4 Small Routine Tweaks that Are Saving My Family

New routines freak me out. It takes forever for me to adjust to change, so I avoid it at all costs . . . to the point where I’ll blunder around in routine-less no-man’s-land for months rather than commit to a schedule I may not like.

That routineless life is what I’ve been living for more than a year. You can hear in this podcast episode how unstructured my days were. I thought I was being flexible, making it easier to change things up depending on what the kids needed. In reality, I was creating more stress for myself and leaving my kids feeling untethered in their days.

The addition of a third baby plus having my oldest in full-day preschool a few days a week has made it glaringly clear that the status quo is broken. No longer can I drift through my days and expect for everyone to be happy by the time evening rolls around.

I’ve spent the last few weeks reluctantly tweaking our routines. Surprise, surprise! The positive results were almost instantaneous. Here, for routine lovers and haters alike, are the four tiny changes that have made all the difference in my family’s routines.

1. Monthly grocery delivery

Grocery delivery is one of my saving graces as a mom, but in the past I’ve used it as a luxury service rather than part of our shopping routine. Sick kids? Snowstorm? Two weeks away from delivering a baby? Bring on the grocery delivery. Just your average Wednesday? I’d tell myself there was no reason I couldn’t get groceries on my own.

But really, the alternative of loading up three kids and dragging them around the grocery store is totally a reason to use a regular delivery service. In my head, grocery shopping only took an hour. In reality, it wasted an entire day because we were all so crabby and off-kilter by the time we got home. Now I pay the delivery fee for our big shopping trip once a month, and I make a quick Trader Joe’s run by myself once a week for produce and other odds and ends.

2. On-time dinner

It shouldn’t be rocket science that eating dinner on time is better than eating dinner late, but that just goes to show how much I was bogged down by my “flexible” daily schedule.

I used to start dinner at 4:30 because I thought one hour should be plenty of time to get most meals on the table. But that math doesn’t take into account the many times I’ll be interrupted by various kid demands, nor the reality that dinner has been served at 6:00 or later most nights since the new baby was born. With a kid bedtime of 7:00, there just wasn’t enough time for a relaxing evening routine. Every night ended in tears and shouting.

The solution is an easy one, and I’m not sure why I resisted it for so long. I now start dinner at 3:30 and we eat between 5:00 and 5:30. Seeing those times written out kind of kills me, but I’ve learned that no matter how productive I think I’ll be during those two hours, I never do anything other than waste time. I’m better off taking forever to cook on-time dinner than rush to make late dinner.

This adjustment has completely changed our evenings in ways I hadn’t expected. The kids aren’t crabby when we eat because they’re not starving. There’s less rush to get through bedtime stories. And my favorite, we have time to clean the kitchen as a family after dinner rather than my husband and I facing it alone after the kids go to bed.

3. Late-afternoon kid yoga

There has been much angst over what to do with the kids while I cook. We have a small galley kitchen that always leaves me tripping over them or being terrified they’re going to get splattered by something hot on the stove. I tried making this their TV time, but the toddler is still more interested in me than Daniel Tiger—flattering, but not helpful.

That’s when I got the bright idea to turn on a yoga video for the kids while I cook. There’s definitely no meditating happening there, but it keeps both girls busy so I can cook. By the time we sit down to eat (on time!), they’re relaxed and happy because they got the “special treat” of a YouTube video. Also, they’re not traumatized by their mother screaming at them to get the heck out of her kitchen.

4. Early morning silence

This is the change I’ve been most resistant to. For the four years I’ve been a mother, I’ve proudly flaunted my status as someone who sleeps in until my kids wake me up. I had a lot of reasons for this, not least of all that I have high sleep needs and none of our kids (so far) have slept through the night until their first birthday.

It turns out three kids is my breaking point for a lot of things: getting everyone ready simultaneously, getting any work at all done during the day, finding two minutes to read in peace. And so, the early morning ritual so many women swear by has become part of my routine, too.

This is less of a routine and more of a commitment to start my days well, even though that looks different depending on the day. Nearly all mornings begin with a few minutes of quiet time. Some start at 4 or 5 a.m., usually the days where I need to get some work done. On others I’ll “sleep in” until 6, leaving just enough time to get myself ready and read a chapter or two before the kids get up.

Where to go from here

These routines aren’t set in stone, and there are still quite a few things that need adjusting before I’ll feel like we’re truly in a good rhythm. Areas that could still use some more structure include exercise, regular child care, budgeting and bill paying, daily quiet time with the kids, and weekly meal planning.

Overall, though, things are better than they were. That feels like the best I can ask for with three tiny children at my heels all day long.

Are there any routines you love? Any small changes that have made a big difference? Let me know in the comments!

Speaking Books into Life

I used to read out loud to my mom. I was ten, or maybe twelve. The Harry Potter books had become an obsession for me. Was Snape good or bad? Could Dumbledore keep everyone safe now that Voldemort had returned? Would Harry beat Malfoy in the next Quidditch match? These were the questions that consumed my brain, and I had no one to discuss them with.

My mom isn't much of a reader. Despite my badgering, I could never get her on board with reading thousands of pages of books meant for children. So when she was trapped in the car with me, usually on our way to my grandma's house for coffee each Sunday morning, I'd read them to her. 

She liked them. Loved them, actually. Soon every Target run was a chance to squeeze in a few more pages. I started doing voices and speaking in a British accent. (My utter lack of theater skills mean this was every bit as embarrassing as it sounds.) 

I introduced my mom to the magic of Harry one 10-minute car ride at a time. I had successfully shared a story that mattered to me with someone else, and I was ecstatic. 


I can't remember how many books we got through before I stopped reading to her. Did we quit after the massive tome that was Goblet of Fire? Did the ritual end once I got my first boyfriend and started riding everywhere in the passenger seat of his Chevy Cavalier instead of with my parents? Deathly Hallows came out when I was 17, and I'm sure I wasn't still reading out loud by then. 

Did my mom finish the books on her own, waiting until I had raced through each new release in less than a day so she could borrow my copy? Or did she just watch the movies once I stopped reading out loud? 

The details I can't remember are startling. I'm not even 30. This wasn't that long ago. But up until a few years ago, I'd forgotten that we used to read Harry together at all. 

Then my oldest daughter, Hadley, was born. Everyone tells you that reading to babies is good for them, but babies don't have much of an opinion about which books you pick. I took full advantage of this.

We were a few chapters into Sorcerer's Stone when I started having deja vu. Had I done this before? By the end of the first book, I remembered my car readings with my mom. By book two, my non-reader husband was listening in. I was once again sharing the story with someone who would otherwise never have known its magic.


Hadley is nearly four now, and old enough to be freaked out by things like an evil giant snake living in school walls. We made it through Goblet of Fire and her first 18 months of life before I decided it was time to shelve Harry for the time being. 

Now there are the Dr. Seuss books to hold her attention with their neverending rhymes, and Go Dog, Go with that horribly rude yellow dog who never likes the poor poodle's hat. Hadley has opinions about her books now, and the ones she most wants to hear are often the most tedious to read. 

It's hard to bond over phonics and early-reader books. I want to share a story with my kids. But stories, real stories, seem to be in a short supply for the under-five crowd. So I do what I've always done, ever since I was a 12-year-old tearing through Gone with the Wind and tackling my first Kingsolver: I read up to them.

The trick is to find books with pictures and a good story. Not too long—attention spans are still short. Hidden messages and strong values are always a plus, as are gorgeous illustrations. These books will likely have tearable pages and dust jackets, and the two-year-old will gradually destroy them. But that's okay; the story is just as good with some tattered edges. 

These books have been hard to come by. Bloom is one, What Do You Do with an Idea? another. And now there's a new addition to our bedtime rotation, another worthwhile story to fit in between sessions of Cat in the Hat.

The Golden Dress by L. L. Barkat checks all the boxes for me.

There's whimsy and magic, a beautiful dress any girl would adore brought to life with illustrations so gorgeous, I can't even put words to them. There's a truth-telling raven I'll 100% be using as a gateway into Poe someday. There's a dedication to all those who love fairy tales, which had me sold before I even got past the title page. There's an impressive use of vocabulary, which I appreciate in kids' books because it encourages research and curiosity. (I had to look up the word lissome, myself.)

And most of all, there's a mother and her daughter. A mother's heart laid bare in the seams of a dress, a daughter's slow understanding. This isn't a book that teaches manners or how to use the potty or a million other important little lessons we beat into our children's heads day and night.

The Golden Dress accomplishes something far more difficult: it's a story that shines truth.

I have read to my mother. Now I read to my daughters and, when he's older, my son. With every word I'm speaking stories into life, hoping that with enough rereads, the most important of our bedtime stories will stick in a beloved childhood memory somewhere. 

And if they don't stick, if they fade and wear away like mine almost did, maybe those words I read over and over again will have stacked up, layer upon layer, into the sturdy foundation that makes a child into a lover of stories.

 I received a free copy of The Golden Dress from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

See Mom Write

"How do you make time to write with kids?"

Like this. 


May 23, 2018 

3:30 p.m. One kid is complaining of boredom, one kid is unfolding my laundry, and the baby is sleeping.

The ants were here before the kids were. They came with the house, which is built on a hill held up by block retaining walls. It's a veritable ant heaven. 

3:42 p.m.. The children are now leaning over the arm of the couch, peering at my writing and asking why I haven't started dinner because if I don't start soon, they'll surely starve.

That first year, the ants came streaming through the back door in a tidy line. I kept vigil at the kitchen table, looking up from my freelance work every few minutes to suck them into the handheld vacuum we'd been gifted for our wedding just a few months earlier. 

3:49 p.m. Baby is awake and toddler is throwing modeling clay at me. Time to give up for today?

May 24, 2018

9:20 p.m. Finally alone in the quiet . . . never mind. Husband just sat down and turned on TV. Will try to write anyway.

Back then, seeing the ants offended me on a personal level. Who were these tiny things to imply by their very presence that my house wasn't clean? I spent an entire afternoon hovering near the back door with the vacuum. No one could say I wasn't devoted to cleanliness. 

9:35 p.m. I don't like this. Is writing about ants stupid? Yes, yes it is. I'm going to knit instead. 

May 29, 2018

9:25 a.m. Literally watching the ants crawl by as I write this.

They appear in the center of the living room like our faded Target rug is hiding a vortex directly to the nearest anthill. "The sucker," as Hadley calls it, has become a permanent fixture in the room so that anyone sitting on the couch has only to lean over and push the button when they spot a crumb mysteriously walking across the floor of its own accord.

9:33 a.m. Paused for diaper change

It's a losing battle with the kids around. We Roomba daily, I sweep after each meal, and we've tightened up the rule that we only eat at the table. But still, the ants are marching on, and I'm losing my patience.

June 2, 2018

10:21 a.m. What am I trying to say with the ant essay? Maybe I can [This sentence unintentionally left unfinished. No idea what I meant to say.]

8:57 p.m. Just finished nursing the baby. He's not sleeping quite yet, but hopefully soon?

So when I spotted a steady line of ants tromping across the rug and disappearing between the coffee table and couch, I assumed one of the kids had snuck away from the kitchen to enjoy an illegal cracker or granola bar. I grabbed the vacuum, already mentally preparing the speech I'd make to the kids about how, no seriously, DO NOT EAT FOOD IN THE LIVING ROOM.

I followed the line of ants and discovered . . . a piece of popcorn from the bowl my husband and I had shared the night before, after the kids went to bed.

My mental rant died in my head.

Isn't that always the way it is with kids? I think things are their fault, that they're somehow interfering with my progress, when in reality the problem was me all along.

June 3, 2018

Have I written about ants before? I have deja vu. 

[Flip back to the beginning of the journal.] Oh, here it is. I have tried to write this before.


May 20, 2017

5:02 p.m. Cooking dinner

Sugar ants exist to make you think you're insane. Their tiny, gross little insect bodies blend with everything so that you only catch glimpses of them out of the corner of your eye while you're otherwise occupied, bent over the open oven door with your hands full of a piping hot 9x13 Pyrex. 

Do you sacrifice dinner to kill two ants? No. But it's tempting. 

Instead, slam the casserole on the stove, ditch the oven mitts, lunge toward the vacuum plugged in in the corner. But by then the ant is invisible again, marching merrily out to tell his friends about this great floor with all the toast crumbs on it. 

May 21, 2017

8:22 p.m. Kids are finally (finally!) sleeping. Is today's ant incident a better story than yesterday's?

I put "spray ant stuff" on my to-do list a week ago where it remained the only item not crossed off the list, taunting me from the fridge door. I figured I'd get to it. It stayed there for a week like a battle cry. And then, the rain came. Our ants always mobilize in the rain.

I should have seen them coming. I've lived here long enough to know their patterns. Instead, they caught me off guard in the bathroom. I was perched on the edge of the tub, once again waiting tedious minutes to tick by while Hadley's bladder weighed the pros and cons of going tinkle in the big-girl potty. 

8:37 p.m. Hadley is up requesting water. What have I done to deserve this slow torture of children not going the heck to bed?!

Reagan crawled in during our potty-training session and immediately took interest in some tiny speck on the floor that was surely a choking hazard.

But no, it was an ant. My nine-month-old was chasing a sugar ant across the bathroom floor. The bathroom! They've never breached the bathroom before. This isn't good.

I scooped the baby up and deposited her in the hall so I could investigate and round up my poisons of choice. Where there is one, there are many.

8:51 p.m. Too dramatic for ants? What's the point of all this anyway, other than that I can't remember the last time I washed the bathroom floor?

May 26, 2017

10:00 a.m. Kids are at Nana's. Blessed silence. I should be working. Or at the very least cleaning my house so these damn ants go away. Where am I going with this? Try a new angle.

I've never been one of those people who doesn't believe in killing ants. Sure, they're God's creatures (say the Christians) and it's bad karma (say the Buddhists) and who are we to take a life out of the universe (say the New Agers)? 

No one. I am no one. But ever since childhood, I've gone out of my way to step on ants. I guess that makes them angry or something, and word gets around the anthill eventually.

So now they are here in my house, and it's war. I'll turn a blind eye to our friendly spider colony, but never the ants. 

I've battled them ever since our first summer in this house. They came streaming through the back door like I'd issued an invitation. I'd sit at the kitchen table, glancing up from whichever manuscript I was editing to suck up the whole line of them every few minutes. 

10:18 p.m. Resuming while watching a bad movie

I tried everything: cans of poison that kill on contact, sprays that are deemed safe for kids and pets after it dries, and granules you shake out of a bag that claim to create "an unbreakable bug barrier." I hid the non-slip shoes I wore to work at the coffee shop, the ones with the layer of sticky flavor syrups adhered across the top. 

None of it mattered.

10:34 p.m. I'm so tired. Is this why everyone tells you to do important work in the mornings? 

May 28, 2017

1:40 p.m. I think I'm giving up on the ant thing. Are they a metaphor for something? Doesn't seem worth going after whatever thread this is anymore.


June 4, 2018

11:08 a.m. Rescued an old journal from my crayon-wielding toddler. I'll flip through just for fun.

May 27, 2016

8:40 p.m. 

There's a pineapple on the table, my hands are too clammy to knit, and the ants. are. back. 

I should write about those stupid things.


June 4, 2018

Two years. I've been writing about the ants for more than TWO YEARS?! That's it. I'm done. This ends here.


June 5, 2018

8:17 p.m. Outside. Typing quickly in the hopes that this years-long essay will actually get written before the baby wakes up. Husband is trying to talk with me, like reasonable married people would. I'm half-listening, trying not to be annoyed because I'm this. close. to. finishing.

If you've read anything I've written in the past four years, this is probably how it came to be. 

How do I make time to write?

I really don't. But this is the best I have to offer, and you can't stop me from trying.

 

5 Good Things that Happened When I Gave Up Podcasts

For the first time as an adult, I made a conscious decision to give something up and take something up for Lent. I spent the 40 days before Easter setting aside the endless chatter of podcasts and taking up the spiritual practice of contemplative prayer.

(And no, the irony of being a podcast host who gave up listening to podcasts isn't lost on me.)

I've been listening to podcasts since way before they were a thing (circa 2010), but things really kicked up a notch in 2014. This was both the year Hadley was born and the time that podcasts started becoming more mainstream.

Transitioning into motherhood was tough for me. Hadley wasn't the world's easiest baby, and my emotions were all over the place. I felt like I'd lost myself as a person for much of her first year.

Podcasts filled a void for me during those early days with a baby. They gave me a hands-free way to stay connected to the outside world, to remember the things I was interested in as a person. If I'm being honest? On my worst days, I used podcasts to escape from the real, hard work of taking care of a baby.

Eventually that tough season ended and I adjusted to motherhood, then adjusted again when Reagan was born. But the podcasts never left. I listened to them more than ever, particularly business podcasts. With two kids and no child care, I was drowning in work and unwilling to step back from the career I'd worked so hard to build.

Listening to business podcasts was a way to feel like I was "working" even when I wasn't. They gave me a twisted hope that I could keep building and growing in an area where I was already stretched too thin.

I eventually got smart enough to realize that business podcasts weren't healthy for me anymore, and I cut them out of my feed last summer . . . only to replace them with even more shows, particularly those about motherhood and running a household. 


Is it clear yet that I don't know when I've taken a good thing too far? 

I entered this Lenten season feeling frantic. I'd cut back on work, so why was life still crazy? Why was I still snapping at my kids all the time and never feeling like I had a chance to sit down? 

My constant podcast listening was a huge factor. It's like I thought that listening to other moms talk about raising their kids counted toward me mothering my kids . . . when in reality, I was ignoring them.

It's one thing to have a podcast to keep you sane when you're nursing a baby for the millionth time in a day. It's another when that baby is suddenly a preschooler with her own thoughts and ideas and questions about the world.

My kids are now at an age where they don't just need me to keep them alive, they need me: my focus, my energy, my time. 

These things are hard for me to give, and for too long I've been using podcasts as a barrier between myself and the messy day-to-day with young kids. The result is that I've unintentionally been sending the message "I don't want to talk to you" to these little people in my care.

With all that in mind, I shouldn't be surprised that giving up podcasts brought an immediate change to our family. These are just some of the good things that have come from a Lent without podcasts.

1. We listen to more music.

Music doesn't demand as much space as a podcast. It feels like another way to infuse our day with art, and the kids love it. Now there are Disney music dance parties, shuffling around the kitchen to old country songs while we make dinner, and soothing piano tunes to calm the kids when they're getting rambunctious. Where podcasting was a solitary activity I was trying to cram where it didn't belong, music connects us and sets the mood throughout the day.

2. I have fewer ideas and more clarity.

Having fewer ideas is 100% a good thing for me. I've always been an idea person. If I'm not careful, I'll end up chasing projects that aren't right for me and getting distracted from what actually matters. Podcasts fed into that in a big way as I listened to the innovating things other moms and entrepreneurs were making time for. How could I not have a million ideas when I spent all day listening to other people talk passionately about the crazy dreams they were bringing to life?

But those million ideas weren't all meant for me. My brain was working in overdrive trying to think through the logistics of things that shouldn't have even been on my radar. I've had markedly fewer ideas since giving up podcasts, but the ones I have had have been more focused and aligned with what I actually want from life.

3. I'm more efficient.

Listening to a podcast can be a great way to make chores more fun, but it's still multitasking. Cutting out podcasts made me realize that I'd been subconsciously folding clothes more slowly so I could hear more of my episode before turning it off, or reading a recipe three times because I wasn't really paying attention. I still let myself indulge in an episode here and there when I clean the house, but now I'm aware that music is a better choice if I really need to get things done.

4. I'm a better mom.

It's annoying when you're trying to focus on something and you keep getting interrupted. That was basically my entire life before I gave up podcasts. I'm so much more kind and patient with my kids when they aren't pulling me away from a podcast. It's a truth I've recognized but tried not to acknowledge for more than a year, and the reason is this: I get really bored playing with little kids, and podcasts give me a distraction. 

It's a gross thing to admit, but there it is: without podcasts, I'm more likely to actually be present when my kids need me. I don't spend that much time actively playing with my kids, so they deserve my attention when I do join them in creating a MagnaTile tower.

5. My podcast feed is more intentional.

Despite all the pros of not having podcasts around, I was more than a little excited to get back to my favorites after Easter. I took the opportunity to cull my feed and get rid of anything that was truly distracting or unhelpful in my life while seeking out new-to-me shows that are genuinely worth listening to. Here's what made the cut:

  • The Next Right Thing with Emily P. Freeman
  • The Simple Show with Tsh Oxenreider
  • The Nuanced Life with Sarah and Beth of Pantsuit Politics fame
  • Elise Gets Crafty with Elise Blaha Cripe
  • The Mom Hour with Meagan Francis and Sarah Powers
  • The Lazy Genius Podcast with Kendra Adachi

I don't have an addictive personality with things like alcohol or gambling, but give me chocolate, carbs, and podcasts and there's the very real possibility that I'll never stop. Giving up podcasts has made me more aware of how hooked I was and how to recognize the signs the next time I need another hiatus . . . before things get out of hand.

What role do podcasts play in your life? Have you ever felt like they're a gateway to consuming too much media?

When Meal Planning Saves You

This post was originally written a year ago, back when I was super optimistic about how long it would take to launch this blog. The post just seemed like it was meant for spring, so I held onto it until now---once again, the week before Easter. Nearly a full year later, the meals in this book still never fail to perk up my meal planning and remind me why we prioritize gathering around the table. 

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I hate meal planning.

Oh, I love the idea of plotting each meal nicely in it's calendar square, guiding me away from last-minute takeout and the frustration of an empty pantry. I even love it in practice: meal planning undoubtedly saves us hundreds of dollars on groceries each year, not to mention the untold frustrations of dragging two small children to Target for that block of cheese I forgot (again).

What I hate is the activity of meal planning.

There is never an hour (or even ten minutes) in which I think, "I'd like to devote this portion of my life to figuring out what my family will eat for the next seven days." Never is there a convenient time for digging through the pantry, rearranging pasta boxes and canned goods to see if we're running low on olive oil. 

And after all that, having the prophetic-like vision to combine the existing pantry goods with not-yet-purchased ingredients and make them into nourishing, well-rounded meals? Meals that fit effortlessly with the weather, our social plans, and whatever other events make their way onto our calendar? Forget about it.

Meal planning is a chore on par with scrubbing the bathroom.

Until one Sunday night, it wasn't. 

We had all been crabby and tired this particular Sunday. The toddler had meltdowns all day long. The baby kept bursting into screaming fits for no apparent reason. I accidentally fell asleep on the floor for five minutes when I took a break from folding laundry.

It was a long day, one in which we all clearly needed to hit the reset button.

The last thing I wanted to do was meal plan, but I knew I had to. It was the week before Easter. Not only did I have to round up a week's worth of dinners (including one vegetarian for Good Friday), I had to make sure I had all the ingredients on hand for the dishes we would bring to our family's Easter celebration.

Meal planning usually leads me to Pinterest, but the holiday had me reaching for printed recipes. I dug to the back of the cupboard, past the cutting board and splatter screens and muffin tins, for the cheese slicer. This is where we keep the paperclipped scraps of copy paper and post-its with my grandma's scrawling handwriting detailing the makings of our traditional family Easter Pizza. (This is the only recipe for which we use the cheese slicer, so leaving the recipe there makes sense in my head.) 

I grabbed my latest Taste of Home magazine from the basket on the fireplace hearth, hopeful that it would tell me how to make green bean casserole. Next came the mother of all cookbooks: Better Homes and Gardens. Its red-checkered cover has graced my kitchen since the day I got married, when my other grandma presented it as a wedding gift. 

And then on a whim, I picked up Eat This Poem by Nicole Gulotta and added it to the top of my pile. With my whiteboard calendar on my right and my stack of recipes on my left, I prepared to tackle the drudgery of meal planning.

But the drudgery never came. 

As I read through my grandma's handwritten recipe notes, I realized that I was sitting in complete silence for the first time in days. It was a moment that begged to be noticed, so of course, I read a poem.

I knew I would love Eat This Poem because I love the idea of marrying poetry with food. The book is a blend of life's best things: well-loved recipes and mini essays and curated poems to pair with them. (And if that appeals to you, check out the blog of the same name. It's a delight.)

Author Nicole Gulotta is a kindred spirit when it comes to poetry and writing and appreciation of good food. But I don't always share her idea of what good food looks like. She eats a largely vegetarian diet, and ours is decidedly meat based. She loves a good balsamic vinaigrette on a salad; I love Hidden Valley Ranch.

Still, we agree on the important parts: The best food is whole food, made from scratch, shared with those you love. Family recipes are sacred. Eating seasonally makes your food taste better.

I flipped through the book, devouring poetry and short essays along with recipes (many of which I know I'll never make). Soon an hour had passed , yet nary a meal had been planned. And then, Italian Beef Stew. 

This was the recipe I'd been waiting to find, the one that would fill us up on a chilly, rainy Monday. 

I added the ingredients to my list. I pulled meat to thaw from the basement freezer. I added a flag to the book.

This was meal planning as it was meant to be, savored as slowly as the meal itself. I had found connection through the line-by-line instructions of a family recipe, paired with carefully chosen poems.

Perhaps this meal planning was a failure. After all, I spent nearly two hours planning one meal. But I think it was a gift and a blessing, one I will be sure to seek out again. 

When Your Friend Writes a Book {Chasing Creative}

I don't remember the details of how I started following Callie Feyen's writing. It probably had something do with Twitter circa 2013. I do remember how we went from being occasional commenters on each other's blogs to that weird space of internet friendship: Abbie and I interviewed her in the early days of the Chasing Creative podcast. 

She spoke about writing and motherhood with more raw honesty than I'd ever heard before. She refreshingly didn't have much to say about building a platform or getting mired in the work of maintaining your personal brand. Callie was, and still is, all about the work: showing up and writing whether you feel like it or not. 

In that first interview, Callie shared a quote I will never apologize for recycling through my Twitter every few weeks:

It’s my story. Nobody is going to write it except for me.
— Callie Feyen

We had Callie on the show again in 2016. Her life had changed quite a bit since we spoke the first time, and she was going through a rough season of transition with a cross-country move and a major job transition. She didn't know where she was going yet, but she was still writing. 

So Callie took all that drive and energy, and she kept doing the hard work during hard times, and she came out on the other side with a published book.

We celebrated by having her on Chasing Creative for a third time to talk about how someone who was a little unsure, someone who has two kids and a job and not that much time to write, followed the threads of her own life and turned them into a book. 

This episode is for the ones who can't seem to find time to do the work, who aren't sure if they'll ever accomplish that big creative dream, or who are just plain worn down by the season they're in right now. (I'm raising my own hand here.) Callie will speak right to you and give you the hope and encouragement you need to keep pushing through. Listen wherever you find your podcasts or by clicking here.

The Teacher Diaries Callie Feyen

 

The Teacher Diaries: Romeo and Juliet is a series of essays on teen love and teaching Shakespeare to a group of adolescents. It debuted on Valentine's Day 2018 from T.S. Poetry Press. Grab a copy here (affiliate link).

Why I'm Giving Up Podcasts for Lent

I understand the spiritual practice of giving something up for Lent, but it's not something I've actively participated in as an adult. Either I never choose something soon enough, or I give up halfway through because my choice wasn't meaningful enough to me . . . the usual reasons I give up on setting goals or forming habits. 

(Or maybe it all points back to the arbitrariness of being encouraged to give up chocolate or pizza as a Catholic schoolchild . . . neither of which held much spiritual significance for me, but both of which made me resentful as a kid whose March birthday always falls during Lent.)

This year, though, I've been feeling unsettled. In this uncomfortable season of waiting and not knowing what's next, what I'm giving up for Lent seems to have fallen into my lap. 

And so, I'm giving up podcasts until Easter. 

The giving up

It probably seems like an odd choice, nearly as meaningless as candy. But here is what's been happening to me in increasing frequency over the past few months:

I wake up in the morning, and I scroll through my podcast playlist to see what's new. I distract myself from the chaos of getting the kids breakfast by choose one and hitting play. Hadley talks to me and I only half hear her. I tell myself it's just this once, just today, but of course it isn't. 

I get in the car and I turn on a podcast. I feel bored and I turn on a podcast. I fold laundry and I turn on a podcast. I tell the kids I'll build towers or color with them, but my mind isn't there; it's with a podcast. Reagan cries or Hadley asks a question, and I'm annoyed and impatient because they're pulling my focus away from the episode of the moment. 

In general, I think podcasts are a good thing. (Of course I do, or I wouldn't record my own.) I've culled my playlist down to include only the very best. The podcasts I listen to are filled with wisdom about creativity and writing, marriage and parenting, and Christian approaches to everything from money to business. 

The problem isn't with podcasts. The problem is with me.

In this rather stressful season, I've started relying on them in the hopes that they'll show me how to fix my life (at best) or escape from it (at worst). I've filled every moment of my day with chatter, voices that are wise but that have left no room for me to sit with my own thoughts or to notice any guiding signposts from God.

The taking up

Giving something up is the more well-known half of the Lenten practice, but the other option is to take something up (something I don't think I've attempted even once). This year, alongside giving up podcasts, I'm adding a new spiritual practice to my days:

Resting in solitude.

The idea comes from a book I read recently, The Sacred Enneagram by Christopher L. Heuertz (affiliate link). The gist of it is this: Christians need contemplative prayer in our lives as a way to draw closer to God and to become better versions of ourselves. The practice of contemplative prayer has been largely lost (though I think it still has a good foundation in Catholicism), and we need it more than ever in this age of never-ending distraction.  

I'm removing the distraction of podcasts, and I'm taking up the contemplative prayer posture Heuertz recommends for my Enneagram type, 4 (rest in solitude). 

I'm a bit skeptical about this, to be honest. How much solitude can I be reasonably expected to find as the mother of a three- and one-and-a-half-year-old? But something about it feels right, like it's a missing puzzle piece that will help me hit "reset" on so many things that have gotten out of line. 

I don't expect a huge spiritual transformation, but I'll take even the smallest baby step in the right direction. 

What are you giving up / taking up for Lent this year? 

Overcoming Things that Drag You Down

Vacuuming. Dusting. Washing dishes. Thinking of food to feed the people in your house for three meals a day . . . then actually shopping for it, cooking it, and cleaning it up. 

Just reading this makes me want to sit down and watch something mindless on Netflix while ignoring the filth in my house. But ignoring the things we don't like doing isn't a good option. It's the adult equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and singing la-las to yourself while the things that have gone undone only continue to pile up higher.

These things that drag us down in life are almost always necessary responsibilities that need to be dealt with, but they're also the things that steal our time and energy away from our creativity. Luckily, Abbie and I are masters at finding solutions (or creative ways of just NOT adulting) so we can get back to the things we actually want to spend time on.

Join us in this week's Chasing Creative episode to find out which tasks we hate dealing with most and how we overcome them. 

What are your most hated responsibilities as an adult? How do you deal with getting them done?

What's Saving My Life This Winter

We've all got those small but important things that help us keep our lives on track in different seasons. Is it too dramatic to say that those little things are saving my life? Probably. But they're definitely saving my sanity, and I have no regrets about any of these. Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy to share the small things that are saving my life this winter. 

Saving My Life Winter 18.jpg

Knitting

I'm in a season of facing a lot of big Adult Life Decisions, and it leaves me feeling fried at the end of nearly every day. A lot of things are up in the air right now, and not only does that mean lots of decision fatigue, it also means living with a mind that won't stop racing because I can't handle not knowing the future.  

It's a stressful place to be. When I don't even want to pick up a book to unwind, knitting is a strong second for keeping my hands busy and letting my anxious brain focus on something with soothing repetition. I can even use knitting to deflect some of my stress while my husband and I are debating Big Life Decision options, which is a big plus for helping me stay grounded in logic and not let my emotions take over the conversation.

Root Vegetables

We try to eat seasonally, in part because non-seasonal fruits and veggies are absurdly expensive and not great quality here in Minnesota. That means winter is all about root veggies. And they're kind of the best, aren't they?

You can put them into any sort of soup, stew, roast, or just toss them on a sheet pan in the oven. Kids will eat them. They last for-ev-er. Winter dinners almost can't go wrong, and it's all thanks to carrots and potatoes.

Homemade Iced Mochas

Okay, so my espresso machine is pretty much always saving my life. But it's extra appreciated in winter that I can have a home-brewed iced mocha without needing to brave the cold and wind with the kids. (Or worry about getting in the drive-thru line only to discover that your car's window is frozen shut . . . not that that's happened to me more than once or anything.)

Rosemary Mint Candle

When the kids are behaving at Target, I almost always take a trip down the candle aisle. That's where I found my new favorite candle, Rosemary Mint by Smith & Hawken. (It's already out of stock online, so I'm definitely stocking up if it's still in the store the next time I go.) It smells light and soothing, and it immediately calms me down if I'm feeling stressed. It's my current go-to scent anytime I'm at my desk.

Runner ups in the "things that smell good" category is Bath and Body's Works' Aromatherapy lotion line. I hate going to their store because all the smells mingling together gives me a headache, but I love these so much I'm confident ordering them in bulk online. My favorites are Eucalyptus Spearmint to feel like you just walked into the spa and Lavendar and Cedarwood for an instant dose of calm.

Remote Start Car

I live in the tundra with small children. This is self-explanatory. Let's just say there's a world of difference between loading two kids into an ice-cold car when it's -10, and a slightly warmer car that's been running for five minutes.

Making Friends

I'm introverted to the core, but one of my not-quite goals for 2018 was to find more of my people and put in the effort to engage with them and grow strong friendships. In my head, I want this to look like finding those friends that are more like family, who can stop over or call anytime and it will always feel energizing rather than draining. The reality doesn't look anything like this (after all, friendships like that take time), but I've done better than usual at putting myself out there and finding people to connect with.

I've spent a surprising amount of time chatting with other writers this month, and it's been so good for my soul. Talking with people who get me has been like a giant exhale. I'm also (kind of? sort of?) starting to make more mom friends for the first time ever, which is the most awkward thing in the world but has the potential to be so good down the road.

What's been saving your life this winter?