Category Archives: This is Our Life

Through Their Eyes

Last week, as I watched the weather forecast predict plummeting temperatures in the near future, I decided to take the kids out for what might be one of the last nice days of fall. I had just done a senior shoot the day before and the senior’s mom had recommended visiting Duke Gardens as a potential photo location in the future. I decided I should check it out before I go into hibernation.

One of my old cameras is still in fairly decent shape and I love to let the kids use it. We affectionately call it the “kid camera.” It’s a DSLR, and I love that the individual kids can use it on a setting they are comfortable with. Some use it an auto, some on a semi-auto mode and Alaina, my oldest, loves to practice shooting in manual. It’s fun for me to see them get excited about something I love so much. Even more so, however, I love to see the world through their eyes. Photography has done amazing things in my life. Primarily, it has taught me to be thankful. When you look at the world in front of you and stop long enough to see the beauty, gratitude grows. And gratitude is something I want to pass on to my kids. The world is filled with so much goodness, so much beauty, so many gifts from the Lord. Unfortunately, most people are too busy to even notice. Seeing, stopping, clicking: It makes the heart swell.

As I downloaded their images, I couldn’t help but smile at how they see the world. It was even more fun to try to guess who took each photo (they took turns for the afternoon). When I see the things that excite them enough to capture it on the camera, it gives me insight into who they are and what they find beautiful. And I hope when they look through my photos of their childhood, they will learn about what I find beautiful.

All images taken by Alaina (11), Caleb (10), Levi (8) and Katie (6) and edited by me.

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I Don’t Know How You Do It

I Don't Know How You Do It

I hear it often: “I don’t know how you do it.”

I hear it almost as often as “Oh, you’ve got your hands full.”

In this 28 minute audio post, I share my thoughts on the comment and what I share with those who make it.

Please excuse my still-raspy voice and the occasional sniffle. I think my body is revolting against the temperatures that drop below 50˚. Living near the equator for years will do that to you.

 

As always, you can listen to it here or download below.


To Be Your Mama

To Be Your Mama

“I’m so glad I get to be your mama.”

It’s a phrase I use often. It’s true. It’s intentional.

Of the things I want most for my children, nearing the top of the list is a feeling — a knowledge — that they are delighted in. That they loved, that they are cherished.

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“Preparing the Soil” wasn’t a name pulled out of nowhere. When I read the parable of the sower with fresh eyes and realized that the seed thrown (the Word) was the same in each of the four stories, I sat staring…realizing even more the incredible power in parenting.

We can throw the Word at our children. We can bring them to church, put them in Christian schools or teach Christian curriculum at home, we can buy them Christian books, send them to Christian camps, and pray for Christian friends.

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But if their hearts (the soil) has not been tended to and is not ready to receive the truth of the gospel’s great love and freedom, our attempts at growing our children up in the Lord will be in vain.

A farmer tends his soil. He waters it. He plows it. He prepares it. Before the first seed is planted, the ground is made ready to receive.

In the same way, we must tend to our children’s hearts.

“I’m so glad I get to be your mama.”

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I say it with words. I say it with actions. I say it with the things I say yes to and the things I say no to. I say it with the food I make, the trips we take, the choices we make. I say it with the tone of my voice and the feel of my touch.

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“You are loved. You are delighted in. You are a blessing in my life. You are not a distraction or a hindrance to my life. You are part of the abundant life God has given me and I’m so glad I get to be your mama.”

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Our Week in Photos (Sept 27 – Oct 4)

Life around here is busy. We’re in a state of transition (and will be for a long time) and there are a lot of issues to sort out and decisions to make. I’ll admit, it’s tough. The stress builds up. The emotions run high. I’ll even have an audio post on it tomorrow. But in the midst of the stress and decisions, we are aiming for a sense of routine. Of normal. Of us.

“US” means school, and baking, and playing, and reading, and resting. I want to remember these little moments because I know that one day when I look back on this time in our life, the little moments will be what matters.

She follows directions well

She follows directions well

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Some extra sight word practice for the boys...terms they find in math and get stuck on.

Some extra sight word practice for the boys…terms they find in math and get stuck on.

Almond Joy pancakes. One of my faves!

Almond Joy pancakes. One of my faves!

A family favorite...pizza rolls.

A family favorite…pizza rolls.

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Big brother and little brother, playing with cars.

Big brother and little brother, playing with cars.

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Happy homeschooler (at least for this week...usually she doesn't like doing school.)

Happy homeschooler (at least for this week…usually she doesn’t like doing school.)

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She trying a new method of curling.

She tried a new method of curling.

Off to their monthly Home Depot Saturday!

Off to their monthly Home Depot Saturday!

Alaina's beautiful cake

The beautiful cake Alaina made

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My newest little baker

My newest little baker

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Apple cider cupcakes...mmmm!

Apple cider cupcakes…mmmm!

Bethany loves doing what she calls 'gool.

Bethany loves doing what she calls ‘gool.

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A-Camping We Will Go (part 2)

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After leaving Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we headed to Fall Creek Falls State Park to meet up with friends for five days of camping. We were really looking forward to spending time with them! We were also really looking forward to seeing up camp and then just STAYING for five days. Setting up and tearing down takes a lot of work and we were anxious to just be for a while.

I find it very helpful when others share some of the nitty-gritty details of trips and so I thought I would share a little about the logistical arrangements of camping with two large families.

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Two families

Two Campsites

Two pop-up campers

One tent

Eleven kids (ages 11, 10, 8, 8, 6, 6, 5, 3, 3, 1, 1)

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Our friends made the reservations at the campground, and they picked AMAZING spots. We had two sites on a small loop off the main loop of the campground. This meant that there were no cars coming through, except for the few cars of the campsites next to us. This allowed the kids to spend lots of time running around and scootering around the loop.  There were no sites to the back of us which meant 1) less noise, 2) more privacy 3) prettier woodsy view, 4) deer that walked through regularly. The bathhouse was just a 1-2 minute walk, which made cleaning off dirty kids super easy.

Each family had their own pop-up camper. We wanted to be able to have our doors facing each other (and thus create a sense of one big shared site) and so our friends maneuvered their camper to turn backward so that our doors opened up to the same side.

Our family also brought and set up a tent. This large tent served three purposes. First, it was our changing room. We didn’t want clothes all over the camper and with the ages of our kids, we can’t just change openly anymore. Our tent has three subdividivisions with walls which made changing easy. The second purpose of the tent was to house our camping toilet. Our friends have a toilet in their camper, but we don’t. During the day, most of us would use the bathhouse, but during the nighttime (or anytime when the little girls needed to go), we used the camping toilet in the tent. And no, they don’t smell. Those little contraptions are very well-designed. The third use of the tent was for Zachary and his pack ‘n ‘play. He is not at the age when he can be in a bed with others…he just thinks it is party time. He (and we!) sleep much better if he is isolated. He napped and slept at night in one of the sections of the tent.

As for meals, we decided to loosely coordinate what we were having, but each family brought and prepared their own food. With this many people, it would just be too much to prep and prepare for everyone at once. We did our best to have dinners ready at the same time and we all sat together along two picnic tables that we put together. Breakfasts were simple, but yummy: French toasts, pancakes, breakfast sandwiches/burritos, cereal, oatmeal, and fruit. Lunches were either snacky foods like cheese and crackers or were simple like pasta or leftovers. Many of the dinners were prepped ahead of time and so we feasted on amazing things like enchilada soup, grilled chicken, hamburgers, grilled pizza, and of course, the obligatory hot dog night.

Time

One of the great things about camping for a stretch longer than a weekend (we had five nights) is that you can slow your schedule down. Most days, we did only one big activity (hiking, swimming, etc). Mornings were slow. We enjoyed long cups of coffee, late breakfasts, our individual Bible times, and warming ourselves by the fire (three nights were in the 50s!) The two babies still take one long nap a day and so often, the dads would take the other kids to one of the ranger activities around the park. While the babies napped, the mamas read, chatted, showered, and rested ourselves.

In the afternoons, we spent our time exploring the gorgeous park. Then we would come back to the site, make dinner, eat, clean up, have a fire and s’mores, and head to bed. I’ve got lots of photos from our various hikes and swims, but for today, just a few photos of life around the campsite. Enjoy!

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Homemade breakfast sandwiches are yummy!

Homemade breakfast sandwiches are yummy!

So is oatmeal!

So is oatmeal!

Wildlife!

Wildlife!

Lots of scooter riding (and falling!)

Lots of scooter riding (and falling!)

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Good help is easy to find!

Good help is easy to find!

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The two three year olds spent much of their week running back into the field behind the sites and picking wildflowers, all the while singing, "It's a beautiful day to pick flowers!"

The two three year olds spent much of their week running back into the field behind the sites and picking wildflowers, all the while singing, “It’s a beautiful day to pick flowers!”

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A-Camping We Will Go! (part one)

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Every morning as I woke up this past week  — chilled air and slightly damp clothes sticking to me — these words spilled out of my mouth:

 I LOVE camping.

I know it isn’t everyone’s sentiment…but I really, really love it.

Sure, it’s messy. It’s muddy. It’s wet and cold and it sometimes it means a baby who wants to play rather than go to sleep.

But I LOVE camping.

Along with all that mess and mud is something amazing:

It’s beautiful.

It’s being outside in God’s creation.

It’s roasting marshmallows with sticky-fingered kids and looking for the perfect s’more recipe.

It’s long walks with friends in the cool of the morning.

It’s putting your watch, work, and makeup away.

It’s looking at the gorgeous stars as you share your hearts with friends.

It’s listening to three year old girls sing, “It’s a beautiful day to pick flowers!”

It’s watching a mama deer and her babes drink from the river.

It’s hot coffee, both to drink and to keep your hands warm.

It’s time for extra cuddles, from big kids and small kids alike.

It’s chicken, pizza, french toast, and even cookies cooked on the grill.

It’s lazy mornings with nothing to do and nowhere to go.

It’s bliss.

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The plan was to spend two nights together as a family in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and then meeting up friends for five days at Fall Creek Falls State Park. Due to some problems with the lights on our camper, we had to delay our start by a day. But after a long and slow trip, complete with car trouble, we finally arrived at the park and had one night alone as a family. After a very busy few months it was so wonderful to just be together. After setting up camp, we ate tacos and then the kids played in the woods. Marshmallows and bed followed. The next morning was spent on a nice walk, getting our car fixed, and cleaning up camp. Our time was short, but it was oh-so-sweet.

We needed to stop to get something for the car, so we decided on a WalMart parking lot breakfast picnic!

We needed to stop to get something for the car, so we decided on a WalMart parking lot breakfast picnic!

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It takes sites like this to say, "Woah...we have a big family!"

It takes sites like this to say, “Woah…we have a big family!”

I've heard of a beach bum before, but this is my first experience with a camping bum!

I’ve heard of a beach bum before, but this is my first experience with a camping bum. Oh well, “dirt don’t hurt.”

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Nothing beat French Toast while camping!

Nothing beats French Toast while camping!

The site next to us was empty and had just had its tent pad res-anded. Our kids were in sandbox heaven!

The site next to us was empty and had just had its tent pad re-sanded. Our kids were in sandbox heaven!

 

Stay tuned for Part Two! 

 

How’s It Going?

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It’s the question we get asked the most. People want to know how our transition has been and how we are enjoying life back in the United States.

Unfortunately, it’s not an easy question to answer. I’m not sure if I should be honest (“It’s been really busy and really crazy but we somehow are hanging in there and sneaking in a bit of fun”) or just be polite and positive (“We’re doing great!)  Either way I spin it, it would only be a small portion of truth. To explain what the last few months have been like would take hours. And obviously, most people who ask us how we are doing don’t have hours to listen to the laundry list of happenings and emotions.

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In a few words, though, here is what we have been up to:

Transitioning: Moving back to the States takes time. There are many boring (but necessary) tasks like getting new driver’s licenses, plates for our car, choosing cell phones, getting our kitchen stocked, etc. Moving life for a family of 8 to a new country means many hours spent doing things we would rather not be doing.

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Decision Making: We’ve had a mot of decisions to make. We had to buy a car. We had to decide how to spend the summer. We have had to try to plan out our fall. There have been many long (and often interrupted) talks as we try to be wise with our time, talents, and money.

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Interviewing: The big “next step” in our life is still in process. It has been a lengthy ordeal (starting generally in November and specifically in January). We’re still not done. This has meant many hours filling our paperwork, tracking down specific documents, interviewing via Skype, and more. It is all worth it, but again, it takes time.

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Reconnecting: We have enjoyed getting to reconnect with family and friends, both in person and on the phone. We have loved being back with our church and feel so blessed to be a part of an amazing fellowship of believers. Jason and the boys enjoyed a weekend father/son camping trip with a number of other families and I enjoyed an amazing five days in Memphis reconnecting with friends from college and from our time in Indonesia. What a soul-filling time it was (and admittedly, a nice break after being a single mom for five weeks).

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Studying: My class in educational therapy has stared and I am enjoying being a student again (minus having to look up things like the current APA format for papers!) I am enjoying what I am learning and I look forward to a much deeper look into things during the residency portion of my class at the end of the month.

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Unpacking: We’re still sorting through the things we brought back from Indonesia as well as working through paperwork for our small shipment that will come in early fall. It’s especially difficult since we are staying with family for the summer and don’t want to truly unpack until we move into our house in September. But being able to find things is highly desirable and this has meant a lot of shuffling things around.

Missing: With being Stateside for almost two months, I am definitely missing Indonesia. It comes in waves and I find it hard to really make sense of all the mixed emotions. I suppose it is only normal to grieve for a place we called home for the last six years while also looking forward to what God has for us in the future. And we’re all missing Rendang.

Photographing: More and more I am realizing how alive I feel when I spend time with my camera. Whether it is taking pictures on my morning walk or watching friends snuggle as a family in front of me, capturing the beauty I see with my camera is so filling. I love capturing small moments in time for people to enjoy for years to come. I am especially looking forward to a wedding I am shooting this weekend and as long as baby behaves himself and doesn’t arrive while I am at the wedding, I will get to photograph the birth of a beautiful friend’s little man.

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Buying: Lots of stuff. It’s amazing when you realize how many little (and big) things you need to just “do life.” Whether its a major purchase (like a car) or a smaller purchase (like running shoes for the whole family), it all takes time. Lots of it.

Sorting: There have many many details and things to sort out — phones, insurance, doctors, etc. I will be so thankful when all of that stuff is done and we can feel like we have officially settled. And although I had to wait for two hours, I can finally say that as of today I am officially a North Carolina resident.

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Praying: Lots of it. Not much more to say than that I am glad that David gave us such an example in the Psalms of honest prayer. I love that I can pour out my heart in all honestness and He knows and loves me still.

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Planning: We’re gearing up for a month-long road trip to visit many friends and family. Planning for eight people to be on the road for a month is no easy feat! We’re working on finalizing our itinerary and then we need to get working and making definite plans with all of you who have said you’d like to see us.

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Writing: Although I haven’t been writing in this space much, I have been doing quite a bit more writing over at THE DAILY DIGI. You can look HERE for a list of my recent posts (scroll to the bottom). Some of my favorite ones are Memories Don’t Have to be Planned, No Manners Meal,  Flour Bombs, and Ice Coffee Pops.

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Baking: Although I haven’t gotten to do a ton of cooking, I have loved being back in an American kitchen where so many yummy things can be made!

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Worrying: I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t also mention the worrying I have been doing. I try to turn it right into praying, but sometimes I get so overwhelmed with all that has to be done and with all the unknowns of the future. This life of faith is filled with many amazing stories of God’s provision and His unswerving love for us, but it is not — in any way — easy. I let it get to me sometimes and I start to fret over many things. I’ve been working on memorizing the Sermon on the Mount so that I have something to fight the fear with. I’m partway through chapter 6 and I love to let the words flow through my thoughts.

 

 

Strawberry Picking With Friends

Strawberry Picking With Friends | www.preparingthesoil.comIt’s only the beginning of June, but strawberry season is already over here in North Carolina. Earlier this week, though, we headed out with friends to see if we could find any berries left to pick.

I don't think Zach wanted his picture taken...

I don’t think Zach wanted his picture taken…

It was pretty hot and sunny and there were very few berries to be found, but that didn’t stop the kids from having fun!

Strawberry Picking With Friends | www.preparingthesoil.com Strawberry Picking With Friends | www.preparingthesoil.com Strawberry Picking With Friends | www.preparingthesoil.com Strawberry Picking With Friends | www.preparingthesoil.com

I spent most of my time with Bethany who was determined to pick lots of strawberries.

Strawberry Picking With Friends | www.preparingthesoil.com Strawberry Picking With Friends | www.preparingthesoil.comIt was a little slow going at first as she learned which berries were good and which weren’t, but eventually she got the hang of it and her bucket started filling.

Strawberry Picking With Friends | www.preparingthesoil.com

Strawberry Picking With Friends | www.preparingthesoil.com Strawberry Picking With Friends | www.preparingthesoil.com

And after almost an hour of watching the other kids eating most of the berries they picked and Bethany saying, “Yuck, I don’t like strawberries!”, she finally put one in her mouth and said,

“Oh! These are YUMMY!”

And that was the end of strawberry picking for Bethany. She sat herself down on a chair and ate berry after berry.


Strawberry Picking With Friends | www.preparingthesoil.comStrawberry Picking With Friends | www.preparingthesoil.com

And although we didn’t have a lot of berries to show for the morning, the point was to have fun and be with friends. Mission accomplished!

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A Day With Friends

A Day With Friends | Preparing the Soil

 

We’re still ten days away from dad returning from Indonesia. And let me say…we’re ready. I’m ready.

In the meantime, though, we’re trying to find the balance between keeping busy and resting before what will be a pretty eventful summer.

Yesterday we had the pleasure of spending the day at a friend’s house. With thirteen kids between the two families, there was never a dull moment (I think Michelle and I sat on the porch together for no more than three minutes). But the kids had a great time and it was so refreshing to get out of the house.

As the first twinges of missing Indonesia start to be noticeable, I am thankful for friends and the reminder that we are starting a new life here. I don’t know how long we’ll be here, but there is much truth to the proverb,

The grass is greener on the other side where you water it.

 

So we’re going to water while we’re here and enjoy the beauty.

Lots of trampoline fun (with only one minor injury!)

Lots of trampoline fun (with only one minor injury!)

Beautiful Flowers welcoming us to the house

Beautiful Flowers welcoming us to the house

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Lots of kitty love

Lots of kitty love

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Zach LOVED the kittens. I am not sure they returned the sentiment!

Zach LOVED the kittens. I am not sure they returned the sentiment!

Caleb is always happiest with animals nearby.

Caleb is always happiest with animals nearby.

Kitten racing!

Kitten racing!

Kitten racing!

Kitten racing!

Lots of fence climbing

Lots of fence climbing

Love my outdoor-loving boy!

Love my outdoor-loving boy!

A beautiful flower picked for me (sorry Michelle!) by my sweet girl.

A beautiful flower picked for me (sorry Michelle!) by my sweet girl.

Lots of swinging

Lots of swinging

Little brother pushing

Little brother pushing

Too-small bike riding

Too-small bike riding

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A walk around the property

A walk around the property

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A walk that ended with pine comb bombing!

A walk that ended with pine comb bombing!

Survival Mode

Survival Mode | Preparing the Soil

There is a big push out there to move from surviving to thriving. I get the sentiment, I really do.

However, there are times in life when thriving isn’t an option. But survival is.

Survival Mode | Preparing the Soil

Our lives don’t always come to us wrapped up in neat and pretty packages. We don’t always have days (or weeks or months or years) when we can truly thrive.  To thrive means to prosper, to flourish. And thriving is a great thing. But it isn’t the only thing.

  • In winter, plants don’t thrive. They survive.
  • Hibernating animals don’t thrive. They survive.
  • Sick people don’t thrive. They survive.
  • Hurting and broken people don’t thrive. They survive.
  • Sick and pregnant women don’t thrive. They survive.
  • And mamas playing the single mom for five weeks to six kids? They don’t thrive. They survive.
Baby snuggles on the front porch

Baby snuggles on the front porch

I know my situation of having my husband on the other side of the world while I reign in the crazy here in the States for five weeks is a small thing. And yet, it doesn’t feel like a small thing when

  • We have all been jet lagged and just downright tired
  • Almost all of the kids have been sick (and we rarely get sick)
  • Bethany did not handle jet lag well and spent more than a week waking up ready to start the day at 2:00 am
  • Zachary has four molars coming in, is sick for the first time in his life, and broke out in a horrendous case of hives (which we later learned was due to the ibuprofen given to help with the cry-all-day teething pain)
  • We’re all dealing with reverse culture shock and a feeling of not belonging anywhere
  • We all miss dad!
  • We are living in someone else’s home, which while is a blessing at times, leads to a lot of adjustment on everyone’s part
  • We are living without our normal, everyday things (dishes, toys, decor, bedding, etc)
  • We have no norms, no routines, no real schedule

Survival Mode | Preparing the Soil

So yea, we’re in survival mode. And I am okay with that. There is an ending in sight (18 days, in case you are wondering). And in the meantime, I am sticking to my “survival mode” rules (many of the same ones I employ when I am pregnant):

  • Make sure everyone gets lots of sleep (a little tough with jet lag, but I think we are officially over it now!) This means no late nights, even for “special” things.
  • Watch what we eat (we are especially mindful of things like sugar intake when emotions are already running high).
  • Get lots of fresh air
  • Try to ensure that the introverts get time alone (which for me means getting up at 2:30 am in order to have a few hours of peace and quiet) and the extroverts get some people time (which means going on a few outings with church and friends)
  • Lots of extra snuggles and kisses
  • Keeping spaces clean (it is amazing how much better we feel emotionally when our surroundings are tidy)
  • A very light (but predictable) schedule
  • Accepting help when needed and offered (I’m having a young lady come over today for a few hours so I can get some much needed work done)
  • Extra time in the Word and in books (quiet reading soothes the soul)
  • Extra doses of patience and compassion
  • Not a time for learning new things or working on trouble areas in life
  • Finding times for things that fill the soul (for me that is creating, either through photography, writing, designing, or baking)
  • Little things first (I try to get all the small and pesky to-do things off my list first thing in the morning so they don’t weigh me down all day)
  • Cutting out any and all things possible (for example, school time is down to reading and math)
  • Getting exercise (I haven’t been able to run every day but I have gone out for the last few days and it has been GLORIOUS!)

Survival Mode | Preparing the Soil

I am sure there is more, but these are the things I am intentionally doing this time of single-parent survival. We’re a flawed bunch and we’ve had some really hard days, but we’ve had some really great days as well. The slower pace and lowered expectations for “getting things done” allows us the time and freedom to just BE together. Yesterday we snuggled on the couch and watched America’s Funniest Home Videos. Later we sat around the dinner table discussing all the different ways that people eat (vegetarian, vegan, paleo, Atkins, clean eating, the American out-of-a-box diet, etc.) The kids came up with a plan for us to try each of these for three days, just to experience them (I’m already feeling sick at the thought of eating frozen food out of a box for three days!). But as I sat there at the table, my kids surrounding me, listening to the laughter and creativity, I thought to myself, “Maybe survival mode isn’t so bad after all.”

Survival Mode | Preparing the Soil

Vanilla Oat pancakes with Blackberry and coconut milk topping

Vanilla Oat pancakes with Blackberry and coconut milk topping

Survival Mode | Preparing the Soil

Survival Mode | Preparing the SoilSurvival Mode | Preparing the SoilSurvival Mode | Preparing the SoilSurvival Mode | Preparing the Soil©Survival Mode | Preparing the Soil-1

Bathtime is so much more fun when I don't have to say, "Don't drink the water! You'll get sick!"

Bathtime is so much more fun when I don’t have to say, “Don’t drink the water! You’ll get sick!”

Check out those hives! And this wasn't even close to the worst of it!

Check out those hives! And this wasn’t even close to the worst of it!

A trip to the park with some people from our church

A trip to the park with some people from our church

Survival Mode | Preparing the SoilSurvival Mode | Preparing the Soil

 

And for your viewing pleasure, the jet-lag and 2:00 am cereal chronicles…

I constantly found kids in my bed at random times in the day

I constantly found kids in my bed at random times in the day

Day four of jet lag

Day four of jet lag

Day 8 of jet lag...at least she fell asleep on her own bed

Day 8 of jet lag…at least she fell asleep on her own bed

1:30 am cereal time

1:30 am cereal time

2:00 am cereal time (day 3 of jet lag)

2:00 am cereal time (day 3 of jet lag)

2:30 am cereal time...day four of jet lag

2:30 am cereal time…day four of jet lag