G is for Get Up Earlier

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

wake up happyI almost feel a little guilty writing that I should get up earlier, especially after my last post. It seems that as I write these posts, I’m discovering that I need to cut out the things in my life that don’t matter, and make time for the things that do matter. I’m also discovering that I have somehow completely reversed the meaning of these two things.

The truth is, I do better when I get up earlier. I am not a morning person, so I like to keep my eyes shut for absolutely as long as I can. Sometimes this means there are already several children in bed with me begging me to get up before I crack an eyelid. The days that happens are usually much more hectic than the days when I get up before my children.

When I initially planned my A to Z topics, I figured I’d talk about how many more things I could accomplish if I would make a habit of getting up earlier. I could have my coffee, pray, exercise, start the kids’ breakfast, etc. I had all kinds of ideas about things I could do with those extra minutes before the children come thundering out of bed. I figured having all those things accomplished would make me more productive, and, somehow make me feel less stressed.

For some reason, I have come to assume that productivity was the cure for stress. Boy was I wrong. Trying to combat stress with more and more productivity is just fueling the fire. I’ve been like a rat on a wheel powering my own destructive cycle. But, despite that, I still think there is something to be gained from getting up earlier. The gain is just different from what I expected it to be. What I gain isn’t productivity, it’s peace.

When I get up earlier, I have precious quiet moments to myself. I can think my own thoughts and sip coffee while I watch the sky slowly illuminate with morning light. I can take a shower so I start the day feeling refreshed. If I chose to pray or exercise, that’s great, but not because it’s productive, because both things make me happy and bring me peace. Getting up earlier isn’t to make extra time for things on my to-do list, it’s to make extra time for me.

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F is for Fun

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

pack muleI almost didn’t want to write about this topic. It seems so “master of the obvious” to suggest one should have fun to combat or prevent stress. But then I realized I need to write this post for myself because, obvious or not, I missed the memo.

A few days ago I mentioned that I tend to cut out eating and sleeping to keep myself on schedule. That’s true. I eat standing up while teaching or in the car driving or in any other way that prevents me from “wasting” time on something so trivial as food consumption. If I can’t multitask my breakfast or lunch, I probably just cut it out all together. As far as sleep goes – I simply don’t allow myself the opportunity to rest or nap, no matter how exhausted I am, because I simply can’t afford to be so unproductive.

But you know what got thrown out the window long before eating and sleeping? Fun. I rarely give myself the privilege to just let go and have fun. But that’s absurd! Fun is not a privilege. Fun is a part of life. We are supposed to have fun and enjoy life. Responsibility is well and good, but it is not all there is. Responsibility should be tempered by privilege. Work should be tempered by leisure. They are two sides of the same scale. Life is made of both. Sadly, my scale is freakishly unbalanced, and it has been for a long time. It’s no wonder I’m so stressed out.

Fun is not optional, and I’m going to stop treating in as such. As I work to create better boundaries in my life, I’m going to ensure that fun is always on the agenda. I’m not saying I’m going to throw all productivity out the window, but I am definitely going to be reevaluating just how much “productivity” is actually required to have a productive day. In fact, having fun is productive in it’s own way because it keeps me emotionally and physically balanced.

I firmly believe that kids deserve to have fun every day. That’s one of the reasons we homeschool. I want my kids to have a childhood and to enjoy it to the fullest. I don’t know how I missed the obvious correlation that adults need fun too. I haven’t grown out of my need to have fun – that’s not part of human development. So I’m going to start having more of it.

Honestly, choosing to not have fun is an affront against my human dignity. If I just stay busy, busy, busy, and never stop to enjoy, have fun, and see beauty, I’ve reduced myself to some kind of labor animal. I’ve made myself a pack mule. I am not a mule, and I’m going to stop treating myself like one.

Mass: It Fits in the Schedule!

massWhen I first imagined myself homeschooling, one of the perks was the ability to take my kids to daily Mass. Three years later, that is finally becoming a reality. As with so many other areas where I feel called to grow, I had a list of excuses of why it just couldn’t work. My most prominent excuse was our schedule.

If only Mass were earlier. Or later. Either would be more manageable. How could I possibly go to Mass at 9AM and have any semblance of a reasonable daily schedule? How would we ever get anything done?

While visiting with a friend recently, we were chatting about the unreasonable expectations we place on ourselves in the context of our homeschools. In the course of this conversation, I discovered that one of my unspoken expectations was that we must be done with our school day by lunch time. Why? I don’t really know. Other than for bragging rights. You know, something along the lines of, “Oh look how efficient and productive we are. We finish school by lunch and then have the whole day to play and enjoy childhood.”  Yup. That’s about how my thought process went.

Discovering this was a major revelation for me and, best of all, released me from my scheduling hang up. Granted, it took me a few days to come to terms with this revelation, (Yes, I’m ever so graceful when it comes to change.) but once I did, our whole day opened up! I love our new schedule and the icing on the cake is: so far, we haven’t gone past lunch time with our book work! It is so true that when we make time for God, he allows everything else to fall in to place.

Just in case you’re curious, this is what our day looks like right now. I know my family well enough to know that there are many areas I can’t put tasks in order or schedule them into 15 minute increments. In these instances, I simply schedule blocks of time. The routine in that area may vary some each day, but I allot enough time for us to get it all done. This flexibility is also incredibly useful for the days when we’re not exactly “on schedule.”

6:00AM – Mommy’s alarm goes off. Ideally, I get up and exercise, but, unfortunately, I have a rather strong tendency towards sloth. Some Most days I just hit snooze.

6:30-8:30 AM – Everyone gets ready. We get dressed, I shower, nurse the baby, serve breakfast, etc.

9:00 AM – MASS!! Truly, the highlight of our day. Sometimes, thanks to my not-so-angelic children it’s also the low point. Thanks be to God, even when it’s the low point, it’s still the highlight!

10:30ish – We get home from Mass. It just depends on how long we chat afterwards.

10:30ish-12:00 – Formal lessons and bookwork.

12:00PM – We stop to pray the Angelus and sing the Salve Regina.

12:05 – 1:00PM – Lunch and free time.

1:00-3:00 PM – QUIET TIME! (It’s almost as good as Mass.) The little ones (and cranky ones) nap. Other options are reading, praying, or quietly working on a project that requires no assistance. No group activities allowed. In the future this will also be a great time for studying, test taking, researching, etc. (This concept may seem odd. One day I really will write a post about the value of silence to further explain why I find this so important!)

3:00PM – Those who are awake pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

3:15-5:30PM – Finish lessons (if needed), art or science projects, chores, free time.

5:30ish – Dinner.

6:00-9:00ish. Family time. Baths. Prayers. Goodnight!

9:00-10:30PM Mommy and Daddy time.

10:30PM – Lights out everywhere. Sweet dreams!

Despite having our day planned out, I am certainly not opposed to impromptu water gun fights or trips to the park or visits to/from friends. This flexibility is one of the many things I love about homeschooling and one of the reasons our family chooses to school year round. But that’s a topic for another time…

Fabulous Life Presents: SAHM

fab_lifePeople often ask me what I do all day. I have NO idea why this is such a fascinating topic, but, since so many people are interested, I’ll lift the shroud for all of you who want to know but haven’t asked.

Around 5AM I realize that I absolutely can not hit snooze anymore or Josh will be late for work. I head for the kitchen, start the coffee, feed the cats, and pack a lunch for Josh. Regardless of how quiet we are, Andy always comes bounding out of his room, saying something along the lines of, “Daddy. Work. Blue Car.” I respond, “Yes, sweetie, Daddy is about to leave for work in the blue car.” Shortly after 5:30, Andy and I walk Josh to his car and tell him goodbye. Andy and I have a discussion about the presence of the moon, or lack thereof, and how much longer it will be dark.

Andy’s mood determines what happens next. If he is well rested and in good spirits, I make him some chocolate milk. We sit on the couch, Andy with his milk and me with my coffee, and catch some of the morning headlines on CNN. When Andy can’t take anymore news, we turn on Muzzy. Josh and I are learning French, so we got Muzzy for the boys so they wouldn’t be left out. Andy absolutely loves it. He’s already using several phrases in every day conversation! If Andy is clearly in need of more sleep, he goes back to bed, usually in my room. The days he goes back to sleep, I get to do a Hip Hop Abs video and take a shower. By then, both boys are raring to go.

I get Jack out of bed, change both boys’ diapers, and set them up for breakfast. Today, it was whole grain frozen waffles and this amazing mixed berry sauce I made. I try to give them something semi-homemade for breakfast, but it doesn’t always happen. Yesterday, it was poptarts and bananas. :) While the boys eat, I make the beds and do any necessary tidying up in the bedrooms. If time permits, I get started on a chore that is easier completed without my little helpers, such as cleaning one of the bathrooms or mopping the kitchen floor. When the boys are finished, I clean them up. They play while I clean up the breakfast mess. After the kitchen is cleaned, the boys and I all play together. Lately, it’s been blocks or trucks or bowling. Before long, Jack is ready for his morning nap. We clean up whatever we were playing with, do a diaper change, read “Goodnight Moon” and put Jack to bed.

While Jack sleeps, Andy and I do a variety of activities, partially determined by the weather. If it’s nice out, Andy and I go outside. Jack’s window is right off our porch and I can hear him if he gets upset. If we can’t go out, we do some kind of craft project, puzzles, and/or bake something. When Jack wakes up, it’s bath time, as Andy is usually pretty gross after any of the above mentioned activities.

Now, it’s lunch time. If we don’t have any errands to run, the boys sit down together and eat. Lunch is something pretty simple: sandwiches and chips, mac and cheese and hotdogs, microwavable ravioli, 90 second rice packs and chicken tenders, etc. If we do have errands, I pack a filling snack, like chicken tenders and cheese cubes, and we hit the road. If the boys are still hungry, we’ll eat lunch when we get home.

Now it’s NAPTIME!! We get cleaned up, change diapers, read “Goodnight Moon” again and go to bed! I make myself some lunch and watch a little tv, usually 7th Heaven. If I haven’t gotten to shower yet, now is the time. I do some computer work, like pay bills and Mary Kay stuff, and take care of any mail correspondence, like thank you notes or, currently, Alzheimer’s Association stuff. Of course, I check my email, Myspace, and Facebook. I’ve usually thrown in a load of laundry at some point earlier in the day, so I fold it and put it away. If time permits, I’ll do some reading or, if I haven’t already done it with Andy, I’ll do some baking.

When the boys get up, we have a little snack. We may watch a short movie or check out what’s on Sprout of Noggin, especially if they wake up on the wrong side of the bed. If they wake up happy, we may head over to the playground or run any remaining errands after their snack. Sometime between 4 and 5, Daddy calls to say he’s on his way home. Once we get that call, we do a big clean up and vacuum the house. The boys love to help vacuum. Andy either uses our handheld vacuum or some attachments from the big vacuum. If Andy’s not using the attachments, Jack used them. Otherwise, Jack uses a push toy that pops up the colored balls on the inside. Since Josh’s commute is about an hour or so, after we’re done cleaning, we head out for a walk. We walk around the neighborhood until we pass Daddy’s car.

Now that Daddy’s home, the boys play with him either inside or out, while I make dinner. After we eat, Josh cleans up the boys. Depending on the time, we may play some more. We do a final clean up, brush teeth, and put on pajamas. Once the boys are in their beds, we read “Goodnight Moon” one final time, and say goodnight. Josh cleans up the kitchen, empties the litter box, and gets a shower while I do any remaining Mary Kay stuff or cleaning or whatever. Finally the work is done, and Josh and I get to spend some time together!

So there you have it. It may not be very glamorous, but that’s what my days look like. If you think you would be bored, don’t forget to account for the momentary chaos resulting from things like my adorable pumpkin-shaped pepper shaker shattering all over the kitchen floor, explosive diapers, a cat stepping in finger paint, unwillingness to share, or any other random event caused by my sweet little Andy trying to “help.” Despite their lackluster appearance, I wouldn’t trade my simple little days for anything in the world!