One Hundred Fifteen: What worked for me in 2017

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Nothing gets me back in “writer mode” faster than an opportunity to reflect, set goals, share lists, etc. So on this first day of a new year, here I am looking back on what worked to make life a bit easier, lovelier, or more inspired.

  • Walmart Grocery Pickup. My sister and closest friends swore by it. They told me it was a life saver/life changer/the greatest thing that’s ever happened to anyone ever. I kept NOT doing it. Then I did it. I went online and put stuff in my grocery cart as I planned out our meals. I told the Walmart store just 7 minutes from our house (that I never frequented because: Walmart) what time I would be there to pick up my stuff. I waited for confirmation that everything was ready. I put my 4 children in the van, drove to the store, chatted with the friendly man or woman who did all the hard work for me, opened up the back of the van and let them put everything in. Life saver. Life Changer. The Greatest thing that’s ever happened to anyone ever.Even when the wait is longer than I want it to be. Even when bread gets squished. Even when the chips are crumbs. Even when they don’t have what I want and it’s substituted or just left off or they forget something or the laundry soap spills (and in those cases their customer service is fantastic and they go above and beyond to make it right)…even then, it’s worth it. I highly recommend it.
  • Goodwill. I’m not sure at what point in the year I started frequenting Goodwill, but very quickly it became a family affair that resulted in my husband and I having “new” clothes for the first time ever. A clothing budget was always something we wanted but never had. If our growing kids needed something, we made it happen or begged grandparents for help. But if we needed or wanted something? We waited for birthday or Christmas money and then felt lame and sorry for ourselves for “having” to spend it that way. After pregnancy, and thanks to nursing, I lost a lot of weight and had nothing to wear. Goodwill allowed me to keep myself clothed without a huge price tag. And those kids who keep growing? I kept them in jeans, shorts, and shoes when they needed them.It’s also true what people say: you can find REALLY GREAT STUFF at Goodwill. Name brands, stuff with tags still attached, barely used, gently used, trendy, “I may as well give it a shot because it’s only $3” good stuff. I feel like I have a style for the first time in my life because I’m willing and able to take a $3 risk. If I’ve received compliments on clothes this year (and I have), 99% of the time I’ve been wearing something from Goodwill.
  • eBay. My Goodwill shopping actually started out with an eye for sellable items. I had friends who were having huge success selling clothes on eBay, and the income they were bringing in was helping their families pay down debt, cover school tuition, and changing their lives. But once I got into Goodwill, I was finding clothes I wanted to keep! Now it’s both: I find things to keep, and I often find things to sell. I haven’t put the time into it that some of my friends have. It’s not a business, by any means, but there have been many months where the money I’ve made on eBay has helped our family when money has been tight.
  • Morning Pages. This is a simple practice that many writers use to shake out the cobwebs in the morning and get themselves ready to write. The basic idea is to write 3 pages of free-flowing thoughts first thing every day. There’s no over thinking or editing, it’s just writing. Almost every morning during their summer break, the kids and I gathered at the dining room table with our special notebooks and pens (bought just for the occasion) and set a timer for 20 minutes. I told them to limit themselves to two pages of their notebooks (because they are all artists who love nothing more than filling up pages with their creations). I encouraged them to write if they wanted to, but tried not to put too many rules and restrictions upon them. We ALL loved it, and they’ve requested Morning Pages many days since. It’s hard to make it happen in the busyness of the school year, but we will definitely do it again this summer.
  • A new Instagram account. At some point early in the summer, I got the idea to start a new account, public this time, all about our family of 6 enjoying Oklahoma City together. It became a fantastic way to explore all that our city has to offer as far as shopping, eating out, and enjoying time as a family. It even led to a side job of writing restaurant reviews! I’ve so enjoyed writing the column, as well as challenging our family to eat and shop local, get to know the names and faces of small business owners in our community, and spread the word about the benefits of this practice.
  • Book Club! I LOVE reading but usually hate book clubs because of the pressure I always feel to say something insightful or intelligent. But I wanted to gather women in my church to read and discuss some great fiction, and we did! We enjoyed 3 books together before school started and made life crazier. We plan to continue this year.
  • One word: OPEN. For the past two years I adopted a word for the year, then lost sight of it somewhere along the way. But at least for a while, the word OPEN was fresh on my mind. It was on my mind when I got a text early in the year from a woman from my church who lives in my neighborhood and was looking for help with childcare. While my first inclination was to say, “Uh. No. 100% no.” I thought about it. I ultimately had to say no, but that conversation led to a friendship with this woman and the motivation to give other things a chance. I was open to and said yes to being a house mom at my kid’s school and to working for my church again.

So there are a few things that worked for me. Here’s to staying open, to finding margin, to boundaries and healthy “yeses” and “nos.” Here’s to another year of growth and change.
Happy New Year!

 

 

 

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One Hundred Fourteen- What I Read in 2017

CommonplaceAs another year comes to a close, I’m transferring all of the books I’ve logged since I started the practice, back in 2003, into my shiny new book journal.

I highly recommend keeping track of what you read. Perhaps it’s not for everyone, but for me, as I revisit those lists, I’m reminded of undergraduate classes I loved, newlywed life where all I wanted was to create home and traditions for my husband and I, lovely autumn afternoons spent reading outside, and my first readings of Harry Potter.

My journal is nothing more than the year, month, and titles. I don’t write thoughts or quotes or even reviews. Some books I remember well and some I’ve already forgotten. But they’re all there. Perhaps someday my book-loving (I pray) children will visit my lists and read some of these books for themselves.

Without further ado, my reading list from 2017. Those in bold are books I loved enough to recommend to you…

January
The Silkworm
Career of Evil
Luck, Love, and Lemon Pie
The Martian

February
Thrice the Branded Cat Hath Mew’d- The Flavia deLuce Series, that I dearly love
What Alice Forgot
Good as Gone
Loving My Actual Life

March
Gap Creek
This is How it Always Is

April
Jesus the King
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

May
Talking as Fast as I Can- if you love Lauren Graham
Homegoing
My Name is Lucy Barton
The Wonder
The Poisonwood Bible

June
Anne of Green Gables
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
The Other Einstein

July
Olive Kitteridge
Peace Like a River
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
Reading People- if you’re a personality quiz lover

August
The Rosie Effect
Ella Enchanted
The Hundred Dresses

September
Gracelaced
Glass Houses- the Chief Inspector Gamache series that I love love LOVE
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie -first in the Flavia series
The Nature of the Beast- Inspector Gamache

October
The Long Way Home- Inspector Gamache
When Dimple Met Rishi
The Brutal Telling- Inspector Gamache
Bury Your Dead- Inspector Gamache

November
How the Light Gets In- Inspector Gamache
The Beautiful Mystery- Inspector Gamache
A Great Reckoning- Inspector Gamache
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

December
Winter Street
Winter Stroll
Winter Storms
The Greatest Gift- I have loved reading this during Advent the past 2 years
The Bronte Plot
Long Way Down
Dear Mr. Knightley
Winter Solstice
A Gentleman in Moscow- I haven’t finished it yet, but it will go down as my favorite book I’ve read this year. 

In 2018, I’ve signed on to participate in Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Reading Challenge, and am going to try and commit to only reading books I own…not even utilizing my library! (I predict failure in this area.) 🙂
Here’s my list in progress for the MMD challenge:

A Classic You’ve Been Meaning to Read
*The Chronicles of Narnia
A Book Recommended by Someone with Great Taste
*The Second Coming/The Road/Trinity
A Book in Translation
*The Elegance of the Hedgehog
A Book Nominated for an Award in 2018
*
A Book of Poetry, a Play, or An Essay Collection
*Mary Oliver or Wendell Berry or Heal Us, Emmanuel
A Book You Can Read in a Day
*Of Mice and Men/Art and the Bible
A Book Over 500 Pages
*The Lord of the Rings/Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
A Book By a Favorite Author
*Persuasion
A Book Recommended by a Librarian or Indie Bookseller
*David Sedaris
A Banned Book
*Huck Finn/Gone with the Wind/Grapes of Wrath
A Memoir, Biography, or Work of Creative Nonfiction
*Ruth Reichl/Bird by Bird
A Book by an Author of a different race, ethnicity, or religion than your own
*maybe something by Toni Morrison

Happy Reading, all.

One Hundred Thirteen

IMG_4909It’s one of the more painful truths of the Christian life, that suffering often produces the most positive change in us. It makes perfect sense, in the way that the seemingly crazy, backwards, upside down way of the gospel makes sense. It makes sense, in the way that the God Man himself was subjected to suffering and rejection to the ultimate extent, so that we will never be.

Pain is pain. Suffering is suffering. There’s no award for who has suffered the most. When I think about it like that, life without a microwave can’t even come close to being placed in that category. It’s a minor annoyance, an inconvenience, at best. But that minor annoyance has been used to teach me, to open my eyes, and prayerfully, to mold me and change me.

It became clear to me, a couple of months ago, that our microwave was acting strange. I would put my coffee in to reheat it, walk down to the basement to start more laundry, then come back to stone cold coffee.

“Huh. Maybe I was in the basement longer than I realized?”

Repeat. Same result. So I put in a container of water and brought it to a boil. Eventually, it did. But then the coffee thing happened again. Then the microwave failed to melt a stick of butter for biscuits. The light was on, the tray was turning, but no one was home.

I managed. I melted butter in a saucepan on the stove. I reheated leftovers in the oven. But I was most annoyed by my inability to enjoy hot coffee as I endlessly bustled about in the mornings.

One late afternoon, about a week or two in the “trial of no microwave,” I texted a couple of friends about mom life. I was struggling with the reality of “never clocking out.” I was angry that my days never really end. My responsibilities never cease. I can sit on the couch after dinner, but the laundry still sitting in the dryer, or on the table calls to me. I walk through the house and see endless piles waiting to be picked up. There are dishes to put away, lunches to pack, dinners to plan, groceries to buy, homework to do, books to return, and no one else seems to care about the PILES as much as I do. And don’t even get me started on the angel baby who hasn’t slept more than 4 hours at a time for almost 13 months now. My work literally never ends.

So I asked my friends, “How do you clock out? How do you decide your work is finished for the day?” They shared some good advice, and as I mulled it all over for a few days (as is my tendency), I realized the large extent to which I bring it on myself. The only one in my house with the expectation of perfection is me.

What on earth does this have to do with my broken microwave?

The broken microwave became an invitation to me to slow down. To wake up early, to a dark and quiet house, and to sit and savor my first cup. To savor the fresh start of a new morning. Not to ignore the to-do list, or the jobs awaiting me, but to fill my tank a bit before I rushed in running on fumes. Then I invited myself to prioritize my tasks. What is really essential? Will the house or the family fall apart if I don’t get to that? Can I delegate some of these jobs out and then be okay with the imperfect results? (Yes, Future Keely, yes you can. Or at least you should.)

Is life without a microwave suffering? No. Is it a trial? Maaaaybe?

Does scripture tell me that trials (of various kinds) test me, and produce patience? Indeed.

Here’s to learning and growing and changing, and hot coffee straight out of the press.

One Hundred Twelve

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I’ve had four babies, lost a lot of sleep, and lost a lot of brain cells since college, but I remember this from my Psychology classes: “Correlation does not imply causation.” Simply stated, just because two things are related, that doesn’t mean one thing causes the other. The example I remember most clearly states that murder rates are higher in the summer and so are ice cream sales. You wouldn’t say that ice cream causes people to commit murder, right? (Perhaps the lack of ice cream might…)

Anyway, I say all that to say this – my phone has been dying a slow, painful death for the past few weeks. It finally gave out completely just yesterday, the same day my new phone arrived. For the past week, I’ve been unable to do anything but send and receive texts. No calls (aside from the many, many butt-dials my phone sent out. Sorry to those of you who received those!), no emails, no Instagram, no Internet surfing. Additionally, for the past week, I’ve played cards with my children, read more books aloud to my children, and been more patient and present with my children and husband.

“Correlation does not imply causation.”

And yet…

I can’t deny the simple fact that, with my phone not even available as a distraction, I was much more present and available to my children. My first instinct was to wallow in the disgusting truth for just a bit – that I’m addicted to my phone. However, I quickly moved on because the fact of the matter was, I was having way too much fun playing cards with my kiddos to be too bothered. Additionally, when the desire hit hard enough, I grabbed my camera to take pictures, instead of my phone. I snapped some (much more quality) pictures, turned the camera off, and returned to the moment. No posting, no sharing, no checking “likes.” What an absolute blessing the death of my phone turned out to be.

Now my new phone is here and it’s a bit more snazzy than the last. The gifs! The emojis! The slow-mo videos! The ability to actually download the latest versions of apps! The temptation is there to return to my old patterns and habits. For now, however, I’ve seen what life looks like when I’m a bit less plugged in, and oh, how sweet it is.

One Hundred Eleven

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My kids have only been on summer break for a week now, and already there are heart issues to address and character development to hone.

And I’m talking about my own. 

Leftover frustrations from the night before had me behind yesterday before I even started. Then one kid was up before me (by 6:15!), having apparently helped himself to my leftover iced coffee, then proceeded to talk to me (before I’d had my own coffee!) in a voice loud enough to wake the dead (and his sleeping sister). Those two were closely followed by the last two and the five of us were rolling by 7:15.

As it goes, the kids were “starving” for lunch by 10 a.m., so I gently mothered their hearts and encouraged them to prepare their own meals.

I yelled at them to fix their own damn food at whatever ridiculous times they were hungry and not to bug me when “real lunch time” came around. 

I had a meeting at 11:00 and was all set to be 20 minutes early when the coffee drinker spilled his drink (packed precariously in his lunchbox), my daughter’s foot was smashed in the door, and a moving truck blocked the street (on trash day) so I had to make a classic 11-point turn just to get out of my neighborhood. In my frustration at the moving guy doing his job, I ran over a curb, cursed the curb, then punched the gas and made all my kids carsick.

Did I mention my meeting was a staff prayer meeting at my church? 

By the time we were just a couple of blocks away from the church, I could see how utterly ridiculous I was acting and I repented to my kids. We talked about bad moods that we don’t fully understand, hypocrisy, and taking our anger and frustration out on whoever happens to be in our path. I had done it all. I was graciously forgiven by my children. I shared honestly with our church staff. I was prayed over.

My bad mood remained. 

By 2:00 (when my ravenous kids were ready for dinner), the baby was blissfully asleep and I was drinking the last of the iced coffee (a 3-day batch gone in a day!) it hit me: I preach and believe strength and rest are to be found in Jesus, but I look for strength and rest in coffee, in well-behaved kids, in a baby who naps more than 45 minutes at a time, and generally in having things go my way.

Repentance. Forgiveness. Under-reacting. Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-Control.

I’ve got a lot to learn. Praise God for his gentle, forgiving nature and for the gentle, forgiving people he’s put in my life, who seem to understand better than I that we are all works in progress.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. – Philippians 1:6

One Hundred Ten

18451601_1515745338444512_1058982181723269952_oI was having dinner with friends last Monday night and we were going around the table, each sharing what we had done for Mother’s Day. Breakfast in bed, brunch after church, a picnic and games at the park, lunch at Sonic and then naps at home…the stories varied but each lady was pretty pampered in some way. I told my rather pathetic story about my husband having to serve in the nursery at church that morning, my kids misbehaving during church, not wearing a nursing-friendly dress (yet again!), needing to cook some chicken before it went bad in the fridge, and in general not having a great Mother’s Day.

We were all laughing and my friend Janet remarked, “I’m expecting a blog post about this!” Here’s the post, Janet, but it’s not the one you were expecting, I’m assuming. 🙂

My oldest is not the most emotionally expressive kid you’ll ever meet, but he’s thoughtful and kind and can be very sweet. It’s all packaged in a dry, sarcastic package that leaves no room for doubt who his parents are. He made me a card and addressed it to “The greatest mom anyone could ever have.” I was incredibly touched by that title, and I pondered it for quite a while that morning.

It struck me that I don’t have to achieve or aspire to that title. That’s how he sees me. That’s who he says I am. It’s not an award to be won. It’s a status already achieved, and he’s the only one who can proclaim that about me. (Ok, so could my other 3 kids…)

I’m choosing to believe that those are his honest feelings, and not just some sweet words he chose for the special occasion. But even if his opinion changes as he ages, there are things that are true about me that are true because of Christ. Those things cannot be achieved or earned. They have already been purchased and secured for me. I’m talking about how God sees me, and who he says I am.

I’ve got that card on display to remind me of these truths, and to remind me of the amazing child(ren) who call(s) me Mom and see(s) me as the greatest.

 

One Hundred Nine

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One day last week we had plans after school. It was a mini-festival of sorts, complete with food trucks, a moon bounce, music, and lawn games. But it had been a long day, towards the end of a long week, and none of us had been home, and we were all tired. So on the drive home from school, the kids and I changed the plan. We decided to stay home, make dinner and cookies, and watch a movie.

The baby fell asleep on the drive, so I left her in her car seat in the van and I sat outside while she slept. My other kids scattered into the house, changing clothes, grabbing snacks, turning on the TV. After a few minutes, my son joined me outside and I was surprised when I looked up and saw him standing next to me, dressed like he was headed to church. He had on a nice button-down shirt tucked in to his jeans, with his belt and nice brown school shoes to complete the look. He had even re-fixed his hair.

I told him he looked handsome and then asked him why he was so dressed up. He casually replied, “No reason. I just love this shirt. I look good in it and it’s so comfortable.”

I was struck by this. When I know I’m not headed anywhere farther than my front porch, I immediately remove anything remotely presentable and choose something comfortable. Sweats and a t-shirt, please and thank you. But my son, even though he knew the plan had changed and the only date we had was with Episode VI, still wanted to wear something he loved and that made him feel good.

There’s nothing wrong with putting on my sweats at the end of the day.

There’s also nothing wrong with choosing my very favorite outfit even though “no one” will see me in it. Sometimes I convince myself it’s a waste to wear something I love if no one but my family will see me in it. I think I have to save some things for being seen in and let my family see me in a constant state of shabbiness.

This mindset extends beyond my closet. I have a journal I was given for my birthday last year that I still haven’t written in. Not because I don’t need it or want it, but because it somehow feels too special to “just write” in. Because it has a hardcover and a pretty design and it came from a thoughtful friend, it’s surely too special to mark in. I’ll just use my $.50 composition book, please and thank you.

Surely you do this, too. You have a candle that’s just too special to light. Or a pen that’s just too nice to use. Or a necklace that’s just a bit too fancy to wear on an ordinary day.

Let’s all take a cue from Sam. Let’s wear our favorite shirt, even if we only have it on from 5 p.m. until bedtime. Let’s do more things that bring us joy. Just because. Isn’t life too short to live any other way?