The Stay Awake Challenge: Week 14

Week 14 is about honoring your body. Read the challenge here.

I’m coming to realize something about myself. I’m really not that great at self-care. I’m especially not good at taking care of my body. Regular exercise, getting enough rest, drinking plenty of water, even flossing are all things I struggle to incorporate into my life. That probably sounds funny coming from a thin person — but just the fact that someone doesn’t have a weight problem doesn’t necessarily mean they are healthy. In fact, I would venture a guess that sometimes thin people are some of the most unhealthy people — because they don’t have to eat right and exercise regularly in order to maintain their thin physique.

Over the past month, I have been taking steps to change that. I purchased The Ultimate Homemaking E-Book Bundle when it went on sale at the end of April, and my purchase included a 2-month free membership to Fit 2 B Studio, a sort of online health club with tons of workout videos that you can do in the comfort of your own home. I decided I wanted to start small with maybe some ab workouts to try to flatten out my “belly pooch” that has been there since after Ben was born. So, I started poking around the website and trying out some of the videos, and I discovered that I have something called diastasis (a separation of the abdominal muscles, very common after pregnancy) that can’t be fixed with crunches, sit-ups, and other traditional ab exercises. I’ve been doing some of the exercises on the Fit 2 B website for almost a month now, and I am very pleased with the results I’m seeing — and I haven’t had to do a single sit-up! I also set up our Wii Fit so I could use that for exercise as well.

For this challenge, I am supposed to write a list of 5 things that I will do to help me honor my body. Obviously, exercise is one (my goal is 3-4 times per week for now). The others are — to drink more water, start taking my vitamins again, go to bed by 11:00 (need to revisit the sleep challenge), and limit myself to one soda per week.

The picture I chose to use for this challenge was taken during our anniversary get-away to the Black Sheep Inn. We went on an invigorating hike and ate our picnic lunch at the top of a ridge with amazing views of a peaceful valley. My legs were burning when we got back to our cabin, but it felt so good to be so physically tired. Later that afternoon, we soaked our sore muscles in the hot tub, and I even painted my toenails (something I rarely do). I need to be better at making time to pamper myself occasionally — even if it’s just a bubble bath or a pedicure or a haircut (desperately need one of those!).photo(1)I am more than my body, it’s true. But I also inhabit this body for now, and hopefully for many years to come, and I need to make sure that I honor it by taking care of it to the best of my ability.

The Stay Awake Challenge: Week 13

Week 13 is about minding your words. Read the challenge here.

Being mindful and intentional about the words we speak, especially to our children, is so very important, and also so very difficult. At least for me. I’ve had this challenge tucked away in the back of my head for awhile now, but even though I’ve been trying to make more of an effort to “mind my words,” I still find myself slipping up so often.

If you read the challenge (click the link above), you’ll notice that Shawn asks, “When was the last time you said something you wish you hadn’t?” Um… how about tonight at dinner when Stephen spilled an entire cup of milk all over the table and the just-cleaned floor because he was trying to take a drink while we were praying? I won’t lie — I yelled. I was harsh, much too harsh. He cried. I grumbled while mopping up the spilled milk that my soup would be cold by the time I got to eat it.

I yell a lot as a parent. More than I thought I would. More than I want to. I don’t like being a yelling mom, but all serious efforts to kick this habit have been met with epic failure. I’ll commit to not yelling, and I’ll do really well for a day or two, and then all of a sudden, BAM! Something will happen and I’ll lose control and start yelling. Like tonight.

Several months ago, I discovered a blog called The Orange Rhino. The blogger is a mom who challenged herself to go 365 days without yelling at her kids. She is currently on day 482. Wow! I am simultaneously impressed, inspired, and incredulous. Is it really possible to not yell at one’s children AT ALL? Apparently so — this woman at least has done it for well over a year now! And her website is chock-full of helpful advice and tips on curbing yelling — from a real mom with real children (4 boys!), not just some “expert” with a lot of letters after his name.

week13Shifting gears slightly, but still in the vein of minding your words… one of the things I did for Rusty this year for his 40th birthday was compile a “Rusty in 40 Words” list. I tried to use words that really captured the essence of Rusty — who he is, not what he does. It seems a simple exercise, and it is, but it was actually harder to come up with the list than I thought it would be when I began. I had to be selective and mindful (there’s that word again) since I was only allowed 40 words! I’m sharing a photo of the list here as a positive example of what “minding your words” can mean.

The Stay Awake Challenge: Week 12

Week 12 is about making connections. Read the challenge here.

We have had a lot of opportunities for making connections over the last couple of weeks. Two new friends graced our home with their presence for several days at the beginning of May. It was such a pleasure to get to know Trent, who was in Ecuador on a medical campaign, and Shanaal, who is teaching at a university in Guayaquil. This past week, it seems like we have had people into our home practically every night. A group of Christians who wanted to talk about starting a new church plant in the neighborhood on the hill behind our house… one of the Kumanii evangelists and his lovely family… a German missionary friend from southern Ecuador and her two adopted Ecuadorian children. And on Sunday, we are hosting the Operation Ecuador monthly Praise and Potluck, which will include a 40th birthday celebration for Rusty — and hosting more overnight guests!

It’s been fun. But it’s also been exhausting, especially for an introvert like me, who finds being around people all the time to be draining rather than energizing. I may or may not have told Rusty today that if he invited anyone over tomorrow, I would shoot him in the head! I really am thankful for all these connections, these opportunities for deeper friendships, these possibilities for future ministry. But I do need times of silence and solitude in order to process it all and to see these connections as meaningful and important rather than just burdens to be endured.

It struck me today as I was thinking about this week’s Stay Awake Challenge and what I was going to write, that I could learn a lot about making connections from my children. The pictures that I chose to use for this challenge (below) reflect this. My kids make connections so easily and with so few inhibitions. When new people come over, it isn’t long before they are playing and chatting as if they’ve been friends forever. The other night, when Guillermo (the Kumanii evangelist) and his family were here, I watched Alex happily chattering away in Spanish with their two boys and was amazed at how completely open and unselfconscious he was. I so wish I could be more this way. What is it about growing up and becoming an adult that makes us want to put up walls and pull on masks and keep people at arms’ length? Or am I the only one who does this?

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Bedtime stories with new friends Shanaal and Trent

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New playmates

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More playmates

The Stay Awake Challenge: Week 11

Week 11 is about savoring. Read the challenge here.

Savoring the moment is something I try to be fairly intentional about. I am well aware that my life is but a series of fleeting moments that will never come again. My children are growing up before my eyes. Just the other day, Ben decided to give up the bottle; in a few months, it will be time to pack away the cloth diapers and start potty training. The “baby years” may well be behind me soon, and so I have been trying to savor the moments that remain. If I were to be perfectly honest here, I would say that I sometimes feel that our transient life these past seven years robbed me of true enjoyment of my kids’ early years. I mean, it’s hard to “savor the moment” when you’re packing boxes, cleaning, and taking care of the myriad of logistical details that moving around the world requires.

Savoring helps me more fully enjoy and be present in the moment as I’m living it… but it also helps me cement the moment in my memory. It’s a lot like a mental picture of the moment, except it employs all the senses, not just sight.

Two weekends ago, we took some friends who were visiting to Mindo for the day. And what a lovely, enjoyable day it was. There were so many moments to savor throughout the day… the view of the gorgeous countryside out the car window… watching colorful hummingbirds at their feeders just inches away from where I stood and marveling at their delicate beauty and thrumming wings… the taste of a rich, chocolatey brownie and the feel of a warm cup of coffee in my hands… the rush of wind in my face as the cable car raced out over the cloud forest.

But probably my favorite moment was the one that found me perched on a boulder beside a stream, listening to the sound it made as it rushed over its rocky bed, and holding my baby, who was content for once just to nestle into my arms. He is always on the move these days it seems, but for that one moment, he was still. And so was I.

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Hummingbirds

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La Tarabita

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The cloud forest

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Contentment

The Stay Awake Challenge: Week 10

Week 10 is about getting outside. Read the post here.

Getting outside is not easy for me. I’ve always been more of an “indoor girl.” I’m not much of an athlete (not competitive or coordinated enough). I HATE running (probably has something to do with my terrible knees), although I do enjoy walking or a good hike. In general, though, I’m just more prone to being a homebody. My interests have always tended more towards things like books, music, and crafts.

And when I’m in a new place and all the adjustments just seem overwhelming, I really have to fight the urge to just hole up in my house, in the one place where I feel safe and like I have some semblance of control. I think I could easily become a recluse or a hermit, but I have an adventurous husband and 3 rambunctious little boys who force me out of my cocoon on a regular basis. Of course, it is easier, much easier, to stay at home with my brood, where they are contained, than it is to try to take the 3 of them somewhere by myself, but I know that boys need to run and jump and climb and play, and our tiny yard just isn’t big enough for them to do all those things. So I grit my teeth and get outside, and then later, I’m always glad that we did.

In the last couple of weeks, we have had several opportunities for adventures in the great outdoors. At the end of April, we had a field trip with our homeschool group. We drove out to the Cuicocha Lake, which is in a volcano crater, and had lunch in a restaurant on the crater rim.

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Cuicocha Lake

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The boys had such fun playing outside with this dog at the restaurant!

Afterwards, the plan was to go see the Cochasqui pyramids nearby, but we ran out of time, so we went to see some waterfalls (the cascadas de Peguche) instead. As it happened, just after we parked the cars and started walking up through the little market with local handicrafts for sale, we got caught in a huge downpour. We huddled under the eaves of one of the stalls for awhile, hoping the rain would let up, but when we eventually determined that it probably wouldn’t for awhile, we had to decide if we wanted to continue hiking to the falls and get thoroughly soaked on the way, or make a mad dash back to the car. Normally, I probably would have opted for the second choice, but I had this Stay Awake Challenge on the brain, so I thought, why not?

It ended up being one of the most exhilarating walks I’ve taken in awhile. The cobblestone path wound its way through the forest, fragrant with the smell of drenched earth and eucalyptus trees, alive with the drip-drop of the rain and the wind moving through the upper branches. The waterfall itself was beautiful in its misty power. When we got back to the car, we were wet completely through, but I felt alive and invigorated, kind of like I do after taking a cold shower.

At the Cascadas de Peguche

At the Cascadas de Peguche

I felt awake.

This is what getting outside can do for me. This is why I need to force myself to do it more often.

The Stay Awake Challenge: Week 9

Week 9 is about trying something new. You can read the original post here.

I’m still trying to catch up on the Stay Awake Challenge. I kept putting off writing this post, mostly because I just didn’t know which direction to take it. Because, honestly? I got this one down, baby. My life is all about trying new things. It’s about all I’ve done for the past few years. Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. But seriously, with each move comes a host of changes and new things to try. It gets to be a bit wearying after awhile. There are some days when “routine” and “sameness” and “normal” and — yes, even “boring” — sound so appealing. I long for the ability to put my life on auto-pilot for awhile rather than having to continually, actively think about the smallest things. Maintaining a constant state of mental alertness can drive you to utter exhaustion. I think this is one of the things that makes those first few years on the mission field so difficult.

Here are just a few of the new things I’ve done just since moving to Ecuador:

  • studied a new language
  • moved into a new house
  • learned my way around a new city
  • learned to shop and cook in a new country
  • met lots of new people
  • started attending a new church
  • found a new doctor
  • driven a car in a new country
  • tried new foods
  • started homeschooling my kids
  • had “helpers” in the house for the first time
  • gone zip-lining
  • spent a week in Brazil by myself

If you don’t know me well, you may find this difficult to believe, but I don’t have a very adventurous spirit. I only live the life I do because I happened to marry an adventurer. Rusty loves to explore, and I am thankful for this, because sometimes we discover new favorite spots. Just in the last couple of weeks, we have been to a total of 4 new restaurants. The first, a grilled chicken restaurant that advertised “original recipe Portuguese chicken” had the yummiest piri-piri chicken I’ve tasted since leaving Portugal. The second was the Middle Eastern restaurant where we ate for my birthday. The third was a cafĂ© and pastry shop called the Swiss Corner with yummy apple strudel. And the fourth, a Mongolian grill where we ate for our date last night, turned out to be a dud, and I don’t think we’ll go back, but hey — 3 out of 4 ain’t bad! When I was thinking of a picture to put in this post, the first thing that came to mind was a picture at one of these new restaurants. Would you believe that I forgot to take a picture at any of them? I even forgot to have someone take a picture of Julie and me the night of our birthday! And I have a camera phone, so I am really without excuse.

So, as an alternative, I am posting a screen-shot of a comment I made on another blog. See, I’m not normally much of a commenter. I read a lot of blogs, but I don’t typically join in the discussions or voice my opinions in the comment section. However, recently, I have started to comment on other blogs every now and then when I feel like I have something to add to the conversation. The screen shot is of a comment I made on a blog called Communicating Across Boundaries, and the post was about Third Culture Kids and reentry, which you can read here. If you care to read the comment, you can click on the picture for a larger view, or just click the link to read the post and all the comments in their entirety. Leaving the comment was one thing — but then I also had to learn how to take a screen-shot and save it as a picture file, which I have never done before. So, there you go… I taught myself to do something new on the computer today! Sometimes, life is best represented by a microcosm.week9

The Stay Awake Challenge: Week 8

Week 8 is about saying yes. Read the entire post here.

It sure seems like I say “no” an awful lot these days. That probably has to do with the fact that I have an 18-month old who is both insatiably curious about everything around him and a tad aggressive when playing with others. (In his defense, he does have 2 older brothers, so maybe he learned aggression in order to protect himself?) In any case, it seems as though I am constantly saying “no.” It’s wearying.

I would like to say “yes” more. In fact, I would really like it if my kids would just get along with each other all the time, behave like perfect angels, and never do anything they know they shouldn’t, so then I wouldn’t have to say “no.” But that ain’t never gonna happen, so “no” will remain an oft-used and necessary word in my vocabulary! I think most good parents live in the tension of wanting to say “yes” more often, while at the same time recognizing that rules and boundaries (a.k.a. “no’s”) are good for kids and also an expression of our love (although they may not interpret it as such at the time). We want to allow our kids a certain amount of freedom and the ability to make their own choices, without being lax and permissive. Striking that balance is what is so, so difficult.

And then there are the times when I could say “yes,” but don’t because — well, because I’m lazy. I say “no” because I don’t want to be inconvenienced. I don’t want to deal with clean-up, so I say “no” to getting out the play-do or the craft supplies. I don’t want to get myself and 3 kids ready to go out the door, so I say “no” to going to the park. I’m busy with some project of my own, so I say “no” to playing a game. These are the kinds of things I need to say “yes” to more often.

Trying to be more of a “yes mom” is one of my survival strategies for coping with my seasons of single parenting. It really does make things go so much more smoothly. Maybe it’s because I’m more focused on my kids and their needs and wants. I’m not just saying “no” automatically or because it’s the easy thing to do.

The picture I chose for this post is one I took of Alex and Rusty playing some Mario Kart a week ago Friday. It was the morning after Rusty had come home after being gone for a week. Normally, since Friday is a homeschool day, screen time would not be allowed until after he finishes all his school work. But on this morning, he asked so sweetly if he and Stephen could play Mario Kart with Daddy after breakfast, and I said “yes.”

And I was glad I did because I captured this sweet picture while they were playing!

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The Stay Awake Challenge: Week 7

Week 7 is about noticing the details. Read the entire post here.

When I’m busy, feeling rushed or stressed, or just in a task-oriented mode, I often fail to notice the details. It’s amazing how slowing down just long enough to really see all the little things wakes you up to life and to wonder. And I think an awareness of the details is one of the primary characteristics of a creative person — artist, writer, photographer, musician, etc. So not only does noticing the details help me be more awake, it also helps me be more creative.

So here are a few observations (and photos) from the last couple of days, as I have tried to be more intentional about noticing the details.

IMG_55511) I’m finally starting to feel as if my house is finally starting to come together. It’s not like we have made any big improvements, and there is still a lot to do, but little by little, we are getting things done. And all the little details add up. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I am beginning to reestablish some of the systems that keep my home organized and running smoothly, which isn’t really a visible thing. But hanging pictures on the walls is — and we’ve been doing a little of that here and there. Before he left for the jungle last Friday, my sweet husband helped me hang some pictures in our bedroom, and it’s amazing the difference that made!

IMG_55562) One of the things I like best about living in Ecuador is wide variety of fresh fruits and veggies, available year-round, and so affordable. Most of what you can buy in the States, you can find here, as well as many other fruits I had never heard of before I came here! These are the fruit bowls on my kitchen counter, piled high with fruit. Believe it or not, most of this will be gone by the end of the week. My kids love fresh fruit and eat it all the time.

3) Most days as a stay-at-home mom, I get to the end of the day and think, “What exactly did I DO all day?” Of course, I can list all of the things I do, but when there aren’t any visible, tangible results of your work, it’s easy to begin to feel like you’re wasting your time. This is especially true when you are simply playing with, interacting with, teaching, training, disciplining your kids. I mean, even housework and meal prep have visible, tangible results! On Monday, the boys asked me to build them a Brio train-track. So I did, and I tried to make it a cool one. (I am not nearly as good at this as Rusty, but I gave it my best shot.) It occurred to me later that this is actually a very visible and tangible example of how I spend my time with my kids, so I took a picture of the track after I was done as a way to remind myself — I am Mom, and this is what I do!

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The Stay Awake Challenge: Week 6

Week 6 is about embracing the moment. Read the entire post here.

I tucked the words “embrace the moment” into my head before we left for the beach. I was determined to enjoy our time away, determined not to let all the things I was worried and stressed about spoil our few days of vacation. And I really was able to put it all out of my mind for the most part and just enjoy my family.

There were so many little moments to embrace… from boogie boarding with Alex, to splashing in the waves with Stephen to digging in the sand with Benjamin. There were moments of beautiful sunsets, cool ocean breezes, the warm sun on my back, soaking in the hot tub. There was falling asleep to the sound of the surf and reading for hours on end in the afternoons and evenings.

Of course, it’s easy to embrace the moment when you’re on vacation, removed from your daily routine with all its stresses, both major and minor. It’s much more difficult to do this in the midst of problems, annoyances, busy-ness, to-do lists, schedules, and responsibilities. We are back from vacation, back to our routine. I am back to being a single mom for another week while Rusty is off to Kumanii with all the students from the Bible college.

I think what I am starting to realize is that it’s just as important to embrace these daily moments. I’ve gone back and forth on the whole Instagram thing (as if I need one more thing to do), but last night, I decided I was going to give it a go for awhile. I think it will help me start to notice some of the beauty in the ordinary and capture it with a camera phone. I’m going to wait to sign up until after I have my new iPhone set up and activated — hopefully, that will be soon!

Last night, I made cookies with the boys, and when we were done, I let them lick the bowl. They were so excited — to them, that was the best part of making cookies! Ever notice how good kids are at embracing the moment? They sat on the floor with the mixing bowl between them and worked away at it with their spoons, enjoying one of the simple pleasures of childhood. Meanwhile, I embraced a few moments of peace and quiet!

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Time for a Check-up!

I can’t believe February is already over!

Since I am 2 months into the Writing Project 365, I thought it was time for a little self-evaluation. I started out strong in the month of January with 30 posts in 31 days (only missed one day!), but in February, I slacked off a bit and only wrote 16 posts in 28 days. I hope I can get back on track with daily writing in March.

I am also 5 weeks into the Stay Awake Challenge (still have some catch-up work to do there)… and thought I would evaluate how I’m doing on each challenge so far:

  • Sleep – Um, not so great. Still staying up too late. Last night, I was asleep by 10:45, and I felt great this morning! But that was the earliest I had gone to bed in several nights. I definitely need to be more intentional about this!
  • Start where you are – Trying to see my life more as a process, a journey. Trying to walk that fine line between being content with where I am right now (and not fighting or denying my feelings) and striving to improve, to get better. It’s a delicate balance.
  • Set intentions – Haven’t done very much of this, mostly because I can’t seem to remember to do it! Like most other habits, it probably just takes time to develop.
  • Rise early – Doing a bit better with this. Alex being in school 3 days a week is really going to help with this, since I need to be up and have him ready to go out the door by 7:15. I’m thinking about starting to set my alarm clock for 6:00, not 6:30, to give me a half hour of true Quiet Time before they wake up.
  • Unplug – Doing better at monitoring my own computer time. My kids’ screen time is now being curtailed more than it was (another side benefit of Alex being in school 3 days per week).

I like what both these projects are teaching me — about discipline and the importance of practicing a little every day if you want to get better at something, about “waking up” and savoring life rather than just wandering around in a daze all day. I like that I’m doing something just for me every day. I like that I have a place to share some of the thoughts rattling around in my brain. And I LOVE when people comment, either on the blog or on Facebook, or to me personally, and let me know that they get it, they understand, they have some of the same thoughts, feelings, doubts, fears.

I like knowing I am not alone.

Stay-at-home motherhood can be very isolating. So can being a first-year missionary, living in a new country, learning to speak a new language. This space allows me to reach out to a virtual community, to make connections, to be heard and understood. This is why I write. Oh, sure, it would be nice to be one of those bloggers who could actually make money with her blog, but at the end of the day, it’s the desire to be real, to know others and allow them to know me that keeps me writing.