Category Archives: learning and exploring

Daily Rhythms with Anchor Points and Pressure Valves


Anchor Points Make Days Predictable and Flexible

These days, I don’t write out a minute by minute schedule to plan each day. Forget minutes–I don’t write out hourly schedules, either. Our days are fairly predictable with expected routines, but they also have a lot unstructured kid free time spaced throughout the day.

We like to call the routines that hold down our day our anchor points. Anchor points are the non-negotiables that tie our days together. We have a few checklist items (e.g., make/eat breakfast, work on article, read book together, take walk, etc…), and then I arrange them within the general time categories when I need to accomplish them (e.g., morning, early afternoon, evening while kids are sleeping, etc…). Wedding this idea with the concept of margin has provided me with more flexibility and opportunities to get things done.

Keep It Simple Schedule

One way to become quickly overwhelmed with small children is to pencil in every minute of the day. When a diaper or potty accident occurs, a shoe is lost while heading out the door, or a child really needs a little more of your attention, the minute-by-minute schedule is thrown off for the rest of the day. Instead, and particularly in this season of motherhood, it may help to focus on times as chunks, and days with routines instead of strict schedules.

In his productivity book Zen to Done, Leo Babuata encourages his readers to eliminate many of the unnecessary items off of their checklists, and just focus on three main tasks for each day. By eliminating others, they are more compelled to actually accomplish the most important tasks.

While such extreme simplification in motherhood (especially the SAHM version) may seem unrealistic, it may help to eliminate the minutia that ends up creating more stress and distracting from accomplishing what is truly important.

Life Tastes Better in Bite-Sized Chunks

Viewing your day as centered around anchor points will also help to break the day into chunks, and allow each section to seem more manageable. Bite-size is easier to do throughout the day than trying to eat a whole elephant at the end of the day.

Mealtimes are great anchor points. Using these as your non-negotiable times, you may choose to break up your day into a breakfast checklist, a lunchtime checklist, an afternoon checklist, and an after supper checklist. Additionally, each day may have its own space for a particular outing or activity. (But when you try to cram in too many, you’ll definitely experience circuit overload!)

Centered around the morning anchor point, you may wish to include breakfast, cleaning up the breakfast dishes, deeper cleaning one room assigned each day, reading through two small books with a child, and answering one e-mail. Of course, with children, there will be a host of other activities that come up: changing a diaper, an emergency bath, or helping an older child work through a frustration or schoolword. With children, flexibility is important–both for your sake and the child’s. Then, push to get all those items accomplished before the next anchor comes up. You can rearrange as life happens, and even eliminate when needed.

We All Need Breathing Space: Margin and Pressure Valves 

We all need breathing space in our days, throughout our days. This breathing space is, as Dr. Richard Swenson titles itmargin. Margin is essential in motherhood, though we don’t often notice it if we’re not intentional about it. Yet its absence often leaves us breathless and wondering why.
In the book Simplicity Parenting, author Kim John Payne discusses the concept of pressure valves. Pressure valves are important parts of the day–they are times during which to release pressure or tension and to sort of “regroup” or “debrief” mentally and emotionally before moving on to the next part of the day. These are important for anyone, but particularly so for the more introverted and easily stimulated child. Such activities can include painting, water play, naps and quiet times, quiet play, or a quiet walk.

Or, as Payne writes about other types of pressure valves:

“For some boys and industrious types, work can serve as a pressure valve. Such work might be doing a project: hauling rocks in a wheel-barrow, digging a hole, building with blocks, catching lizards, or climbing a tree. Ongoing projects that kids are anxious to get back to right after school can be wonderful pressure valves. Any activity a child can “lose himself in” allows for a release of tension, and the mental ease needed to process the day’s events. Whatever the means, active deep play is an excellent pressure valve. As kids reach the preteen years, sometimes hobbies or collections – the beginnings of deep passions – and organized sports can serve the same purpose.”

Personal Experience 
I’ve found that my kids need both unstructured play and quiet times (since naps are not usual for the oldest two) to have a smoother day. And I’ve found that when I am able (not always possible!) my own morning and afternoon with a little quiet space, the day goes much more smoothly on my end, as well. (And if you must live by a minute-by-minute schedule, then schedule these into your day.)
I have watched my children learn to create all sorts of objects with paper, scissors, and glue or in the dirt when “set free” to play by themselves. I’ve also overheard countless stories being relived and enhanced as they become actors in the worlds they create from stories we’ve read, family memories we’ve shared, and totally random compilations of their lives.
As homeschoolers who finished their work quickly, my husband and his brothers (and sister) had many hours with which to invent their own worlds, write and illustrate books in the notebooks, and even make home video movies complete with explosive. I see his creativity then and now, and want that for my children.
But when every single minute is structured, these opportunities are often lost.
As I was working on this post, I noticed that Catherine of The Spirited Mind had a very helpful post that addressed many of the same topics, though from a different angle. I have appreciated her ongoing writing on habit training and children, and benefited from her tying together Charlotte Mason, habit training, and unstructured time.
On my end, I know the coming years will hold more structured (school) time than they do now, but for now we are learning lots with lots of unstructured moments spaced between a little bit of reading and writing. And at present, we are also aiming to grow and learn more habits to catalyze the effects of the unstructured time (and vice versa). I entered adult life with far fewer habits than my husband, so I often feel like trying to instill them both in myself and my children while also living a full life is like swimming upstream. But then again, two steps forward for every step back is still progress!
Do you live by a highly-structured schedule? A flexible routine? Or nothing at all? Or all of the above? :)

Links to Think: 08.06.12

Why Bother with the Humanities in a Time of Crisis? – This article proposes answers to a question that we have not had to ask much on American soil. But it also answers a question (“Why should I study if I just need to urgently take the Gospel to the world?”) that created much mental conflict in my mind as a teen. (more…)

Links to Think: 07.16.12

Why Bragging About Your Sex Life Isn’t Just Annoying – Sharon Hodde Miller adds some additional thoughts to Tim Challies recent article, “Keeping Intimate Details Intimate.” Her post also discusses some of the misguided messages about marriage an sex that I wrote about here, in my review of Tim and Kathy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage.

“Americans exist in a culture that prizes sex as a high good, if not one of thehighest goods. This priority evidences itself everywhere: between language about sexual orientation and marital rights, to a woman’s right to choose, Americans want to have as much sex as they desire with as few hindrances as possible. We not only believe this is our right, but some would compare sex to a “need” as basic as eating.

In a culture where sex is such an integral aspect of human flourishing, Christians seems to agree. Just look at the way we talk about sex. Christians want non-Christians to believe we have the very best sex lives of all, and we are not only committed to making this goal a reality, but we brag about it when we succeed. If good sex is a competition, it is a competition we are committed to winning.

As a result, holiness practices such as abstinence and monogamy are re-conceived as mere players in the game. They are frequently discussed within the context of their service to better sex. For example: “If you wait until marriage, your sex will be better,” or “If you remain faithful to your spouse, sex will be more meaningful than empty promiscuity or serial relationships.””

“All of that to say, talking too openly about sex–especially bragging about our great Christian sex lives–is not necessarily accomplishing what we hope. Even if we win the competition, we are ultimately in the wrong game. Although Christians certainly affirm that sex is a good gift from God to be celebrated, we cannot affirm the culture’s unhealthy obsession with it, an obsession that ultimately contends with the primacy of God. If we play into the culture’s belief that sex is a primary good, then we will struggle to maintain coherence and credibility when we simultaneously oppose our culture’s application of this good.

Sex must be rightly ordered in the Christian life, and our language about sex should reflect that ordering. That is not to say that we should return to the approach of previous generations and avoid talking about sex altogether. There is so much brokenness attached to sex in our world, and the church should be a safe and open place where people can seek healing in their sexual lives.”

Studies Tie Human Bladder Infections To Antibiotics In Chicken – NPR’s food blog takes a look at one of the ways the agricultural use of antibiotics may possibly be affecting the health of consumers.

“What do some persistent human bladder infections and some innocent-looking chicken cutlets have in common? Drug-resistant E. coli, scientists say.

How the same bad bug got in both places is the focus of a recentinvestigation by Maryn McKenna, a journalist with the Food and Environment Reporting Network who, in her own words, “finds emerging diseases strangely exciting.” She’s the author of thebook SUPERBUG, which is all about drug-resistant staph infections, and she blogs about antibiotic resistance over at Wired.”

“Definitely we should be concerned, for several reasons. The most obvious is that food is an exposure we all share, so an epidemic in which food plays a role has the potential to be very large indeed. The second is that antibiotic use in agriculture dwarfs antibiotic use in human medicine — so to whatever degree human medicine amplifies antibiotic resistance, agriculture is likely to be creating a larger effect. And the third is that, unlike in human medicine, we have almost no surveillance for what resistance is occurring in animals, so we’re unable to predict where it might move or what diseases it might cause.”

Links to Think: 01.14.12

A Brutal Chapter in North Carolina’s Eugenics Past – NPR has an article on forced sterilization in North Carolina.

“A lot of people were wrestling with this question back then. Some powerful elites, including heirs to Procter & Gamble, Hanes Hosiery and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, formed a group called the Human Betterment League. They published glossy brochures that said things like this:

“North Carolina offers its citizens protection in the form of selective sterilization.”


“The job of parenthood is too much to expect of feebleminded men and women.”

“Morons,” the league called them. The Human Betterment League made social workers and doctors and public officials feel like humanitarian heroes for sterilizing people. The message spread to many states after World War II, but Mecklenburg County’s eugenics effort had something even more.”

Virginity: The Ultimate Quality for a Future Spouse? – Aubry writes:

It’s easy for us to believe this about sins like pride, dishonesty, or selfishness – sins that destroy marriages every day. Christ makes us new, and can wash us of these sins. But a sexual past? Can Christ clean that deep? Books on sexual purity can sometimes make us feel that only virgins who never even kissed before marriage can have awesome sex in marriage. They call to our fears to prevent us from falling into these sins. The truth is, even virgin-at-the-wedding people have [lousy] sex sometimes. Even couples who came into the marriage “pure” sometimes use sex to make a power-play or withhold sex to get something. We all have our issues to work through in the bedroom – whether we are virgins when we marry or not.

Driscoll, “Real Marriage,” and Why Being a Pastor Doesn’t Automatically Make You a Sex Therapist – Rachel Held Evans writes an insightful article on Mark Driscoll’s new book, where she shares what she perceived to be “the good, the bad, and the ugly” about the book. She closes her post with these thoughts:

“Just because someone is a pastor does not mean that he or she is an expert on sex…or money or relationships or marriage. Christian couples struggling in their marriage should seek professional counseling, and not rely exclusively on a single pastor (or his or her interpretation of Scripture) for help.

Meanwhile, evangelicals in particular need to do something about our celebrity-pastor culture. Mark Driscoll is simply not qualified to serve as a sex therapist—most pastors aren’t!

True maturity is marked not by how much a person knows but by the wisdom he or she shows in discerning when to speak with authority and when to hold back.  And when it comes to maturity, I’m afraid that Pastor Mark still has a long way to go.”

Somewhat unsurprisingly, Evans and other non-evangelicals aren’t the only one concerned with Driscoll’s new book. Evangelicals, conservative and broad alike have problems. (Other input by The Friendly Atheist, Denny Burk, Tim Challies and Mark and Grace Driscoll, explaining why they wrote book.)

Might As Well Face It, You’re Addicted to Law – Tullian Tchividjian writes on the Gospel Coalition blog:

“The law offends us because it tells us what to do–and we hate anyone telling us what to do, most of the time. But, ironically, grace offends us even more because it tells us that there’s nothingwe can do, that everything has already been done. And if there’s something we hate more than being told what to do, it’s being told that we can’t do anything, that we can’t earn anything–that we’re helpless, weak, and needy.”

“We like it because we maintain control–the outcome of our life remains in our hands. Give me three steps to a happy marriage and I can guarantee myself a happy marriage if I follow the three steps. If we can do certain things, meet certain standards (whether God’s, my own, my parents, my spouse’s, society’s, whatever) and become a certain way, we’ll make it. Law seems safe because “it breeds a sense of manageability.” It keeps life formulaic and predictable. It keeps earning-power in our camp.”

The Snowy Day,’ first picture book with black child as hero, marks 50 years – In time for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, the Washington Post has an article on the significance of Ezra Jack Keats book, The Snowy Day.

“Although the 50th anniversary has been cause for celebration, when “The Snowy Day” was first published some critics questioned whether a Jewish man had the right to tell a story about an African American child.”

 (Note: My sharing of these links, blogs, and authors does not equal my full endorsement of their ideologies or even entirety of the posts shared.)


Big Bubbles, Beads, Bouncing, Baths

The last few weeks we’ve been doing some fun experiments:

We made a giant bubble and went inside. Yes, we let our kids put their heads inside a plastic bag. Actually, it was so large that our whole family could (and did) go inside.

You can read about how to make one here, though the example shown looks a little different than ours. (And a small desk fan was sufficient to keep our bubble inflated.)

We’ve also had fun experimenting with water beads. It has proved a fun sensory experience for kids (and adults). Our friends T and A were with us last week, and we all enjoyed playing with the water beads. The picture below was only two packs of “grown” beads, and then we added two additional packs of orange and blue beads which were growing while this picture was taken. Apparently, some water beads can stain/release the color, but we haven’t noticed a problem with the beads we’re using. I bought ours via Amazon.

A few hours later, Hana Kate played with all the colors, and they had all grown to full size.

These beads are pretty neat. They are smooth and slippery, and if squished hard enough can be broken. They also bounce if dropped onto a hard surface. Hana Kate said, “Wow, Mommy! These look like marbles!”

Speaking of ‘b’ and experiments: I’m liking the result of the one I just tried. Hana Kate usually asks for a snack in the afternoon, which is usually goldfish (the crackers, of course), pretzels, or dried cranberries. However, my friend brought some raw broccoli for lunch and so I cut up the rest of the broccoli head and gave it to her as a snack…which she immediately consumed. For some reason, I rarely buy fresh broccoli. Guess that needs to change.

We are thankful to have a kid-size trampoline in our back yard. We don’t have a playground or swing out there, but this is sufficient to keep the girls busy and bouncing. Eden is currently in love with monkeys, and while she jumps she likes to say “do monkey!” “do monkey!” This video capturing her doing it is a little long, but from 10 seconds to 15 seconds is pretty funny as Eden walks into the pole. :)

We’ve also been enjoying exploring the fields and looking for interesting nature specimens to collect. Hana Kate prefers to put hers in a bucket. Last week we talked about turning over rocks and decided to see what kind of things we could find. (I did this a lot as a child, and found many earthworms and grubs.) After Eden turned over some large rocks, she found one that she needed help turning over. Well, upon turning over her rock we found…a black widow spider!!!! I tried to hurl my miniature boulder and crush it, and then we headed out of that field as quickly as possible! I was a little concerned when I noticed a bite on my arm…

Last night I tried this out as a way to relax HK after staying up a little later than normal.

It’s glow sticks in the tub. Target currently has a pack of 15 in their dollar section, and I only used about half of them (and could have used less). Daniel walked in and exclaimed, “Wow, it’s like a spa for kids!” :).