#40×40

On March 1, 1976, Kiss released their single Shout it out Loud while The Four Seasons topped the billboard charts with their catchy tune, What a Night.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Clearly both hits were proclaiming my arrival to the planet.

Readers, this bit of trivia means that I turn 39 and enter my 40th year of this blessed life, tomorrow.  I realize that this shocking news to most of you since I don’t look a day over 38 but, it’s true: the big 4-0 is only 12 short months away.

In order to approach this milestone birthday with the right a better frame of mind, I’m deciding to go with “personal project” rather than “pity party”. I think that embracing this looming date as the impetus for some needed changes sets a tone of anticipation rather than dread.   I’m preparing to enter the second half of my life with increased strength, clarity and focus and am setting some goals to help move me in that direction.  (As an aside, for inspiration about living #clearbraveandstrong follow Cathie’s blog here.)

My #40×40 goals:

1. #Publish40: Publish 40 blog posts by my 40th birthday.  I find that I begin many posts and then get distracted and never quite get around to hitting that daunting “publish” button.  This is my year to go public and form a better habit for my writing by floating at least 40 ideas into cyberspace.

2. #Lose40: Lose 40 pounds by my 40th birthday.  I have always struggled with over-indulgence and have written about it before.  I have set goals and failed (207 is still a sad reality) but I’m choosing to set a new goal and not give up.  Hitting 40 as a healthier and stronger person is a POSSIBLE and hopeful prospect.

3. #Thank40: Offer specific and personal thanks to 40 people by my 40th birthday. There are certainly more than 40, but I feel the need to acknowledge at least 40 who have significantly impacted me on my journey so far with a sincere word or token of appreciation.

4. #Read40: Identify the titles on my Essential 40 Bookshelf by my 40th birthday.  I have read many books – far more than 40 – but reflecting and narrowing the list down to the 40 that have changed me profoundly over my lifetime is an inspiring endeavour for a book nerd like me.

5. #Live40: Add 10 points to my 30 for Sanity Manifesto to create my #40×40 Manifesto. I have realized the motivational power of setting a vision for my life and I want to continue to live according to my 40 intentions.  Because, as Annie Dillard explains, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

So, there you have it, folks:  5 goals to motivate me in my 40th year.

Do I have any teammates for this #40×40 plan?  Cheerleaders?

Comment below with your advice or experience related to turning 40.  How did/will you approach this milestone birthday? 

Just for fun, a few trivia highlights from 1976:   Apple Computer was formed by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak,  Happy Days was the most popular TV show, Rocky took home the Oscar for best film, and the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup.

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30 for Sanity Manifesto

I recently challenged my “moms monthly” group to develop a personal manifesto to capture their intentions for living, particularly because, as moms, it is so easy to lose sight of our hopes and dreams amidst the chaos of a busy life that struggles to find work-life balance.  I have used manifestos in a variety of ways as a classroom teacher (and often do workshops in my classes to help in the creative process) but I rarely take the time to reflect and package my own thoughts in this way, though I believe very strongly in their value.  Having a visible reminder in your home that summarizes your thoughts about how you wish to live can help to orient you to carry out your intentions in day-to-day living.

Although my blog version does not look like the lovely side panel of a Lululemon bag, AnnVoskamp’s 25 for Sanity Manifesto is the inspiration for my decision to revisit this concept.  That woman is so wise and, well, inspirational!

 

Perhaps, I can get some sort of creative designer to make my manifesto look like this:

but, until then, we’ll all have to settle for this lesser words-only version:

My 30 for Sanity Manifesto (in no particular order):

 

  1. Fashion a home sanctuary.  I’m not the greatest at caring about physical spaces as I live mostly in my head (scary, I know); however, space does impact well-being and I have come to understand that an organized, simplified and tidy home can help to bring calm to the mind.  The peace may be an illusion but external chaos certainly doesn’t help internal chaos.  Keeping my space clear helps to clear my head space.  #WWAVD? (What would Ann Voskamp do?)
  2. The interruption is the opportunity. I’m notoriously bad for becoming irritated by interruptions to my best laid plans.  Choosing to see the change of plan as a divine appointment is something I am mindfully working on at work and home.
  3. Take it bird by bird. Anne Lamott’s brilliant book  reminds writers – and all people, really – to take life in manageable steps.  Whenever I begin to muse about anything beyond the next step I instantly feel overwhelmed.  Wisdom: Do the next right thing. Repeat.
  4. Embrace freedom.  Though I am ashamed to admit it, many of my choices and decisions are a result of fear.  It seriously needs to stop as it is a defeated and deflated way of living. Daily, I’m going to claim the promise that perfect Love drives out all fear.
  5. Share.  When our family accepted a sermon challenge to develop a “family mission statement” we agreed on this simple but meaningful word.  We are committed to share all that we have been given – hospitality, resources, insight – because that is what it means to be a Covey.
  6. Let it go.  (Don’t worry this is NOT an allusion to Frozen; please stay with me.) “Hello, my name is Sarah Covey and  I am a control-freak and a security junkie.” If I could join a 12-step program to recover from either of these addictions, I would.  Because it would provide a PLAN. I’m obsessed with plans.  Have you ever noticed, though, that plans often change?  I need to let go of my compulsion to have everything fall into place as I had orchestrated or expected and hold my plans loosely.  Letting my agenda go for the sake of something better seems much more fulfilling.  See #2.
  7. Give presence as a present.  I am easily distracted and struggle to focus on one thing at a time but I have learned that multitasking sabotages relationships by undermining the authentic connection that can come from active listening and attentiveness in the moment.  This undivided attention may be one of the best gifts I can offer my loved ones.
  8. Pray first, think later. I tend to make my requests known to every other person in my life before praying.  Better to pause and start with the Big Guy so that my thoughts are formed in the context of spiritual strength and wisdom instead of human weakness and stupidity.
  9. Book daily stillness appointments.  For some time, I have been committed to Sabbath-keeping but it is not enough to only rest once a week if every other day is a flurry of activity.  There have to be moments in each day where I can pause, be quiet, and catch my breath.  Thinking a gentle reminder on my cell phone for some adaptation of the Seven Sacred Pauses is going to help promote this daily discipline.
  10. Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.  This classic hymn lyric has been a daily mantra, reminding me to trust in the One whose joy IS my strength.
  11. Nourish with the right bread.  I’m a stress eater and I need to be a stress reader.  I desire to be the person who goes to the Word to be nourished by the Bread of Life instead of trying – always unsuccessfully – to satisfy my hunger with Lays Potato Chips.
  12. Seek ways to touch a soul through the touch of a hand. When you don’t know what to say or do, resort to snuggle therapy. Physical touch has healing power.  I know this to be true.  Sometimes a loving touch can transcend words and render them unnecessary.
  13. Let nature nurture. Being surrounded my nature instantly calms my anxious heart and allows me to return to a life-giving rhythm.  A long walk on the beach, a quiet moment on a park bench, or a cup of tea beside a glassy lake does restore my soul.
  14. Play music. Making a joyful noise helps to lift my spirits and channel my emotions.  Listening to music can set – or change – the tone of a room with very little effort.  Impromptu dance parties are always a good idea – and they tend to work better with a soundtrack.
  15. Cultivate creativity. Find ways to express myself creatively – through music, art, crafts, writing, decorating etc.  I really think that” it is not how creative I am but how I am creative” (to adapt a common phrase), given that I am a child of the Creator.  I need to make space for that aspect of God’s image in my life.
  16. Match time and energy to priorities.  I’m pretty adept at managing my time but I’m not so great at managing my energy.  I need to pace myself so that I retain some of my get-up-and-go for my family.  Though they are my priority, they tend to have their time with me at the end of a long work day when I am depleted and weary.  Saving some energy and/or sharing high-energy times with them when I can is a way to communicate how important they are to me.
  17. Moisturizing matters. This may seem like a rather trivial intention but I am the worst person for letting my very sensitive skin become parched.  A little ritual of moisturizing with a rich cream is a mini-luxury that I really can’t afford to forgo.  Baby steps, though.  My facial care regimen needs a total overhaul but that is an adventure I’m not ready to face (pun intended).
  18. Let restlessness give way to rest. When I find myself striving and itching to do, sometimes the best thing is to stop and release the struggle and the full mind to the rest of God.  This can be extremely liberating for my Type-A compulsive tendencies. Slowly, I am learning to let go of the need to accomplish something and to embrace the art of being.  Unplugging from the noise in my mind and in the world can be a soul-enriching experience, right?
  19. Consider the value.  It is not uncommon for me to spend money without thinking and this poor stewardship is disheartening.  If I simply pause to consider whether a particular purchase is truly worth it I would avoid a lot of impulsive spending in the name of retail therapy.
  20. Let words and The Word sink into the soul. Clearly, I am a lover of language but, like many things in life, less is often more.  Rather than skimming words, I want to savour them, to let them sink deep into my soul and change me.  I want the words to become a part of who I am.
  21. Leave work at work. I have been able to set better boundaries over the years in terms of physically carrying work home but I’m always in a battle for my head space.  Choosing to disengage from my professional life and to reengage with my personal life is essential to the healthy balance I am trying to achieve.
  22. Choose gratitude to frame the day. It is easy to recall my day in light of complaints and problems but I’m convinced that the antidote is noticing the good and giving thanks.  This orientation to daily blessings diffuses the power that a negative outlook can have over our souls.  (Again, it’s what Ann Voskamp would do!)
  23. Speak and spread kindness. Actions can speak louder than words but what I say matters, too.  Random acts and words of kindness can go a long way in a world that can be cruel and inconsiderate.  I try to model kindness because it is possibly the most important character trait that I wish my kids to emulate.
  24. Always kiss each other goodnight. This saying is on a plaque in my bedroom and it reminds me to make my marriage a priority. I am blessed to have each day end in the arms of my best friend and I never want to take that love for granted.
  25. Make best intentions a reality. I have these little instincts and inklings that I can’t explain that compel me to be in touch with a friend or to reach out to someone in need in some way.  I have never regretted following through with those promptings but I have felt that  ignoring or putting off responding to that inner voice has resulted in a missed opportunity to make a significant difference in someone’s day.  I resolve to put my love into action.
  26. Meet perceived needs. All of us are needy but we may not be aware of deeper soul-needs because we are blocked by the tangible needs in our lives.  Someone may ultimately need a restored relationship with Jesus but s/he may only be able to see the need to resolve conflict in a personal relationship.  If I can help meet the need on the radar of the person in my sphere of influence, meeting that need will provide the opportunity to continue to speak about deeper truths.  Like the saying (attributed to St. Francis of Assisi) goes, “preach the gospel and, if necessary, use words”.
  27. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.  Another clever Covey suggested that this is one of the habits of highly successful people.  I think about it in these terms:  when you enter a room do your words and actions communicate, “here I am” or “there you are”?  I want to be a “there you are” person who considers others first.
  28. Eat less, move more. My first formal manifesto was created as a result of my intention to live a healthier life.  The specifics are here and they still hold true.  This expression makes it feel manageable though, so I cling to it’s simplicity.
  29. Eat a frog before breakfast.  This principle has been popularized in the business world but is solid advice for managing daily tasks and avoiding procrastination:  get the thing that you are most dreading out of the way first thing and your day can only get better!
  30. Blog it. Maybe I won’t always want to post my entries for the masses but processing my joys and challenges “on paper” is cathartic, creative, and clarifying.  Reflecting and writing is time well spent.

 

So, what intentions might make your top thirty?  Have you ever considered creating a manifesto?  If so, what prevents you from following through?  Leave your comments below – I love to hear from you!

5 Simple Ways to Love your Kids

A little bit of thoughtfulness can go a long way.   I have made it part of my personal mission statement to act on those divinely-inspired impulses as they come to mind  – right in that moment – if I am able.  Otherwise, the moment passes, and the opportunity is lost to forgetfulness.

But…I tend to be better at practically sharing the love with friends and neighbours than I am with my own crew.  This school year I’m determined to be more responsive to the day-to-day opportunities that arise but I also think it is important to add some intentionality to my plan.

As far as my kids go, I recognize that I can have all the best intentions in the world but unless I make a commitment to actually put those ideas into action, they just bounce around in my brain and leave me feeling like a neglectful parent.  Don’t ya just love false guilt?

I have also learned (from experience) that parenting goals need to be simple and realistic.  It is easy to get overwhelmed trying to live up to the impossible expectations that I have set for myself.  So, in an attempt to be deliberate AND reasonable I am narrowing my focus.

I am working on a parenting manifesto but since it is in process, I decided to at least get rolling with a few accessible goals.  (For a beautiful and inspiring example of a parenting manifesto – and a multitude of other glorious things – click here.)

As we embark on another busy school year, I’ve designed a little experiment to connect intentionally with my kids and I’m using the 5 Love Languages as a guideline.

With four kids, we have determined that all the Love Languages are identified in several combinations so I’m trying to cover all the bases in equal measure. We have other routine things in place (like shared journals, gratitude books, and a prayer wall, and highs/lows at dinner) but I need a few new ideas to keep me motivated and connected to my crew.

So, here’s the plan to fill up those love tanks:

1. Words of Affirmation:  Little Love Notes

I’m going to make a special point of writing down the wonderful things that I am noticing in my kids.  Handwritten notes of encouragement are a great way to celebrate growth in character or to communicate support or caring.

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A classic spot for these little love notes is in their lunches.  I have found that Super Sticky Post-Its are fantastic but I am also a big fan of the new Rice Krispies prepackaged treats that have a label built into the wrapper. Keeping some blank pages of printable address labels handy might work as a quick way to stick a quick message onto a granola bar.

We also have an “inbox” (a hanging wall file) for each person in our family.  These are organizationally functional spots for important school papers and artwork but I hope to also claim them as a little in-house mail system.  I can also leave a Post-It note on the back of their bedroom doors, on the bathroom mirror, or on their headboards for them to see first thing in the morning.

2. Physical Touch:  Snuggle Therapy
Physical contact is so important.  I wrote about the importance of Snuggle Therapy in a previous post and firmly believe in its power to dissipate tension and work through particularly emotional days.  But snuggles can come in many forms:

  • sharing a story
  • praying together wrapped in a prayer shawl
  • holding tight when tears are inevitable (theirs or mine)
  • slow-dancing to a quiet song
  • alternating foot rubs
  • bedtime cuddles

Basically, I’m consciously choosing to linger in those opportunities for physical touch because even a few moments in a warm embrace goes a long way, doesn’t it?

3. Quality Time:  Sunday Morning Breakfast Dates

With four children and both parents working full-time, it is hard to get that one-on-one connection as often as you (or your middle child) might like.  My husband and I both decided that we had to reclaim a time in our schedule that was rarely disrupted and make a commitment to create a rotation to go on mini-dates with each of our children.

Sunday morning seemed to offer the golden opportunity; while both parents were around to trade-off babysitting we could also go out inexpensively for some quality time with each child.  We often add a little walk to a coffee and muffin date to extend the opportunity for conversation (and to add a little activity into our weeks).  Each kid gets a date with Mommy or Daddy every four weeks.
4. Acts of Service:  Chore-Free Gestures

Every so often, I’m going to try to take something off their to-do lists.  We have very specific age-appropriate daily and weekly chores for all members of our family – it’s the only way we survive in our busy household!

Because this is my primary love language, I understand the impact of someone taking something off of my endless list so I’m going to try to do the same for them.  I’m going to target times when it would be particularly helpful like after a tough or tiring day at school or when they have extra homework or an extracurricular commitment.

I also want to surprise them, on occasion, with a clean room (although, admittedly, this may be motivated more by impatience than any feelings of love).

I may write out a little “get out of a chore free” coupon to give them a choice once in a while about how and when they want to cash it in.
5.Receiving Gifts:  A Token Trunk

I already have a “gift cupboard” where I house lots of little gifts for a variety of occasions (hostess gifts, kids birthday party gifts, encouragement tokens and the like).  I’ve decided that I need a separate bin of little treats, toys, craft supplies, and wrapping to pull out just because.

I’m generally quite skeptical about the dollar-store-loot-bag kind of treats that break before the end of the first day but I don’t want to spend a fortune so I’ll have to get in the habit of grabbing some bargains when I see them and tucking them away. I’ll look for sets of things that I can split up like 4-packs of PlayDoh or Crayola Stampers Markers.

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I’ll look for ways to surprise them with a little token.  Maybe I’ll leave one in a coat pocket. I could hide something under a pillow. (Who says the Tooth Fairy gets to monopolize that location?) I can place a little gift in a backpack to be found later. I could get a few and set them our on their breakfast or dinner plates.

Of course, free or homemade gifts (like home-baked cookies, a new playlist, a craft or a photo) can be wonderful and personal options as well.

Another part of the experiment is to carefully observe how my kids react to each of the love gestures.  I have my suspicions about their primary love languages but this should help me to examine my hypotheses.

I am curious, though; do you have any plans or practices for showing love to your kids in the everyday busyness of life?  If so, would you share them with me?

A Little Idea to Share

If you have been following my blog at all, you’ll know that I have 4 children under the age of 10. As you can imagine, it is tricky to provide undivided attention to each of them in the amounts they might desire. I was concerned because of the frequency of the situations that arose where one of the older kids had something they urgently wanted to tell me or ask me but I wasn’t able to listen at that particular moment. Of course, this bothered me because I wanted to be sure to keep the lines of communication open and not have my kids feel like what they wanted to share was unimportant. So, I thought I’d try to put a new idea into motion.

A few other moms have asked about it so I thought I should share it with you:

Purchase a simple journal and present it as a gift to your child with the idea that it can be a place for ongoing sharing. Essentially, my child is free to write in it at any time though they usually write at bedtime, if I am out of the house, or if I’m not available for conversation and they have a pressing concern or idea. They can include anything that they want to share with me, and write as much or as little as they wish. Then, they leave the journal on my pillow. I find that I read them just before bed and then, after writing an appropriate response, I place them on their bedside tables where they will see them in the morning.

This little system provides an opportunity to be involved in one another’s lives in a variety of ways, most of which are very light-hearted and fun. In particular, though, I am finding that it is also a great place for kids to ask a difficult questions, to share a hurt or an apology, or generally to communicate things that are hard to say out loud. It is amazing what they will write but not say and, as their mama, I want to know what is occupying their little hearts and minds. Usually it is in the form, “Dear Mama, …” but not always. Sometimes I write little comments in the body of their letter if it makes more sense to do so. Sometimes the kids will enhance the comment or letter with drawings or doodles.

Inside the front cover, I wrote a list of possible items to include in the journal to make it clear how broad its applications could be and here it is:

  • a thought
  • a verse
  • a worry
  • a joke
  • a question
  • an idea
  • a quote
  • a suggestion
  • an apology
  • an update
  • a memory
  • a reminder
  • an encouragement
  • a need
  • a request
  • an anecdote
  • a hurt
  • a promise
  • a drawing
  • Any other thing you want to share with your mama!

So far, it has been used regularly (practically every day) and it is really helping to make us all feel that much more connected. I have encouraged them to write things in there particularly when there are times that I cannot give them my full attention but they are concerned about forgetting something important. I try to do the same for them. It has now become a wonderful part of my nightly routine to read their thoughts and to respond to them.

Certainly not rocket science, but it has been rewarding to share in this simple way and I’m hoping it will be something we can continue to do. Perhaps, because we have developed this communication habit, it will even work in the teen years! Too optimistic?

And (insert shameless English teacher plug here) it is an excellent way to promote and develop literacy skills!

Currently, I am using it with my 10-year-old girl, Gwyneth, and my 8-year-old boy, Wesley. I have a few friends that have recently tried it with their children that are around the same age. Just the other night, though, my 4-year-old, Edmund, asked his Daddy to help him write an “I love you” message in Wesley’s journal while I was out so it seems I may have to get him started as well!

Let me know how it goes if you decide to try it with your child(ren). I’d love feedback and ideas about how to modify it for different ages, stages and/or purposes!