door while making dinner and Bea and Daisy will roam outside, saying (or barking) hello to all who pass. We have a glider out front, so I’ll often sit and watch them play. This has led to many conversations with our neighbors and even to an across-the-street five year old inviting himself into our playroom while I chatted with his dad. It’s been amazing! Already, we have chatted with most neighbors and we’re just entering lovely hangout outside weather.

I’m looking forward to this summer of building community in a way that involves spontaneity, casual conversations, and building relationships that lead to deeper connections. We’ve already talked about putting our vegetable garden out front instead of in the back, of building a Little Free Library, and of hosting a block party. Our fenced yard seems to be full of potential for bringing our neighbors together and we want to be an intentional part of creating this community.

Part of living generously, of living intentionally in our community, and of growing our hospitality is to create moments in which we can easily open our front door and let people in. I’d love to create relationships with our friends and neighbors where doorbells are unnecessary and our homes are always open. I have a good feeling about our neighborhood in particular and am thinking about ways in which I can further cultivate that level of ease and welcome with friends who may have to drive to our house. As I open myself to others, I hope they feel welcome and comfortable to sit on the porch – or come inside – and experience life together.

Where do you do most of your congregating – out front or in back? How do you meet your neighbors?