Book review: "Notes From a Blue Bike"

Seriously, I love public libraries. No matter where I've lived or what stage I've life I've been in, I've always found a use for my local public library. I've found some of my favorite books in the stacks at the library, learned about the services each community has to offer, and it's been a quiet place for my kids to enjoy. Whenever we move, the library is one of the first places I explore. It was no different when we moved to Grand Island. The library here has an awesome kids area and a great variety of books. During our last trip to the library, I ran across this gem (among a few others!) in the form of an audio book, and it's been keeping my company on my commute home from work each day.

The subtitle of the book gives a nice summary of its contents. It's divided into seven parts: Awakening, Food, Work, Education, Travel, Entertainment, and Revival. And while it's published by Thomas Nelson who publishes mostly Christian texts, the book's main focus isn't Christianity. (However, I would argue that God wants us to live intentionally where he's placed us, so maybe the book is, in essence, a "Christian" text...without being filled with scripture references.) Like any good book, this one has given me a lot to think about.

Even before reading this book, living intentionally has been a goal of mine--it's part of the reason why I quit teaching last year, it's why I was a vegetarian for two years, it's why we traded the busy city life in Omaha for a more peaceful, calm life in central Nebraska,  it's why we bought a home three houses away from a cornfield. This book made me think a lot more about food, travel, and entertainment. It's made me think about my family's values and how we express these values in the decisions we make. I won't bore you with all of my musings on these topics; instead, here's a list of some changes I've made lately in an attempt to live more thoughtfully (maybe this will bore you just the same!):

  • We've taken J-man off his ADHD med---this one was a tough decision, as you can imagine. The more we learn about J, the more we realize his struggles to focus and control his impulses might be related more to Reactive Attachment Disorder, which has no medication to regulate it. After lots of praying, thinking, and hours spent researching and talking with licensed professionals, we decided to eliminate this medication. It hasn't been easy. In fact, it's been pretty difficult. The medication did help regulate some of the less than desirable behaviors, but it often made him a bit more detached than what were comfortable with. We're trading the medication for "brain-gym" activities, more counseling, essential oil blends, and adjustments to our parenting styles. 
  • Our grocery cart looks different--I'm trying hard to avoid pre-packaged snacks (though, sometimes they are necessary) and make my own instead. I've swapped out grocery store eggs with eggs straight from a local farmer here in town. Instead of buying produce from the grocery store, I purchase a basket each week from Bountiful Baskets. I've swapped store-bought bread with homemade bread from either my bread maker (flashback to the 90s!) or from Bountiful Baskets. My coffee is fair trade, the yogurt the kids eat is Greek and natural (I can't stand the stuff, so I've just eliminated it from my diet). Overall, my grocery cart is emptier--I'm trying to exercise an 80/20 mindset when it comes to food--80% quality, nutritious food that is sustainable with 20% of the not-so-great food. It's taken some adjusting in our budget, but I've been able to have great conversations with the kids already about why it's important to buy local products that are in season whenever possible on our way to and from our egg pick up or our Bountiful Basket  pick up. 
  • I'm making our hand soap and laundry detergent--it saves money, it's better for our skin, and my homemade stuff uses sustainable products.  I'm hoping to switch to homemade, earth-friendly cleaning products once I get through the stuff I already have. Plus, it really doesn't take long to do.
  • I've implemented a capsule wardrobe- last spring I emptied my closet with the exception of a few dresses and two pairs of dress pants. I sold some and donated the rest. Embarrassingly, it took two carloads to get rid of my stuff. When I started adding up the money I spent on clothes that I hardly wore, I felt pretty silly. Some of the clothes were just stupid purchases bought on a whim because they were on clearance. With the help of Pinterest and some friends, I built a capsule wardrobe that forced me to buy more quality clothes in less quantities. I've just swapped out my summer stuff for fall/winter stuff---it just feels good to have less options and less clutter. 
  • I've deactivated my Facebook account again. Back in 2012 I ditched Facebook so I could focus on writing my thesis. This time I'm focusing on just using my time better. I found myself mindlessly scrolling in the morning for 15 minutes before I got out of bed, throughout the day, and even while driving. When I sat down to weigh the pros and cons of keeping Facebook, the cons were just higher. I don't need Facebook right now. I'm hoping to fill my time with more intentional activities: reading, writing, cooking, and praying. It's a little unnerving to go without Facebook, but I know it will get easier as time passes. 
  • I turned down a part-time job at a coffee shop--I would've really enjoyed the position...and the extra money! But as Nate and I talked, we knew our time would be crunched which would result in more just didn't seem worth it at this time. To save money, we'll just continue to make adjustments in our budget. 
  • We're limiting the kids' activities. It's easy to fill our time running kids to gymnastics, taekwondo, girl scouts, soccer, etc. because A) that is what we're used to (it's how we both grew up and it's what our culture values) and B) we see the value in extra-curricular activities. But.....we've decided that we value our time at home as a family. When we have time at home throughout the week, we just function better as a family. And our kids just need time for free-play.
There's a lot more changes I want to make, but for now...the list above seems manageable to me. If you're looking for a book that will make you think about your choices, check out Notes from a Blue Bike...and then let me know what you think of it :) 

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I'm just killing it in this parenting gig

As if I needed another reminder that I am killing it as a parent, as I sat down to eat my breakfast at 10:45 AM and listen to last night's episode of Fresh  Air, it hit me that the kids went to school for the second Friday in a row without their show and tell items. I will also add that when I found out that our kids' teachers scheduled a weekly show and tell, I was excited that our kids had teachers who value who my kids are as individuals and who see the importance of bringing a bit of home into school. I was filled with nostalgia of my own elementary school days of show and tell at St. James Catholic School--remembering once that a girl brought a real, live, breathing, and pooping sheep into class to show us (the rules were instantly changed to prevent live animals from coming to show and tell). I don't remember anything I brought, but I remember selecting my show and tell items and the excitement I felt the night before. I have such a fondness for show and tell, but I can't, for the life of me, remember to tell my freaking kids about it on Thursday nights.

When I realized we again neglected show and tell, I pictured my kids riffling through their backpacks for something to show. I knew Kylynn had a painted rock in her backpack I bought for her from some local mountain kids on my last trip to Colorado because she tried to give it to her teacher as a gift this week--so maybe she pulled that out to show and tell about. Maybe her teacher would even let her show and tell about a rock Kylynn painted especially for her teacher and gave to her this week. But Jon---what would he show? Since trying to smuggle in a squirt gun to school last year, he hasn't packed many random items in his backpack. The only thing his backpack contains is a folder for school, two library books, a note I gave him on the first day of school, and some crumpled math assignments that I'm sure are shoved in the bottom of his pack. The sentimental part of me likes to think he'd remember the note I wrote for him reminding him that I loved him and to be kind to others and proudly show this off as evidence of how much his momma loves him. But the more likely scenario is that he'd pull out the crumpled math assignments since they're easier to notice--he'd show these off and say something like, "Here's my mom forgot about show and tell again" ousting me for the irresponsible, scattered momma that I am who is just freaking killing it at this parenting gig.

I am "off" on Tuesdays, Wednesday mornings and a bit of the afternoon, and Fridays. You'd think I could remember to add a cute, loving, Pinterest-y reminder on my kid's chalkboards to remind them to think about their show and tell schedule. I feel like I have no excuse for not remembering. as I slow myself down enough to write, I realize that even though I'm not working at CCC on Tuesdays, Wednesday mornings, and Fridays, I'm still working at home chipping away at the ever-present pile of laundry or dishes, paying bills (usually on time), grabbing groceries, scheduling doctors appointments/oil changes/therapy sessions/hair cuts, cooking, scrubbing toothpaste off the counter (seriously kids, what the hell is with all the toothpaste?!), wiping my always sticky tables, and generally just getting shit done for my family so I can spend more time with them doing family things (like watching Netflix or playing games, each on our own device of course). I rarely sit down on my "off" days to do something for me.

When did moms come to be so critical of themselves? Is this our female disposition? Has it been since the advent of the internet when productivity became synonymous with being successful? Or did it happen with the social media boom? I'm not going to lie, at first I felt pretty shitty this morning about realizing we forgot show and tell again this week. Though, the more I write through this and take inventory of the things I do remember to do for my family, I don't feel so bad. Fellow mommas--if you're feeling like you're drowning today, please pause and take inventory of all you do for your families: You really are killing it.

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I'm back...

After a long hiatus from blogging here, I'm back in the saddle  at the keyboard.  Here's a brief run down of what's taken me away from updating this blog: 

  • We've moved....again....for the last time. Seriously. In nine years we've lived in Kearney, Ogallala, Omaha, and now we're in Grand Island...(we've not moved as much as my sister/brother in-law, but we're getting close!). Selling a house, buying a house, and settling into a house is a process. Our new house has a lot of great perks: A giant yard, on a quiet street near the outskirts of town, close to family, and a hot tub (WHAT?!?). There are a lot of updates to do, which is both exciting and miserable. By summertime we hope to lay new flooring in our living room, dining room, and hallway; refinish our kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanity; and put in a tub surround or tile in our main bathroom. After that, we'll finish our basement. We're excited to start making our house look more like us. If you've got any inclination to help us out, let us know! 
  • We've started new jobs...again. Nate is teaching middle school music at Barr Middle School, and I am working part-time as the Writing Coach at CCC in Hastings. I've worked as a Writing Center Consultant before, but this job is a bit different as I am all by myself here, which means I get to develop this into something, hopefully, significant. The part-time hours have really given me time to be mentally and physically present for the kids and Nate. 
  • I've started a new blog on a different platform that is totally anonymous and allows me to write through the process of adopting two kids from the foster care system. It has been a difficult 12 months, and I needed to be able to process it through writing while still maintaining confidentiality for my kids' sake. If you're interested in reading said blog, shoot me an old fashioned email and I'll send you the link. 
  • This summer I spent a lot of time working on a piece of writing that I sent off to an online magazine....which was rejected (more on that in a later piece!). It sucked to be rejected, but the process of writing and reworking a piece gave me purpose and re-energized me. 
  • And also...parenting. 'Nuff said. 
Alright y'all...that's it. Check back for more frequent insights....(that's my way of holding myself accountable!)

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The power of the human voice

StoryCorps Logo
For as long as I can remember, I've loved stories. I loved writing stories, telling stories, and reading stories. Like many writers, as a kid, I often spent my days and nights reading; about the age of 8, I became car sick each time I tried to read in the was devastating for me. How would I pass the time driving the two hours to my grandparents' house each weekend?! I realize this isn't the greatest quality, but as a kid, I could craft these amazing lies rife with details and color. Having an audience to listen to my stories filled me with the same kind of adrenaline I now feel when competing in athletic events. Telling stories has often been one of my gifts in the classroom--it's how I've captivated so many of my own students. And now, as a more reserved adult, I tell stories by writing them down. I still love stories and storytelling--which is why I look forward to listening to Story Corps (a program that seeks to capture people's stories and present them in audio format) every Friday morning on my local public radio station.

My love affair with Story Corps began about five years ago. I don't remember which story initiated this relationship, but I remember the emotion that each story pulls from me. I've cried far too often while listening to my car radio. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to interview my son, Jon, via Story Corps while they were parked in Omaha, and last week, a friend and I attended the listening party to celebrate the end of Story Corps' time in Omaha. Since that event, I've been thinking a lot about the power of the human voice. These stories recorded by the folks at Story Corps preserve something unique, something that books can't preserve: the human voice and all its nuances--the timbre, the cracks, each unique laugh, the pauses, and the sentiment we can portray through tone. Many of the stories I've heard on Story Corps are the last archived legacy of a person. This video (the first one posted on this website) is a special animated version of a Story Corps interview between a husband and wife that captures their relationship; he died a week after the interview was aired. If you aren't moved to tears by knowing this, then check your pulse to see if you're still alive.

I've listened to the recording of my 40 minute conversation with Jon several times since we recorded, and while it's not particularly interesting or evocative, I still love listening to it because it captures his voice. Literally, it captures his tiny, six year old voice, but on a more abstract level, it captures his personality, his interests. It's a great snapshot of who he is now. As a mother, I've come to learn that these snapshots will be so important to me when his voice is no longer so little and when his interests move beyond my reach.

If you haven't listened to Story Corps yet, click here to get started. I listen for my own pleasure and have used it in the classroom as well to teach about asking good questions of people or to study specific movements in history. There's even an app you can download to your phone or tablet to record your own stories.

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Acts 2: 42-47

About a year ago, Nate and I found our way to a new church we're glad to call home here in Omaha. Since being a part of CityLight, we've been challenged and encouraged to grow. The word of God has come alive for me, and I've been challenged to rededicate myself to having a rich prayer life, to be in the Word on a regular basis, and to be in community with others. This week one of our pastors preached on five of my favorite verses--Acts 2: 42-47. When I first accepted Christ during my freshman year of college, I was drawn to these verses. They show what the first Christian church was like, and it was a generous, God-filled church that valued community. My experiences with churches prior to my first year of college left a sour taste in my mouth, so these five verses were refreshing to me. Here's the sermon from this week; for me, it was penetrating and a good reminder of my responsibilities as a believer. Enjoy...

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Bathroom Fears

It's been too long since I last posted here. I've been consumed with kids and another writing project that's kept me from posting on this blog. This morning I found a few spare minutes before I head to a sub job, so I thought I'd break the silence today with a poem I wrote a few weeks ago--it's not great, but it's different from anything I've written before, so I kind of like it.

Bathroom Fears

Every time I use a public restroom
I search closely for the sign--
the one with the silhouette  of a human figure in a dress
to affirm that I am, in fact, headed into the restroom assigned to my gender.
I fear accidentally walking into the wrong restroom
and awkwardly confronting a man when I am expecting a woman.
I fear embarrassment.
And even when firmly planted on the toilet’s seat,
the thought of accidentally squatting in the wrong bathroom
sends me to panic,
so I listen to each foot step
praying to hear the click-clack of high heels on tile.
I strain my ears to hear the sound of a woman's voice--
I have never longed to hear the sound of a woman's voice
like I do in this moment.
I peer under the stalls hoping to catch a glimpse
of a woman's bare ankle
to reassure me that I am in the right restroom.
This sense of fear sends me to a downward spiral
as I question whether or not I remembered to put on deodorant this morning,
and then I think of the stove in my house--I’m sure I left it on
and my house will start on fire swallowing my dog in flames;
I don’t remember shutting the garage door either after leaving for work,
a black masked robber is sure to steal my computer and guitar
and TV, the only valuable possessions I have.
Were my kids wearing underwear to school today? I wonder.
And just when fear has gripped my thoughts I
suddenly remember the absence of urinals in this bathroom
and from behind the locked stall door
I realize my fears, like most of my fears, are irrational.

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From haggard to happy

I've almost made it through two weeks without a full time teaching gig. And I gotta's awesome. I've been able to pick up somewhere between 15-20 hours each week of shifts at the Writing Center at various Omaha Metro Community College campuses, I'm being added to sub lists at Millard, Bennington, and Fort Calhoun, so hopefully I'll be able to sub in a few weeks. I'm even judging a speech meet (like the good ole days of my first two years of teaching) on Friday night for some extra cash.

I've had time to clean my house, grocery shop, make meals, write, run, play guitar, make bread (yeah...I'm making my own bread now...Sara Lee can shove it up her butt), read, run errands, and visit the kids' classrooms, and after I pick the kids up from school I'm physically free and mentally ready to spend time with them. I'm even able to keep the kids at home longer in the mornings. When I was teaching, I dropped them off at 7 AM each morning to make it to work in time (they don't start school until 9). Today they slept in until 6:15, and I kept them home until 8:20 and dropped them off on my way to work this morning. Until the end of February, Nate's schedule is busy with musical rehearsals in the evenings and honor choirs on the weekends, and I haven't been stressed about it because I'm not juggling kids, maintaining a home, and grading over 300 things each week.

It has taken me a few weeks to escape panic mode--I wasn't panicking about not having a job, I just always felt like I was forgetting something. My adult life has never been this free before..hell, even when I was in high school, I was stretched thin. Training my brain to calm down and chill out has been difficult, but I think I'm finally "settled" in my new routine. I love being able to serve my family and put their needs first. Perhaps I'm still in the honeymoon phase, but I haven't been this happy in a long time...

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