Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Great Purge of 2015

It was a rough summer around here. I never quite felt like we got in a good groove. People were grumpy and "bored" and we "never did anything fun". The rough summer turned in to a rough fall. Some of it was the kids, some of it was how busy we were and how many different directions we were always running (not shocking, considering there are 8 of us who all have things going on) and some of it was just me.

The past couple months I've felt really overwhelmed. Like I was barely keeping my head above water and if I stopped to rest for even a second, I'd go under. It was pervasive and noticeable in every different area of my life.

A few weeks ago I told my mom that I was overwhelmed by life and, specifically, by all the "stuff" in our house. I commented that if I came home one day and somehow half of our possessions were gone out of our house I'd be relieved, rather than upset. That's when she decided we were going to get to work on making that happen! (just the motivation -- and help -- I needed!) We have been working our butts off for the better part of two weeks now. She has come over almost every day and we've tackled a different room/area/category of stuff.

While I don't think we've gotten rid of half the possessions in our house, we have purged an impressive amount of stuff in a pretty short period of time. Lots of bags of garbage. TONS of recycling (why was it that I kept boxes from so many things I've purchased long, long ago? . . . and SO. MANY. papers!). About 40 pairs of shoes. Bags and bags of clothing. Wall art. Bedding. Furniture. Picture frames. Books. Home decor type stuff. Kitchen gadgets. Jewelry. Toys. We still have work to do. And we still have more possessions than I am comfortable with! But we are WAY closer to what I am comfortable with than we were two weeks ago. We have been able to pass things along to others who need them or will, at least, make good use of them. That makes me happy. We have donated some items to charities that we trust. We have gotten rid of some of the excess that we have in life and have simplified. All 8 of us are on board and are enjoying the end result of all the hard work -- clean, less cluttered spaces all over our house, drawers, shelves and storage bins that are completely empty and a more peaceful place to live!

We've even found a few things that I forgot we owned. It is a sorry state of affairs that this type of problem is so common and pervasive. It's not just me, I know. But I can only start with myself, so that's what I'm doing. Making a difference a little bit at a time in my own life. And in my own home. It feels good.

I had requested The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up from the library a few months ago. But it's a popular book, so the list wasn't short. It finally came in for me near the beginning of the purge. I'm almost done with the book now and, while I don't agree with everything she says, there have been many ideas in the book that have been very helpful to me while going through this process. I haven't done things exactly according to her order and her advice (partly because I had already started and partly because some of her methods aren't really geared well for a family of 8 and a few I find just flat out silly -- or maybe just culturally irrelevant, as the author is from Japan and I am not). Overall, I think it is a great book and there have been some very freeing ideas and philosophies in there that I am thankful for. Perspective is always good and the author has a very different perspective than any I have previously encountered and I appreciated the new way to think about possessions.

Simplifying and paring down our possessions certainly hasn't solved all my problems, but it has helped. For that I am grateful! Major thanks to my mom and my family for all the help!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Elementary school and our "village"

Our community is such a blessing. I love where we live and am so grateful! I try to not ever take it for granted. We are surrounded by wonderful people. I walk out my front door (actually I never walk out the front door, so make that the side door) and within about 10 minutes I can be deep in the woods spotting deer and fox and owls and all sorts of creatures. I can drive to Target or the library in less than 3 minutes . . . unless traffic is bad, then it might take 4 minutes. We have amazing parks and trails and outdoor spaces. It is a wonderful place to live and we are so blessed!

I adore our elementary school! I can't say enough good things about it! Amazing families. Fabulous teachers who are smart, gifted at what they do and have genuine care, love and concern for the kids that they are teaching. It's not perfect (no place is!), but it is so wonderful. It's a smaller, public K-6 school. It is far enough from our house (almost exactly a mile) that my kids qualify to be bussed, but for years we've walked to school pretty much every day. Joe is a walking patrol this year, which makes his "oath" similar to that of a postal worker, "in rain, snow, sleet or hail" or however that goes. The only times the walking line is cancelled is if the air temperature is below zero or the windchill is below 17 below. So, pretty much he has to walk every day, rain or shine. The other day, on the way home, the kids got pelted with some pretty serious hail! (I picked them up that day, after Joe had safely crossed the kids -- which only included his sister and the other walking patrol who has taken the same "oath" -- across the busy street. His most important job is to make sure everyone gets safely across Hamline Ave. After he had done that, I picked them up and drove them home. I even yelled at the other kid on the walking line to hop in and drove him home too.)

So, Joe carries a big orange flag and wears the reflective vest and the whole deal. We leave our house (via the SIDE door) about a half hour before school starts each morning. We pick up the neighbor girl 3 houses down and continue collecting kids along the way. We can have up to 10 kids in our "pack" by the time we get to school. I have walked with the kids from time to time over the years, but this year for the first time I get to walk them pretty much every day. (If my memory can be trusted, I've only missed 1 day so far this year). We've been hot. We've been cold. We've had to work hard to not blow over. We've gotten wet . . . sometimes REALLY wet. And still we walk. It is, truly, my very favorite part of the day. Fresh air in the morning. Time to talk with my kids and hear/see them interact with other kids who aren't their siblings. The morning/before school energy of elementary school kids is good for my soul.

Once we get to school, I wait outside with the kids until they go in. Sometimes, we even walk them in to their classrooms. And, on occasion, Sara and Anna play a trick on Anna's teacher where Sara walks into Anna's classroom (while Anna hides in the hall) and puts Anna's folder away and proceeds to sit in Anna's spot and "get to work". Bless her, Anna's teacher always "falls for it" and calls Sara "Anna" and tells her to start on her morning work. Anna's friends are all in on it too (they started doing it last year -- shockingly, last years teacher "fell for it" every time too. Amazing! These woman are saints, I tell you!). It doesn't ever take long before Sara's crazy laughter starts and she admits that she's not actually Anna and Anna comes in and gets to work. The teacher laughs and says "you fooled me" and I give Anna a hug and Sara and I head out to make the trip home again.

On any given morning there are probably a couple dozen parents who either walk with their kids to school or drive them and walk them in, rather than just dropping them off at the door. I love to watch other parents interact with their kids. The kids are all young enough that you see LOTS of have-a-good-day hugs and kisses between parents and their kids. You see kids high five their friends and hug their teachers. Now, I don't want to paint an unrealistic picture . . . you also see some tears, have to yell at kids to settle their bodies down a bit, see a kid push a classmate and hear words you wish kids that little kids wouldn't know, let alone say . . . but 95% of what I witness at that school each day brings a smile to my face and warmth to my heart. It is good for my soul!

Once in a while I will be there at the end of the day too. It is just as heart-warming at the end of the day as it is at the beginning. If you are in the younger wing of the school at the end of the day you will see LOTS of hugs. I'm pretty sure 90% of the younger kids have some type of physical contact with their teacher at the end of the day. Hugs, high fives, maybe a fist bump. Lot of hugs! It is so sweet. If you are in the other wing, where the older kids are, there are certainly less hugs (they are a big too old and cool for that), but you will still see some form of physical contact from many kids. Usually a high five. Some days it's enough to make me thankful for the sunglasses that I'm wearing which hide the tears welling up in my eyes. Such caring, loving, genuinely kind teachers and such sweet kiddos. My heart nearly bursts! And I am thankful!

On Tuesday mornings before school there is a student-led Bible study that meets at the high school. Often our two high schoolers get picked up by another neighborhood parent on these days . . . but on the days when I drive the early-morning crew to school on a Tuesday it also makes me crazy happy. Tooling around the neighborhood picking up kids in my big van while it's still dark (depending on the time of year and what side of daylight-savings you are on) and dropping them off at school before 7 to study the Bible before beginning their days is almost more than I can take. Last week I dropped off my 2 and 3 others (poor Jacob was the lone boy in the van . . . good thing he's used to it) and felt so much gratitude for countless, nameless things as I watched them walk in together. For their friendship, their love for God, their desire to get up early (I've never once "made" my kids go, they genuinely want to) to study the Bible, their boldness to attend a Bible study at their public high school, the Christian teachers that I know are in the building silently cheering them on, the wonderful community of people we have in our neighborhood who love my kids. And the list goes on.

I really couldn't even imagine living in a better place. I think it is really quite unique and not the norm, and I am so grateful! (The Roseville area visitor association didn't even pay me a penny to say any of this, in case you were wondering!)