Everyday Life

Progress, Not Perfection: A New Year’s Resolution for the Weary

Since age 13 or so, I’ve enjoyed making resolutions. Hard to believe, but I used to find to-do lists inspiring. I mean, I was crazy about resolutions. When I was fifteen, I got fed up with tears and resolved not to cry for an entire year. Yeah….I didn’t last the year, but I lasted about 5 months (and gave myself quite a headache holding back tears in the theater watching A Walk To Remember…not the best move). One year, I swore not to have a single soda for 12 months, and I made it 16 months. For a loooong time, I was addicted to a sense of accomplishment. I kid you not, one year I committed to tracking my calories every day, and I did it. Addiction may be an understatement.

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It’s been a long time since I’ve met with any measure of success when it comes to resolutions, though. I still love the idea of a fresh page in my journal and a pen in my hand as I think about the great things I could do in the clean, new year. (“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it?”) But in the past two or three years, I haven’t approached dreaming up all the new things I will accomplish in 12 months with a thrill. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that “life’s got me down,” but I will say that life’s got me down on New Year’s Resolutions. How can you feel up to making New Year’s resolutions when you end the year feeling plain exhausted?

New Years Resolutions are all about expectations. And I am definitely expectant. I’m ecstatically expecting a baby in 2014.  And in the here and now, I’m expecting a lot more than a baby. Expecting a baby at the end of nine months means you wake up every day of those nine months expecting the hard parts of a baby growing in your body. You wake up expecting nausea and praying you’ll keep breakfast down. You wake up expecting to wish for more sleep and wondering why your feet hurt so much. You wake up expecting to feel like you’re failing the children you already have because you can’t bring yourself to serve anything but cereal again. It’s crazy how even after praying for months and months that God will grant us another child, I can forget how much joy my expectations should bring. I can forget the joy in the midst of expecting the hard parts of the blessing.

Let’s just say, I’m good about having expectations. Still, I’d like to strive for something more from myself than what my expectations look like in the every day. I’d like to, but how?

I am standing at the door of a new year, not sure that I did anything right in the previous year, and not entirely sure I can handle the very things I have asked for and am overjoyed about in the coming year. Can I handle three children, five and under? Can I handle potty training a little boy? Can I stay healthy and find some energy to be myself again for the next 28 weeks of pregnancy? These are things I’m expecting to come up against in 2014 that are non-negotiable. What with being overwhelmed by what are absolute, have-to-accomplish life goals, I’m having a hard time working up the stamina to think of extras. The season of “yeah, I’m going to run a three 10ks this year!” is so not right now for me.

progressThere’s only one road to resolution salvation for me this year, and it’s paved with three words: Progress, Not Perfection. That was my one resolution five years ago, all summed up in three words, and it was one of the best years of my life. I’m bringing those three words out and dusting them off for 2014. When I look at the subcategories of my life that need improvement–areas like home organization, time management, exercising, house cleaning schedules, writing, preschooling–I can say “Just make some progress. Any progress.” Then maybe I’ll be able to find some real way to improve a little, instead of feeling I should knock the whole issue out of the park with one fell swoop of the resolution bat.

I’m joining the growing throng of people who are saying, “I will approach 2014 with grace–grace for others and grace for myself.” I don’t think it’s a great idea to approach any new thing without some type of goal, but approaching with unrealistic goals is just as bad. Make some crazy goals if it’s time for that in your life, but if you’re where I am, consider seeking progress instead of perfection in 2014. Just a little progress can go a long way when you’re feeling unsteady.

Or maybe if you’re feeling shaky, you should make some useless resolution like no crying for a year. Yes, I realize those resolutions I used to be so good at making and keeping were completely worthless. Please, let’s all resolve right now to make resolutions that at least count for something in the grand scheme of our lives.

But really, if you’re starting 2014 feeling unsure, I pray the coming weeks and months in 2014 will bring you to a place of strength. Thanks for reading and for making 2013 a great year to start a blog. =)

-Mia The Reader

7 Challenge, Everyday Life

Unwiring Myself: The 7 Challenge Continues

Hmm…a lot has happened in my 7 Challenge since I last updated. In September I read and reviewed 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. To read the review or catch up on posts about how the 7 Challenge is going, go here.

One of the first things I did in the 7 Challenge was begin a 3 month ban on buying clothing for myself. On December 19th, I successfully reached the end of the ban without buying so much as a hair accessory. It was not that hard, actually, as I found out I was pregnant in the middle of those three months (yay!!!) and there’s not much that’s less fun than buying clothes you know won’t fit in a few months. However, the part that proved to be hard was my hankering for new boots. At the end of last winter, I swore this fall I would buy real leather boots. Well, that decision changed. Yes, sometimes it was a bit humiliating to wear my 3-year-old, peeling pleather boots from Target. I counted that as the “challenge” part of the clothing challenge. However, I’m afraid I may have been a little too successful in avoiding clothes shopping. Today I set out armed with my Christmas boot money and the intention to find a pair of leather riding boots. I also thought I might check out the purse section of some of the stores. Here’s what I came away with: one pair of boot socks. No boots. What’s worse, I only tried on one pair before saying, “Eh, I’m done shopping for today.” Clearly, my shopping endurance needs exercise. (In my defense, I found that I might need to rethink the whole riding boot thing as I have short legs that are made to look shorter by tall boots. I guess I should’ve thought of that before setting my heart on a certain style). In short, the clothing challenge has created a new kind of clothing challenge for me, but it certainly took care of the excess part of my clothing tendencies.

The third month of my 7 Challenge came and went without any blog fanfare. In the Stuff segment of the challenge, I planned to get rid of 7 items every day for 30 days. I knew it was a tall order when I started, because as I mentioned before, pack rat I am not. We ended up getting rid of 3-4 things per day for the Possessions month. Not quite the goal, but probably more realistic since we regularly clean out our house. Taking every single item out of our kitchen cabinets in order to paint them definitely helped us get rid of a few things.

The hardest part of the stuff challenge was finding somewhere we felt would put our discarded items to good use. I wanted a place that would connect us with people in need or at least give the items we didn’t need straight to someone who did need them. This is really a horrible complaint to make, but why do so many charitable organizations make it so difficult to give to them? I’m sure there are good reasons. I’m just the frustrated donor with two small children and no time to figure it all out. Maybe it was good for me to realize that I am not an angel of mercy if I bring in a few bags of donations to a volunteer-run donations center. My poor little feelings were hurt when the workers there acted as if my donations were more trouble than they were worth. Clearly, I needed to be taken down a few pegs and realize the glow of giving is not the goal, but the change of heart and mind and actually making a difference needs to be the end I strive for. Still, if you work somewhere accepting donations, I’m sure I’m not the only one who would appreciate a courteous reception. I’m not even talking about a thank you…just don’t yell when the confused donor puts down her things on the wrong pile. There, that’s off my chest. We took most of our things to a local charity, but ended up taking our last load to the convenient and always receptive Goodwill because we needed it out right away the charity wasn’t open. If anyone who lives near me has places they like to give their unneeded household and clothing items to, let me know!

Starting January 1st, the fourth month of the 7 Challenge will begin. This is the Media month, and I’m actually looking forward to it. I deleted the Facebook app off my phone a few weeks ago because it was too tempting to look at all the time when I was lying around trying not to think about nausea. I still checked it in the web browser, though. However, today I woke up and thought, “I am sick of knowing all this stuff about people.” I mean, I love people, but when did it become imperative to know so many details about the every day lives, likes, and dislikes of mere acquaintances? This is by no means a rant against Facebook, just a personal realization that I really don’t need to check it that often. So the original plan was to only check/post to Facebook at 10am, 2pm, and 9pm, but I’m actually horrified that when I wrote the original plan, I thought that would be cutting back. I think once a day at most is plenty. I’ll only read blogs between 6-7 a.m. or 9-10 p.m. Internet surfing will be an after the kids go to bed thing, except for when I absolutely have to know something like what time Panera Bread closes or is that spider with yellow markings on it poisonous? Finally, I’ll only watch four football games a week. Just kidding! Seriously, this one is hard because I’m married to a guy who loves college football and it’s bowl season. I happen to enjoy it a good bit, myself. Still, I think I can watch just the game our home team is in and the National Championship and call the football season done. I think. As for TV and movies, there’s nothing I can’t live without for a month.

Here’s where the media challenge will get hard: limiting my children’s media time. They are 2 and 4 years old, and they love “movie time” more than life itself. I wish that weren’t the case. I try to carefully select their video viewing and limit it to 30-45 minutes a day. In the last two months that I’ve been dealing with frequent all-day morning sickness, this limit has gone by the wayside more often than I like to admit. In January, I’m going to make video watching a privilege and not a right. Maybe an every-other-day privilege. It’s hard to not give in to the lure of the TV babysitter when you’re home all day with the kids, you choose not to send them to preschool, and you are an introvert who needs time to think and be quiet. But I chose all of this (save the introverted personality), and I really do believe we can get to a better place of interactive play and alone times of imaginative play without resorting to Dora and Thomas and that crowd quite so often. I’m pretty sure it will be a painful process, so say a prayer for us in January. =)

Part of January’s media challenge will be to finally read The Unwired Mom by Sarah Mae. She’s one of my favorite writers and I’m looking forward to her book on getting out of the technology driven lifestyle. If you’re interested in reading it along with me, here’s where to get it. (P.S. It’s only $4.99 right now on your Kindle or as a PDF! P.P.S. I am not affiliated with or even known from Adam by Sarah Mae).

So that’s where I am in the 7-month Challenge to Mutiny Against Excess. As the New Year approaches, maybe you can think of some truly realistic goals that would help you to think more about the excess in your life. It’s a pretty wide open subject and can your challenge can look totally different from mine or anyone else’s. I’ve enjoyed mine so far, and hope you’ll think about creating your own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyday Life

2014, Here We Come!

Our family’s most exciting Christmas present will be about 7 months late this year.

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We’re very excited, tinged with a bit of anxiety at being outnumbered by children, but mostly over the moon happy.

Apologies to you who have already seen this picture on Facebook. =)

I hope 2014 will be an awesome, challenging, incredibly rewarding year for all of you.

Children's Books, Everyday Life, Parenting

My One Christmas Decorating Tip

It’s Christmas night, and I hope you’ve all had a wonderful Christmas this year. Before we wrap this holiday season up, I thought I’d share my one original thought about Christmas decorating. I think it works for everyone. If you’ve read this post, you know decorating is not on the top of the list in our house this Christmas. But one area I never forget to decorate is beneath the Christmas tree.

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Don’t worry, this post is not about how the only present we give our children for Christmas is the gift of reading! For better or worse, we give them gifts of toys and candy and the usual Christmas presents, though we try to keep it small scale. However, I don’t put the wrapped gifts under the tree until the night before Christmas. I’m pretty sure the suspense would kill them, and I wouldn’t be able to leave them alone in the room without fearing I’d come back to find every single gift unwrapped. So I put our Christmas picture books under the tree for the majority of the Christmas season. I think it’s a fun way to decorate with books and encourage the kids to think more about the big picture of Christmas. It’s also nice to avoid the counting how many presents each child has and shaking them, etc. And their faces when they first see presents under the tree on Christmas morning…they are worth waiting for.

So, there’s my one holiday decorating hint: books under the tree. I’m still working on figuring out which Christmas picture books are our favorite, and then it will take me even longer to collect them. I don’t buy many books, but I think meaningful Christmas books are a worthwhile investment.

Do you have favorite holiday picture books? Let me know in the comments!

 

Reviews

Letters from Skye: A Review

Some you already know that I love an epistolary novel. I talked about my favorites a few months ago in Letters That Make Books. I recently came across Letters from Skye, a novel by Jessica Brockmole, made up of letters from two different couples in two different wars. Here’s the summary from Goodreads.com:

Letters from SkyeA sweeping story told in letters, spanning two continents and two world wars, Jessica Brockmole’s atmospheric debut novel captures the indelible ways that people fall in love, and celebrates the power of the written word to stir the heart.

March 1912: Twenty-four-year-old Elspeth Dunn, a published poet, has never seen the world beyond her home on Scotland’s remote Isle of Skye. So she is astonished when her first fan letter arrives, from a college student, David Graham, in far-away America. As the two strike up a correspondence—sharing their favorite books, wildest hopes, and deepest secrets—their exchanges blossom into friendship, and eventually into love. But as World War I engulfs Europe and David volunteers as an ambulance driver on the Western front, Elspeth can only wait for him on Skye, hoping he’ll survive.

June 1940: At the start of World War II, Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, has fallen for a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Her mother warns her against seeking love in wartime, an admonition Margaret doesn’t understand. Then, after a bomb rocks Elspeth’s house, and letters that were hidden in a wall come raining down, Elspeth disappears. Only a single letter remains as a clue to Elspeth’s whereabouts. As Margaret sets out to discover where her mother has gone, she must also face the truth of what happened to her family long ago.

I typically try to avoid books that are divided between two time periods, but that’s getting harder to do! Uncovering the past is a current obsession in literature. The time period of this book was similar to Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper, but the plot was not as full and well developed. Over all, Letters from Skye was middling to not all that great. I loved the setting of the Island of Skye, off of the coast of Scotland, but more description would have really enriched the book. The characters didn’t appeal to me much. The main character, Elspeth, is intriguing and likable at first. She has an Emily Bronte vibe to her. Her choices throughout the book baffled me, though. Her daughter Margaret is more of a Nancy Drew. She sometimes made me think “give me a break with the gumption thing, will you?” The male main character, David, is…erm…not my type. If you have read this book already, you know what I mean when I say, “Team Iain!” For the most part, I wished the characters of the first World War would just get out of their own tangled way.

But beyond the characters, the part about this book that brought it down most for me was the theme of adultery. I know, I know, how Puritan is it to throw out the scarlet letter and hate on it. But this book makes an extramarital affair look mostly lovely, which seems convoluted to me. I know life isn’t black and white, I know the human mind can justify all kinds of things, but in the lives of some of my friends currently and since high school, I have only seen the ugly truth that extramarital affairs cause wreckage. Have I seen good come out of these situations? Yes, sometimes, but the good is slow to come and comes with a great deal of pain. Though this book doesn’t completely ignore the heartache of an affair, it does skim over it way more than reality does.

But in all honesty, I don’t think I would have loved this book with or without the adultery theme. There was just something missing in the plot and the characters. Beautiful cover, though. =)

If you enjoy books made up of letters exchanged between characters, I’d recommend The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society or  84, Charing Cross Road over Letters from Skye.

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