Personal Care & Seasonal Shifts

Post three in my Heart of the home series.

Again, the photos in this post are all from instagram, not my favorite for blog posts and only a pathetic few, but they're all I've got right now.

Self care is almost cliche. In my daily living I don't call the activities I do for me "self care" anymore than I call cooking "family care". These are just "things I do".

I hope I'm taking care of myself all day. Except for regular exercise, meeting my basic physical needs isn't hard for me to do. Those are habits.

But I like to reserve time each day for personal growth and development and just pure enjoyment.

I feel very strongly about guarding my personal time in the full-ness of our family life. I don't mean any disrespect to my family, but the only person who really advocates for what I need is me. As an adult, I am responsible to make sure my needs are met by meeting those I'm able to meet and expressing where I need help. Hand in hand with this is teaching my kids to know themselves, identify their needs, and help them advocate for those. And respecting the individuality of every person in this family.

This sounds like I have to withstand my family's objections to me taking care of myself. Which is comical, they never give me grief for the time I'm doing my things. They're big, which helps. (Though my youngest doesn't "like" when I spend the whole day out of the house, "doing my own thing".) But everything else in my day wants to encroach on this time. Most everything in my life feels in-progress, undone, half finished. When I was a younger woman it was harder for me to look past all that and "be still" (which is a big part of my personal care) because I think I was holding out hope it might get "finished" one day.

Deep in my heart I knew that wasn't the case but I was hoping I could do better than most.

Self care or personal care for me includes tending to my intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and physical self. Taking care of myself physically is quite ingrained in me at this point. Damien and I value physical health and this has been an area I've attended to decently for many years. I'm not as experienced with tending to my emotional and cognitive wellbeing, so that's where most of my personal care energies are focused these days.

For me, self care is not so much about doing, a list of things I check off. I've had years and years of doing, I'm a good do-er. I don't need to grow in "doing". I need to grow in the opposite direction, in practices of "being", learning how to be comfortable with the light and dark parts of self and others, learning how to sit with the full range of emotions and not wrestle, or "do" my out of that place. I have a preference to squeeze myself out of the emotional discomfort I feel when people I love are navigating through difficult personal terrain through managing, doing, and working to resolve issues that aren't mine to resolve. It's not healthy though it appears to be very helpful.

I've been physically healthy for years. I've eaten well, been physically active, more so in the last five years. I don't struggle with body image. I actually love my body. That's a real gift I know. But there is more to health and wellbeing than our physical selves, it's so much more than what we eat and if we exercise. I have learned this lesson, it seems like all important lessons, the hard way.

For years I focused on a healthy diet and regular outdoor exercise as the path to wellbeing. In this life season I'm focusing less on diet and more on the whole picture of wellness, with special attention to my emotional and cognitive health and resiliency.

I have three points in the day where I specifically focus on my personal needs. Early morning, mid-day lunch, and evening.


Early mornings are my time to take care of those essential "me" things before I start my day.

I aim to get up at 6:30. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. When I get up early I have enough time for the following list, when I get up later (7:00-7:30) I have less time. And I have always envied those rare birds who get up really early, naturally. 6:30 is my consistently earliest natural wake up time. I haven't used a morning alarm since I was a university student.

Mornings are my time to:

  • Drink a Klean Kanteen of water, get out my supplements for the day (I actually have to pay special attention to this or I don't take my supplements that day), and brew a cup of coffee. I'm trying to tweak this a bit to have some food in my belly before I drink my morning coffee.
  • Writing. My writing anxiety is over and I'm usually chomping at the bit each morning to put something "on paper" to post here.
  • Self-therapy and spiritual care. This is some combination of working through my CBT workbook, devotional material, Bible reading, prayer, journaling and general pondering. I can only do one, maybe two of these on any given morning. It's like a bag of tricks or prizes and I choose the one I want to do, or feel led to do.
  • Drawing. Before Christmas I had been drawing nearly every day in the morning, instead of writing (which I was fitting in other places, usually around lunchtime). At Christmas I completely got out of the morning habit of drawing and haven't resumed since. I am wondering how drawing will fit in my life but like I noted to myself in my journal: "I can't knit, draw, write and photograph every day or every season, choose my focus..." This month/season my focus is writing.
  • Meditating. I was doing really good with this until Christmas and then, like drawing, I lost the habit after the holiday. In February I resolved to make this a "check it off the list" morning activity. It needs to happen, so I do it. And it only takes ten minutes. This is the last "me thing" I do before I enter the fray of family life.
  • I use my Happy Light while doing most of these activities.

I aim to wrap all this up by 9:00. In reality, it wraps up by 9:30, especially if I got up late. Then I grab a quick breakfast and eat while I start the morning's work.

Exceptions to the rule: Wednesday and Friday. Two days out of five is a big exception, but it's reality, and again, part of the season's priorities. Wednesday night I can usually recoup my morning time with personal reading and writing when we get home from skiing and the family disperses, happy and physically exhausted, to their personal interests.

Noon (ish)

Lunchtime is when I read personal growth, other self-help, and classic non-fiction books. Book examples: Daring Bravely, Life Together, Bird by Bird, Better Than Before. If I was reading a marriage, parenting, or homeschool book, it would fit in here. I read those types of books very rarely.

I am a fast reader but I take my time to digest ideas and I like to write down my thoughts so overall, reading these types of books is a slow and steady endeavor. All of those books I listed above I've only half finished, and some of them, I've been reading for years!

In this season, I structure my daily reading like this:

  • spiritual & deep self care - morning
  • personal growth - lunchtime
  • fiction, memoir, great stories, poetry - evening

Do I always follow this, no? Especially if I'm really "into" something. But I like the structure of this to help guide me through the myriad of books I want to read.

After lunch is when I try to get out the house for a quick walk.

I am most successful with this goal if I have a destination or purpose to fulfill. Neighborhood errand runs work really well for me: picking up last minute supper ingredients, cat food, a walk to the post office/pharmacy, picking up a book at the library, etc. If I have a task to complete I am good at getting out the door. If I have no task it is much more difficult to accomplish my goal to get outside every day.


On the nights I cook supper I like to listen to podcasts and video presentations. I gravitate to talks, lectures, interviews about: education, philosophy, Christian theology, democracy, sociology, psychology, spirituality, creativity, and health.

I like substantive material.

(I'd love to have a podcast discussion in the comments: what I'm listening to and what you're listening to.)

After supper, my family likes to do some combination of retreating into personal media and sharing media with each other in the evenings.

Our fall and winter evenings look like reading, listening, and watching on our own devices and watching favorite shows or gaming together. Usually a combination of both. I don't game but the rest of my family does.

Last fall I started watching Gilmore Girls with my girls (and Laurent). It's the only TV show, since Downton Abbey that the three of us like. In the evenings I like to write/do blog stuff or draw, watch an episode, or two, of Gilmore Girls. (If it's a 2 episode night of GG I'm probably getting up late the next morning).

Then I go to bed and read. Lights out by 10:00/10:30, sometimes 11:00. That's a late morning for sure. I'm an 8 hours of sleep person, at least.

A lot of people have asked about my Personal Retreats days that I take every 6 weeks. As you can see, there is no space in this post for that. I hope to write about that sometime before summer.

Seasonal Shifts

My weekly schedule is always subject to interruptions and situations out of my control. A week never looks like the plan on paper, but the plan provides the guideline.

Life changes and most of my routines work best for a given calendar season, and sometimes they only work for a month, and then I have to adjust. This took me a few years to learn.

We had a good groove last fall, it changed this winter and I'm already anticipating the change when ski season ends and again when co-op/homeschool year finishes. Which will free up time for other pursuits. I'm already excited about the changes I'm planning for that season. But the point is, that's next season, not now, and I need to work with what I've got right now.

I've come to see that although I love routines, I also thrive on the change in routine, different seasons. Like my family will be quick to tell you, I DO NOT like the transition period itself, that bumpy time of "figuring it out". I feel stretched thin during those times. But I like knowing that a shift will come and I can re-direct my energies at that time. Because I actually get bored of doing the same thing over and over.

Once I've identified the practices, habits, routines I really need to work on/achieve/pursue in a given season I do my best to focus on those things. I can't "focus" on whole bunch of goals. One or two at the most.

While focusing on those changes or shifts, I rely on the other well-oiled habits and systems that have become routine to our family to move us through our days. I don't have to make decisions about those things, they just are.

Last October/November my focus was working with the kids to get used to the rhythms and expectations of the co-op. Teaching time management was the big goal for me.

In January I focused on supper on the table by 6:30, making ski day work in our schedule, and getting back into the groove after the holiday.

This month I'm focusing on re-establishing morning meditation and butt-in-chair writing. After a year of anxiety/midlife crisis/moving to Montreal I need to re-establish the habit.

I am not going to live my life beating myself up for things I'm not accomplishing and I'm not going to live under the burden of self-improvement, "if you just do this one more thing you'll be a better person", because the trap is there is always one more thing.

I want to be content with who I am right now, while recognizing I am working on things that will help me be more connected to people, have better health and wellbeing, and further my personal and professional goals. But in that striving and changing I need to be content with myself and my family, in this life season.

Which is why you'll notice I use the word try because it's true: I try. I have intentions and usually, not always I meet them. Always is a hard burden to bear, so I don't do always.

These systems of self-management and home management work for me because of how I'm wired. It will not work everyone, so this isn't an advice post, just a "this is how I do it" post.

And now I'm going to get spiritual and then subjective. And I take back what I just said, there are a couple sentences of advice.

Firstly, I was not called to give my life to my family, I was called to give my life to Jesus. Of course family life is one working out of that, but it is not the sum total. And having re-discovered this truth in my life my personal time is really about resting in that knowledge. And learning more about myself to serve and love people in healthy ways.

I think a lot of women are way too busy caring for everyone else but themselves. I recognize right from the get-go of this argument that I only know the reality of a two-parent household. I have access to time that many people simply do not.

In the same way you prioritize your family's needs and wants, you need to put yourself on the radar. And if you're like me, that means you won't do everything to the standard you had hoped, because there simply isn't enough time. But I keep showing up for the slow journey. And that's the next post.

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  • Krista

    Krista on Feb. 29, 2016, 3:38 p.m.

    I love that you 'keep showing up for the slow journey'. I can very much relate to that.


    • Bev

      Bev on March 1, 2016, 5:06 p.m.

      Me, too. I can totally relate, and appreciate that outlook. One step. Then another. Sometimes many steps "backwards," when it is, in my experience, a spiral journey after all. Blessings! And thank you, Renee.


  • Sophia

    Sophia on Feb. 29, 2016, 5:22 p.m.

    I also listen to podcasts while preparing dinner.  Lately it was the Serial series on Beau Bergdahl, but that has new episodes every other week, so I listen to Brideshead Revisited on audio book in between episodes.  I listen to Gold Medal Bodies talk with guests about fitness and life because I'm at the stage where I am still working on making a habit of exercise.  Or sometimes I binge listen to This American Life episodes.  I'm interested in your spiritual/Christian Theology podcast suggestions.  During this Lent season I have been craving some spiritual insight since we aren't attending a church right now.  


  • Heather

    Heather on Feb. 29, 2016, 6:18 p.m.

    I just nodded my head through this entire post!  I especially liked where you said "I can't knit, draw, write and photograph every day or every season, choose my focus..."  I needed to read that.  I try to cram in so much stuff for my "betterment" that nothing really ever gets accomplished and I end up more overwhelmed than anything.  I'm enjoying this series very much!


  • Beth

    Beth on Feb. 29, 2016, 9:56 p.m.

    So very glad to hear the writing anxiety is over.  More posts from you!  Yay!  This is another great post I'll have to read a few times to fully absorb.

    I  second the suggestion of Serial.  My favorite Podcasts as  of late are the Happier Cast with Gretchen Rubin, Edit Your Life, and Sorta Awesome with Megan Tietz.  Granted, the first two aren't very long (around 20 minutes?) nor are they as challenging as something like On Being.  Depending on your tolerance for profanity (and whether or not you use headphones) I'd also recommend The Nerdist.  These are conversational interviews with Hollywood type people, authors, directors, comedians, even Paul McCartney.  There are way too many for me to listen to so I pick and choose based on the guest. 

    My biggest challenge in the realm of personal care is my own intellectual development.  I've been very neglectful the past few years and have suffered for it.  Right now I'm in the middle of a big lift transition (or maybe only the beggining?  Yikes!) and like you, I find it extremely difficult.  Part of this is because I'm not exactly sure how I should be using my time.  So all my normal routines and time management strategies need to be re-evaluated.  Ugh.  Where to start.....

    I love self care as a parenting lesson.  Yesterday after church I found myself getting more and more stressed by the repeated requests from my children about what we were going to do the rest of the day.  I finally called a halt to the conversation, took a few minutes of silence, then engaged them in a discussion about what our priorities were for that particular day and what probably wasn't going to happen.  For example, a  60 degree day in late February means we're going to the park instead of finishing the third Harry Potter movie and using all their allotted video game time.  ;-)



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