Monday, February 18, 2013

Finding a New Rhythm in Motherhood, Part 2

Last time I told you I have this nice, longish list of goals I want to accomplish by (roughly) December 31, 2013. And most of those goals require a daily investment of my time. My full-time-work-at-home, new-mom time. Did you laugh at me? Snort in derision, maybe? It's okay if you did. I forgive you.

I am aware that there are still only 24 hours in a day, in case you were wondering. I'm not delusional. God hasn't shifted the universe to provide me with more hours in which to successfully accomplish everything. And yes, I do need sleep - as much as Baby Girl will allow me to get. I'm not planning to forego sleep - if anything, I hope to be getting more rest in 2013 than I did in the second half of 2012. Yes, I said hope. Hope is different from expect. I'm keepin' it real. Baby Girl may not sleep through the night until she's nine, for all I know.

What I'm talking about is re-ordering my days to find a new rhythm that works for me in this season. We all need rhythm. From the beginning, there has been rhythm to all of life. Rhythm was established with creation. There is rhythm to the rising and setting of sun and moon, to the seasons. There is rhythm to seven days of labor and a day of rest - sabbath. It makes sense that we, being God's creations as much as earth and stars, would be creatures of rhythm. Even our bodies have rhythms and cycles of their own, independent of anything we might try to impress upon them.

Right now, my days can be incredibly full and chaotic. Balancing a full-time job, a marriage, a seven-month-old and a household while trying to meet my own spiritual, physical, emotional and intellectual needs is a crazy-making endeavor. But I'm working on it, and I've found some tools along the way that are helping me to find some semblance of rhythm, tools that enable me most days to feel, when I climb into bed at night, that it's been a pretty good - if imperfect - day.

This 25 Point Manifesto for Sanity from my dear friend Ann was the first thing that helped me begin to wrap my arms around a new rhythm. So much of what she offers here is good and wise practice to delve into. I have the manifesto posted on my refrigerator, so I see it every time I walk by. It reminds me to slow down, to be deliberate, to celebrate in the midst of the busyness, and to be ever-mindful of God's presence.

Here are a few of the key things I'm doing to help myself manage marriage, motherhood, my household, my job, and my own needs with some semblance of rhythm:

Begin each day with the Lord. I've resumed getting up early enough to begin my day in solitude. For a long time, my ability to spend daily, dedicated time in God's Word with any kind of consistency was rare at best. Considering I'm exhausted by 10 p.m. every night, I knew I had to look at early morning as my new best friend if I was going to manage to have any quiet time with God's word. Baby Girl gets up pretty early, and I needed to start beating her to it. After a good night, with maybe only one brief wake-up from Baby Girl to interrupt my rest, I roll out of bed at six. I make myself a cup of coffee, light a candle, and settle down at the kitchen table with my Bible and current devotional book, sipping my coffee while I read/pray in blissful silence and the sky begins to lighten. It is, I'm finding, a time worth getting up for, even when I feel like I could really use another half hour of sleep. I find myself drawing strength and encouragement from it, and I sure need that!

Make a daily plan. After my quiet time, I make my plan for the day. While my weekdays are mainly dictated by the demands of my full-time job, there are still gaps to fill in, the need to find time for the rest of life's demands - laundry and dishes and errands and the things that are for me, like reading and writing and exercise. This Day's Draft, also from thoughtful Ann, has become my right hand (note: you can find many other free daily planners and other helpful organizers online, including here). Granted, I rarely manage to check off every little thing, but it keeps me mindful of the priorities large and small, including simple, basic things like drinking enough water (something I seem to lose track of so easily).

Practice focused time and regular breaks. One of the most challenging things about being a new mom, for me, was the chaos. For the first three months, it seemed like I just couldn't get a single thing done, whether it was folding a load of laundry, making a quick meal, or cleaning the bathroom, not to mention writing a blog post or taking a shower and blow-dying my hair! Whether you are a working mom or a stay-at-home mom, we all need focused time during which we power through the things we need to accomplish, but we also really need to remember to take regular breaks. Now that Baby Girl is a little bit older, I've found that the Pomodoro Technique works really well for me. In a nutshell, a "Pomodoro" is 25 minutes of very focused work time, followed by 5 minutes of break time. Every four Pomodoros, you take a longer break of 15-30 minutes. I use the Pomodoro Technique both during my workday (when it's not dictated by meetings, that is) and during my household work time. Twenty-five minutes is the perfect amount of time to accomplish something of substance, from writing up a report to scrubbing the kitchen floor. During the work day, I use my five-minute breaks to connect regularly with Baby Girl, grab a cup of tea, read a blog post or a few pages of a book (that's my book, eReader, manuscript and journal stack there in the photo above - I keep it all within grabbing distance), practice my scripture memorization, throw in a load of laundry or empty the dishwasher. Even if I choose to complete a five-minute chore during my break, it gives my mind a rest from what I was doing before, and I go back to work refreshed. During non-working hours, I use Pomodoros to do cleaning, fold laundry, make my meal plan, and so on. Knowing I have just 25 minutes before the timer on my phone goes off motivates me to work quickly and efficiently, because I'm looking forward to five minutes of respite.

Plan meals. I've found that making a weekly dinner menu has a significant impact on my daily rhythm because I never find myself in a tizzy at 5 p.m., trying to figure out what we're having for dinner. Every Friday night (which is takeout night), I choose 4-5 meals to make the next week, including planning which night(s) I expect there to be leftovers. I try to have at least one night of leftovers plus one night of planned takeout to give myself breaks, even though I love cooking. Then, I make my grocery list accordingly. While it takes time to choose meals (I always consider what's already in the fridge and pantry) and figure out what I need to buy, it saves time and headache in the long run. My sister-in-law never used to plan dinners a week at a time - instead, she would decide during the day what to cook that night, and would stop at the grocery store on her way home from work. She would make another trip on Saturday to buy other things she needed, like cereal and paper towels. We estimated that she was spending at least four hours a week in the grocery store! I probably spend an hour planning and an hour shopping. There are lots of great free printable menu planners available online (again, there are some great free printables here), but I like this notepad version. Each one is sixty sheets and lasts about 14 months. I like that there's space on the right for breakfast items, lunch items, and snacks. This helps E, for example, by indicating that there are bagels in the refrigerator, which he might not see (and eat) otherwise. As things run out during the week, I cross them off.

Divide household chores into manageable parts. I'll just say it: I hate cleaning. Despise it. Abhor it. When I was growing up, my mom cleaned the entire house from top to bottom every Saturday. Kudos to her, but let me tell you, cleaning house is not how I want to spend my Saturdays, especially because I'm on Baby Girl duty all day while E does the bulk of his homework for the following week and I need to get the grocery shopping and other errands done. So I use a cleaning calendar customized to fit my home's needs (it's there below in the picture, on the fridge along with my menu pad, the Sanity Manifesto, and two of my online book club reading schedules). Every night after work and on Saturday mornings, I spend 25 minutes (one Pomodoro) blazing through one room or one major task throughout the whole house, like vacuuming. I like it because it divides the work into chunks that are quickly accomplished, and it feels like things never really have a chance to get dirty. I also throw in a load of laundry almost every morning, drying and folding it during my five-minute break times. This way, the laundry never reaches a point that feels unmanageable, and I have time for other things, like my husband.

Plan daily quality time with your spouse. I've never been much of a TV person, but E and I have gotten into the habit of watching old TV series on Netflix or iTunes. It's cheap, it's relaxing, and we enjoy plenty of banter along with it. We choose a series at a time, and one show will generally last us a few months, depending how many episodes aired. Sometimes we even wait for something to finish its current season so we can watch it at our convenience. We've done this with Battlestar Galactica, The Tudors, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, and most recently Lost. I'm not necessarily suggesting you go the TV route, but find something that suits you both, some way you can connect daily. Take a walk after dinner. Play a game you both like. Share a bowl of ice cream on the couch after the kids are in bed. Find some way - any way - to connect before your head hits the pillow for the night.

Make exercise a priority. When I was single, I worked out after work or late in the evening. But back then, there was no one waiting for me to make dinner, no baby to bathe, no laundry pile screaming my name. After Baby Girl was born and I went back to work, I knew I had to find a new exercise routine that fit in with my new life. It was a struggle. Most moms say that if they don't work out first thing in the morning, it doesn't happen. But folks, I am so not  that person who can roll out of bed and go for a three-mile jog. I've tried. I'm incredibly sluggish upon rising, and while I might feel good afterward, working out before eight never feels successful to me. It takes me a few hours to feel awake and energized enough to move my bod that vigorously. My solution? I start work an hour early at 7 a.m., work until mid-morning (depending on my meeting schedule), then head to the gym or out for a run. If you're having trouble fitting in exercise the way you used to pre-kids, start noodling some other options. Find a gym with child care. Buy a jogging stroller. Sign up for a Saturday yoga class. Coerce your spouse into letting you off the hook after dinner two nights a week so you can take a few loops around the block. Buy some workout DVDs and get down in your living room during naptime. Just make it happen.

Carve out time for your passions. With everything else I have to do, my writing is always the thing that's in danger. So I've tried to commit to one of two potential blocks of writing time every day - either during my lunch hour, or as soon as Baby Girl is in bed. If Baby Girl is napping at lunch time, I grab my yogurt or hummus and settle in at the kitchen table for an hour of uninterrupted writing. If she's awake at noon, I wait until she goes to bed and then spend an hour on a blog post or my novel before E and I have our TV time. I keep a journal in which I plan out blog posts for both blogs, so that I'm always prepared to jump in and start writing (I do that planning on Sunday afternoons), and I always have a printout of the latest version of my novel handy for making notes and edits easy. I wish I had more time, of course, but an hour a day is better than nothing. Some days, unfortunately, I end up having to forego it altogether because something unexpected happens - Baby Girl is teething and fussy, dinner takes twice as long as planned, someone calls and wants to talk. It's not always possible to manage all 24 hours of the day. The important thing is to plan time for your passions, so that you manage to make that time happen as often as possible. If you never plan for it, it won't happen at all.

Practice Sabbath. I deliberately abstain from chores, errands, laundry and other household-related work on Sundays (this is why I plan my menu on Friday, do my grocery shopping on Saturday, and use a six-day cleaning calendar). I cook something simple and nourishing for dinner, most often a big pot of soup and some homemade bread, and reserve the rest of the day for church, time with E and Baby Girl, reading, writing, occasionally crafting, and just generally relaxing. I try to remember that the Lord himself rested from his labors on the seventh day of creation, and he asks us to do the same, which is certainly in our best interest. Because I practice Sabbath, I'm always ready to hit the ground running on Monday (if Baby Girl lets me sleep on Sunday night, that is).

Whatever stage of motherhood you might be in, I'm sure you're still trying to balance all the pieces of life with a family. Word is that it changes continually as your kids grow, and you have to readjust. Personally, I'm looking forward to the day when Baby Girl sleeps through the night - every night - and the extra energy I'll have when that happens.

If you're a mom, I'd be interested in knowing what's helped you to have rhythm in your days. Leave a comment below!


Monday, February 04, 2013

Finding a New Rhythm in Motherhood, Part 1

There are two things I know to be fundamentally true of God and want to talk about today. One, he continually calls us to know him more deeply through his word (the Bible). Two, he wants us to be good stewards of all he has given us, including our bodies, our relationships, our talents and our time.

I realize it's the first week in February, and it's a bit late for New Year's resolutions. As I explained here, I'm not usually one for making resolutions. But this isn't really a post about New Year's resolutions per se - it's about beginning again after a long vacation from any sort of goal-setting, which is often what happens during seasons of major upheaval like wedding planning or new motherhood. The new year just happened to be the catalyst for me to start thinking about setting some daily and long-term goals again, and figuring out how to incorporate those into a life that now includes marriage and motherhood.

After 19 months of constant and major life transitions, I felt foggy and out of sorts, a woman who'd lost her compass. Work was going well, with plenty of positive feedback from colleagues about my ability to do my job as a telecommuter. I was getting a handle on motherhood and adjusting to regular sleep deprivation. But I was craving direction and a rhythm to my days. I'd been focused so exclusively on weathering all the changes in my life that I'd let go of some of the key things that I personally need in order to feel balanced and healthy physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. So I made a list of the habits I want to revive this year. These are the things that comprise my smaller, day-to-day goals, and they're written on a chalkboard hanging in my kitchen.

Reading blog post after blog post about other people's New Year's resolutions also made me think about setting some longer term goals, and it makes sense to have the end of the year in mind as a sort of deadline. It's been a couple of years since I've set any kind of personal achievement goal for myself, so doing that sounded really, really good. I'm ready for some new growth opportunities and challenges, and I need those things to be measurable in some way, with an end result to aim for. So I made another list of more comprehensive goals. The nice thing is that some these long-term goals are naturally comprised of my smaller daily goals, so it all fits together.

When I relayed my list to E, he warned me about expecting too much from myself. He's worried that if I fail at anything on my list, I'll be disappointed. A few years ago, he might have been right. But if there's one thing marriage and motherhood have taught me so far, it's that no matter what kind of journey you're embarking on, there has to be grace in the mix. I'm talking about grace for yourself, the freedom to let yourself mess up. Because there will be days and weeks that don't go well, and you have to go easy on yourself when those come; you have to give yourself room to start again. While the end result matters, and it's good to have deadlines to motivate you, it's really the journey that's most important, what you learn and how you grow along the way.

So, I'm expecting to fail on some days. And that's okay with me. I just want those days to be in the minority, so that I still make progress.

For accountability's sake, I've decided to lay out my goals here, in detail. If you've made some goals of your own this year, I'd love to know what they are and how you're progressing.
  • Read the entire Bible, a little each day. It really makes a difference in my day when I begin it with time spent reading God's word. I've been wanting to make it through the entire Bible for a long time, but I always seem to return to my favorite books over and over. I'm not doing this just to get it over with or so I can say "I've read the whole Bible, every word." It's not a check mark for my bucket list. I'm doing it because I know God will meet me in the parts I haven't yet read as well as those that are familiar. Gaps in my understanding will be filled. I'm going to grow in ways I have yet to imagine. So - to make it simple, I downloaded The One-Year Bible onto my eReader. It's really a no-brainer, because someone else has already decided how much you will read every day. Each reading combines the Old and New Testaments, as well as a portion of Psalms and Proverbs, so you get a mix rather than wading through Leviticus all by itself for a week, yet there's still continuity because you begin at the beginning of each part.
  • Practice gratitude daily. If you haven't read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, I highly recommend it. It was a total game-changer for me, transforming my heart and my "eyes" in the best possible way. I keep a little journal on my desk and record the things I'm grateful for, the thngs that bless me throughout the day, and it makes me more deeply aware of God's presence in my life. The more regularly I do this, the more my days are shot through with peace and joy, no matter what else happens.
  • Memorize scripture. I've always wanted to do this, and anyone who practices scripture memorization claims it's a transformative process, that committing God's word to memory is like bringing the truth deeper within you. I'm using a cool resource called Scripture Typer. It utilizes muscle memory to help you learn, and in just a few minutes of practice a day, memorization comes easily. I've committed to memorizing Romans, one of my favorite books, as part of an online community, and so far, it's been incredibly rewarding.
  • Become part of a local church. God wants us to be part of a community of believers. We need to pour into others and to be poured into. We need to worship together with other believers. We need to make like-minded friends. So E and I are working on this goal together, visiting area churches that seem like they could be potential church homes. Thank goodness for the Internet in this endeavor!
  • Lose 60 pounds. I have boyfriend weight, married weight and baby weight that has slowly piled on over the past three and a half years, and it's time to do something about it. Sixty pounds may sound like a lot, but I'm giving myself a whole year to lose it, which comes out to a little more than a pound a week, or five pounds a month. That's a slow, healthy pace, and I'm working on it without any kind of extreme dieting plans or over-the-top exercise demands. I'll post more on how I'm doing this, but it begins with a lot of the items on my chalkboard - healthy meals, daily exercise, getting enough water.
  • Write. I have two writing goals. The first is to post consistently on this blog and on my recipe blog - three times a week on each. The second is to complete the novel I'm writing and work on finding an agent. Both of these goals mean I need to make time for writing on a daily basis. I also need to find a way to block out chunks of time for writing on the weekends. It's not easy to work it in between my full-time job and caring for my family, but because God gave me a heart for writing, I know he'll help me find a way.
  • Read. Once upon a time when I was a single girl, I read at least 52 books every year. That's a book per week. This year, I'm shooting for half that - 26 books. My actual reading list is quite a bit longer - about 40 titles - but I know I won't get to all of them. I'll be posting my list here sometime soon, and my plan is to share some reviews here over the course of the year.
  • Attend a writers' conference. This is something I've been promising myself for years, but there was always something else going on (wedding planning, pregnancy, other financial priorities) and attending a conference just kept taking a back seat. Conferences are opportunities to gather ideas on writing and self-promotion, and to connect with other writers and people in the publishing business. There are a number of conferences I'd really like to attend, but I'm going to begin this year by picking just one, setting aside the funds to cover it, and making the most of it. I'm really excited about this goal.
  • Become a better photographer. Before E and I went to Kenya for our honeymoon, we bought a fantastic Nikon D5100 digital SLR camera. I had been wanting one for a long time. I love photography - I took several classes in college, learned to use a manual SLR camera, and developed my own pictures. I haven't taken the time to really learn how to use my digital SLR to its fullest extent, and my goal is to do that this year. I really want to become a better food photographer. I plan to work on this on my own, with the help of some books like this one, and maybe take a class at a local camera shop. I would love to attend a weekend photography workshop like this, but they're expensive and would require air travel, so maybe next year.
Stacked up like this, it looks like I have some weighty goals for the year. But since the majority of them can be broken down into manageable bits, I think they're totally doable. And like I said, I'm leaning on grace to fill the gaps.

What about you? How might God be calling you to re-order your days to get to know him more deeply and to be a better steward of what he's given you? Leave a comment below.


Friday, February 01, 2013

A Love Letter to My Husband

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. ~ Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NIV)

I had an epiphany this week - that all the crazy-making hormones of pregnancy don't exactly go away when the baby arrives. Especially if one is manufacturing milk to feed said baby. This explains some - not all - of my emotional rollercoaster riding the past six months. Granted, I have not done anything like decide to paint the living room at midnight, but I have had my share of insanity. Like the night I tearfully told E I felt like our marriage was falling apart because we weren't kissing each other good night every night of the week (he's generally asleep the minute his head hits the pillow, poor guy, since Daddy Daycare begins around 6 a.m., with occasional middle-of-the-night stints as well).

I have a few solid excuses for being a these days. In the space of 19 months, I got engaged, got married, got pregnant, had a baby, moved into a new role at work, transitioned from working in an office to working at home...and moved SIX times. Yep, you heard me correctly. Six. And the fifth move was halfway across the country to a place I'd only visited three times. On top of that, all of this relocating involved two stints of living in relatives' basements - one during my third trimester, one with a two-month-old infant. It also means I never got to nest during my pregnancy - I never got to let my craziness all hang out. Clearly, I was repressed. Ha!

Seriously, I think all of this is enough life change to give anyone a free pass to the loony bin.

And my man, he has borne it all with steadfastness and (most of the time) grace. Clearly, he doesn't always understand what's going on with me (nor does he want to, I'm sure - he just wants to survive it). He occasionally loses his cool for five minutes when I do something utterly ridiculous, but the resultant cloudburst of tears that ensues encourages him to rapidly get his act together, so as to close the floodgates as quickly as possible. Poor guy.

He really has been a trooper, and to be fair, he has endured as many transitions as I have, including leaving his full-time job of twelve years to return to college in pursuit of a more fulfilling career and an overall better life for us. He never envisioned himself as a stay-at-home dad by day, full-time student by night. He deserves my gratitude for handling all of this, coupled with my unpredictable hormone surges and the resultant emotional highs and lows they elicit.

Thus, this letter:

Dear E,

Thank you for all the ways you support us as a family. I know it must be difficult not to be working at a "regular" job, but in my mind, you are doing the most important job right now - taking care of our daughter. You're an amazing dad, and I couldn't ask for more as far as her daily care is concerned. I know how much this requires, and I know how tired it can leave you at the end of the day, mentally and emotionally as well as physically. I can't express my appreciation enough.

Thank you having the courage and faith to step out on a limb and go back to school to pursue your dreams. I know it's hard work, and that you struggle every week to find enough time to get everything done. I'm so proud of you for taking this leap, and I am behind you every step of the way.

Thank you for doing your best to understand my emotions and to meet my needs, to listen when I go off about things and do what you can to help me feel better. Thank you for all the ways you encourage me - to write, exercise, to do the things I enjoy. Thank you for being willing to step out of your comfort zone in order to find a church and to find community because you know I especially need those things. I know it isn't your cup of tea.

Thank you for weathering all these changes - wedding, pregnancy, parenting, moving, changing roles - together. Because we are doing all of this as a family, as a united team, I know we're going to survive it and come out stronger on the other side. I'm looking forward to all the days of our life together, because every one is an adventure.

You're a great husband. You're also my best friend. I thank God for you every day, and I wouldn't trade you for anything.