30 March 2012

My Morning View

For the last four years, this has been my view from our kitchen window every single morning:
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The tree changes with the seasons, but the way the light captures and warms the branches as the sun rises over the mountains always makes me want to lasso in the beauty with the help of my camera. Of course, I can't do justice to that slanting morning light.

It makes me pause every day and soak in an instant of beauty while I'm rinsing dishes.

Even though the tree is technically in our next door neighbor's yard, I like to claim it as our own.
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The spring blooms make it that much more breathtaking.
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It doesn't hurt that "my tree" is in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains either.
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27 March 2012

Broken

Our boys sure know how to love the guts out of their beloved loveys.

We never let Blake take his ratty nie-night out of the house, but we are a little more lenient with Nash.

It helps that a soft yellow chick is more normal-looking than a beat up bumper pad, but we mostly just can't resist Nash's puppy dog eyes.

His nie-night has fared well over the last two years, but we are beginning to see the signs of premature aging.

The stuffing has completely come out of the little chick's nose, leaving a gaping hole. I'm sure that the rest of the nose is soon to follow.
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Nash has been walking around our house for a week now, clutching on to his lovey and repeating like a broken record, "Nie-night broken. Nie-night broken."
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All of the lamenting over the tattered nie-night isn't quite enough for him to give it up yet though.
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He loves that thing more than life itself.


26 March 2012

The Sock Bun

I have to admit, I kind-of love the high sock bun. It is so easy and fast on mornings where there just isn't time for hair.
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And, as an added bonus, it produces wavy curls the next day that I hardly have to touch up at all.
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But I about died laughing when our four year old drew a picture of me and my sock bun piled sky high above my head.
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Thanks, Blake, for giving me a little reality check.
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21 March 2012

Happy and Sad

Our dinner time tradition is to go around and each share a "happy" and a "sad" from the day.

Nash has decided recently that he would like to participate too.

Only, without fail, his happies and sads are always the same. 


Nash's happy is when he gets to have a snack.

And his sad is when he doesn't get to have a snack.

As distracting as it is every evening when the boys break out into nonstop giggles upon Nash's typical response, I know it is something I will want to remember fifteen years from now when he probably won't want to participate at all.


19 March 2012

Book Club and The Happiness Project

According to a recent study, “Joining a meaningful group that meets just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income” (New York Times, David Brooks, March 29, 2010).

That is exactly how I feel about book club.

Some of my friends started a book club last fall, and I look forward to it each month.

It is part girls' night out. It is part support group as we learn from and encourage each other and sometimes commiserate together. It is part escape from reality. And sometimes we sneak in an actual discussion about the book.

Our first book club went till three in the morning. We spent NINE hours sitting around my friend's kitchen table, laughing so hard that we were crying and diving into deep conversation. None of us realized how long we had been there until around 1am when we all started getting text messages from our husbands asking if we were okay.

Even though it's hard to recover the next day from these late nights, I wouldn't trade them for anything.

I love the women with whom I get to share these evenings.

And surprisingly, I've become more of a reader as well.

I'm not the type that will soak in the tub at night and read. Or sit down and read during the day. No. I'm the type that will wait until the last three days and cram in the book every second I get...at the dentist, while I'm making dinner, while I'm waiting to pick Blake up from school, etc. But, since I have a deadline, I get the books read and I love it.

Usually when I read a book, it's from the parenting or self-help genre. But I have to admit that I've really liked a few of the novels on our list. I never would have read them if it wasn't for book club. I love to be taken into different worlds as I read. Books take me to "places" I've never been and make me think about things outside my little realm of changing diapers and dusting blinds and hugging my boys to smithereens. Which is all good, but I want so much to be open to the bigger world.
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Last month, it was my turn to host. We read The Happiness Project.
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I both really liked and really disliked this book.

Here was my problem:

While the author was out strolling in NYC all day having her happiness epiphanies, who was tending to her toddler? Who was cleaning her triplex on the Upper East Side? While she spent her waking hours doing research at the library, intermixed with yoga, weightlifting, and cocktail parties galore, who took care of the morning rush and sick kids and grocery shopping?

The point of the book was to give light on how to improve happiness, and I was left with a daunting feeling of how in the world she did it all - the charts, reading, writing, exercising, volunteering, socializing, parenting, collecting, and glue-gunning. I relaxed when I learned later that she had a sitter and a housecleaner. And a cook. And a millionaire husband.

I found myself rolling my eyes on more than one occasion at some of her "epiphanies." In one chapter, she wracked her brain to think of how she might store all her children's cards, photos, and other paper goods. What to do? Stacks weren't working! Surely there must be some way of filing paper goods away in some sort of storage device...and then it hit her: file boxes! Are you kidding me? How does someone get that far in life without having ever heard of organizing papers into files?

There were other such oddities that made me wonder if this woman and I were living on the same planet, such as when she decided that collecting something might make her happy but couldn't think of anything to collect. Is it me? Does everyone else begin collections by consciously deciding that they need one, then having to try and think something up to collect? I just thought that sort of thing tended to happen more organically. And I'm so anti-clutter that I couldn't relate to her collecting epiphany at all.

Even though I found this book to be a whiny memoir from a self-absorbed New Yorker, there were some real gems wrapped up in the boring descriptions of the author's life and projects. I dog-eared half of the book, so obviously there were many quotes that stood out to me.
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This book has made me think, am I happy? Am I as happy as I ought to be? Should happiness be a pursuit or a goal? Or is it silly and selfish to devote much time to thinking about my own happiness?

I don’t have a lot of chances to think a whole lot about whether or not I am happy. I remember contemplating happiness back when I was single and had plenty of quiet moments. But since having a family, I've been so busy doing everything that comes along with dealing with a household and the needs of small children that I never get around to thinking about happiness much.

I experience lovely fleeting moments of happiness every day. When I hear a funny comment from one of my boys, when my husband and I share an inside joke, when I see my child accomplish something he is proud of, when I snuggle with my little ones as we read together. I feel a satisfaction kind of happiness whenever I accomplish something or complete a task. So I'm experiencing happy moments a lot and I'm so grateful for each of them.

But do I feel happy all the time?

I often feel worried and stressed and overwhelmed. And I think this is partially because I think about what I need to DO much more than I think about who I need to BE. I think about accomplishments far more than optimism and gratitude.

As the author put it, "I am happy - but I’m not as happy as I ought to be. I have such a good life, I want to appreciate it more - and live up to it better…I complain too much, I get annoyed more than I should, I should be more grateful.”

I especially liked her chapters focusing on relationships. I am always resolving to improve my relationships with those I love most, and little reminders to give proofs of love, nag less, refrain from using the words "no" and "stop" with my children, articulate the other's point of view, and go on frequent dates always make me feel warm and fuzzy.

In the end, what I took from this book is that happiness takes energy and discipline. Some people are unhappy because they won’t take the trouble to be happy. We are in charge of our own happiness and finding systems that work to improve our actions and relationships.

And I can't argue that eating better, exercising more, being more grateful, organized, and friendly, and becoming a better wife and mother are worthy resolutions to pursue.

The "dessert" of any book to me, whether it is well-liked or not, is getting to discuss it with my book club...women who I love and who are always game to discuss it's intricacies in minute details until late into the night.

Even the author said, "Studies show that if you have five or more friends to discuss an important matter, you’re far more likely to describe yourself as “very happy.”

I agree wholeheartedly.

Book club greatly improves my happiness.


16 March 2012

MIA

I know, my presence in the blogosphere has been minimal lately. My 3-4 posts a week have dwindled down to 1 or 2 if I'm lucky.

It's partially because we don't have a lot of picturesque events going on this time of year.

And partially because we have been hit by the plague this winter and someone has gotten sick at least once a month.
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It's partially because I have a two year old who has learned to throw tantrums.
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But it's mostly because all of my spare time has been devoted to designing other blogs instead of updating my own. It's hard to squeeze in time for my own records when I am being paid to work on others'.

However, I'm starting to miss my neglected blog. Today was the first time I pulled out my camera in two weeks. I am still striving to find a good balance of working from home, where there is always more work to do, and it's right at my fingertips. 

I know you are all going though withdrawals too (haha). 


08 March 2012

The Good and the Not-as-Good

Troy got home late last night from a trip to New York. As usual when he is away, it was a mixture of good and not-as-good around here.

The good:
  • I brought up the Christmas Tree box from the basement for the boys to play with. It was colored, painted, and transformed into a pirate ship, a car, a time machine, Neverland, and a "scary" closet.
  • We rented a Redbox movie & picked out candy from the gas station; our tradition for whenever Troy is away.
  • A sitter came over on Saturday so I could sneak away and attend one of my best friend's baby shower. It was adorable and my head is spinning with ideas for the next shower I throw.
  • I got a lot of work done, despite the fact that I had cords running across the family room because Troy took my laptop with him.
  • A couple of friends came over to watch a show that shall remain nameless and we stayed up talking till the wee hours of the morning.
  • It's Cadbury mini-egg season.
  • We had one nice day before it snowed again. I may have been over-ambitious, but we biked to the park and had a picnic lunch. It was still a tad chilly for that. 
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The not-as-good:
  • Blake may or may not have been electrocuted. A nightlight, a quarter with two big burn marks, and a blown fuse were involved. He came downstairs crying but said that he didn't remember getting hurt.
  • I endured some not-so-fun side effects from the antibiotic I was on for my sinus infection.
  • Our furnace broke down for the umpteenth time.
  • My cell phone fell out of my back pocket into the toilet. I'm crossing my fingers that it will still work after disassembling, vacuuming, and soaking in rice for 24 hours.
  • I freaked out a bit about J-walking while Blake was on his bike. Where we live, the crosswalk is just too far away to backtrack to the park. Blake's little feet peddled as fast as they could and we made it across the street safely, but talk about stressful. I think he has outgrown his tricycle.
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I'm always glad when Troy comes home so I can both laugh and commiserate with him.


02 March 2012

On this Day, Ten Years Ago

On March 2nd, 2002, life as I knew it ended.

I was wrapping up my senior year in high school and every ounce of hard work and dedication that I invested in those four years culminated on that fateful day.

I was never one of those girls who daydreamed about getting married or becoming a mom or even going to college. I knew in the back of my mind that all of those things would come, but I just didn't think much about my future back then.

That was because I was 100% absorbed in winning the state championship for competitive cheerleading.
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Our high school didn't have "typical" cheerleaders. We never cheered for basketball games, we were all on the honor roll, and our season lasted from August to March. Football season was a time to prepare for competitive season. We practiced three hours every day, five to six days a week. We took weekly group and private gymnastics lessons. We bench pressed. We sprinted for agility. We ran miles to build up endurance. We coached younger girls in our spare time. We spent 10 hours every Saturday in locations all over the state for competitions. We literally lived, sweated, and dreamed competitive cheer.

Our school had a legacy of winning competitions. We had several state championships under our belt, and an entire community of support rallying around us. In my senior year, we sailed through our conference and regional competitions, once again making us eligible for the state finals.
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Our team was the first in school history to add a synchronized back tuck into our routine. We perfected the timing and landing of that difficult skill throughout the season, giving us a great shot at the state title. Our tight-knit group of twelve seniors was ready to fight to the end with the rest of our team in our last chance for the reigning title.
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We were almost always flawless in execution. It was unlikely for any team to outscore us. With the exception of one.

Rochester.

Saying that name still makes a chill run up my spine.

The Rochester team came from the other side of the state, so it was rare to compete against them until the state finals. Just like us, they also had a legacy of state championships. The title went back and forth between our two teams since the program began.

March 2, 2002 marked the end of my four-year career. It was the last state finals that I competed in, and our team knew that the competition would be stiff. But we also knew that we had a great chance at winning if we executed all of our rounds with perfection.

And we did.

Every stunt was hit, every back-tuck and back-handspring was perfectly in sync, and every motion was flawless.

Then, Rochester performed their third and final stunting round. The entire fan base collectively gasped when they dropped a stunt, which was unheard of for a team of their caliber.

In that moment, we knew that we were only minutes away from receiving the state championship. And Rochester did too. The girls on their team began congratulating us before the awards were given out.

But then the impossible happened.

A moment where time stood still and even when I think back now, the shocked emotions still come flooding back.

The Runner-Up title went to us

Even though we performed to perfection, we placed second. No one could believe the outcome. We came up three points short to Rochester's 715.5 point score due to subjective judging.
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I still get chills every time I watch the video that was made for us that showcases the state finals. That day represented so much more to me than a first place title. It meant every sacrifice, every injury, and every lost night of sleep because I couldn't "land" my back-tuck yet. It meant every fundraiser, every team sleepover, every dreadful summer camp, and 1700 hours of practice. It meant my entire team; girls I spent more time with than my own family.

The part that really touches me is the clip of our fan section, roaring with support. Parents, students, faculty, media, and the entire community were there to support us. I am always brought to tears in the moment where we knew that our fate was sealed as the champions. Before the official outcome was announced, we knew in our hearts that we couldn't have performed more perfectly. And no crowning award will ever be able to take that moment away from us.
(The six-minute video goes through our warm-ups and the three rounds we competed in, with a few uniform changes. It ends with the final outcome and lots of tears being held back.)

I have occasionally thought back to that experience and the extreme disappointment that none of us understood at the time. Sometimes I still dream about the rush of competing. I don't think I have ever felt a rush in quite the same way in any other aspect of my life. Sometimes I still try to make sense of what happened that day, and what we possibly could have gained from that defeat.

Some of the lessons are obvious. Life isn't fair. Hard work isn't always measured by awards and trophies.

Other lessons are less apparent. Recently, I came across a card that my beloved coach wrote to me just a couple of months before the state finals.

I was intimidated by her at the time, which is probably why she was such an excellent coach. But now, I have come to a whole new level appreciation for her devotion. The amount of dedication and sacrifice it requires to bring teams to the state finals year after year is exponential.

While our team was completely absorbed in adding one more championship to our repertoire, she subtly taught us that there was a bigger picture in life. She took the time to handwrite individual cards to our 30 team members and gave them to us at our Christmas party.

She wrote to me, "The thing you need to remember is that these are skills you're trying to accomplish - they don't determine who you are inside."
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At the time, I did think that my skills determined who I was to a certain extent. And maybe it took placing second in the biggest competition of my life to realize that my identity went beyond "Grandville Cheerleader." To be forced to move on to bigger and brighter things.

I have always wondered why my wonderful coach still comes back year after year and why she devotes her life to teams who may or may not win the state championship.

I see now that it has less to do with winning and more to do with shaping lives. Teaching young women about responsibility, hard work, dedication, team work, and pushing beyond natural limits.

Though our specific loss made the world came to a crashing halt, my teammates and I have moved on from that fateful day. We have college degrees and careers and marriages and children. We are happy and thriving individuals.

All of my keepsakes and newspaper clippings from that all-consuming chapter of my life are now condensed into one manila folder.
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I scarcely think about that phase of my life unless I pull out the pictures to reminisce.
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Tonight, exactly ten years after my final competition, another Grandville team went into the state finals hoping for a championship title.

I watched the live footage streaming from across the country, and my heart sank for them when another team was declared the state champion. 

Because I know exactly how they feel.

I know how it feels for those seniors to come just short of a crowning conclusion. I know how it feels to have years of hard work and sacrifice swept away in one instant by an announcer proclaiming another team the victor.

But I hope that even though they won't ever be able to claim exactly what they set out to achieve, they will forever feel connected to the deep legacy that will continue on.

I hope those girls know what a blessing it is to be part of a such a rich tradition. I hope they continue to work hard and know that there are no limits to their potential. I hope that final "rush" thrilled them tonight as much as it thrilled me, because it will never be matched in the same way again.

I also hope they can look beyond the devastation they are feeling right now. I hope they realize that nailing switch splits doesn't determine their success. I hope they appreciate their amazing coach who gives them tools to succeed in life, not just in competitions. I hope they know that they have a huge sisterhood of past contenders rallying behind them from across the world. And I hope they know that the future ahead is oh so bright.

And that life goes on.


01 March 2012

Beach and Snow

Today was "Beach Day" at Blake's school.
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Of course, it snowed for about the third time this winter just in time for Beach Day.
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That didn't stop Blake from treading through the snow in his flip-flops.
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Who ever said that snowballs and Beach Day couldn't mix?