Never Stop Swinging

When I was a kid, my dad designed and built play structures. It had a lot of perks – we had a really great play structure in our own backyard, and my sister and I loved to play on the new ones as they were being built, because it was always fun to try something different.

It seems as though a large number of my childhood involved those play structures. We would haul out all the blankets and build houses on the structure railings. We would try to teach our cats to walk across the top of the monkey bars. We would climb and dangle and twirl on the various bars. And we would swing. I remember the feeling of swinging so high, it felt as though I would soar right off into the air.

There was a huge lilac bush beside our play structure, and when I think of my most beautiful childhood memories, I remember sitting on the lawn swing with my mom, memorizing Psalm 23 while the dusk crept in. We smelled the lilac-scented air, and my mom would say, “Let’s see how high we can swing!”

One day when I was in high school, I was sitting on a swing, deep in thought, when my dad walked by. He said, “I miss the days when you girls would swing so much, the grass could never grow underneath the swings, because you would always wear it out.”

After he continued walking to the house, I got down on my knees and began pulling up handfuls of grass, trying to make the dirt show through, even though I didn’t swing enough to wear it out anymore.

I don’t know when I stopped swinging.

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The summer before Everett was born, Ben set up a play structure in our backyard. We’d been debating about it for awhile, wondering if our girls would get much use out of it, but when we were surprised with another baby on the way, we decided to get the structure, because there would be many more years of use with our little guy on the way.

In the beginning, both girls would swing together, shrieking delightedly when they were “double dating” and their swings were perfectly in sync. But slowly, over time, Kaylia often ended up on the monkey bars or in the sandbox, while Anika kept swinging.

I’d notice her going out to swing more and more. She’d take a break from school work to swing. She’d head out there the second we got home from a busy afternoon away. She would swing in the rain, the snow, the dark – it didn’t matter what kind of weather or time of day, she had to swing. I loved to watch her out the window, because she’d usually be smiling to herself, deep in thought as she stretched towards the sky.

It’s been a couple of years since Anika started swinging, and the grass still never grows under her swing.

She had a growth spurt this last winter. In the span of a few short months, she changed from being a little girl, and people started to mistake her for me. She almost looks me in the eye, and she’s borrowing my clothes. She spends hours a day writing fantasy books, and talks about being published, but whenever she’s stuck for an idea, she heads out the door to go swing. Morning, afternoon, and evening, she is out there on her swing.

Because she’s almost my size now, that little play structure built for small children was getting worn out after the intense workout she’s been giving it for three years. It was creaking and groaning, and Anika complained, “It makes so much noise when I swing, people are starting to turn and look from the sidewalk! Dad needs to fix it!!”

So last weekend, Ben finally built a new swing set (with his usual little helper!). He built it adult-size, so there will be no need for our girl to stop swinging.

We planted lilac bushes by the play structure, and maybe someday, the smell of lilacs will also make her think of evenings on the swing.

We tease Anika a little, because she’ll go off to college, and need to find the nearest park so she can swing and de-stress from college life! She says she’ll know she’s found her soulmate when she meets a boy who will swing with her.;)

We were at the chiropractor at the end of summer, and after finishing Anika’s adjustment, he came to me and asked, “Do you have her doing some kind of athletic activity?” I told him she took dance lessons during the school year, but hadn’t been doing anything during summer.

He said, “She’s in great shape – she must be very active!”

I smiled and said, “Well, she swings for a few hours a day.”

He looked confused. “She swings? Like on a play structure?”

I described to him how she swings many times a day, and how she’s gotten muscular from all those hours of pumping.

The chiropractor was amazed. “Her spine is very strong and healthy – she has the body of an athlete!”

And so Anika has proven that even something as simple as swinging can be good for the mind and the body.

I think of all those phys.ed classes when I was in high school, where I was taught that volleyball and basketball were everything, and competitive sports were the only way to be athletic. There was no value for the things I loved to do, like going for walks, or riding my bike in the sunset.

And yet, long after the phys.ed classes are over, those are the things that remain. There are many ways to move and live and feel your body connect with the moment. What I want for my kids are those beautiful moments of enjoying whatever it is they want to enjoy. To see the value in the unexpected. To find strength and beauty in simple things. To do what clears the head and gets the blood pumping. To smell lilacs and see sunsets, and to feel strength in their limbs and to get outside.

If they enjoy competitive sports, that’s great. But even more importantly, I hope they find ways to relax and move through life in small ways, all by themselves, when there’s no team around and without fancy equipment. I hope they keep balanced and active for the simple reason that our bodies were made to thrive that way.

If Anika still wants to swing when she’s an adult, I hope she does. I hope she never feels silly for loving it, because she’s found the secret for clearing her head and connecting her soul to the peace of the moment.

 

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Keep on Keeping on

As I was recently thinking about blog posts, I realized it’s been a long, long time since I’ve written anything about health or progress on my big exercise goals I shared last fall. People sometimes ask about my five minute plank, and I feel a little heartbroken when I have to give them the update, which is usually a sign that I need to write about it, cause that’s the way I deal with stuff.

I looked back on my blog to the last time I wrote about it, which was interesting to me, because it was only a few days after the post that I injured myself so badly, I’m still trying to pull out of it. The progress has been painfully slow, and just painful in general, so I stopped saying anything about it, because there wasn’t much to say. A year later, I’m still not sure how much there is to say – no dramatic progress or exciting accomplishments, but here’s the thing: I’ve kept at it for a year without a lot to show. I’ve been thinking about how that in itself is worth a lot.

It’s easy to stay motivated when there’s progress, but when you work and work at something, with little to show for it, the motivation can take a major hit. It’s terribly disappointing to keep putting in the effort, hoping for things to change, waiting for some indication that things are improving, and not getting the results you’re wanting. What do you do then?

Before I injured myself last fall, I had worked my way up to a six minute plank, and I was feeling better than ever. My body was noticeably stronger, and I was feeling confident and excited about reaching my goals. But I ended up hitting my tailbone so hard I couldn’t move for a couple seconds, and it seems that everything in my pelvis, hips, and back is still being pulled out of place. The balance of strengthening these weak muscles is tricky – doing nothing means I won’t improve, and doing too much makes the pain flare up and then I need to backtrack. It’s long and frustrating and annoying.

I’m still able to plank for three minutes, but I’ve had to stay there for an entire year, unable to increase my time, hoping to get to a point where I can continue to work up to my 10 minute goal.

Just in the last month or two, I’ve started to feel some relief from some new things I’ve been trying, and I’m FINALLY able to begin increasing my planking time. I have to go very slowly and carefully, only adding about 10 seconds at a time every couple of weeks, but I’m delighted to be in a place where this is possible.

So how do we keep on keeping on? For me, it’s a combination of lots of prayer, Ben’s encouragement, and words of inspiration! It’s been awhile since I went hunting for quotes about exercise and not giving up, so here’s a good dose of exactly what I needed!

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How do you keep going when things are hard?

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How Do You Play?

I’m in the middle of a great book about the importance of playing. It’s giving me something to think about as I go about my everyday stuff, because it’s making me realize that I don’t spend enough time playing. It’s making me watch my kids play, and think about how I can learn from them, how to encourage them in their play, and how we can pursue more fun around here.

Play isn’t much of an issue when Ben is at home – he is naturally a very playful person, and when he’s an old man, he will be a more wholesome version of the Taco Bell commercial about the seniors sneaking out of the retirement home at night. He’s always got a twinkle in his eye, and is constantly cracking jokes and reading stories with all the silly voices.

Everett’s backyard version of “water skiing”

And then there’s me – a little on the intense side, often forgetting that life is not one big to-do list. I think I can be pretty funny sometimes, and I enjoy pursuing creativity and relaxation, but playfulness…not so much. I’ve just never thought about it a lot.

So now there’s this book: The Dolphin Way: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy and Motivated Kids Without Turning into a Tiger. (affiliate link) It’s interesting to be reading about the scientific study and different categories of play, while watching my kids naturally doing these things, and trying to figure out when I lost it. Movement, banging things, building things, imagining, wrestling, storytelling, and rituals. (That last one is actually one of the easiest for adults – ritual or celebratory play refers to birthday parties or the fun things we do for holidays.)

Having kids gets me to do more of these things with them – and I do have to admit that it feels good to build Jenga block towers or get out the puzzles. But how often do I intentionally pursue play for myself? I don’t even know how I would do some of those things. What could I build?!

I can see dramatic improvement in my life when I do take part in any these things – daily walks and yoga have been a huge benefit in my life. Writing and telling stories feeds my soul. Dancing in the kitchen while we clean up from supper is always a good way to get everybody in a good mood. So maybe I’m doing better than I thought, but there’s still lots of room for improvement!

I found it interesting that in this author’s mind, competitive sports don’t count as play! She’s referring specifically to recreational play, where there is no pressure to win or perform, and the focus is on freely playing without worrying about improving skills or striving to reach goals. Just plain, simple fun.

I want more of that! How can I intentionally pursue play in my own life? Maybe we all need kids to lead the way! How do we keep them from losing their sense of fun and ability to play? I’m so curious to hear your thoughts!

Are you like Ben, and find it easy to incorporate play, or are you more task-focused? How do you play? I need some fresh ideas!!:)

Around Here Right Now

Every so often, I love to round up some of the things we’re enjoying in our home, and pass the good stuff on to you! Here’s what we’ve been loving lately:

The Next Right Thing

This may be my all-time favourite podcast. I love podcasts, so it’s hard to choose, but this is definitely the one I’m loving most right now. It’s beautiful, calming, full of wisdom, and all about making decisions, which I struggle with. It’s such a thoughtful, gentle podcast about exploring how to decide your next step. The episodes are only 15 minutes, which is such a great length for getting a little dose of something beautiful and life-giving. I love everything Emily P. Freeman has to say, but this podcast is just especially lovely.

Gluten-Free Pancake Recipe

We still love the Applesauce Pancake/Waffle recipe we use all the time, but when we don’t have applesauce on hand, we’ve been trying to find a good back-up recipe. Everyone is loving these pancakes, and Anika claims they’re as good as pancakes from a mix (which is better than homemade??).

This Quote:

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It’s on my fridge at the moment, and I’m making myself read it regularly when my stress is going up over stuff that is just not my problem!

When Your Kids Push Your Buttons

I just finished reading this book, and it was fairly life-changing. I really loved it, and kind of wish there was a version that wasn’t just about kids pushing parents’ buttons – the topics covered can relate to all people in general! I’ve never read a parenting book quite like this one. It walks you through discovering why you do what you do, and why things make you angry or hurt. It helped me unearth some deep roots of hurt and guilt that have been affecting my parenting (and other relationships!) in pretty significant ways, and although it’s sometimes hard to come face-to-face with our hidden ugly sides, it’s been very healing. I’m looking forward to seeing how this will play out in my parenting.

This is worth a post all on it’s own, which I’ll get to sometime soon! In the meantime, you should definitely check this book out if you’re a parent!

 Grocery Budget Bootcamp

 

Remember when I took this online course? It’s being offered again! I loved it so much, I became an affiliate, and I’m always happy to let you know when the course opens registration for another round, because this course is truly helpful. I took it this last January, and the habits I started forming then are still affecting the way I shop, meal plan, and cook. Just the other day, I was going through some online flyers and making my weekly shopping list, thinking about how differently I make my list because of the Grocery Budget Bootcamp. When I was finished my list, I rewarded myself with a little blog reading, and there in my blog reader was the announcement that the course is running again! Such ironic timing, it seems like I made it up, but it’s true.;)  Registration closes on Tuesday, September 19, which doesn’t give you much time! Head here to enroll, and here if you want to read more about my experience taking the course.

What are you enjoying right now?

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Apple Picking

It was an apple emergency. We got the call from my parents this week that apples were ready. I took one look at the weather forecast for the next few days, and texted Ben: “If we want apples, it’s now or never!”

And so it was now. The last minute, urgent feeling made it kind of exciting. We left in such a rush, we forgot to make our kids wear warm clothes. It was supposed to be our last nice day for a long time, but it felt as though fall hit exactly that evening, and it was cold!

I think this is the fifth year we’ve gone apple picking at my parents’, and come home with enough to make applesauce to last all year long. We fill our freezer, and every Saturday Ben makes applesauce pancakes – the only sweetener they need is collected on that one magical day in fall, when we drop everything, and go apple picking. At least, I think it’s magical, but I don’t think Ben feels quite the same way – probably because he does most of the work, so he just feels tired. But I love seeing our kids picking apples, and the air smells so good, and the leaves are crunchy, and it’s just beautiful fall.

Kaylia loved climbing the ladder to pick apples, so of course Everett had to do whatever she did.And now our house turns into an applesauce factory. Good-bye, clean kitchen! I’ll see you in a few days….

Why Ben and I Are Like Levitating Unicorns

It was our anniversary this last weekend. Seventeen years, and we don’t feel that old, but here it is.

The kids were at Ben’s parents’ for a sleepover, and we had the most relaxing time, eating out, going to the park, and talking about anything and everything, which happened to include me asking Ben for anniversary blog post ideas. It’s tradition, and I’ve done all kinds of things in the past, like anniversary ABCs, five things you might not know about us, 13 things I love about Ben, etc. I was feeling a bit dry for ideas this year, though. I thought it might be fun to interview Ben, but he thought that was too last minute and too much pressure, so I made him promise to do it for next year.:)

For this year, he thought I should write about personalities and marriage, and why our personality combination has been compared to”levitating unicorns”. He was referring to this blog post I sent him awhile back about why our Myers Briggs personality types work so well together:

For every Myers Briggs personality, there’s a counterpart that makes an almost perfect fit. The key is in the functions. Relationships struggle if people don’t have similar functions, or dominate functions that guide them. ENFP and INFJ being both highly intuitive people would struggle with someone who is more dominated by sensing. These two thrive on metaphors, abstractions, and the creative — trying to get them to be normal and grounded is like trying to make a levitating unicorn made of rainbows do your taxes.

I loved this article, because it described our relationship very well, but I’m also interested in the idea that everyone has someone who fits them just right, whether it’s a friendship or a romantic relationship. At our house, Anika and I are finding it fascinating to look up different personality types to find out what type is their best fit – everybody has their own levitating unicorn!;) It’s possible to be friends with all kinds of personality types, but there’s one, sometimes two types that fit just right.

I’ve discovered a friend who has the same personality type as Ben, and it has been one of my greatest delights to get to know her – it’s as effortless as it is to spend time with Ben. To make it even more interesting, her husband has the same personality as me, so as couples, we’re just the opposite, and it’s been very interesting to understand our spouses better as we talk about things from a slightly different viewpoint.

But my favourite unicorn of all will always be Ben.:) Here’s a bit of what the article had to say about why Ben and I fit well together:

Both the INFJ and ENFP will feel instant attraction to each other. They both have pieces the other one desires. The INFJ wants to be understood and needs help coming out of their shell because they are the most rare personality making them feel constantly like their ideas and feelings don’t fit in with the rest of the way the group feels. The INFJ also struggles with being quiet because their dominate function is introverted intuition — their first objective is to take information introspectively. Until this hits their emotional center and their can translate the information out-loud empathetically, they tend to keep information to themselves. ENFP are primarily information gatherers, but through extroverted intuition. To the INFJ, the ENFP talks in the way the INFJ is taking in information. This is all very pleasing and creates an ESP effect.

The ENFP on the other hand feels a strong Fi-Si loop that they can stuck in. The ENFP is the champion and is wanting constantly to involve people, spread ideas, and get things in motion. But there’s this other more introspective side they have that they don’t always know how to convey, if they should convey it. The INFJ in being more introspective knows how to help the ENFP with their emotional growth. The INFJ knows how to encourage them and let them know it’s okay to have dark thoughts, to be a little serious, to have the crazy kind of depth. Both are obsessed with people and gathering information about people because their in the NF temperament.

One article described the attraction between our types as “a moth to a flame”. When I shared this with Ben, he immediately said, “You were the moth, and I was the flame. There was no way you could resist me.” But since my personality type is very rare, I’m pretty sure it was the other way around – he couldn’t believe he’d finally found an INFJ, even though he had no idea what that meant at the time – our inner unicorns could just sense each other.;)

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This does not mean our marriage is always perfect, though. When people say “Opposites attract”, this is true, to a point. It is also true that opposites can be annoying or frustrating sometimes. The same goes for the expression, “Variety is the spice of life.” Having no spice is boring, too much spice is gross or fiery, but just the right amount of spice is fantastic.

Ben is the perfect amount of spice for me, but that means there are ways in which he challenges me, and our differences provide opportunities to learn how to communicate better, and how to appreciate and take advantage of the other’s different strengths.

Ben is great at coming up with wild and crazy ideas, so he’s always helping me look outside the box, and see things from a different perspective. I’m the one who likes to think forever about all the details, so I can help him improve his big ideas, and ask questions that help him figure out how to make his big ideas work in real life.

He is more focused on connecting people and helping everyone have a good time, while I am more task-oriented, and focused on getting things done. Sometimes this leads to very different expectations and frustrations if we don’t communicate properly. I remember the first day after we got back from our honeymoon – Ben wanted a slow, relaxing morning, as if we were still on vacation, and I wanted to get up early and go shopping for a kitchen table, and get our little apartment in order. I’m sure the issue had come up before when we were dating, but it was our first married life example of how differently we approached things that needed to get done.

I am much more relaxed and less stressed than I was when we first got married, and Ben has learned to close cupboard doors and push in his chair at the table.;) Lots of give and take, and real life stuff happening in between our levitating unicorn moments.

So to sum it all up, I love Ben like crazy, and thoroughly enjoy him as much as when we first got married – actually, I think I enjoy him even more. We’ve been able to work through some of the bumps and challenges in our differences, and I’m so thankful for our relationship. He really is the most wonderful person to be married to – my beloved spicy unicorn!

Curious what personality type you are, and who is your perfect match? You can go to 16 Personalities, take the test, and then google your type + “best matches”. And don’t feel discouraged if you aren’t surrounded by people who are your “perfect” fit – like I wrote, we all need some variety! There are ways for all personality types to connect and find some common ground, and I’m finding Myers Briggs to be such a helpful tool for doing this!

 

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Spark Joy

I finished reading Spark Joy (affiliate link) this last weekend, and everybody is feeling the results! It was a dangerous book for me to read – I’d read two pages, and then go clean out half the drawers in my kitchen. My family is starting to feel like nothing is safe in our house, which might be a good thing, because maybe they’ll start hiding their stuff, and that means less clutter.;)

I wasn’t actually planning to read Spark Joy, but I stumbled across it at the library, and decided to skim through it. It ended up being a lot more interesting and helpful than I was anticipating. I had low expectations because it’s a sequel, and is the sequel ever as good (or better!) than the first book?!

It’s by Marie Kondo, the author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (affiliate link), which surprisingly lived up to it’s name – I think my life was changed from reading it! I read it during my decluttering challenge in 2015 (which you can read about here, here, and here), and it was a huge contributing factor to me reaching my goal of decluttering 2015 things in the year 2015. What impacted me the most from The Life-Changing Magic was the way Marie Kondo changes the usual decluttering question of “What do I want to get rid of?” to “What do I want to keep?”

She recommends emptying everything out of your closet or cupboard or drawer, picking up each item, and considering if it’s worth keeping, based on one qualification – does it spark joy? In the beginning, that seems like a strange question, but I quickly found there were some clothes I didn’t like wearing, books I felt guilty for not reading, and knives or potato peelers which were annoying to use. Marie Kondo claims that as you exercise your ability to find joy, you will become better at determining which objects are increasing pleasure in your life (even if the “pleasure” they produce is just by being useful).

By the time you finish the process all over your house, getting rid of anything you don’t love or appreciate, you are left only with things you love. I find it takes all the guilt and heaviness out of decluttering – never get rid of something you truly want to keep. If you want to keep it, it sparks joy. Keep nothing out of guilt or obligation.

While I completely love this idea, I felt as though I got it figured out the first time around, when I read The Life-Changing Magic. I wasn’t sure what Spark Joy would add to my life.

Reading it has solidified the ideas from Kondo’s first book, and it’s just very motivating to read, even if there’s nothing groundbreaking in the second book. It was good to be reminded of what I learned in 2015. There were also a lot of very helpful, practical storage and organization tips for specific areas of the house, and my kitchen drawers have never looked better.:) I’ve learned that it’s actually possible to experience a spark of joy from opening my underwear drawer and seeing everything neatly organized.

Kondo claims that if you get rid of enough stuff, find a place for everything that remains, and spend just a minimal amount of time maintaining it, your house will never get messy again.

I have not achieved this in the areas I share with the four other people in our home, but I’m definitely seeing the truth of it in the areas that are mine to maintain, and don’t get messed up by others. This ties in with what Marie Kondo says you should do when family members don’t want to declutter – deal with your own stuff first, which should keep you busy for quite some time, and by the time you’re done, there’s a good chance the desire to simplify will spread. It’s quite contagious!:)

Also, I’ve noticed that when my areas are tidy, like the kitchen, our bedroom and master bathroom, I can handle more clutter in the shared areas, like the living room or main room in the basement.

Kondo stresses keeping things clear – I found it interesting that even in the kitchen, she recommends leaving your counters as bare as possible.

I tried this a few months ago, after listening to “The Minimalists” podcast, but Marie Kondo is even more hardcore – she thinks even your soap should be stored off the counter. Trying this for the second time, I was able to get even more stuff off my counters, and the emptier it gets, the more I love it! It makes cleaning after a meal so much more enjoyable. My soap is still on the counter for the time being, but I’m eyeing this rack from Amazon for under-the-counter storage:

I also loved her view on decluttering items received from others, like gifts or cards:

“The main purpose of a greeting card is to convey a greeting. The moment you finish reading it, its job is done. Keep only those that truly spark joy.”

I feel the same about gifts – we give each other gifts to show love and try to delight others with things that would make them happy. Love is shown simply in the act of giving the gift, no matter what it is. Sometimes the delight comes in getting rid of it.;) If we are offended by the thought of someone decluttering the gifts we give them, I see two solutions: choose gifts with greater intention (like asking them what they really want, if you don’t know), and release the gift once it’s been given. You’ve given it away, and it’s not up to you to control what happens to it. Its mission was accomplished the moment you put that gift into another person’s hands, regardless of how much they end up using it. This feels very freeing to me – if I don’t find the perfect gift, it’s okay. I still gave it in love.

And so, we press on around here, getting rid of anything that doesn’t spark joy. My girls are no longer afraid of decluttering, as they were when they thought it meant getting rid of things they love. They’ve embraced the idea that getting rid of things they don’t use or like leaves more room for what they love, and will often declutter on their own (Yessss!!! That’s a huge victory!)

Marie Kondo writes that anywhere you find mess in your home, it’s a sign you haven’t gotten rid of enough yet, and it’s an opportunity to let go of items clogging your life. You guys, it’s so addicting! I know I’ve written about this many times already, but it’s really true – the more I declutter, the more fun it gets, and the more I enjoy our house.

If you’re feeling stuck, Spark Joy might be a great book for you to read – you might suddenly feel inspired to tackle the kitchen drawers! I’d recommend starting with The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, just to get you going, and then moving on to Spark Joy.

So tell me: where do you need some magical tidying up in your life? Do you enjoy decluttering, or feel stressed by it? Love or hate it?!

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