5 Rules for a New Year

I’m not usually big into resolutions. They’re so often forgotten a few weeks in, given up on out of discouragement, or they turn out to be unrealistic. Like many people I know I had a pretty rough 2016 (that it’s been a year and two days since my last post is just one symptom of that), and while I don’t regret removing pressure from myself during that time, I’ve been noticing that I’ve completely lost many good disciplines, and as a result have a good deal of what I can only describe as flab, emotionally and intellectually (ok, I have some of that physically too!)

With that in mind, I’ve created a short list of rules for myself, to help guide me over the next year. I can’t really call them goals, since they’re not very concrete and don’t have measurable success points, really, but that’s not what I wanted out of them anyways. I find that daunting, strange though that may seem. I prefer to operate under simple and positive life rules when starting a fresh year (with a good measure of grace given for those times that I can’t avoid being thrown off-course), and with that in mind, I have written the following five rules in my journal:

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  1. Assume the best in others.
    When you’ve had a rough year (or rough few years…), it’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of negativity. Particularly when you have had to deal with difficult situations and people repeatedly over the course of a short period of time, the temptation is to preemptively start assuming the worst, which of course very often sours encounters and circumstances which would otherwise have been good (or neutral at worst). The only reliable way I’ve found to get out of that cycle is to make a very deliberate effort to turn negative thoughts into positive ones, “taking captive every thought” as it comes along.
  2. Give away more than you buy.
    This year I’m going to try donating, recycling, or re-gifting at least one more item than what I’m bringing into the house (except groceries…of course, with two growing kids the result is the same as if I were including them). The purpose of this is twofold: First (and most obvious of the two), it will cut down the clutter. Second, I believe it will make me consider every purchase more carefully and not just think of myself or my family when I’m out (and not that thinking of one’s family is bad, but it can be all too easy to justify purchases when they’re “for the kids”).
  3. Look for inspiration everywhere.
    The cure for the creative rut, right here. This goes hand-in-hand with assuming the best, in a sense, because looking for beauty and inspiration in even difficult situations is an amazing tool for turning negativity on its head. I used to be quite good at this, I think (maybe better in memory?), but it’s another “discipline” (which doesn’t feel like one, really, when you’re in the process) I’ve lost over the last year.
  4. Spend at least one evening a week buried in a good book.
    I don’t know what it is, but something about how I’ve been doing life since college has made me lose some of the joy of reading. Maybe it was the boatload (courseload?) of reading one DOESN’T do for pleasure in college, maybe it’s that adult life just makes it hard to read at my favourite time (late at night to early morning when the house is dead quiet), or maybe it’s a combination of factors, but where I once could finish a longer novel in a week, I now read maybe two or three a year. How sad is that?! And I know that I really COULD be reading instead of watching TV many nights. This goal may seem small to those of you who have kept up the good habit, but it’s something I need to do more mindfully right now and this seems like a good way to start.
  5. Don’t be afraid of starting over.
    So often I get trapped by the idea that I’ve wasted time and energy when something I’ve been working on doesn’t work out. It happens when I have to pick up a skill again that I’ve lost from lack of use, when I make a big mistake that needs fixing, or when I change my mind entirely about what I want to do. When I fall into this discouraged thinking, the monologue in my head starts to sound like, “why should I bother starting/completing this when it’s just going to end in disaster and waste anyways?” The truth is, though, that no effort is ever wasted. Mistakes can teach us, effort stretches us, discipline is learned from going forward despite obstacles. If there is always something to be gained from our efforts, even if it’s not what we THOUGHT we would gain from them, we don’t have to be trapped by the fear of wasting them. I hope to remind myself of that so often this year that it becomes my default position.

Well, those are my rules to live by this year. Do you write resolutions or rules for yourself when you need a re-set, at New Year’s or otherwise? How do you stay on track?

Take Time

Take Time for Rainbows

Forget that the day was hectic and you never got the cleaning done you needed to do, forget that it’s already past the kids’ bedtime and you’ve decided you have to skip their bath…when there’s a rainbow, and especially one amazing as this, you drop everything, call the kids down (half-into their pj’s) and take the time to just enjoy it. And hey, even if all you got was a cellphone snap of it, your kids will always remember how you took the time to enjoy these blessed moments.

Click the  photo for a video from SciShow on how these amazing double rainbows are formed! (my inner geek LOVED this video…so watch it even if you know the science)

Five Reasons I Don’t Buy Cleaning Products Off the Shelf*

*usually

1. I’m Cheap Frugal
I just don’t like spending any more money than I have to. Using vinegar at approximately $3 for 4L, is far cheaper than buying, say, a brand-name cleaning product at $2.90 for 540ml.

2. I’d Rather Stay Home
I’ve gotta be honest with you: I hate cleaning. I hate it with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. So when I’m in the mood to clean, I really have to make hay while the sun shines. The last thing I need is to stop and take a trip to the store because we’re out of some cleaning product.

3.  THE SMELL
Anyone else just find off-the-shelf cleaning products smell funny? I just can’t stand all those fake scents they put in them. Give me the smell of vinegar and Tea Tree Oil over that any day.

4. I have kids who like to help
Of course, they’ve been known to empty an entire bottle of my homemade cleaner on the dining room table, but it’s the thought that counts. I love to just give them a bottle of vinegar and water and let them go to town, and they’re content to just spend a half-hour dusting the dining room and living room while I clean other things. They’re busy, I’m busy, the house gets clean, everyone wins! And the only thing I have to worry about is someone getting vinegar in their eyes/mouth/hair/etc.

5. The Ingredients
Apart from your average chlorine bleach and bottle of Windex, do you actually know what’s in your cleaning products? I don’t. Don’t go check, that’s cheating!

 

What I DO use (the recipe)

cleanerWell I suppose it wouldn’t be fair if I told you why NOT to use something without providing you with an alternative (I hate it when people do that), so I’ll tell you the things I DO like to use.

Actually, you only need one thing, when it comes down to it: White Vinegar. Really. Just use it diluted, and you have yourself an incredibly simple cleaner that you can use on most surfaces (anything porous, though, you should test first in a discrete area). My formula is 1/3C vinegar in my 2C spray bottle, just fill the rest of the way with water. This is *the * best for mirrors, and doesn’t leave a residue like most store-bought products do.

So, that’s a great little cleaner, but what about those greasy areas? Or the dry, sticky mystery puddle the kids left on their nightstand? Or that area under the highchair that keeps getting missed? Don’t you need something more?  I’m glad you asked!

This is where my powered-up version comes in. It only needs one more ingredient, and when you fill the bottle with hot water (instead of whatever’s-coming-out-of-the-tap-at-the-time water, which is what I usually use), this really packs a punch. Ready for the recipe?

1/3C vinegar
hot water
and…
wait for it…
Up to 1Tbsp of Dish Soap.

No, seriously, that’s all. You don’t even have to measure it. I just drizzle a bit into the mostly-full bottle until it looks like there’s a lump of it big enough. Again, use it everywhere but test it blah blah…

The one caveat is that this one is not as good on mirrors, because it will streak a little bit. In a perfect world, I’d keep one bottle of the powered-up stuff and one bottle of just vinegar & water, but I can never keep track of which is which (I’m not that organized), so I just use the powered-up stuff and do a really good job of drying and polishing the mirrors. Of course, with the kids having their own bathroom now and performing heaven knows what kinds of experiments in there, I tend to need a little extra power for their mirror (which just happens to be the second-largest in the house), so it works out.

Finally, the only other ingredient I’ll use (sometimes) in my household cleaner is essential oil. Usually it’s Tea Tree Oil (for the natural disinfectant qualities, as well as the scent), but occasionally I’ll switch it up and use lavender. One thing to watch for if you do use Tea Tree Oil: Don’t let the kids spray the dog with it, as it can apparently be quite toxic if animals ingest it. Three drops should be plenty, and you can add it to either the standard vinegar and water or the powered-up version. If you do this you pretty much HAVE to have a separate bottle for mirrors, though, as I do find it adds to the streak factor quite a lot.

So there you have it! Happy cleani—no, I can’t say it. More bearable cleaning!

Dreamer

I’m a dreamer. Always have been. Sometimes my dreams are wild and unlikely, some are grand but doable, some are quaint and likely but must be saved for later. Often I dream out loud and scare my family (haha), though I think they often take those more seriously than I intend.

But there is this one dream I have…call it a recurring daydream. It sneaks up on me when I’m watching a sun-shower, finds me when I’m photographing flowers or ducks, wraps me in warmth on chilly winter nights.

 In this dream I am living in the country on a small acreage or hobby farm. Sometimes we keep chickens, usually there is a large vegetable garden and a dog trotting at my heels. Add a horse or two, a small (but well-planned and comfortable) house, a little barn, and a play house for the kids, and you have a little picture of the life I’ve dreamed up for my family.

And I think we can make it happen. I would love to say “in a year,” but I’m thinking more likely two to four (though as an aside, I must say that those who support me in this are sadly few, and that makes it hard…so hard). In any case, we’ll say “when it’s God’s will.”

Above all, I must remember that the thing most present in those little dreams is love. The dream exists for the love of my family, for the memories we can make…and I remind myself as I wake from my daydreams how that part starts now. So I rise from my reveries and, giving each of my children a kiss, pick up a book or a crayon, to help them become dreamers too (and silently resolve that their little dreams will also be mine).

Autumn (something lovely)

Today I’m tired. I know you may be too, so I will spare you the grizzly details. Let’s just skip right to the part where we find something lovely in this, shall we?

My Comfort whispered to me–in the scent of crushed Poplar leaves (brought low for a fresh start), the relief of an evening breeze and the joy in my children’s smiles–that when the world wearies, God gives us Autumn: A firestorm of colour and a harvest dance before a long winter’s sleep.

“Yours is the day, Yours also is the night;
You have prepared the light and the sun.
You have established all the boundaries of the earth;
You have made summer and winter.”

– Psalm 74:16-17