Thursday, 30 January 2014

Today's learnings

There was an ease that came with was easy to smile, easy to work, easy to play.  I'm hopeful getting rid of some psychological baggage did the trick.  With its weight lifted off me, I found it easier to embrace the challenges as opportunities to learn and to look for solutions when conflict is wiggling its way into our day.

And I have had some aha moments I'd like to take the time to capture for future reference.  In no particular order...

...sometimes it is beneficial to print our recipes from the internet.  Like when you are preparing a Chinese New Year feast and the website you found with easy but authentic recipes is having technical difficulties.  Chalk it up to another opportunity to practice agility!

...when planning a cooking activity for a group to do, it really is okay to plan which person will do each part of the recipe.  In hindsight, this seems like a no-brainer.  But now I know for sure.  Plan out every little detail.  The experience will be a lot smoother.

...our minds are extremely powerful and one simple bend in our perspective can make enormous changes.  An exercise I participated in today was finding a way to balance two seemingly opposing forces.  Like, say, balancing the desire for an organized house with the desire for relaxed, playful experiences with one's children.  The trick is to literally have the "organized" part of yourself ask the "playful" part of yourself to share ideas of how to make "organized" more playful.  My playful side told me that singing and playing games during tidy-up time would be fun.  

...feeling a craving to be hooked up to social media is my mind's way of saying it's time to get out and be with people again.  The wheels are in motion to be line up a few skiing dates over the next couple of weekends. 

Yes, it's true that we never stop learning.  I'm grateful to have this lovely little space to capture some of the lessons life has fired my way.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

A weight is lifted

I've found myself in a rut since writing about my aspirations for my children.  The intent of the exercise was to focus on what I wanted them to become over the long-term so that I could consider what they need from me today in order to grow into their future selves.  Once I truly understood this, I could focus my efforts and time to making it happen.  I would have a blueprint that I could lay my actions against and see whether they were in line or distracting me from my goals.

As I got to the end of my post, the thought dawned on me that I would need to model the behaviours I wanted them to develop.  After I looked over the picture I'd painted, I felt painfully ill-equipped to deliver on it.

Which then got me to scrutinizing some issues I've struggled with for years.  Was I turning into a parent that insisted on perfection?  As the years passed and my children showed no signs of developing one of the traits I wished for them, would my frustration and feelings of failure (in myself) lead them away from becoming confident individuals?  Then the nature versus nurture arguments started...Given their own innate personalities, was writing my wish list in the first place setting them up for failure?  Were they already pre-wired beyond my control? 

And how do I model confidence when I'm not feeling that confident myself?  How do I teach kindness when my eyes clearly flash red in the heat of an angry moment?  How do I model creativity when my creative hours are when they are in bed?  I was feeling like I needed to be one hundred percent "on" all the time, and the enormous pressure was weighing heavily on me.  It simply wasn't sustainable.  It felt like I was one-dimensional.

As I get all this pent-up angst out of my system, clarity and solutions start to unfold before me.  Every time I strive to model certain behaviours or values and fail, I have an opportunity to model perseverance and humility.  I get to model that this life is a journey and that while our bodies may stop growing, our minds and spirits are often blessed with miles of open space for growth.  I remind myself that while I am an important teacher in my children's lives, I'm not the only one.  Surrounding myself with others that hold the same values dear will help model those values through their actions.  Having their presence in my children's lives will support me when I fall short.  I need to keep reminding myself it truly takes a village to raise a child!

As the layers of pressure of the past week melt away and the insecurities are seen for what they really are, I find us in a playful place.  Where I can wrestle with Nicholas, and he's happy for the silly attention.  Where I can bestow compliments and warmth on Jaelyn as I hold her in my arms and her eyes shine with joy.  Where I can sink Astrin into fits of giggles with tickle kisses.  Somehow, they must sense when the pressure is lifting off me - us, in fact - and when we can immerse one another in the best kind of love and attention.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Club Day. The Nature Version.

Welcome back, Nature Club!  It's been awhile since we've seen all of you, and we're happy you could join us today.

I've been planning for our winter Nature Club activities since attending a webinar with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the fall.  They were introducing a new resource - Feathered Friends - and as I flipped through the activities I felt they were just right for Nature Club.  Even though the activities are organized by month, the introductory activity, What Makes a Bird a Bird, could work in any month, whether it be September or January.

We read through the book What Makes a Bird a Bird? to get thinking about the characteristics that birds share with other animals (the ability to fly, sing, lay eggs, build nests) and the characteristic that is unique to birds (feathers). 

Then we donned snowshoes and walked to the park, stopping to listen when the songs of the chickadees caught our ears.  It was there we played a game of bird true or false.  We stomped a line to divide the field into two - one side of the field was the "true" side and the other side was the "false" side.  Then the clubbers took their places on the line.  I read out a statement and the clubbers had to decide whether the statement was true or false by running to the appropriate side of the field.  In their snowshoes.  By the end of the game, everyone was thoroughly tired.  But not too tired to hike over to the playground and pretend to be wolves.  Or a girl who lived with wolves.  A low howl from the alpha meant it was time to return to our den.  And while their legs were weary from trudging through the snow, they magically transformed into birds and their wings carried them back to our house just in time for their parents to come get them.   

Monday, 20 January 2014

Mama saver

We're getting put through our paces on Mondays, with less than an hour between the end of Jaelyn's dance class and the time when Nicholas needs to be at hockey.  And did I mention yet that both activities bookend the supper hour?  How to warm bodies up with healthy food, and in a hurry?

I've turned to my slow cooker.  I first cozied up to it when I wanted to prepare holiday lunches for family while having the goal to spend more time with family than with food.  Then we packed it up and took it with us on our holiday ski trip.  I wanted to make warming, hearty meals without asking everyone to wait for an hour after our return from the slopes while I prepared and cooked.  On this trip, I adapted recipes from Long Way on a Little, as some of the recipes call for the "low and slow" method of cooking grass-fed meats.  And then, as luck would have it, I rediscovered my Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker cookbook right after the holidays when we were all in need of a little detoxing.  The crockpot has been getting a workout ever since.  Here are just a few of the meals we've had over the last several weeks out of this miracle machine.

  ~ Roast leg of lamb
  ~ Slow-cooked pork roast
  ~ Minestrone soup
  ~ Pho soup
  ~ Vegetable curry
  ~ Maple-baked beans
  ~ Slow-cooked sausage
  ~ Vindaloo vegetables
  ~ Cauliflower and kidney bean stew with coconut milk
  ~ Chipotle red bean and sweet potato chili
  ~ Borscht
  ~ Baked beans with pork hocks
  ~ French white bean and cabbage soup

I'm loving that many of these recipes focus on ingredients that we have on hand through our CSA (community supported agriculture) share, which helps to cut down on our grocery bill.  Onions, potatoes, carrots, beets and parsnips make an appearance in many of these recipes, and are often supplemented by produce we froze during the summer, such as peas, beans, peppers, tomatoes and celery.  And all I have to do is have everything ready to go and the pot turned to "on" by 9:00 in the morning! 

Oh, little crock pot.  It turns out you're more than a mama saver.  You're a whole family saver!

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Looking way out. Or not too far out at all.

I was challenged to imagine my children in adulthood.  What would I like them to be like?  How would I like them to feel?  Here's what I came up with:
There is a look of confidence and happiness in my children's eyes.  They know who they are and what they stand for.  My children walk with peaceful purpose - they don't feel the need to rush, but they don't dawdle either.  Their bodies are strong.
They show their interest in others by holding a calm, steady gaze with those they are engaged in conversation with.  They share a kind smile with all they see.  They are liked, respected and trusted.  They give generously and receive graciously.  They are a considerate partner to the person they choose to spend their lives with.
My children are curious about how the world works and know how to find answers to their questions.  They are skilled at looking information up using technology or books, and they can also talk to people or observe the world around them.  They are wise because they have seen much and learned much and experienced much.
My children enjoy being in nature. 
My children have discovered how they best express themselves...verbally, artistically, in written word.  They think before they express themselves, and they are thoughtful and articulate.  While they won't fear expressing themselves, they are considerate of the impact their message will have on others.
As I read this, I wonder if we'll ever get there from where we are now.  And while they hold quite a bit of responsibility for who they turn into and their own happiness, there is also a lot of modelling we can do for them as parents.  Perhaps what I would like for them is what I also wish to be. 

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Slow crafting

Awhile back, my mom mentioned to me that she wanted to frame a piece of art I'd made in high school.  I looked at her curiously and wondered what possible piece of artwork she could have in her possession.  Then she showed me the was a plant, a palm to be more precise, and it was drawn in ink using a technique called pointillism.  As I gazed at the picture, I wondered how I actually drew the thing - did I copy it from somewhere?  Borrowed someone else's sketch and then started putting dots of ink where it felt right?  As you may be able to guess by now, I don't consider myself to be much of an artist.

But there are some parallels between this drawing experience, and some of the other crafting we do around here.  I seem to recall that drawing taking forever to complete, and I wonder exactly how many dots of ink it took to finish it.  Likewise, the sweater I'm knitting is also taking forever, but the half that I've finished looks beautiful.  And so did the sweet little chicks that I needle-felted for Christmas last year.  Lately, the few items I've tried to model with modelling beeswax have taken a bit more time than if I had tried to create them with play dough or modelling clay, but they've turned out nonetheless.  And we tried out some introductory embroidery with the Chinese New Year in mind too, which is a vastly slower experience than painting the symbols on paper.


 So what is it that can make these slow crafts so accessible, with a healthy dose of patience?  I wonder if the pace of a slow craft makes it easier for someone like me - someone who was not born with the instincts and skills for being at ease creating tangible things - to create something identifiable.  I don't necessarily need a pattern in order to be successful.  I can design and create all on my own. 

If I were to sew a chick together, for example, I would be done in a fraction of the time it would take to knit or needle-felt.  I would most likely copy a pattern - someone else's design that I've simply followed the instructions to complete.  If I were to wing it on my own, I would essentially have one shot to get it right, and that shot comes and goes in the blink of an eye.  In the case of sewing, once the fabric is cut, it either works or it doesn't.  Sure, it could be tweaked, but it's also quite likely it would need a complete do-over.  With needle-felting, however, I found it pretty much impossible to make a mistake.  Fiber was added a little bit at a time.  There was time between needle strikes to pause and consider what needed to happen next.  The gradual evolution of a ball to a ball with a beak at a snail's pace allowed my clumsy hands to make mistakes and see them before they became unfixable.

And I've felt, as I've worked a ball of wax into a crown for our little Bruno the Bear (inspired by a story in the Book of Fairy Princes), my breathing slow, my muscles relax, my mind sharpen in concentration, my whole self honed in to the present moment.  And I see why exposing my little ones to such handwork is so great for them.  They get to experience, without being begged and pleaded with, what many adults flock to yoga and meditation classes for.  They get to see and feel their heads, their hearts, and their hands working as one.  For a moment, nothing matters but this expression of themselves they are working hard to create.  There is peace inside and outside.  It's a beautiful place to be.   

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

About that list for the week...

There must be some sort of mischievous spirit who lurks around to-do lists, or napkins where the plans for the week or month or year are hastily scrawled down, or in the hidden wires of cyber space where bloggers share with optimism what they are hoping for in the days to come.

And it is here that cunning spirit delights in wreaking havoc.  Maybe adding a few things to the list in invisible ink that will magically appear when it's least convenient or expected.  Maybe shaking up said list so that it is indecipherable.  Or hiding the list so it can't be found when it's needed, whether the need is focus, inspiration or something else.

I know intellectually that my follow-through on Monday's list of aspirations has only to do with myself...that I've allowed myself to be side-tracked and diverted from the list of things I had hoped to accomplish this week.  There is really no one out there plotting against me, willing me to fail.  As I look back on that list, only made two days ago, I see that I've actually accomplished quite a bit of it.  And more, as I prepare to facilitate a staycation trip to China and also plan a Chinese New Year's feast here for family.  Oh, and spending time taking pictures and writing up ads to sell a few items we don't need anymore.  And trying to organize a friend and family get-together when we go on vacation.

What's weighing heavily on me are the two things that were on that list for me and me alone...taking a bit of time in the morning to do yoga and sewing a shirt for myself.  Oh, and while my kids have been outside, I haven't found time to get out myself.  Why should these things be so difficult to do when I'll be the one who will benefit from them?

When I peel back all the layers...the excuses, the blame, the defensiveness...I think the source of the foot-dragging is that I feel it will be hard.  It will be hard to reach down and see I can no longer touch my toes or hang out in downward dog comfortably.  It will be hard to try to sew a finicky knit shirt with a technique I've never tried before.  It's hard to make the effort to go outside into the dark night after everyone has gone to bed when it's bright and warm inside.  Maybe "hard" isn't the right word...maybe it's more like fear that I won't succeed in the way I'm used to succeeding.  Maybe it's more like I'm selling out for the road that is more comfortable and not even batting an eyelash on the road that leads to the unknown...the road I'll never see if I don't try.

And it's here that I go through all my "push through it" reminders...I will do a better job taking care of the little ones who live here when I take care of myself...I am in the awesome position to lead my children by example, and I have the power to choose the example do I want them to see...there is much to be learned from a person's mistakes...

So long, mischievous spirit.  I see you for what you really are.

Monday, 13 January 2014

This week...

This week we are...

... baking bread of all kinds from 200 Fast & Easy Artisan Breads.  Today is naan, tomorrow might be a boule.

... making sausage with my dad.

... pledging to be outside every day this week.  Today was a lovely day for snowshoeing, followed by fort-building.

... hoping to take the first steps of taking better care of myself by starting off the day with a 15-minute yoga practice.  I may even be able to practice in my own bedroom, now that there are only two of us in there.  So long dingy basement!

... updating the calendar for all the birthdays and anniversaries we need to keep track of so we aren't late sending our happy thoughts.  Can you believe it took us two years to discover we have nieces born on the same day?  Our only two nieces?!?

... going to finish off that shirt I started sewing this weekend.

... kicking off learning about the scientific process so we can do our own scientific investigation about birds.  Our resources came from one of Cornell's Bird Sleuth programs.

... reading, acting, and drawing wolves.

... sharing the love of handwork with the littlest one, with an intro to hand sewing with sewing cards, then working up to using some burlap and wool.

... doing lots of reading, singing, cuddling, and sipping tea while the kids recover from their colds.

Wishing you all a wonderful week!

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Another way to get outside

We took a few days to get away during the holidays.  We chose to go to a place that had a small downhill ski hill, as well as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing trails.  Some of us (Chris, Nicholas and Jaelyn) are very excited to experience flying down a hill on two pieces of fiberglass and others would prefer level ground (me and my sidekick Astrin).

To prepare for our trip, I rented a pair of cross country skis.  And eventually I had some time to go out and try them.  Not having skied since grade school, and only having a fuzzy recollection of the sport as seen during the Olympics, off I went into the wilderness on trails that hadn't been groomed for awhile.  Keep in mind that Olympians don't fall that often, so I didn't have anything in my mental toolbox for how to right myself once I found myself lying on my back staring at the blue sky above me.  It should be intuitive, but it wasn't.

So in love I fell with it that I ventured to ask the kids if they would like to try it to.  I was met with eager responses.  Before we knew it, I'd planned a few outings where we could give cross-country a pretty good workout.  We watched a couple of videos to give the kids some tips on the to-do's and not-to-do's.  I found one video that explained and demonstrated how to get up once you fall down (and here's one that showed what I did).  We were prepared.  We had gear.  It was time to head off to the trails.

We are so lucky to have groomed trails a mere block from our house, which was where we headed for our first excursion.  Unfortunately, the trails were blown.  Fortunately, a class was out learning how to ski and had made some paths for us to follow.  Also fortunately, my kids were willing to blaze their own trails.  We spend a little more than an hour getting used to the skis, the terrain, and just having fun out at the park.  I think the only one who was not happy was Astrin, who I was pulling behind me in our Chariot (we have a nifty ski attachment that makes it easy to pull her).  And I can imagine her frustration - it would be pretty boring to watch everyone else having all the fun.

The kids picked it up extremely quickly - so quickly, I have no pictures to share.  They were up from a fall amazingly fast and showed none of the beached whale maneuvers I displayed out in the woods.  And they moved incredibly fast too.  They were so thrilled with their first experience that we tried an evening ski too, which was great.

We only have the skis for another couple of days, so I hope to take them to some trails out-of-town tomorrow and perhaps another park in-town on the weekend.  Then I hope to see whether their enthusiasm has waned a bit or whether owning a set of our own is an option for us.

Whatever the future holds for us in terms of being owners, renters, borrowers, or something else, I'm glad we tried out something different together.  It's one more thing we can do to avoid the stir-craziness of a long winter.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Queen for a day

I can't believe that I was nervous about how the afternoon would unfold as we returned from our after-lunch jaunt outside.  I was feeling unsettled that there was absolutely nothing scheduled for the afternoon.  While Nicholas had mentioned some things he wanted to do, I had visions of my girls running wild through the house with every possible costume we owned clinging to them in some fashion, tearing apart the basement my husband had worked so hard to clean up, then proceeding to leave mayhem in their wake in every other room they visited.  It would have looked something like this:

And then my Jaelyn, the Queen of the Day, led our afternoon activities.  Queen of the Day, you ask?  It arose from my attempt to bring in our Monday with some festive cheer.  I told them several stories inspired by Three Kings Day, and then I baked a cake with a dry bean hidden in it.  Whoever found the bean in their piece of cake was declared King or Queen of the Day!  The newly minted royalty was given the responsibility to call the shots - in an innocent, fun sort of way - for the rest of the day.  Today the bean was found by Miss Jaelyn.

First she led us through some painting.  She received some Glob Paint for Christmas and has been waiting patiently to try it out.  At her command, we mixed the lovely-smelling pigments with water and painted what came to us...stormy water with a compass, abstract toddler art, and a garden scene graced our walls once they were done.

Then Queen Jaelyn brought up our Create-A-Story game.  I love this game, but I haven't pushed it on my kids and it's only been out a couple of times.  It provides all the elements of a story - characters, setting, plot, descriptive words, resolution and a lesson learned - and it's the writer's job to put all these seemingly unrelated items together into a coherent story.  We played storyteller for well over an hour.  While Nicholas and I didn't get to actually write our stories, I'm looking forward to incorporating his story elements into an introduction to free-writing in the next day or two.  Jaelyn's story was about a team of scuba divers who travelled to the ocean floor only to find a city there.  It's inhabitants wanted the divers to take them to the surface, but the divers refused.  This angered the beautiful sea queen, who trapped them with blue slime.  Thankfully, there was a gorilla still aboard the scuba divers' boat who had a crystal ball and saw that his friends were in trouble and rescued them.  Later, our heroine (Jaelyn) and the gorilla travelled somewhere else and found a treasure chest.  They returned to land and gave it to the mayor, who rewarded them with a million dollars.  During the mayor's announcement, onlookers made fun of the gorilla, but Jaelyn decided not to listen to those people because the gorilla was her best friend.   Love it!

After that...well, I think the girls did run amok.  But most of the costumes stayed in their home and those that were brought out were back in their places before bedtime.  Thanks to the command of our Queen of the Day.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Starting slowly

We have such grand plans for this winter...learning about the scientific process and putting together an experiment of our own using the bird feeders we're watching religiously...discovering the world of wolves...exploring the world (or just the city parks) on cross-country skis...stay-cationing in a few new-to-us countries to name a few.  Plus there are the usual suspects for this time of year...sending out thank-you notes, dreaming up next year's garden, planning for birthday parties and winter vacations.  All good stuff that we're very eager to dive into.

I learned from the fall, however, to start slow.  So this week is planned to be a week of transitions.  I'm easing us into earlier bedtimes and earlier wake-up times.  I'm reasserting a weekly and daily routine to guide our days.  Our mornings are set aside for school work and our afternoons are meant for learning away from books.  Monday and Thursday afternoons are dedicated to project time, Tuesdays are our chore and Club afternoons, Wednesdays will be our homeschool co-op, and we round out the week with Field Trip Fridays.  Our morning and afternoon is broken up by a trip outdoors, even in cold weather.

Two days in and some of our transition has been hit or miss, which I knew to expect.  I think the kids were happy to get back to their schoolwork.  Jaelyn was so eager to get back to it she pulled out her math book on Sunday and started working through problems.  And then chore day came and foot-dragging began.  Or a writing lesson surfaced and using the dictionary to find out whether words were spelled correctly was considered a most unreasonable strategy. 

I now realize that part of our transition has to do with my own relapse back to old habits.  Over the holidays, I fell away from using song to move us through our days.  No, song definitely does not feel natural and it takes an incredible amount of effort to remember words, melodies, and go through the physical act of singing through the day.  So my goal for the rest of the week will be to get reacquainted with those simple songs I still remember and learn a few more.  And while the kids are getting to bed earlier, I'm still up as late and struggling to be up in the morning before the kids, bleary-eyed and dull-headed when I do roll out of bed. 

Hmmm, I think that some of this list of things for me to improve is much like the one I wrote about in September.  Those old behaviours that are so ingrained in us are difficult to change.  Yet the reward for changing is worth it.  It's worth the effort to be the mama I want to be and model the way I would like my children to treat my grandchildren. 

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Creating in the new year

I didn't do much in the way of reflecting of the year gone by or dreaming of the future ahead of us like I did last year (it started here and went on for several days after that).  I did, however, request that each of our family members write down two things on New Year's Eve.  The first was what we wanted to leave behind in 2013 (which were thrown into the fire that evening) and the second was one thing we wanted to bring into our lives in 2014.  Those little pieces of paper are sitting in our kitchen right now, waiting for a home so we can glance at them occasionally and remember the one goal we set for ourselves this year.

My goal for 2014 was to do more creating with my hands.  Sure, I have done much creating over the past month, and in little bursts here and there before that.  And as much as I love making for others, I became gun-shy about making things for myself after attempting to make myself a tunic that looked more like a potato sack (likely the most beautiful potato sack I've ever seen, but not very flattering).  After that experience, I found an on-line sewing class on Craftsy dedicated exclusively to knits, and impulsively bought it.  And there it has sat, a mere click and password away.

Well, the weather turned frigid, the basement was begging to be cleaned out, and so while Chris did the hard work of sifting through boxes of stuff, I grabbed some jogging fleece from my stash (my contribution to reducing the volume of stuff in the basement) and started to sew.

In the span of an afternoon, a garment was made.  While it may only look like a utilitarian hoodie, it's warm and cozy, it fits just right, and it's something I'm proud of.

With one success under my belt and a bit more confidence, I'm off to sew up a long-sleeved V-neck t-shirt next.  Fingers crossed this one works out as well as the hoodie!

Thursday, 2 January 2014

The holiday that was

I hope you had a wonderful, peaceful, loving holiday season surrounded by those who matter most to you.

As we find ourselves on the other side of the Christmas season, I think today was the first day of returning to "normal".  Not that it feels normal yet in the least.  I'm not sure any of us know what day of the week it is yet, and our home is still in a messy, unsettled state.  There are things to be put away, furniture to re-arrange now that our Christmas tree is put away, and likely some purging as we consider the items we've lost interest in or grown out of to make way for the new things that entered our lives.

While I haven't spent a lot of time reflecting on the year that was, I have spent a wee bit of time thinking about Christmas 2013.  I'm happy to say that it feels like we got it right this year, after 10 plus years of trying to figure it out.  Yes, that fine balance between too much and not enough has been elusive, on all fronts - presents, food, activities, family, friends...while I know we weren't perfect, and I suspect that the unpredictability of life will continue to make perfection elusive (which is perhaps a good thing), it did a feel good holiday nonetheless.

Yes, now is a good time to sit back and think about what to replicate next year so that we can work to get it "just right" in future years.  Indeed, perhaps some holiday magic can stick around for those times when life feels a little too stressful, and we're in need of some tricks to rebalance ourselves. 

I know I spent a lot more time planning this year.  Yes, I made lists of presents to be handmade and purchased before we'd even celebrated Hallowe'en.  I made menus and grocery lists weeks before the meals would actually be prepared and served.  There were lists of things to be packed to take to activities.  And also dreams and plans for the traditions we wanted to create for our little ones.  Now that I write it down and see it on paper, it looks crazy, and perhaps it is.  In the end though, it allowed me to be out of the "what are we going to do" frozen feeling of panic and in the "this is the plan, let's get it done" mindset of action.

I think I also chose projects that were reasonable to complete.  While I think every year has an "opus" present (last year it was farmyard wall hangings with handmade animals for the littlest ones, this year it was the felted cloche for my sister-in-law), this year the projects were easy - knit hats, crocheted chainmail hoods, freezer-paper stenciled t-shirts (instructions in The Creative Family), pajama bottoms, a cowl (instructions in The Rhythm of Family), hand-dyed playsilks (instructions in the kindergarten curriculum at Lavender's Blue Homeschool).  They were all things that I could make in the evenings, or enlist help with (the t-shirts and the playsilks come to mind).  And the mantra of "reasonable" worked its way into everything we did.  Yes, we've done baking every year, but two types of cookies were reasonable for this year.  Yes, we've made gift baskets in the past, but this year most of the items were canned in the summer.  Yes, we've brought potluck items to family celebrations in the past, but this year we relied on the ease of the slow-cooker or brought pantry staples like pickles or made recipes with ingredients we could source straight from our cold storage or freezer - tasty, simple food.

I think the From Hectic to Harmonious Holiday Challenge helped to on a subtle level too.  It forced me to be intentional about not only how we chose to spent our time, but the quality of our time together.  It was a daily reminder that presence in the moment, with an air of calm lingering over our activities was far more important than what we actually did together.  It was a reminder to walk through the days with grace, and to share peaceful experiences with my children.  I think that on some level, doing the Challenge opened up the space for me to let things go.  I think I learned how to truly let things go - how to resolutely come to the conclusion something was not going to happen or was not worth doing and then not giving it another thought.

So, there you have it...four learnings that can be applied to every day and achieving balance when things can quickly spiral out of control.  Devise a plan in advance, make the plan reasonable, and know that how you execute the plan is just as important as the plan itself.  If something on the plan just isn't fitting, let it go, and all will be well.

And with that, I'll be working out a plan for what homeschooling will look like in our house this winter.  Happy 2014 everyone!