Thursday, January 28, 2016

Where to Start When You are a Home Improvement Newb

I think I've mentioned we are refinancing our house--and are just days away. I'm so flipping excited.

Two weeks ago I watched an appraiser walk through our house and take photos. No come to Jesus experience like readying your house for its best look. As you are scrubbing bathrooms and painting cabinets you see things as they are: the improvements and what's lacking too.

My mind is always focused on everything else we need to do--and fresh off a season with baby twins, that is an overwhelming list. I was seriously looking at the list just now and my eyes about crossed. But going through the appraisal process helped me see that I have done work on this home and that I've learned a few things about home improvement since we moved in five years ago. Started from the bottom. Now I'm here.

Here are my very humble and amateur suggestions for anyone who might be reading and feel like their home improvement skill-set is flirting with absolute zero. These are things I would lovingly grab you by the shoulders and tell you to do. I've been there. I feel ya. These things are huge!

+  Get an estimate

This one should be in all caps. I can't stress this enough. Estimates. Estimates. Estimates. They are free. They are quick. They are only a call away. I have learned so very much from the men who have come in and given us estimates for projects. This is their area of expertise, so they drop knowledge about your roof or your fence or your plumbing that you wouldn't even know to ask, you didn't even think to worry about. Knowledge is power. I've gotten estimates that were so surprisingly cheap for projects that I couldn't do (new circuit) or were taking me (that blasted never ending brush pile) and I was able to jump on those things immediately. Other estimates have helped us manage our money or attention in a more organized way. We have a sober understanding of what it costs to replace things because we've talked to so many individuals who have explained those things to us.

+  Ask for help

Ask for specific help. My friend, Natahle, took the time to show me how to "cut in" with paint (rather than use that awful painter's tape) and explained exactly what brushes to use and how to care for them. She came to my house to help me pick out a paint color (I typically pick out colors that are much brighter and bolder than what I actually want) and even painted a room with me. When I go to Lowe's I ask all the questions. I have no shame. Maybe I should, but I don't. I don't have time to worry about what it looks like to be asking about the difference between two light bulbs that look the same. I just go right for it, and the information I get is so helpful. I also hit up YouTube on the regular. If I see awesome projects, decorations, etc. at a friend's house, I just simply asked her how she did it. My cousin, Michele, just walked me through how to pick out curtains, the measurements to work with when hanging them, and where to buy them. She even explained why she picked out the styles that she did considering different elements already in the room. And this was just in maybe 5 or 10 minutes. Don't hesitate to ask questions. People love empowering you and seeing you have fun with your home too. Likely, they remember the days when they cut the caulk too wide or painted an entire room in a color they ended up not liking.

+ Ask your spouse to pull looks (and pull looks for yourself)

I know Pinterest can often spell disaster. Craft projects and cutesy party platters are often a bust for me. But if you and your husband (or just maybe you yourself) can't get your ish together on what style you want to banner your house with--Pinterest can be an incredible tool to build the same language and have a safe 3rd party. You can talk all day about modern or colorful or industrial light bulbs, but I think it is in peering together at photos that compromise and a happy meeting is struck. What do you like about this room? That's a great question! Just so we are clear--my house does not have a cohesive look. We've got some colorful. Some traditional. Some boy-somebody-needs-a-vision-here. But to try and understand where your spouse is coming from, I think looking at someone's else's already work is a better start than shouting in your living room about how you've never like that stupid couch anyway.

+  Tackle the thing you hate most

If I reached through the screen right now and handed you a magical wand that had the power to instantly transform one thing in your home, what would you take that wand to? What's that one thing in your house that makes just...ugh. You have visions of taking it outside and lighting it on fire. No? That's just me? Okay, well I know we need to be financially smart and sometimes slow to do things, but maybe this year give yourself the push to tackle that one thing that really really you secretly hate. Last year that thing was removing a cabinet in our kitchen that was blocking our counter. I feel like these worst things are like clogs in our home. Rip out the clog and things start flowing in the right direction again. You feel freed up and you'll find your energy multiplied like magic.

+  Earn a small win

Don't underestimate how much a fresh coat of paint (maybe you even already have that on hand) or new handles for your drawers can make you feel. No matter how much you don't know how to do, there are likely already resources on hand or projects you already know how to do within an arm's reach. With each small project you do, allow yourself to feel good about yourself in this area. One time I was running a 5k last year and as I was awkwardly laboring through the last mile I kept saying to myself "I'm doing the thing. I'm not thinking about doing the thing. I'm doing it right now." Does that sound pretty dumb? Well, it works for me. Sometimes we think so much about what we would love to do with our home one day... but when you are changing out those light bulbs or spray painting your ceiling fan or organizing a closet you are doing it. It doesn't have to be big. It can just be one thing this week and you are doing it. Small wins will take you there.

+  Be you. Be content. Enjoy the process. 

Anyone who knows me knows that I value financial freedom about a thousand times more than a room that is "perfect" or even photo ready. I mean. We took five years before replacing our curtains, so that speaks for itself, especially if you saw those wooden blinds in our bedroom. There's always going to be more to do. You've gotta be okay with that. There's no finish line for a home. It's all about making an efficient, warm, welcoming and happy environment.  And that does not equal newly stained floors just because so and so said you should. I find contentment so incredibly fascinating and I find people who are content even more so. Of course we should make things better. Of course we should strive for beauty. But not so much so that we are scrambling to please or anxious about the bank statements. The best homes I've ever been in were those that had nice people in them. And I mean that 100%.

* * * * * 

I have a long list of small and larger projects that I'm tackling this year, and I'm so excited! I love trying my hand at things that are new to me. Home improvements and decorating are definitely out of my comfort zone, but I like making mistakes and learning as I go. It's so fun to see a vision materialize, ideas come to life!

What have you found to be helpful in improving your home? What projects are you working on right now or looking forward to doing this year?

I plan on smoothing out my sunroom's popcorn ceiling... we shall see how that goes.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What I Learned From the Hardest Part of (my) 2015

If someone other than me were to review my year last year, documents in hand—bills, journals, appointments, photos, mail— in order to determine what was my hardest part of last year… Well, I think that person would most certainly get it wrong. 

There was a month last year where I spent 40+ hours in doctor’s offices and hospital rooms. Most of those hours were spent slowly cracking open pistachio nuts, stacking coins, and testing eye shadow on three little boys in the most tedious form of survival known to moms: waiting with small children. 

Technically speaking, finding out the twins have hemophilia was hard. It turns out that when something, anything is wrong with your child you go through a grieving process, so there’s that. But as I was feeling all the feels about the boys’ futures and simultaneously having heart attacks about managing the physical needs of 3 boys in my home (AKA: lots and lots of cussing and running about and freaking out last year as I was adjusting to what is safe and what’s not for hemophiliacs), there was also just some bad luck for the boys and more blood loss and more bad pricks and more trips to the specialists and those five awful days Alistair didn’t walk — and just when I didn’t think I could handle one more hospital trip for Factor 8 treatments, they stopped just like that. 

But this season of learning about hemophilia and taking it on as our new normal was not the dark spot in my year.  Yes, it was hard in the sense that I felt knocked about in rapid succession for a couple months. But there was something markedly different about this than the actual worst pat of my year last year. 

My actual worst part of my year was right around Thanksgiving. I can’t put a rubber band around the stack of those days. I don’t know when it started or when it ended. And when I was in it, it really shouldn’t have been that hard. 

Paul was traveling less than he had been.  We were truly in the groove of homeschooling—getting everything done and having some fun too. Thomas’s reading had just exploded, reading almost everything he came across. And our trips to the hospital for the twins had taken a hard pause. 

But I felt out of control. The slow work of teaching the twins to talk felt grueling. The task of disciplining three very different children felt exhausting. The days seemed to once again feel not so fresh at start…but rather a continuation of an uphill battle. 

So it was that my worst part of my year was when I found myself coasting.  The worst grades I earned in college were from the easiest classes I took. If I’m not pushing myself hard, I crumble. I have to have push goals and big dreams and things outside of the everyday to make the leap from just okay to joyful.  

Here are my take aways after climbing out of my limping, lacking whiny month last year:

  1. I have to do hard things. If I’m not enduring something hard outside of my choice, I need to find something hard and bring it toward me. I like big goals. I like doing and making and achieving. Coasting = death.
  2. What is in my control? What is outside of it? I need to focus nearly all of my attention on the things that I can do and accept the rest.  When I have shifted to what I can’t control, I’ve really stumbled.  And my goodness, there are so many things about life we can’t control.  But there’s an infinite number of things we can do. Locus of control. That’s where I want my eyes firmly fixed this year.
  3. We are vulnerable after big accomplishments.  We are vulnerable after finishing hard things.  There’s a gap there where our energy was. It needs filled with lots of new excitement for something else. But, for me, that means thinking just a bit about new goals. It means planning and dreaming right after the finish line. Not just resting and doing nothing, but resting in visualizing new things. 

I see the difference now.  Hard things that were not hard for me: Lots and lots of travel weeks in the beginning of the year. Hemophilia crash course this summer. Being homeschool newbies this fall. These should have been hard, but they weren’t because with each thing there was something I was fighting for. 

Financial freedom

My children’s health & happiness

And all the books now open doors for my firstborn

Hard things are not hard with clear purpose.  Heavy work is made light by the hope in our hearts. 

What are you fighting for?

What heavy work are you ready to make light? 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Our NYE NYC trip!

I'm pressing pause here to write a bit about our trip to NYC before our ordinary days pull me too far downstream. And that happens pretty quickly. In fact, I find that actual happenings in my life almost never get blogged. I write about thoughts mostly. Things I've learned. Things I'm mulling over. But those actual real life details are tough to make happen AND then also make happen on the blog. So here goes...


Paul surprised me on Christmas with an already set-up (I didn't have to worry about care for the kids or flights or hotel rooms) trip to NYC for New Year's Eve plus a few days which ended on my birthday (which he and my mother-in-law pre-planned as a day for Paul and I to enjoy at home alone). There is only 1 type of surprise I like and that's adventure surprises. I was so shocked and excited & I still am actually. Paul really went big this time.

I absolutely love how magical the new year feels.  NYE is my very favorite. I just love the promise of a new year. I love thinking back on all the things that happened in the year that's closing and all the things ahead that will happen-- some because I'll be hustling and working hard for them, and others because life surprises us in sprinkles and splashes.

And that timing of NYC + brand new year was the greatest aspect of this trip. For a dreamer and a planner like me, being in NYC at the very beginning of a new year was so extraordinarily special. Paul and I had time to reconnect and make memories together and enjoy each other before tackling another full year.  I spent time on the plane looking out at white puffs of clouds thinking about all things 2015--house improvements, hemophilia scares, homeschooling, and me leaning into my 30's...among many, many other things.  I spent time early in the morning at our hotel writing in my journal and listening to the city outside our window and thinking about 2016. In some ways, for my bigger yes. In others, in quiet awe of the things I just can't know about yet.

When we landed and got in a cab, the city was just starting to close streets for the NYE party down on Time Square (where our hotel was). So we climbed out of the cab right into thousands of people walking all over streets. Literally on the streets because there were several streets only open to foot traffic at that point. Pulling our luggage through the throngs of people from all over the world---that will always be one of my favorite travel memories ever. The energy was visceral. It was pulsing. And even though that was NYE and so it was amped up a bit, that's how NYC felt to me the whole time. Big. Exciting. Energetic. Electric.

I love traveling. I love going away and coming back, new. Changed. No one else can see it, but you know it like a tiny golden secret. Forever with a bit of your heart tattooed in the shape of a far away city. New York City surprised me. It didn't feel rude or pushy or overwhelming or snobby--not sure why that's what I expected. It felt like an open door. A happy place. A space for everyone. This was my favorite thing about the city. It's so special because of the nature of things, the history, the physical layout. It's welcoming more than anything else I can put to words. And once you're in, you feel absolutely alive!

Walking through Central Park. <swoon> How a park (in the dead of winter mind you) can be so wonderful, I just don't understand. Parks, the outdoors, places with trees...that's my thing. But I've never ever been to a space like Central Park. There is something truly special about it. I love how the skyscrapers line up like guardians on all sides of the park. I love how much people connect there. Runners. Bikers. Walkers. Tourists. Residents. Casual walkers. Loud talkers. Thinkers. Photo-takers. Coffee drinkers. Health nuts. Conversations over here and there and behind you and whizzing past you. Everywhere you look, there's more to see and take in. If you twisted my arm and asked me for the #1 thing you can't miss in NYC, I would say it's Central Park. I really hope we will get to take our kids there someday so I can share it with them too!

Something Paul and I have really loved when we've traveled is visiting with people we love who live nearby. It's such a great way to tie together the roots of our ordinary lives with the excitement of a new city. And once again, we were able to do that. Our friend, Amanda, (whose husband, Preston, works with Paul) was celebrating her 30th & they invited us to join for a big family style dinner with her long time friends (and no surprise she has lots--Amanda is the sweetest) and spouses / sig. others. That was such a fun night! It was our last night in the city and we partied accordingly. Paul said we got back to the hotel at 2:30 in the morning, so translated to mommy of three small children...that's like 8 in the morning.

Okay. Let me just throw out some other stuff we did really really quick because I'm losing you at this point...

+  9/11 Memorial -- Very moving. Must see. They've done a beautiful job.  It's very intimate and respectful and something that just needs to be visited. Also, the new Freedom Tower is so freakishly tall. I could not look up at it without getting dizzy. Do I sound like I'm from a small town or what?

+ Comedy Cellar -- Easily, easily most I've ever laughed in my life. Awesome well-known comedians. We got seated right in the front. This was something I wanted to do so badly, and I'm so glad I made sure we went.

+ Les Halles -- I wouldn't say I was blown away by the food in NYC like I was in Charleston, SC (the food there---life!), but I had a meal at Les Halles that was the most balanced, beautiful dish I think I've ever had. It was some sort of fish on a bed of ratatouille with lobster sauce.

+ Uber driver chats -- Thank goodness for Uber! Cheap, efficient way to get around the city. And I loved the conversations we had with the drivers... except the sexist Russian. That was awkward. (Paul kept me away from the subway, so I never got to see that pizza rat that went viral or undercover famous musicians dressed up like hobos that I'm just sure were down there waiting for me to spot them. I also didn't get interviewed by HONY, so you can really see how my NYC trip was far less than perfect. ;)

+ MOMA -- [Museum of Modern Art] -- I love a good art museum and this really had me feeling all the feels--and on the 1st day of the new year no less. Except for the super contemporary stuff. That had me feeling like a really confused 5th grader who wasn't paying attention in class and just got called on. There were a few pieces that Paul and I were just like "mmm, no" to. Paul loved the Picasso stuff. I loved all the stuff, even the stuff I scratched my head at. We both loved Pollock. I took a ton of photos for what reason I do not know. I think I got called a beach (alternate pronunciation) because I took too long staring at Starry Night which was much different than what I thought it would be.

+ Chelsea Market -- Foodie heaven! Lots and lots of shops that satisfy the appetite. I've never actually wished I would have overeaten except for when we left Chelsea Market...because there were just so many awesome things to try. We didn't overeat though at all. We ate a taco and a danish. First time I can say I felt like Scarlett O'Hara at the picnic undereating so as not to look like a pig. What a loss.

+ The High Line -- Elevated railway turned park. Pretty cool. Not a must see. Or, maybe a must see if you were there on a warmer day and/or you were also going to see the Whitney...which we would have totally done (yes, even though we had already spent two and a half hours at MOMA) if we would have had more time.

+ The NYE ball -- We didn't actually do the real deal down in Time Square squished in tight with people who keep bumping into me and I've been standing here for six hours but can't get to a bathroom so I just peed myself party, but it didn't matter much. We did hang out on the streets for a while. The ball was in sight from our hotel and it's really pretty in person (even though it looks really far away and just white in the photos) but then we mostly just had a blast partying out at the hotel bar and talking to people and feeling sorry for the suckers out on the streets. I passed out thirty minutes before the ball drop in true mom fashion of which Paul caught on camera and will never let me live down... as he shouldn't. Still so much fun!

+ Walking through the city -- It's the in between sometimes that sticks out in my mind most about travel.  When Paul and I walked through residential streets in Santa Barbara. When we walked an entire square around Charleston--whoops. And this time, when we walked in the cold and windy streets of NYC at night because I thought it would be a fun way to kill time before the comedy club and Paul and I had walked so much already we had to stop at a CVS and get him shoe inserts... it's that unexpected normal stuff that I love so much. It's not on the itinerary. It's just what happens and it's awesome. Especially when it's just walking through a city and feeling wonderfully out of place together.

+ Mass celebrated by Cardinal Dolan at St. Patrick's -- I didn't actually let tears fall from my face because I looked around and everyone else seemed to be playing it cool, but guys... it is just so beautiful there. The grandeur is just intense. I will always treasure that. I've always had these emotional pricks in the communion line shuffling up in humility and awe to Christ. Whether it be in the church I was raised in when I was younger or the church we go to now, toddler on hip and nudging Thomas forward, and all those we've been to in between. In those moments I'm thinking about how we are all welcome to walk forward and receive Christ. Sinners. Hopers. Those lost. Those hurt. Those happy. Those looking and longing. Those in need of daily bread. As I walk forward I have this massive (albeit temporary) ripping open in my heart thinking of people from all around the world walking forward, bringing what they have and what they need to that altar, to that reception. But to feel that communion in St. Patrick's. It just hit me so hard and I will never, ever so long as I live forget it. Also, I heart Cardinal Dolan.

:     :     :     :     :

We are so grateful that our parents (both sets) have been generous and gracious with us, that they've watched our kids so that we could take trips away. We are excited to take lots of trips with the boys more and more as they get older. But this season the past couple years, post twins... I'll keep this discreet, but suffice it to say it is much needed and even more appreciated that our parents have helped us make special trips away happen so we can reconnect and feel grounded and make special memories together just the two of us.  It's a radical act to cut into life as a whole family and run off with your spouse, but I think it takes some radical acts sometimes to do what's right for your family and every family is so unique in what that looks like. This trip away blessed and reinvigorated our relationship so much. I'm deeply grateful.  I'm also glad to be back home amidst our ordinary days and doing all that normal work at home loving on these guys, making small things special right here  moment by moment and day by day.

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Year of a Bigger Yes

Last year I turned 30. My mortality tapped me on the shoulder, it shook me from my slumber. I can't do or be all the things (or even think I'm going to--even more noteworthy), and that's ok.  It's humbling. But there's freedom there in seeing things just as they are too.

This year, I want to run with that.

2016 is my year of a bigger yes.

I'm recommitting. I'm doubling down. I'm digging deep right exactly where my feet stand.

+  Seven and a half years ago I held Paul's hands and vowed to love and care for him. I was young and stupid. I didn't know what that meant. I loved an idea of him. But now I love him and learn more about him each year.

+  Five years ago we bought this house. We are happy and grateful every day for this space (and so close to being done with the process of a refi to a 15 year term--woohoo!).

+ Six years ago Thomas made me a brand new mom & two years ago Alistair & Emerick cried side by side for me in the hospital room and my heart both times said, "yes, thank you, yes."

+ Three years ago, I decided to be a stay at home mom--to better meet our family's needs. Three years, wow. It's been very difficult and also very rewarding. It's the right choice for us, but that doesn't mean it comes easy or natural.

+ Last year, we eagerly (and a bit nervously too) began homeschooling...and it's been huge. Huge. It is our happy place. I have big plans. There's no lid on my joy anymore.

These are big things I've said yes to. There are lots of little things too. Like the way it matters to me that my body is in the shape that feels right. That I paint and write and take walks and think in the dark early of the morning. That I invite people in. That I travel and push myself in things that I've never done before. That I finish tasks completely, with excellence. That I read and write a lot.

Oh, and one not little at all thing too but that I tend to not write much of here. That my yes to Christ is a big yes even after all these years (16-ish) and all the turning over and through of good and bad, of dark and light since my confirmation. 

What does our big yes look like in the little moments? When we are scrubbing the toilet or making the bed.  When we discipline the child or welcome home our husband. When we are serving dinner or getting dressed for the day. When we do wake up early for some some time to ourselves but it's so tempting to scroll through a feed or three on the phone. When we read aloud. When we play with our kids. When we work. When we listen.

I'm happy where I'm at at 31. If more gets added to my plate or things change, that's cool. But just as things are...I feel truly blessed. I bumbled my way through and yet come out the other side of my 20's in a place I dreamed to be.

But dreams aren't scooped up and preserved with one yes.  I have work, work, work, work, work and more work to do.  This year is about me doing that work.  And I'm pretty pumped!