A couple of months ago, Danny and I sat down in the early morning, cups of coffee in hand, to discover if we could do a better job of school mornings. Last year, the mornings felt rushed, with us often barking a bit at the kids who dawdled out the door. Both of them began at new schools this fall. Why not a fresh start in everything?
So, Danny and I talked about the road blocks, the places where we all got stuck in the muck of the morning and couldn’t move forward. How could we avoid those puddles? We realized that everything would be better if we could commit to making lunches the night before. Pulling the lunches out of the refrigerator to put in their backbacks took a lot less time than making them on the spot. So we committed to a simple practice: one of us puts Desmond to bed, and the other make lunches with Lucy. The next night, we flip.
We also realized that letting the kids sleep in until they woke up was making life difficult too. I wrote out a schedule for the morning. (My brain loves making structures.)
6 am: Danny and I wake up, to drink our coffee, talk, and look at the news.
7 am: We put our phones in a drawer to stay there until the kids are off to school. We wake up the kids. We help them get dressed, make their beds, talk about the day, and let them play.
7:30: We eat breakfast together. We talk about what we’re grateful for. Sometimes we play math games at the table. Sometimes we let Lucy read her latest book and Desmond plays with his superhero figures while we talk. We all clean up together.
8:00: Table time for painting, word games, looking at maps, science experiments, or whatever strikes our fancy.
8:20: Ten-minute dance party. Every day.
8:30: Time to brush teeth, grab lunches, put Lucy’s hair in a ponytail, put on shoes and jackets, family hug, go.
At first it felt funny, this regimen for the mornings. Would it be a little too military-like, to run things on a tight schedule? Would the kids feel constricted?
Those of you who do this already know the answer. Within this discipline is freedom.
It turns out that making lunches the night before allows one of us to talk with Lu every night, as we grab her favorite dip and slice up peppers, put grapes in Desmond’s lunch box, and fill up the spaces with food they love. (A couple of these were enough for the both of them.) It’s the place where any silly stories or questions of the day arise most easily.
It turns out having a clear structure allows the kids to feel securely held. They know what is happening next, at all times. How much of life actually feels like that? Not much. They know they have our full attention. They have time to play. They have chores to do. Every day, there will be dancing. And we leave on time, every day, without any hassle or barking.
Life feels better here. It was committing to three small practices—packing lunches the night before, putting the phones away while the kids are here, and following a clear morning schedule—that has changed our family for the better.
I’m sharing this as a way of letting you know we have a new practice we’re committing to now. You’re involved, if you want.
On Saturday, I interviewed the marvelous Lisa Congdon about her new book, A Glorious Freedom. (I have an essay in the book too.) A woman in the crowd asked Lisa what she thought of 100-day projects. For 100 days, you commit to do some kind of art every day, no matter what. Lisa said she has only done 365-day projects! But she loved the discipline, the enforced rule that you must practice your art, no matter what. And she talked about the gift of the mundane days, the days when she didn’t feel like she had any inspiration that the discipline itself forced her to produce something. She learned something every day.
I came home and told Danny about it immediately, since my brain was bursting with a new idea. (This happens often around here.) Why don’t we cook every day and document it?
Now, we make food every single day around here. Most of it goes undocumented, which is fine. But we do have so many ideas for simple everyday meals, that never make it onto our site, a cookbook, or anywhere else.
We enjoy cooking. Working with food is Danny’s art. Without having his hands on onions or smelling spices, he grows a little twitchy. That’s how I am about words. Right now, my fingers typing, the new Beck album in the background, I’m focused. I’m here. I’m happy.
It’s funny. Sometimes you have to go a long way to find out how to come home.
When I began writing Gluten-Free Girl, I made food, I photographed it, and I wrote about it. Every day. I wrote because I needed to write, not because it would lead somewhere else. Looking back, I realize it was this simple practice that honed my writing. (I still have so much to learn.) I took photographs spontaneously, not in a studio-like set-up. I picked up the camera when the light moved me. Danny cooked every day, as a restaurant chef, in a wonderfully mundane way. That’s where we began.
And then we started getting attention for it. And book deals. Wonderful travels. The chance to meet so many of you. Then, it became the way we earn our money. So that meant more time creating an ad network, making videos, doing sponsored posts, and answering emails than making food and writing about it. We lost our way. And a little of our joy.
Last year, we let go of our gluten-free flour business. We also let go of this being the way we earn our income. I couldn’t answer 400 emails a day, most of them demanding something new. I wanted to write. Danny wanted to cook. I worked for a time at a grocery store. He went back to restaurant life, then realized he didn’t want to do it anymore. He let go of that too.
What was left?
Danny wants to make food. I want to write.
So, that’s why we’re starting the #100daysofmakingfood project this week. Every day, for 100 days, we’re going to make something, photograph it, and post the recipe, on Instagram and Facebook. Common sense says to save our recipes for a cookbook, an e-book, for other people’s companies. However, Danny and I have never done anything in the typical way. We’re both jazzed about the chance to go back to that pure joy, the daily practice, the way we found each other in the first place.
Danny had hernia surgery last week, finally finding relief from the pain he has been suffering. Now that he has his doctor’s release, he wants to start standing at the stove again. We’re starting today. Join us.
And who knows what unexpected joys will come from this clear schedule and a simple shift? If our mornings are this good for the clear practice, I can only imagine the changes that might happen soon. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.
Shauna & Danny