Wednesday, December 28, 2016

So you think you're gonna settle, eh?

Oh 2016, you really are one for the books, aren't you?

It was only a handful of days ago when I wrote about and reflected on this year - 2016.  And that I could't wait for 2017 because "it finally feels like the year of getting settled."  We had a realtor, we were working on a mortgage, we had a price range.  Tim was given a hammer and a Lowe's gift card for Christmas, because 2017 was deemed the year of the home.  And it was.

Or at least it was supposed to be.

Earlier this week, all plans of us getting settled flew out the window (my dinner almost with them) with a, "I have mixed news."

"Now I want you to let it all sink in before you react."

I listened as my husband informed me there were some changes in his work, that the job was now a position with a higher salary in San Diego, but it wouldn't work out as a remote position from Michigan.  He was given an offer to move.

We had less than 24 hours to decide.

Do we want to make another cross-country move?  We did that, like yesterday.  Well, 6 months ago. But still. Archie choked on a post-it note in the car and puked bright yellow paper chunks.  I just don't know if I'm ready for that again.  Can we survive with the pay cut?  Not really.  Not at all, actually.  But with savings?  Maybe. Getting a house is sure out of the question now, at least for the foreseeable future, we can float on the down payment we were working to build.  Well, if we took the San Diego job, unlike last time, we'd have money to live and go out.  Yeah, but with who?  Our friends are in L.A.  What if we have another kid?  In San Diego?  Do the no help thing again?  I guess I do already have an established relationship with a therapist there...

Back and forth.  Back and forth we went.

And it was hilarious.  How hard we've worked to move to Michigan from (initially) San Diego, and he we were contemplating moving back.  Ah, the unpredictability of the Lochner Life.

Tim ultimately turned down the offer as it wasn't the best call for the family - and it was a blow - a blow to his career, a blow to his spirits, a blow to our bank account.  Thankfully, my husband is the most level-headed, steadfast, forward-thinking, smartest man you'll meet.  He doesn't whine.  He doesn't complain.  If the zombie apocalypse came tomorrow, he'd be my Rick Grimes (or Daryl - he's better, isn't he?).  If we went to war next week, he'd willingly be at the front lines.  A pay cut, a curve ball wouldn't keep this force down.  And he immediately reassured me of that in telling me about connections he's made and leads he has.

The beauty in facing all this freaking change is the unbreakable bond Tim and I have formed.  And I do say that confidently.  We got the news and shortly after we were laughing, reassuring each other, and zeroing in our blessings - especially our kids.  We talked about if and when we were ever financially successful that we would find a way to pay it forward.  And we would make sure of it. Maybe one day we'd own a house that we could rent out for next to nothing to a young family struggling to pay off student loans.  Maybe if Tim is successful in having a company like he wants, he'd have some program that pays off portions of employees' student loans.  Maybe we could just spend the rest of our lives paying for others' coffee in Starbucks drive-thrus.

I've come to truly feel like me and my family could pile into a little, old, beaten piece of s*** car and...go and be simply content.  'Cause that's what the entirety of our family life has been.  We aren't sure what pot hole we'll hit or if we'll run out of gas, but we have each others' company, faith, and good health.

So I say to the future, you can keep chuckin' it at us all you'd like.  We'll keep smiling.  We've got Faith and each other.  So 2017, if you're another year full of curve balls and unexpected job loss and broken bank accounts, bring it.  You won't break us.

#teamlochner // photo cred: Francis & Louise

Friday, December 23, 2016

2016


Earlier this week I had a first-visit Doctor's appointment, one more step toward getting fully settled here in Michigan.

"Did you have it with a Beaumont doctor?"

"Oh no, I was in...San Diego?  No, wait.  Might have been Washington."

Chuckle.

"You like to travel?"

Chuckle.

"Well, I've just moved quite a bit in the past few years."

Around this time last year, I was a newly initiated member into the "2 under 2 club."  Archie had just turned a month old.  I was doing my at-home parent thing.  Tim was deep in the throws of his remote job.  We had recently determined it was going to be a lean Christmas after learning Archie's hospital bills were much higher than Ella's, and we had just sat down and made "moving to Michigan" a part of our 3-year plan.  No surprise to the Lochner clan, life was a little chaotic and foreshadowed uncertainty as we weren't exactly sure what 2016 had in store for us.

Here we are, a full 365 days later and 2016 is coming to a close.  Now, I'm a newly initiated member into the "working mom" club.  Archie has just turned one-year-old.  Tim is in yet another transitional phase at work, taking on a new venture.  We have a slightly bigger pile of presents under our tree and a tiny stack of presents were just shipped out to our beloved California friends, and we just sat down and made "moving into a house" a part of our 3-month plan (we're well into the process). No surprise to the Lochner clan, life is a little chaotic and is foreshadowing uncertainty as we aren't exactly sure what 2017 has in store  for us.

Over the past few years, I've experienced a lot of change.  But 2016 was the year I grew a little more comfortable with change.  Over the past few years, we've gone from a one bedroom place, to a two bedroom place, to a three bedroom place, to a basement.  And nothing will teach you "adaptability" like moving across the country and setting up shop in a basement as a family of 4 will.   I'll say that on the temporal, feelings level, it's been hard in every way.  I've been stretched to my limits physically, wondered if I'll ever get a good night's rest again, I've nearly fallen asleep standing up, and have ached for our own backyard.  But on the higher level of my soul and heart and internal growth, it's been nothing short of totally amazing.  I've gone from never driving to driving across the country, from seeing my best friends once every 1-2 years to once a week.  I got to experience Northern Michigan with my husband, see a Wyoming sunset, and watch my kids experience snow.  I said "yes" to be interviewed for a podcast and to going out with new people, both of which I would have run from a couple years ago.  I've gone out my way to be kind when I wasn't feeling like being kind.  I dyed my hair blonde again.  I apologized to someone I was avoiding.  I forgave.  I read books. I kept writing.

If I had one piece of advice for anyone at any point in life, it'd be do to something that seems crazy to you, whether that's taking a class you think you'll fail or traveling without an itinerary.  (Don't 'do Wild.')  Because as much as discomfort and change sucks and hurts, I've learned it's our best teacher. Getting uncomfortable over these past few years and most recently this year has led to a hilarious and cute brother/sister duo, an emergency savings, a paid off car, a cross country move, and a stronger, more united marriage.

I have nothing else to say except that once again this year was a total ride.  It was exhausting and joyful and brought an inner peace I haven't had in a very long time.  But, predictably, I'm already antsy to see what 2017 will bring as this finally feels like the year of getting settled and that feels good. We've worked so hard, and we're beginning to feel the hard-work paying off.

So, 2016, it's been a blast.  You treated us well.  Stay tuned for 2017.  House hunting, car searching, student loan paying, pre-school searching is all ahead of us.  And I'm not goin' anywhere (just so I can avoid any further confusion at the doctor's office.)

Sunday, December 18, 2016

On listening

Photo cred: Lauren Michelle 

When I was 17, my Grandpa died just days before my 18th birthday.  The night he died I had been to the hospital but had left to be with my best friend.  Only five months earlier, I had watched my Grandma slowly leave us.  Her strained, labored, increasingly lifeless breaths were too fresh in my memory to watch someone else I loved deeply endure the same fate.  Selfish, maybe, I left the hospital to seek my own kind of comfort - the comfort of a best friend so she could be my side, 'cause I felt like I was losing life, too.  I hadn't been at my best friend's house for an hour when we got the call.

Oh, I'm so sorry, came from the other room.

I was sitting cross-legged on the floor, my best friend, cross-legged on her bed.  When "sorry" hit the phone, she almost reflexively joined me on the floor.  No words, no hugs, no trying to change the subject.  We just sat in silence and were.

This is one of my most distinct memories and biggest inspirations for when I need to work on listening and being (mentally) present.

We live in a world of first persons - I this, me that.  In conversation, we more often than not listen to respond.  The pause barely enters conversation before we jump in with our two cents, well yeah but I, my, etc...I'm as guilty as anyone especially when I'm in a conversation where I think I have the "upper hand."  You think you're tired?  I was up all night with my kid, and I'm here today! I want to say when someone without babies complains about being tired.

We want to be the hardest working, we want to prove our tank is less full, we want to have the bigger, showier story, that we've worked harder.

Advent is almost over, but throughout this Advent season I've focused on trying not to get my "cents" in there when unnecessary.  As Advent is a time of preparing our homes and hearts, it's a time for preparing ourselves for the birth of Christ.  And a way to tangibly do so is to grow in virtue.  Growing in virtue is painful.  Throughout the course of these weeks, I've had a broken record of please stop talking, Oh - I left your reward in the car, and get over it playing in my head.  I've pushed back from my computer and taken a deep breath before continuing with an email.  I've wanted to run in the middle of the street and yell, honestly, people?  But on the positive side, I've asked more questions. I've redirected conversations back to the person I was talking with in an effort to avoid I.  I've begun to train myself to enjoy listening to hear, really hear what a person is telling me.  

None of us do that enough or as well as we should.

This is the last week of Advent.  I'd give myself a solid B in this one effort I've put forward over these weeks.  I could have done better.  I could have done much worse.  But at the very least, I've gained another "mental flag" for myself.  Going into conversation, I've learned to remember all people want is to be heard, to be empathized with, to feel valued.  I've tried to emulate that silent, listening, present friend who sat next to me almost 10 years ago.  She made me feel heard without saying a word.  As Advent comes to an end and Christmas begins, I'll go into the new year aiming more to hear and not to respond.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Keep moving, stay hopeful


When I made the choice to go on medicine to manage my anxiety, I and (surprisingly) my doctor were hesitant.  He told me it'd be best to try therapy first, but after telling him I had been to therapy three times before, that my mind was beginning to outrace me, and I had had 3 panic attacks in two days, we both came to the conclusion that a medicine was needed.

I was scared to get on an anti-depressant.  I didn't want to grow dependent on the drug, I was aware of the side effects, I was aware getting off them can be a battle.  I know taking antidepressants while pregnant is not recommended (a whole other post to come).  But on that day in July when I popped my first pill, I was filled with more hope than fear, because I was convinced I rather endure anything than what I had been in previous months.

Whatever it was, it wasn't life.

When my doctor gave me my prescription, knowing I'd be moving back East soon, he made sure to tell me, find a therapist when you get out there, okay?  It's been proven the best way to overcome anxiety is a treatment plan of therapy and medicine.

Got it, I told him.

We moved back East and, just as fast as our moving pieces fell into place, our lives took a total 180. I had barely ever left our townhome in Washington or the couple apartment we lived in in California, and now I was working full-time, grocery shopping, taking the kids out when Tim was out of town 3,000 miles West.

We went from 0-100 in 3 weeks.  

Since my medicine had taken its full effect by the time we moved to Detroit, I was capable of accommodating to our new lifestyle.  Little sleep, long to-do lists, basement-living with kids, was tiring but not panic-inducing, so I did't think about my anxiety treatment plan beyond my daily 50mg dose.

But if you've dealt with any sort of level of severe anxiety and/or depression, you know you can only keep up this pace for so long before your body catches up to you and says hold the phone, sister.  

Recently, I've been regressing, I guess you could say.  Earlier this week, I almost turned around when I went out to pick up my lunch.  I noticed that internal panic barometer rise from 0-60 in .3 seconds when the kids were crying.  I've noticed my mind going a little faster and an overall sense of irritability and frustration.  I've blurted out did we pay our insurance bill this month in the middle of a conversation with Tim.  I've paid student loans in between flipping pancakes for my kids and drafting a work email.  I am (only slightly) embarrassed to say, that in the past three days there have been 3 different times when I've looked down at my feet to double check that I grabbed matching boots.  I wish I were kidding.

I didn't ever find a therapist when I moved out here, solely due to financial reasons.  The most helpful therapy I had, I paid over $300 a session for (with a delayed and minimal reimbursement from insurance).  And with moving and getting newly accommodated in our temporary living situation, therapy just didn't have room in the budget.  It didn't help that I had gotten carried away in thinking I feel fine since on the medicine.  And when I started to feel overwhelmed by fatigue, I thought having 3 cups of coffee a day and getting as much done as I could in between work, laundry, and buying diapers was the answer to getting by.

I have to make a slight detour before continuing.  The more I learn to manage anxiety, the more I grow to dislike talking about anxiety as a blanket issue.  It's so relative, so specific and unique to each person who is struggling, that my treatment might not be needed or work for you or yours for me.  Your anxiety might have been brought on by a traumatic life event, you might just be overworked right now, it might go away, it might not, etc.,etc., etc.  To give some context to my own story so my long-lived battle with anxiety and various forms of treatment makes more sense,  I thought I'd give a bit of backstory.  My anxiety (and depression) climaxed after I had my first child, but neither were a result of pregnancy.  Pregnancy was just the straw that broke my hormones' backs.  Between the ages of 6-17, I spent in the "flight-or-fight" state, for reasons I won't get into detail about, but I grew up having a survivalist's mindset, so my body was conditioned to be ... anxious, tense, stressed.  For me, anxiety feels like a physical condition more than a mental one, because I've reached panic-attack status before my mind has registered any thought of feeling overwhelmed.  When I'm stressed or have a lot going on or am I'm not doing a good job of finding balance, my body physically reacts and it does so quickly.  It's something I need to constantly be aware of and work to manage. 
 
I knew our move to Michigan wasn't going to be a cure-all for my anxiety.  But I didn't expect it to creep up on and blind side me like it has before.  So, I'm back in a place I've been to a few times now — looking for therapists, questioning the best course of action moving forward, thinking of the best activities that will bring peace and balance.  I'm asking myself if it's best to keep a 8-5 work schedule while looking for a house with 2 kids and a working and traveling husband. 

I sat in the living room a few nights ago and said to Tim something I've said many times before, I don't know what to do.  Though when I say that, I know exactly what to do - reevaluate, go out of my way to relax and rest, look for better ways to balance, get to a therapist, and, most importantly cling to hope.

Let the journey begin once again.

For more: 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Not a blogger, a writer

In an effort to keep it really real, here is a picture taken by my 2-year-old daughter.  We were packing up our Washington townhome.  Dirty hair, up in a clip, sitting on the floor.  I thought this picture was fitting for this post.
Recently, I got an email informing me an article I published on an aggregated content site for bloggers was going to be featured on this site's sister site.  I had gotten a few of these emails before, so when I looked at my phone, I thought cool and moved on with my day.  Then yesterday, I got another email informing me it had been posted.  I went to the site and immediately wanted to throw my phone out the car window (don't worry I wasn't driving).  The title had been changed in a way that, I felt, completely misrepresented my voice.  It made me sound like an angst-y 15-year-old with a chip on her shoulder.  When in reality, the body of the article sounded nothing of the sort.  It felt like I had just received a magazine I had done a photoshoot for and my entire appearance had been photoshopped, altered to appease editors and appeal to image-obsessed consumers.  Myself, unrecognizable.  

My eyes welled up.

Now I know by publishing my work on this site, I was signing over rights for my work to be tweaked.  But, in my eyes, what they had done wasn't a tweak, it was a makeover, one that I didn't sign up for and one I wasn't happy with.  So I emailed them and kindly asked them to change the title, or take it down.  If it meant I needed to disassociate myself with the site and delete my account, fine. But I rather save the integrity of the piece then get more clicks.

To their credit, they did work with me to get the headline changed to something that I thought better represented the piece, which is why I'm not naming the sites or the article.  Because, ultimately, this post isn't about that instance.  It's about what this situation got me thinking about, something that's been on my mind for a while now.

When I fist started blogging, I didn't really have a big picture idea of what my blog was going to be.  I had just left my job and was in the early transition phase of entering stay-at-home momhood.  I had always had a passion and great love for storytelling and writing, so I thought what do I have to lose? and began writing, primarily sharing my early journey into motherhood and how that ultimately effected my lifelong struggle with anxiety and depression.  To make sure I wasn't in it for clicks or to get recognized, I made a promise to myself that I wasn't going to share anything I published on my blog to Facebook or Instagram for the first six months.  After that 6th month, if I was still committed and serious and consistently blogging, then I'd allow myself to go beyond my Blogger walls.

And I'm glad I did.  Over the course of these past three years people have commented on FB and messaged me privately with kind and encouraging words and, more touchingly, I've been sent messages of thanks for helping someone to better understand what a sister has been going through with an anxiety battle.  I've been thanked for letting someone know they aren't alone in their own battle with anxiety.  I've been consistently told I'm "real" and I'm proud of that. Through this blogging journey, I've grown to never sacrifice being real for making money or getting more views.

I didn't reach this mindset overnight, however.  When I was pregnant with Archer, a couple brands reached out to me to work with them, and I was ecstatic.  Who wouldn't be?  Someone noticed me! I thought, somehow immediately being transported back to 2004 in high school.  Getting paid to post on my blog?  Being reposted on a company's Facebook page?  I felt so important.  I thought I had really made it.  But what did that mean?  I was pregnant, so a company wanted me to wear their cute shirts in a post so some other pregnant ladies might buy those shirts and some other pregnant ladies might use an app to track their own pregnancy journeys.  It really had nothing to do with story or connecting with people or empathy and my gut told me so.  But against my better judgement and my longing to have the caliber that comes with having sponsored posts, I agreed.

But now when I look around and see practically all bloggers (and YouTubers) making money off their audiences' interests through outside companies' advertisement and sponsorship, I'm saddened. Because even though I didn't entirely realize it when I fist jumped on blogger.com and hit "create new blog" I didn't "get in this" to make money by showcasing the latest Aveeno product.  I got in this to share in a journey with anyone who decided they needed to walk next to someone even if it was for a brief time.  I began writing to help someone feel they weren't the only one in the world who broke down in sheer panic when they hit a red light in a left turn lane, or to help someone feel a little less alone when they were having their first child away from everyone they loved.  And that's because I felt alone, and I thought maybe someone else felt alone, too.

Since I hate generalizations, I don't want to universally discredit the authenticity of every blogger and YouTuber out there.  There are some out there who I really enjoy following.  They're characters seem so honest and genuine.  But this medium has clearly become the new way of advertising, and it's left me finding myself questioning every time I land on a  sponsored post or video asking do they really use that product?  Would they have bought that product or service if someone didn't reach out to them?  Some would of course answer "yes" to this, but not all would...It's taken away from the connection.

It's taken this three-year-long blogging journey to recognize, I'm not a blogger.  I'm a writer.  A writer who is trying to improve her craft by consistently writing and sharing the journey along the way.  A writer who values the transparency that comes with sponsored-free content and believes in showing her true, authentic self through her work. Yeah, I have Google Adsense on my blog, I thought I could make some chump change while I was at home taking care of my kids.  I'm currently at like 8 bucks.  Eight bucks that will eventually go to the student loan payments.  Sponsorships though?  You won't ever find them in this space.  Not anymore, at least.  And that's a scout's promise (that's more serious than a normal promise, right?) This space is a writer's space, not an advertiser's.

After having a couple kids, and learning who to surround myself with, and going to therapy (many times) and working through any weird past demons I may have had, I now know who I am and I don't need to be validated by someone who has a bigger following than I do.  Does it feel good to be validated by a company or someone who has a bigger following than I do?  Bet your ass it does.  It feels good to be noticed, recognized, told you're worth someone's time.  But is it needed to get up the next day and hit "new post?"  Absolutely not.

So, I'll be here tomorrow or maybe next Wednesday (working has thrown my writing schedule more than I'd like) with another new post on paying down student loans while raising kids, or one on the growing pains of raising two little ones who have their own personalities, or a post on gratitude during the Christmas season, or a post on having to wean off anxiety medicine to have another baby.  

And that's all my posts will ever be - you, me, and life.  No strings attached.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Young families in 2016

They say if you want to become any sort of serious blogger, to not treat your blog like your diary. Well, I'm going directly against this advice today and I'm going to treat this post like a diary entry.

I had a bit of a mommy breakdown this week, encouraged by none other than finances, of course.  It always seems to be finances.  At work, it felt like the briefest of interactions could have led to me breaking down in tears awkwardly in the hallway.  It was an on-edge sort of week.

I've been open in my writing about living on a budget and how that's been our life since we got married.  We've had some high highs and some low lows in that area.  We've run out of money a few times, we've had to borrow to make rent.

Since this is what we've known and have lived (on and off) now for a few years, I get incredibly frustrated and emotional when confronted with a financial hiccup.  I've grown the discipline to become a solid and diligent saver, which enables us to continue on when a hiccup arises.  But the hiccup doesn't become any less maddening.

This talk is a little beside the point, only a little, as this post isn't a post on saving or budgets.  I realized today, in the midst of confronting the list of unknowns and questions we're currently facing, just how difficult it is to have a family at a young age in 2016.  I mean, I guess I already knew this.  I mean, I did know this.  But when you ask yourself if you can afford daycare for the month, the reality sinks in in a new and painful way.

A fitting throwback picture for this post.  Me, pregnant with Ella, at 20 weeks.
I've been asked if I'm happy that I got married and had kids young.  And without hesitation, I say "yes." I think I've matured and grown in ways that only becoming a wife and mom could have yielded and the fact that I'm only 26 is, in my eyes, a bonus.  I like that I'm able to grow next to and with my husband.  I'd say we've already been a couple versions of ourselves, and we continue to pull out the best in each other in order to keep bettering ourselves.  I like that I'll be relatively young when my kids are older.  There are many great and wonderful things about getting married and having kids young.  The positives certainly outweigh the negatives, if it can be categorized that way.  But the negatives, or rather, hard parts?  They can weigh heavy on you.  In order to have and keep your kids fed and happy and clothed, you need a job, a job that might not pay enough as you need or the job might be in a state that has exorbitant taxes.  Insurance isn't needed, but it sure is nice as having a child in a hospital costs upwards of $25,000.  And even if you have insurance, the premiums are rising, the deductibles are outrageous.  Of course, the doctors visits don't stop at the birth.  You'll need maternity and paternity leave from your job.  If you're a dad, you might get 2 weeks unpaid vacation time, if you're lucky. And the mom? She seems to be expected to jump out of her hospital bed back to her desk.  Some aren't even able to take leave, because only part of the leave is paid and she can't afford to go so much time without pay. If you have student loans, this also affects the money and household.  Both parents might have to work, one parent might work 2 jobs.  If both parents work, childcare needs to be explored and we all know how childcare is rivaling the cost of college educations these days.  The family will eventually, maybe, want to buy a house for which they will need at least a 3.5% down payment.  Did you know that downpayment needs to have been sitting in your savings account for so long?  So dipping in and out of savings if needed, prolongs the process.  Did you know you'll need about 6% of the total cost of the house saved and put away to cover closing costs and all the stuff attached with buying a house.  Of course, rent is at an all-time high and it would be cheaper to pay a mortgage, if only young families were known to have at least $10,000 sitting in savings at a time...And this, this is alll just the immediate.  Saving for the fancy schools?  Please.  For family vacations?  Maybe one day. Retirement?  Anyone under 25 with kids would most likely laugh in your face.

I say this, not really to complain (but I am entitled to since this is my diary entry, right?) but to give notice to how freaking hard our world makes it for young families to function.  You see a young family out on a walk, their kids crawling out of double Graco stroller and think how cute.  It's in all likelihood that that family is making huge sacrifices to make their lives what they are.  They probably busted their butts to save for and buy that double stroller.  At the risk of sounding way too full of myself, the life of having a family young is a virtuous life, but as with anything that brings virtue, it's painful and uncomfortable and inconvenient.

So.  This one is for you young families, the ones trying to buy houses and pay loans, and hoping to maybe get a second car.  The ones that didn't have six figures when you had your first child.  The ones trying to get the best jobs that serve your passions but better serve your families.  Every day, your lives are full of acts that are charitable and kind and giving so much of yourselves.  Every one of you young moms and young dads out there are a very bright light in an increasingly dimming world.  I'm proud to be in your camp and among your company.

One day, when we've made our final student loan payments, let's all go withdraw wads of ones, throw them in the streets as if it were monopoly money, and recreate the dance scene from 500 Days of Summer.

Yes?

See you in about 10 years.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Welcoming Advent and preparing for Christmas

"Here, mama!"
"Got one!"


"Here, Archie"



Joy to the world, always.

This is the kids' dresser.  The snow globe plays Oh Holy Night, the perfect Christmas nighttime lullaby.

Is it just me or is it becoming more and more socially acceptable to put up Christmas decorations before the Thanksgiving turkey is devoured?  I remember, at the earliest, the Friday following Thanksgiving was the day to put up all things red and green.  Regardless, I'm not complaining.  Being in a place with snow and cold temperatures, I wanted to put our tree up the day after Halloween.

We spent the Sunday of our Thanksgiving break decorating our little basement for the Christmas season.  We had Polar Express playing and had festive drinks in hand.  During last year's Christmas season, I remember being so excited and eager for Ella to reach an age where she could help us decorate the tree, and this year is that year.  She was all about trying to fit as many ornaments as she could on one, little branch.  As for Archie?  Well, he had a blast chucking the (plastic) ornaments as hard and far as he could.

Happy Advent season to all of you!  (27 days 'til Christmas)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Bigger isn't always better

Any time I explore this topic of ultimately having wanted to leave California and move back to Michigan, I feel the need to say that California will always have a piece of my heart.  I have friends there who I miss dearly and we cannot wait to vacation there!
As a kid and teen, I grew up, lived in and rarely left my one little corner of the earth, Detroit Michigan. I didn't feel the need to, really. And I guess my family didn't either.  I liked the seasonal changes as each fresh season proposed new wardrobes, activities, and outings with friends.  I liked my hometown sports teams, I liked going to Wings' games.  I liked being around my loved ones.  

When I decided to go to college, I struggled.  I wanted to stay local and do the whole go to community college and work gig, but knew I would be best served if I got away for a while due to a long history of a rocky home life. I chose California and bid adieu to all that I knew, all that I ever knew and traded in my snow boots for year-round flip-flops.  I bought brand new Tommy Hilfiger luggage and was going to embrace it - I mean, it's freaking California, right?

There was something so glamorous about it, too, leaving my little Southeastern Michigan suburb for a school in Southern California.  I would fly back home for holidays and summer breaks, but then always and inevitably pack up and head back to my new life out west.  And everyone seemed so impressed.  At our Michigan wedding reception, someone even said to me, you've built this whole life for yourself in California, that's so great. I smiled and nodded (as every bride does at her wedding reception) but took a pause and thought is it weird that I prefer Michigan to California? That I want to move back? It seemed that any interaction I had involving a where are you from? led to wow, that's so great. Maybe that's because it implies challenge and accomplishment, maybe it's the simple fact that California has palm trees and Michigan...does not.

When I moved back to Detroit, now with my family, I was elated, over the moon, wholly happy, but it didn't feel glamorous in the slightest.  It felt pretty unglamorous, actually.  The statement we're moving to my hometown felt like it needed to be followed with that sad, little cartoon sound effect womp womp. And I felt down about it, leaving this perceivably glamorous life.  No more Santa Monica trips or Sprinkles cupcakes, or scenic drives on the 101. The most "scenic" it was going to get in my Detroit future was a daily route with 7-11s and small burger joints.  And for a second I was totally bummed. For the entirety of our marriage, we had worked to move here, and all I had was this feeling of embarrassment for moving home. Why?  'Cause I'll no longer be the one who lives in California? 'Cause I'll no longer be looked at as worldly?  Or well-traveled?  Or successful?  Gratefully, that feeling was fleeting, as it should have been.  I hate to admit I cared, even for a brief moment, about such shallow concerns especially since I haven't felt this whole since I left back in '09.

It's supposed to be 26 degrees tonight, it's now practically pitch black at 5:30PM as we've fully entered Winter, and my entire family is currently residing in a basement, and I've never been happier. This certainly is the lesser of glamorous lifestyles. Them potholes, crazy and unpredictable weather forecasts and months of cold speaks for itself, but it's my little corner of the world. I've seen Rome and Ireland and Paris, have lived in California and Washington, and I couldn't be happier to be back in little, old Detroit. It may not be seen as Glam Capitol of the World, but it's home with class and character and for that reason is the Capitol of my Heart.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Reminiscing

It seems Tim and I are way too newly married to be ... reminiscing.  I mean, right?  Reminiscing is such a weighty word full of implying things like Polaroids and big hair and Ts that read Zeppelin across the chest. But that's what it feels like I'm doing here, reminiscing.

As we gear up to close out another year, another close to another year that will look different than the last, I just couldn't help but to look back at our beginning -- our very beginning, that now feels like a lifetime ago.  My pant size was different, my hair style was different, my Target boots were still holdin' strong.  I hadn't yet bore two children and we hadn't yet moved 4 times.

It was just us, newly minted college grads with a bag of half-planned dreams and fluctuating checking accounts.

Having crossed a few major goals off our list, I can only say to these kids in the pictures oh, the places you'll go.






Thursday, November 10, 2016

A belated honeymoon

When Tim and I were prepping for our wedding, a honeymoon was originally included in the planning.  (Duh.)  We were to go to a resort in northern Michigan and spend 5 whole days decompressing from destination wedding chaos.  After crunching what would be the numbers of our newlywed budget, we realized that spending money on a honeymoon wasn't practical nor...doable. We realized any money we were going to receive as a gift needed to go to furnishing an apartment and all those new apartment costs.  So, we canceled our reservation and put any idea of honeymoon on hold.

Going on a honeymoon wasn't an option until just recently when we moved near family in Michigan. I decided to take Tim's birthday as an opportunity to say, "You've worked so hard for us.  Thank you. Let's go on that honeymoon."  So I did.  Our kids went off to spend the weekend with one of their favorite people, and Tim and I hit the highway North.

We quickly slipped into Fall Heaven.  A four-hour drive (and one speeding ticket) later, we entered Glen Arbor, a quiet, lush part of Western Michigan.  I had never been to that part of the state, so it was Tim and I wandering and discovering together.  

There's not much to say about it except that it was simple and perfect.  And that if felt beyond good to go away with money we worked hard to save and having had 3 full years of marriage behind us.



ROADTRIP. 


This was taken at a rest stop.  But I'm pretty sure it could be made into a postcard.


Do you think this looks like a place that would have GF pizza?  We didn't think so either.  But it's the best (and only) in town!


Local eats are the best eats.



We're so cool, it hurts.


I spy a Youper!


Pretty, ain't it?


Hey there, hott stuff!


Oh, just me casually posing.






Quick!  It's raining!  Get under the hat!  (What I told Tim right before he snapped this picture.)



I...don't know what I'm doing here.  Showcasing that scarecrow? 











First trip to a winery and all I do is take pictures of the bottles with dogs on them.  Typical.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Parenting in the early years


Sometimes, I wonder if any of the hard parenting work is paying or will ever pay off.  Does it matter that we try to have a consistent nighttime prayer routine with them?  Does it matter that we try to get them to eat their peas?  That Tim and I work to stay on the same parenting page?  An article came out just recently suggesting that what parents do during their kids' childhood years has little to no effect on them.

When I hear a parent say, "they'll turn out how they'll turn out" or see an article like the one mentioned above, the discouragement sets in.  Really?  It doesn't matter that I fight every bone in my body not to let out one giant F-bomb when my almost three-year-old is whining as I'm chasing my ten-month-old around while my breakfast is burning and I've had to go to the bathroom for 15 minutes?

If it's a total crapshoot on whether my kids will grow up to be decent, greens-eating humans, why bother, right?  Let's break out the donuts for dinner, kids; that's what mom wants anyway.  Let's watch TV all day on Saturday, not watch our language or smile through pain or go to church.

No.

I don't passively parent.  It's not in my vocabulary to say, "well that's just how I am, so deal with it." I wish that didn't sound as prideful as it does, but it's true.  I take parenting seriously.  If I'm impatient with them, I learn to grow patience.  And I do that by actively choosing the longest line at the self-checkout, or talking Ella through a conflict instead of dismissing her with a, "cut it out" or doing something kind for someone who has hurt me.  Every weekend, we get them ready and go to church. And, if I'm being at all honest, sitting through an hour during which your nearly 3-year-old and almost 1-year-old need to be quiet and sit still is exhausting (not to mention dealing with the anxiety from receiving the your-kids-are-loud looks).  It isn't convenient by any means, but we do it because we know love isn't conditional or convenient. We take the extra time to cook and to let Ella help us stir, flip, and measure, to foster a love for food and healthy eating.  And we've taken 20 minutes to talk Ella through apologizing to Archie for hitting him.  I do not respond to a work email if my kids are around, and if I happen to fall into the "Facebook" trap, when I do pick up my phone, I then let Ella use my phone to take a few pictures to let her know that this block doesn't rule mommy's world, that I'm okay handing it off.

We put a huge amount of effort into bettering ourselves and our home, so to hear it doesn't matter makes me seethe and question.

But recently, our efforts were affirmed.  A couple weekends ago at church, I was exhausted.  Tim had just gotten back into town late Saturday night after being away on business; it had been a long few days.  I was doing the half, butt-on-the-pew kneel when Ella looked at me and said, "kneel, Mama."  I, of course, immediately fell to my knees, gave her a kiss, and thanked her for reminding me to do so. She then kneeled next to us until it was time for communion at which point she walked right up to receive her blessing, arms crossed.

It was a moment of total awe and payoff.  I wanted to cry.  Our parenting exhaustion was serving a purpose.

Ella's only 2, so we, of course, don't receive this big of an affirmation every day.  Nor should we, I guess.  Parenting isn't about affirming us on the daily.  But it is encouraging to see that hard work matters.  Ella of course has her moments.  Hell, I'm an adult and I don't feel particularly polite on some days.  But Ella has a way of sprinkling an "excuse me" or a "sorry"or kisses for Archie or wanting to say prayers that I'm reminded that what we do, who we are matters to and for our kids.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Fresh month, new habits


I'm trying to complain less.  You know, saying less of "I'm tired", dwelling on things that are in the past or are out of my control, things like that.

Recently, I've gotten a couple compliments on my "positive attitude", which, if you knew me when I was a teenager, you would be (or are currently) falling out of your chair.  I know.  It's thrown me, too. But a little less so, because I've been actively trying to be more positive.  Driven by my gained perspective, I'm trying to purify my negative outlook and turn it into a positive one.  When someone comes to me and says, "Ugh, I'm so tired", I try not to say "Ugh, me too.  The kids were up all night, blah blah blah."  Instead, I try to respond with an upbeat, "It's Friday! <<insert big smiles>>" cheeky sort of thing.

I've been doing a good job, too.  I've made mental flags for myself, so whenever I hear an "ugh" or "sigh" I know to pause and think before I blurt out in agreement.  But I've noticed a recent trend.

Some weekends ago, I had a work event.  I was to walk around with a camera on my neck and take pictures of a conference that was to be featured in a magazine.  Committing to it was a bit of a stretch.  We had had some scheduling issues with our babysitter in the 2 weeks prior, so Tim had been spread thin between work and watching the kids.  We were still unpacking, and I was trying to balance watching the kids at night after I got off work, so Tim could get some work done.  But I was in a transitional phase at my job, this event needed to be documented, so I agreed.  The night before, I caught the plague that had been going around, and I texted the woman who was my point of contact for the conference.

"...I'll try to be there for 8:30AM, but I can't guarantee it.  I'll be there as soon as I can tomorrow."

I woke up and immediately felt like I needed to roll over, but I got my photag overalls on, and made it to the venue by my call time.  I made it through the day by being graced with my co-workers' presence. But by the end of the day, I had noticed that by wearing the camera around my neck for a good chunk of the day, I had irritated an ongoing muscle injury in my neck.  I knew I was in store for a week of spasms and migraines, but I kept it together...until I got in the car when Tim picked me up.

Almost immediately, I let it all out.  "Ugh, my neck is killing me."  "I'm starving."  "Where's the tissue, my nose is, like literally dripping."  It wasn't for nothing, I did feel miserable, one neck spasm away from crying my face off.  Since instating those mental flags though, I quickly realized I was doing the very thing I was trying to avoid around the very people who (first and foremost) should not be on the receiving end of my "ugh's" and "woe is me's".

Not complaining around our loved ones is...impossible.  They're our safe place, our judgement-free, worry-free zone.  Willing to be a part of a venting session is practically required of our kin, but we need to be careful.  Negativity, complaining, that energy (if you're into that sort of speak) is toxic to a family's relationships.  I know all too well how that cynicism can seep into kids' impressionable little minds and form their view of the world.  My kids, my husband are the first -- not the 15th, 16th, and 17th -- people I need to practice not complaining around. This isn't to say, I'll, in turn, dump my bad days or irritations on the first person who I pass in the hall (even though that sounds ever so appealing on some days).  All of us realize this too little. Husbands, wives, kids are the first ones to get the brunt of a bad day at work or the leftovers from the jerk who cut you off on the way home.

But when we walk into our homes after a long day and say "that sucked, this was awful" to our husbands, then our husbands react poorly to our our kid who then gets frustrated with her brother. You see where this is going.  What if we were to do the opposite?  The kind of beautiful ripple effect it could have?  Instead of making others crash, we can help them to fly.

Here's to polishing our own wings, so we can help those around us to soar.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Archie at 9 months



I was scared to have a boy.  I don't get boys.  Boys like dirt and dinosaurs and kill things with sticks. They run and scream and use kitchen utensils as weapons.  They're loud, and I know first hand that when they hit those years, they can be just as moody as the person to them.

I was scared to have a boy.

But then Archie came along, and I got boys a little more.  He was my boy, after all, a little piece of me now squirming around in the outside world, a piece that had my husband's eyes and a semblance of my dad's smile.

Him wiggling (now practically walking) around for these past 9 months has brought a pure and innocent joy (and many sleepless nights) into our lives.  That word, joy, first comes to mind when describing A.  I call him a little joyful tornado.  When he smiles, it consumes his entire face, and if he's feeling particularly happy, the smile will be so big and wide that he squints his eyes and then shakes his whole body as if he was going to get up and dance.  He does live up to the stereotype of being loud, that's for sure.  I'm not sure I've ever heard a more ear-piercing scream than I have from that kid.  He's either going to be a) the next Steven Tyler or b) a voice actor for horror films.  We'll see.

He eats everything, literally.  If we had a dog they would exchange loot from their travels around the floors.  Dust, crumbs, a piece of paper, caps, whatever he finds on the floor, he tastes.  The bright side to this is he's a good eater.  Grown up food, Gerber food, if you hand it to him, he'll eat it (even if it looks like he doesn't like it).

He bangs, he's rough, and rips the kitchen towels off the stove.  One of my favorite boyish things he does is he'll sometimes bite down on his pacifier real hard and then yank it out of his mouth as if it's a challenge.  It looks ridiculous, but hilarious.  His laugh is hearty and all boy and often yells at us while pointing his finger.

He's a cuddler, loves watching cars and being outside, and loves loves his big sister and little stuffed bear, Thad.

Being a parent to Archie feels like being a parent for the first time all over again.  He couldn't be more opposite of Ella.  Ella's already taken on the role of protective big sister and goes around shutting doors so he won't fall down stairs and picking up things so he won't choke.

I was scared to have a boy, but unnecessarily so, 'cause this boy has lit up our lives.  Him looking up at his big sister or me or his daddy with that contagious, joyful smile melts any fear or uncertainty I might have had away.

Photo cred: Francis and Louise