Me and Bilbo and Aerosmith

I turned 40 this summer and honestly, 40 feels great. It offers all sorts of permissions to be really, truly, wholey myself. I mean, by this point I am certain in who I am and what I will accept; I’m not gonna step around toes so much any more. I mean…

I’m 40, YOU aren’t the boss of me.

Additionally, I’m leaning into permission for grace in all sorts of ways. There is space for grace for my body and all it has experienced and accomplished. I am loving finding ways to nurture it in health instead of beating it into submission (or ignoring it and hiding from the world). I don’t need to try to force myself into some fully subjective societal construct of beauty. I’m 40! I don’t need you to like my ass!

On top of all that, I’m relaxing into knowing that life goes on even if I’m not perfect. I can make mistakes, adjust, and mive forward without drama. Imagine that!!

This new decade of life, besides providing confidence that comes with age and experience, slipped me a gift in the form of some new and welcome changes for my day-to-day world. For the first time in my almost 16 years of parenting, ALL 6 of my kids are in school. They are spread across 4 different schools, but they are ALL gone from the house during the day. Just me, the cats, the dog, and the chickens are at home from 9:15am-2:30pm. The silence has been amazing and taking shower (or a poop) without children in the bathroom talking at/to me is unreal.

But..I’ve never done this before…this whole alone-and-in-charge-of-only-myself thing is totally foreign to me. I mean, I grew up in a family with 2 brothers, an extrovert dad, and a homebody mom. Then I moved into a dorm-style living situation in college. Then I got married and worked full-time until I became a mother. I have never been “on my own” during the day. I’m completely thrilled and also a bit overwhelmed—I feel almost unmoored by the freedom in front of me. I have 5.25 hours each day “to myself” and feel a little frozen trying to decide what I want to do.

Of course, there is the mom/keeper-of-the-home side of me that thinks about how clean I could get this place. I also think about all the DIY projects I could bang out in a month. Then there is all the art I could create, and all the trails I could hike, and all the hours I could volunteer with refugee families, and all the books I could read, and all the yoga classes, and all the baking projects (I WILL conquer cinnamon rolls one of these days!!) And napping!!! How could I forget about napping?!?!?

However, after the “Creating Space” series I know that some relief from doing/producing/striving is needed in my days. I’m beat, just plain depleated. I don’t so much feel physically exhausted, but I feel like Bilbo Baggins described himself before he disappeared at his birthday party:

“I feel thin, stretched out, like butter scraped over too much bread.” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Rings)

The past few years have been emotionally draining with plenty of unexpected changes on multiple fronts. My fight-or-flight stores are drained and I need to shift so that I can rebuild all that lost ground.

Neghar Fonooni (@negharfonooni), an inspirational yet delightfully salty voice on IG likes to say, “Energy in before energy out.” I’ve neglected the “energy in” part for so, so long but have had the “energy out” part on full blast. My butter can’t spread across all my bread. Time to change all of that.

So, I want to get this right, honor myself, use my 5.25 hours wisely. At the risk of sounding like Aerosmith (boy, I’m quoting a lot today), I don’t want to miss a thing. But, I also don’t want invite too much into my world or put my energy into the wrong things.

Nevertheless, I am not going all paralysis-by-analysis here; analyzing myself into a corner is a bit of a habit with me. I’m going to start simple and loosely structure my days with plenty of space for mistakes, new growth, and/or modifications.

I know for certain from my “8×11 Life” page that I need space for experiences and feelings (adventure and belonging, 2 of my core values, btw). I am filled to the brim with feelings. I am basically emotion in walking, human form. I am going to try giving myself time alone to manage those feelings–processing, releasing, and coming back to equanimity. I’ve unsuccessfully put my emotions on the back burner for the past decade. It hasn’t been pretty. Barely touched emotional processing has bubbled over into anger, frustration, resentment. Like I said, not pretty. That can’t continue. I must use this gift of time to cultivate patterns of emotional wellness and long-term stability.

However, if I live only in my emotions I will become disconnected from reality. I need experiences to ground me, connecting to the greater world around me. I need the woods, different cultures, to create art, laugh with friends (and cry…I do love a good cry with friends), and eat good food.

So, I’m building my weeks and months around 2 foci: alone time for feeling my feels and experiences to connect my feelings to the world.

The loose structure is where I put these ideas into action. Have you read that quote about goals without plans are just dreams? Yeah, I bet you can guess I have tons of dreams. I do. I dream of traveling the world, building a teepee, racing a half Ironman. I have no plans in place to accomplish those, so they stay in dream form for now.

My days alone are real and need a plan. Here is how I’ve loosely broken down my days:

Monday: Groceries and prep for the week, personal appointments, housework, take a nap

Tuesday: Writing work, reading, baking

Wednesday: Writing, hike/explore a new neighborhood, family appointments

Thursday: Art day!!! Also a secondary hiking day.

Friday: Friday Farm Day! DIY and farm chores, friend time

Weekend: Family time, writing, exploring new places together, church, friends

I’ve really loved my time at home the past 4 weeks of the school year, investing into my rest (remember our discussion here?) so that I can be the best mom/wife/woman/human to all the people in my world. I have been pretty serious about honoring the structure I need, too. I felt bad doing it, but I’ve said no to lunch and coffee invites multiple times over the past few weeks. I love my friends but…my butter, ya know?

How can you set up your days and weeks and months to honor your needs? Do you prefer a more rigid structure or a loose one? Do you thrive with almost no structure? For those of you who work full-time, what do you do to honor your needs? I’d love to hear from you.

Connect with me over on IG (@bigbeautifuladventure) to see pics of how my daily routines work out over the next few weeks. I also post hilarious pics of my adventures with my kids and my farm life. I also have a cat that I swear sends me death threats via kitty telepathy. You can see her glaring at me over on IG, too.

Keep on keeping on, Brave Hearts!!! See you back here soon.

Creating Space #4: Putting it all Together

This week our farm officially entered harvest mode. We have an almost 2-acre vineyard with 5 or 6 different varieties of grapes that are ripe and juicy and calling for picking. Each of the grape varieties are wintery-hardy and developed by the University of Minnesota. They are pretty amazing plants. We have gorgeous green grapes that will produce light, sweet white wines or get mixed with a lighter purple grape for a rose. A few rows up there are deep, dark purple grapes—they almost look like a blackish blue. The wine from these grapes turn teeth a hilarious shade of purple. Closest to the house we have a row each of King of the North—the most delicious juicing grape I’ve ever hiding grapescanned—and Somerset Seedless, light, sweet, almost bubble gummy table grapes.

I love to walk up and down the rows, some of them almost closed in with vines arched toward the sun then reaching down & across to intertwine with their grapey sisters. When I push back the leaves I find clusters of heavy, juicy fruity globes. My husband has tended the vines all spring and summer, listening to political talk shows while walking tens of thousands of steps, clipping vines, testing sugar levels, adjusting care methods. Now, in mid-September the fruit is ready to be harvested, crushed, soaked, and fermented.

I haven’t been an active participant in the grape harvest in years past. Usually I have my own long list of harvesting and canning to do. But this summer we needed a lighter load and opted to skip a garden. So, this year I am going to do my share of clipping grapes. Our 3 youngest sons love to clip, too. They feel like magicians with each cluster they locate; they clip buckets, and buckets, and buckets full. I helped with the first round of king of the northKing of the North just to learn the ropes. I’m harvesting the rest on my own soon—ALLLLLLL the vitamin D for me as I pick in the gorgeous sunshine.

Harvest time is pretty amazing. It is the tangible proof that we aren’t crazy people who did all that work of caring for these green viney living things for nothing. Tending plants feels a like like magic. I mean, plants start as a spec the size of a freckle and grow into this long or tall or spiny or leafy or fruity or legumey twisting feat of creation. You add water to that freckle-spec if there is no rain, the sun shines, you make sure the plant has all the space it needs, and it produces stuff you eat for months. See!!! Magic!!!

Our own growth is like this, too. It starts small, so small you might not be able to see it. You make sure it has the stuff it needs for growth, you let it be seen in the light, make sure it has the space it needs–MAGIC!!!!–you have new growth in your life that sustains crushed grapesyou for a long, long time. We are in that process now with working through the “Creating Space” series. Let’s keep it going.

Go get your last 3 sheets we wrote out: your “Hierarchy of Needs”, “List of Shoulds”, and “Core Values.” We are putting it all together and making a plan…making space for our souls to grow. But first, let’s set a few ground rules:

1.)    Be kind!! This means you will speak kindly to yourself. No criticizing yourself & no judging yourself, your needs, or your values.

2.)    No comparing yourself to anyone else in your world, on IG, or in the media. You are unique and don’t have to fit into anyone else’s mold or match up to any one else’s life-model.

3.)    Be gentle!! You can take your time, you can move slowly, you can try and fail and try again. You are a real soul who has real feelings and real needs.

Let’s start…with another sheet of paper…yup, I said it…or get that journal that we talked about last time. We are going to create our “8×11 Life”.

Write your core values at the bottom. Make it pretty, if you want. They are your foundation and everything you add to your “8×11 Life” will have those values in its DNA. Interestingly enough, as I worked through this on my own, I found that my values have shifted in the past 6 years. This happens. We grow, life changes, our hearts heal and unlock new treasures of our soul. While “Belonging” and “Adventure” remain, I’ve shifted “Love” into the category of “Belonging” and have added “Beauty” (not on that list I gave you here). I’m leaving that a little loose though. “Thoughtfulness” is holding pretty strong up there, too. But I see those 2 as sisters; beauty is thoughtful. The way God put together the beauty of the redwoods and oceans and hair follicles was so very thoughtful. When I put together a houseplant vignette in the corner of my living room, I am thoughtful to make it beautiful. I take my time, I look at the spot multiple times every day for a week to make sure it is just what I want. I switch the chair next to the plants, I try different side tables and throw pillows. So, “Beauty” and “Thoughtfulness” go hand-in-hand for me. All of that to say, NEW VALUE for Melly!!!

Now, back to our task at hand. Now that we have our values in place, pull out your “Hierarchy of Needs”. Start at the bottom of your pyramid and give your needs some space. For example, I struggle with sleep. I’ve done some emotional excavation around that struggle and discovered that I often feel separate from my family, like I am an employee rather than the loved mom and wife I am. So, I’ve focused on reminding myself that I belong IN my family and not TO my family…then I  let myself have space to rest. It sucks sometimes and feels so difficult.

A friend of mine in Texas once quoted her child’s tutor, “It isn’t hard, it’s just unfamiliar.” That is so true! All unfamiliar activities feel, but they may not be really all that difficult. After the muscles of our mind and body learn how to move in this unfamiliar way we may find that once hard thing has added ease and joy to our lives.  Even though resting and NOT doing work for my family feels unnatural and “hard”, it is just unfamiliar and will make my life better in the long run.

So, fill in those needs. Give them space. Let that space feel unfamiliar and uncomfortable so that it can feel fabulous in a few weeks. Remember that you aren’t making a lifetime commitment. Just scroll back up to 2 paragraphs ago where I stated that my core values had changed. So, give it a try. Just try to give your needs some space and see what happens. If it doesn’t work after a month or two, then you have my full permission to stop and go back to your old ways. Mmmmkay?

What about those “shoulds”? What do we do with those sons of b’s? Well, some of them will have to stay. When I look at mine I see that parts that must stay, but the intensity or the focus on productivity can shift toward a softer, more mindful presence. Like, I want to be more regular with my pottery practice, BUT I don’t *have* to sell it or push hard RIGHT NOW to get it into local galleries and local home décor stores. The push to PROVE success can be removed as it is NOT one of my values. You know what? “Success” may be one of my husband’s values. I often pressure myself to conform to his values because, well, “Belonging”. I want to belong and absorbing into my spouse can mimic that feeling of being seen, being valued, and being loved. But boy, oh, boy has that done me wrong!!! I can practice beauty without trying to work in someone else’s value set.

Keep working through those “shoulds”. How can you shift them to honor your values? If you can’t make it shift, then drop them completely. Add in the most important ones to your 8×11 life.

Make sure you leave empty space on your page. Even if you feel like you must label aaaaalllll the spaces, don’t. Let there be space in your world for those things that come up unexpectedly—emergencies, last-minute lunches with a friend, oops-gotta-run-and-get-ingredients-for-dinner, mental-health days, etc.

The last step is to stay true to what you’ve written down. Don’t let “shoulds” creep into your space. Don’t let your needs slide off. Look at your weekly schedule and routines. How can you build them to honor your 8×11 life? What can you drop? Where can you add in what you really need? How can you make the boring self-care stuff (paying bills, making meals, washing clothes, take meds) fit better and easier?

I’m going to work on filling my 8×11 page this week and will post it on my Instagram page @bigbeautifuladventure. I’d love to see what you come up with, too. Post your “8×11 Life”, either in-progress or a completed page (both are so great) on IG and use the hashtag #8x11life. I’d love to see how this is working for you.

I’m so proud of the work we’ve been doing. This is hard unfamiliar stuff and takes a lot of bravery and strength to explore. Keep being brave. Keep connecting to yourself and your world. You’ve got this!