Being Present

Being present was my habit to work on for this past month.  Not living so focused on what was coming next that I missed the time I was in right now.  Taking time to breathe and enjoy what I was doing, rather than rushing on to the next thing.  I had hoped that this habit would help me to enjoy the moments of the Christmas holiday season and not be too distracted by my plans for activities and meals.

So did it work? 

Well . . .This month has been a very weird blur of illness, holiday preparations and celebrations, and visiting time with family.  As I look back at the month, it has been nothing like what I expected four weeks ago when I was looking ahead at it.  I am finding it hard to evaluate how I did in the practice of my habit. Being present in the moment was a reality for me, not necessarily because of a conscience choice, though.  The need to take things one day and moment at time was very real for me.   With sickness in our home, plans for activities that relied on more than our family, and trimming down my holiday preparations so I was not overwhelmed; it seems as if I lived this past month in the moment by moment presence of each day.  

Evaluating how I did with my habit is slightly underwhelming.  A twinge of disappointment tugs on my heart as I consider how this habit effected me over the last several weeks.  I am not sure exactly how I was envisioning being effected, but the practice of this habit of being present is not what I thought it would be. Not to be stopped by the disappointment, I am looking at what I have learned.  All the planning and preparations and forethought in the whole world does not replace enjoying the moment you are in.  You can so easily miss the simple and profound joys and lessons of life by being distracted by what is coming.  And still you can live so much in the moment, that you fail to prepare and be ready for what is coming.  Most of life requires some preparation, some planning and getting ready.  Like so many things balance is so very important.  

General thoughts for this past month.

Think ahead and plan, prepare for what is coming and what you want to do and be, look to the future and work towards your goals.  Yet in all your looking ahead, don't overlook that wonderful time you have now!  Don't miss enjoying the single flower bloom because you are so distracted by the view of the field in before you.  Prepare for what is coming, and at the same time enjoy what you have with you today!

Habit of the Month: Being Present

New month, new habit . . . well, I struggled with whether or not I would do a new habit for this month of December. After all this month seems so full of activities, events, and things to do already; why add creating a new habit into the mix? The logic side of me reasoned: You would better be able to focus on a new habit once the new year started. What habit are you going to work on anyway? Maybe it would be better to wait. Then in the midst of sleepless nights due to a serious head cold and cough being passed around our home, surrounded by days of clamoring from my kids for activities and attention, my new habit idea was born.  

"Being present in the moment."  

I considered waiting until after the busy-ness of the holiday season to implement it, but then what better time than Christmas time to practice some being present.  So what exactly does "being present" look like?
  • stopping what I am doing when my kids what to play a game
  • sitting on the floor to enjoy the cookies we just baked with my toddler
  • sitting with my husband while he works on his latest Christmas photo project
  • enjoying listening to Christmas music while drinking my tea or coffee
  • sitting and watching the snow fall
  • kneeling next to my six year old and she tells me about her latest adventure at school
  • focusing on what is happening now, instead of being distracted by what needs to be done later in the day or tomorrow

I guess, it could all be summed up in "taking time to breathe."  Slow down, pay attention to the moment I am in, and just enjoy being present mentally in the now.  

Habit of the Month Follow-up: Taking It Down A Notch

This month has been a weird combination of time flying by and slow motion. Overall the month has been very enjoyable, and our family was able to celebrate a wonderfully calm Thanksgiving Weekend.  

For the last month, the habit I have focused on has been one of reduction.  Taking my plans, ideas for activities, and to do list expectations and cutting them down a bit.  For more of an idea of what that entailed for us, check out my original post from the beginning of the month.  

So, how did I do at scaling back?  
Well, I think pretty good.  

Our extended family's Thanksgiving was celebrated at our home for the first time in several years, with both sets of grandparents being able to come.  What fun!  I initially started off with some pretty big ideas of cleaning, decorating, and food for the special day; then, considering my Habit for the Month, I started crossing things off my idea list.   Even after that, there were some family events that forced me to reevaluate what really "needed" to be done, and more cutting and trimming of expectations took place. Those coming to our home to eat made it very easy for me to delegate food dishes for them to bring, and everyone in our home pitched in to help clean and do some project things our home.  I even got some Pinterest ideas put into real life for the occasion.   Nothing fantastical about the event, but it was perfect for us.  

I am so pleased with the results of this month's habit.   Not only was I able to put to practical application a somewhat vague idea, but I was able to see the direct and indirect benefits of practicing my new habit.  With the new month's approach, I know that I will continue to have opportunity to practice my new habit, and I anticipate that it will continue to be solidified in my long term life habits and the benefits will continue to be as enjoyable as they have been this past month.

Habit of the Month: Taking It Down a Notch

This is a different sort of habit.  Often habits we develop with intention are something we establish to make us better or to help us do more.  This month's habit for me is to do less!

I love, love, love planning - almost to a fault.  When I get in planning mode, I can very quickly develop a plan that is so big or involved that putting it into action is difficult at best or impossible and stressful at worst.  So for this month my habit is to take a step back and strike something from the plan - just bring it down a notch.

  • If I plan to run four errands today - move one to next week.
  • When we get together to bake with Grandma, instead of making four types of cookies, maybe do two.
  • If I wake expecting (planning) to accomplish five things from my project list - bring that down to two or three.

My reasoning for the unusual habit - simply to reduce the stress and pressure I can put on myself and my family to accomplish more than is reasonable or possible while tending to all the routine things of life.  If I am able to accomplish more great! Or maybe enjoy a few minutes of relaxation, go for a walk, play an extra game with the kids, etc. The idea is to just reduce the pressure and stress trying to cram more into the minutes of my day, just because I planned more than was reasonable. 

Going into the holdiays of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's it is easy to get over busy. Running around and stressed so much I am not enjoying the moments is not what I want for this Season. So for this month I am practicing cutting out something(s) and slowing down just to enjoy some simple moments.  

"Back to Routines" Follow-up

As I review what I wrote about getting back to routines in September, what a joy to see things that I expressed as being important to me becoming a reality!  Pleasant mornings are more regular then they were when I fist wrote about routines.  The skill of being able to see the big picture and how my daily activities are effected by my goals is developing in my life. 

It has been a good "getting back to routines" time, and I am happy with the overall relative calmness and confidence that has come as a result. 

"Survival for Busy Women"

Survival For Busy Women:  Establishing Efficient Home Management by Emlie Barnes is a good resource of advice and ideas for helping any woman learn how to better manage her home and life.

Life can be very busy or stressful and the suggestions and guidelines through out this book are practical how to's for those seeking guidance and help for life management.   Lists and charts, project ideas, and organizational suggestions are scattered through out the book. 

I enjoyed the easy reading of Emlie's writing and the format of this book.  The ideas presented, though not new to me, where done simply and in some cases differently than I have seen previously. 

The edition of this book I read was published over twenty-five years ago and that fact could be seen in several of the tools she referenced.  The ideas are still applicable, though.  The concepts of life management do not change over time.   An update of to this book is available, and I am looking forward to reading it to see if and how the author incorporates the tools technology has made available.   I am curious to see if she has an new ideas or suggestions after twenty plus years.  

Survival for Busy Women is a good primer for those seeking to be more efficient in their home management.  Whether for a young person or a lady with much experience, I would recommend this book for the basic ideas, suggestions, and charts presented by the author.  

Habit of the Month: Back to Routines

I have taken a break from writing and posting over the summer months.  Now, as my girls are headed back to school and our schedule needs are changing, it is time for a "back to routines" evaluation.  

Some times of the year just naturally lend themselves to changes in the routines of my day and a reevaluation of my time usage.  The start of the school year and beginning of the fall season are one of those times.  (Oh, how I love the fall!  Maybe more on that in a later post.)  The relaxed morning and evening duties/routines of summer do not assist in the smooth functioning of our family as a tighter schedule becomes necessary for school obligations.  

Mornings can be chaos and craziness if we don't have some sense of structure to them.  Getting my family up and started on their days with a pleasant attitude in our home, is a priority for me.  To help make this a reality, having a routine to our mornings is a must!  Once we get into it, even on the weekends it seems the routine is followed, though at a slightly more relaxed pace.  

Often repeated in organization and time management circles, is the concept that your morning really starts the evening before.  When I first heard the idea I agreed a routine the night before that considers the morning coming would be helpful, though I really did not think it was that important.  Well, I have been converted!  Considering the next morning and day as you go into the activities for the evening is cornerstone in helping me to make the coming morning pleasant. 

In addition to getting back to more structured morning and evening routines, evaluating my activities in the home, time spent out of the home, and where I am putting my energy is a big part of getting back to routines.  Big activities, jobs, and events all trickle down into the everyday tasks and commitments.   I need to be certain they are the priorities I should have and want.  If I don't things quickly spin out of control.  

So, this month's habit:  "Back to routines!"  I am looking forward to the structured organization and different sort of relaxed feeling it will bring to my life and our home.

"Large Family Logistics"

Large Family Logistics: The Art and Science of Managing the Large Family by Kim Brenneman is an easy, enjoyable  read.  Kim's ideas are encouraging and practical.  She starts with the reality of where we may be as women and systematically presents principles and ideas that will help us grow.

Kim, mother of nine, and her husband run a farm and micro-dairy in Iowa.  She home-schools her children and enjoys a variety of gardening and sewing activities.   She offers a variety of ideas and suggestions for household, personal, and learning management. 

Kim starts her book with a section presenting principles that can help you be the women, wife, mother, and manager that is God-honoring.  Her premise that we need to be grounded in Scripture helps to bring the focus back to the reality that all we do is for God - even the care of ourselves and our home.   The second section of her book focuses on presenting ideas and plans for the organization and running of your home.  She approaches everything with the idea that we are to be working together as a family and, as a mom, we have the responsibility to teach our children the maintenance of a home and family and allow them the opportunity to "practice" by working with their siblings to help mom and dad run the house.  
I enjoyed the easy reading of Kim's writing.  She wrote in a way that is very familiar and it was almost as if she was having a conversation with you.  The chapters are fairly short, some only a couple of pages, which makes fitting a moment of reading in easy amidst everything else of life.  She has excellent ideas and lays them out in a very understandable and easy to implement way.  

There are a few times where Kim's strong feelings about how something should be done, came across very clearly.  It is important to remember in everything we read to measure it against the Truth and our own priorities.  What she says is great! but if you are not sure of where you stand you could be lead to feel badly about where you currently are and choices your family has made.  

I would recommend Large Family Logistics to most any wife and mother who is seeking to improve the management and function of her household.  It is especially helpful to those who have a large number of family members and/or a variety of responsibilities.  Her ideas can easily be translated and modified to apply in a smaller family setting as well.  

My Newest Lasagna Creation

We love lasagna in our family (well, four of the five of us love it, one will force it down when required to do so and motivated by the thought of dessert).  I have recently found a couple of different recipes for lasagna meals, and several weeks ago (actually months now) made an attempt at one of them.  

I love cooking with my crockpot - the fix it and forget for the day idea works well with my brain, since I usually think about supper when I am cleaning up from breakfast.  And I love the ability to easily get supper on the table in the evening when we are all very hungry and I usually have a toddler wrapped around my legs or am attempting to assist with homework studies.

The recipe I tried was very tasty, though more like chili.  I added my modifications below and would even suggest trying it with a different large noodle next time.  Also, watch the cooking time carefully.  It burned easily along the edges once the noodles were done cooking.  Of course, our cheese loving family topped each serving with a pinch of parmesan or mozzarella cheese.  

Lasagna Chili (modified from Easy Crockpot Lasagna)

1+ lb. gr. turkey and sausage (½ and ½)
½ c. onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, diced
1 – 26 oz. jar of Prego traditional pasta sauce
½ c. water

1½ c. mozzarella cheese
2 c. cottage cheese
2 T. grated parmesan cheese
2 T. parsley
1 egg

6 lasagna noodles, uncooked

½ c. mozzarella cheese
1 T. grated parmesan cheese

    1. Cook ground turkey and sausage.  Add onion and garlic until cooked tender.  Combine with pasta sauce and water, simmer for five minutes and set aside.
    2. Combine mozzarella cheese, cottage cheese, parmesan cheese, parsley and egg.  Set aside.
    3. In 4-6 qt. crockpot pour 1 c. of spaghetti meat sauce.   Place half of the noodles in, breaking them as necessary so they fit.  Top with half the cheese mixture. 
    4. Place remaining noodles and top with 2 c. of meat sauce, and remaining cheese mixture. 
    5. Top with remaining meat sauce, and cook for 4 hours on low or until noodles are soft.  (I would start checking it after 3 hours.)
    6. Top with mozzarella/parmasen mixture and let it sit for 10’ covered with the heat turned off. 

"One Year to An Organized Life"

I enjoy reading and learning . . . probably the most of any of the more casual pastimes I have.  Almost as much, I enjoy telling others what I am learning and sharing the ideas I read.  So, here is the first of what I am hoping will be many reviews of the books I have or am reading.

My first review venture is Regina Leed's, One Year to An Organized Life.  My sister-in-law gave it to me for my birthday last year and we have been reading it together.

This book is an excellent guide to organization and de-cluttering for those who want to act but are not sure where to start.  

Regina Leeds is a professional organizer from Los Angeles area. She lays out an unique monthly and weekly plan to help the reader develop routines and break down tasks so that the organization of one's life is not so overwhelming.  

There are very few areas left untouched by the habits and methods taught in this book. Regina works through questions and journal writing to help the reader get to the core of why you do things the way your do. She systematically lays out an organization plan to help you see what you are doing that works well, discover where and why things are not working, and assist you in organizing more in line with what helps you function best. 

The sections of the book are broken down by month and each month is divided into four weeks of chapters.  Each month's reading included some reflection or examination questions, ideas of how to organize or develop routines, and an assignment with a project that deals directly with the area being worked on that month. 

This book is enjoyable to read.  There is a lot of ideas to learn and implement. The projects can be big or little depending on your current situation and the area. Regina gives you much to think about as she encourages you to address some deeper reasons to why your organization is the way it is.  If you read the book cover to cover it can be very overwhelming.  I have chosen to approach this book like a class. Each week I read the appropriate chapter and do the assignment whether it is the journal questions, a quick purge, or a massive organization.  

My sister-in-law and I have been working through the book for almost nine months now. Doing it together has helped keep me on track and we have been able to help each other with a project or two.    As a mom with young children I found some of the project assignments very challenging and overwhelming.  Time does not always allow me to stop everything for a complete day in order to focus on an effective overhaul of an area.  However, there has always been some aspect of the assigned project I have been able to accomplish.  Any step forward, no matter how big or small, is good.  

I recommend One Year to an Organized Life to most anyone looking to make changes in their organization.  As for myself, this book is going on my bookshelf for future reference when I am done with it, and I am sure I will be rereading and revisiting aspects of it for years to come.  

Just Finish Already!

This month's habit at first glance seems to be very applicable to me.  The Habit of the Month is Completion: finishing the task or project I am doing before moving on to another. My life at times seems to be a constant string of interruptions. With family demands, housework that is never done, and my personal list of tasks there are days I feel as if I am moving from one thing to another with out never really finishing anything. 

So, this month, my attention will be to work on completing the project or task I am doing. Admittedly there will be times when that is not an option. If a screaming child calls from the other room or an appointment time comes, of course I will need to pause what I am doing to move on the another responsibility. The key will be coming back to and completing it when I am able to do so.  

As I think about this habit, I am not sure how it will play out in my life this month. So, we shall see.  I am curious to see how and if changes the way I do things. Would you join me this month is seeking to be intentional with completing the task or project at hand before moving on to another?

Is Everyone Home Yet?

This month's habit has been to find a home for the stray items laying around our home.  Overall I have done well.  Definitely not perfect, but steps of progress have been made.  More importantly than seeing the progress around me, the development of the habit has been good.  Just establishing the habit of finding homes for things in our home or letting them go if they are not something we use and love has been a wonderful exercise.

Now on with a new month and the establishment of a new habit.  Of course, not forgetting to continue to find homes for the loose items I find around our house.  

Finding Homes for Orphaned Objects

This month, as I seek to help my home be a bit more organized, I am tackling the hidden or not so hidden areas of our house: our storage locker, the extra closet in the baby's room, and the top of the large closet in the master bedroom.  I may even attack the boxes in our bedroom - the ones that have become invisible because of their long time residence along the walls.  

Regina Leeds' recommendation for this month's habit is to watch for the following comments: "I don't know where this goes.  I'll just put it here for now;" then acting to find a home for those things.*  When I find myself thinking or saying this (or hearing it from someone else in my family), I will find it a home or seriously consider letting the item go.  If it does not have a place in our home, why is it here?

How about you?  Do you have a habit you would like to solidify in your life this month?  Is there a new habit you have been wanting to develop?  Make this month the month to start.  Maybe you would join me in seeking to find homes for the stray or orphaned objects in our homes?  

*One Year to an Organized Life, Leeds, p. 119.  

Cleaner Counter

February's habit of wiping off the bathroom counters each day has been challenging to implement.  Mid-month I almost gave up . . . Enter the mental image of me standing at the mirror yelling, "I quit"; them calm me responding, "No, I don't" and heading back to do my best to establish this habit . . . .

I have a large container of disinfecting wipes left over from a pack of three I bought for my daughter's class last fall.  Actually, I have two left (why I bought a pack of three very large wipe containers when I only needed one, still escapes the logic side of my brain).  Two containers - perfect - one for each of our bathrooms.  I moved the containers under the sinks for easy access and started wiping what of the counter I could see.  In the master bathroom this was the space of about the size of a dessert plate at first.  Yikes!  

I needed to consistently have the counter cleared enough to access it with the wipes.  So, last week I moved the items I use each morning into a portable container and stashed it under the sink.  This freed up some space.  After adding things from my bathroom drawers to my "morning container" I was able to move most of what lived on my counter out of sight.  NICE!  What a difference!  Now I can actually get at the counter consistently enough to wipe it off.  

This habit has mostly affected  just "my" side of the counter in our master bath.  I didn't even try to touch my husband's side of the counter.  The main bathroom has also benefited a bit.  I didn't get it wiped everyday, but even that counter has been cleared a bit more and there appears to be some improvement.  I even caught my five year old wiping the counter the other day.  Her comment, "It needed it, Mommy"  Wow!  Habits really do wear off on those around you.  I am so thankful this one was a good one.  

My Bathroom Counters

Here it is, the end of February and I have yet to write about the habit I have been working on developing this month.  February's habit is wiping off the bathroom counters everyday.  As I read and work through Regna Leeds book, One Year to An Organized Life, I am working in the bathroom this month.  She advocates wiping the counter each time you are in the room.  I am going for at least once everyday.  

So . . . I guess this means I need to be able to access the counter.  The clutter and "necessary" items that usually live on the counter top will need to be pared down and assigned a new home.  

So I am seeking to have a clear counter able to be wiped off each day.  

Welcome to my kitchen

So, here it is . . . my kitchen.  Not much to look at, pretty small, in need of some remodeling help (at least some new wallpaper, or some paint instead of the wallpaper), but this is where I create the meals that feed our family.  Over the last year, I have been working to make our eating and hence, my cooking habits, more healthy and better for us all.

As you stand in the doorway of the kitchen, the other end of the kitchen is only about six steps away.  A pantry cabinet built into the wall holds my recipe books, microwave, mixing and serving bowls, the crock pot, and our rarely used waffle iron.  On your right the dishwasher and sink take most of the space of that run of lower cabinets.  The small square of counter that is there is the creating zone for the baking experiments I have with my girls.  On the left is the refrigerator, a small section of counter for food prep, and then the stove.

Behind me is the makeshift pantry, that we worked together from half of our large front closet.  Yes, the kitchen is just inside our front door on your left.  Overall, I love it.  I think my favorite feature (which I just recently discovered) is the fact that I can make supper with my son hanging on my legs.  Since I can reach the stove, counter, sink, and frig by simply rotating a bit; the fact that he likes to hold himself up by hanging on my jeans or skirt does not really slow me down much.

Goal: Encouragement

As I write out my goals for this coming year, it really seems to be amounting to a list of habits I already have but would like to cement or expand this year.  

One of those habits is note writing.  This year, I seek to solidify this habit by intentionally finding a person or family in my church each month to encourage with a note or card.  We worship, learn, and minister along side of one another and yet at times I feel disconnected from them amidst life.  

I pray this habit of encouragement will cause me to be aware of the needs around me and those who may need a little more prayerful support.  May the LORD use my pen to bless others through my monthly encouragements.  

May be next year God will guide me to a friend who will join me in seeking to write encouragements each month.  This could be the start of something wonderful!

One Word for 2012

Today I am linking up with the One Word 365 Community.  This is something new for me, and I am excited about doing something different.   One Word 365 is about finding one word to apply to your life each year, every day, all year.  

Wow - narrowing it down to only one word has been a challenge.  I have mulled over the possibilities for a week and still today I was not sure.   I was settling on "aware" - aware of others around me, things that needed attention, time to spend with family, opportunities to grow, chances to minister - the list could continue.  

I was pretty sure "aware" or something similar was to be the word I would claim for 2012.  Then, in my study and reading this morning I found a chart which listed character traits to work with develop in and with your children*.  (As any parent knows or soon will discover, you tend to work on developing a character trait or habit in yourself just as you are seeking to teach your child.)  First on the chart was "alertness: knowing what is going on around me."  OK -- that settled it alert - aware they seemed to be in the same general category.  So, my word for 2012 - Alert.  ("Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong.  Let all that you do be done with love." I Corinthians. 16:13-14)

Now how exactly does that flesh out in daily life?  What is the definition of alert and how am I do apply that.   To discover this is my self assigned homework for year 2012.  As the year progresses, I'll report what I am learning and how I am being affected.  

* The chart I refer to was compiled by Jill Savage and is found in her book, My Heart's at Home (pp. 94-97).

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all my family, friends and fellow blog readers!  May your new year be full of happy memories and wonderful experiences for you and all those close to you.