Sunday, February 19, 2017

Mind Control and Thinking Matters

There is a lot of turmoil in our culture that tries to overtake our minds on a daily basis.  In our private lives, there is often a different kind of turmoil that we work to live amidst and rise above in our work and relationships.  Then there is the turmoil that is sometimes (or always) present in our hearts because of things like fear, grief, anxiety and disappointment.

When we don't have outlets to process all of these things, extreme reactions often occur.  Sometimes it is an outburst of anger or explosive posts on social media.  Other times it creates the beginning of disease and dysfunction - physically, emotionally and most certainly within our relationships.

I'm almost 34 weeks pregnant - getting very close to a really big day of celebration and change, a very certain bend in the road.  For me, the anxiety of the mind can overtake all of the good elsewhere in the body and control things for the worse.   That is exactly what happened with J's birth.  I was afraid and couldn't see anything else once the pain started.  Praise the Lord for second chances because I was able to change that with miss Z's birth.  I learned to get my active mind out of the way and the body took over - doing a much better (and quicker) job than I had let it do before.  In my case, the babies weren't much different in size.  The risks or lack thereof weren't different.  The difference was how I thought (courtesy of Blissborn). As I'm staring down this road again with a much fuller perspective (and a fuller plate), I can see how easily the pendulum can swing solely based on what is flying around in my head.  Knowing what I know now, it's my responsibility to fill it with the good and the encouraging things, rather than the uncertain and negative.

More than ever before we are struggling with disease and mental health issues.  After miss Z's 1st birthday, I found myself riddled with anxiety and drowning in poor health, despite thinking I was fine.  The road back to health changed me a lot.  If your thoughts and emotions are a constant struggle, then you especially need to consider what's going into your mind and how your brain is processing all of that.  And give yourself every opportunity to surround yourself with light and beauty.  If we don't do it on purpose, the ugliness and pain of the world can absolutely take over. Our mind can be our biggest asset if we treat it right.

-Point out great things (and not complain).
-Commit to a prayer & Bible study habit.
-Listen to beautiful things.
-Express yourself through creating - like music, writing, painting, woodworking, etc.
-Take time with nature.
-Gain perspective through gratitude.
-Consider lifestyle changes like exercise, food choices and supplement deficiencies.

Most importantly, talk about it.  Our thoughts and concerns affect us mostly deeply, but often we keep them hidden from most everyone in our life.  Find a person or a group where you can share your struggles.  Just getting them outside of your self is a really big step toward health.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Growing in Pictures

There's a song by Raffi that's called, "I Wonder If I'm Growing" that the kids sing a lot.  It highlights the common struggle to know when you're growing.  We don't usually feel it, but all of a sudden it is clear.  We haven't felt the growing, but this week we've sure seen evidence of it.

 The kids decided they wanted to have a pretend wedding instead of a show.  So, they picked out their wedding clothes themselves and laid blankets on the ground (for grass) and the cuteness ensued.  The conversations about flowers and music were hilarious.  Still, this was a first for the Butler household and it was evident how big they are getting.

J finished his first basketball season at the YMCA and I think soccer and baseball suit him better.  Still he seemed to have a great time.

J also got rid of his training wheels and took off like the wind.  Definite growth happening.

And last but not least, baby #3 is most certainly growing.  We'll be a party of 5 before we know it!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

A New Dinnertime Approach: The Pioneer Woman and My Engineer

Learning to build a life with someone else seems so fantastic and simple in the movies or in the midst of planning a wedding.  The signs of what kind of work it is going to take are certainly all around, but they are easy to miss when you're just so excited about everything.  As you know, I married a great man who experiences the world vastly different than me which is not so great sometimes and creates some interesting discussions.  Like everything else, my engineer has opinions about the most efficient and effective approach to dinnertime!

Early on in our marriage he trained me to grocery shop twice a month and meal plan like a pro.  It was never intuitive to me (because what if I didn't want that for dinner when it came down to it?!), but after getting the hang of it, it helped the budget and meals run a lot smoother.  Adding children to the mix, however, has certainly decreased my brain power and motivation for things like this and being pregnant all the more.  This guy, who lives for check lists and assigned tasks, decided to engineer our dinner plans last month and as a result has given me one of the best gifts I've ever received.  He discovered Ree Drummond, known around here as The Pioneer Woman, and has tasked himself with planning our month with meals from her cook books.  So far, so incredibly good!

Honestly, when he suggested it I was afraid that he would resent me not cooking pretty quickly (because I know I would in his position!), but it's been this beautiful thing.   He loves having something to do when he gets home and I love the freedom of a little more mental breathing room.  I will usually assist or clean up after him and get his undivided attention when I talk.  The kids now know the routine and don't bother us much and it has been WONDERFUL!

Benefits So Far:
-'Couch Time' or Dad and Mom's talk about the day time has almost instantly been better respected by the kids and marriage benefits from it.
-Pregnant, homeschooling busy mom has more energy and emotional stamina.
-Dad feels accomplished for making dinner and taking a load off mom.
-Dinner is planned, yummy and good for the budget.
-Eating out isn't as much of a temptation which is good for our health and budget.

I won't always be pregnant and he probably won't always be on a cooking kick, but there is a reason I wanted to share this with you.  In marriage (or any relationship really) it's easy to jump in and fight for your rights or preferred way of doing things without looking for compromises that might look funny but actually benefit everyone.  It's taken us over 10 years to start really embracing our differences for good and I pray you can be more successful than us and do it sooner!  In doing a little inventory of our needs, this alternative approach to dinner time is producing more benefits than initially expected.  And, it is certainly old news, but the Pioneer Woman's recipes are hard to beat for yummy and easy dinners.  Everybody jumps for leftovers!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Finding the Awesome in the Exhausting

Homeschooling friends, are you tired?

There are a lot of responsibilities and burdens that we take on in choosing to homeschool.  Where a public school employs teachers, cafeteria workers, janitors, lawn care workers, security staff, not to mention administrative staff and then sends the children home for their bathing, clothes laundering and other needs, a homeschooling family is in charge of all of these chores without an automatic reprieve.   It is our choice, of course, but it is no walk in the park.  Many of us live on one income or a second parent works at least part time to supplement income.  When families of small children first start homeschooling, there is a heavy burden of chores because the kids aren’t usually big enough to help take up the slack.  Whether it is your first year or your 12th year homeschooling, there are a lot of things that can make us weary.  If we’re drowning in deadlines, to-dos and relationships are frayed, it is really hard to remember all the reasons this homeschooling life is worth it.  Let me remind you of just a few.

Flexibility – Were you up half the night? Would you like to vacation in November? Is the 1st trimester of your pregnancy forcing life to almost stop?  When you homeschool, most everything can adjust.  Sleep in, take a month off or 3 and nothing is ruined.  Especially if you choose to school year round like we do, picking up where you left off last week or month is natural.

Consistency – You are in some manner in control of every subject and aspect of your child’s education.  This truth allows for a holistic approach to their life and in my book that is awesome!  Food relates to math; reading relates to self-discipline; patience relates to handwriting.  The lessons are continually being carried over, especially because you are consistently there to take notice.

Creativity – “Mom, do foxes eat people?” leads to an extensive study of foxes, their habits, their diet and a zillion videos, by request, not forced expectation.  Respecting schedules and meeting deadlines are important skills, but fostering an ever-growing love of learning is critical to success too.  Being in charge of 2 children’s school day (as opposed to 20 or 30) opens up all kinds of possibilities for the day’s lesson plans.
Relationship – No matter how you do the math, homeschooling your kids – even for just a few years – exponentially increases the amount of time you spend with them.  And that changes the relationship you will have.   Behavior issues – that often can’t be fully addressed at school – are front and center, which can be hard at first, but allows for real progress and growth.  Your children also witness so much more of your life.  This introvert knows the scarcity of alone time can be a casualty of war some days, but the increased investment of time, energy and love only builds a stronger relationship.  That is energizing to me!

Parenting in every circumstance is tiring.  Homeschooling can be quite a sacrifice in more ways than one.  Still, don’t let this beautiful time we get to share with our little legacies get burned up in bitterness, resentment or just plain old’ exhaustion, but instead let the advantages and ultimate purposes of homeschooling bring the energy to your day.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Out of Nowhere: When Life Surprises Us But Really Shouldn't

I have often talked about how different Mr. Butler and I are.  We are still - after 10 1/2 years of marriage and a couple years more of friendship- finding ways we approach life drastically different. The Color Code is one of those personality profile methods that can help you understand yourself and others and this past year revisited what it says about us.  Mr. Butler is primarily a Red and I'm primarily a Blue - none of which is entirely a surprise.  What did strike me the other day was this chart that I ran across explained our struggles beautifully.  We are uncomfortable opposites who both tend to be controlling.  That ought to work well, huh? :)
I've mentioned before about how a year after Miss Z was born, my body pretty much collapsed in on itself and I spent the next 2 years having to build it back up with the most intentional living I'd ever done.  At the time, it felt like it came out of nowhere but the facts seemed to speak for themselves. The fall that I got pregnant with Miss Z, Mr. Butler went back to school for his master's degree in addition to his full-time job.  J was 2-3 years old, I was teaching piano regularly, and Mr. Butler's schedule meant he was usually away in the evenings 2-3 nights a week plus study time.  Once she was born things didn't slow down because I added another human being to the mix (which included nursing and lost sleep) and he didn't graduate until the time I collapsed.  The timing was poetic and ridiculous all at the same time.  The physical breakdown seemed random and unexpected, but the truth is that a body (my super sensitive body) could only take so much.

Sometimes when things happen in our life we are genuinely surprised.  We weren't expecting it and it just doesn't feel like it should be so.  This is often a pivotal moment.  The "it's not fair" routine could be bounding through the heart which leads to more unbridled emotion that likely won't help much.  The other direction involves asking important questions (like 'What circumstances could bring this about?') and be open to the possibility that our choices created this to some extent.  Mr. Butler and I didn't magically morph personalities after marriage.  We were always very different.  My body didn't just explode because it felt like it.  I had pushed it far too hard for far too long.  There are a lot of political opinions and discussions flying around that too easily end in horror at this or that opinion.  If you find yourself actually in a real conversation (and facebook doesn't usually count because people can't help but be ridiculous it seems!) about all of these things, take some time to ask questions like "What circumstances brought you to feel this way?"  Opinions and realities may not change from this, but relationships sure could be enhanced from a little more understanding.  Polarizing what is already polarized doesn't give us much.  Connecting the dots of how a person comes to embrace opposing ideals could give us quite a bit.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Winter's Redemption: Snow Days!

Last week we had a couple of fun snow days! We finally got the chance to try out sledding in our front yard.  Being 6+ months pregnant limits my (wise) sledding time, but it allowed me to get some fun pictures!

Even in the bitter cold, the physical activity did everyone so much good!  I know how hard it is to get outside sometimes when we're cold, but it's even more important for our health and well-being in the winter.  Winter gets a bad reputation because it limits certain activities, but even in the 'death' of the year, nature is our friend in refreshing and renewal.

No children were harmed in this activity and, in fact, loved falling out as much as anything else!

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Battle of the Wants

In our media driven society, being the right kind of mom is impossible.  Feed your kids the healthiest food, but don’t go overboard and be that mom who always asks about ingredients.  Don’t let your kids dictate your life, but make sure you listen every time they have something to say! It is such a struggle to find the right balance in these kinds of things, especially when you hear the debate on a loop over the loudspeaker in your head.  One of the biggest ones I go back and forth about is the wants.

“But I don’t want that!”  “Can I go – I WANT to go!”  “You never give me what I want!”

On the one hand, as parents we want our kids to be happy and associate their childhood (and us, of course) with mostly positive things.  I’m a piano teacher and I’m all too familiar with the stereotype of forced piano lessons for years that promises to build resentment and malaise for both the piano and the parents.  None of us want that kind of relationship for/with our children.  Yet, on the other hand, we simply do not always get what we want in life.  Success on any level takes work.  As kids, as adults, even as Americans, try as we might there are many realities far out of our control and always will be.  Expecting different sets us up for all kinds of failures and can often cause us to miss out on some truly magical times of growth and learning.

So, this is me. All. The. Time.  I honestly recognize there must be a balance and see the foolishness of letting the pendulum swing too far in either direction, but it can be really hard knowing when to disregard the “I don’t want to” and when to intentionally facilitate those desires.  It can be especially hard around the holidays because – whether you can financially accommodate it or not – one or both parents probably have a deep desire to see their family happy and excited, whether about gifts or outings of some kind.  How often do we stretch that budget farther than it should go for some excitement factor only to regret it when the bills come in January?

When we get stuck on the wanting fence, we must first set our boundaries and life values.  Of course, let the moral values preside, but after those are clear, look at budgets, time, and relationships.  A want shouldn’t outweigh some of these things without a greater reason than just because I want to. Sometimes no is inevitable once we’ve considered how much it costs or requires of us.  When the moral or truly limiting issues are ruled out, a person’s individual needs or goals need to be considered.  When a child is saving money for a larger toy or could help out a friend, but is suddenly drowning in the temptation of the now, it’s the perfect opportunity for a hard life lesson.  Choosing not to facilitate both options for them equips them for the choices adults have to make daily. 

Just like the media’s perfect parent is something of a Bigfoot, making the ‘right’ choice may not exist most days.  The good news is that in wrestling with these choices we end up fulfilling the wants that matter more anyway.