Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Happy February: 14 Days of DIY Love

Happy last day of January!  I'm so glad February is almost here, especially after the freezing cold temperatures that have been lingering off and on in our state for the last few weeks.  February means we're nearing the end of another winter, inching closer and closer to warmer temperatures, and of course, a month devoted to love, love, love.  And while I think I do a pretty good job expressing my love to my boys throughout the year, February is also my excuse to buy lots and lots of pink.  It's for love, you know... 

I'm kicking off this month with a fun little blog series.  14 Days of DIY Love will showcase a simple, easy project or idea to celebrate Valentine's Day with the people in your life.  Starting tomorrow, I'll post one DIY idea a day through Valentine's Day.  I'd love to exchange ideas with you, and would be thrilled if you would share your own posts and links as we go.  I'll try and post a linky at the end of most posts for you to join in on the fun.  Post your own favorite DIY projects, or just link your most recent post.   

Here's a link-up button if you care to share!  Have a great day :) 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

My Zoo

I've watched We Bought a Zoo three times in the last three weeks, and have developed a bit of a love affair with the cast, music, and message behind Cameron Crowe's latest work.  It's not every day I find a movie I want to watch over and over again, a movie that has me smiling and crying through the entire thing, sometimes at the same time.  I'm not joking.  One minute, I'll realize I have this big goofy grin on my face, and the next minute, tears will be streaming down my cheeks.  It's touching, it's inspiring, and it makes me want to take a magnifying glass to my life and discover new ways to live out this adventure.

Oh, and then there's Matt Damon. 

So I've been watching this movie and trying to put my finger on why it speaks to me so much.  And I've been thinking about how all of this relates to my life, a life that feels like my own zoo most of the time.  It seems we're going a mile a minute, making plans and tackling to-dos, going after dreams, and attempting to build a strong, solid foundation for our family that is most definitely a work in progress.  But in the midst of our zoo, I'm learning to be content in the chaos.  I'm learning that the importance isn't so much in my ability to conquer the waves, but to ride them and learn from them.  And as any surfer knows (or so I've been told), the waves are unpredictable, mighty, and if not careful, they have the capacity to swallow you up.  But you don't let them.  Instead, you grow and get better at knowing how to tackle them, and eventually, you become a far better surfer having been through the big stuff.   If everything came so easy, I fear we would lose our ability to fight.  And the fight is what makes the victory so rewarding. 

I'm in the midst of my own battle right now, but am learning that so much depends on perspective.  I think sometimes we get so hell-bent on the picture of the way things should work in our minds, that we lose sight of the adventure that is unfolding right in front of us.  Life is too short to dwell on what's not happening, especially when there is so much good happening around us.  I'm learning to look at this life as my own personal adventure, uniquely mine, perfectly flawed according to God's plan, a plan much bigger than I could ever dream up myself. 

No one embodies this perspective more than little people.  Tonight, I hauled Cruz's easel upstairs, and the two of us drew chalk pictures of houses with trees, flowers, and stick people to represent Cruz, Mom, and Dad.  He was so into it, evidenced by his excited shrieks and my favorite little gesture where he puts his hands on his knees and squats down beside me, gets really close to my face, tilts his head, and whispers something I can't make out, as if the experience is just too good to share with the outside world.  He absorbs experiences like this with every fiber in him, and his innocent excitement is untouched by outside pressure, stress, or expectation.  He is 100% himself, living for every moment, and ready to absorb as much as someone is willing to give.  I admire this about him and have so much to learn from his sweet, childlike perspective.    

This movie reminds me that sometimes, the best adventures are the ones that force us out of our comfort zones a bit.  I am a romantic in many ways --- I love words and books and food and reflection, but I am not one typically inclined to sit back, ride the waves, and take chances.  But this movie lights a fire under me, and leaves me lost in dreams of adventure for my family.  While ours will most likely not involve buying an abandoned zoo, lately I've been dreaming of our own fresh start, and a new chapter for us.  I dream of rocking swaddled babies on porch swings, picnics on patchwork under the stars, and a simpler life.  I have an itch to be in the country lately, and although the thought may be a temporary one, it sure is fun to dream about.

During one part of the film, Benjamin's daughter, Rosie, asks her father why he doesn't tell stories anymore, and he replies, "Because we're living the story."  I love the thought of filling in the pages of this blank story of our family.  And the way the story is written is highly dependent on the way we choose to live our lives.  We're all poets, called to write our own unique masterpiece.  

If you haven't seen We Bought a Zoo, I encourage you to add it to your Netflix queue.  If anything, the two child actors will completely melt your heart, and the thought of a zoo in the middle of the country is charming and full of nostalgia.  

Oh, and then there's Matt Damon. 

Pictures are courtesy of At Play Photo.  Documenting our zoo since 2010. 


Monday, January 28, 2013

this weekend, we...

...were spoiled with a date night, just the two of us.  Dinner and drinks at Sakura and Silver Lining's Playbook.  Go see this movie.  It's wonderful.  And I'm pretty sure I have a girl crush on Jennifer Lawrence.  And there's Bradley Cooper...

...spent an hour in the tub.  Shaving cream bath paint led to far-reaching masterpieces on the wall.  The best kind of baths lead to wrinkly fingers and toes.

...went to Barnes and Noble.  Went to Sam's.  Went to a graduation party and hugged my former students.  Oh, do I miss them.

...shared a casual dinner in with some great new friends.  Red wine and beef stew, cupcakes, and UNO MOO until the kids started melting much past bedtime.  Cruz made out with a bus that wasn't his and fell asleep minutes after driving away.  

...drove slid to church in an ice storm.  It took us ten minutes to go five blocks.  Pulled up to the empty lot, looked at each other, and then checked the weather cancellations.  Turned around and consoled a disappointed Cruz (the kid loves church), and slid back home.  Ready for the day and nowhere to go. creative with our ice day at home.  Played race cars and pirates, Dr. Cruz, and Whack-a-Mole.  Read books, popped popcorn, and snuggled, a lot.

...moved the teepee to our living room.  Never mind that it takes up half the room --- it's festive, it's cozy, and the perfect setting for a growing imagination. 

...made 'Ot-corn' Yes!!!

...did some crafting.  Cruz drew 'race cars', Dad sketched Rosita from Sesame Street, and Mom made some Valentine cards.

...discovered that although Cruz truly loves to play with us, he also likes his alone time, too.  More than once, Beau and I would get caught up in play, only to discover that Cruz had left the building.  We'd find him in his room by himself reading books, or in his toy room, perfectly content driving race cars by himself.  We laughed and decided this is how we will likely feel in sixteen years.

...watched We Bought a Zoo, again.  I'm making up for the year that I apparently missed the memo that this movie is wonderful.   

...Made tacos.  Finally talked Cruz into trying some taco meat, only after Lightning McQueen tried some, too.  Turns out, Cruz likes taco meat.  If only the child would learn that we are in fact not feeding him poison.

...had a dance party with Elmo.  He might not know all his colors yet, but the kid sure can dance.  

...finished my book.  Brainstormed new books to read.  The world awaits when you finish a book, and I'm looking for new suggestions for my next adventure.

I like to think this weekend was our final hurrah of winter.  Sure, we're still in January (aka, the longest month of the century), but I have a feeling we're nearing the end of these winter weekends at home.  It seems we've had a lot of them lately.  And although I could start to feel the cabin fever set in about five o'clock last night, I kept reminding myself that this season is temporary.  Soon, the sun will be shining, the pool will be open, and it won't seem right to bundle up inside, eat popcorn in our teepee, and stay in our sweats until we put new sweats on before bed.  Life moves fast and nothing gold can stay, and I'm doing my best to not wish it away...

I'm just glad the teepee can go outside.

Happy week to all of you!  Last week of January and record highs on the forecast here for tomorrow.  Green grass, spring breeze, pretty tulips...can you see it?            

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Defending Happy

A few weeks ago, I wrote about enchiladas and inspiration found within the bookshelves of Barnes and Noble.  I acquired a sack full of new reading material after that trip (aka, grocery shopping while hungry), and have been enjoying spending a few minutes of every day with my nose in a book (and most days, it really amounts to a few minutes).  Right now, I'm reading Gretchen Rubin's best-selling book, The Happiness Project, the kind of book that requires a highlighter and a pen for note-taking.  I've spent many nights thinking about the act of happiness as a philosophy, an art, and even a science.  For a year, Rubin goes on a systematic quest to cultivate more happiness in her life, not because she was unhappy or dissatisfied, but as an experience to make her more aware and more in tune of the things that brought her happiness, as well as new ways to discover happiness in her future.

I often wonder why this book is so popular.  It sat on the number one slot on the New York Times Bestseller List for weeks after its debut in 2010, and has since been sold to editors in 31 languages.  People are obviously drawn to the idea that one can control the amount of happiness in their life; however, few people can take the risks involved with major transformations, spending splurges, or travels abroad that usually make for novel-worthy material.  I think that's one of the ironic things that makes this book so appealing.  Rubin doesn't pick up her life and spend a year strolling the streets of Italy or Bali like Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love, or become a Mother Theresa, spending her years performing amazing acts of service for people less privileged than her.  No, Rubin is a normal working mom like so many of us, trying to keep the boat afloat at home while balancing all the hats of motherhood with a smile on her face and heels on her feet.  She's just so normal, and the tasks she resolves in order to find more happiness are small, easy to incorporate into one's daily life, and have the potential to be so powerful in terms of self-improvement and well-being.   

Aside from being a book that can apply to so many, I also hope this book's popularity has something to do with counteracting all the negativity and unhappiness in this world.  The news is filled with far more bad than good, the TV channels are full of reality shows that attempt to portray people at their absolute worst, and even blogs that tend to focus on the positive side of things often get ridiculed and criticized for appearing fake or sugar-coated, as if to say that someone who writes about unhappy things is apparently more 'real' than someone who doesn't.  A fellow blogger friend recently wrote about this very thing in a post titled, 'You Like it When I Cry.'  After tracking her ratings, it was obvious that her stats peaked during times when she wrote about struggle.  Or that Kelle Hampton's rise to fame happened shortly after she wrote about being at her lowest after giving birth to Nella, but now gets bouts of criticism for not appearing sad enough.  It is criticism like this that leads to beautiful posts like this one, where she fights to defend her positive outlook on life.  There's something really backwards when people feel called to defend their happy. 

The other night, as I was stirring spaghetti noodles with one hand and checking my Facebook feed with the other, I came across a status from another mom that said something along the lines of 'I'm busy and stressed and unable to find time to wash my hair, let alone have a hobby,' fair enough because Lord knows we've all been there, but then went on to seemingly attack mothers who did have hobbies, or friends, or time for anything beyond being mothers to their children, whatever that means.  The feed got quite a response, mostly from other moms who patted this person on the back, saying things like, 'those moms who work and still have hobbies obviously don't take the time to be with their children,' or 'instead of being selfish, I play with my children instead.'  Reading this as a working mom with interests of my own, I immediately felt the attack.  At first I got defensive, as if that very post was directed at me, but as it sunk in later, I felt a feeling far worse than defense, and all too familiar for any mom.  

The guilt slowly crept in, no matter how much I tried to let defense and anger take over.  Was I a bad mom for making time for hobbies?  Did I spend enough quality time with my son?  Am I being real to myself?  

These thoughts of inadequacy are fueled by the negative, as well as the positive, and are hard to escape in a world that puts everything out there for people to see.  But what I've been learning the last few weeks is this juxtaposition between the perceived ideal of this world and the tension of the reality that we live.  Anyone living in this world knows that there is no such thing as an 'ideal.'  We are all broken people, who face struggle and make mistakes and hurt people.  And as we live in this tension, this imperfect reality, the only people we can change is ourselves.  It's one of the things Rubin repeatedly writes about in her book.  That as much as she wished her husband would do little things that would make her more happy, it was her who had to change how she was looking at things.  In fact, her eight 'Splendid Truths' all permeate around this very idea.  Number 5: "I can build a happy life only on the foundation of my own nature."  Number 6: "The only person I can change is myself," and Number 1: "To be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, feeling right, all in an atmosphere of growth.

Life sucks a lot of the time, and I know as well as anybody else, that sometimes it just feels good to know that when we are having a crap day, other people are, too.  But sometimes I wonder what our world would look like if everyone in it would go on their own quest of happiness.  Knowing that living in this tension means there is a lot we can't control, but the one thing that we can is ourselves.  Being there for people when they are sad and struggling, but celebrating with those who aren't, too, no matter what side of the coin we are currently living.  

I know the Facebook comment probably had little to do with me, and that the personal attack I felt deep inside happened because I'm vulnerable.  But I'm learning over time, that unlike guilt and defensiveness, vulnerability is important for growth.  Brene Brown says that, 'Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on joy —  the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.'  

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

a day in photos

"So much depends on the days made of now."

-from Little Boy 














8:00. I could watch him eat all day long.  Oh, and he just learned to drink the milk from his bowl.  One of the only things he does 'extra careful.'
9:00. Potty and quiet bath time.
10:00. Step 1. (Why did we do a bath before?)
11:00. Fresh sheets, board books, and two pairs of striped socks
12:00. Lunchtime.
1:00. Step 2.
2:00. Somebody found the sprinkles.
3:00. Flowers to mend a broken heart.
4:00. Step 3. Post-nap cookie decorating.
5:00. A cup of tea.
6:00. Mushroom, sweet potato, and smoked gouda soup.  Heavenly.
7:00. Flashcards and Christmas pjs.
8:00. Books in the teepee before bed.

The quote above is from my very favorite children's book, Little Boy, by Alison McGhee.  I used to read this book when I was pregnant with Cruz, and I love it even more now that Cruz reminds me of the free spirited little boy in the book.  All weekend, I kept thinking about the last line of the book, whispering it to myself periodically as a gentle reminder that these days are so special.  I thought about it while doing laundry with Cruz meandering around me, hitting the water softener with a toilet plunger or measuring the front of the drier with Beau's tape measure.  I thought about it after his bath tonight, singing Raffi and tickling toes while we lotioned, brushed, and pajama'ed him up.  I thought about it as he sat beside me before bed, eating the three marshmallows he found in the candy drawer, and reached over out of the blew and gave me a kiss.  If I could bottle that kiss up I would. 

So much depends on now.         



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