Friday, December 31, 2010

Good Things, December 2010

 First place in the road rally;

 Ballerinas in concert

 and at rest;

 the view from here;

 drinking a beer that's only available in this very bar;

 pre-Christmas dinner at the well-decorated Kopper Top;

 homemade Purplicious cupcakes for a birthday girl;

 a festive ice wreath on our front door;

 cousins in footie pajamas;

 new art supplies from godparents;

mornings playing with LEGOs while Mommy drinks coffee.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 in Review: Triathlon, Cleaning Service, Lady Gaga

More than ever, I'm super-into the idea of being intentional about setting goals and exploring what kind of a life I want to create.  In the last few weeks, I've been toying with some of the prompts and tools from Reverb 10, most especially Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project (and her resolutions), How to Conduct Your Own Annual Review from The Art of Non-Conformity and Gwen Bell's How to Create Your Personal Manifesto.  I'm thinking strongly about inviting a small group of people to sit down and work through a few of these exercises together in a sort of New Year's Retreat, just because I think it's inspirational to think and talk about the possibilities and then find ways to make it happen.  (And if you're local, and if this sounds fun, let me know.  I really want to kick off 2011 in a positive, creative way.)

But in the meantime, it's fun to look back at 2010, and I make a little time at the end of every year to answer the same questions.  Without further ado, 2010:

1. What did you do in 2010 that you’d never done before?
Swam half a mile in open water, did yoga at the top of a sand dune, and competed in a triathlon.  Went to a writer's conference, and read what I'd written to the group.  Celebrated 11 years of marriage.  Watched my daughters turn six and four, and made peace with the idea of not having more children.  Took the girls to Disney, hiking and kayaking in Sleeping Bear Dunes, in the Harbor Springs 4th of July parade, camping, bowling, and to see their first fireworks.  Got a hot stone massage at a spa in the mountains, and took Annie to get her first pedicure.  Grew eggplant, peas, lettuce, shallots (fail!), and carrots in our garden.  Made cupcakes with bacon and learned to bake my own bread.  Ran out of gas.
2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I resolved to do a triathlon, rectify my out-of-control e-mail inbox, and say "yes" more.  I kept the first two, but probably not the third, though I think I did do a slightly better job of saying yes to the girls when they wanted to do something (stay up late, bake a cake, play the millionth round of a game).
For 2011:  
1.  Kick the year off with a January detox - no alcohol, no red meat, very little "white" anything, lots of water and fresh fruits and vegetables for one month.
2.  Find a meaningful way to "give back" and start doing it.
3.  Establish good systems to organize the things in my life that consistently overwhelm me:  photos, recipes, books, and kids' art.
4.  Complete and make public my Life List.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Yes, again, lots of people close to me!
4. Did anyone close to you die?

5. What countries did you visit?
Quebec City, Canada.  (And traveled within the U.S. to Asheville, NC for the second time, Chicago twice, and up north lots more, including taking the girls to Sleeping Bear Dunes for their first visit.)
6. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?
A more positive attitude.
7. What dates from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
Doing the triathlon on the morning of my 33rd birthday is pretty hard to beat, but there are also a few bright, shining moments from the summer that stand out as quintessential beach memories, plus the unforgettable weekend in Quebec City with Jason.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Not to keep harping on this, but I really think that signing up for and training for the triathlon was huge for me.  It felt scary, and it took a leap of faith and a lot of hours of training to complete it, and I'm so glad I did.
9. What was your biggest failure?
I didn't write as much as I would have liked in those precious few hours on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.  I still - still! - lack the kind of patience and calm that I think would make me a better mom.  
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Nothing major, though I did fall while running and scrape myself up pretty badly, and I had a pinched nerve in my neck that hurt enough that I sought out a chiropractor while we were on vacation in the fall.
11. What was the best thing you bought?
A cleaning service - prompted, actually, by this exact review last year and the question that asked what would have made my year better.  Coming home every other Tuesday to find the entire house spotless is pretty awesome.  I am also 100% thrilled with the money I spent on cuter-than-average rain boots, my long down winter coat, and airfare to fun places.
12. Where did most of your money go?
The usual - mortgages, school loans, insurances of many and varied kinds, retirement savings, and an alarming amount of groceries.
13. What did you get really excited about?
Conquering swim practice, and post-practice dinner with Jason every Wednesday this summer.  My annual girls' weekend.  Watching the girls' faces at Disney World.  Realizing that I love to road bike.  Seeing Brandi Carlile at Meijer Gardens.  Getting our Christmas tree.  Bell's Cherry Stout.  A surprise weekend getaway with Jason.  
14. What song will always remind you of 2010?
I am sorry to admit it, but anything by Lady Gaga really did it for me during boot camp and treadmill workouts.
15. Compared to this time last year, are you:
– happier or sadder? Happier.
– thinner or fatter? Same, I think.
– richer or poorer? Richer.
16. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Enjoyed the moment I was in while I was in it, though I am getting better at that.
17. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Been grumpy at my family first thing in the morning.  Gossiped.  Complained.
18. How did you spend Christmas?
At home in the morning, Kalamazoo with Jason's extended family later in the day.
19. What was your favorite TV program?
Three-way tie:  Modern Family, 30 Rock, Mad Men.
20. What were your favorite books of the year?
The Help by Kathryn Stockett, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.
21. What was your favorite music from this year?

The Brandi Carlile station on Pandora, which is a lovely, mellow mix of Patty Griffin, The Weepies, Allison Krauss, Rufus Wainwright, Indigo Girls, and lots of other folky, harmony-laden semi-famous artists.  It's on in my kitchen almost constantly.
22. What were your favorite films of the year?
Ah, the movie question.  We hardly ever see movies in the theater, and I fall asleep when I try to watch them at home.  Embarrassingly, I really did love Toy Story 3, The Princess and the Frog, and Tangled, which I just took the girls to see yesterday.  (Help!  I'm a cliche!  I'm a 33-year-old mom, and I only watch Disney movies!)
23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I did the Reed's Lake Triathlon, hosted a fun post-race party at my house, ate a ton of Marie Catrib's pudding, and took Annie to get a pedicure in the afternoon.  I turned 33.
24. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Well, if I'm dreaming here, I would always welcome more time reading in bed.
25. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?
I was recently dismayed to realize that I seem to only have two "fashion concepts:"  either horrifyingly inappropriate for leaving the house (unshowered, no make-up, hair askew, just-worked-out-but-haven't-showered-yet, ugly) OR completely and totally put together including blow-dried hair, full make-up, actual jewelry, cute shoes.  Sadly, the first is far more prevalent than the second (and in many, varied public places until very late times of day) and there seems to be no in-between.
26. What kept you sane?
Exercise, girlfriends, yoga, the absurdity and affection of my children, the patience and good nature of my husband, wine, coffee.
27. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010.

You know what I think?  I think everyone has a story to tell, and everyone, in their own little way, is just trying to matter.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Happy Birthday, Jemma

Dear Jemma,

Yesterday, you turned four.  You popped out of your room at 7:00 a.m. sharp and wanted to show us how much taller you were, now that you were four.  You wanted to be measured on your growth chart.  So we marched upstairs and measured:  you are 38 inches tall, and you weigh about 28 pounds.  You are a little sprite of a four-year-old who loves to cuddle, sleep in, stay up late, swim, dance, draw, spell, write, and make snow angels.

You are in that bed right this minute, still awake, proclaiming that it is "too dark" in your room, despite the two night-lights and one glowing doll that you sleep with.  You are sweet, but you are stubborn, and when you insist on something, you won't be reasoned with the way your sister will.  You are still offended by the taste - the smell! - of certain foods, and while you will pretend to go along with our "no-thank-you bite," you have, if anything, shortened the list of foods you will eat over the course of the last year.  You love fruit, cheese, bread, and treats.  Not in that order.

For your birthday dinner, I let you choose the meal, just like my mom used to let me choose on my birthday.  You chose homemade macaroni and cheese, garlic bread, raspberries, and turkey sausage (for Annie, who is our carnivore).  We spent the day playing with all your new Christmas gifts, delivering thank-you's from your party, doing your kids' yoga DVD, building elaborate LEGO creations, traipsing around in the snow, and making your birthday cake.  I had spied a fancy pink cake on my favorite cooking website and thought you would love it, so our afternoon involved several cups of cake flour, sugar, and butter, plus three packages of cream cheese and a bunch of pureed strawberries.  Your face when you saw it in all its triple-layer-cream-cheese-frosted glory was priceless, as was the expression on it when you were trying to blow out your four candles.  Your favorite part of the dinner, though?  The ring pop you had been asking for all day.  We could have made Kraft macaroni and cheese, gotten a cake from a gas station, and let you have that damn ring pop, and you would have been just as birthday-happy.

I really, truly cannot believe that it was four years ago that we were getting to know you.  I can still picture almost every detail of those first blurry days - the orange knit hat you wore, the way your face was scrunched up just so, the way you sounded when you cried, the way you smelled all swaddled in a hospital blanket.  You're four, but you're still the baby, and so the fact that you can write your letters and spell actual words continues to shock me.  We are looking ahead to spring and summer, you and I, and you're already asking to sign up for things like dance, swimming lessons, and safety town, which in my mind Annie just did, and how is it possible that you are ready to do them, too?

For now, I am treasuring this year, complete with your senseless stubborn moments, when we are almost always still together.  I am already so proud of the you that you're becoming - polite, sweet, sensitive, fun-loving, brave, silly, thoughtful, curious, kind - that even as part of me wants to freeze you here at four, another part of me can't wait for the things I'll get to see you do in the next year's time.  Our family is so, so lucky to have you blessing us with your sweet silliness every day, and we love you so, so much.

Happy birthday, baby Jemma.

Christmas 2010

Is there anything better than having two little girls at Christmas?  I don't think so.  We squeezed all the joy out of this season and now we're recovering - limping, drained, forgetful - from the days and weeks of merriment.  We spent the afternoon of Christmas Eve at my parents' house, the evening with my extended family in Holland, woke up here on Christmas morning, and headed to Kalamazoo to see Jason's extended family on Christmas Day before hosting his parents here for one more night.

And if there were perhaps a few more moments of mayhem than I would have liked, there were far more moments of delight and laughter:  of matching red dresses and white tights; of cinnamon rolls and candy for breakfast; of fires and stockings and a living room strewn with the remnants of Christmas morning; of sisters presenting one another with their specially-chosen gifts and it being hard to tell who was happier, the giver or the recipient; of grandparents telling stories and cousins making plans for next year; of setting out cookies (and carrots) for Santa and his reindeer; of time on Christmas Day for a solitary run; of playing Sorry! and Old Maid and my mom's homemade Memory for dollar prizes; of Jason and I falling asleep while watching Elf in the wee hours of Christmas Eve, just after we'd stuffed the stockings and brought the Santa gifts up from downstairs; of the tastes of homemade caramels and gingerbread cookies and steak au poive and asparagus straws and good coffee and vanilla porter; of reading 'Twas the Night Before Christmas in Annie's bed just before kissing them good-night.

It was magical; it was exhausting; it was completely, totally, 100% worth it, because they're never going to be three and six again at Christmas.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Read Elsewhere: Charity and Flexibility at Christmas

“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we’ve got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition — and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.” - Stephen Colbert

"The moral of the story is this...If you want it, work hard to create it, but leave cushion for the unexpected and embrace everything outside of that "perfect" vision as good and meaningful parts of your story you would have never had the opportunity to know had you stuck to the script. Ad lib, go with it, swim with the current. In the end, what you will have created, albeit a Christmas memory or life's final will be good." - Kelle Hampton

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

This is My Introverted Christmas Wish

Let's recap, shall we?

Almost exactly a week ago, I was returning from my bonus two days in Quebec City.  Since then, I've:

  • finished my Christmas shopping
  • sent out the Christmas cards
  • made granola and delivered gifts to dance teachers, church teachers, and school teachers
  • thrown Jemma's birthday party
  • gotten caught up on cleaning, laundry, and general boring life things
  • gotten a new writing assignment, and set up interviews and photo shoots
  • shopped for, cooked, wrapped, and hosted Jason's immediate family for Christmas dinner on Sunday and the in-laws overnight for the weekend
  • baked four dozen cookies for my neighborhood cookie exchange, which was last night
  • stayed up until midnight every single night, yet only watched .5 hours television
One other thing I snuck in there was an hour of yoga on Friday morning. It was my reward for tackling such a ridiculous to-do list on Wednesday and Thursday.  I was hanging there in forward-fold when Dana said, "Your job is to choose peace amid the mayhem at the holidays."  I love that:  peace amid the mayhem.  Because there is mayhem, for sure.  There are kids home from school, now, 24/7, and overnight guests and bringing two appetizers to Holland and still (still!) a pile of presents to wrap on the basement floor; there are cookies to exchange and sledding hills promised and thank-you notes to write and still (still!) three more family parties to dress the family for and bring the family to; there's the fact that it's 9:23 p.m. and it looks like I'm just not going to shower today, the fact that I finally showered at 5:30 p.m. yesterday, just in time to go to the cookie exchange not wearing workout clothes; the wish for each day to contain a little magic and the accompanying effort that requires; the slumping realization in church Sunday morning that approximately .0025% of all this activity has anything to do with the actual reason that we are celebrating this holiday.  

It seems like "Honor the birth of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" has turned into "Buy a ton of stuff for everyone you know, then try to see every member of your extended family within a ten-day period while bringing Homemade Special Food and keeping your kids from going cuckoo."  As an introvert, this turn of events makes me a little bitter.  I like spending time with my friends and family; I like buying people gifts; I like making Homemade Special Food and bringing it places; and I like spending time with my children.  But?  I don't really like doing it all day, every day, for two weeks in a row with no break.  

I used to think there was something wrong with me, because what kind of Scrooge doesn't love to gather with friends and family?  But then I read the true definition of introversion.  Contrary to the common understanding of an introvert as "someone who is shy," introversion really means that a person's energy level is slowly sapped by being in the constant presence of others.  Extroverts, in contrast, are actually energized by being around other people.  This probably explains why, at the end of a great night out with friends, where Jason and I have both had a truly fun time, I am ready to wrap it up and go home, while he always, always wants to move the party to another location and stay up for six more hours.  I'm drained, he's on fire, it's sort of a problem.  It probably explains why, after a few hours spent reading, writing, running alone, or thinking, I'm brimming with energy, ready to go out and Do Something Productive.  When Jason tries to read, he falls asleep.

So embracing all the festive flutter of the holidays is a challenge for me every year.  I know that's hard to understand if you're an extrovert, but think of it this way:  How would you like to celebrate Christmas every year by going on a silence retreat, just you, your Bible, your journal, and some meditative chanting CDs by a cozy fire for days on end?  If you're Jason, I'm sure you'd want to run screaming in the other direction.  Or maybe you'd say a silence retreat would be fine for a few hours, yes, but then you'd need to recharge by being with friends at a cocktail party, or meeting up with your running group, or sitting down to a big, loud Christmas dinner.  In an ideal world, that what I'd want:  a mix.   A few hours of festive events here and there, cushioned with at least a little time to myself every day.  And it just ain't gonna happen for the next week, I know.  Even now, as I'm writing this, my to-do list mocks me from the counter, and I know I need to wrap presents before I go to bed, and the girls will be one inch from me all day tomorrow.

Today, the solstice, I am still holding Dana's instruction in my mind.  On the darkest day of the year, I am always somehow cheered:  it's just going to get brighter and lighter from here on out.  I am looking for and choosing peace right in there with the mayhem, because the mayhem is not going to go away, let's be honest, but if I look hard enough, I can see the glimmers of peace, the moments that say, "This makes it worth it:"

"Tidings of comfort and joy."  That's what our Christmas card says this year, and that what I wish for:  comfort, joy, and peace amid the mayhem.