How to…

I am often asked how I get done what I get done.  Let me first say, I honestly don’t think I get more done than most people.  I think it often appears that way because I hold my emotions close, am fairly private and try to maintain my composure.  I fear I sometimes appear “all together” and that is often far from the truth (just ask my family!).  I will admit though, that I have also been a student of time management for as long as I can remember.  I was that child in elementary school who wanted to work my way through every SRA test seeing my name rise on the chart.  I was the high school student who wanted to make good grades, play sports, serve on student council and earn spending money.  I was the college student who had to work her way through college, so I needed to be able to balance studies with work.  I was the young wife who wanted to work, cook fabulous meals, entertain friends and business partners and create a “Southern Living” style home.  And then I became a first time mom to not one, but two beautiful baby girls and I wanted to be present in every way, have our home continue to be a haven and place for gathering, and I desperately wanted my girls to see me serving in the community.

 

I have have learned a lot about managing my time along the way.  Some lessons were learned through painful mistakes, while others were learned as doors opened and new opportunities presented themselves.  I am still learning.  I have revisited many of my favorite tools and books as I have re-entered the workforce after 16 years as a stay-at-home mom.  I have given a lot of thought to what advice I would share with others as I prepare to send my girls to college next year.  Here are a few of my favorite tips:

  1. Choices:  We all have the same amount of time.  We have to make choices.  Anything we choose to do fills our time and requires we say no to something else.
  2. We all need help.  Even the Proverbs 31 woman had help.  She had maidservants.  We cannot keep our homes, do all the shopping and all food preparations, volunteer at our children’s schools and at church, work, serve our friends and maintain our sanity.  We have to allow others to help.  If our budget allows that may mean a hired housekeeper.  If not, it may mean our children have chores and our husband helps. We may need to swap childcare services with a friend.  When I chose to go back to work this year I knew it would require budgeting for a housekeeper and passing off some of the household shopping to my husband and girls.
  3. We need to know our personal rhythm and build our schedule around it.  I am a morning person.  I do my best thinking in the morning.  I have energy in the morning.  As a result I make it a habit of setting my work hours early.  While I would love to be one of those people who goes to the gym at 5:30, it doesn’t fit my rhythm. I do much better jumping right into work and then fitting in a workout on the way home late afternoon/early evening, giving myself a time to transition and a little energy boost.  My natural rhythm also means I need to go to bed early.  I am usually in bed by 9:30 and try to have lights out by 10:30.  I have tried many times to adjust my schedule, to be more like someone else, but in the end my natural rhythm is a part of my DNA and there is no fighting it.  I am a better version of me and am able to perform better when i embrace my personal rhythm.
  4. I live by the 15 minute rule.  Any time I feel stuck, am dreading an assignment or find myself with some extra time I employ the 15 minute rule.  You will be amazed at all you can do in 15 minutes.  Giving your undivided attention to something for just 15 minutes can be the difference between never getting a task done, never starting on a project or complete success.  Here is a list of just a few things you can tackle in 15 minutes:
    1. Empty the dishwasher
    2. Clean out your purse or car
    3. Make your bed
    4. Respond to email
    5. Update/sync your calendar
    6. Create a work plan for a project
  5. Always build in white space.  I always add 15 minutes to the front end and back end of appointments.  This allows me some buffer, keeps me from running late, and is often a source of some 15 minute blocks to tackle some of the daily tasks.  I also leave at least two weeknights open.  This means I have seldom joined a book club or a Bunko group.  This means my husband and I say “yes” to very few charitable events.  (we will pay for a ticket and gladly give someone else our seats)  Early on in our parenting my husband and I made a decision to not let hurry and events run our lives.  We have chosen instead a slower paced way of living, making certain we AND our girls were at home as often as possible.  To some this may have meant keeping our girls from opportunities, denying them the chance to be popular, the best at their sport.  All I can tell you is I have well-rounded, happy girls.  They both have activities they love, lots of friends and our home during these years high school years has been the gathering place.  They would tell you they didn’t miss out on a thing.
  6. Use a calendar.  I am a list maker, but that is not why I advocate use of a calendar.  No.  My advocacy for calendars stems from my desire and intent to be aware of where and how I spend my time.  I want to make choices and know what choices I am making.  Life can and will quickly take control if we allow it.  By using a calendar (which for me is still a paper version) I see how our schedule looks, I know what I have planned for the day, week, month.  I become more conscious, more aware.

I do get a lot done.  However, there are also a lot of things I don’t get done, and most of those are by choice.  I try to extend grace to myself.  I try to maintain discipline without being rigid.  The “how to” is a lifelong learning experience and each season brings new challenges, new lessons, new methods.

If you are struggling to get things done, to get our from under the weight of your calendar I hope a few of my tips will help.  Most of all, I pray you will find some time this week to step back from your life, your daily routine and give it some thought.  Take a leap of faith. Say no where you need to.  Make the desires of your heart your priorities.  Reset your schedule and live your life, not someone else’s.

A House That Breathes

If you have been following my blog, you know we built a home this past summer.  The process was exciting, fun, fulfilling.  It came at just the right time.  I was coming out of a two year process of some real life changes.  The kind of life changes that come with living past the age of 40.  Coming to terms with who I was, no longer trying to do.  Coming to terms with a family relationship I couldn’t fix, that would never change.  Healing.  Healing the empty places I had allowed to grow trying to be for others, for society, for family.  Coming to terms with my spiritual self, understanding who God is in new ways, ways only made possible by the hurts, the struggles, the disappointments, the losses of this life.  Celebrating.  Celebrating surviving young motherhood.  Celebrating the young women my daughters are becoming.  Celebrating making it past 20 years with my best friend and husband.  Celebrating friendships, the authentic ones.  The friendships of women who bare their souls, are strong enough to cry, to admit weakness, to ask for help.  Celebrating being that friend to a few, the special ones.  Celebrating family, embracing family.  In the midst of it all I learned to breathe.

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It may sound trite, but it’s not an easy thing to do.  And yet, breath is the very sustenance of life.  We rush through life taking shallow breaths, breathing in quickly, exhaling too quickly.  We rush.  We find ourselves holding our breaths in an attempt to hold our anger, our sorrow, our excitement.  It requires yoga class or meditation therapy or a doctor to remind us to breathe-really breathe.

I have learned to breathe and as we set out to build I wanted to create a home that would breathe.  We purged.  Being an organizer, that wasn’t terribly difficult, but it still required thought, discipline and action.  I kept only what we loved and used.  I set out to paint the home in an array of neutrals-shades of white.  I set out for there to be open spaces, empty spaces.  Week before last I had my first “gathering” of those outside the family.  As the guests arrived, more than one commented on the house.  There were the usual compliments, but the greatest of them all were these words, “I love it.  I walk in and I take a deep breath and feel myself relaxing.  There is space.  There is calm.”  Not just once did I hear these words, but three times. Satisfaction.  The years of struggle.  The years of battling my “demons” within, were all worth it.  In those moments I knew I was living, living the life of abundance, peace, contentment.  I was breathing.  My home was breathing.

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Possibility is not in the stuff.  It is not in the structure of the home.  It is not in the activity.  It is not in doing.  Possibility is in the stillness, the knowing, the being.  My life is lived in shades of white.  My calendar is filled with white space.  Not by chance, but by choice, by discipline, by intention.  My walls are filled with white space.  Not by chance, but by choice.  My thoughts are focused on what is most important.  My eyes rest on art and pieces of furniture most important.  And in the in-between, in the shades of white, I can breathe.  I can sit and listen.  I can hear the still small voice of God speak clearly regarding who I need to be, who He is.  My home rests, it breathes.  It holds room for life, for guests to enter, to take a breath and rest.

I challenge you to create a home that breathes.  As you enter the holidays and think towards the year ahead, what can you eliminate?  What areas cause you stress?  What rushes you each day?  Find your shades of white, breathe and live.

A few of the rooms I used as inspiration:

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Quit Blaming Your Stuff: 3 Questions to Help You Be REAL

So often we blame our STUFF or our CALENDAR for the stress in our lives.  Neither is correct.  Each of those are as they are because of choices we have made.  Choices to purchase something, to keep something from mom or grandma’s attic, to commit to an event or activity or project.  We have no one to blame but ourselves.  Ouch.  That hurts.  However, it is the truth.  The longer we live in denial about that fact, the longer we will live in stress, in overwhelmed, in over drive.

It is easy to accumulate.  We accumulate things, tasks, events, people, debt, the list goes on.  We get caught up in “the world” and the way everyone else lives.  We move through life on auto pilot or so busy and distracted we fail to even notice the moment, the people, our choices, our words, our actions.

My desire is not to just be organized.  My desire is to live a simpler life.  I want to live in each moment.  I don’t want the pull of the next task or event to distract me from this moment.  I don’t want the mounds of laundry, overflowing kitchen cabinets, or piles of paper to keep my mind abuzz with “you should”, “you ought to”, “you failure”…  I want life to be simpler.  I want it to be organized. I want it to reflect my style-my heart.  That life requires decisions.  It requires honesty.  It requires knowing where my time will be spent today.

Here are 5 Questions I ask myself:

1.  If I bring this task or thing into my home where will it go?  For tasks, that means where on my calendar will I put it?  For things, that means where in my house will I store it?

2.  Why do I want this thing?/Why do I want to do this task?  I am a firm believer that things need to have a purpose-even if that is to simply sit and look pretty and bring a smile to my face.  I am a firm believer that tasks I do need to fit my Life Statement.  Does this task help me reach a goal or meet a need for the people holding highest priority in my life?

3.  Can I maintain this task or thing?  I have to look ahead at my schedule and my space to determine if next week I can still find time on my calendar or will still have the space for this item.

If I can’t answer these questions, especially number 2, then I give myself 24 hours.  If the thing or task fits, I’ll know.  If I remain uncertain then I let it go, having faith that in due season if it is a necessary thing or task, the opportunity will re-emerge.

I don’t want to go through life on auto pilot.  I don’t want to miss that moment to connect with another.  I don’t want to miss the whisper of the Holy Spirit, because I failed to sit and rest.  I don’t want a home so filled with things that bring me and my family joy, but are never shared with another.  If I don’t, then I have to.  I have to quit blaming my stuff, my calendar or others.  I have to make a decision.

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Dreams Come with Faith

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As a mom over 45 I have found myself wondering where my dreams have gone?  Wondering if I have let them die, given up, or just lost my way.  Not because I lack happiness, but maybe because sometimes I focus too much on others, my family, dreaming FOR them, instead of living my own.  Sometimes my dream IS them, and it all gets mixed up.  I know I am not alone.  I hear the conversations and read the thoughts daily.  We long for so much, we get caught up in the “what should be” and can lose sight of what is, our dream, His will.

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In an unexpected moment, a sunset, He whispers to our soul, “Remember who you are.  Remember whose you are.”  Those dreams of old come spilling forth.  Like the warmth of the sun, they envelope me in a warm embrace.  I do still dream.  My dreams still live.  The more I am still, the more I ponder, the more I realize that even those dreams I thought lost, are being nurtured by all that He has called me to in this moment.  I can trust Him.  He does not give us the desires of our heart all at once.  He plants seeds of hope, visions of ministries, and through our daily living, daily obedience He grows them.

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Right now life is about this.  These three people fill my heart with joy.  They challenge me to be better, to give more, to laugh, to grow.  My best for them is to be the best of me.  It’s not to dream FOR them.  It is to set wings to my own dreams, to trust-have faith.  It is to live in such a way that they feel safe, loved, cherished and free to dream.  It is taking joy in hearing their dreams and watching as He begins to unfold those dreams.  I can hold on tight or I can release, having faith.

My dream was to be an advocate.  At age 14 I knew God was calling me to serve the forgotten child.  I had grand visions of working for UNICEF or Save the Children.  Instead I became a “Child Abuse Investigator” and later case manager.  I became an advocate and leader with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates).  Then, in a moment, after 6 long years, heard the words, “You are pregnant.”  In a moment my husband and I knew everything was to be put on hold, the new call was to grant these miracles the very best, for me to be at home, being mom.  Why do we so often think that means putting dreams on hold?  Why did I let my mind go there?  Why do I even today sometimes doubt.

My dream is not dead.  My dream has not been completely fulfilled.  Instead, God has grown me, all while growing my dream. I am still called to serve the underserved.  I am still called to serve the forgotten child.  However, God has shown me that as He has taught me to parent, to mother, He has placed a desire on my heart to come alongside that woman, that mom who doesn’t know, doesn’t know how.  Years of advocacy, years of being at home, years of waiting.  I am beginning to see glimpses.  There are others with a similar dream.  We begin to meet.  We begin to pray.  I am reminded to have faith.

A little over a year ago I had the privilege of meeting at Family Life with the Arkansas Women Bloggers network.  We had a wonderful lunch, time of sharing and then the cherry on the cake, was hearing from Barbara Rainey.  Her words that day struck a chord and prompted me to move from discouragement to hope.  She is an extremely talented author and artist.  Her husband leads one of the most influential Family Ministries in our country.  She has children.  She reminded me “there is a season” and “nothing is wasted in developing our dreams, who we are.”  An empty nester, she has just begun a new venture, one in which her heart for family, motherhood and her talent as an artist are melded into a beautiful business-Ever Thine Home.  She reminded me to keep the dream.  Remember who I am, whose I am.  She reminded me that in His time, in the right season, He will unfold the rest of the dream.  It won’t be working for UNICEF or Save the Children, but it will be so much more, because I am now so much more.  I am reminded as Holly Gerth says in  You’re Made for A God-Sized Dream, “Your God sized dreams are not just about making his purposes and plans a reality.  They are also about revealing his character through you.  Who you are on this journey is just as important as what you do.”

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Today I will dream.  I will be the mom who cooks, cleans, plans, carpools, holds the hand, watches the girl learn to guide the horse, listens to the heartache of friendships.  I will grow.  I will need HIM, meet Him each morning seeking His grace and His wisdom for the day ahead.  I will see that not one moment is wasted.  Even my mistakes, those times I ran ahead of Him, are salvaged.  He will not let the dream die.  He will take every moment, use it to correct, teach and encourage.  I will grow.  The dream will grow.  In season, it will come to fruition.  I will have faith.  I will live faith.  Faith fuels the dream.

A Well Planned Home

Let me start by saying I am so incredibly grateful for the opportunity I have to build a home.  I know it is not an opportunity just anyone gets, nor is it something everyone wants to do.  But for those who have the opportunity or are fearful of the process, I want to share some tips I have learned over the past 20 years.  My husband and I have built four personal homes and eleven investment homes, so I have learned a little about the process.

It all starts with a great builder, and like everything else in life, a great relationship.  It is not an easy process, but it can be an incredibly creative and rewarding process.  Everyone involved must communicate well-not only be clear in your desires and instruction, but repeat them often, and be completely open to input, criticism and compromise.  Hmmmm- sort of like a good marriage!  If those key elements are missing, the experience will be horrible and most likely the end result will NOT be what you desired, or it will be so tarnished by the time it is completed you won’t want it any more.  Hmmmmm- a lot like a marriage.  I guess that’s why they say, “Those who can build together can stay together.”  Yep, that’s me and my man!

A good house plan is step one.  Amazing sites to choose from.  Get it finalized and then be happy with it.  The best way to finalize plans is to utilize furniture templates (you can buy a stencil at an office supply store or download templates from various sites).  Measure your furniture, find the corresponding template and then lay it out on the blueprint.  This will help you adjust door locations, window locations and sizes, etc… Lesson 1:  There is no perfect house, just lots of really good houses.  Tweak your plan, have it drawn up and then live with it.  I promise, there will be something you wish you had changed, but that is just life.  You can sweat the small stuff or be happy.  After all, a house is a house.  A home is made with memories and personal touches.

Once you have your plan, keep it with you at ALL times.  I promise, you will get a panicked call from a sub-contractor or the builder and need to make a quick decision or quick run to the building site.  Just keep your plans with you and you’ll be prepared!  In addition to plans, I have learned to keep a notebook with me.  I have the builder’s contract list with everyone’s phone number, the builder’s quote (FYI-only use a builder who does a Cost-Plus fee, that’s the only true way to know exactly what your expenses are and control your expenses), each sub-contractor’s quote, furniture templates and extra paper.

Thirdly, I carry an expandable pocket folder.  I have sections labeled for each room, a section for exterior, pen, tape measure, and all of my paint samples.  Houzz and Pinterest are a girl’s best friend!!!!!  Clip and pin to your hearts desire, but then print off images of specific items you want to replicate or build in to your design.  Sub-contractors do not like looking at your iPad, smart phone etc… They want a hard copy to look at and/or even take with them.  This pocket folder has a large pocket up front into which I can slide my binder.  I can easily keep this with me at all times.  It becomes my home building bible.

Finally, I love to make a small design board.  I am no interior decorator/designer, but I love creating a small board to keep me inspired and focused.  I purchase a small science board at a craft store and then begin to glue onto the board images of my favorite rooms, furniture pictures, swatches of fabric, paint chips etc…  As you build you can easily get overwhelmed by all the books, magazines and sites you are looking through. You will also find you get lots of input from others.  Looking at my board reminds me what I want my house to look like.  It keeps me focused on the final product, overall “feel”, color scheme and design I am drawn to and love.  Most of all, enjoy the journey.  Don’t expect perfection.  Don’t make it about you.  Don’t get angry when deadlines aren’t met or someone makes a mistake.  Remember it is a journey.  Remember it is about building a structure in which you and your family will build a home.  Remember it is about relationships.

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