Wednesday, 30 January 2013

To inspire

This coming Saturday I will be giving a workshop to 16 and 17 year olds at a church conference in a nearby city.  There will be over 300 youth in attendance, and I must give the workshop 6 times to groups of about 50 kids.  It's not my first workshop I've written, but each one brings a certain level of terror to me.  Ironically, my topic for this workshop is confidence and self-esteem.

This is the first time I have complete free reign for 40 minutes, when I also have to present with a group of other presenters.  All of a sudden, I find myself second guessing myself.  I saw the list of presenters, and only one one of the five I'm familiar with.  This guy is a funny, high energy entertainer.  His workshop is titled "Go, go Power Rangers!"  I feel intimidated, knowing that he will be funny and entertaining.  I am doubting myself and my own presentation, titled "Such a Time as This" (a quote from the Old Testament.)

Then I tell myself that not everyone has to be funny.  My style is to challenge and be thought-provoking.  I like to help people see things in new light, ask them to really look at their beliefs, to help teens move from believing because their parents say so to truly believing.

I tell myself that the teens need different types of presenters, because there are different types of teens.  Not everyone responds to learning in the same way, not everyone is inspired in the same way.  I know my workshop is exactly what it needs to be, because it wrote itself.  (That's how I always know when it's finally right.  When I'm struggling to write it, it usually means I'm getting in the way of the Holy Spirit's inspiration.)  Now I just need to rehearse it so that I can present it in an easy manner that will get the message across.

This is something I really do love to do, despite the challenge of writing the material, engaging teens for 40 minutes, and trying to be current the further away I age from my own teens years.  It's something I'm pretty sure I'll be doing for years to come.  And I'm sure that each notch in the belt will make the next one easier to hammer out.

It still doesn't make this weekend any less terrifying :)

Sunday, 27 January 2013


"A prioritized life differs from a balanced life.  We don't divide up each day into equal portions between children, husband, home, work.  We arrange each day based on a wide variety of responsibilities and priorities based on timelines and God's leading.  Instead of struggling to define a balanced life, seek to live a prioritized life - and set your priorities each morning as you spend time with the Giver of our days."

- Linda Lesniewski

Urgent.  Crisis management.  Triage.  Putting out fires.

These are the ways James (very appropriately) expressed how our day to day life feels right now.  Everything is getting done, but only when it finally cries out "I cannot wait any longer!"  Babies are like that nearly 100% of the time, children at least 50% of the time, and some sort of house chore every day.  Laundry gets done when the last pair of clothing was worn yesterday.  Grocery shopping when there is nothing to send in the kids' lunches.  Sweeping when I put on shoes because there are too many crumbs.  It's chaos, and I don't like it one bit.

More importantly, it means that some of the things I want to be priorities, that should be priorities, are not getting done because they do not have a physical urgency about them.  Prayer, devotion, scripture study, exercise, meal planning, creative outlets, teaching and training of children, quiet moments of music and cuddles and reading.

I participated in this experiment the other day.  I wrote 6 things in my life that are things I attend to.  A list would include things like God, yourself, kids, marriage, job, school, a hobby, etc.  Then you order the strips with the one you think is the most important on the bottom, and stack them up in order of decreasing importance.  Once in place, We cut the strips so that each one was smaller than the one below, so they made a pyramid shape.

Now here's the test: reorder the strips into the importance you actually gave each area yesterday (last week, the past month.)  Does it still look like a pyramid?  Or, like most people, are the smaller strips on the bottom?  Are some strips falling off the side from complete inattention?

I love visualizations.  It was an eye-opener to me.  Here are what my two "pyramids" looked like:

Not too bad, I think.  A lot of people, especially those who had jobs outside the home, admitted that although they placed their job at the top of the pyramid on the smallest strip, in actuality it was positioned at the bottom.  Eye-opening to see how little importance, in the big picture, their job had, and yet it got the most of their time, attention and efforts.

The next step is to make some tangible goals to get the priorities straight.  I love this kind of thing.  I'm definitely the type of person who doesn't like to complain if things aren't how I want them; I get down and do something about it.

Friday, 25 January 2013

A brunch and a dinner

Last Saturday morning we hired our first babysitter for all four kids while James and I headed out for a Saturday morning brunch.  After a week of piling stresses that weren't making things easy at home, I took matters into my own hands and planned this brunch.  Yes, it was two hours for James and I to have time alone, but with an agenda to look at the things not working in our day to day lives and make some concrete goals and find solutions to problems to smooth the way a little more.  We sat down to eggs and sausage and toast and a bowl of fresh fruit and I opened my notebook and we began.  We covered work, health, home, kids, marriage - we left no stone unturned.  Because while it's easy in words to separate all the different areas of life, the reality is that they each spill over into each other and never fit into pretty little boxes.  I'm a problem-solver; when something isn't working, I like to tackle it with practical solutions until it is fixed.  Once breakfast was finished (and my favourite part wasn't the fact I didn't have to make it, but that I didn't have to clean up after!) we headed over to (yawn) the Dollar Store to pick up a bunch of household items on a growing shopping list.  In a way, we were like two kids in a candy store as we picked through the shelves looking for organizing items that would keep a lid on some of the chaos at home.  The morning was a success, and we are looking forward to doing it at least every other week.

Tonight we have a special dinner planned.  James and I are taking Colin out to a real restaurant to sit down and discuss the coming year with him.  In December he will turn eight, which is a big deal both in our home and at church.  When he turns eight, he can make the choice to be baptized and dedicate his life to serving God.  Our role as parents this year is to help him prepare to make that decision, ramping up his own personal accountability for his spiritual learning.  We will be using our family night lessons to focus on baptism once a month.  We are also going to increase his responsibilities around the house and in regards to his own learning and education.  James and I have created a list we will present to him of things we will expect him to learn how to do on his own this year (everything from showering on his own to cleaning the bathroom to reading a chapter book to scripture memorization.)  We will also present a list of optional goals he can choose from to add to that list, or add something of his own choosing.

More than anything, I believe that the main goal of raising children to to create independent adults.  By the time Colin leaves home at 18, I don't want there to be any major skill he is lacking, and anything he wants to learn he will be equipped with the drive and ability to learn himself.

I can't express how excited Colin is to turn eight this year.  You can see his little chest swell with pride at the idea of these more grown up responsibilities.  He already has been quick to look for ways to help, as he states "because, you know, I'm going to be eight this year."  We will be writing all his goals in a journal, which he will update weekly at a Father/Son interview on Sunday afternoons with James.

I love my children, and there certainly are many wonderful and fun moments when they are babies, toddlers and preschoolers.  But I am so excited to help them as they grow, teaching, coaching, and walking alongside them.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Things I want to learn

Part of a Relief Society lesson the other day involved making a list of things I want to learn.  There were three categories: mentally, physically and spiritually.  There was a very clear caveat put on this list: it is the list you would make if there were absolutely no limitations, if money, obligations, work, family were not an issue.

Just for interest's sake, at age 32 with a husband and four young children at home, not yet at the stage to really pursue a career or volunteer positions or anything except focusing on my family, these are the things I came up with (in the 2 minutes we had to write it.)

Speak Spanish fluently
Write a non fiction book
Organize my goals and expectations for the kids
Play the violin
Renovate a house
Learn basic car mechanics
Improve my kayaking skills
Cycle long distance
Hike the Bruce trail end to end
Travel in the south of France again
Build a doll house
Memorize an entire chapter of scripture
Publish my blog
Be a youth speaker
Have a "Lower Lights" type music group

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Are you under the illusion?

Are you under the illusion that everyone else seems to be on the ball and you're scrambling behind it?  Does it feel like everyone else gets to their to-do list while yours only continues to grow?  Can it seem as if others are accomplishing goals, taking steps forward, moving onward, upward, forward, and you are spinning your wheels?

I received a quasi-compliment about how I seem to get things done.  Final products appear and wow others that I have accomplished them.  I wonder if they think that either I a) don't sleep or b) have nothing else important in life to do.

Not so.  Not true.

Funny enough, I'm guilty of thinking the same thing of others.  Others who seem to get things done.

But I had an amazing revelation today about all this.  You see, yesterday James picked up a wall map that I had laminated at Staples.  I also picked up the baseboard I'm going to use for it's frame and some black paint to paint that baseboard.  "You get all these projects done," was said, in reference to the map.

I laughed.  Not so.  NOT true.

I can understand the confusion.  A map on a wall?  It should be a short project easily started and finished in one evening.  Yes, somewhere in another dimension, another version of me (without children to raise and a home to run) bought the map on her way to work.  On the way home she picked up the wood for the frame and had the map laminated.  Then she cut the frame to size, slapped on some black paint and mounted the whole thing on the wall before bed.

Reality: I have wanted to put a map on the wall for 4 years.  More than 2 years ago I finally bought the print of the map I wanted. Yesterday I finally had it laminated.  I have no idea when I'll get to cutting and painting the frame, much less mounting it, polyfilling the cracks in the frame (because the odds of cutting it perfectly are....hahahahahahahha) and retouching the paint.  But you know what?  When the map is finally up, I will post a picture here and write about how much I love it and how useful it will be in teaching my children and how we will dream of the places we will travel to...and someone will read that entry and think that in an hour the night before I came up with the idea, executed it perfectly and voila.


I have vowed never to look at someone's finished product and wish I could wave the same magic wand and make it appear.  These tiny little projects that finally show themselves are the final product of weeks, months, and years of dreaming, planning, working.

One more example.  I've been working on the nursery for months.  The dresser in there needs a second coat, but the paint can has been sitting there since before Christmas.  There are so many little pieces that I want to do, little projects that would take no time at all, except that I can't even find that little bit of time to complete them.  When I post the picture, I hope I will remember to detail just how long it took to put together.  That sort of thing might be easy for someone with a talent for decorating, but for me it was a labour of love, (and "labour" in the sense of labouring a baby, which I have done 4 times and don't use that analogy lightly!)

It's good to have goals.  It's good to have long term goals with short term steps to get there.  It's good to make lists.  But it's most important to remember that not everything on that list needs to (or can be) done right now.  The list is a list of dreams, hopes, and ideas that might one day come to fruition.  Some of them might lead to other ideas that you like better.  Some might be dreams always left unfulfilled.  Some might be ones you get to now, some next year, some next decade.  But make that list, keep dreaming, because if you don't make a list at all, then the odds are good you'll never accomplish much at all.  Most important, never, never, never be under the illusion that everyone else has their life more together than yours.  They are probably looking at you and thinking the exact same thing.

Friday, 18 January 2013


I was teaching Caleb to brush his teeth, and after the timer I bought lasted 3 days before it broke, I suggested that Caleb sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" three times to make sure he brushed for an appropriate amount of time.

"Okay.  I will sing that.  But I will have to sing in "fish."
"I'm sorry?"
"I will have to sing in "fish."  Because my mouth will be full of my toothbrush and toothpaste."
"What is "singing in fish?"
"It's when you say or sing in your head.  Because if a fish spoke, you wouldn't hear any sound because fish can't speak.  We count in fish all the time at school."
"Alright.  You sing in fish "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" three times and then you're done."

Because I was there, I brushed his teeth myself, and sang in "fish" in my head to make sure three times was enough.  Halfway through the second time, Caleb put his hand on mine.

"That's three times."
"Oh, you must sing faster than I do.  You have to sing it at this speed."  I sang at a moderate tempo.
"I sang it faster, because I had to sing at the same speed that you were brushing."

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Assault on the senses

(Bear with me here...these thoughts come curtesy of a few different experiences linked together...)

Last week while the boys were at school, Benjamin asked to watch an "episode" on Netflix.   I turned it on and he watched the single frames depicting the options for him to watch.  He finally settled on a picture of a dog, a show called "Kippur."

I flipped it on and started to fold laundry.  As I watched, I was immediately struck by how calm the show was.  The voices were provided by one soothing male voice with a British accent.  The sentences spoken were peaceful, spread out, thoughtful.  The plot was uncomplicated, the animation simple.  (Very much like the old "Winnie the Pooh," which Benjamin is also enjoying as of late) I glanced over to Benjamin, sure that after the "Phineas and Ferb" and "Spongebob Squarepants" that the boys like, this would bore him in seconds.

But I was wrong.  He watched as the show meandered along.  It occurred to me that perhaps this was more his speed, and maybe the craziness and hyperactivity of so many of today's programming is actually too much for him to process.  I personally can't stand much of what the boys prefer.  The pace dizzies me.

Fast forward a couple of days and I saw an image online of a young girl in her classroom at school.  You could see the walls in the background, and every inch was covered with pictures, words, colours, learning tools, lessons, art work.  Rather than be a space to encourage learning, once again I felt assaulted by too much information.  How on earth are you supposed to know where to focus?  Where is the time to ponder on one idea if your eyes are constantly being redirected to something else?

Then last night I was preparing dinner and thought I would put on some music while I busied myself in the kitchen.  But even though I was listening to some of my favourite soothing spiritual music, I soon felt that the mix of Juliette's cooing, the boys playing, and Benjamin's questions to me were mixing into something altogether unpleasant.

Which brings me up to today.  I am suddenly craving simplicity in my surroundings.  Everywhere around me seems to be about piling on more and more: more sounds, more lights, more pictures, more activities, more stuff.  I am on a mission to end this assault on my senses, where I can control it.

I am starting with my little domain: the home.  I have felt this pull toward simplicity for a while, but only now can I articulate what it is I'm searching for.  I don't want that image of the overloaded classroom.  In the past I have tried to fill in the spaces and corners to create a "homey" feel, under the illusion that sparse felt "empty."  Now, I want each item in my home to be there deliberately.  I remember two questions from a book I read last year: is it useful? is it beautiful?  My home can be a tool for learning, a haven of refuge, a comfortable nook, a gathering place, a playground of fun.  I control the atmosphere in my home both with my own attitude, but also in how I create this space.  My goal is to be able to move through the house and feel peace, rather than an assault on the senses.

Saturday, 12 January 2013


We've been battling a very emotional Caleb as of late.  When he gets frustrated, he just seems to explode, and I can see it in his eyes and in the way his body shakes that he can't quite keep control yet. That being said, I knew we had to do something to at least help him start trying to control his temper.

Last Sunday night, after repeated warnings throughout the day, James had had it and lashed out with a punishment: no Wii the next Saturday.  You see, the boys only get Wii time on Saturdays, and this is about the worst punishment you could hit Caleb with.  He loves video games.

The trouble, however, was evident to me immediately.  It was Sunday.  Wii time wasn't for another 6 days.  The consequence was too far away for Caleb to relate it to his current behaviour, and come Saturday, we would be faced with another meltdown because he would have forgotten by then that he had lost the opportunity to play.

I pondered the behaviour, the punishment and the consequences over the next 24 hours.  Caleb had begged for a chance to "earn his time back" and James had left it up to me.  It was the "earn it back" that finally inspired our new system for Caleb.

Instead of starting with Wii time and losing it bit by bit, he now starts with zero time and earns it minute by minute.  The basic premise, as explained to Caleb, is that he needs to learn to stay on task, do things in a timely fashion without complaining, and absolutely no meltdowns.  The reward system is completely up to James and I.  Getting dressed for school, brushing his teeth, making his bed, playing nicely with Benjamin, taking himself to his room to avoid a fight - all things that can earn him a wii minute.  The best part is how quickly he obeys now.  In the past, after 15 minutes upstairs and the school bus only minutes away, we would be raising our voices in frustration that Caleb still wasn't ready.  Now I tell him he can earn 3 wii minutes by getting dressed, brushing teeth and making his bed, and he does it in minutes.

This week he earned 26 minutes.  (To be honest, I let him play more than that today.  Caleb can't actually measure time yet, so he doesn't realize I've let him have extra.  James is working all day today from the time they woke up until the time they go to bed, and sometimes I just need a quiet moment to get something done!)  As Caleb does learn to measure time, I'm hoping anywhere between 30-60 minutes is what he can earn.  Judging from last week, that seems to be a good marker.

So this is the new system, and it works so well for us.  Taking away something as a punishment can be very abstract for kids, but when you give them the chance to exhibit good behaviour and be rewarded tangibly, it seems to have a much more immediate effect.  Definitely going to keep this in mind as parenting moments arise in the future.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Prayer warrior

I want to become a prayer warrior.

Over the past five years my understanding of prayer has deepened exponentially.  Between a handful of amazing reads, plus experiencing a small group prayer circle for the first time, I have opened my mind to a variety of different ways to pray, each one helping me break out of the rote rut I found myself in.

But I am still a long way from being the prayer warrior I have seen in some others.

Too often I am held back by the fear that I shouldn't ask God for anything that I want.  I feel selfish in praying for something I want because it is not a dire need, or it is not important in the grand scheme of things.  It's sort of like when I was pregnant with Juliette and people asked if I hoped it was a girl, and I said "I just want a healthy baby," because we really do hope our babies will be healthy.  But you know what?  I really, really did want to have a little girl.  I was afraid to voice, it however, because it felt selfish.  I wasn't supposed to want anything more than healthy.

But God cares about giving us good gifts, not just simply filling basic needs.  He tells us to "ask, and we shall receive."  It's the "asking" part I'm not very good at.  But I desperately want to open my heart more, have deeper conversations with God.  Every night before we say our family nighttime prayer, we go around and say things we are grateful for and things we would like to pray for.  As I listen to my boys articulate their requests, I am struck by how open and honest children are.  God wants us to be like these precious little children.  He wants us to come to Him, call him "Abba" (Daddy) and pour out our hearts and desires to Him.

I have always been struck by the definition of prayer that it is "the act of bringing one's will in line with the Father's will."  ("Not my will, but thine be done.")  But in trying to understand this biblical verse, I have tiptoed around my deepest desires, and in doing so, have become more like the hypocritical Pharisees than I would like to admit.  I'm not coming before God in honesty, but in a stiff ideological version of who I think I should be before him.  When I hear my children's prayers, I don't see them as selfish, I see them as true to who each child is.

I do not want to be afraid to ask for the things I feel my family, my children, my relationships, or I need.  For if I do not ask, how can I expect to ever receive?

Monday, 7 January 2013


Some thoughts have been brewing in my head lately about being content.  I like the word "content" better than happy, because happy seems to have this aura around it of exuberant yet fleeting.  Content sounds quiet, peaceful, and running deep.

I had a conversation the other day about a relationship I have witnessed over the years, and how those involved seemed so unhappy.  I thought of how many years they had passed never feeling content within the walls of their own home.  Then I counted my blessings for nearly ten years of a marriage overflowing with love and joy.  We have had trials; we have had disagreements; but they have been such small blips on the timeline that they have completely dissolved over time.  I can truly say that I have joy and peace in my home.

It makes me sad that so many people don't seem to have that same thing.  50% of marriages end in divorce, which means at least 50% of couples out there spend a good many years hating their situation, dreading going home, growing apart from their best friend, feeling weighted, estranged, heart-heavy, angry, sorrowful.  That is a lot of pain in this world, heartache where it should be a haven.

While I'm not so narrow-minded as to say that only faith-filled people experience lasting happiness, I can say from my own experience that my faith is a great part of what keeps my marriage strong.  My faith keeps me other-centred instead of self-centred.  It teaches me to serve humbly, to be teachable, to quickly repent of wrongs and to forgive graciously.  It reminds me that grace is a gift given freely to me and so I should impart it freely also.  It inspires me onward and upward on a journey to become a better person, to make goals and be encouraged.  It helps me turn weaknesses into strengths through the grace of God.

I am wrapped in a blanket of contentment when I thaw out ground beef to make a meat loaf for James, and I smile as I peel the potatoes knowing that when he walks in the door I will have his favourite food on the table.  Or when I pick up in the bedroom, knowing that it is a disaster because he got up with the boys and let me lie in with the baby, and knowing that when he comes in after work he'll feel relaxed in a tidy room.  Or when I scrub the kitchen floor, because a sticky kitchen floor is one of the things he hates most.  These are all small acts of service, times when my heart wants to do something for him without any expectation of praise or act in return.  And these are the smooth waters in the river of our relationship.