Saturday, July 29, 2017

What's Up With Me, You Ask?

Lupines and me on Mount Shasta, 2016.

So. Several of you have emailed me and asked about what I’ve been up to for the past several years. You’re wondering where I’ve been and where I am now and if I ever became a counselor like I planned.

Ha. Does life ever go as planned?! Not for me, it doesn’t. I’m not where I thought I’d be, but I’m right where I believe I’m supposed to be. For now, anyway. I’m content to stay where I am, but I’m always up for a new adventure at the same time! The Lord knows what’s up. I don’t.

Can I get any vaguer than that?! Over time, I’ll definitely be sharing stories from my life, and you’ll  get a clearer picture of my current status.

I’ve learned good things in the past several years, both because of my own silliness and because the Lord has gently led me to new places and into new experiences. Out of necessity, He helped me establish a new type of daily life. I’ve had to recalibrate my vision and adjust the way I think about my “calling” in life (even though it hasn’t changed). I am still working on this one, but I’m excited about recent lessons and insights I’ve gleaned.

I’ve learned how to establish a good mindset and daily rhythm so that I can maintain motivation and minimize—even eradicate—fatigue (both mental and physical) throughout my demanding workdays.

I’ve learned to live with less, found ways to make it more, and am entirely content with my life situation. I’ve had inner struggles and have gained insights that are helping me to overcome them. (This has been super-motivating for me!) I’ve had new adventures and have done lots of interesting things.

When I return home from Portland in the middle of August, I have a list of plans and projects to tackle. Before agreeing to babysit my granddaughter this summer, I had intended to paint every wall in my apartment and do a completely decluttering, reorganizing, and restyling project. Now, my goal is to see how much I can do in the short time I will have left before I go back to work in September. And I can always keep working on it through September and even October when I return home from work in the late afternoon. I’m motivated, so that shouldn’t be draining.

The other thing I want to do when I return home is to organize my life for fall and winter—my plans, projects, and activities. One of these projects will be to set up my blog. Right now, my template (and the blog name) are temporary. It might seem silly that I started this before I was totally ready and when I don’t have much time to give to it, but I needed to get things rolling now or I knew I would return home, get busy, and continue to put it off endlessly. Now that I’m started, I will keep going. That’s how I am. The first step is the hardest.

There will be a lot of changes in the look and trajectory of this blog when I get it set up. I have some planned blog features I want to do down the road. Things that I think will be fun and, hopefully, inspiring. More on this later.

Thanks for your sweet notes to me. I’ve missed you and look forward to getting this thing moving in the direction I hope to take it.

Blessings to you this weekend,
Susan

Friday, July 28, 2017

Raising Children Who Flourish


What if I could give you a magic wand that would ensure that your child’s life would be a happy and successful one? Well, I can’t do that (sorry), but I can tell you about a fascinating longitudinal research project that provides excellent keys for raising children who will flourish.

The Life Project is a book that details some of the insights gleaned from a massive cohort-study undertaken in England in the 1940s. Since 1946, researchers have examined the lives of groups of children, beginning at birth and continuing through their lives even until now, with new cohorts being added to the research every twelve years or so.

These lives have been studied in minute detail, which has resulted in the unearthing of a goldmine of game-changing sociological, economic, and health-related insights into how a child’s background and upbringing affect his behavior and his future. Some of today’s accepted wisdom of caring for babies and children came straight out of this research.

For example, when the study revealed early on that breastfed babies thrive better than non-breastfed babies, British midwives were tasked with encouraging mothers to breastfeed, and the rest of the modern world eventually followed.

Hardly anyone seems to have heard of this longitudinal study (I certainly hadn’t), but countless changes in the way we understand and raise children derived from it.

One item I found interesting was that children who have a set bedtime every night are better behaved. This is not only descriptive but can also be prescriptive: It was observed that when children who haven’t had a set bedtime start going to bed at the same time every night, their behavior improves noticeably.

Almost hidden in one chapter is a description of what makes a “good learning environment in the home.” The traits of this atmosphere are said to be more important for a child’s intellectual and social development than parents’ job, education, or income, all factors that are known to be powerful in the life of a child. The playing field has just been leveled. You don't have to be highly educated or financially well-off. You just need to be a warm, attentive (not distracted), involved parent.

According to The Life Project, children who succeed and thrive educationally (and otherwise) have parents who consistently do these things: read with them, teach them songs and rhymes, give them supplies and opportunities to paint and draw, show them the alphabet and numbers, visit the library with them, take them on trips and visits, talk and listen to them, respond to them warmly, set regular mealtimes and bedtimes, and have an authoritative discipline style.

Consistently living this kind of active, warm, creative, responsive life with children—day after day—takes determination and effort because it requires time and forethought. Actually, what it requires is vision. Without a vision for establishing a home environment like this, it can all just seem like a bunch of craziness and mess and pressure. But with a vision, it becomes a meaningful lifestyle.

Knowing how to do this isn’t enough. Thinking it is probably a good idea isn’t enough. Deciding we want to try to do more of it isn’t enough. We have to actually do it!

And, I’m happy to say that I know plenty of families who are doing this. Keep it up!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Rx: Take A Walk in the Forest and Call Me in the Morning


Jedediah Smith State Park, CA. Redwood forest.
All photos (except the second) taken by Melissa.

Last August my daughter and I went on a super fun road trip, camping and hiking for nine days in some stunning natural places in Oregon and northern California.

Steens Mt.

We started our trip driving south along scenic coastal Hwy. 101 to northern California’s magnificent redwood forests. From there, we moved to Castle Crags and Mt. Shasta before crossing the border into Oregon to set up camp near stunning Crater Lake. Next, we hiked in rock climbing mecca Smith Rock in central Oregon’s desert and then drove to remote Steens Mountain in southeast Oregon (where our view of stars at night was awe-inspiring). Our final stop was a hot, dusty, beautiful one in central Oregon’s Painted Hills.

On the road. Mt. Shasta.

Crater Lake NP, Oregon.

I hadn’t seen many photos of that road trip until yesterday, when I met my daughter at a coffee shop and scrolled through her pictures on the computer. I remembered how alive, light, happy, and healthy we both felt at the end of our adventure. This was probably due, in part, to our minimalistic food plan for the trip. We ate light, clean, and healthy—no cooking, except to heat water for coffee. (Melissa brought her Chemex and Coava coffee beans!) The daily, vigorous hiking surely contributed to our sense of well-being, too. And just getting out on an adventure—doing something different and fun—must play a part.

Steens Mountain. Overlooking the Alvord Desert.

But simply being out in those pure, natural environments was key to how we felt. There is a huge, growing body of research that demonstrates the physiological, mental, and spiritual benefits of spending time in nature.

Horseshoe Lake at top of Steens Mt.

The research is so convincing that nature therapies have been developed to treat all sorts of ailments, including depression and ADHD. In Japan, there is a thing called “forest bathing”, where people are encouraged to take walks in forests (even brief walks) to reduce stress and enjoy other health benefits. Soldiers (and others) with PTSD are finding help through nature-adventure experiences. Therapists use nature as a treatment for children with ADHD. Nature is becoming a solution for many problems, struggles, and ailments.

Boy Scout Trail, Redwood forest.

Many different types of nature experiences have benefits for mind and body: going near water, walking through forests (or even parks with trees), basking in sunshine, just being in the mountains or the desert, enjoying green spaces (even just seeing them or photos of them!), or simply getting dirty.

My experience alone convinces me that this is valid. I thrive outdoors. It might be true that a small park or group of trees is all that is needed to provide benefits—and this is fantastic for city workers—but I love spending as much time in wild, beautiful places as I can.

Smith Rock State Park.

As I scrolled through photos of last summer’s road trip, I remembered that my daughter and I felt like we were in a cathedral or sanctuary as we strolled through the gigantic redwoods. It was quiet, peaceful, and lovely.

I thought of the many articles I have read detailing the benefits of being in a forest (let alone benefits that come from other types of places), which are many and profound. This is God’s world. He created it. Is it really any surprise that enjoying his creation could have almost miraculous impact on our mind, body and spirit?


Here are some of the of the scientifically validated benefits of walking in forests or a park with trees. (To maintain the benefits, one should get outside routinely.):

It reduces depression.
It increases immunity.
It reduces general fatigue.
It increases energy.
It lowers a tendency toward morbid rumination (dwelling on the negative aspects of life).
It clarifies the mind and reduces confusion.
It reduces stress and anxiety.
It elevates mood.
It lowers blood pressure.
It increases ability to focus.
It greatly improves ADHD.
It accelerates recovery (from surgery or illness), even when there is simply a green view.
It improves sleep.
It reduces anger.
It increases creativity.

Doesn’t this make you want to get outside right now? Go on. You’ll be glad you did.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Planner Party: A Story

The opposite of my yellow planner.
I don't/can't use my Moleskine like this, but I wish I could!
(thehikeguy.com)

It all started in the waning hours of my family’s July Birthday Club celebration.Just a few of us were left hanging around, and my birthday-girl daughter was showing my daughter-in-law and me the planner she had been given as a gift by her sister. We admired the pink planner and all of the extras and fun stuff that came with it.

Since my other two daughters also have this type of planner, my daughter-in-law and I began to think that maybe we should have one, too. As we women lamented the planner-less-ness of two of us and discussed how to remedy this problem, my son and son-in-law sat in the living room sipping coffee, half-watching us as they conversed. One of the guys waved his phone in the air and said, “My planner’s right here.”

We weren’t deterred by this. We checked online to see if there were any stores nearby that sold the planners and found one just ten minutes away. The obvious response to this discovery was, “What are we waiting for?! Let’s go!” We dashed to the car and drove away, laughing about our spontaneous Planner Party.

As soon as I set foot in the craft store, I was entirely overstimulated: “Holy cow! I can’t handle this much cuteness crammed into one space!” I narrowed my focus to the planner shelves and their accessory display stands and blocked out the surrounding sensory chaos.

The planners came in four or five colors, and we admired two or three of them in particular. My daughter-in-law chose a mint-colored planner, and I selected the marigold-colored one. Then I assessed which pages and decorations I should buy to make my planner more fun.

I batted away a few pesky questions: Was I really doing this? Was I actually going to buy one of these expensive things? Me, the one who had never done much in the way of crafts or creations in her life? I thought back to the days when it seemed that the whole world was creating scrapbooks or getting into stamping or making whatever cute thing was the latest rage. I was not doing that. I was the one running the other way.

But everyone needs a planner to organize their lives, right?

Then another sensible thought or two passed quickly through my mind: I’ve run a home and raised four children. I’ve been a leader, a speaker, and a mentor for various groups. I’ve organized workshops and seminars. And I’ve never used an official planner. So, why am I going to spend all of this money to buy one now?

Don’t get me wrong. I do plan. I do think ahead. I do write things down on paper. And I’ve done this for most of my life. But I’ve never used a bonafide planner. Instead, I’ve simply snatched up random bits of paper or—as I have in the last 20 years or so—used plain, thin Moleskine notebooks to scribble down (and I do, literally, scribble) lists and schedules and notes.

I thrive making simple lists, even on scraps of paper, to organize my thoughts and my life. But, here I was at a craft store, having fun with my girls, ready to buy a big, fat yellow planner because now we would all have one! I was sure that I could find a way to make good use of the thing. I’d simply learn to manage my life in decorated pages of cuteness.

I walked out the door with a bulky yellow planner in my arms, along with complementary stickers, pages, and dividers that oozed adorableness. And my wallet was quite a bit thinner.

When we arrived back at my daughter’s house, we all sat on the floor and spread our new stuff in front of us. As we were inserting pages into the planners and adding decorations, I glanced over at the guys. They seemed impassive. My son casually offered the comment that they had been talking while we were gone, and they could see the merit in actually writing things down in a physical notebook rather than organizing life in a digital planner or calendar.

So, true! I agree. Analogue, right?

For three or four days, I used the planner. In the morning I’d make my coffee and sit down with it in addition to my Bible and my journal. I added lists and notes to the planner pages, and I logged appointments and scheduled activities onto the calendar pages. I started a section for food, menus, and shopping. And I added another section for budget plans and details.

I dutifully placed stickers here and there to decorate the pages of my yellow planner. Stickers that said, “Like a boss!” or “Planners Gotta Plan” or “Messy Bun, Gettin' Things Done.” Really? This made me cringe, not because I don’t think it can be kind of great, but because it really isn’t me. When my daughter pulls out her pink planner every day and uses it so well, I love looking at it. I love that it helps her so much, that it works for her so well, and that she enjoys it. It’s actually really cool.

In spite of my determination to use my own planner daily, I didn’t notice at first that it began to sit idle. When morning came, I would unthinkingly grab my thin Moleskine notebook to make my routine daily lists. This plain little notebook, however boring, feels like home. I love using it. It is full of random thoughts, lists, plans, ideas, and goals. I copy quotes from books. I make note of books I want to read or buy. I set goals in the pages and design strategies for achieving them. I think in the pages of my notebook!

I finally came to terms with the fact that my new, expensive planner wasn’t going to work for me, and I guiltily abandoned it. It really is pretty great, and I even really like it, but it just isn’t me.

The yellow planner now sits in a basket of books, looking sweet and pretty but remaining unused. It chides me a little bit, reminding me that I spent a lot of money far too easily for something I won’t be using.

I’ll admit that the spontaneous Planner Party was a lot of fun, but I could have had the same amount of fun without spending the money. Lesson learned, I hope.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

What to Expect Here

Photo courtesy of my daughter Melissa.
Crater Lake, July 2017.

It’s Saturday, and I’m at a coffee shop with one of my daughters, escaping the heat outside. While I’m here, I think I’ll list of some of the things I’ll likely post on this blog once I get it moving. I want to discipline myself to write something regularly even while I’m away from home, out of my usual routine.

If you’ve read any of my past blogs, you can expect similar types of postings this time around, but, hopefully with additional perspective and insights.

Some of the categories I’ll probably use (in no particular order) are: read, eat, connect, learn/educate, do, adventure, celebrate, grow, make, serve. I’m always reading and thinking and watching and learning, and I’ve also lived quite a bit of life, so I don’t think I’ll run out of things to say!

To elaborate lightly on only a few of the above categories. . .

1. Being outside in natural places. My grandpa always told us, “Go outside and play!” because being outdoors is good for us. I love being outside, and I spend as much time there as I can, whether I’m on a mountain backpacking trip or just sitting in the fresh air on my balcony, surrounded by my potted herbs. There are countless cognitive, health, and mental benefits that come from being outside; the research on this is interesting and exciting. This isn’t surprising. The natural world is the habitat God created for us, after all. And, besides, doing stuff outside is so much fun.

2. Books. Because reading is one of my favorite things to do. I read a huge range of books that includes novels, biographies, and books about mountaineering, health and longevity, sociological research, social justice, spiritual writings, fluffy little books, and a lot more. Some of my current and recent reads are Alone on the Wall (rock climbing—about, arguably, the greatest free soloist in the world), The Push (rock climbing again—a biography of one of the two men who soloed El Capitan’s Dawn Wall), Kristin Lavransdatter (a Nobel prize winning novel; one of my favorites, set in medieval Norway), The Telomere Effect (research on telomeres—how we can lengthen them and live better longer), The Little Book of Hygge (a fun, cosy book), Le Arte de Simplicite (on simplifying and organizing), and Only Love Today (a book I probably wouldn’t have read, but one of my girls started a light family “book club” with this one, and I like it).

3. Learning/education. This is one of my most passionate interests. Even though I haven’t homeschooled for years, I still read a lot of research articles and books about how we learn and thrive educationally, as well as just about anything related to the mind and what impacts its function. A lot of my thinking comes straight out of my own experience and observations over the years. I’ve written a lot about this in the past, and this isn’t likely to stop. I tend to focus most on inner motivation, the importance of home atmosphere and learning, the elements in a home that make an excellent learning environment, relaxing, and the heart and soul of learning.

4. The importance of social connections. Research increasingly shows that having strong, healthy, positive social connections is one of the primary keys to living a long, healthy, happy life. 

5. Eating well for health and enjoyment. I love food! And I try to eat so that I feel my best, but I don’t believe there’s only one way to eat for good health. There are definitely things we maybe shouldn’t eat at all or that we should eat in small quantities, but I don’t believe there’s one specific diet we should all consume. Also, eating is for fellowship and enjoyment as well as sustenance and health.

6. Domestic life. We all need a warm, safe, nurturing, and inspiring homelife, whether we live alone or within a family, whether we are married or single, whether we work or stay at home. Home should not merely be a place where we rest and refuel but where we can grow and become our best selves. We need to build good homes for ourselves, for our families, and for friends. Chesterton said home is the free-est place there is, that it’s the one place you can put the carpet on the ceiling if you want. I think this is something many women who stay home with their families don’t comprehend. Home is not a constricting, limiting place where you give up your own life to serve your family. At home, you can make a whole, huge, rich life of learning, doing, growing, and connecting. Your intellectual, creative, social, and even entrepreneurial life should not atrophy because you are at home.

7. Spiritual life and character. Relationships. Discipline, routines, habits. Moods and attitudes. Compassion and empathy. Serving. Why warmth is super-important in relationships. Etc.

I could keep writing fairly endlessly because I have just scratched the surface of what I want to discuss, but time is getting short at the coffee shop, so it’s time to stop. I should stop anyway! My goal is to keep my posts somewhat short.

Happy weekend!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Why "Analogue"?


First, I will say that I don’t want to give the idea I’m advocating for living a totally analog life, which should be obvious considering I have just started a new blog.

I don’t dislike technology or digital tools; I use them all the time, and I’m glad to have them. Instagram calls my name just as loudly as it calls anyone’s, and sometimes I spend too much time there. There is plenty of fantastic information and inspiration online, and I benefit from it all the time.

So naming this blog “Analogue” is definitely not about me trying to tell anyone else how, or how much, they should use digital devices. I’m not watching or judging. I am simply giving a shout-out to a lifestyle that connects people to the real world—to physical things, actual people, and real places.

Many younger people have consciously reverted to using analog tools and ways. They have chosen to play actual board games, listen to LPs on a turntable, read real books with paper pages, write in paper planners instead of using the smartphone calendar, wake up to the ring of an actual ticking alarm clock, hand-grind their morning coffee, take photos with film cameras, and more. Some have even gone so far as to ditch smartphones and hook up to an old-fashioned landline.

People are parking their cell phones at the door when they gather with others for food and conversation. Camping, hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, and all sorts of outdoor adventures have skyrocketed in popularity. There is a growing world of creatives—makers and artists and artisans—who fully embrace working (sometimes painstakingly) by hand rather than producing digital or mechanized work. People increasingly embrace “small and local” over industry-produced because it offers better quality and a relationship with the producer.

Some of this analog living is merely trendy, but I believe it is also because of a fundamental need people feel to connect to real things in the physical world.

I think that Ann Morrow Lindbergh was onto something when she said (way back before computers and smartphones existed): “Mechanically we have gained, in the last generation, but spiritually we have, I think, unwittingly lost.”

I don’t want to imply that living an analogue life is a more Biblical life. That’s silly. But I do think that we do well when we stay connected to real things and real, physically present, people in the real world. God created a physical world that we should experience with all of our senses. I think we thrive when we live in it, fully present.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Hello


For a long time, I’ve meant to start writing a blog again, but I keep waiting for better timing. I convince myself that I need longer periods of extended, undisturbed silence if I’m going to write anything.

In summer, there’s too much fun family stuff going on to allow me sufficient time to focus, and on workday mornings I am plagued by the incessant ticking of the clock as it counts down my departure time. I keep waiting for a perfect—or even comfortable—writing scenario to materialize before I get started. 

But I think I have finally accepted that this isn’t going to happen. My life isn’t the way it used to be, and if I want to do this blog, then I am going to have to adjust to a new reality. So here I am, adjusting.

Today, I’m four hours from home, in the big city, sitting at my daughter’s dining room table with my bright, curious, exuberant granddaughter sitting across from me. (And I’m super happy that I’ll be doing this for most of the summer!) At the moment, she and I are both focused on writing in our different ways—me on this laptop and she in her planner-journal.

It’s quiet now, but I’m distracted by the certain knowledge that I will be interrupted again and again by the rhythmic tapping of her pencil on the table, by her feet kicking the chair, and by her incessant, cheerful questions and ideas. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. 

It’s a beautiful morning. The sky is clear blue, the sun is shining, and a cold wind isn’t howling ferociously out of the north like it would be if I was back home on the coast. I’m sipping coffee and enjoying this pleasant morning with a granddaughter I love. I am so happy to be able to be here for these weeks that I will gladly accept whatever distractions this brings!

The fact is that I’m just going to have to buckle down and start this blog even while the circumstances for typing out coherent thoughts don’t meet my ideal criteria. I think I’ve finally realized that If I don’t do it now, it will never happen. A lot of life is like that.


So, here I go.