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Our Brand of Crazy {A Day in the Life}

8 Sep

Baby #4 is now 4 months old, so we’ve pretty much gotten into the groove of being a family of 6, and let’s just say… it’s nuts.

I know more than a handful of families who have at least 4 kids, and I’ve had to be very careful to not compare our level of activity, sanity, and general having-it-togetherness to theirs, and think, “But why can they handle doing x and y with 4/5/6 kids, and we can’t even find time to clean the bathroooms?” The short answer is: because we’re us, and they’re them.

Here’s a little peek into our brand of crazy:

Our days usually start with Corbin (3.5 yrs) getting up at the ungodly hour of 5:30. He wanders out of his room (which he now shares with Annabelle) into ours, and we pull him into bed with us, hoping he’ll go back to sleep. Sometimes he does. Most times, he doesn’t. He does lie there until 6:00 or so before whispering, “Mommy, hungryyyyyy.” So then I have to get up. I grab him an applesauce and fig bar, and make myself a cup of coffee while he watches the iPad.

Emma (8.5 yrs) and Annabelle (6.5 yrs) usually wander out of their rooms between 6:30 and 7:30. Now that Emma has her own room, she comes upstairs every morning after making her bed, getting dressed, combing her hair, and brushing her teeth. I don’t even tell her to do that! #winning

Travis and Neola are usually up by 7 or 7:30. Travis is a night owl and lately has been working extra at night (his company is super busy) and going to bed late. Neola always wakes up happy, and I usually wait an hour or so to feed her. The girls like to hold her in the morning, and Neola is also usually content to lie on her activity mat.

Once all the kids are up, they go from zero to 60 way too fast. Sometimes they dive right back into whatever they were playing the day before, sometimes they invent something new. (This morning, Emma came up with her play hairdresser stuff and now we’re doing spa day, and it’s not even 8:30.) Last week, they were sending their backpacks from the deck to the swing set via an umbrella “basket” sliding down a rope, and then playing together on the platform of the swing set. I don’t even know what!

Around 8 or so, I wrangle them for breakfast, which is usually some combination of toast, yogurt, cereal, or protein shake. Each of them asks for a different variation, but I allow it because 1) then they actually eat it and 2) all of the options are easy to make. I try to start school while they’re eating because they’re a captive audience, but sometimes I end up having to feed Neola or wrangle Corbin, or pick up a mess, or who knows what.

From breakfast on, the day is a blur. The biggest challenge I have is getting the girls to sit down for our combined subjects (Bible, Memory Verse, Poetry, and History or Science) while also trying to occupy Corbin with an interesting-enough activity that won’t require too much supervision or result in too big a mess. (Sensory bins, painting, kinetic sand, even markers are all no-go’s. He makes a mess with everything.) If he’s not content to play with toys, we usually do play dough or water wows, he works on something at the table with us, or we move school outside. Some days, though, he watches iPad until our combined subjects are done and then one of the girls goes to play with him.

And usually, just about the time Corbin is occupied, and the girls are at the table, and I start reading, Neola starts crying because she needs a nap. Ok, new plan! The easiest way to get Neola down for a nap is to swing her in our chair swing (I guess they’re called a hammock swing?) outside — meaning I sit in the swing with her. If we just started school, I have the girls come outside with me, and either I read or they read while I’m swinging Neola. If we had covered a few subjects before she got fussy, then we just take a break.

Then there are the days that the older kids are just riled up. They’re giggling at everything, or chasing each other around, or fighting over toys, or won’t stop trying to talk to each other while I’m reading. Or they really want to do a certain activity while I read (like swing, or monkey bars, or twirl in circles) but they can’t do it while also paying attention (as evidenced by their inability to tell back what they learned, or know what happened in the story). Or my favorite, I’m reading and they get up and walk away without a word to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water. ?!?!?!?

After our combined subjects, the day is a flurry of feeding Neola; keeping Corbin out of trouble; getting snacks and making lunch; putting Corbin down for a nap; alternating math, reading and language arts with each girl; getting Neola to nap; switching laundry; cleaning up random wrappers and sippy cups; discovering inside toys that are outside and outside toys that are inside; sweeping up sand off the kitchen floor; drinking yet another cup of coffee; trying not to care that the oven, microwave, refrigerator, kitchen sink, dishwater front, sliding glass door, master bathroom, and windowsills are all disgustingly filthy; changing diapers, poopy and otherwise; and diffusing umpteen fights over ridiculous things.

But it also includes the kids playing store and doctor; riding their bikes or pushing each other in the jogging stroller; drawing funny pictures; creating Barbie worlds or truck crashes; pretending Duplo blocks are fruits and vegetables at their farmers market; and getting dirty outside.

School-wise, it’s seeing Annabelle finally read a story, completely on her own, and be so excited about it. It’s having Emma say her favorite subject is math, and that she likes multiplication and division more than addition and subtraction. (!!!) It’s watching them create imaginary worlds based on what we just read about, or having them ask questions about something, googling it, and learning about it together. It’s seeing siblings playing together for hours on end, the little brother wanting to be like his older sisters, and the baby sister getting oodles of attention all day instead of just hanging out with boring ole mom.

So it’s crazy. But rewarding. But also crazy. And exhausting. That takes us until whenever Travis gets off work, which is usually between 5 and 6 pm. One of makes dinner while the other wrangles the kids (some days, I want the peace and quiet of cooking; other days, I just. can’t. and I deal with the kids while Travis cooks.) We eat around 6 or 7. Corbin hardly ever eats what we make. He is the *pickiest* eater! Annabelle puts a small fight but usually eats it all. Emma is almost always a champ (because she wants dessert).

Around 7:30, we start the bedtime routine, which is: give the kids melatonin and vitamins, tell them what to do next at least 4 times even though it’s the same every night (jammies, brush teeth, potty), catch them lollygagging in the hallway or doing “one last thing” with a toy, and threaten to either throw their toy in the river or give them a spanking. After all that, Corbin (and now Annabelle, since she moved to his room) watch 5-10 minutes of “baby truck” on the iPad. We try to read picture books with them but often run out of time (see aforementioned lollygagging). I’ve been reading Emma a book before bed, but down in her room. (Bedtime downstairs with just her is a different world from the circus upstairs!)

After the older kids are in bed, we finish loading the dishwasher if it’s not already done, I fold laundry and tidy up the upstairs (the downstairs only gets picked up once every couple of weeks at this point). Neola usually nurses and goes down around 8:30/9. Sometimes Travis works on his computer or down in the garage. Sometimes I take a shower because I didn’t get one in the morning, or even change out of what I wore to bed the night before. I always end the night with either reading or watching a show. I just finished reading Anne of Green Gables. Now I’m reading The Moonstone and watching Victoria on Prime.

I honestly think that if Travis and I both could figure out how to fit in a Bible quiet time most days and a workout 3 times a week, and if we could hire a cleaning lady to come every other week or once a month, we’d feel like this life was fairly manageable. At least, manageable until our kids get a little older and we get into a different season.

When Corbin was born, I felt like any margin we had had with only two kids disappeared. If you got behind with three kids, in sleep or house projects or whatever, you just stayed behind.

Well-meaning people told me that having 4 kids was just like having 3 kids.

…It isn’t.

My friend Sarah put it well when she said, “Until that 4th baby can actually play, you’re just adding a baby to the craziness of your first 3 kids. The newborn/baby stage is hard no matter how many kids you have.”

If 3 kids was a marathon that Travis and I were able to run with a very slow, focused pace as long as it involved no detours or side shows, then 4 kids is a relay race where we have to hand off kids or tasks or duties to other people every so often. We can’t carry it all ourselves. Some parents might be able to with 4 kids (or maybe they just act like they are able to), but we are finding it difficult.

Travis’ job lately has been stressful because he says they’re putting out one (proverbial) fire after another. They’re just moving from crisis to crisis. There’s no time to be proactive or intentional. They are overwhelmed by the amount of work, and completely reactionary.

That’s our parenting life right now too. Overwhelmed by the amount of work. Moving from crisis to crisis. But nevertheless, we must strive to be intentional. It’s hard to believe parenting can be any harder than it is now, but I do believe that the challenges continue in different form as kids get older. So if we’re not intentional now, then when?

Homeschooling definitely adds to the crazy and I’ve wondered more than once in the last few weeks if we should just send the kids to public school. But for this school year, we are here, taking it one day, one moment at a time, and trusting God to redeem our failures and stretch our two mites into enough.

Thoughts on Grief: Our Dog, Katy

7 Jul

We lost our dog, Katy, today to old age. She was roughly 13 years old, though as a rescue shelter adoptee, her age was always more of a guess. We used her adoption date of August 9 as her birthdate, and knew she was roughly a year old when we adopted her, putting her birth year at 2008.

Back when we first adopted Katy, I blogged about it. You can read that post here. In that post, I said, “Katy is such the perfect dog for us that I feel totally blessed by God through her. Since she is a year old, she’s pretty much done growing, she is totally house trained, and she is pretty obedient to our commands. Best of all, she’s the perfect size to cuddle with me (which she loves to do!) and she’s strong (typical of her breed) so that she can still run and hike with us, once she is cured of her heartworm (a condition she had when we adopted her…but the Boulder Vet Clinic will treat her for free because we adopted her from the shelter).”

Right after we adopted her, we were walking out to our car with her on the leash. I was a very green dog owner, and knew practically nothing. Turned out, her collar was on way too loose (and Katy had a very thick neck compared to her head, so it was very easy to slip things off over her head), and she ended up pulling out of it, and running off across a busy street and into another parking lot. Travis and I ran after her, yelling. Thankfully, the Humane Society staff saw what had happened, and came out with treats and helped us corral her.

She did that several times in the first six months to a year that we had her. If we held the front door open too far or too long, she was out the door and down the street. I’d follow after her on foot, and Travis would get in the car. No matter how much I called Katy, or even when Travis arrived bearing treats, she would act like she didn’t know us and keep running. She even ran off once at elk camp. Thankfully, we always got her back (but I always wondered if that’s how she ended up as a stray dog in the first place, because it seemed like she had had an owner before). She eventually bonded with us, and stopped running away. She actually became very reliable on sticking close to us.

Katy was a great dog, and we really loved her. For three years, Katy would drape across my lap and cuddle whenever we watched TV (until I got pregnant with Emma, and then had no lap!). She slept in our bed (until I got pregnant and needed the extra room for pillows!). She even snuggled headfirst into the bottom of my mummy sleeping bag when we were up at elk camp. She loved going on runs and hikes, and always had more energy once she knew we were headed home.

We always laughed that Katy didn’t do many traditional dog things. She didn’t like playing fetch. She didn’t like water. She didn’t dig holes. She didn’t slobber. She didn’t chew things up. We’d feed her, and she would eat it whenever she felt hungry enough. And until we got Charlie in 2010, she didn’t even bark. We didn’t even know if she could bark. She was so well-behaved that we left her free-roaming in the house while we were at work, and she never had any accidents or did naughty things.

But then we got Charlie, and Katy’s personality changed. She started being guarded about her food, started chewing on the couch, started barking (she would even bark at the sound of a doorbell on the TV). But Katy had a friend now. Since they could no longer be trusted in the house alone, we left them in our laundry room while we were at work. We had to replace the trim in that room before we sold the house, because they destroyed it. I worked only 5 minutes or so from our house for a few years, so I’d come home on my lunch break to take them on walks. Then I worked from home for a year and not long after Travis switched jobs and started working from home, so they once again had free reign of the house.

We took the dogs camping, hiking, backpacking, running, walking. We took them to dog parks occasionally. We tried teaching them to walk next to us on a leash, and then gave up. In Colorado, our friends, D and Doug, would watch Katy and Charlie any time we went back to Minnesota to visit family.

In April 2013, Emma was born. I’ve already mentioned that Katy got booted out of our bed and off of my lap during pregnancy. Then life with a newborn diminished our attention to the dogs even more. But they never retaliated. Instead, Katy would sit in front of Emma’s room like a guard dog. Around our friends’ kids, and as Emma grew up and we added other kids, both dogs, but Katy especially, demonstrated loads of patience and gentleness. I never worried about her reacting poorly to attention from kids.

In March 2014, we sold our house in Wheat Ridge (suburb of Denver) and moved back to Minnesota. We lived with Travis’ parents for three months while we looked for a house. During that time, Katy and Charlie got so much exercise that they both lost a good 5 pounds (and that’s quite a bit when you’re only about 40 to begin with!) even though we were feeding them twice as much. Katy’s personality changed during that period too, as a result of being so active.

In June 2014, we moved into our current house, and about a year later, finally put in a in-ground fence. Katy was never one to run around on her own, but she liked exploring. At one point, she had a pustule on her belly that we were covering with old t-shirts, pulled into a knot on her back with ponytail holders. She’d go off exploring on the woods at my in-laws’ house and come back shirt-free. She and Charlie wrestled and play-fought, and she was always the leader on walks (whereas Charlie’s personality has always been more bungling, Eeyore-like, and “Squirrel!” ADD).

Katy was a fast learner, and a smart dog. She caught flies in her mouth, and was great at catching food too. She laid down on her belly, her rear legs tucked underneath her, and her front legs crossed like a lady. Both her ears stuck straight up, until she got a hematoma in her left ear one winter. The vet had to cut it open to drain it, and that ear never stood up again. Katy was prone to tooth decay, so in Colorado, we had her teeth cleaned every year (which required her to be put under). Our vet up here never thought Katy’s teeth looked bad enough to merit that.

Over the past couple of years, Katy’s age began to show. She slowed down. She didn’t like going on walks much anymore. Her back legs got weak and she often fell down on our wood kitchen floor, unable to get back up. She grew deaf, and could only hear you if you clapped really loudly. She became ravenous, and often bit your hand if she even thought you had food in your hand. She pooped and peed in the house if you didn’t let her out often enough, or at the right time before/after/during feeding. When she wanted to come back in, instead of pawing at the door like she used to (I’m guessing she just couldn’t, with how weak her back legs were), she’d grow impatient and circle the house, checking every door for someone to let her back in. Travis would see her run past his office window several times in a row.

We joked (and lamented) often in the past year that she was more active in her sleep than she was when she was awake. She loved sleeping on her side and putting her feet up against a wall, bookshelf, laundry basket. Then she’d dream she was running, and her toenails would tap against the hard surface. It was often quite loud, and would wake me up several times a night. It drove me crazy! I’d get up and pivot her away from the wall, because if you tried to move her, she’d make her trademark yelp that sounded like a sick walrus.

There were many moments of frustration and flippant, inconsiderate comments on our part during the last few years. It was hard to deal with a needy dog while taking care of three kids and being pregnant (and now, having four kids, one being a newborn). But I’m so grateful that we were faithful to Katy, knowing that she was too old to go live somewhere else. Travis and I wondered many times over the past 3-4 weeks what we should do about Katy. It just wasn’t clear. So I prayed for God to make it clear.

Late last week, we came to the conclusion that it was just time. Katy wasn’t going to get any better, and we were sad that she kept falling. So this past Monday, we called and made an appointment to have her put down. We wanted to wait until the girls were here (they’re still up at my in-laws’ cabin) but then Katy stopped eating. She even refused to eat turkey lunchmeat, which is not the Katy we knew! So we moved the appointment up a day, to this afternoon. But she passed on her own. Corbin, Neola and I were at the park. Travis had come upstairs for coffee, and heard Katy yelp in the garage (we had moved her out there on the dog bed, because she had soiled the carpet where she was laying inside). He could tell the end was near, and so he stayed there and petted her until she was gone. She was laid to rest near our garage.

I’m thankful God made it clear, that we had time to be more intentional with Katy, that she died at home instead of a vet office. And I’m thankful that God blessed us with Katy. She was a great dog, and I hope that I see her again in heaven someday.

Pregnancy #4: 6 Weeks Postpartum

23 Jun

Neola is 6 weeks old today, which means I am 6 weeks postpartum. I’ve posted about my postpartum journeys with each of my other three pregnancies, so no reason to stop now!

Physical Recovery

I didn’t have any tearing or stitches, so no issues there, though I do notice that my tailbone still hurts if I recline on it when I’m slouching.

The afterbirth pains were intense again, and even the maximum dosage of Ibuprofen and Tylenol with Codeine didn’t keep them under control, but heating pads were a lifesaver. The pains lasted for 4-5 days after Neola was born.

My bleeding was never very heavy, but it did last a whole month, which got really old. I took stool softeners for the first couple of weeks, and didn’t have any issues there, thank goodness.

For the first few weeks after birth, I found it taxing to walk around or bend over much, but by about week 4, I felt my stamina and core strength getting better, and now I can walk several miles and be fine.

My ab muscles are non-existent, and I have only done a couple core workouts, so that unfortunately has not gotten much better. I notice this the most when I have to hold Neola for a long period of time — it ends up being really hard on my lower back. I was wondering the other day, “What would it be like to care for a newborn when you’re actually in shape?” I have never had that experience.

But on the whole, I have to say that the physical recovery from birth has been smooth.

Weight / Body Image

I’m about 13 lbs from my pre-pregnancy weight.

This pregnancy has been the slowest and consequently most frustrating recovery in terms of weight loss. I still can’t wear any of my pre-pregnancy pants, even the ones that I bought around this time with my other pregnancies. My body shape stores extra body fat in my stomach, so I can get all of my pre-pregnancy pants on but some I can’t button at all, and the others cause major muffin top action and are frankly just really uncomfortable. I’ve bought a few pairs of pants and shorts trying to find something I can wear right now (so that I can stop wearing my maternity leggings!), but haven’t had much luck. I am planning to go shopping this weekend, though, and hopefully find something. I’m pretty sure this is the result of all that candy I ate during pregnancy (whoops), and maybe age? Let’s go with that.

That said, I am extending grace to myself. My body just created a human being. It’s only been 6 weeks. I know from my previous pregnancies that it takes time to get back in shape, but it will happen eventually. It’s just a season… my LAST postpartum season!

Emotional

Speaking of which, that has been the main thing I’ve reminded myself of during the past six weeks: This is just a season. It’s just a phase. This is the hardest it will ever be [in terms of physical exertion and balancing the needs of four young kids]. It will get better. We will figure out a rhythm. Life will find a new normal, where we feel mostly adjusted. Don’t worry about the things that aren’t getting done right now, or that we don’t have time for. This is just a season.

Both Travis and I have had hours or days when we can’t see the truth in what I wrote above (it doesn’t help that he’s extremely busy and stressed at work right now), but overall we’ve been able to keep these challenges in perspective, and maintain our hope and optimism.

Back when Corbin was born, I really struggled with feeling isolated, like I was always feeding a baby or sleeping while my family hung out without me. I prayed about that a lot before Neola was born, and I think God answered that prayer by making her unwilling/unable to nurse, which forced me to pump and feed her bottles. Bottles meant feeding Neola could be done by anyone, so the girls, Travis, and grandparents have all shared the load. It’s not the answer to prayer that I envisioned, but it has made the issue of feeling isolated from my family non-existent, and for that, I praise the Lord!

I’ve also been reading We Would See Jesus while pumping. I read that book several times back in college and early married life, and it’s been such a good reminder that I have access to Jesus wherever and whenever, that I don’t need to be having a consistent quiet time or praying a certain amount to have a relationship with Him. It’s also been a great reminder that Jesus sacrificed everything for me, not just some things, so I can sacrifice for my kids, trusting that God will not only provide, but bless abundantly.

My biggest challenges with managing four kids on my own while Travis is working have been 1) Corbin and 2) the messes. Corbin is a handful. We are trying really hard to have him watch less iPad, but that means that instead of sitting in one spot, he’s making messes or playing outside only God knows where. He’s hard to keep track of. Even when I take Neola outside to feed her a bottle, Corbin only stays on one side of the house for 5-10 minutes. I think that’s the biggest difference between him and the older girls — they would play in one area for an extended period of time. He is all over the place. Not only that, but he also gets into trouble. He dumped out containers of water in the garage, took off his diaper and pooped (not on purpose, but because he’s not at all potty trained) in the playhouse, rode his bike down the driveway out onto the road by himself several times (good thing our neighborhood is pretty quiet). He often plays with water and soap in the bathrooms, and gets into the girls’ makeup. He brings indoor toys outside. He puts the riding toys in the kiddie pool. He definitely keeps us on our toes!

And then there’s the messes. I have tried and tried to get Emma and Annabelle to pick one mess up before making another, and reminded them while they’re making a mess that they’re going to have to pick all of it back up. But the reality of the situation, I’m realizing, is that their energy to make a mess—I should say “get toys out” or “create imaginary worlds”, because their play is at least always intentional these days—is always going to outstrip their energy to clean it up. And then you add Corbin into the mix… the end result is that there are all manner of toys strewn in every location imaginable. Thankfully our house is tucked in the woods so I don’t feel pressured to have things cleaned up for any neighbors.

I am trying really hard for both my kids’ sake and my own sanity to remind myself that it’s ok for toys to be scattered around. It’s ok if playing hard with things occasionally results in something being destroyed or broken. My kids are making memories and using their imaginations, and not wasting their lives watching a screen all day. I’ve also been tapping into the things I learned in counseling—when I sense I’m starting to get overwhelmed, instead of flying off the handle, I calmly ask the kids to pause what they’re doing and clean up one mess. (Because, I’m realizing, it’s not messes in general that stress me out, it’s when there are messes everywhere.)

And as always, coffee is a lifesaver and consumed in copious amounts. When I am up for the day after too little sleep, a cup of coffee brings me joy and reminds me that it will be ok.

Pregnancy #4: First Trimester

12 Nov

We are expecting our fourth child in May! My official due date is May 17, two days before our wedding anniversary. But since our first three kids arrived either early or on their due date, I highly doubt the date will be shared.

That means I am 13.5 weeks along. So far, this pregnancy has been very different than any of the others, not so much in terms of physical symptoms but in mental experience. (Though I am showing much more at 13 weeks this time around!!)

Back in June, I had an ectopic pregnancy. We caught it before it got bad. I had had weird bleeding for a while, then when I started having stabbing pain, I took a pregnancy test. It was positive, so I went to the ER pretty much right away. I had surgery within a few hours, and went home the next morning. Because of COVID, I was in there alone. It was a lonely experience but I felt God increase my faith and reliance on Him.

They took out the whole Fallopian tube that was affected, but assured me I could still get pregnant with just one. I didn’t know how long it would take, but after waiting two cycles to try again (what the doctor had told me to do), we got pregnant that first month. I took the pregnancy test on September 9 and it was positive!

Another reason this pregnancy has been different is that we had wanted to start trying back in the summer of 2019. Unfortunately I had been on the depo provera method of birth control, and I discovered after going off of it, it can take up to 18 months to get pregnant. It took 9 months for my period to come back. And then I had the ectopic. So this pregnancy/baby was waited and longed for far more than any of my others. We had given ourselves until the end of this year, and if I didn’t get pregnant by then, we figured we were meant to have only three biological kiddos. (Which is still a huge blessing, don’t get me wrong!)

Another way it’s different is that at age 37, I am now of “advanced maternal age” and insurance (supposedly) covers extra things like genetic testing at 12 weeks, and a detailed ultrasound and fetal echo at 20 weeks. We have already done the genetic testing and know that we are having another GIRL. Honestly, we were hoping for a boy to even things out, but we trust God’s wisdom. And baby is healthy so I am incredibly grateful about that.

Because of my history with the ectopic pregnancy, I had ultrasounds early. My first was at (what we thought was) 6 weeks. But unfortunately, only the gestational sac and yolk sac were visible. The tech explained that it could just be too early — maybe my dates were off. (I do think that I ovulated slightly late.)

So I had a couple of HCG tests to make sure things were trending in the right direction (which they were, but I had had a miscarriage back in 2017 so this was bringing up bad memories and lots of anxiety), and we went back for another ultrasound a week later. That was such a long week!! This whole first trimester has felt like waiting on pins and needles for more information. We hadn’t planned on telling anyone for a while but I needed my friends to know what was going on and to pray, so I told my Bible study ladies and another close friend.

Thankfully, at my second ultrasound, there was baby with a heartbeat. Baby measured 5 days behind where we thought I should be, but apparently you have to be more than 5 days off at that point for them to change it. So my original EDD of May 17 was kept.

Physically, I felt sicker with this pregnancy than my others, but I have noticed a correlation between being really active (maybe “overdoing it”) and feeling sick, so I’m guessing it has something to do with the fact that this time around, I have 3 kids, am homeschooling, and am just that much older (Corbin will be a couple months over age 3 by May).

My cravings, on the other hand, have been practically the exact same as my other pregnancies — salty foods and fruity things (including fruit itself). Probably my number one craving is Asian food, followed very closely by French fries. Sweet things have lost a lot of their appeal.

My acid reflux is NOT loving my pregnancy cravings. Interestingly, since getting pregnant, my acid reflux hasn’t manifested itself in a burning in my throat, but instead, my chest just feels tight and it’s a little harder to breathe. Which also makes it hard to know when I’m having acid reflux. But I will say it’s a lot more comfortable.

My biggest goal in this pregnancy is to keep exercising, even when I don’t think I have the energy for it. I found a Prenatal Barre program on Beachbody that I’ve been doing, and the best part is that the instructor has a whole bunch of 10-minute workouts (the regular workouts are 30 minutes long). I’m hoping/planning to do one of those 10-minute workouts most days. They are definitely effective, even if they’re short!

My other goal in this pregnancy, and the main reason for finding out gender so early, is to purge clothes and organize our utility room. Clothes take up so much room! We need more space for other things.

I’m also trying to convince my husband that we should frame and drywall a wall to close off our extra bedroom space downstairs so that the girls can move into that space, and baby can have her own room. (Corbin would keep his room.) We’ll see how it goes.

Emma and Annabelle are totally pumped about having a baby sister (they’ll have just turned 8 and 6 when baby arrives). Corbin is just starting to notice my belly is getting bigger. I think he’ll start to understand more when I’m obviously not just getting fat.

We did a piñata gender reveal for the kids, but apparently Emma had overheard Travis and me talking earlier that day, so she already knew it was a girl. (Stinker!) The girls still had a blast hitting the piñata— and getting the pink candy!

Why I Stopped Using Social Media, and Am Not Going Back

7 Sep

Note: I am not writing this post to judge or shame anyone. This is simply my experience and my opinions. If it prompts you to think a little deeper about your social media usage, great! If not, keep calm and post on!

The What

I spent June, July, and August 99% detached from social media. I did have to jump on Facebook a couple of times to gather information about or RSVP to an event or group that someone had told me about in person.

With the time that I would have normally spent on social media, I read a couple of news emails that I had sent to my inbox, so I did stay aware of what was going on in the world.

The Why

I have been going to counseling to figure out why I struggle so much with mom guilt, neurotic housekeeping, and feeling overwhelmed. Back in May, I started wondering if all the extra voices and “highlight reels” I was seeing on social media were maybe just adding fuel to the fire.

The How

I deleted Facebook and Instagram off my phone. Voila! Disconnected. I didn’t delete my accounts because I wasn’t necessarily planning for my hiatus to be permanent.

I found other ways to share things. When I took a super cute photo of the kids, I texted it to my parents and in-laws. When I ran across a good quote, I texted it to a friend who I thought would appreciate it. If I wanted to tell someone about my deep love for silicone kitchen brushes, shocker, I just kept it to myself.

Note: I do consider texting to be a form of personal interaction. Even though it’s still electronic and not face to face, it’s intentionally communicating with a specific person or group of people.

The Experience

The first few weeks of my social media hiatus, I missed posting more than I thought I would. I was still in the mode of looking at life through an Instagram lens, and processing thoughts in terms of captions or posts I  could add to my Stories.

But I didn’t really miss seeing other people’s feeds. In fact, not knowing what they were up to was actually kind of freeing! When I saw friends in person, we could actually catch up, instead of just retelling what we both already knew from seeing one another’s posts on social media.

After those first couple of weeks, I stopped thinking about posts and started just enjoying my life. Sometimes I took photos with my phone, but most of the time I didn’t. Instead, I noticed things. This awareness went hand in hand with my learning about the Charlotte Mason method for homeschool. I started really looking at butterflies, moths, and dragonflies; I collected mushrooms to identify; I watched squirrels and birds in the trees. I took mental snapshots of moments, and just enjoyed them without camera in hand. The few photos I did take were mostly to commemorate moments I had already enjoyed, instead of an attempt to document everything in hopes that something turns out worthy of posting to social media.

The Result

I had always justified my use of social media with the idea that “it’s fun to see what people are up to.” And I do still really enjoy knowing about people’s lives. But I think that this modern version of “knowing” has taken a natural human affinity and distorted it. Before social media, the main way you learned about other people’s lives was through actual human interaction. You run into Sally at a park and chat for 15 minutes about what you’ve both been up to. Or you do a play date with Mary and hear from her that Jane just bought a house and will close next month. Or you wonder what Bridget is up to, so you just call or text her to catch up.

I realize that the pandemic has decreased the usual amount of in-person human interaction we’re getting with people beyond immediate family, so that would seem to be an argument for the value of social media. But ask yourself this: Is seeing vacation photos posted by a friend from high school enriching your life? Is it adding value to your life to see photos of the birthday party an old friend from the state you used to live in hosted for her 5-year-old? Even if you limit who you follow on social media to those people you actually know and see on a regular basis, do you really need to see what their kids are doing every day?

Some of you might say yes, and honestly, even now as I’m typing this, I want to agree. Because I do like seeing cute pictures of kids and hearing people’s thoughts. And God created us with an innate desire to know others and be known.

But here’s the problem with social media: Knowing about people’s lives, without interacting with them over it, creates a vacuum. We know way too much about people and yet spend way too little time actually getting to know them. (Don’t even get me started on the people we follow that we will never meet IRL.) My rule of thumb is, if something important happens to someone I know and care about, it will come out in my personal conversation with them. If it doesn’t come up, then I don’t actually need to know.

“I don’t need to know.” That is pretty much the antithesis of social media. Social media is built on the idea, nay, the lie, that we have to know everything, all the time, from everyone, and if we don’t, we will be left behind. What will we have to offer if we haven’t seen the latest viral video, or the funniest new meme, or… or… or… something new that I can’t even imagine right now because I’m not on social media?!?!

I’m taking a stand against that lie in my life by being done with social media. Even though I am tempted, I am not linking to this post from FB or IG. I don’t need people to know that I’m leaving. And they probably wouldn’t care anyway. Surprisingly, knowing less about other people and having the anonymous universe know less about me makes me feel better. Being slightly “off the grid” has allowed me to enjoy my own, real life more.

(I say slightly because yes, I am still telling the universe in a blog post about why I decided to stop using social media. If that makes me a hypocrite, then so be it.)

And so, I will end this post with probably the last up-to-date term from social media that I will know…

Mic drop.

(Full disclosure, I am not deleting my Facebook account, since it is unfortunately the method of communication that several IRL groups I am part of has chosen. I plan to delete my Instagram account once I download all my data, which is in the works. And I do plan to keep my blog.)

What We Did in the Summer of 2020

1 Sep

The Summer of 2020 was like no other. Well, actually for us, it wasn’t *that* different since we are mostly homebodies anyway. But since it also coincided with me not being on social media, I wanted to write down the things that we did this past summer before I forget. We:

  • Biked from the Arboretum to Dairy Queen
  • Hiked in the open space across the river
  • Went to the Nisswa Waterpark (Corbin LOVED it, Emma was brave enough to go down the waterslides on her own, and Annabelle hung out in the kiddie pool)
  • Barbies, Barbies, Barbies
  • Went to the Gull Dam beach a LOT. One time, we brought our dinner of McDonald’s there, and got caught in the rain. Another time, we left Ryder from Frozen there in a rush to leave.
  • Corbin started swimming in a life jacket. He LOVES the water, and quickly abandoned playing on the beach. For a while, he loved throwing things around in the shallow water, but toward the end of the summer, he only wanted to swim.
  • Boated to Squaw Point on Gull and swam for a couple hours on the sand bar
  • Emma started swimming without a life jacket and started wearing swim goggles. She loved diving for things on the bottom of the lake.
  • Went to my in-laws’ cabin in Voyageurs National Park 3 times. The first time, at the beginning of June, the girls went up with my in-laws for the first 3 days, then Travis joined with Corbin for a very short trip.
  • The second time, in July, all 5 of us went (and my in-laws were there). It rained the whole full day we were there. I swam out to Blueberry Island and back, in the rain, while the girls and Travis paddleboarded alongside. We hiked to the zipline and back.
  • The third time, in August, Travis’ whole family was there too. We celebrated our 3 kids’ birthdays. We paddleboarded over to Houseboat Bay and back (in white caps!). We threw clay at each other.

Life in Quarantine, and the Start of Homeschooling

10 Apr

C4D178A9-47D8-4694-94C8-EECB4357C3D1April 12–Easter– marks one month since our family started voluntary quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It started with cancelling our plan to stay at a local hotel/waterpark for spring break.

Then school was closed.

Then Minnesota’s governor announced the shelter-in-place order, which has now been extended until May 4.

Our school district gave teachers two weeks to figure out distance learning. I stopped going in to the office, instead working from home for a couple hours in the afternoon. My kids and I read books, played board games, practiced counting and writing, measured things, put together puzzles, and colored pictures.

My girls have done a LOT of imaginative play. They first set tents up in the living room and pretended they were camping for a few days. Then they moved into the bedrooms and pretended they were staying in a hotel. For a day, they played surfing with their Lego Friends. Then for a few days, they were moms taking care of their baby dolls outside. The last few days, they have been playing Barbies, playing for 4-5 hours straight.

Sometimes they let Corbin play with them (he colors when they color) but most of the time, they don’t, so he wanders. He looks at books for a while, gets out a few board puzzles, plays with a car or blocks, then grabs his “cakey” (blankie) and lies on the floor, staring into space and sucking his thumb. When he tires of that, he comes looking for me. He loves books and iPad inside, and he loves water and sticks outside. He has his own loop outside–he wanders into the neighbor’s yard on a path through the woods from our front yard, walks through their yard (they only have a garage there as of now) down to the river, walks through the woods along the river to our dock, then throws sticks into the water off our dock.

Then came distance learning. It took us only a few days to realize distance learning was tough. And it took us only a week to give formal notice to our school district that we were going to start homeschooling.

We had actually been planning to homeschool next year already before schools even closed, before I even knew about coronavirus. I had already given my notice at work–I work for a church and knew that 1) they would appreciate a long head’s up and 2) they wouldn’t let me go before they found someone else. I was planning to be done working on May 19–the day before the last (early out) day of school. We told our girls’ teachers. We told our son’s daycare provider.

Even though homeschooling was our plan, it is still hard to have the school year end this way. The only times during this quarantine month that I have either cried or been close to tears (I am not a crier in general) was emailing my girls’ teachers and my son’s daycare to let them know that we were opting to homeschool now instead of continue distance learning. I feel for the teachers. I know their hearts are hurting. My kids loved their teachers. And it just hurts for it to end with no closure.

And then there’s the reality that instead of having all summer to get a plan in place, I am now homeschooling on a wing and a prayer. Fortunately, I had already been listening to podcasts and reading about homeschooling, and knew the general approach I wanted to take. It also helps immensely that my kids are young (my oldest just turned 7) so schooling at this age is more of a bonus than a necessity.

Just like Minnesota has had all the weather these past four weeks, I’ve had all the emotions. Gratitude, discontent, stress, simplicity, less hustle, no time to sit down, panic, overwhelm, savoring, organization, utter chaos, routine, frenzy, grief, joy.

Since this is the start of our homeschooling journey, my life will not go back to what it once was, before COVID-19. It will morph, adapt, change. We will get to see friends and go shopping and attend church again someday, but life as we knew it is gone. Even if I do go back to work one day and my kids go back to school, they’ll be older and I’ll almost certainly have a different job with a different employer.

But God. When I was dragging my feet about homeschooling, wanting to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was what God wanted us to do, instead of answering my pleas for clarity and understanding, God just repeated “Trust Me” over and over for 9 months through books, Bible studies, songs and devotions. “Trust Me.”

And even then, I just couldn’t quite step out in faith. I loved my job, and my co-workers, and I felt so useful in my role. And I didn’t know how to homeschool! And didn’t I get a job in the first place because I was losing my mind being home with my kids full-time? Would homeschooling now be any different?

Again, I didn’t receive answers to those questions. Instead, He reminded me that NO MATTER WHAT (even if homeschooling doesn’t pan out and my kids go back to public school and I feel like I gave up my favorite job for nothing), HE IS FAITHFUL. He has a plan, and His plan is to prosper me, not to harm me.

The bridge from the song Build My Life by Pat Barrett has been my anchor in this decision:

“And I will build my life upon Your love

It is a firm foundation

I will put my trust in You alone

And I will not be shaken.”

And this truth applies to all of us–those with kids or without kids, those doing distance learning or homeschooling, those weathering this storm with jobs and health, and those who aren’t: God’s Love for us is a sure foundation. When we build–nay, stake–our lives on His love for us, proven on the Cross and proclaimed in the Resurrection, we will not be shaken.

What does that mean practically speaking? It means we do not give into fear!

In our communities, we help those who need help. We say hi or at least look or smile at people on the streets and in stores. We talk about something other than the newest confirmed cases, or the latest projections. We do not hoard resources, but share with those who are in need, and leave enough for others.

With our kids, we do not worry about what gaps our kids will have in their education as a result of this, but encourage them to read, play, create, imagine. We do not isolate them from what is happening in the world, but we are intentional with how much we share, and we show them what it looks like to trust God in uncertainty.

And with ourselves, we leave room for all the emotions. We don’t demand that we have everything figured out right this minute. We recognize some days will be good, and some days won’t be. But we don’t let our emotions run wild. Instead, we run them to God. We build our lives on the foundation of His Love for us. And we remember that God has promised to be with us, in this life and in the next.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Freedom in Christ

29 Feb

I wrote back in November that I planned to start going to counseling. Here I am, on the cusp of March, with 5 sessions under my belt. Has it been helpful? Yes. Has it been what I expected? Not really.

I think I expected my therapist to overthink things like I do, and to give me deep, meaningful, existential explanations to my problems. Instead, the way she has been challenging my thinking has been utterly practical and no-nonsense. When I lament about mounds of laundry, kids’ messes, or frozen pizza dinners, her response is, “So what? Is anyone going to die if they wear dirty clothes or eat frozen pizza for dinner?”

Obviously the answer is no, so that begs the question – then why do I care so deeply? Why does it bother me so much when my house is a mess, or the laundry is undone, or I failed again to plan dinner? Even as I’ve been doing the hard work of trying to let go and be more relaxed about things, I find that there’s a tipping point. I can ignore the mess in order to go play outside with my family, but if I come back inside to find that they’ve made another mess, I lose my crap.

I honestly cannot fully explain why I have this neurotic need for everything to be in its place. And frankly, sometimes I feel fully justified in being neurotic, because isn’t this the way God created me?! This is just who I am. But sometimes it feels like my need for control is controlling me, and I can’t stop being controlled even when I try. I was expressing this to God the other day and He brought Galatians 5:1 to mind,

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

It stopped me in my tracks.

In Christ, I have freedom. Freedom from my own need for control. I do not have to be a slave to my personality that desires organization and tidiness! Armed with that verse, I have the confidence to declare that I AM NOT A SLAVE TO CONTROL. Because of Christ, I can refuse to be dominated by my need for order, and I can instead prioritize relationships.

I have long tried to wage this battle equipped with my own paltry strength. Is it any wonder that I’m still struggling with the same old thing? But this verse has given me something new, infused my soul with gospel confidence. This is my birthright in Christ. This is what He has won for me! I get to live in freedom because of my Savior!

I told my husband about this, and encouraged him, “Please, if you see me going off the rails, remind me of this verse.” I am staking my claim to freedom in Christ, and I will not submit anymore to a yoke of slavery.

Coupled with this promise, I have decided to give up yelling at my kids for Lent. That has, unfortunately, long been the way I deal with the feeling of overwhelm and stress caused by my kids either not listening to me or getting out of control. So, no more yelling. (I am hoping to continue that beyond Lent too.) Instead, I want to pray. Out loud. Instead of screaming at my kids, “We need to go NOW! Get in the car or you will be in big trouble!” I want to say, “Father, we are late. And these kids are not listening to me. Help me maintain my patience and grace, and help motivate them to listen. I trust that we will get to wherever we are going and it will be ok that we are late.”

There’s a quote from Connected Families that I have on my computer desktop – “When kids misbehave, make obedience a secondary goal, and make accessing and walking in the fruit of the Spirit yourself the primary goal.” That is the idea behind “no yelling” – instead of relying on my own power and effort to accomplish, I run to God, confess my inability, and rest in His power to accomplish.

I put this into practice this past Thursday when my oldest daughter was not wanting to go to school, and threw a tantrum. We were 20 minutes late to school, but I walked out of dropoff with a smile on my face. Because I hadn’t yelled, but had instead connected with my daughter and found out that she just plain missed me, which is why she didn’t want to go to school. I am really looking forward to seeing how God works in me over the coming months.

I’ll end with just the amazing feeling that I have of God personally ministering to my soul. I feel so unworthy of even His sideways glance, let alone of His speaking into my struggles. Counseling has been helpful, but the Spirit is the ultimate Counselor.

A Still Winter Morning

5 Feb

IMG_5993This past weekend, I went to a Women’s Retreat at a place called Camp Lebanon. There were about 100-150 other women there, 20 from my church. I had an amazing time. The speaker was engaging and taught straight from the Bible, the worship music was powerful, and the weather was fantastic so I got to spend a lot of time outside.

Saturday morning, I went on a walk outside before breakfast. It was a quiet, still winter morning. The only sounds were a gentle breeze lightly touching the tips of evergreens, the crunch-crunch of my winter boots on the snow-covered roads, and an occasional sparrow singing its morning song of glory.

I was new to the camp, so I just set off adventuring, seeing what there was to see. I found the zipline (closed in the winter), the snow-tubing hill, a quintessential outhouse in the woods (complete with half moon on the front door), and a slope heading down to the lake.IMG_5995 I walked down to the edge of the frozen water, but didn’t dare venture further onto the lake without anyone else around. Fortunately, I discovered a trail that followed the shoreline. The snow on the trail was packed down enough that I didn’t need snowshoes.IMG_5994I amused myself by trying to guess which animal had left which footprints. I saw (I think) evidence of a rabbit, a turkey, and a deer. 

I stopped every now and then to look out at the lake and the changing colors of the sky.

The refrain from Frozen 2 was stuck in my head–“Show yourself”–and I realized that God was doing just that. Showing His glory, His power, His majesty.

My heart was so full on that walk. I rejoiced in the play of shadows and light on the trees from the sun just peeking over the horizon.IMG_6001 I stopped and gazed at a tree trunk with bark in a wavy pattern.IMG_5996 I took pictures, trying to capture the feeling I had so I could look back one day and remember. Remember how He met me out there.IMG_6005Later I read Psalm 96:11-13 and my soul said, “Yes! That is what I felt on that winter morning walk.”

“Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
    let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12     let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
13     before the Lord, for he comes,
    for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
    and the peoples in his faithfulness.”

This practice of gratitude, this sleuthing for God’s glory (as Ann Voskamp would say), it transforms a life!

My Goals for 2020

12 Jan

I’ve been re-reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, probably for the seventh or eighth time. I’m reading it slowly this time around, taking a day or two in between reading spells to ponder the truths she learns, and to put gratitude into practice.

This afternoon, I’m choosing to write myself instead of immersing my mind in her writing. There’s something about reading words from a good writer that makes this wannabe writer want to write.

And writing is something that has taken a backseat in my life for far too long. For much of the past year, I’ve been trying to answer the question, How do I desire to do less? I figured, if I desired to do less, then I would by default do less, leaving more time for getting the necessary things done, thereby reducing my stress and busyness (and certainly reducing the stress of having so many things I wanted to do but didn’t have time for!).

So over the course of the past year, I’ve either stopped or significantly decreased the time I spend blogging, reading blogs, keeping up on current events, posting on and scrolling social media, beauty pampering, shopping, and decorating. Even with “giving up” all of those things, I still found it hard to find time for both Bible study and exercise, not to mention reading any of the 50+ books I have on my list. (If I’m being completely honest though, I often chose to watch a show at night before bed instead of reading, leading me to stay up later than I should, making it hard to get up in the morning and study the Bible.)

Here’s what I didn’t factor in though: It’s those things done for sheer enjoyment that make a life enjoyable. What’s the saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy?” Indeed it does. All work and no play makes life a miserable mess.

My personality is naturally that you work first, then you play. You get done what needs to get done, then you do the fun stuff. Well, the problem when you’re a mom is that the stuff that needs to get done is never ever done, so you never get to the fun stuff. And keeping an orderly house is a fine task, but it doesn’t amount to a full life.

So in a way, I’ve come full circle. Instead of getting rid of all the superfluous stuff so that I have more time for the necessary stuff, I need to find time for the superfluous stuff, even if it means that the “necessary” stuff doesn’t get done. Even if it means admitting that some of the stuff I thought was necessary isn’t really necessary. It’s hard to find time for hobbies and pleasures, and to fit them into an already full life, but IT’S WORTH IT. There are things that just cannot be dispensed with, and those are some of them.

There are certain things that I plan to keep doing less. Things like keeping up on social media and blogs, beauty pampering, decorating, and shopping. Part of that stems from my desire to continue on with my minimalist lifestyle, and part of it from not wanting to feel like the world needs to know what I’m doing, or that I need to know what the world is doing. When you start thinking about your life experiences in terms of what you can post on Instagram or how it compares to what you see on Instagram, something needs to change.

I also plan to stop watching shows at night. I’m in between things right now anyway, the season of cheesy Christmas movies is over, and the Vikings just lost their playoff game, so it feels like a good time to take a break from TV entertainment (except for the Super Bowl).

Things I want to start doing again are: Bible study, reading, blogging, and keeping up on current events via theSkimm emails. I also want to be more consistent with exercise again, something that fell by the wayside during the holidays. Here’s my plan:

Bible Study/Reading: Get up around 5 AM to hopefully get my Bible study in before the kids get up, and read at night before bed.

Current Events: When I have a free moment to be on my phone, I plan to read that day’s theSkimm email instead of scrolling social media.

Exercise: I’m either going to work out during Corbin’s naptime on Mondays and Fridays, or do just a quick 15-20 minute video/home workout while the kids are in a decent mood. I’m shooting for 3 days a week or so.

Blogging: My goal for now is to blog once per week, most likely on the weekend sometime. I can already check that off my list!

So those are my goals for 2020!