Friday, July 29, 2016

Reflecting on Ten Years of Marriage

Today is my 10th wedding anniversary! It doesn't seem like long at all but quite a bit has happened in that time:
  • Moved to GA
  • Started a new job
  • Bought our first house
  • Started playing tennis
  • Adopted a kitten
  • Changed jobs
  • Took a babymoon to Aruba
  • Won an ALTA city championship
  • Had a baby
  • Became a SAHM
  • Published a book
  • Had a second baby
  • Sold our first house
  • Bought our second house

Plenty more has happened in that time (trips, illnesses, concerts, book launch teams, baby milestones, made friends, lost friends to moves, made more friends, weddings, funerals, finished with diapers/potty training, etc) but I wanted to hit the highlights. I also thought it'd be fun to share a little of what I've learned during this time. So, without further ado...

10 Things I've Learned in 10 Years of Marriage

1. Painting rooms and making pizza with your spouse can be more stressful than you might think.

2. Vacations involving children or additional family are actually called "family trips". Vacations are truly vacations when it's just you and your spouse.

3. My husband gives excellent work/job/business advice and my work life goes more smoothly when I take it.

4. Living in a different state from family for the first few years of marriage is a great way to establish your new family life.

5. Having and parenting children away from family is quite challenging and exhausting.

6. Becoming parents changes nearly everything (and eventually you adjust and are okay with that).

7. Finding activities you both enjoy doing together is a great way to have fun and strengthen your marriage.

8. Honest, respectful, loving communication is essential in a healthy marriage.

9. It's helpful to remember that you are on the same team and are for each other.

10. How in need of grace I am and how thankful I am to have a husband who is gracious toward me.

I would love to hear things others have learned in their years of marriage. Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Seven Things I've Learned From My 3-Year-Old About Building Community

  My son, the extrovert, does not seem to mind Island Living. (This is the term I've coined to describe my family's experience of living and parenting away from family.) He creates his own community wherever he goes.

   At the gym he befriended an older gentleman who exercises in the pool most mornings. They had not actually heard each others' voices because of the glass between the pool and the lobby, but every day he would run to the glass to show Mr. Bob what to he had brought and Bob would pantomime back, I would try to interpret, and then Bob would splash the glass in front of Jackson. J worked hard on perfecting his thumbs up gesture so that he could flash it back at Bob. 

   I've actually now had a few conversations with Bob when we happen to meet outside the pool at the gym (and once at the grocery store). We gave him a Christmas card so he would know our names (before we had spoken) and he gave Jackson a Christmas present. I know that relationship would not exist without Jackson and his friendly nature (and I love when others take an interest in my children).

   Whenever we go to a park, the pool, a restaurant - wherever - Jackson inevitably strikes up a conversation with someone. Most of the time it is usually to ask another person to play with him. At three years old, he doesn't always remember to ask their names so he often refers to them as "kid" or "my friend", though if he learns their name then he will ask about them the next time we're at the place where they met.

   At restaurants he often turns around to ask the (usually) older girl what her name is. Once, to the shagrin of his grandparents, he turned to two teenage girls in the booth behind him and said, "Hello, ladies!"

   We were at the pool earlier this summer and he started talking to another mother about The Jungle Book. Later he went over to her while she was laying in a lounge chair and asked her to watch him while he jumped into the pool (before you think I ignore or neglect him, I was in the water waiting to catch him when he performed his magnificent feat). He checked several times to make sure she was watching, jumped, then immediately looked to her for her reaction. I appreciated her obliging him. 

   He has no fear of talking to unknown people. He assumes he will be well received, have a positive interaction and an immediate new friend. I love his boldness, innocence and confidence. I usually start a conversation with the parent of the child Jackson's playing with. I admittedly feel more awkward during these interactions than he does. I've probably lost my lack of inhibition through my own encounters with people over the years. I love that Jackson reminds me that there are always opportunities to have positive social interactions and meet some potential new friends.

Playing catch with a "new friend" at the park
  In honor of my gregarious son, I have compiled a list of seven things I've learned from watching him navigate his world. Perhaps I could gain quite a bit from acting more like him.

1. He's not bothered about lacking a built-in community. He's comfortable making his own wherever he goes.

2. He doesn't discriminate. He sees everyone as a potential new friend.

3. He is confident that he will be accepted and enjoyed for who he is.

4. He enjoys the community that is available to him rather than lamenting what he doesn't have.

5. He is not afraid to seek out community. He's not worried about looking weak or needy.

6. He seems to implicitly know that creating community benefits everyone involved.

7. He is not concerned about what others will think. He doesn't hesitate to ask for what he wants or needs.

Is there anything on this list that you could benefit from implementing in your own life? What have you learned from watching your own children navigate the world?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Self-Care Benefits Everyone: My Spa Day Revelation

   For Christmas this past year my mother gave me a spa day to use when I came out to Boise for our yearly visit. I was in charge of choosing the place, the services received and the appointment date and time.

  Massages have kind of become part of my Boise experience. I think my mother has gifted me a massage the last three years of visits, which I completely appreciate and enjoy. Last summer I had received an amazing massage from a woman at a spa in the area. I was amazed at her work on my hands and humorously wondered if I could write massages off as a business expense if I ever became an official author/writer (I'm still curious if anyone has some insight). Unfortunately, the masseuse is no longer at the spa so I searched around for local spas and settled on one that had a package of a facial, 90 minute massage and pedicure - pampering from head to toe!

   My experience was incredible! Not only was it relaxing, it was also a very restorative and spiritual time for me. Each of the women allowed me to receive the treatment in quiet, with only the wordless, peaceful music playing - heaven for this introvert who had been around half a dozen + family members for nearly three weeks. My focus wandered through four different parts of the experience - the physical sensations of oils, lotions and hands, the various pleasant scents from the oils and lotions, the relaxation feelings of the experience where I nearly fell asleep multiple times, and the time just to hear my own thoughts and prayers about life, family and friends.

   I was somewhat surprised at the strong spiritual aspect of my experience. I don't recall previous spa sessions to have felt so purposeful and meaningful. Perhaps it is because all previous experiences were approximately 50 minutes in length and this was much longer so I could relax more fully. I loved the time for my mind to process my thoughts and feelings and let go of stress and worry while my body and muscles did the same with help.

   At the end of the experience I felt relaxed, of course, but also infused with peace, patience and energy. Before my appointment I had been short on patience and a generous spirit with my children (it is summer after all, 24/7 family time). Afterward I was more loving, kind and ready to engage with them. When I next spoke with my husband on the phone (he was not with us for the last two weeks of our three week trip) he noted my energy and more positive attitude. More proof that I was a bit worn down.

   This experience has been further evidence to me of the importance of self-care. I was reminded of the kind of mother/daughter/person I can and want to be when I meaningfully take a step away from normal life to refresh and recharge myself. (It was only four hours! Full days and weekends not required for refreshment - a revelation and encouragement to me.)

   I am continuing to learn and experience the benefits of self-care. The toughest obstacles I tend to face are guilt that I'm being selfish and struggling to feel worthy of self-care. I hope to continuously remind myself that my family and friends benefit when I care for my physical and mental health.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

June Book Review

At the time this is published, we will be half-way through the year! Before May began I was already half-way through my goal of fifty books in 2016. At the beginning of the month I was at 34 for the year. I added eleven more to it this month! That means I only need to read five more books in six months...I think I can handle that (can you tell reading is a passion and way to relax for me?). Below are my reads. If you want to check out my thoughts on previous months' reads, check out the blog posts from January, February, March, April and May!

1. Walking the Talk: A Parent's Guide to Intimacy and Healthy Relationships by Sarah West

  (Full disclosure: I agreed to read this book in order to write a review and help with the relaunch of this book.) I was curious to read this one because it's a book about how to talk to your children about sex and relationships in a healthy, Christ-focused way. I have two young kids and I have constantly wondered when I need to broach this subject with them. I don't want to start too early or too late. 
  Sarah does an excellent job of walking parents through this subject. She invites the reader to think about how they were introduced to the topic of sex themselves and the messages they were given from their parents, friends or relatives. She acknowledges the awkwardness parents feel, especially if they haven't been perfectly pure in their own relationships growing up. She reminds us of how important it is for us to talk to our kids about it so that we will always have a voice in the conversation and offers suggestions of how to do it.
   The book is formatted with discussion questions at the end of each section to discuss as parents or in a small group study format. It also has an application section following the questions.
   I consider this a good resource for parents to help prepare themselves for discussing sex and healthy relationships with children at any age and as they age. I look forward to referencing it as I begin and continue to dialogue with my own children.

2. A Heat of the Moment Thing by Maggie Le Page

   I have been steadily going through the fiction on my kindle. This was one that I had purchased but didn't know much about. It quickly sucked me in. Becky Jordan is getting ready to start her dream job in London. A few days before she begins, she hits her head on the end of the pool and is rescued by a mysterious swimmer with an unmistakable voice. The day she starts her new job she learns that her swim hero is actually her new boss. After the last dating fiasco at her old job she is determined not to get involved with a co-worker, especially her boss, regardless of how enticing he may be. It's an engaging read that moves along quickly.
   Part way through the book I realized I was waiting for the relationship rift that occurs in most books involving romantic relationships. I guess being a reader as long as I've been, it shouldn't be surprising that I've gotten used to the general rhythm of books. I was a little perturbed at the predictability at first, but then realized that if the book didn't follow my expectations, I would be sorely disappointed at the ending of the book (or show or movie). So, I was glad that this book, like many others, had an ending that I was pleased with. It's a fun summer read.

3. Between Us Girls: Navigating College Life as a Christian Woman by Megan Byrd

   Yes, this is my book. I published it a little over four years ago. I don't think I have read a hard copy of it since I completed the editing process. I find it very weird to read my own work. I was afraid that I would not like it after all of this time has passed (I actually finished writing it in January of 2010, a couple of months before my first child was born). I am considering republishing it and wanted to go through it to see what might need to be changed or updated, wondering if some of my thoughts had changed in six years.
   Overall, I still felt confident in the content and message. I think I would like to add additional personal anecdotes to the various sections and may want to rearrange the chapters a little. There was only one chapter that I think could be organized better. However, I still think it is a book that is honest about college life and can provide helpful advice for Christian women getting ready for or already at college.
   (Shameless plug: I currently have the only available copies of the book and would be happy to mail one to someone you know who could use it. It would cost $10 plus $3 to ship. Comment on this blog post or email me at mybyrdlife at blogspot dot com.)

4. My Own Miraculous: A Short Story by Joshilyn Jackson

   I borrowed it from my library as an audio book. I hadn't read anything by Joshilyn Jackson so thought I'd test it out with this short story. I learned that this is a prequel of sorts to Someone Else's Love Story. I enjoyed the characters in the book so I may check that one out soon. It is about a young woman with a three-year-old. She realizes that he might be a bit unusual when he reads a banner on a wall and is able to solve a Rubik's cube in less than ten minutes but is fearful of what that might mean and tries to deny that he is anything but ordinary. It was an engaging read and I became attached to the characters quickly. It was interesting to get to listen to the author read her own work.

5. Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry

  I read The Giver not too long ago and recently learned that it was book one in a four book series. I read this second book in just a few days. It is about a girl, Kira, who has just lost her mother and is in danger of being removed from the village because she has a lame foot and the village does not tolerate flaws well. She is given a trial in front of the council and they allow her to stay. Her saving grace is her knowledge of weaving and threading. Her mother had worked on a special robe while she was alive and had taught Kira all she knew. She is given room in the council building and given the task of repairing and restoring the robe. She will eventually finish the robe. She learns that things she has been told are not necessarily true and begins to suspect the motives of the council leaders.
  The end of the book doesn't seem like a true finale. I'm wondering if the third and fourth books will carry more of her story. I am also now wondering if the characters in The Giver will come back in play and be part of the other two stories. I am engaged enough (and dissatisfied with how Gathering Blue ended) that I am looking forward to reading the next two in the series (Messenger and Son). I would recommend this series thus far. I cannot yet say whether the ending is satisfying. Gathering Blue seems unfinished to me.

6. Wild & Free: A Hope-Filled Anthem for the Woman Who Feels She is Both Too Much and Never Enough by Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan

   This book seemed like a book for me. I do struggle like feeling not enough often. Sometimes I also feel like I'm too much for other people as well. I liked the format of the book. Every two chapters were paired together with a common theme and Jess talked about it from the "wild" side and Hayley from the "free" side.
   I liked that the book reminds us that as women in Christ, we are already wild and free, though many of us are not living this way. We are not meant to live tame, contained lives. Or God is not tame, contained or safe and we are supposed to be living like him. The book encouraged me to walk confidently in the identity and purpose I have in Christ. I tend to be more concerned with others' approval and base decisions on what I think others might think. It is stifling and keeps me from doing what I feel God is desiring me to do. God's purposes are not always understood or approved by people and I should choose to serve my amazing and loving God and trust in his ways.

7. Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty

  This book starts with witness accounts of an argument in a restaurant between triplet sisters celebrating their 34th birthdays. It then goes back to the beginning where we learn about this family and about their lives and what brings them to the scene in the restaurant. The three sisters - Cat, Lyn and Gemma - are all quite different. They have all experienced heartbreaks of various kinds that they have not necessarily shared with their sisters.
   I became engaged with each of the sisters (the book switches between their points of view) and desired for them to have happy, successful lives. I was very curious to learn what had actually happened at the restaurant and whether it led to a large rift in their relationships as sisters or they were able to patch things up. Another great book by Liane Moriarty!

8. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo

   I had heard bits and pieces about this book, like talking to your possessions and asking if they spark joy. I have gone in and out of phases where I have wanted to pare down my possessions and have a more ordered house. This book seemed like it might be able to help with that process (especially since I am in the cleaning out mode at the moment).
   I enjoyed having a structure for going through categories in your house to do the decluttering and storing. I trust her advice because it is her job. I am looking forward to tackling my house with these new ideas in mind. Will I talk to my clothes? Probably not. But I do have a good guideline for determining whether to keep or toss.
   I am a very sentimental person so I am concerned that this will be my big hang up. She has done an excellent job of addressing my personality type and giving me encouragement and courage to tackle those objects in my house as well. I am currently on vacation and won't be back home again for a few weeks so I hope my enthusiasm and motivation will hold until I return. It seems like a good book for those interesting in living more simply and clutter-free. I cannot yet say whether her advice has worked for me. I'll try to do a follow up post if/when I used what I've learned in the book.

9. Messenger by Lois Lowry

  I was excited for this book to come up on my library queue as I felt the second book of The Giver quartet left things very open. This book picks up about six years after the previous book, Gathering Blue, ends. Matty, a boy who came from the same town as Kira, is living in Village, a place that accepts all of the outcasts from other towns, with Kira's father. In Village, the people care for each other and do not discriminate against people with flaws. Each person receives their true name from Leader that describes their gift and/or their true self. Matty is hoping to be named "Messenger" as he has been charged with taking messages to other towns as he is skilled at navigating Forest and does not fear it.
  Something has changed in Village and people are becoming disgruntled against newcomers. They fear that new people will cause a shortage of food, supplies, etc. A vote is taken and Matty is responsible for taking the message that Village is closing to the other towns. Seer, the man he is staying with, also wants him to bring Kira to Village from her home before it's too late.
   It is a very engaging read that continues the story and also weaves a bit of the first book in as well. I am now equally anxious to get my hands on Son, the final book in the series. I am interested to see how/if things wrap up. So far I am still very much enjoying the books and would recommend them.

10. Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor

  This book is about our fear of the dark in its various forms - physical, spiritual, psychological. Barbara talks about how we have equated darkness with evil and that it is not necessarily accurate. Dark and light are not opposites but complementary. You cannot really have one without the other. God did not create darkness, it was already here. He formed and separated light from the darkness but you wouldn't really know one without the other.
   In the book she explores darkness and her experiences of darkness, sharing the importance of darkness in various aspects of our lives. She invites us to consider why we are afraid of the dark and whether we should continue to avoid it or perhaps, venture into it to see what we might learn or be missing by avoiding it.
  This book contains a lot of information and ideas that I am still processing. It has made me think about my own experiences with darkness. I found it very interesting and thought provoking.

11. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown

   This is the third book I've read by Brene Brown. She referenced some of her findings about living a Wholehearted Life in her later books because her research tends to build on itself. I really enjoyed this book. It talked about the three keys of living a wholehearted life - courage, connection and compassion. She defined each of these key qualities and also listed ten guideposts to embrace that help us to live wholeheartedly - authenticity, self-compassion, a resilient spirit, gratitude and joy, intuition and trusting faith, creativity, play and rest, calm and stillness, meaningful work, laughter, song and dance - along with the things that hinder wholehearted living that we need to release - what others think, perfectionism, numbing and powerlessness, scarcity and fear of the dark, the need for certainty, comparison, exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth, anxiety as a lifestyle, self-doubt and "supposed to", being cool and "always in control".
  I really enjoyed this book. I do want to live with more authenticity and this is an encouraging and eye-opening book that shows me what are important components to this type of life. I love that she warns that it's not easy but the vulnerability and work are worth it. I would highly recommend this book to others (especially fellow perfectionists).

What did you read this month? I'd love to hear your reviews and recommendations!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Sixth Month Goal Review

We are officially half way through the year! I have worked on the same goals for six months straight. How have I done? I've recorded each month's summary. Below is June's record. You can read about JanuaryFebruaryMarch, April and May on the linked pages.

1. One arts and crafts time with the kids each month

This goal is one that makes me sweat a lot. I am not a crafty person so it's a chore to peruse kid-friendly ideas that we *hopefully* have most or all of the materials for. I didn't think this month would be bad because it contains Father's Day and I usually help the kids make cards for their dad.

Father's Day 2013
However, a friend of mine emailed a link to a DIY cat tent. It looked relatively easy and we had all of the materials so I thought we'd check that out. My husband donated an old t-shirt to the cause so this was a free craft (hurray!).

I had the kids decorate the shirt because it seemed like the most kid-friendly part for them. My daughter also tried to help curve the clothes hangers for the tent poles but it was too challenging for her.

Their final contribution was enticing the cat into the tent. They eventually found success.

Of course, we also made Father's Day cards.

2. Blog at least twice per month

This goal is also never easy to achieve. Now that it's summer it will be a bit more challenging to find time to sit down and write, as well as additional time to ponder topics I may want to write about. The first post was about sharing the themes of my current season of life. I did manage to get a second post in with a couple of days to spare. I have been listening to a couple of great podcasts and blogging about them seems to be my way to process them and share their personal impact.

3. Grow in gratitude, contentment and generosity

As you may recall, the first month of the year I tried not to spend any money on non-essentials. I had kind of kept up with that for a few months but the last two months I have kind of fallen off the no new purchases. I think it being summer and wanting to have some fun new things for the kids has contributed to that. They took swim lessons in May and I have purchased goggles and dive rings toward the cause of water confidence. I also am visiting my family for a few weeks and I tend to do some thrift store shopping while I'm here because 1) free babysitting so I can go without the kids, and 2) the prices and quality of items are excellent. (Actually, the only non-experience, non-food items I bought out west in June was a pair of dress shoes for J at a thrift store and three outfits for K on clearance - two for future holidays. Not too bad considering my normal habit.) I would also mention yard sales but we're not doing that until the July portion of my trip so I'm sure I'll cover anything I pick up at those next month. I will work on being more conscious about whether it is something to be used or simply an impulse buy.

I slacked off a bit on my gratitude journaling. I will blame it on end-of-the-school-year business but it's just an excuse. I still enjoy it a lot and feel like it helps me to be reminded of all that I do have to be grateful for as well as help address things that are on my heart and mind.

This month I read The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed To Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown and part of Wholehearted living, according to her research, is gratitude which is the source of joy. The book also encourages us to stop striving for acceptance and be ourselves, which I feel is intertwined with contentment.

We were hoping that an opportunity to move closer to family would open up for us, but it did not materialize. I was a little disappointed but it has encouraged me to seek to be content where I am and embrace what I have as fully as I can. It's an opportunity to choose contentment daily instead of thinking about something that may never happen.

I also read Marie Kondo's book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up which was even more motivation and encouragement to get rid of unnecessary stuff around the house and, hopefully, be content with and enjoy the stuff I currently have. The only problem is that I read it while I am on vacation away from the house so I have to hope the desire to declutter does not ebb before I get back home.

This month I worked on being more generous with my time - working on saying yes to things that are good and fun for my family and for others. I tried to be more willing to lay down my agenda and schedule and allow opportunities and others to receive more of my time. It's hard to say how successful I was but I can think of instances when I chose time with others over my own thing and offered to help with things that others needed done.

Here were my intended verses for the month:

Isaiah 26:3  You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.

Psalm 62:5-8  Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.

You may have read my post this month about trust and rest. As you can tell, these verses address those themes. However, I got busy and distracted with summer break and getting ready for vacation that I did not make time to memorize both of them. The first one was short and easy and encouraging so I know that one. The second one did not get memorized. Fail. Plus I've probably forgotten at least half of the previous months' verses for lack of practice.

So, it took six months to slack on something. Not terrible. And it doesn't mean I won't hit all of my goals next month. Each day, week, month is different and I have to give myself grace when I can't do it all.

So, what goals were you working on in June? How did you do? How much more progress are you still hoping to have? What helps keep you motivated? Do you know what temptations are in your life that hinder your ability to achieve or improve on your goal?