Friday, August 18, 2017

It's About Time

I used to arrive on time for things. Early, even. I knew that if I was cutting it close on time, I would be frazzled, no matter where I was going. I valued my time, and I assumed everyone else did, too. The old adage that "if you're on time, you're late," resonated heavily with me.

Then, I became a mom, and along with my new role I became perpetually late. Whether it was a result of not getting enough sleep, or underestimating how long it would take to get a baby/then toddler/then child ready to get out the door, or seemingly urgent things that occurred right as we were trying to leave the house, it became a daily struggle. 

From the beginning, I had the luxury of working from home, and I have always had the pleasure of educating at home, so it's not like we were rolling into school or jobs late. But story time at the library, play dates, classes, birthday parties, you name it: late, late, late, late, late.

Despite the stress that lateness caused me, I never got that groove back. Even now, almost eight years into my parenthood journey, Pip and I arrive nearly everywhere squealing in sideways, at the last minute. Or two minutes late. Or more. It stresses me out every time. Rushing into her gymnastics class as the students are already starting their warm-up equals stress. Running to the car to head to co-op when I know the announcements are already starting equals stress. Knowing we might miss a game or activity because we didn't get ourselves together in time to be present at the beginning of a party equals stress.


Well, we recently and accidentally arrived at one of our commitments early. It was not lost on me how calm we both were and how much we enjoyed the event. So the next day, I decided we'd shoot for early arrival for another commitment. We made it, and it was great. And so we did it again. And again. Our calm, easy arrivals were setting the tone for our entire experience. And it was wonderfully pleasant.

I don't know why I'm just realizing this now, after so many years, but being early is worth it to me. I am determined to arrive early, going forward, as often as is possible. Not only will that lend itself to calmer days for us now, but I hope it will instill in Pip the same respect for time--hers and other people's--that I felt as a teen and a young adult, and that I'm rediscovering now.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Easy Summer Veggie (and Sausage) Dinner

Fresh zucchini and squash are abundant in our region right now, and I was gifted some of this delicious produce this week. Tossed together with a few items I had in my kitchen already, they made an easy and hearty meal!


First I washed, sliced, and quartered one large zucchini and one large squash and spread them in a glass 9x13 baking dish. I washed and cubed a couple of medium potatoes and added them to the mix. I sliced a precooked kielbasa and scattered it over the top. Then I drizzled the entire dish with olive oil and sprinkled with kosher salt and an Italian herb seasoning mix. I covered with foil and baked at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Next time I will wait to add the sausage at the last 15 or 20 minutes, as it plumped up a little more than I would have preferred. But the house smelled great while it was cooking, and it tasted wonderful! We'll enjoy this simple one-dish dinner again.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Supporting a Grieving Friend

Last week, someone very dear to me passed from this earth. The outpouring of love from family, friends, and our community was comforting in the moment, and even more special when I stepped back to recall all the ways that people had stepped in to take care of us.

There are meaningful and powerful things you can do to support your friends and loved ones through a loss. Here are a few that I saw in action in recent days. (I'm going to say "friend" but please exchange that word for "family member," "colleague," or anyone else you may support through the loss of a loved one.)



- Bring drinks.
We live in Kentucky, where it is customary to bring food to the family. It's a wonderfully generous thing to do, because friends and relatives may be coming from near and far, and no one really wants to be preparing meals during that time. But meals--and time spent together--require beverages. Whether that's bottled water, canned drinks, gallons of tea, or something stronger, drinks--and the cups to go with them--can be very useful, especially for a large family.

- Offer child care.
The kids are experiencing a loss, too. But they're still kids and they need to be able to play. Providing a safe place for the children, whether it's in the same house or elsewhere, gives the adults time to make arrangements, or just take a breather during which they're responsible for no one else. Providing an optional child care area during visitation and/or the memorial service also helps the adults, who want to focus on their own time of reflection and who may need to greet the guests coming to share their in their grief and show their support.

- Do the "work."
Whether it's transporting out of towners to and from the airport or cleaning up the kitchen during and after a family meal, these are tasks that must be managed. If you can handle them and free up the family for other things, even if that's just spending time together, it's a gift.

- Be there.
Whether this is in person, as a phone call, with a handwritten card, through a note on social media, or via a text message, let your friend know that you're thinking about them, or praying for them, or honoring the memory of their loved one in some way. If the memorial service is open to the public, and you feel compelled to attend, do. And if not, that's ok, too. But, somehow, let your friend know that you acknowledge their loss. It's there whether you discuss it or not, and a kind word can mean so much.

- Follow up.
The loss in my family is too new, so this one hasn't happened, yet. But I know it's going to be important in the coming weeks and months. After the flurry of activity has calmed, when the out of town friends and family have returned home and the house is quieter than it was before, reach out. Give your friend a call or send them a text to let them know you're thinking about them. Stop by to say hello. Invite your friend to coffee, or a meal, or an event. Don't be upset if they decline your first invitation, or your second. Don't be pushy, but keep asking. Remember that although the service may be behind them, the lack of this person in their life is ever present.

We all experience loss at some point. Holding each other up during such a time is a wonderful way to show our friends how important they are to us.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

One Year Later

Today it's been exactly one year since my first blog post. It was about making the outside of our rental house feel more like home, while spending as little as possible. You can view that full post hereTo mark this occasion, I want to share a few things that I have learned over the past year.

1. Roses of Sharon enjoy morning sunlight. They also seem to prefer being together over being scattered around the yard.

Here's what they looked like last spring, immediately following relocation, and what they look like now after a year together on the east end of our house.





2. Sometimes it's better to let things go.

I had originally attempted to give purpose to a funny little 10'x10' raised bed in the middle of the back yard--that's where the dollar store seed packets were utilized last spring--but when a huge rain washed its somewhat rotten wooden beams out of place, we just razed the entire bed and now Pip has a wide open space in which to play. Because of its placement, that bed always looked weird to me. Although I was hesitant to tear it down at first, I now much prefer that area open.

3. Forsythia are hearty.

Here's a comparison of new growth last year, right after they had been pruned and pulled from another yard, and this year, where they've enjoyed afternoon sun on the west end of our house.They didn't bloom this year, but I'm hopeful for next spring.
























4. I did not inherit my grandfather's green thumb.

With the exception of one knock out rose, nothing else has thrived--or even survived--in our yard. Although there have been times that was a little discouraging--like when I had to dig up three dead holly bushes and a withered lilac--it also has given me permission to further simplify the lawn. I have realized that I'd rather have nothing (besides grass) than have things that look sad or strangely placed.

5. This lawn is a work in progress.

My desire to make the front of the house more welcoming--to up its curb appeal--is not to impress others. It's so that when I come home, it brings me joy. It still doesn't feel as cheerful as I would like; the front of the house is sparse. But there's no rule that it has to be done in a day, or even a year. With a budget of practically zero, I am content to let things unfold as they may.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Homeschool Planning: Second Grade

Ever since our co-op hosted its annual book sale in May, I've had next year's plans on my mind. I know there are plenty of wonderful boxed home learning sets out there that cover multiple subjects, but I am not drawn to that idea, for now, anyway. So, one day last week, while Pip was feeling under the weather and enjoying a Netflix movie marathon, I sat with her and pulled up the list of Kentucky requirements, added some subjects that are important to us, and made and a list of some of my top curriculum ideas for each.

Here's a look at my list (yes, it's written on unused pages of my very favorite planner):


During the 4-movie saga devoted to the adventures of Lilo and Stitch, I explored Amazon.com, Thriftbooks.com, Christianbook.com, eBay, and other online sellers. I googled the DVD series that Chris suggested for history, and found multiple online resources to tie into that. I emailed Pip's music teacher to find out if she would be willing to incorporate one or more pieces from the American Revolution era into her fall music lessons. I texted local homeschooling friends to find out if any of these were items I could borrow instead of buy. I got my thoughts sorted out, bookmarked websites, and ordered books (some new, some used).

At this time, here's what we're looking at for second grade:
- Learning Language Arts Through Literature, The Red Book by Debbie Strayer
- Singapore Math, Level 2
- Science in the Ancient World by Dr. Jay L. Wile (I've replaced the Apologia book listed because I was able to borrow this one from a friend and take a look and it appears to be right up our alley)
- Liberty's Kids DVDs, supplemented with The American Revolution for Kids: A History with 21 Activities and the Cross and Quill Media website; I also found Professor Noggin's American Revolution card game
- Kentucky Puzzles: Bluegrass Brainteasers for Ages 6 to 106 by Evelyn B. Christensen
- Ordinary People Change the World book series by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
- The Usborne Famous Artists Sticker Book, 13 Artists Children Should Know 
- The Usborne Classical Music Sticker Book, Improve Your Aural! listening skills workbook, Improve Your Theory workbook, First Steps in Music Theory book, and home assignments from Pip's harp instructor
- American Sign Language (ASL) we'll continue learning from videos or online (we took a short class together at our local library this spring and we loved it!), and although my Spanish is rusty, I'll be able to incorporate vocabulary and conversation as desired

Regularly scheduled away-from-home activities will include music lessons, homeschool co-op, children's choir, and gymnastics. We'll also make semi-regular visits to art museums, zoos, and school day and evening performances at two of our favorite regional performing arts centers.

Now that it's all recorded, it looks like a lot! Not everything will be every day. And as always, we'll tweak things to make sure she's getting the most out of the time invested in each subject.

Although we'll continue learning over the summer--why stop?--I'm excited about what our second grade year will hold!

Friday, June 9, 2017

Salvage Grocery Stores

If you're following this blog, I'm assuming that you are on the lookout for ways to stretch a dollar. There are plenty of options for managing your grocery budget, but one way I present to you today is to shop at a salvage grocery store. (Yes, that's a thing. Google it!)

Like a thrift store, you never know what is going to be in stock; depending how far away it is, it may not be worth your drive. But if you have a salvage grocery near you, I recommend checking it out, at least two or three times over the course of weeks or months, as it will change regularly.

We have a place in our region called Crofton Country Cupboard. It is where I purchase many of our gluten free snacks and other prepared foods without breaking the bank. The people who operate the store are super nice; they have an amazing deli in the other side of the location and their fresh bread--although we can't eat it--makes the entire place smell wonderful.

Here are the spoils of a recent visit.


This is a lot of food, and the majority of it is gluten free. I don't know how much I would have paid for it at a regular store, but I can tell you that it would have been a lot more than the $37.41 I paid that day!

My rules for shopping at such a store are as follows:
1. Find out before going if they accept cash only, and take your own bags or boxes.
2. Don't take a list, because you never know what's going to be there.
3. Do walk every aisle, both sides, to see everything in stock.
4. Don't buy cans that are bulging or bags that are open (although slightly dented cans and torn boxes are fine),
5. Do check expiration dates before purchasing.
6. Don't buy things just because they're cheap--only buy if your family will actually eat them.
7. Don't get discouraged if you don't find a cart full of good things. There's always next time.

If you have a good salvage grocery near you, I would like to hear about it!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Mid-Year Goal Check

As we ushered in the new year, I shared with you how my primary goal for 2017 was to make my screen time more meaningful and more productive. My intention was to examine my new habits a month or two later, to ensure I was doing what needed to be done to achieve this. Month after month, I've guiltily recognized that I haven't gotten where I wanted to be. But now, six months later, I'm reluctantly taking a hard look at my screen time management.


I'll begin by saying that I took some big strides in January, starting with unsubscribing from emails that no longer interested me. My inbox is very manageable now. Knowing that anything I receive is likely pertinent, either for work or volunteerism or personal life, I can check it a few times throughout the day, deal with the issue at hand, and be done with it. Anything I receive that is not pertinent, I delete. If it's a newsletter or update from a company I don't need, I unsubscribe before deleting.

I got my Facebook feed cleaned up, too. Nearly everything I see now is fun and uplifting and informative of events in my community and region. As I mentioned in my New Year's post, I know that's not what everyone wants out of their social media accounts, but that's exactly what I want from them. And I am a happier person for having crafted it to that purpose.

Now, the hard part. Not only am I still at my computer more minutes per day than I'd like to admit, but that time is also not as productive as it could be and I know it. Part of this can certainly be attributed to personal and professional changes occurring during this season, like ending commitments to some organizations and taking on new responsibilities for others, but I cannot allow change--which is inevitable--to stop me from managing my time better. If anything, recent changes require me to be a better steward of my time.

So here's the encouraging news. In recent weeks, I have followed Chris's lead of waking up early (I'm not talking about before sunrise, here, but significantly earlier than I was waking up), getting coffee, and jumping straight into the "thinking stuff" while Pip is still asleep. The amount of time I have varies, but here's how it goes, now, when I start up my computer in the morning:

- Turn on a podcast.
- Open email. File messages that need no action and immediately handle messages that require action. This includes paying bills that need to be paid for which I've received an electronic notice. Pause the podcast when I need to focus on what I'm writing. Close email.
- Open Facebook. Check notifications for items I want to share or to which I want to respond. Pause the podcast when I need to focus on what I'm writing. Take a couple of minutes--maybe five minutes--and scroll through my news feed to view photos and plans for upcoming events in the area. Close Facebook.
- Open our online store page. Create shipping labels as needed. Close the store page.
- Open eBay or any other buying or selling sites with which I have current business and handle business as needed. Close eBay.
- Open Blogger. Achieve whatever items I have on my agenda for that day (writing, editing, reading comments, etc). Close Blogger.

Now I'm offline, except for listening to the podcast or Pandora while completing any outstanding paperwork I have in my "to-do" file. Then I open Photoshop and start retouching photos or flatting comics pages, whichever I'm working on, and chip away at my current project. By this time I've usually had two cups of coffee and started on a glass of water. I've moved away from my desk a couple of times to put laundry in the washer or dryer, make the bed, or tidy up whatever may have been left out the night before.

Most importantly, when Pip wakes up, I am easily able to stop what I'm doing and focus on her. If I didn't get through all the items that I was planning, it's no problem, because with my set order of operations, I know exactly where to pick up later when I have some free moments.

It's still a work in progress, but I am much happier with this new morning routine than I was with the old. Later in the day continues to be a struggle, as I still find myself scrolling and reading and liking and commenting more than I need to be. But I'm getting there. And I have set a new goal going forward to maintain that focus of the morning each time I sit down at my desk.

How often do you set new goals for yourself in your personal or professional life? How often do you evaluate your progress?