What's giving me life this winter

If I can make it through winter, I’m gold. I’ve noticed a pattern the past few years in that the 2nd half of winter drags on, for me, mercilessly. And that’s difficult to picture right now because winter has already been whammy after whammy after whammy—to the point where it nearly feels funny. Nearly. . . 

We've had sickness after sickness and then the audacity of the cub scouts to not award Thomas a trophy at his first pinewood derby race. He took it well though . . . 

(He is on the far left in case you weren't sure.)

 

But there are some good things I think that will get me through to the other side of the Easter eggs.  I’m tagging along with Modern Mrs. Darcy in sharing some of those gems. 

1. My pregnant peoples.  Winter feels like an enduring wait, a heavy stretch of quiet and hope for spring’s dotted green buds. And so it feels perfect, on dreary days or just because I can, to think about and pray for the women I know who are beautifully pregnant right now and doing their own quiet waiting. Some of these ladies are ready to be handed their babies within this next month. Others… haven’t made their pregnancies public yet, and I relish in knowing their sweet secrets. I love all of you ladies (if any of you happen to be reading here) & I’m so excited for you to meet your littles soon—-ish.

One of these beautiful mothers is my sister, Amanda, who is pregnant with her first child,          Amelia.  We celebrated her this weekend at my house. Amanda and Jesse have been so helpful with the whole gaggle of nieces and nephews who “came before”, so to speak, and I think I speak for all my siblings when I say that I’m excited it’s her turn to be doted on and cared for, even if it is mostly in extension by way of our snuggling with and affection for her baby. 

2.  Saturday morning Adoration appointment.  Our parish, Holy Trinity, kicked off perpetual     adoration at the start of this year. I go at 6 am Saturday morning and it is absolutely, hands down the highlight of my week.  I can’t imagine a better way to start the  weekend than to sit with Jesus and say hello. I had forgotten how much the act of Adoration allows for deep digging and sole searching in a way that just isn’t accessible from the comfort of the couch or at mass among my squirrelly children. 

If I can pray for you and your intentions, I would be honored. Comment below or private message me and I will take your intention with me each Saturday until I hear otherwise from you. 

3.  Tickle My France-y O.P.I. nail polish. I love this ashy pinky purple-y (making this description up as I go) nude shade. Taking a few minutes out of my day to steal away and paint my nails feels like the biggest bang for my buck in terms of self-care. I showed Paul my new obsession, even I think declaring that I was just going to wear this for all of winter and he said, “But isn’t that just how your nails looked before.” I was in feigned shock, but it’s not entirely untrue. Women are a  mystery and I’m just playing my part well. 

4. The “Know Who You Are” song on the Moana soundtrack.  

"I have crossed the horizon to find you.

I know your name.

They have stolen the heart from inside you,

but this does not define you.

This is not who you are.

  You know who you are." 

I find solace in these words.  I keep repeating them to myself as if a key, singing them over and over into the grip on my steering wheel. Solitary acts of love where we recognizes the pain in others and work to help restore, protect, and make whole—my heart cries out, YES! It’s my belief we are good, but there are things in life’s journey that dam up our rivers so that we stop watering others or scorch us so that when others come across us they are met with an ashen mess. But it doesn’t have to be like this. We can seek to understand more than to be understood. This is good work. It’s everything I’ve ever learned in the parameters of my vocation as wife and mother, and one I need to start practicing a heck of a lot more in my relationships outside of that commitment. 

5. More of the stuff I enjoy about homeschooling. February is widely feared as the soul crushing (dramatic?) month for homeschoolers. Ok, yes. Soul crushing is a bit melodramatic, but February is definitely rough.  So my attack plan is to do more of the things that I love about homeschooling than I normally would. It’s like a double down approach instead of folding when things get tough.  So I’m doing more art with the kids and reading tons of poetry right now.  The twins are right at the age that Thomas was when we read TONS of poetry, and it is so fun to circle back. 

6. Taking back the dinner table. Confession. I had gotten into a nasty habit of not having sit down family dinners with the kids.  It snuck up on me.  Since Paul travels quite a bit, there was a mix of “gosh, just getting dinner in front of the kids is hard enough” and “I can't bear to see Paul’s empty spot at the table” that had me unconsciously serving the kids almost all meals at the kitchen counter while I hunkered over at the table on my own praying they wouldn’t bother me for a solid five minutes so I could just enjoy hot food sometime this decade. And what do you know but I would pull out my phone because… no one is at the table anyway, so what does that rule really matter? So yeah. I’m in the process of reclaiming the family meals. Asking the kids about their day. Having the kids really pray rather than rush out the words like I’m trying to say it faster than the burger meeting their little mouths. As it always shamefully turns out in this parenting stuff, a little bit more intentionality shockingly makes things more enjoyable and fun. 

7. High-waisted jeans. No explanation needed. It’s winter. My brain is telling me to consume rolls pasta cookies stews steak potatoes second helpings cheap t.v. while eating all this stuff snacks creamer that I had successfully turned my back on for almost all of last year and anything that’s clearly not salad. It’s a struggle. 

Ok. That’s a wrap. What’s giving you life this winter? 

And don’t forget that I said I would carry your intentions with me when I go say hello to Jesus. So let me know. 

 

Work work work work work, kids!

Yesterday, an unseasonably warm day, Alistair and I washed my car. Paul and I both own white cars, mine a great deal dirtier than his — on the outside because I leave more often than he does and on the inside because children are animals. Cute ones.  Honestly, we came by white cars as unexpectedly as stopping at the grocery store end caps to grab several cans of beans on sale. Not on your list but what a great find. White was there, both times, ready for the high stakes game of grab-and-go purchase at our local car lots. 

Have you watched a three year old wash a car? Oh my. It is absolutely everything. Their blissful ineptitude and beaming enthusiasm. What’s not to love?

I like white. White gets dirty fast and even when it appears minimally grungy, the small effort of wiping suds on and off with a happily soppy rag yields the most satisfying clean in an instant.  We’ll steer clear of the detail work needed on a white car in what is the front face and under belly of the car, still satisfying but five times the elbow grease required. 

Every morning I clean the living room first for the same reason I like a white car. It’s a quick win. I fold a couple blankets, rearrange the pillows, and stack up a few books neatly. The blinds have already been opened by Thomas, a habit of his I see no need in obstructing.  My brain is like a child’s. See. Not so hard. Let’s clean more things. 

I love a clean home, a clean room, a clean kitchen. Workplace zero. That’s what they call it. The people who name such things because it fits into our hustle for an ever-fiercer grip on productivity. What I know is that I’m still astounded after all these years how much a clean kitchen inspires a new recipe, a clean sunroom a fit of chasing the kids, a clean bedroom an earlier bedtime which always can only mean good things. 

The clean is so we can make the mess. And so the dog chases its tail. As soon as I clean something up, I’ve got an urge to go on and shoot it all to hell—let’s pull out those puzzles I put high up in the closet or make bread from scratch or do something with the glue gun and those beady eyes I bought from Hobby Lobby two years ago. 

This year, the kids are being invited (against their will) to partake tenfold more than before in the “cleaning up” part of this creative process: clean then messy then back to clean again.  Sure, they’ve been expected to pick up their toys and then some, do what we ask and them some, and then some more of little bits and things from time to time. “Look, Paul. Don’t they look so cute hauling those logs?”

But no. We’re headed to destination Roll Up Your Sleeves, Kids where there’s always a toilet to clean and you are old enough to yield the brush.  Where the intricacies of laundry are important and you are smart enough to get it. Where you are never too short to reach because we’ve got step stools and are eager to oblige. 

Already, Thomas <totally shocked> turned to me and said, “THIS is what you’ve been cleaning up this whole time??!!” Yes, son. Very much. Yes.

The Anderson boys are in for a real treat, and so am I. I’m sure teaching them how to pull weeds and scrub the tub will look oddly similar to me lounging on the patio with a cool drink. I KID! C’MON. You know how this is gonna go down. I’ll be right in there with them, eye-twitching at their feigning incompetence and reminding myself why we decided to rope the kids into more work.  

I think that whole “happiness is all that matters” fad is fading… right? Simple living—pretty sure that’s cool still, and I’m ok with that. Decluttering by the bag loads and cute green plants set against a white wall for the win! (I don’t have white walls, but I still like all of yours on Instagram) But all the noise and books and podcasts and promoting of happiness as our essential objective is such a crock.  Happiness with a capital H. Yeah, okay. That’s just so not honest about real life and what’s truly good. 

My primary goal as a parent is not to make my kids happy. I’ll be glad when they are and I’ll help play a part surely in making some of those wonderful, warm memories bloom. However, what I really strive for is opening up the door to goodness for them.  A good life.  Just like my blog name suggests. Hard work is good for you. It builds confidence. Giving to others is good for you. It builds brick-by-brick empathy and open-mindedness, gratitude, humility. Screen free time is not always fun. Boredom sits beside you, sometimes, but then other times new ideas saddle up too. And so I don’t choose things to see them happy now, I choose things to hopefully give them a shot at becoming their best self later —and maybe even five minutes later… as was the case last night when Thomas beamed at the dinner table like he was playing the part in a 1950’s tv show, “Gosh, I feel really great about the work I did in the bathroom today!”

This is all to say we are in another new parenting season. They come at you fast, don’t they. We are a bit beyond sleep-deprived days of treading water, also known as “Where do all these toys keep coming from and will somebody SOMEBODY help me put them back???”.  Last year ushered in more and more routine and order. And here we are with our boys sudsing the car, picking up sticks, learning where to put the detergent in the washing machine and “Yes, you have to re-sanitize that whole counter. You just put the plunger there.” 

Our kids are very capable. I imagine a lot more capable than I know. This year I intend on doing a little “research” to see just how capable they really are. 

“See! Not so hard. Let’s clean more things!”

 

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2016 reads + 2017 bookscape

Wanna chat about books with me? I love seeing what other people have read and what they plan on reading, so that’s what I’m doing today.

Reading is so important in my life. I can feel my cup of happiness fill up even reading 10 pages. Things can come and go in my life, but reading will always be a pillar for me. 

Ok. Book chat. Last year first. I grabbed screenshots from my Goodreads page and plopped them here. I set out to read 50 books. Actually read 23. Whoops. 

Books that made me cry: (one) The Nightingale

Books that made me laugh: (three) Naked, I Feel Bad About My Neck, The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side of the Septic Tank

Novel I’m still thinking about: Peace Like a River

Books worthy of a standing ovation: All The Light We Cannot See & The Kite Runner

Surprisingly good: Scott Adams’s (creator of Dilbert) book 

Surprisingly great: Lord of the Flies (for that feeling when you know you’ve just read a perfectly crafted story)

Enjoyable page turners: Big Magic & Ready Player One 

Books that made me say “meh”: In This House of Brede, You are a Badass, and Jesus 

Great book, wrong reader: Present Over Perfect

Most helpful due to expertise: The Power of Habit

This stays here (books I will keep on my shelves): For the Children’s Sake

I read pretty regularly this year until we kicked off the school year. It’s been random bursts of reading since then but not nearly as much as what I would have liked.  My reading typically picks up this time of year again. No doubt in part due to my enthusiasm to reignite all interests with guns blazing January 1st. 

Looking back through these titles I can recall times I woke early in the morning to catch a few pages, when I texted friends or my mom with my thoughts, when I propped my feet up on the patio furniture, pausing from time to time to watch the breeze weave through the green leaves overhead. 

It’s a chapter of reading closed. And now it’s time for a new one.  Each years means a little bit more intentionality in my reading. It means new opportunities to discover new ideas, new characters, new settings to contrast and complement my own. 

So, 2017.  How’s the reading landscape shaping up? 

Well, for starters, a good chunk of my reading will be determined by my participation in the Book of the Month Club. Yay! Paul bought it for me for a Christmas gift. I was really, really happy. My 1st box should be coming in soon.  I can’t manage a face to face book club during this season of life, so this feels like the very next best thing.

Another big difference I’m making is setting up most of my non-fiction reading, in part, by the quarters. So, each quarter (quarter 1 = January, February, March) I’m choosing a book in each category:

Spiritual  *   Homeschooling  *  Self-Improvement   *  Poetry

**These were the four types of books that I wished I would have focused more on last year. 

I did fill out Modern Mrs. Darcy’s book challenges & spent too much time one night when I was sick digging into blog lists and Amazon reviews for book I could possibly, potentially read.  I’m not dead set on completing these challenges but I’ll pick a book or two from time to time throughout the year. You can check out the not one, but two challenges here

I plan to do more reading books with friends & family this year.  I dabbled in that last year & I really loved it.  Paul and I have set a goal of reading one book a quarter with each other too.  And my mom and I chatted about that with spiritual reads… need to check in with her to see if she is still up for it! If any of you want to read a book with me, let me know! I will absolutely take you up on the offer!!

Last year I used 1 trick that helped me fit more reading into my schedule and that was setting the timer for 20 minutes of reading as part of my morning routine.  This year, I want to do a better job of putting away my phone when I get to bed and reaching for a book more often...as well as getting to bed earlier so I have more time to enjoy.

aaaaaannd I've got 81 books on my "to read" list in my phone, so that should serve me well. 

Enough about my reading life. What about yours? 

Did you read any great books this past year? Do you have any you are excited to dig into this year? Do you have any book recommendations for me?

I hope you are having a great start to the new year! xoxox, Ash

 

 

Getting My Hands Dirty IRL

Something's been at work in me this year. When I clean the car, vacuuming out crumbs and making it new again. When I teach the kids, their faces turned toward mine. When I fill the water canister for the coffee machine once again.  I’m thinking this one thing, and that is to serve the person who will show up next.  That might be my husband. It could be a guest. Often, it’s a version of me a scratch of time into the future. But someone follows this moment or this year or this stretch of time where I have with my kids.  And so I keep those people in my mind all the time, how I want them to feel when they walk into the room or shake Thomas’s hand or marry one of my sons. 

If there is 1 thing I want to be known for when I die, it would be that I left things better than before.  That because my husband married me, he had the chance to be better than before.  That because I owned this house, I left it better than before.  That because I solved little problems at home or work every day, the world around me was sprinkled with better than before.  

My modus operandi for all my life had been contentment (until I hit 30… which I will get to in a moment).  I was very grateful about all things. I liked to keep things calm and undisturbed in my marriage and in my work and in all aspects of my life.  I liked to please people and return to stillness and cling to beauty more than turn my face to the ugly. It was more important for me to quiet conflict than to harness it.  It was more important for me to make peace with others than to hold in my hands that disagreement.  It was a happy Ashley bubble of all things painted good, and that seemed to work for me, mostly, for a good while. 

But like I said, I hit 30 last year and slow rising panic hit me that I will die one day and what will be there to show for it? My inner life is (was) about 1000% more important to me that outer reality. I’m not talking about escape necessarily. Just that I can make do without a great deal of things because there’s a whole decked out mansion in my mind with all the things, the furnishings, the delights.  My inner life, my thinking life, is extraordinarily rich and I love it.  I’ve always been that way.  I have memories of being at the elementary playground for recess and sitting out on the side because I wanted time to think.  I wake up and do this same thing every single morning—barring a difficult night with the kids or battling insomnia. 

My vocation has been a ripe slap in the face of this stuff though.  I could wax poetic all day about how great my kids and husband are, but that’s gonna help little (although it will help a little) with the myriad of ways I have to solve, fix, delegate, communicate, and serve on a direct, practical, hands-on, day-to-day basis.   It’s been a million opportunities to crash into a reality of sticky mouths and little wants and a husband kissing on my neck. 

I want to scream at some of the BS I see about marriage online.  OF COURSE IT’S FREAKING HARD.  OF COURSE YOU WANT TO QUIT. (But who am I to say. I don't know their cross. All I know is that mine has been heavy at times.) Dude. That’s normal.  This life of two becomes one is all about bouts of discomfort and stretching and writing in selfishness … with a lot of love and generosity and goodness in between-- keeping us from killing each other.  Marriage and motherhood have drawn me out of myself. Literally have drawn me out of my attachment to tidying up my mind more than the room. It has hurt like hell (slight dramatization), but it has been the thing I needed most to save me from myself. 

And now at 31 I can see that fruit taking shape on the tree.  I’m becoming the best version of myself. I think. I read. I get quiet. But I also work. I serve. I solve problems. I get stuff done.  That’s how it should be. 

So yes.  Back to what this post was supposed to be about. Serving the person who follows.  This is what I’ve been up to all year.  I’ve got bad habits to break that circle around the sin of omission rather than commission. Laziness & not finishing things primarily.  But I’ve been punching those things right in the mouth lately.  I wonder how well all these personality tests and complex labels are serving us? I’m kicking those to the curb too because mostly they’re a thing to lean un, a crutch that’s not serving me well. Nobody puts baby in a corner. If I want to lead, I will lead.  If I need to be the one to do x,y,z because that’s what the context requires, you better believe that’s where you will find me.  I am not a bystander watching my life unfold. I’m unfolding it.

I was wondering the other day why I’ve blogged so little this year.  Is it because I haven’t made it a priority? Is it because I don’t love it anymore? Is it because I don’t have anything to write about? No. It hasn’t been any of those things this year.  It’s been something different altogether.  It’s because I’m more interested in fixing my life than in thinking I have anything to help others.  Sounds like maturity to me. It is.  And that has absolutely ZERO to do with anyone else and how they blog or where that fits into their life.  Likely, I’ll write again a good deal when I’m ready. Maybe that’s today.  But I can see that for most of this year, I’ve either not written because my head was on the grindstone or I’ve written posts (over a dozen times) only to not publish because it didn’t feel honest in the great context of all I have to do here in my home. 

Now that I’ve written this all out, I wonder if the opposite is true as well. Do people who run from quiet, discover it later too and embrace the balance of both action and stillness? I guess that’s why I enjoyed reading but didn’t relate much to Shauna Niequist’s book recently, Present Over Perfect—where she faced she need to relax or quiet herself, I’m experiencing the opposite transformation.  I’m curious how this interplay works in other people’s lives. How the quiet and the action has served them and when they’ve had to climb out of their skin to make things happen for the necessity of their lives (both by choice and fate). Necessary quiet. Necessary action.

Let me know your thoughts below. I would really, really love to know!

Back to School

I absolutely love this time of year. Summer is losing a bit of its edge, routine is once again rosy and bright, and there’s a bouquet of sharpened pencils sitting on my wine cabinet. 

We started school last week. We’re in our 2nd year of homeschool, and the presence of that 1st year homeschool badge was felt—starting this time was so smooth and easy. Like butter, baby. 

Hardest part of our 1st day right here. Back to school photos to ward off the mom guilt. So easy, right? (They are waving at dogs. Always with the dogs.)

I’m really grateful for our summer. It was a little bit of everything. Bubbles and lightning bugs in the backyard. Watching underwear-clad boys chase each other and fart around with dirt piles. Visits with family and trips out for fun away from home too. Rest for all of us. Play for al of us. Only 1 very simple ER trip but mostly a chill, incident-free summer.  All in all, it was a true swing to the left of everything the school year was & I think that’s exactly what our family needed.

But now we’re back and I’m happy again to see the order and structure, stacks of library books around the house, and three handsome boys sitting around our table doing math and scribbling on the faces of animals (twins). 

Emerick was sick on our 1st day. Actually the whole 24 hours preceding our 1st day involved a lot of bodily fluid clean-up and constant running of the washing machine of which I've already, mostly, blocked out of my memory.&nbsp;

Emerick was sick on our 1st day. Actually the whole 24 hours preceding our 1st day involved a lot of bodily fluid clean-up and constant running of the washing machine of which I've already, mostly, blocked out of my memory. 

We’ve joined a co-op. It’s called Catholic Schoolhouse & we’ll meet with them one half day each week. I’m excited to be plugged into a community, for the kids to have a bit more formality as well as hands-on activities in art and science (pulling out “all the things” for projects is not my forte), and for me to lead a group of older kids as a “tutor” as well.  I was told by one of the moms with several kids that her clan already reported to her post-open house that “That Thomas Anderson is NOT SHY AT ALL.” 

Last year the twins were too young, active, and averse to speak English any more than they were Klingon…to feast at the table of homeschooling. So it was that Thomas and I would be discussing a poem and the twins were kicking down block towers. Or Thomas and I would be tackling math problems and the twins were jumping off the fireplace while yelling. And Thomas and I would be studying whales while the twins were trying in earnest to be lions.  All this said, a lot can change in a year. And it did. And now the twins, at 3, are happy to be quiet for swaths of time, speak more English than twinese (barely), and sit at the table for good chunks of time pretending to be students. It’s great. What a world of difference! 

One of the most wonderful things about falling apart is that you rise stronger. You look back and say, “not that. ever again.” I’ve fallen down so many times since becoming momma. And each time it’s so damn ugly. Falling apart in a mental sense. Falling apart trying to do it all. Falling apart because toys multiplying under my feet.  But all the falling apart is so beautiful because it so viscerally breaks something old to make way for something new. 

This year I feel so new. More new than a shiny notebook and sharp pencils. I feel new because I’ve taken excellent care of my body all summer. I feel new because last year I kinda broke, crushed from the weight of running frantic circles around expectations as a mom and wife. I’m in a really wonderful space right now where I’m comfortable being in my skin, both the literal and figurative. I own that I’m not enough just as I own my job well done.  Something has changed in me deeply. I feel powerful and energetic and capable of magically beautiful things. I feel in charge and decisive and exactly where I am supposed to be. I’m in a very good, calm, joyful place. And I’m happy this is where our year kicks off because a happy, healthy mom is what every child deserves, homeschooled or not. 

What else? There are so many things to say! 

But I’ll end here. Wherever you are and whomever you are, I hope you are enjoying a new start too.  It’s wonderful at these starting lines to remember where we were a year ago. I have to laugh and put my hand over my heart to think of how small my thinking can be, where I was a year ago and what little foresight I had for knowing that all would be okay. We grow and learn and love much more in a year than we think we will. And that’s why we should whole-heartedly, delightedly embrace this fresh start. It’s thrilling to think there’s much, much more than even our eager, ready to run selves can imagine. Isn’t that just the most wonderful thing?

* I’ve missed blogging. I’ve missed you. That’s all. 

**Curriculum post soon if you're into that sort of thing.