On Removing the Television from Home

We spontaneously removed our family’s television a month ago, wrapped up it up, set it in the hall closet, and rearranged the living room. At once, we noticed a difference in the spirit of the place. Our home is not large. We have a six rooms total, including three bedrooms and three common spaces, all neatly connected to one another so that each room becomes as much a passageway as a stopping point. Our living room is a small, cozy space nestled between our kitchen, dining area, and one of the bedrooms. Naturally, this has caused design challenges, but like every space in our humble home, it is multi-purposed. Somehow our television always seemed awkward in it, a bit like an image with “find the thing that doesn’t belong.”

For most of our marriage, we didn’t have a television. Technically, we owned a small one gifted to us when we married nearly 16 years ago, but early in our marriage, we promptly moved it to an antique armoire tucked in a corner of a bedroom. In our former house, we loved raising our children without the cumbersome tele in the living room. It seemed like an afterthought. We had a weekly snuggle movie night with the kids, where we piled in our bed with the laptop. But as you can imagine, we outgrew that practice. Literally. It became difficult for all of six of us to comfortably fit on our bed any longer, let alone for 90-120 minutes for a film. And so nearly three years ago, we purchased our first television and for the most part enjoyed it.

The progression happens quickly though, doesn’t it? What had begun as a weekly film together quickly evolved when the boys purchased their first gaming system with their lawn work money. Plus, our new television was “smart” and offered us direct streaming to Netflix and Amazon. Although we still greatly limited screen time in our home to about 3 hours a week, the tug-of-war for more began to increase. The boys wanted to play 30 minutes of video games; the girls wanted to watch a show. Mark or I would want to watch something else altogether. In our small living space, tucked at the center of our home, when the television was on, it seemed as though home life abruptly paused for it.

We had experimented with various time blocks for screentime––at the end of the day after all our day’s work had been completed, only on the weekend, and so on. It didn’t matter. The change was subtle, but before long, it seemed the TV was on for one reason or another every evening. Our family read-aloud time diminished. Relational dynamics grew more tenuous, while end of day conversation became more shallow. Video game companies created more solo-play games, which meant rotations stretched longer. More bickering occurred between the kids as they wagered who had more or less screentime. And so on. Less than three years and this thing felt like the object of tug-of-war in our home. It was robbing time for us.

It may be easy for me to oversimplify, to pin every discord on the television. We removed the TV not because it was the sole source of all strife or noise in our home’s rhythm but because the television convoluted it. We needed to simplify the terms of our home life again to properly inventory the dynamics and heart of our home. The TV was simply a variable in the equation of home life. For instance, if at the end of the day, the television is a tool to unwind, what are other ways to decompress? What are the sources of stress that need undoing? Since our children are older and growing increasingly more independent, the removal was a little more layered than simply making our executive decision. It’s led to several more abstract conversations about the gift of time and our intentionality, even in reference to the common phrase “killing time.” We’ve had more conversations about consuming and producing, how does the television fit into those needs in our life? The conversations are the parent-training for adulthood when they are deciding these things for themselves.

I’m not sure how long this will occur. Our children fear it may be indefinitely. Wink. Smile. We have still watched shows or enjoyed family movie nights with the laptop, but we have also enjoyed more family game nights and read aloud, too. We allowed the boys to pull it out of the closet for a little video game time when a friend spent the night recently. This choice isn’t about the hard and fast rules; it’s about knowing our home and the needs within it. With a teenager and two more on the cusp, I am aware of both the brevity of childhood and the imminence of adulthood. These years feel so precious, and I haven’t regretted the removal once yet.

A Reader’s Survey | The Origins and Evolution of this Blog

I began this blog a decade ago next month, just after Blythe’s first birthday––before Olive, before homeschooling, before any personal financial collapse, before Instagram or sponsorships, before a dramatic family move, before cohabitation with my sister’s family, before the slow and pending DIY renovation of our current home, before cloistered away meant anything else than simply being tucked away in the quiet recesses of motherhood and home life. This blog began as a pragmatic solution, one where I could share the images and updates our families wanted, while also channeling my creative spirit and desire to journal about motherhood. Like Flannery O’Conner, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Over the years, this space has helped me process the emotion and experience of motherhood (or at least the parts I wanted to remember––wink), our journey into homeschooling, and even at times the changes and hardship our family has endured. In many ways, it has helped me become.

Although it wasn’t initially intended, this space has now evolved into a personal business––a joy and gift for our home in financially fragile years and circumstances. It has also become a humble resource guide for thousands of readers, and I’m so immensely grateful. Yet as my readership has grown and evolved, so has the content of this space. I’ve felt more protective of my family, especially my growing children, and their own voices and stories. It can be tricky finding the balance of authenticity and privacy, but I’m always seeking it.

Still, it feels time to do some housekeeping of this space, some clearing out and directing of content again. And I would love your input!What do you love about this space? What would you love to receive here?  Would you do me a HUGE favor and take 2-3 minutes and fill out THIS ANONYMOUS SURVEY? The info is ONLY for my personal use and help in better gauging the needs and readership of this community, and it will be so helpful, whether you are a first-time or long-time reader. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Six Recent Books on My Nightstand

Every night I slide into bed grabbing a book on the stool beside me. Most evenings, my eyelids begin to close after just a few flips of the page. Bedtime is clearly not the best reading time for me any longer. My days begin early and by the time I’m tucked into bed, my body seems to intuitively know I need sleep. So if I want to read a book and actually understand what I’m reading, I have to make time during the day, which requires a bit of extra discipline, one that always feeds my soul and massages my brain a bit.

When my children were younger and regularly napping, I tended to find pockets of quiet a bit easier, mimicking their patterns for day rest, but it’s a little more difficult as the kids grow and our energy is more constant throughout the day. And so I look for these pockets in the morning before the kids wake up, on the weekends when we schedule regular periods away from screens, and ideally during the day when my children are working or playing independently. Audiobooks are a lifesaver, too. Also in the moments when I tend to flippantly pick up my phone to scroll social medias, I’m learning to ask myself more often: is this what I need right now, or would it be better to sit somewhere with a book? 

I tend to read with a pencil in hand, an active expectation that I’m going to learn something new, I suppose. The more I mark up a book, the more I connect with it, digest it, practice or think on it. I still remember when Olive first began learning to read, I found her flipping through a chapter book marking every sight she knew at that point. I thought, that’a girl. Although I love immersing into a well-written novel, memoirs, self-helps, and cultural commentaries always lure me. I find myself with stacks on parenting, poetry, writing, business, culture, etc.––books that often directly apply to my living. Fiction feels like spa therapy, and so I always aim to keep one novel and a book of poetry on my nightstand, too. Consider it balance to my constant effort in self-improvement (insert: eye roll).

For those of you who are curious, here’s a smattering of the non-fiction on my nightstand I’d recommend. Unfortunately, I only read one adult novel this summer. ONE! And although promising in ideas, the content turned out to be a bit unsavory, so I won’t mention it by name. (Insert: smirk.) But I would love to hear your favorite fiction recommendations. As you can see, I can use some storytelling balance.


The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection  | As someone who remembers childhood and teen life before the internet, who traveled internationally as a teen without a cell phone, who didn’t have a personal email until her last year of university, and who parented her children’s early years without social media, I LOVE this book! It’s a MUST for every parent and millennial, right alongside Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows. Don’t get me wrong, I totally feel old writing this, but this is the first book that actually refers to my generation as the last to remember absence, to remember life with abstract space and digitally noiseless downtime. He works through many topics in this book, even heartbreaking ones, like the modern hardships of depression and cyber-bullying plaguing teens and young adults. It’s well-written, poetic even, and enjoyable to read without the fear-mongering tone prevalent in other books on technology.  If you’re looking for some practical parenting thoughts on this idea of absence, you might find what I wrote early last year about the hidden gift of boredom helpful.

Gracelaced: Discovering Timeless Truths Through Seasons of the Heart | My friendship with Ruth has been a gift of the internet, one for which I’m grateful. Her wisdom, directness, and love for Scripture always speaks straight to me and so many others. She is a gifted watercolor and hand-letter artist, and just launched her first book––a book divided seasonally and topically into over 30 different truths and meditations on Scripture. She sent it to me a few weeks ago to preview, and one of my favorite aspects, aside from the beauty and encouragement, is the way it’s parsed seasonally into digestible segments, making it a gift to pick up while I’m making dinner or taking a small break from school or work. It is always a fresh breath, especially as a mother.

The Soul of Discipline: Simplicity Parenting Approach to Warm, Firm, and Calm Guidance | Most parenting books address specific stages from infancy to teens, but what I adore about this read is the gentle, holistic viewpoint, defining what discipline is––debunking the negative connotations––and how it evolves through the different phases of parenthood. Written by the same author of Simplicity Parenting (one of my very favorite parenting books), The Soul of Discipline follows the Governor-Gardener-Guide phases of parenting, how our role of leadership changes as our children grow, from the vigilant, boundary setting Governor of the early years through the probing and attentive Gardener during the tween years into the more relaxed decision-maker and more helpful Guide years with our teenagers. Although parents of infants and toddlers might not find the Gardener and Guide sections important quite yet, this book will be helpful to have as a reference in the years ahead. Consider this a gentle resource that will grow with you, one to reference at any point in parenthood. If you’re curious, here’s a list of other favorite parenting books.

Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance  | Mark and I have had several conversations with our children about why we do hard things, and this book was a song of praises for the value of hard work and cultivating lifelong interest. Equipped with heaps of research and narrative, I found myself challenged, encouraged, confronted, and inspired in nearly every life touchpoint––from the way we parent to how I grow a business and cultivate vision in general. I mentioned this book here a couple of months ago, as something anyone working toward hard things should read, and I mean it! I even marked certain chapters to listen to on audiobook with the children in the car. I’m sure they loved the discussion of high and low-tier goals afterward, too. See what fun our car rides are? 😉

Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul | This book was handed to me recently by a dear friend after a conversation about our 3-ness on the Enneagram––our constant need to be doing and to be successful in all endeavors, our tendency to perceive that we are loved for what we do rather than who we are. You can read more about the Enneagram, but this particular book has been a well-spring of wisdom, beautiful encouragement, and rest for me in a really hard last few months. It’s rare in modern culture to be reminded of the gift of begin brought low.

The Rain in Portugal  | I picked this book up on a whim last month. I haven’t read any of Collins poetry in a couple of years, but I always remember his lighthearted, masterful play with words and felt I could use some laughter. Plus, his poetry books always have the best covers, and so you know, I totally judge books by their covers. The same is true of win bottle labels. Design matters. But I digress. I like to have books of poetry around the house to pick up when I have a brief moment of quiet and don’t want to commit to a longer period of reading. This collection is cheeky and endearing, whisking me off on a ferry or to Moscow in the most causal way, as if we were lifelong friends having a conversation. This one I’d definitely recommend and re-read.

Hurricane Harvey Relief | Where to Donate

Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

I’m still speechless, even after our own 24″+ rain in 48 hours. Our phones have been constant with the latest developments from friends and family in the Houston and Corpus Christi areas. The images and videos are staggering, and yet Harvey still pours, now into Louisiana. Over 11 trillion gallons of water have been spilled by Harvey and still it rains. Officials are estimating the damage could total near $40 billion. Ugh. It is overwhelming at times to know where to begin helping, and yet people have. Rescue teams and civilians have done so much already, borrowing boats and stepping in to help however. Millions of dollars have already been donated, and daily we watch truck-loads of supplies leave our area for nearby Houston. With over 30,000 people currently displaced from homes, and with so much destroyed infrastructure throughout Texas, these current rescue efforts are only the beginning.

Below, I only listed local organizations invested for the long-term in the relief efforts, with specific funds directed entirely to relief efforts. In general, these are also efforts where I know and trust people involved in the work, or where I know of civic need. I’ve listed needs for everything from blood donations to diapers, to filling wishlists of supplies to opening you homes displaced victims. Of course, money is always needed. You’ll find national and international organizations below that list, ones with dedicated funds to Harvey, and at the bottom of the page, you’ll find businesses currently matching donations up to specific amounts, too. I know the list below is in no way complete, so feel free to add organizations you know and love to the comments for people to find as well.

Erich Schlegel / Getty Images

LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS

I listed below a variety of local organizations who already live and work among flood victims, all which have designated funds for 100% Hurricane relief and ongoing support.

Austin Diaper Bank : Gathering diapers and feminine hygiene products (via Amazon) to drive to Houston for HH victims

Carter Blood Care : Looking for donations to aid in relief of HH victims; search the zipcode to find a clinic near you

Champion Forest Baptist Church Hurricane Relief  Fund: 100% proceeds go to supplies to local relief efforts, including “mud-out help”––clearing mud from homes affected by flooding at no cost to victims

Church of the King Hurricane Relief Fund : 100% proceeds go to relief of flood victims, including creating distribution center for food and clothing

Church Unlimited in Corpus Christi : currently functioning as one of the major distribution centers of the coastal area affected by Hurricane Harvey. 100% of proceeds go to relief efforts.

Ecclesia Houston : all donations go toward supplies, hosting volunteers, and relief efforts. Here is also a supply list they need or an opportunity to open your home to displaced victims of HH.

Food Bank of Corpus Christi : $1 pays for 7 meals; they need resources for their community long term.

GoFundMe has created one page to donate directly to any of the current Hurricane Harvey campaigns, many of who are local Texas businesses and families.

Greater Houston Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund : established by the mayor of Houston to provide tax-deductible relief support to flood victims of Harvey

Harvey’s Heroes via San Antonio Humane Society : an emergency fund created to off-set expenses to shelter pets of evacuees and strays due to HH

Houston Food Bank : Currently closed due to floods, they will be a long-term resource to the community and need resources

Houston Humane Society : a list of immediate needs for animal rescue and care due to HH

Houston SPCA : a list of their immediate needs for animal rescue and care due to HH

Jesus Said Love Hurricane Harvey Relief : all donations will be used to help give homes, supplies, and care to displaced victims of HH, including team members of JSL in the Houston area

JJ Watt Houston Flood Relief Fund : all money toward relief efforts, although it’s unclear exactly how all of this money will be used, but his foundation’s character in the city is reputable.

Love First Disaster Relief (via FBC Houston) : 100% of financial donations go to hurricane relief efforts; also a supply list of needs for donated goods; and a form if you are able to offer a room/housing to those displaced by flooding.

Moms Helping Moms : North Texas group collecting clothing and dry goods to drive to Houston for relief efforts; all financial donations go toward these efforts

Orphan Care Solutions of Texas : Register to host a foster care family affected by the flooding of HH; every financial or supply donations will go to Hope’s Bridge of Montgomery will go specifically to aiding foster children and families who have lost belongings or homes due to HH.

Portlight Inclusive Disaster Strategies : providing relief to people with disabilities in the wake of HH

South Texas Blood and Tissue Center : Looking for blood donors to aid relief of HH

Texas Diaper Bank : a group aiming to get diapers to evacuating families

Trinity Fellowship Direct Harvey Relief Fund : all donations go to their local efforts in helping provide relief; funds not needs will go to the EFCA Hurricane Harvey Response

United Methodist Committee on Relief : on the front lines, providing relief to victims of HH. Donate financially or consider sending a relief kit.

United Way of Greater Houston : 100% of donation goes to relief efforts, and you can choose which part of Houston you want your donation to affect most.

David J. Phillip/AP

INTER/NATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS

American Red Cross : If planning to the Red Cross, check here with Google first who is matching donations up to $1M

Americares : Providing medicine and critical care to relieve victims of HH in Texas and Louisiana

Global Giving Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund : help first responders meet survivors’ immediate needs for food, fuel, clean water, hygiene products, and shelter

Preemptive Love Hurricane Harvey Fund : Home-base to this international relief organization. All donations are here are going toward local relief to those who couldn’t flee due to poverty, also to surrounding towns without resources to cope with the HH aftermath.

Samaritan’s Purse : 100% of donations go toward the team units in Texas providing relief to HH; to sign-up as a volunteer in Texas

Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

ORGANIZATIONS MATCHING FUNDS

Mark Matson’s Family Foundation (of Matson Money) is matching funds to any charity up to 25K. Email [email protected] to let them know where you donated. You can watch the video explaining here. I like that you get to choose the non-prof donation to double here, which is why I highlighted it first.

Facebook : doubling donations made through Center for Disaster Philanthropy up to $1M (donate button at top of page). “Please know that donations will be distributed to vetted nonprofit organizations with the capacity and capabilities to help Harvey-affected communities recover,” writes the CDP. “The CDP Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund is focused on medium and long-term rebuilding needs. We know from past disasters, especially through our experiences with hurricanes and floods, full recovery will likely take many years. The CDP Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund will support recovery needs long after the TV cameras and news teams rollup coverage and turn the eye of the world away from this disaster.”

Google : Matching all funds made through their page up to $1M and will be donated to the American Red Cross via the Network for Good.

Together Rising : Matching all donated funds up $100K according to this IG post; although it’s unclear where donations are going and at what point donations simply go to their organization.

 

Psalm 23

I have been reading the Psalms and Gospels lately, looking both to deepen my roots in the Scriptures and begin my days with quiet attention again. Life in family of six, filled with businesses and homeschooling and puppy training and meal making and community relationships is busy. Add email notifications and social medias and group texting in the mix, and I’m easily sucked into what the writer Linda Stone referred to as “continuous partial attention.” It’s the modern dilemma, one I’ve been mulling over quite a bit this year.

Sometime last week, I read Psalm 23––words so familiar I could recite them, and yet still they smacked fresh in my soul. I read it again and then again, each time drawn to that first line and the semi-colon right in the middle:

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.

I have a thing for semi-colons. I know it’s a bit ridiculous, but I do. In terms of style, they’re one of the more powerful marks in the English language in my opinion, a sublime connection of two separate and complete thoughts. They’re gentle and mysterious, a fingerprint of the writer’s nuance, a nudge to read again. Here, one thought points to God’s protecting and providing care; the other is a truth about my human condition. God cares for me, for us, with the most perfect care and timing, we lack nothing––a truth even when my circumstance and emotions tell me otherwise.

I remember as an older teen doing a study of shepherds and this Psalm, learning more about the detailed and perilous job of a shepherd, understanding how simple this parallel is for a shepherd-king to write about God our Shepherd-King. He leads us to rest and righteousness. He comforts and restores us. He protects us. He invites us to his table. He invites us into his home to dwell with him. The simplicity is beautiful yet still easy for me to miss in application.

But what if I actually believed this truth in my daily living? What if I let these words on printed page steep more deeply in my day as a wife, a mother, a friend, an educator, a writer, a business owner, a sometimes weary or despairing soul? What if God is my Shepherd even when my bank account is empty or when a friend wrestles with sickness or when my children are hurting or when dreams still linger unrealized? What if He’s true when political systems are broken and confusing, when families tear apart, when fear and hateful thoughts are given more media than hope, when people everywhere are hurting? What if, instead of anxious thoughts or fear or frantic working, my thoughts turned toward that intrinsic connection of two truths: God is my shepherd; I shall not want.  

The last week, I have tried to do something a little different when I have sensed negative emotions or thoughts rise within me for whatever reason. It’s not perfect or a fix-all, but it has been helpful in directing my thoughts toward what is true, even when it doesn’t feel true.

Pause.

Draw in a deep breath.

Exhale slowly.

Pray into Psalm 23, something like this:

God, you are my Shepherd King, my rest and righteousness. I am not afraid of the evil in the world, or even the evil that comes against my home, for you are here right now with me, protecting. I am not afraid of want for I know you will provide. My cup overflows at your table. You are good and merciful, and your goodness and mercy will follow me every day to the end. Let your goodness and mercy rise like a flood in our home, in our neighborhood, in our city, pouring out goodness and mercy generously into all the earth. Amen. 

It’s often been simple and brief, something that has unfolded in the midst of my day, while cleaning out my closet, emailing, running with the dog, or making dinner with the kids. It may sound or come about in a different process for you, as it should, but it’s not about perfection or performance. For me, it’s about finding a sense of rest and hope right in the tension of two thoughts, much like that small semi-colon. Be encouraged.

Self-Discovery and the Enneagram

Have you heard of the Enneagram? It feels like one of those words that popped up once and then again and again, and now it’s everywhere. Then again, it’s quite possibly I’m merely paying attention now. Wink. A dear friend first introduced me to the Enneagram a couple of years ago. I took a test and began reading a bit, but quickly felt overwhelmed by all the information! Centers, wings, stress and growth numbers? I listened to a couple of podcasts, but couldn’t quickly orient myself in the language and nuances. It seemed complex and unapproachable, honestly. So of course, I put it down and went back to my beloved Meyers-Briggs and moved on (INFJ, if you’re curious). That is, until this Spring.

Self-discovery sounds like one of those aloof words used while wafting incense or in sitting in lotus, but I’m learning it’s far more pragmatic and even cyclical in nature for me, a journey that ebbs and flows with the terrain of my days and years. There are periods in life, like this past month, where I feel naturally quieter and more reflective. Although I need quiet reflection daily, these more intense weeks  of reflection seem to beckon a deeper searching out of self, and self in the perspective of God.

I am fascinated by the diversity of human life, how we can experience the same exact moment and yet take away different realities based on our life lenses and temperaments. Perhaps motherhood has made me more acutely aware of the need to understand my own life lens, and also those in my care.  It’s a beautiful journey, even though I will be the first to say the reality of self can be bittersweet, as it unmasks the hidden lies of fear and shame and anger with it. But this is where I have received the deepest healing and self-compassion, too.

The Enneagram, like all temperament sorters, isn’t the answer to everything––BUT it is a beautiful, insightful tool for living, for the creative life, for relationships, for parenting, or business. It’s a tool, a help toward understanding your personal lens. There are nine numbers on the Enneagram, each motivated by a specific need, each attached to a specific gift and root sin. That’s the simple bit, but the nuances occur in how each of us move toward health and unhealth (and how very different each number looks on that spectrum), by the influence of adjacent numbers (wings), and the influence of different numbers we lean into in stress or growth. It sounds strange, yes? Our children are old enough to be a part of this conversation, and it’s been enormously insightful in my parenting, to understand how they are motivated in their own actions. For instance, we have three different numbers across our four children: One (Reformer/Perfectionist–the need to be perfect); Two (Helper–the need to be needed by others); and Seven (Enthusiast –the need to avoid pain). I won’t go into details right now, as I want their journeys and numbers to be theirs, but these insights have been a revelation in my parenting.

My Enneagram number is Three, the Achiever/Performer (the need to succeed), but more than learning about me, I encourage you to learn about you! Especially in parenthood and marriage, this is so helpful to understand. I admit at times it’s been really difficult learning about the “shadow self,” but recognizing the darker side of my number has been the most healing and empowering so far. So if you, possibly like me, have an immediate “ugh” that happens when you begin learning about your number, keep going! Every person (and Enneagram number) has something entirely beautiful to bring to their homes, work places, and communities, and knowing our flaws and working through them brings health and freedom!

I listed some of my favorite resources below, ones I’ve read or listened to on the Enneagram. Cheers to a new month, and to self-discovery and growth, regardless of where in life we are. If you’re familiar with the Enneagram and have any resources to add, please share them in the comments!


TO FIND YOUR ENNEAGRAM NUMBER

The Enneagram Institute RHETI Type Indicator

The Road Back to You Enneagram Inventory

Or simple begin reading the Enneagram Type Descriptions  to see where you identify most.

 

TO READ

The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr | Written by a Fansican monk, it can be heady at times, even though it is thorough. I needed full attention for this one, but the information is organized well, even with charts that follow.

The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey of Self-Discovery | This book is such an approachable introduction to the Enneagram, and it’s wonderful as an audiobook, too.

The Enneagram Institute 

 

TO LISTEN

The Liturgist Podcast #37 The Enneagram | This podcast is two hours, although it goes by quickly! Two guests give an overview of each of the numbers with a fun way to listen. This was where I started at guessing where I was on the Enneagram, and then I began reading the books and website below.

The Road Back to You Podcast | Ian and Suzanne (the guests on the podcast above) interview someone(s) each episode, having a lighthearted conversation about specific aspects of the guest’s Enneagram number. It’s encouraging and insightful in a really organic manner.

 

NON-ENNEAGRAM RESOURCES I HAVE LOVED FOR SELF-DISCOVERY

Rising StrongHow the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown

Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living by Shauna Neiquist

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Water My Soul: Cultivating the Interior Life by Luci Shaw

Connecting and Disconnecting

I have felt disconnected from this space a bit lately, from online life in general really. Perhaps it’s the pace of life the last few months or the thoughts I can’t manage to catch. Quite possibly, it’s the new puppy in our home, now competing for that early hour of morning quiet, or even simpler, the reality of writing online about out life for so long. I realized just last week that I will have been blogging for ten years this coming autumn. TEN YEARS! Although I haven’t always written from such a public platform, I have still been recording some portion of our family’s life and my thoughts on the internet for most of my marriage and mothering years at this point. And something in that reality has caused pause.

Most days, my mind and heart feel brimming with thoughts and ideas; it merely requires tweaking external logistics to make it happen. But the last month or so, I’ve felt a greater disconnect somewhere within me, one that has left me staring at a gaping hole in content here. I have sat down to write so many times, only to stare at the blinking cursor, typing words that felt forced and empty, only to erase them moments later. Delete. Delete. Delete. In March, I lost two large portions of our family trip to a defective CF card, and simultaneously, my phone has been shutting down regularly or draining battery unnecessarily fast, creating a sort of stalemate in spontaneous photos and videos. Sigh.

This isn’t a moment to address the current state of my technology, but only to say I’ve wondered if all of these factors together aren’t trying to tell me something deeper about my own needs right now. Mark and I just celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary. Our youngest, Olive, turned eight, and we are wrapping up our eighth or ninth year of homeschooling––the details of time seem fuzzy. Liam will be fourteen in the fall, and Burke will be thirteen soon after and Blythe not far behind that. The brevity of these years with children at home is visceral.

So yes, my online spaces and social medias have felt sparse and random lately. And some days the empty pages buck against my longing for productivity, my want to actually produce something with my writing hours, other than deleting them. I feel anxious at times that I can’t produce or actualize what seems so easily jotted down on a list or planner. But the internal tension––the push and pull of doing and being, writing and listening––is teaching me something about my boundaries and needs, and more specifically how again to gently receive myself as I am––whether I am performing as well as my inner-critic would like or not.  I have found over the years, it is vain for me to try and produce anything when I am locked up in my head or feeling this deep sense of disconnection. It is best for me not to stare at a screen or a keyboard or even hover my planner and lists, but instead for a time to simply step away and live.

I know I am not alone in this cycle of inward push-pull of self, this tug-of-war of what it means to be connected in the digital age. So for you, here are a few ways I have been finding authentic connection again, and also making peace with my own limitations:

Take a walk. A brief, slow walk around the block is the most instinctual activity when I have writer’s block or am having trouble quieting/hearing my thoughts. I wander and listen. That’s all. This is one of my favorite articles on the connection between writing and walking: one activity orienting us to our environment, the other orienting us to our thought. I realize not everyone is seeking connection for the purpose of writing, but I tend to think it benefits us regardless of intent.

Meditation/Prayer. I’ve mentioned this so many times in this space, but regularly quieting my thoughts with focused meditation on Scripture and prayer is essential for my well-being and sense of deep connection to anything I put my hands to in a day. This doesn’t require long periods of time. I typically find brief quiet moments randomly throughout our days to quiet my thoughts, and pray often. Wink.

Go outside. So many books have been written on our need of nature. But there is something metaphysical nature speaks to us, something tangible for our souls and bodies that we need to orient us through our lives in the digital world. Breathe fresh air. Go for a hike or a day trip to a nearby beach or river. Sprawl a blanket in the lawn, swing in a hammock, stargaze on the rooftop––whatever works best for your temperament and locale.

Unplug. Instead of searching the web for inspiration or looking to see what others are doing, unplug. Pay attention to the people and patterns of your day. Take mental snapshots instead of grabbing your phone or camera, close your eyes, and savor the image for just a moment.

Listen to music. Thoughts like rhythm. They like movement, even melodic movement. Let uplifting music waft in your home as you play with your children or go about the ordinary.

Read. Read anything that might inspire you or grow you, offline. Visit the library or a local bookshop with your kids (or without them, too). If you’re curious, I share four books currently on my nightstand every month with email subscribers. Wink.

Spend time with others outside of your home.  Make a playdate. Meet up with a friend or creative, ideally someone who inspires you. The simple goal for me: get out of your head.

The list is simple, isn’t it? It’s incredible how such simple choices can breed inward connection, and often as a result, a sense of connection for me here, as well.

Skin Wellness for Tweens + Teens

Our oldest bridged into the teen years last year, with the next two following close behind. I’ve found myself in a whole new world as a parent, reading books on the teen brain and hormones (this one and this one have been my recent favorites), learning to adjust my parenting a bit, coming alongside them more often with questions rather than directives. Somedays it feels tricky and confusing, filled with emotion and challenging conversations, but I’m truly loving this new season for our family. For all the uncertainty and new terrain, there is so much adventure, laughter, and wonderful depth right now, too. I wrote an article for Wild+Free this month on how we are currently shifting our homeschool with teens, and you can find that here, if you’re interested to read more. But today, I want to talk about skincare and personal hygiene, a common topic around our home these days with all the growing and changing bodies. 😉

My mother has often said, “we’ll sometimes do for others what we won’t do for ourselves.” Isn’t that often the mantra of parenthood? I’ve butted into this truth so many times on this journey, and I was recently reminded in The Soul of Discipline, “Kids pay attention to our actions much more than they do what we say.” This is true about most things in parenting, and as our conversations about self-care and skin begin to deepen, I’m mindful to reflect again on my own personal care. Our children are always watching us––how we handle stress, the foods and drinks we consume, the boundaries we create for myself––all of it. As a parent, I’m learning, this isn’t about being perfect, or only showing them what I want them to see. They need to see my humanity and struggle, too. They need to see how I adapt to unexpected happenings and even the times I make exceptions or bend the rules. Still, I am mindful that as a parent, if I want my children to follow a certain habit, it’s always easier if they notice me cultivating that habit, too.

LIFESTYLE FACTORS

Like many parents, Mark and I have always encouraged healthy self-care practices in our children: regular bathing, teeth brushing, early bedtimes, limited sugar and screen-time, plenty of water, and so on. But as they have grown older, they naturally have more questions about these boundaries, often challenging us with the ubiquitous why?  As a result, our conversations about wellness are deepening, extensions of the same topics, shifting in purpose. As skin breakouts and hormones are becoming a more relevant topic in our home, so are these other conversations. How do we take care of our skin? And what are the factors that affect our skin?

Hydrate / Water. Water. Water. Our skin is our largest organ, made up of cells composed mostly of––you guessed it––water! When our bodies dehydrate, not only does it affect our digestion, circulation, and brain function, but it also negatively impacts our skin, preventing the toxin elimination and even leading to dry, flaky skin and premature skin aging. Proper hydration helps our brain to function more clearly, too, improving cognitive function in children and adults, too. According to the University of Wisconsin Health Center, our skin is the last organ to receive water, so it’s imperative to add water to the skin topically (through baths/showers) and moisturize skin within a few minutes to retain hydration, whether on our face or body. This may seem irrelevant to teens, whose skin quickly rejuvenates collagen, but again, we’re trying to build lifetime habits now!

Protect / While at the beach last week, my sister and I were laughing how we used to fry our skin in our teen years, thinking that was the way to golden, luminous skin. How silly! Baking light skin in the sun for long periods will only lead to sunburn and skin damage. I love this video taken with a UV camera for understanding the importance of sun screen daily (it’s crazy!).

Nourish / Your skin can sometimes tell you something about the inside of your body, too. Inflamed or irritated skin may be provoked by food sensitivities or diets too high in saturated fats and sugars. Skin breakouts in our home have welcomed deeper conversations about the foods we eat and how it is connected to our health. Oodles of books and blog posts have been written on this, and while the details sometimes vary, some basic tenants we return to are: limit sugar, eat whole foods and plenty of veggies, make it ourselves, and drink water. These practices of course affect more than our skin, and I hope they forge habits in my children than continue long after the finicking teen skin years have passed.

 

BEAUTYCOUNTER

I’ve written a bit here before about Beautycounter and their never list, their commitment  to never use over 1500 harmful or potentially harmful chemicals in their products. This has become a larger conversation in our home in recent months as my children have more and more questions about their skin, whether it’s why my daughter’s skin breaks out in a rash when she uses over the counter lip glosses marketed to children, or a more mature conversation about the effects of heavy metals and certain chemicals stored up in our body over time. While the choices to clean our home of toxins by making our own home cleaning products, filtering our water, and purchasing safer products may seem arbitrary to my young adults, they are not. Again, the point is not to cultivate perfection or fear, but to educate them in a natural way that what they do matters. I love the way essential oils and Beautycounter products have naturally opened these conversations within our home.

SKINCARE

Because teen skin can be ask fickle as the hormones beneath it, I love Beautycounter’s charcoal products for purifying and restoring balance to uneven or oily skin.

Charcoal Bar / This little bar contains activated charcoal, coconut oil, and green tea, and can be used on the body or the face. It’s perfect for teens (or adults) who struggle with regular breakouts, or who tend to have oily skin. To stretch it a little bit or to share with more than one child, I put the bar in the microwave for 3-4 seconds and, using a sharp knife, chop the bar into 4-5 smaller rectangular bars (the reason my current bar is a little short). 😉

Charcoal Mask / Masks seem so exotic and special, and they should be a regular part of your own weekly routine, too, mamas. But here’s one you’ll want to share with your teens, although they may be a harder sell for your teen boys. Wink. With a blend of activated charcoal, kaolin clay, and peppermint, this mask also exfoliates, leaving skin feeling cleaner and clearer. You can use it as a spot treatment, too, to help remedy a pimple quicker, or to help the tube stretch a bit farther. Start yourself or your teen at one mask per week, watching how you skin responds.

Nourishing Night Cream or Day Cream / Moisturizing sometimes seems ridiculous to young adults worried about breaking out. I remember thinking moisturizers would cause more breakouts, but our skin needs the topical hydration and moisture retention. The Nourishing moisturizers are lightweight, non-greasy moist

Nourishing Cream Exfoliator / I love this exfoliator and use it myself 2-3 mornings a week, in lieu of my morning cleanser. I encourage my older kids to use it once a week, too. This exfoliator is so creamy and gentle, using jojoba beads instead of harsh abrasives. This is a wonderful option in addition to or in lieu of the charcoal mask, especially for teens with drier skin.

MAKEUP

We haven’t yet bridged into makeup with our girls yet, although they sometimes ask for a bit of lip gloss or blush when we’re at home. But for those of you with older daughters, I highly recommend this book, as it gives a more in depth picture of the cosmetics industry and the businesses and organizations who are working to establish stricter legislation in the US. I love the way Beautycounter is working to create change in our laws for everyone, not just their business. They are also highly selective about their ingredient list and honor their commitment to the never list. Their makeup colors are very natural and fresh looking, opposed to heavy concentrated color, an ideal way to introduce your teen daughters to makeup palettes that are safe to use and also complement their youth.

To help your parenting dollars stretch a bit, here are a few ideas to consider beginning with:

Cream Blusher / The cream blush in the Hibiscus color can be used on cheeks and lips , in the Caramel color can double on the cheeks and eye lids.

Sheer Lipstick / This lipstick can also double on the lips or cheeks, too and has a large variety of concentration. One product, two uses. High-fives.

Lip Shine or Peppermint Lip Conditioner / If you’re not yet ready for your daughters to have color, but you want something out of your own bag to hand them while you get ready for the day.

Mascara / Made with shea butter and beeswax, this mascara goes on light and easy (perfect for younger teens) and builds really well for women who want more definition.

Creating Space for Spontaneity

I tend to be a planner, an achiever, a doer. In fact, I could write paragraphs on the benefit of goal-minded living, and the need for patience and steadfastness in parenting, business, or home projects. In each of these endeavors, my days have always unfolded better with a little planning ahead, even with the smallest of lists. These lists help me sift through what is necessary in work and home life, to say no more often, to put my limited energy toward what I value. But how did Mary Oliver phrase it, keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable? Perhaps the greatest lesson in the midst of living-out planned days has been learning to temper them with space––space for spontaneity, for whim, for something unimaginable. . . .

READ MORE AT THE FRESH EXCHANGE