A Year of Habits, final edition

Well, the year is over.  I had big plans.  I planned on being a MUCH better person by now.  I planned on having a house that ran more smoothly, a project list with much more crossed off, a life that felt manageable.

But I’m still me.  I’ve changed a few things, but generally I haven’t experienced the transformation I planned on.  I wish that someone else could write this post for me because it’s so difficult to take that significant step back and see the year in the larger perspective.  I still tend to live in the gap, seeing only the chasm between my expectations and my performance.

So how did I do?  Honestly, as the year progressed I understood that I’d doomed the project fundamentally by not being more specific in the goals I set.  There were too many and they were too vague.  Did I improve in some areas?  Yes.  But it’s hard to say where since I didn’t get specific enough or give specific measuring methods for my performance.

I planned to improve my physical health.  After 14 1/2 years of pregnancy and nursing without a day’s break my body felt depleted.  While I improved in this area I still have a long way to go.  I hoped this would be a quick battle for me but it seems it will be a longer war instead and I will keep working at it.

We planned to improve our financial health this year.  We worked at it but didn’t do as well as we hoped.

I wanted to serve others more.  I do feel that I have improved in this area.  I’ve learned some great personal lessons.

I wanted to grow spiritually/emotionally.  I am so pleased with my personal scripture study.  I feel great about it and certainly see a direct tie DAILY between that study time and how my day turns out.  In that area, I intended to make a lot of entries in our Miracle Box, but somehow as the year went on I just forgot to do it.  In fact, as the year progressed I really slacked off in journal writing in general.  I’m so bummed about that!  I will do better next year.

Reading.  I wanted to read more  and while I didn’t read as much as I  hoped I feel good about what I read.  I read some great books that were a blessing to my life.  I have my 2012 reading list ready to go!

Planning.  I feel like I failed in this area. I do, however have a specific goal for 2012 that I think will make a big difference.

Be a finisher.  I am pleased with my progress in this area.  I finished some projects and became more disciplined at doing so.

Creativity.  I did a lot of creative things this year so I guess I’d have to say that in many ways I fulfilled this goal, but at the same time I learned something about myself that is significant.  I struggle with the blank canvas.  I worry about it, worry about ruining it, worry about lots of things.  So I guess I both succeeded and failed in this category but I do know what to work on next.

Housekeeping.  I pictured a house running more smoothly by now but I must acknowledge that it’s better than it was.  This was the area in which I set the most specific goals for myself.  Of them all, the laundry schedule has worked best.  Many of the others worked really well until the school year started and my five year old went to kindergarten.  A lot of schedule-dependent items have suffered since the kindergarten schedule began and I’m still trying to tweak things and somehow get it all done.

A soft reply.  This applied specifically to my desire to be consistently patient and gentle in my responses to my children.  I haven’t perfected this habit but I have grown.  While I’m ending the year feeling like I fell far short in most areas, I do feel like I’m ending as a better mother.  I feel like the children have learned some good things.  We really increased our dedication to music practice and I am pleased with their progress in this area.  I feel like the children are working harder, working more.  They’re generally very helpful to one another.  And we made good decisions this year in simplifying what we could, prioritizing, and trying not to overwhelm our family so much with constant driving and commitments.  Still, we’re incredibly busy, busier than I wish we were, but I feel like we’re learning.

I also had some specific goals I worked toward this year.  Here’s a quick list of the things I accomplished from that list:

1.  Plant gardens.  I loved our gardening adventures this year and look forward to more of them.

2.  Grow lavender again.  I planted three different kinds of lavender and in total we have a dozen plants.  It brought me much joy to grow and harvest my own lavender again this year.

3.  Vanilla beans.  Before this year I had never bought a vanilla bean.  I thoroughly enjoyed learning how to cook and bake with them this year.  We made some yummy recipes!

4.  I lost a portion of the weight I wanted to lose.  Not enough, but a start.

5.  Homemade bread.  I’ve been baking bread for many years but I wanted to find a recipe I liked without any oil, eggs, milk or fat of any kind added.  I did.  I’ve been making it ever since and we LOVE it.  Just flour, salt, yeast and water.  Perfect.

6.  I got better at having parties for my older kids, many of them impromptu.  I need to get much better but I did work at it.

7.  Quilting. I wanted to make one quilt per month, or 12 quilts in 2011.  I made nine.  It’s a good start.

Some other things to remember about this year (NOT in chronological order):

Natural disasters and catastrophes everywhere, it seemed.  Financial disarray all over the world.  It was a very sobering year, a year of great pain for many.  For me I’d say it’s been a year of stress.  Stress and worry.

My grandpa passed away.  Our last trip to visit him over Memorial Day was priceless.  Traveling two weeks later to his funeral with all my brothers and sisters, cousins, etc. was a very special experience.

In January my husband and I took a quick trip together and loved it.

In July my husband and I took another trip to Denver for my 20 year high school reunion.  It was a great weekend in every way.  I loved re-connecting with old friends, my best friend from high school in particular.  (Plus, two trips in one year with just the two of us?  THAT’S never happened before!)

We took our family to the beach again this year.  My favorite week of the year, every year.

An unforgettable 4th of July celebration in Escondido with my husband’s family.  Even more exciting than the fireworks was the police chase that ended in my sister-in-law’s backyard, with the criminal pinned on the dirt beneath my brother-in-law with my husband holding a metal bat near the guy’s head — all going down in the searchlight of the police helicopter overhead while they waited for the officers on foot to get there.  CRAZY!

One of my dearest friends moved to the Seattle area in 2010.  I feel deeply grateful that we’ve continued to talk and have remained good friends.

A trip to Idaho for my Aunt’s funeral.  {SO many people died this year, it seemed!}  My parents were there, and all my brothers and sisters made the trip without children or spouses.  It was the first time the ten of us have spent time together in many years.

My brother’s wedding in September and the fun of having our entire family gathered for it.  I treasure those gatherings more as the years go by.

I have felt richly blessed by the friendship of my two sisters this year, along with the friendship of my sisters-in-law.  I admire, love and respect them all so much.  And my dear mother continues to amaze me. I am so blessed to have remarkable parents.

So many little moments with my husband and with the children, many of them captured here, many of them unshared, too many of them already forgotten because I didn’t write them down.  Still, they are the stuff of life and for the privilege of daily life alone I am grateful.

And so the year is gone.  Another has arrived.

Stay tuned for my 2012 plans.


A Year of Habits, no. 50

It’s Sunday night.  The Christmas tree is leaning sideways again, undecorated from the three foot mark down.  I’ve given up putting the ornaments back on the tree; there’s a collection box out for packing them up.  The children are busy  and noisy as ever but they keep us laughing as well.  School is out for the holidays, the snowboards are lined up in the garage, curious children sneaking into the studio where boxes hold Christmas surprises which need to be wrapped but also need a full-time guard to protect them from my youngest.  A quick walk around the house at all the clutter makes me wonder why I’ve been so worried about what will or won’t be under the tree.

My sister and her husband stopped by tonight for a while and we loved talking to them while the children ran in circles around us, yelling and wrestling and even putting together an impromptu 3 minute play which was actually quite hilarious.  Kristen can attest that there’s not a single square inch of workspace in my studio that isn’t covered with something related to the holiday to-do’s that still haunt my list.  How will I wrap them all up and get that room ready for out of town guests in the next few days?  I have no idea.  Yet like everything else I’m sure we’ll get there and it will all work out.  Life’s like that, you know.  It all works out.  Still, I will admit to wishing it could work out like I picture it more often.

I keep thinking I’ll reach this point where most things are crossed off my list and it’s time to relax and enjoy, but instead I’m getting just enough done to get through whatever is ahead for today and that’s all.  It’s helping me realize that I need to relax and enjoy the moments when they briefly settle on me in the midst of stress like a butterfly pausing in its flight.  We had such a moment on Friday night when we took the whole family to see a new musical, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, based on the classic children’s Christmas book.  I’m so glad I bought the tickets a few months ago!  We were entertained and our hearts were touched.  I hope that exposing our children to these messages helps reinforce what we’re trying to teach.

I’ll be honest.  I can only think of one habit which I’ve really improved this week.  It would be my response to stress.  I am getting better at handling stress.

Most everything else is a mess of some sort.  I got to be of service today which felt good.  I managed to remember a birthday this week, which is a miracle.  I spent some really special one-on-one time with my seven year old daughter this weekend who is such a gem of a girl.  She makes me smile.  Our oldest four children performed in their piano recital Wednesday night and did a fantastic job.  I love seeing their improvement throughout the year and feel proud of them for working hard.  And on Thursday night when my husband and I were at an Indian restaurant I tasted the most heavenly drink:  a rose water lassi!  A lassi is a yogurt drink and I jumped at the chance to taste rose water for the first time.  I loved it.  I’ve found a recipe and hope to try making them soon.  YUM!

And with that I’ll close for the night.  Oh,what a week I have ahead!  Let’s hope I can be productive (translation:  let’s hope the two year old will be happy playing the the other children and not only in my arms)!

Have a wonderful week!


A Year of Habits, no. 49

This should be a post about all the wonderful things I did this week.  It should be about the progress I’ve made, the things I’ve accomplished, the cumulative effect of my efforts throughout the year showing great growth.

I’m sorry to say it isn’t about that.  It wasn’t that kind of week.

It was a week of emotional, needy toddlers.  (Although I must admit that those whiny little girls also said some really adorable things this week, like this afternoon when #7 was interviewing me with all sorts of random questions and pretending to write down the answers when she suddenly said, “I’m leaving for a minute but no freaking out.  Promise?  No freaking out ok?”  And I wondered why she was worried about ME freaking out when she was the one who’d been doing it all week.)  All the time I spent holding my two youngest should have felt precious to me, but it didn’t because I was preoccupied by all the things that weren’t getting done.  So by the end of the week I was a big ball of stress.  Still am, for the most part.  I need to fix that.

Much of Saturday was spent attending the baptism of my niece whose adoption was final just a couple of weeks ago.  It was beautiful and I am so impressed with what a fine family they are.  It was great to spend some time letting the cousins play with one another.  I’m looking forward to more of it during the Christmas break when my in-laws are visiting.

Last night was a mountaintop experience.  We took our oldest four children to Temple Square to see the production, “Savior of the World.”  I love that play.  I’ve seen it many times and each time seems better than the last.  I’m usually crying within the first five minutes and I’m pretty much a mess the whole time.   It’s terrible, but I love it.  Somehow my heart is always so ripe for the messages contained in this play.  It fills me with a desire to give up all the things I’m worried about, all the things I’m expecting to have or do and just let the Lord work in my life.  It fills me with a desire to be better, to have more faith, to live the life of a disciple of Christ.   We spoke with some members of the cast after the production, and as I thanked them for their work I began to cry again.  My oldest son just sort of stared at me with an odd look on his face.  My heart just kept clenching with the desire to be so much better than I am, and every time it happened it squeezed more tears from my eyes.

Then we woke up this morning to a house that was disorderly after a busy Saturday.  Nobody wanted to do what they were supposed to be doing.  They didn’t want to get ready for Church, didn’t want to look for their own shoes, didn’t want to… you name it.   It was a very short trip from last night’s mountain top experience to today’s valley.  I still struggle in that place where my vision and reality meet, especially when that place also involves eight children stubbornly asserting their agency.  I need a lot more patience in that place, better perspective and a bigger smile.

We did accomplish a few things.  We got a Christmas tree which was exuberantly decorated and which has now been un-decorated multiple times on the bottom third.  As I sit here typing I notice it’s now crooked and one of the children has stuck two large flags into the branches for a very interesting look.  I remind myself that there will be plenty of years for a beautifully decorated tree; this is the season for wonder.  This is the season for finding baby Jesus in random places all over the house.  I really don’t want this season to end; I just sometimes feel squeezed by messes, especially with older children who need things to run smoothly so we can be more spontaneous and social.  There is a part of me that is silently screaming for calm.

Monday night we took the family shopping for a couple of gifts for a family in need.  It was hard for some of them to understand why we weren’t buying anything for ourselves and I hope it made an impression on them.  We finished the evening with a drive to an incredibly lit house not too far away.

The children have just five more days of school and then they’re out for the holiday.  I’ve been so excited to have them out of school sooner than usual, leaving us a wide open week to fill with holiday activities.  I want to decorate cookies, deliver gifts and read LOTS of books.  After our bout with the stomach flu at the beginning of the month and the general disarray I’m still fighting, I have about 2 1/2 weeks of work to get done this week.  I’ve given up most of the projects I intended to tackle.  I’m praying for happy toddlers and lots of energy.

I hope we’re teaching our children good things.  I hope they’re becoming better people.  Sometimes I think I’m too close to all of it.  It’s difficult to see growth when you’re always right there.  I suppose the same might be said for myself.  I don’t feel like a better person than I was a year ago, and too many of my weaknesses were alive and well then too.  I’m fighting a battle of numbers and hope that someday I’ll be equal to it.  But we press on and do our best because that’s really all we can do.

I hope your week is bright!

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