I am sitting here in my quiet kitchen, reflecting on 2020 and looking ahead to 2021.
Wasn't 2020 just absolutely insane?
There is no way that I can sum up our experiences this year in one simple blog post.
Our family spent 6 weeks in quarantine, due to COVID-19. Harlee and Matthew spent 8 weeks, I contracted the virus in September and am still fighting some of the symptoms right now...four months later.
So many friends of our lost family members to this terrible virus and we are still praying for them every day.
A tornado blew our barn away and caused some damage to our house and several other buildings on our property. However, this unfortunate circumstance truly jumpstarted some pretty big property improvements.
We rebuilt the barn, fenced in our property, built the Rustic Rooster (a loft playhouse for the girls), and are almost finished with our detached garage...complete with a kitchen, workout space, and bathroom.
When school started in August, I totally fell off of the blogging wagon (again), but learned a lot about leading a school during a global pandemic.
It's been a year to remember and I would be lying if I said I wasn't ready to forget most of 2020 and move forward.
One of my 2021 goals is to blog every week, so look for a post soon about my word-of-the-year.
Love, grace, and peace from the farmhouse tonight, friends,
So we did.
Now -- I can't complain.
My brother and then his wife contracted the virus. While they did feel kind of crummy for a few days, they experienced mostly mild symptoms as they stayed at home. However, because of the dates of exposure and symptoms and all the rules & recommendations from the CDC, my niece and nephew have to quarantine until August 15th. So -- please be in prayer for them!
Full disclosure here -- as a school administrator, the last six months have been a blur.
I have said several times that I feel like we are living in a movie. This doesn't seem like real life, as we make decisions about how to deliver instruction to children in the safest way over the next school year.
While my 10 1/2 month school-year contract officially ends on June 15th and begins again on August 1st each year, this summer there have been too many decisions to make to really take much of a break.
And then...quarantine happened.
Sure, I continued to work on giving input for school reopening plans and I did continue focusing on some of my school duties over the last few weeks.
But I also spent many hours every single day over the last two weeks working alongside Mr. Farmhouse and the girls to complete projects that we have been planning to get to "someday".
Not being able to leave the house for two weeks isn't ideal.
If we weren't in quarantine, I wouldn't have had to cancel our annual well-child checkups for the girls, piano lessons, & tutoring.
Mr. Farmhouse could have been working and I wouldn't have had to miss a few in-person meetings at school.
We could have allowed being stuck at home for two weeks with no symptoms to be irritating and a reason to complain.
However, last night, as Mr. Farmhouse and I rode the Ranger through the field moving hot-wire for the cows, I looked around and smiled.
Thank you, Lord, for this time we have had together. Thanks for slowing us down and giving us the opportunity to connect deeply before we all head off into the unknown of this school year. Thank you that my brother's family has had mild symptoms and that they have the opportunity to work from home. Just thank you, Lord. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Amen
Back to the real world today, friends.
Sending gratitude to God from the farmhouse,
Back before COVID-19 hit, I was part of a "supper swap" group with some girlfriends.
Hot meals on the table five nights a week and I was only responsible for ONE of them.
And if I'm being completely honest, it was nothing short of amazing.
While we're not completely "opened up" from our stay-at-home orders yet, I still want to share this concept for those of you that might be looking for a way to save a little money and eat at home more often once we're free to be out and about.
1. Form Your Supper Swap Group
Our Supper Swap group included my sisters-in-law, a few friends, and my mom.
For us, having five families in our group worked best. We each cooked one night per week. On the weekends, we ate leftovers and cooked for our own families.
Before we began this process, we listed out how many servings each family would need, any allergies, and any dislikes.
2. Fill out the Supper Swap Calendar
We used Google Docs to fill out our Supper Swap template. I put the dates in ahead-of-time and then the members of our group went in and decided what date each week would work for them to cook.
We also shared what meals we were planning on making. Our meals consisted of a main dish and one or two sides. Sometimes the side dishes were already cooked and sometimes, we would send canned goods for the family to fix. Every once in a while, someone would send a dessert, as well.
Another thing to discuss with your group is how each family will get their food.
For my family, my mom's house was a central location with an accessible refrigerator right inside the back door. So our group just made sure all the food was at her house by 4:00 each evening. Each family was responsible for picking up their own supper package.
Some other families might do a drop-off, where the family that cooks takes the meals around to the various families, depending on how close you all live to each other.
A third option might be for each family to pick up their own meals at the cook's house each night.
This is something your group will need to work out. My sister-in-law and I live very close together, so every once in a while, we would just grab both meals for both families. One of our friend's kids rode the bus that my sister-in-law drives, so sometimes she would just drop her meal off with the kids!
Just think about your options and develop a plan early on so everyone in the group knows what to expect and what is expected of her.
4. Get to Work!
Now it's time to put in the work! To prepare for this venture, we all bought some reusable casserole dishes and plastic containers to share amongst the group. By doing this, we weren't always worried about getting dishes back to the owner. We just cooked in them the following week and passed them all around.
After your calendar is filled out and your reusable containers are purchased, it's time to start cooking once a week and grab a hot meal the rest of the week from someone else!
If you commit to having your meals ready for your friends once a week and putting forth the effort to make this concept work, I promise you will really enjoy this process!
5. Tweak the Process and Start Again
After your first week or two, you'll notice some things that you might need to change for the future. It's no big deal to just be in contact with your friends and make those changes right away or as you go into the new month. Just remember to be flexible with the process and to take good notes about what did and didn't work!
Bulk cooking takes a little bit of preparation, but by the second or third week, you'll fall into a rhythm.
Let me know if you have any questions in the comments or over on Facebook that I missed here!
Looking forward to starting the Supper Swap again soon,
I had found extra motivation by keeping track of the books I read in 2020 through the Goodreads Reading Challenge, so I was interested to see how this might transfer over to my other desired habits.
I decided to start tracking all of the goals I was working towards and see if I made more progress when I was monitoring.
Sure enough, Gretchen Rubin was right.
I started to track everything using a simple app called Done.
In the last few weeks, when I haven't felt like walking or drinking all of my water, this app has kept me on track.
Checkmarks on a scratch piece of paper could do the job, too.
The point isn't the WAY you're tracking, it's that you make the effort to track.
Tracking every day leads to streaks in certain habits.
Streaks in certain habits leads to extra motivation to keep that streak going.
I'm adding a new habit to my tracking list today -- blogging once a week.
One week down. ✅
Monitoring my habits here in the farmhouse,
Over the last few years, I have tried to focus on building habits, so I don't have to make decisions throughout every single day of my life.
I've worked on building habits in all areas of life: home, health, physical wellness, career, and spiritual growth.
Admittedly, my prayer habit has really changed over the years.
After reading the book Fervent by Priscilla Shirer and watching The War Room, I began to be more intentional in my prayer life, thinking about my prayers as a strategy against the enemy. At that time, I began to write out prayers about specific subjects -- our marriage, our children, our siblings, the rest of our family, our church, our minister & his family, our careers, health needs, struggling friends, and so many other topics. When something came up that someone needed prayer for, I wrote out a prayer for them and began praying it out loud.
This method was very effective. However, it also became difficult to manage when I had hundreds of notecards with prayers written out on them. I wanted to have an effective prayer strategy, but I felt like I was missing important topics and I felt like I was missing out on some of the "relationship" part of my prayer time.
I started to research what other people were doing in their prayer lives.
I talked to friends, surfed the internet, and of course, prayed.
I have learned a few things about myself over the years:
I'm going to be brutally honest here, this month has been extremely overwhelming for me. As a school administrator, dealing with the end of the school year amid COVID-19 concerns and regulations has brought on unprecedented decision-making requirements for school districts. On May 4th, like I talked about in my last blog post, we had straight-line winds that destroyed our barn and damaged our roof & two other buildings. We've been cooped up (like the rest of our country) with almost no outside contact for the girls with friends and family.
So many of my prayers during May have been spontaneous whispers for peace and calm and protection.
I have no doubt that these prayers were effective and heard and appreciated, but I feel like this time we have spent in the valley has been "survival mode".
As the school year has come to an end, I'm ready to get back to growing and thriving in my prayer life, not just surviving alongside Jesus.
So for June, I've created a prayer template for each day of the month. This will hopefully keep me grounded and focused, as well as help me to rebuild my morning prayer habit.
I have created this two-page template for every day of June.
I'm going to take this weekend to add in daily scriptures for each day and to write down my "specific daily prayers" that I pray about each morning.
I've outlined these prayer topics below, if you're interested in doing something similar.
Specific Daily Prayers
Each day, I have specific topics that I cover. This is something I started a few years ago when I was trying to come up with an effective method of covering all of the "regular" topics I wanted to be in prayer about.
Here is my schedule for my daily prayer topics.
So that's what I'm going to do to strengthen my prayer habit this next month.
This might not be the right prayer method for you, and that's okay.
I would encourage you, however, to find a method that works for you. Schedule in some prayer time and be intentional with how you use that time.
Making prayer a priority here at the farmhouse,
There are so many things that I love about spring in the Midwest.
The return of color, as yards turn green again and flowers start to pop out.
New babies on the farm, fresh calves and sweet baby chicks.
Since we bought our previous house, back in 2006, Mr. Farmhouse and I have loved sitting outside watching thunderstorms. We would sit out on the back patio at the previous house and when we moved into the farmhouse, the front porch became a favorite place to watch storms roll in from the west.
When the storm gets close enough that we almost can't handle the rain and wind, we gather up our belongings and rush inside to watch from the safety of the living room windows.
On the morning of May 4th, however, I was at work when the storms started to brew out in eastern Kansas. Mr. Farmhouse was at work, as well. The two younger girls were at my parents' house and our oldest had stayed the night at her cousin's house.
Because we were handing out meals at school in a drive-through fashion, I had been keeping my eye on the radar. There wasn't much happening around school (about 30 miles northwest of where we live), but the forecast was looking kind of scary down at the farmhouse.
When it looked like it should be over with, my sister-in-law had sent some pictures of their backyard. Their chicken coop was flipped over, their swing-set was all but demolished, and let's just say their trampoline had seen better days.
The farmhouse sits about 3/4 of a mile north of their house, so I started to wonder if there might be a chance that the same straight-line winds had hit our place.
I called Mr. Farmhouse and asked him to head out there on his lunch hour and check things over.
I had a virtual meeting coming up, but I couldn't shake the feeling that there might be some damage on our property, so I made arrangements to participate in the meeting from my phone.
I climbed in the car, secured my phone into the cradle on my dash, and headed home.
About 15 minutes into the meeting, as I was visiting with my colleagues about what the fall might look like at our school, I got a notification text message from Mr. Farmhouse. I ignored it, thinking I would check it out after the meeting got over. Then another text came through. Still, I continued through the meeting. Finally, he called.
I clicked out of the meeting to answer and I could immediately tell Mr. Farmhouse was shaken up a bit. "It's not good. I think the house is okay, but you'd better get here soon."
Within ten minutes, I was home.
As I came upon our property, I could see bits of our barn strewn about through the pasture. There were pigs out of the pen, grazing in the yard. The carport looked as if it had been picked up and set back down, and the girls' playhouse and basketball goal were both toppled over. The garden was destroyed and parts of the roof of the house were peeled up.
I knew that the rebuilding process would be a little inconvenient, but that evening when I climbed into bed, I just prayed and thanked God that we were all still here. That the damage had not been worse...and that we had only lost "stuff".
As we have been wrapping up the school year, our last few weeks have also been filled with learning about insurance claims and scheduling contractors to come finish the work we can't do ourselves.
We have started working on rebuilding the girls' play-set and spent a full day cleaning up the debris from the barn.
Thank You for home insurance and friends & family to help with clean up.
And thank You for Mr. Farmhouse and these sweet farm girls.
Thanking God as we put the farm back together here at the farmhouse,
PS. During the same storm that blew the barn away, a tragic storm-related accident happened not very far from our home. Please join me in praying for the friends & family of a sweet, sweet woman who lost her life in this storm. Pray for the children who witnessed the tragedy, the family who is putting the pieces back together after the tragedy, and this woman's granddaughter. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
I've never thought of myself as a minimalist.
In fact, I would lean more towards the term "maximalist".
I've always been someone who has felt the need to keep most everything. I'm the mom who has a tub for each of the girls from every single year of their schooling. My mantras used to be "we might need that someday" and "just in case".
I have ALWAYS kept excess in all areas -- clothing, kitchen gadgets, bath & body products...you name it. Always.
Now, I have gone through periods in life where I've done large decluttering projects and have organized the various spaces in our home...only to quickly fill them back up over a period of months (sometimes weeks).
Things started to change for me when I left my teaching job in 2018 and moved into an administrative position, as the Director of Special Services.
This meant moving from a large classroom with a nice-sized storage closet to an office.
An office with no storage closet.
An office with no cabinets or cubbies or shelves.
This was a mindset shift for me that took some work.
I wanted to have everything I would "need" at my fingertips.
This meant that I first had to go through EVERYTHING I had in my classroom and make some decisions.
After thirteen years of teaching (10 of them in the same classroom), this was quite a task.
I started by moving everything away from the shelving units that would stay in the classroom. I would stack everything there that would stay in the classroom for the next teacher.
Then I opened up some tubs to put my personal belongings in that would either need to go home with me, go to my new office, or be donated elsewhere. I wanted to be able to be out of the classroom sooner than later, as there was already a new teacher wanting to begin preparing her classroom for the next year.
So I pushed through, sorting and tubbing, sorting and tubbing. As I got a tub filled for my new office, I would carry it down there. As I got a tub filled to go home, I would carry it to my car.
I was out of my classroom in less than a week.
THIRTEEN YEARS of teaching, emptied out within a week.
Full disclosure, when I got home with the tubs of personal items, I carried them straight to the basement, where they sat until December 2019.
However, the items in my new office at school needed to be dealt with.
I arranged the office furniture in a way that would be inviting and functional and I opened the first tub.
I was brutal with my discarding process. The full office reveal is HERE.
We can still keep the things we love and need. I can still choose to decorate with signs on the wall, photographs of my babies, and various cozy pillows & throws. We can have all colors & textures in our home and we can have a few extra paper goods stored away, too.
The difference in how we were living our life before we started on this "cozy minimalist" journey and how we are living it today is all found in the purpose of the possessions we have chosen to keep.
The difference is found in where and how we store items.
It's found in the intentionality of what we choose to display on our walls and surfaces.
It's found in the ability to maintain an orderly environment with less possessions.
Last week, I wrote about my dream and commitment to write a book.
In an epiphany of sorts, the day after I wrote that blog, I started to journal about our journey from chaos to (mostly) clutter-free. The words started pouring out and I realized that this was probably a good place to dive into my first book.
As I sit here writing, I look around and am so grateful for the peace that has made its way into our house over the last four months.
Thanking God for personal growth here at the farmhouse,
The book is basically the written version of the writing class Lamott teaches.
I've always felt the pull to write.
and someday -- a novel.
So this is me committing to this idea in writing...to you.
I want to write a novel.
I've dreamed about it since high school. When I was teaching third graders about the writing process and helping them learn to become better writers, in the back of my mind, I was always composing my own stories.
I have started so many times.
I get through a few chapters or get through developing a character or two, and I kind of fall off of the wagon and halt the process.
Six months later, I start again.
I'm giving myself the gift of done.
And hopefully, giving the world (or at the very least, my daughters) some sort of written gift in the process.
Typing away here at the farmhouse,
There is a phrase that I have used over and over in my lifetime.
Life can change in an instant.
Until this point, I have used this most when discussing moments of tragedy in the lives of my friends and family members.
However, over our school's spring break during the first week of March, we started to hear more and more about the Coronavirus crisis in our country.
Within a few days of the original mention of the virus, we had extended our spring break into the next week...and then the following week...and then through the rest of March.
Just four short weeks later, we are now under a state-wide "stay-at-home order" and we won't be returning to school in the foreseeable future.
Just. Like. That.
Track season. Gone.
Piano lessons. Gone.
Dance class. Gone.
Family trips to the grocery store. Gone.
Eating out at restaurants. Gone.
Yes, life can change in an instant.
And just like that, we're navigating the world of "home-schooling". The girls have some assignments from school they are working on and we are really getting back to the basics of reading books for fun, exploring outdoor play, and being creative "just because".
Just like that, we're worshipping via Facebook Live on Sunday mornings and connecting with believers all over the country. We're watching sermons cuddled up on the couch and taking communion with homemade bread made by our daughter. The girls are spending over half an hour every morning studying God's Word together...an opportunity they would not have if it weren't for our current situation.
Just like that, we're practicing softball outside in the evenings, riding the ranger around the gravel roads, and having art class with sidewalk chalk under the sun.
Just like that, our house is clean, laundry is caught up, and we have decluttered more unnecessary belongings than I ever would have thought possible.
Just like that, we are eating out of our pantry and freezer, only going to the store for necessities. We're making meals at home and sitting around the table every single night. We are laughing and telling stories together and taking time to enjoy each others' company.
Just. Like. That.
Just a little over a month ago, we were meeting ourselves coming and going every night.
We were leaving the house at dark and getting home at dark.
We were running kids from one activity to another every single evening.
Yes. Life has changed.
There are many challenges surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are many scary aspects of this virus and I am thankful that there are so many people in our country taking it so seriously.
As we work to get through the current crisis, I hope and pray that we can be intentional in continuing to connect with people.
And maybe...just maybe, we will be able to use this time as a reset for our families.
A reset for our communities.
A reset for our country.
Maybe when we again have freedom to congregate, we'll remember what this time felt like.
So many stories of people helping people.
The everyday miracles that are coming to light during the time we are spending "stuck" in our homes.
Feeling hopeful in the farmhouse tonight, as we spend our time together -- apart,
Something happens on Friday afternoons, as I prepare my desk at school for the next week and lock my office door before heading home.
I feel a sense of accomplishment at tasks I've been able to complete through the week and a sense of relief at the idea of a few days "off".
The week's end is a time of reflection and a time of looking forward to the future.
I've developed a routine for Friday afternoons that has helped me to leave the school with a sense of peace and contentment.
It hasn't always been this way though.
I used to stay at school late into the evenings playing catch up from the previous week and organizing my post-it notes of tasks that I needed to accomplish the following Monday.
Thanks to Google Calendar and a few books, like The 12-Week Year, I have figured out a better system.
I began to wonder if the same concept could work at school.
First semester of the next school year, I decided to try it out.
When I got back to work in August, I made a 12-week plan for first quarter.
I made a list of all the things that needed to be accomplished between the beginning of August & the end of October.
I started to divide them out based on what dates I needed to meet certain deadlines and then I took it a step deeper and divided the tasks by days during that week.
This was working fine, but I found myself writing and re-writing my lists for each day and it started to become a disorganized paper mess. Yes, the tasks were getting finished, but it was exhausting to keep up with my paper system and I hated the "cluttered feeling" that my desk had at the end of each work day.
That is...until I found Reminders.
One of the things that Google has added over the last year is the integration of "Reminders" into the Google Calendar platform.
Essentially, I can make my "to do" list using Reminders.
The difference in using this platform is that I can give my "Reminders" a date and time!
The magic of Google Reminders is that the tasks AUTOMATICALLY MIGRATE when you don't mark them complete!
Each morning, I open my calendar when I get to work and look at any tasks that have migrated over to the current date. I check for a few things. First, I love to see if I completed the tasks and just forgot to mark them complete. Next, I see if the tasks are still relevant. If not, I delete them. If they are, I assign a time later the same day or later in the week to work on these tasks.
On Friday afternoon, when I start to prepare my office and desk for the next week, I now open up my Google calendar and look at the tasks I was unable to complete during the week.
I look at my upcoming weekend and the next week's calendar and I fill in any tasks that I need to complete.
I collect any resources or materials I might need to complete these tasks and I put them in folders I have labeled with the days of the week.
Then I clean off my desk, turn off my lamps, and head out the door.
Feeling good at this week's end,