There is a seat at my table for you

Watercolor Tree Painting

Over the last few months life has been shook up. It started with a rattle and then the quake began. If you had asked me back in December what 2020 would be like, I would have never guessed this. But the reality is that none of us would have foretold our spring to look like it did.

And for our family, while we have had some tough bouts, we have weathered the storms really well. I don’t say that lightly as I know there are so many out there who have lost family members and friends, who have lost livelihoods, who have lost faith.

I feel incredibly privileged that during these last few months I have been able to be at home with my family. We have been tucked away in our safe little boat while the storm has raged around us.

But being safe in our boat has not blinded us to the plight of others. If anything, we are more aware of those around us that don’t have any boat at all. And it’s because of that knowledge that I can’t just sit on the deck of my boat and tan myself and pretend that things are just going to get better.

As a teacher, I struggled through the spring trying to connect with students. So much of what I do as an art teacher on a daily basis is emotional. It’s connections. It’s face to face feedback and prodding and pushing students outside of their comfort zones. Many people think that teaching art is just lots of “fun” while we “just cut paper and color.” The reality is that much of what I do is forcing students to look at life from a different perspective. It’s challenging students to rethink everything they have been taught to believe about life and color and situations and draw/reflect on actual observation, not what they “think they see.”

Not having real interactions with students for the last 12 weeks of the spring semester left me feeling off and out of touch as I could see from the glimpse of their faces on zoom meetings that my students were struggling and hurting.

And these struggles and hurts didn’t just go away when they turned in their last assignment and called the school year over. Over the last few weeks I’ve seen students voice hurts and fears and frustrations. And I don’t have any platitudes. I don’t have any answers.

I’ve been listening.

I’ve been learning.

I’ve been loving.

That’s all I can do. As a teacher, I am struggling right now trying to figure out my place, my voice, and my role in not just the Black Lives Matter movement but the Pride movement as well. I live in a community that is staunchly conservative and quite vocally Republican. I am listening for words of affirmation, love and support for BLM and Pride, but the silence is deafening. And I am broken because of it.

So here is my promise to my students, my family, my community:

There is a seat at my table for you.
Not just any seat, but a reserved seat of honor with your name on the card.

There is seat at my table for you.
Whether you are privileged or under-privileged.
Whether you are white or a person of color.
Whether you are straight or LGBTQIA+.
Whether you are liberal or conservative.

No matter the label.
No matter how much space you take up physically, emotionally or mentally.
No matter if you bring a dish to share or come empty handed.

There is a place for you.

You are wanted.
You are valuable.
You are loved.


I know that in the past I have been too busy getting things done and focused on the next contest or goal. But I promise you this.

No more.

From this day forward, your heart, your peace, and your life are my priority.

With much love,

Emily

Here is a time lapse of the watercolor tree painting seen above. I was going to draw the tree, but I found this amazing cut file on Etsy and bought it as it was perfect. May you remember that we need all of the colors on the color wheel to fully enjoy life.

Time lapse tree stencil painting

My Manifesto in Response to Jen Hatmaker and Glennon Doyle

This post is going to seem odd or a little “out there” if you haven’t read Untamed by Glennon Doyle or Fierce, Free and Full of Fire by Jen Hatmaker.. but that’s okay. Maybe my real and raw manifesto might encourage you to go read these books!

First, let me say that these are my words inspired by these books, but I would have never put my thoughts in such a real and hardcore philosophy without each of these authors first showing the way. I journal and over the years in blog posts, I have spoken these truths in fits and spurts, but I’ve never felt challenged to uncage my thoughts, emotions and dreams in one complete essay.

Until Now.

Don’t you love my skirt and shoes from Velvet Twelve!

So while I don’t imagine that Glennon nor Jen will ever see this post (a girl can dream.. and if I’m throwing out dreams, can I add Rachel Hollis to this too….) I want to say how much their work inspires me. And not just the books that prompted this manifesto, but each of their bodies of work. And really, so many other women writers. Brene’ Brown, Lysa TerKeurst, Rachel Held Evans, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Jamie Wright, Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, Shauna Niequist and others. These ten women authors have helped me to find my voice in a world that seems to reward women for keeping quiet.

And yes, I know that some of you immediately laughed at the idea of me keeping quiet. I’m not loud, but I’ve always spoken up about injustice or have a compelling truth that needs to be said. It makes people uncomfortable, so I have learned to soften the words with smiles and deferential actions. To lessen who I am so that others aren’t offended or feel offensive.

Dang.

But no more. I have decided that I am worthy of acceptance and love. I have been created for a purpose and I believe after much soul searching that my role is that of a truth-teller. I am still learning how to speak truths in a more loving way, but I refuse to keep my personality and gifts caged because it makes others uncomfortable.

Okay, I’ve gone off on a tangent…. back to my manifesto…

But first… here are more pictures from my “modeling shoot” with my girls. Lexi and Kylie did their best to get me in decent poses… I’m a pretty pathetic model. But we laughed a lot. My skirt and shoes are animal print… because I am a CHEETAH and I refuse to be tamed. (Go read Glennon’s book…)

And finally… the manifesto.

I am like the wind. There are seasons where I am a gentle breeze, going along with life and just waiting for my chance to do my work. At other times, I am a gale force wind, blowing hard, juggling dozens of deadlines and furiously pushing others to do their part. I am wired this way. It may seem like I am all or nothing, but really it’s my core value of refusing to be stagnant and wanting to learn something new everyday that keeps me changing my speed and direction. With age, I am learning to find the balance in a gentle breeze and a turbulent wind. I am exactly enough the way God made me. The world needs my gentleness and my strength, my new ideas and my take charge attitude.

I am strong in my body and my fierce determination has given me the ability to run marathons, compete in triathlons and birth children. I have not been kind to my body. I have starved it. I’ve punished it with exercise. I have hated it. I have loathed the sight of my thighs since 6th grade. But I’m learning. My body is strong enough to blaze new trails, to climb mountains, to fight off failure, despair, and even worse, complacency.  I’m learning to love her. Slowly. I still don’t like a lot of her qualities,  but I’m learning that she is kind and faithful and worthy. Just as she is.

What I need are opportunities to use my strengths, my collaborative gifts and my voice of truth. I deserve goodness and to be treated fairly and without dismissiveness. I need the chance to see my dreams validated and my attention to detail honored. I need help learning how to advocate for myself in a way that doesn’t dismiss the ability of others. I need more connection with parents of children the same age of youngest daughter as she need friends and I need community.

What I want is to be needed and acknowledged. I dream of using my gift of organizing people and things on a larger scale than simply my home and classroom! I want to chose my yes and not feel stuck, stagnant, or forgotten. I want my voice of truth to be not just allowed, but a desired commodity.

I believe is that God is listening and I hope with all that is within me He has a purpose for the gifts that He has given me; and that this purpose has a path towards my dreams. I believe in spiritual curiosity and want to learn more about predestination and freewill. I believe in equality, that all lives matter.  But that the only way all lives matter, is if the freedom of those oppressed and targeted is fought for by those who take those freedoms for granted. I believe in creating safe spaces for teenagers to question everything about themselves, their identity, and their orientation.

I connect with others through service. I enjoy getting to know others while we serve side by side and hand in hand. I want to connect with honesty. I want to  ask difficult questions and learn from others authentic answers. I want to be offered that same space. I want to connect without drama, pretense, or expectations. I want to value my connection to others and know that others value me.

At the end of my life, I want to be able to point to countless moments of connection, service and creative thought. I want to finish my days knowing that I spent it all, and all that is left is a light breeze of remembrance.

A few good reads.. or listens..

Along with sewing filter pocket face masks, I’ve been listening to some amazing books on Audible during our Shelter-In-Place. I love reading. I am a reader. But, over the last few years, I’ve realized that I’m not reading as much as I wanted because I’m just TIRED at night and my eyes are getting old. So a couple of years ago I started listening to books while I worked in the yard, went on walks and did menial tasks around the house.

It’s amazing really. I don’t mind cleaning or folding laundry when listening to a book. These are mindless chores that are irritants normally, but when listening to a book, it’s perfect. I get a chore completed and I didn’t even realize I got it done!

So I wanted to share some of my “reads” from the last 6 weeks. These are in chronological order from most current.. not necessarily in order of favorite.

My current book: Fierce, Free and Full of Fire by Jen Hatmaker. My sister and I were discussing this book today. Simultaneously we stated that it was like coming home.

Fierce Free and Full of Fire by Jen Hatmaker

I just finished Untamed by Glennon Doyle.. but let me say, if you are a southern christian woman.. no matter how liberal or radical you might “think” you are… you should probably read the books in order. Start with Carry On Warrior, then read Love Warrior and finish off with Untamed. I don’t think you should just drop into Untamed. Don’t get me wrong, Untamed is amazing. As my sister and I discussed today, we needed to read it. We needed to see the story unfold and be challenged. But unlike Jen’s coming home, Glennon is as my sister said.. a unicorn in the field across the way that we enjoy looking at and watching and learning from. Wow.. what a recommendation. It’s a good book. But it’s hard! The chapter on gay “choice” was transformational for me as a person, a mom and a teacher. I will be forever a better person because of the work that Doyle put into that chapter. And dang, the chapter on white privilege and race. wow. You just have to read it and wrestle.

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again
by Rachel Held Evans

This book was amazing! If you grew up southern fundamental christian and you have had “issues” with some of the stuff that has been spewed at you from church, THIS BOOK is amazing. It’s healing. It’s hope.

Accidental Saints
by Naida Bolz-Weber

I’m not sure what to say about this one. I guess it would be a warning to those who have issues with profanity. The spiritual journey in this is incredible and I loved the book.. but Nadia isn’t a southern belle….

The Very Worst Missionary
By Jamie Wright

Another really good book about the reality of living life as a follower of Jesus. Lots of profanity here too. But I can’t blame her. I would cuss too if experienced some of the things she had. oh. my.

Sacred Rest
by Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith

This one is good for those of us tired, depleted and struggling. Dr. Dalton-Smith walks us through the process of finding out what is stealing all of our energy and how we can replenish ourselves.

And if you have already read or listened to all of these, let me know. I’ll send you some of my other recent reads!

Filter Pocket Face Masks

A couple of weeks ago, with the world in seemingly chaos due to COVID-19, I started making Filter Pocket Face Masks for frontline, essential workers. My parents, children and husband quickly joined my efforts and we have made close to 300 and have provided hopefully at least a little protection for doctors, nurses, police officers, therapists, homeless center workers, childcare workers and countless others.

After the first 100, my mom changed up the original pattern that we were given to make it more streamlined and faster to produce. This helped a lot. Then over the last few days, I’ve tweaked the pattern into something that we can do faster and more efficiently.

I’m sharing what I have come up with here, for the simple purpose of sharing for anyone that wants to make masks. This pattern is much simpler than the one I was given when we started, so hopefully those of you out there that have a sewing machine but are scared to try, will try it out!

I’m not saying that the pattern that I have adapted will help filter any better than anything else out there. But I do know that at least the filter pocket allows for changing the filter papers for hopefully better filtration of particles. We have been using MERV 13 grade air conditioner filters, but with the new article out about the blue shop towels being even better, that would be a great alternative to the expensive air filters.

Finally, please don’t blast me with all kinds of data, expectations or instructions on how these could be better. If you know how to do a better job, DO IT. We are all in this together. We want people safe. So please, once again. Stay home if you are not an essential worker, and if you have to be out wear a mask!

Sustained Discipline

Made to Crave

I’m listening to the book Made to Crave by Lysa TerKeurst. The book is fantastic. The narration is TERRIBLE. Take it from me and the audible reviews, DO NOT buy the audible version. Just read the thing.

(I’m not sure how to even describe listening to this book. It’s not like a “kindergarten teacher is reading this book” as one reviewer stated.. I have friends that teach kinder and I’m not going to insult them like that!! But it is grating, condescending and all things bad. Just buy the actual book or get the digital copy.)

Ok, rant over. Get the book.

Why? Because the content is relevant to just about all of us. Now if you are making strong healthy choices everyday and have overcome all your issues, you can skip this book. But the rest of us need her down to earth, right smack in the middle of problems take on life.

I’m writing this post with 16 minutes of the book left. I’m that compelled to put my thoughts on “paper.” Lysa just talked about the concept of Sustained Discipline and this was a true light bulb moment for me.

So I wanted to share and document my thoughts.

Over the last few years I have gained back a lot of the weight that I lost in 2012. Some of the weight is in the form of muscle, but most of it is fat and poor choices. At first it was just a pound here and five pounds there. But the sum total is that instead of having “just a few” pounds to lose, I now need to lose about 25 pounds to get back to my goal weight. I don’t really expect to get back to that place and to be honest, I don’t really need to be that lean. That’s not my body shape. My body is naturally curvy and to get that lean requires a diligence and a fight that isn’t good for me. I do need to lose some body fat. I want my clothes to fit right. I’m tired of the waistband of my pants rolling down when I bend over. I’m tired of having to readjust my bra all of the time because of spillage! I’m tired of struggling into clothes that “should” fit.

But I’m not going to obsess over the scale. For one thing, my scale is inconsistent. One day it will say about what I think it should say. The next day it’s eight pounds heavier. Then the day after that, it says that I lost ten pounds. My emotions around my weight are roller coaster enough, I don’t need the scale to add to that!

What I am going to do is focus on SUSTAINED DISCIPLINE. This is an area that I am great and terrible at! Over the years I have learned that I am a rock star at being disciplined when it comes to working out. I was disciplined as a child/teen with practicing piano and preparing for rehearsals or contests. You could always count on me to log the hours and do the work. In fact, I won the trophy for logging practice minutes for piano every year for YEARS! And yes, that was a real trophy…

But I’m terrible at sustained discipline when it comes to food and personal growth habits. I’ve always said I’m a great starter, not a great finisher as if that was license to give up. I’d eat great for 3 days, but day 4 would be a bust. I’d do three weeks of a bible study and then just stop. I’d get out of the routine before a routine stuck and then move on.

So instead of focusing on the goal, the end result, the pants that I want to wear without it cutting off my love handles, I’m going to focus on areas that need my sustained discipline. While I have lots of growth areas, I’m going to focus on only two for the next three months.

  1. Drink my fruit/vegetable smoothie for breakfast and have a salad for lunch 5 days a week.
  2. Spend a minimum of ten minutes 5 days a week doing a bible study.

By giving myself two days of grace each week, I am hoping that instead of being down on myself for “slipping up,” I can motivate myself saying that’s one of the off days.

And will I lose weight simply by doing these two things? Not necessarily, but its a fantastic start!

James Clear in his book Atomic Habits talks about stacking habits by adding one new small habit to a habit that is already routine. Since I already have the workout habit down, I’m going to look at the morning schedule and see how to change the structure of my morning a little.

Each Day a Gift

If I can add even a five minute devotional time prior to workout, then that would be a smart place to start. Granted, my eyes struggle to focus at 4:40am on anything other than Emoji Blitz, but I’m hoping to start reading and working through Each Day A Gift before heading to the gym.

I’m a work in progress, we all are. I think it is so important for us to acknowledge that about ourselves. One thing I am really proud of is that I’ve started making the bed every morning. I know its a little thing that doesn’t seem to have any real significance, but it does! It makes me feel like the day is in order and that I can accomplish things.

And finally, I’m reading Beauty Begins by Chris Shook and Megan Shook Alpha. Making peace with my reflection is hard. It has always been hard and I don’t anticipate that changing anytime soon. But I am doing my best to not pass on the burden of unattainable and unhealthy body image issues to my daughters. I want them to be healthy and at their physical best, whatever that is and however that looks.

Beauty Begins

I want that for myself.

Revisiting the 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family

It’s been a few years since I read The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family and with moving and unpacking, I found our rally board and realized that it desperately needed to be updated!

Our Rally Board from 2016

It was great to see that we accomplished the big idea that we set out to do in 2016 and for most part, we are still holding true to our Standard Objectives. Our Defining Objectives were accomplished for the most part with the completion of our rallying cry, so they were no longer relevant.

And with that big “to do list” checked off, I was pumped to get us updated and ready for the new year.

We decided that in 2020 we would focus on emotional and physical health. With me still recovering from hip surgery, a surgery on the horizon for one child and half a dozen new specialists for our other daughters, we needed to prioritize healing and wholeness.

I know, it seems weird that we would have to put this in writing given that all we have done over the last almost twenty years is do doctor visits, but this is different. When you live in the midst of doctors and sickness and struggles, these become normal and you just function within these very difficult parameters.

But this last year was TOUGH. Emotionally, physically, and financially. The doctor visits, physical therapy appointments, specialists, more specialists and countless hours in waiting rooms took their toll. In fact, I just looked it up, Aetna managed 115 different medical claims for our family. Add the Rheumatologist that doesn’t do insurance, the chiropractors, dentists, orthodontist, eye doctor, health screenings, tests and random health issues and we are at over 200 calendar entries for a family of 5.

Did you read that?
115 separate claims to manage plus all the other medical expenses not covered.

And we would call this a pretty healthy year. DANG.

So anyway, we talked about what we wanted our rallying cry for 2020 to be for our family and it had to be emotional and physical health. Instead of just surviving in the midst of this hard stuff, we need to be able to tackle it head on.

And we are .

Our “mission statement” is the same as when we created it years ago. We are a family that invests in each other and the community. We believe in learning, leading and living creativity everyday. We live in a small community but value our global connections. I love reading this and being reminded that we are still inherently the same family with the same mission, even in the midst of change.

But in order to focus on emotional and physical health as a family, we have to change our defining objectives. We have to be proactive in our approach to our days and our nights. We have to be willing to make some hard choices. Our defining objectives.. or the things that need to happen so that our rallying cry can be carried out are:

  • Regular Bedtimes
  • Healthy Meals
  • Outside Activities
  • Creativity
  • Limited Technology

These objectives are doable when we remember our goal. Yes, there are times when it seems like it would be way easier to just let Kylie, at ten years old, watch YouTube Kids for hours. But the tradeoff just isn’t worth it! She is at her best when she is outside and being creative. Technology is not her friend. The reality is that technology isn’t good for any of us.

And what are standard objectives? These are the regular ongoing responsibilities that you have in addition to your goal. Our standard objectives have stayed the same over the years for the most part, but we realized that we needed to add family adventures as an ongoing responsibility, not just something to do when it is convenient. It’s never convenient, but our family needs this fun time together!

So our standard objectives are:

  • Budget
  • Education
  • Faith
  • Fitness
  • Love
  • Family Adventures
  • Doug and Emily Time
  • Kindness

These are the guideposts that I measure all of the requests and opportunities against. I have to remind myself all the time, if the request/opportunity/commitment isn’t in line with our standard or defining objectives, then it isn’t in line with our family’s goal. And for this season, I need to say no.

And so I’m saying no, and having to go back and revisit some of my recent responses of Yes. It’s not easy, but my family’s emotional and physical health is more important.

With that, I’m telling you all.. if you haven’t read The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family, you need to. There is no kickback for me to suggest it to you. It’s just that good of a book.

Watercolor Painting for Hip Surgery Recovery

I had hip surgery a little over a month ago. Not a replacement.. I’m not that old yet! But the recovery has still been slow and steady with lots and lots of time just laying down and sitting reclined.

After surgery, at home in the CPM machine.

During these very slow days, I found that I LOVE watercolor painting! I had previously watched a few tutorials by Let’s Make Art and had even purchased a few of the kits for my daughters, but I had never taken that time to play with watercolors myself. Well, since I had a lot of time on my hands, I decided to see what I could learn.

And I FELL IN LOVE. 🙂 As an art teacher, I dabble in a lot of things and know the basics of pretty much all of the medias. My knowledge is an inch deep and a mile wide as my goal is to introduce my students to as many different types and styles as possible. In the past, when asked about my favorite media, I have always said printmaking. This is where I am most comfortable and my foundation of experience is about a 1/2 mile deep. But, ask me today, and it’s watercolor. It might change tomorrow as I am truly one of those constantly learning, constantly exploring and constantly pushing back my boundaries kind of person. However, my current obsession is watercolor.

My first Let’s Make Art tutorials were chosen because of the easy outline and the free video explaining all of the steps. The iris video was so easy to follow. I made a couple as thank you cards for people that had sent meals after my surgery. That was fun to be able to give something back. I think I made 8 irises before moving on. I then tried out the cardinal.. and ended up painting probably 10 or more cardinals for friends!

And then came the trucks! Oh wow. So many people wanted the truck with the tree. I think I painted 20 of these! But what I loved was that I could take the information taught in one video and easily apply it to something totally different! For the truck, I found different trucks that I wanted to paint, so I took the instructions and adapted as I went. What was fun is that none looked the same, even when I painted the same truck over and over, each painting was just a little different!

And then it kind of snowballed. I painted eight Christmas Baby Yodas, six VW Bugs with presents and four longhorns.

A dozen flower options….

Five cat and dog paintings.

Two houses

A menagerie of farm animals

And a boat.

And that’s not all! As I finished the semester with my students after spending a couple of weeks at home, I challenged them to try a new art medium and to finish work! Its hard to complain to the teacher about having to finish 10 projects over four months when the teacher has painted more than 50 paintings in a month! 🙂

And because I have enjoyed painting so much, my husband bought me the real Let’s Make Art supplies for Christmas! Previously I was using the Prang pan watercolors that I have in my classroom for art 1 students. Not the best quality paints, but are clearly not bad. However, OH MY. The Dr. Ph. Martin’s paints, the good brushes and the butcher tray palette have rocked my world! I’ve always pushed for my advanced art students to have quality supplies, but I’ve just settled for the lower priced stuff for myself. No more!

Dang, just look at the comparison of colors! The cardinal on the left is with the pan watercolors and the cardinal on the right is with the Dr. Ph. Martin’s watercolors. Same paper.

What’s up next? Well.. I painted this sea turtle for Doug with my new paints and a few friends have asked for one as well, so I guess a few sea turtles. Then I’m on to an abstract landscape and couple of commission pieces.

I’ve loved painting and have truly enjoyed gifting so many pieces of my heart to people. So, I’m going to just keep on painting and learning and playing and creating.

And how is the hip? Well, physical therapy three times a week has me walking around the house without any crutches, so I’m making progress. My goal is to go back to school on Jan 6 without crutches….

And in case anyone is wondering, nope, there is no kickback for me in sharing my new found love of Let’s Make Art! But hey, Sarah Cray, if you want to send me some paints to play with…I’m here for you. 🙂

A Willingness to Learn

I just got home from spending a few days at our Texas art teacher conference. It’s always a great time of learning and connecting with new and old faces.

But this year, I was more aware of an interesting element that impacts our experience and the experience of those around us.

It’s our willingness to learn.

Going to a conference with other professionals in your field makes for interesting dynamics. No matter the content area or profession, every personality is on display. Over the years, I’ve kind of figured out my role within my art teacher profession.

I’m the learner. This means that I’m willing to put my lack of natural ability and my desire to learn on display! Sure it can be unsettling in the midst of a few thousand “real artists” but I’ve decided to embrace who I am and in the process be a bridge for others like me and the new teachers who are intimidated and struggling to find their own role within the group.

This learner role was in full force on Friday morning as I sat in the front row of a session on painting. It was a really good session and the presenter was very knowledgable and easy to follow. He had prepped well and had a great handout. So I just got to work and played with the amazing paints.

I worked quietly and listened to the people behind me. One older gentleman talked loudly about his amazing work and his latest art show and asked the presenter questions designed to elicit complements and awe. Another gentleman was self depreciating. Another felt like we all needed to hear about his students.

I just listened.

Down the row from me a woman started worrying about how messy her work was.

Another was worrying about the size of her fruit.

Another was asking for the original paint as her plate was too small and she had messed up and needed to start over.

I just listened and worked. I got paint on my hands. I used a lot of paper towels. My plate was lopsided and my peach didn’t look like a peach.. but I just kept quiet and kept going.

Then a young teacher behind me made the comment that I’ve learned to listen for. She said she was embarrassed about what she made as everyone else’s looked so much better.

I turned around and held up mine for her to see with my messy hands and all of my used paper towels. I told her that I used to feel exactly like her, that my first couple of years coming I always felt like an imposter.

Then one year I realized that it didn’t matter what others were making. No one else was looking at me waiting to call me out for my less-than peach. I told her that I realized that some people actually planned what they would be making before coming to the conference! That they were so worried about looking good that they predetermined what they would create.

The woman looked a little shocked, but an older teacher down the row from me just started nodding and added in that she was embarrassed about her mess and the quality of her work.

Interestingly, the loudmouth stopped promoting himself and looked over at the young teacher’s painting and complimented her work. And with a smile and look of relief, she finished her painting.

I finished mine as well; gathered up my supplies and headed out with my simple little painting, messy hands and a smile on my face.

Bark: Peace of Mind for Parents

A few months ago a friend of mine with a house full of teenagers told me about BARK, a monitoring tool for parents to help protect their children/teens from online threats and dangerous content.

I was like cool, I’m glad you have that.. but I watch what my kids are doing, I have a content filter on my wifi. I’m good. But we are a busy family and I wasn’t really monitoring their text messages, their emails or their usage. I said I did, and I have really great kids, so I wasn’t too concerned.

But I haven’t been a public school high school teacher for 20 years for nothing! I knew that we needed more protection. So I asked my friend how the Bark monitoring was going and she raved about it.

So I tried it. And the first week trial was a bust. Why? Becuase you have to actually download the software/app and link your kids accounts. And I just didn’t want to have to fight with my teenager about linking her apps and accounts to the Bark dashboard. It looked time consuming and frustrating. So I let that be my reason for not going through with the trial.

Time moved on and my network of teacher friends and social friends kept telling scary stories of their kids on social media and deleted texts. And with that, I was all on board again. My teenager needed a new phone and I just made that the requirement. As long as we are paying for your needs and wants, we will require Bark to protect you.

The initial set up took about 30 minutes for the teen and about 10 minutes for the tween as she doesn’t have the same volume of content.

The first time I got an email stating that a potential issue needed to be reviewed, I was like OH CRAP! (That was day 1.) But I clicked on the link and saw that it wasn’t a thing. My teen and her father had been having a discussion about violence in America and she had googled content. It was a great start! No real issue was at hand, but the conversation was started about me seeing potential threats.

A few days later I got an email about her friends not so nice words being used in text messages. This allowed her to tell her friends that I don’t see content UNLESS it has profanity or inappropriate content. And that I see it whether or not she deletes it.. so just don’t send it!

And what about the tween? Well, she has been flagged for potential bullying. It was her text to her sister!!

Not every conversation has been easy. Some reviews made me stop and question what is allowable on You Tube, for both girls!

So if you are concerned about the content that your children have access to or see, I would highly recommend BARK! We still have our content filtered using Circle and we extensively use the Apple Screen Time tools, but BARK has filled a hole that we didn’t realize wasn’t actually a pothole, but a pathway. We now have a gatekeeper to that pathway and I have peace of mind.

And yep, I love Bark so much that I am now an ambassador for Bark Across America!

The need for monotony

Over the last few months, I’ve been increasingly aware of my need for monotonous tech-free activities like watering the grass, pulling weeds or cleaning the pool. So much of life is run at full speed. It’s loud. It’s fast. It changes at seemingly warp-speed. We are in a constant state of hyper alert.

Cleaning the pool

In contrast, I spent much of my summer doing monotonous activities and could literally feel my body relax and reset in a way that I hadn’t noticed previously. There was something distinctly different about the way I viewed the world, the way I breathed and the way I thought about my body. Instead of being hyper-critical about all things, I stopped. I lived more in grace.

And yes, I know that I was in the blessed time of the year called a teacher’s summer break, but it was different. I wasn’t glued to the computer or phone screen. I wasn’t looking for constant entertainment. I was truly focusing on being present in the moment…. and those moments consisted of a lot of weed-pulling, grass-watering and pool-cleaning moments.

Fast forward to this past week of school and my students complaining about monotonous tasks. They are bored. They don’t know what to do. They want immediate gratification. And it hit me. We don’t know how to handle monotony. Life has changed so much that we don’t know what to do when we are asked to repeat the same activity or motion time and time again without expecting different results or being entertained. Even when we repeat the same game level, we handle it differently, so our brains are still on full alert!

This weekend while I watered the grass and pulled the weeds, I chose to not put in the earbuds and listen to the audible book. I chose not to listen to the latest songs on my play list. I chose to just work and listen to the natural sounds of my environment. And once again, I felt my body relax and reset. The monotony of watering the grass and pulling the weeds allowed my brain to rest and I processed the week.

And now, I’m looking forward to the week with a new since of purpose. I really want to offer monotony to my students! They won’t know what to do! No music? No technology? Nothing.. just a monotonous task? But dang, when was the last time 15-18 year old students were tasked with resetting their minds? When was the last time teenagers were asked to focus on repetition. That’s why they love calligraphy and weaving and melty beads! WOW!! My mind is kind of blown! They desperately need for their hands to be engaged in an activity that is slow and purposeful. Their bodies are craving the opportunity to reset.

So that’s what we are going to do later this week. I’m pumped about it. I’m sure they will love it as much I enjoyed boring tasks as a teenager too. 🙂 I’ll let you know how it goes.