Over the past year, Charleston and I have logged many math-lesson hours studying the ins and outs of how to study and use a calendar; hence, our recent discussion on the subject of Leap Year—namely, how unfair it seems that that extra day comes in the very worst month of the year.
Luke would disagree with our value judgment there (February is his birthday month, so it’s his favorite), but I stand by my opinion that February has little to offer and much to resent. Which is why, for the past several years, I’ve followed Anne Bogel’s lead in spending some time at the beginning of February (which lands at winter’s mid-point) to reflect on a few things that are saving my life in this season. What are the big and little things that are helping the winter go down a little easier, keeping me afloat while we wait for the floodwaters of winter to give way to a flourishing spring?
My faith, my family and friends, easy access to groceries, indoor plumbing, a healthy journaling practice, antidepressants, and my minivan’s heated seats—these are, of course, the obvious answers as to what is really saving my life. But “obvious” rarely makes for the most interesting reading experience, so rather than reaching for the low-hanging fruit in these annual blog posts, I like to dig a little deeper to share some smaller but hardly insignificant items, habits, or routines that are preserving my sanity and bringing light to winter’s dark days. Here’s a taste of what really is saving me in this season; I’m sure you’ll quickly notice some trends.
1| Sherpa-Lined Sweatpants. Okay, so I for sure won’t be winning any fashion awards with these cozy joggers. In fact, I wouldn’t even want to be seen wearing them outside the house. But they are honestly the warmest, most comfortable pants I have EVER owned. I first saw them on Kendi’s blog and couldn’t press purchase fast enough. When they arrived, I at first assumed that Amazon had sent the wrong item because the package was so heavy. But no, they really are that heavy because they are that filled with fluffy, warming goodness. Pulling them on feels like wrapping each leg in a massive comforter, and if I had slightly less pride (and if I didn’t suspect Luke may disown me) I would never take them off.
2| Barefoot Dreams Cardigans. I received my first barefoot dreams cardigan two years ago and as of Christmas I now own three (this circle cardigan being the most recent addition). They are the softest items in my closet and go with everything; unlike my fleece-lined joggers, they are quite attractive and perfectly suitable to be worn over a dress to church or with jeans on a playdate. They are not cheap (all three of mine were gifts), but thanks to their high quality and versatility, I would argue they are worth every penny. And I can’t lie: I kinda love that these cardigans bring me lots of hugs and snuggles from kids and friends who can’t help but stroke the softness of my sweaters when I wear them.
3| Memorizing Scripture with Charleston. This year I’m merging my own scripture memory with Charleston’s school-related verse memorization, and it has been amazing! Previously he was memorizing a shorter verse each week. But I had noticed him studying my own verse cards posted around the house, and when I asked if he would like to join me in memorizing one longer passage each month, he agreed. We now start each school day spending 5-10 minutes memorizing together: we recite the verses, alternate reading lines, play a variety of memory games, and drill each other on our progress. It’s fun for him to be doing this challenge alongside me (and doing better at it than me!) and we’ve loved discussing the meaning of our memorized Scriptures. These discussions happen during our school time but extend into daily life as well, and this has helped to unite my own spiritual life with my parenting in some significant ways that I didn’t even know I’d needed.
4| New rhythms for my time with God. For each of the past several years, I’ve settled into a new rhythm for my daily God Time, and I am LOVING this year’s iteration. I wake up at 5(ish, depending on how many times I press the snooze button), giving myself more than an hour to spend with God before the rest of the house is up. I begin with listening to a daily reading from the Chronological Bible in a Year plan (which Luke is also doing this year) on the Dwell app. Since I find it difficult to focus on audio if I’m sitting still, I stretch or do lunges up and down the halls while I listen to keep my mind from wandering.
(Side note: Dwell is a newer app for me and it is so great! Through Dwell, I can choose from a variety of Bible versions and narrators [I cycle through narrators each day], change up the pace and background music, and create playlists for passages I am studying or memorizing. It isn’t a replacement for reading the Bible with my eyes, but it’s definitely a great supplement.)
I follow up the Bible listening with the day’s corresponding episode of the Bible Recap. Then I move to the pen-and-paper portion of my morning, starting with jotting my takeaways from the day’s Bible reading in my journal. After that I work through a lesson from my Bible Study Fellowship workbook. (I’ve never actually participated in BSF but have heard wonderful things and purchased a copy of this year’s study about the Divided Kingdom. It’s not a subject I would have chosen on my own, but it has been fascinating; I am learning so much about God and about Scripture through this study that is detailed and intense and incredibly powerful.) I end my hour with God with prayer and sometimes some journaling. In the past I would never have considered myself a morning person; these days I wake up excited to start my day with the Lord.
5| Microwaveable Heating Pad. Cold weather is my arch nemesis, and I run much colder than the rest of my family. To avoid overheating them (and to avoid an astronomical heating bill) I do everything I can to keep just me warm in the winter, and this heating pad plays a big role in that. Just a couple of minutes in the microwave yields a comforting heat source that I can spread across my lap as I write and read, or tuck between my legs as I sleep. I’ve had heating pads like this in the past that worked well but reeked when heated; this one has no scent, and I like that the floral cover can be removed for easy washing if it were to begin to smell.
6| Flannel Sheets. Our old sheets were quite literally falling apart—as in, they were more hole than sheet—so we certainly weren’t rushing into anything in getting new sheets. (And by “getting new sheets” I mean putting them on my Christmas list and receiving them as a gift from my mother-in-law.) We received two sets of sheets from Brook Linen (not the first time I was influenced by a podcast ad), and we are actually not big fans of the classic sheets that are cool and too crisp for our liking. But these flannel sheets are a dream! They are oh-so-smooth and warm, but not to the point of being hot (which means that even Luke, who traditionally has hated flannel sheets, also enjoys these). I love the pretty windowpane pattern that is upgraded from a solid color but not too busy.
7| A family marble jar. This one is new for our family so it remains to be seen whether it really is saving my life, or just masking some bigger problems. But as of two weeks ago, we’ve implemented a new reward system in the form of a marble jar. Rather than giving each child a separate jar, they are working together to fill it to the top and earn a special treat (type TBD). They earn marbles for helping and demonstrating kindness to one another, obeying adults the first time, and all those other good behaviors we are eager to instill in our kids. I have mixed feelings about reward systems like these and to be honest, we haven’t had the most success in using them with Charleston in the past. We were needing to do something different, though, as the kids’ behavior had been far from optimal lately, and so far this has certainly helped. It’s especially encouraging to see them encouraging each other since they are working together to fill the jar—I’ll take cooperation over competition any day!
8| Family reading time. As a child (and later a classroom teacher) my favorite part of the school day was the thirty-minute block of SSR (Silent Sustained Reading), when each kid got to read a book of his/her choosing for half an hour out of the day. Lately we’ve been doing something similar during our family school time. The kids and I gather up blankets and pillows in the living room, grab a book or two (I get a book of my own—always a print book so the kids can visually see I’m reading right along with them), and set the timer for thirty minutes. I’ve been impressed with how well the kids have done with this! The twins are content to look at picture books on their own and rarely talk or distract each other, and Charleston and I both make good headway in our respective novels during that time. This is not a replacement for our other quiet times/nap time, and we still do lots of family read-alouds; this is just us independently reading and getting in the habit of being a family of readers. . . . and it’s bliss!
9| Music. It may seem obvious to list music as a mood-booster, but it’s different for me. We almost always have music playing through the Sonos speakers at home, but this has generally been my background noise; in my personal listening time, I have always prioritized podcasts or audiobooks. Lately, though, I’ve been setting aside the spoken audio in favor of worship music or other uplifting tunes. Even when the kids aren’t around, or when I’m driving by myself or out on a walk, I’ve been choosing music over other audio more and more, and it has done wonders for my mood and mental clarity. I still have a lot to process regarding what this means for me and my intellectual needs: I strongly identify as a leaner, so what will happen if I’m not maximizing every moment to take in new information? I haven’t spontaneously combusted just yet, and so far I’m learning more from the worshipful listening than I was from the knowledge I was consuming. I’ll be keeping you updated on how/if this continues to go for me.
10| Fireplace. I love our home but one thing on its very short list of shortcomings is its lack of a fireplace. We make do with a digital alternative thanks to this app. Sadly, it doesn’t bring actual heat into our home, though I somehow feel warmer when it’s on thanks to the power of visual suggestion. And it brings all (or almost all) the warmth and coziness a real fire would bring. Our TV fire has been especially wonderful since saying goodbye to our Christmas decorations, making the transition from Holiday-winter to Ordinary-winter a little less formidable.
I would love to hear from you: how do you feel about the month of February? And what things are helping you survive it?