Going On An (Information) Diet–Starving Distraction to Gain Peace

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I’ve been thinking a lot about peace these days, what it means to me and my family, how to hang on to it over the long-haul.  I’m a Christian, so I understand peace to be, ultimately, about the Prince of Peace, Jesus.  He’s who we’re singing about in all those carols this time of year, and remembering that helps me to breathe in the midst of the season’s festivities.  Entering into and nurturing a relationship with him is, I’ve discovered, the starting point to a fundamentally different kind of (peace-filled) existence.

Still, we all do things–year round–that sabotage our personal peace, things that end up affecting not just ourselves but our families and friends as well.  The number one way I work against myself in my quest to maintain a peaceful heart and home?

I consume too much media. 

We’ve all heard it; the human brain can store only so much information.  Yet never before have we humans had the ability to access as many important facts, hybrid lies, complete lies, and useless info-bits at the click of a button.  And I have a confession:  I love it.  Even if I can see that some Internet “fact” is a lie, it’s all good.  In that case, I can bookmark it, text it to my sister, and get the particular pleasure of discussing just how much of a lie said fact is.

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But a funny thing happens to me after too much engagement online, whether it’s social media, news websites, or blogs–I find that I can’t concentrate on my real life, and I get anxious.  The actual goings-on of my day get upstaged by the vague chatter in my brain as it tries to process enough (mostly mindless) info to last me a month, maybe a year.  I lose patience when my son tries to tell me about some world he discovered in Minecraft because I don’t have the mental space to receive One More Piece of Info.  This is sad because often he uses the sharing of factoids to jump-start deeper, more meaningful conversations with me.  I know all this.  Still, when he starts in, my brain screams no mas.

And then, when it’s dark news stories I’ve been consuming, I find myself replaying horrifying scenes in my mind, ad infinitum.  Even though I know that most of the time, a). I don’t have all the facts in order to ascertain the complete truth in a news story, and, b). I can’t help the situation, other than to pray, still I can’t shut the fretting off.  Then, as I worry about things I can’t change, I’m rendered useless to effect change in the ways I can.

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Now, since I have no plans to go permanently dark on the Internet (I work from home, after all), I’ve had to come up with other ways to mitigate the effects of media on my mind and in my home.  I’m not always faithful to stick to my resolution since information is to me like molten lava cake is to others.  Still, these things have helped:

I limit my exposure to social media.  I’m not a member of 50 different sites so I don’t have a ton of checking to do anyway.  When I do want to check a social site, I give myself two minutes or less on it if I don’t have any notifications that indicate something’s changed.  And if something has changed, I try to limit myself to ten minutes, tops.

I consume very little news.  Virtually none, to be honest.  It’s impossible to avoid headlines and I find that I can sort-of stay up on major events that way.  But any more info than a casual glance affords is too much for my anxious heart.  I try to pray for local, national, and world issues as they come to my mind but I do not spend time thinking about things over which I have no control.  This is a biggie for me.

Is my heart a perfect oasis of peace these days?  No.  Do I spend too much time thinking about things that have no real bearing on my actual life?  Sometimes.  But I’m working on it and it’s making a difference.

Is there any chance that cutting back on media consumption might help you too?

A Homeschooler’s Guide to Surviving December

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I love this month we’re in.

I love looking for beauty and meaning in life, and I can find a lot of both in December.  I love the snow, the ubiquitous sparkles, the fuzzy cardigans. I love peppermint mochas and peanut butter balls.  I love Christmas contatas and casseroles and Nativity scenes.  I love to remember why we celebrate: Jesus.

What I don’t love is all the shopping, the feeling that there’s not enough time, ever, ever to finish all the tasks on my list, the huge holiday expectations of basically everyone, and the feeling that the kids and I are getting behind in our academic goals.

And while I can’t really get out of shopping (no, I can’t. I’ve kind-of tried for years), or create extra time where there isn’t any, or make my entire circle of family, friends, and acquaintances expect less from the season, and from me, I’ve learned that I can manage our homeschool goals for the month of December so that we end up feeling like we spent our time the way we meant to.

Here’s how I do it:

I set the bar low for academic work.  This means we don’t do math, basically, or Latin.  Instead, we gather together at some point during every day to read an Advent-related portion of Scripture and an accompanying devotional, plus a chapter of whatever novel we’re working through, and a couple of poems.  We talk about the day, pray, discuss what’s coming up tomorrow, etc.  That’s it.  For the whole month of December.

I set the bar high for sleep.  We love our sleep around here (and by ‘we’ I mean me).  And, of course, all the holiday merry-making of December is completely exhausting, especially if you host parties or have overnight guests.  Since I don’t want us to give less time to the people we care about, and I also don’t want the kids to be sick and good-for-nothing when we start a new semester come January 1st, I try to have everyone in bed on the early side.  We’re better able to avoid illness and crankiness this way, and, as an added bonus, waking up at 5:00 a.m. on Christmas morning doesn’t hurt quite so bad.

I carve out big chunks of “white space” in the day.  This is not so that I can stare off into the middle distance and drool, though that would be so nice, wouldn’t it?  It’s because I know that things will come up every day of this month, things that we’ll need to do, or want to do, things that teach us, things we couldn’t have planned.  I want to be able to seize special moments without freaking out about not having enough time in an already over-packed academic or social calendar.  So I build in downtime each day, as much as I can, knowing full-well that it will get filled in some way, and that there will learning opportunities I didn’t know we needed.

The upshot of all of this is that when we look back on the month of December, we’re able to see all the things we were able to experience–people we got to visit, chapters we got to read in front of the fire–instead of all of the things we weren’t able to get done.  Not only does this make for a sweet holiday season, but it also sets us up for a productive, fresh start in January.

And that’s a Christmas present this homeschooling mom wishes for every year.

Surviving America: A Dog Tale

Somebody stage an intervention.  She’s writing about dogs again.  And reverse culture shock.  And finding a new normal.

…My husband and I didn’t want a puppy after returning to the US, but our kids had begged us for months. Living in India for three years had provided us enough adventures to last a lifetime, we reasoned, and we didn’t need to add a dog to the mix. After all, we’d visited the Taj Mahal, and piled on top of elephants, the five of us riding together. We’d celebrated Diwali with our neighbors and attended a friend’s lavish Sikh wedding. We had lived with monkeys, rats, and mongooses…

Read the rest here.

Grace

I yelled at my oldest son during our Bible reading today because he wasn’t paying attention–again.  It had been building, my frustration at his vacancy, and it finally bubbled over into a scalding lecture on listening and respect and responsibility.  My words multiplied, crowding each other over the sharp cliff of my anger.  Lemmings, all of them, dead on arrival.

My son’s face grew cloudy, then distant.  I was losing it during Bible time.  The irony was not lost on me.

After the fracas was over (and, so help me, I was more than a little right. He doesn’t pay attention half the time), we hugged each other.  My temper had cooled and things had gotten clearer:  He doesn’t listen and I take it personally.  I think about my life and I wonder if I’m doing a good enough job with these kids.  Are they learning what they need to learn?  Are they growing in character?  Will they like me when when they’re grown?

Will I like them?

My son threw his arm around my shoulders.  He’s already taller than I am and he likes to prove it on occasion.

“I love you, Mom,” he said, his voice high, then popping low.

“I love you, too, babe.  You’re gonna kill me, but I love you.”

And just like that things were OK again, at least until next time.

In the meantime I’m asking God to help me stop yelling at my kids when they act like middle schoolers–and I’m asking him to help my son become a better listener (I’m helping God a bit by threatening to take away the XBox if I don’t see improvement).

Parenting isn’t for cowards.  And homeschooling?  Sheesh.  So while I have lots of things to be thankful for this season, the one that stands out the most is grace.  I’m thankful for grace.  For hundreds of do-overs.  And for sons who throw their lanky arms over my shoulders and say I love you.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Winter Feet

The current state of this blog reminds me of an ongoing predicament I have around this time of year, a little something I call Winter FeetWinter Feet are those that go from early morning thermal socks (because it’s cold), to black dress socks (because, black boots), to gym socks (because you can’t exercise barefoot, I don’t think.  Can you?), back to thermal socks (because, cold).  And since WF aren’t regularly viewed by people other than one’s (unfortunate) spouse and oneself, they get neglected.  And by neglected I mean this.

Anyway, the thing about Winter Feet is that, if you pull off your socks and really look at them, they make you feel like something has gone deeply wrong with your self-care.  And while that might be true, it could just mean that you’re working on other things, things that seem more important (although I submit that something needs to change if, when tugging on tights, your heels and/or toenails end up ripping them.  In that case, intervention time).

But about this blog.  I realized the other day that this blog is like WF.  It’s getting neglected in favor of other things because, right now, those things seem more important.  However, like my poor WF, I can’t just keep ignoring it or I’m going to have to deal with ingrown toenails.  Or, you know, something.

So while I will be holidaying my little heart out in the next couple of months, and eating, and writing tons of other things, and sitting too close to the fire, I’m also going to try to keep up around here.  Consider this post as me trimming my toenails so things don’t get gross.

Pressing Through the Middle Years of Homeschooling

I’m a writer who likes fresh beginnings and well-timed endings.  Middles?  Not so much.

When I think about the middle of, say, a novel manuscript, I imagine a hammock creaking under the weight of a couple of lemonade-sipping kids or a dad who really ought to be mowing the lawn.

Creative writing instructors refer to these in-between pages as the dreaded “saggy middle.”

They teach rookies and published authors alike how to push through their own saggy middles with enough energy and forward momentum to keep readers engaged until the end.

- See more at: http://simplehomeschool.net/middle-years-homeschooling/#more-35332

Homeschooling as an HSP (and how to survive)

Sometimes homeschooling wears me out, but not for the reasons you might think.  For instance, you might imagine that being responsible for overseeing three kids’ educational journeys would be exhausting–all those math worksheets and field trips.  But those things aren’t that big of a deal, really.  Believe me, we take life slowly around here.  Our mornings creep by no matter when I wake up.  So it’s not the schooly-type things that get me.

It’s everything else.

Today I read an article that describes people like me, people who get tired out by the oddest of things, and offers suggestions for how to navigate your day when you find the act of, say, talking to be annoying.  It’s worth the read–even if Wal-Mart, disco balls, and two or more people conversing at the same time don’t get you down.