The wheel keeps on turning….

I really have no idea how it can possibly be almost the end of week 6 and I am scrambling to finish the week 4 task. Hmmmmm….. I definitely need to get better at carving out time for this simplifying my life challenge. Things haven’t felt very simple during the past couple of weeks.

But I am determined  not to give up on this challenge (or give up my belief that I can keep at it) so here goes for my Wheel of Life.

I actually found it quite difficult to identify my 8 priority areas. As you can see from my core value and mission statement posts, narrowing things down isn’t my forte; I’m a cover-all-bases kind of gal! I feel like on a different day I might have selected slightly different areas but these feel ok for now. And my wheel looks a bit like this: My wheel of life (why won’t it let me insert my image???)

This is definitely a useful exercise – it is plain for all to see what I would like to be working on. I haven’t given any 5s, but that suits me. Life would get boring if things were perfect 😉

So what do I need? More fun, play &  adventure, more involvement in our community and more creativity. Things feel a bit stagnant and a bit insular at the moment, which I guess isn’t surprising given that we have a 7 month-old in the family. We have certainly come out of that newborn cave into which we all tend to retreat but I still long for more connections outside our own family and more fun rather than just getting through each day. And I want to be giving to our community.

We are definitely moving in the right direction: I volunteer on a radio show and I am on the committee of management at kinder. My husband is on the committee at the toy library and we are already booking out weekends well in advance for camping trips and some other outdoor adventures. This is what we are longing for! We spent a lot of time in very remote places in the early years of our relationship and we are both desperately missing time in wild places. The city is very convenient for work and being close to family but not so good for the parts of our soul that need to be deep in nature.

My relationships with family and friends feels pretty good to me. After all, connection is my #1 core value. There is no question our marriage could do with some more quality time (whose couldn’t once kids are in the picture) but at the end of the day we adore one another and manage to be mostly kind to one another. And when we give in to stress and tiredness we are good at apologising, talking and reconnecting. My role as Mum is most definitely a work in progress and I question myself every single day. But I feel good about the fact that I am deeply committed to being the best Mum and I can be and I read, think and talk about parenting every day. I know I am doing the best I can and I am learning every single day. And despite the busy-ness of each day and my extreme tiredness, I am strongly connected to a cherished group of friends. Not a day goes by when I don’t have a proper chat with at least one of my close girlfriends either on the phone or during a playdate. I feel so blessed to have the friends I do.

As for health and wellbeing, it is just the same old story. I need more sleep and more time to exercise. But things are getting better; I am back to walking every morning (with baby now) and no matter what happens we eat nourishing and healthy food. That has always been a huge priority for me and I love to cook. With time I’ll be back at the gym and in the pool.

As well as more fun and play in day-to-day life I’d really like to be flexing my creative muscles. Other than in the kitchen, I have been feeling decidedly uncreative. Going back to choir at night  is a bit tricky at the moment but that shouldn’t stop me singing around the house, should it? And I know we could be doing more fun creative art and craft activities at home.

There are things I love and things I hate about our home but there are plans afoot to make some changes there. We’re not quite sure what to do next but at least we are thinking about all our options. The same goes for my career. I mostly love my job: it is challenging, stimulating and rewarding. But it is also very demanding and involves a lot more time than I would like (even when supposedly working very part-time). So I continue to ponder other possibilities and have not ruled out making changes there.

As for personal development and gratitude, that is where this challenge and blog come in. I read widely, reflect as much as I can and am really trying to pay attention to what matters in life. Mindfulness, gratitude and focus – these are all important words for me this year.

Our mission (yep, we’ve already chosen to accept it!)

How can it be that the week is almost over (and the linky is about to close!!) and I haven’t managed to write this post yet? We actually wrote our mission statement mid-week but until now I haven’t sat down and written about it.  Still, no time like the present. Creating our mission statement was reasonably straight-forward and quite fun. I’m sure the reason I found it so hard to narrow down my list of core values was because I put a lot of pressure on myself to create a list that was FINAL and would be true forever more. But of course it is impossible to predict how things might change (how I might change) over time.

So this time I just decided I was going to be happy with whatever we came up with that is right for us at the moment. There was no pressure that we had to come up with a mission statement that would stand the test of time. It didn’t have to be perfect, final and non-negotiable. Once I had sorted that out in my head, it was a really fun process.

I was determined to include our soon-to-be 4 year-old in the process of creating our family mission statement but really wasn’t sure how that would go. I’m happy to report that although I’m not convinced he understood the big picture of what we were trying to do, he was certainly happy to contribute to the dinner table conversation we had prompted by Deb’s questions.

He came out with some incredibly beautiful comments. Things like “I am most happy when we are all cuddling” and “I think we should always be kind and gentle with each other”  and “When we feel sad we talk about what is wrong and then cuddle and kiss”.

He had some really important things to say: “I hate it when we rush”, “I think we need to be silly and laugh more” and “I love it when we all play”. And in response to me asking him several times for his thoughts on a particular question: “Mummy, I’m not talking because my mouth is full!” Fair point.

Meanwhile, our baby girl made her own important contribution to the conversation by reminding us how much we value good food and looking after our bodies. Avocado…….yummo.

After the kids were in bed, hubby and I did our best to pull it all together and in fact, it was a pretty smooth process.

So….drumroll…..our family mission statement looks a bit like this:

We will love and respect one another and respect all the other living (and non-living) things in our lives.

We will be kind and gentle with one another.

We will make time for each other and ensure that we genuinely connect with one another by talking and listening and cuddling. We will truly share our lives and support one another.

We will be silly, play, have lots of fun and laugh.

We will spend as much time outdoors as we can connecting with nature.

We will prepare and eat nutritious, delicious food.

We will be active and look after our bodies.

We will take advantage of every opportunity that comes our way and not be afraid to try new things.

We will never forget how incredibly lucky we are for so many reasons, particularly the people in our lives, where we live and the freedom we enjoy.

We will be active members of community who contribute and never forget how much we can learn from other people.

We will try not to take things too seriously!

Could do with a bit of pruning, but this is just fine for now.

The ebb and flow and persistence of values

Although I have been thinking about my core values a lot during the past 10 days or so (yes, I am very late with this post), I have been putting off writing about them. But this afternoon I decided I just have to do it – before the end of the day. Hmm….. I have 2 hours til midnight and a baby who is sure to wake for a feed any minute. Never mind, I’m not about to give up on Deb’s challenge in week 2!

So why have I been procrastinating so much? I’ve been reflecting about that too and I think it is simply because putting out a list of “my top 5 core values” seems so definite and final and hard to do. I have been reading some other posts for reassurance that it is possible and it seems many people have found this challenge similarly difficult. But I know Deb made the point that values are not permanent so the time has come to define my values and accept that if I were to do this exercise again next week or next year the list would probably be different. And that’s fine.

Identifying a whole heap of values that are really important to me is easy. In no particular order, all of the following are values I hold in high esteem: respect, compassion, wisdom, resilience, learning/growth, connection, family, honesty, love, loyalty, empathy, commitment, patience, kindness, balance, mindfulness, optimism, generosity, perseverance, reliability, courage (the ordinary kind; fans of Brené Brown will get this distinction), authenticity, trustworthiness, enthusiasm and versatility. These are all values that I hope my kids will grow up believing in and aspiring to. But there are way more than the suggested 10 – 15 there!

And how to narrow it down to 5? Therein lies the challenge.

As I write, I have suddenly remembered that I have been through this process before. Some time ago I was given one of Paul Wilson’s “Calm” books. With it came a mini-book called “The Life Priorities Calculator – the calm way to get your life in order”. I now vividly remember sitting on a plane in 2003, returning home to the grind of my PhD after visiting my then new boyfriend (now husband) who lived interstate. I was newly madly in love and full of optimism and joy and had decided on a whim to pack the book. It was the freedom and autonomy that comes with a plane flight (pre-kids!) that led me to work through this book.

I have just pulled the book down from the shelf (after writing the first half of this post) and voila, I have a record of the values, goals and priorities that were important to me almost a decade ago. Even then, in the first round I selected 32 values (at least I am consistent in my indecision)! Following the process outlined in the book, I then narrowed the list down to 20 and finally to 5 core values.

I am fascinated by the fact that every single one of the 20 values I identified in 2003 can be found in the list of 25 values I made today. Who knows if that would have been the case another decade earlier? Probably not (20 years ago I was only 17). So I wonder at what point I became able to identify these values that form the foundation of who I am and who I want to be? Again, I’m sure that is another post but makes the point very well that while values may change, they also may not.

For now, I want to explore my two lists of top 5 values. Because they are completely different. Not one shared value.

In 2003, from # 1 – # 5, I had Love, Wisdom, Integrity, Passion and Balance. All values that I continue to feel very strongly about. No prizes for guessing why love was at the forefront of my mind 😉

But prior to finding my 2003 list, I had finally sorted out my current ranking for core values.

In 2012, from #1 – # 5, I have Connection, Family, Respect, Learning/growth and Gratitude.

Of course, as soon as I found my 2003 list, it made me question my 2012 list, but I am sticking with it. Another day I might analyse the differences but for now I shall focus on my current list.

Today, Connection has to come first. To me, this is what gives my life meaning. Connection with myself allows me to be mindful and to live an authentic life and connection with myself enables me to truly connect with my family and friends. Genuinely connecting with people is quite simply everything to me. And this comes ahead of family in my list (if anything really can) because connection encompasses everything that I hope for in my relationships with my husband and children.  True connection means being there for one another no matter what, being true to one another, being truly available and loving one another unconditionally. For me, connection is also about respecting the earth and feeling connected to something “bigger than just us” when I am in nature. Call it mother earth or whatever you will but natural places are spiritual places for me.

Next is Family, no explanation needed. Both my immediate and extended family. My husband and my kids are my life.

Third is Respect. And by this I mean both self-respect (looking after my body and my mind) and respect for others. To me this also encompasses compassion, empathy and kindness. This is about treating myself and others right and doing whatever I can for us all to flourish and thrive.

Fourth is Learning/growth. It seems to me that without constant learning, personal growth and development, life would get pretty dull. I just can’t imagine not having multiple books on the go, listening to podcasts, reading blogs, talking to people, travelling and doing a multitude of other things to expand my mind and broaden my experiences.  Perhaps with enough years under my belt I may even have something resembling wisdom. I naively assume that given how they are being brought up, my kids will also have this thirst for knowledge and understanding as well as a love of learning. Hope I’m right!

Finally, I have Gratitude. I think this is reasonably new for me, realising that my natural tendency for optimism, the fact that I almost always look on the bright side (except for when very sleep-deprived) is vital to my happiness and that of my family. Being mindful of the myriad blessings in my life and being genuinely grateful for those blessings enables resilience, perseverance, generosity and courage.

Phew…. nearly kept it under 1000 words. Maybe next time!

The irony and the ecstasy

The irony?
The irony is the fact that I teach university science students how to blog and how important blogging is and yet somehow I’ve never got around to blogging myself! I just never had anything I was that desperate to write about and put “out there”. But that is all about to change 🙂

I read Deb’s 52 weeks to simplify your life challenge and realised I just couldn’t ignore this one. Perhaps it was a case of “right time, right place”. Perhaps it was inevitable that eventually I would come back to writing about all the things that fill my head…… writing stuff down has ALWAYS worked for me in the past. But I just haven’t found the time to keep a diary since I became a Mum. These days my head is so full of ideas, dreams and plans about the person, mother, wife and friend I want to be. But how do I actually achieve my goals? How do I ensure that I don’t find myself  in February realising I’m back in my old habits, following the path of least resistance?

By taking up the challenge!! Here is someone generously offering to guide me through the process of simplifying my life, getting back to what really matters. How could I possibly say no? And along the way I get to connect with a host of other people who all want to make positive changes in their lives too. How can we possibly fail if we help to hold one another accountable and support one another? Talk about exciting.

The funny thing is, most of my students complain that the hardest thing about blogging is coming up with topics to write about. Thanks to Deb, I don’t need to worry about that!

Ok, what about the ecstasy?

Well that comes from the joys of 2011 of course. And there were many. So onto the first task. My year was basically divided into two. The first half I was working part-time, I was pregnant and I was trying to enjoy every minute I could with my nearly 4-year old son because I knew that soon it would be much harder to give him my undivided attention. Then our gorgeous baby girl was born on June 20th. Life became even more joyful (but also more challenging) at that point.

What energised you? Funnily enough, being pregnant energised me. So many women I know really struggle with pregnancy but I adore it. And the feeling of a little person inside fills me with energy and excitement. Work energised me too. I get to teach stuff I love and believe in to fabulous students and it doesn’t get much more rewarding than that.

What made you feel happy? No question about it – my family. My son fills me with happiness and talking with him about the baby on the way was lovely. He was DESPERATE for  a sister and I’m very happy to say that is what we got ;). My husband and I were so happy and excited waiting for our new bub to arrive. There could never be more wonderful anticipation than waiting for a new member of the family.

Words simply can’t describe my happiness at giving birth to our little girl. I imagine most people here can recall the ecstasy of giving birth. (OK maybe you can recall some other things about it too).  A beautiful new life…. endless possibilities…..unfathomable and unrivaled joy. Having a second completely natural birth made me deeply happy. Having a daughter made me deeply happy. Discovering that once again I would be blessed by an easy breastfeeding relationship made me deeply happy. Watching my husband become a father again made me deeply happy. Watching my son become a big brother made me deeply happy. Watching my kids get to know one another made me deeply happy. Smelling my daughter’s sweet milky breath made me deeply happy.

Discovering  that my daughter is one of those “easy” babies that falls asleep easily, rarely fusses and seems to always look on the bright side made me deeply happy and enormously relieved. My son was a VERY different baby and I was very apprehensive about having a newborn again.

I will cherish the memories of the early hours, days and weeks with my children for the rest of my life so for that reason 2011 will always be one of my top years EVER.

What made you feel at peace?  That is a tough one. In contrast to the unbridled joy I just described, I wouldn’t say I felt a lot of peace last year.  Only because life felt very busy and as always, I put too much pressure on myself.

But maybe I am just forgetting the peaceful times. In the first half of the year the times I was most at peace were first thing in the morning and last things at night when my little boy would talk to his baby sister and give my tummy kisses. In the second half of the year I felt most peaceful during the first few hours of our daughter’s life. She was born in the wee hours of the morning and my husband and I spent a number of hours JUST BEING with her before we felt the need to talk to anyone in the outside world. That was extraordinary. We couldn’t wait to tell the rest of the family about our baby girl but by the same token we. could. really. wait. And we did!! Also for me, breastfeeding has always been a wonderfully peaceful experience. Nothing beats it.

What positive people lifted you up? I feel very blessed by the people in the my life. My husband, my kids, my brothers, my parents and my amazing amazing friends. Some friends in particular are just always there to share the joys and the challenges. Three of my closest friends became Mums for the first time in 2011 and sharing the joy with them lifted me right up.

What filled your “tank”? Relationships, no question about it. Connecting with people. Being honest and vulnerable and real with people.

What worked to bring your family together? Time, just time. Making time to play with my son despite the exhaustion. Making time to talk with my husband, despite the exhaustion and constant demands of the kids. Making time to get outdoors. ( We REALLY need to do more of this).

What is something that made you feel excited to dive right in? Actually, I think it was my work. Running my new subject for the second time was so much easier than the first time and I couldn’t wait to get stuck into it. Also, going back to a choir. Singing with other people is fundamental to my happiness.

What did you learn (positive things)? That I really can function reasonably well on not much sleep and I shouldn’t worry about it so much. That dreams come true (a calm and contented baby girl) 😉 That being gentle with myself is vital. That family and friends truly make the world go around and that the power of connection with other people must NEVER be underestimated. No matter how tired I am, if I reach out I always feel better. And that I need to walk.

What are you grateful for? Let’s be honest. What aren’t I grateful for??? I’m grateful to live in Australia, that my family is safe and that we have access to abundant clean water and nourishing food. My family and I are all healthy. I have a loving marriage, and two simply amazing children. I am blessed to have wonderful relationships with my parents, brothers and other family members. I have a nice house to live in and my husband and I both have jobs that reward us and that we believe in. I have freedom. So much freedom. To spend time in the bush, to read, to walk, to spontaneously decide to go to the park, or bake muffins, or ring a friend or go to the zoo. When I think about all the things I am grateful for I get so frustrated that I spend time worrying about things. But that is another blog post!

LOL I remind my students all the time that a short, engaging and succinct blog post is a good blog post. And just look at what I’ve done. Ooooops! Way too long.