September 15, 2017
Coming home from our big road trip has been like a re-set on our life. This is a newsy update about organizing, deep cleaning and de-cluttering, new routines and dietary changes, personal boundaries with internet engagement, the power of meditation, working and homeschool.
When we left our apartment for the summer, way back in late June (seems like a lifetime ago), we thoroughly cleaned our space for our summer house sitters. I even washed all the windows. That wasn't specifically for our house sitters but it was a job that desperately needed doing and the deadline of our trip motivated me into action.
In addition to deep cleaning the apartment we removed some of our belongings from the public spaces to store in the closet corners, in our absence. The kids don't want people rooting through their desk top papers (literally the stuff on their desks, not the thing on your computer). Same goes for me.
I also sorted and de-cluttered household surfaces, storage spaces, and our bookshelves. Making trips to the donation box a block from our house and gathering a pile of books to give to other homeschoolers when co-op resumes this fall.
When we returned to our apartment at the end August it was as clean as we left it. Phew. Returning to a clean home is such a gift, but our space can get real messy, real quick. For those of you who have stayed at our place you know it's not big, and when you start dumping camping gear, tents, large duffel bags, backpacks, etc.. in the common areas of the kitchen and dining room, the apartment feels cramped real fast.
We spent the first week after our return cleaning, sorting and repacking our gear and clothing back into their rightful homes.
We've also used our return as a time to assess and make necessary changes to our routine and space. And to evaluate those things we stored and be mindful about their re-introduction into our lives.
For example, as I put away the toiletries from our trip and re-organized those I stored over the summer, I assessed the usefulness of each item. There were (what I call) "dibs and dabs" to throw out, items to consolidate, and new acquisitions that needed a home. Doing this work keeps our stash to what we truly use and need. And this is necessary as we have limited space in which to accumulate a lot of extras.
I love this aspect of apartment living with a family, you have to get a handle on stuff.
The kids have their own things that I am no longer responsible for sorting through and decluttering. Though I do help and encourage them to regularly assess what they own and keep. The return home from our trip is a perfect time for that.
It's interesting at this point in my parenting journey to see how my kids have developed and asserted (which I respect) their own preferences around "stuff", what they own and keep and how much. Each of them has different interests and personalities and therefore different priorities around possessions. They make their own choices but they experience the very natural limitations of physical space (only so much can be accumulated in this space) and financial resources (only so much can be purchased on their allowance and earnings).
There isn't a lot of room for reconfiguration in our apartment but we've changed up our space a bit since coming home, moving Damien's desk from Laurent's bedroom to the dining room. Which is becoming a misnomer for the space. It's more like a work room in which we also eat.
The dining room is now home to three desks - Damien's, mine and an all-purpose workspace which we picked up off the side of the road this spring. Before this change, Damien would regularly work at the dining room table, as he prefers the open-ness and energy of this room instead of being in a corner of Laurent's room. So he moved his standing desk here and we moved a bookshelf into Laurent's room. Our house now has 6 desk workspaces, three of them in the our "dining" room. And the table is really a workspace for when we're not eating meals together on it.
We're a small-space living family, and we work, live, and learn at home. Our space reflects that reality, it reflects who we are. That's what makes it home.
We did a lot of deep cleaning before our trip; vacuuming under, not just around, washing walls (where dirt was noticeable), and washing windows. That kind of thing.
When we came home it was the perfect time for me to tackle another big cleaning project: defrosting the freezer. Before we left we tried to eat through a lot of the food in the freezer but I left some if it in case anyone wanted to eat it. Last week, while the house was still a disheveled mess from gear and bags and laundry, I threw out all the freezer-burned foods (there wasn't much), transferred the rest to the fridge freezer for a night and cleaned out our standing freezer. Oh that felt good.
Being gone for a couple months means we do have some maintenance issues to address; an annoying squeak from the dryer when the washer is spinning and a garden that is overrun with weeds. And with moving Damien's desk, I need to re-hang some art, and that reminds me I have to buy the materials to patch and paint little holes in the walls. Those things take me forever to get around to.
In every season I'm decluttering, sorting and sifting through stuff. We bring new things into our home on a regular basis (sometimes new-new, often new-to-us) and old and existing things have to be re-evaluated for their usefulness and purpose in our lives. But there's something about a seasonal shift, and the preparations for and the return from a large trip, that facilitates "batch" and large-scale organizational projects.
Our return is also allowing us to reset some patterns in our lives.
Life is seasonal and is never static, as much as we might want to find stasis. It feels like when you're in the thick of raising a family, nurturing a marriage, and trying to not lose yourself or your sanity in the process, life changes month by month. The environment and people's needs change, and you need to change in response. If you're healthy, you're changing and growing.
Sometimes it's hard for our established schedules and routines to accommodate the changes, especially for those of us who find security in those routines. Sometimes it's easier to lose the routines all together for a time, like taking a big trip for the summer, so we can start fresh and establish new and necessary patterns (that will need to change in the future).
When we returned home, it was quite evident where we needed to establish and/or change behaviors and routines, where we needed to set new patterns, new habits.
Firstly, all of us were desperate for vegetable based meals. We made accommodations and compromises in our diets while traveling. When you don't always have access to a kitchen or the tools you're used to using, when you're literally "on the road" and you're on a tight budget, you have less control over your diet.
Cooking in general doesn't give me a lot of joy but I do like kitchen management. And I can use this skill, and the skill of my kids, who have been trained for years in the kitchen, to help re-establish and support healthier eating for our whole family. Brienne and Damien are aiming to eat a nutritarian diet, and provide mutual support to each other in that endeavor. The rest of us have a wider palette but lots of plants for everyone is the common base.
I have been relishing the beauty and the bounty of the season on my regular trips to Jean Talon market. And after my travels I realize what a treasure I have here in Montreal. We have returned to a weekly rotation for cooking, shared by everyone, which is a nice change from the summer, where I was doing most of the shopping and food prep.
Out of the kitchen and beyond diet, all of us have behaviors we are trying to adjust and change by establishing new routines. Exercise habits, more disciplined work and study schedules, returning to certain projects and initiatives, starting new projects and initiatives.
We're using the transition from road trip to regular life, and the transition into a new calendar season, as the lever with which to make that change.
Remember my thoughts about connectivity from our experience in Berkeley? My experience on the boat with limited internet, and the changes I had to make to my daily work flow because of that, was the impetus for a lot of reflection about this area of my life.
I want to make changes in how I use internet-based connectivity (and computer/phone technology in general) to do my work, nurture relationships, stay connected to people, and access information and pursue interests. I don't have deep addictions in these things, but I have patterns of behavior that are not health-supporting for me.
These patterns are moderate by most standards, they might work for other people but they are not serving me well.
Based on my experience and reflections in Berkeley, on our trip I started a social media/email weekly sabbath. I am continuing and refining that since coming home. I have to establish some different patterns of behavior in some of my responsibilities in order to make that possible. In other words, I can't attend to certain things on Saturday the way I had been.
I'm building more boundaries in my life about what (kind of work, connections, and online investigations) I do and when I do them.
This is my life. The only person who's going to build these boundaries is me. The only person who can really advocate for them is me. I owe this myself, to my family, friends, and community.
Just because you can doesn't mean you should. This applies to everything, but in the case of internet technology a sense of unlimited possibility and unlimited connection is not exciting for me, it's anxiety causing. I don't want more in my life, I want less. That's not entirely true. I want less of some things so I can have more of other things. Less distractions and comparison so I can have more real connection, face to face time (or even Face Time) with girlfriends.
It sounds so cliche but it's absolutely true.
This has become a non-negotiable in my day. I absolutely need to resume this practice with more diligence. This is part of "the work" I referred to in my post on anxiety.
I'm fascinated by the history, spiritual experience, and scientific study around meditation. For me, meditation is a cognitive-spiritual practice. It is well documented and researched that meditation changes brain function and patterns. Something happens cognitively. And as I focus on my breath, I am using that as an image or metaphor to help me bring my awareness to the spiritual, life-giving energy of Christ in me. That's the spiritual part, in my experience.
All of it, the activity of my neurons, and the spiritual awareness (and whatever else is going on that humans can't even begin to grasp with current knowledge and consciousness) is doing a work in me. I can see it.
Spiritual gurus and mystics explain it one way. Science another. I use my own words to explain it. I think it's all doing the same thing, we just use our own worldview, our own lens and language to make sense of it.
Meditation isn't about sitting still for 3, 5, 10, 20 minutes in the morning, as some separate and distinct act in the day. It's not about forcing yourself to be calm and aware for a few special moments. It's about training your mind and body to respond to life situations. That distinct and separate part is super important, but it's not "the point", it's "the practice".
The time I commit to meditate every morning is literally a practice of training my mind (like practicing the piano or some other skill) so I can develop the cognitive and spiritual-awareness tools to bring to the rest of my day. Especially for when I'm experiencing strong emotions that trigger a significant stress response in my body (physiological) and a cascade, or runaway train, of negative thought patterns (psychological). It's all connected.
Meditation is a type of exercise. I'm developing a mental muscle and spiritual awareness to make me more agile and strong in everyday life.
Meditation is about training my body and mind to have a strategy in response to overwhelm. And if it works like science says it does, I'm changing my neural circuitry. I'm completely fascinated by that.
Meditation is not about unnaturally forcing myself to be calm and quiet for 10 minutes, and the struggle to do so, it's about honing a cognitive and spiritual skill that will allow me to respond to situations throughout the day that threaten to take me negative and dark places really fast.
For me this is both spiritual and cognitive/mental. To focus on my breath is to remember that every moment I have is an expression of Divine energy, which is to say God's love and provision for me. My very breathing reminds me that "I'm here, in this moment, in this time". There is a safety and security, a groundedness, in that truth that needs to undergird my life.
When I meditate I'm training my mind to be aware of the present moment, and to be "here", physically, mentally, spiritually. Not in the unknown future or ruminating on the past, but here, breath by breath. I'm equipping my body with tools to respond to stressful and anxiety-triggering situations. It doesn't make those things go away but it's training my very synapses and cells how to respond.
Meditation is the first thing I do in the morning, after I set out my supplements for the day and drink water. I'm not a complete newbie. I've been practicing for a couple years, on and off. But this return to meditation feels different. I'm practicing this skill so I can respond in-real-life, in-real-time to thoughts, emotions, overwhelm, stress, and anxiety.
It's not about seeking calm and quiet to get away from it all. It's about training/equipping my heart and mind so I can live with joy, confidence, and security in the actual fray of living, in all the junk and difficulties.
One more thing that I'm adjusting to this early September. Our work is changing, both mine and Damien's. Some of that is really scary for me. I'm scared of the unknown. (Enter meditation practice here).
I need to work, for money. I blogged about this shift in the spring, but it's time to get serious. I couldn't work during the summer while traveling, I had no intentions of doing so. (Damien can work on the road, I can't. I'm affected too much by transition and movement, my work is just staying level.)
We are in a position now where we need those funds but I feel less courageous than I did in the spring about my ability to meet those needs. I have some fear around the change, my competencies and the unknown nature of the path ahead. This isn't going to be a "gentle exploration of my creative skills" and what I can bring to the world, carefully massaging and cushioning my insecurities along the way. This is flat out, I need work that pays money to pay the bills. Ironically, I think that will help with some of my overall insecurities. I probably need this change for my mental health and wellbeing as much as our family needs the funds.
This fall, like nearly every autumn proceeding it, we are shifting slowly back into our school routine. I take the month of September to transition from summer to the full-on academics and social calendar of homeschooling. Our co-op starts early October and this start date fits perfectly to allow a soft transition and enjoyment of late summer that I've adhered to for my entire homeschooling career. Thankfully, this is still the same.
This year I have only two kids homeschooling, both in high school. That's a change. Celine is done her formative years of education but is "homeschooling" her way into self-employment. By which I mean, she's following a "learner-initiated, do projects, research what you don't know, find mentors" path. It's very much like homeschooling. The tasks, assessment, and goals are different but the philosophy and energy beneath the thing is still the same. I love that continuity. Not everything has to change.
Change is good, it's a necessary part of growth and health but it's also nice when some things stay the same. Whether it's the return to your favorite chair or spot in the house after a long trip, or the same energy; an undercurrent of hope (even in trial, especially in trial), support for each other, and a commitment to growth and health - it's good to be back.
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