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

fullsizeoutput_1fe9

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.

fullsizeoutput_1fec

 

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!!!

 



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.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save



the post i was going to write.

IMG_8845

I had a great post planned for today.

A couple of friends asked me to write on navigating life with young children as an introvert, and I’m only too happy to oblige.

I’ve been thinking on it for a couple of weeks now, anxious to share all these things I’ve been learning. I have some new systems in place. A tighter, more effective daily schedule! Fewer commitments! Less time on social media! But the more I tried to get my thoughts out of my head and wrestle this blog post into submission, the more I seemed to notice my real life, hitting me over the head like a 2×4. In short, the more miserable I became.

So today I’m going to write about something different: my sin.

You know, I have this growing resentment in my heart as I struggle to reconcile the Julie in my head with the Julie in real life. But I’m doing everything right! I’m making better choices. I do have a better daily schedule so that I get one-on-one time with each kid. I read a book during afternoon rest time instead of browsing Pinterest and Instagram. I get weekly time out by myself. I hardly ever even watch TV!

And yet. I’m so tired. And miserable. I work and work and work, and still, deep down have this gnawing, ever-present knowledge that I’m not a good mom.

It is hard parenting four small children as an introvert. You know what? It’s hard parenting small children period, whether you have one or six, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. The mundane-ness of life, day after day, with the laundry and making dinner and sibling quarrels is enough to make me crazy.

I’m making some good choices, but I’m still failing. Every single day I beg God, “Make me a better mom. A better wife. Make me less selfish. Please, I beg You.”

And yet, here I am.

I snap at my kids every.single.day. Multiple times a day. I correct them for stupid, meaningless things, like chewing food with their mouth open and spilling water and wiggling too much at the dinner table.

I’m so negative. I have a real problem controlling my tongue. I criticize David and the kids way too much. I have impossible expectations of Gabe and Noah, who are very little boys who make a lot of messes and noise and are doing their best to learn to obey.

I want my house to be unrealistically clean.

I want “please” and “thank you” every time I do something for someone. I want gratitude, darnit.

I want my kids to dress nice and have good manners so that I look like a good mom.

Also, I want to be left alone. I want space to sit and breathe and read a book without little hands pushing and pulling and stroking my hair and endless questions. Oh, the questions.

I want my husband to come home from an exhausting day at work and I want to dump the kids on him and say, “I’m done. Here. You do something with them.”

I see my kids faces when they look at me, the way they sit up a little straighter and also brace themselves, just a little, for whatever word of correction I have to dole out in that moment. The way they try so hard to please me.

Do you know how it makes me feel to look back and read everything I just wrote?

Like crap. I hate it.

This week our family was invited for dinner at someone’s house, a family who were total strangers to us. It went really well! Especially for all the anxiety I’ve had this year. I made it through the whole evening and felt happy. We all talked and laughed and my kids were polite and actually ate the dinner they served and played great with their kids and we exchanged numbers when we left. They really liked us!

We left and my heart swelled with happiness and satisfaction over a job well done.

And then the very next afternoon I’m standing in my kitchen, yelling at Gabe for something he said.

I laid on the couch and said to God, “I can’t do this. It’s too hard. It’s impossible for me to live for my family the way I live for other people. I can’t keep up the performance for them. They see the real me. ”

Aha.

So I guess that’s at the heart of all this.

In truth, I know that I’m impressive to other people. I know that I’m friendly and easy to talk to and can be called upon to give good advice from time to time. I speak sweetly to my children in public and have taught them nice manners. I stay home full-time and I homeschool but I’m also a pastor’s wife! I like to make people feel welcome!

Do you know what God up and did this year?

He took all of that impressive-ness away from me.

He said, “No.”

He took away the ministry and the girl nights and all the affirmation highs I live off of like an addict, and allowed me to start disappointing people by saying, “No” a whole lot. And you know what He left me with?

My house and my family.

Here, people are not so impressed with me. Here I don’t get quite so many compliments.

Why should I?

My family knows what friends and acquaintances do not: that I’m a very average person, with some strengths, yes, but with many, many weaknesses. It seems I cannot go one full day without yelling at my kids or choosing myself over my husband or puffing up with pride because of how good I can pull it together in public.

It seems I can’t do one nice thing without expecting a “thank you.”

It seems I can’t sit and focus all of my attention on one child without the distractions of my phone or that mess on the couch or the school list.

Is that real ministry? Is that serving “with a happy heart” like I try to teach my children?

I think not.

To me, serving has always been something I do outside of my home.

Well, God has taken much of that away from me. I’ve been shocked by the feelings of anger and worthlessness it’s dredged up. And after I got over those feelings, I get to face the cold, hard truth: that it’s way easier to spend time with and serve people I know just a little than those I know a lot — those who know me inside and out.

And my pride is such that I’d way rather confess my sin and ask for prayer from my small group friends than from my family.

Our Advent catechism this week says,

“What is it to repent?”

“To be sorry for sin, and to hate and forsake it because it is displeasing to God.”

Each morning around the dining table, Advent candles lit, the kids and I have recited this catechism together. We’ve broken down the phrases and defined the words. But this morning I said to my kids, “Do you know what sin displeases God today?” They asked, “What?” And I said, “My sin.”

I proceeded to tell them a little about my sin. I told them how wrong it is, that I do not have a happy heart, that I am often unkind to them, and very selfish with my time, and care more about how I look on the outside than how my heart is on the inside. I listed some of the ways I disobey God.

I told them that I want to hate and forsake my sin. I asked them to forgive me. I prayed then and there, that God will forgive me and help me.

Then, gulp, I told them I want them to tell me when I’m using unkind words or an unkind tone of voice — if I speak to them that way, if I speak to their siblings that way. After all, don’t I get to do that for them?

I said, “I’m your Mommy and God still wants you to obey, but I’m displeasing Him if I tell you what to do in a mean way or when I’m too harsh and critical with you guys. That’s wrong.” This gives you an insight into the real me — Judah’s first question was, “But what if telling you that makes you even more mad?” And I said, “I really, really hope that doesn’t happen, but if it does, then tell me that too. I trust that the Holy Spirit is living inside me and will show me my sin.”

Do you know what happened there at the table?

It was like a huge load rolled off my shoulders.

The despair, the oppression of this week seemed to melt away as my precious, noisy children each looked me in the eye and said, “I forgive you, Mommy.”

They are, after all, kids, so we almost immediately moved on to other things, to reading aloud and coloring and getting ready to go to the park, and no one’s mentioned it since (oh, the humbling ability of children to forgive and forget in mere seconds).

I realize that nothing is solved, exactly.

I still don’t know how to live in my house as an introvert. Clearly you now realize I’m probably not the best person to ask.

I know I will sin against God and against everyone in my family before this day is up.

But I’m not feeling resentful any more. I’m feeling more than a little humbled, more than a little chastened. I go to the park and look at the people around me and know that I’m no better than any of them, even with a dinner plan for tonight and well-behaved children and cute shoes. I don’t have to endlessly prove to God what a good Mom and good wife I am, because I’m not.

And I’m feeling like maybe all of this — all of it — is a good thing. Maybe there are even more lessons to be learned right here, in this house, with these people.

I’m closing my computer now, to go see them.



morning time.

img_4560

A few of you have asked if we use Morning Time in our home school. I love the idea of it, but haven’t successfully incorporated it into our rhythm yet, so I thought I’d ask my friend Kelly to tell you about her experience.

I also wanted to separate this post from my homeschool series, because I actually think anyone can do Morning Time! It could happen any time of day. I plan to work hard to create a routine like this for our summer, to give our mornings some structure.

And now, here’s Kelly . . .

It all started 2 1/2 years ago on a drive to my aunt’s house for July 4th weekend.  As an introvert traveling with noisy children, I had my headphones in and was listening to an interview I had stumbled upon between Andrew Kern of the Circe Institute and Sarah Mackenzie of Read Aloud Revival.  They were discussing the idea of teaching from a state of rest and the importance of not approaching the education of our children from a place of panic and anxiety to check off the growing list of boxes on our to-do list each day (here is the podcast).

This talk of anxiety and long to-do lists resonated deeply with me because I daily fight against my type-A personality. I was a deeply ingrained overachiever in school when I was a student.  I was hanging on their every word and eager to drink in more of their wisdom.  The idea of “Morning Time” was brought up and the name Cindy Rollins, who most consider the inventor of this genius and beautiful idea.

Essentially Morning Time was a time set aside in the day that Cindy gathered her children together to cover areas of their curriculum most filled with truth, beauty and goodness.  These are the subjects that with time constraints and daily stresses, are easily pushed aside and yet they can be the nourishment that our souls, minds and hearts need the most.

img_4190

Well I knew then and there that I had to incorporate this idea into our homeschool day and quickly began to look into what elements I wanted for us to cover together.

The beauty of Morning Time is that you can tailor it uniquely to your family.  As with most things, it is wise to start slowly and then build on your routine rather than trying to fit in all the inspiring subjects at the beginning and overwhelm your kids and stress yourself out.  In our home with a daughter in third grade and a son who is 2 1/2 this is what Morning Time looks like for us.

* Start by saying the Pledge of Allegiance

* Recite Charlotte Mason’s motto “I Am, I Can, I Ought, I Will”
“I am …. a child of God, a gift to my parents and my country. I’m a person of great value because God made me.

        I can …. do all things through Christ who strengthens me. God has made me able to do everything required of me.

        I ought …. to do my duty to obey God, to submit to my parents and everyone in authority over me, to be of service to others, and to keep myself healthy with proper food and rest so my body is ready to serve.

        I will …. resolve to keep a watch over my thoughts and choose what’s right even if it’s not what I want.”

* Recite a Creed choosing from the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, Lord’s Prayer, Gloria Patri or Doxology.  This element was important to me, because our daughter sits in the service each week at our church and I wanted         her to be actively participating in the liturgy and familiar with the words.

* Sing a hymn

* Recite a passage of Scripture we are learning together.  Right now we are working on the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23.

* Review Catechism questions

* Review memory work.  We are currently memorizing “I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud” by William Wordsworth

* Read poetry by a poet we are studying each term.  Our current poet is William Blake.

* Recite a family motto.  I drew these from Sally Clarkson’s “24 Family Ways”. One example is “We are generous with what we have, sharing freely with others.

* Finally, we read a passage from The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos

Although this may look like a lot, this whole routine usually only takes us thirty minutes and on average we do this three days a week.

We gather around the kitchen table with our individual Morning Time binders which contain everything we need for our routine so everything is streamlined.  Since my youngest is only 2 1/2 he does not actively participate in this routine but is with us so he can soak in the truth being spoken and also start learning the routine so he can join us as he gets older.

These days his participation looks like shouting “America!” after we say the Pledge and then clapping for us when we finish singing a hymn.  The rest of the time I attempt to keep his hands busy with paper and crayons, sticker books, puzzles or snacks.

img_4574
When I first began Morning Time as part of our homeschool day two years ago, I wondered if it would truly impact my daughter with a love for virtuous things or if she would just find it boring.

Over time as we steadily committed to it day by day, I caught glimpses of how it was impacting her heart.  These glimpses came through hearing her singing “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” from her bedroom or watching her attempt to climb a tree to play out the poem “Foreign Lands” by Robert Louis Stevenson that we had read.

On a recent road trip I looked back into the backseat to offer an activity to pass the time and she told me she’d rather look out the window at the beautiful clouds and fields.  It is through these and other peeks into her heart that I am seeing that she is learning already how to slow down and take in the beauty of what God has created.

Morning Time has been a discipline that teaches both of us to not just tackle the day’s to-do list, but instead to linger together over what is true, beautiful and good and allow our hearts to be fed.  As we do this together it knits our hearts together and gives us a shared experience that tightens our bond.

Homeschooling is hard work and I have to admit on many mornings when we are reciting our own liturgy at home, my heart is having to repent from the impatience or harsh tones that I may have already exhibited that day.  It gives me the opportunity to pause and change course and get back on track and receive fresh grace and forgiveness.

img_4205

I encourage anyone who wants to take time during the day to pause with their family and sit together taking in truth, beauty and goodness that it is worth the effort.  It could be as simple as reading a poem each night at dinner or memorizing a verse together every day for a month and discussing it.  It doesn’t have to be formal or complicated.  The dailiness is what makes it special and powerful.

Since listening to that first podcast interview, I have gleaned ideas and wisdom from many others who are also utilizing this liturgy in their homes.  Here are some resources below if you want to dive in further and investigate for yourself:

The Circe Institute has available for pre-order a book specifically on Morning Time by its creator, Cindy Rollins.  It’s available here.

* Mystie Winkler of the blog Simply Convivial has a great post on how to get started with Morning Time, including her memory work lists, her own plans and many other resources.  You can find that here.

*Allison Burr did a very informative series on her blog about Morning Time with videos of her family and lots of resources.  You can find that here.

Save



we’re back!

Hi there everyone!

I’m sorry that the blog was down for a few days; there was a server migration which resulted in some needed updates. But now we’re back in business!

Remember my very profound post after vacation about being content and living in the moment and spending more time curled up at home with my kids? Well, I started the week with the best of intentions and ended it flat on my face. On Friday, we went to look at a bigger house in our neighborhood, which was charming but just not quite the right fit for our family. Nonetheless I came back home and stomped around complaining about our one bathroom and small kitchen and patchy front yard (yes, apparently I’m not above behaving exactly like a teenager).

I was tired from a week of kids and meals and homeschooling and David left to spend two days out of town for work and I felt resentful and mean-spirited.

What’s more, I discovered that despite my promises to Gabe and Noah, I did indeed commit us all to another year of swim team by paying a hefty deposit for all four kids. So I’m continuing to pack everyone up and head to practice two mornings a week.

Which all proves that we can have the best of intentions and sometimes life knocks us on our rear and we have to deal with it. That’s where repentance comes in. And forgiveness, and the God of new-mercies-every-morning.

Isn’t it nice that that’s the good news, not whether my performance was up to par?

And my post was still true, perhaps even more so because the kind of restlessness I was speaking of mostly refers to my heart and not to what’s happening externally. I can rearrange priorities and our schedule, but sometimes I have to do things I don’t want to do and make the best of it. So I worked in our yard all weekend and bought a few more plants, which did wonders for my gratitude. And I tried on a gentler voice this morning while getting the kids out the door to swim team. We switched mornings so they could be with their friends, and they were all happy. And back home I skipped a few worksheets so that I could curl up with Gabe and read.

I’m also grateful for this blog and for each one of you too, dear readers!

More soon!

Love, Julie



harry potter progress.

IMG_3885

I shared here about Judah starting the Harry Potter series for the first time.

So many people have asked me how we made the decision to let him begin, and how far in the series we’ll let him go (he’s 8 1/2). Honestly, I wasn’t exactly sure when we started, and that may have been a poor parenting decision on my part, but here we are.

After much deliberating, I just let Judah start book 5 of 7, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I keep saying “I” because David hasn’t read the books, and defers to me, but we’ve discussed it quite a bit, and are on the same page.

If you’re unfamiliar with the series, they begin when Harry is 11 years old, and each book covers a year of his life at Hogwarts School. The books mature as Harry matures, which is one of the many reasons I think J.K. Rowling is a genius. Not only do they follow a plot that darkens with each book, but the characters become complex as Harry moves from the rather emotionally concrete world of middle school, into the murky teenage years where everything isn’t black and white, and he’s navigating different sorts of relationships.

However, there are clear lines between good and evil in the story, and (spoiler alert), good wins out at the end of each book and at the end of the series.

My main hesitation with letting Judah finish the series now was wanting to protect him from the dark elements of the plot, which, quite frankly, give me the creeps. There are also some “teenage themes” as the books progress, which include dating, falling in love, and kissing, but I think it’s handled fine.

I guess in the end I realized two things:

1. There are a lot of things I want to shelter Judah from right now, while he’s 8 1/2, but the content of the Harry Potter books is just not high on that list. I love the characters. I love the themes of friendship, loyalty, making wise choices, standing up for what’s right rather than what’s popular, and forgiveness. We’ve talked about the dating stuff, which is just part of life, and we discuss other situations and characters as they come up. Oh how I wish I could start assigning him literary analysis papers, because this series is a treasure trove of characters and themes (I’m such a nerd, I know).

2. Judah has always known his limits with regard to what scares him, and he’s said that the books haven’t been too scary yet. You know what I realized? Because of his age, I think he’s processing them differently than I do. Because I’ve experienced more of the world, I shudder at the evil and grief and loss. But right now Judah sees it all as a magical world and a big, glorious battle between good and evil. I’m okay with that.

3. If you yourself are trying to decide when/how to let your children read this series, all I can say is that every family is different and every child is different. Definitely read the books yourself first so you can discuss situations that come up. Both Judah’s Mum-Mum and I are reading each book right behind him as a refresher, and lots of our family and friends have read them too, which makes for fun conversations right now (he’s exchanging letters with David’s aunt as they read, which he loves). Watch your child to see how he/she is processing it. Are they consumed by it? Are they having nightmares?

One rule we have is that Judah doesn’t read the books right before bed; he and Amie listen to something light like Beverly Cleary or the Boxcar Children on audiobook before they fall asleep. Another thing I’ve realized, is that I think in general people can handle violent or scary scenes in books better than on TV. There’s something about the images on a screen that stick in your mind, whereas when you’re reading a book you subconsciously create the image and scene for yourself, and typically it’s not as graphic. So Judah reads the books, but knows that he doesn’t want to watch beyond the first movie for now.

 

So that’s our update! I can’t tell you how much joy it brings me to see my child embrace reading and get swept up in a really great story. I hope this is just the beginning of a lifelong hobby for him!



lately.

IMG_3797

Hello friends!

I had a pretty wonderful Mother’s Day yesterday — David and the kids surprised me with a new laptop! You’ve gathered from my complaining/intermittent posting that mine was on the fritz for a looong time, but I definitely did not expect a new one any time soon!

My last laptop was a refurbished Macbook Pro, which we bought in 2010, before moving to India, and I loved that thing into the ground. Now this one is the very first brand-new computer I’ve owned; it’s a 13″ Macbook Air, and I’m smitten. It’s so crisp! And clean! I have a “delete” key! And best of all — when I tap the keys, things that are supposed to happen, actually happen!

Anyway, sorry to gush, but this should mean that I’ll be blogging a little more frequently!

Here’s some of what we’ve been up to lately …

IMG_4163

Can you believe that our church, CPC, is nearly three years old? This is Noah and his buddy PJ, who’s been with us since the very beginning. He reaches for her as soon as he sees her.

I get tearful whenever I think of how our church family loved us through our adoption process and first year. Not only did they contribute generously toward our expenses, post-placement they prayed, dropped off meals, respected boundaries when our family needed to hunker down at home for awhile, encouraged, cried, laughed, prayed some more, and best of all, enveloped Gabe and Noah in love from the first day they met them, no questions asked.

 

IMG_4314

We already love our zoo, but it just opened a huge splash park/outdoor play place for kids, and we checked it out one morning last week. It was great! I’d say it’s geared a little more toward toddlers/preschoolers, but Judah and Amie still thoroughly enjoyed themselves and I think would enjoy it even more if we came back with some of their friends.

If you haven’t been yet, my words of advice are: 1. Park at the Botanical Gardens entrance, 2. Go early, like right when the zoo opens at 9:00 am. After 11 it got so crowded — and summer break hasn’t even begun yet!, and 3. Wear bathingsuits and pack a change of clothes for afterwards (I didn’t wear a swimsuit, which was fine, but my flip-flops got soaked, so be warned!).

 

IMG_4306

We’re pressing on to finish our school year by the end of May. We worked hard this year, and so at the end have been spending lots more time reading aloud, and it feels very restful. Some friends invited Gabe and Noah over one morning, so I took the opportunity to take the big kids to a coffee shop for school. We sat and sipped our drinks and I finished a novel about a group of kids during World War 2, and we did a few worksheets. Any moments I get to connect with just one or two of the kids at a time feel like a gift.

 

IMG_4307

The same friends that had the boys come play, noticed how much they enjoyed their son’s water table, and dropped one off for Gabe and Noah later that day (again: the sweetness of our church family)! I’m not exaggerating when I say it has already brought our little guys hours of delight. Noah finishes breakfast, strips right down to his skivvies, then races outside to play with the water.

 

IMG_4343

Speaking of Noah, this has been our set-up on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, when the big kids are in swim class. Usually there’s at least a couple of other moms and a toddler or two. As of last week, Noah now does 10 minutes in the pool one-on-one with a coach to start getting him ready to join the others. He’s not technically supposed to start until he’s four years told, but he has been dying to get in the water, as you can imagine. He loved it so much that he burst into loud wails, when we made him get out.

 

IMG_4359

A couple weeks ago, my friend Jessica and I took a little road trip to Greenville, to meet one of our literary heroes, Jacqueline Woodson. We both love her memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming, and I’ve since read a handful of her other children’s and young adult books, and enjoyed them too. We had a great evening stopping in at M. Judson book shop for the book signing, meeting Jessica’s sister for dinner at the Trappe Door (a favorite Greenville restaurant), and then heading to First Baptist Church to hear Jacqueline Woodson speak on her writing and on growing up in Greenville and New York.

 

IMG_4394

On Friday night, some friends got married in Charleston, and we drove with Kenny and Shari and stayed overnight! I’ve never been to a wedding in Charleston, and the reception for this one was at the Yacht Club — it was lovely to be right on the water. We haven’t taken any sort of trip with Kenny (my brother) and Shari, just the four of us, since before we all had kids, and so we had the best time talking nonstop, squeezing into a hotel room, walking downtown in search of good coffee, hitting Folly Beach on Saturday morning, and rounding out our trip with fresh seafood for lunch.

 

IMG_4395

And finally, we had an extended family gathering last night for Mother’s Day, and my other brother, Danny, came in from Florence to hang out!

Now that I read back over my last couple of posts, I see that May is more an entire Adoption Celebration month, and that’s a very sweet gift from the Lord. It was a long year, but He met us in it over and over again. I love spending this month traveling and celebrating His goodness together.

I’m working on a Summer Bookshelf post for you all, and am having fun doing it! This has been a great reading year thus far! Any interest in a children’s bookshelf post too? I thought of compiling a list of our favorites.

Happy Monday!



april 8.

gentino015

One year ago today, David came home from work, walked into the kitchen where I was cooking dinner, and told me that he’d just received an email from our adoption agency. It was about two brothers, ages 3 and 2, who needed a family. My heart stopped in its tracks, and then pounded on. Wait. What?

But David wasn’t asking me if we wanted to be considered for adopting the brothers; he was letting me know he already responded with a “Yes!”

I was terrified.

But I trusted him.

We knew almost nothing about the boys. We didn’t know what they looked like or their names or where exactly in South Carolina they lived. We knew a few vague details about their situation. We knew that their birth mom wanted an open adoption.

My mind began racing a-mile-a-minute. I couldn’t sleep at night. We’re supposed to get a baby. That’s the path we chose.

Adopting a baby would change our life. Adopting two toddlers would change it way more. I wore myself out weighing each pro and con over a decision that I felt would spell out our entire future — and yet there was too little information to properly make my list, too many variables. I felt the control slipping from my fingers, and I am a girl who likes control.

But also, somewhere in that tailspin, in my heart of hearts, I felt the tiniest sliver of hope.

When I lay in bed, wide-eyed at 2 a.m., I had pictures in my head. Fuzzy pictures, of two nameless, faceless boys, slightly damp and clean-smelling from the bath, piled onto our well-worn India sofa with Judah and Amelie and I for story time. Pounding across the hardwood floors, screeching and wrestling with David. Jumping on our trampoline. Sleeping in the baby’s room.

I was so terrified that first day. I’m a fairly intuitive person, but I had absolutely no sense of the outcome to this story — would these boys be ours, or would they not? Was this email The One, or would we get passed over like we had for the dozen other recruitment emails we’d responded “yes” to?

We generally kept recruitment emails to ourselves, and we didn’t mention it to our kids, but I frantically texted close friends and family, begging for prayer, and they hopped on the roller coaster right along with us. I changed my mind many, many times. I said, “No David, we can’t do this. It’s too much. Please write our adoption agency back and withdraw our names.” And he hugged me like he has so many times in our married life and said, “I know, babe. I love you. Let’s take the leap.”

I wanted my comfortable, semi-predictable life. I wanted the baby’s room that I’d filled with my grandma’s patchwork quilt and an IKEA futon for late-night feedings and carefully painted-and-distressed photo frames with prints. I wanted the the swing and Britax infant carseat and the tray of glass baby bottles our friends had passed along to us. I wanted gauzy swaddle blankets and pacifiers and all the first milestones.

But those boys.

They were lodged in my head and I couldn’t get them out. Where were they, right this minute? What were they doing? They were three and two, and our own biological children were seven and five. They could be folded seamlessly into our family in a moment . . . seven, five, three, two. They are perfect for us.

I ached for them as a mother aches, even as I was afraid of them, of the unknown. I ached for their birth mom, as a fellow mother aches. I cried all the time.

Father, I’m so scared, but I think I know what I want. Will You give it to me?

On Monday, April 13th, I walked through the dining room, carrying a mug of steaming tea to the back porch. It had been five long days since the email. I was Moving On. I happened to look down at my phone, and in that exact moment, it started buzzing, and I saw “David Gentino” on the screen. And I knew.

I’d waited for this call every single day, almost every hour, for six months. Like someone in a dream, I answered it.

And my life changed.

Eleven days later, we dropped our kids at their cousins’ house for the day, and drove the hour-and-a-half to sit in a small city office with our social worker and sign a whole stack of papers. And then, just like that, in what felt like the most anticlimactic moment of a lifetime, David and I had two more children.

By then we knew their hair color and eye color, we knew their names, and the tone of their voices. We’d read them board books in Barnes and Noble and scampered across playgrounds after them. But we didn’t know them. We’d never fed them or changed their diapers or sung them a lullaby. We’d never even heard them cry.

It was the most surreal experience of our lives, and the road ahead was harder than those agonizing 16 days between receiving the first email and adopting our boys. Well, in a way. In a way it was easier, because it was finished and also it was just beginning. We were embarking on the rest of our lives together.

This year has been filled with more joy and love and support than we could ever have imagined.

Right now, I’m sitting in a coffee shop at the end of a long, tiring week. There are tears in my eyes, because I feel very inadequate for this task of mothering four children. I’ve lost my temper this week. I’ve scolded my kids for things that just.don’t.matter. I’ve thrown up my hands at complaining and sibling quarrels and have laundered my duvet, duvet-cover and every part of our bedding, not once, but twice, due to nap-time potty accidents of the three-year-old (don’t ask). I’ve scrolled Instagram to avoid engaging with my family. I’ve thought, I cannot do this one more day. I can’t.

Even as I write these things, I’m fully aware that the above list contains only what went wrong this week, and not the good moments, and that makes me even more frustrated with myself.

And yet. Just now, I pause and think back to this day, one year ago, when it all began. When we took the leap.

We received an email and  we were scared and excited, and we knew that a whole mountain of obstacles stood between us and adopting those boys. Over 16 days, we watched, open-mouthed, as God moved that mountain. By the time the papers were signed we had not one doubt.

God brought those brothers into our home, our life, and some days I’m desperately weary and overwhelmed by noise and touch and little needs. But I know, even in the hard weeks, that God has given us something indescribably beautiful.

He answered our cries for a child, and He gave all six of us exactly what we need. He made us a family. I wouldn’t trade Gabriel and Noah for all the sweet-smelling, wrinkly newborns in the world.

I don’t feel good enough for this task, but that doesn’t matter because God chose me to be their mom. He has written us a beautiful story; can’t I trust Him to be faithful in my hard days and bad moods?

I can.

This is a day for celebrating.

gentino123

Photos by Ashley Nicole Photography



four on friday.

IMG_3807

Yesterday morning after swim practice, the kids and I stopped at the gas station on North Main for Dunkin’ Donuts, which they painstakingly picked out and then happily devoured in the parking lot. In the car I tried to prepare them for the errand we had to run as I drove us down to the Social Security Administration office on Assembly Street, finally found a metered parking three blocks away, and paraded us all to our destination.

Inside, we made our way through the wall of security and up to the 11th floor into the Social Security office, which was packed full of people. Every single person looked up and stared at us as we filed in. Of course, if you are someone with anxiety, one of your worst fears is a roomful of people staring at you. Add to that my very real fear of being judged for obviously being a homeschooling mom, and I kind of just wanted to disappear.

But don’t worry! I maintained my sense of humor and smiled at the people who stared at us and did just a little school with Judah and pulled up the Photobooth app on the iPad (which had us all giggling), and the five of us made it through our hour-and-a-half wait just fine. I also realized that most people were mainly staring at Noah, who is just so darn cute that he takes the focus off the rest of us.

I consider it a small victory. You have no idea how much work it’s taken to reach this point — sitting together in a waiting room without temper tantrums or sibling fighting, without anyone running off or touching things we shouldn’t or destroying anything.

It’s not that being well-behaved in public makes my children inherently more valuable as people — like that’s the goal in and of itself. It’s just that I want to prepare them to succeed in these less-than-fun life situations every now and then, to sit in waiting rooms or go to the crowded grocery store or be in a roomful of adults and not run around wild. It’s not something I ask of them often, and we took a lot of baby steps to make it to this point.

I believe with practice and a good sense of humor (that’s key and I’ll admit I don’t always accomplish that), my kids can hear the expectations I have of them, and then rise up and meet those expectations. It infuses them with such a dignity to realize, “I can do this!” I saw the pride in their eyes afterwards when I said, “You did such a good job! Thank you for helping me today by listening and obeying! I knew you could do it.” They are not perfect, of course, but are smart and polite and growing up so fast.

Still, as we filed out an hour and a half later, a nice lady whispered to me, “You deserve a medal.” Which is not true, but was a sweet thing to say.

And now we’ve properly filed for the boys’ new social security cards with our name — “Gentino” on them! Their new birth certificates are in our hands, and everything is paper-official. It’s a lovely feeling, going into Easter weekend.

Happy Easter!



my favorite podcasts.

IMG_3018

I’m having so much fun with podcasts these days!

I sort of dabbled in listening to them last year, then took a break for awhile, and now I’m back full-force. I think it just took me some time to find out what I do and don’t enjoy. Your tastes may be completely different from mine, but I thought I’d take a few minutes to share the podcasts I’m listening to these days in case you want to check them out. Or, better yet, in case just the idea of listening to podcasts inspires you to go out and find some that you love.

But a couple of things before I do that:

Firstly, when do I listen? I started by listening to podcast episodes only when I went running (which, realistically, is just 2-3 times a week). But lately I realized they are perfect for those nights at, oh, about 8:00, when the kids are all in bed, and I’m lying prone on the couch, too exhausted even to pick up a book. I just snuggle under a quilt, and turn on a podcast episode (or three). Sometimes I’ll listen to an episode during our quiet afternoon rest time too.

I also began turning them on when I’m by myself in the car, rather than reaching for the radio, and I’m so much more interested and energized by that than mindless pop music (although I freely admit that sometimes mindless pop music is fun too).

Another note: I recently downloaded the Overcast app for my phone, and for whatever reason, I much prefer to use that for podcast episodes than the app that came with the phone.

And finally, I’ve found that there’s a secret to successful podcast listening (at least for me): Do not play the comparison game!

Seriously, you guys: the great thing about podcasts is that I hear conversations with all kinds of very interesting people. People I admire! People I want to learn from!

But the flip side of that is that sometimes I start comparing myself to those people, seeing where I fall short, and entering a cycle of guilt and despair. Sometimes I even need to take a break from podcasts.

But seriously. This is ridiculous.

I’m discovering that learning to truly enjoy podcasts is an exercise in realizing that it isn’t always about me. Learning about someone else’s strengths and successes does not turn a highlight onto my weaknesses and failures. It’s just a way to enjoy all kinds of different people and celebrate their stories, and also to discern what ideas I can try for myself and which I can let go. Does that make sense? It’s actually a liberating habit to develop. I truly hope that in this way, podcast-enjoying will make me a more mature person.

Ok, here’s my current line-up. I never get all caught up with my subscriptions, but that’s fun for me — I like having different shows to choose from depending on my mood.

 

-Read Aloud Revival

readaloudrevival

If you’re a parent or teacher or anyone who spends time with kids, may I highly recommend the Read-Aloud Revival Podcast with Sarah Mackenzie? Of this entire list, it’s the very last that I’d give up, because it has had such a wonderful influence on me as a parent. The tagline is “Helping you build your family culture around books,” and you’d think that for a big reader like me, that would be natural.

Well, I’m discovering through the podcast that anyone can use inspiration, even in areas they love. Sarah Mackenzie interviews so many fun and wise people, who encourage me to read great books and to read great books to my kids. Not at all in a high-pressure, hours-a-day way; in a simple, fun way. It’s also responsible for getting us hooked on audiobooks, which I’ll write about soon. I love it!

 

-The Sorta Awesome Show

Sorta-Awesome-Podcast-final-small

Ok, the Sorta Awesome Show is a new podcast for me — I’ve only listened to one episode. But it feels like just plain fun. Chatty and entertaining, with interesting hosts who talk about the entertainment industry, books, online relationships, and personality types.

 

-Homeschool Snapshots

homeschoolsnapshots

Homeschool Snapshots is a great podcast for homeschoolers. I’m always curious to know how other people homeschool — which philosophies they use, curriculum, daily routine, what caused them to decide to homeschool in the first place. And Pam Barnhill asks such great questions to spark conversation with these folks. Many of her interviews are with families who have been homeschooling much longer than us, and I love gleaning from their wisdom. My favorite episode so far is her interview with Susan Wise Bauer.

 

-Your Morning Basket

yourmorningbasket

Your Morning Basket is another Pam Barnhill podcast, specifically about a homeschool practice called “Morning Time.” I’ve wanted to implement Morning Time into our school day for over a year, but it wasn’t until I began listening to this podcast, that I got the practical ideas I need to make it work for our family. I think there’s great value in listening to the practices of lots of different people so that I can pick and choose what works for us. I’ll elaborate on our morning time (which we call our “Morning Meeting”) soon, but it has breathed so much life and joy into our day together. We love it!

I’d like to take a brief minute for a tangent here: if you’re a new homeschooling mom and feeling in need of a mentor, please consider listening to podcasts! It’s like suddenly finding yourself with a plethora of mentors of all different kinds and ages. And go at your own pace — if you find yourself on information-overload, take a break for a bit, implement some things, and come back later when you need more ideas.

I’m growing so much in areas ranging from homeschooling a large family to planning out our year to figuring out what philosophies I gravitate toward, just by listening to great conversations. Yesterday I stumbled upon a gold mine: this list of Sarah Mackenzie’s favorite home school talks/podcasts. I can’t wait to get started with it.

 

-The Simple Show

thesimpleshow-sm

The Simple Show with Tsh Oxenreider was the first podcast I ever listened to. I’ve long followed her blog, The Art of Simple, and have always been interested in her family because they’ve lived overseas at different times, and even spent last year traveling around the world. She interviews all kinds of people who are living intentionally in interesting ways — and often in interesting places!

 

-What Should I Read Next?

what-should-i-read-next-book-talk-reading-rec

Ahhh, I may have saved the best for last. This is such a fun new show, with my long-time book hero, Anne Bogel, of Modern Mrs. Darcy. Can I just say that she has a perfect radio voice and personality? And she’s just so clever! So here’s what the podcast is about: Anne invites a guest on the show and asks them questions about their reading habits: What are three books you love? What’s one book you hate? What are you currently reading? And, Is there anything you’d like to change about your reading life? And then she works her magic to come up with a list of book recommendations for the guest. But of course in the process they have an awesome and entertaining conversation.

It’s literary matchmaking! And her guests often describe their talk with Anne as “book therapy.” This is probably my very favorite podcast to listen to, and I often find myself grinning for an entire episode. Book people are just so fun!

———–

So there you have it, friends. One of my favorite new hobbies. And it’s free!

Happy Thursday!