prelude to a winter bookshelf.

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We’re full in the throes of January, and, like many of you, this is a time of year when I have to fight a little harder to be happy.

Overnight it seems that the well-lit warmth of the Christmas season gives way to a succession of cold, gray days when the very walls of this brick house seem to close in on us, and active kids cooped up too many hours wear a whole family’s stir-crazy frustration on their faces.

This results in more bickering all around (Mom and Dad included), punctuated with exasperated cries of “What were you thinking!?” (my part) and sullen blank stares (my kids’ part). Just last week the four-year-old that I thought had learned a modicum of common sense slunk into the kitchen, found a clean white washcloth in the drawer, and proceed to color the entire thing with markers. Just because.

What we all really need is to go outside. And we try to, as often as possible, whether it’s a backyard Daily Burn workout, an icy-cold walk through the neighborhood to Burger King on last Saturday’s snow day, or the 4-mile hike in the Harbison State Forest yesterday.

The thing I love about South Carolina is the handful of unseasonably warm days that plopped themselves out of nowhere into our week. We’ve thrown open the windows and pulled on t’shirts and flip flops, and curl ourselves up in patches of sunlight on the back porch and yard like cats, and the kids jump on the trampoline ’til dinner.

For these few days, all is right in the world and they remind me: cold is just a season. It will end.

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Though the days are often gray and tempers prone to flare and my depression breathes heavy over my shoulder in the winter, there’s something a tiny bit joyous about living in this dark — if I stop complaining long enough to see it — because I get to anticipate the light that I know is coming, just around the corner.

And so I burrow into it. I find things to relish, like a steaming cup of coffee that warms cold hands, the cozy moccasin slippers I found at TJ Maxx, and early-dark evenings that make my little boys fall fast asleep by 7:30.

Of course, the other thing to love about winter is books. Lots and lots of them.

Next week, a little winter bookshelf list for you; today, a quick recap of last year:

I read 91 books in 2016.

Yes, it’s true. I even surprised myself with that number. It wasn’t any sort of goal, it just kind of happened.

If you’re curious, my hands-down-favorite fictional book of the year was A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles.

My favorite, and most-recommended, work of non-fiction was Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond. If you decide to read it, it helped me tremendously to start with the Afterword, where Desmond explains how he researched and wrote the book. It changed the whole feel of the book for me. I also needed to take a break to read light fiction right before falling asleep at night, because that book is very heavy. Important, but heavy.

My favorite reading memory of the year was experiencing the full Harry Potter series alongside my nine-year-old, as he read them for the first time. If you’re wondering whether I’m happy with my decision to let him go ahead and read the full series at this age, I am!

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And finally, even after my resolution to get back to the classics, I read just one measly classic, Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens. Though it’s a story most of us know, it’s one of my least favorite of his books. Too dark and sad.

And so I turn the corner into 2017 with a resolution to read a bit fewer books this year, and instead to read some more challenging books.

If I read one classic last year, surely I can read at least two this year, right?

I will start with Little Dorrit, by Dickens, which I began several years ago but never finished.

Aside from season 5 of Call the Midwife, a few episodes of This Is Us, and some harrowing documentaries David talked me into, I watched almost zero television last year. This of course made lots of time for reading, but I decided to begin 2017 with a change of pace, to find a couple of series to get me through these winter evenings.

Who resolves to read fewer books and watch more TV?

I’m strange, I know.

I re-watched the BBC miniseries, Bleak House (available on Netflix), which is both my favorite show and favorite Dickens novel. Contrary to my usual recommendation, you should watch the series first, then read the book. My mother-in-law told me to do this, and it kept the characters straight and made the novel that much more enjoyable for me. Now, do you think I ought to do the same with the Little Dorrit film?

Currently I’m happily immersed in a recently-discovered series, Lark Rise to Candleford (available on Amazon Prime). Has anyone else watched this? Very reminiscent of Elizabeth Gaskell in my opinion, especially Cranford. I’m just reaching the end of Season One, and it’s fun!

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My mom and I recently introduced Judah and Amelie to the movie Little Women (the Winona Ryder version), and they loved it Judah was initially very skeptical, but he said, “That was a great movie, Mom! I think I want to become a writer, like Jo.” Up next: Anne of Green Gables.

Okay, back to book goals.

I think I’ll read a bit more non-fiction this year, and thanks to some Christmas gifts and an Amazon gift card, I’m off to a good start. More about that coming on my winter bookshelf post.

I have a running To-Read list in my bullet journal, and I like putting it down on paper, because just by glancing at it I can try to keep some diversity in my reading habits. Too many newer novels in a row? Add something old, or something non-fiction.

I want to read Surprised by Joy, by C.S. Lewis.

I also plan to read the Wingfeather Saga series by Andrew Peterson, which Judah got for Christmas and is currently enjoying.

My friend Betsy recommended the memoir Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons, by Christie Purifoy, which is on my list.

So that means I need you guys to give me a classic and/or non-fiction recommendation (of course fiction is always appreciated too!). Any ideas?

I hope you’re enjoying some sunshine this Sunday! Hugs!



on creativity (or the lack thereof) and the bullet journal.

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Happy weekend, dear readers!

I’ve promised you a blog post about the bullet journal, but first, a confession:

I’m having a very hard time writing on the blog these days.

Oh, it’s not that I don’t enjoy writing, or that I don’t have any ideas. I do! I have two full page spreads in my bullet journal of ideas. It’s just that when it comes time to actually sit down and write, I stare at the screen and my head feels like mush. I do have the time — I can make the time. But where oh where is my creativity?

I look longingly at my DSLR camera and think how lucky I am to have it, and how much I love photography, but truthfully, I’m bored of taking photos of my kids and my house. But that’s who I’m with, that’s where I am. Every day.

Is it just me, or is it hard to create in this season of life?

I feel like it’s just me, because bloggers and writers I enjoy somehow churn out books and gorgeous photos in the midst of changing diapers and making dinner and homeschooling or attending PTA meetings.

They tell me in their introductions that they seized every sleep-deprived scrap of time they could find to write, late at night or at 5:00 am and in between loads of laundry.

Truly, I am baffled by this skill. I do not have it.

Do you know what I do when I’m sleep-deprived?

I sleep!

I love my children, but right now, I feel like I’ve actually lost brain cells at the end of every single day. I have just enough energy to help David tuck the kids in bed (bonus points if I don’t snap at anyone in the process), do my twenty minutes of stretching exercises, and then collapse onto the sofa with a book or a BBC drama.

I’m just plain tired.

I know what you’re thinking: Take a break, Julie! Stop over-analyzing everything! Your hands are full: this isn’t the season for writing and creating.

And I know that you’re exactly right. But can I just say that the truth of that fact is a bitter pill to swallow? I want to write. I ache to write. I love it and it’s an outlet and it makes me happy. I love this little blog. I love taking pictures and trying to get better at doing it. I feel so thankful that I get a tiny online space to actually practice creating, and that you respond!

The truth is, some days I feel plain resentful that my life is so full and exhausting that it leaves little margin for creating.

That is very wrong of me, and I’m asking God to change my heart. I am truly living my dream, in a charming little house full of children and a husband who loves me and stacks and stacks of books. I am not carting water in pails or plucking chickens for dinner or mending clothes by candlelight.

I have hours to sit and educate my kids and I have money to shop and cook healthy meals. I’m embarrassed to admit that I even have a house cleaner who faithfully comes each month and leaves us with a sparkling-clean house. I have evenings to read and no one is waking me in the middle of the night to nurse.

Why am I telling you all of this?

I guess to confess that in my deepest heart, I struggle with contentment. I have more to be thankful for than I could ever list here, and yet I’m selfish with my time and energy. I don’t want to give them away to my family, I want to hoard and collect enough moments to write without interruption — whenever inspiration strikes. I want to be a hermit.

It’s hard to make myself come back again and again to the blog when my brain hurts. It’s hard to accept “good enough” when I want “brilliant.” Does that make sense?

This post is not punctuated with pretty pictures because I’m too tired to take pictures.

This post is a little scattered because I’ve had a dozen interruptions while writing it, including a four-year-old who’s currently sitting on the arm of my chair, asking to “press buttons.”

So we’ve established that creativity isn’t exactly working for me these days. You know what is working?

My bullet journal!

Now that I finish this long rant I have to smile because when I first saw blogs and YouTube video describing the bullet journal, I thought:

Eew. No. Too sterile. What about space for rambling thoughts and quotes? What truly creative spirit could possibly consolidate their life into dry bulleted lists?

Ha.

Now I’m eating my words.

Journaling is not what I need right now. Who has time for journaling!?

Bulleted lists are exactly what I need right now!

I’m not going to describe for you how to bullet journal, because there are those who have done it wonderfully. There are two posts David and I followed to get started: this one from the official Bullet Journal website, and one from the Lazy Genius Collective. You can’t do better than to read their posts thoroughly as you begin.

So why do I love my bullet journal so, so, so much?

I’m so glad you asked! Ready? Here we go:

 

1. Everything is in one place.
And I mean everything. Monthly calendar. Meal plans. Grocery list. Blog ideas. Christmas gift lists. Homeschool ideas.

Before I had dozens of scraps of paper, floating in my purse, taped to the fridge, drifting from basket to basket in my house.

I constantly felt like I was forgetting things, searching for lists, trying to remember what today’s priorities are.

Now I keep my one notebook close by throughout my day and carry it in my purse so I can always access it, always keep my notes in one spot. I guess that leads me to clarify: I take my bullet journal out in public, so it includes anything I wouldn’t mind someone finding and reading. It’s not a diary. But it is a faithful record of my days.

The daily lists help me see exactly how much I get done every day (and it’s a lot!), they allow me to remember that date night to Barnes and Noble I had with Judah. They’re sort of an in-your-face, glass-half-full reminder. Yes, it was a crazy week and I never got around to writing that blog post, but David and I got to take a sushi class!

I’ll give you one example of how it’s dramatically helped me, and that’s with meal planning and grocery shopping. Look at the photo at the top of this post: when I start a new spread I always fold a middle sheet of paper in half. The front lists dinners for the week, an exercise log, and homeschool ideas specific to that week. On the back fold is my grocery list. It is always with me.

Before heading to the grocery store I simply rip out that little flap of paper and take it with me.

Do you know how the moment you come home from Publix with your arms overflowing with groceries your child reminds you that you’re out of peanut butter?

Well guess what, you now have a running grocery list, so you drop everything, grab your bullet journal, start your next Grocery List, and jot down “peanut butter.” Of course I’m still frustrated as heck with myself for forgetting, but I take it in stride because it’s right there written down, I’ll see it today and tomorrow and someday soon my child will have his peanut butter.

If I’m sitting at the kids’ swim practice and a parent says, “We had the most amazing chicken enchiladas for dinner last night,” I grab my bullet journal and jot down the idea for next week’s dinner plan. (Or that Spelling curriculum I’d like to research, or the book I wanted to request from the library.)

Does this make sense? I guess you could say since they’re always in front of me, my meal plans and grocery list are a constant work in progress, so if David texts to say he stopped at Whole Foods, do I need anything, I know exactly what to say. And on Grocery Day, rather than staring at Pinterest in despair, wondering what on earth to feed my family, I take just a couple minutes to complete my lists, and I’m off.

You don’t need to do this, but I have a Go-To Meals spread in my bullet journal that I can work from.

All of this reduces my stress considerably.

 

2. It’s impossible to mess it up.
Because the bullet journal is just a notebook I’ve created, there is nothing to mess up! If a page looks ugly, I just finish it up and turn to a new page and vow to use better handwriting. As much as I adore sparkling, gold-foiled Yearly Planners, I’d end up wasting gobs of space, year after year, because none was ever exactly what I needed.

But my bullet journal is exactly what I need. Some days I use it a ton, other days I don’t touch it. Some days Amelie and I sit and doodle cute pictures next to the date, some days it’s sparse. There’s no pressure to make it look a certain way (stop looking at Pinterest, now! Unless you love to doodle, and then have at it). No space is wasted.

In case you’re wondering, I keep almost everything in my Daily and Monthly lists and just add page numbers to the Index as I record important information. I’ve made a few extra lists, for Gardening tips and Book ideas, but I rarely refer to them. The Daily List is for me.

An example of the bullet journal’s flexibility I tried the Bullet Journal website method of planning out my month in a list for two months, and didn’t love it. I missed those squares. So in January, I made squares! And they’re just perfect.

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3. It helps me feel less scattered.
So here’s exactly what I do if I really have it together: I spend a few minutes before bed at night starting the next day in my bullet journal. I write the date and the weather, then what’s for dinner directly under it. I write appointments, migrate any tasks I’ve left undone.

But if I don’t have it together, I wake up in the morning, pour my coffee, and spend about 5 minutes writing out those things. It’s like emptying my head, in the most pleasant of ways.

Then I pull out my Bible and read, and I can focus much, much better. I’m not worried about forgetting my to-do list, because I’ve already started it. It’s right next to me.

I guess you can say that it feels like starting the day on the offensive, with a plan in place.

 

4. It’s pretty.
Finally, I just think it’s pretty. Despite the fact that I no longer need to buy a Planner, I like nice things, especially nice bookish things. I won’t lie, having a good-quality, clean notebook and pen for my bullet journal makes a difference.

I like the feel of it in my hands. I like the gray cover and the silky smooth pages. I like that those pages are numbered for me. I love my $3 pen that doesn’t smudge, ever. The last thing I bought is a tin of book darts to mark my most-used pages (for me that’s the Future Log and Monthly Calendar), and I think those are pretty too.

Do you need all of this to Bullet Journal? Absolutely not.

But David and I have found them a worthwhile investment in feeling organized.

I wish he’d write his own bullet journal blog post, but he never will.

Suffice it to say, he’s a convert too.

Neither of us will return to more conventional calendars or planners.

One day, I’ll really write again. For now: I’ll bullet journal!

There. Now don’t you want to try it!?

Happy Saturday!!!

 



noah is four!!

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Dear Noah,

On New Year’s Eve we celebrated your fourth birthday and discovered you have grown two whole inches since we adopted you.

When you came into our lives 20 months ago, you were simultaneously the most charming child we’d ever met, and you were angry and out of control. You constantly stopped strangers in delight just by your smile and your zest for life. But you also grabbed other kids’ toys and threw them in the trash out of spite. You hit your grandparents if they didn’t give you what you wanted. You knew very few words, but “no” was one of them.

You had a smile that lit up the whole room, but you wouldn’t look anyone in the eyes.

You and your brother Gabe hardly acknowledged one another’s existence.

Every.single.thing. was a battle. You were frustrated. We were frustrated.

You had the fiercest will of all our kids and tested every limit. Again and again and again.

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And yet. Your thick black eyelashes and ambling run, your gentleness with babies and animals, your exuberance over bugs and rocks and “snow-cones” (pine cones) melted our hearts. You could outlast your three older siblings on a hike (except when you didn’t want to hike. then you became a load of bricks). You made our whole family get outside and your enthusiasm for God’s great big world taught us how to live in wonder.

And then, little by little, you learned to obey. You began to stop hitting and stop grabbing (or grab less at least). You learned to come the first time we called, but you sure stomped those feet. You still argued with just about everything we said.

We kept at the discipline through your bad attitudes because we love you so much and we wanted to see the real you, the Noah that God created. We knew — through life’s many painful lessons — that living for yourself is a prison, and it’s only through obedience that you’re set free.

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Today you are four and I stare at you because you’re a different child.

The transformation has been in fits and starts, two steps forward and one back. Until lately. Nowadays it seems way more “starts” than “fits.” Not only do you obey, but more and more you obey the first time, with respect. The stomping and temper is giving way to wreaths of smiles and shrieks of laughter.

You still test the limits. You still have to learn to obey. But we also want to guard that fierce stubbornness that, when channeled properly, will get you far in life. You are so very loyal to the people you love. You’re compassionate and empathetic, patting your sister gently if she’s crying and saying, “I’m sorry, sweetie.”

Where at first there was indifference or just neediness, you now throw yourself at your Dad and me for hugs. You tell us you love us, words I at times honestly despaired of ever hearing from you.

You say “please” and “thank you.”

Where there was once sulking at family worship, your heart is now becoming tender toward Jesus. You say, “Mommy, Jesus gave me a clean heart.”

Last week we drove to the library and you said, “Where’s my Daddy? I want him to come too because I love him.”

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The best way I know to describe you today, at four years old, is this story from the little family birthday party we had for you and Papa on Saturday. You opened your gifts and we discovered that your grandparents and cousins accidentally gave you the exact same toy.

As you tore the wrapping paper off the second gift you said, “Oh wow! Here Gabe, this is for you!”

That’s just the kind of person you are.

We love you so much, Noah.

Love,

Mommy and Daddy

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what worked and what didn’t in 2016.

Hello my friends!

I hope your Christmas was great!

We had a wonderful holiday weekend, and then I woke up on Monday and wanted every single decoration taken down, stowed away in the attic, pine needles swept, and our house organized.

As you well know, I have a much lower threshold for clutter nowadays. All the kids have to purge some toys before Christmas or birthdays, but we did even more on Monday, and reorganized their rooms to accommodate new things without losing dozens of Lego pieces throughout the house (which David and I inevitably step on).

Now our home is back to normal and everyone’s at peace and getting excited about Noah’s birthday tomorrow!

Last year I wrote a post about what worked and what didn’t for me in 2015 (you can read it here). It was so fun and helpful to think back over my year in that way that I decided to do it again.

I like to end on a positive note, so I’ll start with:

What didn’t work in 2016:

1. Not taking our kids out on dates
For years we’ve had lofty goals of doing some sort of weekly date night with one of our kids, or letting them take turns staying up late to have time with the two of us, but we neglected to make it happen with any consistency this year.

That’s something we’ve begun to change in the last couple months, with sweet results. It’s easy to get in a rut of our weekly schedule and to-do list, to begin looking at our children as a herd. It means a lot to them when one of us grabs one of them and goes to Barnes and Noble or to the river with a Sonic milkshake, and we realize that it means a lot to us too.

Some weeks are just too busy for dates, so we’re trying to be intentional to take a kid or two to run errands and use the opportunity to give them our attention.

It’s a chance to show all of us that we see our kids as individuals and we’d like to continue getting to know them better.

 

2. My stomachaches
I have chronic problems with my stomach, and that’s still hard. I was diagnosed with IBS years ago, and finally had a doctor shoot straight with me this year and tell me I most likely did irreparable damage to my stomach taking antibiotics for 16 months in India.

I can obsess over finding answers, trying different elimination diets and natural healing methods. Certainly avoiding some foods or eating out too much helps, but then I’ll suddenly be sick after eating something perfectly healthy. Lately I’ve tried instead to find a place of acceptance. My body is broken and will be in some way or another until I go to be with Jesus. I’m careful what I eat and drink, I’m trying to find healthy ways to deal with stress, and sometimes my stomach still gets really sick.

It reminds me that some people live with chronic pain and illness way worse than mine, and I have much to be thankful for.

 

3. Crowds, groups, coffee dates
If you’ve been reading the blog this year, you know about my panic disorder, which has made social settings (even small groups and one-on-one) very difficult. I quit so many of my commitments, things that used to be fun and bring me joy, but suddenly became distressing and impossible.

Anxiety and depression are things that affect my life on a daily basis. I work hard to find ways to manage them both and discover which areas of life I can pour into while I’ve got limitations in others. But even with medication, counseling, and exercise, they are a constant background noise.

Just like stomachaches, I’m learning to accept that this is my reality.

Some days are really hard, and many are just fine. I’m finding ways to give thanks and fight for joy, and God truly helps me. He’s meeting me in this hard thing, teaching me slowly but surely through it to live one hour at a time, to turn to Him and ask for help all throughout my day. He’s teaching me that He’s just as worthy of worship whether I’m having a good mental health day or a bad one.

I pray more than anything that this suffering makes me a kinder, more compassionate person, rather than resentful and isolated.

I pray that God shows me day by day what He’s calling me to do, and that I let go of the rest and live in peace.

 

4. Having too many friends that are like me
Don’t get me wrong — I have wonderful friends and family, who have both loved me well and graciously given me space in a difficult year. But I really long for diversity in my friendships. I miss living overseas — where many other things came hard, but that one thing came easy. I miss having friends who look different and think differently from me, I miss the way they stretch and challenge my views on life.

I miss their stories.

Last month I made a friend from Afghanistan and she asked me to be her English conversation partner. All that really means is that I’ll stop by her apartment for tea once a week and we’ll sit and chat and use lots of hand motions and practice English. She’s expecting her fourth child and so maybe we’ll roll our eyes and laugh about motherhood, maybe she’ll teach me how to cook some Afghani food.

For whatever reason, when I’m with people from other countries I don’t feel anxious or nervous. I just feel like myself. It doesn’t necessarily solve the diversity issue, but perhaps it’s a place to start.

 

5. Cupcakes
You guys, I’ve made cupcakes for years and years, and for whatever reason this year they’ve been a disaster. They taste great but look terrible, spilling over the sides, sinking in the middle. When I finish this post, I’ll go try to redeem Noah’s birthday cupcakes with a generous mound of frosting.

Can anyone tell me what I’m doing wrong!!!???

 

And now, here’s what worked for me in 2016:

1. Exercise
Last year, my goal was to exercise for 30 minutes four times a week. I can’t say that I’ve fully reached that goal, but I’m closer than I was. On average I exercise three times a week, and I split that between running and doing a Daily Burn routine. David, Amelie, and I continue to do a stretching video at night.

I wish I could tell you I ran my first 10K this year, but I didn’t. I stopped training for it, and I currently stick to my two-mile neighborhood loop (but on hills!!!). I’m interested in running a 10K at some point, but right now I’m okay with what I’m doing.

Whenever people ask me how on earth I find time to read, I tell them, “You make time for what’s important to you. I love reading, so I find time to do it.”

I don’t love exercise, so it’s easy to say, “I’m too busy.” But this year I’ve learned to make it important to me.  And so I’m discovering that I really do have time to do it; even more than that, I start to feel really uptight and restless if I’ve gone a couple of days with out it.

 

2. Switching back to normal shampoo and conditioner.
If you’re newer to the blog you may be like, “What…!?” Well, a few years ago I went shampoo-free and began using baking soda/water to wash my hair and an apple cider vinegar solution for conditioning. I think that officially crossed the line into way too granola for David, but he indulged me.

I did it for three years and then all of a sudden, at some point this year, I thought, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” So I stopped! I picked up a bottle of normal, chemical-filled $3 shampoo from Target and have never looked back.

My hair smells so nice now.

I will say that when I wasn’t using shampoo I could go longer between washing my hair, and I miss that. I don’t like the way my hair already looks oily at the end of one day. But I still try to go two days between washing and use dry shampoo from time to time.

 

3. Getting highlights
Apparently since I began dumping chemicals on my head again, I felt like the next logical step was to go all the way and get highlights (it’s a slippery slope, you guys).

I highlighted my hair blond all throughout college and have always missed it. This year I looked at photos of myself, post-adoption, mid-anxiety disorder, and thought, “Oh dear. I look haggard.” And so the natural solution to any problem? Highlights!!

Do I need them? Nope. Are they a luxury? Yes.

But I love having them. They remind me of sunnier places, like Orlando and Barbados, and while I really don’t mind looking older, I enjoy looking just a little less exhausted. I love my friend Erin at Roxy Salon in the Vista, who’s been cutting my hair for years. She knows I won’t get my roots done but a couple times a year, so she makes them very natural. No one really notices in fact.

But I do! And they make me happy.

 

4. Simplifying dinners, printing recipes, and our Sunday food tradition
I still meal plan weekly and have been trying to take the guesswork out of it as much as possible by simplifying our schedule:

Monday – Soup or Pasta, Tuesday – Mexican, Wednesday – leftovers, Thursday – Indian, Friday – homemade pizza, Saturday – burgers with David’s parents.

We’ve also come up with a Sunday meal tradition and we do the same thing every single week. Breakfast is oatmeal with lots of toppings, then for lunch, David and I eat a salad topped with canned wild caught salmon mixed with lemon juice and mayo (the kids have sandwiches). Then if we’re home we have Breakfast for Dinner in the evening (usually bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches or homemade waffles).

I really enjoy having every single meal figured out for that one day.

My friend Alison was visiting last month and showing me some of her favorite recipes in a binder, and I thought, I need one of these! I found an old plain black three-ring binder in our house, filled it with page protectors, and now print out any favorite or go-to recipe. I really, really don’t like following recipes from the laptop or iPad, and this binder is becoming one of my new favorite things in the kitchen.

I went over to my mother-in-law’s house and told her about our brilliant revelation, and she proceeded to immediately pull out her own bursting-at-the-seams binder of recipes. It seems the idea isn’t so new after all.

 

5. Bullet journal!
David and I been devotedly using a bullet journal for two solid months now and we’ll never go back to a regular calendar or dayplanner. Never fear, this topic will get a post all its own next week!

 

6. Using Goodreads to track my reading
For the first time last year I actually wrote down every book I read in a Word document and wrote about it here. This year I decided to use Goodreads instead. It’s been a much better way to track my reading, and from time to time I’ve found a great book while browsing the website. I really enjoy seeing the book cover images as I scroll back through my reading list.

 

7. Waiting for our home addition
This time last year I said, “If our master bedroom addition is finished by next Christmas, I’ll be happy.” I thought I was being terribly generous with that timeline.

Well here I am a year later. Still waiting. Not even sure when the addition will begin, much less be completed.

Last year I wrote “One bathroom for a family of 6” in my “What’s not working” list, but you know what? Clearly it is working. It’s all a matter of perspective, no?

In 12 months we haven’t had one single bathroom accident (although we’ve come close), and I potty-trained my fourth and last child in about two square feet of space.

Having said that, full confession; I was taking a shower just yesterday when yet another kid came in the bathroom to poop and I just burst into (silent) tears. I know, I know, one day our children will all be teenagers and won’t want to be in the same room with us, much less poop in the same room, and we’ll look back on this season wistfully. I’m looking forward to that time.

Here’s to laughing a little more and crying a little less about our home inconveniences!

 

8. Counseling/therapy

It was difficult for me to make the choice to begin counseling this year, but I’m very glad I did. I plan to write a bit more about my anxiety in the new year, but in summary: taking medication, exercising, getting enough sleep all helps with symptoms. But going back to counseling helped me realize that there were some underlying issues that, unless addressed, would’ve landed me right back in the same situation again and again.

It’s hard work, and even after a few months I can’t say I look forward to going, but I’ve begun to find some noticeable healing in my illness, and so it’s been worth every minute.

 

9. Being married to a preacher

I end with this because it’s one of the very tangible gifts of going to counseling: honestly, when I began, I did  not want to be married to a preacher anymore. I told David, “I don’t want to do this, I want you to find a different job.” I was in a desperate place, and also I think, burned out.

My counselor helped me examine some of those feelings and begin to distinguish that the problem isn’t David’s job as a pastor, the problem is my driving need to perform and please people and protect my reputation.

She helped me realize that yes, there are unique challenges to ministry, but if those are my underlying motivations in life, I will be burned out and unhappy whether David’s a pastor or an engineer. That’s not our church’s responsibility; it’s my responsibility.

Now I can say, at the end of 2016, that I’m very happy once again with our calling. David loves his work, and his enthusiasm is contagious. This year he’s done a better job than ever of learning boundaries and guarding family time and help me be free to disconnect in some areas so I could heal and find things that bring me joy.

Our family loves our church. So, so much.

I overheard Amelie saying the other day, “We’re so lucky that our dad’s a pastor.”

Happy New Year, friends!

 

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homeschooling littles using charlotte mason.

Happy Monday, my friends!

Can you believe we made it to Christmas week!?

Today I want to answer another question from my recent homeschooling q and a series. I thought I’d separate it from the series, because I think there are some lovely quality-time ideas in here for any parent (or grandparent! or babysitter!) of littles, whether or not you homeschool.

Perhaps your child does part-time preschool and you’re looking for some ideas for the remaining days. Or maybe you’re thinking ahead to those long stretches of boiling hot summer days and what you’ll do with all that free time. Or you’re a nanny and would like to give your mornings a little more structure.

I’m inspired every single time I talk to my friend Annie about parenthood, so I asked her to tell us about how she discovered the Charlotte Mason model of homeschooling, which is a good bit different than the way I homeschool, and how that looks practically in her home with a five-year-old, three-year-old, and one-year-old. I enjoy learning from her!

Welcome, Annie!

So let me begin by saying that I feel honored and a little intimidated to be writing this post on the Charlotte Mason style of homeschooling. I am a new homeschool mom of my 5 and 3 year old daughters with a 19 month old son participating when he wants to.

I feel our homeschooling journey began blooming in my heart two years ago when my oldest daughter was just 3 years old. For some reason or another, I’d ordered a book by Clay and Sally Clarkson called Educating the Wholehearted Child. This book opened up a world of new thinking surrounding homeschooling that I didn’t know was possible.

So often I think that homeschool families try to literally bring a school classroom into their houses when I feel the beauty of educating at home is the freedom to be a family with a one-piece life … where your days and rhythms flow and change in the way you desire them to.In the Clarkson book, the Charlotte Mason way was delved into quite a bit…so being the “research lover” that I am, I got all the books I could about her and started reading.

I fell in love. To put it simply, the foundation of the method is built on Charlotte’s firm belief that each child is a person, and their education is an “atmosphere, a discipline, a life.”

So many things about this method tugged at my heart. Charlotte Mason used living books rather than textbooks so that the things being learned were stories that came alive in the child’s imagination, creating an excitement and passion in them, rather than just a list of facts to be memorized or recounted.

I have seen this spark so much love for learning in my small kids. They connect, get excited and remember all kinds of wonderful things when they are in the form of a story!

We begin each day with our morning time crate/basket which includes a hymn we are learning, Scripture memory, poetry, a devotional (currently using Sally Lloyd-Jones Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing), a reading of a portion of Scripture and a read-a-loud (currently Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods).

Then we go on with our morning with our other “subjects” including history, math, reading, and science.

I feel the heartbeat of the Charlotte Mason way is in narration. This takes the place of traditional tests and worksheets … which I love. I use this in a small way (she doesn’t recommend children so small to do full narration) by asking my girls to retell whatever I have just read. So simple yet so profoundly impactful in their comprehension.

When they are older, a mix of written and oral narration will be included in our days. I also use something I call Writing Projects and this can be used for any subject. It ties in art, handwriting, narration and comprehension all into a neat little package. We read/learn something and I ask the girls to boil it down to one sentence (for Zoe, 5) and a couple of words (for Violet, 3). I write the words perfectly for them and they copy them and then illustrate what they have written using different types of art media.  Their favorites are oil pastels.

Another part of our days is handwriting. Charlotte taught this by using passages from books. I am using a resource from Simply Charlotte Mason for each of my girls. This is one of their favorite things to do each day, which I did not expect!

Our science time happens in the form of what Charlotte Mason called “nature study.”  We get outside and interact with creation and then learn about what the kids observe. We have nature journals and handbooks to look up what we have seen.

It’s a beautiful thing!!

When it is cold and rainy (or really just added onto any day because my girls love science) we read books about animals or flowers or space or the body and they learn so much!  Zoe loves encyclopedias and maps…so we embrace that and just read them!

Something that my girls look forward to each week is our artist and composer studies.  We look at a different one every 5 or 6 weeks and just discover their art or music together.  They are being exposed to beauty that will make a difference in how they view the world.

It is a common saying in the Charlotte Mason community that Charlotte wanted to spread a feast of ideas from vast array of sources.  We dabble in History and Shakespeare and poetry, daily habits and math, hymn study and Bible reading, reading lessons and reading aloud.

One reason I love Charlotte Mason’s teaching is her ability to take all of the disjointed subject of “school” and weave them into actual life. No more asking the question “When will I ever use this?” or “Why are we learning this?” It will make sense because it is a natural part of our days…it is in the flow of our life and in the fabric of our hearts.

We are learning because we love to do it, not because we have to.

I feel like I could write on forever about all of this and I know I have left out so much … but that is a very basic overview of how I use the Charlotte Mason Method in my days with young kids.

What has impacted me more than anything is the time spent cuddled up reading or enjoying beautiful art or poetry or music with my little ones. It is a beautiful, slow, steady life. One where they know the rhythms of our days and they can rest in that.

A lot of people ask what I do with my son while we are doing school … and the answer is … let him join!!! One of the best parts of homeschooling is letting my kids do life together! It is a little loud and messy at times, but it is good. Usually Jude is asleep for our morning time but is awake for the reading and other subjects … but he has just learned to listen or play or color and just do life right alongside us.

One of the things I want my kids to know is that learning is a life, not a worksheet or test with a perfect score on it.

As my husband and I talked about homeschooling, something that we agreed on was that we didn’t want our children to be known only as “smart” or “studious” or as a “straight A student”…we wanted them to be known as kind and loving and humble…always ready to help and care for others.

We are raising children who will one day be adults and we want them to have rhythms and routines formed that set them up for success, not of an “American Dream” kind…but success of heart and humility before their Creator.

That is our goal, and in my opinion for my family, the Charlotte Mason Method has been such an invaluable resource.

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with the hurting and with aleppo.

Hello dear friends,

It’s a gray, cold December afternoon here in Columbia. After a brisk walk to their grandparents’ for a fire pit and some back yard Advent projects, the kids and I have holed up at home, with new Christmas pj’s and soup and A Charlie Brown Christmas.

I’m going to be honest: I almost never, ever read the news. I’m not on Facebook or Twitter, and not often on Instagram, so the way I find out about current events is typically from my husband or from blogs.

It’s not that I don’t care what’s going on in our country or in the world. But when it comes to current events, sometimes news and social media feel to me like a massive number of voices bombarding me, like the pulsing roar of a football game. It’s hard to strain my ears and discern what anyone’s actually saying in the midst of the deafening noise. It’s hard to know what’s really true and whom to believe, and what exactly, at the end of the day, I’m supposed to do about it.

But for whatever reason, recently I’ve heard two clear calls in my life that stand out from the noise. I’ve decided to lift my head and listen hard.

One is the book David put in my hands a couple of months ago, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond.

Another comes in the form of some of the bloggers I respect, who tell me this week that there is a crisis of epic proportions in Aleppo, Syria. There is terror and bombing and starvation. I won’t attempt to summarize this situation for you because Ann and Shannan are two people who have done it well.

I’ve been known to avoid educating myself about things that feel too painful, but with Evicted and with learning about the war in Syria, I decided not to toss aside the book for lighter reading or to quickly skip ahead to the next blog post. Instead, I wiped away tears and pressed on to the next chapter, clicked the next link and then the next that told me about the deprivation and horrors people are experiencing this December.

And here I’m sitting here in my favorite gold reading chair on a Friday afternoon, and I’m wondering what difference this knowledge makes in my life, other than to make me feel a bit guilty and very sad. While I know warmth and safety and a fully belly this Christmas, many know cold and fear and hunger.

How can I possibly have been born to such privilege? Why am I here right now and not there? What could I possibly do to help provide housing for America’s poor or peace for refugees of war-torn nations?

Honestly, I don’t know the answer yet.

It’s a question I’d like to explore in the coming weeks, but for now, trite as it may sound, it starts with a little paper ornament hung on our Christmas tree. It starts with standing there in the early-morning darkness of our living room, next to the sparkling white lights, looking at that heart-breaking photo and praying for people I don’t know — people across the world in Syria and people right here in my own country.

And there are others too — not just those in physical danger, but those for whom the holidays are a painful time of year. The friends who have lost loved ones. The friends who are sick in body or sick in spirit. The friends who want to be married and aren’t. The friends whose marriage is in tatters. The friends who are looking at a negative pregnancy test, again.

I won’t fool myself into thinking that hanging a print-out ornament changes anything or makes me a better person, I know it’s not even close to enough. But I guess it’s a very small way to say, “I won’t turn a blind eye. I will think of you. I will remember that I have much to be thankful for, and also that it’s not all about me and my family memories. I’ll remember that many people are sad right now.”

Don’t get me wrong, I will be very happy in the days to come. I will continue to delight in many aspects of our month, which I’ve already deemed my favorite December yet. I’ll enjoy wrapping gifts and making a third batch of fudge and listening to Christmas music from dawn ’til dusk. I’m so thankful that, as Shannan reminds us, “Gratitude and sorrow aren’t, as I once believed, mutually exclusive. They actually pair quite well together, one in each hand.”

The very heart of the Christmas story is both sorrow at the brokenness of our hearts and our world, and surging joy, at the victory of Christ.

I guess I’m just saying, in this very roundabout way, that I want to have eyes to see what’s real this Christmas and not what’s on Pinterest. I want to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. More than chasing after happiness, which is in the end very fleeting, I want to chase hard after Jesus, who is the hope for our weary world.

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swim team and adversity.

Our big kids had their second swim meet this weekend.

It went really well, both of them improved on their times from their first meet, and Judah swam two new events.

But this competition experience is challenging me in a new way as a parent. All four kids for the most part enjoy their swim practices. They like their friends and their coaches and have gained confidence in learning new skills.

But truthfully, the meets have been hard for Judah and Amelie. They are really, really intense experiences: noisy and crowded and competitive. David and I aren’t allowed to be on the pool deck with them, so we drop them off at the door into a sea of coaches and children, armed with bags of towels, swim caps, goggles and snacks, and they spend the day with their coaches and team. They have some help, but still need to remember where to line up and what heat they’re swimming in, what the whistles mean, when to start and when to end the race. They’re surrounded by kids who are way, way better than them.

We’ve had lots of tears, lots of requests to not do swim meets anymore, even requests at times to quit swimming altogether.

It hurts me so badly to see them scared and pushed beyond what they think they can do. In short, I want to let them quit. I want to wrap my arms tight around them and protect them from the hard things in life: from making mistakes and being embarrassed in front of their friends, from coaches who yell at them and from being told they aren’t doing it right.

But I know (largely from my husband, who’s much wiser than I) that it’s not the best thing for my kids.

I think that a real weakness of homeschooling is the ease with which we can shelter our children from adversity.

I see that desire in my own heart. I want to tell the kids that if they want to quit swimming, if it’s too overwhelming and scary, they can. When they face a bully or a clique in our homeschool community, I want to intervene or to pull them out, to search for another group where they’re treated better.

That’s a strength for those of you with kids in school. There are typically more built-in opportunities for adversity, less opportunity for you to just remove your child from classes and teachers and experiences that are hard, more teaching moments as you help them navigate difficult situations, more chances to learn to get along with people who are different.

Although I’m not saying it’s any easier for you to go through it than it is for me. None of us parents want our kids to suffer. All of us have this innate desire to rescue them from the hard things.

Lately, dipping my toe into the waters of parenting older children is testing my faith in a new way. It feels downright excruciating for the momma-bear in me to see adversity as a healthy and important part of growing up, and to even embrace it as an act of God’s love for them.

I’ve come to willingly affirm the way God has used suffering in my own life, to humble and change me and make His care for me more personal and dear. I’ve even reached the point of being able to thank Him for suffering.

But somehow when it comes to my kids, I feel the opposite. I fiercely want to protect them from any kind of trial. I want to straighten their paths and raise their valleys. I want to step in and micromanage circumstances and keep them from pain.

But we all know that does not prepare them for real life.

In real life, we suffer. We are lonely and misunderstood and sometimes we get made fun of. We fail and we get embarrassed and have to do things that are really hard. Sometimes we get sick or anxious or depressed. In real life we also sin against other people and have to face the consequences. We have to learn to see and admit our sin — our own bullying or cliques or unkindness — and repent and ask forgiveness from others. Our pride gets hurt as we realize we’re not quite as awesome as we once thought.

And so, David and I are asking God to give us wisdom to know how and when to put our kids in the path of scary new situations and possible adversity.

Does that sound crazy to you? We’re no masochists — of course if a struggle goes on too long or is affecting our child negatively over a long period of time, we’ll reevaluate and seek a different solution.

But thus far, we’ve seen good fruit from allowing our kids to face hard things. We’ve seen them grow a little more humble. We’ve seen them trust Jesus in new ways — to pray to Him themselves instead of just waiting for Mom and Dad to pray.

We’ve seen them learn to forgive. We’ve seen them grow thicker skin and learn some resiliency, to learn that they aren’t victims, that they’re stronger than they thought they were. We’ve seen them become just a little bit more compassionate towards other people.

If you’re a parent of kids older than mine, I’m sure you’re thinking right now, Oh this is just the beginning, Julie. I know you’re right. And while I’m tempted to fear the unknowns in my kids’ future, I trust that God will give us grace for the hard things yet to come, just as He’s helping us day by day right now.

I trust that He’ll give David and me the courage and wisdom to know when to push our children and when to gather them close and protect them. I know we’ll make mistakes — we’ll push when we should protect and vice versa.

Though it breaks my heart, I’m not naive to the fact that some of my children’s suffering will be caused by the two of us, who love them more than life itself, but who are broken and sinful. I beg God to somehow use even that in their life for good.

I’m so glad, with all our fumbling and failure and learning, that nothing is ever wasted with Him.

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