Friday, February 28, 2014

Taming of the Shrew

Our normal school mornings go something like this: the big boys wake up around 6:30 and head downstairs and turn the tv on. I stumble down bleary eyed (after staying up too late and getting joined in bed around 3am by a four year old) and head straight for the teapot. (English Breakfast with milk and sugar.) I usually find a handful of granola bar wrappers and applesauce pouches strewn about from the snack the boys have helped themselves to. I make them oatmeal then go upstairs to put on my makeup. I stop to pull some clothes out for Bennett (he doesn't mind at all if I pick his clothes but if I go tell him to get dressed, he comes out in his favorite tank top and flip-flops.) then yell downstairs for him to come get dressed. Stop to yell at him at least two more times because he "didn't hear me". Go back to putting on my makeup and getting dressed but stop ten more times to remind him to stay on task (ie: stop fighting with his brother/watching tv/playing legos/making faces at himself in the mirror) and tell him what he needs to do next. And there's almost always a frantic three minutes where I realize he still hasn't put his socks and shoes on and he's about to miss the bus so I'm grabbing coat/gloves/backpack for him while simultaneously asking him what the heck he'd been doing and pushing him out the door. I'm stressed and he's extremely unhappy and possibly in tears. 

Please tell me this sounds familiar. 

I've read Love & Logic, which is all about giving your children responsibility for themselves and stepping out of the way. I knew I wasn't doing Bennett any favors whatsoever. There was one time that I printed out a checklist for him that I was going to laminate but I think that was half-way through the previous school year and I never got around to it. You see, there's this thing that happened to me that took away the last remaining shred of organizational abilities that I had and it's called a third child. (Well, to be more specific, when said child turned mobile.)  In case I wasn't completely sure that I was failing my children, I got this card from Bennett at Christmastime. It's taken me this long to get up the guts to share it because it's that bad. 

"Dear mom, I hope you have a great day. I wish I could change your life to a happy life." 

I felt like I was punched in the gut. 

I can't even explain how convicting that was (although I'm sure every mom out there can imagine). My grouchy mama self wasn't just peeking out here and there. She was hanging around enough that that's who my six year old saw me as. Let's just say for the past fifteen months or so, I've been a little off my game. A LOT of single parenting plus a very difficult season of marriage plus a toddler who is very clingy and fussy....
This is a common sight these days:
and two half-grown monkey boys who tear the house apart daily in record time does not bring out my best self. I've been trying a lot harder since The Note to laugh more and be silly more and play more with them. But there are still the rushed school mornings and very rough evenings when I'm single parenting. 

Yesterday morning I handed Bennett a to-do list and a pencil. It included everything in detail that he needed to do before school (including put yesterday's dirty clothes away, which without a doubt were still on his bedroom floor.) 
He grabbed the list without even a whimper of complaint and..... drum roll....did it all. In a rather timely manner. And he was out at the bus stop in plenty of time with a smile on his face (and on mine!!). Also, since I wasn't having to stop 32 times, I was actually dressed and ready way earlier than usual. And, *gasp*, Dawson was early to preschool. Like, so early he was in the building, with his hands washed with about 3 minutes to spare. I was standing around with the other early parents thinking, "Huh. So this is normal for all of you." I kind of felt like someone should have started a slow clap for me. The whole morning was SHOCKINGLY different. It was almost laughable. Why in the world did that take me so long to figure out??? Well, whatever the reason, I am singing praises that the morning battle is over for the foreseeable future. 
Another little thing that has helped in bringing out happy mom started last week when we got to the media chapter in Jen Hatmaker's book, 7 (which is only $2.99 for Kindle edition, by the way). I was looking forward to this one because I knew my "boundaries" (I had some but didn't really follow them) for my phone use were not working. So I set my phone aside for a full week. (The first few days I found myself checking the weather app multiple times because I didn't know what else to do.) I got a lot more done and I played with the kids way more than usual. I also went to bed earlier.
My problem is, I'm an all or nothing kind of person. I knew I needed to come up with a way to drastically limit time on Instagram that I could actually stick to for the long haul. I love Instagram. That has become such an important community for me and I have so many dear friends on there. Friends who encourage me in motherhood and point me towards Christ. Friends I now text and talk to on the phone and exchange snail mail with and several that I will meet at a women's conference in Dallas at the end of this month. I really wasn't willing to give it up completely.
I had the idea to delete the app when I'm not using it. If I get on once in the afternoon during Channing's nap or to post a photo, I'll delete and reinstall it once the boys are in bed and then delete it again after that (by 9pm!! I'm putting that out there so you people can hold me accountable). It sounds like a pain but it actually only takes about 20 seconds to install and another 20 seconds to log in. It has completely removed all habitual mindless use of it. It's really working for me and maybe it'll work for you too.
I also read a great blog post by one of my favorite IG'ers (@kristinrogers) but I can't find it right now. The great takeaway I got from it was to quickly snap the shot, then put your phone away and rejoin the moment. You can edit and post it later. No one cares or knows if they're all latergrams! I really liked that idea. Probably seems obvious to some but I hadn't thought of it before.
Motherhood is hard, folks. Like, crazy hard. I hit my bed every night like I spent the day in basic training for the Army. Physically exhausted and emotionally drained from three tiny drill sergeants in my face all day long. But I want those little drill sergeants to remember a peaceful, happy home and a mom who laughed way more than she yelled. I'm thankful for God's grace and forgiveness in my own life and I'm so thankful that every day is fresh in God's eyes and in my children's eyes.
I'm weary, Lord, but that's where you step in. Let me love these boys in a way that would point them back to you. Let me choose my words and tone of voice carefully in order to build them up. And let me selflessly give up time and energy to serve my family, rather than myself. And may I stick out the remainder of this wretched winter with grace and dignity. Amen ;)

That one glorious 50 degree day.....

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

doing more to live with less

I'm reading a book right now that I was scared of. I thought I wasn't spiritually ready for it. I just didn't want to face the ugliness of my own excessive upper-middle-class life. I knew there was probably a lot of ugly. And I was comfortable in it. But comfort is the last thing God wants for us here on earth. In fact, He really wants us to feel uncomfortable. Because that's where our chances for growth lie. And so, without much of a choice (short of taking a leave of absence from my Wednesday morning moms group that I LOVE until they wrapped up the book) I dove in. And actually, I was kind of glad I was forced into it. Because deep down I did want to read it.
The book is Jen Hatmaker's, 7. You can read the synopsis here. I suggest you just go ahead and buy it or find someone to borrow it from, whether you think you're ready for it or not. It'll change your life and save you money at the same time. (I promise you'll make back the $12 it costs to buy the book in your first trip to the grocery store.)
Here's the thing with the book- you can go hard core, all in with the experiment, like she did, and fast in seven areas of your life for however long you choose. Or, what our group of scaredy-cats did was just choose our own method. We read a chapter (currently on chapter four) and then we listen to what God is asking of us and then make big or small changes in those areas. We've all chosen different things and no one feels like a slacker if you don't technically fast (ah me. I guess I'm the scaredest of the scaredy-cats.)

Along with the start of this book, we all discussed our "Word of the Year". I kind of rolled my eyes when someone first asked me if I'd chosen a word for the year. I mean...really. I'm not one of those Type-A, choose my word for the year, organized, scheduled, clean-freak, on-time sort of people. I'm none of that and a bag of chips. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought I probably needed a word of the year. And once I started thinking I needed a word of the year, the word, EFFORT, popped into my head. I don't like that I'm not very scheduled or clean-freaky or on time. And if it bothers me, it's probably because I need to change something. I need to make some effort. And that word led me straight into my commitment after reading the first chapter (about food) in 7. So before my weekly grocery run, I actually made a loose meal plan. And I was also determined to buy way more fresh fruit and veggies and way fewer processed snacks for the boys and frozen entrees for myself (which are pricey because I buy the healthy ones). I went to Costco and Trader Joe's that day and bought a ton of groceries. And when I came home, I think out of the $160 or so that I spent, I had about 10 items (including several canned goods and oatmeal) that needed to go into the pantry and just a few went into the freezer and I had so much stuff for my fridge, it wouldn't all fit. And guess what? I spent a lot less than usual. Because I wasn't paying someone else to cook and package the food for me. (I also learned that Costco's produce is CHEAP. Like crazy cheap. Like sweet potatoes for $.33 a pound! I usually spend way too much money in there because I buy all kinds of crap but if you ignore all the crap and just buy fresh stuff, you can save a crapload of money.) I told myself, my true test would be if we actually ate all that fresh stuff instead of throwing a bunch out because I was too lazy to cook the veggies and they went bad. Well, it's been a couple of weeks and most of it has been cooked and eaten. (I still have approximately eight pounds of carrots left but thankfully those last a bit longer than most produce.)

A few people asked if I'd share some meal ideas on here from my first round, so here's what I've cooked up lately (I generally cook gluten free at home. I'm on a reduced gluten diet because I feel a lot better that way and my eyes get really bloodshot if I eat too much but I don't worry about it if someone else is cooking for me. Or if there's a cupcake anywhere nearby. Channing is allergic to gluten but he's so picky right now, he doesn't eat most of what I cook.):
My mom made this white chicken chili when we were down in Memphis and I couldn't wait to eat it again. It is so stinkin' good, I'll probably make it every other week. I don't do spicy so this is not spicy in the least. I'm sure there are a thousand other recipes out there if that's what you prefer. This one has a cream cheese base and is so rich and creamy and delicious. Recipe in the comments.
One night's supper of baked sweet potatoes, roasted broccoli and Trader Joe's barbecue pulled pork (ok, I did pay someone to cook and package that meat but I'm ok with cheating here and there for a quick thrown together but healthy dinner.) turned into sweet potato pancakes for lunch the next day. I got the idea from Joy Prouty. Just mix in 2 eggs and some cinnamon for every half baked sweet potato. They're more like a souffle in texture and are a bit bland, so drizzle on some maple syrup. Channing gobbled these up with just a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. Also, that Jones Canadian bacon from Costco is so good.
Another super quick and healthy meal I've been doing a lot is spaghetti squash with meat sauce. (I didn't take a picture.) I seriously think it's the easiest healthy meal you could possibly make. Just cut a spaghetti squash in half (that's the hardest part!!) and bake it upside down on a greased pan for an hour. Scoop out the seeds then scrape out the squash with a fork (It comes out like noodles. Dawson had no idea he wasn't eating pasta the first time I made it.) and serve it with your normal spaghetti sauce. It sounds kind of weird but trust me. It's delicious. Jon still won't eat it with meat sauce but he's happy to eat a bowl of it with butter and brown sugar. 

I was a bit intimidated to make this shepherd's pie tonight (I'm pretty much intimidated to make anything new that has more than five ingredients and requires a lot of chopping. Plus, it had the word food processor in the instructions.) but I'm so glad I did. It really was easy and it was so delicious. And it didn't require a lot of chopping. Just a little. The entire family loved it. And nobody had any idea that the topping was mashed cauliflower instead of potatoes until I told them! Or maybe they were just too polite to say, "these potatoes taste weird." I don't have a food processor so I mashed the cauliflower by hand with my potato masher. It was totally easy. I left out the celery and added a few extra carrots instead (trying to get rid of ten pounds worth :/ ) and I also dumped in some frozen corn right before I browned the meat. Look at me, putting my own spin on a recipe!! I'm like a real cook!!! That toasty cheese on top was divine.
I think I have at least one more meal to make with what I bought. And we could live off of carrots and sweet potatoes for another two weeks. I've decided I just want to have a small file of about 12 or 15 recipes that the whole family loves and just go through them repeatedly in order. Then I'll always know what I'm going to shop for that week. (With Jon's traveling, I only need to cook a true meal a few times a week. The rest can be simple stuff or leftovers. It used to be that I'd only cook a real meal like once every other week. I ate a lot of Chipotle and Panera and the boys ate too many chicken nuggets and Trader Joe's turkey corndogs. But I'm putting forth a great EFFORT to change that ;) 
Chapter two was about clothes and I cannot wait to do a gigantic closet clean-out. I clean out my closet fairly regularly but there's SO much stuff still in there that I think I'll for sure still wear. Someday. Or I might wear it once a season. That kind of stuff is so not worth keeping. I'm going to donate a ton and I've committed to not going shopping for myself or for the boys until after Easter. Maybe longer. But after that, I guarantee the way I shop for clothes is going to look a whole lot different, just like my grocery shopping now looks a whole lot different. I made a whole lot of excuses before. I mean, I'm super frugal!! I rip cotton rounds in half to take off my makeup and I re-use tinfoil! I'm still carrying the same Coach purse every day I got ten years ago! TEN! I don't buy that much for myself and only if it's on super clearance!! I pride myself on my sale rack savviness. 
But y'all, I could feed and clothe a few families for a year with the stuff in my kitchen and closet that was being wasted. I'm sure most Americans could say the same. I'm loving every second of where this book is taking me. I had so much room to grow and it's stretching me 'til it hurts. Actually, it hasn't even hurt yet. It just feels good. And freeing. Freeing to drive past the mall on a Friday when I'm by myself and not think, "Oh, I should run in and check the J.Crew clearance rack. I know they're having a great sale." It also feels good to mostly shop the perimeter of the grocery store and to actually cook all the veggies I'm bringing home. 
If you feel overwhelmed with anything (particularly healthy eating. I know that's incredibly overwhelming to a lot of people.) just take a baby step this week. Switch from white pasta/bread/cereal to whole wheat. And from quick-oats to old fashioned oats. Add in honey instead of brown sugar. (That was a hard switch for Bennett so I stirred in honey and then sprinkled a tiny bit of brown sugar on top. He didn't notice. After a while I just stopped the brown sugar altogether.) Stop buying fruit snacks and buy dried fruit or applesauce pouches for those quick car snacks (I know fresh fruit isn't always an option with little kids.) Stop buying juice for your kids. They can't eat what's not in the house. Just pick one thing and stick with it. I had to start using a measuring spoon when adding sugar to my tea. I was using way more than I realized. Now if I have too much sugar, I can't stand it. I've literally retrained my taste buds and it wasn't that hard. The thing with baby steps is, eventually they turn into giant leaps. My diet is so different now than it was a few years ago but it never felt like a complete overwhelming overhaul. Just a change here and there. 
Getting rid of excess in order to hear God's voice over all the stuff. I have such a long way to go. I still feel attached to a lot of my stuff. I'm a major work in progress. But I'm thankful I'm progressing. 

"Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better."
                                                                                           -Maya Angelou