Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Blessing those who mourn

This post has been a long time coming, and it looks different in its final form than I'd originally envisioned. That's life, right?!

Grief is a subject that's been on my mind quite a bit over the last few months, as I've lost several people within my extended circle. Obviously, grief can refer to a variety of situations, but for this post, I'm choosing to focus on the grieving that follows the death of a loved one. My own experience with mourning has been pretty limited. I've found some ways to help myself work through loss (journaling, looking through photos, writing a letter to the family about their loved one), but I wanted to learn more about walking alongside others as they grieve.

I came across this article that contains some great ideas for reaching out to a family in mourning in the time between the death and the funeral. This second article offers thoughts on how to serve the family beyond the funeral. (Scroll down on both links.)

I asked Monica to read the first article and to offer her perspective, following the recent loss of her father-in-law. Here is what she had to say in response to the ideas from the article:

It is important to remember that we aren't thinking clearly when going through a death. When someone asks, "What can I do?", it is harder to ask for help than if someone makes a specific offer: "What night can I bring dinner?" One thing I'd share after experiencing this is to please not get your feelings hurt if your offer to help is declined, especially if we later take someone else up on a similar offer. Our minds are reeling from the news of the death and from the sheer amount of things to do, think about and process in the first few days.

Some notes about food: in our case, lots of food was taken to my mother-in-law's. It was a big help to her and she had several family members staying with her. Two especially nice things she received were rotisserie chickens and a bouquet of fruit for guests to nibble on.

Childcare was a big need for our household - there were several times when I needed at least one of our children cared for. I so appreciated the offers and help in this - we did not have to worry about who was with our children and if they were doing ok. I also appreciated the flexibility of the caregivers as we were undecided about which girls would go with us when. One friend offered to stay at our house the day of the funeral and it was such a help - in addition to watching our two youngest children, she emptied the dishwasher and re-loaded it, chopped some peppers and cut up a chicken for me while she was here!

The article offers a great list of suggestions! I am hopeful that I will be available to the opportunities to me to serve others as we were served recently during our loss. Here are a few other thoughts:

* Try to limit phone calls - we were amazed and shocked at how chaotic our house became. The phone was ringing off the hook, we were working to complete necessary tasks for the services, extra family was stopping by, etc. It was exhausting, and I don't exactly know how I would suggest to change that. One thought is that if you have a friend going through a loss - you could consider coordinating the efforts of several friends and serve as the spokesperson. Getting only one or two calls from you rather than one or two each from several friends would really make a difference. (Carrie's note: see paragraph below for a specific resource to help you with this task.)

* A note on sending flowers: sending flowers to a funeral is a traditional way to show your love and sympathy to the family. We enjoyed seeing who had sent plants and flowers, but another idea would be to give a mum or tree that can be permanently planted in honor of the loved one. This was done for us and the gift keeps on giving- the flowers are long gone, but these gifts remain. If you do receive a large number of flowers, consider donating some to a nursing home - we did this and they were pleased to break up the arrangements and beautify the building for the residents!

* Plan special things for your children. It is easy for them to get brushed aside in all the grown up things going on. The week of the funeral, everything was so serious and there was a lot of sadness. The day after the service, I took the girls out for a day of fun, and it was such a help!

Thank you, Monica, for sharing your thoughts on how we can help our loved ones who are going through loss. Those of you who are reading, I'd love to hear your thoughts on all of this--please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments.

*As I mentioned earlier, I recently learned about this cool site, which coordinates meals, babysitting, housework and other needs for families experiencing illness, death or another major event. When I logged in to my friend's account, I was immediately able to see a calendar listing her family's needs. I think it's a brilliant idea because it helps the coordinator, recipients and giver to streamline what can be a very messy process of providing help. Simplicity is especially valuable in such a situation, as Monica's experience shows!

I have to acknowledge that today marks a year since I shared about my dad's diagnosis. He is doing incredibly well right now, but the past year has been a grieving process of its own. I am thankful to God for His hand on my dad--and on my whole family--during this time. I am also grateful I get to spend this Thanksgiving with my parents. Thank You, Jesus!!

Monday, November 23, 2009


For the month of November, we've been operating a "bed and breakfast." We're hosting 4 different rounds of company in 4 weeks! Eric's mom stayed with us for a week, followed by Eric's sister, brother-in-law and niece this past weekend.

Thanks for coming, Grandma. We love you!
Addison and Natalie were born a month apart, so it was really fun to watch these little cousins play together.
Uncle Marc and Aunt Kendra are always fun to hang out with, and we're so glad they made the trip to Iowa!

Living far apart means we appreciate our time together even more!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Simplify Your Time: Part 3

You can find the other two posts in this series by clicking here.

The third part of the book is about time management skills. Here are some of the things I noted from section 3:

*I totally connected with a story the author told about going to the home of a mom with two young boys. The mother basically said that she felt busy all the time, but she never seemed to get to certain household tasks, and she certainly wasn't finding time to do hobbies she enjoyed. The young mom asked the author what was the matter with her, and Ramsland replied, "Nothing's wrong. You're just in the busiest time of a mother's life, trying to juggle the constant interruptions of children with your vision of what 'should' be accomplished in a day." Preach it! The author suggested that the young mom keep a log of her time log for one week so she could discover blocks of time she didn't even know she had. If you're interested in this activity, you can actually print off a copy of the time log from Ramsland's site by clicking here.

*I like Ramsland's reminder that we need to be proactive when we feel overwhelmed. She suggests cutting back on your schedule, asking friends and family for help and lowering your expectations. That third one is the one I most struggle with, as I usually feel like I should be able to get everything done on my list.

*Ramsland's Website has several resources you might be interested in, including this chart that gives ideas for helping children learn to be organized through their various ages and stages.

The fourth and final section of the book is about time saving strategies:

*I am inspired by this statement: "The best way to accomplish more is to get right to the important tasks." It's not profound, just a simply-stated truth. I don't do a great job with prioritizing tasks, especially when I'm busy, and this helps remind me to focus and "trim the fat"!

*I was intrigued by the chapters on goals, because I rarely write them. I always have project lists, but that's not the same thing. Ramsland defines a goal as a "compelling intention" and says that goals help focus your energy. She also says goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and tangible). I'm curious how many of you write goals, whether at the new year or anytime?

*In a similar section (and the final chapter), Ramsland talks about finding your purpose. She says that "you generally discover your purpose just by doing what you love to do." She gives the following questions as a tool to help reveal your purpose: What part of my life do I enjoy the most? What is that I do that other people appreciate? What don't I like to do? What would I do if I didn't get paid to do it? What would be the highest compliment I could receive from someone? These are questions I would like to continue to mull over, but several of my initial answers have to do with stewardship and homemaking. That's exciting to me, and I hope to think more about this stuff soon. If a specific question (and answer) jumps out at you, I'd love to hear your response.

Writing these posts has really helped me process the information I learned in this book. I hope the principles will continue to make a difference in my life--and maybe yours, too!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Noel swap show and tell

Wow, my swap partner Lindsey sure blessed me with a wonderful and festive box of goodies!

Here is what Lindsey sent me: mint foot soak (very refreshing, especially when followed by this lotion), candles, sprinkles for decorating cookies, "simplify" and "peace" signs, mini gift bows, cookie cutter, mini spatula, darling notecards, socks she decorated with beads for Natalie (what a neat idea!), fun paper clips and photo albums, yummy hot cocoa, perfume, a lollipop for Nathan, and some decadent chocolate that I devoured immediately!

To top it all off, Lindsey used the title of my blog to write little messages on each item. For example, "You've been given . . . hands to bake and serve with" was attached to the cookie cutter and "You've been given . . . friends to share the journey with" was on the notecards. What a nice personal touch! She also shared her family's favorite holiday cookie recipe, and I can't wait to try them. Thank you so much, Lindsey!

And here is what I sent Lindsey: fair trade chocolate, Christmasy tissues, homemade hot cocoa (thanks, Amy, for the recipe and inspired packaging!), stickers, notecards, this soap, a vanilla candle, and an advent book for her kids, all packaged in a fun holiday container.

Swappers, now it's your turn to show and tell! Please note: for some reason, you need to click on the Mr. Linky icon below to see the links. Otherwise, you can link in the comments. Thanks!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Checking in

Eric's mom is visiting right now, and we're having a wonderful time together. Just wanted to check in and post a couple things:

*First, a friend asked me to share a recent pic of Natalie. OK, if you insist. I just love her sweet smile!
*Secondly, I wanted to promote a one-day campaign (today) for a ministry called Water for Christmas that provides uncontaminated water to western Africa. If you feel compelled to give the gift of clean water, please click here. According to the website, just $10 will provide one person in Africa with clean water for ten years. What a powerful gift!
*Lastly, if you participated in the Noel swap, please link here on Monday with your show and tell pix!
Have a wonderful weekend!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Good reads

Thanks for the great book suggestions you gave me on this post a couple of months ago. I compiled them into a list and then searched for them on our library's on-line catalog. (Special thanks to Leanne for informing me that I can place a hold on my desired books and then just pick them up at the desk--what a great tip for moms with little kids! Also a special shout-out to Nicol who sent me the link to her Goodreads page so I can peruse her reviews of kids' books--I've gotten some great suggestions from her.)

Here were our favorites from the list of titles you recommended:

The Runaway Bunny and Goodnight Moon by Maragret Wise Brown
Click, Clack, Moo by Doreen Cronin
Shiver Me Letters by Jane Sobel
Bear Feels Sick and Bear Feels Scared by Karma Wilson (Nathan especially likes these, and they have great rhythm for reading aloud)
Llama, Llama, Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney
Is Your Mama a Llama? by Deborah Guarino
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (etc.) by Laura Numeroff
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Other fun books we've discovered that I wanted to share with you:

The Napping House by Audrey Wood
Hush Little Digger by Ellen Olson-Brown (a creative take on the lullaby "Hush Little Baby")
No, No, Natalie by Grace E. Moreman (My eye caught the name Natalie on the shelf--in the book, Natalie is a little bunny, and Nathan thought it was hilarious to say "No, no, Natalie!")
Christmas Cricket by Eve Bunting

If you have other titles to suggest, please send them my way--it's been fun to check out so many new books!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Simplify Your Time: Part 2

If you missed part 1 in this little series, you can find it here.

The second section of the book is about time management tools. Here are some of the tips I took away from this section:

*The author's #1 time principle is to say no when things are out of control. She says that when you feel really overwhelmed, you need to actually schedule time to catch up on basics at home like laundry and your kitchen. (I'm thankfully not in this position much, though I always feel overwhelmed returning from a trip. I think this principle makes a lot of sense.)

*There were lots of tips for writing successful to-do lists, which the author says are "the secret to clearing your mind of mental clutter and accomplishing more each day." (I'm totally a list person--I've really found the "mental clutter" thing to be true for myself. If I write it down, then I don't have to keep trying not to forget. Does that make sense?! It does to me. =) One thing I started doing a couple years ago is keeping a small notepad by my bed. If I think of something that needs attention, I quickly scribble one word that will remind me of it in the morning. Since this sometimes happens in the middle of the night, my list can look quite messy. But the point is that I can relax knowing I'll see the list the next day and don't have to keep thinking about it when I should be sleeping!

*In addition to daily task lists, "a project list includes larger tasks that take more time and steps." The author suggests having no more then ten items at a time on your project list, and assigning projects to a particular season so they have more of a timeline. (This book has inspired me to be more intentional in this area of my life. I always have lots of projects going, and a lot that I want to have going, but it's easy for me to get caught up in my daily tasks and other things that come up. After reading this section of the book, I've come up with a better system for helping me accomplish projects. More on that in the next paragraph.)

*The author suggests putting your to-do and project lists alongside a calendar in a planner. She suggests that there are 4 types of time management systems: relying on your memory, lists and piles, a calendar, and a planner. (This is where things clicked for me. I've totally been a list and pile person. I write my lists on little scraps of paper, in my planner, and on a white board on our fridge. No wonder I've felt so scattered! I'm now using my planner--a cheap but cute student one from WM--as the main way to contain my lists. I'm writing to-do items on the right-hand side of each date, keeping the left side open for scheduled items like appointments. Then on the blank note page between each month, I've started writing my project lists. It's already been a helpful solution!)

*The author suggests using a reusable checklist before trips. (This is a tool I started using after Nathan was born. I tweaked this list and put a copy in a page protector. I use a dry erase marker to check items off once they're packed--so nice to have!)

*I liked this quote: "Prioritizing is the best way to sort and simplify a long list." And on that same subject, I thought this was a helpful tip: "Prioritize by asking the relief question: 'What one task would give me the most relief if I got it out of the way?' Complete that task first."

*The book advises having a weekly routine to help you stay on top of regular tasks. I began doing this a year or so ago. I divided up household tasks (cleaning bathrooms, mopping the floor, etc.) among Monday-Thursday. Friday is for either catching up or relaxing/other projects if I've completed my weekly list. I like that these jobs have become part of my daily routine--less to think about!

As you can see, I'm learning a lot from this book. From the comments I received last time, I know I'm not alone in trying to be more diligent and efficient. That's both comforting and motivating--thank you!

To update from my first post, I've been striving to improve in several areas. For example, I've been slowly working through my e-mail inbox and am presently down to just two messages (from 99) and hope to keep it that way!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Weekend recap

This past weekend, my aunt and grandma came for a visit. It was nice to show them our house and also have them meet Natalie for the first time! Here are a couple photos from the weekend:

Trick-or-treating (Yes, Nathan wore the same costume last year--it still fit!)
Thanks for coming, Mary and Grandma. It was so good to see you!

Our menu during their stay included oatmeal bread, caramel apple salad (new recipe--loved it!--omitted nuts), apple muffins and pumpkin waffles (the following recipe came from this cookbook)

2 c. flour
2 T. sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
3 eggs
1 3/4 c. milk
1 stick butter, melted
1/2 c. pumpkin puree
Mix ingredients well and bake on a lightly oiled waffle iron. Enjoy!