“It’s Been Busy!”

When people ask how I am, I try to avoid saying that I’m busy, even though I am, because everyone is busy it seems.

“How are you?”  “Oh!  Busy.”  That is a very boring answer, but a very true one, too.

I hate being so busy!  As an extrovert, I love having lots of things going on, and lots of people to see and things to do, but there is a difference between being healthfully busy and being consumed with that crushing, overwhelming feeling of busyness, when you know full well there is not enough margin in your life.  Unfortunately, I know that feeling too well.

aa-crazy bSo, I turned to this great little book, Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem, to see what the author had to say.

Many times, while reading this book, I saw some overlap with the very excellent book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, which I reviewed here.

The author of Crazy Busy, DeYoung, notes that “we are so busy with a million pursuits that we don’t notice the important things in life slipping away.”

Yep!  That’s what wakes me up at night, sometimes.

One of the reasons we take on so many things is pride, says DeYoung.  Pride manifests itself in people-pleasing, wanting pats-on-the-back, pity, power, perfectionism, prestige, poor planning, etc.  This brought me back to Essentialism.  We have to know what our priorities are (what is essential, to us), or else we will take on things that don’t fit within our pre-determined priorities and we will do things that ultimately hurt our relationships, hinder our primary goals, and make us stressed out for no good reason.  The author of Crazy Busy asks us to determine why we are doing what we are doing.  Ask: Am I trying to do good, or make myself look good? 

As a Christian, DeYoung addresses the guilt factor that many Christians feel in not doing “good works” for God.  We should ask what God requires of us and what He is leading us to do, taking into consideration our specific abilities and callings, as opposed to letting other people’s expectations, or guilt, determine our priorities.  We should also give other people the freedom to determine their own priorities.

There was a very insightful and interesting chapter on parenting in this book.  Basically, the author states that we need to stop freaking out about our kids.  “Parenting has become more complicated than it needs to be,” the author states.  “It’s harder to ruin kids than we think and harder to stamp them for success than we’d like.”  Kids nowadays are hovered over by parents in ways that previous generations wouldn’t even recognize.   He cites some interesting studies indicating that identical twins separated at birth and adopted into different families, and raised differently (but both in a caring family), turned out very similarly, despite their different upbringings.  In Ellen Galinsky’s “Ask the Children” survey, “kids rarely wished for more time with their parents, but, much to the parents’ surprise, they wished their parents were less tired and less stressed.”

“Could it be that we have made parenting too complicated?” the author asks.  “Isn’t the most important thing not what we do but who we are as parents?  Kids will remember our character before they remember our exact rules regarding television and Twinkies.”

The author also points out that child rearing is hardly the main theme of Scripture.  God doesn’t provide for many specific instructions about the parent-child relationship, except that parents teach their children about God, discipline them, be thankful for them, and not exasperate them.  Filling in the details depends on the family, the culture, the Spirit’s wisdom, and a whole lot of trial and error.

We can’t avoid being busy with our children, but “we can avoid freaking out about them quite so much!”

The author also had some good things to say about keeping technology from taking over our lives (and souls) and making sure we are maintaining proper rhythms of rest (“Sabbath”) and building margin into our lives.

At the end of the book, DeYoung notes that, as Christians, we are actually supposed to be busy people.  We are supposed to be working, serving, bearing one another’s burdens, etc.  But “the busyness that’s bad is not the busyness of work, but the busyness that works hard at the wrong things.”

So, it’s okay for me to be busy, even very busy during certain phases of life, but this book reminded me to make sure I am busy for the right reasons.  Again, Essentialism.  What a concept!

This book was funny—I laughed out loud several times in every chapter, it seems—easy to read, and insightful.  I would highly recommend it.

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Fantasy Diversion

aa-harryMy fourth grader is putting me to shame and whizzing through Harry Potter, leaving me in the dust.  I had good intentions of keeping up with her.  She was halfway through book four as I finished book two, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

The problem with her being ahead of me is that she doesn’t know about spoiler alerts. So I have already learned a few things about books three and four, even though I’m still stuck at the conclusion of book two.  But I don’t want to say anything because she is so cute when it comes to her infatuation with the Harry Potter characters and plot twists.  I enjoy our conversations.

This second book in the series further develops the world of Harry Potter and his friends at Hogwarts School. Harry is a great character, never pompous because of his special abilities, smart, responsible, good-hearted, and likable. The two books I’ve read so far clip along at an interesting pace.  My one complaint is that this second book is pretty similar to the first book: a poor unloved orphan escapes to another world and saves the day.  I was hoping for a little more deviation from the first book.  [It’s also been a while since I read the first book, so it’s true that I could have forgotten some of the differences.]

We are watching the Harry Potter movies together, after reading the books, too, which is always fun.

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A mom-friend told me that the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series is “the next Harry Potter” when it comes to modern kids’ literary cult followings.  I don’t know about that, but I decided to aaa-miss ppick up the first book in the series because I was looking for some fiction to mix in with all the non-fiction I’ve been reading.

Don’t tell my daughter (ha!) but I found the opening chapters of Miss Peregrine’s Home to be much more intriguing than Harry Potter.  Maybe it was the reference to a mysterious immigrant grandfather escaping the holocaust that piqued my interest.  Maybe it was the violent killing of a relative by some unknown, otherworldly creature, that hooked me.  I’m not sure.  I will say that the hero of this story is at times an unsympathetic, spoiled-rich-boy character.  A friend described him as “whiny” and I would have to agree with that.

I thought this book was a fun little diversion, however, and was well-written and interesting enough to keep me engaged.  I also liked that this fantasy book had enough elements of realism to make it seem almost, not quite, but almost plausible that this kind of thing could happen.  The book kept me guessing.  I just might have to pick up the second one sometime.

Imperfect Families, Truth, and Sadness

aa-schaefferI have appreciated reading three Edith Schaeffer books in the past year or so.  Schaeffer especially loves creativity and articulately writes about the intersection of faith and creativity, as Creator God is the author and instigator of all things beautiful and magnificent in this world, and because He created us in His image, we can emulate Him in this area.

What is a Family? is a book about what the Christian family means and what it should be.  I read it to discuss with a friend and we thought it was a good book to introduce concepts of how Christian families should operate and work.  The book is full of tidbits of wisdom.  Schaeffer opines about how the family is the formation center for human relationships, a shelter in times of storm, a place for moral instruction, a place to build a museum of memories, and so on.   These are all good principles to bring to mind.

Of course, the problem with a book like this is, although these are good principles, no one should be boxed in.  I don’t think cookie-cutter families are the point, or even something that is desirable.  So, I think this book is a good reference for general insights, and not an exact prescription.

Also, Schaeffer put forth strong opinions a few times, about things I don’t think are clear in scripture, and this was a little off-putting.  One example pertained to working moms and a story about her being available for her children.  Schaeffer wrote about how her kids would come home from school and she would be making fresh orange rolls and give them a ball of dough to play with.

This seems idyllic and desirable—and I think being available for your kids is very important—but, I’m sure there are a lot of stressed out, frenzied stay-at-home moms and also there are working moms who are able to find balance who are really good moms, even if they are not always home to greet kids with fresh dough to play with after school.  I don’t think orange dough balls are all that important, although the story was sweet (no pun intended).  Other than that, I thought the book, overall, was a good read.

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So, then, I asked my friend who was discussing these Edith Schaeffer books with me, if she would read a book written by her son, Frank Schaeffer.  I knew that Frank Schaeffer strongly disagreed with his parents on matters of faith.  I wanted to get inside his head and see what he was thinking.  My friend was a good sport about it, and agreed to read it with me.

After reading Sex, Mom, and God, I have conflicting feelings about it.

Frank gives an intimate portrayal of some of the less-proud moments in the Schaeffer family.  If even a portion of what he says is true, yes, there was dysfunction.  But, it’s a sinful world and no one is perfect, and that doesn’t rock my life too much.  I believe that even sinful people (because all people are sinful) can speak truth and have theological insight.  I don’t think the Schaeffers ever claimed to be perfect.  I was, however, disturbed to read about Frank’s claim that his dad physically abused his mom (“hit” her).  Edith herself indicates that Francis had a periodic anger problem in her book What is a Family?

If this was truly the case, then Francis should have stepped down from Christian ministry to focus on his personal issues and make sure things were right in his family, before proceeding in ministry.

I think there is a problem any time there are Christian Superstars.  We should not put people on pedestals.  People are flawed.  Only Christ is perfect.  He deserves our worship, not humans who appear to have special insight.

The biggest thing that grabbed me when reading this book is the fact that Frank is bitter about his odd, missionary family, who often abandoned him for what they insisted was God’s work.  He just wanted to be a normal kid.  He wondered why his mom didn’t pursue her first love, ballet.  She was so creative and loved art so much.  Why couldn’t she stop worrying so much about her missionary obligations?  Why couldn’t she spend more time with him, instead of leaving so often to follow his dad around the world?  Why did they have to witness to heathen Italians at the beach instead of just enjoying their holiday?  Why couldn’t they be average?  This book, more than anything, is the mourning of lost normalcy.  

It seems the Schaeffers instilled in their son a lot of phrases and terminology about Jesus—which he later grew to resent and think was illogical and weird—but not a heartfelt love of what the bible is ultimately about: redemption and hope for imperfect people.  The bible is a love story about God saving mankind and wanting a relationship with them.  Frank grew up with a lot of knowledge about the minor things but not a transformative knowledge about the important things.

As a woman, I was also interested in reading how Schaeffer believes the God of the bible is anti-woman.  I thought his understanding of Old Testament stories were distorted, and I’m sure you would get other views of those stories and verses from true bible scholars, which Frank is not.  If anything Jesus was an early feminist because he had a high view of women and interacted with them like intellectual equals.  The Apostle Paul states in Galations that “there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  So, in my mind, gender distinctions are not the point of the bible and women are not demeaned in the bible.  But, that’s a topic that could be a whole blog post, or book, all by itself.

Just because the Schaeffers were imperfect people doesn’t mean they didn’t have truthful things to say.  But it is truly tragic that the Schaeffers witnessed to the whole world but lost their own son.  

That’s what the book left me feeling the most: sadness.

Label-Reading, Mindless Consuming, and Real Food

To be honest, I get tired of all the conflicting advice about diet and nutrition.  At what point do you believe so-and-so over other people?  And it seems there is always “new” evidence coming out that contradicts what we believed yesterday.  In Defense of Food, however, just seems to emanate with common sense.

The author, Pollan, begins with the question, “What should you eat?”  The answer to that is, “We should eat food.”  It saa-defense of foodounds simple, right?  But many of the things we eat in the 21st Century would be unrecognizable to our ancestors who lived a handful of generations back.  So many food items have been completely stripped of their nutrients, reinvented in a laboratory, with food scientists/ experts deciding what nutrients to add back in, and then loaded up with all kinds of preservatives and many artificial ingredients.

Why is it that, if I buy a pie at the local grocery store, it has 37 ingredients?  But if I make one at home it has only seven ingredients, and that’s if you count water as an ingredient.  (Plus, my pie will taste infinitely better!)  Bread and tortillas are other examples of a ridiculous amounts of additives being added to food to give it a long shelf life.

It is a little frightening to think of how much Americans rely on highly-processed food.  We want food that is fast and quickly satisfies our appetite urges and fills us up, with giving little thought to what is in the food.  I am as guilty as anyone.  For many years, I thought I was eating a healthy, balanced diet but never actually read any of the labels on the food I was eating.  This book has made me become a label-reader.  It was truly eye-opening and a little discouraging to walk through a grocery store aisle after reading this book and see how much our food has been engineered and processed.  Additionally, processed food does not fill us up or satisfy us as much as whole grain, unprocessed food.  So it naturally lends itself to overeating and obesity.

The author points out that eating should be simple.  Food shouldn’t have to advertize that it is “healthy.”  In fact, food that screams its health benefits on the packaging should be especially suspect.  We should use common sense when it comes to food.   According to the author, “Science and scientism has resulted in anxiety and confusion over even the most basic questions about food and health.”  The authority over how we eat, which had long rested with tradition and habit, has recently been ceded over to science.  

Scientists study variables they can isolate. They break down components of food and study them separately, ignoring complex interactions in the food as a whole. Nutritionist science is an oversimplification. Even the simplest food is complex to analyze. So nutrition scientists do the only thing they can do and separate and study those isolated nutrients. This is reductionist science because the whole may be different than the sum of its parts.  Food nutrients are complex.  Our bodies are also complex and process foods differently from person to person.  Nutritionist science erroneously thinks of food strictly in terms of its chemical constituents.

Pollan also addressed how natural fats are good for our bodies and the popular low-fat campaign, in recent past, has directly coincided with widespread weight gain.  The low-fat campaign is a primary example of scientism interfering with common sense food consumption.

The author posits that we should eat food and not food products. Ask, “Would my great-grandmother recognize it as food?”  Frito Lays claim to be healthy for your heart. The American Heart Association also puts its seal of approval on Lucky Charms and Cocoa Puffs, for a fee.  Why do we buy into this?

Pollan suggests that we should shop the peripheries of the shopping market for healthier items and stay away from the center aisles. We should look for food items that have five ingredients or fewer, with sugar not being in the first few ingredients.  Getting out of the grocery store as much as possible and going to farmers markets or starting a garden, is highly recommended.

We don’t need “experts” to tell us what is healthy. Rather than making our diets this complicated, calorie-counting, strict daily regimen, Pollan’s advice can help us be more intentional about food, but also less stressed about it.

I’m not saying that I’m ready to completely abandon my processed food habits, but I am making huge strides and I know where I want to go with our eating habits.  I still do buy store bought tortillas because, hey, I don’t have time to make my own all the time (although homemade tortillas are much tastier!).

Changing habits takes time.  Whether you can implement some of these Real Food ideas immediately or not, this book will give you a lot to think about and perhaps keep you from being a mindless consumer, like I was for many years.  

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I first heard of In Defense of Food on Lisa Leake’s blog, one of my new favorite healthy eating blogs.  Leake read Pollan’s book and was impacted by it and decided to go cold turkey and stop eating processed food for 100 days to see how it went.  Halfway through her experiment she donated all her processed food, realizing she would never go back.

After trying out some of her recipes Leake posted online, and being super impressed with how easy and aa-real foodtasty they were, I decided to get her cook book.

Really, 100 Days of Real Food is more than a cook book.  It’s a great reference book on menu planning, shopping, reading food labels, and how to change your eating habits to start eating healthier foods.  Leake does a great job conveying her message.  She is sensitive to budget issues and is convinced that it’s possible to eat healthy food on a budget.  She writes about this at length on her blog.

Leake also understands that busy families can’t spend hours every day in the kitchen and she has lots of tricks for making quick meals or freezing items for breakfast, snacks, and kids’ lunches.

Her book is great and all her recipes so far have been either good or excellent.  I highly recommend Leak’s book and blog.

Texas Yeehaw!

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that “Life is a journey, not a destination,” but my guess is that he has never ridden in a mini-van for 17.5 hours with four little kids.

IMG_7809Although I was apprehensive about the looooooooong car trip from Indianapolis to San Antonio, we had a mostly delightful time.  The kids did much better than I imagined, thanks to some advance planning to implement a little structure and fun to the long days on the road.  We gave them bags with the exact amount of gummy bears as there were hours on the road, for each leg of the trip.  My phone alarm went off every hour and they got to eat another gummy bear.  Not only did they appreciate the sugar, they also were able to see progress and count down how many hours were left.  This was a great visual and kept the “Are we there yet?!” questions at a minimum!

IMG_7583We also spotted all the state license plates except for Wyoming and a handful of New England States.  It always amazes me how often I see Alaska license plates on the road.  We saw Alaska plates twice on this trip.  I want to flag those people down and figure out their story and how their car got here.  Did they ship it or do they just like obscenely long road trips?  If it’s the latter, they clearly do not have four small children.

My favorite part of road trips is random stops.  Even going to buy some snacks at the gas station can seem like an adventure, especially for the little kids.

That’s the great thing about travel: you can plan, but you never know exactly what’s going to happen next or what exactly you will see around the corner.  It’s kind of like opening Christmas packages.  But it’s even better than Christmas because you don’t have to deal with all the mess and putting away all the stuff (much of it, you probably don’t need).  I just love all the anticipation!

I try to talk to my kids a lot about maintaining a good attitude when traveling.  I think that’s the most important thing because there will always be inconveniences.  I tell them that we can all still have fun, no matter what, if we have good attitudes and make the most of it.  I think they did a pretty good job on this trip.  That makes me happy, because I hope we can see a lot more of this country, and maybe even some parts of this world, together in the coming years.

IMG_7649All six of my kids’ cousins currently live in Texas.  When you are nine, seven, five and two, nothing is more fun than down time, playing with cousins.  We enjoyed seeing the kids have fun together.  We also enjoyed some outings and made sure to take advantage of seeing the Alamo and some cowboy history, along with a boat ride and a trolley ride to downtown Dallas.

Being from the northern part of the country, we looked forward to some warmer weather and prematurely got out the flip flops.  We ended up wearing hardly any of our warm weather clothes and all of our cold weather clothes.  We froze!  But, oh well.  Spring is just around the corner, even here in the north.  We did have one nice day in Dallas.  It was absolutely wonderful to bask in the sun and people watch.

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And also to watch the kids play in the water park, despite the fact that they weren’t prepared.  Oh to be a kid, to throw caution to the wind and fully embrace the water, not thinking about cold breezes that might occur later in the day. It was fun to watch them frolic and enjoy life.

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Incidentally it had snowed a few inches two days before.  Crazy times!

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Also, we ate a lot, a very lot, of Mexican food, including breakfast tacos twice.  Yum.

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I loved sitting across from these two little guys on the trolley.  They are hysterical.

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Daring and Shaming

daring greatlyAt first I was a little dismissive of Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown, not expecting any great nuggets that would apply directly to me.  That sounds really cocky, but I don’t mean for it to come across that way.  I have indeed failed at vulnerability at times.  I have shied away from opportunities, not wanting to risk exposure and failure.  But generally speaking I like to try new things and I have pretty thick skin.  I’m usually willing to engage and take risks.  You may have noticed that I have a public blog!  I’ve done things like move to cities where I don’t really know people and forge new relationships and make good memories.

But, the book doesn’t just address vulnerability.  It goes on to address the issue of shaming other people, which makes them shut down and keeps them from healthy vulnerability.  This really caught me off guard because I don’t think I ever shame people!  Or, do I?  Then it hit me.  I realized that there have been a few recent occasions where I have unwittingly resorted to shaming a certain daughter of mine.  Thinking about it makes me feel like there’s a hatchet in my heart, because I definitely don’t ever want to do that.

Shame is different than guilt, according to the author.  Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior.  While helping my daughter with her math problems, or reminding her to hurry and finish her math (!), I have made comments that I enjoyed math when I was younger. I think I made these particular comments thinking she might come to view math as something that can be fun.  I am realizing though, that what I am doing is comparing myself to her and making her feel inadequate that she does not enjoy math.  This may not seem like a big deal to some people, but my daughter is sensitive and this has been a huge trial for us.  Math homework sometimes seems insurmountable because of her failure to focus and it often overshadows our whole day.

In the end, Math matters but definitely not as much as my daughter’s sense of worth and belonging.  I don’t ever want her to think she is inadequate.  I don’t want to compare her with myself or her siblings or anyone else.  I want her to know I love her for who she is.  She is enough.  She is perfect just how she is.  Math is nothing compared with how much I love her and what a precious girl she is.  I am so proud of her.

I have a lot of expectations when it comes to my kids.  Is this based on my pride or on my wholehearted love for them?  Probably both.  I love them and want the world for them.  But hopefully I am not destroying them in the process of trying to help them, because that would be tragic.  I am shaming my children if I ever make them feel inadequate when they do not live up to my expectations.  My kids need to know I love them unconditionally and I need to give them room to make mistakes, because they are human and they will.  If their mom is not a safe place in this world, who will be?

Brown points out that shame leads to hopelessness.  Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we can change.   When we are shamed we don’t show up, we don’t participate and we don’t contribute.  My job is to motivate my children and correct their bad behaviors without ever resorting to shaming them.

My children also need to see me trying new things, being vulnerable, failing, and then getting back up, praying for grace, and picking up the pieces.  That will go a long way towards helping them be whole people who love life, are unafraid to try new things, and are fully engaged.

I said I didn’t think I had issues with vulnerability but, after thinking about it for a long time, I do.  We all do.  Who am I kidding?  So, I am grateful for Brown’s focus on vulnerability in her book too.  There is much that I can take to heart when considering that topic, as well.

The title of Brown’s book comes from a Theodore Roosevelt quote. I love this quote and think I need to memorize it with my kids:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.