Want to go on a bike ride?

This post is part of the Blue Bike Blog Tour, which I’m thrilled to be part of. To learn more and join us, head here.  

The new year ushered in a new chapter for our family as my husband and I sat down to reevaluate our priorities and solidify our family purpose statement.  We’ve aspired to live more simply, more intentionally, with greater balance in our lives, something that is equal parts intuitive and challenging with young children.  The art of communicating with our children, my passion and study, flourishes with intentionality, and learning expands with simple, purposeful moments.  It is these moments that we strive to cultivate, to water and fertilize as our children grow.

20131105 494 (2)

But where to start when the garden seems overrun with demands?  Work schedules, information overload, and personal expectations and perfectionism all cling like weeds to our lofty goals, and at times I feel paralyzed to even make change.

 

And so it was fitting that on the heels of the start of the new year came the release of a book “Notes From a Blue Bike”, by one of my favorite authors.  Tsh Oxenreider lives with her family in nearby Bend, and her reflections on living a life with intentionality echoed within our family’s discussions of the new year…how to cultivate that life that you seek… how to swim upstream and at times turn your back on mainstream culture… how to recognize that just because it’s “the way it is” doesn’t mean it’s the right way for your family.

BlueBike_CVR_hirez_Updated-193x300

“Almost everybody in my life stage – parents with kids at home – craves a slower life.  They, too, crave a more meaningful life, a life that made margin for doing nothing, for not bowing down to calendars, for saying yes to long walks with their kids and cooking seasonally from scratch because there was time.” –Tsh Oxenreider

 

And so, it was with these thoughts in our mind that my husband and I stared around our little 1500-square-foot house and considered downsizing (!) in pursuit of the right job opportunity.  It was with this intentional living mantra that I clicked the “reservations” button on the American Airlines website, to send us and our two young daughters on an international trip, where we hope to dine, hike, and sleep under the stars of another culture.  It was with Tsh’s words clanking around in my head as the gears turned and I reduced my work load to a more manageable schedule.  Who knows what other changes lie in the works for 2014?

 

Thoreau

 

I would love to hear how you are choosing to live with intention this year.  What is one change that you are making for the better?  Leave a comment below, and head to http://notesfromabluebike.com/ to find Tsh's book.

original11

Notes From a Blue Bike is written by Tsh Oxenreider, founder and main voice of The Art of Simple. It doesn’t always feel like it, but we DO have the freedom to creatively change the everyday little things in our lives so that our path better aligns with our values and passions. Grab your copy here.

That First Cup

The early morning silence before the house starts stirring is for my soul alone.  I try to wake up a few moments before the rest of the creatures in this house start stirring, but with a noisy dog and an early-waking husband (who passed his early-waking genes to our daughters), it is often difficult to do.  I silently slide out of bed, head for the coffee pot, and listen as the creak of my bones on the stairs tell me I'm getting older. But to have a moment of reflection.  Ah, now that's how I center.  The whirlwind of energy that young children bring, the chaos of fun-filled days, the demands of life... it all pauses for a moment with that first sip of coffee.  I can read a blog, journal a bit, or reflect on God's purpose in my life.

Even now, sweating in the humidity around me, my now-empty coffee mug beckoning for its second refill, I have my moment.

Just ten minutes.  It makes me a better mom, a better wife, a better person.  Into the stillness I breathe "me", and with that I am ready for the day.

Have a wonderful one, friends.

Imported 20130331 005

Watching the Door Close Behind Them

A Reflection for a New Year Schools are starting this week in Oregon.  Back to school can bring a mix of emotions for parents and for kids.

Whether your child is taking the bus or getting dropped off at school, the first day can break a parent’s heart.  May you find time to share a warm cup of coffee with a friend, a glass of wine tonight with your spouse, or a moment alone to marvel at a baby picture and appreciate the gift you’ve given the world.

Time goes quickly on this crazy journey of parenthood.  The bond you have forged with your child makes them stronger, more daring, and more courageous as they step through that door.  You’ve done a good job.  Savor that hug at the end of the day when they come back through the front door.

Why I run those mommy miles…

  Imported 20130331 008

I enjoy my alone time, all the more so since becoming a parent. I am a firm believer that we need space to separate ourselves from family life to pause, reflect, and reenergize. Parenting can be draining and depleting, even as it fills our souls. I like being with my thoughts, in calmness and in stillness… usually over a good cup of coffee.

I’m trying to find more of that time for reflection in my running, since as a mom my alone time is in short supply. It appeals to my multi-tasking nature to get exercise, spend time outdoors, and do something for myself, all in one chunk of time. Often I am huffing and puffing, glancing at my watch, my awareness of my surroundings heightened right along with my heart rate. It is my time to sort through the daily happenings, the ups and downs, the draining points and the small successes.

Imported 20130331 006

I often run without any music, and, until a recent marathon training season, without a watch. Because really, it doesn’t matter how far I go or how fast, but how I feel. With each step I let myself find a rhythm, get back in sync with the thoughts in my head, and pound out a purpose on the path.

When I return I am more present. I am more present for my children, more present for my husband. I am in the moment, without my mind spinning in other directions.

“Even if the weight of our responsibilities remains the same, cultivating the ability to be in the moment is a gift – to ourselves and to those we love.” ~Kristin Armstrong

Running might not be your thing, it wasn’t for me for many years. But there’s something about walking, running, hiking, or trail-trekking that gets you outdoors and centered for life. I encourage you to try. Find your escape, whatever it is, that refills your soul. It is a gift that you deserve.

Imported 20130331 220

Simple Living at Home

I've been working on simplifying clutter, toys, and distractions in my own house lately. I've blogged before about Kim Payne's book "Simplicity Parenting" and the view that so many if our kids, especially those with attention, processing, or regulation difficulties, need a simpler environment. My munchkins seem to benefit from a calm environment, and sink deeper into imaginative play when left with just a couple of toys to let their stories run wild.We have a small house, and with two kiddos I've noticed that toys seem to multiply! It can be a never-ending battle. Our MOPS group just did a spring cleaning Swap N' Drop, with the extras being donated to the Northwest Children's Outreach. A great excuse to purge a few toys! Here are a couple shots of our living room and my attempts to simplify the toys left out.

20130323-100334.jpg

20130323-100348.jpg

It doesn't always stay this neat, but at least it's manageable pickup once the girls are done playing. I'm curious, how do others manage the toy situation at their house? What are your child's favorite toys for imaginative play?

 

Where Was I...?

  Do any other parents do this??

20130318-222144.jpg

I have to leave my reading material open to the page I'm on (bookmarking doesn't seem as effective) since I am "called away" so frequently when reading. The life of a mom, I s'pose! It can take me several days to finish one magazine article!

I also have an ever-growing pile of books on the nightstand! Seems like my library "holds" all come up at the same time. So much to read, so little time... :)

Breathe for the Weekend

I thought this was a great post from "The Power of Moms" about setting your expectations up to help you live through raising a family.  In my season of young motherhood, I am learning to let some things go.  I expect a lot of myself, but I know that as I juggle work, motherhood, family obligations, volunteer events, and housework, some things just aren't that important.  Breathing through my experiences, enjoying the moments of peace, and trying to live an authentic life by being fully present and honest when I interact with children or talk with adults, are my defining mantras at the moment.  Read below for more:  

"I have five young kids who have five sets of needs that often seem mutually exclusive. I co-direct this website. My husband is working hard on tons of his own projects. We’re both involved in parenting and church and community obligations and trying to make ends meet financially.

Given all this, should I expect my life to be generally calm and serene? Should I expect my house to be neat and tidy? Should I expect to be on time to everything? Or should I just go ahead and accept that my life is generally going to involve a fair amount of hurrying, juggling, and messes mixed with laughing, learning and working hard?

Certainly, I can and should work towards peace and happiness in my life and in my home. But I’ve found that when I accept that life is often hard and keep my unrealistic expectations in check, that peace and happiness I want actually happens more often.

As moms, if we go into each day thinking, “This is going to be a wonderful day – I’m going to get all this stuff done and have magical moments with my children all day long,” we’re bound to be disappointed somewhere along the way. While it’s great to be positive, it’s also great to be realistic!

I used to psych myself up about taking my three preschoolers to the grocery store – “This is going to be fun! I’ll let each child pick a fruit or vegetable. We’ll talk about all the colors and letters we see. It’ll be great!” Inevitably, I’d end up SO disappointed. My plans for fun and learning in the grocery store would fade away while my baby cried inconsolably (I did just feed her before we left home!), my toddler threw tantrums (I tried to get him interested in the colors!) and my 4-year-old got on the side of the cart and just about tipped it over.

When this would happen, not only did I feel frustrated about the way my children were behaving, but to add insult to injury, I felt so sad that my great expectations had been dashed. I felt like a failure as a mom because I hadn’t been able to bring my visions and plans to fruition.

After a while, I wised up. learned to keep my expectations LOW when taking my kids to the grocery store (and to avoid taking them whenever possible!). I learned to head into the store with this attitude: “Even though I’ve gone over the grocery store rules with my kids, there will probably be hard times in this store. There may well be a tantrum. There will probably be some whining. I may not get to everything on my list but that’s OK. If things get bad, we’ll just leave. This probably won’t be super fun but it’ll be OK.”

When I kept my expectations low, I found that I was often pleasantly surprised with the outcome and was better able to handle the hard stuff when it happened. “Yep, here it comes – I thought this might happen but I’ve done this before and I’ll do it again and it’ll be fine.”

I used to really care about having my home look lovely all the time. My old house was beautiful. It was clutter-free.  It was clean.  Everything was designed and decorated with great care. Each paint color, each piece of furnishing was chosen with great deliberation (and stress) by me. But what was I thinking trying to raise five little kids in an immaculate house?  It was really all about control.  I felt like maybe I couldn’t control the diaper explosions or the bickering of my kids and I couldn’t control the flailing economy or my husband’s worrisome work prospects, but I could control that house.  I could make it be clean and beautiful.  And I’m sure that little element of control did help me sometimes.  But overall, I learned that keeping a house quite constantly beautiful when kids live in it is an exercise in futility and I needed to seriously re-vamp my expectations.

When we moved into a different house a couple years ago, it was the perfect chance to change my expectations. My new housecleaning philosophy is one I got from my Power of Moms partner April: “clean enough to be healthy, messy enough to be happy.” There’s some clutter here and there. We could probably vacuum and dust a little more. Window washing doesn’t get to the top of the “to-do” list often. There are furnishings that could be replaced. But you know what? This house is a home. We live here and living is often just plain messy.

flowers on table

I’m not saying we should just throw up our hands and let everything go. We need to be deliberate about what we hold onto and what we let slide and realize that what we decide to let slide will likely be different from what some other moms choose to let slide. We need to “plan for the best but prepare for the worst.” Every Sunday, my husband and I sit down and look at what’s coming up that week and plan for how we’ll handle tight times in the schedule and discuss issues in our family that need thought and action. Living life with goals and plans is important. But making those goals and plans realistic is vital.

As I sit here working on my long to-do list in my somewhat dusty house with remains of the craft project my son had to do for homework last night scattered across the table next to me, I can feel a lot of peace when I think “Yep, this is pretty much what I expected for today and it’s totally fine.” As I think about tonight when I’ve got a meeting at the same time that one child needs to babysit for another family and another child needs to be at scouts, I remember that we planned this out and it’ll be tight and we’ll have to be late for one thing but everything will be OK.

I don’t expect life to be perfect. I expect it to be hard and messy and exciting and wonderful in its own imperfect way.

QUESTION: What expectations have you adjusted in your life?

CHALLENGE: Pick one expectation you should adjust and make that change.

Need a quick read?

20130219-161328.jpg I recently finished Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell's "The 5 Love Language of Children", focusing on loving and cherishing your child in a way they understand. So many good tips for our children! And when your child is disregulated or having difficulty processing the world around them, focusing on loving them is the first step to helping them get back on track.

The book is a pretty quick read, and is easy to pick up/put down as our schedules demand.

Next up is to convince my husband to take the online quiz and figure out what his love language is... ;)

Heart of my Heart

Ah, parenting.  Never before have I so closely examined what I am made of and questioned if it's enough.  Confidence, patience, kindness. Heart of my heart. As I reflect on the magnitude of my blessings, I sometimes am so overwhelmed that I have to put my head down and blunder on. It reminds me of running when the beauty of nature all around you is so great, that by looking up you are afraid you will stumble and fall.

My friend Taylor and I ran a nearby trail a couple of months ago. At first, due to my unfamiliarity with my surroundings, I kept my head down, my eyes focused on the ground and my feet. Jogging over rocks and roots, I knew the beauty was around me, I could sense it and breathe it in, but I could not look at it fully. I couldn't risk veering off course.

It reminded me of being a child and the warning to never look directly at the sun. Only when you decided to cheat, to glance up at it, did you have its image seared on your mind's eye for many minutes afterwards.

When I stop to look around, to breathe in my children's glory, the love of my husband, the feeling sears itself to my soul, allowing me time to put my head down an continue on, knowing I will take that image with me.

On my trail run with Taylor we forgot to breathe in. Coming down, back towards our cars, we lost sight of our feet and our focus. We both ended up sprawled across the path, first me, and then T five minutes after, our bodies crashing back to reality. Breathe in, nature demanded. Here I am. Marvel in my glory.

My parenting journey is something like a trail run.

As we dusted ourselves off, we finished our trek with an homage to the trail. A turn-around and smile, a deep breath, and a laugh at ourselves as other trail runners gave our dust cloud a wide berth.

iphone 20120216 1087

The Education Dilemma

It's that time of year (already!) to figure out your child's school plan for next year. On the home front, I've already signed up my preschooler for next year's preschool class! Enrollment has started for public school kindergarten, private school classes are already filling up, and we haven't even made it through half the school year this year. Whew! Deciding where and how your child will be educated is a tough decision, and if you have a child with special needs it requires even more research and review on a parent's part. Parents should view their role as case manager of their child's education. Here's more from a Simple Mom post about making the decision The decision you make this year doesn't have to be the decision for the rest of their schooling. Look ahead at the coming years until the next transition. If they are in preschool, consider early elementary school options. Learning expectations shift drastically in 4th grade, so that may be the time to make a new decision. Middle school is a whole 'nother circus, and high school it's own adventure.

Be sure to look at the academic and learning picture for your child. But also focus on their social-emotional development. More than anything, a healthy dose of self-confidence can go a long way in the learning process. Determination and perseverance are built from a child's sense of self-worth.

Upcoming seminar on Anxiety in Kids ~ Portland area

Anxiety - What a Parent Can Do

Shauna Signorini

   Shauna Signorini is the trainer and director for Involve

   Families; the state trainer for NAMI Basics, a course for
   caregivers of children with mental health issues; and
   trained in Tier 2 Collaborative Problem-Solving through    
   Think:Kids.  Shauna has developed and nationally
   presented curricula on trauma, advocacy and self-care.
  Join us for this free workshop on strategies to help
  children with anxiety. Anxiety is the most common mental health diagnosis for kids and often occurs with other conditions. Anxiety can be paralyzing for the child and frustrating for the parents. Learn about anxiety,
practical ideas to reduce it and how to lessen its impact on the family.

Wednesday, Feb. 27

6:30 - 8 p.m.

Providence Portland Medical Center
Cancer Center Amphitheater
4805 NE Glisan St., Portland
Register at www.providence.org/classes. Click on "online class catalog" and search by class name for "Swindells Speaker Event - Anxiety."
To register by phone, call 541-387-5720 or toll free at 800-833-8899 ext 52429.
Spanish registration and interpretation services are available;
please call 503-574-6595 before Feb. 13.
This workshop is free of charge thanks to the generosity of our donors.
For a certificate of attendance, there is a $25 fee.

Reading with Boys

Check out this link to a blog post at Beautiful Feet Books. The author writes about the importance of reading with your boys.  It's another reminder about the importance of time spent letting your imagination run wild ~ away from t.v., video games, and screen time.  I know I harp on screen time, and I get that technology serves its purpose.  But one of the problems with t.v. and video games is that the scenes, characters, and problem-solving are provided for the viewer.  Instead of creating a scene from "Robin Hood" in your head, that unfolds as the story develops, the screen places that scene (boom!) in front of you and leaves little room for cognitive exploration.

There is a widening gap in school achievement between boys and girls.  Interestingly, the gap is pretty much nonexistent for homeschooling families, where creativity and physical exploration for active boys might be more the norm. Anyway, all my pulpit-thumping about t.v. aside, the post is a great reflection on learning with boys.  It also links to the original article titled "How to Talk to Little Boys" ~ another interesting read.

Sleep, or lack thereof...

Our little Walkie Talkie has been sick, and the recovery is almost more painful than the actual "sick" time. I am reminded again of how important sleep is to maintain a positive level of functioning. I know with my two girls, when they wake up happy and talkative and engaged, they are well-rested. My older students also need their sleep- behavioral problems, sensory overload, and inattention can be cut down by a full night of sleep.

Special Needs Parenting

This is a wonderful blog post about parenting a child with special needs. I often feel like I get glimpses into a parent's life by working with their child and their family, but I cannot fully understand what they go through on a daily basis. I think it's important to recognize how little we know or understand unless we've been there. This author provides some insight. Check it out here:Parenting a Special Needs Child

20120312-204151.jpg