Happy Medium

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So be sure when you step, step with care and great tact

and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act.

Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.

And never mix up you right foot with your left.

By Dr. Seuss

This quote kept running over and over in my brain this morning as I was struggling to get my mind to concentrate on one subject at a time. Do you ever feel that way? You have a million and one things to be done and you feel so nutty and overwhelmed that you become completely ineffective? I was definitely feeling it this week in particular but I knew I needed to do something about it when I was sorting the laundry this morning and could not get my brights to stay out of my whites! That’s when I said to myself, “You need to figure out something to concentrate lady or you’re going to have twice as much to do because you’re doing it all wrong!”

Have you ever heard the phrase “happy medium”? You know, like a nice balance….maybe not everything is perfect but you’re happy with your progress? Well, this is what I’m striving for and lately I’ve been failing miserably.

A new baby along with my three other children, a new year, restarting homeschool, trying to add in a few extracurricular activities, trying to find some time to help my husband with his business, and exercise and devotional study, then just the everyday secretarial/parental/maid/cook(nutritionist)/ chofer/errand running/ etc responsibilities of being a mom just seem like Mt. Everest these past few days. I keep telling myself that I could do better but I can’t seem to stop the treadmill long enough to get a plan to move forward on!

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a high stress person. I like order. I like plans. I like schedules. Yep, one of THOSE people. I can be creative and spontaneous but ironically it takes a lot of effort and I end up over thinking it. So needless to say, when something interrupts my ordered little world, I kinda get my feathers ruffled a bit.

Well, the “somethings” that interrupt are constant, as we all know, life is not stagnant! Not that I would want it to be. This is all part of God’s plan, how can we learn and grow and become more like Him is we are never challenged and stretched and tried? Just like water the freshest and cleanest is the kind that is constantly in motion.

What I’m learning in this journey is that sometimes amongst all the “motion” around us and involving us we have to PAUSE OURSELVES to get our bearings and create calmness within that will lessen the stress and make us more effective.

Am I any good at this? No, not really…remember I said “I’m learning….” Haha! But what I have noticed is that the best way for me to pause is to start with my spirit. Starting my day with a talk with my Father in Heaven helps me to calm and clarify things. Also, I try to have an open conversation with Him during the day, especially when I feel like my treadmill of life might be on a speed and slope that I can’t handle. He helps me to see the priorities more clearly and create a calm within that allows me to think more clearly. Then I return and report at the end of the day because I know at least He cares about my mundane world.

With this clarity I can create my path. As I said planning helps me. I outline what I need to get done and I’ve found that if I prioritize the list but not give myself a strict timeline (except for mandated timelines of course, ie: taxes! Ugh!) then I can get the most important things done first and still have enough­­­ room for some spontaneity.

Of course I have to watch my planning. Sometimes I get overzealous and get too motivated and start doing things as if I’ve got one day left to do it all in. This method always leads me to one end….tired and depressed.

And sometimes I just need a break! Sometimes when I’m running and running and so busy DOING that I’m not “stopping to smell the roses”. What’s the point of taking a hike through a beautiful forest if you’re so busy climbing or getting exercise that you don’t even pause to enjoy the view? Sometimes I have to just do something simply for the enjoyment of doing it. Which is why I’m writing and “drinking” the “juice and icecream” my two-year old just made me out of play-doh, instead of doing a long list of other things I could be doing!

Right now I’m in the midst of finding my happy medium. Like my mom always tells me….if I find the formula for it, I’ll patent it. O.K. I’ve taken my break, I feel better…..on to “the list” Wish me luck and take luck with yours!

I am an Avocado

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I love avocadoes. They’re one of those amazing foods that not only taste amazing but are amazing for you as well.

Anyway, for some reason as I was slicing some avocado today to put in my tunafish for lunch I started reflecting on the humble fruit (yes, fruit…I’ll admit I had to look it up!)

It’s somewhat pear shaped, a little wrinkly and rough on the outside, maybe not a beauty to behold, but when you open it, it’s lovely and incredibly useful and versatile. Then the thought came to me, “I am an avocado!” Right down to the firm but soft feeling and nearly 25% fat (Although I do hope to chisel that down as I’m losing my “baby fat”)….O.K. so maybe I’m not green, the comparison doesn’t hold true to the end, but you get the idea.

This idea struck me with intrigue. So then I started thinking about the tree of avocado. What can I learn?

Well, I’m not a botanist but I have noticed several things after observing the avocado tree. I’ve noticed that avocadoes do well in the sun. Well, that makes sense. I too, thrive and prosper when I am in constant contact with the Son. When I try to follow in my Savior’s footsteps and learn and study His teachings, every aspect of my life is not only more fruitful, but I also feel a greater sense of peace and joy from the “fruit of my labors”.

Another observation was that when the avocado tree gets too many avocadoes on one branch the weight will cause negative effects. Depending on the amount and weight of the avocadoes the branch can bend to the point of not receiving proper nutrition from the tree or even break off or die. I’ve noticed a similar effect in my life. When I pile on too many obligations, responsibilities and expectations I lose time and drive to nourish my spirit and body. I start to focus more on the doing and going and external worldly pressures become my god/idol. This always leads to a negative effect, from a general feeling of “under the weather” to a downright abysmal depression. Sometimes it is essential to “thin the herd” so to speak as we prioritize and  decide what we really HAVE to do.

My last comparison originated from the structure of the tree itself. I noticed that every part of the tree was essential for the avocado to reach its’ full purpose and potential. The roots, the trunk, the branches, the leaves…all played an important and necessary role in the avocadoes life. This made me reflect on what my roots and tree are made of and how I can make them an ever present part of my life.

We talk about “our roots” all the time in referring to our ancestral heritage. Why is this so important? I’ve pondered this a lot of late as I’ve thought about how to teach my children about their dual heritage (my husband being from Africa and I from the United States). Having this knowledge helps them not only understand their parents and extended family but also themselves.

I also think about heritage in a spiritual sense. I believe we are literally spirit children of God and as such we have certain potentials and also expectations. I think that knowing about and experiencing your heritage helps you understand who you are. If you don’t know where you came from or who you are how can you decide where you are going?

Then comes the trunk, well I would consider that our family that we grew up in. It is what has supported us throughout our lives and “holds us up” in a very real sense. But I would also consider the trunk as our faith. This is what gets us through the hard times and the stronger it is the better we do in the storms of life.

Our branches are what are connected to us the most closely, our family that we have created with our spouse. They are with us through thick and thin, rich and poor, sickness and health. They see the worst and best of us and know us probably better than the family we grew up in. Without them we would be nothing.

I also think of this branch relationship as our personal relationship with God. He truly knows us better than anyone else and He connects us to the trunk and roots and brings all types of nourishment to us. Without Him we truly would be nothing.

It’s amazing the things we can learn and what we can learn them from. Have you learned anything interesting lately?

Quality vs. Quantity

So tell me this, which is it? Which is more important? Does it depend on the issue? Or are they both equally important? Quality or Quantity? Quality and Quantity? Well, let’s explore the issue shall we?

When it comes to food I think we can say that quantity  is important, adequate but not too much. However, don’t you think the quality is even more important? We all know that if you have a quantity of junk food it will do more damage than good. Also, studies have shown that some of the healthiest people in the world have lived on a very small quantity of food but of high quality. Well, food may be the only isse we can say one or the other.

What about water…that’s a tricky one. If you don’t get enough you die. If you have bad quality water, you die. I guess we could say that to get enough of not high quality but not deadly water then you’ll be fine. However, pure quality water works better in the body than water that your body has to filter and fight in order to use. So it’s both isn’t it?

Then we have the issue of education. It seems that the general world view is moving toward the philosophy that more is better. School hours are increasing and teachers and parents are heaping tutoring and homework on top of that. But is the level of education increasing with this added time?

I think we can agree that if a person spends an hour studying a subject and understands what it is studied it will be considered a success. However if the same person spends hour upon hour studying a subject and never understands it then what is the point? We could go off on learning styles and teaching methods (if these subjects interest you, be sure to read my articles on Discovery Learning and Homeschooling: Before you begin…), but let’s stick to it shall we?

Many of the United States founding fathers and other pioneers of that age we consider well-educated for their time, however they did not spend hours in a school room. What they did do is read and study quality materials and then apply what they learned in everyday speech and living. More emphasis was placed on thinking rather than studying. At the same time, we know that great minds like Aristotle and Einstein spent their free time studying. Maybe in this case we can say that it’s like water, quality first and then quantity?

For my last complicated issue let’s look at time. We often hear it said that quality time is more important than the quantity but I tend to think that its justification for letting our priorities slip (see my article on Balance if you want to explore this more).

Children especially feel loved when they see us busy, but still taking time just for them. To them it is less important of what we do when we’re with them as it is that we are with them. Nonetheless, if we constantly are putting off what the child most loves doing with us (like the “Love Languages” mentioned in my article Homeschooling: One more thing before you begin…)than they will begin to feel neglected regardless of the amount of time we spend with them. So again, it’s both isn’t it?

Now tell me, what do you think? Is there ever a clear answer on Quality vs. Quantity or is it simply an issue of balance?

Balance

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It’s 2012 and things are more convenient than ever. Throughout the North America, Asia, Australia, Europe and most large cities in South America and Africa…we can do one-stop shopping, we have technology they never dreamed of 50 years ago, you can out-source anything from websites to dog-walking…it’s really an incredible picture if you think about it.

With all of this technology and all the services available, seemingly at your fingertips, you would think life would be easier, less complicated, that we would have more time…well, it’s a nice thought anyway.

Nope, things are crazy and customs are forming where family life is becoming a lost tradition. We are SO involved in technology and SO busy with all that there is to do (or more likely that we feel we SHOULD do) that families are lowering on the priority list and consequently we’re losing them. Is it really very surprising that health issues have skyrocketed in the past 50 years? Can you imagine where we’ll be in the next 50?

Personally, I don’t think we were put into families on accident. God created Adam and Eve, to be husband and wife, and they were commanded to multiply and replenish the earth, to have families! I truly believe that families are sacred assignments from God and not to be taken lightly.

At the same time, we have to do other things in order to support our families and take care of their needs, and ours as well. Ideally, I feel it is best when the father is the major breadwinner of the family and the mother is at home. If need be she can work part-time from home, but her primary duty is in nurturing and caring for her family.

Unfortunately, it just isn’t possible for all families to have a “stay-at-home” mom. There are single moms and with the economy today, at times the mother must work outside the home. The only thing I would say in this case is that make sure that it is a necessity for the mother to be working outside the home, and not simply a means to create a certain desired lifestyle. If it is a necessity that the mother work outside the home, just do the very best you can to make sure that family is the priority.

How do we create a balance when so many commitments and activities and needs are pulling us in so many different directions? Firstly, know you’re priorities. God, Spouse, Children, Work, Service Commitments, Hobbies.

I have found that when I put my Heavenly Father first, everything just works out better. Is life perfect? Does everything run smoothly all of the time? Am I free of hard-times, worries, anxieties, and stress? Of course not, I’m human and I’m living in an imperfect world, things will be hard at times and maybe even for a long time. However, with God first, I am much better equipped to face these hard-times and insecurities; I know better what to do and I am much more at peace. Scripture, prayer, and seeking for His guidance at all times, and as my top priority, helps me find the next priority, and how to accomplish it, much more easily.

My spouse comes next. This is tricky at times, isn’t it? Spouses are adults, so I think sometimes we tend to let them fend for themselves a bit more than we should, simply because they are capable. Capable yes, but we are created to “be one” and a “helpmeet”, that means we are equals but that our primary focus should be on how we can help our spouse and make them happy. Does this mean they become above our health and well-being? How can they drink from an empty glass? Of course not, part of being married is realizing that your spouse is human and that there will be times of give and take that is not equal. Just remember that if you are focused on fulfilling their needs and desires and they are focused on fulfilling yours, then not only will all the needs be met but you will get an increase of joy because you are serving.

Now, here come the children. Let’s please remember that children need their physical needs met but they also need guidance, a good example, a listening ear, and lots of love. These emotional needs are best met when we are “present”. That means not just physically there with our kids, but tuned in, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally “there” as well. Also, let us not forget that giving physical things (treats, toys, trips, etc.) and fulfilling every want in place of these emotional needs will only lead to more problems, not solutions.

O.K. let all the rest take their place, Work, Service, and Hobbies. Work is important. It helps us meet physical needs but also (ideally) will help us reach our potential in other arenas and expertise. It can be a very rewarding experience, but should not be a consuming experience. Create a schedule, create limits for employees/employers/clients; be flexible but not a doormat. When you are physically done working, try your best to be “present” with your family, the work will always be there when you get back to it, but you can miss a once-in-a-lifetime experience with your family just by not being “there” with them. Yes, you need a financial way to sustain yourself and family, but not at the expense of your health and well-being.

The same goes with Service and Hobbies. If your family feels that they come second to other people, the t.v., games, the computer, exercise or any other number of activities then it’s time to make some changes. The same applies here as for work, set a schedule, create limits for yourself and other people that may ask of your time.

Remember, creating balance is not like putting all your plates on a board and balancing it on your head. It is much more like a teeter-totter (see-saw). When you are giving time and effort to one thing (God, Spouse, Kids, etc.) you cannot simultaneously give time to another. Yes, yes, multitasking is possible but in reality you can really only  FOCUS on one thing at a time. That means in order for balance to be met you will have give and take happening at all times.

If you have a project at work that is going to create more hours and efforts in that direction, then make sure your family is aware of this, give them a reasonable time-line, and stick to it and take some extra time for them when you’re finished with the project. If you have a sick spouse or child, or one that has a particular need that may take away from other obligations, again this is a time when other things may not get the attention they deserve, but make sure that explanation is given and that you create some special time for the other needs when opportunity allows.

Also, in terms of well-being and efficiency, too much focus on one thing for too long is not healthy or effective. Take breaks, even during times when you have a project or particular commitment that requires extra efforts, make sure you are taking care of your health and if there is enough left over of you during that “marathon of efforts” give some time for your family.

What are your best methods for creating balance in your life? What do you do when you feel you’re unbalanced?

The “S” Word

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Yes, it is the one word that always comes up when Homeschooling is mentioned. That is when we homeschoolers try our best not to roll our eyes. Skeptics often accompany this word with other words, like “Isolationists”, “Overprotective”, “Helicopter Parents”, and sometimes even as harsh as “Weird” or “Freak”. You guessed it, sooner or later, as a Homeschooling parent you will be asked, “What about Socialization?”

There are always two sides to every coin, and I can usually find some truth to every criticism I receive and the same is true with the issue of Socialization.

On one side, I feel that a strong healthy family life is the best environment for any person to learn HOW to socialize. In our families we learn HOW to communicate, HOW to share, HOW to be friends, HOW to interact with dignity and integrity.

On the other side, I can completely see how choosing to homeschool would mean choosing to miss out on many opportunities to PRACTICE socializing. It is a real issue and one that, if not considered and dealt with, can become a problem.

Some families hardly have to think about this issue because of their personalities and circumstances. Families with two very friendly, extrovert parents will naturally lead their children into many opportunities to socialize. Even easier if they are community or church leaders that are obligated to socialize on a frequent basis.

However, for families that have naturally shy parents,  families that move around a lot, or live in a culture they are unaccustomed to, social opportunities may have to be sought out more. These are instances where parents have to reach outside their comfort zones for the good of their children, and in most cases that is exactly what they do.

I know for our family we have had a mixture of these two sides. My husband is a very outgoing, naturally social person and because of his work environment and our church involvement we often do not need to search out many social opportunities. Conversely, I am a bit more shy, especially when not speaking my native language, and very task oriented and often completely forget to socialize! Also, we have not lived close to extended family our entire married life. Thus, we have seasons where our schedules and commitments, as well as my children’s neighborhood friendships, lead to enough opportunity for our children to socialize outside family life. Then there are other times when I need to schedule extracurricular activities and play-dates to supplement our church and other social activities.

One note of caution I would lend to the argument is that please be in tune with your Heavenly Father and your family.  I truly believe that one of the greatest diseases of today’s world is over scheduling. Having too many commitments  and too much socialization outside the family can be just as detrimental as not having enough. Studies on the subject have shown that over scheduling causes stress which leads to health problems and familial upheaval. If you notice members of your family being especially irritated, frustrated, or seeking for time alone, you may want to consider limiting some of your commitments. Believe it or not, you can always say no.

If , however, you happen to be on the other side of the coin and need a few ideas for supplementing your social life here is what has worked for us:

1. Join a class

Just about every community has classes for kids. Your budget willing, have your child choose a music, sports, art, or other class they are interested in.

2. Check with local schools

We’ve had times with community classes were either too expensive or too far away for us so we’ve worked out something with a local school. For example a private school close to our home was more than willing to let us pay a pro-rated fee for my son to join them in their Physical Education class.

3. Start a group

If you can’t find a class or it’s out of your budget range, start your own! With our first international move everything was far away and I was still getting to know the area so once I met a couple other moms in the community that had kids my age I jumped at the chance and we started our own preschool trade-off. It worked out well for everyone involved and I even made some great friends!

There are probably at least four million other ideas out there but those will get you started. Just remember that you don’t need to be pressured by what the world or even other families are telling you. This is YOUR family and you know them better than anyone else, and anything you don’t know the Lord will help you to know. Look, watch, listen and find YOUR balance.

So, what have you found to be your challenges with the socialization issue? What have you done to find balance in this arena?