Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Hometown stuck

A few weeks ago, a couple of my co-workers and I were talking about our favorite coffee shops. Both born and raised outside of Michigan, one of them was describing his favorite shop he recently had found in the revitalized part of downtown Detroit.

I looked at the Starbucks cup on my desk and said, "Tim and I haven't found that place since moving East.  We definitely had our places out West." (Shout out to Nutmeg and Thatchers!)

And from there, I started thinking. Tim and I always, always explored when we lived in Southern California and Washington. We kind of had to. We didn't have connections (or if we did, they were minimal) leading us to this new place or that perfect lookout. We Googled, we searched, we drove and boy, did we find some gems.

Since moving to Michigan, we haven't explored, because we haven't needed to. I know where the grocery store is and where to get good gluten-free muffins and which neighborhoods have killer Christmas lights. There are 300 Starbucks around, so we aren't desperate for coffee and our weekends are occupied by errands and chores and being with friends and family. The itch to explore and get out has lessened, because we are comfortable, content.

Being content is good and a blessing in its own right, but exploring your surroundings can be magical. It sure was when we got out in Oregon and Washington. We found some of our favorite spots, beaches, ice cream shops because we 'Googled' "best beach", "best ice cream", "what to do in Seaside, Oregon." We once drove 40 minutes on a Tuesday night for gluten-free Italian take-out. (Their GF tiramisu was worth the drive.) We'd often drive into Portland and spend a Sunday morning there or drive to our local downtown and try a new restaurant. We once piled in the car and drive two hours to Mt. St. Helens. We found parks and trails and lookouts. Since the place we called home was foreign to us, every outing was a mini-adventure.

This isn't meant to be a somber farewell to a life we once lived. Life in Michigan is, dare I say it, pretty perfect. But as we approach the one-year mark of us moving here, I will be tapping into my exploration side a little more. I will be more eager to pop our bubble and drive beyond what we know. Summer is upon us, so the time for exploration and discovery is now. There is a whole part of Detroit that has had new life breathed into it, and I haven't eaten there, gotten coffee there, walked around there. Driving 2-3 hours North will take us into an untapped world of greenery, beaches, and clear water. I vacationed "Up North" as a kid, but in one condo in one location. Have you seen those Pure Michigan ads? We're not short "perfect destinations."

Yeah, my family now lives in the state (and practically the city) where I grew up, but that doesn't mean we have to fall into a restrictive and blinding routine.

To Summer, exploring, and being a tourist in your hometown.

(Stay tuned for a Summer bucket list!)

Thursday, June 1, 2017

A mama's heart

A mama's heart is many things - fierce, protective, resilient, ever-loving. In my few years of holding the title, I've come to learn a mama's heart is also fragile. It's not constant and it's not crushed just for anything, a mama's heart is tough, strong. Only when we see our kids subject to pain, hurt, rejection does the fragility devour all other qualities and we fight to tap into that resilience, fierceness as we try to stay standing tall. 

The other day at the park, there was a little girl about Ella's age with her Grandma. She was running from little play structure to little play structure in the "Tot Lot" when she arrived at the one Ella and Archie were playing at. Immediately, Ella went from "Mommy, stand on this" to inching toward this little girl giggling - the universal "You wanna build a snowman?" in toddler girl code. 

Tim was now at the play structure, I on the bench in the shade, and the little girl ran from the slide to the teeter totter, Ella running after her. When the girl noticed Ella had followed, she stuck out her arms looking as if she was signaling Ella to go away and her Grandma, in an effort to be inclusive, patted her shoulder with what I only could assume was a, "be nice." 

The Grandma got on the teeter totter with the girl, bounced, and asked Ella if she wanted to get on. Ella ran over to the bench, "Mommy, I need to get on the seat." Fragile, oh so fragile, I said, "Okay, sweetie. Run and ask Daddy. He'll put you on." In these moments, Tim is the strong one. Ella did, but by the time they got over there, the girl ran away. Ella watched her get on a swing and continued to play with Archie. 

Ella is only 3, she is tiny, but her heart is the size of Everest. She's shy around adults, but she isn't the least bit shy around kids her size. She goes out of her way to make a friend and plays with anyone who shares the same taste in slides. 

These are qualities I'm in awe of and that I love to see in my daughter,  but they are qualities that can result in a little girl saying, "go away" or "I don't want to play with you." And while, yes, they're silly 3-year-olds, witnessing that sort of rejection is what breaks my fierce, protective, resilient mama heart into a thousand little pieces. 

I know, I know Ella is just 3. Some might even be laughing as they read this thinking, oh just wait. She'll fail, she'll fall, she'll face 300 things that hurt. I'm not old and gray but I'm not naive to life; these realities won't make facing any amount of hurt Ella may endure any easier.

Almost a year ago, I wrote a little something on Instagram:

Tonight I watched 2 little girls on a tire swing yell, "Get away from us! Leave us alone!" to a littler boy who was simply watching them have their fun. My mama heart immediately broke into a thousand little pieces and I thought, "should I say something?" Neither parent was around, the girls were wanting their sister time and the boy wanted his adventure boy time. There wasn't name calling or bullying, so there really wasn't an urgent need to step in. But as I continued to swing next to Ella I couldn't help but think about my kids being on the line where the little boy stood, or across from it where the little girls sat on the swing. How would they handle that rejection? Would they ever willingly and boldly reject someone else? My tired parenting brain was already fried from the hectic day, so I pressed "pause" on the thought and watched my 2-year-old learn how to pump on the big girl swing. And then, I plopped my 2 babies on the grass and covered their eyes with Target sunglasses in an effort to get a celebratory Archie's-nine-months-old-today photo. As I snapped the picture, I reveled in the sight before me and prayed for the grace to raise each of them as the kid who walks up to the little boy and says, "wanna play?"

Thanks be to God, Ella is that kid who goes to others and extends an invitation to play, boldly and without fear. My new prayer is to be granted the grace to accept whatever lies on the other side of the invitation, that one "I don't want to play with you" won't shatter her boldness, her kindness, her confidence, and that I'll be able to walk Ella through come what may. In the meantime, I am learning from her to be kind, to extend an invitation, to smile.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Sunshine and family time

After backaches and migraines, spending the weekend with my little family was all I wanted and needed. We went to the park more than once, we got treats more than once, and everyone stayed up past their bedtime...more than once. As I type, my in-laws are making the long trek from Alaska and will be arriving before the weekend hits, so we have yet another family-filled weekend ahead. Stay tuned!

Flyin' a kite!
I live for these kids. These kids live for chocolate milk.
Blue-eyed girl, blue tongue.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The tale of the staycation

Tim getting cash and me being, well, me.
It turns out the key to having a good weekend is to wear giant pineapples on your face.
Cheers. Every 4 years I have a mimosa.
This weekend was one of the best weekends I've had in quite a time. After the craziness that was last week, I was ready to use this weekend to recharge. Initially, the plan was to get away. Tim and I had scheduled a weekend getaway, but, at the last minute, we decided to stay local.

And I'm glad we did.

Exploring the state I've called "home" since I learned to talk, is my new favorite thing.  It's a bit surreal to reside here and discover all these hidden gems scattered between zip codes. I once longed only to go beyond the Great Lakes, after all. We did downtown shopping, inhabited coffee shops, and dined-in for Mexican.

Saturday night was the real kicker. If you're reading this and you know me well, I'm not even sure you'll believe it. We went out for drinks and dancing with my best friends. I'd just like to note we went out at 10 (pm). For someone who typically falls asleep on the couch at 9:45 watching Dancing With the Stars, it was almost unbelievable. But drank and danced, I did.

And then I got up on Sunday and had a mimosa at brunch. (I mean honestly who even am I?)

So long, stay-cation! You were just what the doctor ordered.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Growing boy

The other night, in a flurry of motion Tim and I were trying to get dinner on the table and kids in their seats. In an effort to make our dinner as tear-free as possible, I was trying to be my best, patient self as I talked Archie through sitting him down. With a click of his buckle, he lost it. What could have possibly gone wrong in 3.5 seconds that warranted this breakdown? I tried to stay cool.

And then it occurred to me. Archie is about 16-months-old and has been going through a big growth spurt lately that has yielded better listening, more personality, tantrums, and independence. When it was just Ella, Tim and I were both so aware and attuned to the latest spurt. I looked up and read articles on Baby Center—what-to-expect-this-month sort of a thing—and we'd work to be especially patient when she was wanting to learn something on her own. While we have picked up the rhythm of growth spurts and the signs of one approaching, we've missed a couple things Archie has begun doing and questioned the emotional roller coasters due to ... busyness, I guess. (It really is true that life turns into a zoo with two.)

As I unbuckled the buckle and talked to Archie, and tried to calm him down, I remembered Ella doing the exact same thing. She needed to buckle her seat at the dinner table. She needed to help us take the clean spoons out of the dishwasher and put them away—another practice Archie has recently adopted. Archie is where Ella was. We've been here before.

It's been hard to keep track of and gauge these different stages of development since having 2 for a variety of reasons. Archie is growing up a bit faster, since Ella is around to show him how to do so many things. Archie's personality is opposite of Ella's, so he reacts differently to some of these stages. And our life is far busier than it was when Ella was Archie's age.

It's also been hard to softly nurture Archie through these intense growth spurts. With Ella, I had all this new parenting zeal, despite the fact that I had postpartum depression and anxiety. I was passionate about doing things the right way, which, to me, meant not losing my cool and instead talking her through problems. I read Bringing Up Bebe and referred to Parenting With Love and Logic and got inspired by all these saintly mom bloggers. Nine times out of ten, I was successful, I was, but we only had one kid and I stayed at home. All of my focus could go into those practices without distraction. Now? Ella could be upset and Archie could be having a breakdown and my anxious self stands frozen in the kitchen without answers, all zeal depleted. 

We're learning to juggle. Archie now helps me buckle anything that needs buckling. We're learning to be more patient in waiting for Archie to have his little 'growth moments' instead of trying to just get it done—not an easy thing to accomplish with 2 running around—but it's teaching us to slow down. And it's in slowing down that we begin to gently walk him through these tough toddler times. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Goodbye Student Loans—Car or Mortgage?

Tim and I have been meaning to add another car to our family for almost a year.  With both of us working and having kids, carpooling and accommodating growing car seats has posed its challenges over the last 10 months.

The question we've continued to ask ourselves has been, what to do? Get a brand new car that's guaranteed to have a good life? Get a used car and take our chances? What about certified pre-owned? We could buy one from a rental company...

When you're facing upwards of 50K in student debt (and climbing down the hill from 100K), buying any sort of big purchase immediately becomes more complicated. We need to remain smart and prudent while accommodating our changing circumstances and growing family. Striking that balance isn't easy.

They say buying a brand new car is the worst purchase you can make as it begins to depreciate when you drive it off the lot, so we were unsure of committing to a high payment every month for something that will just lose value. Though finding the perfect used car on Craiglist is time-consuming—time we didn't have. So, in a bit of we-got-to-get-this-done mindset (the worst mindset to have when shelling out a wad of money) we decided on the car we wanted, found a rental place that had one, and got pre-approved for a loan.

 A few days before we went to seal the deal, we were talking to a family friend who is experienced in this area.  He suggested what to look for on Craigslist, and I did some searching that weekend. We found a few contenders and decided on an '09 Dodge Journey with over 100K miles on it.  The avid new car buyers might think we're crazy, but we did our due diligence in researching—clean title, well-maintained, all highway miles, new brakes. We were able to negotiate the price down, write a check, and drive away—no loans, no car payments and we now have the car that will serve our needs for the time being.

We decided to put any sort of car dreams aside (buy for now, 2016 Pathfinder) and focus on a down payment for a house. For us in this stage of our lives, buying a house is our top priority—right underneath paying off our student loans, that is.

With both Tim and I working, having a car payment every month wouldn't have killed us.  It's for this very reason that we momentarily lost sight on our big picture goal and thought shelling out a handful of hundreds on a car payment was the right call. Just because it was doable doesn't mean it would have been the best use of our money, and it wouldn't have been. I'm happy to have had that conversation which brought us back down to earth.  When your journey of paying down debt is years-long, it can be easy to stray the path. Double incomes!? Let's buy the entire Target clearance rack! It's almost easier to have less money.

So, on our path we continue. Man, it's a damn long trail. But we've celebrated so many little victories and buying car out of pocket was a pretty big one for us. So, let the 'Journey' continue.

Monday, April 10, 2017

From the weekend—75 & sunny

Oh, how much harder it's going to be to see Sundays fade into Mondays as the weather continues to get warmer.  Come the weekend, I go into full-on mom and wife mode and soak in all the family time I can until duty calls once again 8AM on Monday.  And since the weeks have been getting increasingly warmer, we've upped our park-going game (which was highly encouraged and endorsed by Ella).

I've grown a newfound appreciation for Sundays over the course of Lent.  Since the start of Lent, we've treated Sundays differently than the rest of the week.  Not going out for coffee or having sweets throughout the week makes indulging in a nice (paid for) iced mocha and doughnut on Sundays special.  And Sundays should feel a little more special than the other 6 days.  If the Lord can rest, so can we.

We're spinning out of the weekend and into my favorite week of the year—Holy Week.  It seems like this is also one of the most vastly misunderstood weeks in the calendar.  Next Sunday is Easter, but many forget the preparation that proceeds the celebration.  It's when we understand and experience this week in its totality—Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday—that we fully appreciate and are able to joyfully celebrate what Easter Sunday brings.  Going into this week, I have Egypt on my mind and am painfully reminded that having the opportunity to fully understand and partake in Holy Week is not something to be taken for granted.