Happy Solstice.

Can Christians celebrate Solstice

Growing up in Christian circles, the natural calendar was barely a blip on my radar. If anything, June in Texas was commemorated by the Great Pilgrimage To The Nearest A/C. Solstice was something pagans celebrated and therefore Christians did not.

But I’ve started to look more deeply into the rhythms of the natural world around me. Living in New England has made me more keenly aware of the seasons than the South and Southwest ever did. As I think about the values and culture I want to pass down to my kids, I’m realizing that rootedness is a huge part of it.

Rooted in faith.

Rooted in truth.

Rooted in the beauty and rhythms of the natural world.

Why aren’t the solstices and equinoxes just as celebrated as the comparatively arbitrary “holidays” on my calendar? Not just by Pagans or Christians, but by our culture at large?

These quadrants of the year are THE archetypal markers of time passing, seasons changing, light and darkness.

For many years, I marked the beginning of a new year by watching the sun set on the old year and rise on the new one—or one or the other. But maybe I’ll begin doing that on solstices instead. Every season has a sacredness and a life all its own.

The summer solstice is the longest day of the year. All life is showing off its flamboyance. In much of the northern hemisphere, the growing season is in full swing, and it’s hot—the sun’s fire is burning bright as ever. It’s both a carnival of life and a recognition that all this buzzing cacophony of light, color, and sound is going to burn and drift away with the coming of autumn and then winter. Solstice bubbles over with echoes of the story of life told in the Bible. It shows us with our eyes and all of our senses that light is victorious over darkness. It’s the apogee of creation, fertility, and warmth.

It’s beautiful.

I’m going to start finding ways to make our own solstice traditions so we don’t lose the significance of that amidst our ignorance and “Christian” fear. Any suggestions?

What Loss and Motherhood Have Taught Me About Fear

Guys, I’m going to get real here and share something I don’t talk about much. I’m going to talk about my journey through infant loss, motherhood, and fear. If you’re not in a place where you can read that, I totally get it.

My journey to parenthood was rocky. Not as rocky as some, for sure—my mom, my husband’s mom, and many other women I know and love suffered loss after loss when trying to build a family.

Others close to me have struggled with infertility. And I have no problem saying that I don’t *get* it, that I can’t imagine waiting for a positive test for months and years, that I can’t fathom the grit and courage it takes to keep trying after multiple soul-numbing, health-savaging losses.

Motherhood is beautiful, but it’s full of the scariest unknowns.

Before I became a parent, I had no fear. I could imagine taking on the world—skydiving, traveling alone, teaching overseas… I wasn’t a huge fan of discomfort, but fear didn’t phase me. It turns out that sense of courage had something to do with inexperience (go figure).

It took motherhood to bring me back down to a more solid resting place.

A few days after my first child was born not breathing, when the numbness of that experience aged into something I had to actually process, I learned what it was to grieve.

From what I’ve heard from others, my experience of grief was kind of weird. It wasn’t debilitating. I almost immediately wanted to do normal things—go to Christmas light displays, bake cookies, and jump back into life, but that impulse was interspersed with short periods when the sadness and emptiness would hit me like a freight train.

When that happened, I’d retreat, clutching the blanket my daughter had been wrapped in in the hospital and filling it with tears (and snot. lots of snot). The grief train hit me several times a day at first. Over time, it ran me over less frequently. Now it’s been three and a half years, and it only hits occasionally, usually when I’m already soul-weary or physically weary for other reasons.

As the trauma of that stillbirth continues to age and mellow, so does my fear. I’m still not afraid of solo world travel or jumping out of airplanes (although I admit that going to the dentist makes my heart rate spike).

Getting through infant loss and stillbirth

But now I have three children. Basically three of my hearts traveling around doing things on the outside. Part of me knows that anything could go wrong at any moment, and also that one day sooner than I’d like, these three boys are going out into the world equipped with their own God-given strength and grit and whatever my husband and I and our village taught them.

And it scares the crap out of me. Because so much is outside my control.

But at the same time, motherhood is teaching me a more authentic kind of courage: the kind of courage that looks at real fear and says,

I can take this one step today.

I can choose faith.

I can look at the things that scare me, and I can stand up and step over them.

My boys are models of bravery. I see them facing their own (real) fears and struggles, coming to me with their bruised knees and bruised egos, and then getting back out there to explore their world with new understanding. And I pray that one day when experience makes their fears bigger than ouches and hurt feelings that it won’t break them, but that they’ll keep leaning in and stepping over. Just like they’re teaching me to do now.

 

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4 Ways I Make Bathroom Cleaning Actually Happen With Small Kids

One day a brilliant entrepreneur is going to invent an affordable self-cleaning bathroom. Show me that project on Kickstarter, and I’m all over it. Until then, we’re stuck with scrubbing it all ourselves. But it doesn’t have to suck.

Ever since I wrote my post about making dishes suck less, I’ve been thinking about ways I use similar cleaning strategies in other areas of my home. By approaching house cleaning tasks with more intention, I actually stay on top of them a little better.

Here’s how I make bathroom cleaning a little more fun (and practical). If you dread scrubbing the grossest room in the house, read on!

1. Clean while the kids bathe.

If you’re like me, you rarely get to pee alone. So cleaning the bathroom without interruption with young children around? Making that happen is like trying to force the stars into alignment with a crowbar.

But cleaning my upstairs bathroom is 100x easier now that I clean while the twins play in the tub. I have a few nontoxic cleaning supplies stowed in a bucket under the sink, so I can clean the mirror, scrub the toilet, and wipe down the sink while the toddlers rubber duck it up.

I’m close enough to avert any potential crises, the twins stay happy because they have plenty of time to splash, and I’m thrilled because suddenly the bathroom is mostly clean and I didn’t expend too much effort to make it happen.

2. Get stuff off your surfaces.

Wiping down the sink and bathtub isn’t the most annoying part. It’s moving all the bottles, razors, toothbrushes, bobby-pins, and random other products so you can get to the surface. Am I right?

Find a place for all that stuff to live so it isn’t scattered on your sink and bathtub edges. I’m still working on this in my bathrooms, but any progress you make here will make your whole life (not just your bathroom cleaning routine) a little nicer.

I’ll talk more about how I keep the bathroom decluttered later on. For now, if you do nothing else, at least go through your medicine cabinet and/or bathroom drawers and ruthlessly toss empty bottles and products you don’t use. Use that extra space to put away anything that’s cluttering your sink.

3. Make your bathroom a more enjoyable place to be.

For those of us with kids especially, the family bathroom isn’t a spa-like escape. But that doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to tripping over bath toys in a purely utilitarian bathroom space. You’ll be far more motivated to clean up a space you actually like.

  • Try diffusing a fragrance you love in a plug-in essential oil diffuser (out of reach of any tiny humans, of course). I haven’t done this yet, but it’s on my list!
  • Upgrade your bath mat to a big, plush bath rug that you love the look of.
  • Keep bath toys to a minimum and store them out of sight. Make putting bath toys away part of your kids’ bath routine so you’re not cleaning up their mess later.

4. Do a three-minute wipedown.

Set a timer. I like three-minute increments. You could also turn on a favorite song (I like Justin Timberlake for bathroom cleaning. Don’t ask me why). The goal is not white-glove perfection. When it’s over, you’re through.

Chances are good you can sacrifice three minutes of your kids’ nap time without feeling it too much.

5. Cater to your own struggles.

When it comes down to it, your best bet to make bathroom cleaning easier is to stop and consider what the worst part of it is, what aspects of bathroom cleaning you most often overlook (or outright dread). Figure out how you can cater to those struggles to make the process an easier, more automatic part of your life. Then try it. If it doesn’t work, no harm done—try a different approach.

Keep in mind that it’s never all or nothing. Anything you can work on that you’re not doing now is already a huge improvement.

What are your strategies for tackling bathroom messes without getting overwhelmed? I’d love more ways to make bathroom cleaning fun!

Books and Podcasts That Inspire Me to Opt Outside

Getting outdoors with toddlers graphic

Between the podcasts I’ve been listening to and the books I’ve been reading, the topic of getting outside has been coming up a lot. So much that it started to feel like a message addressed specifically to me: Pay attention. This is important. Do something about it.

When I think back over what I can remember of my 27 years, nature has always been vital. My best memories were made outdoors. And the large chunks of life I’ve spent mostly indoors have been among the most stressful and the least fulfilling.

When I was a child, playing alone outside was my default. Playing with bugs. Making up games. Catching lizards, frogs, horned toads, grass snakes. Later, building forts, and curling up in them with a cheap spiralbound notebook to write poetry.

When I was in college, escaping into the woods on the weekend to hike was the perfect release after a week of nonstop work and study.

I’ve never been a hardcore hiker, biker, camper, or survivalist, but nature has always been there when I needed it. Which has been often.

I’ve noticed that my own toddlers are happier, more well-adjusted, and better at expressing their needs when they spend an hour or more of time outside every day. The difference between a toddler on fresh air and a toddler cooped up in a single approved playspace? Like night and day. We’re made to spend time outside.

These resources are inspiring me to be more intentional about getting my own kids into the wild.  (more…)

Made to Create

Creativity inspiration making things

We were made to create. It’s in our blood, our brains, our intangible soul. We’re wired to craft something new, to use our sense of beauty, pragmatism, and curiosity.

What happens if you mix these colors? These angles? How can I solve a problem using the things I can feasibly reach? How can I make a task simpler? How can I turn something ordinary into something that makes me smile?

Ecclesiastes says there’s nothing new under the sun. Except… you are new. No one else can craft the ideas, notes, bundles of words, or tapestries that you can.

We take it for granted that children need to create. We give them crayons, popsicle sticks, clay, glitter, and glue—and the power to do more or less whatever they want with those tools. We watch them problem-solve and beam with pride as they create. We see the value it adds to their worlds. Creation blossoms out of them, whether they’re building with Legos or finger-painting with ketchup.

And then at some point we relegate craft to a childish activity—in the most derogatory possible way. You’re going to art school? How cute. You want to write stories? That’s nice. How sweet that your grandma taught you to quilt.

Write it. Shoot it. Publish it. Crochet it, sauté it, whatever. Make. –Joss Whedon

There’s this impression that creation (which encompasses practically any hobby, if you think about it) is a second-rate way to spend your time. Unless you hit the popularity/talent/cultural jackpot and become the next Picasso or Bach or Lady Gaga, society is likely to tell you that you’re wasting your time.

Why quilt a blanket by hand when you can buy one for twenty bucks at Sears and do something productive with your time?

Maybe creating is the most powerful thing we can do. Or at least in the top five.

I want to know why our world thinks that craft loses its value sometime around third grade.

I want to know why creation is a dorky thing to do.

We complain at how entitled “kids” are when society teaches them that creating things isn’t valuable, that it’s a task to be farmed out to developing countries, or that it’s just for those who can earn a full-time living with it.

We all need to create. We’re wired for it. Whether you believe that you’re made in the image of this world’s creator or not, you’ve experienced the drive to make *something* that was just yours. Something you authored, dreamed, sculpted, stacked, painted, carved, or stitched.

So if you haven’t done any of those dorky, hobbyish, crafty, third-world things lately, I’m going to suggest that you dig deep, look beyond the inclination to just go buy a thing, and find a way to craft what you need or want.

Whether it’s wall art, a pretty rug, a tiny house, a poem, a potholder, or a pair of hand knitted socks, even if you follow a pattern, it’s going to be original. Because you are. You are wired to create. So let it happen.

Why I Ditched My To-Do List

 

Why I Ditched my To-Do ListAt some point during the third trimester of my last pregnancy, I literally burned my to-do list. Like tossed it into the fireplace and watched it go up in smoke. I was done. The twins had just turned two, and they wouldn’t sleep. They had ALL the energy and I had the energy of a slug someone salted.

Changing their diapers on the floor (and getting back up) left me gasping for breath. Tossing cereal on the table in front of them was the best I could do for breakfast, and even that felt like a major accomplishment.

To-Do Lists Don’t Work

I thought a to-do list would help keep me on track, so when I felt motivated I’d often write a few things on the whiteboard on my fridge or on a scrap of paper, thinking that I’d just put a few attainable things on there so I could feel good about checking them off. As you can probably imagine, not much got checked, but the list haunted me all day. Everything on it looked like a chore. It was depressing.

And then it hit me.

Tossing cereal on the table in front of the twins WAS a major accomplishment, darn it. I was 36 weeks pregnant and keeping two-year-old twins alive. Successfully feeding them breakfast deserved to be celebrated.

So I tossed that day’s to-do list in the fireplace and started a new list on my fridge. I wrote “Fed the tiny humans.” And I felt proud.

For a moment I hesitated because I don’t like psychologically manipulating myself. It feels like a cheap trick at first. But I was too happy with the idea that I had actually accomplished something to let that bother me much.

Acknowledging Your Little (and not-so-little) Accomplishments Makes Sense

So I went about my day, looking for things to add to my list of accomplishments.

  1. Ate an actual lunch (with veggies!)
  2. Took a nap.
  3. Took my vitamins and probiotic.
  4. Knitted.
  5. Listened to a podcast.
  6. Swept dining room floor.
  7. Put toys away.
  8. Built a Duplo tower with the twins.

Knowing that I’d be able to add something to my list made it less like I was just scraping by. On the toughest days, I wrote anything and everything down and felt proud of it. Fed the dog. Fed the twins. Propped up my feet for an hour. On better days, I was able to write that I took out the trash or cleaned something.

  • I got to start the day with a blank slate, rather than a list of obligations.
  • I became more aware of all I was actually getting done during the day.
  • I started looking for simple, quick things I could do to add to my list, and I finally completed tasks (dust the cobwebs from the corner of the bathroom! change that one light bulb!) that had needed to be done for weeks.

By the end of the day, I was able to see all I had accomplished, rather than looking around my still-half-destroyed house, seeing a disaster, feeling a little guilty for not getting more done, and wondering where the hours had gone.

My Ta-Da! list got me through the end of pregnancy with my mental health more or less intact. Since Asher was born, the list is helping me survive #3under3 without having a mental break, too. Things that absolutely cannot be forgotten I set as a reminder in my phone, and I deal with them when I have to. The rest? Meh. It’ll get done when it seems important enough. Or when I need another list item to write in.

Strategies that Make Washing Dishes Bearable

 

Stop Hating Your Dishes

I hate washing dishes. Would rather scrub toilets, pick dog crap out of the back yard, memorize the periodic table, or put up fiberglass insulation while wearing short sleeves. I can’t wait for the day I can outsource dishes to the twins (they enjoy helping now, so that shows promise).

For a while (okay, for most of my life), my method was simple. I avoided dishes as much as possible. I washed dishes only when absolutely necessary, made the husband take care of them whenever possible, and contemplated making a total full-time switch to paper plates and plastic flatware. But when the twins got older, I needed plates to be available at a moment’s notice. The clutter in the kitchen started getting under my skin. Something had to change.

Here’s what I decided to do instead. If these strategies help anyone who hates dishes as much as I do, it was more than worth sharing.

1. Pimp out my dishwashing accouterments

It’s always smart to cater to the tasks you hate. So I don’t buy the cheapest dish soap. I buy the stuff that I wouldn’t mind smelling all the time, and it’s like a little guilty pleasure when I reach for the bottle. I bought a brilliantly-designed dish scrub brush that I don’t hate using and that looks nice on the counter. I minimized non-dishwasher-safe utensils and cookware as much as I’m willing to.

2. Get it over with ASAP

The longer a dish sits, the more crusty it gets and the more psychologically repulsive it becomes. I hate washing dishes so much that I’ll spend any in-between time half thinking about how much I’m dreading having to wash them. So I try to wash the non-dishwasher-safe things as soon as possible, usually while I’m still cooking or while the twins are still strapped into booster seats at the table. Sometimes I put it off to pawn onto the husband. While he’s typically very helpful around the house, pawning the worst dishes off on him usually backfires in some way. Your miles may vary.

3. Don’t return to post-meal activities until all dishes from that meal are dealt with

I load the dishwasher constantly: as I prepare food, drink coffee, and in any way dirty a dish throughout the day. We run it once or twice a day, depending on how culinary I decide to be.

4. Listen to something

Music works well, as long as it’s upbeat and peppy. Love songs, depressing ballads, and cozy acoustic tracks are not dishwashing music. If the children aren’t actively demanding my attention or conversation, I’ll listen to a podcast while I wash–and I often find myself looking for other things in the kitchen to clean up at the same time, because it starts feeling pretty effortless I’m really enjoying what I’m listening to.

Dishes still suck, but not as much as they did before I started doing this.

I don’t have this strategy perfected. It tends to break down toward the end of the day, and sometimes I end up with things that need to be hand washed sitting out overnight (the horror!). It’s something I’ll work on when I feel like working on it.

#progressnotperfection