Robin Thomas: A Birth Story

Our son Robin Thomas was born just after midnight on January 12– three days before his official “due date.” His birth was amazing: fast, scary, messy, strange, difficult, near-impossible and then suddenly possible, and then suddenly over. And then suddenly we have this beautiful baby boy!

Sky’s birth story is half-finished in my pregnancy journal, written in Lyle’s handwriting (which I love.) I remember we tried to tell each other the story, and he wrote it down while I nursed Sky. But we were also preparing to move into a new house, and somehow we never went back to finish filling in the rest. One day I’ll write her story here, too. This time, I don’t want to lose all the little details to the brain fog of these precious (but overwhelming) newborn days, so I’m writing this in installments, one-handed, while Robin sleeps in the sling on my chest.

The day before

Looking back, I can see how my body was preparing for labor beginning early in my 39th week. I just felt this intense need to stay home. I had things on the calendar like acupuncture, massage, and coffee with my pastor. Things that would ordinarily be restful and nourishing suddenly felt daunting. So I canceled as best I could, but was still planning on the coffee date. My priest walked with me through my miscarriage last year, printing out a special liturgy from the Episcopal BCP for pregnancy loss, and even officiating a little ceremony in the chapel. She is just so gentle and funny and real, and I wanted to talk to her about some big spiritual questions milling around in my heart as Robin’s birth day approached.

Instead, the day before our coffee date, I went for a long walk up Mt. Tabor. In Portland birth circles, it is often called Mt. Labor, because it’s a beautiful but hilly climb that often helps women encourage labor to start. Lyle and I walked it many times in the week leading up to Sky’s birth. I didn’t feel like I was in a hurry to have Robin, but I was feeling restless in my bones and thoughts, and it was a Wednesday, when the main roads are closed to traffic.

A light rain fell and it was wonderfully still. I walked slowly and stopped to listen to birds and watch raindrops bead on bare tree branches and green fir needles. I was wearing my poncho, so when I accidentally stepped in some slippery mud coming down a hill, my arms were tucked in along my sides and I didn’t catch myself easily. It felt like it happened in slow motion, and I remember thinking, “Don’t let me hit my belly, Lord, please.” But I think I did. I came down pretty hard on my left side, covered with mud and crying.

Fortunately, babies are resilient, and the womb is a heavily-padded, protected place. Plus, both my babies have preferred to camp out on my right side, so when I went in to the clinic for monitoring, everything looked just fine. Still, I felt bruised. For the rest of the day, I cried easily and kept dropping things. I was shaky and emotional.

Labor day

The next day, I was really sore. I texted my priest to let her know I wasn’t feeling like myself and needed to reschedule. Then I tucked myself into bed while Sky was at preschool, and just slept and read and listened to podcasts.

At around 4:00, I called my sister to talk and told her I was starting to feel some cramping, but it didn’t seem rhythmic or regular. I thought it might just be my body recovering from the fall the day before, or maybe just early pre-labor, like I had for a few days leading up to Sky’s birth.

At 5:30, we packed Sky into the stroller and headed up to the park for a “night walk” before dinner. Sky loves this. In September, when we visited Lyle’s parents in Truckee, we had taken a long walk from their house to a brewery downtown, using an unlit nature trail. In the early evening, it was dusky and beautiful, but by the time we headed back, it was pitch black. We all had flashlights, and Sky loved being cozy in blankets in her stroller, looking up at a sky full of more stars than she’s ever seen. We saw a snake in the path and a family of deer.

Our city park is well-lit, and it’s hard to see stars when the sky is socked in with rainclouds, but she still feels the same kind of excitement whenever we walk at night. We did two laps and I began noticing that the cramping was coming in waves and starting to feel more like contractions. I let Lyle know, but still felt like it couldn’t be the real thing yet, or even if it was, I thought it could be like this for hours, like it was with Sky. I started counting the duration and the time between, and was surprised to find that they were pretty regular, and starting to become a little more uncomfortable. “Hmmm…” we thought.

We went home and had dinner– a butternut squash curry over rice that Lyle had made. I still thought I’d be spending the night at home, and maaaaybe going into labor sometime the next day, so I went ahead and had a full dinner, feeling suddenly pretty hungry.

These pictures were taken around 7:30 pm, before Sky went to bed. I was having pretty regular, but manageable contractions at this point. We thought there was a good chance we’d be heading to the hospital that night. I just love these pictures. I knew my baby girl wasn’t going to be my baby for much longer, and I felt more than a little anxious about leaving her during the birth, and about how she would handle the big change of having a little brother.

After Sky went to bed, I lay down and texted our doula, Jennifer. She suggested I try taking a bath, to see if that lessened the contractions. Instead, they seemed to pick up speed and strength as soon as I got out. It was like my body had been waiting for Sky to be safely asleep before getting down to business. It started to get pretty painful, so I told Lyle to start packing the car. He ran around (only slightly panicked) while I breathed and vocalized through contractions. I timed them until I couldn’t keep focus any more. At that point Lyle called our doula and his brother, and they both got in their cars to head our way.

Jennifer arrived and came in to check on me, and said it was probably time to leave for the hospital. I really didn’t want to get in the car, and it was getting hard to change my position from lying on my side on the bed. I also threw up, which had all been signs it was time to go with Sky.

Bryce arrived a little before 10 and we left for the hospital right away. As before, oh how I hated the drive and the parking garage and the long, winding walk to Labor & Delivery. I hated arriving on the floor and seeing all the nurses behind the desk staring at me calmly, telling me coolly to “sign here” while I’m doubled over and moaning with contractions. I hated being directed to triage to be checked, even though with both kiddos I was at 7 or 8 cm by the time I arrived at the hospital– ready to just get the show on the road already. I am beyond grateful for access to good care and the support of a medical team: I’ve had two healthy, safe, low-intervention hospital births, and I know that being in the hospital has helped relieve my anxiety about something going wrong, allowing me to be fully present for labor. And yet. There’s a lot I really don’t love about hospital birth.

My doctor didn’t make it to the hospital in time to deliver Robin, so we had a room full of strangers who quickly scanned our birth plan and started trying to convince me to get hooked up to an IV or at least a port.  They also tried to overrule my request to avoid routine Pitocin postpartum unless necessary– both requests I had discussed and had approved with my doctor. I felt frustrated and scared. Jennifer helped advocate for us and we were able to delay both decisions while I focused on progressing.

Contractions became stronger and closer together, and I was having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I was actually in labor. It had all happened so quickly, and by the time we headed to the hospital, I could only focus on getting through each contraction. Being suddenly in L & D, surrounded by strange faces, I began to feel some anxiety about the birth. I thought I had more time. My heart rate sped up and I started to lose focus, but Jennifer and Lyle brought me back to my breath and reminded me to just get through the next contraction.

At some point I threw up the rest of my dinner, and the force of that made my water break, which hadn’t happened with Sky. It was a big dramatic gush I could hear, which surprised me. Shortly after I started to feel like I wanted to push. The contractions were coming so quickly I barely had a chance to recover between each one. I wanted something to “do” with the pressure.

Then the baby’s vital signs started dipping: his oxygen levels were getting low each time I had a contraction, so they put an oxygen mask on me and told me they needed to give me fluids and would be putting in an IV port. Afraid for my baby, I became really focused and quiet. The doctor on call checked me and said I was fully dilated and could start pushing if I felt ready, and man did I feel ready. It took some time to find the right position. We tried using a rail in front with a sheet tied around it so I could pull on something, but I quickly became tired out. Finally I turned backward on the delivery table and got onto hands and knees, which is how I had labored with Sky. After that it felt like it was only a few pushes later that Robin was born.

The nurses told me to reach down and pick up my baby! “Where is he?” I kept asking. I was crying and shaking with happiness and exhaustion and I felt totally disoriented, but finally I saw their hands passing his little ruddy body up through my legs toward me. He was slippery and warm and they helped me bring him to my chest, turn around, and lean back so he could rest on my chest. He was still connected by the cord, and just blinking around at me, totally aware and breathing but just completely quiet! “Is he okay? Is he okay?” I asked. Everyone assured me he was fine. The nurses rubbed his body to warm him up after the shock of birth, and helped Lyle cut the cord. It was so incredible! I think I was just crying and saying all kinds of things, just, “Hi baby! Hi Robin! We’re so glad you’re here!” and “Oh my God, oh my God, he’s here!”

They took him over to weigh and make sure he was okay, while I gave one last push with the afterbirth. Everything was fine. After the baby was settled back in with me to nurse, the room emptied out and with the lights dim and the warmth of the baby and blankets, I relaxed. Lyle and I settled in to admire our new baby. A nurse came to ask if I wanted any snacks, and I had about eight teeny tiny boxes of cranberry juice, which tasted like the best thing in the world, and a generic granola bar which tasted equally amazing.

Robin nursed and we talked about the birth for a bit, which helped me process it and arrive in the present moment a little more. My head was just reeling with so much change, and I felt electric with adrenaline and all the feel-good post-birth emotions. I don’t think I slept much the rest of the night, which was how it was with Sky, too. I was just so excited and happy.

Sky visited the next day with her uncle, and met her baby brother. The following morning we headed home, where I promptly got into bed with the baby and did my best to stay there as much as possible for the next two weeks. We had help from Lyle’s parents, so I was able to get some real rest and focus on nursing Robin.

 

I’m so thankful Robin arrived safely and swiftly, that he is healthy and thriving at home with us. I am all too keenly aware that it all could have been otherwise. Just getting through pregnancy felt like a marathon, a constant exercise in being present and managing my anxiety about miscarrying, even when we were well past the mark of probability. Both my babies are “rainbow babies,” born after a previous loss, and maybe the challenge of that is not letting my worry overwhelm my love and enjoyment. I just feel so lucky to have two healthy children… sometimes I look at them with their daddy and wonder how we all got here. I love my little family so much.

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Third Trimester and First Few Weeks

32 Weeks

I left off at 27 weeks, and it took us a while to catch up with our not-so-weekly pictures. Lyle caught the flu virus, Sky had a cold, and at 32 weeks I came down with the flu, too. It really slammed me.

35 Weeks

By 35 weeks I was finally starting to feel better, but I’d definitely lost some weight and strength after three full weeks of exhaustion and illness.

38 Weeks

This ended up being our last bump pic! We took this on New Year’s Eve, shortly after returning from church. The next day, we went for a walk at the Rhododendron Garden and I started having some deep pelvic pain that reminded me of the day before Sky was born. I remember being barely able to walk a short distance up Hawthorne with Lyle to get coffee, and having to stop and lean on fences and walls to breathe through the pain. I had zero appetite and just wanted to sit at the coffee shop while Lyle had coffee. So this time, it made us wonder if baby would be coming a bit early. Still, it was a gorgeous day, sunny and cold, and we took our time meandering along the paths and pausing every so often so I could breathe through the pain. I’m pretty sure it was cervical ripening and my body was just getting ready.

39 Weeks, 3 Days…

Our son Robin was born two weeks later, on January 12. It happened really fast (birth story to come) and we were SO happy to finally meet our boy!

40 Weeks

Here we are on his due date, Jan 15, going for our first (super short) stroll around the block. Thankfully he likes being in the wrap! I’ve mostly been resting, trying to stay in bed and slowly building up the distance I walk each day. We’ve been really lucky to have Lyle’s parents in town for two whole weeks to help while I heal and we adjust to being a family of 4!

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New year, waiting for baby, and an intention to pause

I have a complicated relationship with new year resolutions, with the subtle differences between setting goals and intentions, task lists and priorities. In my twenties I set goals like challenges, and with the fiery energy characteristic of that decade in life, I loved the feeling of the finish line. I wanted to push the limits of what I thought I could do, how far I could travel, what I could learn. In my thirties, I still nurture that same passion, but it’s a much smaller, steadier flame now, and I keep it closer to home.

Goals look and feel and sound different to me now that I have a family. Intentions seem more more nebulous. I tend to live most of my days chasing after an endless task list, my lifelong habit of journaling giving way to messy notebooks scrawled with crossed off groceries, appointments, questions and answers. And as much as I crave clarity when it comes to my long-term vision of how I’d like to shape these sweet family years, they are going by so quickly that I find myself at a loss to describe our family’s values or priorities articulately.

The thing is, I feel okay about all of that. The challenges I’ve faced in my late twenties and early thirties, since marrying my love and figuring out how to live on our own, have humbled me and shown me that goals and intentions and to-dos don’t define me, and can’t fill the deepest parts of me. I know my greatest desire is God, and that real fulfillment is mysterious, paradoxical, maybe even antithetical to the achievement-oriented culture I live in. I know I struggle every day to turn toward God, to seek true fulfillment by listening to the Spirit and serving Christ in others. Every year I think, maybe this will be the year I don’t feel like a fraud, the year I actually commit to following Jesus, the year I am truly transformed.

That’s the muddy, shifting undercurrent of my thoughts when the year turns and a week later I mark the passing of another year of my life. This sense of hesitation to set goals right alongside a sense of urgency to set them. There’s a feeling of needing to articulate my heart’s current state, and hoping to find that my soul is more focused somehow than the year before, that my desires are fewer and more pointed in the direction of God.

At the same time, this year I’m poised at the edge of a big unknown– two weeks from our baby’s “due date,”  an unknown distance to becoming a family of four. So I’m frantically making lists, preparing, puzzling over last-minute decisions. I’m sweating over the fact that the photos still aren’t organized, the closet is still too cluttered, and I haven’t filled in all the parts of both kids’ pregnancy and baby journals– I’m not “caught up.” Normal obsessive nesting behavior. A way for my anxious mind to try to wrest some control over a beautiful mystery: When will the baby come? Will I be ready?

I finished reading Mindful Birthing for the second time, and this go-round I was really struck by two paired phrases: the idea of Horticultural Time vs. Industrial Time, and the idea of Doing Mode vs. Being Mode. They’re interrelated. Nancy Bardacke writes about how labor and childbirth belong to Horticultural Time– a nonlinear experience of time’s passage that corresponds with biological rhythms rather than the clock of Industrial Time. As we near labor, women feel their bodies begin to shift into Horticultural Time. I really love this image– I think of the tendrils of a bean vine curling up around a sunflower stalk, how its wisdom turns it slowly and strongly toward the sun. How the sunflower blooms and tracks the sun’s arc across the sky, and how both record time’s passage but through leaf, shadow, seed, silence, instead of numbers.

I realize I’ve mostly been living in Doing Mode, and that I’m having trouble downshifting to Being Mode. I know that is where I will be spending most of my days after baby comes, and that part of the Horticultural mode of motherhood is a loosening of time, while the baby is waking and eating every few hours, dipping in and out of sleep as he adjusts to an earth ruled by clock time. Since I’ve been through birth and new motherhood once before, I think I’m a little anxious about surrendering again, and so I’m clinging to these tasks as a way to postpone the birth– even though I’m so excited to meet our son– and the shift to Being Mode.

At the same time, I can feel my soul is exhausted, and that Being Mode and Horticultural Time are exactly where I want to be. Part of the difficulty and challenge of motherhood in an achievement and goal oriented culture is that it’s hard to fully surrender to that state of being. It’s where we need to be, and where our babies need us to be, and yet the way we live isn’t set up to support moms and babies in that space.

I’m thankful for the support we do have– my mom and mother in law will each stay with us for a week or so early on; my brother in law is ready to step in and help with Sky, who adores him; and our friends are ready to cook us meals and help as needed. We will do the best we can do enter newborn time, and this phase of uncertain waiting is the first step.

I like choosing one word for the year. The past few years I’ve chosen “trust,” but this year the word that keeps coming to me is “pause.” I have more to say about that but think I’ll close this post there, and pick it up again tomorrow.

 

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On my Parenting Bookshelf

These are my favorite books on pregnancy, babyhood, and parenting.

Mindful Birthing, Nancy Bardacke

So this is not exactly on parenting, but the mindfulness techniques for coping with pain in labor are just as relevant when coping with anger and frustration during challenging times with a toddler. I am rereading this as we get ready to welcome our second baby (in about 28 days!!) and once again finding it so helpful.

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, Mark Weissbluth

This is the classic on sleep training. If you’re wary of sleep training, you’ll probably avoid this book. If you’re looking for a science/evidence based look at children’s sleep needs at each stage of development, along with clear suggestions for helping children develop good sleep habits, you will welcome this book. I’ve fallen into each category at different times in my parenting journey thus far. This book helped my family establish regular sleeping patterns after our daughter’s 4-month sleep regression. It saved my mental health at a time when it was really suffering, and I have since referred to it as she has moved through subsequent sleep changes, whether it’s dropping a nap, moving to a toddler bed, or adjusting bedtime as she gets older.

Oh Crap! Potty Training, Jamie Glowacki

Loved this book. The author has a great sense of humor, which you really need when you start helping your kid learn how to use the toilet. We followed a sort of relaxed form of elimination communication with Sky starting at about 3 months, and that helped her get familiar with the potty early on, as well as helped me learn to “read” her signals. But in terms of long-term independence and toilet learning, none of the EC books were nearly as helpful and straightforward as this one. This book kind of breaks down the process into simple, manageable steps and helps you trouble-shoot.

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting, Laura Markham

We are just starting this book, in tandem with an online parenting course at Aha! Parenting, and so far I really love it. It’s easy to talk about not yelling, but it’s a whole other thing to actually be able to commit to growing as a parent and human being in the way you need to in order to change a habit. I like how this book focuses on how to manage your emotions as a parent, so you can teach your kid to skillfully manage their own emotions. It’s so so hard, and I really, really want to do the best I can for Sky.

Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense, Ellyn Satter

This is a really long book about something as (seemingly?) simple as eating, but it was well worth the read for me. The gist is this: my job as a parent is to prepare and serve appropriate foods at appropriate times, and it’s my child’s job to decide if and how much she will eat. Period. Really simple, right? But tough in practice, especially when you’re worried about your kid’s developing preferences and habits. I like this author’s gentle, warm approach and learned a lot from her experience as a nutritionist and counselor.

No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame, Janet Lansbury

So good. I wrote about this earlier this year, but it bears a repeat mention because she is just so helpful. A friend recommended the RIE approach to me even before Sky was born, and Lansbury makes it pretty accessible. I also liked her earlier book, Elevating Childcare. Ultimately I’ve found the RIE approach a little more sensible than Positive Discipline: The First Three Years, which was a good starting point but left a lot of gaps and confusion for me.

Buddhism for Mothers, Sarah Napthali

Another supportive book for parents in learning to use mindfulness to parent calmly and lovingly. I also liked her follow-up book, Buddhism for Mothers of Young Children, and her book for couples. Napthali has a great sense of humor and an easy-going, clear way of explaining the nuances of Buddhism, woven into stories from her own and other mothers’ lives about putting philosophy into practice in the trenches of motherhood.

Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as Spiritual Discipline, Catherine McNiel

Last but definitely not least. This book was such a huge gift this year. McNiel brings a Christian lens to the interlocking circles of mindfulness, spiritual growth, and mothering. Reading it felt like drinking a big glass of fresh cold water. I’ve just been longing for good writing that situates motherhood as holy, fertile ground for spiritual growth within the Christian tradition, and this book does that so well. It’s both practical and lyrical; down-to-earth and inspirational.

 

 

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Seven Series: All the Rest

**This is the last in a series of posts on experimenting with reducing consumption, based on a modified version of Jen Hatmaker’s book Seven. Check out my original post on the challenge.

Guys. I made it through the media portion of the challenge and then it all kind of just fizzled out.

I ran into a ton of deadlines, then Sky and Lyle both got sick, I had to keep Sky out of preschool for a week, then preschool went on break, and I had a bunch of late nights playing catch up on writing projects. Then I got the flu on Thanksgiving and it turned into the gnarliest sinus/ear/eye infection I’ve ever had, lasting almost three (!!) weeks. At one point I had a panic attack at 3 am because I actually couldn’t breathe. Fever, urgent care, Tamiflu, antibiotics, antibiotic eye drops, ribs bruised from coughing– it was so so bad.

Eeeverything kind of got put on hold and we are only just starting to climb back out.

But it’s been kind of a blessing, too, which is always how God’s trials seem to work. (Though in the middle of it I might want to punch you in the face if you tell me so.) I mean I let go of a lot of stuff that just doesn’t matter. I felt grateful for the smallest things that should matter more, more often.

Like breath. Like health. Like my son’s kicks and punches in my belly, where he is measuring right on track with a healthy heartbeat, in spite of his mama’s illness. Like my daughter’s sweet, sunny little face when she gets to snuggle in the “big bed” with her mama and watch If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and read library books all day. Like my husband’s endlessly generous spirit and willingness to work for his family. I really don’t know how I lucked out with him, or how he continues to do the hard things for us day in and day out.

So in terms of the 7 challenge, we had four categories left: a media fast, a waste fast, a spending fast, and a fast from stress. Media-wise, I’ve been off Facebook for Advent and I’m really enjoying the break. Waste-wise, and spending-wise, I went through about three boxes of kleenex a day and went to Walgreens or the doctor pretty much every day. So. Then there was some serious Amazon Prime spending on stuff for the baby, Christmas presents, and vitamins/stuff to try to get better.

Nope, can’t say I really “did” those challenges, but in a way they kind of did me.

We cooked a lot from Trader Joe’s freezer section and relied on the kindness of friends, the kind who drop curried butternut squash soup on your front porch or offer to watch your toddler while you nap. The kind who just send a sweet text to check in and say they’re praying for you to get better. The kind who pack their toddler into a stroller and bring over essential oils to help you breathe.

Stress is still present, but I also feel like it’s better. Lyle and I have both had to say no to a lot of social things and extra work opportunities, and that’s been fine. I checked out Seven Sacred Pauses and have been kind of just thumbing through the prayers here and there, and working through the same devotional I’ve been using since summer.

It’s been good. It’s been a month of God showing me my limits and asking me to slow way, way down. I have had some tantrums because of it– it’s really challenging for me to lie down and be still, when my nature is to work and plan and do. It’s challenging to be in pain when I try to do something basic like walk or hear or breathe, to allow things to heal on their own timing, knowing I’ve done everything I can do to take care of myself and my family. I’ve been grumpy and not fun to be around, and I’ve had to relearn how to say “I’m sorry” and “I’m feeling frustrated,” and how that simple reset button really, really does work to allow God in, to let love lead.

So for the 7 challenge, I’m calling it good, and I’m calling it done. As we get closer to the arrival of our second child, I can’t think of a better way to walk there than humbled and ready to let go of the little things, so we can focus on just loving each other and taking care of each other.

Happy Christmas!

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Seven Series: Possessions

**This is the third in a series of posts on experimenting with reducing consumption, based on a modified version of Jen Hatmaker’s book Seven. Check out my original post on the challenge for more info.** 

Possessions

  • Give away 7 items each day
  • Source meaningful recipients, not Goodwill
  • Reduce and donate Sky’s toys
  • Go through all closets and backyard shed
  • Read about the psychology of consumption, the buy-purge-buy cycle

Day 4

I’m getting a bit of a slow start on this one. I also ended up doing a big clean-out of Sky’s toys and books, some baby items, my bookshelves and clothing, and our kitchen cabinets during the clothing challenge. I guess I started cleaning out my clothes and I got on a roll.

I’m really happy with the results thus far. I read this one simple rule on Rising Shining about maximizing space and minimizing clutter in a small house: keep as many horizontal surfaces clear as possible. Instantly, I saw so many places in our house to declutter, and when I was finished our house felt really bright, open, and inviting. At a little over 1,000 square feet, our house has definitely helped us take a minimalist approach to possessions, kind of by default, no special philosophy or practice needed. We no longer have a garage, and it’s a constant effort to keep the small shed behind our house from becoming a dangerous tangle of garden tools, strollers, and barbecue accessories.

I’ve got a large box in our spare bedroom/ my office collecting seven daily items for donations. Hopefully Lyle will get in on this with me and go through his bookshelves and closet, too.

One thing I’m thinking about: the four storage boxes in my closet containing the journals and notebooks I’ve kept since age 7, old school papers, and letters. These are the possessions I’ve never been able to part with. I’ve been through a lot of phases of letting things go in my life– living out of a backpack at certain points, a small trailer at another– but these boxes have remained a kind of anchor for me. They sat in my parents’ garage for a long time, and I’d sift through them whenever I visited. At a certain point, when we were more settled, the boxes came to Oregon with me for good.

They anchor me in time, but they’re also a weight I’ve now carried during two cross-town moves. I wonder often what it would be like if I didn’t have to cart them along when we move into what we hope will be our forever home in California. I wonder what value they will have for my children, whom I hope will outlive me, and if I’d be doing them a favor by culling the collection a little bit. Or maybe it’s the kind of thing you let go of slowly, a piece at a time, as the years go by.

I’m thinking I will schedule a few hours in the coming weeks to go through one box at a time, and see if there’s anything that can go, or anything I’d rather scan onto a hard drive for safekeeping. I suspect many of my childhood poetry journals are mostly blank pages, and I might be able to copy and combine some of the original poem drafts into one folder.

Tomorrow we’re going to tackle the shed once again. We’ve decided to pare down to one stroller, so we’re letting go of our bulky jogger. (Let’s face it– I’ve never been much of a runner anyway.) I’m hopeful this can be our final organizing session, that we can store what we use most often in the shed so that our items are easily accessible and securely stored. So that everything has a place.

Day 5

Our shed is so clear and open now. It feels much safer, and it didn’t take as long as we had imagined. We cleared out the stroller, a push-scooter that no longer functions, and a baby hiking backpack we bought for $10 at a thrift store. After several hikes with Sky, we’ve determined that for our pace, a regular soft-structured carrier like the Ergo, in backpack-carry mode, is juuuust fine for us. The REI external frame carrier was kind of overkill for us, overly heavy and bulky for the short hikes we typically do.

We cleared away a lot of miscellaneous detritus (wood scraps, plastic pots, a broken kiddie pool) and stored only our most-used items in bins on the back shelf: folding chairs up top, sharp barbecue and gardening tools on the second shelf, and Sky’s extra sand and pool toys in a big blue bin on the bottom shelf. We kept our camp stove and propane there, too, for emergencies, and strapped the push-mower and scoot bike to the wall on one side.

The result: I can actually push the stroller all the way inside the shed. Without running into things, scraping my finger, and cursing. Without shoving the door shut and padlocking it. It feels really great. I’m looking forward to doing the same with our office/craft/guest room closet– the other black hole of where-do-we-put-this-I-don’t-know-just-shove-it-in-there-for-now.

I appreciated this short article in Christianity Today on the appeal of the minimalist movement, because I’ve been slightly wary of the trend for various reasons. My perfectionist nature has led me to try to pare down my belongings to the minimum at many, many different times in my life– only to see them balloon again as I move onto new projects or phases of life that (seem to?) require different tools or clothing.

For a lot of us who grow up in the relative wealth and privilege that is life in the U.S., I think there’s a kind of “anorexia of stuff” that can be dangerous, whether it’s the capsule wardrobe or a Kon Mari decluttering frenzy. What I mean is: anxiety can be the driving force, leading me to pursue a non-existent ideal based on an unrealistic self-image. I get into dangerous territory when I declutter in the mistaken belief that it will give me lasting happiness and a sense of worthiness– when there’s much deeper, more complex soul work to be done instead.

CT writer Kate Shellnutt writes:

But treating any lifestyle change as the real key to happiness usually means idols are lurking underneath. As writer Pamela Druckerman recently noted in The New York Times, “It’s consoling to think that, beneath all these distractions, we’ll discover our shining, authentic selves, or even achieve a state of ‘mindfulness.’ But I doubt it. I’m starting to suspect that the joy of ditching all of our stuff is just as illusory as the joy of acquiring it all was.”

Day 14

Sky got a tummy bug, I left for a long weekend work-ish trip, and then had tons of deadlines in a row. Plus, pregnancy. So. Here’s my catch-up summary.

I never got to sorting through the boxes of journals in my closet. But I did go through the bins in our office/guest room closet and ended up with a large box of giveaway items, including books, clothes, toys, shelving and frames we never used, an unused and very old digital camera, and a straightening iron. Then I moved the two shelves of books that belong to Lyle and me from the living room to the office. When we did the Kon Mari purge last year, we each drastically reduced our permanent “libraries.” But it doesn’t make much sense to store these little-read books in the living/dining room, which is where Sky and I do pretty much everything– painting, art projects, playing, dancing, reading, etc. I moved all of her craft supplies to the book shelf, so now when she’s clamoring to paint I don’t have to run to the closet and rifle around for paper and paint brushes.

I also reorganized her closet with accessible toys, since during these last two weeks we developed a more consistent wake-up routine for her that involves independent play in her room if she wakes up too early. (Which is most days.) We had tried to put a latch on the closet to keep her from getting into the bins of clothes she’s either growing out of or into. But she figured out how to unlatch it (clever girl) and really, I figure her closet should be a safely-organized space she can access by herself anyway.

That means I have bins of outgrown clothes and too-big shoes to store somewhere, so I’m on the hunt for another under-bed storage bin. We have one under our bed for winter clothes she’s about to grow into.

Finally, I cleaned out the secretary desk in the office and moved all of my sewing supplies there. As I begin the 3rd trimester, I’m having pretty serious nesting urges, including lots of ideas for sewing projects. I want to make Sky a blanket, some fun overalls, a firefighter outfit, and a doll. We’ll see if I manage all of that, but hopefully having one central station for everything will make it more appealing to drag everything out to the kitchen table to work. One day I’d like to have a dedicated sewing space, but for now, I’m happy just to have all my supplies in one easy-access spot.

Thoughts overall: This is much more challenging to take on during pregnancy than I had imagined. I also started writing for Red Tricycle, and between the demands of parenting and my other freelance work, I’m pretty wiped out by the end of the day. I’m glad I did the bulk of our cleaning/organizing work earlier in the 1st & 2nd trimesters.

How is all of this affecting me spiritually? It feels pretty practical at this point. I do have an increased sense of how little we truly need to be happy, and more awareness of my urge to “buy” us out of a problem by purchasing something. Even though this isn’t the spending portion of the challenge, it goes hand in hand with possessions. I’ve been reading Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s book God’s Economy, and it’s blowing my mind. Hopefully I will have more thoughts on that to share with you soon, but for now I’m just soaking it in. Pick up a copy if you get a chance.

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Fall Fun and a Simplified Holiday Bucket List

I’m thinking a lot about quality time with Sky as I head toward the last month of this pregnancy. We made some fun memories during the ever-so-brief but beautiful window of time called Fall in the Pacific Northwest. After a blistering summer with many days of wildfire smoke, the easy blue skies, golden leaves, and crisp weather of October and November felt like such a tremendous blessing. We were thrilled to be outdoors whenever we could.

Building on our summer bucket list, we created another short list of things we wanted to do before the weather turned wet and the days grew even shorter. Here are some of the fun things we did together as a family.

Mushroom Hunt— Lyle was an avid mushroom forager when we met in Santa Cruz, and one of the many reasons we were drawn to the Pacific Northwest was the potential for foraging. With a small business to run and a family to look after now, though, it hasn’t been as easy to make the time it really takes to get to know the good spots. That takes many reconnaissance missions, plus relationship-building with other fungophiles. With Sky in tow, we definitely hike at the slow pace needed to spot mushrooms, but we can’t cover nearly as much ground or do the same level of bushwhacking. But it was still fun to venture out into new trails just over the river in Vancouver. We spent a wet afternoon exploring a short loop with Sky. She tried out her rain boots in the many mud puddles and got completely soaked. (Turns out used Bogs aren’t nearly as waterproof as they should be, word to the wise.)

Family Zoo Day— So fun! We picked the perfect day, a crisp sunny Wednesday morning when the crowds were thin and the animals were just waking up. Two hours went by in a flash. Sky could have definitely stayed longer but I didn’t want to push her nap time too late and Lyle needed to head to work. We loved seeing the elephants, lions, and giraffes the best. Sky was so much more engaged and interested than the last time we went. My parents gave us a family membership for Christmas and I’m looking forward to the return of warmer weather this spring so we can make it a regular activity.

Hike Shellburg Falls— I’m so glad we did this hike. Despite a rough start (Sky just did not want to be in the car), we all managed to enjoy the long meander through pasture to the forest. Sky liked using her hiking stick and running ahead of us on the trail. We put her in the backpack carrier for the winding trail up to the falls, though, where the edges get steep and slippery. The falls were really beautiful and we even had them to ourselves for a little while.

Pumpkin Patch— We headed east this time, and I’m so glad we did. Last year’s trek to Sauvie Island ended with a two-hour traffic jam on the way home. We hit the crowds and the weather just right this year, with a deluge starting just as we climbed in our car to head home with three giant pumpkins. We pet goats, had donuts and cider, and picked out pumpkins. I even rode one of those barrel/tractor rides with Sky. It felt extra bumpy while pregnant, but baby stayed in.

Carve Pumpkins— Sky was much more interested and involved this year. She was impressed with the seeds and “guts.” We were a little too eager with our timing, though, because all three pumpkins ended up rotting well before Halloween. We ended up composting them and picking up one small pumpkin at the grocery store to carve just before the trick-or-treaters arrived. Lyle and I both grew up in relatively dry California towns and it still surprises us how quickly the rain and humidity here can hasten the decomposition process. And last, we went to the same toddler halloween party as last year. She was the oldest one this year, but she still had fun. And all in all, we got a lot of use out of her her firefighter costume.

The one thing we still didn’t get around to: a day trip to the coast. This was a carryover from our summer bucket list. It poured the weekend we had planned to camp near Ft Stevens with friends. Even though we had arranged to borrow my brother-in-law’s camper (thank you Bryce!), the weather was a big deterrent. Sky had a cold, I was feeling very pregnant, and the thought of hunkering down in a cramped camper with two grumpy campers while 30-40 mph winds howled outside sounded, well, pretty bad.

I miss the ocean, but I kind of don’t think it’s going to happen this winter, and that’s okay. We can go in the spring or summer with our baby boy.

Our winter bucket list is super short because pregnancy. At 35 weeks I am pretty much falling apart physically and emotionally. I need to sleep a lot, I have sandwich emergencies, and my hips/pelvis/ligaments have stopped getting along, so I’m basically a waddling, limping, crying 90-year-old woman. I’m just not very fun or portable right now.

So here’s our plan:

*Get a Christmas tree from this front yard operation in our old neighborhood. Check.

*Decorate said Christmas tree with about a dozen simple felt ornaments I was able to sew while propped up in bed, that the cat/Sky can rip off and run around with to their hearts content. Check.

*Make cookies at some point with Sky. I think we are doing this tomorrow with my two neighbor mama besties. That way the extra sugar (and associated tantrums) get shared among three toddlers and three mamas.

*Go see some lights. I think we’re skipping the zoo part of ZooLights by going to (free) Peacock lane instead, and may even drive this year.

*Do a simple nativity activity with Sky (I loved this one from Story of this Life), and read one story a night from this Advent book. So far she is loving both and it feels simple and repeatable enough to turn into a tradition. We bought a Little People nativity set that she and her brother and any other future siblings will be able to play with for years. I printed short verses in the International Children’s Bible version on BibleGateway, so it’s easy to tell the story of the birth of Jesus in language Sky can understand.

*Have a baby. After the new year, I am clearing my calendar of everything except check-ups and simple prep work like freezing muffins and getting the second car seat installed. I hit 37 weeks on Christmas and I know I will not be good for much after that point except growing this baby. We can’t wait to meet him!

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Seven series: Clothing

**This is the second in a series of posts on experimenting with reducing consumption, based on a modified version of Jen Hatmaker’s book Seven. Check out my original post on the challenge for more info.** 

The clothing challenge asks us to consider wearing the same seven items of clothing for one month, or in my case, two weeks. (Note: This doesn’t include underwear or footwear!) I’m in maternity clothes right now, trying to get by on the clothes I wore last pregnancy. I haven’t wanted to buy many more pieces at halfway through my pregnancy. Fortunately, I’ve had two close friends give me their maternity clothes after giving birth to second babies recently, and that has been so helpful.

Here’s what I ended up with for those two weeks:

  1. Gray leggings
  2. Maternity jeans Gray maxi skirt
  3. White long-sleeved maternity t-shirt
  4. White maternity sweater
  5. Denim maternity tunic
  6. Short-sleeved green polka dot maternity shirt
  7. Olive green water-resistant jacket

Day 1

We just got back from a long trip to see family, so it seems like everything is in the wash. I wear the clothes I slept in: a white maternity shirt and gray yoga leggings. Guess these are two of my items. Add an olive green water resistant coat, since the rain has officially returned. Later, Sky pees on my shirt right before we leave for story time at the library, so I swap it for a white maternity sweater. Four items: check. I think I’ll add my one pair of maternity jeans and two lightweight shirts to round out the collection. Now what am I going to sleep in tonight? I also find myself thiiiis close to buying an orange maternity t-shirt to make a baby bump pumpkin Halloween costume for myself– then remember I’m not buying clothes the next two weeks. But there’s only one left on Amazon! And it could take a few weeks to ship! And why are there no orange maternity t-shirts anywhere else online?? I can see how the justifications start. I walk away from the computer and decide I can make a ghost face just as easily on my white T, with some adhesive black felt.

Day 2

I caved (already!) and put on pajamas this morning. Jen somehow slept in her clothes during this challenge, but I think I’m going to allow myself a pair of jammies that don’t count toward the seven items. Getting dressed this morning was so easy. I put on my jeans and the green maternity shirt, threw on my boots and jacket and we were out the door to preschool. I’m definitely going to have to wash my leggings and hang them dry today.

Day 6

Today I spritzed my leggings with my DIY all-purpose kitchen cleaner (dish soap, water, rubbing alcohol, lemon essential oil) and headed to yoga class. Gross? Probably. I don’t think anyone cared. I’m going to wash my seven items today. I’ve got three social events coming up this week and I’ll be wearing the same jeans, one of three shirts, and my gray boots to each one. Getting dressed: done.

Now I see why people do capsule wardrobes. I’ve never felt like I had it together enough to adopt that practice. I like lots of different colors, and mostly shop at thrift stores, so it’s hard to make a shopping list and go out to get missing pieces in specific colors or fabrics. Plus, my body shape has changed so much in the last 3-4 years as I’ve gone through illness, pregnancy, nursing/postpartum, post-baby weight loss, pregnancy, miscarriage, and pregnancy again. Whew. It makes my head spin a little. BUT. I think I can make this happen on my own terms. I’m starting to see which of my remaining clothes I could pull into this 7 item rotation for flexibility and simplicity. I have two other pairs of gray/black maternity leggings, and that alone will be a help.

In general, though, I really like not having to think about what to put on in the morning. It is freeing up a lot of time and headspace, both very useful as I try to keep up with my toddler and new work responsibilities.

Day 8

I hate pants. Specifically maternity pants. They never stay on my hips, and I’m constantly yanking them up. After a morning of this, I give up and swap my thrifted full-panel jeans out for my gray maxi skirt. It’s completely “cheating,” but I don’t care. I never want to wear these pants again. Maybe that’s one outcome of this challenge for me: wearing my clothes often enough to see which ones really don’t fit me. The white maternity shirt is also too small for me. Out it goes.

Day 10

Feeling kind of ho-hum about this challenge. Now that I have the gray skirt in the mix, I really don’t mind rotating back and forth between the skirt and leggings. It will be nice to have more options in a few days, but I can’t say that I feel particularly bothered by wearing the same thing over and over again.

Day 12

Spoke too soon? The nonprofit I write for held a fundraiser this evening, and my husband and I went as a date night. I wore my one maternity work outfit– a pair of black pants and a loose floral top, neither on the list of seven. Guess I’m losing steam…

Day 14

Finally done! Though not exactly life-changing, this challenge did force me to recognize what I’m most comfortable in at this stage of pregnancy: leggings and a tunic, or a skirt and maternity T. And to realize I just have a couple of long shirts to wear with the many pairs of leggings I have. So, ironically, my first step after this challenge is over will be to actually buy 2-3 longish maternity tops or tunics. I can’t really justify the small laundry loads just to get more use out of a few pieces of clothing, especially when life with a toddler is so messy.

 

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Sewing Halloween Costumes

My mom made most of our Halloween costumes growing up. It was so normal for us, I never thought much about it. My mom is a talented maker in general, and she more or less taught herself to sew in the 1970s after a couple of basic home economics classes in high school.

There are all of these gorgeous pictures of her wearing handmade clothes– embroidered shift dresses, long calico and plaid hippie gowns with laced bodices and puffed sleeves– or standing beside her creations. She once made an actual couch. Not just upholstered, but like a modular tube pillow type thing that was low to the ground and weird and amazing.

When my sister and I were little, she’d ask us what we wanted to be for Halloween, and then she’d put it together.

A princess and a “flower fairy?” No problem….

My sister on the left, me on the right, circa 1988

A doll and a pink unicorn? Okee doke…

1989 (Can you tell my sister was a born actress?)

I wish I had had the good sense to sit down with her and really learn to sew before I left home. I was stubborn, impatient, and easily-frustrated, so our sewing sessions were usually short and short-tempered. I just wanted to hurry up and finish a project, which meant I didn’t see our time together in the context of skill-building.

Now that my daughter is a bit older, and I’ve muddled through various sewing projects on my own, I can really feel the gaps in my knowledge. I want to learn how to use a serger, sew a zigzag stitch, use my machine’s embroidery settings. I want to know the difference between types of thread, and which to use for which project. I want to learn to sew darts, work with elastic and seersucker, and quilt a basic baby blanket. I’ve been known to curse at my machine, a Janone Home with a really finicky bobbin loader. I only very recently sat down to actually read my machine’s manual, since my style has always been to just figure things out as I go. Turns out those things are pretty useful.

Despite my shortcomings, I managed to make Sky a firefighter costume this year.

My little firefighter, 2017.

I used a tutorial from Pinterest (which now won’t load for some reason, so I’ll update with the link later) to make a pattern from a pair of Sky’s pajama pants, then cut out firefighter pants from a scrap of brown woven cotton I had used to make Lyle a case for his iPad. I had juuuust enough for the pants, which took me four hours to sew (!).

I gunked up my machine’s needle sewing the duct-tape reflective stripes into place, and had to replace it, but otherwise it was mostly uneventful. Just slow. I used adhesive felt and a white cotton pajama shirt for the top, found an insulated firefighter raincoat at a consignment store, and a plastic hat at the Goodwill for a dollar. We put her rain boots on and she was ready to take on the big world.

We played in the leaves, went to a Halloween craft party at the library, and attended a 2-and-under costume party at a local kids’ toy store. She kept telling people she was “a fire engine for Halloween,” but I think she’s starting to catch onto the idea of costumes and dressing up. It will be interesting to see what she wants to be next year.

The elastic waist and adjustable straps make the firefighter pants easy for her to put on herself, so we’ll use them to start a dress-up clothes stash for her. And I’m hoping her baby brother will get some use out of the costume when he grows up, too.

Happy belated Halloween! Did you make a costume this year? 

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Fall Reading with my Toddler

It’s time once again for a book roundup. Here’s what Sky and I have been reading this fall.

Sky, 2 years old

If You Listen, Charlotte Zolotow

I chose this book the way I usually do when in the library with Sky: hastily, based on the amount of text on each page and the quality of the illustrations, while simultaneously making sure Sky puts books back before she takes more from the shelves. I was thinking about how much I’d like for Sky to listen to me, i.e., do what I say, and hoping this book was about being still and paying attention.

It’s actually a beautiful, moving book about grief and loss. Though the book doesn’t explicitly discuss death, it describes a mother’s response to her daughter’s question: “How can I feel someone’s love when they’re far away?” When I realized what the book was about, I was hesitant to read it to Sky. But she chose it from the book basket every time we sat down to read, and listened attentively to the words. “She miss her Daddy?” she would ask me, pointing to the little girl in the story. It’s amazing how much kids can pick up on, even when they’re this small.

Puddle, Hyewon Yum. So, I love everything we’ve read by this author/illustrator. The Twins’ Blanket, which I found at the library’s Title Wave used bookstore, quickly became one of Sky’s all-time favorites, something we’ve kept on the shelf in our living room since she was about 16 months. As I’ve discovered favorite authors in my own reading, I’ve naturally requested and read as many of their books as I could find in our library’s collection. I don’t know why it’s only just now occurring to me that I can do that for Sky, too.

Puddle is a cute little story about a mom and a little boy stuck inside on a rainy day. The little boy is complaining about the rain, and the mom invites him to come draw with her. Together, they draw scenes of what it might be like to take a walk in the rain, taking turns “splashing” each other in the imaginary puddles with colored-pencil rain. Eventually, the pictures convince the little boy that taking a real puddle walk might be okay. Sky loves puddles, and puddle walks, and colored pencils, so needless to say, this was a big hit.

Blueberries for Sal (Audiobook), Robert McCloskey

I’ve been reading up on homeschooling options for Sky (see my book picks below), following a really informative education overview on the Coffee + Crumbs Podcast (“Mama’s Getting Schooled,” September 19, 2017). I’m investigating the Charlotte Mason style of homeschooling, and one thing that struck me is the level of reading material many Charlotte Mason homeschool parents choose for their children.

One mom wrote about playing audiobooks for her children as a way to give herself a break during a hands-on school day. I decided to try this one out, and I was really surprised by how much Sky responded to it. It’s wordier and slower than many of the books we read, and the pictures are simple– but she really loved listening to the tape and turning the pages on cue. We listened to it quite a bit as the weather turned rainy. I like how an audiobook is not quite a book, and not quite a tape. As a reading experience, it’s somewhere between watching an episode of Daniel Tiger and a cozy read with mom on the couch– I get a bit of a break to relax and listen with her, but we’re not dipping into our daily screen time allotment.

Frog and Toad are Friends, Arnold Lobel

In the same vein, I checked out this old favorite even though it’s geared much older kids than Sky. She always seems to gravitate toward the “I Can Read” bookshelf at the library, so I let her pick one out from the Frog & Toad series and carry it to the checkout herself. She felt very proud of herself, and again I’ve been surprised by her focus when we read these. We even brought it along to urgent care one weekend when her persistent cough got scary-worse and our doctor’s office was closed. She sat still through two or three “chapters,” though she definitely liked the one about Toad’s bathing suit the best.

 

My Body! What I Say Goes, Jayneen Sanders

I follow “A Mighty Girl” on Facebook and I always love their topical roundups on teaching kids about tough subjects like racism, war, and personal boundaries. Sky has been asking me lots of questions about my body and hers as the baby grows and my stomach gets rounder. I wanted to find something to read with her to help explain private parts, and how to trust your feelings when someone is asking you to do something with your body that you don’t want to do– even giving hugs to a new grown-up friend of mommy or daddy’s. Especially in light of sexual assault awareness month and the #metoo campaign, I want to start talking with her about her right to her own body in regular, daily conversations, and so far this book is helping us do that.

Books! Books! Storytime Singalong Vol. 1, Emily Arrow

Okay, this was a CD we checked out from the library, not a book, but since it’s about books and since I have listened to it by myself in the car when Sky was home with her daddy, I figured it was worth including here. Kids’ music you actually like to listen to?! Sort of a rare gem. My favorite tracks are “The Dot Song,” about making your mark as an artist and making it “matter,” and “Are We There, Yeti?” a funny song about whining in the car. It makes Sky laugh. (I mean really, how cute is this lady?)

 

Melissa, 30 something

Saints for All Occasions, J. Courtney Sullivan

I put this on my TBR list early this summer when it was mentioned ever-so-briefly in an NPR interview as the “sleeper” novel of the year (or something like that.) I wrote the title down on a receipt in the sticky center consul of my car before running into Dollar Tree. I carried that receipt around in my pocket and then wallet for a while until I remembered to place a hold on it at the library, and then it took about three months to rise up the impressive wait list– I guess others heard the same interview clip. ANYway, point being: this book was well worth the wait. I finished it in a few days and even now, the characters are still fresh in my mind and I kind of miss them. (I can only say that about one other novel, The Brothers Karamazov, which I used to read every summer, pre-kids.) I liked it so much I checked out and devoured her earlier novel The Engagements, which is a linked novel about the evolution of the ad campaign for diamond engagement rings. Educational and thought-provoking and very entertaining. Excited to read through her backlist.

Reading People: How Seeing People Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, Ann Bogel

This one was mentioned on a blog I follow, and sounded right up my alley. It’s a survey of personality types through various popular methods: Meyers Briggs, Enneagram, Strengthsfinder, and the like. I’ve always known and struggled with the fact that I’m an introvert, and earlier this year as I was preparing to launch my freelance grant-writing business, I took an official Meyers-Briggs test to confirm it. I came out pretty solidly INFJ, and reading through the author’s description in Reading People only reaffirmed it. Ann Bogel’s description of the spectrum of introversion and extroversion also helped me see how my nature is something I can work with, rather than something to hide or feel ashamed of. I was also interested in the chapter on Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) and Highly Sensitive Children (HSCs), something I hadn’t heard of. I saw myself pretty clearly in the HSP camp, and there were several parts of the descriptor for HSCs that struck me as fitting for Sky, too– though I’d say it’s still too early to know for sure, since 2-year-olds in general can be pretty sensitive people. I appreciate how Bogel presents each method using stories and examples from her own life, and then offers resources for learning more. This was an engaging read for a subject that could easily become overwhelming or dull.

Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long, David Rock

Not sure what it says about my brain right now that this took me FOREVER to read, and that I didn’t quite finish it before it was really overdue at the library. Sigh. Nevertheless, I did glean some strategies for working more efficiently by understanding a teeny bit of neuroscience, and so I’m including it in this list as a worthy read. Returning to work, even the moderate 5 hours a week I’m doing right now, has brought up a lot of old baggage and anxiety for me. I’ve noticed myself struggling with some powerful feelings of unworthiness, even though I know intellectually that my academic training and years of experience in education and writing have prepared me for exactly this kind of work. David Rock’s book helped me look at the triggers that might send me down this anxiety spiral. Like Bogel, he uses stories to illustrate concepts. Each chapter starts with a work scenario that did not go so well, unpacks the neuroscience behind it, then recasts the same scenario using simple, alternative strategies. Some of them will be familiar (take a walk or do the dishes to clear your mind, schedule prioritizing tasks first-thing) and others might surprise you.

The Well-Adjusted Child: The Social Benefits of Homeschooling, Rachel Gathercole

This is the first book I picked up on homeschooling because it focuses on what is apparently THE question homeschoolers hear from the curious and the skeptical: “Yeah, but how will your kid get any social time?” I’ll place myself firmly in the curious camp, because I know a handful of families who homeschool and what they do seems pretty creative, varied, challenging, and FUN. Nevertheless, I’ve often wondered how homeschooling might impact a child’s social development, because the only experience I know first-hand has been “traditional” public schooling– something that’s really not so traditional at all, as it turns out. This book is somewhat academic in style. It parses out each element of the “socializing” question through definitions, studies, and lengthy excerpts from interviews with homeschooling children and parents. But it’s definitely approachable and readable, and it really challenged my preconceptions about how normal public schooling really is– and if we should use it as a healthy standard when it comes to raising well-adjusted kids.

The Homegrown Preschooler: Teaching your Kids in the Places They Live, Kathy Lee and Lesli Richards

This book is inspiring and fun to read, with lots of color photos and activity ideas for teaching preschoolers at home. In tandem with the more scholarly style of the book above, it’s getting me pretty excited about planning a homeschool curricula for Sky when she turns three next summer. There’s also a helpful website, The Homegrown Preschooler, with more articles, ideas, and resources for homeschooling the littlest learners.

 

Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend, Kim Frederickson

Another read inspired by one of my favorite podcasts, my friend Sarah’s Beautiful Brave. I wrote a post earlier this year about having trouble finding ANY books on self-compassion in the Christian tradition. At least two other writers must have been thinking the same thing, because two awesome books on the topic came out in 2017: Catherine McNiel’s Long Days of Small Things, and this book. Anyone who’s read Brene Brown’s work on shame understands the importance of recognizing the impact of negative self-talk– and yet the actual practice of working with what Frederickson calls the “inner critic” can be mysterious, even frustrating. I’ve read a lot about self-compassion and I STILL have trouble actually doing the simple mindfulness exercises well-known writers like Kristen Neff and Tara Brach describe. I loved McNiel’s and Frederickson’s books for that reason: they show you how you can practice mindfulness and self-compassion as a mother of small children. I like Frederickson’s no-nonsense style and the simple, doable exercises she describes. Excited to read her parenting-themed sequel, Give Your Kids a Break, next.

I also think I’m going to be ready for a thick stack of novels after this fall’s heavy non-fiction list.

What are your favorite reads from this fall? What novels should I check out as we head into winter?

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