Seven Habits that Keep Me Sane

We are intentional around here about developing and functioning on habits and routines. There are some that are mostly mastered (like tooth-brushing), and some that require constant attention (like putting your dirty dishes in the dishwasher, not on the counter). Some are educational: we do instrument practice, memory work, math and handwriting nearly every day. Some are part of our family culture: we have a morning meeting most mornings… on the weekend, it may include Dad also.  I’ll talk about household and educational habits and routines later. For today, here are the little things that keep me sane when I do them.

The Habit of Bible Reading and Prayer: I usually make coffee while it is still dark. It is cold when I carry my mug and my blankie to my desk. I know I only have a short time before I am interrupted. I try to resist the urge to check email before I have read something else. I read the day’s devotional and recommended Bible reading. I pray. I may read a few pages of one or more other things also. I check my lists for the day. I need to start the day by praying and reading just a little bit to sustain my thoughts though all of the adventure and monotony that is motherhood.

The Habit of Slow Reading: There is a time for swallowing a book whole, but some books demand more time. There are ideas and characters need to be met and moved on from, and then there are others who need to live with us for a while.  Last year, I read A Tale of Two Cities, and I thought about sacrifice and salvation. Two years ago, I spent a year thinking on redemption and grace with Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. Three years ago, it was The Count of Monte Cristo, and I considered damage done by revenge. This year, I’ve invited Anna Karenina to stay for a while. She has a lot to say about marriage and relationships. I’ve also invited Charlotte Mason (volume 6), David Hicks (Norms and Nobility), and Karen Glass (Mind to Mind and Consider This) to help me define classical education. I may also read 99 other books this year, but these are the ones who will have a place on the shelf next to my desk until I am finished with them. I will read them slowly.

The Habit of Timeline Keeping: One habit that I’ve worked on personally for several years is that habit of writing the people and events that I come across in my reading onto a timeline. It took me a couple of tries to get it arranged in a way that would work consistently for many entries. After I finally got it set up, I copied the CC Timeline events onto as anchors for other events. Then, I put the philosophes and events from the history book I was reading. I continued, so on and so forth, not adding things even every week, but building it over time. It has been an amazing way to see connections between ideas and events about which I am reading.

The Habit of Writing: For many years, I scribbled a little here and there. I blogged a lot as we were first grieving for Isaac because I knew that I wouldn’t remember that season at all if I didn’t document (like I don’t remember most of 2005, which is the year Danny died). I’ve poured out my thoughts by hand in journals and typed them at Its Not Nothing and in hidden files on my computer. I was a scribbler, a processor, a record-keeper, but not a writer. I found a high school journal and in it I had quoted my favorite English teacher, who used to tell us that “All you have to do is write to be a writer.” I dedicated a few minutes a day to writing – nothing big or important – mostly just dumping my brain at and leaving room for developing ideas. This has become a blessed end to my day, even though it takes a little time.

The Habit of Exercise:  It is easier to learn a new habit in company than alone. We are working on an exercise habit, and it is proving difficult. I like to walk in the neighborhood with my husband. I have to stick to the low impact exercises that don’t damage my already sore joints. That kind of stinks because I’d burn more calories if I was running or CrossFitting.  However, walking is better than nothing. We’d all rather be walking and running outside… but not when it is just too cold. One of us usually wants to go to the Y in a day, and the rest of us tie on our tennis shoes and get in the van. The decision to go is easier because of the one person’s desire to work out. Perhaps, one day, we will each feel the need to move consistently individually and have the gumption to make it happen.

The Habit of the Little Bit: Here’s the secret to why my reading moments work: I don’t try to read a lot at once. I read just a little bit, and then take time to turn the characters and ideas over in my head while I do more mundane tasks, like the dishes. The work of continuing education for a mother isn’t done in free luxurious hours. It is done in the tiny moments, in little snatches, in short spurts. I can’t wait to do it perfectly, I can just do what is in front of me.  I manage writing little bits and pieces in my little corner of Instagram, and that is my best little bit at this time. But I least I got to the Little Bit.

The Habit of Doing It Now: My mother trained me to “Do it now” – to not “put it done unless you are putting it away.” Unfortunately “away” can get out of hand when the drawer in question won’t open or close because too many wrong things have been stuck there. This afternoon, I had to hunt for a CR2032 battery. Once I removed something, I couldn’t put it back in until I sorted the whole mess. Wiggling everything back in, shutting the drawer, and pretending the mess disappeared was not an option. It was either sort the stuff or leave the mess on the kitchen counter. When I finished, a third of the contents of these two drawers was in the trash, and everything else was neat and tidy.  I was grateful for my mother’s wisdom yet again.

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