Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"How Do You Do It All?"

You would not believe how many times I am asked this question.  And each time, I have to honestly answer, "I don't".

From reading my blog, you may think I am some sort of super human, someone with more hours in the day than average people.  Sorry to burst your bubble, but that's not true.  Most days, my head is spinning, just trying to keep up with the daily chores (I'm here to tell you the "simple life" isn't simple or relaxing or easy!)  I'm most certainly not super and I sure don't have more hours.  What I do have, though, is priorities.

Everyone has priorities.  We all get to choose each day how we will schedule our 24 hours.  Some of us have more flexibility than others, but in the end, it's all about choices and what we truly value.  In our household, our priorities are:

  • Being together as much as possible (even if that means working on jobs around the farm together - in fact, that's what it usually is.  We don't have much "recreation" time - working together is our "quality" time)
  • Eating healthy, nourishing meals together (my husband is gone for breakfast and lunch, but we almost always eat dinner together).  We do NOT eat fancy meals (any recipe calling for more than 5 ingredients makes my eyes cross), but we eat well.
  • Being good stewards of the gifts God has given us - family, friends, money, food, land, possessions, etc.

So here is what I DO:
  • Spend my days wrangling my 2 lovely children and teaching them how to love God, love others (translation: I break up lots of fights) and love the earth.
  • Manage a large 4,000+ square foot garden
  • Preserve goods from said garden to use year around (which is pretty much what I do all summer)
  • Work really hard during the spring, summer and fall... and then relax and hibernate in the winter
  • Waste way too much time on Facebook 
  • Read.  All kinds of books - novels and books about food, health, farming, animals, gardening, stewardship, sustainability, faith, parenting...
  • Read to my kids.  We read every night before bed and often in the afternoon.
  • Cook/make almost all our meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) from scratch.  Yes, this takes up a large chunk of my time each day.  However, eating well and using our money wisely is important to us.  Cooking from scratch allows us to eat nourishing meals on tight budget ($115 a week for a family of 4 - this includes any eating out... which is infrequent, because it costs too much).  
  • Work hard to fight my perfectionist nature.  I call myself a "recovering perfectionist".  Slowly, I'm learning I can't do everything the way I want it done.  Slowly, I'm learning to delegate responsibilities to my children.  
  • Manage the household budget (we use a "zero-based" budget, in which every penny we earn is recorded and allocated into a category... so we actually DO track every. single. penny), pay the household bills, keep all the farm and garden records and manage household paperwork (school info, appointments, etc.)
  • Attempt to keep up with the laundry, cleaning, dishes and other domestic duties. I handle 95% of these chores and I am happy to do these things to bless my family.  My husband works a full time job, plus a part time job AND works several hours on our farm each day, so it's not like he's sitting around drinking beer and watching TV while I do these things :)
  • Expect too much of myself.  This is hard for me to shake, as I've been raised in a culture where your worth is directly tied to how much you DO.  I feel like a failure when I don't accomplish what I wanted to.  I know this is stupid, but I can't move past it.  

Here is what I DON'T do:
  • Watch TV regularly.  I have no patience for it.  My husband will occasionally watch a baseball game or a special on PBS, but that's it.  We don't have cable, so we get about 4 channels.  My kids are allowed to watch one TV show/movie a day.  (Maybe this actually does give me more hours in the day... according to this article Americans spend 34 hours a week watching TV.  That's almost 5 hours a day!!!  And that's "live" TV, not including shows people watch on DVR, which adds another 3-6 hours per week.  Yikes.)
  • Spend time on Pinterest.  Or Twitter.  Or Instragram.  In fact, I don't even really know what those things are...
  • Work outside the home.   I have so much work to do here, I can't even imagine having to drive to work and be away from home!  My husband and I are well aware that almost our entire way of living hinges on me being home.  There is no way we could live out our priorities if I wasn't home.  This is not to say that I won't ever work outside the home!  But for right now, I need to be here.  
  • Have a Smart phone.  I'm too distractible as it is!  And good grief, they're expensive...
  • Play video games.
  • Have a clean house.  Our house is always, always dirty.  I've pretty much given up.  Once a week, I sweep and vacuum, and we try to pick up on a daily basis, but our house is just. Plain. Dirty.  Like, chicken-poop-on-the-floor-dirty.  Plus, our house desperately needs a remodel and walls are literally falling down in places, so cleaning our house is a bit like polishing a turd.  You can shine it up as much as you want, but at the end of the day, it's still a turd.  A turd that I love despite it's "turd-iness".
  • Entertain my children.  A few years ago, I sat down and defined my role as a mother.  It is my job to love my children unconditionally, to teach them to love the Lord and to teach them to love others.  It is not my job to play with my kids (but I still do sometimes because I like it), it is not my job to be their social coordinator, it is NOT my job to entertain my kids.  Left to their own devices, kids will start to use their *gasp* imagination.  I think parents are afraid their kids will get bored... and they will if they are used to constantly being entertained.  As a result of my "neglect", my kids are pros at playing on their own and using their imaginations.  
  • Have my children enrolled in sports, lessons, classes, etc.  My kids are young.  Life will be chaotic enough soon (it already is - why would I want to make it more so?!?).  We're enjoying this time of togetherness.  And quite frankly, we don't have the time or money for these things.  Every hour spent off the farm is money lost (gasoline, lost of productivity in the garden or kitchen, having to buy expensive convince foods because driving around doesn't leave me time to cook, etc.)  We did sign up the kids for classes at the Rec Center this past winter (our "off-season").  My son loved his gymnastics class, but my daughter cried though 4 dance lessons until the instructor told us we should try again next year... It was pretty traumatic for her!
  • Relax very well.  I have a hard time turning myself "off" and just sitting.  While I'm sitting, my mind races with the hundreds of things I should be doing instead.  I wish I could shut my brain off once in a while. 
  • Spend enough time reading my Bible, memorizing scripture and "being still".  See above.  I'm thankful that God hears all kinds of prayers, not just the ones said in quiet moments.  Most of my prayer time takes place in the garden or while I'm doing morning chores watching the sunrise.  What better place to recite Psalm 19: "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands." 
  • Work out.  Between animal chores, tending a garden, running a household and caring for small children, I hardly stop moving for more than 3 minutes at a time.  I'm moving all the time (just like our ancestors did), which may not raise my heart rate, but I sure feel like I'm in good shape.  And I weigh less than I did in high school and I've never worn a clothing size this small, so I must be doing something right.  
  • Travel or vacation during our busy season (spring, summer and fall).  Occasionally, we can take a day trip during these times, but it's very difficult to be away from the farm for more than 24 hours (we have to find someone to come check on the animals 3x a day).  Even being gone more than 4 hours at a time is hard.  There are always animals and plants that need to be cared for.  No lazy days at the beach for us...
  • Write short blog posts.  My husband is always telling me "short and sweet", but I find myself writing too much.   I can't help myself.  Sorry.

Time management is a big issue for me.  Most days, I stare at my list of tasks to be done... and I don't even know where to start. I have discovered that I thrive on daily routines. Routines help me get over the "I'm so overwhelmed I can't even move" stage. Yet, after having children, I found establishing routines to be incredibly difficult.  Just when you think you've settled into your groove, the kids move onto a new stage in life... and then I'm back to figuring out a new routine.  That is life, I suppose.  

With farming, our life is dictated by the growing season, so I'm slowly learning how to create new routines that incorporate my children's age/ability levels and the seasons of farm life.  I'm tough-talking that perfectionist in my head that says "If you can't do something right, then don't do it all" and telling her she's full of crap.  I'm discovering that even work done "imperfectly" is better than not doing it... and I can't afford to NOT do all the work around here.

So, I came up with a simple, flexible system for us.  First, I sat down and jotted down all the regular activities we engage in each week.  I kept these activities pretty simple, something that could be described in a few words.  

Then I cut out small pieces of cardstock paper and wrote each activity on a piece on the paper.  Each activity also has a little drawing, as my children have not yet learned to read.  

Next, we took a trip to Staples and had the pieces of paper laminated (which cost about $3).  A trip to the craft store for magnets, and we were in business.  I Super-Glued the magnets to the back of each little card and plunked them on the fridge.

Now, each day before we go the bed, we make our " Daily Routine" on the fridge.  The kids love it, because they know what is expected of them each day, and it helps to provide some much needed structure for our days (this not a "chore chart" - there are no rewards for completing activities).  Since the cards are on magnets, it's easy to rearrange the cards if our plans change throughout the day (which happens often).  Some cards we use every day, some are only used once a week.  We use the "???" card whenever I don't have an appropriate card for an activity we're planning for the day.  Some days, we don't use this system at all - we just wing it.  And that's ok.  

I also keep a little notebook on my desk, which I use to unload my brain when it gets too full.  It's full of lists, notes, menu plans, reminders and what-not.  Nothing fancy, just a journal from the dollar store.  My 4 year old daughter routinely swipes it and fills it with drawings of princesses, so I have to jot my notes around hilarious sketches of Rapunzel and Princess Jasmine.

So, how do I do it all???  I don't, but our Daily Routine cards and my Brain Dump Notebook sure help keep me from losing my head. On those days when I'm feeling especially overwhelmed, I mentally review my priorities and  figure out which activities are essential and what can wait for another day.   How do you do it all???  What do you "DO" and "DON'T do" ?  Have you found a rhythm that works for your family and keeps your priorities in the forefront?  Do tell!  


  1. Thank you so much for opening up your farm to us today! Loved seeing it all in person and I have so much respect for what you and your family are doing.

  2. Hi Lori,
    Thank you for continuing your blog...and Hi to John and the kids!

    I suspect you have read "One Thousand Gifts" by Ann Voskamp. If not, maybe give it a try? Her style is different than yours, but the message will resonate.

    Evonne Plantinga