Taking a Break

When Frank and I were hiking the West Highland Way, a guidebook mentioned that it was easy to find villages along the route to buy lunch and snacks. Since we were hiking between 8 and 14 miles each day, finding a good spot to eat was key. On our first day of the hike, we did find a cute cafe right around lunchtime. We had packed our own snacks and made it to our B&B that night without any food emergencies. The second day of the hike, we took a detour to climb Conic Hill, which overlooked the loch we would be hiking around in the coming days.

Hiking up Conic Hill

Hiking up Conic Hill

After some snacks and a rest at the top, we descended into the village below. It was a bit after lunchtime and we discovered that no one had a quick lunch to go! I was getting very hungry, which is never good on a long hike. We managed to piece together a cheese, yogurt, and fruit lunch and continued on.

After that, we always ordered a lunch from our hotel or B&B. Every place we stayed offered to make a sack lunch and we took advantage of having food on hand. We also learned to take a break before we were hungry. If we ate about a half an hour before we actually needed to, our energy levels were much higher and we were able to complete the milage faster and in better shape.

I was thinking about taking breaks before they’re needed, especially as we near the end of tax season. As a family, during this busy time of year, taking well-timed breaks are what gives us the endurance to finish this long busy season still feeling slightly refreshed. Whether this is scheduling early dinner dates so we can get home before bedtime or shifting Bea’s screen time for the day to 5:00, the time when both of us need a break from interacting, figuring out how to time our rest and our breaks before they become a necessity has been essential.

How do you factor breaks into your day or into your seasons?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing.

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Morning Rituals

I just finished reading Found by Micha Boyett. It’s her journey as a new mom in finding space for prayer, contemplation, and the spiritual practices she enjoyed before her time was consumed with an infant-turned-active-toddler. Among many other gems, she talks about resetting expectations – perhaps prayer is one line while nursing rather than a focused quiet time. She also talks about the rituals of motherhood and how the day’s routines aren’t that different from those who live a monastic life.

It got me thinking about routines I keep sacred. Some are spiritual and most others simply help my sanity, which I’m learning is a spiritual practice in itself. Before I had Bea, I had a pretty set routine. I’d make my lunch each night before bed and I’d be in bed no later than 9:00 to give myself time to read before I went to sleep. (I think it got pushed to 9:30 after I married Frank, but I was still very strict!) I’d wake up at 6:00 each morning and always left the house at the same time. As a single person and even when it was just two adults in our house, it was pretty easy to keep a set routine.

And then Bea came along. Just when I thought we’d found a rhythm to our days, her naps would change or she would be teething or daylight savings would occur or some other phenomenon would happen to throw our routine off. It took a while, but I learned to relax in the non-routine of it all. There are some things, though – even in the chaos – I held sacred.

Bea's morning ritual

Bea’s morning ritual

1) I always make our bed. No matter if I napped with Bea again in just a few hours in those early days, knowing it was made at the start of each day made me feel like a whole person. Even now, having a made bed makes me feel ready for anything.

2) I always shower and put on “real” clothes. Staying in my pajamas all day makes me feel like I’m recovering from an illness. Early in my stay-at-home days, I made a decision not to wear yoga pants out of the house. I would change into jeans, run an errand, and often change back into my comfy pants. For whatever reason, going out feeling semi-put- together made even the longest days doable.

3) Frank is wonderful about letting me have a first cup of coffee while I read the news on my phone. It has looked different at different stages, but having that moment to ease into the day and catch up on the world helps my mindset, especially on days we have nothing much planned.

4) We (mostly) have family breakfasts. Even with the busyness of tax season, we try to sit down together in the morning. This has been vital, especially when Frank works late at night and misses bedtime. It’s one meal we can connect and focus as a family.

5) This is a new routine, but I’ve moved my Common Prayer book to my nightstand. I try to read three prayers a day, but am satisfied if I just read the morning and compline prayers. There’s something about getting that in that makes me feel less guilty if other study falls by the wayside.

What are some of your sacred routines?

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Review: Women are Scary by Melanie Dale + Giveaway

I’ve never been “one of the guys.” I’ve always found women and girlfriends easier to relate with. So when I became a mom, it seemed natural to find a group of women who had also made the decision to stay at home with their young kids. Fortunately, I had resources – my aunt was highly involved in a MOPS group in her hometown and I knew that would be a good place to start looking. It paid off – I have met amazing women who have taught me so much about motherhood.

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Melanie Dale writes about the challenges of making mom friends, or as she calls them, “momlationships” in her book, Women are Scary. Full of humor and honesty, Dale walks the reader through her years as a new mom, navigating the world of playdates and comparisons. Part memoir, part how-to, Dale gives practical advice and tips for forming relationships beyond a casual activities-based encounter.

While the idea of relationship “bases” felt a bit forced, I appreciated the idea of taking the risk to be vulnerable and go deeper with other women in this same phase of life. It is so easy to have a great conversation once a week and not ever form lasting bonds. Dale stresses the importance of having other mom friends – women who can share advice, who understand messy houses and cranky toddlers, and who know how to have constantly interrupted conversations.

This book made me reflect about my own levels of vulnerability, especially with women I have met since becoming a mother. Most of my closest friends are ones who I knew before marriage and kids. They are still vital people in my life and I tend to rely on them for my deep conversations and kid-free interactions. However, I know there are moms who I can connect with on those levels, too. It just takes a bit more intention and coordination to make “mom dates” happen.

My favorite parts were the pieces of practical advice. Dale suggests coming together as moms to gather clothing or supply donations for a local shelter, to pack Christmas boxes for kids who may not receive presents, and other service ideas that take playdates to a more meaningful level.

There are times when I felt that Dale relied a bit too heavily on slapstick humor to carry the book. I had trouble believing someone is actually that clumsy and socially awkward. While I liked that she was honest with her awkward sides, the references started to feel more like a funny mask and less like vulnerability.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and feel that it gives good, solid advice to moms who feel lonely or who are having trouble connecting with other women in the same life phase.

What advice would you give to new moms looking for friendships?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of Women are Scary. To enter, leave a comment about one of your most successful “momlationships.” I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, March 27, 2015. (United States addresses only.)

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I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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The Lens of Celebration

In college, my group of friends was all about reading Richard Foster and Henri Nouwen. We would take retreats, pray the Hours, and share our favorite stories of Celtic monks. Living in Paris, the spiritual discipline I most longed for was solitude. Especially after reading Out of Solitude, I would schedule days by myself. Having a roommate, living in a big city, and being part of an active community meant little time for myself. I found a park just outside the city and would pack a lunch, bring some books and schoolwork, and go for the day, just enjoying the closest thing to nature that French landscape architecture had to offer.

Finding solitude in the suburbs

Finding solitude in the suburbs

Solitude is still a valued discipline and one I never feel I have enough of. However, reading through Celebration of Discipline again, now I am most drawn to the discipline of celebration. Without the foundation of joy, without the reminder that Jesus’ mission was one of redemption, all the other disciplines fall a bit flat.

I am reminded that at the end of Lent is Easter! Advent leads to Christmas! I remember that Jesus revealed the mystery of himself through the Feast at Cana, the Return of the Prodigal Son, and even in the Last Supper – something we view as a completely solemn event, but I’m sure there was laughter mingled with the seriousness. Jesus is present when we celebrate, when we take the time to gather and join in community.

It made me think about how I can celebrate more – to go beyond birthdays and milestones and calendar events. Reflecting about the discipline of celebration made me want to be the type of parent who has fun party supplies on hand so that we can celebrate the first hyacinth of spring, the last day of tax season, and a million other mundane celebrations that are only applicable to our family.

In a broader sense, I also wonder how I can celebrate those around me with more intention. In this spirit of celebration, how can I throw more dinner parties and brunches just because, how can I discover and celebrate my friend’s small victories?

Winter picnic

Winter picnic

Watching Bea interact with her world, I am reminded of the ease in which children celebrate life. She knows that the snow must be melted from her picnic table before she can eat her snack outside. No matter the temperature, if the snow has melted, she insists on celebrating a clear day by eating al fresco. Even the often redundant play of tea party after tea party reminds me that she is wired to celebrate – to have a party.

Thinking about how I read the news and books and respond to events, I wonder how things would change if I practiced the discipline of celebration as I connected with the world? How would I view foreign policy decisions if I read through a lens of celebration? How would I learn about social justice and restorative processes if I remembered that the root could be celebration? How might opportunities for redemption arise if I viewed connections and interactions through a lens of celebration? I wonder how much my world would change. How might a life of celebration empower me to seek redemption?

Maybe it’s the spring weather that makes me more naturally look for reasons to celebrate but my goal for this upcoming season is to follow through with celebration. I want to open my home, practice using a lens of celebration, and remember to celebrate all I can with my community.

Which spiritual discipline do you most connect with? Do you often stop to celebrate the mundane?

Linked with The High Calling’s theme of spiritual discipline.

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Cheating at Lent

Last week marked the halfway point on the journey to Easter. Around that time, I cheated on my Lenten goal. I have taken social media off of my phone for the season. I still check Facebook during naptime, but it’s become a much more intentional and much briefer part of my day. Especially since Bea is such an independent kid, if I forgot a book (or chose not to bring one) I would scroll through Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest while she played.

Without it, I’m much more intentional about bringing a book along or simply sitting and watching Bea interact with new friends. It’s definitely shifted my perspective and made me remember how unimportant most of what happens on social media really is…

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But, last week I was bored, so I scrolled through some Instagram feeds of authors I find intriguing. One was launching a new book and I got sucked into the praise and excitement of her newest achievement. I also got sucked into the darker sides of the message behind the new book. This is an author who empowers women to celebrate the everyday beauty in life, to take time to notice beautiful moments, and to embrace the community that practicing hospitality builds. In my more cynical frame of mind, all I notice is how expensive the decor of her home is, how much the wine and champagne cost, and how exclusive building tight-knit communities can be. In reality, she’s doing really good things and spreading a wonderful message.

My reaction reminded me of the importance of the Lenten practice. It’s not about being perfect for 40 days or giving up something forevermore. It’s about changing habits and recognizing how those habits really affect daily life. For me, it’s about stepping back and critically looking at my own choices – are they healthy or can they be tweaked?

After this Lenten fast, I’ll most likely load social media apps back onto my phone. It’s just way more convenient that way and the reality is that I keep in touch with many of my day-to-day friends via these social media channels. However, what has changed in this time? Am I using it for building community or am I using it to tune out? Am I celebrating with others or am I criticizing?

At first, I felt that this was an “easy” fast; that I should have picked something harder. Really, it’s done just what a fast should do: Helped me step back and evaluate my priorities and how I’m choosing to live my days.

Did you choose a Lenten fast? How is it going? Has it changed your perspective?

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Poets Anonymous: Coming Home From the Post Office

Welcome to our monthly Poets Anonymous!

On the 15th of each month, I’ll post part of a poem. If you have a blog, post a poem on yours and share your link in the comments. If you don’t have a blog, feel free to share part of a poem in the comments. Or, I encourage you to simply read a poem today.

This month’s poem comes from Philip Levine, who died last month.

             When I closed
my eyes I saw cards, letters,
small packages, each bearing
a particular name and some
burden of grief or tiding
of loss. Names like my own
passed moment by moment
into gray sacks that slumped
open mouthed.

Philip Levine

Share a favorite poem (or segment of one) in the comments!

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Living in the Moment

When I was single, I rarely made travel plans. One of my favorite things was showing up at a train station in Paris and either taking the next departing train to a nearby town or asking the ticket agent where they would go for a day trip. I explored some beautiful places that way! There was something so liberating about showing up without a guide book and just wandering for a day. Sometimes this plan didn’t work out so well. I’ve spent nights in rural train stations and porches of abandoned houses, unable to make it back to my destination for lack of planning. But, overall, I loved the freedom and adventure that went without having a plan.

Unplanned weekend in San Sebastien, Spain

Unplanned weekend in San Sebastien, Spain

Looking back, I’m a bit surprised at this travel tendency. I’m actually an organized person who loves having a map of my goals and dreams. Perhaps by not planning a travel itinerary, it was a safe way to dabble in the exotic world of living life in the moment.

In January, a friend asked what my hopes for this year were. How was I going to see things differently? Honestly, I had no plan. Having a toddler, expecting another one, settling into a new house. These all seemed like such boring, midlife accomplishments that didn’t really evoke ideas of excitement or seeing the world differently. I felt that I was falling into a bit of the cliched two-kids-and-a-dog-in-the-suburbs life. Her question made me want to jump on a train without a guidebook, to just end up somewhere new.

I’m realizing that there’s a balance between using a map and living in the moment. Yes, my life feels very planned right now. But, I’m learning to see the small moments in these planned days. I’m living different kinds of adventures and my days with Bea are often just as spontaneous and unplanned as visiting an unknown destination.

What about you? Are you a planner or do you live life with spontaneity?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing.

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