Margin

4 03 2014

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I had a lightbulb moment on Sunday morning.  And it happened over green eggs.  {do those gross you out as much as me?!?!?}  Year after year, March rolls closer, the promise of spring, and the celebration of Dr. Seuss’ birthday.  I love honoring the role Dr. Seuss has played in the world of beginning reading, creating story after story that inspires kids to get their nose in a book.

Each year, we celebrate with green eggs and ham, a “ceremonial” reading of a few Dr. Seuss books, maybe a Thing One/Thing Two t-shirt donning, and catching an episode of Cat in the Hat on PBS Kids.  On Sunday, Alex, my oldest got out the eggs.  He found the green food coloring, pulled out the fry pan and located the whisk.  I had forgotten that Sunday was Dr. Seuss’ actual birthday {maybe due to our boys’ unGODly wake-up hour?!?}, but Alex didn’t forget.  And he got right to work on making breakfast.  He cracked eggs, added food coloring (bleck!!!) and later read Green Eggs and Ham to his little brother.

And the lightbulb was this….after six years of doing this FOR Alex, he took the bull by the horn, and he created our Dr. Seuss breakfast for US.  I didn’t ingest any of these eggs.  The green just about does in my weak stomach.  But the intention of his actions made me sit up and take notice.

How long does our modelling and setting the scene, over and over, for our kids take effect?  And how quickly can we mess things up by teaching one thing and LIVING another??  I think about these questions almost daily when I enter the classroom.  Teaching the same skills day after day and wondering if the lightbulb will ever go on and better yet, STAY on.  Then one day you do a double take and see the student independently doing that very thing you practiced daily.

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How many days does it take to form a habit?  100?  21?  Is the key repetition?  Resiliency?  Stick-to-it-tive-ness?  A safe environment when kids feel safe and supported?  My dear class of students have weathered a lot of transition.  A painful amount of transition.  Last week included the resignation of one teacher and this week, a new team starts to build the foundation again.  Modelling.  Trying again when we don’t do it right.  Practicing.  Lots of loving reinforcement.  OVER and OVER.  And OVER again.

And through all these ups and downs…through all the mistakes and all the “do-overs”….each and every failing, I am grateful for the gift of grace.  Easter is at the crux of it all; the grace welling up in a Resurrection that changes everything.  A rebirth.  A new day.  A new reality.  A reminder that power is not found in top down management and fear, but in release.

However.  Something must come first.  A discipline of sorts.  This beautiful precursor found in the season of Lent.  A discipline of seeing our need.  Practicing letting go; practicing taking on.  It is happening in my classroom.  It is showing up at home.  If I slow down, allow enough margin to look, it’s there.  The habits and practices are deepening, allowing for change and resurrection, slowly but surely.  My friend Micha wrote of this Lenten phenomenon today on her blog–

Wherever you are in this, whatever your story, Lent is an invitation: to recognize the purple in us, those deep bruises, those reckless wounds we’ve received and handed out. Lent is the season for remembering how much we need Mystery: Christ on the cross, our sin exploding out across space and time and evaporating into the cosmos, collected by the One Who Collects Us.  We are invited to let Lent clean the wound so Easter can bring the healing.

We need mystery.  We need margin.  We need practice.  We need vulnerability.  We need to deep clean.  Lent is this season.  The season in which we are called to work.  To dig deep.  To keep at it, knowing that maybe one day, this healing, these habits, these changes become “second nature”.

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As we move into Lent tomorrow, I am excited to put a few practical ideas into our routine.  I love Nadia Bolz Weber‘s ideas for the 40 days preceding Lent (found here), goals that are even doable with kids.  For instance…

Day 1: Pray for your enemies

Day 2: Walk, carpool, bike or bus it.

Day 3: Don’t turn on the car radio

Day 4: Give $20 to a non-profit of your choosing

(Sunday)

Day 5: Take 5 minutes of silence at noon

Day 6: Look out the window until you find something of beauty you had not noticed before

My friend Mel Larson, from the Larson Lingo, also guest blogged last February about her 40 Bags in 40 Days challenge.  The idea is that during the 40 days of Lent, you rid your house of 40 bags of “stuff”.This “stuff” can be things you don’t use… junk, clothes you don’t need/wear, clutter, old toys, etc.  I love the practicality of this challenge and the freedom and “resurrection” that can happen when we free ourselves of the weight of “stuff”.

I know I will fail at doing either of these practices completely.  Or perfectly.  But, habit forming takes work.  This season of Lent can be an invitation to practicing.  Putting in the day-to-day work….leading up to that resurrection and new day.  The moment when it all of a sudden becomes clear that we are indeed growing, changing and maybe even cementing some new habits.





Notes from a Blue Bike

7 02 2014

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Two months to the day from the last storm, we have Snowmageddon, the Reprise.  This was our view out the front window about 6 inches into a 12 hour, constant-flow snow storm yesterday.  We have a little reprieve this morning and then reports say it plans to start again in earnest this afternoon.

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A quick dusting at 5:45am became a steady dumping…..

and the boys were “striking”, begging their mean mom (notice the sign, “Mom’s Mine!”) to let them outside at 6:30am after school was cancelled.

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Finally let them out after breakfast and morning cartoons.

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….which lasted for all of 10 minutes when they barreled inside and stripped off all the layers.

Snow days are all about peace, calm, slowness and coziness, right?!??!

It became the perfect day to set aside my grading, lesson planning, schedule stressing and school concerns.

And pick up Tsh Oxenreider’s new book, Notes from a Blue Bike:  The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World.

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I have followed Tsh’s website The Art of Simple (formerly Simple Mom) for a long time, often referring back to her wisdom or ideas here on the blog.

When she began to share about her current book project, now in finished form, Notes from a Blue Bike, the theme resonated with me before I read a word of the text.

Living intentionally in the midst of chaos.

Making intentional choices.

Leaving margin for doing nothing.

Making choices, even hard ones, to live the life we truly seek.

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Back in 2008, we made a very difficult decision to leave our current jobs, house and close proximity to family.  A smaller town beckoned and a job that promised (in our minds) a slower, more intentional framework for our lives.  It was a sweet season for our family.  Our first born was nine months old.  We had a chance to work together in ministry.  Our house was surrounded by Redwoods, we had a creek mere feet from our back deck and the ocean only 20 minutes away.  Within 1/2 an hour we had more wineries than you could ever visit in a life time.  It was a perfect recipe for a slower life.

But…..despite our remote location and ingredients for a calmer pace, it didn’t end up looking that different that our days in the Bay Area.  The pull to work hard while balancing life with a toddler and later, another baby, took its toll.  It wasn’t a BAD life, it was just busier than we had expected and more hectic than we imagined possible “out in the boondocks”.   As Tsh reminds in the opening pages,

Life is chaotic. But we can choose to live it differently. 

It doesn’t always feel like it, but we do have the freedom to creatively change the everyday little things in our lives so that our path better aligns with our values and passions.

Notes from a Blue Bike hits on six main areas of intentional living—food, work, education, travel, entertainment, and revival, with an added appendix on finances and budgeting.  Her style is part travel memoir, with a heavy dose of inspiration and application.  Through her example, I found myself reflecting on our family, the choices we have made, the moves we have endured.

Just as yesterday’s “BIGGER THAN PREDICTED” snow storm halted plans and schedules, we can do the same.  Living intentionally and slowly in our fast-paced world doesn’t just happen.  It requires staying true to our selves and to choices our family has made even when other expectations and voices and internal pressures feel VERY hard to ignore.

In the food vignettes, Tsh emphasizes the importance of slow food, time around the table, menu planning, being intentional with what we buy and valuing the community & connection that can be formed over a meal.

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As I have recently re-entered the working world, her words about work and education rang so true.  As parents and educators, today’s push for each child to learn in the same type of fast-driven environment may not be best.  As adults, deep down, we want more freedom to learn, to be creative and grow.  She writes,

“We are hardwired to learn, and creativity is in our DNA; we’re made in the likeness of an ultimate Creator.”

So often, creativity, time and space to experiment and explore is squelched.  As a teacher, I have a lesson plan book with detailed, daily plans.  I have larger range goals for each subject area, tied to the core standards, to ensure the students are getting a well rounded education.  Despite so much controversy over Common Core Standards and the various “swings” we are taking on the education pedagogy pendulum, I find their intention to be sound.  Deep down, it is about depth of knowledge, critique, analyzing, explaining thinking and sharing learning.  Every theory and educational approach has its “issues”, but truly, if we are encouraging our students, children and ourselves to be lifelong, intentional learners, we are on the right track.  Tsh shared CS Lewis’ thoughts,

“The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.”

My heart sung when I heard these words.  As my friend commented, it is about being proactive and not destructive.  To offer refreshment, challenge, tools for growth and learning.  As parents, we can provide a wide range of books, out in our living spaces, ready to be cracked open, read and enjoyed.  WE can read more too, modelling an inclination to learn.  Ironically, Tsh’s book was electronic for me as it was an advance reader copy, but typically, I am very intentional about reading paper style, from the library.  I want the boys to see me reading and know that I’m not engrossed in work email, texting with a friend or researching this or that.  Encouraging creativity can mean having toys out that lead to free, self-directed, unrestricted play—LEGOs, trains, art supplies, cars.  And even in the midst of a snow storm (gulp!), pushing the kids, and myself, to be outside, exploring, getting messy and having free time to explore.

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After too much time on the tv yesterday, we said “no” this morning.  Of course, the boys kissed our feet and thanked us profusely for setting this boundary for this {uh, no…..}.  After getting over the initial, painful hurdle, they have settled into playing and creating huge train villages and LEGO communities.  In Notes from a Blue Bike, Tsh shared about the general malaise she noticed in her kids, the lack of productivity and propensity to snap at one another that began when they started their mornings out with tv.  It seems so much EASIER in the moment, but in the long run, it bites us in the rear.

Boredom is a new concept for many of us.  “Lack of stimulation and the accompanying feelings” are almost painful.  My eldest’s grandiose ideas and plans often leave me crying for a trip to the spa for some peace and quiet….  Fostering his creativity has dividends I even can’t imagine, though.  So, within reason, I am working to see his cardboard box creations, never-ending self-authored & illustrated books, hand-drawn game boards and Taj Mahal forts with a different eye.  Intentionally seeing this creativity as learning blocks for who he is becoming.

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As the snow continues to blanket our little neck of the woods, I have turned to dreams of travel and sun to cope.  Tsh’s chapters on travel inspired me to step out into the fears of the unknown and plan some adventure.  To “love the world and drink it in deeply.”  To remember that road trips {despite hours in a small vehicle with young, cranky children} can lead to memories formed and family bonds strengthened.  As we plan for summer ourselves, I am trying to hold true to the stage our family is in.  To lower expectations a bit, think about places that allow for space to explore and room to breathe vs. a fast paced, jam-packed schedule.

Tsh has written a book that leaves me excited to make some tough choices and decisions.  It is not “simple” to make these changes.  It is “easy”.  But it is “good”.

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I would love to hear how you are choosing to live with intention.  What is one change that you are making or would like to impliment?  Leave a comment below, and head to http://notesfromabluebike.com/ to find Tsh’s book.

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Notes From a Blue Bike is written by Tsh Oxenreider, founder and main voice of The Art of Simple. It doesn’t always feel like it, but we DO have the freedom to creatively change the everyday little things in our lives so that our path better aligns with our values and passions. Grab your copy here.





Practicing Presence

8 01 2014

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Back in October or November, I started feeling the presence of Advent and its weight on the calendar despite the fall leaves hanging on trees and handprint turkeys coming home from school. Even though Halloween costumes were still the priority and meal planning for Thanksgiving was first and foremost, Advent was on my mind. What would it look like this year? Which daily activities would work best? Which version of the Jesse Tree should we try this year? Should I buy two of every activity knowing my youngest, now three, could participate?

So, I planned. I scheduled. I researched. I blogged about it. And December 1st hit, the perfect beginning to a new month, to Advent and the march towards Christmas. We had the promise of family and friends coming through town. Crafts to do. Menus to plan and food to buy. Church services to attend. Presents to buy and wrap. The to-do lists were full but ready for the roller coaster until December 25th.

Then December 6th came. A storm was predicted. It was on the “agenda”. It was planned and maybe even expected. We enjoyed a wonderful day on the 5th visiting a winery and the Willamette Valley with a visiting friend. Little did we really know what was around the corner. When we moved to Oregon in July, we, as “newbies”, were told we might get a day or two of snow, but nothing serious. Well, indeed it was only one day of snow. But the difference? For six days FOLLOWING the snow storm, school would be cancelled. Church would be cancelled. Christmas parties cancelled. Life pretty much ground to a halt. All the party food I had purchased at Costco? It became our daily meals—brie, crackers, mini quiches, sliced meats, cheese platters. No lunches to pack or homework to finish up. Just sledding. Movie watching. Hot chocolate drinking. And…..MULTIPLE Advent activities unfolded. Cookie baking. Cookie decorating. Gingerbread men. Gingerbread houses. Santa’s Village Shrinky Dinks. Snowflake cutting. Friends slid over too, if they had specially equipped vehicles.

Life changed during that week of being housebound. We fell into a rhythm. We settled into our little cocoon and slowed down. It felt like the Advent we were supposed to have. Not weeks of rushing from one activity to the next, glossing over the people and relationships that matter most. Not worrying about the pressures to do everything with a perfect veneer. Balanced, planned meals were let go for finding sustenance in what we randomly had in the pantry. We spent a lot of time together as a family unit. That was the only option and oddly enough, many of the sibling struggles dissipated. We weren’t rushing from prescribed activity to the overwhelming commitments. We were together in our imperfection, just present.

Two years ago, Shauna Niequist shared a wonderful post a week prior to Christmas. It was a wake-up call for me—a reminder that presence is much more important than perfection. It encapsulated the pull we all feel to do it all, at the expense of experiencing anything in a meaningful way. I had picked up some new chalkboard markers the day before the storm hit and took some time to transcribe Shauna’s words to the wall in our kitchen.

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I wish I could have remembered the truth of these words back in October and November when pushing to plan and be manic over the holiday to-dos. Maybe it took an insane snow storm to force God’s still small voice into my rushing and self-induced pressure? But now, as I begin a new season, re-entering the education field working as part time 2nd grade teacher, I am trying to learn from my December snow school. The storm that God used to teach me some much needed lessons. Lessons of meaning, presence, quality, relationship and people over perfection, quantity, rushing, pressure or mania. As much as I may plan for my own kids to be cared for, brought to school, for lessons to be taught to my students….life happens. God lives and breathes and moves in us. It can’t always be mapped out and planned. It can be unpredictable and yet, rich. Flexibility leading to trust and faith.

(Please click here to read the rest of this post at Practicing Families…)





Is Advent Just Smoke & Mirrors?

15 11 2013

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When I find my blood pumping, heart racing & anxiety creeping in, I usually know I need to check myself.  I have calendars spread out, a rainbow assortment of Sharpie pens at the ready, books and resources dog-eared and post-it noted & notebooks of lists lined up.  Next, I usually panic and send out a few emails to trusting, wise folks looking for the answer to squelch my nervous fears.  My need to perform, be a perfectionist with polish gets the upper hand in my subconscious.  Reason is shoved out the window.

If we step back in these moments (I am saying “we” here in hopes that I am not alone!), get some perspective and take things down to the bare bones , something lies forgotten.  There was a point, one of good intentions and God-discerned truth, where we once placed our feet in the starting blocks, ready to run the race.  Clear on our intentions, goals and having trained, we were ready to pace ourselves and finish strong & focused.

I fear, though, that something has been lost along the way.  The anxiety is a sign to me as the little planner that resides in my head starts salivating at the plan making and expectation setting.  One part feels anticipatory and the other experiences dread before I have even begun.

The season of Advent, one of waiting, expectation & preparation, is also one of darkness, unknowns and fear.  We are waiting in the “in between time“, the moment of liminality where we know we are headed somewhere, but not quite finding even footing in the known or the not yet.  Mary knew she would birth a baby, even felt the weight of the promise of God, and yet, Jesus was “incubating”.  Even God’s own arrival here on Earth was marked with a wait.  On the other side of things, resurrection followed in the same footsteps.  Three days in the tomb and then, restoration and triumph.

As Advent approaches, I wonder how to sit with this concept of anticipation and waiting myself, let alone with my own children.  We almost need a shock collar to keep our boys at the dinner table after they have finished eating.  So looking at Advent, waiting on an inanimate concept (celebrating Jesus’ birth), is tough.  My six year old is able to recite many of the stories that lead up to Christ’s birth, but when does the deeper understanding come?  My fear lies in my own need to plan and perfect everything.  By spinning off on activities, plans and “must dos”, the deeper understandings I so long for get buried.  It can be so easy for Advent to become a guise for something else, smoke and mirrors for busyness, a never-ending list of activities and self-created expectations.

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One book that has reminded me of this true underlying desire to bring Advent back to its “proper place” has been Jerusalem Greer’s “A Homemade Year:  The Blessings of Cooking, Crafting and Coming Together“.  She writes:

It is now, at Advent, that I am given the chance to suspend all expectation for the entire season and instead to revel in the mystery; to give myself permission to hold both sadness and joy, sorrow and hope, disappointment and peace in the same heart and to wait for the night when the world will, and does, begin again, revealing the wondrous, glorious morn.

While her book has activities, crafts and cooking projects, they are all grounded in the understanding that Advent is not about the never-ending treadmill of unrealistic plans & expectations.  We are called to create a space to be present, to take note, to even sit in places that feel full of disappointment and heartbreak.  And….to balance it all in the Light of Hope.  To cling to the promise of what comes on the other side.  While we know the promise of God With Us, Emmanuel, came after those nine months and was birthed, the road there and after wasn’t easy.  But the story, while long, bump-filled and tough, has cracks where the Light shines through, eventually in resurrection.  As Sally Lloyd-Jones brilliantly put it in the Jesus Storybook Bible:

It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story.  And at the center of the Story, there is a baby.  Every Story in the Bible whispers his name.  He is like the missing piece in a puzzle—the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.

Next week I hope to share a few plans I am ironing out for this year’s Advent Season, but for myself, if no one else, I needed to start first in this place.  To spend time thinking about how I’ve gotten pulled into the smoke & mirrors myself and to scale back, reorient and start again.

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Luckily, the whole process of faith is about the cyclical nature of grace.  We try our best & have fairly good intentions.  Later we get off track.  We admit it & get back on the bandwagon and give it a go again.  God washes this process in love and understanding, encouraging us to get back up.

We want to make this time holy and be made whole.  And it is not easy…We recognize that the search for the Holy is so urgent and real that we are vulnerable to the lure that the commercial world offers in its promise to fill in the gaps that we so painfully feel.  Materialism has contaminated the truth that ‘things’ indeed can be carrier of the Divine.  We do not want to fall for the ruse or Christmas becomes just another expensive disappointment.  During Advent, we are invited to be vulnerable to our long and open to our hope.” ~from To Dance with God by Gertrud Mueller Nelson

I plan to be back on Monday with a few thoughts on this year’s Advent season, but in the meantime, how are you approaching the upcoming weeks?  The lead up to Christmas?  Are you scaling back this year?  Ramping up?  Vacationing and trying to leave all the hooplah behind?  What do you long for during the season of Advent?  What traditions are not to be missed or forgotten in your family?  Where do you find time for stillness and waiting in the midst of materialism and unrealistic expectations?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

IMG_3393(are scarf clad, Santa hat wearing flamingos on your to do list this year?)





Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions….

11 03 2013

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Yesterday I had the horrifying honor of speaking in church before the sermon…a little testimony about consumption.  Horrifying in that I get nervous speaking in front of big groups, unless everyone is 10 years old.  And an honor because it is a sacred gift to be asked to share your journey and story with others.  Steve, our Senior Pastor, talked about consumption, and used two passages.  One was in Luke 12 and the other was in Genesis 3 (vs. 1-7).  Without repeating his sermon, the Luke passage (vs. 12:15-23) was a parable Jesus told his followers:

And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.

I love that verse where he reassures his own soul….”Soul, you have ample goods….relax!!!”  He stores up, uses a storage unit of the day, to ensure he has enough for any disaster, forgetting that the “treasures” we store up don’t really matter in the end.  And as the passage above reminds, “Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”  While that is true in theory, we often live in a completely opposite way.  We attempt over and over to fill the voids and fears in our lives with just that…..possessions and “stuff”.   And ultimately, it JUST.  DOESN’T.  SATISFY.  Those possessions will not fill us, as much as society and culture and capitalism banks on that claim.  Steve suggested calling out that very phrase {“Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions….“} everytime an ad comes on the tv or catalog comes in the mail or pop up appears as we work on the computer.  Love that!  Sometimes when we repeat words over and over, we actually begin to believe it.

Anyhow, if you are a regular reader here, my talk will be old news and more of the same…but wanted to post it nonetheless.   A little marker to remind myself that I was brave yesterday and despite shaking legs and dry mouth and pounding heart (for reals, folks….), I did it.  I shared TWICE.  And survived.

Happy Monday!!

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Back in January, I began seeing a reoccurring theme on a few of the blogs I follow.  Folks pursuing something that scared the living daylights out of me—-a spending fast.  Last year I had read a book by Jen Hatmaker called Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. Jen’s husband is the pastor at New Church in Austin, Texas, a congregation that avidly lives out the call to learn about and then LIVE like Jesus, no matter how scary.  In her hard-hitting book, Jen and her family take seven months to work on seven areas, from Media to Clothes to Food to Money, focusing on letting go of greed, materialism and indulgence.  Her insights brought up some hard truths for me and it was much easier to READ and STUDY the book rather than commit to trying many of the ideas.  This would mean LIVING THE BIBLE vs. just studying it.  I hesitated to attempt a spending fast, fearing that I would miss the convenience and camaraderie of consumption. The fact that for me, buying is often directly tied to connecting & community—the truth that we often link hospitality with the expediency consumerism allows.

As a Christian, I began to see another piece to this puzzle of consumerism.  Something shifted in me and despite anxiety over what a spending fast might look and feel like, I began to desire to connect my faith to my day-to-day spending & consumption.  It can be easy to assume a connection between our lives & God when overtly serving—-teaching Sunday School or helping with a homeless meal.  But, where and how does God call us to engage our faith in the seemingly rote, mundane moments we walk through each day?!

God poured himself into creation, seeing the beginning of creation as an act of love and intention, God’s way of expressing who he is.  And then there is MY response to that act of love….buying, buying, buying, consuming, consuming, consuming—a feeble attempt to fill voids and empty, fearful spaces in my life.  This perspective change for me involved seeing that we are called into a loving relationship with creation because creation is a revelation of who God is.  This shift has given me a more lasting motivation to work on spending and consumerism, based on LOVE not just fear.

We began this process back in February and recently have pushed ourselves to go on through Lent.  It is not easy and has been a learning process for the whole family.  From our 2 year old, Drew, yelling, “GO BACK!! FRENCH FRIES!” as we passed In and Out, unable to go in for a meal during our fast.  Or our five year old, Alex, wanting another LEGO set or Star Wars sticker book.  I have been spending a LOT more time in the kitchen preparing meals, instead of meeting friends for coffee or enjoying a meal out.  It has meant inviting folks into our home and sitting around the table or centering play dates on free activities.  Frankly, it has led us to be more creative and intentional.

I won’t say that there is a heavenly light coming into our house, a turn around change that has allowed our faith to grow by leaps and bounds.  It is rather a daily, moment-by-moment practice.  A fasting from saying “yes” to the easy route and “no” to things that are convenient and habitual.  Sometimes, though, it has also meant feasting on saying “yes”—-yes to cooking together in the kitchen, yes to movie/picnic nights on the floor of the living room, yes to s’mores in the backyard, yes to trips to the library and yes to walks and bike rides.

It is my understanding that God desires our obedience in all areas of our lives.  Even the parts that seem “human” and not “Godly”….our money, finances, spending & giving.  If you are anything like me, you clamor for more, more, more.  It is our nature.  We hardly know what moderation is and what it feels like.  And yet God calls us to live differently.  To make daily decisions away from what we think we deserve and contemplate instead about what drives us—-the “NEEDS” we believe are the pathway to happiness.  For me, during this season of lent, it can be a time to make intentional decisions to feast on something more, not found from the riches of our wallets and flashy pages of the catalogs filling our mailboxes, but through giving up and fasting from consumption.





To Be Continued…

3 03 2013

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Months and months ago I had read about Kate Spade New York’s new book “Things We Love” in a magazine and put it on my wish list at the Library.  It came in last week and I spent an hour reading the pages and ogling over the amazing pictures and colors.  The spread above was my favorite—it almost seemed to emit real light off the page.  Happiness in 2D!

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I hesitated to even check out the book once I was notified that it had arrived as we were finishing up our spending fast and there’s nothing like hundreds of pages of Kate Spade inspiration to make it hard to leave your credit card stashed away.  Luckily I also had this beauty waiting…..Living More With Less.  Maybe they cancelled each other out?!

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In the 28 days since beginning our spending fast, I have slowly begun to realize a few things.  First, I have found that the spending fast has been more about a change of mind-set rather than a huge savings account boost.  I know we have saved money in comparison to months prior, however, it will take some analysis to figure out just how much.  We saved a lot by not going out to eat, but often counteracted that by splurging on some special treats at Trader Joes.  Second, I think I have baked and cooked my way through our days more than usual.  Food is comforting and I often found that spending time in the kitchen creating baked goods to share allowed us to enjoy meals and coffee with friends and family without spending excess money.  We went to the Oakland Zoo yesterday (using passes we had purchased on Groupon back in January), but it was so much easier to pack food to share for lunch and enjoy a picnic.  Bringing our own food meant no lines and no need to pay “extra” for basics we had purchased previously for much less.  It requires thinking ahead and taking time to plan and pack, but it meant more time to enjoy a “meal” together once we were with our friends.    {sidenote:  enjoying a meal in a relaxed fashion is a bit of a stretch with young kids in tow, but we were as leisurely as “possible”!}.  Finally, I think the spending fast has helped us hunker down and spend more time at home together.  We aren’t jetting off to meals and events out as much, but rather, find ourselves in gargantuan LEGO building sessions, cookie baking marathons or reading library books together.  Maybe the fact that Matt and I were laid up with the worst cold/flu ever for 10+ days kept us home a bit more too!

 

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As the end of February approached, though, I sensed that we were not quite done.  It almost felt like we were pushing a rock up a steep hill and we could see the peak up ahead, knowing smooth rolling was not far off.  “Smooth rolling” meant we could “let out our breath”—buy the shampoo, conditioner, make-up and odds and ends we “needed”.  It meant a no-guilt pedicure, eyebrow wax or new pants purchase for eldest.  The end of the fast signaled that we could splurge on a dinner  at In and Out or buying Easter treats from the dollar bins at Target.  And frankly, it just seemed too easy.  It was like holding your breath through a tunnel and finally gasping after 45 seconds as you emerged on the other side.  We would not buy, not buy, not buy and then….SPLURGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So, we are pushing on for another 31 days, through Lent.  We have to make a few concessions, and we won’t be legalistic about the process.  But I love how pushing on again means getting creative.  Digging our my neatly organized, never used samples…..

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It was an excuse to purge and re-organize our hall, medicine cabinet.  I found SO many things I forgot we have and 2 garbage bags full of things we didn’t need or which were outdated/expired.

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The continuation of the fast meant a poorly done pedicure by myself….

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Continuing the fast signaled more free zoo/museum trips with friends {super fun perk!}

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Squeezing out the last remnants of my foundation {and maybe going without for a few weeks….don’t look too close mid-March!} is a more challenging side effect.

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So….more learning to come.  More saying “no” to Drew’s pleas for French Fries.  More of mom’s pizza and dinners that are “NEVER AS GOOD AS ‘Going Out’ PIZZA!!!”  Consuming has its backlash, though.  And even though saying no is hard, I am seeing some of the “pay off” too.

Bear with us as we press on a few more weeks and continue to share our experiences with you.  And luckily, Alex hasn’t quite connected that March arrived and we still are on our fast.  We’ll see if he makes the connection before Easter!





Vision from the Frontlines: 40 Bags in 40 Days

21 02 2013
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This post is the eleventh installment of a series on children’s faith development called Vision from the Frontlines:  Voices, Experiences & Practices of Faith Development.  For more information about this series, click here.  Today I am excited to welcome my friend through the “interwebs”, Mel Larson who blogs at The Larson Lingo.  I have been reading Mel’s blog for over a year now and have been inspired by her creativity and ideas.  Her humor, love and dedication to her family is evident throughout her posts and if you need party ideas, recipes or inspiration for your home, she is your lady.  In fact next Wednesday, I will be linking up with her current series, “Soup’s On“, sharing a fun and easy soup recipe.  Thank you, Mel, for sharing here today.  I hope her 40 Bags in 40 Days project for Lent will inspire you—as a Middle School math teacher and mom of three, if she can make it happen, we all can!

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Hi Everyone!
My name is Mel and I am so excited to be guest posting today!
A little bit about me…I live in California, born & raised!
I love Jesus, wine, coffee, photography & throwing parties.
Target is my Happy Place.
I have been married for 10 years to Kevin and we have 3 sweet kids.
 Kate is 6, Claire is 4 and our baby boy Luke is 6 months old.
I am a part time 7th grade math teacher and have been teaching for 9 years.Before I was a middle school teacher, I worked in Youth Ministry and was the Middle School Director at our church for 2.5 years.
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A few years ago I heard about the idea of doing 40 Bags in 40 Days during the Lenton Season.
The idea is that during the 40 days of Lent, you rid your house of 40 bags of “stuff”.This “stuff” can be things you don’t use… junk, clothes you don’t need/wear, clutter, old toys, etc.
If you look at my house, it is very clutter free….that is until you look in the closets & drawers.They are SO unorganized & full junk. Seriously, it is scary what my closets & drawers look like.It reminds me of how we all appear sometimes. Good on the outside & messy on the inside.To me, Lent is a time of prayer, self-reflection, sacrifice, self-control and renewal.A good home de-cluttering can go hand in hand with the Lenten
season, just like our lives may look put together on the outside,
on the inside we are a mess and need an intervention &
de-cluttering ourselves.

It is kind of gross how much STUFF we have, that we don’t even need.The amount of clothes I have, but haven’t worn in months/years is embarrassing.They need to be given away to people who need clothes.We have more than we need..it’s time to SIMPLIFY.

Last year, when I did 40 Bags in 40 Days for Lent,I gave AWAY 24 bags of stuff to Goodwill.
I threw AWAY 28 bags of stuff.That is 52 bags of stuff we didn’t use, need or wasted.
That makes me sick to my stomach that I had that much “junk” and extra stuff in our house.
And, what’s really sad is that I am doing 40 Bags in 40 Days again this Lenton Season because even though I got rid of all that stuff last year, there is still SO much more I can and should get rid of.   I not a big shopper, but I am SO guilty of buying the “little” stuff, especially at Target. Can I get an Amen?
So many times I will give in and buy my girls something from the Dollar Bins just to keep them happy & entertained while we are shopping.
But, what is that teaching them? That “things” will make you happy? That if you ask for something you  get it?  That it’s okay to buy something just because it’s inexpensive?  All these “things” aren’t meaningful and create clutter. I have really made an effort in the past few months to not buy this stuff for them.   I want to be a good example for my kids.  They watch our every move.  They see what we buy, they hear what we say, they see what we giveaway.
I always start my 40 Bags in 40 Days project with cleaning out MY closet and my dressers first so that my girls know that I am giving away things also. Then we do their room & closets and I talk to them how there are kids who aren’t as fortunate as they are and who barely have anything. It would make those kids so happy if we were able to give them clothes, toys and books that we don’t need anymore.   My girls are 4 and 6 so these are the perfect ages to start good habits of giving away things to others we don’t need or use.  We also talk about how God has blessed us and that we can those things to bless others.
In this world of consumerism, materialism and “keeping up with the Jonses”, I want my kids to realize that even though we have more than we ever need, that LESS IS MORE.  It is a saying that I also need to remind myself of each day.
You can read more about my 40 Bags in 40 Days on my blog.
I will be posting tips and Before/After pictures as I de-clutter this Lenton season.




Target Flu Shots….the key to free fun

6 02 2013

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I spent some time chatting with my eldest about our Spending Fast experiment and thought I’d share his thoughts. I love hearing the ideas, understandings and assumptions of kids and figure it will be interesting to hear his thoughts at the beginning and end of the month.  After our little “interview”, I’ll add a few things that have come up for me this week.

What is a spending fast?   
You only use money on stuff that you are SUPPOSED to spend money on.
What are some examples of how that will look in real life?
Like when I buy something, you will say, “You can’t buy that.”
These are some things I can’t buy: No LEGOs, no clothes, no furniture (even if some of ours breaks), haircuts
I CAN buy food, our house and our car  (sidenote: we rent our house and lease our car. Guessing he figures we can pay those normal, monthly bills)
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What do you think will be hard?
Not buying stuff feels hard because I really like new toys. I am a little sad.
What will be cool? What will you learn?
I don’t know. Nothing.
What are some things we could do that are free or don’t require buying anything for?
  • Haircuts at the new place we got a coupon for and gum from there
  • Coloring and art
  • Play in the sand box
  • Play on the playground and at the park
  • Bike riding
  • Scootering
  • Friends’ birthday parties
  • Library
  • Flu Shot at Target  (my personal favorite!)

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How are you going to respond if you see something you want to buy and can’t? LEGOS? Ice Cream? French Fries? In and Out?
Take a picture and ask for it for Christmas?
Instead of saying, “Mommy can we PLEASE go?????” and crying, I will say, “Ok, we’ll do it another time.
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How much money do you think we will save this month?
$100? or $1000?? A month IS a very very very long time, you know.
What will be the hardest thing for each family member to give up, in your opinion?

  • Mom? Make up
  • Dad? Phones and buying jackets and nice clothes. Dad is a NICE dresser.
  • Drew? Books and In and Out French Fries (luckily we can just make them….I like yours better anyway)

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If we save money this month, what do you think we should use the money for?

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It has been an interesting six days so far.  I don’t see any drastic effects yet, but subtly, the fast is requiring creativity.  Last week I packed a disposable cup and tea bag on a trip to Peets.  Hot water was free and I pilfered some sugar and soy milk.

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We have had multiple trips to the Library which isn’t out of the ordinary, but I did pick up a creative book called Obsessive Consumption by Kate Bingaman-Burt.  Here’s the wonderful book description from Amazon:

Our daily lives are filled with consumption—$1.50 for a cup of coffee, $5.95 for a magazine, $17.99 for headphones, $1.79 for cough drops, $36.00 for a haircut. Whether bought out of necessity or indulgence, purchased alone or in a group, everything we buy has its own story to tell. We buy art supplies while feeling inspired, CDs while shopping with friends, and a new pair of jeans to give us a lift when we are feeling blue. Yet, these powerfully emotional experiences can be fleeting—quickly erased by the pull of the next “must-have” acquisition. In Obsessive Consumption, Portland-based artist Kate Bingaman-Burt holds up a mirror to her own obsession with shopping and acquisition. Faced with a mounting pile of postgraduation credit card debt, Bingaman-Burt concocted a unique artistic response to this all-too-common dilemma. She picked up a pen and began drawing her monthly credit card statements, painstakingly recreating every last ledger line and decimal point, vowing to continue serving her artistic penance until her debt was repaid. As a relief from this project—turning the idea of “retail therapy” on its ear—Bingaman-Burt began drawing one of her purchases from each day, losing herself in the items, patterns, simple lines, and typography.

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We also picked up the latest Caldecott winner, announced just last week, This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen, while at the Library.  It was a wonderful story with themes about stealing and truth-telling—it hit home for eldest who went through a phase of “borrowing” last year!  And rather than buying new workout DVDs, I borrowed a rear-kicker Jillian Michaels CD from a friend.  Sadly, having it in my possession doesn’t mean I have actually USED it!

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And as is typically the case, I never leave home, if I can help it, without snacks for the kids.  There is NOTHING like being out on errands or in a busy, public place with a thirsty or hungry toddler or preschooler (or spouse!).  In desperation, I have ended up buying $4 bottles of water and $3 packages of M and M’s to appease them and it just isn’t healthy, good for the pocketbook or wise.  Snack-Trap’s unite!!!

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For the Superbowl I juiced over 12 lemons for making fun beverages.  Sadly I was so distracted by the 49ers’ torture, and FORGOT to serve the drinks!  Oh, well, free lemons from my friend’s tree meant POTENTIAL yummy refreshment.

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No doubt there will be more updates to come, including tomorrow where I am going out to lunch for a friend’s birthday.  Luckily it is at Boudin Bakery and I can bring one of my coupons!  (reminder….yes, remember I’m the “breadwinner” of our family?!?  post here).  Also looking forward to sharing about a new venture being a contributor for a new blog called Practicing Families.  My friend Mihee shared about it today and it officially launches on Monday.  More details on that soon!





A Consumption Experiment

31 01 2013

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As a family we are embarking on something really scary tomorrow. It is my own fault as I suggested the possibility and am pretty much the one shaping what it will look like. I am already second guessing myself as I get emails or invites to go places and do things and find myself having to say “no” or think of modifications. As Lent approaches and as 2013 unfolds, we are taking on a Spending Fast. I have read and heard about similar ideas in the past. A few years ago, we gave up Target for the month of January. In the past, I have gone on sorting and purging binges, attempting to drastically reduce our consumption and “stuff hoarding”.

Most recently I read about this idea for a spending fast from Rachel at Smile and Wave. Her post entitled, “On Staying Home and Liking It” was an eye opener and pushed my head out of the space it’s been inhabiting lately—-one of complacency, purposeful “foggy understandings” of our finances and lack of discipline and transparency with spending.

Now that I am not contributing to our finances with a paying job, I feel like now, more than ever, I need to have a real life, experiential time of practice. A chance to feel the painful process of letting go of money’s “comforts”. I was recently re-reading sections of Jen Hatmaker’s cut-to-the-gut book Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. In this hard hitting book, Jen and her family take seven months to work on seven areas, from Media to Clothes to Food to Money, focusing on letting go of greed, materialism and indulgence. I know, before this spending fast even begins, that Hatmaker’s insights are going to be hard truths to face. That I will miss the convenience and camaraderie of consumption. The fact that buying is directly connected to connecting & community. The truth that we often connect hospitality with the expediency consumerism allows.

To connect with others, my planning will need to revolve around free options. It is often easier (or more exciting!) to imagine meeting a friend for coffee than invite them over for tea at your house. When looking at an “open day” with my 2 year old, dropping by Target for one quick thing ends up with a $100 shopping spree for “necessities” I didn’t know I needed. When monotony of weekdays unfold, it seems best to connect with others at spots that charge entrance fees. Instead of depending on connection and community in those places, I will need to get creative. Online I have seen some great lists to get me going on the brainstorming—-

  • playing at the park
  • the Library (one that is already a big habit for us, although with cold and flu season in full swing that toddler play area, while AWESOME, feels like a hot bed of snot and potential illness…can I get an “amen!”?)
  • play dates at our house or friends’ houses
  • inviting friends over for coffee & tea while the kids run wild in the backyard

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  • picnics, walks

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  • picking and using free fruit from friends’ trees!  (thanks, Marlene!!)

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  • candlelight dinners (candles make mac and cheese and hot dogs much more enticing, right?!)
  • camping in the backyard (in February??)
  • hiking
  • board game night (with modifications for a two year old in the mix!)

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  • taking turns planning a free adventure, surprise day
  • making pizza or popcorn at home for Friday night movie night
  • doing a puzzle together (again, an interesting prospect with Mr. 27 Month Old…)
  • watching butternut squash roast (or maybe that’s just fun for Drew?!?)

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In her post, Rachel shared another site, one which inspired she and her husband to try the spending fast in the first place. This post, linked here, describes the plan in detail and gives tons of practical explanations and details. One of things made clear in these posts is the difference between needs and wants. Wants will be the “off limits”, cry myself to sleep (ha ha!) types of things I have to say “no” to—–

  • gifts
  • coffee dates
  • clothes
  • shoes
  • trinkets
  • toys (aka: the infamous Target $1 section)
  • new make up
  • eating out (I predict this will be PAINFUL…I should be more positive, but just guessing this will be a toughy)
  • movies out and Netflix, new music or books (and yes, that means no itunes or Kindle purchases)
  • no decorative house stuff.

Needs? The things I’d rather ignore and not pay, but must?  I know there will be others, but these come to mind off the top of my head:

  • Rent
  • Utlilties
  • Cell Phone
  • Food (thinking we could even consider a pantry week or two, which we have tried previously….this article is a great one sharing about one family’s experience for SEVEN weeks, eating solely from their pantry….eep!)
  • Doctor’s Co-Pays and Medicine
  • Car Payments and Gas. 

I assume that I will have many thoughts (not all of them pretty) to share in the weeks to come and no, it’s not lost on me that I chose the shortest month of the year to spring this on the family. 28 days vs. 31? Yes, please! In all seriousness, I am sharing about this fast here on the blog in hopes that it provides some accountabillity for me and a place to share about the process. I anticipate many challenges, but also hope to share the benefits we find too, the money saved (hopefully!) and what changes we might decide to keep into the future.

Have you ever done a spending fast? If so, what tips do you have to share? Insights to give? Free outings and entertainment to suggest? Starbucks and Peets gift cards to give??? (um, no….)

And here we go….game ON!

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Hoping this process will help me see the beauty in what already surrounds me…because seriously?!?  Dominoes?  My love of color and order goes a little on overload here. 





Consent

25 11 2012

“No one longs for what he or she already has, and yet the accumulated insight of those wise about the spiritual life suggests that the reason so many of us cannot see the red X that marks the spot is because we are standing on it. The treasure we seek requires no lengthy expedition, no expensive equipment, no superior aptitude or special company. All we lack is the willingness to imagine that we already have everything we need. The only thing missing is our consent to be where we are.”

― Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith

 

Consent and permission is such a part of my daily life. My two boys look to me regularly, often with a little mischief hiding behind those lashes, asking for my consent. They want permission to do something, eat something, go somewhere or play with some item. Always a process of asking for consent. Children, unlike us, “evolved” adults, often find themselves happily treasuring and seeing the rightness of the red X that marks their spot. They observe, test the waters & often find great pleasure in the ordinary.

Yesterday, my willingness to consent to be where I am was NOT working out so well. As is our habit, we {and by “we”, I especially am referring to my oldest son} start dragging out the Christmas tubs as soon as the turkey has hit the refrigerator. We spent Friday in Oakland instead, though, so the decorating was to happen on Saturday. Matt got our fake tree out of storage and began to assemble it…doesn’t that sound so cozy and homey?!? Putting together the Christmas tree?

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And with great sighs of “please, no”, we realized that three big sections were dark, even after the plugs were turned on. The following few hours involved finger splitting and bleeding light removal while keeping the youngest out of all the ornaments that eldest had unleashed on every flat surface in sight. Lights were finally removed by 3:30pm (three hours later) and new lights put on by 5:30pm…only 2/3 lit. We still need to get more lights today and then will hopefully get ornaments on eventually—-only to be removed by our resident 2 year old, no doubt.

On Thanksgiving Even, upon seeing the set table, Drew kept saying “Cool. Awesome.  Wow.” Looking at the moon in the night sky that same night, he stopped, looked up and again sighed, “Cool…..Awesome.  Wow.” He looked at that tree yesterday, 1/2 lit, unadorned, and reflected with those same words, “Cool. Awesome.  Wow.” He also added in “hot” for good measure. We shall see how this season goes tree-wise.

Despite all the chasing, boundary-setting and time outs for Drew as of late, I am so often struck by his willingness to be in the moment. To be willing to treasure the now. To look down, realize he is standing on the figurative red X and jump up and down with vigor, clapping his hands and saying, “YEH!!!!”

As Advent draws near this week, I am preparing to prepare. To open my eyes to what is already around me and plant my feet there. To keep things simple this season. To plan for spending lots of unplanned, yet intentional time here. Being present in the moment. I love the daily traditions of easing into Christmas and focusing on the true meaning of the season, realizing as Barbara Brown Taylor reflected, that I already have what I need. The recollection, turning back to see that squeezing in every, single, solitary opportunity is empty, draining and not worth it. With a plan in place, I hope to be ready for what could happen, but willing to let it go just as easily.

Yesterday, a new response occurred. My eldest, usually hell-bent on getting the tree decorated immediately, let go of his stubborn frustration. I think seeing my bleeding fingers and sweaty face as I removed burnt out lights for hours gave him pause. My neighbor even brought over a bottle of wine! But, we let the tree be what it was to be—-unfinished. We all went to bed with the tree—-unfinished. That almost makes me sweat to type. Ornaments are still out, waiting to be put on. It was lit up in out window last night….only half lit. Baby steps, this holiday season, baby steps. Baby steps to get back to that red X that marks the spot I’m already standing in. To consent to be where I am.

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