Happy 2017!

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Photo by Sue Moody Photography
Happy New Year!

I honestly get why people aren't really fans of New Year's Resolutions...BUT I TOTALLY AM. I love excuses to refocus, reevaluate and start fresh.

2016 wasn't a great year for a lot of people (so many challenges to deal with on a world events level, amiright!?) but it was a really good year for me personally. I credit it to starting the year with de-cluttering my house/life Konmari style during January. What? You're sick of hearing about this Konmari thing? TOO BAD, I'm a convert. Haha!

My reflections on this past year are best understood within the context of the last few years, so bear with me as I take you aaaaalll the way back to...2014.

2014 was the roughest year of my life thus far. I wrote a little about why I call it "dirty 2014" in this post here. Everything fell apart that year in ways I would have never expected, beginning (but definitely not ending) with the death of my sister Jocelyn. But all that churning up and breaking apart did, indeed, make way for new growth. I hope I never have to go through a year like that again, but now that I stand on this side of it, I'm able feel the gratitude for the refining process that some of those trials put me through...and trust that some of the others have their purpose, too, even if I don't understand them yet.

2015 was the year of healing. It was a year I learned to be patient with myself and started tip-toeing back into more of life's regular ol' demands without feeling like I was drowning. I got familiar with my warning signs that I was taking on too much and learned to let myself feel the waves of grief that would inevitably wash over me at random without pushing them down or away. I learned to not be scared of my pain...or, consequently, the pain of others.

By the time 2016 started, I was ready...really ready...to clear out some of the dusty debris that had gathered, both literally (STUFF) and figuratively (stale and outdated expectations of myself and my life). I majorly cleared out my house of things that "didn't spark joy" and was surprised at how much I learned about (you guys, don't make fun of me for this) listening to my heart. Ha! But seriously, though! You can actually make fun of me all you want because I can't even deny it; was such an eye-opening process that helped me recognize what truly belongs in my life and start owning the decision-making process for what I include and what I just don't from here on out...without feeling ashamed or guilty about it. It was a great exercise in learning to listen to that still, small voice.

I spent the rest of 2016 learning that lesson in greater depth, with more sticking power. I would start letting things get cluttery again, feel the difference right away, and try and get at the heart of why while I reigned it back in. It confirmed an already-suspected direct correlation between feeling overwhelmed and chaotic on the inside and seeing that chaos show up on the outside in my surroundings...though which came first is the whole chicken/egg question.

I started exercising regularly again. I started making room in my life for the things I actually love like laughing with friends and reading and taking opportunities to serve. I finished off the year reading (well listening to) Shauna Niequist's book Present Over Perfect three times (!) after seeing a friend recommend it on her blog. I could not stop re-visiting the words of that book over and over because it felt like a full summary of everything I was aiming for and learning about during the past year.

And so, with seeds planted in the churned up, clean up soil of the past few years, I stand here at the beginning of 2017. The excess is cleared away (well, mostly...kind of. Ha! I think I'm actually going to do another konmari-style declutter of my house this month. A new tradition, perhaps...?) and stock taken of how I'm spending my time, I think I'm ready to start focusing next on growth....slowly, wisely. I want to give some attention to a couple areas that I am passionate about (like writing! music! food!) and start nurturing them, cultivating them with a little more time and effort...the time and the effort I didn't have when I was healing, or thought I didn't have when my life was cluttered with unnecessary things.

Here's to 2017! I hope this year is just AWESOME for you, friends. Love and best wishes!

I Need You (A Poem)

Thursday, 15 December 2016

You need me

I need you, too,
to make me face the hurts I felt
when I was small like you.

I need the way you love,
and fight,
so unrefined and unrestrained,
to teach me how to do them well:
where to let loose,
and where to master myself.

I need your fingers pressed in dough
to remind me of what is true.

I need your eyes,
the way you glow at ladybugs and worms
the reminder to slow,
to notice,
to see,

I need you to make me question
and think through how to raise you
to humble me to the depths
of the pages of parenting books
and my knees in prayer.

I need you to watch me
so I remember to be the kind of person
that I hope you become,
to remind me I can’t fake it.

I need you to stop my thoughts,
interrupt my pursuits,
insert yourself in my business.
I need you to give me all the chances
to choose love and patience and goodness
over convenience and comfort and me-first.

I need you to drive me crazy
so I can clearly see were I’m stuck,
where I’m hanging on to crusty habits
and where I still need to grow up.

I need you to eat in the middle of the night,
deprive me of sleep,
to throw your food on the floor,
to cry for no reason that I understand,
and scream in the grocery store.
I need you to show me what I can endure for love.

I need you to require me
to try and see things from your perspective
so I can try to keep from damaging
your confidence in your own vision.

I need to see you sigh with relief, safety,
when you see how much I love your dad
and how much he loves me,
when we kiss and hug in the kitchen.

I need all your differences from me,
the ultimate testing ground
for loving unconditionally.
I need all your sameness
so I can heal vicariously.

I need your quick and easy smiles,
I need to watch them get heavier, weighted, with each passing year
as you witness and experience pain
so I can plead in whispers,
“please don’t let that ever be because of me.”

I need you to ask me what it means to be grown up,
so I can ask myself the same question,
trying to stay curious and adult at the same time
so I can tell you it’s possible.

I need your faith, your belief
in the good things you can’t see,
your trust that they are there,
that the best things come eventually.

I need your warm arms around my neck,
your wet kisses on my lips,
your sticky hands on my cheeks,
their softening effect on my callouses.

I need your sparkly pinks, your swords and guns,
to remind me to lighten up
and not see problems everywhere.

I need all your reminders
that you don’t need so many things,
but you do have the right to me:
present and imperfect, but trying.

I need you to give me practice
at saying an unqualified “I’m so sorry,”
again and again.

I need you to be my reminder
to be careful and gentle with you,
of the importance of tenderness,
the kind that makes you run home to me at Christmas,
and want me when you’re sick,
take care of me when I’m fragile,
and remember how much I loved you
with every touch,
with every smile,
with every moment I could meet
one of your needs.

On Spilling My Guts

Monday, 7 November 2016

So I need talk to you about something. 

I love writing.

I actually love writing poetry and song lyrics the most (weird, right!?), but sorting my thoughts into phrases and sentences is deeply fulfilling for me in any form. I’m not exaggerating: it’s even kind of fun for me to write out recipe instructions in a way that is clear, concise, and easy to follow. Sometimes when my head is too full or my thoughts are racing around inside my head like unharnessed horses, I can’t even decipher WHAT I’m thinking until I scrawl it all out on paper…or on my computer…but usually on paper, believe it or not.

As a result, I love the idea of blogging. I love that it gives me the chance to let some of the words that constantly roll around in my head get sorted into something I can share with others, a way to connect, if you will. But I struggle with drawing attention to myself. Coming across as arrogant is a shame-trigger for me; I’ll try and avoid being seen that way at all costs, even if it means playing myself small and less-than-I-am at the risk of being seen as having a big head. It’s probably just from being naturally confident, bossy, and know-it-all-y as the oldest child and seeing how it can hurt others and make me look like an idiot…and I do NOT like being or appearing-to-be hurtful and idiotic. Get me super-comfortable with my guard down and, with my sporadically manifesting talent for impulsivity, I will inevitably blurt out thoughts unedited that always leave me feeling like an inconsiderate know-it-all idiot (which, now that I think about it, might actually mean I'm truly an inconsiderate know-it-all idiot deep down and need to work on it...*awkward grimace*). Also, I can be really intense and passionate about my convictions and temporarily lose my sense of humor sometimes, which can be disconcerting for everyone. WHICH IS ALL JUST A REALLY LONG WAY OF SAYING that writing publicly is a struggle for me; I keep trying to deflect attention away from myself because I’m afraid I won’t handle it well.

It means I’m consistently trying to avoid any prolonged focus on the deep, hearty, fleshy bits of me...which feels disingenuous. I worry that I'll give up the first time I embarrass myself or fall flat on my face, metaphorically. I stress that congratulations and praise will make me cocky…not because I’m going to be amazing, but because people are nice and say nice things to be polite and I’m just so eager for nice words that I take them and run with them while the other half of me rolls her eyes and keeps calling for me to come baaaack to reality already. I worry that I would appear to be all those things when I’m really just coming from a whole-hearted, genuine, humble place for a minute…which is actually kind of silly because when I am writing from a really vulnerable and sincere place, the arrows (that I’m usually throwing at myself, mind you) don’t hurt as much and feel even a little irrelevant. And all of this worrying starts making something really enjoyable actually pretty stressful. 

But despite all of this, I feel driven to write and driven to share...and I don’t know why…but I do know what holds me back from doing it: FEAR. Just the plain ol’ heebie jeebies. It's worrying about what everyone will think, or what they won’t think, or what I will say, what will come out, what I’ll feel like I have to say, what I’ll regret saying, and whether it’s all so self-indulgent that I should just shut my mouth already and keep it to myself. I’m really good at hiding and avoiding, so I am often more than eager to nod my head in vigorous agreement to that last bit and bury my head in the dirt. However, it turns out it’s not a very effective coping strategy when it comes to chasing your dreams.

And so I want to change the tone of my blogging here a bit, on occasion…and want to warn you about it. I’ve already given you the ammo to shoot me where it hurts (recap: just tell me I’m being too arrogant, self-absorbed, showing too much crazy, being melodramatic, or ignorant and unintelligent). Just be aware that, while likely very effective at hitting below the belt, I won’t consider any such comments to be very original or imaginative anymore since I gave them to you…but go ahead and say them out loud or in your head anyways; it’s okay, I understand. But it also means that since I’m writing for something deeper than crowd-pleasing, I’ll likely just keep hobbling along anyways. Sorrynotsorry.

I don’t really know how to come up with imaginary stories. I’ve always known that I am not naturally a great fiction writer. For some reason it just comes out flat and cheesy when I’ve tried. But I do know how to write about what I see…or (more accurately) what I perceive…and what I wonder about, my experiences. I mean, not all that well, but at least the words flow when I am writing what’s real to me (as opposed to trying to extract a stubborn tooth a la fictional storyline and characters). It's where I sit as a writer, currently, so I’m going to have to start there. Personal writing is not for every blog or blogger, but I think it needs to be for this one.

And while I hope my gut-spilling efforts at creating are helpful, I have no desire to label myself as the always helpful and you, dear reader, as the eternally helped. In fact, I've always been most helped and inspired by those who are bravely living out their own purpose regardless of what I think about it anyways. 

On Homeschooling, Public School, and Weird Kids.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

If you don't follow me on Instagram, or haven't chatted with me in person recently, guess what!? I'm homeschooling my 7-year-old daughter this year!

I KNOW. It's kind of a surprise to me, too! The timing, specifically (so sudden!),...not really that we're actually doing this because it's something that has always been on the 'list of possibilities' when it comes to my children's education. But now that it's actually happening, I'm excited. And nervous!

We started our morning routine (the 'light' version) at the beginning of last week, and have added a few things in starting this week with the intention of easing into things slowly. We are both really enjoying it already, and I can already see the benefits we were hoping to see...so far, so good!

Curious as to why? Or my thoughts on the whole idea of homeschooling? In random pieces and through a novel-length post??

Oh, GOOD. Read on!

1) We've committed to homeschooling just for grade two (for now, anyways). However, a longer-term commitment is completely possible if we fall in love with it and it works for our family.

Our 5-year-old boy is going into kindergarten this year and will be attending our local public school and that's all fine and dandy. As of now, my decisions in homeschooling will be considered on a child-by-child, year-to-year basis...doing what's best at the time for each kid (and our family at large) for that year. I'm passionate about my kids and their education, but I know circumstances and kids' needs change...and that I can still be passionate and supportive of their education without homeschooling. Y'know?

2) On that note, I am not anti public school. I know it gets a bad rap for being rigid and unyielding, accused of its most important goal being training people for the workforce on a conveyor belt instead of training people to be independent thinkers and leaders. I have a lot of thoughts on public schooling, the overarching one being that it is doing the best it can under the circumstances!

(Tangent oncoming...)

As with any large organization, there has to be order and organization or things fall apart. There has to be regulations and rules... and with that comes a need to conform in certain areas (like appropriate behaviour, for example) so that the learning can happen for everyone. When you're in charge of lots of people, especially young people who may not be able to monitor their own progress yet, there needs to be periodic assessment to make sure things are still working the way you want them to. These are not inherently bad things!

The negative stuff happens when we start relying on public schooling to DO EVERYTHING,
...or think it's the ONLY way to do things "right,"
...or forget that no one, even "experts" with lots of education, can force someone to learn. That part is totally up to the child/individual.

If we assume that the most important learning happens at home and in the community (teaching life skills, instilling values like hard work and responsibility, transmitting culture through family and social interaction, etc.),
AND we're not blaming schools when our children don't know how to dress themselves (eyeroll),
AND are willing to explore different ways to do things when the organization is not working for a particular child for whatever reason,
then it can do what it's supposed to: teach kids to read and write and do 'rithmatic and inspire them to pursue further learning in their areas of strength.

It's when we start wanting public school to do all the work for us when it comes to parenting and nurturing a future generation...(so we can relinquish the burden and responsibility? I don't even know)..that the big friction happens. Schools have to start saying, "uh, okay, so if you want us to do all of this, we need a longer school day, kids can't play so much, we need to aim at the middle ground for training ability, we have to focus on de-diversifying value/belief systems so we can actually teach it to the masses, and you have to stop whining when we start regarding ourselves as the experts and more important than the family system for preparing your child for the future...even though we don't love your kids like you do. Deal?"

So anyways, coming back to the topic at hand: my point is that public school (while it necessarily has its limitations) is not the enemy and I am not shunning it 'because homeschool is always the better option.'

2) Also, I'm not homeschooling at you. Promise. Like I said, I don't hate public school, and am not judging you. 
I realize that I am coming from a place of privilege here:
I am not working full-time and we can afford to have me stay home to homeschool,
my husband is supportive,
I am living in a country where I can teach my children in my native language,
I have access to amazing resources to make it a positive experience (hopefully? Ha!),
and my mental and emotional health are currently in a place where I feel like I can handle the extra work just fine (also hopefully?).

I get it. So if I'm talking about homeschooling, it's not because I'm secretly trying to convince you to do it, too. PROMISE. So don't feel obligated to tell me all of the reasons you think it would be a horrible idea for your family, unless you want to, in which case I'm happy to listen! I just don't want you to feel like you need to defend your choices to me because I am secretly judging you for your public schooling choices. Haha!

3) She will have a rich social life.

Despite it becoming SO much better over the years, homeschooling can still elicit concerned comments about socialization. I mean, I roll my eyes a little internally, BUT! I get what everyone is asking, and it is a legitimate concern!

One part of it is the real question: will your kid turn out weird?? I love how Oliver DeMille handles that question in his book "A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a generation of leaders for the twenty-first century," so I'm just going to quote him:

"What people usually mean is, 'Will they seem normal and well-adjusted, or backward and strange?' In most cases, that depends on the parents. If parents are so-called 'backward and strange,' chances are their kids will be also---even if they are in public school. In fact, such children will likely be less 'normal' when they reach early adulthood, given the teasing and rejection they are almost sure to feel in school. At least in home school, their self-image is validated and they have a strong chance of getting a good education without their love of learning being destroyed by an artificial social and class structure which dominates the hallways and locker rooms and classrooms. So, those who struggle socially may be better off in a homeschool..."

So if my kids are a little "off" for any homeschooling they might experience, it's actually because I'm a little strange and taught them all I know about it, okay? Ha!

Also, if this (my kids turning out weird) is someone's major and urgent concern when discussing homeschooling with me, panic creeping into their voice, I usually get the feeling that it's because of "that one homeschooling family they knew" way back when and their own fear/trauma of not fitting in projected onto the situation...which doesn't usually need anything except me just listening empathetically and reassuring them.

But I also get that it's not just about turning out weird (which is not really the worst thing in the world anyway, right? Everyone has their own special kind of weird, some are just more comfortable with their weirdness showing than others....but I digress, haha...), it's also about making friends and enjoying those meaningful friendships. It's providing them lots of different situations (with people of all ages...) so they have opportunities to develop and reinforce social skills, and so on and so forth.

Good news! We have friends that also homeschool with kids the same ages as our daughter. She will occasionally be involved in gymnastics class and other sports/learning groups/specialty classes, and she will have opportunities to connect with other homeschooling families through different social events. Also, we like our family friends and play lots with other families in general. Also, also: we are a pretty big family anyways and she gets plenty of interaction with her parents and siblings...and also cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. But the best part of homeschooling? Time away from all that socializing if you need it! It's nice to have friends that you see daily, but it's also nice to have that space and a break sometimes.

4) I have my teaching degree, major in elementary education and minor in special education. I also have certification as an educational assistant and plenty of experience teaching individuals and small groups in piano lessons and tutoring.  BUT all that education isn't really necessary to inspire someone to love learning and to know how to learn, especially at this age. In other words, you can have your teaching degree and be a terrible teacher...and have zero degrees and still inspire kids to learn with passion and strive for excellence. Amiright?? I really believe that.

So...we'll stick close to the same curriculum as the public school for this year since it's kind of a "trial" year (and therefore make it easier to slide back into grade three if that's the best fit for next year), but there are SO many ways to learn out there! It's pretty incredible, and the flexibility is one of the things I love about the idea of homeschooling. I also feel that if I can model a passion and love for learning new things all the time, it will be contagious...and that has almost nothing to do with my fancy degree and certificate.

As a side note, I'm actually LOVE-ing the chance to flex my curriculum-scrutinizing and lesson-planning muscles. It's also a lot of fun to dive back into educational psychology as I consider how to approach her education this year. Seriously, SO FUN. #educationnerd

4) She just needs this. My daughter is one of those "dream" students that is self-motivated and directed, well-liked by peers, and eager to please. But the flip side is that she can also be obsessed with excelling and regularly putting high value on what other people think of her (teachers and friends). Last year, she came home from school wound SO tightly from trying to meet everyone's expectations that it took hours for her to stop lashing out and growling at everyone here at home. And by then it was bedtime and time to start the whole thing over again. Ugh. I figured this year we would just try different strategies for chilling out after school (dedicated art/quiet time seemed to help a bit last year). However, the past couple weeks of summer I just couldn't shake the feeling that this was her year to take a time-out. She was beginning to be increasingly anxious about school starting and SUPER grouchy. I finally prayed about it and just knew it was what we needed to do for her, despite all my secret dreams of having two kids at school and only two kids here at home. Ha! Hubby and I chatted and we both agreed that this would be a good year to keep her close and feeling loved unconditionally, encouraging her to strengthen her character and find validation from within while enjoying the space and peace of a simplified schedule. Now to stay focused on that goal...(definitely harder than it seems).

I am already seeing her slowly relax and take deeper breaths, metaphorically. She is starting to resume being more loving to her siblings and less defiant with her parents, more eager to help around the house and playing with more lightheartedness (not so much intensity, y'know?). Yesterday she was grumpy with me about something and threatened to "not do homeschool anymore," but instead of threatening to go back to school-school she said, "I'm going to go to someone else's house to go to school!" Haha! It was a sign to me that she is feeling good about this change.

Well, there you have it. You can follow along our homeschool journey this year with occasional snapshots (literally) on Instagram, and I'll update here as well when I'm able. It's an exciting year and I'm looking forward to sharing and chatting about it!

This is My Thirty-Two.

Friday, 12 August 2016

This is thirty-two.

It’s my husband letting me sleep in until 8:00am. It’s not being able to sleep any longer because I’m usually awake by 6:30 tending to my bright-eyed offspring, the ones eager for the day to begin. It’s being finished with feeling consistently annoyed by their wake-up call and following through with my resolve to enjoy the tiny bodies snuggling into my space while it lasts. It’s being inexplicably thrilled that I got to stay in my soft, warm bed a bit longer this morning. It’s trying ignore the antsy feeling growing as I stay there, because it feels weird: an uncommon occurrence among the commonplace events of an otherwise fairly typical day. It’s making everyone breakfast because that’s just what I do. It’s simply liking to make everyone breakfast.

It’s putting in the extra effort to apply makeup today, because sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s being comfortable in my own bare cheeks and small eyes, mostly. It’s stepping into my day with the understanding that I have more to offer the world than a pretty face. It’s smiling a little because it feels rebellious.

It’s meeting tiny new wrinkles and random gray hairs and feeling disconcerted. It’s feeling my previous stance on aging being “beautiful and well-earned” suddenly challenged. It’s wondering how I feel about it all now, as my narrow adolescent ideas of beauty and my budding sage satisfaction with myself-as-I-am come toe to toe.

It’s pulling clothing on over a body that is young and healthy, but soft with the waves of demands constantly tugging at my resolve to firm up my curves. It’s having a body tender with the distinctly female pride of bearing children, with providing the world a few more hands to lift burdens, with being a soft place for those burden-lifters to land. It’s pulling on a nice dress for dinner and struggling with my little poochy mom-tummy, despite many practiced pep talks. It’s shrugging and wearing the dress anyway.

It’s only asking for a dinner-out for my birthday, one that is delicious and one I didn’t have to plan or prepare. It’s discussing minivans, our small business, and family vacations over dinner. It’s seriously considering living out of a motor home for a year and existing wildly and unconventionally, seeing everything we can see. It’s feeling young enough to do it and old enough to feel a twinge of responsible concern. It’s revelling in the canyon between the two.

It’s coming home at 9:30pm from our birthday date, tired and ready to crawl into bed. It’s laying close under the covers while we fall asleep to an old episode of The Office on Netflix. It’s almost eight years of marriage, eight hard years of marriage. It’s thinking of that with a touch of pride because we keep fighting our uphill battle, no matter what, and it keeps getting a little bit better. It’s realizing that marriage is mostly just a series of situations that requires me to examine my priorities and the kind of person I truly want to be. It’s a daily recommitting to my belief that lasting love is genuinely worth my constant internal battle to stay humble and kind. It’s falling asleep tucked around each other in our unflattering, but comfortable, sleepwear because that’s just what we do at the end of the day.

It’s being increasingly unconcerned with what those younger than me think of my relative trendiness, but increasingly concerned with forging a better world for them. It’s settling into my own style and rhythm that doesn’t answer to the pages of Seventeen Magazine. It’s passing up more and more of the latest fads, but recognizing the ones I will adore and being brave enough to seize them with both hands and ROCK THEM. It’s straddling the line between funky and graceful, inexperienced and wise, hot and beautiful. It’s beginning to realize that I don’t have to make an either/or decision on any of them.

It’s a faith that has been shaken and deepened. It’s knowing my God better than ever and being more comfortable with Him knowing me as well as He does. It’s a heart that has grieved through death and loss. It’s a mind that has racked itself with questions as to its health and abilities, trying on every mental illness for size and for answers, if it fits. It’s trying to fill my life with art and creativity, with play-dates and Bachelor nights with friends, with depth and compassion and honesty.

It’s simultaneously being obsessed with, and bored with, social media. It’s being one of the last to remember a childhood without the internet and still rolling my eyes and judging myself a little bit every time I take a selfie.

It’s being a little too wild to the grandmas, and a little too boring to the teenagers. It’s finally finding firm ground to plant my feet and grow while understanding that I can expect the ground to shift soon enough. It’s planning with a twinkle in my eye, and taking deep breaths while turning to face my demons.

It’s soul-stretching and ground-breaking, like every other year before it.

This is my thirty-two.