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/

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?

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!

Five Things I Learned in July

It’s August, which means school starts in just a couple weeks and our routine will start again. I’m thankful for this month off – we had a busy July and it was such a relief to know that I could focus on the present, to not worry about self-imposed deadlines. But, for the necessity of rest and rejuvenation, I’m also glad to be back!

I thought I’d start back with a few things I learned during July:

1) Finding God on Vacation
IMG_5400Frank and I went to Hawaii for five days, just the two of us. My cousin was getting married and we planned this trip back in February. Between the beginning of the year and our departure, a lot of unexpected changes happened. Suddenly, we wondered if going on this trip at this time was the wisest choice. But, it was already paid for and planned. As the dust settled around some big decisions, we realized that it was actually perfect timing. The smallest of details worked out – Frank had a week off before our trip so when we left, he had already started to unwind a bit to the timing Vacation Bible School at Bea’s preschool being the same week. We biked and swam and had coffee in bed. We were able to have actual conversations and process the past six months.

I had read a blog post right before leaving about not only finding God on vacation – that we needed to be able to find God in our daily lives in our ugly towns, as well. While I totally agree with that, it was nice to be reminded that God is in the details of a tropical vacation, as well.

2) Practice Really Does Make Perfect
Even though this break was necessary, I didn’t write on my own as much as I thought I would. We were busy with zoo camp and playdates and swimming and vacation. As much as I thought I would take the time I usually spend blogging to write for myself, without the accountability of hitting publish, it just didn’t happen. While I thought I’d have loads of ideas and posts ready to go for August, I found my brain going into summer laziness. I have a feeling it’ll take a few weeks to get back into the rhythm. And that’s ok. It’s still so necessary to take time off but I was surprised that I needed something more than self-motivation.

3) Recognizing That Books Fit a Specific Season
I’ve been trying to read War and Peace for over a year now. While we were packing for Hawaii, my thought was to only bring that one book so I would be forced to read it. But then, Unfamiliar Fishes arrived at the library and my online book club was reading The Thorn Birds. I brought those as backups. I read Unfamiliar Fishes on the plane ride over, justifying that since it’s about the history of the impact of missionaries on Hawaii, I had to read it before landing. And then I only brought my e-version of War and Peace and didn’t want to bring that to the beach. So, there it sat. I was kind of disappointed that I only added about 100 pages to my dent. A friend reminded me that Tolstoy isn’t going anywhere and that this simply may not be the best season for this particular tome. I deleted it from my Goodreads “currently reading” shelf so that my failure wasn’t taunting me and I’ve felt a bit lighter since. I know there’s some sort of life metaphor in there, but for now, my new goal is to read it before I’m 75.

4) Removing Social Media in Order to Connect with Social Media
I-joined-the-tribePart of not blogging was also taking an intentional rest from social media. I deleted the apps on my phone and only checked in during nap time. By quieting the noise, I was able to focus on a few Facebook groups that I had wanted to participate in. One is The Dangerous Women Tribe, hosted by SheLoves Magazine. These fierce women are changing the world and the daily conversations and interactions are truly inspiring.

I’m also on three book launch teams and it was nice being able to participate more in the discussions. I’m almost done with two of the books and highly recommend them! Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World by Kelley Nikondeha is available now and is an important look at the theology of adoption and how God uses the story of adoption to restore our relationships.

I’m almost done with Reading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything by Anne Bogel, which releases on September 16 (but you can preorder now and get some fun goodies!) Anne breaks down popular personality frameworks into useable, helpful information. The chapter on Highly Sensitive People was such a necessary and enlightening read for me! If you’re into personality frameworks at all, this is the book for you!

Up next: Shalom Sistas by Osheta Moore and Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker – stay tuned for reviews and giveaways!

5) The Power of Routines in the Midst of Summer
I intentionally started our summer without many plans. I wanted us to rest, relax, have pajama days, and just enjoy the slowness of this season. Around the last week of June, Bea and I started really getting on each other’s nerves. No amount playdates or lazy days were helping. And then zoo camp started and she was engaged with a teacher every morning. She learned about habitats, pet animals, made new friends, and created her own habitat. And our relationship was restored! I still don’t believe in over scheduling summer, at least for our family in this stage, but it was a reminder that kids love structure and a kid like Bea loves outside stimulation. I think next summer, we’ll do zoo camp again and I’ll keep an eye on our rec center catalogue as well.

The summer is certainly flying by – Bea starts kindergarten in just a couple weeks and then I know I’ll be looking back at these unstructured days nostalgically. But I also know that she is so ready for the challenge and excitement of elementary school and I’m looking forward to seeing what this new season holds for us.

What are some things you’ve learned over the summer? What’s your favorite summer – lazy days, loose rhythms, or scheduled routines?

Enjoying the Noisiness of Summer

Different seasons have different volumes, don’t they? Winter is quiet, hibernating. We are in a set routine and getting out of the house feels more necessary in some ways. october 25, 2018party starts at 7pmSummer is loud, active. Even on days we don’t get in the car, we’re outside biking and climbing and getting wet.

In those quiet winter months, I appreciate the connection of places like Instagram, Facebook, and routine blogging. We’re already in a rhythm with school and regular activities and these fit naturally into place.

In summer, these same good things feel like more noise. Space feels harder to carve out and I don’t have the same amount of time or energy to devote to thoughtful planning and writing. I don’t think that’s a bad thing – summer is about making memories, no matter how small and I want to focus on those moments.

So, I’m intentionally taking the month of July “off” from blogging and regular social media check-ins. We’ll play and maybe I’ll post something randomly on Instagram but, really, I just want to stay focused and present without any feeling of deadlines.

I have a couple book reviews and a discussion post over at SheLoves for the Red Couch club. (We’re reading Threading My Prayer Rug by Sabeeha Rehman – join us? We have discussions going over at our Facebook group.)

I also want to take time to plan out my goals and vision for this space. How can I make it better? How can I (re)find my voice? Otherwise, things will be quiet around here and I focus on the noisiness of of our actual lives.

I hope your summer is filled with all the good noises, too! What are ways you focus on your actual life?

Summers Are for Saying Yes

I had the honor of sharing these summer adventure ideas over at the MOPS blog this week.

During the school year, we are a schedule-driven family. Preschool three days a week; MOPS one morning a week; one day free for play dates or pajama days, whichever we need most. Most of the time we need to be out the door by 9:00 a.m. and home no later than noon to start to wind down for naps and quiet rest.

summers-are-for-saying-yes-1002x539I love the idea of being a “yes mom.” Someone who recognizes the beauty of the present moment. Someone who isn’t so tied to a schedule that those precious detours are savored. But, my firstborn, Type A personality just doesn’t make that a natural habit.

Summertime is different. For the entire month of June, we have nothing planned. Just a few penciled-in activities, a few loose play dates. Nothing is set in stone; nothing must be done.

I decided that this would be the perfect time to practice being a “yes mom.” Bike riding and Popsicles after breakfast? “Yes!” Backyard camping midweek? “Yes!” Pajamas and forts and movies? “Yes!” There are so many possibilities and I want my kids to feel like they have a say in what we do during these days.

Of course, at nearly 5 and 2 years old, my kids need some sort of routine. Without a loose rhythm to our days, freedom quickly turns to chaos and magical moments turn into hot tempers. We’re still not in a place to spend all day at an activity. My toddler still naps for a few hours and my preschooler needs quiet time, even if she doesn’t think she does.

Here are some morning activities that are totally outside our normal routines, off the track from our usual memberships, but still easily done before lunchtime.

Take public transportation to an ice cream shop.
My girls are still in the stage when all big trucks and public transportation can stop an activity. Buses and trains are just so cool! Denver has a great light rail system and a newly renovated downtown central station with coffee shops and an ice cream parlor. A favorite summertime activity is to drive to a station that isn’t too far from downtown and catch the train to Union Station. We walk from the light rail into the beautiful station, arriving just in time for the ice cream shop to open. What tops a train ride? Ice cream before lunch!

We eat our cones, maybe play in the water fountains, and then head back to the train. Because kids ride free, this can all be done for the cost of one adult ticket and ice cream cones. Not a bad way to have a fun morning adventure.

Find a trail for a wandering day.
After reading, Best Friends for Frances, a story about Frances the badger by Russel and Lillian Hoban, my preschooler longed to go on a “wandering day.” A day without grownups, where she could wander all by herself. Even though we live in a fairly safe neighborhood, the idea of letting my 4-year-old just head out the front door on her own is way outside my own level of comfort.

One of the best parts of our neighborhood is the state park that’s just 10 minutes away, right in the middle of the city. With miles and miles of trails, we can easily find a wandering spot. We’ll pack plenty of snacks and my daughter can run ahead without fear, while our toddler and I follow at a slower pace. We’ve found a few trails that are less than two miles, which is the perfect distance for this phase of life. I can carry our youngest and know that our oldest is able to complete the loop without help. Finding an outdoor park to let my kids roam free is a way I can instill a love of the outdoors without waiting for the weekend.

Host a front yard Popsicle party.
Our neighborhood is filled with kids and grandkids on their bikes. One of my summer staples is buying a huge box of cheap Popsicles. Even though I find this a stretch to count as an “adventure,” my girls live for Popsicle parties with their friends. Whether it’s first thing in the morning or after nap time at the heat of the day, the kids come out and gather for bike riding, Frisbees, scooters and skinned knees. The moment an injury occurs, the popsicles come out and everyone is magically healed. Originally, I tried buying the fancy organic fruit-only pops but I soon realized that the kids just want iced sugar. And since it’s summertime, why not?

I’m learning that, to be a “yes mom,” I need to keep my expectations attainable. I can do bigger things like the light rail but I can also easily keep popsicles on hand for the next three months. I’m learning that, to create a sense of adventure, it’s all about attitude and looking for those small opportunities to take us out of our normal routines.

What are some ways you’re saying yes to everyday summer adventures?

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: http://blog.mops.org/summers-are-for-saying-yes/.

What Are You Reading This Summer?

Even though we still have a month until the summer equinox, we are in summertime mode around here. School is out, the pool is open, Memorial Day barbecues have IMG_4503happened. I have a stack of library books I’m working through (and have put all my holds on suspension until I get through these!) I was reviewing my recently read books and noticed I had a streak of three 5-star books in a row!

I thought I’d commemorate that with a post about my favorite 5-star books of 2017 (so far). Maybe they’ll inspire your summer reading list.

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
This novel about the first expedition to Alaska’s interior captured my imagination. Ivey uses a variety of styles, between letters, emails, journals, and museum documentation. She creates a world around Alan and Sophie’s separation in the late-1800’s and then jumps to the present. Sometimes this format can feel cumbersome or forced, but Ivey seamlessly weaves the plot lines together, creating a rich idea of what could have happened on those early expeditions.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
This stunning debut novel and winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award deserves all of the accolades! The story follows two sisters and seven generations. One one branch, we follow Effia who marries an Englishman and stays in Ghana. The other branch follows Esi, who is captured and sold into slavery in America. Each chapter is the next generation’s tale. The writing is captivating and this is a powerful book about the deep roots of racism. It’s an important read and can bring to light systemic issues in ways that can only be done in powerful fiction.

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman
I love short stories and I love Neil Gaiman’s writing, so I had a feeling this would be a winner. If you like magical realism or slightly disturbing fiction, this is a fantastic collection. There are some familiar characters – one story is a tale of Sherlock & Mycroft Holmes; one is a Doctor Who episode; one follows Shadow from American Gods. Others where previously published and a couple are written for this collection. They all caught my imagination and drew me in to fantastic landscapes, which I love.

Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein 
This is the only nonfiction book to make my list (which is unusual for me!) and one that I am recommending to EVERYONE. If you’re a parent of girls, this is a definite must-read. But if you’re a teacher or a youth leader or you want to raise responsible boys, this is an important book. Orenstein’s dissemination of research is relatable and well gathered. This book has made me completely rethink how we’ll have these conversations with our girls and has reset my expectations for what life as a teenager looks like. It’s a lot to take in and I’m glad I read this before we enter this stage.

Currently Reading: On my nightstand right now are The Turquoise TableA Man Called Ove, Jayber Crow, and The Novel of the Century. I’m liking them all so far – maybe my streak will exceed three in a row?

What are some five-star books that you’ve read recently? What are your summer reads?