Monday, February 23, 2015

Tattoos, Food, and Our Bodies



Each month this year I'm sharing a reflection on this one question: What do I already have?  You can check out January's post here and let me know your thoughts below.  

* * * * *

It was this past summer on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains.  0ur Saturn Vue slowly descended into a curve of land, winding through trees and streams, rocks and ferns.  We put our windows down and let the cool air roll in. The boys kicked their little feet and we kept our eyes peeled in the excitement of discovery.  Silence and awe made their way into the car too, for how could something so absolutely simple (the stuff out of dirt and sky) be so immensely breathtaking? How could the humble greens & browns before our eyes piece together in time and somehow reach into our car and work as if medicine pierced and pouring deep into our souls? 

Nature, you are the good stuff, and I have found no alternative to put in your place. 

But today I type not only of the nature we find when we take our family along for a small hike or for a trip out fishing.  I'm talking about you too.  Yes, you reading this post.  The way your arms can reach to hug a friend.  The length of your legs.  The strength of your back.  That cascade of hair that frames your face.  We're looking at you, Jared Leto. ;)

You, whomever you are, are beautiful. Absolutely! 

These guys are definitely cute just as they are,  blossoming mullets or not. ;)
Beauty. Do we know beauty when we see it? Do we stop and see things for what they are, just as they are? Are we content with the beauty right at our feet, right in our neighborhood, right now and not "plus a little more"?

Mom forbid "beauty" magazines from the house.  Once, I broke the rule and checked out a few from the library and flipped through them in my bedroom with my sister.  When mom found them, she simply asked me to return them to the library.  She was onto something but was low key about it.  It took a great deal of time for her purpose in doing so to sink in, but her actions truly did speak louder than any words she might have used.

There are many things I can't ever repay my mom for, but the way in which she intentionally trained me to think about my body is high on the list.  And maybe I give her too much credit here. Maybe I don't give her enough. But what I came to know about myself growing up was that my worth had nothing to do with how I put together an outfit, how fashionable I appeared in front of my peers, or if I knew how to apply eye shadow above my hazel eyes (I didn't).

No. My worth was, it seemed to me, 1. inherent and 2. endlessly larger than my looks.  

I'm a late bloomer in general and my know-how with clothes and makeup has been no exception.  I'm still learning how to navigate my hooded eyelids and I just recently started trying out new products for fun as a sort of late-in-life closet hobby. (so now you know).  Oh, so that's how you get your eyebrows to look like that? Wow. Ok. I believe in the joy of dressing up, thickening my lashes, and giving Paul that look that says, go ahead and tell me I'm pretty.  

But at the end of the day, I wash my face and look in the mirror and think to myself that I am beautiful just as I am. Not in a I-just-read-an-article-about-self-affirmations-way. Not because I've told myself to do so. Not because I am beautiful in scientific terms.  Not because I particularly love the color of my eyes or the shape of my nose. Maybe even because I don't pay more attention to them than I do the cry of my toddlers or the smell of lunch as it comes together.  

See, I feel beautiful because I feel that me as I am, in the all disclosing form and flesh that I've been tied to, was fearfully and wonderfully made.  A miracle sprung from the love of my parents, here I am, staring back at myself at the close of another day and grateful for all the messiness and imperfections and mysterious things that I am, beautiful because I live and work and love as a miracle dressed up in clothes.

I want to share something with you that I think about from time-to-time but is thorny to share. Heaven help me because if there are two things true about me and only two things they are that:

1. I would rather die than offend someone  {not that I don't....yikes, my mouth}
2. I feel things deeply 

So please know I'm going to tread lightly here and be as tender with my words as I can be without diluting my truth. (and yes, we all have our own truths. good thing, right? yes!) 

Here goes.  My perspective of seeing beauty in people (yes, all people) just as they are runs so vibrant and so strong, that I'm mystified and saddened each time I see a tattoo freshly set in skin. 

I'm 30 years old.  At some point, the shock will dissipate, right? And yet, when I let myself really think about the ingenious ink, that creative, artistic, and often meaningful expression for just a moment, I'm almost lost in breath at the great divide.  The massive leap from this form of beauty in front of me, dull black, bright green, flashing red, and your first and foremost beauty, that freckled skin that glows a little after you've been kissed by summer's sun.  The beauty of you changing, aging, growing, evolving, learning and being a slashing, gorging stretch distant from something so fixed and fading.  

All I can think, as if a bell reverberating in my core, is that she can not know, she can not possibly begin to know how beautiful she already is...because if she did, the thought of something on top of her already stunningly and naturally, gloriously and yet quietly humble skin would be a non-option. A non-option. 

And yet. Even though the drive to tattoo continues to evade me, I grow in grace.  The choices of others to decorate and beautify their bodies, temporary or not, matters little to me in contrast to the thing, the one thing, that does matter: how we treat each other (and ourselves!). 

And if I could only get that one right. Oh, how I wish I could get that one right.  There's my intentions and then there's reality, and I really wish they would come to middle ground and hold hands because my typical experience is that Miss Intentions has real fat hopes of being dazzlingly kind and Mrs. Reality often frowns, laughs, or does that raised eyebrow look at all that nonsense.  How we treat each other. This is what matters! Yes. And that brings me back to our bodies, the dignity of them, the wonder of them, the way in which they are often much more than we give them credit for.


I started the Whole 30 last week, and I'm thinking that despite my wonder and awe at our naturally beautiful bodies, the things that I eat and drink do not often reflect that.  The wisdom and beauty of our bodies is lost, buried, drowned, and silenced when we pile on top of it, dress it up cheaply, in all kinds of convoluted, cultural nonsense. . .  

+Yes, diet coke doesn't make any sense materially, but don't read those ingredients. Tell those ingredients to shut up.

+Yes, your body wants more babies, but girl, you know we've worked hard to free you from that stupidly natural impulse. Tell your body to shut up.

+Yes, it could be harmful to load your body with sugar to get more energy, but it's there, so you can have it. You can! So tell your conscience to shut up.  

+Yes, your middle bulges over your jeans and you hate it something fierce, but so-and-so celebrity says "I love my body so very much even though I'm large and it matters to me none at all" and so I guess I'm wrong about how to feel about my size. The jeans are wrong, so tell those jeans to shut up.

+Yes, your options to buy things at the store are limited because this doesn't look right and that doesn't feel quite right and this might, but no...but you don't say so because you probably just shouldn't feel that way, right? It's not your fault. It's that store's fault!! So tell that store to shut up & hire better designers.

Well, I'm tired of silencing my body.  I'm ready to listen. Oh, you're exhausted? Oh, you crash every time I binge on sugar? Oh, you're anxious. Oh, you don't think we should actually be this size? Ok. Let's talk about that. 

See, all the articles, songs, interviews and videos about loving our bodies NO MATTER WHAT are GOOD.  We should do that.  100%.  But that doesn't excuse us from taking care of them too. It doesn't take away that we also just don't feel good at the end of the day or subtract the fact that, despite what anyone cares about you, you still want to look good in a swimsuit just because your body can, and you know it can because it is capable. Some days you can feel that capability pulsing & tugging at your heart. So let's listen to it and give it way more room to speak than the cacophony in magazines and the ridiculousness of the hottest trend or the loudest voice in the room. 

We SHOULD look in the mirror each and every day, in any size, shape, color, and whatever mild to wild decorative, fashionable, dressed up form (and mix of stuff bubbling inside too!) and feel downright good about ourselves. Not because everything we've done is good. (although hard work & good choices are a whole other wonderful set of things to experience) But because we are at our core good. Your body is good. You are good.  You are beautiful. Just as you are, as you were meant to be. All the rest---the expensive purse, the nails, the extensions, the designer jeans, the tattoo, the highlights, the gorgeous smoky eyes---those are BONUS. They are extra. They are the things beyond the one thing. Your body. My body. Our bodies.

They are, when we really get down to it in their honest and unabashed forms, beautifully and wonderfully made.

And so for this month, as I curb my sugar habit, roast more veggies, and have fun dressing up my eyes in the shadows Paul bought me for Christmas, I will be thinking about how good a thing it is that I have this body and that it is my responsibility and privilege to treat it with all the respect that it deserves, that down below a lot of mucky muck (many hundred cups of sugary, creamy coffee drinks stuck around my middle) is a glowing me begging to be set free.

Much love,

ash


** I will be sharing some thoughts & experiences with the Whole 30 at some point. If you are curious about the short-term diet, let me know what you want to hear about below. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Thomas is FIVE!


All the angst I expected to arrive on my 30th birthday sat with me on the couch this morning.  My firstborn turned five today, and I'm stumped and panicky and elated all at once.

Did that go okay? The past five years? Did I just mess that all up?

Do other mothers catch their breath five years in and wonder the same thing?

I could gush all day about how awesome Thomas is. He's caring. He's imaginative.  He's entertaining & smart & would sit and listen to me read all day so he gets a thousand gold coins for that alone.

But what about the other stuff?

What I missed when I was working.  All that time I lost when I wasn't quick to discipline and failed to be consistent.  What I'm doing now in favoring to huddle at home in our own little sanctuary--great though it may be--balance continues to allude us. Hello, humanity. ;)

What about all those times I yelled? Or woke up in tears because I felt I had failed?...because I had failed!  Because no matter how hard I try, failure just happens. It's there.  All my flailing to figure things out year after year and he was there with his big brown eyes waiting for me to catch up to him.

And will I have all the time to teach him how to be a gentleman? How to respect a woman for her whole, complete beautiful self? How to be just like his dad and never, ever suggest his wife's hormones are changing her tune and therefore become a saintsaintsainnnnnnnnt in her eyes?

The time. Oh, the time. I can't replace it.  Will I remember to instill in him habits of hard work and self-discipline amidst the chaos? And will I make time to have him make pasta alongside me? And when are we going to become that family in my mind that does charity work that matters?

And are we going to make it to DISNEY??!!  Are we going to ever run around and RIDE ALL THE RIDES??  Because you're five and that means you're almost 18 and we are going to watch you leave and I'll cry all the tears!!!

Yeah, what about all that.

When I got married I was struck dumb at how every single one of my married friends, when asked about being newly married, sounded like they had jumped on a friggin unicorn and flew over a rainbow to a pot of gold, all hearts in eyes and everything.  And I beat my dang self up so much you can't even know.

I love Paul with my whole heart, but where was our friggin rainbow? Our pony express? Our pot of gold?  Well, if my relationship in marriage is going to be anything like my role as a mom, there are two things I'm going to get straight and keep straight right here, right now.

1.  my kids are not like anyone else's kids. they are unique little guys with their own ideas, dispositions, and needs & I'm going to focus all on that. work with it. respond to it. and love on them with everything I've got.  I'm not going to look to other moms for their traditions, their schedules, or their choices. I'm going to, barring the obvious need for awesome mentors (yes! those are important!) forge my own path & in doing so it's going to be messy and wild and good.  I'm going to show up every day and do my best and pour my love out as enough. my kids are cute and all but they get the grace and free will to fail big too, and when that happens, I'm going to show up just as much and pour out just as much love that day as well.

2. it's a lot of damn work & magic comes and goes when it wants to (mind of it own, it has). I'm here to do the work even when the magic isn't there. but it will show up. it always, always does!

A little spontaneous manifesto right there for you.  And for me, apparently, since it all came tumbling out just now.

But really.  Do you understand all my angst? I really hope so.  Motherhood is hard and we put way too much stock in the results and maybe not enough in humility for our imperfect efforts (which are still very, very good things!)

I think Paul has his head on straight a bit more than me about that though as evidenced by what he texted me earlier.  

He just watched the 3rd Star Wars movie with me (the first time I've seen it).

I laughed for two seconds before remembering one word: teenager 

Gulp.

Well, we have a few years...




And now to celebrate the special boy, a little interview with the lad.  I really wanted these certain answers but, no surprise here, this interview turned out to be just like all of parenthood.  He did his own thang.  And my money is on any of you who have had a 5 year old boy being understanding of some or all of these responses. 

1.  How do you think being 5 will be different than being 4?

"Because I growed so much and I learned so much about not whining, so I’m not going to whine anymore.  And, I’m good. I never go in time out. Ever."

2.  Fill in the blank. Thomas is___________________

“a Lego builder”

3.  My favorite book is ________________

“Gone With the Wind because it is perfect and someone dies…actually, a lot of someones dies.”

4.  My favorite meal that mommy makes is ___________________

“pb & j”

5.   My brothers ___________________

do not like the way I dance”

6.  I wish people knew that _____________________

“I do not like the way they poop. BUAHHAHAHAHA. PSHHHH. BUAHHHAHAHA.  That is SO FUNNY!”

7.  What would you like to be when you grow up?

“That’s a simple question.  I would like to be a cake seller.”

If selling cakes doesn’t work for you, what would be your second option?

Being a cookie.”
“A cook?”
“Yeah! A cook!”

8. If you had a hundred dollars, what would you buy?

“I would buy a dog…I want a cute little puppy with a brown scarf on his head.”

And what would you do to take care of this dog?

“I would teach him how to flip over on his heels…

9. My dad 

likes to watch Star Wars with me. And I like it too.  Good bye statements.  I’m DONE WITH THIS BUSINESS”

10. “Now ask me what I like about my mommy. Please.”

Okay, What do you like about your mommy?

“My answer is that I love my mom. It’s true mom. It’s true, mommy. I love you.”




Monday, February 2, 2015

January Reads




I'm breaking my strict no-blogging-while-kids-are-awake policy to throw up an underwhelming post about the few things I read in January.  I can't go to the bathroom without chaos & calamity all but setting my house aflame care of three sweet boys named seenoevil, speaknoevil, and hearnoevil (middle name dotheevil for each of them), so blogging whilst the children are awake should be interesting. Stay tuned.

So, fun lame story... I kept talking big game like I read a lot of great stuff last year.  And then at the beginning of January I looked on Goodreads at all of what I read in 2014, and it amounted to funny memoirs, Walking Dead comics, and a few classics which I was embarrassed for having not yet read. Whoops.

Message received.  I was more intentional about Thomas's reading than I was about my own.  Of course, considering it was a year of recovering from baby twins, funny fluff was welcomed with arms open and beer fresh out the can and in a tall glass.

So I'm thinking just a bit more about what I commit my time to this year when I am sneaking away from the family and running away with my secret lover, Allthebooks.

No worries yet.  Kids are "shooting" each other with multiple Lincoln logs at once.  Onward.




For my eyes only...mostly:

1. Rich Dad, Poor Dad

     I wish I could say I knew everything that was in this book before reading it, but no.  My middle class background shines through and through, so explanation of financial concepts familiar to the rich did have me scratching my head a teeny tiny bit.  No, it wasn't tough to understand, just tough to swallow that there is a much, much different way and that I've largely been oblivious.  The writing is mediocre.  The concept novel enough.  The advice and explanations easy to whip through in a few days or less.  Author = likable (and that counts for something!)

2. Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakable Peace

     I love Sarah Mackenzie.  She's a wealth of generosity for those taking an active role in the teaching of their children, homeschooling or not.  Her podcast, The Read Aloud Revival, is one of my absolute favorites.  Her bubbly joy of reading and her strong convictions are severely contagious.  This book was everything I read online that it would be: a warm cup of tea, the encouragement homeschoolers need, a friend welcoming you in to set you straight, with love.  However, I was just a bit bummed that it was so very, very short.  I think my disappointment is a compliment though to the value of what Sarah brings to the table.

3.  The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything

     Ah, so that's what Jesuits are about! I kid, mostly.  Martin does a marvelous job of being hospitality to all readers; the book is much more about you than it is the Jesuits or even Catholicism.  There have been times in my life where I wanted a specific, magical guide.  Namely, when I was a first year teacher or when I transitioned to staying at home.  I wanted to google "guide for ____", order it, read it, and have the answers for what to do next and feel good about it in the process.  Tada! Enter the Catholic version of such a book.  [Or at least the most useful and yet meaningful one I've ever read].  This definitely won't be the last book I read by Martin.

4.  Gone with the Wind  [.... still working on it & I blame all the painting projects I took on this month.]

    I've been meaning to read this for the longest time and so glad that I finally have it in my hands.  Last week Paul traveled and I let Thomas's bedtime stretch later so I had someone to talk to even if it was the random smatterings of an imaginative 4 year old.  He asked me to read the book to him every time he saw it in my hands, and my reward was being asked a lot of questions about the Yankees coming to Springfield, MO.
 
    After a long passage about Sherman's impending fiery takeover of Atlanta and Prissy's wild incompetence,  Thomas declared, "Mom, Rhett Butler better hurry and get to Scarlett and Melanie and get there quick.  The Yankees are coming and he's their only hope!"  Very cool.  He listens.  Looks like he can join in on my adult reads anytime he wants as long as I'm awake enough for a bit of creative editing.

  I love the interplay between books and movies.  It's far too simplistic to say that books are better than movies.  Often directors envision something better than what we had in our mind's eye.  Sometimes the visual symbolism offered in a movie is so incredible as a beautiful complement to the original source, a book every bit as brilliant in its own medium.  However, the symbolism of the South pre and post war bound up in the characters and their differences was lost on me in the movie in contrast to how Mitchell weaves it together in the book.  Ah, so good.

Kid update:  Thomas has been "guided" to the sunroom.  Emerick is using all his brainy bits to open (unsuccessfully) baby lotion bottles..."c'mon, mom. winter skin!" And Alistair is feverishly wrapping towels around a table's legs and yelling yay for his curious accomplishment.  Interesting but safe enough. Continuing.

And for the kids:

Let's roll through this quick.  But first, I want to tell you that Thomas woke up from a nap a couple weeks ago and the first thing he said was, "Mom, would you like to go on a date... with me.. to Barnes & Noble tonight?" It was the sweetest thing, but not the sweetest thing ever.  That was when he went up to the Starbucks counter and said he was buying a coffee for me with his own money and then proceeded to dig in his pocket for the money for a fat minute.  Adorable.


1.  the 1st & 2nd Unfortunate Events books ... generously loaned from my little sister, Amanda, who isn't so little but still has these awesome books in her possession from when she was

    These books are great for Thomas for so many reasons right now.  He's been going through a developmental interest about death for the last six months, and I think that the way death is handled in this book is healthy for kids.  In addition, I like that the ongoing themes of unfairness and misfortune are so overt and that the smart, small actions of the characters are ultimately rewarded.

2. the 1st Boxcar Children book

    Woah.  Paul and I read these when we were kids, but I was amazed at how different it was than what I remembered.  I'm not sure if we will read more in this direction.  The language and vocabulary was a big dip below meh.  However, I would definitely recommend these to Thomas in a few years when he is needing the reading volume to practice and reach greater proficiency and confidence.

3.  Where the Sidewalk Ends

   We just started reading poetry at lunch and the kids enjoy it.  I can't overemphasize the increased effectiveness of reading to toddler twins who are STRAPPED INTO A CHAIR. Yeah. I read this book to Thomas so much last year that I'm surprised I can't recite it at this point.  I'm ready to spring for another poetry book and my money is on a Prelutsky collection that we checked out from the library four times last year.

4.  a couple more that we started but you will have to wait on the edge of your seat to hear about
     until the end of February because we all have nothingnothingnothingnothing to do or think about on a Monday morning when our to do lists are one mile plus a hundred long.

I love book recommendations.  If you have something in mind that you think I might like, let me know in the com box below.  And if you have any questions, considering my limited and shallow reading history, about the books I have read or would recommend, feel free to ask that too and I will do my best to help a dear friend out. 

xoxox,
Ash

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.

1st:

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.

2nd:

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!


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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!
Ashley

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. 


 xoxox,
Ash

Monday, January 5, 2015

To Be 30

Grateful.


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.