Coronavirus Quarantine: Encouragement For the Week Ahead

This is going to be a weird week.

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Our kids are doing school at home. Many of us are working from home. We’re scrambling as we try to figure out how to do life in this constantly changing, unsettling space right now.

Some of us are excited – whiteboards ready, school spaces set, mobile offices ready to go. Some of us are scrambling, trying to absorb and figure out the details. Some of us are overwhelmed. 

Some of us are scared.

As we walk through this week, may we take this encouragement to heart: 

give yourself grace, 

give yourself space, 

and 

slow your pace.

Give yourself (and your kids) grace. Regardless of how much we are prepared to teach our kids or work from home, it is still an unpredictable situation. Most of our kids have never navigated the waters of homeschooling or a mobile classroom. Many of us are figuring out how to work from home. There’s probably going to be tears and frustration on all sides. Let’s walk into this week accepting that we’re going to do things imperfectly, and that’s okay. This is all new.

Give yourself space. For many families, the next few weeks will bring an unprecedented amount of togetherness. Give yourself space. Whether it is five minutes in the bathroom, ten minutes in a closet, or a blissful hour of quiet, do your best to make it happen on a daily basis. Use that time to breathe, meditate, pray, eat chocolate, cry, read the Bible, scream into a pillow, journal…or just go to the bathroom and ignore the knocks on the door. You’ll be a better parent for it.

Slow your pace. Schools are closed. Extracurricular activities are cancelled. Many of the places where we normally taxi our children to and from are closing or will be closed. It’s easy to fill those unexpected blanks in the calendar with other activities like decluttering, reorganizing, deep cleaning, and other housebound projects that keep us busy. But…this is an unprecedented opportunity to slow down. Read a book (from your personal library or an ebook), read to your kids, take long, leisurely walks, go to bed early, or soak in the sunshine. Journal! (I think it is going to be so interesting to read about this in my journal down the road.) Seize this as an opportunity for your entire family to rest and recharge. Enjoy this fleeting opportunity to live an unhurried lifestyle.

We are in this together, friends. Let’s lift each other up, encourage each other, cheer each other on, and provide a virtual shoulder to cry on (because social distancing). 

And let’s remember that, above all, God’s got this. He’s sovereign, He’s in control, and He has plans for our good (Jer. 29:11). 

 

Coronavirus Quarantine: Survival Tips From a Homeschool Mom

If your state is like mine, school has either been cancelled due to the coronavirus, or will be soon. Suddenly, we are facing the next few weeks of life spending copious amounts of time with our kids. 

Friends, this is my life. My kids and I have been together 24/7 for the past fifteen years. I don’t say that to elevate myself to the status of perfect parent, martyr or saint. It’s just our reality. I love it…most of the time. 

But if you’re like the millions of parents who either put their kids on the blessed yellow school bus or drop them off at a brick and mortar school each day, the immediate future might appear like some type of slow torture for everyone in your household. 

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Let’s change that. Let’s make the next few weeks filled with fun and memories, without losing our sanity or damaging relationships. Let’s come through this stronger together and better for what we’ve been through.

Here are a few ideas that have served me well over the years:

 

  • Develop a flexible routine. Kids thrive on routine, and it can be especially helpful during unsettling times. Set a routine that will work for your family, but don’t be a drill sergeant! Leave room for life’s unpredictabilities, and throw in a few of your own, just to keep things fun, like backwards dinner (dessert first!), wear pajamas for a day, living room sleepovers, binge watching Dude Perfect, etc.
  • Teach life skills. This is an amazing opportunity to teach kids life skills! Take turns making dinner, or allow your kids to come alongside you and learn some kitchen skills. Teach them how to do laundry (my kids have been doing their own laundry for years, and let me tell you – it’s a game changer!). 
  • Switch out the toys. This was a favorite strategy that I learned from my mom when my girls were little. Divide the toys in half. Leave half of them out, and put the other half away, out of sight. Switch them out every week. It keeps the clutter down and keeps kids from getting tired of their toys!
  • Turn housework into games! We are a game-loving family – and not just board games, but turning life into games. Need to pick up the house? Do it for 15 minutes, and then take a 15 minute video game or reading break, and repeat the cycle until the house is clean. (Okay, I admit, this is the method I still use for myself as an adult!) Mop the kitchen floor wearing damp, old (clean!) socks! Pick up items with one hand behind your back. Work on cleaning up a room together, but you have to keep a balloon airborne at all times. Sure, rooms may not get cleaned to your usual standard, but hey – there’s always tomorrow…for real!
  • And don’t forget the board games! This is a great opportunity to pull some classic games out of the closet. Sometimes I get so caught up in finding the latest and greatest games that I forget about the classics. Pull out chess, checkers, or my personal favorite – Scrabble! Don’t forget Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, Rummikub, SkipBo, Uno…the list is endless. For more ideas of great games, check out one of my favorite lists here
  • Take lots of breaks. My kids have always needed frequent breaks – whether it is brain breaks or activity breaks. It clears their minds and helps them reset their focus for whatever task is next. Our breaks come in many forms – snack breaks, music breaks, breaks to go swing, breaks to do a little online shopping, breaks to play with pets, and breaks to snuggle with a parent. 
  • Above all, implement mandatory down time!!! I cannot stress this enough, as you’re going to be together…A LOT. My mother-in-law shared this nugget of wisdom with me early on in our parenting journey, and it has been the single, best element that we have consistently incorporated into our daily routine over the years. Every day, without fail, we have “rest time.” For an hour and a half, we hang out in our own rooms (I hang out in the living room, normally). During that hour and a half, my kids read for 45 minutes and then play their device for 45 minutes. And during that hour and a half…I REST. It sounds indulgent, maybe, but being with my kids 24/7, I needed (and still need) that daily break. Sometimes I read, sometimes I surf the internet, and sometimes I nap. I try my best, though, to consciously set that time aside for a reset and not use it to catch up on housework. Interestingly, even though my kids are now both teens, they still request this down time every day. They need it just as much as I do. 

Friends, we’ll get through this. Let’s commit to making the next few weeks unforgettable for all the best reasons. Let’s be smart, not create an atmosphere of fear, and set our families up to thrive and make beautiful memories during an unpredictable season of life. 

Going the Wrong Way For the Right Reason

It happened so quickly that I hardly had time to think about it.

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My 18-year-old self was riding up a skiing chairlift with a friend, getting ready to disembark. I have always been uneasy with the disembarking process. Okay, let’s be honest: I have always been uneasy on chairlifts in general. I hate heights, and the process of getting off a chairlift and landing on my feet and then smoothly sailing away on skis was not something that came naturally to me. However, I had developed a system that seemed to compensate for my lack of height and athletic prowess: wiggle toward the front of the seat, hold the poles out, ready to steady myself, and then I could usually get off the chairlift without too much embarrassment.

This time, though, as I wiggled my way forward in those final moments before getting off, I made a horrifying realization: my pants were snagged on the chairlift’s wooden seat. My hands were full – I couldn’t reach under to unsnag myself. All I had time to do was squeak a quick “I’m stuck!” to my friend, and then away I sailed…down the chairlift.

Have you ever ridden down a chairlift? It’s quite an experience. I was the subject of a plethora of staring skiers who were doing the proper thing and riding UP the chairlift, rather than down. Everyone who was going in the right direction was most likely silently questioning my situation. Did she chicken out? Was the run too much for her? Is she lost? I was the only person going in the wrong direction, and I was the only one who knew why. 

I had two choices in that moment. I could avert my eyes and pretend that I wasn’t there, or I could embrace the experience and own my ridiculous predicament. I chose to own my predicament and rode down that chairlift, smiling and giving friends and strangers my best beauty queen wave. 

Lately, I have been feeling a lot like that 18-year-old girl riding down the chairlift. All I have to do is spend a few minutes on social media to see friends and colleagues growing their careers – climbing the corporate ladder, starting their own business, or relaunching their career after being at home for several years. It’s the stage we’re at in our late 30s and early 40s. 

Except me.

I just quit my job.

That piddly, six hour per week position that brought in a meager flow of fun money or made the orthodontic payments? It was too much. Doesn’t that sound absolutely ridiculous? I’m at a stage in life where I have two teenagers who are gaining independence, and that should be freeing me up to reestablish my career, right?

Honestly, my pride is having a hard time embracing this change. There was a good bit of my identity wrapped up in the fact that I could tell people that I had a job, meager as it was. And again, just like that 18-year-old girl, I have two choices. 

I can be embarrassed by the fact that I am, at age 40, “just” a stay at home mom again. (Oh, don’t get me started on that, or this post will never end!) 

My other option is to embrace this season as a gift. God has made it undeniably clear that His purpose is for me to be home during this season. I get to be home with my teenagers during these few fleeting years before they head out on their own. I get to spend more time writing. I get to spend more time honing in on becoming the person He wants me to be.

It’s the exact opposite of what seemingly everyone else is doing at this stage in life. They are all following God’s lead to ride up the chairlift and build their careers. As for me? You’ll find me riding down the career-bound chairlift, practicing my best beauty queen wave along the way. I know why I’m on this ride and Who is in charge, and I will rest in that. 

 

A Bucket of Hospitality

Two couples come to mind when I think about hospitality.

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The first couple I think of is my grandparents. Whenever anyone would walk into their country farmhouse, my overall-clad grandpa would disappear into the basement. He would emerge several minutes later with an ice cream bucket filled with a variety of soda, and he would then make the rounds – stop in front of each person, give the bucket a little shake, and encourage them to grab a fizzy refreshment – typically Pepsi and some lesser known brands like Squirt, 50/50, and Dad’s Root Beer. It was, quite literally, a bucket of hospitality.

Friends and family would stop in unannounced and be warmly welcomed to have a seat at the kitchen table, where my grandma might be peeling apples or my grandpa could be found reading the newspaper. They might set aside their work to chat, or they might continue in their tasks. Either way, their focus was on their guests and the conversation.

They knew the art of simple hospitality, and practiced it well with their family and friends.

Another couple often comes to mind when I think about hospitality. My friend’s parents, Frank and Joy, opened their home without reservation to us during our high school years. Their lovely ranch home boasted a finished basement with a fridge full of soda and a bevy of snacks – the perfect teen hangout. Even more, they accepted us for who we were – giggly, rowdy teens who were awkwardly figuring out life. They would chat with us, laugh with us, and give us our space.

They, too, knew the art of simple hospitality, and practiced it well with the teenagers who sprawled out across their home in the ‘90s. 

Honestly, I struggle with hospitality. For most of the last 20 years, my husband and I have lived in a rural, small town community where people mostly keep to themselves. To be fair, we are both introverts and didn’t exactly exert effort to meet people in the community, either. I grew up there, so we knew people well enough to wave at each other, and called it good.

This past fall, we moved to the city.

One of the main reasons we moved was so that we could do exactly what we hadn’t done for 20 years – practice hospitality. Invite people into our home. Entertain a basement full of giggly teens on a regular basis. 

It’s been a steep learning curve, though.

Having people over is a bit like social media for me. When I invite people into our home, I want them to see Social Media Katie – the one who has showered and has make-up on, has a delicious aroma wafting from the oven, and has clean counter tops. I am afraid for them to see Actual Katie – the one who is in her pajamas at 9 am, eating breakfast on the couch while typing away at the computer. I want to serve them coffee in Starbucks mugs that we have collected in our various travels, and scratch-baked goods that were effortlessly whipped up without smudging my make up.

That’s not real hospitality, though. In fact, the ugly truth for me is that I am being proud and pretentious. I don’t want to invite people into my mess. I want them to think that I have it all together, and that I graduated valedictorian from June Cleaver’s School of Homemaking. 

True hospitality is, at its roots, opening one’s life to others – being available. Being vulnerable and allowing them to see imperfection, living in a house that wasn’t carefully curated on Pinterest. After all, the purpose of hospitality is not to impress others, but to grow relationships and build community.

I am a work in progress in this area. My first step? Keeping a well-stocked supply of soda on hand. It makes me a little giddy each time I go into our basement and see our soda – normal flavors, weird flavors, and a few fancy ones, too. Each time I fill the cupboard, I think of my grandparents and their authentic, humble hospitality as well as my friend’s parents and how much I loved hanging out at their house. I want family and friends to feel welcome, regardless of the state of my house or my make up. 

And I think I might need to track down an ice cream bucket for offering up soda, too…but I think I’ll skip the overalls.

 

 

Find Your Sunshine

This morning, I laid down directly in the sunshine and soaked in it’s warmth for about 15 minutes…on my living room floor. In February. Trying to protect my space from being invaded by sunshine-seeking felines.

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It’s not exactly a Florida beach, but it’s about as close as we’re going to get on this sub-zero Wisconsin winter day.

It’s easy to complain about the weather. We’ve just about run out of places to pile our snow. We’re weary of yet another six a.m. shoveling session. The temperature isn’t even going to break single digits today.

But there’s still sunshine.

I have a mountain of laundry to fold in my bedroom. Boxes of less important items from our move beg to be unpacked. There’s a plethora of productive possibilities in any given room of our house.

But I choose to lie in the sunshine.

Because it is good for my soul. I know the vitamin D absorption, indirect and minimal as it may be, is balm for my sun-starved body. I know that lying on the carpet and just being – not scrolling through social media or trying to accomplish anything purposeful – is a good break for my ever-churning brain. And quite honestly, it’s good for my children to see that you can take a break to enjoy the sunshine, even when you are an adult.

Today, I encourage you to find your sunshine. If you are lucky enough to have actual sun rays shining into your house today, bask in it. Lie on the floor. Let your little ones pile on you as you soak in the warmth of the sun and their little bodies. Cuddle with your pet. Share the space with a loved one in companionable silence, or just enjoy a few moments of having that little sunny spot all to yourself.

And if the sun isn’t shining where you are, seek it out in other ways. Marvel in the brilliance of new snow, a stormy beach, a favorite smell, or the coziness of a favorite blanket. 

Find your sunshine, and allow it to nourish your soul.

Freedom from Busyness: Part 1 – Know (and Respect!) Your Limits

It was auction day at work. I needed to leave extra early that day to make sure that I had time to park in a field far from our office, catch a shuttle, and still be at my desk on time. The thing was, I was already late. Habitually, I would sleep until the last possible minute, throw myself together, and careen out the door at a time that would get me to the office at exactly 8 a.m. No sooner, no later.

I sped along our country highway for approximately two minutes before I saw it: the telltale flashing lights of a police car in my rear view mirror. I was doomed. I knew the speed limit was 55 miles per hour. I knew I was going well over that speed limit. Now I would not only be late, but I would also most likely be issued a hefty fine for breaking the law.

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I knew my limits, blew right past them, and paid the price. 

Although I haven’t had a ticket since that long ago experience, I have spent much of my life living in a similar manner. I knew my limits – what I could handle while remaining healthy physically and mentally, but that wasn’t enough. I always needed to work harder, take the project to the next level, squeeze that extra event into the day, say “yes” to another commitment…the list goes on. In the end, someone would end up paying the price, whether it was myself dealing with tension headaches and exhaustion, my kids dealing with an exhausted, snappish momma, or my husband taking on extra work for an overextended wife.

The hustle and bustle of the average American life was not healthy for me or our family. I felt overwhelmed by our schedule and exhausted by the many demands on my time. I needed room to breathe, space in our schedule to go for a leisurely stroll or bike ride, and time to sprawl out on the furniture together watching a show. I needed change.

One of the first steps that I took toward a slower and simpler life was to know and respect my own limits. The old “oxygen mask” adage rings true in this situation: I needed to put on my own mask (in this case, respect my limits and take care of myself) before I put on my family members’ masks. I needed to establish boundaries as to what was healthy and manageable for me as a parent, chauffeur, employee, and all the other hats I wore every day.

How does one go about setting limits, though? What does that look like? Here’s where it gets a little tricky, because everyone is wired differently. As an introvert and highly sensitive person (HSP), my personal limits may look much different than those of an extrovert. However, there are some general questions that everyone can ask themselves when it comes to setting healthy limits:

  • Do I feel overwhelmed and exhausted much of the time?
  • Am I able to consistently spend time in God’s Word?
  • Am I spending quality, unscheduled time with my family on a regular basis?
  • Do I have time to pursue my interests?
  • Do I have time for those relationships that are important to me?
  • Do I have time to practice self care?

Take some time to think through those questions. Jot down some thoughts on areas where you would like to see change – more family time, more time to practice self care, etc. Next week we will start to tackle the nitty gritty on how to simplify your schedule and create room for a healthier you and a slower, simpler life!

 

 

 

Choosing the Slow Life

Several weeks ago, my youngest daughter spent almost the entire day sitting in a lawn chair, perched high atop a small mountain of rocks and clay. Bundled up in warm clothes and her winter gear, she sipped soda while watching a new house take shape around the corner from us. Constructions workers were buzzing around like bees while a crane set wall panels into place with precision and grace. It was one of the happiest days of her life. She was fully alive in the moment, engaged in the experience and enjoying it to the fullest.

Fast forward to that weekend. Each day was an empty square – no commitments, no plans – a rare occurrence and pure bliss. Apart from a little Saturday cleaning and Sunday morning church, we spent the weekend resting, reading, and pursuing interests both individually and together.

This is what I want for our family.

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A life rich in experiences that resonate with who we are as individuals and as a family. A life that is intentionally slow but full of opportunities to explore, learn and grow. A life where not only do my kids have freedom in their days to be creative and imaginative, but where my husband and I also have space to pursue our dreams and desires.

That sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

The truth is, though, that developing a life like that is challenging in today’s culture. In a world that worships busyness, it is dangerously easy to be swept up in a current of people running here, there and everywhere. There are so many wonderful opportunities available and so much pressure to be involved. Is it even possible?

I think it is.

We are approaching April and May, which rank right up there with November and December as being the busiest months of the year at our house. Easter celebrations, end-of-the-school-year activities, birthday parties…all good events that are worthy of our time and attention. It’s also spring time – our Midwest winter is finally melting and giving way to all shades of green. After months of shivering in parkas, our bodies are longing to stretch and absorb warmth and vitamin D in the beauty of God’s creation.

How do we strike a healthy balance of school, celebrations, family time, and still find time to rest and rejuvenate our bodies and souls? Over the next several weeks, we will be exploring how to choose a slow life amidst a whirlwind culture. We will be evaluating different areas of our life that can lead to a slower rhythm overall, regardless of whether we work full time, part time, or are at home.

I want to enjoy the upcoming months. I want to sit on that mountain of dirt with my daughter and share in the wonder. I want to celebrate loved ones and be fully engaged in each moment and activity. I think it’s possible. Do you?