The Fear of Being Different


TED lectures are a great way to wake up my mind when my body wants to go back to sleep in the morning. The other day my brain went crazy with all the implications from Kelli Jean Drinkwater’s 12 minute talk at TEDxSydney.

“Fear is feeding the diet industry, which is keeping so many of us from making peace with our own bodies, for waiting to be the after-photo before we truly start to live our lives.”

Waiting for the after-photo before we truly start to live our lives . . .

How often do we let our deep desire for the end result keep us from making the journey?

“Once I get the housework under control I’ll start inviting people over more.”

“Once the kids are in school I’ll have time to start an Esty shop.”

“Once my To-Do list is done I’ll build an awesome family culture.”

I’m sure you have your own list of dreams you aren’t working towards because you don’t have the resources, the time, or the know-how you think you need to get started.

But worst of all, waiting for the after-photo means we don’t see ourselves as worthy enough to live the lives of meaning we desperately want.

“I’m not worthy of dinner guests when the floors aren’t vacuumed and the walls are bare.”

“I’m not worthy of doing the work that matters to me until I’ve done the work everyone else wants me to do.”

It’s hard to be different

In a way these excuses keep us safe, because if we start building a family culture based on our values whether or not they match those of society around us, we’re going to meet resistance and even outright hostility.

“I soon learned that living outside what the mainstream considers normal can be a frustrating and isolating place. I’ve been openly laughed at, abused from passing cars and been told that I’m delusional. I also receive smiles from strangers who recognize what it takes to walk down the street with a spring in your step and your head held high.” -Drinkwater

If we fear what our neighbors, friends, and strangers on the street will think if we start living our dreams, imagine what the internet could do to us!

There’s no way around it. If we say anything about how we are different on-line we will receive hate mail.

Crawling back to bed sounds like a good idea until we realize that absolutely no one can wear the straightjacket of “normal” all the time. Some of us fit it much of the time, some of us can’t fit in it at all, but no matter how you live, people will comment.

So we might as well relax, have pithy polite responses to the comments we get all the time and stay at peace knowing that it’s not about us.

It’s not about you

Our differences might be the target of the comment, but the comment comes from a place of personal insecurity.

If I’m happy with my white walls I don’t have to comment on how much work it must be to paint all the walls when I visit a friend’s colorful house. But if I think I ought to paint my walls and put up curtains, then a well-decorated house will intimidate me.

If I haven’t made up my mind whether I really care about wall color and curtains or not, then I’m even more susceptible to saying something that might seem critical when it’s really about me, my own house, and my own insecurities.

This happens to be a live example and I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit it, but I think we all have areas in our lives like this.

Find Peace for yourself

The best antidote I’ve found to quieting these insecurities (besides prayer) is to make sure I am doing my most valuable work and using my time for things that matter most.

Then at the end of the week we I see all that I haven’t done, I know that I was living according to my values.

It might be frustrating how slow progress seems to be, but knowing I was in the right place going the right direction gives me peace about those things that have not yet happened, like beautiful walls.

I hope you can see that sometimes we’re on the other side of thoughtless and hurtful comments and that it can help you tempter the hurt of negative comments. It’s not about you. Let it go.

As one 12-year-old TED lecturer said, “hater’s gonna hate.”

We can never please everybody, so let’s stop waiting for the perfect “after-photo” version of ourselves and start living our lives!

“Easy to say”, I hear you thinking. I know it’s not that easy to live.

Thin or healthy?

“I’ve even been called “the ISIS of the obesity epidemic” — a comment so absurd that it is funny. But it also speaks to the panic, the literal terror, that the fear of fat can evoke. It is this fear that’s feeding the diet industry, which is keeping so many of us from making peace with our own bodies, for waiting to be the after-photo before we truly start to live our lives.” -Drinkwater

I’ve disliked Trim Healthy Mama (a diet cookbook that seems to be in right now) from the time it came out and haven’t known exactly why, but this talk helped me see into my own insecurities.

The title implies that the only way to be healthy is to be trim and the only way to be a mama is to be healthy and trim. I’m pretty sure my kids don’t care if I’m trim – actually I know they love a cuddly mama.

I also remember my college days where I spent countless hours hating my body and swinging wildly from diets to binging. I never want to go back to that wasteland again.

God made food for our health and our pleasure but he warned about being a glutton. Our society may have neglected the Bible but it still despises the glutton.

“We live in a culture where being fat is seen as being a bad person — lazy, greedy, unhealthy, irresponsible and morally suspect. And we tend to see thinness as being universally good — responsible, successful, and in control of our appetites, bodies and lives.” -Drinkwater

The idol of thin

When we focus on the end result – being thin – we get distortions, like the claim that you can drink all you want of the Trim Healthy Mama shake and still lose weight. In other words, “be a glutton, and still believe you have self-control.”

To be clear, I am sure Trim Healthy Mama and other diet books have helped people and that they can be used wisely, but a focus on thin can lead to the worship of something other than God: our own body image.

Other factors are much more important to our health that our weight and measurements.  Do I have the energy to get through the day?  Am I flexible enough to get down on the floor and wrestle with the kids?  Can I kick a soccer ball around with my kids without gasping for breath?  Do I partake of God’s gift of food with thankfulness?  Do I enjoy the pleasure of movement and dance?  Do I have the self-control to temper the appetites of my heart?

Why am I writing about diet and health on a family culture blog?

Because views about body image and self-worth are passed on primarily in the family. It is in the sphere of family that children first pick up the idea that they need to wait for the “after-photo” before they can start living their lives.

However unworthy we feel, surely our children deserve better? If we want it for our children, we need to live it ourselves. Our actions speak louder than words.

You are loved the way you are, now go and do your most meaningful work!

What Is Being Organized?


I like to define being organized as when our stuff supports the lifestyle we desire.

How we arrange our stuff has a significant impact on how we live our lives.

If my stuff is always strewn all over, I’m much less likely to invite people over. If I want to a have a lifestyle that includes hosting, I need to change how I deal with my stuff.

Organization is Personal

For some, good china and cute curtains might be necessary for a lifestyle of hosting, and maybe for others having a picked-up house isn’t even needed.

This definition helps point out that organization is something quite personal.

We can be inspired by how others organize, but we shouldn’t assume that more organization is necessarily better.

Before we decide to reorganize, we should first think deeply about what kind of life we want to live.

From there, it should be easier to see in which ways our things (and therefore habits) are not supporting the lifestyle we want to have.

I hope you found my organization and planning ideas helpful, but I also hope you recognize what is already working well enough for you and stick with it.

Organization Changes Over Time

This definition of organization also acknowledges that life has different phases and stages.

Our desired lifestyle when we have little children will be different from that when we are retired. Our homes and organizational systems will look different, too.

The idea of “ finally being organized” is an illusion. Our stuff will always support our desired lifestyle to a greater or lesser degree.

There will always be room for improvement and need for change as our lives and the people in our lives change.

So we shouldn’t feel guilty when we feel an area in our life could use some better organization.

The question we should ask ourselves is,

“Is it worth my time and energy to organize this? Or does it work well enough for my life right now that my time is better spent elsewhere?”

Determine to decide, and be released of guilt. (link)

How I Avoid Email Overwhelm


I started this short series on how I keep sane by saying,

“Only organize and plan the most important things in your life. Let the rest organize themselves.”

One area where this philosophy works very well is with email.

I used to struggle to stay on top of email. I’d check it hoping to get something exciting only to discover that my inbox was full of more things to add to the to-do list.

Not surprisingly, I was never in the mood to do work when I checked for pleasure so the emails piled up into the hundreds and then climbed to nearly 1,000.

After years of struggle and guilt and important emails rediscovered too late, I finally took on a year-long project to reduce my inbox to 100. It was hard, hard work.

I did it and was very proud, but I realized I could not keep up the pace. It simply wasn’t worth it.

“Inbox Zero” is a bit of a holy grail in the productivity world and though I’m a fan, it comes with some important qualifications.

As I mentioned last week, what’s in our inbox is mostly what others desire from us, not what’s most important for us to do.

“We have to take the time to think about our deepest values and remind ourselves of what’s most important while at the same time keeping all the other balls more or less in the air.”

For nearly a year now I’ve kept my email “ball” up in the air with minimal stress and by investing far less time than I ever had before.

I’ll share the system now in case it inspires you, but also because it’s a good summary of the planning principles and methods I’ve discussed in this series.

I once heard it said that checking email is like playing the slot machine. Most likely you’ll lose and just get bad news or more to-dos but every once in a while you get fantastic news, like a sweet thank-you note or a notice you’ve won something or your application was accepted.

Knowing that inbox-checking is a dangerous gambling addiction helped me determine to harness the impulse for my own good.

I’m not perfect, but the system works well enough that I can get back on the horse and I generally feel a peace around email rather than constant panic and guilt.


Email Structure for Work Flow

1. Inbox – keep at zero

2. ASAP – do today or tomorrow

3. Weekly – priority tasks, projects and people (process weekly)

4. Monthly – do if there’s time (process monthly)

I don’t have a grand system for archived emails mostly because the search function works just fine for me. This system is for active emails.

Email Work Flow Summary

Each time you check email:

1. Check inbox and process to zero

2. Check ASAP and do at least one

3. If time, check Weekly and do one

Once a week:

Deal with (do, delete, file) each email older than seven days.

Once a month:

Deal with each email from the month before last.


1. Inbox Zero

Never let an email sit in your inbox. Either deal with it, delete it, or file it according to priority and “deal with” date.

It should only take two to five minutes to deal with each email or decide how important it is that you deal with it. So each email, even the hard ones, should take you no more than two minutes to file (we’ll talk about file structure later).

Most emails will take far less than two minutes to deal with, so this “first pass” is theoretically very easy to do.

In reality, deciding is often hard and it’s easy to move on to the next email, leaving the harder one to fester in your inbox and mind. Remember, you don’t have to DO anything yet, just force yourself to decide what, if anything, you need to do. In deciding the battle is half-won.

Once you’ve decided you might find that it’s not so hard after all to just deal with it and get it over with. Or you might find it’s simply not worth your time and you can delete it before it ever sits around making you feel guilty.


What projects and people are most important to you? Which incoming ideas and request would have serious consequences if you did not do them?

As I explained in the planning series, I divide everything into top, middle, and lower priority. The ASAP folder holds everything in the top-priority category and I find it stays at around 5 emails. That’s a very doable number for each day!

If you keep your inbox to zero, each time you check there will only be a few to process or maybe it will be empty! In any case, a blank inbox almost compels me to check my ASAP folder feeling on top of things. There I see only the most important emails and can usually muster up the strength to deal with at least one.

This is harnessing the power of the impulse to check for mail. You’ll be amazed the progress you will make!

3. Weekly

Harness the power of perspective. What is unclear at the moment is often easy to decide in a few days. If an email is important or comes from someone important in my life but I know it can wait a few days I file it here.

For example, I might be more interested in a blog article about mothering a friend sent, but the article from my mother is the one that lands in my weekly folder because it is she I care deeply about even if the topic is not so important to me at the moment.

I don’t drop everything to read the article now, but I know I will get to it in about a week. One side benefit of this is that often others will respond before I even read it, so I can put in my two cents quickly and still affirm those people in my life who matter most.

I try to deal with emails from here throughout the week, but at least on Friday I commit to dealing with each email that’s dated older than seven days ago. Thus I know that if I put an email in my “Weekly” folder I will answer it between 7-14 days. Even important things for next week can safely sit in this folder so I can focus on my ASAP tasks.

4. Monthly

Everything else gets dumped in my monthly “Active Bucket.” Well, not everything else. I try to use the trash can liberally and set up filters so promotional emails and newsletters skip my inbox altogether.

Somehow it’s hard to unsubscribe from these but when they are out of sight they are out of mind and it doesn’t matter because they aren’t really what matters in life.

The monthly folder holds anything else that I’d like to get to but that don’t have any serious consequences if they are neglected for a month or two. Things like blog articles or catch-up email from casual friends or ideas about homeschooling from others that aren’t necessarily my own priorities about homeschooling at the moment.

A week’s perspective is great, but a month’s perspective is priceless. Here is where the idea of letting the unimportant things organize themselves really shines.

I check this folder once a month and make it a priority to deal with everything that came in from two months ago. So if it is October then I’ll look at everything that is dated from August and power through it.

The stuff in this folder isn’t the most important, but once a month it is. However, I only have a day or two to get through it and those are days full of normal life so I am keenly aware of just how little time I have.

I’m much more selective about which articles I read or how much detail I read them in. I’m much more likely to realize that I simply don’t have enough time for all the activities I’m interested in.

A conversation with a casual friend that moves at the pace of every two months is actually much better than the pace of years that would come of me forgetting about it as it scrolled off the main page.

Batch-processing the less-important emails is a time and sanity saver, and though it takes some discipline to make it happen each month, the rest of the month all those emails sit out of sight and mind with no guilt whatsoever.


That’s it! As always, it looks more complicated written out than it feels. It’s also an ideal that I don’t stick to perfectly. I wasn’t good about filing emails over the weekend so I now have 22 in my inbox. It’s not good, but I’ll process that to zero over the course of the day and be on track for the rest of the week.

I wish you the best in finding email peace! Share your email tips in the comments below!

See the other posts in this series: how I keep sane, daily planning, and weekly planning.

Planning Basics: Weekly Planning for Daily Peace


Daily planning will take less time if we take some time each week to zoom out and look ahead at what’s coming our way.

I’ve struggled with what exactly is important in a weekly review because it always seems to take so much time and I’m often still stressed at the end of it.

In this post I’ll share what’s working for me at the moment.

First, it’s important to realize that the piles of papers, the incoming email, the requests from others, and the interruptions are not the most important things for us to be working on.

Some of it is very important, but the most important stuff will never come as an email or as an ad or as a reminder, except perhaps as a flash of guilt when we’re already feeling overwhelmed.

We have to take the time to think about our deepest values and remind ourselves of what’s most important while at the same time keeping all the other balls more or less in the air.

That’s what weekly planning is for.

Most of the tasks we do each week are routine. Even if you’ve never thought much about your routines, most of the actions humans take are done almost without thinking.

However orderly or scattered we are somehow we get things done the way our lives are structured right now. Don’t try to change all that all at once. You’re doing okay the way you are!

Weekly planning is for those things that are weighing on your mind and that you won’t be reminded of during the week. It’s great to have a cleaning routine, but if you don’t, don’t put all your cleaning tasks on your weekly planning lists. The dirty floors will remind you that you’d like to vacuum.

The reason for this is that if I have a weekly list that requires me to do more than five tasks a day I feel overwhelmed. There actually is more time in the day than for just five tasks, but when the list is too long things get lost in the pile and I want to throw in the towel.

That said, a great task to put on your weekly to do list is to brainstorm better routines that fit your lifestyle – just don’t try to make more than one major change a week!

My Weekly Planning Checklist

1. Start a Mind Dump list with three columns for high, middle, and lower priority. Anything related to the most important people and projects in your life go on the high-priority list as well as anything important that’s due this week.

2. Review the week you just had: your journal, your calendar, and your daily schedule, if you have it. While you review ask yourself what worked and what didn’t so you can answer the next question:

3. What do I want for the coming week? What’s most important? Jot some notes down and keep it in mind as you . . .

4. Quickly sort through your papers and incoming stuff into one of three piles according to priority: high, middle, and lower.  Be sure to sort through your “mid-priority” pile that you made earlier in the week or from your planning session last week.  Remember, you’ll be looking at the mid-priority pile again next week, so everything that can wait a week is safe here, even if it is important for later.

5. Look at the next two weeks on your calendar and visualize what you will need in order to be prepared for each day. Write down any task that is best done more than a day in advance on your “high priority” Mind Dump list.

For example, if guests are coming in 10 days I like to know what I’m cooking in time for my weekly shopping trip, so I’ll write “decide meal for Smith visit” as something that should be done this week. Little things like this save a great deal of stress!

6. Break larger tasks into smaller bits.  Look at your high-priority pile and Mind Dump list.  For every larger or unclear item, decide on just the next step or two and write those down on your high-priority Mind Dump list.

After these six steps you now have a prioritized to-do list and a few piles and lists that can wait another week. Congratulations! Most of the great stack of things waiting for you to do something about should now be neatly piled up in stacks that can be tucked away and off your mind for all of this week!

If you’re like me, however, the high-priority list is still overwhelming. At this point I often find it helpful to take a break and get some perspective before deciding which of my high-priority tasks I will commit to tackling this week.

Roughly Schedule the Week

1. Review your high-priority to do list and mark with a left-arrow those tasks which would best be done this week. Be selective – you want to set yourself up for success!

2. Divide the number of marked tasks by 5: this is the number you must do each day. Is it overwhelming? Can you narrow it down? I find that 3-5 is a good number.

3. Roughly plan which tasks you’ll do on which day.  Write the letter day next to the arrow you made (Monday through Friday and keeping your calendar schedule in mind). This way you don’t have rewrite the list but can easily see which tasks are up for the day. Most tasks don’t have to be done a certain day, but this way you know you’ll get to them all and don’t have to stare at the whole list the whole week. If you get more time one day (haha) you can look up more tasks, but in reality we know that each day has enough going on. If we just manage to do these three or so tasks each day we will be ahead for the week.

Now when you do your daily planning you can look at your weekly to-do list and check which ones you scheduled for that day. I re-write these tasks on my daily schedule for two reasons.

1. It reaffirms my commitment to these tasks even if they don’t seem so urgent at the moment – they are what I need to complete in the week to give me peace in the next.

2. I can check them off twice! First when I complete them during the day, and secondly when I review my weekly to-do list when I plan the next day. “Oh look! I did that already!” It feels good. And really, those yucky tasks deserve two checks when they’re done, right?

This takes me more time than I’d like to admit, but if I avoid the temptation of walking away from an overwhelming to-do list and push through to make it feel doable, then I go to bed on Sunday feeling ready for the week.

(On the weeks that I shove my list aside and just hope I’ll survive . . . you can guess what happens.)

Most of the time we don’t know what’s coming our way in the week. Most of life is lived as it comes and I think that’s a beautiful thing. We want to be able to handle the unexpected with grace and joy all the while knowing that we are prepared for what we know is coming.

Some weeks we need to throw out the schedule. This week was just such a week for me. We all got sick and that was just the start. The morning after I’d spend the whole night throwing up and caring for sick kids I cried out to God and he gave me my task for the day: breathe.

It sounds simple, but it’s hard to breathe when you’re trying to sing the morning hymn while you’re close to tears. It’s hard to breathe when the kids whine and complain and you want to snap.

“My job is to breathe” was my mantra for the day and that was work enough. I knew what was on my lists and I knew they could wait. We got through the day better than expected and though I felt behind and overwhelmed in my weekly planning session yesterday I powered through in culling and prioritizing until I found peace.

I wish you all the best in your planning and in your living this week!

See the other posts in this series: how I keep sane, daily planning, and E-mail.

Planning Basics: Daily Planning

A photo by Aaron Burden.

We need to plan well because we need to be ready to change the plan.

We can’t map out the whole day. We need to be flexible and responsive. We need to get the most important things done.


Last week I shared my recipe for a successful day. The last ingredient was “time to plan” and I ended with key to planning effectively:

Only organize and plan the most important things in your life. Let the rest organize themselves.

To do this we need to quickly sort our high priority tasks from the rest. I find I need to do this every day because so many things come my way over the course of the day. I dump the physical stuff in a pile and write down the thoughts, requests from others, and ideas on a white-board.

I learned much from Getting Things Done, but the advice to handle every paper once has really tripped me up. I’ve discovered I make better decisions about less important things when I have a few day’s or week’s perspective. Plus, it’s easier to batch process less important things at one time.

The Quick Daily Sort

I quickly sort everything into one of three piles: high priority, mid-priority, and lower priority. When planning for tomorrow, only the high priority stuff gets my attention.

It helps to think of tasks in terms of their positive and negative consequences. What kind of positive impact would I see if I complete this? What might be the unwanted consequences I don’t do this?

This perspective helps me get rid of things like coupons for shoes that expire soon. Really, if I don’t act then nothing bad happens. My time is better spent on something else.

The lovely thing about this system is that it self-eliminates many tasks that aren’t that important. At some point I’ll go through the “lower-consequences” pile and toss half because they are no longer relevant (like that shoe offer).

I feel no guilt because I know I’ve been working on what really matters and I realize that these little things that I thought I cared about, I don’t actually care about at all.

(It helps me to know I’ll be doing a quick sort on the mid-priority tasks every week so nothing will slip through the cracks, but weekly planning is another post!)

Plan your day the night before

Weekly and monthly planning are hugely beneficial, but to keep sane, daily planning is all that’s necessary.

Each night after the kids are in bed I do my quick daily sort of all incoming bits and pieces I might want to do something about.

After that I have a clean white-board, a clear desk, and a small pile of high-priority items.  It feels great!

Next I look at my previously scheduled commitments, like my calendar, and sketch the day out.

Now I further sort my “high-priority” times until I have a maximum of three top-priority tasks. I’ll do these tasks in my “time to work” slot I discussed in my last post. These are high-impact tasks that usually aren’t urgent but are very important.

Next I pick a five to ten “up next” tasks that would be good to if and when I have time throughout the day.

All I see on my schedule are my appointments, my top-three tasks and my next 5-10.  The other stuff is on separate lists I’ll look at in the evening when I plan again.  I don’t like to be overwhelmed with a never-ending to-do list!

Most of our days as parents are unpredictable. We must be ready to go with the flow and deal with emergencies. I leave lots of breathing room in our schedule so I can still be a happy camper when the unexpected happens.

Knowing I completed my top priority tasks gives me a sense of accomplishment for the whole day. No matter what happens after that at least I moved forward a bit!

Sometimes I do have a little extra time and can get to my “next 5-10” tasks. Most days I’m surprised by how much work I can get in as opportunity and inspiration present themselves.

Some days are still horrible, like today. I couldn’t get this post written in my working time. I tried to finish in the mid-morning break. I ditched the 1,200 word monster and tried again while my husband fed the kids for lunch, and now I’m trying again after I sent the kids out of the house because they “lost the privilege” of being inside.

Still, because I’d set myself up so well due to last night’s planning, I was able to finish up the preparations for our new homeschool routine and we got most of it done today.

One thing going wrong doesn’t have to mess up the whole day if we’re properly prepared!

Rest is number one on my list of ingredients for a successful day, but planning is worth staying up a little later for.  Sadly, it still takes me 30 minutes or more, but It’s worth every moment ten times over.

If I don’t know what’s on my plate it does no good to run around trying to eat things faster.

The less time I have to plan the more important it is to plan. No one can afford to spend time on what doesn’t really matter in the end!

There is SO much more to planning, but I’ve struggled long enough trying to formulate the basics. Let me know where you’re struggling and I can share more details.

See the other posts in this series: how I keep sane, weekly planning, and E-mail.

How I Keep Sane: My Recipe For A Satisfying Day


Exhaustion. Never ending to-do lists. Neglected kids and spouse. No strength to move forward. No strength to say no. No time to recover.

Juggling the demands of family life is no easy task. I’ve been searching for years for the perfect system and have written extensive explanations about the complicated systems I’ve used.

There is a time and a place for systems complex enough to cover nearly every aspect of life, but today I want to share the basics that keep me sane.

When the most important things seem to be slipping through the cracks what we need is something simple we can start today that let’s us know we’re on the right track.

We need something that gives us hope that our most important projects and relationships are moving forward – something that lets us fall into our pillow at night with satisfaction and peace that we did well today and will do well again tomorrow.

All my life I’ve worked hard, but many times I’d ask myself at the end of the day, “I’ve been working all day and have nothing to show for it!”

I used to believe that the little breaks I took, or the few indulgences I succumbed to were the reason I didn’t get everything done. If I just worked harder and more steadily, I’d be able to accomplish it all.

Over the span of 20 years I struggled to work harder and grow in self-discipline – to focus on what really matters and never indulge in time-wasting, unhelpful activities.

I came close enough to success to realize that even if I eliminated the small fraction of times I wasn’t productive, I would still never get to everything on my to-do list.

So forget trying to do it all, and forget beating yourself up for not getting it all done! It’s not possible – and this is very good news!

I’m still far from getting to everything I care about, but I have much more peace at the end of the day, much more joy during the day, and a great deal more hope for the future.

(Important note: my kids mostly let me sleep at night and that is the biggest difference. If you still have little ones keeping you from quality sleep – be extra gracious with yourself – you have permission to cut your to do list by half at least!)

If you’re already organized and at peace – congratulations! Don’t learn from one who is still has much to learn – and do add your tips in the comments!

If you’re struggling, I hope this sketch helps you. Let me know where I should elaborate for next time. I want you to have the same peace and confidence I’m finally experiencing in my life!

My Recipe For A Satisfying Day

  • Rest
  • Quality time with my kids
  • Time to work
  • Time to plan

There are many things that should be on the list: exercise, quality time with my husband, healthy meals . . . the list goes on and on.

I find that many of these things can slip a little and life goes on. I survive when my husband is on a business trip; I survive a day without exercise. I don’t want to get in the habit of neglecting these things, but the basic four elements I listed above have immediate and serious consequences if I neglect them for even one day.


This is the most obvious, the most neglected, and the hardest to be self-disciplined about.

Everyone knows how important rest is, but nobody admires the person who stops work or play to go to bed. It doesn’t seem heroic, productive, or sexy, but it’s the most essential prerequisite for being any of those.

Quality time with my kids

Kids don’t need much to feel special. Just us fully present. Listening. Being there.

Why is it so hard? Because we’re “doing nothing” and there is so much to be done! Organization is a way to silence the voice that says “get back to work or you’ll regret it” when we’re hanging out with our kids.

When we are organized enough to know with certainty that everything can wait 15 minutes, we can infuse our children with love and care with relatively little effort. When our kids feel loved and a part of our day then they are much more able to take care of themselves for longer stretches and survive even the busiest of days.

It can even be a way to get in some rest!

Time to work

Each day is only one day. Each week is only one week.

“We tend to overestimate what we can do in the short term, and underestimate what we can do in the long term” – Gretchen Rubin

Understanding this is key. If each day is only a day then don’t put a week’s worth of tasks on the schedule.

I discipline myself to work on my top-priority to-do list (which only has one to three things on it) when I am least likely to be interrupted. For me this is the morning before the kids are up, but it could be after they’re asleep or when someone else is watching the kids.

This is hard. This is heroic. This is where the magic happens.

How often do you procrastinate? You’re too exhausted, too intimidated, and have every excuse to take a break. But imagine you actually sit down, focus, and DO the task that will have the biggest impact.

It’s done! Now celebrate and DON’T think you have to go back to your to-do list for more. You slayed the procrastination dragon – enjoy the rest of your day! Today is just one day and you rocked it.

Tomorrow you will do another high-impact hard tasks, so relax.

“Right,” I hear you say, “and what happens to the other million things that I have to do to keep the house running?”

Think back to the last time you finally did something you’d been avoiding. How invigorating did it feel to have it over with? Remember the energy you had? Imagine having that energy every day!

When the most important forward-moving tasks is complete, all the other work we have to do looks easy.

I also use the two-minute rule to knock over a lot of tasks before they even hit my to-do list. I do whatever comes my way if I think it roughly important and it will take less than two minutes: wipe a sink, snuggle a kid, or answer one email.

I’ve stopped planning housework. Sorry, FlyLady, I just couldn’t keep up when we moved to a larger house, and really, the toilets will survive if not cleaned every day.

Instead, I hang out where my kids are and keep my eyes out for housework I can do nearby – fold laundry, swish and swipe the bathroom, wipe blood off the wall . . .

I’d like to do better, but the cleanliness of my house is not something of eternal value. If I happen to vacuum every 10 days instead of every week nobody will care – maybe not even myself.

Time to Plan

In order to use my working time well I need to plan well so that nothing important slips through the cracks. Next week I’ll write more about how to plan, but here’s the key:

Only organize and plan the most important things in your life. Let the rest organize themselves.

See you next week!

See the other posts in this series: daily planning, weekly planning, and E-mail.

The Antidote To The Checklisted Childhood: Raising Self-Directed Learners


How often do you read something that convicts you as a parent but fails to provide sufficient help on how to change?

It happens to me all the time. I can see problems myself, people, what I need is help and solutions!

I recently watch this engaging TED lecture about How to raise successful kids – without over-parenting.

Julie Lythcott-Haims’ critique is good, but her solutions just scratch the surface.

She points out that over-parenting sends the kids the message “Hey kid, I don’t think you can actually achieve any of this without me.”

“[O]ur overhelp, our overprotection and overdirection and hand-holding, deprives our kids of the chance to build self-efficacy, which is a really fundamental tenet of the human psyche, far more important than that self-esteem they get every time we applaud.

“Self-efficacy is built when one sees that one’s own actions lead to outcomes, not one’s parents’ actions on one’s behalf, but when one’s own actions lead to outcomes.

“So simply put, if our children are to develop self-efficacy, and they must, then they have to do a whole lot more of the thinking, planning, deciding, doing, hoping, coping, trial and error, dreaming and experiencing of life for themselves.”

So if we shouldn’t micromanage and limit our kids to the checklist of things that we personally deem as important in life, what should we do?

“[A]m I saying every kid is hard-working and motivated and doesn’t need a parent’s involvement or interest in their lives, and we should just back off and let go? Hell no.

“What I’m saying is, we should be less concerned with the specific set of colleges they might be able to apply to or might get into and far more concerned that they have the habits, the mindset, the skill set, the wellness, to be successful wherever they go.”

But how?

In her talk, Julie Lythcott-Haims goes on to discuss the importance of kids doing chores and parents providing unconditional love, and that’s a very good start.

But does requiring chores train kids to “think, plan, decide, do, hope, and cope” or develop the “habits, mindset, skills set, and wellness” necessary for success?

That’s asking a lot of chores.

Happily, this time I won’t just leave you with questions, I can point you to a resource that addresses this very question of how we train our kids in their self-efficacy so they become makers, dreamers, and doers full of hope and grit and ready for success wherever they are.

And you can buy it from me for just $987! – JUST KIDDING!

This stuff is so valuable it should be available to every parent, and it is.

Lori Pickert writes at Camp Creek blog and volunteers countless hours to help parents learn to be mentors in their children’s self-directed learning.

She has a book that explains her ideas and gives concrete steps on how to start NOW wherever you are, whoever you are, whoever your kids are, whatever your budget.

She is also one of the most encouraging people I’ve ever met. Her standards are high, but she believes everyone can take that next step toward raising self-directed learners.

The book is Project-Based Homeschooling, and don’t let any word in that title intimidate you. The book is about how to support that part of your child’s life that he or she is in control of, and you as the parent gets to decide how big that part is – this is not about letting go of all control or giving your kid one type of education!

Lori’s book explains how to be a supportive mentor in the work your child does apart from the checklist you give him.

There’s nothing wrong with a checklist. Put chores on the checklist, put hiking or family time or whatever aligns with your deepest values on the checklist, but make sure you pay attention to, appreciate, and encourage the work your child does apart from the checklist.

When you learn to appreciate your child’s work and see how important you are in supporting it, it will be much easier to know how to cull the checklist so you don’t ruin your child with the “checklisted childhood”.

So don’t worry about your lengthy checklist now, just do the next right thing.  Skim the blog, read the book. Contemplate how the ideas might fit well with your situation and family life.

Remember, you are in charge, you are wiser and more knowledgeable than your child in many things – but not everything.

Then let’s enjoy the journey! It’s anything but easy and well-defined, but it is every bit as exciting as a great adventure story!

“My job is not to make [my children] become what I would have them become, but to support them in becoming their glorious selves.” – Julie Lythcott-Haims

Full disclosure: I write this of my own free will and won’t earn a cent from it. Lori’s ideas have challenged and encouraged me like no other so I’m happy to pass them on!

An Experiment In Obedience


We are three weeks into a six-week experiment with training our kids in the habit of obedience.

I prefer to secure the child’s will, give him lots of choice within boundaries, and give him time and space to make a decision. But sometimes a child just needs to obey because a parent knows better.

Our kids weren’t bad about obeying, but sometimes it took some convincing. Convincing takes time that we sometimes do not have.

Then I ran into this quote,

“Tardy, unwilling, occasional obedience is hardly worth the having; and it is greatly easier to give the child the habit of perfect obedience by never allowing him in anything else, than it is to obtain this mere formal obedience by constant exercise of authority.” Charlotte Mason

Over time we’ve tried various methods to “exercise our authority,” but no matter what the method used, Ms. Mason is right, it’s a terrible burden.

What does “never allowing him in anything else” mean? Charlotte Mason suggests taking six weeks to train a new habit and she views obedience as a habit.

Six weeks sounds excruciatingly long to work on one thing, but it sounds blissfully short if it means never struggling with our kids over obedience again.

I won’t go into all the details, partly because I don’t like to make suggestions when an idea has not stood the test of time, but here’s a little bit of what we’ve discovered along the way.

Week 1

We saw lots of progress in the first week. I was thrilled to have obedience be a positive interaction with my kids. Since we all discussed the new idea and the advantages it would bring, they were eager to be on board.

I yelled much less, we all celebrated when a child was prompt, cheerful, and lasting in his obedience, and often it only took one child to obey promptly and receive praise to inspire the others to do so, too.

At the end of each day I was exhausted, but not worn out and frustrated, just exhausted like I’d done a hard day’s labor – and I had!

It was work to not give out too many commands, interrupt my work to be sure my command would be heard and obeyed, deal calmly and firmly when someone did disobey, and find my way in this new experiment.

Toward the end of the week the kids rebelled a bit, as if to say, “That was a fun experiment, Mom, but can we go back to doing things our own way when we feel like it?”

It was the first sign that maybe six weeks are necessary. Normally I revel in the success and start to coast. I coast until I wake up one day later and realize I’ve coasted right back to where we were before.

Week 2

We’d been fooled to thinking our work was mostly done because we’d seen so much fruit, but week two revealed that my husband and I weren’t fully on the same page. When he was lax, I was more likely to be lax and we all fell back into old habitual ways.

We had to work details out and remotivate ourselves.

We read through our list of motivations for this obedience experiment that we’d made at the start. We discussed the advantages with our kids again. Obedience brings liberty. Mom and Dad yell less. Not yelling was probably the biggest reason for us all.

We struggled this week, but we got back on track.

Week 3

We’re finding our rhythm. Stephan and I still have to find full alignment, but it’s getting easier for us all to require and deliver obedience.

The house is a bit of a mess. In order to train the habit of obedience, I haven’t been nagging about everything, which means pick-up time hasn’t happened because I’ve wanted to avoid an obedience fight over it.

Yesterday I asked Vivienne to pick up the beads that were scattered all over the floor and to tell her siblings to help as well. She said, “Oh yes, Mommy!” with a smile and ran off.

Stephan and I nearly fainted. Is Charlotte Mason right? Can obedience really become such a habit that it is really no great effort for the child?

I don’t know. This time Stephan went in to help them all pick up and keep a positive atmosphere, but such help in the past would not have been enough to prevent the kids from whining and complaining about the difficulty of the task.

This week I’ll try making more frequent requests for small pick-up tasks and see how it goes.

At this point, three more weeks doesn’t sound horribly long and I’m starting to hope that we really have habitual happy obedience at the end of it!

Have you ever focused on one aspect of parenting over a long period of time? If so, how did it go? If not, why not? The idea is new to me, so please share!

Living in the Moment

red light

For a long time now I’ve been trying to live more in the moment.

I want to enjoy my family and not be worried about tomorrow or stuck in the past.

Why is it so hard?

Then it hit me: I DO live in the moment. I’m actually very good at it.

“When is this stupid red light going to change?” “Look at the traffic!” “Come on, go already!”

Waiting for my d e l i b e r a t e and s u p e r  s l o w preschooler to put on his shoes is an exercise in torture. It feels like an eternity.

Isn’t that what living in the moment is? Being so present that now feels like all there is?

Maybe living in the moment isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

When I’m razor focused on the most obvious thing in the moment, I often miss the important.

When I focus on my son’s task of putting on his shoes, I’m blind to him as a person, to the beauty of nature outdoors, to appreciating how the older ones have learned to get themselves ready and out the door on their own.

I’m so focused on the task at hand that eternity of the moment is forgotten.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “the present is the point at which time touches eternity.”

But surely that red light will not be there in eternity.

Maybe living in the moment means focusing on the part of the moment that is eternal: the good, the true, and the beautiful.

Not the shoes, but the boy-turning-man.

Not the traffic, but the people I’m with.

Not my problems and my troubles, but the blessings I’m thoughtlessly taking for granted.

Maybe planning the future and reflecting on the past aren’t the enemies of living in the moment, but rather a way to use the present to connect with the eternal parts of the past and the future.

Or maybe planning and problem solving are only helpful in that they make the path smoother so we can focus more on the eternal part of the present moment.

I can’t enjoy my son as a person when we started to get ready too late.

Or can I?

Can I still enjoy the scenery when we’re late and in traffic?

Only if joy is a higher priority than punctuality.

Ouch. I want to be joyful and punctual, but if I have to choose . . . I usually choose being pissed off because we failed to be punctual.

Like I wrote last week, I’m no longer pretending I have more solutions than questions, so this is where my thoughts end and yours begin!

Daring Greatly


This blogging project has been great fun and a huge learning experience. It’s been more work than I realized, but the moments of connection it’s facilitated have made it worth it.

Thank you for your engagement. I deeply appreciate all of it, but I can’t go on this way.

Some of you respect my experience and abilities far too much than is warranted and I’ve let that go to my head. I thought I could chart the path toward making a Blue Ocean family while I discovered it myself, but I’m wrong.

Sometimes I feel brave and experienced as I chart the parenting waters.

Sometimes I feel lost and ignorant and supremely unqualified to write a parenting blog.

I am a brave explorer with valuable experience that can help others, but since this blog is about creating your own blue ocean, how can I think I should or could give you a map?

I’ve struggled since the beginning to put into words what I’m doing with this blog and what I hope to inspire in my readers.

How do we think deeply about my choices as a parent while respecting the choices of others and at the same time avoid the trap of saying it doesn’t matter what we choose?

I just finished Daring Greatly by Brené Brown and could jump for joy because she nails it.

This blog is about daring greatly in parenting.

From the book:

“To me the questions of parenting values is about engagement. Are we paying attention? Thinking through our choices? Open to learning and being wrong? Curious and willing to ask questions? What I’ve learned from my work is that there are a million ways out in the world to be a wonderful, engaged parent, and some of them are going to bump up against what I personally think about parenting. . . I think the key is remembering that when other parents make different choice than we’re making, it’s not necessarily criticism. Daring greatly means finding our own path and respecting what that search looks like for other folks.


“I’m not a parenting expert. In fact, I’m not sure that I even believe in the idea of “parenting experts.” I’m an engaged, imperfect parent and a passionate researcher. . . I’m an experienced mapmaker and a stumbling traveler. Like many of you, parenting is by far my boldest and most daring adventure.”

I can wholeheartedly say the above for myself, except that I’m not an experienced mapmaker.

So Mom, don’t worry. I won’t give up blogging. I’m just changing the tone. I’m a stumbling traveler.

Sometimes I’ll extract lessons from my explorations and sometimes I’ll just share my struggles to dare greatly as a parent.

Together we can ask tough questions, engage deeply with our families, and share the joys and tears along the way.

Together we can dare greatly. (Now go read the book!)