Wednesday, January 28, 2015

January's Thoughts on What I Already Have

I was dead set on getting a YMCA membership this January until Paul and I were looking at the numbers for our new budget.  This was a month ago at the tail end of December and at the end of a year where I had really struggled, truly needed a perk like the Y to pull me into a new year.  I had my eyes on a gym membership since the twins were born (day care for 3 kids: enough said), but now I had my eyes on these budget numbers and that shifted my needs a bit.

It's okay to say I struggled last year.  I feel like there's this terrible burden in our culture to make sure the choices we make are at all times spoken of as "really awesome!" from our lips even when our hearts and minds are a bit messier.  I'm okay saying that going from working mom dropping my one kid off early and picking him up late to stay at home mom to three <deep breath> adorable boys who run and shoot at each other with invisible guns on the regular has been a transition.  I'm building mommy muscles. That takes some time.

Really though, those tough bits about last year was all Paul's travel.  It turned out to be about 2, sometimes 3, weeks a month, and at the time I was like "no big deal, I've got this".... and then he didn't travel from mid-December until this week and woooooooooah, okay, I get it.  I'll just say it.  Not having him here is a lot more difficult than I realized.  But anyway,  my complaining is just to say that the Y = freedom and = day care and = exercise to clear my mind from all that gun shooting and = I'm finally going to feel fabulous in a swimsuit post-baby belly this year! Okay, the last one is a stretch. 

But those numbers.  Did we have the money? Oh yeah.  Could we "afford" it? Yes.  But dreams.  I've got some. Dreams bigger than me being strapped to a membership fee, larger than what we can or can't afford.  So I said no to the Y and went back to the drawing board, and I realized we already had so much. Namely this:

a great neighborhood for walking

The first hobby Paul and I shared was walking the trail that is at the edge of the current neighborhood we live in.  We walked often & I treasure that time we had together.  That trail is awesome.  In fact, he proposed in the middle of a walk on that trail, in a hidden, wooded spot at the edge of the park as we sat on the roots of a tree and dipped our feet into the cool waters of a creek.  The diamond sparkled from the light peeking through the tops of trees. Pretty magical in my book. 

I used to walk Thomas to the park and back during summer days and when it's warm we like to hop on our bikes as a family and take the trail out for miles.  But just as great is the layout of our neighborhood.  We couldn't afford a gated community (bahaha...understatement), but ours has a little secret you might not realize unless you come visit:  It was intentionally designed to discourage drive-thru traffic.  Yes, it's super close to the mall and grocery stores and everything in town,  but no one drives thru because it is a winding maze of streets just for use of its residents. It's brilliant, really.  

So guys. I've been waking early. 5 am every day. I've been reading, writing, and walking.  Anytime it is at least 25 degrees and not precipitating, I'm out there.

I've walked in the fog and on ice.  I've spied a fox run back home, two creatures I couldn't quite make out slink back into the sewer (a sight to make you shiver at 5:30 in the dark morning), and a little adorable beaver hauling teeny bits of twigs and things to build up his palace.

I've listened to a couple dozen podcasts, walked nearly 50 miles, and friggin' danced on the streets to Beyonce's Upgrade You.  I've said a well-deserved "good morning" to dozens of my fellow early-rising neighbors. I've crossed paths with the curious fellow who zig-zag exercises across the street.

I've watched the ducks walk gingerly across the barely frozen pond. I've breathed cold air of hope into the coming day.  I've watched the day roll out in a dark blue, lighting the tips of trees on fire with the smallest of notes that this new day has arrived and it is beautiful.

When I climb the last big hill near the end of my regular loop, a smile spreads across my face.  I'm happy.  Happy just to be, just to live, just to have the freedom to walk.  Happy for the bodies snug and asleep, warm and safe, in our home.  Happy to be learning that meeting my needs, our needs, calls for a little creativity and a lot of simplicity.

Happy to be waking up each morning to lean into all the beautiful things I already have.

Good morning, Alfred!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Question for the Year

I spied this article last night, and my new year buzz was back in an instant.  I've been chugging along with my resolutions already (which is no big thing since something like 2/3rds of Americans are in the same boat at this time of year), but choosing a question to guide my year is the strawberry on top. No cherries for me.

Landing on a word of the year just hasn't ever worked for me.  Take last year or the year before that or the year before that. Heck, take all of them.  Each year for as long as I've been married, my year has become something much different than what I envisioned in January.  Last year around this time I told my sister, Andrea, that I should pass on watching her baby between her maternity leave and the day care spot opening.  And in October I was watching her twins, Luke and Logan, five days a week. Whom I miss very much, so please stop bringing it up. But really. There was no beautiful word to wrap up that experience and make sense of it.

A random word is nice.  Brave. Hope. Change. We can always work it in somehow.  But questions are gold. Always.  There's no presumption in a question, and I like that.  I like open. I like a wide door to possibilities. 

Once a month I'm going to be sharing with you how my question is affecting the way I think, act, and love.  Feel free to join me in the com box to share your thoughts! But back to the question, and maybe you can drum up one of your own.

There are a couple things that have been happening here in our home over the past month or two that have naturally presented my 2015 question to me.


Paul and I have been doing all sorts of things with money the past few weeks as well as having conversations every day about how we manage it. Which, yes, I thought we were already doing a pretty great job of, but not quite.  It's as if we were on a self-guided Christmas break financial boot camp for two weeks and now that ball is rolling and there's no stopping it.

Every day we are back at the table with more questions, more action, more ideas.  Naturally, being increasingly aware of our financial priorities has had me searching for avenues to be content and resourceful with what we have.


Babies. Not having them. Having them.  That whole thing.  Isn't it just so tough? Or tough after having 3? I prayed so hard last year. Like my life depended on it. Truly. That things in that realm could just pause for a year. No #4 but also no closed door. Open but not adding.  Hear me? I hope so because it is extraordinarily difficult to be real with you about this struggle, but I also think it's important for me to be real about it because that's how we connect and feel hope from others, right?

Well, last week I was busy doing something markedly ordinary like plugging in the computer charger or refilling my water glass when it hit me: I prayed for that pause, if you will, (which in my book was a thing which has no name but felt right under a miracle in terms of magic).  I received. I felt immense gratitude...and then that gratitude promptly vanished within days when I moved on, as ordinary days and moments tend to have us do.  Was I already forgetting what a great gift it was to have that financial, physical, and emotional break? Was I gearing up for my next big want and paying little attention to the blessings already at my feet? Literally. Twins. 

: : : : :

The ordinary moment which reminded me of my constant reaching forward for something more and my deliberate, intentional financial work with Paul over the past month have together brought me to the waters of contentment.  Furthermore, I have found my one important question which I want to think about for all of this year:

I tend to roll my eyes at extreme measures of simplification. Tiny houses so small the guests will need to stand outside in order to feel welcome.  Stripping our wardrobes down to a prescribed number of items because someone said so.  Choosing less so stringently it cuts into our ability to say yes to others in terms of service and generosity.

All eye rolls aside, I do have a problem, and it's a good one to have. But it's still a problem. My life is stuffed.  It's stuffed with people and things. Problems and responsibilities.  Resources.  Plans.  Enough toilet paper and paper towels to clean up a zombie outbreak.

This year I want to be better at discerning my needs vs. my wants.  I want to check how many socks I have before I run off to Target for another pair destined to fall to its death behind the dryer.  I want to pull books off my shelf that I bought and never read.  I want to say no to new responsibilities so I can say yes to the ones I already have.  I want to have gratitude shine in my heart because I've developed the contentment to not always reach for the shiny new thing dangling in front of me.

What do I already have? 

A lot. Too much. Enough!

: : : : :

What might your question be to guide your year? Or even your month? And if you've started 2015 out with some other hope, a resolution or a word, I would absolutely love to hear about those as well!

And look for my post in the next week or two about what good thing this month I've been realizing I already have!

Much love!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Why My Resolutions Are So Important to Me This Year

I sat across from Paul at the dining room table, the remains of kale and pork loin lingering on our plates.  I’m listening to him talk about work and feel this pang of realization pierce me:  I missed success. Big time.

Being a stay-at-home-mom has revealed a great deal to me about my pride.  Namely, I have more of it than I thought.  I was proud of my work as a teacher, and when I wasn’t, I worked tirelessly so that I could be proud.  Being at home is so much messier.  Each day I can see what I haven’t done.  What I shouldn’t have said.  What is still dirty.  Since the average age of my kids is about 2, much of what I do with them goes completely unseen. Thomas looks me in the eyes once a week and tells me I am so pretty (his praise for me reading to him), and for that I am grateful. Also for the excessive smiles from these two small ones, something akin to pay for my work.

Even though I’ve had immense joy being at home with the kids, I’ve been jealous of my husband and others for having that component of success, striving for and reaching it, in the workplace. I missed those benchmarks of fulfillment: praise from others, visibility, evaluations, a raise (no matter how small).

And so Paul heard my disappointment right there and challenged me to make it happen, to make my own terms of success.  I heard his words, but all I could see was the food on the floor. I don’t have space in my life for success. There’s food on the floor….again….just like 3 hours ago…..and 3 hours before that…. How can I find success in a role where my job is to discipline, cultivate virtues, and do the chores that leave no evidence of my work once the 24 or 48 hours have passed?

I fought it last year.  I knew I was building new mommy muscles, new stay at home habits and routines and just figured that stepping away from the workplace meant giving up that sense of success.  I told myself over and over again that I just needed to be stronger, that if I was patient or wise or calm or confident enough, the measured success wouldn’t matter, that this desire would wash away. Just give it time.

But I’ve given it a great deal of time, and that desire didn’t wash away at all.  And so I’m working with it rather than fighting it this year.  I picked three areas in my life to work on this year: finances, fitness, and my writing. I made two clearly measurable goals for each area as well as ways to track them on Mint, Run Keeper, my Withings app, Goodreads, my paper thermometer (for debt), and an Excel spreadsheet. I’m giving myself the gift this year of measured success and allowing myself to feel just fine working toward success even if much of what I do outside of these 3 areas doesn’t get a final stamp of approval or even a sense of ever being done (I mean, that laundry room).

In fact, I see now that those of us who are in charge of our own schedules very much need to have in our arsenal: excellent goal setting and executing skills. It doesn't have to be in all things, but even in one thing makes the messy work of being your own boss feel good.

In reading The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything, I’ve been challenged to consider my desires. I’m taking pause with each one as I remember them or face them, turning them over and about to get a closer look. Instead of writing them off as selfish or wrong, I’m reconsidering each of them.  Can I use this for good? Specifically, how I can I use this desire for good?

In accepting that my heart longs for a sense of accomplishment but also feels at home with perpetually messy kids (I love you, boys), I’ve taken a step in the direction I needed.  I’m looking forward to a bit better balance in my life this year in both working toward accomplishment and growing toward being okay with the unseen, unglorified work all of us do every day.

Even these guys. 


Monday, January 5, 2015

To Be 30


That was my answer, is my answer. Paul asked me how I felt about turning 30, and all I could think was one beautiful, rising note of gratitude.

In my 20s:

  • College!
  • I almost joined a convent, but I didn’t
  • I danced on a stage in front of more than a hundred people at least 3 times (my version of jumping out of a plane or going to a concert)
  • I “nannied” the Holden family kids for 4 summers & was blessed tremendously by those memories, each kid & parent, and by their family culture & warmth
  • I met Paul at 22 and married him at 23 & to my extreme fortune, have been discovering the real version, the way way better version, of Paul ever since
  • I had the honor to teach for 6 years to students who challenged me, humored me, and discussed literature with me (best ever)
  • and I’ve had the privilege to stay-at-home for moments and memories that are bit by bit treasure stocked in my heart
  • I held my firstborn in my arms at 25 -- those brown eyes!
  • and saw 2 babies snuggled side-by-side within me at 28
  • At 26, Paul and I bought a spacious ranch house with character & charm (and a kids’ room big enough for surprise kids…)
  • and in this home, we’ve welcomed people in dozens & dozens of times for board games, loud parties, or long chats in the sunroom
  • I had the pleasure of enjoying vacations to Wisconsin Dells with my mom & dad, California with Paul, and Tennessee with my family of 5, 3 boys snug in the back of our Saturn Vue
  • And my status as Aunt Ashley has leveled up over and over again to sweet nieces and nephews who continue to make all our lives better by knowing them!

These good things are a big chunk of my gratitude pie. Or cake rather. It is my birthday we’re talking about.

But another large chunk is all the bad things too, the things I learned and know because of surviving the bad things. There are things I went through in my 20s that hurt deep, that I didn’t know I would get through or that I didn’t know how to solve. But I did. 

Life goes on. So the saying goes. And it does.  For every complicated mess, tricky conflict, deep hurt, or ugly shortcoming I was pained by in my 20's, I can’t think of one where I should have put my hope and joy for life on pause.  

I couldn’t see it in the thick of the things that stung, but there was not one situation that wasn’t remedied by simple things used over and over again.  I’ve discovered so much power in finding the resources I need, hard work, a little creativity, a little kindness, gentle honesty, and knowing when to ask for help with something and stating it as ordinarily as, “I’m not feeling okay about _____________ and I think you would be great at helping me work through it.”  

Dan in Real Life is my favorite movie. At the close of the movie Dan says,

Yes! Sure I was surprised by the twins. But really, I was surprised by a lot of things in the past ten years.  Surprised by pain. Surprised by failure.  Surprised by things clicking into place faster, at times, and slower, at other times, into place in life.  Surprised by people, conversations, things I hadn’t known before and the funny things my kids do and say every day. 

The bad surprises though? The ones that had me crying on a toilet, asking God if he was shooting pool while I was needing him, and eating my way to bigger pants... those things almost always turned out better than even the good things because they forced me to stretch beyond myself or what I had been. I had to stretch to others, to God, to hope, to new ideas and new habits. I'm ready for more of that. A lot more of it.

A few days ago I typed out just a few very concrete things I would like to accomplish in my 30s (so scary to write them out because they're big), but I focused mainly on thinking of the woman I want to become: one of discipline, kindness, joy. I look back to my 20s and see so many things that were bigger than my plans & I look forward and know this will happen again and I won't fight it. I'm okay with life crashing my party, my plans. In all things, the good, the beautiful, and the true---they win, so it doesn't matter what shapes form and dance on my days, I'll be dancing right there with them!

Today, I’m just happy. I’m happy to have a car that takes me from point A to point B, a roof over my head, and a family to wake up to each day.  But more than that. I’m grateful for podcasts, long walks, my cold cups of coffee, the way Paul knows when I need chocolate or how to make me laugh, a good book, Thomas’s hugs, cooking in our kitchen, a fresh coat of fingernail polish on my small hands (just like my mom’s), a diapered tush snug on my lap, bright colors, and the way the keyboard feels when I press out my words.

Truly, I’m grateful for it all. And humbled by it all. And happily surprised by what a beautiful, joyful song can come from such a messy, hopeful soul.

My eyes, heart, and hands are open and I welcome it all. Happy to be 30.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Beautiful Truths I Learned the Hard Way in my 20s

I turn 30 in just two days, and I'm really excited to celebrate a new chapter. My twenties were tumultuous and challenging, and even though I'm grateful for all the good experiences, I'm glad to be on this end of them. I've given a lot of thought to the big things I learned in my 20s that have forever changed me.

You know what would be really, really wonderful? If my words could save someone younger than me from some pain, but still bless them with stuff that was painful for me to discover. As always... even if it is one, one is enough to make me sit down and write.

1. Marriage is a covenant, not a contract

I heard these words spoken by the celebrating priest at my sister, Amanda’s, wedding this October, and my mild-mannered Catholic self wanted to shout the loudest “Amen” that ever was. 

Paul and I have been married six and a half years. We are two passionate, intense individuals who have complementary (read: opposite) viewpoints on how to speak, act, and carry on. Reading between the lines you might understand I mean that we’ve had two lifetimes of pain trying to figure out how to work together. Because at times, it feels like we have.  But because of this dance of personalities, we have experienced extreme joy, fulfillment, and success, and I could sob gratitude for the way that living my life hand-in-hand with someone who thinks and loves differently than me has transformed everything.

Marriage is a covenant, not a contract. There have been untold times that Paul has shown up and worked hard in our marriage in ways I didn’t and vice versa. If we lived for a tit for tat tally, we would have drowned a long time ago.  We know that it is our job to show up and be present (work hard and make good choices) regardless of what our spouse is doing, and trust that grace and good humor will make up for the rest. 

(And to the truth about the spouses who stop showing up, who leave, who mess up, who hurt others, I have this to add.  No amount of bitching, badgering, and cell phone stalking is going to transform a heart or force right things.  A woman or man who lies down at night and knows they did what they could where they are at with what they have to work with, is a person who can truly feel contentment and peace no matter the pain.  Life throws great waves in the face of our work and I still think the good wins in the end in a way that is quiet and  powerful.)

2. Money is a tool for freedom

They say money doesn’t buy us happiness, but I think that’s all wrong.  Money doesn’t buy us happiness, but it can buy our freedom and the leap from freedom to happiness is a small one if you ask me.  

I spent a good chunk of my mid-twenties in fear, shame, and anger over our student debt. It is okay to feel these things about money and it’s even more important to talk about them, but I truly regret wasting time, energy, and money fixed there.  I’m very grateful that things have changed over the years and Paul and I are excited and energized by the whole gamut of tackling finances, even the icky parts.  No financial situation is one to hide from. There are always opportunities to fix, improve, grow, and find peace. Truly! 

I’ve learned a lot about money in the past ten years, and it has taken a great deal of mistakes, conversations, and life choices to see that it all boils down to freedom. The freedom to have babies, the freedom to have a home for those babies, the freedom to sleep at night without anxiety about a pending bill, the freedom to change jobs, the freedom to spend time with our loved ones, and on and on and on. 

When we experience stress over money, or the lack there of, I see now we can trace it back to one simple question: What freedom/s am I working for?

3. People are a wonderful mystery.

One of my very favorite aspects of aging is how okay I am with people, including myself.  When I was younger, it was easy for me to label and judge others, using what they said and did as the end all on who they were and how I should know them.  What I have now is so different than that; it’s messier too.  There’s a bright and beautiful mural in my mind’s eye of all of us together trying our best, falling short, and reaching out for love over and over again.

When I am struggling with someone far away or right at my face, I think to myself, I do not know him. It’s much easier to say so-and-so is x, y, and z and that is why she does a, b, and c and blah blah blah blah. It’s more difficult to listen and embrace, to allow space for the unknown depth of people we think we know, to fight the urge to judge, label and assume, and to give just one more chance for that person to reach out in her way, and to simply answer back I see you. I hear you. I love you. 

In my twenties, I had to face some really ugly qualities in myself and those closest to me, and it hurt like hell, but I will say this in working through that process. Please, if you haven’t done that, please do.  Give a name to the ugliness. Let it sit for a second. Know it. Acknowledge it, but then take 99% of your energy and feed the good, beautiful, and true in that person and in your relationship. In you! I have come to a place of so much greater love for myself and others now that I know there are ugly bits about us; it takes doing that to fully enjoy the multitude of beautiful things that matter so much more!

4. I can’t be all things

Some days, this truism sounds like pure joy to me. On others, it makes me a bit anxious because it means being decisive and committing to my values.  

I can’t be a stay-at-home-mom and a teacher simultaneously. I can pause teaching and possibly get back to it later (no guaranteed job, of course), but I still don’t get to do both 100% or do both 100% at the same time.  Just months after Thomas was born, I confided in a coworker my feelings, “Before I was 100% teacher. Now I’m 100% teacher and 100% mom and it doesn’t add up, but my passion is double and I don’t know what to make of that.”  And true, working moms get to be at home with kids some of the time, and I get to spend some hours each week working on freelance work. But when we really get down to it, I can’t be all things. 

I think we make ourselves more unhappy when we lie that we do get to be all things. It would be better if we understood that it really isn’t that way and that’s okay.  America’s infamously misunderstood poem, “The Road Not Taken”, is not actually about a more obscure, wilder, less-traveled path and therefore, better. It actually just simply means that we must choose to take a path. We can’t stand there at the fork, stuck indefinitely. And yes, we won’t go back and know both paths, but we get to enjoy the view from the path we chose and that is quite a stunning gift in itself!

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