Try this: Family team chores

It's a truth universally acknowledged that big kids (as in pre-teens, teens, and young adults) don't love to be cross examined, eyeball to eyeball. But get them in a car or sitting shoulder-to-shoulder and they're more likely to open up. A good road trip--or even a long errand together--will likely yield way more information and connection than 100 face-to-face sitdowns.

With that in mind, here's an idea: make a few chores family ones where you all pitch in together on the same task as a group. Make a plan--a pact, even--to all show up in the yard at the same time and put in 30 minutes of work. Or have a night where you all make dinner together and all clean up rather than divvying up the chores individually. Sure, individual assignments are efficient and teach responsibility and accountability, which is great, but collaborative chores have their strengths, too--including that shoulder-to-shoulder dynamic that invites conversation and (dare I say it?) maybe even teamwork.

And there's another benefit: In his recent book, When, Daniel Pink makes the point that there's a particular magic to doing something together and syncing as a group. As I read his book, it occurred to me that group chores cultivate a sense of belonging and provide the opportunity to synch on all three of the levels Pink describes: boss syncing (where we benefit from picking up cues about expectations), tribe syncing (where we learn to coordinate alongside others), and heart syncing (where a common purpose brings meaning and connection).

As Daniel James Brown wrote in The Boys in the Boat the book about the rowing team from Washington that won the gold medal at the 1936 Olympics:

"...he came to understand that those almost mystical bonds of trust and affection, if nurtured correctly, might lift a crew above the ordinary sphere, transport it to a place where nine boys somehow became one thing--a thing that could not quite be defined, a thing that was so in tune with the water and the earth and the sky above that, as they rowed, effort was replaced by ecstasy."

I'm not promising ecstasy, mind you! I'd settle for a response somewhere between reluctant, foot-dragging presence and somewhat cheerful achievement, ha!  Let us know if you give this a try--we'd love to hear where your experience lands on that spectrum.

p.s. By the way, the same goes for doing things as a couple. PItching in on household tasks together can turn chores into practically-dates. (Cue charming video montage of playful dinner making and splashy collaborative car washing etcetera.)

Ginger Lincoln and the throng of bands

There's a white lined index card tucked behind a jar on our kitchen counter. It looks like a wacko list of unrelated terms but it represents a mini tradition we acquired a few years ago where we create random future band names from word combinations that come up in our regular conversations. 

For example: One day Sam is especially excited as he broke open a freshly purchased loaf of our usual brand of bread in Australia (Helga's). As he takes out the first two slices he announces, "Oh, I love first-day Helgas!" We look up with a grin and say it in unison: "Band name." It goes on the list.

If future anthropologists discovered the card, I'm not sure what they would make of the kooky random word pairings. Each entry takes me back to the moment: the laugh of recognition, the race to jot it down on the card. It's one of those organic little traditions that have emerged in our midstage family life and I love how it pins down the elusive moonbeam of a moment. When we packed up to move, that little battered card was one of the few documents precious enough to tuck into my journal to bring along with me, in person.  

Here are a few of the bands--you can probably imagine some of the backstories. Others are pretty...situational and need a little explanation: 

  • First Day Helgas
  • Ginger Lincoln
  • Involuntary Doughnuts
  • Defective Tomato
  • 6 a.m. Shanks (This one probably needs a little explaining: Greg had a weekly early morning call with a guy in the US with that name)
  • Dichotomous Key
  • Sticky Figs
  • Downton Abbey on the Sly
  • Rogue Pinky
  • Time Zone Overlap
  • American Dairy
  • Bat Pee Rainstorm (after we made the unfortunate choice of sitting under a couple of trees at an outdoor concert that ended up being the home to a whole fleet of bats)

If I were fancier I'd turn it into a special journal or chatbook but that might make it too precious and ruin it. (In fact, I'm hoping that just writing about it here won't mess with the band name juju!) It's just a battered list on a notecard. But it's also more than just the paper--it's a snapshot of a laugh, an artifact of connected delight. 

What little artifacts do you save that represent aspects of your family life? What tiny, random traditions mean the most to you?

36 days later

I'm just a girl, standing in front of a screen, asking where the time went (my deepest apologies to Notting Hill). Are you having a similar case of time whiplash? How on earth can it be the end(ish) of January already?! Here's what we've been up to at our house (and I'll just admit up front that a couple of these may show up as posts of their own in the future):

I'm living without a phone (mine got stolen/lost right before Christmas) so I've pretty much jumped off social media and am rather off the grid, in general. It's an adjustment but it's not terrible. Mostly I am just too wallet-reluctant to buy another phone, ugh. My watch, computer, point-and-shoot camera, and landline are filling in pretty well for my smartphone in the meantime. 

I've been pretty immersed in wedding planning and prep (please send reinforcements, I'm in over my head!). More posts to come on this topic. I may not know the first thing about throwing a wedding but I do appreciate a good website project (Minted makes it super easy):

I'm still riding the boost of a terrific family trip to New Zealand over the holidays--forced family fun along with some (slightly uncomfortable but important) learning opportunities with everyone figuring out how to reconfigure as a family every time we get back together. But totally worth it!

Speedboats in Shotover Canyon

Speedboats in Shotover Canyon

Gorgeous Doubtful Sound

Gorgeous Doubtful Sound

Hiking Queenstown Hill

Hiking Queenstown Hill

In an attempt to fit in as much as we could over our last and final summer holiday break in Australia, after we put the girls on the plane back to their universities in the states I joined G and Sam (miiiiiiiiles outside of my comfort zone and fitness level, to be honest) on a 4-day backpacking/hiking trip in Tasmania. It was spectacular, rewarding, and hard going now and then.  (Again, though, totally worth it!)

Top of The Blade at Cape Pillar

Top of The Blade at Cape Pillar

Looking down from Cape Huay

Looking down from Cape Huay

After that excitement we came back to routine+everyday life last week--digging through emails, catching up on various commitments, doing laundry, trying to get ahead of the weeds in the garden, and putting away Christmas. Hey, if a Christmas tree was never decorated, can it just be called a tree and kept up all year? Asking for a friend.

Which brings me to right now: I'm christening this solo weekend, while G and Sam are away on a scout trip, as my "personal retreat weekend"--making 2016 plans and goals and generally embracing my list-making, future-planning inner geek. Also staying in my pajamas far into the day, eating when/what I want, and streaming some Netflix. Because inner lazy geek, too.

What about you, friends? Catch me up on your doings lately.

And I know Sarah has had a very full month as well...she'll catch us up soon, too.

Hygge for the holidays

Congratulations to Annie's Lauren on her engagement! Young love makes me at once hopeful for the future and nostalgic for my own family's giddy beginnings. The pronouncements I made! My children would never play with toy guns (no encouraging violence)! We would never go to bed angry! I would always be able to fit into my wedding dress! 

Oh, pish posh.

My current pronouncements involve sure-fire ways to stay connected with my young adult children and to build a  welcoming homebase that will be a haven for them and their future spouses and children. So when an article about the Danish concept of hygge as "drama-free family time" crossed my Facebook feed, I sat up and paid attention. I knew a little about hygge from Annie. A long, long time ago (seven years to be precise), Annie posted about hygge on Basic Joy. Hygge, pronounced hooga, is all about cozy, relaxed gatherings that focus on enjoying the moment -- the spaces, food, and company. "The Secret to Danish Happiness" calls hygge a "shelter from the outside world." 

That. I want hygge -- the coziness, the sheltering, the food. I want all of it. 

During the Thanksgiving holiday, I explained the basic principles of hygge to my kids, but mostly I tried to keep the foundational ideas in mind while planning family activities. Also, sometimes I, ahem, gently reminded them when they were acting in an un-hygglig manner. Maybe I'm a bit late to the game to raise my children as Danish prodigies, but I still find the philosophy helpful in formulating a family atmosphere where everyone feels included and accepted. You can read the entire article here, but the basic concepts are as follows:

  1. Come as you are. Be authentic. "Competition, boasting, and pretense are not bonding, but rather subtly dividing." So there.
  2. Don't be controversial. Hyyglig time is not when we should debate politics or philosophy, so in this spirit dispense with any negativity or judgment of other people's ideas.
  3. Act like a team member. THIS is the best one! Hygge includes everyone contributing to the event and to the conversation. Identify what needs to be done and pitch in without being asked. That seals it. I'm moving to Denmark.
  4. Respect the hygge. Jessica Alexander explains, "Hygge time is about providing a temporary shelter from social climbing, networking, competition, and materialism." So don't do that stuff!! Really. Just stop.
  5. Hygge time is special time. And because it is special, it is limited. By demarcating hygge time from other types of interaction, we can stock up on the warmth, love, and appreciation we need to face the outside world. Now that's what family should be about.

Generally speaking, hygge (and my study is admittedly limited), is about appreciating the moment and the simple pleasures of living. It's about the glow of the twinkle lights, the sweetness in a cup of hot cocoa, the warmth of conversation -- all absent of the motivations,  competitions, or worries of typical American modern life. And it's about helping others to enjoy those simple pleasures alongside us. 

So, not such a big order. Just erase 99% of the cultural norms I was raised on, and I'll be good. What about you? Can we start a hygge movement?

Nesting

This Saturday my two oldest girls are coming home for Thanksgiving!! Their impending arrival sure makes the holiday exciting and something we look forward to all year. We've already been mapping out our week -- all the restaurants we want to visit, seeing Dickens' A Christmas Carol at the Alley Theater, and our annual Thanksgiving Day Segway ride. It is in this, the Segway ride, that we like to differentiate ourselves as the quintessential nerd family. Just imagine us . . . all in a row . . . with helmets strapped tightly around our chins . . .

Just between you and me? One of the daughters is bringing home a boyfriend to MEET THE FAMILY. This situation promotes an interesting dynamic, namely that we want the boyfriend to feel welcome and to NOT think we are CRAZY. Doubtless, we will be watching him closely to make sure he is good enough for our precious-princess-baby-girl. And, likewise, I suspect he will be surveying our family culture and his potential spot within the family o' nerds. Heavens, if young adult parenting doesn't make for some dramatic introductions!

This week I'm readying the nest for all of my little chicks (+1). This includes a long-planned re-do of Parker's room -- replacing his bunk beds and repainting and reorganizing. We will be offering Parker's room to the boyfriend for his stay, so this is a nice, self-imposed deadline. I need deadlines desperately, because . . . you know . . . Netflix.

The room was freshly painted last week. And this weekend the husband and I collaborated on a queen-sized bed frame. And by collaborated, I mean I made him a sandwich and he let me use the nail gun. We settled on a Pottery Barn Teen inspired platform bed that I originally spotted on Shanty2Chic. The plans are at AnaWhite.com.

image via  Shanty2Chic

image via Shanty2Chic

Here's what I've got so far:

PJbed web.jpg

Today I'm filling the screw and nail holes and sanding. This evening Sterling will attach the feet. And at some point I will have the distinct privilege of going to Ikea for some bedding, which I imagine to be woodsy yet sophisticated, manly yet hipster.

I so enjoy these periods of preparation and anticipation. I try my hardest to make our home a place of refuge and happiness that our kids will want to return to again and again. And while, certainly, a platform bed is not entirely necessary to that project, I am aiming for order and peace, warmth and acceptance. Somehow, cozy spaces make the holidays . . . well, more cozy.

Here are a few more holiday ideas from around the web to cozy up your spaces:

One is not two (or three)

First there were just the two of us, G and I, living on love and baked potatoes in those early years. For the most part, a world of two. A cocoon, really. Then came Lauren and we happily adjusted our tethers a bit (ha! or a lot) to fasten her in and form a family of three. Then Maddy and, a little later, Sam arrived and we multiplied the bonds of our web, adding new sibling strands that were separate from but connected to the marriage and parenting ones. Each time, more connections meant more conflict, more energy, more chaos, more silliness, more work, more joy. Sometimes in the throes of adjusting we would look at each other and despair: "What have we done?!" mourning the version of life we left behind.

Photos by Luca Zordan, found  here

Photos by Luca Zordan, found here

You know where I'm going with this. We've maxed out the "one-little two-little three-little" song and now we're subtracting. We're shrinking! It's a different business shrinking a family rather than growing one. You still adjust as a group, take on new roles. Someone new gets to be the "oldest child" for a while.  But where before you adjusted to something new that was added, now you adjust to having something crucial that was subtracted. Some days it just feels like the family fabric has simply extended over mountains and oceans--stretched, sure, but in tact. Other days it feels like there's a gaping, whistling hole in the everyday fabric of our days. Where before there were moments of "what have we done?!" now there are moments of "what shall we do?" mourning the version of life we left behind.

photo by  Luca Zordan

photo by Luca Zordan

So we've started our third family--or sixth?--depending on how you count. This new family, the one currently under our roof now that Maddy has launched like a second family satellite--far away but still orbiting--this little family is quieter than the others. More independent. There's less laundry, fewer dishes in the sink, fewer rides and appointments and places to be, no more need for Costco (!). For the first time, I'm outnumbered, genderly speaking. This makes me feel kind of queenly but also who will watch period dramas with me now? The boys (that's how I think of my at-home family now, "the boys") outnumber me but, perhaps the strangest feeling of all, the adults outnumber the kids again for the first time since 1995. Our silly quotient has taken a dive without those contagiously hilarious moments between siblings. Now there are no siblings here, just a guy and his parents! I like to think we are pretty fun people, G and I, but still.  I miss our maximum silliness that is achieved only when everyone's here. Fewer under-one-roof connections means less conflict, less energy, less chaos, less work, more nostalgia. (Oh, the nostalgia!)

I fully confess that these are first world mama problems of the highest magnitude. I remember the days--years, really--when receiving a prison sentence of solitary confinement sounded like a pretty attractive way to live compared to the never-ending touching/eating/rocking/chasing/wiping/calming/feeding demands of a younger family still in the throes of heavy duty bootcamp parenting.  I think of dear friends whose children didn't live long enough to launch or who didn't arrive in the family when hoped for or as expected. Others have children who will always be with them for physical or emotional or other reasons. 

And, really,  I know this family gig continues for all of us. The revolving door revolves, bringing folks out and back in, and we are fixtures in each other's lives forever. But the in-house, full time setting with all my people at home together feels like such a whirring blip of time in retrospect. When I came across this passage last weekend, I underlined it and put a star in the margin to share with you. Whether your child is in kindergarten this year or 10th grade or college, you will understand all the layers--one through sixteen--of these sentiments:

"Dave was fifth in the straggled line of returnees, running easily, neither trying for a dramatic finish nor easing up, but finishing just behind the lead pack of three seniors and the tall thin sophomore. Dave's dad watched with a complex mix of feelings--unutterable pride in this son (that kid was two years old two minutes ago, and look at him now those scything legs!), a sigh that he was so damned skinny (how can he possibly compete against those kids--they are twice as thick as he is...he looks like a heron running with deer), worry about him not being dressed properly (aw, a sleeveless shirt and shorts in snow for heaven's sake), and deepest of all, beyond any words he could have summoned to drape on the feeling, a sense of impending loss and the cruelty of time and the yaw of mortality.

"Very soon, all too soon, Dave would go away--college, work, the navy, traveling, who knew? And while his dad, from layers one through fifteen of his soul, was delighted and thrilled and proud and happy that this would happen, pleased that things looked good for Dave to grow into a cool and responsible young man over the next four years, enough that he could launch into a stimulating life of his own, which every good dad wants for his kid, he also felt, silently, at level sixteen, in the innermost chamber of his heart, a terrible sadness that there would come a day when, look for him as he might, there would be no Dave in the cabin, in the school, on the mountain, and good and right and healthy as that would be, it would also be a hole that could never be filled by anything or anyone else. He loved Maria with a deep and powerful love, but he had two children, and one is not two." (Martin Marten*, Brian Doyle)

(photo by  Luca Zordan

(photo by Luca Zordan


*Book recommendation: Okay, friends, I just finished Martin Marten and cannot stop thinking about it. It's a delightful read. Here's what you do: wait until you have the time and headspace to really savor this book and sink under the spell of the writing. Give it a few chapters to settle in and to abandon your skepticism. It's a coming-of-age story about a teenage boy growing up in Oregon and a young marten (yes, an animal, that kind of marten) growing up in the forest nearby. Don't let that put you off, though. I've never been an animal book person--I could never be convinced to read any horse stories whatsoever, not even Black Beauty--but loved this. Though I have to admit I might have read faster/skimmed through one or two descriptive nature passages but not because they weren't fantastic--because I wanted to find out what happened next.  Masterful storytelling and an unforgettable, unique narrative voice about family and community and layers of stories and place. It's kind of hippyish, too, as Oregonians sometimes are :) but just such a good read overall--and he clearly loved commas at least as much as I do! (15+? Some language, complex themes and relationships)

The revolving door

I've been so unexpectedly AWOL here lately that I neglected to tell you that Lauren got back from her mission a few weeks ago! We have been luxuriating and adjusting ever since. When I run into friends (knowing how I was counting down the days) they usually ask a variation of this: "how does it feel to have all three of your kids under your roof again?" It is divine. And celebrated. And bittersweet. And fleeting. 

It's been spectacular. Not that there aren't tough parts to all this, especially readjusting to each other again and allowing for the growth and change that has taken place in each of us. At one point Lauren commented "I feel like a page that's been taken out of a book for a while and is trying to get stuffed back in place." I can totally relate to that feeling! But I've come to believe that families are connected differently than rigid, unforgiving book bindings: we are constantly evolving and accommodating change. After many years in one configuration (or at least a very gradually changing one), we are now a building constantly under renovation, not a static old book. 

Truth is, we've all been adjusting to the new reality of these years, which is that our family structure has renovated and reshuffled and installed a virtual revolving door: lots of transitions in and out, varying lengths of stays, and they're off again. That turning, pirouetting door provides constant opportunities to go off to new adventures and equally many welcome invitations to come back in. 

Tomorrow we head off on a long weekend trip together and then we begin another leaving season: first Lauren, off to spring term at university, then Maddy a few months later to her new university. I can almost feel the airy woosh of the revolving door slightly rustling my hair. They'll be back.