Connecting To Your Parenting Inner Nature

Families Connecting to nature

Weeknight Fishing Trip

“The movement of the dock beneath me, the sounds coming from the ducks and their bodies as they moved through the water. The laughter from the boys as they would cast their line. The sky as it changed from blue, to orange, to pink, to a beautiful deep dark blue. I noticed how the insects that were becoming more active were not bothering me. The most startling connection was as I sat, I could see the spiders coming out from under the layers of the walls of the dock. Beginning to repair their webs. I felt a connection watching their intentional work, as if it was choreographed. It was startling to me that I did not feel threatened or feel a need to move quickly from my observation spot.”

This is an excerpt from my new project, with the working title “Inner Nature Parenting”.

This past week we took the boys fishing when my husband got home from work. We have always enjoyed being outdoors, but my “inner nature” project work has made it an intentional part of every day. One activity that had we omitted it, would make me feel as if we missed something that day.

I have been a little quiet on the blog, as I dove into new learning opportunities for myself and the boys. I am studying the practice of using nature connections as a part of a parenting and teaching tool box. It has created some wonderful experiences for all of us.

There is so much written today about disconnected family life, and the long-term negative effects on children. What has not been widely shared, is easily accessible activities that busy families can fit into their week. Our downsizing experiment has brought me a level of awareness about what is essential to our happy life, and our ability to opt out of a frantic life, and slowing down is a necessity.

Every day is not perfect, but every day has great moments of joy and lately more contentment for me. As parents today, we are all striving for the same thing. A happy, healthy child that feels loved. That can feel complicated in a life of longer school days, working, and a yearning for more time together.

I had a conversation with a husband and wife, successful business owners, and wonderful parents to their beautiful kids. The part that struck me was on two separated, isolated conversations they both mentioned, wishing they had more time with their kids. More connection time, beyond dinner, homework, and bedtime.

The husband was raised by a father who fished, camped, and hunted with his sons, and he now realized he had done none of those things with his own child. He wanted to, but honestly had no idea where and how to fit it into their life.

We all struggle with balance and lifestyle choices, and solutions are unique to each family. The parents giving up their dreams and livelihood would not help their children, but perhaps some easily accessible nature connected activities would serve both the father and the son. It might even create a momentum of more nature connections within the family.

We talked about the Texas State Parks program, Family Camp Out. It is a perfect way for a busy family to experience the great outdoors without changing their natural family rhythm. We talked about weeknight fishing trips, and where to do that in the area. Trading traditional dinner time, for a picnic and a fishing adventure. This father’s differences in raising his family  does not have to be right or wrong, but the key is to find ways to nurture everyone in their household.

As you get to know your own families inner nature, take some time this week to connect with nature. Here is a simple, easy way to get started.

Go for a walk and be intentional about your goal of connecting. As you walk by or into a natural area, pause and listen. If you have children on the walk with you, ask them what they hear. If it is a safe place, sit and listen. Now close your eyes, and silently thank the natural area for its beauty. It is like knocking on a door before entering someone else’s house. It helps you switch from your daily busy world of thoughts and to-do lists, to a more mindful state of just being.

If your children are with you, know that they already sense how to do this. Children are always willing to say hello to animals in nature, encourage them to do what comes naturally. You can extend that by saying thank you to the breeze, or the warmth of the sun. You don’t have to say this out loud, if you are concerned with people thinking you have lost it! Nature does not use verbal language, so it’s not like it could respond verbally anyhow.

Now look. What do you see? As my children and I were on a walk the other day, we noticed all of the different grasshoppers and insects living in the grasses. Which reminds me of all of the levels of life. Things are always happening, whether we see them or not.

We even found some cucumbers growing along the fence of a construction site. A former garden or farm not willing to give up just yet, or maybe seeds dropped by a bird. These are moments that you can understand nature’s resilience in the face of adversity and it becomes a metaphor for life. “Where there is a will there is a way.”

It becomes a way to interpret the world without “talking about it”, which is a gift to all of us.

Just taking a moment to pause, listen, and feel your surroundings will welcome in the most natural of stress relievers. This activity can be done with a potted plant, but outside time is best to be able to transform your awareness into nature.

Will you take the time to seek a connection to the environment that surrounds you this week? Although going to the wilderness is always a wonderful way to connect to ourselves and nature, why not try something just outside your front door?

Happy Anniversary with a Hawk, a Yellow Finch, and Nature’s Symphony

NatureSouls

On this past Sunday morning, I was sitting at the table reading, waiting for everyone to wake up so that I could take a walk. As we were all saying good morning, my husband noticed a Hawk just outside the window, directly across from me on the fence. It was a sign for sure, and one that reminded me to get outside to begin my morning walk through nature. A reminder to step out and lead.

As I was walking, I did something intentionally, that for years had been just under the surface, but it is something I am learning to bring into my work. As I walked down a sidewalk flanked by nature that had escaped for now the bulldozing of new homes, I asked permission to enjoy this space from the very nature that inhabited it.

The breeze picked up, and the symphony of sounds slowly built into a beautiful melody almost drowning out the construction sounds nearby. As I stood there taking it all in instead of walking by unnoticed, I saw a tiny yellow bird, a finch I think. I would not have noticed it playing in the thicket of tall plants if I had not stopped. It was bouncing from stem to stem, having a grand old time. I then saw a larger bird, but only its shadow, mysterious and still as if watching me watching the small yellow bird. I said thank you and moved on my way. How much do we miss in our hurried lives?

The next time you walk through a natural area, put away your phone or headphones and listen. You might be surprised at what you hear.

As we celebrate our one year anniversary of intentional living, I am filled with the joy of having unearthed what was already there. Love of life, a gratitude of everything beautiful, a path to a livelihood in line with my true path and values, and the people I have the pleasure of sharing this small, but full space.

Wishing you all well on your journey. Where will it lead you in a year’s time?

 

Opting Out of a Frantic Life and Into an Inspired One

Opting Out of a Frantic Life and Into an Inspired One

 

It did not hit me until the “Kindergarten Round Up”postcard arrived from the local public school district that our decision to opt out of public education really sank in.

Opting Out of Kindergarten

Intellectually, I knew that my children already know many of the requirements to exit Kindergarten and that they are already learning organically as they did when they were infants. It still gives one a little pause when you know that you are going against a cultural norm or expectation. Luckily we are in a state, where it is so common to homeschool that you barely get a second look from many.

I was reading an article by writer Ben Hewitt about how he and his wife Penny Hewitt are unschooling their kids – freestyle. The article highlights their two sons and their ability to roam on their property and the stories they tell at the end of the day. They talk about a very small amount of time spent on actual studies and the rest is hands on learning.

We are currently living in a suburban golf course community, but my children spend so much time outside.  We chose this for a downsizing experiment and we have everything we need. Whether that be swimming, local parks, or just playing outside of our small home. The elements of fresh air and open spaces is still available and in my opinion vital to their development. You may not have acres for your kids to roam, but local parks are close by. We often joke that we could be tour guides for the best parks within a ten mile radius.

Nature Soothes the Soul

As much as I would love to live in a country house on acreage, our small living experiment is just what we needed to escape our self-imposed prison. Our two tiny porch gardens are not only a retreat for me and the boys, but also for our neighbors. Many have stopped by on their morning walks to say how much they enjoy our small oasis, and how it brings such beauty their morning walks.

The idea that nature soothes is not a new one, but how far off track we have gotten from enjoying the health and learning benefits of nature is startling. I recently had a conversation with a school psychologist, who remarked how surprised she was to drive through a town recently and to see children outside playing. We talked about the amount of time children spend indoors and how the number of children that knock on her door has increased. Isn’t this crazy?

When we lived in our former suburban nightmare, it was common for the boys and I to go out for a walk or a hike around the lake and not see any children. Not one! These master planned neighborhoods are built with green spaces to promote health and well-being, yet there is no one home during the day to enjoy them.

This is not a judgement against those living that life, rather a message that nature can heal what stresses them. It can give our children a place to run, learn, and grow into the grounded people that know how to handle the stresses of the world. It can give tired moms a place for a personal retreat. It can heal a frantic world.

In Search of a Calling

In Gregg Levoy’s bookCallings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life he writes about listening for your call. I find that modern life has to be simplified to hear that call. This is a terrific book for helping you get quiet and listen to what your life is trying to tell you. It also reminds us that we do not have to change the world, we just need to live authentically in ours no matter what your resume says.

I know this because I am living proof. I was finally able to tune into how to live a life that was truly ours, but it took simplifying our lives to block out all of the noise getting in the way.

You can simplify your life without radical downsizing like we did, but getting quiet is essential for anyone struggling to identify their best work.

It is difficult to find quiet time for reflection, with no “place” for it in your life. This can be as simple as a cup of tea and a blanket. This is a signal to your body that you are taking the time to nurture your soul and by extension your life.

To create a place to nurture your soul can be as simple as a small spot for plants and a place to sit and enjoy them. Even in our 1000 square feet, we have nature tucked into places to bring as much peace and harmony into our very active household as possible.

Whatever your plan for the upcoming autumn, take a few minutes today to find a small spot to begin soothing your soul to hear your call to your best life.

Designing a Family Life That Matters Starts With Failure

Process of Living an Intentional Life

This process of living an intentional life is not an easy path. If it were, I believe many more people would do this and stop going with the flow.

Living small has many opportunities and challenges, but it is a plan without a defined road map. You still have to decide which way to turn and where you want to go, but the reason for going has not changed.

Knowing Your Why

There is a power in knowing the reason we want to do anything. It is that power that takes much of the emotion out of decisions. It does not take all the emotion out, however. As a woman, the emotional side of decisions is there, but understanding my why keeps the tsunami of doubt from crashing in on my journey.

When I was reading about minimalism, I found many men and their perspectives. Their blogs helped me see a different way of thinking, but my mother’s heart was not settled on the idea of minimalism for the sake of joining a movement. Reading their blogs helped me see how my husband might see this change, which is very helpful for us as a couple, but I also needed to hear from someone more like me.

I did want a simpler richer life, but I did not want to get rid of things for the sake of getting rid of them. I edited through many things, and continue to do so. I am a sentimental soul, so defining what is meaningful is a process. This whole plan is a process.

Questions and More Questions

The process of seeing your life, and working through it to make intentional decisions for me requires a sounding board. My husband is a good sport, and a great sounding board, but I don’t want to have him feeling like a constant sounding board. I also have greatly reduced the need for such a process, but I still need to work through an idea.

My question I ask most often these days is, “ Why are we doing this?”

I believe that if you are embarking on something new, and out of the norm, choosing your sounding board wisely is essential for success. I have a friend that is a great for this. We never want each other’s life to look like the other’s, but rather give a safe non judgmental sounding board. We don’t talk often, texts of kids photos happen regularly, and an occasional call when the time is right.

This is important. Spending too much time getting other people’s take is not productive. Strike out on your plan for simplifying your life. It is okay to fail. You cannot win, without some failures.

We are processing through working more with the kids at home most of the time. Juggling new experiences for them and for me. We are processing through the right balance of independent learning for them. It is a process of discovery. One that you can only discover if you chart a course and begin.

We begin again each day. They are leading us to the best way for them to learn. We just have to process through it and watch them discover the world while we rediscover ours.

 

 

 

Mirror, Mirror – What is Your House Trying to Tell You?

Mirror Mirror

 

“Why does this keep happening?” He cried.

My sons are five and one of them has been experiencing the frustrations of the limits of his abilities and this was his response. His frustrations are short lived, but passionate nonetheless.

I love that he can express himself in an environment where he will receive love and understanding. I also know that this is completely normal, and we have to hold back laughter at times when he expresses himself. Don’t judgehe is brutally honest with his feelings and I love it!

Our homes are a mirror of our lives, and there is no better reflection of that environment than a child. Today it seems families are running hither and yon, chasing activities, play dates, and something more for their children, when perhaps less is actually more.

Often people spend more time planning their weddings, than they do designing their life. Until this eye opening process, we were just going along this conveyer belt of life,but then we jumped off and said enough already!

Designing a life, not unlike any creative endeavor, takes time and reflection, but once you open the door to a life that is uniquely yours, you can’t do anything but walk through it.

Recently, I had some feedback from a reader, who remarked where are all your articles about getting organized? Isn’t that what downsizing is all about? You must be the queen of organization or something to be able to live in such a small space!

I realized that what we have been through is so uncommon today, that I really had to pull back the curtain and explain the difference. We have been remodeling, but not our space, our lives.

Purging Clutter

We started with a bold move to a smaller space, and began purging clutter. With every bag and box of stuff, I felt lighter and more optimistic about our future. Every area of my life has improved.

Purge Obligations

We moved on from purging stuff, to purging obligations. We were not an overscheduled family to begin with, but we (I) lost the guilt that came with choosing to be choosy.

I remember joining a mother’s group for preschool children, and reading an email upon joining. It said, basically, that you must attend most of the meetings or you would be dropped from the group. As I read this, I felt this nagging feeling in my stomach, that said “are you kidding me?” Instead, we went, and the children enjoyed it, but at times I felt like it was one more thing on my to-do list.

I am much more careful of activities now, and really take a good look at our week before I add anything. Our kids use their imaginations so much to have free play, and be in nature, that organized activities are not necessary. They are a nice change of pace, but my intention has changed to a question of if this is a valuable activity of not.

Family Bucket List

Next, we began to dream about what we wanted, really wanted, and began to create a label for that. I wanted to direct my children’s education and would not settle for just going with the masses, we would find a better way than public school. We may not know what that looks like, but we will find it.

We dreamed about choices for our family, activities we wanted to try, and places we wanted to go.

Begin a Life of Intentional Decisions

We began a life of intention. No more going with the flow. We wanted to create a life where we felt like ourselves at home, in our lives, and in our work.

This is what we want our mirror, mirror, to say.

Live Small Love Big – welcome home, darlings.

Valuing Choice Over Stuff

Image

 

Recently some have asked me why I don’t want to go back to our lifestyle that we had before we downsized, and I simply answered that I now valued choice over stuff. It just came out and it really is that simple. I did not realize that I was giving up my right to choose when we lived to our max all the time.

The Choice of How You Spend Your Time

The choice to live your life in your home the way you want. When we moved into our new place, my husband asked me if we had to put a bunch of stuff on the walls. I had no idea why that mattered, but he was right. What we did was to only put up the most important things and everyday we see what we treasure most.

Living in the larger house required me to use my creativity to decorate a place that was simply too large for us. I spent time and energy bringing cheap vintage furniture back to life, instead of having the time and the resources to find things we truly treasured. That lesson did not emerge right away, but has changed the way I think about how we live inside these walls.

I now have the choice to spend an afternoon at a farmers market, teaching the kids about the importance of supporting local farmers, spending time in the community, and just letting them be kids enjoying an afternoon of sunshine and a slushy.

The choice of what to do on the weekend, instead of a long list of to-do’s that will not add to us experiencing very much happiness as a family.

The choice to rethink how our children will think of their childhood is by far the best of all of our choices. They have two parents that have the time to love and support them, that are not distracted by the stress of keeping up with a life that was not planned by choice.

It is amazing how much power lies in choice.

Discover Your Greatest Resources

KathyDonchak_Resources

 

I had the pleasure of driving through a beautiful part of Texas today, on my way to and from a talk I was giving. I have to confess that I love photography, and although I am not a photographer by trade, the images capture my imagination. Knowing I would be driving through this beautiful place made me bring my camera along for the ride and I am so glad I did.

When I saw this wind farm, it had me thinking about a recent change in the way I approached my goals and how we are now living our life. One of the major changes was the way I plan a project and make decisions. The key difference is defining my resources whenever I need to plan a project or work through an issue that needs a decision.

I now see how being overwhelmed by stuff, clouded my thinking. When faced with more month than money, I always hit the same block. How in the world can I earn more money, with my limited amount of time. Now, this time limit was my own decision as I stayed home with the kids, but I would cycle in and out of this worry, just thinking if I did it enough I would come up with a solution.

I had always considered resources to mean things like time and money, but what if you did not have the luxury of time or money as a resource? In 2006, my brother-in-law began a life ending fight with Colon Cancer. He was just 43. His determination to continue being the father and provider allowed him to overcome his terrible side effects from treatment and continue working until one day when a corporate decision changed all of that. He was laid off. After many years of exemplary service to his company and field, he was laid off. He had no idea what was next for him. He only saw himself professionally as the corporate sales manager, and so began his quest to find his resources.

Now, they did not have financial concerns, as they had a strong financial plan due to their frugality and way of life. My sister continued working part time when her kids were young, and as a financial wizard was also the family investment guru. What hit him the hardest was how he would define himself and “work”. Who was going to hire him at this point someone with stage 4 cancer? He needed to redefine work, without the context of time or money.

After a conversation with my sister, she suggested he write a book. A book about his favorite place on earth, Yosemite National Park. He not only wrote that book, but he continued and wrote a second one on Yellowstone National Park. Although I have not been to either park, as I read them, I could see an entirely new side to him and their family. I wanted to visit. It was such a window into another part of their life that had he not written I would never would have known. He started a Facebook page about the parks, and began connecting with others that shared his passion.

In the fight of his life, he decided to share his love of one of our country’s most beautiful natural resources. It inspired me and still does. He was not worried if he would write well enough, he simply wrote. He left a legacy and his memories.

As we began to make plans to create change in our lives, like we did when we downsized our possessions, we often hit a roadblock along the way. My road block that kept me from seeing my most valuable resource was invisible to me under all my stuff. The key to success is understanding yourself.

Maybe if I just went back to school, took a class, got more information, more knowledge, then I would have the credentials to make a difference. I needed to use my greatest strengths to find my way through. We all have skills that can make a difference today.

There is one thing that you possess right now that is your most valuable resource. Determination. It is a powerful ally when you cozy up to it. When you consider times in your life that were the most challenging, what was your tipping point? What made all the difference? Good old fashioned determination.

Determination needs to be channeled though, and in my case, that meant a project plan. As I worked through the Time of Your Life series from Tony Robbins, I was struck by something I had been leaving out of all my goal and decision planning.

It was how I defined my resources that made me feel less powerful. It kept me in this crazy cycle of doubt. Has that ever happened to you? You make a decision, and sleep on it as they say, and then proceed to spend an entire day distracted by doubt?

I had not even considered my people resources, such as my husband and the skills he brings to help me see the other side of an issue. We are as opposite as two people can be, and that polarity works when I let it. Maybe it is someone who can do something for you. My creativity, and innovative ways to see things differently are huge resources. Recently, my writing has been added to my list of resources. My unending optimism that I have a purpose is a resource. So now you get the idea. Your turn.

As I looked at this wind farm that was standing majestically over the land in the Texas Hill Country, what struck me was the invisible resource that it was using. If we only considered things we could see, what possibilities would we have missed?

There are so many stories of people that have overcome so many obstacles in life, when faced with nothing, but their mind and determination. The power that comes from within is all you need to reach your goals.

If you are trying to make the impossible be possible, start with a decision, planning process that includes your greatest resources. Once you start seeing yours, you will be unstoppable.