The Stay Awake Challenge: Week 1

Week One is about sleep. (You can read the entire challenge here.)

It seems kind of funny to be talking about sleep when you’re trying harder to stay awake. But think about it… isn’t it easier to be present, to enjoy being with the ones you love when you are well rested and not grouchy from lack of sleep? This is something I certainly need to be more intentional about. I used to be quite the early-to-bed-early-to-rise person. But then college happened. And then I married a guy who likes to stay up late and is a self-described very “un-morning person.” So over the years, I have gone from being a person who likes early bedtimes to one who stays up far too late. When I had a job (you know, the kind that actually pays money), this usually meant that I burned the candle at both ends, staying up late the night before and then getting up early to go to work and then trying to “catch up” on sleep on the weekends. Obviously, this was before I had children.

Oddly, having children did not cure me of my habit of staying up too late. I know it has that effect on many parents, but I have found through the years that I really cherish the time I have in the evenings after the kids go to bed — it’s time to work (clean, bake, write emails or pay bills), but also time to just relax (read, write, watch movies with Rusty, scrapbook). I’m usually having too much fun to go to bed early, so I stay up late and then get woken up at first light by my children who have yet to learn the art of sleeping in.

I like sleep and I need sleep, and I need to be better about making sure that I get really good sleep. And I know that one of the best ways to do this would be to go to bed earlier (duh!) because let’s face it — I’m probably not going to get to sleep in past 7 for a few more years at least. I would like to try to be in bed each night by 10:30 with lights out by 11:00. Looks like I already missed the mark tonight!

Here are a few photos related to sleep and bedtime routines:

sleep1Here are the older boys, all tucked in and ready for bed, each showing off the special things they sleep with each night. I usually put Benjamin to bed first — he takes his bottle and then goes to sleep on his own without any fuss. Then I read stories to the older boys, and after they brush their teeth, I tuck them in, turn out the light, and sing them a song. A favorite is “Sweet I Know,” which has become my lullaby song for them — it’s the song I sang over all three of them when they were babies and I was rocking them to sleep.

sleep2Alex and Stephen each choose a story, and I read to them before bed. Then we read a Bible story. We have amassed quite the collection of children’s Bibles and Bible story books through the years! Usually, we work our way through one and then choose a new one. My personal favorite is The Jesus Storybook Bible.

sleep3

One of my favorite ways to wind down once I get in bed is to read. Last year, I started using a Bible-reading plan on YouVersion, trying to read through the Bible in a year. I got very side-tracked with all our travels, our international move, and then just trying to adjust to life in a new country once again. So at the beginning of this year, I picked my plan back up and started trying to make Bible-reading a daily habit once again. I have found that I really enjoy reading at night just before I go to sleep! I am using The Message and reading the Bible chronologically. YouVersion offers all sorts of customization options for your reading plans, and it tracks your progress and sends little reminders to your phone and email, all features I love! I still find it a bit weird to be reading the Bible on my iPhone. It doesn’t feel very “authentic” for some reason — I guess I am old-fashioned that way. Oh, but it sure is convenient, so I’m trying to get over the weirdness!

Well, since it is already half an hour past my “go-to-sleep” time, I guess I’d better head to bed. Sweet dreams, everyone!

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Taking the Stay Awake Challenge

When I first started this little experiment a month ago, I really wasn’t sure the direction it would take. I didn’t want to assign myself a topic to write about for the entire year because I thought that would be too restrictive. I didn’t want to follow a series of writing prompts for the same reason. I wanted the freedom to follow my heart in choosing what to write about each day, and while I enjoy that freedom for the most part, there are also days when I sit down to write and have no idea what I’m going to write about.

But a few weeks ago, I discovered the Stay Awake Challenge on Awesomely Awake, one of the blogs I read. You can go read all the details about the challenge here and join in if you would like. Basically, it is a once-a-week thing. (I can do a prompt once a week… that still leaves six days for free-writing.) Each week, a writing prompt is posted along with some photography tips and suggestions. (Cool! Combines two things I want to get better at this year!) But beyond that, I love the whole idea of the challenge, which is to be mindful, to be present, in short to stay awake!

I have been ruminating a lot on the concept of choosing a word or a theme for my life for the year. There is a website, My One Word, and even a book by the same name, which detail the process of choosing your word and then living it for the year. I am intrigued. Since I have foregone New Year’s resolutions for several years now, this seems a viable alternative that would still give my life focus and direction.

And I already know what I want my word to be for 2013: Be Present (Yes, I know, it’s really two words. Get over it.)

I spend a lot of time either feeling sad and regretful and guilty about the past or worried and fearful about the future. I feel like I’m missing a lot of my life right now because I’m not fully present in it. It’s like living underwater. I look at my kids and I think, I want to be here for them, I want to enjoy them right now, at whatever both-frustrating-and-delightful stage they happen to be in. I don’t want to look back when they’re 18 and realize, I missed it. I missed it all because I wasn’t fully present in the days as they were happening. I want to wake up and really experience my life, the joy and the pain together, because I think I’m starting to realize that you can’t anesthetize yourself against the one and still expect to feel the other.

So. Be Present. My word (okay, two) for 2013. And it fits pretty well with the Stay Awake Challenge, which is one reason I decided to give it a go. Since I’m a little late to the party, I’ll be using the next few days to catch up.

Thoughts on “Lincoln”

Rusty and I saw the movie “Lincoln” last night. I have so many thoughts about it, and I know I won’t be able to organize them well this late at night, but here are some of my impressions:

I’m so glad that this movie came to Ecuador! I was a bit worried that it wouldn’t, and I really think the only reason it did was because it’s been nominated for so many Golden Globes and Academy Awards. It was a bit too technical and slow-moving for a foreign audience. It was not an action-packed war movie. It was more like a courtroom drama, filled with lots of legal jargon. I loved it, but as we were watching, I kept trying to imagine seeing this film as an Ecuadorian — first, hearing everything in a foreign language (with Spanish subtitles, of course), and then with only a surface knowledge of U.S. history and government. I know I would have been lost if I had been watching a film about one of Ecuador’s presidents.

At the end of the movie, I had the same feeling that I had after seeing “The Patriot” for the first time (which I also saw in a foreign country, by the way). The feeling of intense pride for my country. But with “The Patriot,” it was pride for our courage and fighting spirit, and with “Lincoln,” it was more a sense of pride in our system of government and how it works from a purely technical standpoint. There is a real genius in the American governmental system with all its checks and balances. I remember thinking this when I first studied U.S. government in high school, and it was brought home to me again in watching this film.

I was struck by how things really haven’t changed that much, politically  speaking in 150 years. People talk about how polarized we are as a nation right now, but I honestly don’t think you could get much more polarized than the U.S. was during the Civil War! The issues are different now, but there is still the same infighting, the same politicking and backbiting, the same refusals to work together as the film depicted during the struggle to pass the 13th amendment. Corruption was just as alive and well back then as it is today. Name calling? When Fernando Wood stood up and started his tirade against Lincoln, I couldn’t help but think that some of the things he was saying sounds a lot like some of the insults I’ve heard people level against our current president.

I did wonder if Lincoln really was as close as the film portrayed to inviting the Southern delegates to Washington for “peace talks” and thus scrapping the 13th amendment? Is that historically accurate or was that Hollywood taking poetic license with the story? If it’s true, and if he had made the other choice, things could have turned out very differently. I believe the 13th amendment would have passed eventually, but Lincoln himself would have left us a very different legacy. I can’t even imagine the weight of that decision, and I thought that scene in the film was one of the most touching and powerful.

I loved the story of George Washington’s portrait in the Englishman’s bathroom! A little crass, maybe, but hilarious all the same. I think Rusty and I were the only ones laughing in the whole theater, though! I’m not sure if the humor of the story didn’t translate well, or if the Ecuadorians in the audience just didn’t think it was funny.

And finally, a few of my favorite quotes:

  • “Votes for women?!” (Ha! God forbid!)
  • “Buzzards’ guts, man! I am the President of the United States of America! Clothed in immense power! You will procure me those votes!”
  • “A compass, I learnt when I was surveying, it’ll… it’ll point you True North from where you’re standing, but it’s got no advice about the swamps and dessert and chasm that you’ll encounter along the way. If in pursuit of your destination, you plunge ahead, heedless of obstacles, and achieve nothing more than to sink in a swamp… What’s the use of knowing True North?”

Goals vs. Resolutions

Well, I knew this day was coming. The day when I, for the first time, did not get in my daily writing practice. It happened yesterday. After going to church in the morning, we ate lunch and then spent the best afternoon just hanging out as a family. The little boys took naps… Rusty and I laid on our bed for a long time just talking and cuddling… then Rusty and Alex played Star Wars on the Xbox. For dinner, we built a fire in the fireplace and roasted hot dogs and marshmallows. And after putting the kids to bed, we decided a movie was in order. Josh and Julie started Rusty on a collection of all the James Bond movies for Christmas this year. So far, we have all the Sean Connery, Timothy Dalton, and Daniel Craig movies. So we started at the beginning with Dr. No.

And by the time it was over, it was late and I was tired and the last thing I wanted to do was sit down and write.

I knew the day was coming, but now that it has come and gone, the question is how I am going to respond. I am a perfectionist, which means that when I don’t do something perfectly, I have a tendency to beat myself up over it. Do I tell myself I’m a miserable failure and just give up on the whole project? Or, do I give myself permission to miss a day now and then and take the attitude that tomorrow is another day and I can start afresh?

I think, because I made it a goal to write a little bit every day this year, it is easier for me to take the second approach. This is the difference between goals and resolutions. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions anymore. You fail at a New Year’s resolution the first day you don’t keep it. And then you just want to give up entirely. And who needs more feelings of failure and guilt? I have enough of those just as a mom, thanks very much. But a goal gives you something to strive towards. So what if you mess up one day? The goal is still there. Pick yourself up and keep going.

This is what I’m telling myself. 26 days of daily writing… 1 missed day. Pretty good track record so far, nothing to be ashamed of. “Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it,” as one of my favorite literary characters, Anne Shirley, once said.

We Made It!

Thankful tonight…

  • to have my husband home safe and sound, smelly laundry and all!
  • for my washing machine and running water
  • for the sound of my boys wrestling with their daddy
  • that we made it through the week unscathed and without any trips to the emergency room (always my greatest fear when Rusty is away)
  • for a productive and fun homeschooling week
  • for a coffee break with my sister in the middle of the week
  • for sleepovers with cousins
  • for the two hard-working ladies who come during the week to help me with the cleaning (a definite perk to living in Ecuador!)
  • for all the fun I had with my kids this week (The “When Dad’s Away Activity Jar” was a big hit!)

I didn’t accomplish as much as I would have liked on all my projects, but I am not allowing myself to dwell on that right now! Just reflecting with gratitude on the past week and looking forward to a whole week of having Rusty home before the medical campaign. We’re even going to get to take our Date Night on Monday!

Dusting Off the Camera

When Rusty goes on his trips out to the jungle, he usually takes our little point-and-shoot camera with him. He prefers something small both for the sake of space and for the fact that it is less likely to be damaged than a big fancy camera (and if it is, it’s less expensive to replace). We bought this camera about 2 years ago, and since then, have used it almost exclusively, so our very nice Canon Digital Rebel DSLR camera has gotten almost no use.

Normally, when Rusty is away with the camera, I just don’t take any pictures, or I use my camera phone to take quick shots to post on Facebook. I have not traditionally been the photographer in our family. Rusty takes the pictures, and I scrapbook or blog them! But I have been thinking a lot about that nice DSLR just sitting in a bag, and what a shame that it isn’t getting any use. And really, what is more of a shame is that neither of us knows enough about cameras and photography to use it to its full potential and take pictures using anything other than the auto-modes.

I would love to learn to be a better photographer. I am in awe of some of the pictures I see on blogs around the web. And so, another of my goals for this year is to become more familiar with our camera and all its settings, to experiment with it, and generally to just take more — a lot more — pictures. I’m not an artist (as in, I don’t draw or paint), but I think I can see photography becoming part of my creative expression. I wish there were a class I could take, but for now, I think I will have to just teach myself through trial and error and maybe some Internet tutorials.

So, I got the camera out the other day. And charged up the battery. And found the software and installed it on my laptop (and then spent the better part of an evening trying to figure out how to get my computer and the camera to communicate so I could download the pictures we took at Christmas). And then today, I actually used the camera to take some pictures of Benjamin. I’m not sure how they turned out because I haven’t downloaded them to my computer yet, but it was fun! And it was a first step.

P.S. If anyone reading this know of a good website or online class for those wanting to move beyond the basics of DSLR camera use, I would love to hear about it. You can leave your tips in the comments.

Poetry and Creativity

One thing that I’m kind of hoping this habit of daily writing will do is free me up to be more creative. I feel like most of what I write these days is more utilitarian in nature. It’s like the missionary version of technical writing. I write our newsletters. I update our family blog. This week, I’ve been working on our year-end report, trying to condense our first year in Ecuador into a few pages for our sponsoring and supporting churches. I don’t mind doing these things, and it’s one way I feel like I can help and support Rusty, even when I’m spending most of my days at home with the kids. But creative writing has really fallen by the wayside in the past decade or so. And this is the kind of writing that I always dreamed about doing.

In high school, I wrote a lot of poetry. Most of it was probably not very good, filled with overused clichés and teen angst. However, there were a few pieces that I still think had real potential. I was taking a creative writing class and writing a lot — not just poetry; we experimented with all forms of creative writing. We were required to keep a daily idea journal, and I was constantly scribbling in it. And then I went off to college. And I got busy with life and making friends and and my classes, which did not include creative writing. (And, by the way, does anyone really have time for creative pursuits in college? I don’t remember even reading a book that wasn’t required or assigned for 4 whole years.) I was still dabbling in poetry from time to time, but then I got my heart broken. And after that, I just stopped altogether. For several years.

I’ve tried to return to poetry from time to time over the last few years, but it never quite “flowed” like it did before. I even started a private journal online at Penzu about a year and a half ago, in an attempt to create a space that would function as a collection point for my creative ideas and thoughts, a kind of online “idea journal,” like the one I kept in high school. I have written in it exactly one time.

I still have hopes that I will start to make good use of the Penzu journal, so I don’t intend for this blog to replace it as my “idea journal,” but I am hoping that the discipline of daily writing will help me stretch some of my creative muscles that have atrophied through years of disuse. And I may continue to do as I did yesterday and share poetry and other more “creative” pieces from time to time.

A Psalm of Integration

O God, you are my refuge and my source. Who can compare with you?

You are unchanging and ever present and I bless your holy name.

I have seen the beauty of your handiwork

in swift sunsets over the African savannah,

in the delicate cherry blossoms of a Japanese spring,

in the fragrant evergreen forests of Oregon,

in lonely, windswept stretches of Portuguese coastline,

and now in the majestic Andes mountains of Ecuador,

and I open my mouth to speak your praises.

You have blessed me in my being with my sisters this week and soothed my spirit through your love.

You have helped me to

laugh with new friends,

to be vulnerable, even when it was painful,

and to rest, truly rest, in your presence.

I want to praise you with my life, serve you with my whole being, but I am weak and needy.

Forgive me when I resist your call on my life, and give me the courage and the strength to open my heart yet again to a new home, a new people, a new language, a new ministry.

I submit to your loving hand and offer you all my sweet memories, all my unresolved grief, all my paralyzing fears, all my unfulfilled dreams, and all my aching longings…

Because you alone can integrate all the disjointed parts of my life, weaving them into a one-piece tapestry, and making me whole again.

— written at the CCC Conference in Brazil, October, 2012

Back to the (Language Learning) Grind

Today was my first Spanish class since before Christmas. Our teacher normally comes four days a week, for two-hour lessons. We have some class time together, and some individually. Obviously, Rusty can’t participate right now, and probably won’t be able to until at least mid-February, but I asked her to come two days a week just for me right now.

Language learning for me has been a long, sometimes agonizingly slow process, with lots of ups and downs. I feel like I am at the point now with Spanish where I have achieved a sort of “false fluency.” In other words, it’s easy for me to fool others who don’t speak Spanish at all into thinking that I speak very well. I can also, so long as I don’t speak too much, pass myself off to Ecuadorians as someone who has a good handle on their language. (But if I open my mouth too wide or too long, well, that’s a different story!)

I suppose, in comparison to a person who can’t have even the most basic of conversations, I am fluent. I can make my needs known, understand most of what is said to me and respond appropriately, even translate for non-Spanish speakers if required. But I still have so far to go to achieve the level of fluency I would like to have, the kind that allows me to engage in discussions beyond the weather and one’s family, to make jokes and understand humor, to speak “off the cuff,” to teach others the things of God. Basically, to use the Spanish language in the way I use English, articulately and gracefully, not like the bumbling idiot I feel like I always make myself out to be every time I open my mouth!

I know this kind of fluency takes time. If I ever get there at all, it will take years. It’s a process, and it really can’t be rushed, no matter how badly I want it right now! Survival Spanish can be learned in a two-week crash course, but to master the language in the way I want? Years of study, practice, slow progress, practice, lots of mistakes, oh, and practice, practice, practice.

The “When Dad’s Away Activity Jar”

Sometimes, when I’m a single mom for a few days, it’s all about survival, pure and simple. Getting through each day, whatever it takes, and doing it without losing my cool with the kids, if possible. I posted on our family blog awhile back about some of my survival strategies for “occasional” single parenting.

I don’t think just merely surviving is necessarily a bad thing. But I was thinking today about how I could do more than just survive the times when Rusty is gone. How could I actually enjoy these times and make them fun, especially for the kids? So, I have instituted the “When Dad’s Away Activity Jar.” I took several small squares of paper and wrote one fun activity on each of them, then folded them up and put them in a glass jar. Every day, one of the boys will choose a square from the jar and we will do the activity at some point during the day. Today’s activity was playing outside in the yard with the water hose. They loved it, and they have been looking forward all day to getting to choose the next activity tomorrow!

Here are some of the other activities:

  • Make cookies
  • Have an indoor cookout in the fireplace
  • Movie night with popcorn and hot chocolate
  • Picnic in the park
  • Sleepover in Mom’s bed
  • Make popsicles

I may add some other activities to the jar as I think of them — like a craft project or making pizza or a game night or a treasure hunt or just dancing to silly music in the living room. As the boys get older, maybe they can come up with some of their own ideas. We’ll keep the jar and the activity squares and pull it out whenever Rusty is gone on one of his trips. It’s a simple thing, but it helps the time pass more quickly when you have something fun and different to look forward to each day.