Category: Learning & Growth

How We Got our Little One to Go Dairy, Grain and Sugar Free for 30 Days

How We Got our Little One to Go Dairy, Grain and Sugar Free for 30 Days

How do you get a five-year-old to go without her cereal, cheese, and treats for thirty days?

The short answer: Bribe her with a trip to Disneyland

The longer answer: Find some new things she loves to eat.

This past spring, our daughter had a strange and unfortunate succession of events within a month’s time. First, she had a vaccine and a strong reaction to it, then two stomach bugs, one after another. After this, she experienced chronic, debilitating stomachaches and lots of missed school days, so many in fact, that we got a letter from the school principal.

After a few fruitless trips to the pediatrician, we finally took her to see an allergist. They did an extensive allergy panel for various foods and grass, pollen, etc., and found that she was ONLY allergic to dogs (go figure – she’s been around plenty of dogs and never experienced a reaction). The allergist explained that most likely our daughter had a food sensitivity, rather than an allergy, and sensitivities are best found by trying an elimination diet. This basically means you remove a specific food (like wheat or milk) for three weeks, and then try reintroducing it.

Around this same time, my husband and I wanted to do another Whole 30 (which is thirty days of no grains, legumes, dairy or sugar) for our own health reasons. The philosophy behind Whole 30 is that you remove foods from your diet for thirty days, and then systematically reintroduce them to determine if you react or have sensitivity to those foods. It was perfect timing for Ellianna to join us, since this is basically what her doctor was telling us to do for her.

I think the stomachaches were some motivation to our daughter to try the Whole 30. But she was VERY reluctant to give up some of her favorite foods. My husband and I have been wanting to take the kids to Disneyland, so we decided that if we all stuck with the Whole 30 for thirty days, we would go to Disneyland this fall. We explained to our daughter why it was important for her health to do the Whole 30 with us, and that it would have its challenges, but if she stayed the course, we would go to Disneyland.

Our Whole 30 adventure had some ups and downs, but we worked through it, one day at a time. Our daughter had a few frustrated meltdowns when she couldn’t have certain foods. I quickly found this happened mostly right before mealtimes when she was hungry (I noticed the same thing in myself at times!) Once we got some food in her, Whole 30 didn’t seem so bad anymore.

A few times, she was SORELY tempted to eat something off-plan. We asked her, “Is a eating that food worth giving up a trip to Disneyland?” We told her the story from the Bible where Esau gave up his birthright – his very inheritance – to his brother Jacob in exchange for a bowl of stew. How it can be so easy in the moment to throw away something great in exchange for something small and fleeting, but later, this only leads to big regrets. (If only we as adults could always remember this lesson!)While a happier tummy was the true goal, Disneyland was a more tangible reward for her, and it helped her to keep a bigger perspective on her choices.

When you reintroduce grains, you don’t do it half-way! (She only ate a small piece of this, btw!)

Overall, she did an incredible job. She was willing to try new things and find foods she enjoyed.   My mama heart swelled with pride when I would watch her respond to friends or family that offered her foods that weren’t on her plan. She would gently and kindly explain that she was “on Whole 30” to help her tummy, and she couldn’t have that food right then. I explained to her that at her young age, she was already displaying an important skill – the ability to kindly say no when someone offers something that isn’t in line with her own goals. What great life skills to exercise and learn as a five-year-old!

After thirty days, the day finally came when we reintroduced dairy, and later grains, and she was THRILLED. She never appreciated her favorite foods so much. But those days, she did notice that her tummy didn’t feel as good as it had before.

She is now back to eating grains and dairy, and her tummy is doing well. It’s possible that just giving her system a little break to heal brought it back to balance. She is now more self-aware when a food bothers her tummy, and more aware of limiting foods that have too much sugar. And she is really looking forward to that Disneyland trip she worked so hard to earn!

For me, I have new ideas for healthier snack options, and I’m more aware of the sugars that lurk in boxed foods – even the organic “healthy” foods from the health foods store.

Next up: The meals and snacks that helped our five-year-old get through Whole 30.

What Whole 30 Did for Me, My Husband, and our 5-Year-Old

What Whole 30 Did for Me, My Husband, and our 5-Year-Old

The results are in!!! My husband and I, with our five-year-old daughter just finished a Whole 30 (which is 30 days without legumes, grains, milk products, or sweeteners of any kind), complete with a post Whole 30 systematic reintroduction of each food type, to see how our bodies would react.

Now, we called it “Whole 30,” but in reality, we each did a variation on it. My husband still added stevia to his coffee. I still had half and half in my coffee, and occasionally honey. Our daughter still had a little honey, paleo (grain-free and milk/butter-free) chocolate chip cookies, and some pea protein powder in a smoothie. (Her main guidelines were to ban sugar, grains, and milk products.)

Our son, who is 17 months, didn’t do Whole 30, although I’m sure he had less grain than usual since we were cooking and buying groceries differently.

So why did we do a Whole 30?

My husband wanted to lose weight. I wanted more energy and get off sugar. Our daughter was fighting chronic stomachaches.

So we did it! My husband is a rock star in the kitchen – he is the menu planner in our family. So he got out our Whole 30 and Paleo recipe books and planned out his lunches and our dinners for each week. Huge help! I had to menu plan a few of the days (more on how I survived that in a forthcoming post).

My husband was our rock through it all. He stayed strong when I wanted to cave. (This makes no sense, because I grew up eating a very clean, no sugar diet, whereas, he did not. This should be hardwired into my brain!) He abstained from beer at every work happy hour, stayed away from Friday bagels at work, made himself turkey bacon and eggs every morning, and planned and cooked Whole 30 compliant lunches for the week.

This is my third time doing a Whole 30, and for whatever reason, it was haaarrrddd this time. I wanted popcorn and ice cream and other treats, especially when we were on a little trip. I missed having more variety in my diet. My husband wondered if it was because this time I kept half-and-half in my diet (he may have a point!)

My daughter had a few meltdowns, and Whole 30 almost became a bad word in her mind. But overall, she found some things she really enjoyed and was a trooper – making the hard choices when push came to shove. (More to come on her experience doing Whole 30).

4th of July picnic with my parents at the lake! Beautiful weather and great food.

We made it through all the ups and downs and found things that felt like a treat. On our 4th of July trip, we had a tailgate picnic by the lake – with fresh cold watermelon and homemade guacamole with plantain chips. It was great and we had a blast.

So now for the good stuff – what did Whole 30 do for us?

Andy – down 6 lbs!
  • My husband: Andy lost 6 pounds. Now, this is AMAZING. My husband simply does not lose weight, even during times he is watching carbs and calories. He can go years without losing a pound, even though we really work to buy healthy foods and cook at home. But he lost six pounds in the 5 ½ weeks we were on Whole 30! He also felt like he had good energy and focus through a high-pressure time at work.
  • Me: I’m gonna keep it real and say that I didn’t notice a big surge in my energy this time, like I have when I’ve done Whole 30 before. But I have some other things going on, like a newly diagnosed low thyroid. BUT I did have much better digestion and less stomachaches on Whole 30, and in general, I didn’t feel sluggish. The no grain, no sugar, no milk product way of eating really helps my body function better. Also, I had NO REFINED SUGAR for over 5 weeks, and for a recovering sugar addict like me, this is fantastic.
  • Our daughter: Our baby girl also had better digestion and almost no stomachaches while doing Whole 30. She also didn’t have the hyper highs she (and all kids have) when she had refined sugar in her diet.

So, absolutely yes and amen, Whole 30 was worth it, and it was doable for us. We really want to continue with this healthy way of eating, with more protein, fruits and vegetables, and really minimize refined foods. My goal is to keep a rhythm of healthy eating almost every day. A good healthy eating plan takes the monkey off my back, the niggling worries that I should be eating healthier, that I should be feeding my family more healthfully. It takes away the mornings of waking up with brain fog and the onslaught of regrets for eating things that made me less than my best the next day.

This doesn’t mean it will be perfect. I enjoy my ice cream with the best of them (chocolate and vanilla with caramel swirl PLEASE!) But healthy eating WILL be a continued journey for us, because feeling good every day and building health for today and future years is worth every effort.

Create Like a Kid Again

Create Like a Kid Again

Do you remember when you were a kid, and you loved to draw and paint, to dress up and put on a play, or to write a little storybook, complete with illustrations? (more…)

Wishin’ and Hopin’…

Wishin’ and Hopin’…

As the years fly by, I realize that I still have so many things I want to do, but haven’t done. This very simple equation has become increasingly clear:

Results = time + attention

I can dream about a business endlessly, I can imagine drawings and paintings I wish I could make, I can wish to be a published author… but if the only place these things occur are in my head, there they will stay. (more…)

Emotional Health Part III – Heart-Check

Emotional Health Part III – Heart-Check

Yesterday I talked about how important it is to have a healthy, peaceful heart to create a peaceful home, a haven. Today I’m going to dive more into some strategies and thoughts that have helped me.

I’m excited to share this post with you because this is something I’ve had to really lean into and learn.

Earlier this year, I quit my job for a season to be home with my children. My pace of life slowed down and in the quieter moments, I was hit with an absolute onslaught of thoughts, feelings and emotions. My heart was an untended jungle of things I could brush past when my life was faster-paced. I was overwhelmed by all the things I always thought I would be and do, but never have. It has been a process of unraveling from my former lifestyle and resetting and realigning my life with my longer-term goals. In this new season, I’ve had to learn (and am still learning)  how to face my feelings, to process and grow from them, rather than distracting myself with unhealthy habits like emotional eating, getting on social media and just plain busyness.

In our fast-paced lifestyle and culture, it’s so easy to rush past the feelings and worries we don’t want to feel, to stay busy and distracted from the signals (sometimes SOS’s) our hearts are trying to send us. In doing so, we miss opportunities to grow and even miss some critical adjustments we need to make in our lives.

This ancient biblical proverb holds true today:

Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it flow the springs of life

Proverbs 4:23, AMP

How do we “watch over” and tend to our hearts? I like to do “Heart-checks” – intentional times to check in to see what’s going on with my heart.

Doing a heart-check may sound silly, “woo-woo” or indulgent- it certainly did to me at first. But in reality, it is a critical tool for emotional well-being and finding freedom from intentional distraction (busyness, social media, emotional eating); from damaging addictive behaviors.

Some people tend to their hearts as an on-going habit. You will hear it in comments they make. “______ (Fill in the blank) really bothered me, but after I thought about it, I realized ______.” For others like me, it has to be an intentional exercise to establish the practice.

Here is what a heart-check looks like:

  • Ask yourself questions:  “What’s going on with my heart? Do I feel anxious, excited, or am I dreading my day? What do I need to help relieve stress? (It may be to make a plan, to get more sleep, to take some kind of action, ask for help with childcare or simply to take 5 minutes to gather your thoughts).
  • Examine Your Thoughts:  Sometimes our naturally occurring thoughts and emotions can be very negative about ourselves or our circumstances, and just plain false. (For example, “I’ll never get this mess cleaned up,” or  “I’ll never make that deadline”). Replace negative thoughts with true, hopeful thoughts.
  • Pray:  Sometimes I don’t know what’s bothering me, or if I do, I don’t know what will help. Praying for wisdom can point me to the answer.
  • Journal: Writing down thoughts on a page with no agenda can help process what’s going on with your heart and emotions.
  • Take a 5 or 10 minute walk – the simple act of physical movement and just changing our immediate physical environment can help process what’s going on in our hearts.
  • Listen to Music: Put on some music that quiets your thoughts. For me, that is acoustic hymns. (Spotify or Pandora is your friend).
  • Get Quiet and Still: Clear out your head for a few minutes and give yourself a break from all the racing thoughts and to-do’s, and just think about your breathing (that’s easy, right?). Keep a pen and paper nearby, and as random thoughts come to you, write them down so your brain is not worried about forgetting them.
  • Find good resources, such as:
    • A trusted friend or family member you can talk to.
    • A good counselor – When you’re going in circles on something day after day and can’t make emotional progress, it can be very helpful to talk to a good counselor. This takes some effort as finding a good counselor is just as important as finding a doctor you like. You have to click with them and be able to trust their counsel. Ask friends for referrals.
    • Books and organizations: As part of my Heart-Check time, I like to read a few pages from a good book, such as:
      • Christa Black Gifford has a wonderful (faith-based) book called “Heart Made Whole” that has questions and practical heart-checking practices and exercises. This one takes a deep dive into trauma and how it impacts our heart, but the same tools are also helpful for processing lesser traumas and the stresses of daily life.
      • Rising Strong” by Brene Brown provides an excellent template for processing through “face-down” moments as she calls them. It’s a story-driven, non-formulaic book that shows you how to process thoughts and feelings in a meaningful, healthy way.
      • As a believer in God, I also turn to the Bible to lead me to truth and set my thoughts on a firm foundation. When I feel anxious and inadequate to my challenges, the Bible reminds me that God is with me, that I am His daughter, and that He has a greater purpose for my life (which is to serve Him). These game-changing truths can fade all too quickly in all the detail and minutia of life, and a reminder lifts my perspective in a way that nothing else can.
      • Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist is also an excellent resource. One of my very favorite quotes comes from this book:”…I ate on the run, slept in my clothes, worshipped at the altar of my to-do list, ignored the crying out of my body and soul like they were nothing more than the buzz of pesky mosquitoes……..”….Now I know that the best thing I can offer to this world is not my force or energy, but a well-tended spirit, a wise and brave soul…”

When to do a Heart Check:

Anytime you start feeling your blood pressure or anxiety rise, a heart check is needed.

  • It can be any time of the day – ten minutes before the kids get up, during a break or over lunch, during a commute.Starting your day with a Heart-Check is always a good idea – it’s a great way to direct your priorities for the day and get yourself tuned up for the day. Use those first precious minutes of a day to read a few pages from one of the books I suggested above, to pray, and journal.
  • It can take as little or as much time as you need it to.  A ten-minute or even five-minute time-out can make a world of difference. Now that I’m home with my children, I do this during naptime, or go to a side room where I can still monitor/ hear my children. Sometimes the best spot is the bathroom! When I was working a job, even in the middle of a crazy day, I would go for a ten-minute walk, find a quiet corner conference room or again, head into the bathroom for a few minutes of quiet.Ten minutes will not fix all my worries, but it can help me acknowledge my heart; that it’s trying to tell me something. It can help me get to the root cause of the issue so I’m not looking to anesthetize the pain with an inappropriate remedy and doing the equivalent of walking on an injury during my day.

 

guardyourheartproverb

 

Getting to the heart of the issue takes time, patience, and it’s simply uncomfortable. It’s staring into the mirror and seeing my insecurities, my weaknesses. But it is so good, so healing and it puts my knees on the floor and my feet on a solid foundation. And it takes far less time than endless days and years of putting a lid on the pain. Unhealthy coping mechanisms in the long run only add more pain, more brokenness, more endless circles of wandering around the mountain and never climbing and conquering it. I know. I’ve lived it.

shaunaniequistFor me to be that wise, brave soul, cultivating a home and a haven for my husband and my children, building a foundation from which I can achieve my goals and dreams, I must take care of my heart. This is not a destination, a thing that I’ve learned and scratched off my list; it does not come naturally or automatically. It is a daily, sometimes hourly, even minute-by-minute journey filled with real-life ups and downs, stumbles and falls and getting back up again. Every new circumstance in life brings more challenges, sometimes making it ever harder to cultivate a peaceful heart. But you know what? It only makes me more thankful for God’s renewed grace every day. And it is one of my best teachers.

This journey to a healthy, peaceful heart is essential, and so very worth it.

Emotional Health Part II – Get Curious

Emotional Health Part II – Get Curious

Monday morning I had the thought, “I miss chocolate.”.

It’s kind of strange I would be thinking about chocolate on a hectic Monday morning. Really? Who’s got time for that? The temptation is to tackle that thought like a linebacker rushing the opposing team’s quarterback who’s heading for the end zone with the ball. MUST.NOT.THINK.ABOUT.CHOCOLATE. Because I know if I start my day with chocolate or sugar, it’s a downhill slide for the rest of the day, and I’ll lose an opportunity to score on some of my most important goals.

But instead of tackling and squelching that thought, I took a mental step back as I made lunches for the day and asked myself “Why?” One of my favorite encouragements from researcher and author Brene Brown is to “get curious.” Don’t judge, don’t avoid, get curious. Why would I be thinking about chocolate right now? Do I really need, or want chocolate, or do I need something else?

I realized I was stressed, tired and overwhelmed. Monday hit hard after a nice week of Ellianna being on Fall break. All the to-do’s of the coming week and the fatigue from a busy weekend crashed over me like a wave. I was in the pileup with a hundred scattered thoughts about my week. I didn’t need chocolate, I needed to take ten minutes to clear my head, to pray and to make a plan.

As my mom always says, “The problem is not the problem.” I am not a hopeless chocolate addict, instead, my heart is sending me signals that it needs attention. My brain is busily and urgently asking me for a distraction from my heart’s angst.

probisnottheprob

When I start feeling unsettled and anxious and start craving that treat, I want to hit the “ignore” button because, come on now, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” But as much as I would like it to, the stress, anxiety or pain my heart is holding doesn’t magically disappear. It spills out into unplanned, unhealthy coping mechanisms, whether that’s overeating, getting on social media too much, snapping at my family (cringe), or finding that chocolate fix.

All these short-term fixes undermine my productivity and my goals, and lead to much greater loss than a few minutes of face-time with my heart. I simply can’t create a peaceful home/haven environment for my family when my heart is spilling over with unresolved irritability, stress, anxiety, anger or discouragement.

A sudden impulse to eat chocolate (or potato chips or fill in the blank___________) is usually a signal something else is needed. Maybe I need connection –to call a friend to lift my perspective. Maybe I need to take some time to organize my thoughts and make a list for myself. Maybe a hurtful conversation happened yesterday that I don’t want to think about, and I need to take ten minutes to journal and pray to process my feelings about it. Maybe I need to ensure I get a good night’s sleep, or to look at the calendar and realize it’s that time of the month and give myself extra grace.

Tomorrow I’m going to dive into more strategies for cultivating a peaceful heart. These have been born out of my own experiences and frustrations. I’ll also share some resources that have been very helpful for me.

Haven Making: Emotional Health Part I

Haven Making: Emotional Health Part I

For the past few posts in this series, I’ve been focusing on health as part of making a home a haven. Today and in the next few posts, I will focus on emotional health because it is absolutely foundational to having a peaceful, happy home.

If I am suffering with chronic irritability, melancholy or depression, anxiety, apathy, or exhaustion, it is really hard to be the mom that I want to be and to create a haven for my family. Overcoming these angst-filled emotions and being patient, creative and affectionate becomes an every.single.day.battle, especially when the days are long.

Anxiety and mild to moderate depression is part of my life story. I’ve been a worrier since I was very young, even though I grew up in a very loving and stable home. I worried about something happening to my parents, I worried about getting a terrible disease. If there was nothing to worry about (which was usually the case), I’d think of something. Managing my emotions led to a long struggle with binge-eating that started in my teens.

Because I’ve struggled so much over the years with anxiety and mild depression, I’ve had to learn ways to manage these symptoms. I’m ever in the process of un-learning the unhealthy patterns I’ve used to manage anxiety and depression in the past (bingeing on carbs and sugars).

Anxiety for me leads to low productivity. When I’m feeling anxious, I tend to think, probe and analyze, as if fixing the problem depends on it. (Picture Winnie the Pooh sitting on a stone wall, scrunching his eyes together, tapping his head saying, “Think, think, think.”) Instead of taking action or working down my to-do list, I sit and ponder, or I talk to others about the problem, or I google or order books to read about the problem. When I’m anxious, I have a hard time focusing on the non-urgent and I feel distracted. Not only do I need to manage my anxiety to be emotionally available to my children, I need it to maintain the productivity level required to stay on top of all the needs of a busy young household.

I’ve found there are two important pieces to managing anxiety: the first is to focus on physical health, the other is to work on the emotional/ spiritual side of health. I’ve tried wholly focusing on one or the other and found that to be emotionally healthy, both are essential, and one is not successful without the other.

Here are some of the things I’ve found I must do for my physical health in order to help manage anxiety levels:

  • Eat a diet high in protein and vegetables, and low in sugars. I’ve found that a Whole 30 / Paleo diet provides a great balance for me. (Paleo is grain-free, sugar-free and dairy-free, and focuses on naturally raised meats, vegetables, nuts and seeds and fruit). A Paleo plan is extremely helpful in balancing blood sugar levels, and balancing hormones – both essential for stable, healthy moods.It also is free of foods that frequently cause inflammation. The typical American diet has many foods that not only cause inflammation to muscles and joints, but also to the brain. Sugar, artificial sweeteners, soy, corn, additives, food colors and dyes and gluten are common agents that can contribute to mental and emotional issues.These foods are also highly addictive. They make you feel better temporarily, but then there is a crash, which makes you want to go back to the well to feel better once again. Being on a Paleo diet helps break and stay away from these addictive cycles.
  • Ensure I have adequate nutrition: I have a wonderful doctor who does blood tests for missing nutrients and coaches me on what supplements to take. For example, a recent test showed I am low in Vitamin D. As the saying goes, we aren’t what we eat, we are what we absorb. Even a highly nutritious diet won’t provide all the needed nutrients if there is low absorption. Low B vitamins and Vitamin D can contribute to mood disorders, including depression and anxiety.
  • SLEEP. The best diet in the world, best supplements, the best counselors, books, etc. cannot replace adequate sleep. If I consistently get poor sleep, I struggle more with anxiety and general negativity. Getting proper sleep is mission critical for me to avoid emotional eating.
  • Exercise – There is a ton of research out there on the emotional benefits of exercise. It raises endorphins and is a natural happiness booster.
  • Sunlight – inadequate sunlight contributes to low Vitamin D levels and to depression. I personally can tell a difference in my moods when I haven’t been in the sun much.
  • Limited Caffeine – I absolutely love coffee (Putting my nose down in a freshly ground bag of coffee is my aromatherapy!), but I have to be careful not to drink too much caffeine. Without fail, too much caffeine earlier in my day contributes to anxiety and irritability as the day progresses.
  • Rescue Remedy and Chamomile Tea: Bach’s Rescue Remedy is a very helpful natural remedy for stress and mild anxiety. I also like some of the calming herbal teas, such as chamomile, although I typically save these for close to bedtime because they are a little tooo relaxing.

These things all help me to stay balanced and to have the emotional and mental energy I need for my days and to accomplish my goals. Whenever I get a little off-balance in any area, my body reminds me I need to make an adjustment. Recently I’ve shorted myself on sleep (so tempting to do to get quiet time when you have little ones!), but have been quickly reminded this is not an area I can cut corners.

In this way, my struggle with anxiety is a blessing because it pushes me to take care of my health.

One caveat: At times, medication (such as an SSRI) is needed to help manage emotions. I don’t want to negate this fact with the above, only to say that all these factors (sleep, nutritious diet, etc) are critical contributors to mental and emotional health.

If you are like me and have struggled with mood disorders, what have you found that has helped you? Please share in the comments!

Coming up, I will post about the emotional / spiritual side of managing emotions.

Set a Timer to Outwit Perfectionism

Set a Timer to Outwit Perfectionism

I’m an all-or-nothing kind of gal. I either want to clean a room until the very farthest corners are pristine, or avoid cleaning it altogether. My sister Shannon still laughs about the time when we were kids, helping my mom tidy up for company coming over, imminently. Shannon was whizzing around, picking up the big things, and I was cleaning the blender buttons with a toothpick (I’m not making this up). This does not bode well for keeping a tidy home.

To help me overcome my all-or-nothing, perfectionistic tendencies, I’ve been using a few tricks. When I’m working on cleaning, I tell myself, “It’s not going to be perfect,” to set the expectation for myself that good enough is just that, and to not spend too much time on perfecting the details when other things (and small children) are begging for attention. I’ve lived the adage, “perfect is the enemy of done” too many times.

Another thing that’s helped me tremendously is to set a timer. It’s easy for me to look at a big mess or a big project and be quickly overwhelmed to the point where I don’t want to do anything (my child is the same way). Setting a timer gives me a time constraint to do a task, and helps me get started. I can pretty much do anything (apart from medieval torture) if it only lasts for 15 minutes. This is very helpful for helping children to do tasks as well.

Jon Acuff and other writers use this method to write, and to ensure they are getting enough writing done every day.

Here is a tweet from Acuff on his writing method:

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-2-47-00-pm

(For a great article on using a timer to achieve your goals, see Acuff’s blog post here.

I’ve started setting a timer in the evenings to pick up the house after the day of play and work. Just 15 minutes makes a huge difference in clearing the clutter and chaos.

Here are my tips when setting a timer:

  • Clear distractions so you can 100% focus while the timer is going.
  • Keep it short – 10 minutes to an hour.
  • Put on some fast-paced fun music (or whatever music is suitable for the task).
  • Race against the timer – make it a game to see how much you can get done before it goes off.
  • Stop when the time is up (or shortly after)

Ellianna and I used a timer to clear her craft table area while Weston was napping. We played Chris Tomlin’s “Adore” Christmas album since we both love Christmas music and Dad wasn’t home J and set the timer for 15 minutes.

Here’s what happened:

  • We had fun
  • We had team camaraderie since it was us against the timer
  • We found things we had been missing
  • Ellianna found a craft project she wanted to do when we were done
  • The pick-up energized us, where before we had hit the afternoon “blah’s”
  • It pushed us to make “Toss or Keep” decisions quickly
  • We didn’t want to stop when the timer went off because we were on a roll
  • I ended up picking up a few other things around the area
  • The timer created urgency for a task that really needed to be done, but was not urgent.

We ended up spending about 30 minutes on the project, including taking out the garbage and recycle bin and vacuuming.

Here are the “Before and After” results:

 

messy    clean-area

 

This wasn’t the formidable project it appeared to be. What a difference 30 minutes can make!

When you’re feeling stuck with too much to do, try setting a timer. Let me know how it works!

Haven Making: Time-Management

Haven Making: Time-Management

A big part of successfully making home a haven is being very organized and prioritizing tasks. Having hundreds of things to juggle without solid organization skills will inevitably lead to some important balls getting dropped. I was talking with a woman who mentioned a mom who has eight children. I shook my head and said, “I don’t know how she does it.” She replied, “She is extremely organized and systematic.” “Kind of like a CEO of her family,” I commented. “Exactly.” she agreed, “She could be a CEO!”

Now, I will never be the kind of person who runs a household of 10 like a tight ship (or even be able to keep the ship afloat). I think God knew that, so he gave me two children. But the idea of being a family CEO and finding efficient systems that work connected with me. I’ve always been organized and efficient in my jobs throughout my career, but have not been quite as successful on the home front.

Even with just (?) two children, there are challenges. Children present so many uncontrollable variables. Sometimes Ellianna likes to entertain herself and do her art, and sometimes she is craving to do activities with Mom. Some days Weston is catching up on sleep and takes a nice long nap, and other days he may take a few catnaps. Some days the children are very well-behaved, other times it would seem they’ve forgotten everything I’ve ever told them, and extra coaching is necessary. If you have children of your own, you could probably cite a hundred more examples.

Then there’s my energy level, which may be the most important factor of all. My energy is higher some days than others. Some days I seem to get stuck in low gear, and others, I feel like super-mom.

I’m always looking for ways to be more productive. I really love organization and time management books. I consume them voraciously like page-turning mystery novels, only the mystery is how much better organized I’ll be once I’ve finished the book. Of course, applying the book is the key, not just reading it, (if reading counted, I would be president of the United States) so I’ve had some disappointing endings.

I’ve tried many techniques, like the time I made a detailed color-coded list of everything I needed to do with some new colored pencils. It was beautiful. But this system only lasted a few days. With the workload I had, the time it took to maintain wasn’t manageable. I’ve tried scheduling out my day by the half-hour to make sure I get everything done. What I’ve found is that I tend to have unrealistic expectations for my day (even before I had kids). When I got behind schedule, (it was 9 pm and I still hadn’t finished things I’d planned to be done with by 10 am – do you know the feeling?), I would end my day in frustration and defeat.

I also love to buy planners and calendars. I’ve bought countless planners from Franklin Covey and Target. Once again, I feel my dollars will buy me some new organization. But this is like buying exercise equipment, a gym membership, and the latest technology in running shoes without a solid routine to use them, and expecting to become strong and lean.

I’ve bounced around quite a bit and am still working to achieve a rhythm and routine, but overall, here are some of the best tips I’ve gleaned so far, and am practicing:

  1. Make a plan for my day the night before or first thing in the morning
  1. Pick THREE things that MUST get done for the day and do those first. This does two things:                  a. It forces me to choose my priorities for the day out of my long list of to-do items and tells me where to focus.                                                                                                                                                           b. If the day gets crazy with endless urgent activities, I will at least have done the top three important things. This is a great way to still make a little progress, even on whirlwind days.
  1. Make my to-do list and calendar VISIBLE. I’m finally learning that I am an out-of-sight, out-of-mind person, and if my to-do list is not handy, I will forget it and do the next urgent thing.
  1. Enter all appointments and events into Google Calendar and SET REMINDERS! Again, out-of-sight, out-of-mind. I think the default reminder I have on Google Calendars is 10 minutes before an event starts, which is much too late if I’ve forgotten all about it. Now I set multiple reminders so I see it coming.fullsizerender-5
  1. Have a designated space for an “in-box” where family members and I can deposit papers I need to process or file. This keeps all my important things together in one spot (bank statements, school activity notices, etc), ready to process. Again, this has to be in a high-traffic area for me so I will see it and be reminded to clear it out. The goal is to check the box throughout the week, but once a week, clean it out entirely. If you can do something in two minutes, do it right away, otherwise it needs to be designated as a project and scheduled for another time. (Great advice from Getting Things Done by David Allen).img_3271-1
  1. Write out a plan. I have a large desk calendar that I think through the month with by writing out everything coming up. I also use it to plan books to read (based on library due dates) and exception days to my Paleo health plan (more on this to come).
  1. As I plan, know that there are trade-offs: I’m such an optimist when it comes to my time and energy! I think I can get it all done, but in reality, if I’m overscheduled, something is going to go, and it may be something that shouldn’t (like sleep, tasks tied to future goals, etc.)

These are some simple strategies that are helping me to run my ship a little tighter and achieve more of my goals. I’m always continuing to learn – my next thing I want to try more is a bullet journal. I will be taking a course on it early next year. I love the fluidity and flexibility of a bullet journal.

What are your favorite strategies for being more efficient with your time? Share in the comments!

When the Day Gets Away…..

When the Day Gets Away…..

I like to get things done. Sometimes this is very difficult. Not only do I have a mom brain, I am not in my 20’s anymore. Combine these two factors with a short nights sleep, and children that need something approximately every 2.4 to 9.7 minutes, and I have a full-on case of ADHD. (and please don’t add PMS to that mix. We won’t talk about what that’s like).

I’m not being dramatic. Yesterday, I had two things that HAD to be done. I had to put a roast I bought a few days ago in my slow cooker, and scoop out the cat litter box (in desperate need). At approximately 3:30 pm, I finally got the roast ready to cook with the requisite accompaniment of carrots, onions and potatoes. I figured if I put the crockpot on high and gave Ellianna a snack, dinner at 7:30p wouldn’t be the end of the world.

As time went on, I passed the slow cooker a few times in the kitchen, and noticed it didn’t seem to be heating up. Half an hour later, I realized the crockpot was not plugged in!. Ok, we are not eating dinner at 9 or 10 tonight. I think we found some hotdogs or scrambled eggs for survival. Later, I finally dropped into bed at midnight after a bottle-washing marathon and realized I had yet again forgotten to do cat litter. Determined, I finally did cat litter at about one in the morning, and dropped peacefully into bed, knowing my cats were would have a better day tomorrow.

I’m not this scatterbrained and distracted every day, but this is how my days can go at times.

I love my babies. I love being able to spend time with them – giving hugs to Ellianna, looking at her wonderfully creative drawings, watching an episode of PBS’s Tumble Leaf together (at her insistent request), listening to her bright, chatty and hilarious monologues about something she is thinking about. Then there is Weston. He will either give you 1. A smile; 2. A chuckle; 3. A belly laugh if you simply give him a smiley hello. Who doesn’t want to do that at least 50 times a day? These kids seriously infuse my day with sunshine (and yes, some rain at times ;).

But…. Laundry, dishes, cleaning, organizing, dinner….! . As much as I want to see that episode with Ellianna again or stop for a tickle session with Weston, the dark realities of not finding time for chores are lurking upstairs in the bedrooms. Empty drawers are starkly unoccupied by even one pair of clean underwear. I am running out of shorts that don’t have spit-up on them. Weston has no clean bibs. Mammoth piles of laundry threaten to engulf me in overwhelm that send me back downstairs (Tumble Leaf, anyone??) .

And if I’m not engaging with my children, I want to be writing, thinking, planning or catching up on Facebook, rather than cleaning, doing laundry or dishes.

Remember Maslow’s hierarchy? I want to climb right on past the physiological level (which I’m sure involves cooking and having clean underwear) and get on to the love /belonging, esteem and self-actualization levels (can I just camp there up at the top?). Every day. I think I could generously spare an hour to domestic duties, but the rest could it pretty please be my time and time for my kids?

I have hope though. My nightstand has piles of books that I think will help me find my stride and get the routine things done, along with the more cerebral, relational, and spiritual activities. Charles Duhigg’s “Power of Habit” and Gretchen Rubin’s “Happier at Home” stare at me from my nightstand, whispering promises and hope of change. Oh yes, and perhaps most importantly, a prayer journal too.

As I turn in to go to sleep, I have resolve. Tomorrow is another day; I will get some laundry done. And some dishes too.